Archive for the ‘Village & Country’ Category
I don’t think I stretch any limits in guessing that at least 90 percent of visitors to France take one or two photos – if not many more – of French doors. And, no, I don’t mean those double-glassed doors we come to think of as “French doors”.
I mean the doors of many colors – deep green or bright blue, russet or yellow. Doors with interesting grills or set beneath an arbor of grapes. Honestly, these portes to the inner home have such an appeal, that we can scarcely pass them without a click!
During my first trip to France, I noticed the wonderfully grand entrance door to my friend’s early 19th century building. Then, we were off to the Loire Valley and wandering through Blois, when I saw a deep red door with a rustic, old wrought iron knocker. In Bracieux, a small village, an entry with a windowed-door was dressed with a quaint, cotton lace curtain.
Needless to say, I was hooked; but I know a part of my curiosity lay in imagining the life beyond the door. Was a family within or an elder lady with her little dog? Or was an immigrant family behind that door feeling gratitude for their opportunity to live and work in France?
Sorry – don’t mean to wax poetic, but it was a distinct memory that evoked my desire to paint “La Porte Accueillant”. My husband and I stayed a couple of nights at a lovely gîte – La Pradasse – in the small town of Ayguesvives near Toulouse. One day we wandered along a country road canopied with beautiful plane trees, until we came to a small town – Villefranche-de-Lauragais – not our ‘destination’, just a place to stop for lunch and explore.
We enjoyed lunch in a little brasserie, before exploring a town that had battened down for the extended noon meal. What I most remember was walking along narrow streets with inviting doors and bright shutters closed to the mid-day heat. We could hear the murmur of voices and even the sounds of cutlery against porcelain, as the residents of those little homes gathered for their meal. So, it really wasn’t so much that those particular doors were beautiful, but they served as the portals for those who lived behind them.
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South of Blois in the Loire Valley, the 18th-century Château de Chambord rises at the heart of over 5,000 hectares (12,000+ acres) of ancient forest. Chambord was the personal chateau and hunting sanctuary of King Francois I, and today is the largest enclosed forest park in Europe.
Our first encounter with Chambord destined our return. We attended the light show — “les clairs de lune de Chambord” — a fantasy light show production created to recall the hunting of deer and boar, fox and pheasant by guests of King Francois. We arrived shortly before sunset to stroll through the grounds surrounding the Château. Couples shared ice cream or light snacks under an outdoor arbor. Others dined on the patio of a hotel restaurant.
Wait – hotel? There is actually a quaint hotel overlooking this magnificent chateau? With little hope that it would be affordable or available for the one night we would have between gite rentals, we had to check. When we were able to book a room at a reasonable $75 rate, we felt as if the king himself had invited us to his retreat!
Prior to the show, we watched families gather on the lawn with children, couples take to rowboats to enjoy an end-of-day outing. France bestows these blessings on a public entranced by history and tradition. Chambord’s information pamphlet reinforces this gift:
“It is to the passion of Francois I for hunting, that we owe the existence of Chambord, designed both as a meeting place and a belvedere for observing the hunt.”
Alas, when we returned a few days later, Francois was not on hand to greet us. Still, we wandered the grounds and imagined the privileged guests and game hunting of 300 years past. Visitors biked and hiked through the many lanes that lace through the forest. Others gathered for the equestrian and falcon shows.
This night, we would see the light show from our dining table on the terrace. Indeed, with our exceptional bottle of local Vouvray and delicious French fare, we felt like guests of the king! When the park closed, only the hotel guests and Château staff shared this enormous sanctuary. Chambord remains a national hunting reserve and home to an abundance of wild creatures that roam free. No, we didn’t encounter a graceful stag or menacing boar, but the crisp night sky offered us millions of stars to illuminate our stay.
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Gift-giving season is here, and who among us wouldn’t cherish the gift of travel in France? While we love the refined manoirs within the storied walls of old Avignon; we would easily enjoy experiencing a private setting with easy access to the historic area. Le Prieuré, just across the Rhône in Villeneuve- lès- Avignon, would definitely fit that bill!
The owners promise a stay that is both authentic and elegant. You’ll first want to book your stay at Le Prieuré, though keep in mind their seasonal closure may run to mid March, 2012. A member of the distinguished Relais & Chateaux collection of luxury hotels and restaurants, Le Prieuré is a former 15th-century convent, magically transformed into a welcoming hotel and perfumed by the priests’ trellised garden of roses and wisteria.
Lavish Provençal style mixes with contemporary convenience in the carefully restored rooms and suites, that guarantee an intimate and comfortable stay. You may be surprised at the rich heritage and treasures in the village.
The dominant tower on the skyline – Fort Saint André and the Philippe le Bel Tower – remind us of Avignon’s alliance with the Holy Roman Empire and the need to protect the Benedictine abbey and town. And the municipal museum in the Pierre-de-Luxembourg mansion displays exceptional art, notably religious works from ivory carvings to 17th century paintings.
The charming village becomes the focal point for performances and festivals throughout the year; due to their strategic location where Provence, la Camargue and Languedoc come together. Of course, you will visit the lovely old streets of Avignon to enjoy its’ special blend of history, striking architecture and inviting collection of shops and restaurants.
But the delight comes with your return from those lively moments to seal each and every memory with a quiet glass of wine on the balcony.
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On the first day of the hottest month of the year – throughout out America and particularly in Florida – let’s just get away. Let’s imagine an escape to a lovely Provençal farmhouse, surrounded by natural beauty and infused with unnaturally warm hospitality.
We arrive at our Relais et Chateaux hotel and restaurant – La Cabro d’Or & Spa – in a magnificent garden setting in the valley of Lex Baux de Provence. The Alpilles mountains stretch across the landscape; where olives and wine share the fertile land, and the jagged white rocks of the Val d’Enfer provide a delightful contrast.
Your Maîtres de Maison, Geneviève and Jean-André Charial, perfect the mood of peace and quiet with graceful rooms, elegant living areas and a dining room and terrace that celebrate the incomparable cuisine of the land. Imagine confit tomatoes and asparagus from the garden, suckling pig and scallops from the seas. Following the seasons, the cuisine and wines mirror the rich land that surrounds La Cabro d’Or. We shall end at least one meal with a magnificent creation – bourbon vanilla, grand cru chocolate mousse and Camargue salt.
We will slide through the cool water of the huge pool, stop here and there in the garden, explore the historic villages of the area and, perhaps, discover a special antique in Saint Rémy de Provence or visit the famous Windmill of Daudet. And at day’s end, we will yield to tranquil farmhouse evenings.
One guest perfectly described his La Cabro experience: “…There is one thing that stands out above all others: the freedom to do just as you please.”
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I have a new mind ‘game’ for those nights, when sleep is a fighting proposition instead of an easy transition from wakefulness to sweet dreams. I’ve never been a sheep counter.
Lately, though, I comb through my memories for beautiful views … from patios and courtyards to balconies and seaside overlooks. And instead of fretting about things left undone or chores for the morrow, I am lost somewhere in France … and then sleep settles in and feels welcome.
Perhaps that’s just one of many reasons I am taken with La Bonne Étape. One of their delightful descriptives – “Cosy corners for your sweet dreams” tells me they understand my search for beautiful sights and peaceful sleep.
The lovely 4-star Relais & Chateaux post house dates to the 17th century and has been carefully looked after by generations of the Gleize family. Jany Gleize is the current proprietor – Chef de Cuisine and Maître de Maison.
His personal touch permeates La Bonne Étape from the charming, lacy balconies and almond-green shutters to a kitchen that pours forth the Provencal recipes of his grandmother, Gabrielle. I always research places we visit and write about, and I was most impressed with what I found on TripAdvisor.
Each comment by a guest of La Bonne Étape was responded to – in detail – by Jany. That is the sign of one who pays attention, who cares enough to make things perfect for guests – though doubtless we all know there are some folks who cannot be satisfied!
Each room is uniquely situated and decorated to exude its own character and comforts. Some rooms overlook the organic garden; others offer a view of the pool or the rolling landscape of Chemin du Lac. More elaborate first-floor rooms offer inviting private terraces, and all accommodations include modern comforts – air conditioning, Wi-Fi, en-suite baths and satellite television. In all, La Bonne Étape offers 18 rooms and suites in a delightful boutique hotel atmosphere in the countryside of Provence.
Jany presides over two enticing restaurants, where le Chef produces exceptional regional classics from local herbs and produce and his own kitchen garden to enjoy in the more upscale La Bonne Étape or in the more simplified Au Goût du Jour.
Within easy reach, you can discover the sunlit wonders of Provence – the stunning Gorge du Verdon canyons and winding river, countryside biking or rounds of golf, a visit to the Citadelle de Sisteron. Take in the local markets or search out antique shops. Picnic by the gorge or horseback ride along the rolling landscape. No two days need be alike in this magnificent area of France.
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