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Artisans in Aix-en-Provence

France artisans

Hand-painted scarves in Aix-en-Provence

During a delightful 3-day visit to Aix-en-Provence, we enjoyed the added benefit of the artisan craft fair, “Les Calades Provencales.” Aix is famous for its many fountains and talented favorite son Cezanne, so it’s not surprising that artisans are celebrated here.

At any moment Cours Mirabeau offers an enchanting, tree-lined boulevard; but the fair magnified the magic. Elegant hand-painted scarves danced in the breeze, while artisans warmly greeted visitors explaining their crafts, demonstrating the potter’s wheel and generally serving as welcoming ambassadors in this dynamic city.

Hand-crafted shoes and sandals, exotic jewelry, perfumes and pottery spread all along the boulevard. The cobbler followed generations of the art of shoemaking; the silk scarves were painted by hand.

French dining

Greoux-les-Bains

After a pleasant stroll to examine the many gorgeous crafts, we stopped at one of Aix’s many canopied cafes.  Ummm – delicious ham and cheese galette, a pichet of wine and a strolling guitarist made for a relaxing Aixoise experience.

We would offer a hearty thumbs up to any planning a trip to this lovely area. An easy drive from Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and the surrounding area immerse you in an enchanting landscape, exceptional architecture and abundant dining choices.

You might wander through Cezanne’s landscape and stop for dinner in Greoux-les-Bains or take in the grand Pont du Gard aqueduct; but parking yourself at a café along the boulevard provides plenty of enjoyment!

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Stained Glass … Memories of France

Paris watercolors

Charming stained glass in Paris

All of us who love France find ways to nurture those feelings, to indulge often in the pleasant memories that stay with us for weeks and weeks after our travels. And so it is with my painting, as if touching brush and pen to paper will resurrect the best of our times in France.

One of my favorites, this ‘vitrail’ painting returns me to the one of the most enchanting times of our last stay in Paris.  With our dear friends we were invited to brunch at the home of his brother and family in the 16th arrondissement.  We enjoyed a warm welcome from our hosts, their two young-adult student children and the Russian exchange student, who was residing in their ‘chamber de bonne’ for a year.  Instantly we have the mix of generations and diverse cultures to guarantee lively conversations!

We gathered in their lovely dining room – with the table set before this magnificent window and spread, of course, with all kinds of enticing fare from the patisserie, charcuterie and local market.  As we spread artisan breads with fresh local jams and sampled an assortment of meats and cheeses, we shared little slices of our lives.

I particularly remember talking about different expressions and ways of life.  We refer to ‘raining cats and dogs’.  The French – ‘raining ropes’.  Our ‘turncoats’ are traitors.  Theirs turn their coats inside out – quelqu’un qui a retourné sa veste.  The daughter asks, “What IS a food court?” I think her question was borne less of really expecting some kind of definition and more of trying to comprehend why you would have such a thing.  That’s not exactly surprising given all of the intimate café choices one has in Paris!

Paris Art Deco

Entry to Hector Guimard’s home in Paris

As if we had not been immersed in enough culture and charm, we wandered a bit on leaving and found ourselves in front of the home of Hector Guimard – designer of the famous Art Deco metro entrances.  Quite an afternoon, so I’m sure you don’t wonder at my desire to resurrect the whole thing!

Hoping you have a “Bon Weekend!”

 

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Through the Windows of France

France watercolors

Vision de l’Artiste … so much to see through the windows of France!

I love the slices of life you see through windows in France … and elsewhere, but you know where my heart lies! We enjoyed the good fortune of honeymooning in Paris, where our friend’s apartment overlooked a boulevard facing a typical five-story residential building. Reminding me of the famous Rear Window movie, we could look across to our unknown neighbors to glimpse little moments in their lives.

An elder man positioned a Christmas tree in the corner of his living room. Oddly, we never noticed the addition of lights and ornaments. Below his apartment, a couple walked back and forth through their brightly-lit rooms, ostensibly readying their place for the arrival of another couple a bit later in the evening.

France landscapes

Chenonceau balloon – Loire Valley

From the bedroom window of our pleasant gîte near Chateau de Chennonceau, we looked out on a wildly colorful balloon rising above the trees. Through our hotel window in Normandy, we watched two older women with fishing gear progress up the grassy hill en route, we supposed, to a dinner of their grilled “catch of the day”.

Village windows capture vivid earth and sky colors in their protective shutters. Delicate lace curtains detail themes, and rich swishes of elegant taffeta and satin set a tone of grandeur over soaring windows.

French landscapes

French fishing ladies in Normandy

So it’s not surprising, you see, that my paintbrush would gravitate to window scenes! So many sights, individual stories and imaginings!

Paris watercolors

Boulevard Saint-Marcel

 

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Hôtel de Crillon Reimagined

Paris luxury hotels

Overlooking Place de la Concorde – ©Atout France/Hôtel de Crillon

Two years into the renovation of the renowned Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, we still can only imagine the changes taking place. Many of us would wonder at any change to this veritable institution directly across the street from the American Embassy. Yet, in 2013 came the announcement about the closure for renovations and the forthcoming change in management to Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.

Beyond tantalizing mentions of the auctioning of an abundant number of hotel accents, furnishings … and wine; the fate and future of the hotel has been cloaked in mystery. Now, though, we learn that no other than Karl Lagerfeld has been commissioned to apply his creative genius to the design of two suites.

luxury hotels of Paris

Junior suite – ©Atout France/Hôtel de Crillon

Acclaimed not only for fine craftsmanship but for blending history ‘with an edge’, perhaps even Mr. Lagerfeld feels a slight hesitation in tackling this Parisian landmark. Of course I am wrong about that – what designer wouldn’t jump at the chance to create a signature suite in one of the world’s finest hotels?

Under Rosewood’s core philosophy – A Sense of Place® – Mr. Lagerfeld will apply his unparalleled talent in the marriage of 18th century heritage with 2015 ‘je ne sais pas’.   Overlooking Place de la Concorde, the Hôtel de Crillon has witnessed abundant history from the reign of French Kings to the fall of Napoleon’s Empire and the birth of the League of Nations.

I hope that Karl Lagerfeld and the myriad designers involved in this renovation find the ideal balance of respect for heritage with light touches of the contemporary world in which we live. While my personal prejudice sways away from ultra-modern treatments of grand old buildings, I recognize that some might lean in the opposite direction.

Some describe the magnificent hotel as “…a living testament to the very best way of life France has to offer.” Alas, we all simply must wait and see for the unveiling of this monumental project in 2016.

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2017, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

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French Gifts for “Him”

French Champagne

Elegant French flutes

I love to theme gifts – French gifts or otherwise – so let’s call these gift ideas for Monsieur “A Matter of Taste”.  For the budding to the mature wine connoisseur, we begin with a focus on very appealing champagne from France.

Perhaps to whet his appetite, you will include an engaging and comprehensive book by one of the world’s leading wine authorities, An Encyclopedia of the Wines and Domaines of France.  Author Clive Coates shares his expansive knowledge of wine, its character, the meaning of appellations and the finest of French wine estates.

Now, let’s get right to the heart of the matter with an enticing bottle of Taittinger Champagne!  Go to your favorite specialty wine shop for guidance.  In Orlando, that would be Tim’s Wine Market, where they have been helping customers with personal guidance for over 20 years.

Taittinger is one of the distinctly historic champagne houses of France and one of only five to cellar its wines in the renowned “Crayères” of Reims – the chalk caves originally dug out by the Romans. Since their discovery early in the 18th century, champagne merchants found the cave conditions ideal for aging wine.  The Taittinger family is one of the largest vineyard owners in Champagne, and this esteemed brand was the official champagne at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  Perhaps you will choose Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, chosen in 2012 as “Best Champagne” by Fine Champagne Magazine. 

Reims fr

Taittinger chalk caves, Reims

Round out your themed gift with a pair – or a set of champagne glasses – yet another opportunity for learning the ins and outs of the heavenly nectar.  Flutes, coupes and tulips are your choices, and there are myriad designs from which to choose.

Champagne flutes aid in capturing the flavor and aroma of champagne with their tall narrow shape, medium to long stem and point at the bottom of the glass.  Champagne coupes (saucers) are the wide-rimmed, shallow glasses with a short stem.  A favorite in the early 1900’s, they are not as popular with ‘experts’ today, in that the shape allows the aroma and carbonation to escape.  Finally, the aptly-named champagne tulip is similar to the flute but curves inward at the rim.  Especially recommended for finer French champagnes, the wider base allows flavors to be captured and taste enhanced.

French champagne

Taittinger – voila!

Voila!  So there you have a wonderful assortment of French gifts for him, and I’m certain you can find a handsome bag or box in which to present your refined collection.

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2017, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

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Île Saint-Louis Homes and Rentals

Paris mansions

Hotel Lambert at the tip of Ile Saint-Louis

Last time we were in Paris, we stayed for a week in a charming vacation rental on Île Saint-Louis.  Other than the sometimes grueling climb up four flights of stairs, we were absolutely enchanted to enjoy our residence on one of our favorite places on earth!

BUT that is also when we first heard that, “The island has changed.  So many foreigners have bought property here, and it no longer feels authentic.”  Well, I’m sure I’ve paraphrased somewhat, but the key thought remains the same – the long famous and revered Île Saint-Louis doesn’t feel so French anymore.  I hasten to add that we do not share that sentiment, perhaps because we are blinded by the island’s charms!

Mind you, if we had the ‘spare change’ to buy property on l’île, we would jump at the chance; but we also would spend lots of time there.  Recent studies show that many foreigners, including Americans, have gradually driven out less well-off Parisian residents; and the second-home nature of their ownership and brevity of visits has had a negative impact on neighborhood shops and local schools.  Authors of the study indicate that this district is the only one in Paris that is losing inhabitants.  Given the French love of heritage, home and history; you can imagine how this ownership transfer has been received.

Those tensions resulted in quite a clash between historic and new residents, between architectural designers and cultural protectors.  A Qatari prince purchased one of the island’s most beautiful, historic and revered buildings – Hotel Lambert.  Once home to Chopin and Voltaire not to mention the Rothschild family, the 17th century mansion contains many artistic treasures, including priceless frescoes by artist Eustache Le Sueur created around 1652.

Paris france landmarks

Hercules Gallery at Hotel Lambert

As if the drastic structural changes anticipated by the prince were not enough, a significant fire broke out in 2013 and caused the rooftop to collapse and destroy the Le Sueur designs.  Part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, the building was empty and undergoing the controversial renovations.

Nonetheless legal actions still are underway to assure that changes to the famous building are in line with historical dictates.  One heritage architect specialist went so far as to describe the proposed changes as “a monstrosity with the aesthetics of a James Bond villa”.  Parfait!

The hotel was originally designed and built for the personal secretary – Lambert de Thorigny – of King Louis XIII.  Voltaire was said to have courted his mistress, the marquise du Châtelet, at the Hôtel Lambert; and prior to being sold in 1975 to the Rothschild banking family, noteworthy visitors included Chopin and Balzac.

Perhaps on a more positive note, it seems that many of those owners of second homes in Paris want to blend in, opting for traditions like visiting the local boulanger for bread and La Presse for the daily newspaper.  It is, in fact, that village feeling that so many of us seek, when we arrange our vacation rentals in the City of Light.

If you have always opted for hotel stays in Paris, we highly recommend the more authentic and cost-effective vacation rental.  You still may eat out as often as you wish, but that morning cup of coffee in your own apartment is quite nice!

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@luxeeuro.com

Copyright © 2014, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Idyllic Château in the Midi-Pyrénées

Elegant French retreats

Chateau de la Treyne

I am not an historian, but I understand the reasons for locating various Chateaux in France in strategic locations. Fortifications were extremely important to people threatened from within and without by enemies. But that’s not really my thinking, as I recommend an enchanting holiday in the country.

The desire for hunting and quiet retreats also drove the locations of chateaux and manors. One such place is the Relais & Chateaux-designated Château de la Treyne in the Midi-Pyrénées. Though the original Château’s history goes back, back, back to the religious wars and beyond, the delightful castle that greets visitors today is a wonderful blend of the authentic past with the imprint of today’s modern comforts and amenities.

Remarkable, Scenic Location

The 4-star lodging overhangs the Dordogne River, high on a cliff with magnificent views and French formal gardens – an oasis, it would seem, in the middle of nearly 300 acres of forested land. That alone calls to mind the retreats that served as ‘hunting lodges’ for French royalty.

Your hosts are Philippe and Stéphanie Gombert, who manage to mix warm hospitality and refined décor with an oasis of calm and quiet. Enjoy breakfast under ancient cedars or dine on the terrace overlooking the Dordogne. Naturally fine cuisine is a part of this unique establishment, where the Chef has tapped the goodness of local products and embellished them with his own creative genius.

French Chateau retreats

Stunning riverscape views – Dordogne

You can stay quite close to ‘home’ and enjoy leisurely garden walks, the outdoor heated pool, hiking and biking and canoeing along the river. You are in the “Land of Marvels”, between the Lot and Dordogne Rivers, and your accommodating hosts arrange themed sojourns to help you discover the rich land and many chateaux and villages in the region. You might even jog along the former cliff-side path of the Postman to enjoy scenic river sights.In a land so filled with quiet surprises and historic sites, it is no surprise that the Château de la Treyne is designated one of the “Grand Sites of Midi-Pyrénées”.

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2017, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

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5 Mistakes to Avoid in France

Paris dining

Refreshing gelato along rue Mouffetard, Paris

Following the “When in Rome…” mantra, there are a few things for you to keep in mind as a visitor in France. Out of courtesy and to maximize your experience, observe local customs and traditions. Just making small efforts to appreciate French people and their language yields warm benefits.

1. Parlez vous – Even if your French is minimal or ‘elementary’, begin your conversations or questions in French. In so doing, you acknowledge that you are the guest and you defer politely to the ‘host’. Does that sound terribly ‘Book of Etiquette’? I hope you don’t think so; because we all have our points of pride, and the French have great pride in their language and go to great lengths to preserve it.

Just a few French phrases will earn you smiles … and even warm responses instead of the French shrug. Purchase a simple French phrase book and visit on-line resources for pronunciations. I’ll assume you understand everyone should go armed with please, thank you, hello, my name is….etc. Others to learn might be:

Je suis désole I’m sorry.

Je ne comprends pas. I don’t understand.

S’il vous plait – J’ai une question (probléme) Please – I have a question/problem.

The small amount of time and effort you apply to learning a few phrases will yield incalculable results! (And by the way, if your French is painful to them, they will speak to you in English!)

2. Lunch breaks & tipping – Don’t fight the noon to 2 p.m. break, when everything is closed. Everything. As in banks, brocantes, fashion houses, boutiques. Yes, the occasional supermarket might be open; but for the most part cafés and brasseries and restaurants steal the mid-day thunder … and business. Yes, we are used to tipping handsomely for good service; but that’s not the way in France, where the tip already is included in your meal cost.

3.  About those ‘strangers’ – Don’t grin your way down the street with a happy American smile for every stranger. You might be from the deep South or the frozen North, but French people don’t extend blanket friendliness to complete strangers. That is not to say they won’t be friendly; they just don’t spread the sunshine on their faces quite as much as we do. Unless …. we employ those magical French phrases we have learned!

Gien porcelain

Porcelain shopping? Stunning choices – Gien

4. About those ‘friends’ – Strike up a modest friendship, and be prepared to kiss! Pardon? Yes, kiss – sometimes even several times, traditionally twice in Paris- three times (or more) for those from the country or other regions. And I don’t mean planting a grand kiss on the mouth. You’ve seen it in movies or on TV, no doubt; when greeters sort of kiss the air by the cheek on both sides of the head. This subject deserves its very own post, but just flow with the French experience and tradition for now. Don’t be the first to initiate the kiss, but don’t reject this type of greeting or ‘adieu’ kiss either.

5. And speaking of shopping, always greet the store owner/help, when you enter a store. “Bonjour Monsieur/Madame”. Sounds so simple, but I well understand the hesitation and shyness one can feel at first in France. Forget that simple rule, and you might find your shopping experience to be chilly with little, if any, service. And don’t forget your, “Merci, au revoir” on departing.

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2017, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved. 

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Hermès – Never Out of Fashion!

Paris luxury shopping

Magnificent Hermes bag

A saddlery? Yes. Way back in 1837 Thierry Hermès founded the family-named saddlery business. That’s certainly a touch of irony, in that the Hermès name is synonymous with French luxury products. After first manufacturing silk scarves in the late 1920s, Hermès rapid ascent to haute couture prompted their establishment of a special scarf factory in Lyons.

Today two special scarf collections make their debut every year, adding to the more than 25,000 scarf designs that are so treasured by women throughout the world. In France, tenderly coddled scarves are passed from generation to generation, and even rare scarves from yesteryear command increasingly high prices in the marketplace.

Paris shopping

Sterling bracelet by Hermes

Iconic Hermès wearers like Grace Kelly and Jackie Onassis no doubt contributed to their esteemed fashion position, further enhanced by Hermès additional fashion niches, as well. Uniquely-stitched leather goods like the Birkin and Kelly bags are signature ‘heirlooms’, and refined jewelry pieces are every bit as reverd and collectible as the spectacular scarves.Despite otherwise sluggish worldwide economic woes, Hermès continues to attract elite clients with an ever-expanding luxury product line, timeless and elegant designs and exacting standards of production.

“In her 2007 book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, journalist Dana Thomas called Hermès bags ‘the antithesis of an It bag: Most of the designs have been around for almost a century and are coveted not because they are in fashion but because they never go out of fashion.’”

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Copyright © 2005-2017, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

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French Kitchens – Classic & Classy!

Julia Child French kitchen

Julia’s Smithsonian kitchen

Julia Child’s kitchen resurrected at the Smithsonian – now THAT’s a famous cuisine!

I have so many Francophile preferences – for windows and light, for colorful textiles and pottery, for old rush-seat chairs and for ‘imperfect’ touches that underscore the real life lived in that lovely kitchen.

We neither need nor want grand décor – though one of those classic French stoves by Lacanche would be perfectly acceptable! I think I’d settle quite well with a nice square kitchen with big windows. Some open shelves could hold old copper and brightly-colored pottery casserole dishes.

French design

The Cluny French range by Lancanche

As I do now, I’d have space on the counter for my copper basket filled with potatoes; and the coffee-fixin’ area would have everything within easy reach. A colorful Provençal pitcher next to the range would hold my handled kitchen utensils, and a handsome French lamp would shed light over the aged country table and chairs.

Now, doesn’t that sound like the perfect place to fix a lovely French Onion soup….and sweet raspberry and chocolate crepes? There I go back to My French Neighbor for their exceptional Dijon mustard, because savory vinaigrette would be the perfect touch for a salad to go with the soup.

Daydreams are such fun. Enjoy your own today and, who knows? You just might make your way to a bric-a-brac store to find a fresh addition for your kitchen.

We’d love to hear from you! swsheridan@luxeeuro.com
Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

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