We hate the numbers ‘game’, but there are so many reasons to visit this enchanting city….one must limit!
1. Provençal Avignon owes its very history and much of its attraction to the Papacy. The medieval politics of the early 14th century led Pope Clement V to move the papacy to Avignon, under the protection of Philip the Fair of France. His successors came along, and Benedict XII and Clement VI felt the need to locate the great Palais des Papes overlooking the Rhone River in the center of the medieval city. The imposing palais offers a magnificent, stark white contrast to the vivid blue skies of southern France and the sprawling square beneath the palace. Read more…
“Travel changes people. It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life.” Rick Steves
Florence, Italy. The Duomo bells ring, at 7:45 a.m. –an unusual alarm clock that follows a warm evening with family in a room filled with vibrant students. Through Jacksonville University in Florida, Leo’s sister and brother-in-law offer summer programs of art history, photography and painting in France and Italy. We were fortunate to be included in the farewell dinner celebration for the end of their studies.
The student group of 15 young people, aglow with new experiences and the kind of relationships forged through sharing all things new, trade group photos and insider memories. They may have an ever-so-small idea of the imprint they will carry with them from their sojourn in Italy. The molecules of imagination have been stimulated.
The students gathered from Maine and Ohio, West Virginia and Florida. They seem to recognize the unique privilege of participating in a life-changing program and summer. Their families and friends will welcome home students who are different, who are better equipped and more motivated to dive off the board into the pool of possibilities life offers.
We-are well beyond the clear-eyed face of youth but our ventures have been similar. It IS never too late to learn, to set aside old fears and needs for security to pursue new roads of travel, learning, and culture.
Our mature eyes absorb the naked truth of Alpine ridges against the sky and the fickle faces of sunflowers turned away from the sun. We exchange bonjours and ciaos with kind and interesting people. We see the pride enmeshed in each fine craft that has evolved from generations of artisan development. Each adventure renews our feeling that we’ve just begun.
All of us feel the tumult in the world these days with so much suffering and displacement, adversarial politics, economic fears and ongoing security threats. How easy it is to focus on the negative and even to let your fears guide your decisions about travel.
We can attest that travel so broadens your horizons that you re-gain your perspective and refresh your spirit to address challenges that lie ahead.
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For a royal experience, one might expect a royal price tag; and Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc does not disappoint in either category. A luxurious and lavish resort delightfully positioned on the tip of Cap d’Antibes, the hotel has long been the chosen mecca for celebrities and privileged guests through the ages. No doubt they have left a trail of interesting tales in their wake.
Words simply cannot capture the legendary hotel. From 1870, the “Villa Soleil” welcomed writers looking for inspiration, but in 1885 a Piedmontese hotelier set his vision in motion and transformed the Napoleon III-style villa into the unparalleled Hôtel du Cap. One of the most interesting hotel embellishments is the seawater swimming pool carved into the rock, though the seaside “cabins” (33 cabanas, in all) and Eden-Roc Pavilion are equally alluring.
Now celebrating its 100th Anniversary, the hotel was recently refreshed with a €45million refurbishment that preserved and enhanced the resort’s stunning, authentic quality; while adding every contemporary convenience and several new amenities. Imagine refined, spacious rooms and luxury appointments, the sumptuous Bellini Bar, gourmet restaurant and assorted intimate bars and grills. There’s even a fresh Juice and Ice Cream Bar in the shade of the Alep pines – parfait for the children!
Open only from mid-April to mid-October, the five-star hotel rates are equally ‘handsome’ for accommodations ranging from standard, classique and Supérieure rooms to a private villa complete with your own butler. Gala events planned for the celebratory year include a magnificent gourmet evening with some of the world’s best sommeliers and Michelin-starred chefs.
But I have a humorous twist to this story. The postcard shown was sent to my father in Paris from a lady friend staying at the hotel in 1932. In part, her message reads, “Here I am at this wonderful place – $6.00 a day for room, bath and meals (in between seasons) … You ought to see the scanty one-piece bathing suits. Oh, I don’t know where I’ll end – the temptations are lovely and many.”
The prices surely have changed, but I rather imagine the temptations to still be … lovely and many.
At the very least, I always think of Paris as the bookends of any trip to France. Of course the City of Light offers the natural entry point to France, but Paris also is home to our dear friends and so many of our favorite haunts – my, oh my – aren’t we unique!
Don’t limit yourself though, as enjoying the countryside of France offers such diverse landscapes and adventures. If your itinerary includes a trip to the Côte d’Azur, include a fascinating visit to the Villa Grecque Kérylos on the Mediterranean. The Villa is one of the most spectacular sights along the Mediterranean between Nice and Monaco. Visitors are able to wander among gardens of olive and pine trees, oleanders and iris and enjoy panoramic views of Cap Ferrat on the Côte d’Azur.
The Library itself is one of the most imposing rooms in the Villa with a gallery that occupies one-and-a-half floors. Designed with every comfort and convenience in mind, the library faces east for maximum morning light and is furnished with oak pieces positioned around a mosaic of Prometheus and Hera and filled with authentic objects from daily life in Ancient Greece.
And as long as you are so close, don’t forget to make a little side trip to Èze, our favorite seaside village. There is nothing quite like a glass of wine overlooking the sun-washed sea!
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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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We’re all aware of the Garden of Eden, but I believe I’ve discovered the “Island of Eden”! Tucked away in the Dordogne department of southwestern France, the small village of Brantôme en Périgord enjoys unparalleled natural beauty. Just imagine with me. Beyond a fascinating history and appealing architecture, the village is situated in the middle of the River Dronne and often is referred to as the Venice of Périgord.
Naturally the perfect setting calls for extraordinary accommodations, and Le Moulin de L’Abbaye fulfills that desire without hesitation. This member of the prestigious group of Relais & Chateaux luxury hotels has entertained guests for well over thirty years, offering a picturesque and enticingly refined base from which to explore the beauty of the Dordogne. Spacious and well-appointed rooms are split between the three historical houses that make up the hotel that is poised alongside the original mill pond. The main reception and gourmet restaurant are located in the inviting ivy-covered mill that was the center for milling the village’s grain, weaving its wool and ultimately providing electricity to the 2,000 inhabitants. Today, the weekly market each Friday imbues the provincial village with the quiet buzz and color of local artisans and farmers.
From a variety of accommodation sizes and types, guests look out over the 16th century Pont Coudé Bridge and the medieval garden and Abbey founded by Charlemagne. With no effort, I can picture dinner on the terrace with the lights of the bridge and village illuminating the evening … walking about the village to explore galleries and boutiques … a lazy boat tour or canoeing along the river.
And history abounds in this part of the old pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Over more centuries than we can contemplate, inhabitants included the Celts, Romans, early Christians and the very monks whose early monastery evolved into the remarkable abbey present today. After wars and plagues, Brantôme emerged, established notably by Charlemagne as a leading religious destination.
Should you choose to explore the surrounding landscape, the area is home to many ‘plus beaux villages de France” …Saint-Jean-de-Cole, Saint-Amand-de-Coly, Limeuil, Beynac …the charm seems endless. When you return, stop in for pizza and wine on the outdoor terrace of the popular Bar du Marche in the main square. If you share our partiality to delectable crepes, stop in at the hospitable and savory L’authentique.
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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.
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.
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If you plan to visit Paris between now and the end of October, you should take advantage of a special exhibition at the magnificent Château de Compiègne Museum just north of the capital. For the next five months, the works of one of the most renowned French sculptors will be on display, that of Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887).
One of the premiere sculptors of the Second Empire, Carrier-Belleuse is positioned as Rodin’s Master, as Auguste Rodin was a student in the sculptor’s workshop. Seemingly no artistic genre attracts me more than sculpture, where the materials under masterful hands deliver beauty and energy, brute force and quiet repose.
Carrier-Belleuse was tireless in his sculpting, turning out busts and statues, bronzes and figurines. No material seemed indifferent under his piercing talent.
While he began his training as the apprentice of a goldsmith and later studied at École des Beaux-Arts and Petite École, the sculptor spent over five years designing ceramics and metalwork models for companies like Wedgwood in England. When he began to exhibit large sculptures at the Salon in Paris, he attracted important patrons and significant commissions.
Emperor Napoléon III tapped his considerable talents in numerous public projects during the rebuilding of Paris between 1851 and 1870 – from the torchères for the Paris Opéra to the marble Bacchante purchased by the emperor for the Jardins des Tuileries. Later the State awarded a Medal of Honor and the cross of the Légion d’Honneur for his marble Messiah that was allotted to Saint-Vincent-de-Paul in Paris.
Though continuously producing abundant pieces for international patrons, Carrier-Belleuse was highly visible and commercially successful in the applied arts. Appointed director of works at the state Manufacture de Sèvres, he significantly elevated the stature of applied arts and impacted the careers of younger sculptors – like Auguste Rodin – who apprenticed with him.
Might I be among the first to recommend you take a little time from you enjoyment of Paris to take in this remarkable exhibition? For less than the cost of a movie in the United States, you will enjoy the energy, humor and unrivalled imagination of Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. .
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Tucked away on a rocky outcropping in the foothills of the Alpilles mountains, Château des Baux de Provence is a centuries old historic sent poised above the dramatic valleys of Provence. More than 20 years ago, the District of Les Baux-de-Provence called upon the expertise of Culturespaces to develop and manage this cultural and historic gem. Their efforts have been so successful that Château des Baux is now second only to the Papal Palace of Avignon as the most visited monument in the PACA region.
Towering over the village, the site of the Castle of les Baux de Provence is listed as a Historic Monument and offers visitors stunning views of the whole region – views that offer insight into the strategic location of this embattled area. Dramatic ruins, buildings and war relics trace the storied history of this region, where conflict was as common as the Mistral winds that sweep the area.
Across from the cemetery that overlooks the Val d’Enfer (Hell Valley), the Chapel of Saint Blaise, for example, is a quaint 12th-century edifice built by the guild of wool carders and cloth weavers. Famous Provencal painter Yves Bayer and poet André Suarès have their final resting place in the cemetery.
Beyond managing this magnificent site, Culturespaces has wisely partnered with local hotels and restaurants to suggest every convenience for interested visitors. One of our favorites is the hotel Mas de l’Oulivié just 2 kilometers from the village of les BAUX DE PROVENCE, one of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France”.
The charming 4-star hotel is the ideal ‘home away from home’ from which to explore the beautiful landscape, architectural heritage and historic sites of the area. An intimate hotel, there are only 25 exceptional rooms and 2 suites, each designed to provide its own character and special views to the countryside or landscaped garden. Set in an olive grove, the garden has more than 120 species of trees as well as a landscaped swimming pool tucked into a rocky, natural setting.
Beyond historic sightseeing, visitors can choose from cycling and horseback riding, golf and shopping in local markets. Naturally local olive oil is a favorite purchase!
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Paris visitors are never at a loss for unique excursions, not the least of which is an appealing new exhibit that opened at the beginning of April. Just west of Paris at the Musée des Châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau, is an intimate and fascinating expo – Joséphine, La Passion des Fleurs et des Oiseaux.
Mais oui, the exhibit focuses on Empress Josephine’s passion for flowers and birds, no doubt an influence from her early Creole childhood. The Château itself showcases her refined taste and informal gardens, but this particular exhibit expressly « proposes to revive the passion Josephine vowed to flowers and birds. »
Though forced to divorce Napoleon for lack of producing an heir, Josephine maintained her title and devoted herself to botanical pursuits and collections at Malmaison. Your visit provides a quiet retreat from the city, where you can easily imagine the country manor life of the Emperor and Empress.
The Musée boutique offers special reproductions of Josephine’s porcelain and jewelry- nice mementos or gifts from your visit. The exhibit runs until the end of June, and is easily reached by taking the metro to La Defence and the bus 258 to the Château stop.
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There’s a certain irony to the fact, that I fully applaud ABC News’ “Made in America” segments, while I search through this season for ‘just the right’ gift from France for my loved ones. Perhaps, it is part of my dual nature that I support job-creating American enterprises and artisan-supporting French products.
And so it is that I recommend another delightful shopping site for those, who are not fortunate to be combing the shops of French villages and cities for holiday gifts. The Boutiques de musées offers a wide variety of French-oriented products directly from the many national museums they represent. Whether your budget is large or small, you can find a simple magnet or an elaborate piece of jewelry that reproduces some of the finest art in the world.
How about a refined replica of “The Bather of Falconet” by Étienne Meurice? Exquisite choices range from handsome coffee-table art books to an enchanting fresco reproduction of Raphael’s “La Belle Jardiniére” or a set of Arabesque dessert plates.
Children are not forgotten in the boutique offerings either with a variety of calendars, puzzles, model kits and books – even an “Animals of the World” game for the entire family.
Closer to home and without the burden of international postage Anne Touraine offers a beguiling collection of exquisite hand-rolled, silk scarves in designs that perfectly capture the mood Anne seeks. My favorite – naturally – is Paris Je T’aime!
Whether you shop abroad or in your local or on-line French shop, we hope you round out your Christmas list with memorable gifts that evoke the spirit of France.
We’d love to hear from you!
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I am drawn to sculpture, to the fluid lines, the grace and the seemingly impossible artistic mission of creating such alluring works from sometimes drab raw materials. A favorite destination for immersion in this fine art form is the Musée d’Orsay on the banks of the Seine in Paris.
From the moment you enter, the ‘sculpture’ of the museum itself is so appealing. We can thank historic preservationists for the transformation of the magnificent d’Orsay from the Orsay railway station to the stunning museum we enjoy today.
As the Universal Exposition neared in 1900, the French government recognized the need for a more centrally-located station than that of the Gare d’Austerlitz. Three architects contributed to the Beaux-Arts design – Lucien Magne, Emile Bénard and Victor Laloux (the latter designed the extraordinary station clock that looks over the grand hall of the museum), who were challenged to integrate the new station into its elegant environs.
“The station is superb and looks like a Palais des beaux-arts…” – painter Edouard Detaille, 1900
Clearly they accomplished their goal, but plans for an expansive modern hotel complex threatened its destruction. Fortunately revived interest in 19th-century architecture generated a declaration of the d’Orsay as a Historical Monument in 1978, when a commission was established to create the museum.
The sculptures of the Musée d’Orsay
The debut of the museum in December 1986 included 1,200 sculptures, mostly from the former collections of the Musée du Luxembourg, the Louvre and from state loans. The 19th century marked a prolific period for sculpture. Then the ‘mood’ of the people sought to proclaim triumphant social progress, while the politicos wanted to carve their beliefs in bronze and stone.
Fortunately, we are able to enjoy the many legendary works of art under the changing daylight that streams through the museum’s glass roof. Among the diverse sculpture collection are Rodin’s The Age of Bronze, Bourdelle’s head of Beethoven, works by Belgian sculptor Constantin Neunier and Edgar Degas’ enchanting Small Dancer.
Over three-and-a-half million visitors enjoyed the Musée d’Orsay in 2012, a number that continuously increases over time. If you haven’t had the opportunity to join those fortunate visitors, we suggest you rectify that oversight on your next visit to Paris!
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On the UNESCO World Heritage and acknowledged to be the best preserved theatre in Europe, the Théâtre Antique & Musée d’Orange is a jewel in the heart of the Rhône Valley. The Roman Theatre of Orange is unquestionably one of the finest remnants of Ancient Rome and the Roman Empire in all of France and one where you can enjoy enchanting performances. But first a bit of history.
Profiling the background of a place that has been around since 36 BC requires pick-and-choose fact paring and a PhD in history, but I’ll do my best! A few years after Julius Caesar conquered all of Gaul, veterans of his 2nd Gallic legion founded Orange.
In the 1st century AD, the Theatre of Orange was constructed under the reign of Emperor Augustus. The fact that such buildings still remain throughout France is a testament to Roman architectural and building expertise. The Romans hollowed out an existing hillside to build the theatre terraces against Saint-Eutrope hill.
- The traditional theatre design included tiered seats, an orchestra, stage and stage wall. Seating for theatre performances was in strict accordance with rank and status, with VIPs in civic and military life closest to the stage, and persona non grata at the back.
Theatre show days literally were just that – all day presentations of mimes, poetry readings, comedies and pantomimes acting out tragic, epic and farcical stories. Theatre performances evolved to the spectacular, with increasingly bloody scenes.
And thus came the downfall for all such theatres. With the advent of Christianity in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine and Theodosius converted to Christianity and made it the official religion. Rapidly, entertainment and pagan worship were banned, temples demolished and theatres closed. Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the theatre was pillaged, turned into an outpost and even used as a prison.
It did not return to its original purpose until 1825, when the inspector of Monuments Historiques initiated a mammoth renovation program. From 1869, Roman Festivals attracted more than 10,000 spectators to the shows, which later would become known as “Chorégies” hosting one celebrity after another. Sarah Bernhardt was said to have given one of her finest performances there in 1903. In 1971 the “Nouvelles Chorégies” introduced the opera era with the world’s greatest opera singers performing on the famous stage with the fabulous acoustics.
Today, thousands of visitors from throughout the world enjoy performances in the theatre. day!
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