Category: Around France

Magical Christmas Markets

The 3 Most Magical Christmas Markets in France

After touring the most popular Christmas Market in France — Strasbourg, Colmar and Kaysersberg — I have to say, they were pretty spectacular. Yet there was nothing quite like the magical Christmas markets in the very small towns we visited next in Alsace: Eguisheim, Riquewihr and Ribeauville.

When friend Paula and I started the Christmas Market Tour in France, we knew we wanted to see Strasbourg, Colmar and Kaysersberg. Yet, it was the three market towns we saw next that were the most enchanting: Equisheim, Riquewihr and Ribeauville. Each in their own way was a scene out of Santa’s Workshop.

The animation team for Walt Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” thought Eguisheim was pretty special. It was the inspiration for the opening scene of the movie.

Magical Christmas Markets

Eguisheim’s storybook house “Beauty and the Beast”

Riquewihr was just as charming. A walk through the walled city proved Riquewihr earns its ranking among Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.  

Magical Christmas Markets

Ribeauville, however, stole the “most favorite Christmas Market” on my list. Perhaps it was because we were lucky enough to land there the last weekend of their Medieval Christmas Market that put it over the top. However, the village itself was colorful and lively.

Magical Christmas Markets

Here’s a view of the festivities in these three Alsatian towns, all decked out for the season. Enjoy!

Which of the Christmas Markets in Alsace would you like to visit?

Strasbourg

Colmar and Kaysersberg

Equisheim, Riquewihr, Ribeauville

I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

 

 

Very Best Christmas Markets

Best Christmas Markets in France: Colmar and Kaysersberg

The very best Christmas Markets are in the Alsace region of France, or so I’m told. I had to see for myself.

Ask anyone who’s scouted around for the very best Christmas Markets in Europe and they’ll say Strasbourg, Colmar and Kaysersberg in France are the among the most famous. Being that I’m on a mission to visit as much of France as I possibly can, the Christmas Markets in the Alsace region were “must do’s.”

Strasbourg was first on the Very Best Christmas Market tour and, as you saw in the previous post, the city and the festivities were pretty spectacular. Colmar was an hour’s train ride away from Strasbourg.  A perfect place to stay for a few days, then visit other nearby towns and markets.

Colmar, the “Venice” of Alsace

Colmar has an interesting connection to the United States. It’s the birthplace of Auguste Bartholde (1834-1904), the sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty. So what was the first thing tour guide Max of Alsace Original Experiences wanted his two American guests to visit? The huge replica of Lady Liberty that stands at the entrance to Colmar. It is the largest reproduction of the statue anywhere in the world. In France Bartholdi is quite a celebrity. One of the tourist sites in the center of Colmar is a museum in his honor. I’ll have to see that next time.

Colmar is a much smaller town than Strasbourg, so right away the difference in the holiday atmosphere was quite apparent. In the old part of the city (on the map below in yellow) there were five different Christmas marketplaces (red stars). Like in Strasbourg, the vendors had set up their food and gift items in temporary wooden huts in the midst of busy shopping areas . The difference was that there seemed to be more handmade and authentic French items at the small stalls in Colmar. Some of the “marchés” were lined up along the canals that seemed randomly interspersed through the town. Streets were closed during market hours so it seemed like we were in the midst of one big Christmas party.

Two favorite things about Colmar were the B&B – Cour de Weinhof (Weinhof Court) — and “dejeuner” at Le Marechal — both of which happened quite by accident. The B&B had a last minute cancellation, so there was “room at the inn.” The restaurant was a lucky choice through Tripadvisor  . Which reminds me. If your holiday tour includes fine dining there are several Michelin Star restaurants in the Alsace area. My thoughts were “good food, good price and let’s get back to shopping in the market.” Le Marechal ticked all those boxes.

very best Christmas Markets

 

Kaysersberg, the Night Market

Touring Kaysersberg at night was not exactly on the agenda, but by the time we’d visited Eguisheim and Riquewihr it was dark. I’m thinking that was a good thing. At nighttime the holiday lights were stunning. With the bits of snow that were falling, it was the perfect mix.

Kaysersberg is a very small town (see map below) and lots of people want to see it. So there was quite a lot of traffic getting into town. It reminded me of Christmases long ago in Charlotte, NC. My family spent hours in our car, behind lines of other cars, to see Christmas lights in McAdenville, a tiny mill town nearby. 

Fortunately, our wonderful tour guide Max, from Alsace Original Experiences, knew exactly where to go to park that was within steps of the entrance of town. He earned a “gold star” for that brilliant move.

Kaysersberg was decked out for the Christmas Market, especially around the route marked with red arrows. The market items seemed to all be from France — not all handmade — but fabuous.  All the way through the shopping extravaganza I reminded myself that I have nowhere to store Christmas stuff in my apartment. I really behaved … well, sorta.

very best Christmas Markets

Bienvenue á Colmar et Kaysersberg

Read more about Christmas Markets in France

The Very Best Christmas Markets in France

Best Christmas Markets in France: Strasbourg

The Three Most Magical Christmas Markets in France

very best Christmas Markets

Wish for France

Best Christmas Markets in France: Strasbourg

Eleven Christmas Markets in one town … oh my! Strasbourg is a busy city during the Christmas Market. Not only is it home to approximately 300,000 full-time residents, Strasbourg bulges at the seams with holiday visitors during November and December.

Known as home to one of the best Christmas markets in France, the old city of Strasbourg is closed off to traffic during the market because of the crowds. That means you walk down the center of streets filled with holiday goodies and shops on both sides. Also, it means you must carry your bags through a security check and to your hotel. Fortunately, our hotel was nearby. So after dropping off our things at Hôtel Des Arts, we set off to check out the first of eleven Christmas markets we were to visit on our two-and-a-half day stay.

The narrow streets of the old town were crowded and brightly lit. All we could think about was how glad we were that we were in Strasbourg before the “real crowds” showed up Christmas week. Well, that’s not truly all we were thinking about. Visions of choucroute, spaetzle and beef bourguignon were swirling around in our heads.

best Christmas markets in France,

The christmas markets, or areas where vendors show off their wares and food items, were set up in little wooden storefronts. They were all very similar.

The differences were that, along the way, permanent merchants lured shoppers with their over-the-top decorations and window dressings. Many spilled out onto the streets. Every alley, every turn in the road displayed street lighting and banners that were better than the one before.

Of all the attractions, the Cathedral de Notre-Dame  stood out as the city’s centerpiece.

Its majestic buttresses, vaults and arches dominated many of the streetscapes. Its presence added a special luminescence to those market stalls that were fortunate enough to surround it for the holidays.

Although our visit to Strasbourg was for the Christmas Market only, we took a boat tour along the canal that borders the old town. It was a perfect way to get an overview of the city’s history and to get a glimpse of some of the new parts of town. It’s definitely a place I would love to see again.

In Strasbourg the mix of French and German is visible in the architecture, the people, the language and the cuisine. From foie gras to spaetzle — from German beer to fine wine — Strasbourg is where the best of the best meet today in seemingly perfect harmony.

 

 

Read more about Christmas Markets in France

The Very Best Christmas Markets in France

Best Christmas Markets in France: Colmar and Kaysersberg

The Three Most Magical Christmas Markets in France

The Very Best Christmas Markets in France

I’ve heard the very best Christmas Markets are right here in France so I had to check them out for myself.

If it’s bright holiday lights and decorations, streaming holiday music and festive foods that make a Christmas market rank at the top of the list, there’s no doubt the very best Christmas Markets are in France.  Strasbourg, Colmar, Eguisheim, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg and Ribeauville to be exact. For five days my long-time friend, Paula, and I crammed in as many marketplaces as we could possibly see. It was truly a tour through Christmas wonderland.

Paula recently moved to Uzés from the US after years of dreaming about living in France. We met each other on a tour of China and now she’s my neighbor! Paula worked in the tourist industry which means she’s pretty much an expert at figuring out where to go, how to get there, where to stay and what to do when you get there. She reads lots of travel blogs and she’s full of great ideas. We put all that know-how to the test on our Christmas Market tour through Alsace. Now I’m happy to share it with you.

Which are the Very Best Christmas Markets in France?

very best Christmas Markets After quite a bit of research online and talking with friends who have traveled to markets in France, almost overwhelmingly there’s agreement. The Very Best Christmas Markets in France are in the Alsace region. Most popular are Strasbourg, Colmar and Kaysersberg. With the help of Max, our precious guide from Alsace Original Experiences, we discovered Eguisheim, Riquewihr and Ribeauville.

How to get to the Very Best Christmas Markets in France?

There’s no doubt about it, if you’re traveling in or through Europe to Christmas Markets, go by train. During our visit to Alsace there was rain, sleet and snow. By car we could have had problems. By train there were none. Fortunately there were no train strikes and only short delays.

Where to stay for the Very Best Christmas Markets in France?

Probably our best decision when planning our tour of Christmas Markets was to start in Strasbourg, stay there for a couple of days, then take a train to Colmar. Then use Colmar as our base to see other villages nearby. Let me warn you, however, if you’re hoping to visit Christmas Markets in Alsace, be smarter than we were and plan your trip more than a month ahead. Because it took us awhile to get our dates coordinated, it wasn’t easy to find accommodations in Strasbourg and Colmar. That said, we were more than pleased with the outcome.

The Hôtel Des Arts in Strasbourg is small and a bit outdated, but the location couldn’t be better. During our stay the staff was extremely helpful and courteous. The price was right, too!  Finding a place Colmar was a bit of a challenge, but Paula knew to get on the waitlist for the Weinhof Court B&B (Cour du Weinhof) is right in the center of the marketplace. We thoroughly enjoyed the couple who owned the lovely B&B. Before we left, we and their multi-national guests felt like family.

Very best hint for the Very Best Christmas Markets in France?

very best Christmas MarketsThumbs down, the day-long guided tour of Christmas Markets and villages around Colmar was our best idea. Our guide, Max from Alsace Original Experiences, picked us up at the B&B in Colmar at 9:30am in a black Mercedes van. We lucked out to be the only guests on the tour so we could do as we pleased. Max was the perfect host and offered cookies and coffee as we started off. His agenda for the day included visits to Eguisheim and Riquewihr with stops at a cheese maker and a winery. It was dusk before we reached Kaysersberg which was an added treat because we were able to see the Christmas lighting at night.

Going to Ribeauville was an added attraction. It came about when we teased Max about taking us and all our baggage to the train station in Colmar for our departure the next day. He took us seriously, called his boss, and arranged for us to visit Ribeauville in the morning before depositing us and our baggage on the train. What a treat that was! Not only did we feel like royalty being escorted to our train, we loved Ribeauville. It just happened to be the last weekend of their medieval Christmas Market, so with all the trimmings, the village was probably the most colorful of all we visited.

Day-by-Day Tour of the Very Best Christmas Markets in France

There are many ways that you could sort out a tour of the Best Christmas Markets in Alsace. Ours started out in Strasbourg. It was a straight connection from the train station in Avignon — even though we almost missed the train! I underestimated the Monday morning traffic in Avignon. If we’d missed our train, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it would have given us a two-hour later start. Fortunately it was our lucky day and the beginning of a perfect holiday.

Day 1

Strasbourg arrival and Christmas Market by night

Day 2

Strasbourg Christmas Market and canal boat tour

Day 3

Strasbourg Christmas Market; downtown exploring/shopping; visit Cathedral ; train to Colmar

Day 4

Colmar Christmas Market 

Day 5

Van Tour from Colmar B&B to Christmas Markets

Morning – Equisheim 

 

Afternoon – Riquewihr 

Evening – Kaysersberg

 

Day 6

Morning – Van tour from Colmar B&B to Ribeauville

Afternoon – Train to Depart

Stay tuned for more details and a photo visit to each of the Very Best Christmas Markets in France …. Happy Holidays!

Best Christmas Markets in France: Strasbourg

Best Christmas Markets in France: Colmar and Kaysersberg

The Three Most Magical Christmas Markets in France

French Thermal Spa

French Thermal Spa: The Cure

Of all the places the Barefoot Blogger has wandered, a trip to a French thermal spa for a cure has to be the most relaxing… and French! I’m pretty sure I was the only person at the resort who was from outside France. I was certainly the only one not speaking French.

The afternoon of the second day of the “French spa tour and cure” Nevenka and I arrived at the Sourcéo resort in Saint-Paul-Les-Dax just in time to meet with the site physician. Before leaving on the spa excursion, I was required to bring a letter from my own doctor stating I had no serious condition that would kill me while taking a cure. He had to note a reason for a cure, as well. Since I’m in good health, fortunately, we choose “phlebology.” Improving my circulation certainly couldn’t hurt.

The doctor at the resort seemed satisfied with my credentials and I received his stamp of approval to participate in the “cure”. After unpacking the car and sorting out our belongings at our hotel apartment, we reported to the appointment center to receive our daily schedules.

French thermal spa cure

Sourcéo Thermal Spa, Saint Paul les Dax

 

French Thermal Spa Cure

My thermal spa assignment was to spend six days with four treatments each day. Each treatment was to last ten to twenty minutes. A body massage was added to the regimen each of the last two days. Everyday I was given a fresh, clean terrycloth robe which I wore with flipflops through the treatment area and to the swimming pools.

Here’s how I spent each day, but first, a little primer. (Click on photos for captions.)

Treatment #1: Bain carbo-gazeux- “Bath in cold Perrier”

I’m not kidding. Every morning I was immersed in a bath filled with cold, bubbly mineral water. Talk about getting your circulation going. If it hadn’t been for the cheerful assistant who helped me in and out of the tub, it would have been murder.

Duration: 10 minutes

Treatment #2″ Mobilisation en Piscine – “Water Aerobics”

This was aerobics of the simplest kind. Merely moving and stretching in a warm pool. It was a welcomed next step after freezing in bubbly mineral water. 

Duration: 20 minutes

 

Treatment #3: Hydro Massage – “Bath in bubbly hot water (36 degrees C, 98 degrees F)

Yes, it was hot, and bubbling, and absolutely divine. I could have stayed in the tub for days. But no … 10 minutes only.

Duration: 10 minutes

 

Treatment #4: La Pelotherapie – Boue = “Mud Bath”

This was the crazy good part of the cure. It was not really a mud bath, more of a “wallow.” First I had to disrobe, then enter a private cabin where the attendant plopped 3 huge mounds of gooey mud on a table that was covered with plastic wrap. I sat on the table just below the last plop of mud. The attendant spread a healthy glob of mud on my upper back, then I reclined onto the aforementioned piles of mud. “Squish.” The attendant, wearing an apron, mud boots and long rubber gloves then stacked mud on my shoulders, my knees, my feet and on my thighs. To keep the mud on my thighs in place, the attendant stuck my hands firmly into the mud on each thigh and slapped more mud on each hand. Next she applied dripping wet, cold cloths on my forehead, chest and on the shins of my legs. She wrapped me in the plastic I was laying on and I was left alone to sweat. In hot mud– 46 degrees C or 117 degrees F. Half way through the treatment, the attendant came into see if I was alive and to wet the cloth on my head with more cold water. When the time was up, the attendant came back into the room and removed much of the mud from my body. I was left to wash off the rest under the warm shower in the far corner of the room. She hosed me off from the back then disappeared into a back room. She quickly returned holding a warm sheet which she wrapped around me. Slipping back into my terrycloth robe, I was done. Literally.

Duration: 15 minutes

Massage personnalisé – Personalized body massage

French Thermal SpaA luxurious massage was added to my regimen the last three days of the “cure.” It couldn’t have been more welcomed after a mud bath. I’ve never been a big fan of massages, but this masseuse made a believer out of me. Perhaps I enjoyed it because I was already so relaxed. Whatever the reason, I needed to be reminded more than once that my time was up.

Duration: 10 minutes

French Thermal Spa Activities

There were plenty of activities we could have joined at the spa such as Pilates, sophrology, hypnotism, dietetic consultations and all types of water therapies. If we hadn’t planned to make side trips to the exotic places nearby we would have had plenty to do.

 

Stay tuned for day trip highlights…. Biarritz, Bayonne and San Sebastián

French Spa Tour

French Spa Tour and Cure: Through the Pyrenees

The second day of the French Spa Tour and Cure started with a drive through the Pyrenees to the “beaux village” of Saint-Bertrand-De-Comminges.

The road trip from our overnight at L’hostellerie des Cédres to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was a brilliant plan, thanks to my trip guide extraordinaire, Nevenka. She knew the view from Villeneuve-de-Rivière along the autoroute would be breathtaking. All along the way autumn colors unfolded before us. One turn in the road was more beautiful than the last. The snow-covered mountains of the Pyrenees were always at our side.

Even the brief time we stopped at a roadway “aire” (rest area) to fill up the gas tank was an adventure. Imagine finding a full-service cafeteria with lovely French cuisine on an interstate highway!

French Spa Tour and a Cure: Saint-Bertrand-De-Comminges

When the French designate a town a “Beaux Village” they mean it. The petite town of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges and it’s famous Cathedral are truly sights to behold. What is now a UNESCO cited medieval village of only a few hundred inhabitants was once where 30,000 Romans lived. The colony was founded by General Pompey during the Roman campaign in Spain. By the fourth century the thriving town had its own diocese. Destroyed by the Vandals and again by the Germans, “Comminges” lay deserted for five centuries. The bishopric, nevertheless, was preserved so in the early twelfth century construction of a cathedral was ordered. From that time since the cathedral town has been a stage on the route to Santiago de Compostela.

Arriving on a Sunday during a church service at the Cathedral of Saint-Mary was, perhaps, not the best idea… or perhaps it was. The church was closed for Mass. While waiting for the service to end, we had plenty of time to stroll through the courtyard and garden … accompanied by the most beautiful organ music.

As soon as Mass ended we scampered into the sanctuary to view the famous organ inside. The massive organ, considered one of the best classical organs in France and the only one of its kind in Europe, stands over 53 feet tall in a corner beside the entrance. The organ has three keyboards and forty-one pipes — twelve pipes are original from 1523. Across from the organ is a wooden wall that divides the entranceway and organ from the sanctuary. Since the service was just ending, the door on the dividing wall was open to let parishioners depart. We dashed through the door to see what we could before the next service.

Oh, that I could have stayed to discover more. Yet less time in the cathedral left more time to walk through the town.

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Our brief visit to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was a small preview of what lay ahead in our journey towards the Basque Country of France. Some houses had exteriors with wood and brick facings, others were decorated with strings of red peppers around doors and windows.

Before we knew it, we were running late. Our check-in with the doctor at the spa was at four o’clock. We were off… but not before one last photo.

French Spa Tour

Next stop the “cure”…stay tuned

French Spa Tour

French Thermal Spa Experience:

Tour and a Cure: A French Thermal Spa Experience

French Thermal Spa Experience:

The Diva, Nevenka

A French thermal spa experience is an adventure this expat couldn’t resist. So the Barefoot Blogger is off for a tour through the Pyrenees and a cure. 

Since moving to France I have met some very interesting people. Few are more entertaining than Nevenka. Serbian by birth, she has lived and traveled all over Europe, Asia and the US. She speaks five languages fluently. I was introduced to Nevenka at a “Hen Party.” For those who have never heard of such, a Hen Party is a bridal shower. Nevenka arrived at the Hen Party like the diva she is. Full of life and style, she made her grand entrance with a flourish and a song.

When Nevenka suggested I accompany her on a visit to Saint Paul Les Dax for a week of relaxation and a “cure,” I couldn’t possibly turn her down. The trip would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure. Certainly a story for the blog.

France and the “cure”

To ready myself for the tour and the cure, I had to learn something about why they’re so popular in France.

Saint-Paul-Le-Dax and it’s neighboring city, Dax, have fifteen thermal spas and a thermal hospital where 60,000 spa therapy patients visit each year. The spa resorts specialize in rheumatology, phlebology and fibromyalgia. Chemical vapors in the water help relieve asthma. The Romans were first to discover the restorative benefits of the local water and silt from the Adour river that flows through Dax. The city’s early name was “Aquarius Augustae” in honor of Julia Augustae who sought cures here during her father Emperor Augustus’ reign. Thermal spas have natural, warm (64 degrees centigrade) spring waters, mineral waters or clays.

It took centuries for the Dax area to claim its premier spa therapy status. The emergence of the railways in the nineteenth century brought masses of patients to the cities in the Landes area of France. In the 1950s medical thermal spas and therapies began being funded by the state.

French thermal spa experience: The trip to the cure

Our journey to Saint-Paul-Les-Dax started mid morning when I arrived and parked my car at Nevenka’s home. When I saw the stuff she’d pack in the back of her SUV, I knew this was no ordinary road trip. In addition to a Nespresso and special lights for the hotel apartment we would share, there was champagne, a box of wine and “gourmet” sandwiches.

With her customary flair, Nevenka arranged for us to stop overnight along the six-hour route through the Pyrenees in Villeneuve-de-Rivière. L’hostellerie des Cédres to be exact, the seventeenth country home of Françoise Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise of Montespan, better known as Madame de Montespan.

Madame de Montespan was the mistress of King Louis XIV of France. She bore him seven children and she was considered by many to be the “real” queen of France. Born into one of the noblest house in France, Madame de Montespan appeared in Louis’ life when she danced with him at a palace ball hosted by King Louie’s brother, Phillippe I. Her downfall came because of her involvement in the Affaire des Poisons. Claims against her ranged from murder to worse, perhaps because of Louis’ new affair with another beauty. Never tried for her alleged transgressions, Madame de Montespan retired to a convent, given a pension of a half-million francs by the King. Before her death she was respected as a benefactress to the arts, befriending the likes Corneille, Racine and La Fontaine.

French thermal spa experience: Dinner fit for two Queens

French Thermal Spa Experience: Next stop

French thermal spa experience

Saint-Bertrand-des-Comminges

Saint-Bertrand-des-Comminges

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“The most beautiful villages of France”) Association

How to Make Travel Planning Smarter, Easier and More Fun

As a frequent traveler, I’m always interested in ideas that can help make travel planning and sightseeing easier and more fun. So when I was asked to try out the new TripScout Travel app, I jumped at it. That is, after I found out TripScout is my travel guru son’s “go to” travel  app.

After I tried it out myself, TripScout made me an offer I couldn’t refuse — ask Barefoot Blogger followers to Test Drive TripScout for FREE. 

For my test drive, I chose Barcelona. It’s a city I’ve visited that I’d like to get to know better. While I’ll admit I was not on the streets of Barcelona when I tried out the TripScout Travel App. It’s easy to see how it can help me get around next time I go.  I’ll know the neighborhoods to head for if I want a big choice of restaurants. Museums and famous landmarks are easy to spot and find. I really like the fact that when I pick something of interest, a navigation screen appears to show me the way. I can add my own special places by “dropping a pin.”

TripScout Travel App is a simple, smart and easy app you can load on your mobile phone and go! No more lugging around travel books, maps and walking in circles.

The in-depth focus on places of interest is perfect for me. Lots of stuff I want know about the history and background of a site is right at my fingertips — without Googling! Admittedly, there are limited places in France to download– Paris only. That’s where you come in. Request a city that TripScout might choose to include on an update. The app’s changing and improving all the time.

TripScout Travel App‘s just being launched. So far the reviews are impressive.

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Test Drive TripScout Travel App for FREE

Here’s all you do…

  1. Download the app on your smartphone
  2. Choose your destination carefully. Your FREE Test Drive is for one city only. 
  3. Use the code “barefoot” to enter the site
  4. Explore!
  5. Answer the few questions on the poll  (this is optional but your feedback is greatly appreciated)

 

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Disclaimer: The Barefoot Blogger receives no monetary contribution for publicity. Items and services mentioned in posts are personal, opinion-based recommendations and experiences chosen to pass onto interested followers of the Barefoot Blogger. There are no promises or guarantees regarding the accuracy and completeness of information supplied. 

 

 

My First Beaujolais Nouveau Day in France

I’m digging way back into the archives of the Barefoot Blogger to republish the post about my first Beaujolais Nouveau day in France. It’s because of stories and friends like this that I’m still loving life here four years later. By the way, Beaujolais Nouveau is coming up this week. Enjoy it wherever you are!

Introducing Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday of November is traditionally a celebration of the end of the harvest in the Beaujolais region of France. In Uzes, the event is another good excuse to meet with friends in bars.

I wish I had the imagination to make up this crazy life I’m living in France. The best I can do is to write it down. The day and events of Beaujolais Nouveau are no exceptions.

Beaujolais Nouveau Day: A quiet start

The most exciting thing I had scheduled for Beaujolais Nouveau day was to finish up a blog entry, then to drift down to a wine store at some time to sample the first crop of Beaujolais. The wine store is a new find since it’s quite well hidden. It is in a “cave” at the back of a florist shop. If I could read the signs, I would have known about it before now. Nevertheless, I literally ran across the “Cave” on Wednesday and I stopped in to check it out.

Just by accident I asked the shop owner about Beaujolais Nouveau. He informed me that my query was quite timely. He was “unveiling” his Beaujolais Nouveau the next day, Thursday, November 21. Showing my total ignorance about wine,  I asked if I could taste the new wine right then. I was already at the shop. Politely he informed me that French law forbids anyone to open a bottle before the prescribed date. He invited me to return the next day for a sampling.

On Thursday, November 21, when I was getting into writing the blog about my first house guest, and later going to the wine shop, Geoffrey called. “Looking for adventure,” he said.

I could see a smile on his face through his voice on the phone. “What’s up” I responded. “I’m really busy today, and I don’t want to spend any money.”

Apparently my reply wasn’t taken as a “no.” It showed I had a spark of interest. He had me on the hook. “Won’t cost you a dime,” he promised. “Just thought you might like to ride down the road to this little town for lunch,” he said cheerily. “Real French country food,” he added. You’ll love it.”

I agreed to meet him in 15 minutes in front of my building.

Beaujolais Nouveau DayBeaujolais Day Begins: Blauzac

Somehow I had forgotten that  I have “possession” of Mustang Sally. So Geoffrey has no car. That meant he was picking me up in the blue van. Fair enough. As promised, Geoffrey and the blue van showed up at the downstairs entrance to my apartment building, I squeezed into the front seat of the car that has no dashboard and no upholstery; I strapped myself in; and we headed to Blauzac, a tiny village about 20 minutes from Uzes.

The views along the road were of vineyards and ancient stone farm houses. The ride itself was already enough of an excuse to have put my other plans for the day aside. Arriving in Blauzac, I was immediately impressed with its raw beauty. This little town, tucked in the middle of nowhere, among wine fields, reminded me again that I am truly in France.

 Lunch with the boys

Beaujolais Nouveau DayThe cafe Geoffrey talked about all the way to Blauzak was exactly as I imagined. The small, quaint, restaurant and bar was filled with men and smoke. Introductions to “Deborah” were accompanied with the offer of a drink and a toast. Only one person in the cafe could, or would, speak English — aside from me and Geoffrey. Soon the three of us started talking, even though there were many interruptions for translations.

We mostly talked about why so many French people smoke. I asked why rolling cigarettes is so popular. I was told that rolling cigarettes is not only cheaper than buying them by the pack, it’s also better for your health. Here’s the rationale: 1) rolling cigarettes means that you know what’s inside the wrapper. Cigarettes in packs are full of “garbage”;  2) rolled cigarettes have less tar and nicotine; and, most convincing to the roller fans, 3) you smoke fewer cigarettes because you’re pre-occupied during the few minutes it takes to roll them.

Where’s the beef?  Soon it was 2pm and no sign of food… except for sightings of steaming hot onion soup the owner of the cafe served to lunch patrons who had shown up. I reminded Geoffrey why we had come this distance at lunch time. Almost immediately a table was set for Geoffrey, me, and our three new friends. Then out from the kitchen came our baskets of crusty bread, bowls of onion soup with croutons swimming on top, complete with melted cheese. After devouring the delicious soup, the “plat” (main course) was served. A choice of gardiane de taureau (bull stew) or saute de veau aux les olives, les champignons (veal stew with olives and mushrooms) — both resting over rice. All served from this modest kitchen by our gracious host and chef.

Good thing I’m retired and have nothing really important to do. But I do wonder how so many people can spend so much time in bars and cafes. By the time we left Blauzac, there was evidence that no one, with the exception of the bar owner and staff, planned to do any work that day

Beaujolais Nouveau Bar Hopping

I was bushed from all that eating and from struggling to participate in part English/mostly French conversations. My sweet little apartment and a nap were calling. The idea of going to the wine shop to try the Beaujolais nouveau was going on the back burner for next year. Geoffrey and I said our farewells and I thought that was that. Not so. Within 30 minutes my phone was ringing. Geoffrey. “I’m coming to pick you up to taste the new wines,” he said. “You can’t miss this.”

“Good grief,” I said to myself. Then realizing I’d hate to miss this blog opportunity, I said to Geoffrey, “OK, I’ll meet you downstairs.”

Beaujolais Nouveau Tasting #1

It was after 7pm when we reached the wine “cave” I had hoped to visit. It was closed. We took off down the street to another wine shop where there was definitely something going on. It was a party… not a big party …  a gathering of the shop owner’s friends. We were invited to join the group and I was handed my first glass of the new wine. The small celebration included bottles of wine, baguettes of bread, a few types of cheese, and thin slices of French cured ham, all spread casually over the store counters near the checkout. According to Geoffrey, the wine connoisseurs were discussing the quality of the new wine — or lack, thereof. they said there was the presence of an artichoke flavor, not fruit, in the wine. They could have been joiking. I miss so much not understanding the French language.

To me, the taste of the new wine was very watery. Not uncommon for a freshly bottled Beaujolais, I was told. It was certainly drinkable and we could have stayed on and on. Another bar adventure was calling.

Beaujolais Nouveau Tasting #2

The second stop for Beaujolais Nouveau tasting was at a cafe/bar I’ve walked past many times since living in Uzes. Admittedly, I always walked on the opposite side of the street. As in most places in town, Geoffrey knew everyone in bar #2. He was greeted with open arms. They eyed me with suspicion. Trying to make my 5’10” self invisible was impossible.Beaujolais Nouveau Day

“OK,” said I to myself: “You’re on this mission for a purpose.” With that, I bellied up to the bar beside the others. The bar keeper pulled out the wine flavor-of-the-day, Beaujolais Nouveau, and served me a glass. In no time, I’d made some new friends. At a table nearby, the young men offered to share the cheese, ham and bread.

When it was time to move on to the last leg of our Beaujolais hop, I was determined to make friends with the “big guy” at the end of the bar. He’s a former rugby player and he lives with his mom. I mean, who would expect the “big guy” in the corner to be a teddy bear?

Beaujolais Nouveau Tasting #3

Beaujolais Nouveau DayLes Pieton is a cafe/bar I walk past several times a day. Sometime I stop to join people I know for a drink or a meal. This night there was definitely a party going on. The place was packed inside and out. The scene seemed even more crowded because all the other shops and restaurants along the main street had shut down. Even on the night of Beaujolais Nouveau, everything in Uzes is closed by 10 pm.

By this time I was ready to sit down and actually taste the wine. I pulled a bar stool up to a tall table outside and covered my legs with one of the blankets provided for chilly evenings. It is getting cold in Uzes with temperatures in the 40s and 50s farenheit  (I don’t speak French, nor do I know the metric system!)  To me the temperature is pleasant. To the French residents here, it’s really cold. They wear parkas with fur trim and hats. After another bottle of wine was uncorked and new acquaintances were made, I said my farewell to all. The night of Nouveau Beaujolais 2013 was now history.

Perhaps others bring in the end of the wine harvest with fanfare and at great expense. For me, I realize just how lucky I am to be having this simple, strange, new life. What I’m certain of — and learning more everyday — is that life is what we make it; we are all more alike than we are different; and that a spirit of adventure, instead of fear, leads to learning more about ourselves, understanding more about others; and to truly loving one another.

 

Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Visit Languedoc-Roussillon

Visit Languedoc-Roussillon: France’s “Other Riviera”

The third in the series of shore excursions for travelers on Mediterrean cruises, Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France is sharing ideas we all can use. Let’s see what she suggests for those who want to experience Languedoc-Roussillon.

Languedoc-Roussillon is coming to be known by many as the “other French Riviera.”

The best Mediterranean beaches and 300 days of sunshine to match?  The best seafood, world-class wines and historic fortress towns? Must be the French Riviera. Wrong! It’s Languedoc-Roussillon – now known as “Occitanie.” Understated and authentic it is often overlooked in favour of its glitzy neighbour, the Cote d’Azur.  But word’s getting around. Curious visitors are discovering ancient fortress towns built by the Knights Templar, Cathar Castles and the ancient windy streets of Montpellier. And believe it or not – unlike the Riviera – there is actually space to park a car or spread out a towel along vast stretches of sandy beaches!

Nancy McGee, Absolutely Southern France

Visit Languedoc-Roussillon: Sete

“The Venice of the South of France” 

Visit Languedoc-Roussillon

Canal view in Sete

So called because of its network of canals, Sète is a small town with a big personality – and many cruise passengers’ first glimpse of the region. Sete is packed with things to do (and to eat and drink) so let’s begin with the popular 3-hour gourmet walking tour and sample local produce in the indoor market and specialty stores. Ever heard of a tielle? Well now’s the chance to discover this spicy octopus pie. Did anyone know that President Thomas Jefferson was a frequent visitor who loved Viognier wine – or of the wine named after him? He discovered it to be a perfect pairing with the locally produced Roquefort cheese.

Oysters, Wine and the Art of French Cooking

Afterwards, while some visitors relax and explore the town others head further afield, often to nearby Bouziques – a pretty photogenic town on the lagoon and southern France’s oyster capital. A fascinating visit to an authentic oyster farm to learn about the  TLC required to raise a single oyster as well as the “art of eating an oyster” will be a truly memorable experience.

Since Occitanie  is the single biggest wine-producing region in the world, being responsible for more than a third of France’s total wine production,  tastings opportunities abound in prestigious domains, within easy reach of most towns. What many people don’t know for instance is that the local sparkling Blanquette de Limoux was the inspiration for the monks who first produced Dom Perignon Champagne!

Inspired by food and wine tastings, many visitors want to learn to cook it! No problem, cooking workshops are easily arranged with a stop being made to shop for the seasonal local ingredients including seafood at the Sète market.

Visit Languedoc-Roussillon: Montpellier

A Modern and Medieval Marvel

With the narrow Medieval streets of the old town to the neo-classique Antigone quarter, Montpellier is where ancient and modern coexist in perfect harmony. It’s a buzzy, trendy, university town, the fastest-growing in France, full of culture, history and life. Foodies love it for its variety restaurants and our gourmet walking tours are extremely popular. Step back in history and visit Europe’s oldest surviving medical school, the Triumphal Arch, historic gardens, enjoy wine and music festivals. – and infinitely more.

Visit Languedoc-Roussillon: Carcassonne

Cathars and Castles

A day in ‘La Cité’ – the medieval walled city of Carcassonne is a day well spent. A fairy tale city from afar, Carcassonne is a town within a castle, built to deter the most determined invader. It has earned designation as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Cathars were Medieval ‘Kings of the Castles’, impressive examples of which are scattered around the region.

Visit Languedoc-Roussillon: The Camargue

White Horses, Pink Flamingoes – Must be France!

Situated close to the Mediterranean, the Camargue is an outdoor lover’s dream for bird-watching, horse riding, hiking, cycling, riverboat trips, to name a few activities. Parts of the Camargue National Park are designated a UNESCO  biosphere where the pink flamingos and white horses thrive particularly near the vast salt marshes.

More shore excursion posts by Absolutely Southern France

Mediterranean Cruise Shore Excursions: The Riviera

A Travel Pro’s Favorite Places in Provence

Shore excursions by Absolutely Southern France are fully private 7 or 8 hour customized experiences with English-speaking local and professional driver/guides with a van or sedan.Mediterranean cruise shore excursion

Languedoc/Occitanie Ports of Call : Sète, Port Vendres.

Riviera Ports of Call : Monaco, Monte Carlo, Villefranche, Antibes, Nice, Cannes, St Tropez, Provence ports of call : Toulon, La Seyne, Marseille,

Contact: nancy@absolutelysouthernfrance.com

Website : http://absolutelysouthernfrance.com/

Facebook  : https://www.facebook.com/absolutelysouthernfrance/

Twitter @AbsoluteSouthFr

Instagram  : https://www.instagram.com/absolutelysouthernfrance/

Barefoot Blogger Posts:

Camargue

7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

Back to the Camargue: The White Horses

A Most Unusual Place for a French Vineyard

Carcassone

Trip Ideas You Can Steal From a 10-Year-Old’s Visit to France

A Visit to Carcassonne Through the Eyes of a Child

Sete

7 Reasons To Visit Sete This Year

Sete or Marseille? Which Has the Best Fish Soup?

A Day at the Beach in Sete: That’s Life!

Next Stop: Sete France

Barefooting in Sete, France

The Bad Girls in Sete

 

 

 

van gogh's trail

On Van Gogh’s Trail

Now that I’ve seen the movie “Loving Van Gogh” — in French no less, with no subtitles — I’m remembering my first visit to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

I started my quest for Van Gogh’s trail in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence early on a beautiful, sunny morning. Temperatures were in the high 70’s and a light wind was blowing. Planned stops along the way to St. Rémy were the towns of Remoulins and Beaucaire.

On Van Gogh’s Trail: Remoulins

I’m not certain why I chose to stop in Remoulins because I had done no research — just a spot on a map. Nevertheless, a cemetery along the way caught my eye while I was passing through the town. I’d been intrigued about French cemeteries since being here, so stopping in Remoulins gave me a chance to check one out. To me it’s interesting to find out how different cultures honor their deceased. In Remoulins, and other areas of Provence, bodies are buried above the ground in family plots. Most grave stones in this cemetery dated back many centuries. Many were adorned with elaborate porcelain flower displays and family memorabilia.

On Van Gogh’s Trail: Beaucaire
Moving onto Beaucaire, the scenery definitely changed. The older part of town where tourist visit is centered around a busy canal. Marine traffic is active, mostly for pleasure boats, and cafes and restaurants cater to transients and locals. Some boat owners who tour the western Mediterranean in summer moor their vessels in Beaucaire in the winter.

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Finding the way
1  If you’re wondering how I find my way around, it is relatively easy. On this trip I had a Michelin Atlas of France. I know the main ways in and out if Uzes. So with a couple of stops at petrol stations along the way to ask directions, I got along fine. Note: Both petrol stations where I stopped had female attendants. Neither spoke English. I simple pointed where I was going on the map and they totally understood what I wanted. They gave me perfect directions. Not to be sexist, but a man giving directions would have described every landmark along the way. The females just drew straight lines from one turn to another. Simple.

Another guide for finding my way on the roadways is “roundabouts.”I’m not kidding, there are roundabouts every two miles or so along French roadways. That means there are frequent direction signs that point your way.

When you get into a city, there’s usually clearly marked signage to follow. If you don’t see your destination on the sign, just keep going straight. Soon there will be a sign that says: “Autres Direction” or “Toutes Direction.” Follow that sign. It will lead you to the right road.

If all else fails, ask a woman.

On Van Gogh’s Trail: St. Rémy de Provence

St. Rémy is advertised as the one place you must see if you want to experience Provence.

Nostradamus was born in SVan Gogh's Trailt. Rémy and Doctor Albert Schweitzer was “hospitalized” here in 1917-18 when he wrote The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization and Civilization and Ethics, part of his philosophical study of civilization.

Most importantly St. Rémy is where the artist, Van Gogh, lived from 1889-90 in the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean
Driving into St. Rémy, an almost “spiritual” feeling came over me. There was something different about the countryside . It felt like a movie set. The road into the city is lined with white-banded “plane” trees, like those leading out if Uzes. But they go on for miles and miles. Ancient stuccoed farm houses and buildings are close to the road with lush farmlands spreading deep behind them.

Van Gogh's Trail

The historic district of St. Rémy is set in a circle. I found a parking place in the public lot that was close to the entrance of town. After depositing the equivalent of $5 in the meter, I looked for the tourist office. Before I had gotten very far,  a menu special at a charming cafe caught my eye– salmon. I stopped for dejeuner.Van Gogh's Trail
Perfectly prepared salmon, risotto with tiny chunks of tomato and scallions, and a glass of rose.

I skipped the tourist office and took off to explore the shops. Of course.

Van Gogh's TrailInterestingly, I saw more Americans in St. Rémy than anywhere else I’ve traveled in this area. I’m sure its because they’ve read the publicity about St. Rémy being the “place to be” in Provence. They head there on day stops while cruising the Med. There’s definitely a distinctively high-class atmosphere in St. Rémy. Its appeal to the “rich and famous” is apparent throughout the shops and boutiques.

Some of the architecture even looks rich– more “French” than “provincial” or “Provençal.”

On Van Gogh’s Trail: Art and architecture
Walking around St. Rémy, there were so many times I reminded myself, “Van Gogh was here”, I could imagine how he was inspired. It inspired me.

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In the footsteps of Van Gogh

The creme de la creme of my day was a tour of Saint Paul-de-Mausolean, the monastery complex and asylum where Van Gogh was voluntarily committed from 1889-90. From here he produced two of his most notable works, “Starry nights” and his self-portrait. Taking the photos below, I was transported to Van Gogh’s day and time. I could imagine how he felt fortunate for all the beauty around him, in spite of his imprisonment. The entrance, the buildings, the inside, Van Gogh’s Garden, the chapel, the view!

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Van Gogh was released from the hospital at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean in May 1890 and left for Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris. It is said he shot himself on 27 July 1890 and died two days later.

Fortunately his art lives on.

van gogh's trail

Wish for France

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: History, Torture and Transformation

There are hardly more historically significant towns in France than Aigues-Mortes. Within the walled city, legends and facts reveal a rich history of conquering heroes and suffering martyrs. Today the place has transformed into a popular destination for travelers, filled with souvenir shops and sidewalk cafes. Visit with me inside Aigues-Mortes’ walls.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

Matafère tower[

It all started with salt

From its earliest days Aigues-Mortes was significant for its salt fields and its location bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks and later the Romans, led by Gaius Marius (102 BC), occupied the land known as “Aigas Mortas,” meaning”dead” or “stagnant water.” Benedictine monks resided in the area in the 5th century and lived off the abundant fishing, hunting, and salt production. So important were the monks and the region to Charlemagne that in 791 he ordered the Matafère Tower to be erected amid the swamps to warn the residents if there were enemy fleets approaching. 

Before you can grasp the significance of Aigues-Mortes to kings and conquerors in France, it is essential to understand the importance of salt in the ancient world. As a trade item it was as valuable as gold. It was used a religious offering and a currency. A landowner who possessed a salty pond was considered a rich man.

In the 13th century it was Aigues-Mortes’ salt fields and the proximity to the sea that appealed to King Louis IX (Saint Louis). Intent on creating a passageway for trade and for his crusades, Saint Louis turned his attention to the spit of land in the marshes. He obtained the land from the Benedictine monks in exchange for property in Languedoc where the monks could plough the soil and grow crops. When the Benedictines left, Saint Louis built the town; rebuilt the Matafère Tower; named it the Tour de Constance; housed his garrison there; and used Aigues-Mortes as the point of departure in 1248 for the Crusade of Egypt (7th Crusade) and for the crusade where he died in 1270 (8th Crusade).

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

King Louis IX

As Louis IX had envisioned, Aigues-Mortes became prosperous as a trade route. The population and town grew on its own, but largely because those residing in Aigues-Mortes were exempted from paying tolls, tariffs and taxes. The Carbonniere Tower (Tour Carbonniere) was constructed as a watchtower in the marshland outside of town. The narrow road beneath the tower was the only land access to the town. Guards were stationed there to control who entered and exited the town and to collect tolls. The passageway continued be used as a toll road into the 1700s.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

The Carbonniere Tower (Tour Carbonniere)

In 1272, Louis’ son and successor, Philip III the Bold, ordered the construction of the walls that completely encircled the town. The work was not completed until 30 years later. Aigues-Mortes was a busy port in the 13th and 14th centuries, but when Provence was reunited with France, Marseille took over in prominence and prestige.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: Battles and Torture

From the 14th-19th century Aigue-Mortes was the site of battles, torture and merciless imprisonments. In the 14th century Templars were incarcerated in the Tower of Constance, tortured and burned at the stake. During the winter of the Armagnac-Burgundian civil war in the 15th century, a troop of marauding Burgundians were killed. Their bodies were dragged inside the walls, salted and stacked into the Tower of the Bourguignons (Tour des Bourguignons).

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

Tower of the Bourguignons (Tour des Bourguignons)

Protestants who pillaged Aigues-Mortes in 1575 and took it over as their own were imprisoned there after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). They remained in prison until their deaths. In the late 1800’s, one of the largest massacres of immigrants in French history took place inside Aigues-Mortes walls. A riot broke out between French and Italian workers who  labored together in the salt fields. Police were unable to contain the riot and, reportedly, up to 150 men were killed — all Italians.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

“Resist”inscription in the Tower of Constance

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: Women Prisoners

After religious freedom was declared in France, it is said there were fourteen women prisoners in the Tower of Constance.

They were hidden away in a room deprived of air or of the light of day. The governor of Languedoc, who was on an official visit to the prison, found them there. It is said “they fell at his feet, overpowered with weeping so that they could not at first speak, and when speech came, they all together recounted their common sufferings. He was interested by the story of Gabrielle Guinges, who had given two sons to die in the French wars, yet was permitted to languish in prison. He was touched by the miserable appearance  of Jeanne Auguiere and Isabeau Maumejan, who were eighty years of age, and of Isabeau Anne Gaussaint, of Sommieres, who was ninety years and who had been imprisoned for 36 years.” The most famous women prisoner was Marie Durand who engraved the word “Resist” on the prison wall. Incarcerated at the age of 17, she was released 38 years later.

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: A Transformation

While Aigues-Mortes is no longer the important port it used to be, salt remains a major product of the region. Compagnie des Salins du Midi, now known as “Salins,” is one of the main salt producers in Europe. It is tourists that have captured the ancient city recently. Aigue-Mortes’ walls seem to bulge and vibrate with all the energy.

If you plan a visit to Aigues-Mortes, please stop by the tourist office and take a guided or audio tour. You can read about the history, but there’s nothing quite like hearing it from an expert. Time and money well spent!

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More reasons you should visit Aigues-Mortes? The Camargues!

7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

Back to the Camargue: The White Horses

Day Trip from Uzes: Arles, Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer and the Camargue

A Most Unusual Place for a French Vineyard

 

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

A “Blustery Day, Winnie the Pooh” : Le Mistral

Living in the south of France is a beautiful thing. Except for the wind. It is so prevalent and so powerful that it has a name: “Le Mistral”

Residents of Uzes have a saying about Le Mistral:

“It sometimes lasts only one or two days, frequently lasts several days, and sometimes lasts more than a week.”

Let me know if you can figure out that prediction. From my brief experience in this part of France, I’ve known it to last more than a week. Having lived next to the Atlantic Ocean, I would describe it as a strong ocean breeze during hurricane season. In France, the wind can be dry or wet, warm or cold, There are times when Le Mistral is so strong, you feel it will knock you off your feet, literally.

What is Le Mistral?

Le MistralI know nothing about meteorology; however, I will paraphrase the description of the weather pattern during Le Mistral to say that it occurs when the flow of air from north to south creates a current of cold air that picks up speed through the foothills of the Alps and Cevennes. It then spills out into the Languedoc region of France, Provence, the Rhone Valley, and as far southeast as Sardinia and Corsica — sometimes as far as Africa. Wind speeds can reach more than 90 kilometers per hour.

Le Mistral winds generally blow from the north or northwest. At certain times, the airflow is channelled by the mountains through pre-alpine valleys and along the Cote de Azur so that it blows from east to west.Le Mistral

Le Mistral that blows from the west brings air that is not so cold. It is generally followed by clear skies and warmer temperatures. This type of mistral usually blows for no more than one to three days. The mistral from the northeast, on the other hand, is very cold, sometimes bringing heavy snow to low altitudes in the winter. Le Mistral with these characteristics it is felt only in the west of Provence and as far as Montpellier — right where I live.

Le Mistral

Depending on the direction, the wind can bring weather conditions that quickly change from good to worse.

One Sunday I experienced a torrential rain storm that lasted all day. The rest of the week was rainy and cold.

Le Mistral

Summer winds

The good news about Le Mistral is that conditions brought about by the winter winds help make the year-round climate very desirable — 2700 to 2900 hours of sunshine a year. During the summer — mostly July — Le Mistral sweeps through the area around Provence and Uzes when the temperatures are particularly warm. It is caused by a flow of air from the north toward the east and it generally means sunny skies — even when the surrounding areas may be cloudy. The summer winds can clear the sky in less than two hours, blowing away dust and pollution, to make a cloudy day crystal clear.

Van Gogh’s Inspiration?

Among other artists who were inspired by both the beauty of the Provence region and the clarity of the air, Van Gogh seems to capture it all — and the wind. During my road trip to St. Rémy last summer, I hadn’t experienced Le Mistral. So when visiting the asylum where he was self-imposed during his last days, I was impressed by the way this masterful artist mimicked the natural phenomena around him — the sunflowers, the starry night and more. (Here’s a link to the earlier blog)

Now that I have knowledge of Le Mistral, it is interesting to go back to look at the work of Van Gogh. The effect of Le Mistral on his paintings — the wind, the clear skies — is undeniable. In fact, I ran across a blog that describes Van Gogh’s art and temperament during that period of his life. (Click here to read the related post)

Wheat Field with Cypresses

Le Mistral

Starry Night, Van Gogh 1889

Le Mistral

Rest Work, Van Gogh 1890 (Clear, calm sky)

Le Mistral

Le Mistral and tradition

Evidence of Le Mistral was found in archeological remains from as early as 400 BC. Ancient ruins in an area that is now Nice showed stone walls were erected the northwest side of fire pits to keep the wind from extinguishing the fire.

The construction of farmhouses, facing south, helped residents minimize the effects of Le Mistral. Roofing tiles and chimneys that distinguish the rural landscapes and towns have links to Le Mistral.Mostly facing south, town homes and buildings have small windows on the north side.

Le Mistral

Le Mistral

Roofs are gently sloped with sturdy tiles to endure the winds and rain of Le Mistral.

(Visit this site to learn more about wind and architecture in the south of France.)

This early Provincial creche shows the shepherd boy holding his hat, fending off heavy winds.

Le Mistral

Bell towers that hover over towns and villages in the path of Le Mistral were designed to filter the wind.

This particular bell tower is visible from my apartment terrace.

Le Mistral

More signs of Le Mistral

The day I went out to take pictures of the plane trees that line the roads near Uzes, the wind was ferocious. There were times when I had to hold onto the side of a tree trunk to keep my balance.

It’s pretty evident to me that these trees have seen their share of Le Mistral … from the bare limbs on one side of the tree…

Le Mistral

… to the abundance of foliage on one side.

Le Mistral

Everything in sight seems to tilt with the wind, and grow that way.

Le Mistral

Imagine the storms this tree has weathered.

Le Mistral

Le Mistral

Revisiting the works of Van Gogh, I was amazed to see this familiar representation of Le Mistral. I am truly walking in his footsteps!

Le Mistral brings beautiful skyscapes

These are some of the amazing views around Uzes before, during and after Le Mistral. Photos were actually taken from the windows of my apartment. Perhaps bearing the wind is worth viewing how it brews up turmoil in the skies.

Le Mistral

.

Le Mistral

Even the birds know when Le Mistral is on its way.

Le Mistral

Uzes

Le Mistral

Summer days on the Mediterranean boast mainly clear skies.

Le Mistral

Le Mistral

On a lighter note, Marilyn Monroe, stationed at a bar in Nimes, seems to know when Le Mistral is in town.

Le Mistral

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Saint Jean du Gard

The Cevennes: Saint Jean du Gard

I’ve never visited the Cevennes other than in Autumn, but it’s definitely the time and the place to go. Especially on a Tuesday. It’s market day in Saint Jean du Gard.

The mountainous town of Saint Jean du Gard’s history dates back to the twelfth century. It was then that monks from the Abbey of St-Gilles created the settlement on the banks of the Gardon River. With its religious beginnings, Saint Jean du Gard and the surrounding area — the Cévennes — became known as a stronghold for French Protestants (Hugenots).

The citizens of the area, mostly white-shirted Calvinist peasants (Camisards), famously banded together to fight royal control throughout years of religious wars. Many fled to America, England and Switzerland from 1685 into the early 1700’s to avoid ongoing persecution. More recent history of Saint Jean du Gard includes the town’s mention in Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.

San Jean du Gard

Market day in Saint Jean du Gard

Because market days seem to be the focus of my explorations in France, I planned the visit to Saint Jean du Gard on a Tuesday.San Jean du Gard When I arrived in the town, I was happily surprised to see familiar sights. I had been here before on my trip a few years ago — the same visit when I discovered Uzes.

It was a rainy, overcast day but that didn’t stop me from wandering around to some of the same places I remembered and exploring new places for photo opportunities. First there was a stop at the “indoor” market area to see which local products were in season.

Apples, apples  more apples.

Apples everywhere. All varieties of apples and all types of juices. Many are the same as in the States. Only a few I’d never seen before. In addition to the raw apples, there were several versions of apple juice. Not being a big fan of fruit juices, I didn’t buy any to bring back with me. Nevertheless, it did make a great photo.

San Jean du GardSan Jean du Gard

 

Also in season were chestnuts. While doing a bit of research on Saint Jean du Gard, I learned that chestnut trees were once an important food crop and brought a degree of wealth to the area because of the popular “marron” nuts. San Jean du GardWhen planting mulberry trees to “nourish” the silk worm industry became more profitable than harvesting chestnuts, mulberry trees took over much of the landscape. Fortunately marrons are abundant enough in the markets today for all to continue to enjoy.

Root vegetables and pumpkins

You find pomme de terre (potatoes) on French dinner tables probably more than any other side dish. So it is no surprise there were bushels and baskets of white and red-skinned potatoes in every market, regardless of the season. It’s much harder to find baking potatoes (russet-type) in the markets where I’ve ventured. Certainly I haven’t seen Outback Steakhouse giant-sized spuds anywhere!

2013-11-05 09.47.14Squashes and pumpkins were on display in time for fall menus, including creamed soups. I prepare squashes like we do in the South– splitting a butternut squash in half and baking it with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. That’s unheard of by anyone I’ve asked here. Instead, they peel and steam the squash, then mash it. The one I have at my house is going to end up in a creamy soup.

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One vegetable that puzzled me, pictured in the photo on the right, was a giant radish. According to the vendor, it is eaten raw like its tiny kin. Presumably it’s almost as hot as horseradish. The truth I’ll find out about later.

There were not many varieties of green, leafy vegetables like collards and kale in this markets. But there were many types of veggies like endive, shallots, fennel, and leeks. Eggplant (aubergine) is very popular in France and prepared in many ways. Mesclun, spinach and other salad greens are in the market throughout the year. Having lived most of my life in the southern states of the US, there are not many vegetables here that I don’t recognize. Some I’m trying for the first time — fennel for example. Yum!

People watching in Saint Jean du Gard

San Jean du GardSneaking photos of interesting people is another reason I love market days. Saint Jean du Gard has its own special flavor for my spectator sport.

 

San Jean du Gard

Village views

Now, for some of the best views along the journey. Perhaps this will give you a feel for the town of Saint Jean du Gard. Even on a less than beautiful day, it’s a special place to see.

San Jean du GardSan Jean du GardSan Jean du GardSan Jean du Gard

San Jean du Gard

Along with the quaint village streets and scenes, tourists head to Saint Jean du Gard for the steam train ride through the mountainous areas of the Cevennes. The 45-minute roundtrip to Anduze is on my to-do list for on a sunnier day. Hikers and outdoors travelers head for this part of the Cévennes and the Cévennes National Park in the summertime in droves.The beauty of the hills and river, speckled with small farms and villages, also attract photographers and artists.

Did I mention? … there are pottery shops and wine domains all along the way.

More on autumn in the Cevennes:

7 Great Ideas for An Awesome Autumn Weekend Around Uzes 

Halloween Train to the Cevennes

An Autumn Week South of France

 

Southern France Chambre d'Hôte

A Southern France Chambre d’Hôte: The Season Finale

Now that we’ve followed a year in the life of Brit expats, Jane and Gary, at their southern France chambre d’hôte, let’s see how the season ends at Mas d’Augustine.

The September and October sunshine is glorious, with lovely warm afternoons and slightly chilly mornings – two of our favourite months of the year in France. The summer is officially over and our last really busy weekend was in early September, although we still had guests coming and going until the end of that month – but life is now a little slower, having made the decision to close at the end of September, a month earlier than usual.

What an amazing season. We are both exhausted but delighted with the business, which has significantly increased this year and, happily, gave us the chance to meet again so many returning guests who have become firm friends (this year almost 40% of our income came from returning guests and referrals).

The weather was unbelievably good from the beginning of May, since when we’ve had non-stop sunshine right through until the end of August, with the temperature constantly hitting 40C (104F) in the latter months.  Fantastic for our guests, but not so good for maintaining a green and colourful garden and very testing when working in the kitchen! On one evening that I remember being particularly hot, by 11.30 p.m. I was so tired Gary sent me to bed and said he would take care of the guests and clear. I was just lying down with the air conditioning working full blast when the music started!  I got up and looked out of our window – apparently, our wonderful multi-national diners wanted a music evening and so Gary played many well-known English songs and, despite the fact that no one spoke English, after a few tunes they were all singing at the tops of their voices, using salt and pepper pots as improvised microphones.  So much for my early night, as this went on until 2.30 in the morning. There were some very sore heads in the morning…….

Gourmet Dining at Mas d’Augustine’s Southern France Chambre d’Hôte

I prepared an evening Table d’hȏtes or bistro menu every night for three weeks in July and it was 45C (113F) in the kitchen on many of those.  We had fans working, trying to cool the kitchen down, but they had to be turned off when the soufflés came out of the oven or when plating up.  Gary was exhausted running up and down the steps to the courtyard in this heat, but our guests were relaxed and happy dining by the pool.

 

I had some fun this season introducing some new recipes, the most successful of which was probably the flambéed chicken in a tarragon and cream sauce, served on a bed of crushed new potatoes and leeks with haricot beans and some sautéed chanterelles – it was very popular.  However, I am not sure it was the most sensible dish for me to create when the temperature in the kitchen was already over 40C..……. I’ve included the recipe so you can try it at home, but hopefully when it’s cooler!

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Behind the Scenes

Southern France Chambre d'HôteWe never seem to find the time to swim in the pool ourselves but, one very hot afternoon when Gary was walking back through the pool area with the clean laundry, to the amazement of all 10 guests (who were sitting/lying by the pool) he put down the laundry basket, took off his shoes and, fully clothed, walked into the pool and ducked under the water…… he then resurfaced, came out, put on his shoes, picked up the laundry and carried on as if nothing had happened. The fabled eccentric Englishman is now a definite reality to many nationalities!

This season we were lucky and met the first 3 couples who found our home via this Blog – two American couples travelling together and one Canadian couple, all of whom visited us in September. We hope they had a great time and enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed them. We look forward to meeting the rest of you avid readers if you visit France!

Mas d’Augustine Flambéed Chicken

Southern France Chambre d'Hôte

 

Ingredients

 

4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 tbsp Seasoned plain flour

2 tbsp Olive oil

Knob of butter

4 Shallots, finely chopped

4 tbsp Brandy or cognac

300ml Chicken stock

16 Asparagus spears, halved (optional)

4 Rounded tbsp. crème fraiche

1 tbsp Chopped tarragon

 

Method

  1. Dust the chicken with the flour.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a large, wide pan with a lid, add the chicken, then sauté on all sides until slightly browned.
  3. Add the shallots, then sauté for about 2 mins until they start to soften, but not colour.
  4. Pour in the brandy, carefully ignite, then stand well back until the flames have died down.
  5. Stir in the stock and bring to the boil.
  6. Reduce heat, cover, then cook for 15 mins until the chicken is tender.
  7. Add the asparagus (optional) to the sauce. Cover, then cook for 5 mins more until tender.
  8. Stir in the crème fraîche and tarragon and simmer gently.
  9. Season to taste and serve with a green vegetable and potato puree.

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

More Barefoot Blogger posts on Mas d’Augustine

The Truth About Owning and Running A Chambres d’Hôtes in the South of France

The Inside Story: Owning and Running a Chambres d’Hôtes in the South of France

An Expat’s Life in A Chambre d’Hôtes in France: Jane’s Story

If Owning a Chambre d’Hote in France Is Your Dream, Spend a Day Picking Olives

A Slice of Life in the “Off” Season: A Chambre d’Hôtes in France

“Company’s Coming!” Owning and Running a Chambre d’Hôte in the South of France

Friends and Family for the Holiday at Mas d’Augustine

 

visit Orange, France

Three Very Good Reasons to Visit Orange, France

Not everyone who goes to Provence makes a stop in Orange, France. I’m not sure why because it’s not that far from popular places like Avignon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Plus, it’s an extraordinary place to visit. 

I’ve been to visit Orange, France three times now. For three different reasons. The first visit was with my son when he came to Uzés to see me for the first time. It was literally a “drive by” to take photos of the Triumphal Arch and the Roman Theatre (Théâtre Antique) and to stop at Vaison-la-Romaine. Mon fils loves to go to as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible. He’s also a wonderful photographer, so most of the photos I’m sharing with you are his. The second visit to Orange was to attend the opera, Madame Butterfly, at the Théâtre Antique d’Orange. The third trip was for a meeting of Network Provence (women’s business group) that gave me another chance to explore the theatre and town.

Orange is a town of just over 30,000 only 20 kms (12.7 miles) away from Avignon. It was founded as a Roman city in 35 BC. Like Nimes, Orange was established by Roman soldiers who were awarded with land for their service. Also like Nimes, the town was a cultural center with impressive structures like the Roman theatre, built before 25 BC.

1) The Roman Theatre (Théâtre Antique d’Orange) is the first good reason to visit Orange, France

One of the best preserved theatres from Roman times, the Théâtre Antique was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. It still has its original stage wall which serves as the external wall. Once covered by an awning, the stage is now covered with glass. The theatre is has three tiers which can seat up to 9.000 spectators. The best seats are up front although none are what you would call comfortable. Hard as a rock, matter of fact.

visit Orange, France

 

visit Orange, France

2) The Opera is the second good reason to visit Orange, France

In 1869 the Théâtre Antique’s three tiers were restored so that the venue could rediscover its past,  hosting performances of the great Greco-Roman tragedies, as well as promoting French authors. Since 1971 the theatre has been home to one of France’s leading summer opera festivals, the “New Chorégies.

Last year I splurged to buy a ticket for “Madame Butterfly.” Seeing it in the magnificent amphitheatre was one of my most treasured memories of France. It’s well worth the cost to just be there.

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 3) The third very good reason to visit Orange, France is to see and experience the country’s biggest and most important sites of Gallo-Roman artifacts

Even if you’re not into history, you can’t help but be amazed by the ancient structures, including whole cities of Roman ruins that remain in and around Orange. In addition to the Théâtre Antique, a Roman Temple was discovered during the excavation of the amphitheatre. A Roman arch is a famous landmark in Orange and not far away are two Roman neighborhoods in Vaison-la-Romaine –Puymin and La Villasse.  Once part of the Roman city of Vasio, the neighborhoods span over two eight-hectare sites. While there can stroll along the paved streets where the Romans lived, worked and shopped. You can walk through the homes of the town’s wealthiest families. You can see what remains of the fountains and pools, the kitchen, the living areas and garden. You can witness the grand design of “Maison à la Tonnelle,” a 3000-m2 “mansion” built on 3 levels.

From the two neighborhoods, paths lead to a Roman theatre that was unearthed in 1912. Dating from the 1st century BC the theatre could seat 7000 people. Today it still serves as an event venue for theatre, chorales and dance. In the center of the Puymin site is the Théo Desplans Archaeological Museum. It contains a collection of more than 2000 everyday objects and decorative statues.

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Other reasons to visit Orange are the little shops and alleyways with all types of Frenchy things…

 It’s even more fun when you visit with a really good friend like Yetunde from Cook’n with Class who’ll show you the best places to eat.

Have you been to Orange? Tell me about it on a comment. What did you enjoy the most? 

french people

10 Surprising Things I’ve Learned About French People

Cook’n with Class Uzes gives me the opportunity to explore my personal feelings about living in France in their monthly blog. You may be surprised what I’ve learned about French life. 

When I came to France to live four years ago, I knew very little about French people. I’d heard tales about how the French were distant and unfriendly. I’d read about French men and their romances. I knew how much the French love their dogs.

 Now that I’m experiencing France myself, I’m finding that many things I heard about the French are not true at all. Here are the 10 things that surprise me the most.

1 The French are friendly.

French peopleWhen I hear that the French are unfriendly, I can’t believe it. From my experience, that just isn’t so. Everyday when I leave my apartment in Uzes and meet people on the streets, almost everyone smiles and says: “Bonjour.” It only takes a moment’s eye contact for them to utter the friendly word.It’s the same when I go shopping. “Bonjour” is the first word out of a sales person’s mouth. On leaving, they never fail to say a polite “Bonne journée” or “have a good day.”

2 The French are quiet.

Being an American I know “loud.” The French, on the other hand, are reserved, or quiet. There isn’t a time that I can remember when I’ve been in a restaurant, cafe or on the street and I’ve been disturbed by a loud French person. It’s just not in their nature. Even children are comparatively quite. Siting beside a French family with two or more children in tow, you’d never know they weren’t all adults. Children are well-mattered and … well …quiet.

French people

This is a common sight in an airport in France when you see French parents and children together.

3 The French love family.

French peoplePerhaps it’s because the French “work to live” instead of “live to work,” that they spend so much time with their families. When I see French people in the market or at a festival, they are mostly in couples or in family groups. I seldom see French people hanging out with a gang of same-sex friends. They’re with their families. It’s a beautiful thing.

4 The French love to sit outdoors.

You know the weather has changed when you see a crowded sidewalk cafe in Uzes. Yet it doesn’t have to be a perfect day for the French to be outside. Parks are filled with joggers, walkers and families. On school days there are classes of children at the parks, sitting on the lawn with a teacher. Perhaps they’re outdoors because there are not a lot of homes with gardens. Whatever the reason, the French get lots of fresh air.

French people

5 The French love cats.

Everyone knows French people have a great affection for dogs. They take them everywhere — restaurants, trains, planes and all. The surprise to me is how much they love cats. I’ve made a point to take photos of cats that I see on my journeys. They’re lazying around on sidewalks, on pillars and on windowsills. There are lots of cats that roam around the streets of town, too. They all seem to be in good shape. If you look carefully, you’ll see bowls of food and water sitting beside the door of many houses. The cats are cared for even if they are on their own.

French people

6 The French don’t snack

French peopleThe fact that there are not many overweight people in France is a testament to their good eating habits. I’ve observed the French simply don’t snack between meals. At least not to the extent that it’s noticeable. They eat a small breakfast, a big lunch and a small dinner. In between they might have a cup of expresso. Sometimes the expresso comes with a tiny cookie. When they have guests for a drink before dinner, they serve something light to munch on— like olives and chips. In very small serving bowls. French people enjoy their meals and nothing else interferes.

7 The French have good, low cost health care

I’ve been to a doctor in France a few times and I’’m amazed at the effectiveness and low cost. When I’ve gone for each visit, the first thing the doctor does is prescribe a blood test. That done, I leave the doctor’s office, go to the nearby public laboratory for tests, and return to the doctor the next day, lab tests in hand. After everything’s sorted out, I get a prescription, if needed, and I’m done. With all of the above, my cost is less than $100. That’s with no insurance.

French people

8 The French drive too fast.

Going out on the roadway in France is risky business. I’m convinced the same person that I walk behind on the streets of Uzes —the one who’s meandering down the sidewalk — could be the same person that’s tailgating me on the highway. The fast drivers’ favorite places seem to be on roundabouts and on narrow roads that are bordered on both sides by large plane trees. You don’t want to be in the passing lane of a super highway when someone comes barreling towards you, either. You’ll be mowed down.

9 The French smoke too much.french people

I’m amazed how many French people smoke cigarettes. I’m beginning to see a few more with electronic cigarettes, yet most who smoke go for the real thing. There are restrictions for smoking indoors but outdoor cafes are fair game. Smoking is an equal opportunity event here. The habit belongs to those of all ages and both sexes, despite the horrific warning labels on every carton and pack of cigarettes. It’s costing the people and the country a pretty penny for their heavy smoking habits.

10 The French embrace expats.

There’s never a day in my town that I don’t feel welcomed by the French.  If I had a better use of the language, I’m certain I would have more French friends. Fortunately there are those who speak English and those who are patient with me. We communicate with a little sign language and lots of laughs.

I’m learning more about France and the people everyday. It’s one of the best things about living outside of my own country. I’m convinced that if more people traveled or lived abroad, there would be peace in the world. Basically, aside from some of our lifestyle differences, we’re all pretty much the same.

French people

visit to Provence

A Travel Pro’s Favorite Places in Provence

A visit to Provence – one of the most visited areas in France – is the second post in the Barefoot Blogger travel series by Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France.

Nancy has lived in the south of France for over 30 years so, I’d say, she knows her way around. When asked “what do you recommend when tourist want to visit Provence?” Nancy gave me her picks below. Now that I’ve visited with Nancy in Sete and we’ve taken a some really fun trips together, I’ve learned to take her advice. In fact, I’m convinced it’s really important to ask an expert to help with your plans. If you have limited time, a bit of sage advice will help you make the most of every day you’re traveling. You’ll see the places you’ve heard about as well as off-the-beaten-path sights you’ve only dreamed about. It’s the best way to sample French life like you’re a local. Need I say more?

Welcome to Provence!

From bustling, edgy Marseille to the red cliffs of Cassis, fragrant lavender fields of the Luberon, Aix-en-Provence’s colorful markets, wine and art … there’s something in Provence to please everyone. No wonder it’s everyone’s favorite.

Visit Provence: Marseille

Founded in 600 BC, Marseille, France’s second largest city, is steeped in history and culture. A good way to start the day in Marseilles is to visit the Basilica of Notre Dame. Perched high above the harbour it offers breathtaking views of the Old Port and the Mediterranean. Those who brave the climb on foot no doubt work up an appetite. And that’s why bouillabaisse – Marseille’s famed dish –  was invented. It is almost ‘obligatoire’ with a traditional glass of pastis. There’s more to see so explore the Old Port and don’t miss the iconic MuCEM museum – one reason why Marseille has held the title ‘European Capital of Culture.’

 

Visit Provence: The Red Cliffs of Cassis

Anyone who has seen Paris, but hasn’t seen Cassis, hasn’t seen anything,” said the Nobel poet Fredric Mistral. When visitors see the stunningly pretty Roman harbour it’s invariably love at first sight. Two natural monuments protect the town: Cap Canaille, that glows red when the Mistral blows, and the white limestone Calanques (sheltered inlets) that can be admired on a short boat outing. It’s a joy to simply roam the streets, browse the museum, or enjoy fresh seafood with a glass of the local rosé wine.

Visit Provence: Bandol

A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine… and there’s plenty of each in Bandol, where vineyards bask in 3,000  hours of sunshine a year! The resort itself – just a stone’s throw from Marseille and Cassis – is among the oldest and most popular on the coast.  Its sandy beaches lured the literary set long before the days of Brigitte Bardot and Saint Tropez. A cliff stroll, a vineyard tour and dining on fresh seafood – to which the fruity and racy rosé wines are a great accompaniment – is on everyone’s list.

Visit Provence: Chateauneuf du Pape

Red Wine…The distinguished red wines of Chateauneuf du Pape need no introduction. Masterclasses, food and wine pairing workshops  and wine tours of the historic chateaux and vineyards are “must do’s and can be  arranged. The vineyards in Chateauneuf du Pape are so cherished that a 1950s decree banned flying saucers from sailing over them! The tiny town itself is sheer magic. Take a walk up the hill to the ruins of the 14th century château  – ‘the Pope’s castle’ – and the reward is a view as far as Avignon and its Popes’ Palace. Hungry after that climb? There are many fine restaurants in town serving traditional French cuisine to complement the wines.

 

Visit Provence: Avignon

visit to ProvenceSur le Pont d’Avignon…Standing on the legendary bridge in Avignon provides a good view of Le Palais des Papes,’ (Popes’ Palace), the ancient ramparts and much more of this historic and cultural French city. There’s something for everyone here: museums and galleries; fine dining to please the most exacting palate; and plenty of shopping. During the Avignon Festival in July, live music and theatre fill every street, but the ‘hot ticket’ is a performance in the Popes’ Palace. As for the bridge, the angels inspired a poor shepherd, Benezet, to build it and, convinced of divine intervention, the town’s authorities canonised the shepherd. That’s the legend at least and a popular song was born.

 

Visit Provence: Arles

From Ancient Rome to Van Gogh, Gaugin & Picasso … Located on the banks of the Rhone River and known as the ‘gateway to the Camargue,’ Arles is one of the most beautiful cities anywhere in France. The ancient arena, amphitheatre and Roman baths top any visitor’s list, as well as a walk in the footsteps of Van Gogh, Gaugin & Picasso. Talking of Van Gogh, a visit to nearby sunflower fields will brighten anyone’s day.

Visit Provence: The Luberon

Lavender Fields Forever ...The very best time to visit the Luberon is July, when the Valensole plateau is awash with lavender and the towns are alive with festivals celebrating everyone’s favourite flower! It’s a sight – and scent – to behold! There’s something here for foodies too –  from a range of small bistrots serving the “dish of the day” to the local delicacy “lavender honey.

Visit Provence: St Rémy de Provence

Here’s Van Gogh Again! Whilst we’re in the area, let’s not miss St. Rémy.  Pretty and picturesque, this pocket-size town offers much to do amid its narrow medieval alleyways, shady squares and wonderful architecture –  including museums, excellent restaurants, an annual donkey fair and the remains of nearby 2nd century b.c. Glanum. As for Van Gogh, his stay in St. Rémy inspired many masterpieces.

Visit Provence: Les Baux de Provence

“Ils Sont Beaux.” Set on a rocky plateau, magical Les Baux de Provence offers stunning views of Arles and the Camargue. It is a listed heritage site that has earned the accolade of ‘one of the most beautiful villages in France’, amongst others. What it lacks in size it makes up for with art and cultural activities, one of which is the annual Carrières de Lumières – the most amazing light show we’ve ever seen.

Visit Provence: Aix-en-Provence

The City of Art and Lights. Beauty, culture and a rich historical heritage exemplify Aix-en-Provence, hometown of Paul Cézanne among other luminaries. Having taken leave of lavender fields and vineyards, here is the opportunity for some serious shopping, sightseeing, not to mention food tours and culinary workshops. . Follow in the footsteps of Cézanne, browse the museums or the famous farmers’ and flower markets or buy that designer outfit in one of the upscale boutiques.  There’s never enough time in Aix and you’ll never want to leave!

How’s that for a tour of Provence? What are you waiting for?  I can’t wait to see it all myself!

visit Provence

Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France

Contact: nancy@absolutelysouthernfrance.com

Website : http://absolutelysouthernfrance.com/

 

For information about Med cruise shore excursions 

Mediterranean Cruise Shore Excursions: The Riviera

I’ve been asking Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France Tours to tell me all about her Mediterranean cruise shore excursions. There are several of you who have contacted the Barefoot Blogger for information.

Mediterranean cruise shore excursionRead on and learn about going ashore along the French Riviera. Even if you’re an armchair traveler, you’ll enjoy the visit. As I’ve learned, when you travel with an expert like Nancy, you’re going to explore and experience the best spots for food, scenery and lifestyle along the Côte d’Azur. Let’s see what she has up her sleeves for us to do. 

I love every inch of the French Riviera – from the narrow medieval streets of St Paul de Vence to glitzy Nice and Cannes to the adrenaline surge of the Monaco Grand Prix.

Nancy McGee

When people ask me what they absolutely must see during their shore excursion, the answer is ‘everything’. Of course this is not always practical and so my Riviera tours offers what I consider the major highlights. The Riviera is addictive – once hooked visitors invariably return to see what they missed the first time.

For your Mediterranean cruise shore excursion … Food First 

France conjures up images of gourmet restaurants, boulangeries and local markets offering a breathtaking array of fresh, local produce, cheeses and regional specialties – and that’s exactly right. Since the weather’s good why not make the first stop at the market and shop for a picnic? (Always a hit if with children.) And let’s not forget a bottle of rosé wine from Provence -‘de rigeur’ for a French picnic.

Mediterranean Cruise Shore Excursions: Grasse

Wake up and Smell the Roses 

With appetites appeased – for now at least – the olfactory senses are in for a treat and they’ll get just that in Grasse, the Riviera’s flower capital.A tour of a perfume factory is an absolute must – and an excellent place to buy gifts. This is a really charming historic town with an 11th century cathedral, perfume museum, sandy beaches and fine dining.

Mediterranean Cruise Shore Excursions: Gourdon

Dreaming of Chocolate Heaven?

Visit Gourdon and those dreams will come true with a sampling at the famous chocolate factory.Mediterranean cruise shore excursionBut leave room for artisan ice cream in floral flavors, violet, rose, jasmine….sublime.  And there’s no need to worry too much about the waistline because this beautiful old fortress town is built on a high promontory with stunning views – a good way to work off the day’s excesses.

Mediterranean Cruise Shore Excursions: Tourrettes-sur-Loup

The ‘City of Violets’

The tiny medieval village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup perches on a rocky spur and is an all-time favourite visitors. It boasts impressive historic buildings including a 15th century church, arts and crafts boutiques, an annual violet festival and museum. Just a stone’s throw from Nice and Cannes it is definitely worth a detour.

Mediterranean Cruise Shore Excursions: St. Paul de Vence

In Chagall’s FootstepsMediterranean cruise shore excursion

St Paul de Vence is one of the oldest medieval towns on the Riviera and also known as the artist’s village – it was home to Chagall to name but one. It’s a joy to simply stroll the colourful streets full of art galleries and boutiques. Olive oil and wine tastings, and a visit to an olive oil mill can be arranged, as well as lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean.

Mediterranean Cruise Shore Excursions: Monaco

Jetsetting to Monaco 

The tiny principality of Monaco fits comfortably into a day trip with time to view the exquisite Palace of the Prince and the cathedral where Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly were married, followed by the Changing of the Guards. Mediterranean cruise shore excursion

And now fasten your seatbelts for a lap of the world famous Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit to reach Monte-Carlo with its famous Casino, Golden Square and the luxurious Hotel de Paris and Hotel Hermitage. Fancy your luck? Armed with valid ID and appropriately dressed you can join the high rollers at the famous Casino

Mediterranean Cruise Shore Excursions: Éze

A Change of Pace
Visitors always fall in love with this typical medieval cliff top village of narrow lanes, stone buildings and breathtaking views of the Mediterranean. Éze is in the heart of perfume country and a tour of the perfume factory can be arranged as well as a visit to its impressive botanical garden.

 

Mediterranean Cruise Shore Excursions: Nice

Mediterranean cruise shore excursionPutting on the Glitz

The city of Nice needs no introduction! Aside from a reputation for glamour, it is steeped in history, with evidence of a settlement as far back as 350bc, and its historical centre dates back to the 13th century.  Highlights of the tour include a walk along the “Promenade des Anglais” – former haunt of the British aristocracy, an unsurpassed, flower market and Michelin star restaurants.

Mediterranean cruise shore excursionShore excursions by Absolutely Southern France are fully private 7 or 8 hour customized experiences with  English speaking local and professional driver/guides with a van or sedan.

Riviera Ports of Call : Monaco, Monte Carlo, Villefranche, Antibes, Nice, Cannes, St Tropez, Provence ports of call : Toulon, La Seyne, Marseille,

Languedoc/Occitanie Ports of Call : Sète, Port Vendres.

 

Contact: nancy@absolutelysouthernfrance.com

Website : http://absolutelysouthernfrance.com/

 

 

Mediterranean cruise shore excursion

french life

My French Life: Interrupted 

My French life doesn’t always go as planned. Just when I thought I would take a short visit to see family in the States and return quickly to France, I was shown how little control I have of my life.

My son’s wife and mother of my two young grandchildren is seriously ill. After I arrived she took the time to go to a doctor. What started last summer as soreness between her shoulders turned out to be a condition that has been going on for years. She has a tumor on her spinal cord.  Over the past weeks we have made it through MRIs and appointments with two neurosurgeons. Today we learn when she goes for surgery. Her case is a priority because the tumor and accumulated spinal fluid are  causing damage to her system.

How’s that for a kick in the pants? Just when you think life couldn’t get any better, it doesn’t.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I want to share the lesson I’m learning with you.

Don’t wait to enjoy your life.

If you want to travel,  travel.

If you want to live abroad, start working on it now.  

Life doesn’t wait for you to “get around to it.” 

A piece of good news about my family situation is that I’m where I should be. Because of some kind of a stroke of fate, I didn’t have to rush to get here when I heard the news. I was here when I needed to be. I’ve been here to help with the children, the dogs and with stuff in general. I’ve been here to hold hands and to wipe away tears. I wouldn’t have it any other way. More good news is that our family is a closely bound unit. We’re bound by love and by faith. We laugh together and we pray together. It’s been the laughs and the prayers that have helped us through the last few weeks. Our fears have been many. What would the scans show?  Could it be the “big C”? So far we are encouraged. The rest is unknown until after the surgery.

It’s possible you might not hear from me as much as I’d like to keep you informed.  A one year old and a three year old take a lot of attention and energy.

Perhaps I’ll have a chance to write about some of the places I visited before I left my French life.  It might be a good diversion. Either way,  I shall return. 

Stay tuned…

French life

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