Baumanière

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of discovering Provence, Les Baux-de-Provence to be exact. A quaint little commune in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southern France, considered one of the most beautiful of French villages. But it was Baumanière, set at the foot of the Alpilles mountains that won my heart.

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Home became one of the 5 buildings creating the luxury Relais & Chateaux property Baumanière Les Baux de Provence. Once upon a time in 1945, visionary Raymond Thriller fell in love with this forgotten land nicknamed “Le Val d’Enfer (Hell’s Valley) and out of one small farmhouse he created an entire Provençal universe, where movie stars, writers and politicians became guests at his highly regarded gastronomic table. Among them Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Queen Elizabeth II and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few.

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In 2015, at the helm of Jean-André Charial and his wife Genevieve, Baumanière Les Baux de Provence celebrated its seventieth anniversary. And they have much to celebrate as their remote property continues to attract guests and acclaim from around the world. Each building reveals a unique ambiance, with each of its 55 spacious rooms and suites decorated in old charm and modern amenities. I could have easily stayed for a week. Did I mention they recently opened a spa with an array of beauty products made with local olive oil?

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For both lunch and dinner I eagerly dined at the 2-Michelin star restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière, with young, dynamic and innovative chef Glenn Viel taking charge in the kitchen. Cooking classes are offered!

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I spoke in length with the charming Jean-André, topics ranging from the love of his inherited land, his passion for cooking with simple and fresh ingredients (he even gave me a tour of the greenhouses where he grows many of his herbs and vegetables), and his deep adoration for Italy. Genevieve had a unique elegance and warmth and I felt very welcomed in their home. She even took a liking to my bags (and my accent) and is now selling Kasia Dietz handbags in their exclusive Baumanière Boutique!

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I fondly recall my morning reflections, sitting on my private terrace, listening to the calm of nature and thinking, if ever we decide to leave Paris, Provence would certainly be a nice place to call home.

overcoming fear

Fear is defined as “a very unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger”. Being a rather courageous girl, there are few things that provoke this feeling. As a child I was fearful of a fast driver, until I became a driver myself and the thrill of speed enticed me. During my around-the-world travels I overcame my fear of water by learning to scuba dive in the temperate waters of Thailand’s Koh Phi Phi. I never feared heights and confirmed this by sky-diving in New Zealand. But skiing? This sport terrified me. It had been three years since our last alpine adventure, and still the fear was intact. And still I was determined to overcome it. With good friends by our side, we headed 2,200 meters up to the Dolomites, the stunning peaks of Madonna di Campiglio to be specific, where I would learn to glide back down… fearlessly.

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Day One. I had to ski down a red piste in order to arrive to the blue pistes. Panic! Somehow I managed to make my way down the mountain, my body recalling what it had learned during my last three attempts at skiing. I fell. I became frustrated. I felt uncomfortable. I got back on my feet. I was ready to call it quits.

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Day Two. My patient teacher met me in the morning and I very clearly expressed my fear, evident in the rigidity of my body. “Breathe” he told me. And so I did. Eagerly awaiting après-ski at the spa.

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Day Three. Another lesson. I almost felt at ease. Could I not stay on the blue pistes forever, please? I tried to meditate high up on the mountain, telling myself that discomfort makes us grow. Doesn’t it? Still not feeling it.

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Day Four. Suddenly my body took control. I could turn. I could begin to ski parallel. I could glide down the mountain, my Italian and our friends’ kids supporting me along the way. I could do it! And I actually loved it.

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Day Five. I felt one with the mountains. Well, not exactly, but I overcame my fear and knew that I was in control. I felt proud and accomplished, having stuck with it, even against my own desire.

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This magical landscape and the company we shared it with, made all the difference. Now back to dry land.

a taste of Beaune

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Last spring I discovered Dijon and became enamored with the Burgundy region. This year it was time to visit the smaller town of Beaune. Our first stop was Hotel Le Cep, a historic mansion where King Louis XIV once slept. This family run 4-star hotel boasts 16th century courtyards with rooms and suites decorated in endless charm. My Italian and I immediately felt at home as we were warmly welcomed by gracious owner Jean-Claude Bernard, who spoke of his family hotel’s rich history. Just outside Le Cep’s doors, Beaune awaited to be explored. Where to go first? We headed directly to the Tourism Office to consult the experts.

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Our main objective being to discover and taste the local specialties, we headed straight to the prestigious wine cellars of Bouchard Père & Fils, once the ancient castle of Beaune. Touring their cave, we found select wines aged over 100 years! Needless to say, those we tasted were quite a bit younger. Here began a weekend of tasting some of the best wines in France.

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Saturday morning the sun shone brightly and we met our new neighbors at the local market. I’ve been to many markets all over the country, but this one appeared to be straight out of a film set. Were we the extras?

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Our next stop was mustard factory Fallot, the last independent family mustard mill in Burgundy. We were met by Marc Désarménien whose family had started producing Fallot mustard in 1840. The mustard making process is a fascinating one as we learned, being led through the factory, chewing on mustard seeds along the way. Afterwards, tasting the dozens of flavors of Fallot mustard was an experience! My favorites being the classic grainy variety with white wine, followed by walnut, and honey and fig.

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Wine and mustard aren’t the only gastronomic delicacies that have put Beaune on the map. This town too is a haven for haute cuisine. Where did we choose among the many options? Here’s my short list:

La Bussionière: Charming husband and wife run restaurant that recently moved into the center of Beaune. Selection of fresh local produce, creating delicious regional dishes.

Loiseau des Vignes: One of highly regarded Loiseau family restaurants, awarded a Michelin star in 2010 under chef Mourad Haddouche, adjacent to Hotel Le Cep. A gastronomic paradise, with 70 wines served by the glass.

Le P’tit Paradis: An intimate restaurant in the heart of the town for over 20 years, where seasonal tastes mingle with inventive dishes. Outdoor terrace for spring and summer dining.

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When not wine tasting or dining, we were educating ourselves to the history of Beaune. It was in a walking tour with history buff and wine expert Kim Gagné that we learned the most. She brought us to the famous Hospices de Beaune, also called Hôtel-Dieu. Built in the 15th century and once a hospital mainly for the poor, it’s now a museum. Every November, an important charity wine auction is held within this historic building.

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Before heading back to Paris, we decided a tour of the vineyards would prove the best lesson of all in wine culture. Our lovely guide Brigitte from Vineatours picked us up at Le Cep and into the villages and vineyards we drove, passing Pommard and Volnay along the way. We stopped at a private vineyard and tasted a small production of premier and grand cru, increasing our home collection of Bourgogne wines.

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This charming town had won my heart. Filled with the sensations of Beaune, and plenty of mustard and wine, we boarded the train back to Paris, a quick 2 hour ride. Next time we vowed, we’ll return for a biking tour.

Côte d’Azur

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Last week I joined Mediterranean travel aficionado Megan of Bella Vita Travels for a whirlwind tour of the Côte d’Azur, leaving grey skies in Paris for golden hues in the French Riviera. I hadn’t been down south for almost five years, since our journey to Bormes les Mimosas. Six hours via train, there I was in Nice, ready to discover just what makes this part of France so enchanting. Our first stop was the Medieval village of Mougins.

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I was immediately smitten by this hilltop artists commune, once inhabited by creative elite including Jean Cocteau, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Yves Klein, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Winston Churchill, Catherine Deneuve, Édith Piaf & Jacques Brel. This too is where Picasso spent his last 12 years of life.

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From there it was a short drive to Cannes, where many of today’s film stars can be found strolling along the boulevards, particularly during the famed film festival. Did we spot any? None that I could recognize…

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The next stop was Antibes, a charming old town enclosed by 16th-century ramparts. Here we spent a glorious afternoon with a glass of rosé and views of the town Juan-les-Pins. Picasso too made his mark here; the castle where he stayed is now the Picasso Museum.

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Not far away was a small medieval village perched atop a cliff, 1,401 feel above sea level to be exact. Thus, Èze is often called an “eagle’s nest”. Again, I was smitten.

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Before returning to Nice we stopped in the harbor town of Villefranche. Now I understand why so many choose to make this colorful spot their home while visiting the riviera.

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Back in Nice I was eager to explore this Mediterranean city, feeling very much at home on the French Riviera. With the sun leading our path, we discovered delicious farm to table dining at Le Canon, and local cooking school Les Petits Farcis, should we choose to take a market tour and cook our own Niçois meal. Next time!

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I could have easily spent more time exploring this city of art and culture while savored more sunsets in the south, but it was time to return north for adventures in Burgundy. Next stop: Beaune.

36 Hours in Florence

Last week I had a meeting with bespoke travel company Bella Vita Travels at their home base on the Italian Riviera. Since it fell just before Valentine’s Day, my Italian and I decided to head to Florence for a quick stop. Having recently fallen back in love with Rome after over ten years, it was now Florence’s turn. With only 36 hours to spare, here are the highlights on where to sleep, eat, visit and shop. Feel free to follow in our footsteps!

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SLEEP : Just steps away from the famous Ponte Vecchio, in the very heart of Florence sits Gallery Hotel Art, a modern boutique hotel, part of the four luxurious Lungarno Collection hotels by fashion icon Ferragamo.

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EAT : Italy is all about the food, isn’t it? Recommendations are always welcome as not to get stuck in a tourist trap. Luckily, we met local artist and friend Kevin Berlin, known in Firenze as Giovanni Rossi, who directed us to traditional Florentine spot Osteria del Porcellino. Delicious! A more gastronomic favorite was Il Santo Bevitore, a tip from local expat Georgette, aka Girl in Florence. She also pointed us towards new hotspot Gurdulù where we enjoyed an after dinner drink.

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DRINK : The aperitivo is taken very seriously in Italy, much like the apéritif in France. Thankfully, Giovanni knew just the spot next door to his home in Piazza della Signoria. Rivoire is the oldest bar in Florence, and almost where the negroni originated (that bar unfortunately no longer exists). If barman Luca is there ask him to mix you a Negroni while you peruse the book he wrote on this very cocktail. Incidentally, some of the best chocolate and sweets can also be found here!

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SEE : With little time and much to see, we made a plan. Having already been to the Uffizi years ago, we paid a quick visit to Florence’s Cathedral, also known as the Duomo with it’s majestic dome, and set out to explore the city. We passed by Dante’s home (photo above) and south of the river Arno to the Oltrarno neighborhood. One afternoon was spent at the Basilica di Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world, featuring sixteen chapels. Here is the final resting place of Italian greats including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile and Rossini. The three cloisters too are worth a visit (photo below).

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SHOP : On my last visit to Florence I bought a leather jacket in one of the local leather markets. (I still wear it.) This time, I wasn’t looking for any souvenirs but did stumble upon the most beautiful perfumerie Aqua Flor, with scents unique to their shop. I couldn’t resist!

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After a last negroni we ran to catch our train, enroute to the riviera, while dreaming of the next visit to Florence.

 

Mont Saint-Michel

Last week I decided it was time to venture to Brittany. Having heard so much about the charming walled port city of Saint-Malo, I boarded the train headed west, and three hours later was welcomed by gray skies and sea. And so began my scenic sojourn in the land of crêpes, cider, oysters from neighboring Cancale, and rising tides.

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The historically independent Saint-Malo, known in the past for privateering (a privateer was often considered a pirate), is still referred to as “cité corsaire”. During World War II 80% of the city was destroyed and rebuilt between 1948-1960. With few tourists in sight, I was happy to explore this walled hideaway. But what I was most eager to discover was Mont Saint-Michel in nearby Normandy. As soon as the sun rose, that’s where I headed.

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At first sight of Mont Saint-Michel I was in complete awe. This wonder of the Western world truly takes your breath away. How did this Abbey come to be, perched atop a rock? At the request of the Archangel Michel, Aubert, Bishop of Avranches built and consecrated a small church on the 16th October 709. In 966 a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand. Here is more history and information about Mont Saint-Michel.

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Join me in this scenic journey as I climb up the steps leading to this UNESCO world heritage site.

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The views from the top are simply stunning! Where does sky end and sea begin?

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Not to mention what lies on the inside.

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I will certainly return, and next time stay the night. I hear it’s particularly stunning at sunset…

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