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5 Charms of Provençal Avignon!

Papal city of Avignon France

Avignon overlooking the Rhone River

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…

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Elegant Retreat Near Normandy’s Coast

Normandy France Coast

Port-en-Bessin, Normandy

Though stained with the blood, burial grounds and memorials to lost young soldiers; the vast Normandy landscape tells multiple stories.  We feel the weight and sad wonder of history, struggle and loss; yet this magnificent land unfolds in soft, rolling farms and golden hay fields that embrace an existence made possible by that very history. Read more…

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Refreshing Lake Annecy Retreat

Annecy France

Gorgeous lakeside views from the Abbaye de Talloires

When Florida temperatures and electric bills suddenly elevate by 30 percent, I wander to cool places in my mind. I can’t think of a more refreshing mental escape than Lake Annecy. Tucked up against snow-capped ridges in the East of France, this pristine lake – the 3rd largest in France – displays a lovely turquoise invitation to boat, swim or simply enjoy a magnificent visual feast.

The city of Annecy welcomes visitors entranced by her location, history, cuisine and hospitality; but several villages and enticing inns surround the sprawling lake. I think I may have discovered an ideal retreat in the Abbaye de Talloires on the Southeast shoreline of the lake.

Annecy France

Appealing rooms with panoramic views

Certainly the locale’s history, dating as far back as 866 A.D., is intriguing, but let’s be candid here. That’s a lovely addition to the overall atmosphere, but panoramic lake views, ultra-comfortable rooms and brasserie dining by the lake engulf my imagination and quest for cool weather and beautiful outdoor views.

We have always wanted to return to Annecy for a more thorough exploration, but I’m afraid we can’t make the trip at the moment. We certainly can take our cooling mental journey and add this lovely retreat to our “Bucket List” for real travels in the future.

Annecy France

Can you imagine a relaxing French-style lunch by the lake? I can!!!

We’d love to hear from you!

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

And don’t forget – my book Fired Up for France:  The Promise of Paris – now available in E-book (pdf) and print!

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Italy, France – Travel Early and Often!

Duomo, Florence Italy

Charming cafes overlooking the magnificent Duomo

“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.

Florence Italy

“David” watches over the bustling Piazza della Signoria – the original David is in the Galleria dell’Accademia

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.

Annecy, France

Mountainous peaks hover over Lake Annecy

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.

We’d love to hear from you!

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

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Villa Grecque Kérylos – Cote d’Azur

Cote d'Azur

Villa Kerylos – Cote d’Azur – © P. Louzon

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!

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

 

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Stay at Le Château de Chambord!

Chateau Chambord, France

Chambord’s chapel in the Loire Valley

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!

Francois I chateau, Loire Valley

Chateau de Chambord

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.
We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2017, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

 

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French Artisans, French Luxury

French luxury houses, Delisle bronzier

Elegant lantern, Delisle Paris

As the holidays approach, my mind turns to excellence in craftsmanship. Bien sur, French artisans rise to the top! At gift-giving time, I am inclined toward somewhat impractical gifts that bestow history, beauty and superb craftsmanship. That ‘one fine thing’ I might find for a friend or family member can transport the recipient well away from mundane, everyday concerns to a world apart. I hasten to add that searching for bargains on ebay and elsewhere helps considerably in underwriting my quirky habits!

I made quite an interesting discovery in my search for gifts – an organization devoted to French luxury houses and cultural institutions. Founded in 1954, the Comité Colbert gathers those prestigious members with the goal of working together to promote French ‘art de vivre’ in the international marketplace. Today numbering 78 luxury houses and 14 cultural institutions, the committee is bound by founding values that mirror exactly what I was espousing at the beginning of this post – “…the dignity of hand crafts, respect, high standards and innovations….”

I’m sure you can imagine many on the prestigious roster – from Chanel and Christian Dior, Dalloyau and Christofle to Pierre Frey, Hermés and Hôtel Ritz. One member epitomizes the group’s vision and values – Delisle Paris. Founded in 1895, the prominent bronzier d’art celebrates 120 years of astounding craftsmanship that enhances sites not only throughout France but across the globe.

Delisle projects cover a fascinating array of revered historic locales. The 350-plus lanterns that illuminate the Paris Royal galleries of Paris have been under the tender care of the luxury house for over 40 years. Nesting pigeons and ball-playing children can play havoc with these masterpieces! When the city of Paris decided to bring forth the magnificent rostral columns of Place de la Concorde that were stored in the Grand Palais cellars, Delisle was the natural choice for the large-scale restoration of the cast-iron rostra and top-set lanterns.

Paris Place de la Concorde

Lantern-topped rostra, Place de la Concorde

Now, I readily admit to you that I won’t be commissioning a $142,000 chandelier, such as the one created for a Moscow customer; and I haven’t been able to even locate, much less purchase, a Delisle candlestick. But I love knowing that when we visit the Grand Trianon in Versailles or wander into the Shangri-La hotel in Paris, we will be well aware of the creators of their gorgeous lighting.

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

 

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Brantôme en Périgord – Luxurious Eden!

Brantome, Dordogne France

Refined, four-star Relais & Chateaux hotel

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.

Brantome en Perigord France

L’Abbaye elegant rooms

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.

Dordogne France

Overlooking River Dronne

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.

 We’d love to hear from you

Copyright © 2015, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

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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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Le Prieuré – Elegant Avignon Retreat

Retreat to the French countryside

Le Prieuré – hotel in the country by Avignon

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.

We’d love to hear from you!

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

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Luxury Redefined at Hôtel de Crillon

Hotel de Crillon, Paris

Crillon lobby elegance!

The renowned Hôtel de Crillon, right next door to the American Embassy in Paris, is about to complete a two-year renovation. Slated to reopen next year, one of the most luxurious hotels in the world will present a bright new face in order “to meet its clients’ highest standards.  Really?

Far be it from me to question the tastes and/or decisions of those who cater to those who likely spend as much on a stay at this magnificent hotel as many would spend on six months’ worth of mortgage payments! That disclaimer aside, you can be certain that the Crillon had not fallen into musty disrepair! Rather, like a bored homemaker shoving furniture about or painting a wall to freshen the home; the new management wanted to make a dual statement of refined continuity and techno-luxury progress.

Paris hotel Luxury

Signature style – what is coming at Hotel de Crillon?

I stand among many who appreciate the Hôtel de Crillon and, in fact, have some very fond memories of brushing up against her opulent presence. Many years ago during my first visit to Paris, my good friend once again demonstrated ‘the world is my oyster’ style. Dressed for a casual walk and a bit sodden with the Paris mist, she insisted we duck into the hotel for a visit to the restroom and gift shop. So discreetly imposing was the grand edifice, I balked at the thought quickly theorizing that such a visit would equal attending an upscale event in shorts and flip flops!

No, no, my friend assured me, and we entered … with her darling dog in the lead. A uniformed gentleman nodded with an appropriate smile, and we traversed the marble foyer and descended elegant stairs to the toilette. Certainly quite serviceable and inviting, the rest room nonetheless did not equal that of The Ritz; though I don’t intend to cast aspersions.

Then, we enjoyed moments of hushed French-style conversation with the gracious attendant in the gift shop, as we looked among porcelain keepsakes, sumptuous leather goods and light-as-air silk scarves. Despite my initial misgivings, it was a delightful experience … and certainly memorable.

I had no idea that the genteel tenacity of my friend offered such benefits!  Well indoctrinated now to the Crillon’s egalitarian hospitality, on another occasion I waited to meet my friend in the hotel lobby….that famous, gleaming lobby with quietly efficient hosts and elegant guests.  I marveled at the thin, fine leather boots of a statuesque young woman attached to the arm of a quite dignified gentleman.

Imagine, then, my sorrow on reading about a tourist who had the same thought to take a peek inside, perhaps a good ten years after our adventure.  As this lady approached the door, a guard at the front explained that only hotel guests could enter in order to protect the privacy of their guests.

Now, I only wish we had stopped in for a glass of wine, as my daughter and I did one evening at The Ritz; but that is another story, and I am well satisfied with my Crillon memories at the moment.  In fact, even ambling along the sidewalk in front of the hotel is quite an experience.  Elegantly uniformed livery men oversee a stable of sleek, black vehicles, every ready to spring into action for in-or outbound guests.  A stately tall black man leaves the hotel in what appears to be the attire of African royalty.  There is an indescribable hum of service and wealth and privilege that is interesting to see, a window on a world most of us do not encounter … on a regular basis.

Enjoy the big and little moments of your life.  And, as they say, “act as if” and perhaps you will be welcomed into otherwise hallowed ground!

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@luxeeuro.com

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

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Historic & Enchanting Provence

Historic Provence chateau

Château des Baux de Provence – ©C. Recoura

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.

Overlooking Alpilles mtns.

Château des Baux de Provence – ©C. Recoura

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!

 

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@luxeeuro.com Copyright © 2014, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

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Retreat to Josephine’s Garden

Josephine Baker in Paris

Josephine’s passion for flowers and birds

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.

Paris exhibits

Reproductions of Empress Josephine

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.

We’d love to hear from you! swsheridan@luxeeuro.com

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

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Meert – # 1 Palate Pleasure in Lille!

Lille, France

Patisserie to royalty in Lille

Today we seem to live at the speed of  light, hooked to little electronic gadgets that nag us – with our permission, thank you – throughout every waking moment.  That’s all the more reason  to appreciate Meert.

Nothing happens in France overnight, least of all a blossoming friendship or a thriving patisserie.  No, the maturation of either requires patience, tender care, growing trust and a touch of vision.  And so it is with Meert.  Over 250 years ago – in 1761, to be precise – a sweets and chocolate shop was born at 27 rue Esquermoise in Lille. Some ten years later, the addition of Meert’s famous ice cream inspired the reverence of the Count of Lille and transformed the establishment into one of Lille’s most fashionable sites, proving once again that the touch of royalty ‘gilds the lilly’.

Flash forward to 1839, when the decision was made to renovate the establishment.  The creative team included the architect César Benvignat – the official architect of Old Lille, painter Stalars and sculptor Huidiez; who combined their brilliance to create the impressive, ornate oriental style you find at Meert today.  Ten years later, Meert became the official supplier of King Leopold I and concocted one of the stellar products of the store – the famous vanilla-filled waffle.

Along the way, the house added a first-in-class restaurant poised along a sun-bathed interior courtyard with a 19th century glass roof.  Now, the distinguished clientèle enjoys the multi-faceted historic boutique, traditional tearoom and gastronomic restaurant all presented in the extravagant and tasteful surroundings of Maison Meert. A second restaurant at Lille Printemps has been added, as well as two Paris locations in the Marais and Saint-Germain, in Bruxelles and Roubaix.

Now, about that infamous waffle….

Ten years ago, the EphéMeert waffle appeared beside the traditional vanilla waffle that is particularly known for its’ flavorful Vanille de Madagascar.  Flavors range from praline and puffed rice, pistachio and morello cherry to blackcurrant and violet flavors.  You can be certain that the enticing combinations are tucked away quite carefully in the little tattered notebook that guards the Meert’s cherished secrets!

We’d love to hear from you!

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

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Best French Villages to Visit

Famed chef Alain Ducasse’s La Bastide de Moustiers

Hilltop and valley villages anoint the French countryside like little pearls strung lazily across the landscape. Each, it seems, is centered on a petite chapel, and many claim riverfront privileges with ancient stone bridges and willow-protected river banks. While there are hundreds of scenic and historic villages in France, we have to begin somewhere! Enjoy a glimpse of two of our favorites.

Moustiers Sainte-Marie

At the western end of the striking Gorges du Verdun, Moustiers Sainte-Marie is a remarkably beautiful village in the Emerald Valley. Moustiers is home to just 600 residents but host to thousands of visitors, many who come for the valued “faience” pottery produced here.

The traditional pottery village straddles a small rocky canyon and a stream that splits the village and adds the pleasant sounds of rushing water to the overall charm of the town. High above the village a semi circle of rocky cliffs are linked by a forged iron chain, from which the golden star of one of the knights of the Crusades is suspended. It’s quite a striking sight and symbol. Under the protective star, the village unfolds with narrow streets and passages and welcoming shops and cafes. Everywhere the views upwards and outwards prompt you to stop, look and listen.

At the village center, the 12th-century Notre-Dame church, with its four-level Romanesque bell tower, is watched over by the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel, high above the village and beneath the gold star. You gain a sense of how “young” we are, in that the chapel was built on the same spot as a Marial temple that dates to 470 A.D. You will definitely want to carve out some time to wander through faience stores, before finding that perfect umbrella-covered table for a delightful lunch.

Roussillon

Roussillon’s main square

On the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse, Rousillon is an ochre-red village that is small enough to easily explore but filled with charm and color. Wandering along her narrow streets takes you through a maze of bright colors – coral buildings with bright blue shutters, vivid yellow with green accents, deep earth colors and red tile roofs. One of the 141 villages in France rated as a Plus Beaux Village (Most Beautiful Village of France), Roussillon’s color stems, in part, from the former ochre mines at the base of the village. In fact, there is evidence of Roman occupation, when the mines were operating.

The village square was one of our favorites, lively with outdoor cafes, the Mairie’s (Mayor’s) handsome building and the 19th-century clock, bell tower and sundials of the church. Stretching out from the square are charming boutiques with pottery that reflects the joyous colors of the area.  We simply stopped to listen to the chanteuse, who entertained from the middle of the village square – magnifique!

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved.

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Musée d’Orsay – Elegance and Art

Paris museums

Stunning sculpture of the d’Orsay

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.

Musee d'Orsay, Paris

View from D’Orsay rooftop

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!

We’d love to hear from you!

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

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Hôtel Cour des Loges – Lyon – Bienvenue!

Lyon France

Cour des Loges lobby, Lyon

Nothing quite imprints the distinct feeling of history like staying in the former mansion of an Italian silk merchant. Tucked discreetly along the cobbled lanes of Vieux Lyon, Hôtel Cour des Loges offers exactly that experience. You feel as if the old merchant’s staff welcomes you, but alas – they are contemporary concierges well schooled in warm, refined hospitality (as you might expect of a 4-star luxury hotel).

Every glance through the hotel, from the arched reception and dining rooms to your own handsomely outfitted boudoir provides an agreeable blend of antique and contemporary. The hotel actually is a complex of 14th to 17th-century buildings that encircle a glass-covered courtyard.

After checking in, ask your concierge about nearby “traboules” to explore. The passageways first were used by workers in the silk industry and later by members of the Resistance to evade capture by the occupying Germans. They weave through the old city with a mystique of their own, hiding the stories of long ago.

Cour des Logees

Merci garcon! Parmesan hand scooped!

Our friend provided an after-dinner tour, pushing open a door here and there, that appeared to be the entrance to a home or apartment. We followed him along silent corridors, around corners and through other doors, only to exit a few streets away.And speaking of dinner, you will want to enjoy a memorable experience at the hotel’s Café-Épicerie, a restaurant that artfully mixes contemporary décor with stone walls, graceful arches and silk tapestries. Our excellent waiter guided our menu choices and scooped fresh parmesan from a large cheese wheel to accent our selections. The experience reminded us that dining is not eating.

After a restful night, head to the interior courtyard for a delicious breakfast buffet. We look around the upper and lower arches imagining the life of the original owner and his family in Renaissance France. You cannot fail to absorb the ancient life, the stories and history of this unique Lyon dwelling. The hotel serves as a wonderful anchor, after wandering up the hills and by the rivers of this remarkable city.

We welcome your comments and recommendations!
swsheridan@luxeeuro.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

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“Platinum” Cruises Through France

Tournon France cruise

Viking Cruises – Tournon

Do you know the movie The Bucket List?  Rob Reiner’s comedy stars none other than Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, two terminally-ill men, who take a last road trip to do all of those things they want to do before they ‘kick the bucket’.

VikingCruises

Serene riverside dining through France

Not to discourage any and all desires to fulfill, before the curtain falls; we have our own “Platinum Bucket”.  We would prefer to fill our bucket with Dom Pérignon Champagne and indulge in some extraordinary adventures in France.

Certainly one addition to the bucket would be a Viking River Cruise through France – either the short version from Paris through Normandy or the indulgent 15-day excursion that extends your initial trip to Avignon, Arles and beyond.  Accolades for the Viking cruises are plentiful, and they have a number of French and European cruise choices available to discerning travelers.

Cruise Critic Editors chose Viking River Cruises Longship as the Best New River Ship in 2012. With six new longships recently launched, Viking has exceeded high expectations with state-of-the-art engineering, balcony cabins, suites and expansive, atrium-style common areas.  They have applied their more than 175 years of experience to provide carefully-planned itineraries on extraordinarily comfortable ships. Viking crews pride themselves in providing the kind of personal attention that makes your cruise equally comfortable and exciting. National Geographic even features Viking in their The 10 Best of Everything awards.

We prefer the “Platinum” route, so we choose the combo cruise that runs the length of France. Viking combines their abbreviated Normandy adventure with a cruise through the southern regions of Burgundy and Provence.  With visits to Avignon, Arles and Lyon and many points between, can you imagine a more delightful itinerary? Touches of Monet and Van Gogh. Cuisines of Lyon and Avignon. Cobblestone streets and soaring Gothic architecture. And the magnificent sights of Paris need no description.

Viking Cruises France

State-of-the-art Cruise Ships

A ‘thumbnail sketch’ may inspire you to explore the possibilities for yourself. Imagine a comfortable, spacious stateroom with your own balcony. Expansive sun decks offer 360-degree views, as do observation lounges and bars with panoramic windows. Wireless internet service, boutique, library – they’ve thought of every comfort and convenience to spoil you.

Talented chefs labor to provide a mix of fresh, seasonal local vegetables, regional specialties and menus adapted to your tastes. From pleasant and complete breakfast choices to your five-course dinners, you will be well nourished for active days and pleasant evenings.

Your itinerary takes you from Avignon to Arles, from Romanesque ruins to wine tastings at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Tournon, Vienne and Lyon stimulate the senses and the imagination. A visit to Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, offers wine tasting that takes on an entirely new experience in the famous cellars. After a night docked in Chalon-sur-Saône, you will ride through Dijon to Paris; where you board your second ship, after stimulating city and museum tours.

Visit the comprehensive website of Viking Cruises to learn more about this and other cruises through France.  We think you will agree that this adventure belongs on your Platinum Bucket list!

We welcome your comments and recommendations.

swsheridan@luxeeuro.com
Copyright © 2005-2014, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Le Grande Cascade Restaurant In Paris

Fine Parisian dining

La Grande Cascade, Paris

There is obvious comfort with finely-aged grandeur at Le Grande Cascade Restaurant in Paris. Once the private pavilion and hunting retreat of Napoleon III, the stately manor now houses an exemplary Michelin-star restaurant with a stunning terrace setting overlooking the shaded Bois de Boulogne.

Not surprisingly the setting is very reminiscent of the wonderful old Tavern on the Green in Manhattan’s Central Park, but this park is Paris’ second largest – over twice as large as the Big Apple prize. The architecture alone is startlingly beautiful with an enormous steel and glass rotunda pavilion that became a restaurant for the World Fair in 1900 – what a remarkable year that must have been in Paris!

Paris France

Elegant interior dining

As impressive as the setting is, even grand architecture and serene grounds cannot hide poor service or less-than-perfect cuisine. No problem for La Grande Cascade.

Chef Frédéric Robert and his able staff offer very tempting gastronomic cuisine with exceptional a la carte offerings and a host of flavorful embellishments – like their renowned and inventive stuffed macaroni! Naturally the clientele tend to mirror the exactingly groomed waiters in tuxedos, so the entire atmosphere is very upscale and Old World.

Imagine, for example, the sensitivity the following scene demonstrates. A group of four friends were dining, and one ordered an extra dish. So that person wouldn’t feel awkward eating ‘alone’, the waiter served each member of the party a small tasting plate.

bois de boulogne Paris

Delightful terrace dining

Classic, wouldn’t you say? The fact is, dining at La Grande Cascade is a memorable occasion unto itself; the food is simply a wonderful partner to the event. I believe we will choose terrace dining, when the weather permits.

We welcome your comments and suggestions.
swsheridan@luxeeuro.com

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Hôtel d’Europe – Avignon

Avignon 5-star accommodations

Chambre at Hotel d’Europe in Avignon

We’ve found the ideal lodging for a long weekend in Avignon, one of our favorite ancient, walled cities. We happened to be there during the peak of the summer festival, so a calmer weekend in May will be ideal for really enjoying this historic city.

The long list of positive referrals points us to Hôtel d’Europe  for an enticingly comfortable stay. Built as his residence by the Marquis de Graveson in 1580, this lovely five-star hotel enjoys a spectacular setting on one of Avignon’s most beautiful squares. In 1799 the Pierron’s founded the hotel, and in a testament to its fine lineage, Hotel Europe is the only Avignon hotel that appeared in Michelin’s first Guide in 1900.

We’re very much inclined toward mid-sized accommodations, as large hotels seem overwhelming and small gites a little too cozy. With 39 rooms and 5 suites, Hôtel d’Europe applies that deft French touch in low key elegance throughout the common (and not so ‘common’!) areas and spacious, beautifully-appointed guest rooms.

Hotel D'Europe Avignon

Fine cuisine to match the hospitality!

Seasoned travelers in France know well, though, that décor and amenities can quickly be sullied with poor, haughty service.  Not so at this hotel, where welcoming staff help you plan your days of exploring the historic city or the renowned Luberon countryside and welcome your return with a glass of wine at the handsome bar.We’d love to hear from you! swsheridan@luxeeuro.com

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

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NÎMES, Belle Epoque Gallery

Nimes Provence France

Belle Epoque Gallery, Nimes

The famous Roman arena and other Gallo-Roman historic sites in NÎMES definitely are ‘required sites’, but there also are quiet places, seeimingly off the vistor rador.  One of our greatest pleasures came from the simplest of things.

We wandered along tree-lined boulevards and lingered in a square at night to watch the colorful carousel.  We stopped for a pleasant visit in this gorgeous gallery with gilded molding and a stunning glass ceiling.

During lunch at an outdoor café table, the owner’s little dog perched himself right next to Leo.  He gazed up with a beseeching look, as if to say, “I am the cobbler’s son, and I have no shoes.”  The owner shooed him away and explained, “He is always trying to beg for food.”

One morning, we rose to a most unusual sight.  On a balcony across from our hotel, a cat looked calmly, but with longing, at a bird in a cage on the balcony next door.  Finally, she grew bored and looked the other way.  Simple pleasures, all tucked away for rainy day musing.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@luxeeuro.com.

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

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Théâtre Antique & Musée d’Orange

Roman theatre, provence

Théâtre Antique d’Orange – © Gromelle Grand Angle

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.

King Louis XIV appropriately described the theatre’s exterior façade as, “The finest wall in my kingdom”.  The sheer size of the wall is staggering – nearly 103 meters in length, 1.80 meters thick and 37 meters high (338 feet x 5.9 feet x 121 feet).  The 3-level façade includes stage and secondary doors and a blind arcade with arches in line with towers at either side of the stage.
The stage wall design was critical to proper sound direction and includes the theatre’s only distinct architectural décor.  Some of the theatre’s magnificent features include a frieze decorated with centaurs and niches with statues of Augustus and Apollo.

Roman Theatre Orange

Stunning Les Chorégies performance

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!

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@luxeeuro.com

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

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