Issue No. 25

In this issue, visit France from home - Gascony, and Provence, fabulous day trips from Paris, captivating Toulouse and charming Northern France. Recipes, guides and a whole heap more to entertain and inspire...

In this issue, visit France from home - Gascony, and Provence, fabulous day trips from Paris, captivating Toulouse and charming Northern France. Recipes, guides and a whole heap more to entertain and inspire...

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In these difficult days of no travel and self-isolation around the world, we can still<br />

dream.<br />

I hope that this issue makes you smile and whisks you away through its pages to<br />

France and that you find it’s a treat to read and inspires your dreams for the days<br />

when we can travel again.<br />

Meanwhile on our social media pages we’re staying connected, sharing a daily dose of<br />

France, inspiring dreams of France and hopefully one day soon, your resumed travels,<br />

join us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.<br />

Enjoy this issue with my compliments and feel free to share it with friends – it is<br />

completely free to subscribe, read online, download and it always will be.<br />

Wishing you and yours truly well,

contents<br />

Features<br />

8 Gascony – God’s Country<br />

<strong>No</strong>t well known outside of France, the Gers,<br />

Gascony is an intoxicating land, real France,<br />

authentic and delicious.…<br />

22 Road trip northern France<br />

The Hauts-de-France region reveals a wealth<br />

of culture, beautiful beaches, historic cities<br />

and glorious countryside...<br />

34 20 Brilliant day trips from Paris<br />

Chateaux, cities, village visits, cultural towns<br />

and beautiful churches, all so close to Paris<br />

you can get there and back in a day…<br />

56 The natural wonder of Amiens<br />

The capital of Picardy is the “Venice of the<br />

north” and a hugely surprising city...<br />

66 Colourful, cultural & captivating<br />

Toulouse<br />

Discover the museums and secret streets of<br />

the pink city…<br />

74 Fabulous French Float-el<br />

Floating down the Rhone River on a French<br />

cruise hotel makes for a brilliant break…

Features continued<br />

80 Lille a Feast for the Senses<br />

The perfect pairings of food and art in the<br />

city of culture<br />

88 La Chartreuse de Neuville<br />

A monumental hidden gem of a<br />

charterhouse in northern France<br />

94 Oppède the lush, exotic village<br />

of Provence<br />

This rather hidden beauty of Provence is<br />

delightfully quirky…<br />

Regular<br />

100 Your Photos<br />

The most popular photos on our Facebook<br />

page.<br />

120 My Good Life in France<br />

In which the rural countryside becomes a<br />

land of party animals...<br />

Expert Advice<br />

102 Discover the <strong>No</strong>rthern Riviera<br />

<strong>No</strong>t the French riviera with its pricey<br />

properties but a northern version that’s well<br />

worth a look…<br />

106 Top tips for your move to<br />

France<br />

Top tips for those looking forward to move<br />

to France.

110 Expert’s guide to French<br />

Mortgages<br />

Everything you need to know about<br />

mortgages in France.<br />

Recipes<br />

114 Pissaladière<br />

Classic French onion tart that's so moreish<br />

it's wicked!<br />

116 Cheese soufflé<br />

How to make a perfect cheese soufflé that<br />

will impress everyone!<br />

118 Gascon apple pie<br />

Easy to make but utterly unforgettably<br />


Gascony<br />

“God’s Country…”<br />

Janine Marsh takes to the road in Gascony and discovers<br />

some of its charms – from medieval villages, quirky<br />

museums and the most intoxicating gastronomy…

The Gers<br />

The Gers, or Gascony some call it, is one of<br />

the most rural regions in all of France. You’ll<br />

find it in southwest France, just west of<br />

Toulouse but a world apart from the buzzing,<br />

colourful metropolis.<br />

A <strong>25</strong> minute drive from Toulouse airport will<br />

bring you to L’Isle Jordain, a great little town<br />

on the edge of a region that on a map looks<br />

decidedly green. There are no big cities here.<br />

<strong>No</strong> high speed rail services either, though<br />

you can take the train from Toulouse to<br />

Auch, the capital of Gers.<br />

There are no motorways in Gers. <strong>No</strong>t one.<br />

And there’s no mass tourism.<br />

The Gers is the real France you thought<br />

didn’t exist anymore. Bucolic, beautiful and<br />

bubbling with bonhomie.

Road trip Gers<br />

In the Gers, it’s easy to feel like you’ve<br />

stepped back in time to a gentler place. You<br />

won’t come across coach loads of tourists<br />

and you won’t find traffic jams. What you<br />

will find are roads which take you through<br />

sweeping panoramas, undulating fields of<br />

sunflowers, corn and rapeseed. Vineyards<br />

lazing under the sun alongside lush grazing<br />

pastures dotted with wildflowers.<br />

Hedgerows of hawthorne, broom and<br />

honeysuckle hug fields and forests. Pretty<br />

villages are seemingly on every corner, and<br />

bars are full of friendly folk, happy to share<br />

their little corner of paradise.<br />

Though the Gers is not France’s most<br />

sparsely populated district (Lozère if you<br />

want to know), it is the most agricultural,<br />

with more of its land under cultivation than<br />

that of any other French district. Humans in<br />

the Gers are hugely outnumbered by<br />

livestock, especially ducks, apparently 28:1.<br />

Ask any local will tell you that what’s<br />

important to people in the Gers is family,<br />

friendship and good food. And they really<br />

mean it.<br />

It’s a brilliant place for a road trip whether<br />

you’re driving or cycling around the Gers.<br />

And you’ll need your own wheels, because<br />

there’s not a lot of public transport.<br />

L’Isle Jordain - bells, books and a<br />

bubbly market town<br />

I started my Gascon jaunt in L’Isle Jordain,<br />

journeying by train via Paris to Toulouse (4<br />

hours) where I met my friend Lucy who’d just<br />

flown in from the UK (2 hours). It was Friday<br />

night and, as we booked into the charming<br />

L’Echappée Belle Hotel, the concierge<br />

warned us to move our car to the free car<br />

park on the corner rather than leave it in<br />

front of the hotel. Next day was market day<br />

and there would be a stall selling vegetables<br />

where we had parked.

Back in the hotel restaurant, feeling<br />

reassured our hire car wouldn’t be used to<br />

display cabbages, the server tempted us to a<br />

Pousse Rapière cocktail – my first<br />

introduction to Armagnac, the famous<br />

liqueur of Gascony. One part Armagnac à<br />

l’Orange to 6 parts sparkling wine: it’s<br />

heaven in a glass and so moreish I feel bad<br />

telling you about it. The food at the<br />

restaurant is superb (chef Thierry Lair is<br />

superb), if I lived in this town, you wouldn’t<br />

be able to keep me out of here!<br />

the most French, authentic and delicious<br />

market you can ever imagine. Stall after stall<br />

of local produce, odd shaped vegetables,<br />

fresh baked bread, artisanal beers, cheeses<br />

and… Pastis Gascon, an apple tart which<br />

makes your taste buds sing. Don’t take my<br />

word for it, there’s a recipe on page 118.<br />

Seriously, seriously sensational.<br />

Early next morning after a good night's sleep<br />

we wandered a few minutes out of the town<br />

to discover lakes right on the doorstep that<br />

were teeming with birds. As the sun broke<br />

through the early morning mist and a<br />

symphony of bird song filled the air, it felt<br />

like the land that time forgot.<br />

The old pilgrim route from Bordeaux to<br />

Jerusalem and the river Save wander<br />

through this 13th century bastide. There’s a<br />

classic church which has a 15th century<br />

clocktower and the remains of two arcaded<br />

markets. The market at L’Isle Jordain is like

Maison Claude Augé<br />

Claude Augé (1854 - 1924), was the<br />

director of Larousse encyclopaedias and<br />

educational books and he had a holiday<br />

home in the town. Preserved just as it was<br />

in his day, this beautiful building has<br />

wonderful stained glass windows and is<br />

filled with Larousse memorabilia - books,<br />

encyclopaedias, post cards and photos.<br />

Musée Campanaire<br />

From the first floor terraced windows of<br />

Maison Claude Augé, you look onto the<br />

Musée Campanaire, a unique museum<br />

dedicated to all things bell. There are huge<br />

bells from churches, Indonesian temple<br />

bells, Japanese, Roman, and Russian bells.<br />

But you don’t just look here, you play. It<br />

doesn’t matter if you’re not a trained bell<br />

ringer, and frankly I’m not sure they get that<br />

many in judging from what I heard when I<br />

was there. The staff are happy for you to<br />

practise with special bell hammers and even<br />

a bell pulley system like an organ of the<br />

type you find in churches and cathedrals.<br />

It’s certainly different but utterly<br />

fascinating.<br />

Our next stop was Auch…

Auch<br />

Auch, the capital city of the Gers, was the<br />

birthplace of the musketeer D’Artagnan,<br />

made famous by Alexander Dumas in The<br />

Three Musketeers, immortalised on film and<br />

still a symbol of loyalty, military prowess and<br />

honour. You’ll find his statue on the Grand<br />

Escaliers, the monumental limestone staircase<br />

which links the lower and upper towns.<br />

At the top of the stairs is the Cathedral of<br />

<strong>No</strong>tre-Dame. On the Route of St James, it<br />

was the last stop before the Pyrénées for<br />

pilgrims on their way to Spain.<br />

Building began in the Gothic style in 1489<br />

and continued until 1678 by which time<br />

more of a Renaissance style took over. The<br />

stained glass windows created in the 1500s<br />

are extraordinary. Designed by Arnaut de<br />

Moles (born around 1465), these are not your<br />

average religious windows but feature<br />

unusual topics such as the Greek Sybilles who<br />

are shown presenting the coming of Christ –<br />

and even more unusually there are naked<br />

bodies galore. The colours are pure and fresh,<br />

vibrant as the day they were made with glass<br />

from Paris, transported by horse and cart,<br />

each pane of glass sealed in wax to prevent<br />

breakage.<br />

Unusually there are two organs in the<br />

cathedral, the original enormous organ was<br />

built in 1694. A smaller organ takes centre<br />

stage. Donated by Napoleon III as thanks for<br />

the Archbishop being his wife’s confessor in<br />

Paris. The locals say it’s hard to say no to the<br />

gift of an emperor even though they prefer<br />

the original.

Top right: 14th century Armagnac Tower, above:<br />

Auch Cathedral, right: statue of D'Artagnan,<br />

Grand Escaliers<br />

Never finished, there are no saints on the<br />

facade of the church, but head into the choir<br />

for a sight you’re unlikely to see in any other<br />

church. The originally reserved for religious<br />

members only room full of carved wooden<br />

images features amongst the many saints,<br />

some rather nubile young women, a man<br />

with a bare bottom and other rather worldly<br />

sights. It was, says our guide, “because the<br />

monks who worked here, wanted to keep it<br />

real, to understand their flock, not idealise<br />

life but accept it for what it was...” It is an<br />

incredible piece of work and worth the<br />

couple of euros entry fee to see it.<br />

It's a pleasant city to wander, plenty of<br />

shops, bars and restaurants and winding little<br />

streets with quirky old houses.

Armagnac<br />

There are three growing areas of<br />

Armagnac: Bas Armagnac,<br />

Armagnac Tenareze and Haut-<br />

Armagnac. Together they form<br />

15,000 hectares of vines, originally<br />

planted by the Romans, from which<br />

wine, white, red and rosé and Floc<br />

de Gascogne (a fortified wine and<br />

popular aperitif) are grown and of<br />

which 42,00 hectares are used for<br />

the exclusive production of<br />

Armagnac.<br />

Armagnac is the oldest French eaude-vie<br />

and is at least 700 years old,<br />

possibly going back as far as the<br />

10th century. It was mentioned in<br />

records dated 1310 when a priest in<br />

Eauze, the capital of Bas Armagnac,<br />

praised Armagnac saying it was<br />

good “to keep your heath and stay<br />

on top form.” Mind you, he also<br />

listed a whole heap of its virtues<br />

including that the fumes of<br />

Armagnac could kill serpents, it<br />

cured colic and tooth ache.<br />

There are different types of<br />

Armagnac. Like Cognac, there’s VS<br />

(Very Superior), VSOP (Very<br />

Superior Old Pale), Hors d’Age<br />

Armagnac which is a minimum of ten<br />

years old but often much older, XO<br />

(Extra Old) a minimum of ten years<br />

old and Blanche Armagnac, which is<br />

a young white spirit and quite new to<br />

the market (since 2005).<br />

Unlike Cognac (twice distilled),<br />

Armagnac (once distilled) production<br />

isn’t big industry - it’s all small<br />

houses. Families and artisans<br />

producing their own unique blend.<br />

We headed to Chateau Millet on the<br />

outskirts of Eauze to find out more<br />

with a tour and what’s known as an<br />

Alambic Dinner.

Alambic Dinner<br />

Each year, some Armagnac makers open<br />

their cellars and invite the public in to<br />

witness the distillation, taste the young<br />

Armagnac, join in the fun and enjoy<br />

fabulous food and wine.<br />

The distillation process starts with the<br />

heating of the grape juice in a continuous<br />

still known as an alembic armagnaçaise.<br />

The stills are mobile devices, roaming<br />

around the countryside, stopping off at<br />

domaines and operated by an expert who<br />

works the magic through the night. Many of<br />

the smaller batches made by these talented<br />

producers never get seen outside the area –<br />

and that’s another good reason to visit!<br />

We joined the Chateau de Millet alembic<br />

dinner on the first Saturday in December.<br />

Driving down tiny country lanes under a<br />

frosty, star filled night was an adventure in<br />

itself. We entered the room, heated by the<br />

alambic still on wheels, it’s flames fanned by<br />

old vine wood. A live band played, everyone<br />

was invited to taste the new Armagnac<br />

straight from the still (takes your breath<br />

away I can tell you) and the food was<br />

amazing and the Chateau de Millet wines<br />

superb. It was an uplifting, fun and utterly<br />

delicious affair and I’d go back to Gascony<br />

just to be a part of this amazing event again.<br />

If you’d like to know more about Armagnac<br />

and join a dinner French Country<br />

Adventures will run a unique tour in<br />

<strong>No</strong>vember, details here: Armagnac Tours

Lavardens<br />

Built around a feudal castle<br />

and church, this little village<br />

on a rocky outcrop has<br />

oodles of charm. Go in July<br />

& August for the fabulously<br />

festive night markets.<br />

Fourcès<br />

With medieval arcades,<br />

beautiful walkways, quirky<br />

shops and several<br />

restaurants, it’s a fabulous<br />

place to while away a few<br />

hours admiring its beauty.<br />

Larressingle<br />

AKA the "little<br />

Carcassonne", this is the<br />

smallest fortified village in<br />

France. Step through the<br />

gate to the tiny walled town<br />

and you'll feel like you've<br />

stepped into the past.<br />

Montréal<br />

This fortified bastide town<br />

has a beautiful central<br />

square, arcaded walkways<br />

and beautiful medieval<br />

houses.<br />

La Romieu<br />

Taking its name from the<br />

Gascon "Roumiou", which<br />

means "pilgrim", the village<br />

was founded at the end of<br />

the 11th century<br />

Sarrant<br />

Enter the 14th century gate<br />

to discover a village of<br />

pretty half-timbered houses<br />

wrapped around the 13th<br />

century Saint-Vincent<br />


A land of officially beautiful villages<br />

There are no less than 6 Plus Beaux Villages<br />

in this 60-mile wide department. It’s not big,<br />

but it is incredibly beautiful, peppered with<br />

perfectly preserved and pristine medieval<br />

towns including lovely Larressingle. It’s the<br />

smallest fortified village in France. With a<br />

circumference of just 270m it’s nicknamed<br />

the “little Carcassonne”. And Fources, a<br />

stunning medieval town with the only round<br />

square in France.<br />

Read more about Larressingle here and<br />

Fources here.<br />

And there are castles galore. We visited the<br />

Chateau de Lavardens, in Lavardens, another<br />

Plus Beaux Village, which we spied from the<br />

bottom of a hill. It was like a magical mirage,<br />

mellow stone and terracotta-roofed, ageless<br />

beauty teetering high above us. It originally<br />

Larressingle<br />

belonged to the counts of Armagnac and was<br />

built in the 12th century and updated in the<br />

17th century. The stunning rooms have<br />

wonderful tiled floors and stone walls, grand<br />

fireplaces and magnificent views over the<br />

surrounding countryside. There are regular<br />

temporary exhibitions including at Christmas<br />

a massive santons display – little figurines<br />

that the French just love ranging from Saints<br />

to celebrities. We popped to the Cistercian<br />

Abbaye de Flaran nearby with its gorgeous<br />

14th century cloisters, now a cultural centre<br />

with an impressive calligraphy collection.<br />

And if you go here, you must leave time to<br />

visit the restaurant at the Ferme de Flaran<br />

next door, the most delicious food and<br />

friendly staff, they don’t just serve you food<br />

here, they really care. Our server got upset<br />

when I didn’t eat absolutely everything on<br />

the plate but honestly, it was a big lunch and<br />

I needed to leave room for the dessert!

The gastronomy of Gascony<br />

Food is a big part of what makes a visit to<br />

the Gers so special with specialities including<br />

foie gras, duck dishes, that seriously<br />

delicious apple pie that’s specific to the<br />

region which I mentioned earlier, Armagnac<br />

and wines.<br />

Weekly village markets are a wonderful<br />

introduction to the gastronomy of the area.<br />

Try the Thursday morning market at Éauze<br />

or the lovely covered market in Mirande on<br />

Monday mornings, which is equally lively.<br />

But the big one is at Samatan. I’m not sure<br />

you’ll ever find another market where one<br />

minute a nun is telling you how delicious her<br />

honey is and making clicking noises with her<br />

tongue to emphasise it’s special qualities and<br />

the next minute you’re caught up in a<br />

massive crowd waiting for a whistle to blow<br />

which is the signal to run through the doors<br />

of an enormous building to buy from local<br />

producers selling duck and geese at the<br />

carcasses market. It’s not for the fainthearted<br />

but it’s authentic and it’s the way<br />

things have been done here for years. The<br />

market opened in 1373.<br />

The town also has a quirky foie gras<br />

museum, only for those who are true fans as<br />

there are stuffed animals on show.<br />

Samatan tourism: tourism-saves.com<br />

There are bistros, cafés and restaurants in<br />

every town and farmhouse restaurants<br />

dotted throughout the countryside.<br />

When you go to the Gers, prepare to be<br />

surprised, to be irresistibly tempted by the<br />

gastronomy, fed and watered like royals and<br />

to fall head over heels for this secret and<br />

totally enchanting part of France which the<br />

locals call God’s country…

Practical info<br />

How to get there: From Toulouse where<br />

there is an airport and TGV station for fast<br />

trains to Paris (from 5.5 hours), it’s just an<br />

hour-and-a-half drive to Auch, the region’s<br />

main city. Auch has a well-staffed tourism<br />

office (3, place de la République; en.auchtourisme.com)<br />

that sells “TopoGuides” to<br />

the Gers.<br />

Where to stay: Chateau Bellevue in Cazubon,<br />

close to Eauze, will have you feeling rather<br />

regal. Beautifully decorated rooms which<br />

shuttered windows overlooking a stunning<br />

park and countryside. www.<br />

chateaubellevue.org<br />

In Auch, the Hôtel de France<br />

(hoteldefrance-auch.com) offers a range of<br />

reasonably priced rooms. It’s undergoing a<br />

renovation programme and my room was<br />

lovely but some do need updating still. Its<br />

informal restaurant has a small terrace<br />

overlooking Auch’s main square and serves<br />

many of the region’s greatest hits cooked by<br />

the owner’s chef father. The hotel also has a<br />

grande salle, where fancier (and much<br />

pricier) dishes are served. Chef Vincent<br />

Cassasus is renowned for being one of the<br />

best in the region<br />

The stylish L’Echappee Belle Hotel in L’Isle<br />

Jourdain has a sleeker, more updated feel,<br />

and a superb restaurant serving a lighter<br />

version of Gascon and traditional French<br />

dishes.<br />

Take a detour with French Country<br />

Adventures: Tours from half day, full day or<br />

several days offering a huge range of topics<br />

that will really allow you to experience the<br />

best of Gers. From Armagnac tours to<br />

watercolour workshops, pastry classes,<br />

antiquing and more:<br />

Tourist Office website:<br />


Born to be wild<br />

When I was offered the chance to discover<br />

the Hauts-de-France region on two sturdy<br />

wheels, I couldn’t resist the thrill. A Harley<br />

Davison ad once read “God didn’t create<br />

metal so that man could make paper clips!”<br />

The Harley Davidson 2019 Ultra Limited is a<br />

big bike. Very big. And I am small. So, we<br />

agreed, my husband Mark and me – he<br />

would do the driving (my feet didn’t reach<br />

the pedals), while I would sit back in the<br />

comfy armchair style seat and enjoy the<br />

ride…<br />

We started our journey at Dover on a P&O<br />

ferry. As soon as we parked the bike on the<br />

deck, other Harley-Davidson riders engaged<br />

in parking, came over to look, comment and<br />

treat us like mates. Biking is like that. They<br />

were on their way to a party in Holland,<br />

meeting up with other Harley fans from<br />

around Europe.<br />

“Did we want to join them?” they asked.<br />

Tempting though it was, we chose to keep to<br />

our itinerary, riding around the region,<br />

discovering truly beautiful sites, glorious<br />

countryside, quaffing Champagne in a little<br />

known part of Picardy which produces a<br />

whopping 10% of all the fizz produced in<br />

France, sampling a legendary dish in a castle<br />

and enjoying some of the finest food<br />

possible. Can you blame us?<br />

Bikers say, “Life is not about waiting for the<br />

storms to pass: it’s about learning how to<br />

ride in the rain!” and I honestly thought, this<br />

is the far north of France - it rains a lot here,<br />

we’ve got some learning to do. In fact, in<br />

eight days of travel in mid-September – it<br />

didn’t rain a single drop and we only saw<br />

clouds once…

Have wheels – will travel...<br />

Pas de Calais: The Opal Coast and the<br />

Route 66 of northern France<br />

Alighting from the ferry, we whizzed straight<br />

onto the coastal road which takes you right<br />

around the Opal Coast. It starts at the<br />

border with Belgium and runs to the border<br />

with <strong>No</strong>rmandy. We joined it just outside<br />

Calais…<br />

The sky was blue, the English Channel was<br />

the colour of the Mediterranean Sea, a soft<br />

sort of turquoise, and the air was scented<br />

with apples from orchards lining the country<br />

roads as we drifted off the main coastal<br />

route and into the beautiful countryside to<br />

hunt down a patisserie. <strong>No</strong>thing says France<br />

more than a baguette with a chunk of cheese<br />

followed by a jewel like cake and a glass of<br />

chilled wine. We sat on a blanket<br />

overlooking the English Channel, rabbits<br />

hopping around us, birds swooping above. A<br />

moment of pure pleasure.<br />

The Opal Coast Route<br />

The D940 Opal Coast route is the Route 66<br />

of the north of France. It passes through a<br />

stream of small fishing towns, seaside resorts<br />

and some of the most beautiful scenery in<br />

France. There are miles and miles of<br />

unspoiled and endless sandy beaches, huge<br />

dunes, pine forests and dramatic clifftop<br />

walks offering dizzying views across the<br />

Channel to the White Cliffs of Dover –<br />

clearly visible on a cloudless day. Some parts<br />

of the coast reminded me of the Giant’s<br />

Causeway in Ireland, massive boulders seem<br />

to spill out of the sea and up to the road.<br />

Fishermen sat silent and patient along the<br />

water’s edge with rods and nets. Out to sea<br />

we could see traditional wooden fishing<br />

boats bobbing on the calm water.<br />

We found secret, secluded bays where seals<br />

frolicked. There are monuments and<br />

museums, and the remains of the Atlantic<br />

Wall built as protection against allied

Historic cites, castles & fishing<br />

villages<br />

It doesn't take more than 45 minutes from<br />

Calais to Boulogne-sur-Mer. But, it’s far<br />

better to spend the entire day on this section<br />

of the road. Stop to enjoy a home-cooked<br />

lunch in a friendly, welcoming café and buy<br />

fish fresh from the fishermen who sell direct<br />

from their front rooms and garages in<br />

villages like Audresselles. Wander on the<br />

beach, admire the Napoleonic fort at<br />

Ambleteuse and the Belle Epoque villas at<br />

Wimereux.<br />

This is a part of France that’s hardly known<br />

outside of the region despite being captured<br />

on canvas by J M Turner who loved the ”<br />

opal” quality of light, and Charles Dickens<br />

singing the praises of the area and moving<br />

his family there.<br />

When you do get to Boulogne-sur-Mer, it<br />

too deserves a day of discovery. Head to the<br />

old town, so pretty it looks like a film set.<br />

Don’t miss the incredible decorated crypt of<br />

the Basillica <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame, the rue du Lille,<br />

lined with quirky boutiques and restaurants.<br />

The 13th century Chateau Museum has<br />

includes an Egyptian collection donated by<br />

renowned Egyptologist François Auguste<br />

Ferdinand Mariette, born in the town and the<br />

founder of the Cairo Museum of Egyptology.<br />

Nausicaa, the largest sea aquarium in Europe<br />

and heaps more will definitely fill a day right<br />

up…<br />

From Boulogne, the D940 runs on through<br />

Neufchatel-Hardelot with its neo-<br />

Shakespearian Theatre and Castle with a<br />

cultural centre dedicated to Entente-<br />

Cordiale. And on through charming Etaples,<br />

once a fishing port, neighbour to the swanky<br />

jet set seaside resort of Le Touquet-Paris-<br />

Plage, and several lovely seaside towns

Picardy: Birds, plus beaux villages<br />

and brilliant castles and more…<br />

Close to the border at Saint-Quentin-en-<br />

Tourmont, we pointed the bike towards the<br />

signposts for Parc Marquenterre. I’m not a<br />

twitcher, but I love animals and this nature<br />

reserve on the Bay of the Somme has a<br />

reputation for being really special.<br />

A dusty track ended in a huge car park<br />

where a surprisingly smart and large<br />

restaurant and bar tempted us in. Here in<br />

what feels like the middle of nowhere, they<br />

serve delicious dishes with heirloom<br />

vegetables, the freshest local fish and superb<br />

desserts, fitting fuel for explorers. We joined<br />

our English speaking guide to find out what<br />

the park was all about. 200 hectares of land<br />

covered in marshes, peppered with lakes and<br />

ponds, dunes and reed beds are an absolute<br />

magnet for birds of all types. From a hide, I<br />

spied on storks and herons. Birds tweeted<br />

above and around us. The air is fresh and<br />

unpolluted, you feel as if you have the whole<br />

area to yourself. Marquenterre is<br />

mesmerising, memorable and magical.<br />

From here it’s a short ride to the town of<br />

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, though you may<br />

have added waiting time if you enter the<br />

town via the route which includes a railway<br />

crossing as we did and watched a steam train<br />

pass majestically by, it’s passengers waving<br />

excitedly. This ancient and extremely<br />

photogenic little town on the Somme Estuary<br />

has absolutely oodles of charm and it’s easy<br />

to spend an entire day here.

Stroll the cobbled streets, wander along the<br />

harbour and the long esplanade to ogle the<br />

mansion houses and discover the colourful<br />

sailors district and you’ll know exactly what<br />

lured the artist Degas and writers Victor<br />

Hugo and Jules Verne to holiday here. Long<br />

before them, Joan of Arc was held captive<br />

here, the dungeon where she is said to have<br />

been imprisoned is still there, a small stone<br />

tower and you can’t help but think how the<br />

poor girl must have felt cooped up in her<br />

claustrophobic prison.<br />

William the Conqueror was here too,<br />

stopping off to collect soldiers before<br />

making history and conquering England in<br />

1066. Standing on the ramparts looking out<br />

to sea in the medieval town I wondered if he<br />

too had stood there, wondering, dreaming,<br />

daring to hope that his ambitious plans to<br />

quell his dastardly enemy across the water<br />

might come true. All that thinking makes you<br />

hungry and luckily this little town is teeming<br />

with cafés, bistros and restaurants.<br />

The stream train is an irresistible lure. It<br />

takes you, on authentic wooden seats, round<br />

the Bay of the Somme, classified as one of<br />

the most beautiful bays in the world. We<br />

spotted wild pigs, deer and all manner of<br />

birds en route. You can take a boat ride out<br />

on the bay where the largest colony of seals<br />

in France live, join a walking or bike tour<br />

(you can rent bikes in the town), or simply sit<br />

back and enjoy the ambiance. Watching the<br />

sun set over the bay, is one of those<br />

unforgettably beautiful moments in life…

You could continue on the D940 all the way<br />

to Le Tréport in <strong>No</strong>rmandy where the road<br />

then becomes the D9<strong>25</strong> and runs around<br />

the coast through Dieppe before reverting<br />

to its original number to reach Le Havre. But<br />

we stayed in Picardy and headed inland to<br />

the city of Amiens where we swapped the<br />

bike for a boat.<br />

Les Hortillonnages is one of the best kept<br />

secrets of France. These watery arteries give<br />

Amiens a unique atmosphere. You really<br />

have a feeling that you are in the most<br />

beautiful countryside right in the centre of a<br />

busy metropolis. The hortillonnages are a<br />

major heritage site - marshland gardens,<br />

cultivated for centuries, created on manmade<br />

islands and on the land which lines the<br />

waterways. In fact the gardens are so old<br />

that no one knows when they began. But,<br />

legend has it that when the city’s Cathedral<br />

was built in the 13th century, it was on a<br />

field of artichokes managed by the gardeners<br />

of the hortillonnages.<br />

All tours are by eco-friendly electric boats<br />

which glide silently across the tranquil<br />

waters. Mark said it made him feel like a kid<br />

again, steering the boat round islands,<br />

stopping off at jetties to look at artworks<br />

dotted around. The only disturbance was the<br />

cooing and calling of birds and the croaking<br />

of frogs, you’d hardly even know you’re in a<br />

city if it wasn’t for the fact that you can see<br />

the spire of the great Gothic cathedral in the<br />

distance.<br />

Amiens is so amazing – it deserves an article<br />

all to itself – see page 56.

Gorgeous Gerberoy<br />

In complete contrast to the metropolis of Amiens, an<br />

hour’s drive on traffic-free roads brought us to<br />

gorgeous Gerberoy close to the border with <strong>No</strong>rmandy.<br />

It’s a “Plus Beau village de France”, one of 159 villages<br />

recognised for their outstanding beauty and charm,<br />

classified as the most beautiful villages in the country.<br />

Cobbled streets covered in roses and hydrangeas,<br />

flowers dripping from every window box, the gardens<br />

of artist Henri Sidaner, a beautiful old church and one<br />

of the most gorgeous restaurants I’ve ever seen, Le<br />

Jardin des Ifs (with a listed Jardin Remarquable), made<br />

this a knockout stop off and an easy half day visit.<br />

What to do in Gerberoy

From here we decided to stop off at the<br />

Chateau de Chantilly where Mark promised<br />

me he’d treat me to some Chantilly cream<br />

for my birthday a week before. What’s a girl<br />

to do? Fling the diet plans out of the<br />

window and dig straight in of course! In the<br />

gorgeous gardens of this fairy tale castle is a<br />

hamlet that was allegedly the inspiration for<br />

Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet. Pretty little halftimbered<br />

buildings and sweet bridges over a<br />

bubbling stream. The restaurant serves great<br />

lunches including strawberries and Chantilly<br />

cream, which was whipped at our table,<br />

right in front of our eyes, which were not<br />

bigger than our bellies, we both managed to<br />

get through a very large dollop of utterly<br />

seductive cream.<br />

Read more about Chantilly castle and its<br />

amazing stables here.<br />

My birthday surprise didn’t end there, we<br />

took a detour to the area of Chateau Thierry<br />

on the Champagne border. I’d never heard of<br />

it before and was amazed to discover that<br />

more than 10% of all the Champagne made,<br />

is actually produced from vines in this part<br />

of Picardy! I have to tell you, if you’re a fan<br />

of the fizz like me, it’ll make you<br />

effervescent with happiness to go here and<br />

enjoy a fabulous tasting at several<br />

Champagne Houses (yes, we squeezed a<br />

couple of bottles into the bike boxes). We<br />

headed off under a sky that looked like a<br />

black velvet bag full of twinkling diamonds<br />

to find our hotel for the night.<br />

It was time to cross the border into Lille but<br />

first we stopped off at Thiepval Memorial. It<br />

was one of the most emotional memorials<br />

I’ve been to, not just because of the 72,000<br />

names etched into the white walls, or the<br />

row upon row of crosses.

Road trip to northern France film... We were<br />

followed by a film crew!<br />

The guides who work here offer free tours<br />

and they share anecdotes and stories of<br />

those whose names are forever remembered.<br />

As the guide told me about a man whose<br />

bravery at trying to save the lives of his<br />

comrades ended in his own death, I looked<br />

up on the wall and saw those names so<br />

familiar to us all, Davis, Smith, Roberts – and<br />

Cedric Dickens, great-grandson of Charles<br />

Dickens who’d loved the north of France so<br />

much. The absolute tragedy of the sacrifices<br />

made, the terrible losses, completely<br />

overwhelmed me and I burst into tears and<br />

thought how very grateful I am for all that I<br />

have.<br />

inn. We went to a microbrewery and Mark<br />

fell in love with a beer called YuZu. We<br />

visited museums and art galleries and fell<br />

under the spell of this vibrant city that’s<br />

crammed with cultural highlights and full of<br />

friendly folk, so that we could hardly bear to<br />

leave.<br />

And like, Amiens, this city gets an article to<br />

itself – see page 80.<br />

<strong>No</strong>rd: Bucket loads of culture and<br />

fabulous markets…<br />

Photo: Lauren Ghesquiere, OT Lille<br />

Parking the bike up in a street right near the<br />

centre of Lille, the capital of Hauts-de-<br />

France, we strolled down cobbled streets<br />

under colourful bunting, past boulangeries<br />

and cake shops where people waited<br />

patiently in queues – a small price to pay for<br />

the lushest of dishes. We dined at an<br />

authentic estaminet, the Flemish word for an

Our last stop was Saint Omer, around half<br />

an hour from Calais and a quintessential<br />

French market town that has a massive<br />

historic footprint. Thomas a Becket AKA<br />

Saint Thomas Becket took refuge from<br />

Henry II of England in there in 1165.<br />

Centuries later, three of America’s Founding<br />

Fathers, Daniel, Charles and John Carroll,<br />

studied at the Jesuit Chapel.<br />

But we were there for the Saturday morning<br />

market. A riot of colour and scents and<br />

sounds fill the cobbled square in front of the<br />

neo-classic town hall as stalls are piled high<br />

with produce, vegetables grown on the local<br />

marshes and farms or by green-fingered<br />

locals. This is one of the most authentic and<br />

friendly markets I’ve been to. And when<br />

you’re done, pop to the town library and<br />

head to the old part of the building where<br />

books go back to the 7th century and a First<br />

Folio of Shakespeare’s plays was recently<br />

discovered on its heaving shelves. And stop<br />

to enjoy a local beer and Flemish dish at any<br />

number of cafés and watch the world go<br />

by….<br />

This region is a land of contrast, sea and<br />

country, history and culture, arts and crafts<br />

and gastronomy. Whether you stay for a<br />

weekend or a week, there’s so much to<br />

discover that one trip is never enough….<br />

Get my free road trip guide to the Hauts-de-<br />

France here – lots of tips for restaurants and<br />

things to do in and around the areas<br />


“Paris isn’t France” say the French who aren’t Parisians. They’re right of course even<br />

though Paris is one of the world’s best loved cities with some 16 million visitors a<br />

year. Who can resist the legendary Eiffel Tower, the endless galleries of the Louvre,<br />

the sight of the Arc de Triomphe, the authentic cafés and walks by the Seine?<br />

However, as they say, there is more to France than Paris so, if you’re in the city and<br />

fancy a seeing another side of France, here’s a list of incredible spots you can visit in<br />

a day, without a car, and still be back in time for dinner says Janine Marsh

4 City Visits<br />

Strasbourg, Alsace<br />

At around 1 hour 50 minutes by TGV<br />

train from Gare de l’Est, the beautiful<br />

town of Strasbourg in Alsace is a<br />

fabulous day trip.<br />

Must-sees including a magnificent<br />

Gothic cathedral, it’s one of the most<br />

beautiful in France, a fairy-tale like<br />

town centre, and a network of canals<br />

which are perfect for a relaxing boat<br />

ride. There are heaps of museums,<br />

fabulous restaurants and superb wine<br />

bars where you can indulge in a glass of<br />

local Riesling or Gewurztraminer before<br />

you catch the train back to Paris. And, a<br />

year-round Christmas shop for a<br />

memorable souvenir even if you’re not<br />

there for the famous Christmas<br />

markets. Honestly, one day is not<br />

enough for this unmissable city…<br />

More on Strasbourg:<br />

Best things to do in Strasbourg<br />

Where to eat out in Strasbourg

Reims, Champagne<br />

45 minutes by train from Gare de l’Est lies<br />

Reims, the capital of Champagne. From the<br />

station you can walk to some of the best<br />

Champagne houses including Mumm (15-<br />

minute walk), and Charles de Cazanove (5<br />

minutes) for a tour and tasting. On the<br />

outskirts of town, Ruinart is the favourite<br />

Champagne of the French and oldest<br />

Champagne house in the world, but you’ll<br />

need to take bus no. 3 from the station and<br />

walk 5 minutes from the Crayeres stop (total<br />

20 mins – it’s worth it!).<br />

There are also loads of little boutique<br />

Champagne bars including the fabulous Pol<br />

Couronne, where you can taste and buy<br />

affordable vintage Champagnes from the<br />

family-run company.<br />

“The city of coronations” or “the city of<br />

Kings” as it’s known, houses the great<br />

UNESCO-listed cathedral <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame de<br />

Reims, where French kings were crowed for<br />

1000 years.<br />

More on Reims:<br />

Visit Champagne vineyards and villages by<br />

train from Reims<br />

Epernay is each to reach by train from Reims

Bordeaux, New Aquitaine<br />

Bordeaux is now just 2 hours from<br />

Paris by fast TGV despite the 300 mile<br />

distance. From Bordeaux St Jean<br />

Station, then hop on a tram to the city<br />

centre to discover the wonderful<br />

UNESCO listed architecture of the<br />

“Pearl of Aquitaine” as the city is<br />

known. Visit a unique wine museum,<br />

splash in the Miroir d’Eau water<br />

sculpture and soak up the ambiance of<br />

sunny Bordeaux with a glass of<br />

regional wine. Ancient churches, Place<br />

de la Comédie, fabulous museums,<br />

foodie heaven and divine wine bars...<br />

More on Bordeaux:<br />

10 great things to do in Bordeaux<br />

Where to eat out in Bordeaux

4 City Visits<br />

Dijon, Burgundy<br />

If you love cities filled with beautiful,<br />

historic buildings. If you love fantastic<br />

food and wonderful wines. And if you<br />

love museums, galleries, sitting at<br />

terraced cafés watching the world go<br />

by as you sip a delicious local wine,<br />

impossibly fabulous street markets,<br />

great wine bars and a vibrant friendly<br />

vibe, then add Dijon to your must-see<br />

list.<br />

This amazing city has all these things by<br />

the bucket load… and more.<br />

At just over an hour and a half from<br />

Paris Gare de Lyon, Dijon train station<br />

is in the city centre and totally<br />

walkable.<br />

More on Dijon:<br />

What to see and do in Dijon

4 Chateau Visits<br />

Versailles, Ile de France<br />

Versailles is France’s most famous palace<br />

and it really does live up to the hype. It’s an<br />

easy 40-minute train ride from Paris (there<br />

are two stations in Versailles, the closest to<br />

the Palace is Versailles Rive Gauche). Be<br />

warned, the palace is huge, you’ll need an<br />

entire day here (I once spent 3 days there<br />

and still didn’t see it all). Sumptuous,<br />

ridiculously opulent, breath-taking for its<br />

history and beauty, the castle is packed<br />

with wow factor. The gardens are equally<br />

gorgeous. Book tickets online before you<br />

go and try to go as early as possible to<br />

avoid the queues to get in. There are<br />

restaurants on site but the gardens are<br />

fabulous for a picnic and there are plenty of<br />

restaurants in the town which is also well<br />

worth a visit.<br />

More on Versailles:<br />

Versailles chateau guide<br />

10 things to do in Versailles

Chantilly, Picardy<br />

The Chateau de Chantilly, in Picardy, is<br />

one of the most beautiful Renaissance<br />

castles in France and very easy to reach<br />

from Paris. Take a 23 minute TER train<br />

ride from Gare du <strong>No</strong>rd, then take the<br />

free shuttle bus or take the 30 minute<br />

walk if you fancy seeing the pretty town<br />

en route. Enjoy the opulent interior, an<br />

incredible art collection, stunning horse<br />

show, the gorgeous gardens with a<br />

beautiful hamlet which inspired Marie-<br />

Antoinette. And, not to be missed in the<br />

chateau restaurant - dessert with<br />

famous Chantilly cream.

Photo Béatrice Lécuyer-Bibal<br />

Vaux-le-Vicomte, Seine-et-Marne<br />

In the TV series Versailles, it was the<br />

chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte which was<br />

featured, not the chateau of Versailles.<br />

Vaux-le-Vicomte has a more authentic<br />

interior for the days of Louis XIV. Far less<br />

crowded, elegant and exquisitely beautiful,<br />

Vaux le Vicomte was the inspiration for the<br />

Palace of Versailles and made Louis XIV<br />

mad with jealousy when he saw it. Stunning<br />

gardens and interior make this a must-see<br />

chateau. From Paris Gare de l’Est, take the<br />

train to Verneuil l’Etang train station (35<br />

minutes) and hop on the “Châteaubus”<br />

shuttle to to the Château. There’s a lovely<br />

restaurant too.<br />

More on Vaux-le-Vicomte:

4 Chateau Visits<br />

Fontainebleau, Ile de France<br />

UNESCO listed Fontainebleau has a long<br />

and interesting history going back to the<br />

12th century. In the middle of a forest it<br />

was originally a hunting lodge used by the<br />

French Kings. Its gold plated gates and<br />

iconic horseshoe shaped staircase (where<br />

Napoleon stood to announce his<br />

abdication in 1814) immediately alert you<br />

to the fact that this castle is special. The<br />

castle has a rather intimate feel inside<br />

despite the fact that it’s enormous, with<br />

1500 rooms it’s one of the largest in<br />

France, Take the train from Gare de Lyon<br />

to Fontainebleau-Avon, which takes<br />

about 40 minutes, and from there it’s a<br />

bus ride of about 15 minutes (Bus <strong>No</strong>. 1<br />

behind the station).<br />

More on Fontainebleau:<br />

The Chateau de Fontainebleau<br />

Gardens of Fontainebleau

4 Village Visits<br />

Giverny, <strong>No</strong>rmandy<br />

Claude Monet’s house and garden in<br />

Giverny, <strong>No</strong>rmandy certainly leave an<br />

impression. Take the train to Vernon<br />

(nonstop services save time) and then hop<br />

on the shuttle bus outside. 3 hours is<br />

enough to wander through the house<br />

which looks just like Monet has popped out<br />

to do a spot of painting. The gardens are<br />

stunning, a palette of colours, a riot of<br />

plants and an ogle-some lily pond.<br />

Afterwards take a wander through the tiny<br />

but pretty town and visit restaurant Hotel<br />

Baudry where many of Monet’s friends<br />

stayed (don’t miss the atmospheric studio<br />

in the garden). There’s a great museum in<br />

the one street town, several boutiques, a<br />

pretty church where the artist is buried and<br />

plenty of places for a pit stop.<br />

More on Monet's house and garden

Barbizon, Seine-et-Marne<br />

At the edge of the Fontainebleau forest,<br />

around 60km from Paris, Barbizon is<br />

nicknamed the village of the painters,<br />

because of the role it played in the history<br />

of French pre-impressionism. Artists like<br />

Renoir, Sisley and Monet flocked here,<br />

charmed by the picturesque village and<br />

surrounding nature.<br />

A listed Village of Character, today its<br />

postcard pretty streets are home to art<br />

galleries, artisan workshops and the<br />

Museum of the Painters of Barbizon<br />

musee-peintres-barbizon.fr<br />

The village is surrounded by woods and<br />

perfect for a walk to see what inspired so<br />

many artists...<br />

Take the train to Fontainebleau (see page<br />

43) then a taxi or bus 21 to Barbizon.<br />

Painting: Charles-Francois<br />

Daubigny, 1877, Barbizon<br />

school.<br />

Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, Yvelines<br />

The town of Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse at the<br />

gateway of Paris is pretty, romantic and a real<br />

taste of the countryside. You’ll find the<br />

promenade des petits ponts, a path along a<br />

canal lined with stone houses and old wash<br />

houses. The history of Chevreuse dates back at<br />

least 1,000 years, and there’s a 12th century<br />

castle which is free to explore. And the lvoely<br />

17th century Chateau de Dampierre is a 22<br />

minute cycle from the town. There’s a cheese<br />

farm and several excellent restaurants – an<br />

idyllic place. Take the train from Gare du <strong>No</strong>rd<br />

to Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse which takes<br />

about 50 minutes. From the station you can<br />

rent ebikes and bikes – great to explore the<br />

Rambouillet Forest.<br />

Details: chevreuse-tourisme.com

Provins, Ile de France<br />

Photo: Rod Williams<br />

The UNESCO listed world heritage site of Provins is a medieval gem complete with a grand<br />

castle and winding cobbles streets. It’s also famous for its year-round festivals and events<br />

but this is no Disney town, it feels like you’ve stepped back in time to the middle ages! The<br />

train from Gare de l’Est goes direct to Provins in 1 hour 24 minutes. Details: provins.net

4 Village Visits

4 church Visits<br />

Chartres, Eure-et-Loir<br />

You can reach the town of Chartres,<br />

Center-Val de Loire, from Paris<br />

Montparnasse in one hour (make sure<br />

you take the fast service). Chartres Gothic<br />

UNESCO listed cathedral is one of the<br />

largest in France and dates to the 12th<br />

century with magnificent 13th century<br />

stained glass windows. From April to<br />

October the facade of the Cathedral is<br />

part of the city-wide Son et Lumiere<br />

event.<br />

There’s also a pretty historic centre in the<br />

city with a stained glass museum and lots<br />

of excellent restaurants.<br />

More on Chartres:<br />

Chartres Cathedral<br />

What to see and do in Chartres

Mont Saint-Michel, <strong>No</strong>rmandy<br />

It's a long day trip, but this place is so extraordinary, it's worth it. It's certainly easier (and<br />

often cheaper) to take a bus tour from Paris but you can take the train to Rennes and then a<br />

bus. The extraordinary abbey at the very top of this fairy-tale island is well worth the effort.<br />

Wander the wiggly, winding roads full of boutiques and restaurants, it's touristy for sure but<br />

it really is special. More: How to spend a day trip at Mont Saint-Michel

Bourges, Cher<br />

Just two hours from Paris, Bourges is a<br />

sensational city to visit with a most beautiful<br />

cathedral. It’s not on the Cathedral tourist<br />

route for many visitors but it should be. built<br />

between the late 12th and late 13th<br />

centuries, is one of the great masterpieces<br />

of Gothic art and the 13th century stainedglass<br />

windows are exquisite. The town is full<br />

of half-timbered houses, Roman towers and<br />

there’s even a castle, built by Jacques Coeur,<br />

the man who bankrolled Joan of Arc’s<br />

missions.<br />

Read more about Bourges:<br />

Bourges - what to see and do in the city...

4 Cathedral Visits<br />

Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais<br />

Boulogne-sur-Mer on the Opal Coast of<br />

Pas-de-Calais doesn’t have a Cathedral but<br />

a Basilica. I live close by but I’m not biased<br />

when I say the Basilica <strong>No</strong>tre Dame is<br />

simply outstanding. Its crypt is the longest<br />

in France, dating back to Roman times and<br />

is astonishingly beautiful with walls<br />

smothered in frescoes and paintings. It's<br />

also home to an incredible collection of<br />

priceless relics including what's said to be<br />

a drop of the blood of Christ. You’ll see a<br />

hint of Rome’s Pantheon and soupcon of<br />

St Paul’s Cathedral in London – but,<br />

amazingly, this church was designed by a<br />

priest with no architectural experience,<br />

and it is magnificent. It's from 2.5 hours<br />

from Paris by train and the old town is<br />

magnificent and worth a visit in it's own<br />

right.<br />

Read more about Boulogne-sur-Mer and<br />

its Basilica here.

4 Cultural Visits<br />

Rouen, <strong>No</strong>rmandy<br />

In the old part of Rouen there are cobbled<br />

streets, there are more than 2000 halftimbered<br />

houses and a Cathedral loved by<br />

Claude Monet the artist.<br />

Don’t miss a wander down the rue du Gros<br />

Horloge to see the 16th century clock.<br />

Foodies might want to follow in Julia Child’s<br />

footsteps – the American cook had her first<br />

French Sole Meuniere in La Couronne which<br />

is also the oldest restaurant in France.<br />

Joan of Arc was executed in Rouen and there<br />

are several tributes to her including a very<br />

modern church. There are several great<br />

museums including the Fine Arts Museum<br />

with an impressive collection of impressionst<br />

paintings, lots of great shops and restaurants.<br />

From an hour and 22 minutes by train from<br />

Paris, Rouen is a top city visit.

Auvers, Picardy<br />

30km north of Paris, the Auberge<br />

Ravoux is the last house that Vincent<br />

Van Gogh lived in before he shot<br />

himself in the chest in the garden and<br />

passed away in the room that he<br />

rented there. Suffering from mental<br />

health issues, he finished several<br />

paintings during his 70 day stay. He<br />

and his brother Theo are buried at tin<br />

the town cemetery close to the<br />

Romanesque Church which Van Gogh<br />

immortalised in his paintings. Follow<br />

the “Vincent” plaques in the pavement<br />

to see the landscapes he captured on<br />

canvas. The train takes around an<br />

hour from Gare du <strong>No</strong>rd or Gare<br />

Saint-Lazare to Auvers (you may need<br />

to change at Pontoise).<br />

View from Van Gogh's room at his<br />

lodgings in Auvers

4 Cultural Visits<br />

Castle of Monte-Cristo, Ile de<br />

France<br />

Alexandre Dumas built himself his<br />

dream home at the height of his glory<br />

in 1844. He had had huge success with<br />

his books the Three Musketeers and<br />

the Count of Monte Cristo and called<br />

his very extravagant home, a castle in<br />

fact, the Chateau de Monte Cristo. His<br />

study was in the neo-gothic style<br />

Chateau d’If next door. Dumas though<br />

was a party animal and instead of<br />

writing more best sellers, he lived it up<br />

and, riddled with debt in a few short<br />

years he had to sell it for much less<br />

than it cost to build and furnish. It’s a<br />

fascinating place to visit, as he called it<br />

“an earthly paradise.” Either take the<br />

Train from Gare Saint-/Lazare or RER<br />

line A to Marly Le Roi, then bus 10 to<br />

Lesamps and a short walk. Details:<br />

chateau-monte-cristo.com<br />

Moret-sur-Loing, Seine-et-Marne<br />

Ile de France<br />

Ranked among the most beautiful<br />

villages in France, Moret-sur-Loing<br />

has oodles of charm. A gem located<br />

in Seine-et-Marne, Moret-sur-Loing<br />

captivated the painter Alfred Sisley,<br />

who captured the medieval charm of<br />

the village in many of his paintings.<br />

Moret-sur-Loing Tourism<br />

Want more ideas for Paris day trips? A free book is in progress! Just subscribe to The<br />

Good Life France Newsletter so you don’t miss it when it comes out…

The natural wonder of<br />

Amiens<br />

The city where nature is the star.<br />

Janine Marsh explores the<br />

northern "Venice"...

Amiens, the capital city of Picardy, is one of those places that people tend to leave off their<br />

bucket lists despite it’s age-old history, incredible UNESCO listed Gothic Cathedral and<br />

remarkable “Green Venice” of ancient canals which criss cross the city, an extraordinary<br />

network of watery arteries dotted with hundreds of floating gardens…<br />

Les Hortillonnages<br />

Hortillonnages is not a word you’ll come<br />

across often and possibly not outside of<br />

Amiens. And me telling you that it means<br />

market gardens won’t in any way convey just<br />

how utterly amazing they are. From the<br />

middle ages, the hortillonnages have made<br />

Amiens famous throughout France. 65km of<br />

ancient canals peppered with island gardens<br />

lie in the shadow of the Cathedral right on<br />

the edge of the city.<br />

They go way back in time, probably to the<br />

days of the Romans, but it was in the middle<br />

ages that gardeners started to plant the<br />

floating gardens and grow vegetables. It’s<br />

said that the Cathedral itself was built on a<br />

field once used to grow artichokes, donated<br />

by gardeners in the 13th century to the<br />

church.<br />

A short walk from the city centre along the<br />

river Somme, which flows through the<br />

middle of Amiens, will bring you to the<br />

hortillonnages which you can explore by<br />

guided electric boat along a 3km stretch<br />

(April to October). It’s incredible to find that<br />

one moment you’re in a teeming metropolis<br />

and the next in tranquil waters, dragon flies,<br />

butterflies and birds flitting about, water lilies<br />

bobbing on the water. There are still around<br />

ten professional gardeners growing<br />

vegetables and fruit here. They sell their<br />

produce at the weekly market in the<br />

medieval St Leu district, alongside the river.<br />

Most of the gardens are worked by keen<br />

owners, handed down through families for<br />

generations. The hortilllonnages are an oasis<br />

of wild nature, tamed patches full of flowers,<br />

small boats quirky buildings and beautiful<br />


Art with a heart<br />

Each year a unique Art & Garden festival<br />

takes place in the hortillonnages – an<br />

outdoor art gallery which spills into the<br />

water and on islands and riverbanks. From<br />

June to October some 50 artworks are<br />

installed on the islands and in the water,<br />

some of them monumental, all of them<br />

extraordinary.<br />

The only way to see them all is by electric<br />

boat and you can take a self-guided tour.<br />

Follow the circuit, all the islands featured in<br />

the festival have pontoons where you can tie<br />

up your boat and then wander freely.<br />

There’s a firm emphasis on sustainability and<br />

our relationship with nature at this festival: a<br />

wall made from recycled drinks cans, a repurposed<br />

phone box in which you can listen<br />

to the sounds of insects and water plants.<br />

This is one of the most unusual and beautiful<br />

garden festivals I’ve ever been to.<br />

Entry is not at the same place as the normal<br />

guided boat tours. Instead make your way to<br />

the Port à Fumier, Camon district where you<br />

can to rent an electric boat for this fabulous<br />

excursion. Expect to spend around two and a<br />

half hours seeing all 50 artworks. There are<br />

parking spaces available and a welcome desk.

Island life<br />

I stayed at a B&B in a cabin called<br />

Ch’Canard, on one of the floating gardens, a<br />

little corner of paradise. Accessible by a tiny<br />

bridge over a ribbon of water, as soon as I<br />

closed the gate, it was like being on a<br />

remote island, far away from the buzz of<br />

normal daily life. In my beautiful 120 year<br />

old, tastefully decorated cabin for two I felt<br />

cossetted and cocooned, the star of my own<br />

Robinson Crusoe story.<br />

In the gorgeous gardens I crossed little<br />

wooden footbridges to explore dozens of<br />

islands all around me, lilies floated on the<br />

calm canals, roses and willows dipped down<br />

to the water’s edge and the air was filled<br />

with the song of frogs and birds. I slept like a<br />

baby and can honestly say, it’s one of the<br />

most unusual and wonderful B&B’s I’ve ever<br />

stayed in. Details: Ch’Canard, Rivery<br />

The biggest Cathedral in France<br />

The first stone of Amiens Cathedral was laid<br />

in the year 1220. It is a masterpiece of<br />

Gothic art, 145metres long and 70 metres<br />

wide at the transept – it is truly monumental<br />

and utterly divine. There are vaulted<br />

doorways, statues of kings, apostles and<br />

saints. 126 pillars support the soaring<br />

vaulted roof, the 16th century wood carved<br />

choir stalls are magnificent, stained glass<br />

windows cast soft light on the ancient walls<br />

and floor. There are gargoyles galore, turrets<br />

and towers and listening to the majestic bells<br />

gives your goose bumps.

You can climb to the top, 307 narrow steps,<br />

for stupendous views over the town. It’s well<br />

worth the effort though probably not for<br />

those with vertigo or claustrophobia.<br />

Look out for the weeping angel, a wonderful<br />

statue which forms part of a 17th century<br />

mausoleum behind the High Altar. It was<br />

featured on a popular postcard sent by<br />

soldiers in the Somme during WWI.<br />

In summer and December, you’ll see Amiens<br />

Cathedral in a different light as the façade is<br />

lit up, an ingenious feat of engineering in<br />

itself. At night the exterior of the cathedral is<br />

smothered in a technicolour light<br />

performance in a show that makes audiences<br />

gasp. This free 50 minute show is an<br />

absolute must-see. State of the art<br />

projection technology creates a truly magical<br />

experience under a night sky.

Water market<br />

At the foot of the Cathedral, the weekly<br />

Saturday morning market along the pretty<br />

Quai Belu in the old district of St Leu with its<br />

higgledy piggledy colourful houses, has a<br />

lovely, festive atmosphere. The market on<br />

the water as it’s known, is where the market<br />

gardeners of the hortillonnages sell their<br />

produce and have done so for centuries.<br />

Almost everything here comes from the<br />

hortillonnages or around the Somme area -<br />

from flowers and vegetables to wild herbs,<br />

cheese, honey, charcuterie and even beer.<br />

Every third Saturday in June, the market<br />

gardeners arrive by traditional flat bottomed<br />

boat to sell their goods at the “Marche sur<br />

l’Eau” (water market). It’s a very colourful<br />

and merry event and the market traders<br />

dress in medieval costume in this homage to<br />

the days of old when market trade was<br />

conducted from boats. It’s a delicious day<br />

out and lots of fun.<br />

Jules Verne’s house<br />

You mustn’t miss a visit to the home of one<br />

of France’s great writers. Jules Verne has<br />

inspired generations for more than 100 years<br />

with his tales of adventure, science and<br />

daring do. He wrote many of his stories right<br />

here in Amiens where he lived for 18 years.<br />

His 19th century mansion has been restored<br />

to look just as it did in the late 1800s when<br />

he filled his rooms with the reference books,<br />

geographical surveys and scientific reports<br />

which inspired his fantastic stories of<br />

journeys to the centre of the earth, the<br />

moon, under the sea and of course, around<br />

the world in 80 days.

Where to eat out<br />

There are plenty of cafés, bistros and fine<br />

restaurants in the city…<br />

The great writer's study looks as if he’s just<br />

popped out. The wood panelled walls have<br />

the patina of history embedded in them and<br />

there’s a fabulous collection of books,<br />

posters and even models – including a flying<br />

machine Verne imagined before aircraft<br />

were even invented. It’s a fascinating visit, a<br />

trip back to the past. I recommend taking<br />

the tour with an audio guide. Details:<br />

maisondejulesverne<br />

Locals love: Le Quai restaurant is hugely<br />

popular with the locals. In its prime position<br />

in Quai Belu overlooking the canal, with the<br />

Cathedral in the background, it’s great for<br />

coffee, a glass of wine or a cocktail, and even<br />

better for lunch or dinner. The staff are<br />

friendly, the menu is terrific with an<br />

emphasis on fresh regional products, classic<br />

French brasserie dishes, delicious salads and<br />

excellent vegetarian options. restaurantlequai.fr/

Riverside lunch: Overlooking the river<br />

Somme, at the entrance to the<br />

hortillonnages, Au Fil de l’Eau restaurant is<br />

lovely inside but even more so outside on a<br />

sunny day. Seated on a terrace that makes<br />

you feel as if you’re in a treehouse, or in a<br />

flower filled garden courtyard, you’ll feel like<br />

you’ve escaped to the country. The menu is<br />

typically French with fresh and seasonal<br />

products and local classics such as Ficelle<br />

Picarde, a savoury pancake topped with a<br />

creamy sauce and utterly delicious. Find<br />

them on Facebook: Restaurant.Bar.Au.Fil.<br />

De.L.Eau/<br />

Wine and dine: Brasserie Jules is an<br />

institution in the city and a family favourite<br />

for Sunday lunch. Paris brasserie style with<br />

gleaming brass and plush red banquettes,<br />

Jules Verne (in a photo) seems to look on<br />

approvingly while artworks depicting scenes<br />

from his tales decorate the walls. The<br />

seafood platters here are legendary, piled<br />

high with the freshest of shellfish, and the<br />

most succulent oysters.<br />

www.brasserie-jules.fr/<br />

Practical information<br />

From Paris, Amiens is a little over an hour by<br />

train, and from Calais by car it’s around an<br />

hour and a half.<br />

The tourist office is next to the Cathedral:<br />

http://www.amiens-tourisme.com/<br />

More info on the region:<br />

visit-somme.com/explore<br />

UK.France.fr<br />

15 things to do in Picardy

Toulouse<br />

Colourful, cultural and<br />

captivating...<br />

Janine Marsh gets under the skin of the "pink<br />

city" to discover its secrets and museums...

France’s 4th largest city has a multi-faceted<br />

personality. It’s famous for being home to<br />

Airbus headquarters, hosts satellite, space<br />

and aerospace industries and has three<br />

major universities.<br />

It’s a sprawling modern city with an ancient<br />

heart at whose centre is the Place du<br />

Capitole where major events and markets<br />

take place, surrounded by architecturally<br />

glorious buildings, restaurants, the town hall<br />

and bars. Around this grand central square<br />

are a web of streets, teeming with life,<br />

brimming with museums, art galleries, shops,<br />

bars, bakeries and bistros.<br />

Cross the river Garonne via the Pont Neuf,<br />

which despite its name is actually the oldest<br />

bridge in the city, and you’ll find the arty,<br />

earthy district Saint-Cyprien, home to major<br />

museums and galleries, residential and nontouristic.<br />

Meanwhile, on the inner city outskirts a new<br />

resident roams the streets, a mythical beast<br />

bought to life – read on to discover more<br />

about the Minotaur of Toulouse…<br />

And there’s a secret part to Toulouse which<br />

visitors rarely discover. A short walk from<br />

the Capitole, but a world away from the busy<br />

centre, are streets filled with beautiful<br />

mansion houses, tiny squares where you’ll<br />

find art and local bars with a friendly<br />

welcome a part of Toulouse with a laid back,<br />

authentic vibe.<br />

Closer to the capital of Spain than the capital<br />

of France, it’s just 60 miles from the Spanish<br />

border, Toulouse has absorbed the laid back<br />

vibe and flavour of its southern neighbour.<br />

Aperitifs come with tapas on the terraces of<br />

sunny cafés and the night life has a distinctly<br />

Latin flavour…

Wander around the city<br />

You can’t go to Toulouse and not visit the<br />

Place du Capitole. The stunning 17th<br />

century neoclassical style façade of the<br />

Capitole building is the equivalent of the<br />

Eiffel Tower in this city. Around this central<br />

area are a series of districts each quite<br />

different from the other and all easy to reach<br />

on foot. Saint-Cyprien on the left bank of the<br />

River Garonne is a bit bohemian, while In the<br />

Tounis district the river Garonette, a branch<br />

of the might Garonne River, has long gone<br />

but its old bridge remains. There’s also Saint-<br />

Georges, Saint-Aubin, Saint-Étienne and the<br />

Carmes districts. Pick up a map from the<br />

tourist office and go walkabout to discover<br />

the many charms of Toulouse.<br />

Above top left: arcade at the Place du<br />

Capitole with painted ceiling; bottom left,<br />

je t'aime tree along the river Garonne;<br />

above street in St Etienne district<br />

Museums, marvels and minotaurs<br />

If it’s culture you’re after, Toulouse will<br />

definitely float your boat. With more than 20<br />

museums there’s no lack of choice from the<br />

Airbus Museum to the Space Museum –<br />

brilliant for tech fans, the Museum of Natural<br />

History which is great for families and any<br />

number of art museums for lovers of<br />

paintings and sculptures and artefacts from<br />

antiquity to modern.

Halle de La Machine: magical & mad<br />

The Minotaur is the brainchild of François<br />

Delaroziere and La machine company famous<br />

for The Island of the Machines in Nantes and<br />

for their incredible street theatre machines.<br />

As a kid I was captivated by stories of<br />

mythical beasts. My favourite tale was of a<br />

Minotaur who roamed a labyrinth on the<br />

Greek island of Crete. Small me believed that<br />

Minotaurs, a species which had the head and<br />

tail of a bull and the body of a man, really<br />

lived, much like dinosaurs. I dreamed of one<br />

day meeting a minotaur. Growing up, your<br />

childhood imaginations fade away – but<br />

sometimes, dreams do come true. Arriving at<br />

the brand new Halle de la Machine I was<br />

immediately confronted by the sight of a<br />

giant, blinking his big blue eyes in the sunlight<br />

and breathing steam as he swung his head to<br />

look at me. At 14m high and weighing a<br />

stonking 14 tonnes, you certainly can’t miss<br />

him. He’ll take you for a ride on his back and<br />

makes you feel as he’s almost alive.<br />

The Minotaur is not alone. In the vast space<br />

of the Halle de la Machine more mysterious<br />

inhabitants are waiting to meet you.<br />

Amongst the exhibits are a walking 37 ton<br />

spider called Ariane and musical machines<br />

which make up the strangest orchestra you’re<br />

ever likely to see. There’s a giant set of wings<br />

piloted by a machiniste, pipes which spout<br />

flames, twirling guitars and a table laid for an<br />

enchanted dinner where the pepper is<br />

sprinkled by a flying waiter.

The “veritable-machinistes” who operate the<br />

machines are also actors and story tellers<br />

and part of the show. It’s seriously mad,<br />

utterly magical and truly a must-see when<br />

you visit Toulouse.<br />

Tip: head to the onsite Minotaur café for<br />

delish dishes or a glass of wine at the bar<br />

and enjoy the spectacle of the fairy tale<br />

beast wandering about outside.<br />

Modern art and ancient…<br />

The Halle de la Machine isn’t the only home<br />

to a Minotaur in Toulouse. At Les Abbatoirs<br />

Museum of modern art, Picasso’s famous<br />

stage curtain “The Remains of the Minotaur<br />

in a Harlequin Costume” is a star in an<br />

outstanding collection. Created for a theatre<br />

in 1936, because of its fragility this showstopper<br />

is displayed for only six months of<br />

the year. The museum has a superb<br />

collection of modern and contemporary art<br />

with works by many Spanish artists exiled<br />

from Spain when General Franco seized<br />

power during the Spanish Civil War. This is<br />

no elitist museum, you can do yoga classes<br />

amongst the artworks, workshops, a library<br />

and at Christmas they hold a market where<br />

artists sell their works. After your visit pop<br />

to the park next door to enjoy the views<br />

over the river Garonne.<br />

For a complete contrast, the Bemberg<br />

Foundation is tucked away in a pretty<br />

courtyard near the Capitole. It’s in a former<br />

16th century mansion where each room has<br />

been restored to 19th century glory to<br />

showcase the wonderful collection of<br />

paintings, furniture and ornaments including<br />

Degas, Monet, Matisse and Boudin. I loved<br />

the intimate feel of this museum, as if it<br />

were still lived in by someone with the most<br />

exquisite taste in art.

Secret Toulouse<br />

Less than 15 minutes’ walk from the<br />

Capitole brings you to secret Toulouse - the<br />

Carmes and Saint-Étienne districts where<br />

there’s a villagey vibe and most visitors<br />

never venture. This is old Toulouse, the<br />

narrow streets of Carmes are lined with<br />

sumptuous manor houses built by wealthy<br />

merchants from the 16th century onwards<br />

like those in rue Ozenne. Place Sainte<br />

Scarbes is breath-takingly pretty with its ivy<br />

clad mansions and tinkling fountain, and<br />

surrounding it are roads with smart<br />

boutiques, neighbourhood bars and<br />

architecturally stunning buildings.<br />

Saint-Étienne is like the Marais district in<br />

Paris, streets lined with grand houses and<br />

chic stores in the shadow of the majestic,<br />

and massive, Cathedral St. Etienne. Browse<br />

the pretty local shops in rue Bouquières and<br />

peek through the gates of gorgeous private<br />

gardens and mansions behind monumental<br />

doors but you’ll need to take a guided tour<br />

to see more (you can book at the tourist<br />

office)<br />

Practical info<br />

Paris to Toulouse by train takes from 4<br />

hours, 6 minutes.<br />

Tourist office: www.toulouse-visit.com and<br />

UK.France.fr<br />

And Toulouse is also a great base for other<br />

great destinations, Gers is just a short drive<br />

away (see page 8 for more details),<br />

Carcassonne is only 6 miles to the south<br />

east, the Mediterranean is just 100 miles<br />

away and Albi is 50 miles away…

I’m not quite sure if there’s anywhere else<br />

you’d see waltzing Frenchmen together with<br />

a waiter sporting a furry shark’s head hat<br />

and a group of cynical journalists practicing<br />

tai chi on the dance floor of a luxurious<br />

cruise ship floating down the Rhone River.<br />

But life on a CroisiEurope boat is anything<br />

but ordinary.<br />

When my friend Anne asked me if I’d join<br />

her and a group of women travel writers on<br />

a 3-night cruise from historic Avignon in<br />

Provence to the foodie city of Lyon, I wasn’t<br />

sure it was for me. Aren’t river cruises for<br />

old people I thought. But, I love Avignon and<br />

I’ve never seen the gorges of Ardeche<br />

through which we would pass – so I said<br />

yes.<br />

What a surprise I got and how wrong I was<br />

These cruises are fabulous for friends,<br />

couples and groups. Though it was a short<br />

trip, just three days, I felt as refreshed as<br />

though I’d had a much longer break. With<br />

drinks and nibbles on offer from 10am to<br />

1am, tea, coffee and water are available 24<br />

hours, seriously good food, brilliant<br />

excursions and lovely rooms – we were<br />

spoiled rotten.<br />

If I had to describe my CroisiEurope trip<br />

from Avignon to Lyon via the Rhone River in<br />

just three words: fun, fabulous and (very)<br />

French. In fact, us uptight Brits made a pact<br />

to do another trip before we even

Who are CroisiEurope cruises for?<br />

Though predominantly French and older<br />

people on my cruise, there was a real mix of<br />

guests - groups of friends, couples and<br />

honeymooners. Kim and Jenny from<br />

Australia threw themselves with gusto into<br />

the whole thing. They danced every night<br />

(there’s always dancing and music at night)<br />

and took part in a dance competition plus<br />

the crew show.<br />

There were also guests from Malaysia,<br />

Canada, America and the UK.<br />

There are specific CroisiEurope cruises<br />

which cater for families with stuff to do for<br />

children, including kids clubs, and other tours<br />

targeted at non-families (they’re clearly<br />

marked on cruise listing details).<br />

Cabin chic<br />

I had a smart upper deck cabin with floor to<br />

ceiling windows, a super comfy bed and<br />

lovely bathroom with an invigorating shower.<br />

Drifting down river, lying in bed with an early<br />

morning cup of tea, watching the stunning<br />

scenery pass by is one of the most relaxing<br />

experiences I’ve had in a long time.<br />

There are optional daily excursions. I did<br />

three in three days and I could have done<br />

more but I wanted time to chill out on board<br />

too. Relaxing in the bright airy salon or on<br />

the sun deck with a book was a great way to<br />

unwind. We visited the wheel room, enjoyed<br />

aperitifs and made new friends. It’s a real<br />

blend of relaxing and exploring, eating great<br />

French food and having a lot of fun.

Friendly, fun and festive<br />

On one night there was a touch of Strictly<br />

Ballroom in the salon with waltzing<br />

Frenchies and tango dancing Malaysians<br />

mixed with disco dancing octogenarians,<br />

though 86 year old Evelyn who comes from<br />

nearby Avignon refrained from dancing on<br />

account she said, of breaking her leg doing<br />

the cha cha cha at a party a while back. She<br />

did however don a black curly wig to mime<br />

to Edith Piaf belting out La Vie en Rose at<br />

the crew Show. We all joined in the chorus<br />

and gave her a huge round of applause.<br />

The crew show is a tradition and it’s clear<br />

that they love doing it. The French guests<br />

especially love it though it’s probably not<br />

what US and UK holiday makers are used to.<br />

In fact for a group of cynical women travel<br />

writers we found it remarkably easy to let<br />

our hair down and join in - who can resist<br />

Mama Mia or Le Madison - a line dance<br />

favourite in France for more than 50 years -<br />

which if you don’t know it before your<br />

CroisiEurope trip, you certainly will by the<br />

time you’re finished. Sure it’s a little bit kitsch<br />

but it’s great fun and if your holiday makes<br />

you laugh, then it’s a good holiday!<br />

There’s a lot of laughter on this boat. On day<br />

1 the crew are introduced one by one. Anis<br />

the Purser strolled in to the sound of “I’m<br />

sexy and I know it”, the bar staff paraded to<br />

“The Eye of the Tiger”. The guests clapped<br />

everyone enthusiastically from the captain<br />

and his brother the deputy captain, to the<br />

chefs and housekeepers and Lilla the laundry<br />

lady (Pretty Woman if you must know).<br />

You’re drawn into the “family” of<br />

CroisiEurope crew and it’s up to you if you<br />

want to or not but on this trip, everyone<br />

loved it, whatever their age or nationality.<br />

The crew are part of the journey and by the<br />

way, they all speak English.

It's a bit Dirty Dancing for oldies<br />

The staff, whether bar, wait or cleaners are<br />

also the entertainers. At dinner on the first<br />

night, the lights were turned off and the<br />

staff, one of them sporting a fluffy shark’s<br />

head hat (we never did find out why) sang<br />

happy birthday to 86 year old evergreen<br />

Evelyn. She was delighted and managed to<br />

blow out a candle and sparkler with ease.<br />

We all sang to her again. The ice was by now<br />

well and truly broken. The crew say they get<br />

a lot of groups celebrating birthdays and<br />

anniversaries, it’s a good place to celebrate.<br />

By day two strangers chatted to strangers,<br />

there was camaraderie at the quiz event and<br />

when we were on a tour, people noticed if<br />

someone didn’t get back on the coach!<br />

The tours are part of what make this such a<br />

fabulous holiday. CroisiEurope have been at<br />

it a long time and they’ve perfected things.<br />

They know what their audiences want and<br />

they have many types of audience. Boats<br />

cater for several types of guest - from once<br />

in a lifetime trips to the Antarctic, to river<br />

cruises in Europe.

Slow travel and food, glorious food<br />

You can do as much or as little as you like,<br />

and there are excursions available every day<br />

- sometimes two. They’re designed to take in<br />

the best of the area where you visit. On my<br />

trip we had a terrific guided tour of the<br />

Palais des Papes in Avignon, a coach ride<br />

through the Gorges of the Ardeche with<br />

stops at key observation spots such as the<br />

Pont d’Arc, wine tasting in Vercours and a<br />

tour of the Roman town of Vienne, either by<br />

Segway or on foot.<br />

CroisiEurope's cruises are all inclusive<br />

(except for some off boat tours), from<br />

breakfast buffet to 3 course lunches and 4<br />

course dinners plus traditional gala dinner.<br />

Wine and cocktails, spirits and soft drinks<br />

are included - with the bar open from 10 am<br />

to 1am. When you return from tours you’re<br />

handed a refreshing drink, rooms are<br />

cleaned, beds made, the staff, every single<br />

one of them, was unfailingly friendly and<br />

welcoming.<br />

The food is superb and served at table (we<br />

had one buffet lunch). Classic French dishes<br />

are their speciality and the chefs work as<br />

much as possible with local producers to<br />

source fresh, seasonal, local food. You don’t<br />

get a menu to choose from, the attitude is<br />

very much “maman cooks, the family eats”<br />

but they do vegan, vegetarian and gluten<br />

free alternatives, and if you don’t like a dish<br />

(menus are circulated the night before), just<br />

let the reception desk know and they’ll ask<br />

the chefs to make you something different.<br />

The inclusive wine is excellent, a choice of<br />

reds, whites and rosés, plus a daily cocktail<br />

and shorts.<br />

A great way to cruise<br />

My conclusion was, a CroisiEurope river<br />

cruise in France is a trip that makes you<br />

smile. It’s perfect for couples and friends.<br />

You’ll relax, laugh, eat like a King, get to visit<br />

some beautiful places and experience slow<br />

travel in the best possible way.<br />

CroisiEurope offers a number of Rhone<br />

itineraries from April to October. They also have<br />

itineraries across France including Paris to<br />

Honfleur, Provence and many more routes. For<br />

further information and reservations visit:<br />

www.croisieurope.co.uk<br />

For loads of ideas for visits to France see: www.<br />


LILLE<br />

A city that's a fea<br />

Janine Marsh

st for all the senses says<br />

Vieux Lille, the old town of Lille, is a<br />

place of fanciful Flemish facades,<br />

where bars, bistros, boutiques and<br />

shops line the cobbled streets which<br />

wind their way labyrinth-like around<br />

the central Place du Général de Gaulle,<br />

known as the grand’Place. Outdoor<br />

cafés abound in the ancient city centre,<br />

art of all kinds adorns the streets and<br />

you could visit a different museum in<br />

and around Lille every day for two<br />

weeks and still not see them all. The<br />

former capital of culture is lively,<br />

vivacious and at the same time<br />

cultured and urbane. Lille has<br />

undergone a metamorphosis from a<br />

once industrial hub through a rather<br />

run down stage to emerge as a top city<br />

break destination and one of the most<br />

fascinating cities in Europe…<br />

Here’s where to indulge in a feast for<br />

the senses - and the stomach…

ART: Palais des Beaux Arts<br />

The Palais des Beaux Arts lives up to its<br />

name, it really is a grand palace and one of<br />

the largest museums in France. It has the<br />

second biggest collection of fine arts<br />

outside of Paris with exhibits from<br />

antiquity to contemporary, including all the<br />

greats from Rubens, Goya and Monet to<br />

Van Gogh, Picasso and Chagall. Head to<br />

the basement to discover a unique<br />

collection of ancient relief maps, fourteen<br />

17th century exact replica miniature<br />

models of towns such as Ypres in Belgium<br />

(it was used as a blueprint for rebuilding<br />

Ypres after WWII) and Lille. They were<br />

once used by Louis XIV and his famous<br />

martial engineer Vauban to plan military<br />

tactics. There are regular, world class<br />

temporary exhibitions, and innovative<br />

touch screens (including gigapixel) help<br />

visitors to explore the artworks.<br />

EAT: Au Moulin d'Or<br />

Au Moulin d'Or is very close by, in the centre<br />

of Old Lille in a converted lingerie store<br />

which is a listed monument, this restaurant<br />

featured in Dany Boon’s “Bienvenue Chez les<br />

Ch’tis”, France’s biggest grossing film of all<br />

time. It’s been renovated to a fabulous<br />

standard with glittering chandeliers and a<br />

gorgeous central staircase and regularly<br />

showcases local artists. Upstairs or<br />

downstairs, there’s a great atmosphere and a<br />

classic brasserie menu – delicious.<br />

31-33 Place du Théâtre

ART: Musée de l’Hospice de la<br />

Comtesse<br />

The Museum of the Hospice de la Comtesse<br />

is steeped in history. It was founded in 1236<br />

by Jeanne, Countess of Flanders to care for<br />

the poor and sick, there’s a wonderful<br />

painting in the baroque chapel of Jeanne and<br />

her sister Marguerite giving money to the<br />

hospice’s nuns. The oldest part of the<br />

building dates to the 1400’s and includes<br />

magnificently furnished rooms depicting<br />

Flemish life from the 15th to the 17th<br />

centuries. My favourites were an enchanting<br />

17th century kitchen with gorgeous blue and<br />

white Delft-like tiles and a linen room with a<br />

perfectly preserved 17th century press.<br />

There’s a fascinating collection of paintings<br />

and antiques and regular exhibitions<br />

dedicated to the history of Lille. It’s a<br />

charming museum with an authentic<br />

atmosphere – a must-see.<br />

EAT: Barbue d'Anvers<br />

A short walk away, tucked away down an alley behind a pretty courtyard in a beautiful 16th<br />

century Flemish building, lies a local legend. Here they serve regional specialities such as rich<br />

and robust carbonnade flamande – a beef stew made with beer and brown sugar; the<br />

unpronounceable potjevleesch, a dish of three cold meats (traditionally rabbit, chicken and veal)<br />

in aspic; and waterzooi, a type of chicken soup. The dining room is charming and vintage, with<br />

candles, books and knick-knacks galore. The locals adore this quirky restaurant with a warm<br />

ambiance. 1 bis Rue St Etienne 59800 Lille; lebarbuedanvers.fr

ART: Gare Saint Sauveur<br />

One of the things I love about Lille is the<br />

way abandoned but spectacular buildings<br />

are converted into cultural venues. Gare<br />

Saint Sauveur, a former freight station<br />

built in 1861, is now an inspirational<br />

space where regular events, art<br />

exhibitions and performances are hosted.<br />

It houses a cinema, bar and restaurant,<br />

gardens and a summer pop up bar. The<br />

huge warehouses are perfect for<br />

showcasing art and I loved how the<br />

railway tracks were still in situ, a<br />

reminder of the past fixed in the present.<br />

It’s also one of the main Lille3000<br />

venues, the legendary tri-annual, 9-<br />

month long art festival which takes place<br />

in the streets and public buildings of Lille<br />

city and surrounding districts.<br />

EAT: Bistrot de Saint So<br />

Bistrot de Saint So is part of the Gare Saint-<br />

Sauveur complex and is a great way to mix art<br />

and food. When you’ve finished feasting on<br />

the art in the former station, head to the very<br />

chic restaurant and enjoy some seriously good<br />

dishes. This place is super popular with the<br />

locals for lunch (Wednesday – Sunday) so<br />

make sure you book in advance on their<br />

Facebook page and enjoy dining on the<br />

fabulous large terrace watched over by a giant<br />

baby with a tail, or in the chic interior. I’m not<br />

sure the food makes your “hair sparkle” as<br />

they claim (with a big smile) but with<br />

fantastically tasty salads and a seasonal menu,<br />

I think they might just be right! It’s also open<br />

Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights for a<br />

trendy night of music with DJs and live<br />

performances, plus funky cocktails. .facebook.<br />


ART: Vielle Bourse<br />

Head to la Vielle Bourse, the former stock<br />

exchange, built in 1623. The courtyard hosts<br />

a second-hand book market (Tues-Sun,<br />

afternoons) on stalls under a vaulted<br />

walkway, alongside walls lined with fabulous<br />

carved friezes and sculptures. If you’re there<br />

on a Sunday night in the summer, join in the<br />

tango dancing under the stars.<br />

EAT: L’Atelier des Chefs<br />

Cook your own lunch or dinner with a chef<br />

tutor. At L’Atelier des Chefs offers you’ll<br />

improve your skills as you create a classic<br />

dish from scratch in just 30 minutes. You<br />

then get to enjoy eating your masterpiece at<br />

this fun cookery school. Great for<br />

individuals, couples and friends. Lunch time<br />

cooking course €17 Euros; gourmet dinner<br />

course lesson (one hour) where you’ll make<br />

a main course and dessert €38. Booking in<br />

advance is essential.<br />

ART: Tri Postal<br />

Located in the former postal sorting<br />

office, it’s neither a museum or art centre<br />

but a place of art and life say the staff.<br />

Temporary exhibitions, performances and<br />

workshops are held in this dynamic and<br />

exciting cultural venue.<br />

EAT: Coke<br />

Coke restaurant in the ex-offices of the<br />

old Mining Company of Lens, hence the<br />

name. It’s a majestic building designed by<br />

archi-tect Louis-Marie Cordonnier.<br />

Upstairs is an elegant, chandeliered dining<br />

room, down-stairs is modern and arty and<br />

a retractable glass roof makes it great for<br />

sunny days. Bold, playful and clever food<br />

is on the menu from a talented team<br />

working in a glass-fronted kitchen. It’s<br />

also a great venue for an aperitif with a<br />

swanky cocktail bar and music on Friday<br />


ART: La Piscine & Street art Roubaix<br />

A short tram or metro ride from Lille,<br />

Roubaix's art-deco swimming pool turned<br />

museum with a world-class collection, is one<br />

of the most popular museums in France.<br />

Read more about it here.<br />

Roubaix has street art superstar status with<br />

an annual urban art festival (#XU), fabulous<br />

murals and two amazing studios dedicated to<br />

urban culture. Atelier RemyCo has 15 artists<br />

in residence including some well-known<br />

names (Mr. Voul and Freaks the Fab).<br />

Meanwhile Atelier Jouret hosts 40 artists:<br />

painters, sculptors, fashion designers and<br />

more. On the first Sunday of each month,<br />

you can visit the workshops, meet the artists<br />

and buy something unique from these<br />

hotshots of urban art.<br />

EAT: Meert at La Piscine<br />

Meert is famous for its jewel-like pastries<br />

and the most moreish waffles ever made.<br />

They’ve been making sweet things since<br />

1761 and their famous shop in Lille is like<br />

stepping back in time. They also have a<br />

beautiful art deco tearoom and restaurant<br />

with a gorgeous terrace garden (perfect for<br />

sunny day lunches) at La Piscine museum in<br />

Roubaix. The menu reflects the world class<br />

exhibitions and really adds a little je ne sais<br />

quoi to your visit. The chef works with<br />

curators to design unique menus, with<br />

exhibition-theme influenced dishes (and<br />

there’s also a seasonal, classic French<br />

menu). Leave room for one of those famous<br />

desserts and waffles – you’ll be in good<br />

company, they were created for Belgian<br />

King Leopold 1!

ART: MUBA Eugène Leroy<br />

In the district of<br />

Tourcoing on the<br />

outskirts of Lille, the<br />

Museum of Beaux Arts<br />

has an excellent and<br />

substantial permanent<br />

collection from the<br />

17th-20th century.<br />

EAT: Le Paradoxe<br />

Le Paradoxe, 3 Rue<br />

d’Havre by the museum.<br />

It’s a seriously funky<br />

restaurant located in the<br />

former Hospice which<br />

dates back to the 13th<br />

century.<br />

Far left: La Piscine; above middle, dancer and artist Yon Costes,<br />

Ateliers Jouret; above: artist Mr VOul, Ateliers Remyco<br />

Find details of all<br />

venues on the Lille<br />

Tourist Office website

La Chartreuse de Neuville<br />

A monumental hidden gem in the countryside of northern<br />


A long, tree lined drive surrounded by fields<br />

and forests, makes for an impressive<br />

entrance to a grand arched doorway. Step<br />

through and you’ll enter a different world.<br />

One which has its feet firmly in the past.<br />

I’d spotted this monumental building from<br />

the ramparts of nearby Montreuil-sur-Mer’s<br />

citadel. It’s hard to miss the grey stone<br />

belfries reaching to the sky and row upon<br />

row of ancient buildings which stand out<br />

amongst the forests and fields of the lush<br />

countryside. La Chartreuse de Neuville-sur-<br />

Mer or the Charterhouse, as it’s called in<br />

English, is nothing short of astonishing.<br />

History of the Charterhouse<br />

In 1084, a group of monks wanting to follow<br />

the harsh, contemplative lives of early<br />

Christian hermits, formed a small community<br />

in the Chartreuse Mountains, near<br />

Grenoble, southeast France. They led silent,<br />

meditative lives and owned no possessions.<br />

From this beginning grew a new monastic<br />

order that spread rapidly across Europe. The<br />

monks became known as Carthusians and<br />

their priories as charterhouses.<br />

History of La Chartreuse de Neuville<br />

Charterhouses were established all over<br />

Europe. They were all built to a formal<br />

specification and for the same purpose says<br />

my guide Patrick Alindre at La Chartreuse.<br />

Around a Cour d’honneur lived the Brothers,<br />

monks who worked in the monastery and<br />

supported the Fathers. Behind this were the<br />

apartments of the Fathers. Each lived alone<br />

and in silence.<br />

The Charterhouses were huge “because only<br />

then could silence be guaranteed and that<br />

was essential to the role of the Fathers” says<br />

Patrick as our footsteps echo around the<br />

enormous cloisters.<br />

The original charterhouse of Neuville was<br />

built in 1324, commissioned by the powerful<br />

Count of Boulogne in the shadow of<br />

Montreuil-sur-Mer which was a pilgrimage<br />

destination, as well as a prosperous port<br />


After the French Revolution when the state<br />

seized church property, the monks left and<br />

the building fell into disrepair. It was sold to<br />

a private buyer who dismantled it and sold<br />

off the material which was used in local<br />

buildings. The Charterhouse was bought<br />

back by the state in 1870 and restored by<br />

renowned architect Clovis <strong>No</strong>rmand, born in<br />

nearby Hesdin and a pupil of Violet le Duc,<br />

recreator of <strong>No</strong>tre Dame Paris. <strong>No</strong>rmand<br />

also designed St Hugh’s Charterhouse in<br />

Parkminster, England which is twinned with<br />

La Chartreuse de Neuville.<br />

Life in La Chartreuse<br />

The two communities of La Chartreuse de<br />

Neuville consisted of 24 Fathers and 24<br />

Brothers who grew vegetables and fruit and<br />

supported the Fathers. They were all<br />

vegetarian.<br />

Each father lived alone in an apartment<br />

called a cell, though it was quite substantial.<br />

They lived in silence and without company.<br />

Their food was passed through a guichet, a<br />

cupboard in the wall with two doors. A<br />

Brother would open the outer door, put the<br />

food in the cupboard and close the door.<br />

Then the Father would open his door to take<br />

the food. It was the same with any supplies<br />

including firewood. The Fathers were<br />

forbidden from doing work other than<br />

spiritual, except for cutting firewood. Each<br />

apartment was exactly the same, on two<br />

levels and with a small enclosed garden<br />

where they could grow flowers if they<br />

wished.<br />

The ground floor level was considered the<br />

material world – connected to the world of<br />

man. There was a short corridor known as a<br />

promenoir where a Father could walk for<br />

exercise. Upstairs they entered the Ava<br />

Maria room and left behind the world of the<br />

non-spiritual. Here they would pray for hours<br />

on end. They also had a wood cutting area, a<br />

bedroom and prayer area, a table and chair.

They were allowed to do spiritual things,<br />

reading, writing, painting and sculpting but<br />

nothing they produced ever had their<br />

signature. They had no personal<br />

possessions, no ego and no vanity. There<br />

were no distractions and their roles were<br />

viewed as collective. They prayed. A lot.<br />

The Fathers were felt to experience a<br />

spiritual consciousness by withdrawing from<br />

the world which enabled them to pray for<br />

mankind.<br />

I expected to feel claustrophobic and shut in<br />

when I stood in the apartment of a Father.<br />

But instead, it felt surprisingly open, tranquil<br />

and calm. In the small garden I could feel the<br />

rays of the sun and hear the birds. Other<br />

than that it was silent as it had been for<br />

centuries.<br />

Colourful patterns fell across the cloisters<br />

from the stained glass windows. There are<br />

several cloisters, arched and columned and<br />

glorious.<br />

The Fathers met five times a day for prayer<br />

in the Great Chapel and on Sunday<br />

afternoons when they dined together –<br />

always in silence. On Mondays they were<br />

allowed to take a walk outside the<br />

Charterhouse and speak if necessary and<br />

once a week they would gather in the<br />

Chapter Room and speak – but only if they<br />

had something relevant to say. The French<br />

saying “l’avoir l’avoir a chapitre” – having a<br />

voice in the chapter, which means to have<br />

influence, originated from this.<br />

They were allowed to meet up with their<br />

family for just two hours a year. <strong>No</strong> part of<br />

the Charterhouse was accessible to the<br />

public but religious visitors were allowed.<br />

And every Charterhouse followed the same<br />

rules and routines.

In 1901 the Loi of Association separated the<br />

church and state in France, and the<br />

monastery finally met its end. It became a<br />

sanatorium, orphanage and asylum. In WWI<br />

the French Government turned it over to<br />

refugees fleeing Belgium. 5000 people<br />

passed through, 600 died there and are<br />

buried in the grounds.<br />

La Chartreuse has dozens of cloisters,<br />

chapels, a library and other rooms. It was<br />

once the home of the printing press for all<br />

the Charterhouses of Europe 1800s but the<br />

equipment was transferred to St Hugh’s<br />

Charterhouse (there are plans to have it<br />

returned).<br />

A huge central courtyard around which are<br />

cloisters is dominated by two belfries – one<br />

for God and one for man with bells ringing<br />

on the hour. The prior of the community<br />

was elected every two years from the<br />

Fathers and lived in a bigger house<br />

overlooking the central courtyard.<br />

When they died their bodies were laid to<br />

rest in the chapel of death which you can<br />

spot by the carved skull over the top of the<br />

door. They were buried in a cloth, with no<br />

marker, nothing remained of them with their<br />

purpose fulfilled – to pray for mankind and<br />

to have no ego.<br />

<strong>No</strong>wadays you can visit and see the<br />

beautiful gardens overlooking the Canche<br />

Valley but the guided tour (in French but<br />

English speakers are given a paper guide to<br />

help them) is essential to really appreciate<br />

this incredible building.<br />

Exhibitions are held in the refractory and<br />

regular events take place year round<br />

including a Blues Festival in the summer,<br />

electro nights and concerts.<br />

It’s a fascinating place with a real feeling of<br />

spirituality…<br />


La Charteuse, also known as the “Elixir of<br />

Long Life” for its alleged medicinal qualities) is<br />

apparently made from 130 different local<br />

herbs, plants and other botanicals gathered<br />

from the mountains around Grenoble. It's<br />

matured in oak casks, and the finished liqueur<br />

packs quite a punch.<br />

The recipe dates back to 1605 and was<br />

created by monks at the La Grande<br />

Chartreuse in Voiron. It is still made there<br />

today, said to be concocted by two monks, the<br />

only people in the world who know the<br />

heavily guarded recipe.<br />

La Chartreuse liqueur<br />

If you’re wondering if there’s a link –<br />

you’re right. There is.<br />

Try a slug of the green stuff in a hot chocolate<br />

for a "Verte Chaud" or mix with sparkling<br />

water, mint leaves, a little lime juice, 2<br />

teaspoons of sugar and ice to make a classic<br />

Chartreuse Mojito...

Petit peak at Provence<br />

Exotic, lush in Provence<br />

Oppède...<br />

Photo: Cheryl Shufflebotham

As you wind your way across the plains of the Vaucluse in Provence (all olive groves,<br />

lavender and vineyards), you see Oppède le Vieux hanging above you on the north<br />

face of the Petit Luberon. It looks haunting and beautiful says Lucy Pitts...<br />

The rise…<br />

Oppède le Vieux dates back to at least the<br />

12th century. At the very top of the village<br />

stand the remains of a medieval castle and a<br />

formidable Romanesque church. The castle<br />

was at first home to the Counts of Toulouse,<br />

then the papacy in the 13th century and<br />

thereafter to the blood thirsty Jean Maynier,<br />

Baron of Oppède in the 16th century. The<br />

latter used Oppède’s strategic positioning to<br />

wage war and it’s believed he was<br />

responsible for the massacre of 3,000<br />

people including women, children and the<br />

elderly.<br />

And fall<br />

<strong>No</strong>twithstanding its occupants, the village<br />

thrived as a 900 strong farming community<br />

for several hundred years. But by the end of<br />

the 17th century, the castle had been<br />

abandoned and slowly the residents began<br />

to move down to Oppède-les-Poulivets in<br />

the valley below. Houses on the side of the<br />

mountain are damp here, and the Luberon<br />

castes a long shadow, especially in winter. By<br />

1909, with the main village hall relocated to<br />

the valley, nature was left to reclaim the<br />

village.<br />

And then the revival<br />

But for World War II, that would have<br />

probably been the end of Oppède le Vieux.<br />

But in 1940, attracted by its secluded<br />

position, a small community of creatives<br />

moved into the village to escape persecution<br />

by the occupying forces. The community<br />

eventually grew to about 50, including the<br />

architect Bernard Zehrfuss, French sculptor<br />

François Stahly and the writer and artist<br />

Consuelo de Saint Exupéry.<br />

Although, as others had before them, the<br />

creatives too eventually moved out. But, if<br />

you look carefully, you’ll see the odd painted<br />

wall as proof they were here. And today,<br />

people are starting to move back.


It feels like little has changed in the last few<br />

centuries as you leave your car in the car<br />

park below and begin to climb to the top.<br />

The streets of Oppède are narrow, cobbled<br />

and steep and the backstreets and houses<br />

defy gravity.<br />

The impressive church of <strong>No</strong>tre-Damed'Alydon<br />

has both a gargoyle and a<br />

hexagonal bell-tower and it’s certainly not<br />

what you expect. It’s also home to some<br />

fading frescoes as well as music recitals in<br />

the summer. But sadly, the adjoining castle<br />

is little more than ruins.<br />

A quirky little Café<br />

When you’ve drunk in enough of the<br />

Vaucluse below, you twist and turn your<br />

way back down to the main square. Stroll<br />

past intriguing doorways in hidden corners,<br />

15th and 16th century walls and clusters of<br />

geraniums trailing from pots in pretty<br />

courtyards.<br />

Below, and at every turn, are majestic, wide<br />

angled views of the plains. It feels like the<br />

whole of Provence is spread out beneath<br />

you. And, even in late October when I went,<br />

the skies are still blue and the Vaucluse<br />

mountains and Mont Ventoux can be seen<br />

in the distance. It is silent. Spellbinding.<br />



Le Petit Café is delightfully eccentric. A<br />

vintage sports car is parked outside and a<br />

bizarre assortment of bric a brac fills the<br />

dining room and interior, including a<br />

dentist’s chair! I didn’t like to ask.<br />

Outside, you sit under the trees on an<br />

assortment of brightly coloured cushions,<br />

painted tables and chairs. There’s a large fig<br />

tree, a shaggy white dog, coloured lights and<br />

glass bottles, an old wine barrel, pots<br />

growing bamboo, a birdcage and an<br />

assortment of herbs which match the<br />

eccentricity and charm of your host.<br />

A Panier des Saveurs (which is a tapas made<br />

from seasonal Provencal ingredients) served<br />

on a rusty, old vintage tray and a glass of<br />

chilled white wine later and you’re ready to<br />

spend the rest of your life here. It’s one of<br />

those hedonistic places you visit for sheer<br />

pleasure. And then want to stay for a<br />

lifetime. In short, it’s one of the many great<br />

little gems of Provence.<br />

You can find out more about the Vaucluse in<br />

Provence at www.provenceguide.com


Every weekend, we invite you to share your photos on Facebook - it's a great way for<br />

everyone to see "real" France and be inspired by real travellers snapping pics as they go.<br />

Every week there are utterly gorgeous photos being shared and here we showcase the most<br />

popular of each month. Share your favourite photos with us on Facebook - the most "liked"<br />

will appear in the next issue of The Good Life France Magazine...<br />

APRIL:<br />

A photo we can all identify with<br />

right now. The old lady at the<br />

window, Sarlat, Dordogne by<br />

Pat Bruce. +8000 engagements

MARCH:<br />

Bomres Les Mimosas by Ron Jo<br />

Warren. +6000 engagements<br />


Monet's garden, Giverny,<br />

<strong>No</strong>rmandy by Daniela<br />

Perria Rickey +6000<br />

engagements<br />

Join us on<br />

Facebook<br />

and like and<br />

share your<br />

favourite<br />

photos of<br />


Discover the<br />

<strong>No</strong>rthern<br />

Riviera<br />

Fabulous beaches, an historic past, chic towns and<br />

easy access to the UK. Welcome to the <strong>No</strong>rthern<br />


The French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur, is world<br />

famous for good reason. But there’s another<br />

Riviera in France that is far easier to reach<br />

for both British buyers and Parisians, and<br />

one that has much to offer in its own right<br />

says Liz Rowlinson…<br />

The nearest part of France to the UK, the<br />

<strong>No</strong>rthern Riviera - or Côte d’ Opale - offers<br />

layers of history, from prehistory to the two<br />

world wars, including the Great War, Added<br />

to this is over 120km of beautiful fine sandy<br />

beaches, chic seaside towns and, at times,<br />

even better weather than it’s glitzier southern<br />

counterpart.<br />

“This is a fabulous area, popular with French,<br />

British and Belgian home buyers, because of<br />

its proximity to both the UK and northern<br />

European cities,” says Tim Sage, Leggett’s<br />

coordinator for the area. “It’s easy to reach<br />

by ferry or Le Shuttle for the British - and<br />

numbers commute back to the UK weekly -<br />

and it’s much more affordable than other<br />

French coastal areas, including the Charente-<br />

Maritime and the Côte d’Azur.”<br />

With buoyant tourism due to the historic<br />

locations - the battle sites of Agincourt and<br />

later World War One, the Commonwealth<br />

War Cemeteries, and rocket launch sites - it<br />

can also be good for holiday rentals with the<br />

offering of a full range of outdoor activities.<br />

So where are the popular spots for buyers?<br />

Starting at the Belgian border - the Riviera<br />

spans from there to Berck-sur- Mer in the<br />

Pas-de-Calais department - the stretch<br />

between Dunkirk and Calais is popular with<br />

French buyers, yet less so with the British.

“For some reason there’s a perception that<br />

it’s not the ‘real France’, perhaps because of<br />

its very proximity,” he says. “Yet, nearby<br />

Gravelines and Loon-Plage are popular with<br />

the French, with 2/3 bedroom apartments<br />

from €180,000,” says Tim.<br />

British interest picks up at the delightful<br />

seaside resort of Wimereux on the Côte<br />

d’Opale with its Belle Epoque villas and<br />

beach huts. The steep cliffs of the nearby<br />

Deux Caps - Gris Nez and Blanc Nez - offer<br />

beautiful beaches backed by dunes and<br />

conifers. Nice houses start from €200,000.<br />

The beautiful old fortified city of Boulogne-<br />

Sur-Mer is next up (or rather down the<br />

coast), popular with British and French<br />

buyers for its good value - you can get a 2<br />

bedroom apartment for €114,000, or a 5<br />

bedroom townhouse for around €200,000.<br />

Golfers gravitate towards Hardelot-Plage,<br />

south of Boulogne, because of its<br />

championship golf course. British buyers<br />

love the fact you can buy a golf apartment<br />

for around €110,000.<br />

Whilst the Côte d’Azur has Cannes, the<br />

northern coast has Le Touquet, and the palm<br />

trees add to its glamorous image, ever since<br />

the likes of <strong>No</strong>el Coward, Winston Churchill<br />

and Edward and Mrs Simpson holidayed<br />

there back in the 1920's and 30’s. Indeed,<br />

it’s an alluring mélange of French and<br />

English, with Parisians in love with its<br />

refinement too, it’s full name is Le Touquet-<br />

Paris Plage.<br />

Expect to pay €350,000 to €400,000 for a<br />

two-bedroom apartment, but head across<br />

the bridge for better value Étaples - a<br />

traditional fishing port village with<br />

fishermen's houses from €80,000. Visit the<br />

wonderful fish restaurants and you may be<br />


Last but not least is Berck-Plage, or Bercksur-Mer,<br />

a great year-round location with<br />

fabulous beaches, a popular kite festival and<br />

apartments from €85,000 or 3 bedroom<br />

houses from €180,000. The former fishing<br />

village also offers the delicious dish<br />

Berckoise Caudière, a kind of bouillabaisse<br />

of the Channel - who needs to head all the<br />

way to Marseille?<br />

See Tim's property portfolio Pas de Calais:<br />

NOTE<br />

Whilst we may not be able to travel<br />

currently, Leggett Immobillier, the award<br />

winning property agency in France are still<br />

open for business, albeit working from<br />

home. They are able to send property<br />

details, complete mandates electronically<br />

and book reserved tours, find details here:<br />

https://www.frenchestateagents.com/<br />



Your essential<br />

Guide to<br />

moving to<br />

France<br />

In these difficult times with the Covid-19 virus preventing travel and<br />

halting plans, and the upcoming removal of the UK from the European<br />

Union, we asked Jennie Poate of Beacon Global Wealth to give us some<br />

top tips to help those planning on moving to France when they can…<br />

You find your dream home in France,<br />

you can’t wait to move there and<br />

start living the good life but there are<br />

a few things you need to do first.<br />

You’ll need to fill in paperwork and<br />

notify authorities in the UK and<br />

France, sort out healthcare, maybe<br />

inheritance planning, savings, tax and<br />

whole host of fun things.<br />

Before you leave the UK, check this<br />

list to see what needs to be done:<br />

Get form P85 from Revenue and<br />

Customs, fill it in and return it. It<br />

notifies the tax authorities that you<br />

are leaving the country and helps<br />

ensure that you’ll be taxed<br />

appropriately.<br />

If you’re retired, request an S1 Form.<br />

https://www.gov.uk/moving-orretiring-abroad<br />

Set up a mail redirection if you know<br />

where you’ll be living in France or to<br />

an address in the UK that can forward<br />

mail on to you in a batch.<br />

Inform your local GP and dentist that<br />

you are leaving so they can take you<br />

off their books.<br />

Request a State pension forecast: if<br />

you’re going to live in France longterm<br />

or forever and may not return to<br />

the UK before you become eligible for<br />

your pension. https://www.gov.uk/<br />

check-state-pension<br />

<strong>No</strong>tify the Pension Service of your<br />

new address so they’ll know how to<br />

contact you. https://www.gov.uk/<br />

international-pension-centre<br />

<strong>No</strong>tify your personal or company<br />

pension trustees of your new address.

You can keep your UK investments in the<br />

UK, but they will now be taxable in<br />

France. <strong>No</strong>tify administrators of your<br />

new address. If you would like to know<br />

how your UK pension(s) will be treated in<br />

France and the tax efficient alternatives<br />

for your savings/investments as a French<br />

tax resident Jennie is happy to offer a<br />

free consultation.<br />

Let your utility providers and local<br />

authority know you’re leaving and ask for<br />

final bills.<br />

If you’re keeping your home in Britain<br />

and renting it out, you should inform<br />

your insurance company as your existing<br />

policy<br />

may not cover you for home rental.<br />

If you’re still paying a mortgage on the<br />

property, you should let your mortgage<br />

provider know.<br />

Your UK rental Income will remain<br />

taxable in the UK but must be declared<br />

on your French tax return. As there is a<br />

dual tax arrangement between the UK<br />

and France, it won’t be taxed twice<br />

(Brexit should not impact this<br />

arrangement) https://www.gov.uk/<br />

government/publications/non-residentlandlord-application-to-have-uk-rentalincome-without-deduction-of-uk-taxindividuals-nrl1<br />

Make a Will. If you already have one,<br />

In France<br />

Get your paperwork in order, you’ll need<br />

to have a number of original<br />

documents – and take copies of<br />

everything. What you need depends on<br />

whether you’re retiring or working either<br />

as self employed or for a company.<br />

Essential documents may include:<br />

Birth certificate, marriage certificate, Tax<br />

returns (for two years), 12 months of<br />

bank statements, certificates of<br />

professional qualification (if setting up a<br />

business), driving licence.<br />

Some documents may need to be<br />

translated by an official translator.<br />

Open a bank account, it is increasingly<br />

difficult to pay for things without one if<br />

you live in France, most utilities are now<br />

paid online or by cheque. You can open<br />

a non-resident account before you leave<br />

the UK and notify the bank to change it<br />

to a resident account when you arrive.<br />

Sort out health care in France. For the<br />

first few months you can still use your<br />

EHIC (pre-Brexit, post Brexit has not<br />

been confirmed). Or sort out private<br />

healthcare. If you’re retired, your S1<br />

Form currently enables you to claim<br />

back your healthcare costs (pre-Brexit).<br />

The French healthcare system has a<br />

great reputation but you may need to<br />

top up with private health insurance –<br />

this is normal, the majority of French<br />

people take out top up insurance. You<br />

should then return your British EHIC<br />

card and apply for your Carte Vitale<br />

which you need to take with you to all<br />

medical appointments in France.

Apply to the local CPAM (Caisse Primaire<br />

d’Assurance Maladie) for healthcare<br />

cover. Applicaton depends on your status<br />

eg retired, salaried worker, selfemployed.<br />

https://www.ameli.fr/<br />

If you take your UK registered car with<br />

you, you’ll need to register it in France.<br />

There is currently a huge backlog to<br />

process applications. You’ll need to have<br />

various documents and make an<br />

application online at:<br />

https://ants.gouv.fr/<br />

If you’ve got kids, you’ll need to register<br />

them for school.<br />

There is more information on the UK<br />

Government website about applying for a<br />

residence permit when the transition<br />

period ends on 31 December 2020.<br />

Jennie Poate is a UK expat who has lived<br />

in France for several years and is a<br />

qualified financial advisor who has helped<br />

many expats to organise their finances<br />

and tax in France.<br />

Schedule your free no obligation<br />

consultation to find out if Jennie and her<br />

team at Beacon Global Wealth can help<br />

you.<br />

info@bgwealthmanagement.net<br />

beaconglobalwealth.com/<br />


Everything you need to know about<br />

French Mortgages<br />

An estimated 84,000 UK nationals moved<br />

across the Channel in 2019 – a 10 year<br />

high. Traditionally most home buyers were<br />

retired or looking to purchase second<br />

homes, but France is an increasingly<br />

attractive option for young families and<br />

people in their 40’s and 50’s.<br />

Affordable property, beautiful countryside<br />

and coastline, great food, wine and good<br />

quality health and education systems are all<br />

irresistible temptations for a new generation<br />

of Britons seeking a new life in France.<br />

French house prices are considerably<br />

cheaper than the UK. Although official<br />

figures suggest the property values are<br />

rising gently, there are plenty of<br />

competitively priced homes for sale,<br />

particularly in rural locations and smaller<br />

towns.<br />

The French mortgage market and<br />

eligibility for a loan<br />

Buying a property with a mortgage is<br />

increasingly popular, helped by continuing<br />

low interest rates. Mortgages can also be<br />

taken out to pay for renovations, new build<br />

construction (including both the land and<br />

building costs), equity release or to remortgage.<br />

Though, if you are thinking of remortgaging,<br />

be aware that in France there<br />

may be high fees.<br />

There are a number of differences between<br />

French and UK mortgages. Below are a few<br />

examples:<br />

Interest rates: In France rates are set for a<br />

maximum <strong>25</strong> year term. A fixed term of 5<br />

years is more common in the UK.

Eligibility: French banks look in detail for<br />

proof of income and the total amount of<br />

household debt. This debt ratio determines<br />

whether they feel your mortgage is<br />

affordable. In the UK the affordability criteria<br />

is generally three times your income.<br />

Consumer protection: The French<br />

mortgage market is heavily regulated.<br />

Buyers are required to pay for mortgage<br />

protection insurance. The UK market,<br />

despite some tightening in recent years, has<br />

lighter regulations.<br />

The French mortgage market is open<br />

to both residents and to nonresidents.<br />

French mortgage lenders have become far<br />

more prepared to offer loans to non-resident<br />

buyers in recent years. Lenders have an<br />

option of taking out a Euro mortgage rather<br />

than a loan in sterling from a UK bank. An<br />

important first step is opening a French<br />

bank account; this will enable you to deposit<br />

and transfer funds regularly.<br />

Proving that you have a stable income is a<br />

key test for French home buyers. Lenders<br />

will not discriminate against you if you are<br />

self-employed but you must supply three<br />

years’ tax returns and your earnings over<br />

that period determines the amount you can<br />

borrow.<br />

Types of French mortgage<br />

In France, the majority of home buyers opt<br />

for a standard capital repayment loan in<br />

where you repay both the capital and the<br />

interest.<br />

Interest only loans are less common and<br />

are mostly taken out by landlords who want<br />

to minimise their outgoings.<br />

rates increase and are generally fixed for<br />

the entire duration of the mortgage.<br />

However, redemption fees can be<br />

expensive. So, if you want to repay early,<br />

remember to take this into consideration.<br />

Borrowing a maximum of 80% of the<br />

property’s value is the norm, though it may<br />

vary up to 85%. How much you can borrow<br />

depends on your financial circumstances<br />

and credit rating.<br />

Equity release isn't common in France but is<br />

possible if you don't have an existing<br />

mortgage on your property. The amount of<br />

household debt must not exceed 33% of<br />

your annual income.<br />

Calculating the cost of your<br />

mortgage<br />

When applying for a mortgage, French<br />

lenders must state the interest rate as an<br />

APR (Annual Percentage Rate) to make<br />

comparisons easy. A number of factors<br />

affect the total cost including: Amount<br />

borrowed, loan duration, type of mortgage<br />

(e.g. capital repayment or interest only)<br />

Interest rate (APR), fees, mortgage<br />

protection insurance and redemption<br />

penalties<br />

Example: Couple buying a French property<br />

for €170,000 with a capital repayment loan.<br />

% € Years<br />

Loan Term 20<br />

Loan to Value 80.00<br />

Interest Rate (APR) 1.80<br />

Property Purchase 170,000<br />

Deposit 34,000<br />

Amount Borrowed 136,000<br />

MONTHLY COST 675<br />

*Important note: this is an example only and<br />

does not represent an offer.<br />

Fixed rate or variable rate? Fixed rate<br />

mortgages offer greater stability if interest

How to apply for a French mortgage<br />

Banks and financial lenders in France require<br />

detailed documentation - be prepared! This<br />

includes: Applicant details, financial<br />

information (proof of income, arrears/debts<br />

etc) Employment and business details,<br />

Project costs and fees, outgoings & assets.<br />

With CA Britline you can download and<br />

complete the application form for a<br />

mortgage here: www.britline.com/mortgage<br />

You can also request a Pre-mortgage<br />

approval certificate. This will confirm how<br />

much the bank is prepared to lend you.<br />

Successful mortgage applicants receive a<br />

Mortgage Offer which is valid for 30 days.<br />

<strong>No</strong>te: Borrowers must sign a sale & purchase<br />

contract for their property before a lender<br />

will issue a formal Mortgage Offer.<br />

Security, guarantees and mortgage<br />

protection<br />

There are different ways to secure against a<br />

mortgage using various types of guarantees.<br />

The fees payable vary according to each<br />

option. It is recommen-ded that you discuss<br />

this with your lender.<br />

In France, mortgage borrowers are offered a<br />

high degree of consumer protection, covered<br />

by a strict regulatory framework, to guard<br />

against irresponsible lending.<br />

Good luck with your property search!<br />

Further Information<br />

To find out more about CA Britline’s<br />

mortgages with competitive rates and<br />

flexible options with rapid approval, contact<br />

us today: www.britline.com<br />

A loan is a commitment and must be repaid.<br />

Check your ability to repay the loan before<br />

making the commitment. Under the<br />

condition that your mortgage file is accepted<br />

by your Caisse Regionale de Credit Agricole,<br />

lender. You have a cooling off period of 10<br />

days to accept the mortgage offer. The<br />

completion of the sale is subject to obtaining<br />

the loan. If this is not achieved, the seller<br />

must refund your payments.


This delicious Provencal version of pizza is a firm favourite in Nice and the French<br />

Riviera. It's easy to make at home, is great for a snack or light meal, very moreish and<br />

goes well with a green salad or on its own or with a glass of rosé...<br />

Ingredients for a Pissaladière for 6<br />

40g (1 ½ oz butter)<br />

1 tablespoon olive oil<br />

1.5kg (3lb 5 oz) onions, thinly sliced<br />

2 tablespoons thyme leaves<br />

1 quantity of bread dough – easy make recipe below<br />

1 tablespoon olive oil<br />

16 anchovies sliced in half<br />

24 pitted olives (if you’re not a fan of olives you can use cherry tomatoes cut in half)<br />

How to make Pissaladière<br />

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a pan.<br />

Add the thinly sliced onions and half the thyme.<br />

Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for 45 minutes stirring from time to time. The onions<br />

should be soft but not brown. Season with salt and pepper and leave to cool.<br />

Preheat oven to 200˚C (400˚F/Gas mark 6).<br />

Roll out the bread dough and place in an oiled tin (34 x 26xm is ideal).<br />

Brush the top of the bread with olive oil and spread the onions over the top.<br />

Lay the anchovies in a lattice pattern over the onion and pop the olives in the lattice<br />

diamonds. Wash them in water if you like them less salty.<br />

Bake for 20 minutes or until the dough is cooked and lightly browned.<br />

Sprinkle the remaining thyme over and serve warm or cold, cut into squares.<br />

How to make bread dough for your Pissaladière<br />

2 teaspoons baker’s yeast (15g/ ½ oz)<br />

200g (2 cups) strong plain (all purpose) flour<br />

½ teaspoon salt<br />

3 tablespoons olive oil<br />

1<strong>25</strong>ml warm water<br />

Sift the flour, add the yeast and salt and mix.<br />

Stir in the olive oil and lukewarm water and<br />

knead into a dough by hand or with a mixer.<br />

Leave to rest in a lightly oiled container for<br />

one hour.<br />

Turn out on a lightly floured surface and roll<br />

into shape.

Le Soufflé is considered a culinary masterpiece in France. The word soufflé comes from<br />

souffler – to breathe or to puff, and this dish takes puffing to an art form!<br />

The first time the recipe for a cheese soufflé was recorded was 1742 in Le Cuisine Modern<br />

by Vincent La Chapelle (modern for those times of course!). La Chappelle was known to<br />

cook for rich and wealthy clients, including Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV.<br />

Years later, Chef Marine-Antoine Carême, one of the first celebrity chefs, published “Le<br />

Pâtissier Royal Parisien” published in 1815, contained several pages on the art of making<br />

soufflés. It put the dish thoroughly on the gastronomic map of France and the world.<br />

Ingredients<br />

50g/½ cup/1.3 oz Butter, plus a little extra for greasing<br />

<strong>25</strong>g/¼ cup/0.9 oz Breadcrumbs OR 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese<br />

50g/½ cup/1.03 oz Plain flour<br />

1 teaspoon mustard powder<br />

300ml Milk<br />

4 medium eggs<br />

100g/2/3 cup/4oz strong grated cheddar (blue cheese or goats cheese are good too<br />

Salt and pepper to season

Audrey Hepburn learns how to make cheese souffle in the film "Sarbina." The master<br />

chef critiques the dishes: "Too low; too high; too heavy; sloppy” or in Sabrina's case,<br />

uncooked as she forgot to turn the oven on! Here's how to make it perfectly with an<br />

easy to follow recipe...<br />

How to make a perfect cheese soufflé<br />

Heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6 and pop a baking sheet on the middle shelf. Butter<br />

a 15cm (6 inch) soufflé dish, then sprinkle in the breadcrumbs OR the Parmesan cheese<br />

(whichever you prefer) and shake the dish to make sure the crumbs/Parmesan cheese are<br />

evenly spread and tip the rest out.<br />

Melt the butter over a medium heat in a pan then stir in the flour and mustard powder.<br />

Keep stirring for about a minute. Take the pan off the heat and gradually stir in the milk,<br />

mixing it thoroughly. Return the pan to the heat and stir continuously for around 10<br />

minutes until the mix becomes very thick. Transfer the mix to a bowl and allow it to cool.<br />

Separate the egg whites into a bowl and fold the yolks into the sauce then the cheese, and<br />

season well.<br />

Whisk the egg whites until peaks form. Using a metal spoon, gently stir the whipped whites<br />

into the white sauce. Then spoon the mixture into the greased dish. Run a cutlery knife<br />

around the edge to help the souffle rise above the rim and not stick.<br />

Place on the baking sheet and bake for <strong>25</strong>-30 minutes until the top is golden and risen and<br />

has a slight wobble.<br />

Serve immediately and enjoy enormously!

Pastis Gascon /<br />

Gascon Apple Pie<br />

Ingredients for 4 to 6 people in a <strong>25</strong>cm tart dish<br />

1 packet (12 sheets) filo pastry<br />

80g sugar<br />

Icing sugar<br />

For the apple filling<br />

About 4-6 apples<br />

3 tbsps sugar<br />

About 75g melted butter .<br />

60 ml Armagnac (you can use calvados too but it wouldn’t be Gascon but <strong>No</strong>rman)<br />

Half a lemon<br />

Method<br />

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (170C fan)/375F/ gas 5<br />

Peel, core and quarter the apples, then slice thinly and set aside in a bowl tossed in a<br />

squeeze of lemon, 3 tablespoons of sugar and the Armagnac. Leave to macerate for up to<br />

one hour.<br />

Melt the butter.<br />

Brush the tart dish with melted butter.<br />

From the filo pastry pack, take a sheet, brush with melted butter and lay on the base of the<br />

dish. Press into the sides leaving the overlap hanging over the edge of the tin. Lay another<br />

buttered sheet at an angle to the first sheet and repeat three more times so that the pastry<br />

covers all round the edges. Keep the packet covered with a damp clean cloth to stop the<br />

pastry drying out.<br />

Spread the apple mixture over the base.<br />

Brush a sheet of filo with butter and sprinkle with sugar (about a teaspoon). Scrunch it up<br />

like a tissue and pop it on top of the apples. Repeat with the remaining filo pastry. You’re<br />

aiming to create height and texture. The sugar on the pastry makes it very crispy and<br />

sweet.<br />

Pop it into the oven for about 30 to 35 minutes. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t<br />

burn on the corners but is golden all over.<br />

The tart is delicious cold or warm – sprinkled with icing sugar (and you can also sprinkle a<br />

little more Armagnac if you wish.

I never thought I would be so excited to see Jean-Francois, the village handyman. But I’d<br />

spent endless days indoors not seeing another human (if you don’t count the husband). As I<br />

hung a bag for the Bread Man on the gate so he could pop my bread delivery in, I spotted<br />

the lanky Jean-Francois in his never-seen-out-of-them blue overalls (except once at the<br />

village harvest party), trimming a hedge down the road.<br />

We exchanged long distance waves.<br />

“Ca va?” he called.<br />

“Ca va!” I shouted back, “Ca va?”<br />

The Good Life<br />

Janine Marsh's life in lock-down France<br />

That started the dogs barking in the back garden and he had to yell his answer “Ca va, ca<br />

va.”<br />

Mon dieu, the first conversation I have had with another human (again not counting the<br />

husband) in real life in goodness knows how long consisted of just 3 letters. <strong>No</strong>w in case<br />

you think I’m referring to a sparkling wine that’s spelled the same way give or take a space,<br />

I’m not. “Ca va” is the universal general greeting of the French. You might have been taught<br />

at school that “comment allez vous” is what you should say when you meet someone, but<br />

unless you’re in a formal situation or rendezvous-ing with the President or Prince Albert of<br />

Monaco, say that as a greeting to your mates and you will be greeted with a look of<br />

astonishment.<br />

In fact, the French I speak with my neighbours is nothing like the French I was taught at<br />

school. All manner of words come up that fill me with astonishment like “bof” which is how<br />

you reply to “ca va” if you’re only so-so, instead of saying you’re well which requires you to<br />

reply “ca va”. And my French teacher, a sophisticated Parisienne, never prepared a youthful<br />

me for living in the far north of France where they speak with such a strong accent that even<br />

the rest of France can hardly understand the locals.<br />

But gradually I’m getting this French language malarkey and can hold a conversation quite<br />

well. At first it was like a game of tennis, I could volley a word in but couldn’t really hold an<br />

extended rally of conversation. These days, after a lot of practice, I can score break points<br />

by throwing in some “real French”, there’s always a way to fit “toho-bohu” (confusion) or<br />

“Hurluberlu” (eccentric) or “ah, la vache” (which although it literally translates as “oh my<br />

cow” means “oh my god”) into a conversation.<br />

I still make mistakes though. I once announced to a bus load of Frenchies “je suis chaud”. It<br />

was a sweltering hot day, I thought I was saying “I am hot”. <strong>No</strong>n. It’s a rookie error and to<br />

Frenchies it means “I am hot” - as in 9 1⁄2 Weeks the erotic film. Napoleon Bonaparte once<br />

said “Du sublime au ridicule, il n’y a qu’un pas’ – “From the sublime to the ridiculous there is<br />

but one step…” and so it is!

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