Issue No. 23

Welcome to the summer! In this issue discover Dijon in Burgundy, sensational Strasbourg (and a secret speakeasy), and lovely Cognac. We'll tell you where the locals go on holiday, the secret places. Visit Versailles and the Paris Opera, Le Touquet - the "Monaco" of northern France and wild Provence. Guides, recipes and more - your trip to France without leaving home...

Welcome to the summer! In this issue discover Dijon in Burgundy, sensational Strasbourg (and a secret speakeasy), and lovely Cognac. We'll tell you where the locals go on holiday, the secret places. Visit Versailles and the Paris Opera, Le Touquet - the "Monaco" of northern France and wild Provence. Guides, recipes and more - your trip to France without leaving home...

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Welcome to the summer issue of The Good life France Magazine.

If you're wondering about that photo of me above, no I've not had a "Honey I shrunk the

Kids" moment, I'm holding a giant gingerbread cake in wonderful Dijon, Burgundy! You

can read about my visit to research the best things to do plus the restaurants and bars

the locals love on page 30.

In this issue discover sensational Strasbourg where I stumbled upon a secret speakeasy

and probably the oldest wine store in the world where they had a bottle of wine dating to

1472! Find out about Versailles and its opulent chateau, gorgeous gardens and lovely

town. Visit Cognac in Charente, and Le Touquet, once the jet setters paradise in the

north of France plus the nearby lovely Montreuil-sur-Mer, a tiny hill top town that's

making a name for itself in foodie circles.

Ian Moore, stand up comedian and author tells us what its really like to run a chambre

d'hotes. Lucy Pitts explores the wild side of Provence and Michael Cranmer goes fishing

with his feet - a national obsession in France!

We pay homage to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame with photos and comments posted by

our friends on Facebook; down but not beaten, the "soul of Paris" will be rebuilt.

There are useful guides, real life expat stories including Billy and Gwendoline Petherick,

stars of Escape to the Chateau DIY; and a fabulous recipe for scrumptious crème brulée.

Hope you enjoy this issue and please do share feel free to click the share button!

Best wishes


Janine Marsh




8 Spotlight on Strasbourg

What to do and see in Strasbourg including

the secret places that most visitors never

discover - but should says Janine Marsh.

20 Glitzy, Golden Versailles

France’s most opulent chateau is full of

treasures that can hold you spellbound, but

don’t miss the town when you’re there.

30 Le Weekend in Dijon

Find out where the locals eat and the very

best things to do in Burgundy’s historic

capital city.

The Opéra national de Paris is the

Versailles of Opera Houses and has plenty

of secrets…

46 Cognac, Charentes

A delightful town and delicious liqueur

which share the same name – here’s what

to see and do in Cognac.

52 Le Touquet Paris-plage

The “Monaco” of Northern France is a

brilliant weekend destination with loads to

do from horse riding in the dunes and

activities galore.

42 Opera Garnier Paris

Features continued

58 montreuil sur mer

The small hill top town has world class

restaurants, fabulous hotels & a long


62 Hosts, Goats and

Chambres d’Hotes

Best selling author, stand up comedian,

Mod and now B&B owner Ian Moore reveals

all about his new life in France...

66 The Secret Gorges of


Lucy Pitts discovers the wild side of


74 fishing with your feet

Michael Cranmer takes part in a French

obsession - peche a pied, in Brittany.

80 Homage to notre-dame

We share some of our Facebook friends

comments and photos dedicated to the

Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.

86 Where to stay in paris

Take a look at six fabulous hotels in the city

of light - perfect any time of the year.


90 Your Photos

The most popular photos on our Facebook


118 My Good Life in France

In the summer time, shutters are flung open

and doors left ajar...

92 escape to the chateu

Meet Billy and Gwendoline who bought a

chateau in their twenties & became stars of

a TV show...

96 going solo in france

Katherine Tasker left London to build her

own home and open a café in rural northern


Expert Advice

102 Buying a historic


When you buy a property that's listed in

France, you should know what the

restrictions and rules are...

106 Top property buy tips

Considering your ongoing finances before

you buy in France is essential.

110 how bank cards work in


Knowing how French bank cards work can

save you heaps of prorblems...


114 How to make crème


Deliciously creamy, utterly moreish, here's

how to make this classic French dessert at


Spotlight on


Strasbourg in the north east of France in Alsace (now known as Grand Est),

is a city of medieval houses, glorious architecture, fabulous restaurants,

cultural venues, wine and art, watery arteries and stunning buildings –

there’s something for everyone to fall in love with here says Janine Marsh…

The best way to visit Strasbourg is on foot, you’ll miss things otherwise and this is a

city that is full of things you shouldn’t miss. Colourful streets lined with half-timbered

houses, winding alleys of shops and restaurants and elegant courtyards. Fairy tale

pretty in some parts such as Petite France, architecturally splendid in others, the

Neustadt (new town district) for instance, and friendly, funky and fun in areas like the

Place d’Austerlitz and its surroundings. You can rack up the footsteps here, though

it’s a small big city. But that’s not a bad thing as the calories you burn can be replaced

at so many restaurants that are seriously scrumptious – I promise you, you don’t

come to Strasbourg and start a diet!

What to see and do in Strasbourg

Petite France

If you love towns with medieval halftimbered

houses painted the colours of a

pastel rainbow – you’ll be in seventh

heaven in Strasbourg’s UNESCO listed

Petite France district on the Grand Ile

where canals cascade to create a stunning

landscape. In the 16th century people

suffering from syphilis were sent here to

isolate them from the mainland and it was

considered quite a poor district until the

late 1980s. Now UNESCO listed, it’s a major

attraction and perfect for a stroll and sitting

at a terrace watching the world go by and

for shopping, with many of the former wash

houses now restaurants and quirky stores.

It’s easy to spend a half day wandering, or

even a whole day if you like to take your

time and explore in detail and relax along

the way.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame

The number 1 attraction in Strasbourg is the

red stone Cathedral with around four

million visitors a year. You don’t need to be

a cathedral fan for this one, the sheer

monumental size and exquisite detail is

mind boggling. The cathedral is, to quote a

cliché, breath-taking and features amongst

its medieval stained glass windows, a 14m

high rose window.

It was the tallest man made building in

France until the 19th century and though it

was closed when I went, you can climb the

329 steps in one of the towers for a bird's

eye view over the city and as far as the

Vosges Mountains.

There’s an astronomical clock which lures

the crowds every day, especially at 12.30

pm when a parade of automaton figurines,

including the apostles, takes place. Lit up at

night on a cobbled square lined with shops

and restaurants, it really is eye-poppingly


Boat ride

Hire an electric boat and see Strasbourg

from its watery arteries at your own pace.

Or, if you’d like to relax and take in the

sights, including the swanky buildings of

the European Parliament, without effort,

join a guided boat ride with Batorama. On a

sunny day, book the open top boat if you


Left: Font at the Palais Rohan; above: statues at

the Medieval museum; right: Street art at

Museum of Modern Art, contemporary &

modern art; right top, Tete de Christ stained

glass window; below right, installation at

Museum of Modern Art.


There are around a dozen museums and if

you’re a history fan you’re going to

absolutely love the Medieval Museum and

the Museum of Decorative Arts…

Musée des Arts Decoratif Le Palais

Palais Rohan

Many visitors miss this one as the building,

although huge, seems tucked away in a

corner on a large square overlooking the

river. It’s in the former residence of the

Prince-Bishops, built in the 18th century. It’s

a fascinating museum composed of

sumptuous apartments of the former

cardinals with artefacts from the 17th to the

19th century from tapestries to tableware,

furniture and paintings. There’s an

archaeological museum in the basement

and a museum of fine arts on the first floor

with a major collection of European

paintings which includes Botticelli, Rubens

and Canaletto.

Musée de l’Ouevre Notre-Dame |

Medieval Museum

Next door to Palais Rohan, this is another

museum that’s absolutely stunning. I could

have spent several hours in here there’s so

much to see. Located in a former stone

masons house and buildings from the 14th

-16th centuries, it houses masterpieces of

sculpture from the middle ages and from

the Cathedral. Stained glass windows,

including the Wissembourg "Tête de Christ"

window, one of the oldest known stainedglass

windows, religious statuary, wood

carvings, paintings and more, this is one of

the most beautiful collections of medieval

art I’ve ever seen.

Museum of Contemporary and

Modern Art

If you’re a modern art fan the contemporary

and modern art museum will make you

very happy. Just the other side of the

Vauban Dam in a huge glass building,

currently covered in black and white street

art, it is huge and fascinating. It mixes a

number of mediums including a very

famous Monet poppy painting in the

landscape themed area, alongside very

modern art. Wassily Kandinsky is heavily

featured including a room created from one

of his Cubist creations. This is a museum

that presents art by theme and juxtaposes

modern alongside contemporary and

modern could mean Monet or Sisley

alongside something altogether more

quirky - I saw a giant plastic spider with a

cat's face which walks across the room!

The Art Café on the first floor has a great

outdoor terrace with breath-taking views

over the city. Here you can take a break

with tea, pastries or lunch.

Voodoo Museum

And, for those who like their museums to

be seriously unusual - there’s a voodoo

museum in a former water tower. It’s a

private collection, in fact the biggest private

collection of its kind in France and it is

magic! www.chateau-vodoucom

Where to eat out in


Food lovers will be in their element in this

city – Alsatian food is very tasty indeed,

and they love their cakes and desserts

here. There’s a huge choice of restaurants.

In the main tourist areas, they’re touristy of

course, that doesn’t necessarily mean bad,

you’ll get gorgeous views and some have

excellent food too. But if you’re looking for

authentic and the most delicious Alsatian

cuisine, the restaurants the locals go to,

then these are the ones that will make you

very happy…

Chez Yvonne was a favourite restaurant of

Presidents Chirac and de Gaulle when they

were in Strasbourg but I promise you

there’s nothing statesmanlike about this

place – it’s utterly authentic, old school

Alsace style, cosy, comfy and traditional

Winstub (Alsatian bar and restaurant) style.

It looks just as it did 80 years ago in

grandma’s Alsatian parlour, though it’s

much older than that. Wooden chairs, red

and white check curtains, wood panelled

rooms, I felt a bit like I was dining chez

Hansel and Gretel. Family run, it’s super

friendly with a lovely service. They’ll warn

you about the horseradish, it’s strong and

traditional to have with your dishes in

Strasbourg. This is food that makes you

smile. You can reserve online at their

website: www.restaurant-chez-yvonne.net

Maison des Tanneurs built in 1572 on the

Petite Ile showcases local gastronomy.

Here you’ll find a mix of locals and tourists

enjoying the great location alongside the

river. 42 Rue du Bain aux Plantes

Fink’Stuebel is not touristy at all and

features real Strasbourg gastronomy. If you

want to eat like the locals - go here. It’s

lovely inside, friendly, cosy and charming.

It’s a great menu – don’t miss the iced

Guggelhopf with cherry Schnapps for

dessert! 26 Rue Finkwiller

Restaurant Les Chauvins, Père & Fils is

family run and specialises in Alsatian

tapas and specialities using local products

with a clever twist. The tapas menu

includes their take on Sushi with locally

caught trout, horseradish (of course), local

cheese and rice with a superb sauce. The

pickled vegetables are just delicious and

their home made foie gras with onion

chutney is superb.

A funky interior features one long table at

which strangers can become dining

partners and friends! There are tables for

small numbers too. Innovative, very

original, great food.

You won’t find typically heavy Alsatian

food like Sauerkraut here but it’s a great

way to discover the local gastronomy in a

seriously delicious way, just a couple of

minutes’ walk from the cathedral. You can

book online: www.restaurant-les-chauvins.


Night life and bars

Supertonic is all about Gin and Saucisse, a

genius combination. 57 different types of

gin, 12 different tonics, sausages made by a

local artisan – everything about this bar is

brilliant. I tried a mountain top tonic water

from Chilli which was superb mixed with a

gin made by a father and son company in

the Netherlands and flavoured with a slice

of orange and a star anise. I though it was

the best G &T I’d ever had…. until I tried a

gin from the US with a Thomas Henry tonic

water. If you’re a gin lover you’ll love their

ginventory (they even have an app) to help

you choose your perfect gin and tonic.

Black n Wine Hotel Hannong wine bar and

Roof top terrace is a bit of a secret place

though well known to locals, visitors might

miss it as it’s in a hotel but so worth

seeking out. The bar is lovely, relaxing and

welcoming and a superb wine list.

Aedaen: In rue des Aveugles you’ll find

Aedaen which consists of several venues:

an art gallery, brasserie which is fab for

lunch and dinner and has a cake boudoir,

the comptoir a dessert, with the most

amazing pastry-chef made fancies, pizza

restaurant and a secret bar. Aedaen place

is gorgeous inside and out, with a kind of

indoor jungle theme that is just lovely. The

dishes are delish with all fresh products

and a menu that changes every three days.

They even have a Friday comedy club

night, music nights, and cultural events.

This would be my go to place if I lived in


Opposite, the art gallery has a fabulous

collection. Locals love to go here to see the

exhibitions and have brunch at the


If you like pizzas, you’ll love their next door

pizzeria… but it’s the secret bar that I fell

head over heels for. It’s a French take on a

speakeasy, and I have to tell you I am not

allowed to reveal where it is but I am

cleared to tell you to go to the pizzeria to

find it. It’s the talk of the town, locals love it

when they find it. Known as the “Secret

Place” it’s open 7 days a week, it’s friendly

and welcoming and very cool, think

industrial chic combined with velvet

couches and chandeliers plus an erotic

cocktail list (yes erotic!)… go and find this

place but don’t tell them I told you about it!


Head to Place d’Austerlitz on the right bank

for bars the locals frequent. Try rue Klein

and quai des Pecheurs where there are bars

on boats.

This whole area has been recently

rejuvenated and if you came here five years

ago you won’t recognise it.

Inside track – a +700 year

old wine cellar/shop

Created in 1395 this wine cellar in

Strasbourg hospital car park is even older

than the hospices de Beaune. When the

hospital was founded, only the rich could

afford to pay for their care with money. So

the hospital took payment in wine and

vineyards, becoming the biggest owner of

vineyards in the region. Patients enjoyed

“wine therapy”, 2 litres of wine per day

each. Wine was lighter then with a 4-6%

alcohol content and it was cleaner than

drinking water, so it was seen as medicine.

Nowadays the hospital no longer owns

heaps of vineyards but it is THE place to

buy wine. The hospital did a deal with local

wine producers to allow them to mature

their finest wines in the renovated ancient

barrels. In return the producers gift the

cellar thousands of bottles of wine each

year which are sold to benefit the hospital.

Reach it via the hospital car park to

discover the oldest bottle of white wine in

the world, dating to 1472 - in fact they have

a whole barrel of it but assured me it’s not

drinkable! If you’re really lucky you’ll meet

Thibaud, a genial Frenchman who speaks

impeccable English with a strong

Australian accent and who will answer your

questions about wine and the cellar. Don’t

forget to buy a bottle to enjoy tout de suite

or take home - I had one of the best Pinot

Gris’ ever from here, matured in one of

those ancient barrels it was memorable at

10 euros a bottle.

Free visit during opening hours, you can

rent an audio guide (several languages) for

a 30 minute tour, group tours may be

booked in advance (in English), and wine

tasting on Portes-Ouvertes (special

opening days). www.vins-des-hospices-destrasbourg.fr/en/

Tips for souvenir hunters

If you’re after something to take home

from Strasbourg, don’t miss the year-round

Christmas shop. I went on a brilliant

summer’s day but it still felt like Christmas

inside this quirky store with its Christmas

trees and figurines! Un Noël en Alsace, 10

Rue des Dentelles.

Gingerbread: Head to the shop of Mireille

Oster to buy some of the best gingerbread

in town - she’s a 3rd generation maker and

travels around the world to source spices

for the gingerbread and biscuits which are

made to an original recipe. 14 rue des


You could also buy some of the local pretty

pottery, or kelsch (traditional linen cloth

from Alsace), tablecloths, heart-shaped

napkins. There are plenty of shops selling


Where to stay

Hotel Hannong in the centre of the city is

superb. The breakfast here is legendary,

when I mentioned to a hotelier in Mulhouse

that my next stop was Strasbourg and the

Hotel Hannong they raved about it, and

they weren’t wrong. I loved the juice bar

and smoothie bar where you can make

your own combo – or ask for help.

Everything about this hotel is designed to

cosset and pamper you. The bathroom

products are lovely, the comfiest bed,

nothing jars the eye or the senses from the

bedroom to the bathroom, bar and


How to get around

You can take the tram – get tickets from

vending machine on each platform or at the

tourist office.

How to get there

Train from Paris takes from 1hr 46 mins.

Useful websites

Strasbourg tourist Office; France. fr

When Louis XIV was pondering over how

to create the most magnificent palace the

world had ever seen, one that truly showed

off his glory and absolute power, he can’t

have had any idea just how many people

would tread in his footsteps and gaze in

wonder at his legacy. The Chateau of

Versailles is world famous but I promise

you, nothing you see on the TV or in

photos prepares you for the sheer absolute

golden glitz and glamour of the real thing.

It’s been on my bucket list for years,

decades even, so when I got the chance to

visit on a four-day guided tour, spending

three days at Versailles and ending with a

day at the chateau of Vaux le Vicomte, the

inspiration for Versailles, I was over the

moon. I went with The Cultural Travel

Company, an offshoot of Martin Randall

Tours well known for their gifted guides,

and it was without a doubt everything I’d

hoped for and more. Three days is just

about enough to get a really in depth,

insider view of the palace, gardens and

town - and with this tour you get access to

areas that the general public don’t.

The best bit though for me, was having a

guide who really knew the history and

details of Versailles so well. In this case it

was Tony Spawforth, the editor of a

fascinating book about Versailles, TV

presenter, historian and terrific storyteller.

His anecdotes of life at the castle and

knowledge of history married to day to day

life, the ordinary things that people did

during extraordinary times, made the visit

come to life in a truly special way.

The Chateau of Versailles

700 rooms, 1250 chimneys, 67 staircases

and 2000 windows – the chateau of

Versailles is monumental, a colossus of a

building. It was originally six storeys high,

but the top layers were levelled off in the

19th century.

Versailles has two facades - the Paris side and

the garden side. The Paris side is approached

by three wide avenues. They converge on

Places des Armes which, once a parade

ground, was paved over in the 19th century. We

all know it for its shimmering view of the

castle through golden gates, but in Louis XIV’s

time it was an important military palace and he

loved to review troops here. Underneath the

courtyard are the barracks where the guards

lived in a whole other underground world. It

was said that the smell from the soldiers

latrines was so bad that a layer of mastic was

smothered under the cobble stones - it was

apparently only partially successful. The whole

place was bristling with troops, this was the

seat of government and monarchy, security

was paramount. Though, as we all know, it

wasn’t up to the job.

During the French Revolution the famous

golden gates were ripped down. It might

surprise you to know that they were only

replaced with accurate reconstructions in the

1980s. You can see an original gate still

though - at the Potager du Roi, the king’s

vegetable garden, which is a short walk from

the palace and a must see if you’re in


Read more about it here on The Good Life

France website.

The gates were important, they defined

different areas, administration, residential and

the inner court. “If you didn’t have the right

clothes on, you didn’t get in, though you could

rent outfits at the palace” says Tony. Guards

as fashion police – forward thinking Versailles


If you’re lucky you’ll get to see the guts of the

castle in rooms where there is ongoing work,

the brick walls and ancient beams behind the

glitzy facade. It’s a reminder of the reality of

this place and how what you see is a façade.

The beautiful wood panelling on the walls is

detachable, during WWII it was removed and

hidden in a coal mine in the Pyrénées.

Life at Versailles

When Louis XIV made Versailles his home,

he wanted the aristocracy and nobles of

France to join him there. It was a way to

keep them from plotting against the royal

family as much as anything. But it wasn’t a

life of luxury. Rules for how to dress, where

to sit, what to say and where to be at

certain times were rigidly adhered to.

Even with more than a thousand fireplaces,

the castle was bitterly cold in winter. It was

recorded in 1695, that the King’s glass of

wine froze on the table as he sat dining

alone, watched by hundreds of courtiers. I

was amazed that the room where this

dinner ritual took place was quite small,

you can really imagine everyone squashed

in, eyes on the king and his heavily laden

table, stomachs rumbling, hot and bothered

in summer, shivering in winter!

We pretty much know what Louis XIV did

every day of his life as courtiers kept

copious records detailing the minutiae of

life at court right up until the king’s death

from gangrene.

It was rare for courtiers to have their own

kitchens so they would send their staff out

for food. A sort of shanty town grew around

the castle and there were food booths and

tuck shops on site.

The wings of the palace were essentially

apartments. Lots of records have survived

from the days when courtiers lived there,

there are logs of repairs and renovations

and plenty of complaints, a princess

without a bathroom, moaning about the

cold and the fact there was nowhere to


While in the winter it was wildly cold, in

the summer it was roaring hot. In the

King’s bedroom, sheets would be soaked

in water and hung over the windows to

try to cool it down.

The palace is a labyrinth of rooms and for

the royal family it was almost prison. It

was said that Marie Antoinette,

desperate for privacy would roam the

palace, going through room after room

locking doors behind her. One time a

lock broke and it took hours to find and

rescue her. Louis XVI liked to sit on the

roof of the chateau with a telescope

watching the comings and goings in the


Etiquette and snobbery ruled the lives of

all who lived there until the day when a

mob turned up demanding access to the

King and Queen. When they stepped

onto the balcony, Marie Antoinette

curtsied to the crowd, it was an

extraordinary thing to do. Within hours

the famous etiquette was destroyed.

The Trianons and the

Queen’s Hamlet

The grand Trianon was commissioned by

Louis XIV in 1670 and built by architect

Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1687. Today

it’s more 19th century in style than it was

at the time of the Bourbon royal family,

after being renovated by Empress Marie-

Louise, wife of Napoleon I and Marie-

Antoinette’s great-niece.

The Petit Trianon was built in the park of

the Grand Trianon was a gift to Marie

Antoinette from Louis XVI but was

originally built for Madame de

Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV.

The Petit Trianon later became a

favourite with Marie Antoinette to escape

the rigours of court life. She redesigned

the Trianon gardens and created a model

village round an artificial lake.

The gardens of Versailles

The gardens at the chateau provided time

out from the restrictions of courtly life. A

series of lockable garden rooms and grand

spaces with huge vistas were created.

Fetes could go on for several days at a time

in Louis XIV’s younger days. All in all there

was a mind boggling 25 square miles of

walled hunting park.

were thousands and thousands of pots of

flowers which were constantly being moved

about so that there were always flowers in

bloom. Deadheading was done vigilantly as

the king wanted only to see blooming,

healthy plants. Sometimes the scent was

so overwhelming it drove people inside.

Today those gardens can keep you busy

for hours and walking for miles – literally.

The King’s famous gardener André Le

Nôtre had an army of gardeners. There

Versailles after the French

Revolution and now

After the French Revolution, the

furnishings were sold off at knock-down

prices, the British royal family being keen

buyers. The castle was saved when locals

petitioned to keep it thinking that the royal

family might return one day. It was turned

into a rather innovative museum for the

day and was meticulously restored to look

just as it did on the morning of October 6

1789. Huge amounts of research have

been carried out and it is, says Tony, “a

work of extraordinary zeal and a miracle of

conservation”. In fact work is still ongoing,

when I visited, the bedroom of Louis XV, in

which he died of smallpox, was being


It’s still in some ways a working palace.

Queen Elizabeth II stayed at the petite

Trianon when she visited Versailles, and

high profile government meetings still take

place here.

Left: street in

Versailles with a nod

to the past; above

cake at the market,

seriously one of the

best markets in


Versailles town

The town of Versailles is well worth your

time. If it were anywhere else, it would be

famous for its splendid houses and grand

buildings even without the Chateau, but,

overshadowed by the monumental castle,

it’s easy to miss the fact that there is

history everywhere and lots to see and do.

While you’re there don’t miss the fantastic

Versailles market. How it hasn’t been voted

top market in France is beyond me. Marché

Notre Dame was created in the early 1600s

and it’s the second largest food market in

France. Open every day except Monday, it's

brimming with shoppers. The smell of

spices, oranges, cooked chickens and

fantastic street food is superb. Go through

the historic pavilions which serve as indoor

markets and on the other side discover little

squares lined with cafés full of locals.

Versailles is one of those places you have

to see for yourself, truly astonishing and


The Cultural Travel Company’s tours

take place in France and Europe. The

Versailles tour includes coach travel

from Paris Nord station, hotel and

welcome meal and a brilliant guide. I

travelled solo as did several other

guests on the tour but left with several

new friends. I can’t recommend this

tour highly enough.

Le Weekend in Dijon

Dijon is absolutely perfect for a fun weekend away. Immerse yourself in

history, art, culture and enjoy scrumptious food and exquisite wine in

this gorgeous city says Janine Marsh...

If you like your cities to be filled with beautiful, historic buildings. If you love fantastic

food and wonderful wines. And if you love museums, galleries, sitting at terraced cafés

watching the world go by as you sip a delicious local wine, a fabulous street market,

great wine bars and a vibrant friendly vibe – then add Dijon to your must see list. This

amazing city has all these things by the bucket load… and more.

First of all, get your comfy shoes on because this is a city that’s just perfect for a flâner,

the French term for wandering and just soaking it all in…

Cobbled streets, grand squares, half-timbered houses, a huge palace, narrow alleyways

lined with medieval buildings and even a magic owl. But, this is a small city so don’t

worry, you won’t have to walk too far or too long to fit it all in. There’s something to see

on every corner…

What to do in Dijon

Rub the magic owl and make a wish

On the wall of the medieval 13th century Notre

Dame church is a small stone owl. No one knows

why he’s there and to be honest, you can hardly

tell he’s an owl because for centuries the locals

and passers by have rubbed their left hand over

him for luck. If you don’t know he’s there it looks

very odd, as people will be just walking along

and suddenly veer over to the wall, put their left

hand up, rub and carry on…

Don’t forget to look up when you get to the front

of the church, there’s an extraordinary clock on

top. Four metal automatons strike the hours.

Jacquemart was the first to arrive. He came from

Belgium in 1382. Jacqueline was added to keep

him company in 1651. In 1714 they had a boy -

Jacquelinet and in 1844 Jacquelinette, a girl.

Pick up a leaflet from the tourist office for the owl

trail (Parcours de la Chouette). It indicates 22

markers of historic sites, it takes around 2 hours

at a relaxed pace, and you’ll get to see the main

sites of Dijon.

Palace of the Dukes and

States of Burgundy

The former colossal residence of

the immensely wealthy Dukes of

Burgundy and seat of government

in the region under the Ancien

Régime (pre French Revolution).

It’s an imposing sight which

makes the Place de la Liberation

where it is, all the more exquisite.

It now houses the town hall, the

ancient kitchens can be visited

and there are courtyards you can

use to make your way round

Dijon or simply to sit and enjoy

the views.

Musée de Beaux Arts

The Palais des Ducs also home to the

magnificent and monumental Museum of

Fine Arts. Like all public museums in Dijon

it’s free to enter. You reach it via the lavish

hall of the tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy,

formerly the guards room, and that is your

first inkling of just what a treat you’re in for.

Jewels of 15th century funerary art, the

tombs of Philip the Bold and John the

Fearless are extraordinary with their

namesakes represented by lifelike statues

held up by incredibly detailed Mourners. I

could stare at them for hours as the more

you look, the more you see.

The museum has around 50 rooms of

priceless treasures dating from antiquity to

modern day with some fabulous works by

Yan Pei- Ming, Monet, Manet and so many

renowned artists it’s magnicent. I loved the

religious artworks, the detail is astonishing

and so well preserved they look as they did

hundreds of years ago.

The museum has undergone a major

update and reopened in May 2019. Director

David Liot told me that the renovation was

a challenge “it’s a heritage space so we had

to be very careful but it was dingy before

and we needed to make it accessible to all”.

The flow of the exhibits is vastly improved,

there are two new spaces and the rooms

are filled with light so you can truly

appreciate the artworks. The walls are

coloured to enhance the feel and look, I

loved the Pinot Noir colour – it really made

the paintings pop. Don’t miss this one –

you’ll be missing out on an incredible

opportunity to see one of the finest

museums in France (for free).

Musée Rude

His name might not ring a bell but

you almost certainly know of his

work. Francois Rude, son of Dijon

(1784-1855) was the sculptor of La

Marseillaise on the Arc de Triomphe

amongst much else. You can see

some of his main works in the form

of casts in the museum dedicated to

him in the former Saint Etienne

Church (free to enter). It is a quite

beautiful place.

Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne

Just one more museum you mustn’t

miss though there are several more.

If you can, squeeze in a visit to the

quirky Museum of Burgundian Life

(free). The reconstructions of 19th

and early 20th century Burgundian

shops are brilliant – hat shops,

photography, chemists, filled with

bits and pieces from the day.

Place de la Libération

This is essentially the main

courtyard of the Dukes of Burgundy

and it has to be one of the biggest in

France. It’s set out on a semi-circular

arrangement so that wherever you

are, you’re facing the palace. It was

designed by Hardouin-Mansart, the

architect of Versailles, and built by

one of his pupils, Robert de Cotte,

between 1686 and 1701. Lined with

restaurants, shops and bars, it’s as

big a hit with the locals as it is with

visitors. It doesn’t matter if you go

first thing in the morning as I did and

sat sipping coffee watching a lone

pigeon waddling about, or in the day

or evening, as I did with an aperitif

watching kids play in the fountains,

listening to church bells ring and

enjoying the sight of people simply

enjoying the square.

Les Halles – The covered market

This has to be one of the best markets in all

of France. The covered market is stunning –

all wrought iron and wide open spaces. It’s

said to have been inspired by son of Dijon,

Gustave Eiffel. The smells, the sights, the

sounds – they’re as much a cultural

experience as any museum. Stop off at the

stall of Le Gourmet Traiteur for a treat and a

true taste of Dijon. Run by three chefs who

make everything from pies to tarts, cakes to

gingerbread and even a gateau moelleux

(sounds like cake and it is but with a snail

filling, bit of an acquired taste if you ask


I had to be dragged away from their

nonnettes. The market spills out into the

streets around and if you like food, you’ll

love the quality produce here. This market

made me want to live in Dijon.

Open Tuesday, Thursday (inside only),

Friday, Saturday

Visit a gingerbread museum

Channel your inner Hansel and Gretel and

head to Mulot & Petitjean’s gingerbread

museum and factory. It’s just outside the

city centre, a 20 minute walk or take the

bus which takes a few minutes. The

presentations take you through the history

of the firm, founded in 1796, and gingerbread

with some innovative museography –

portraits which come to life and a collection

of artefacts. You also get to see the gingerbread

being made (unless you’re there on a

machine cleaning day). Afterwards enjoy

the gorgeous vintage shop and if you want

to take home a memorable treat, take a

trolley as the 6kg gingerbread cake is not

easy to get in your handbag I discovered.

Tour Philippe le Bon

For a panoramic view over the city, climb the

316 steps of the 15th century Tour Le

Philippe le Bon. It’s said that on a clear day

you can see Mont Blanc.

Le Consortium

Art lovers will adore this contemporary art

venue in a former cassis factory. More than

400 pieces in an ever growing collection

which dates mainly from the 1970s. It’s a a

thought provoking selection. Don’t miss

the book shop with its innovative moveable

bookshelves and reading area. Le

Consortium publishes around 50 art books

a year. And if you’re lucky enough to be

there on a day when they have a cinema

showing in their private cinema or a music

event – you’re in for a treat.

Dijon Mustard

You didn’t think I’d get through talking

about Dijon without mentioning mustard

did you? They’re very keen on it here! You

can visit a mustard shop, or several, for

your tangy fix. I fell in love with the taste

bar at Moutard Edmund Fallot with its

mouth-watering mixes: cassis, pinot noire

and basil to mention just a few. They even

had mustard dispensing machines, pop in

a euro, pick your favourite and out pops a

dinky little pot of yummy mustard.

Bibliotheque Patrimoniale

Harry Potter fan? You’ll love the city library.

Once a Jesuits College, it became a library

in the 17th century and groups can take a

tour of the whole building with its beautiful

wood panelled rooms and painted ceilings.

Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin

visited and loved the enormous 18th

century globe. There are more than

500,000 books, the earliest of which date

back to the 9th century. There’s also a

specialist collection of food books and

menus. Anyone can access the reading

room – it has a Hogwarts feel to it, as if

Harry Potter might be under the twinkling

lights, studying for his wizard’s exam.

Now all this culture and fabulous sites are

sure to make you hungry. Lucky for you,

you’re in the perfect city to indulge – Dijon

is a feast for the senses in every way.

Dijon’s incredible gastronomic scene

Dijon is foodie central, seriously it’s all anyone talks about here – or at least that’s what it

feels like. People in Dijon LOVE good food so there are plenty or restaurants from

Michelin starred Loiseau des Ducs to budget cafés.

Restaurants the locals love for lunch

Brasserie des Beaux arts: Savvy locals have

sussed this one out in it’s superb location

inside the courtyard of the Musée des

Beaux Arts in the former Ducal palace. Chef

Fred Guilland says “Regional, seasonal,

weather, local products - these are my

guides” as he prepares exquisite dishes for

the lunch time crowd. He uses incredible

spices in his classic and creative dishes

and personally visits the farms where the

produce comes from. “Knowing where the

food comes from is essential to happy

cooking” he says, and yes, this place did

make me happy. Very happy.

Maison Milliére: In a former house built in

1438 you will find a rather wonderful

restaurant and shop. Run by affable

husband and wife team Lydia and Jean

Francois Lieutet, there’s an upstairs,

downstairs and gorgeous little courtyard for

a sunny day. Tea room, open for lunch

Tuesday-Sunday, dinner Friday, Saturday it

is superb. Fans of Cyrano de Bergerac will

recognise it from the film. It’s a listed

historical monument, authentic and


Restaurants the locals love for dinner

L’Essentiel: This is one tourists rarely, if

ever discover since it’s not right in the

centre but a very short walk away. This is

where the locals go, lured by the delicious

dishes of chef Richard Bernigaud whose

deft hand creates memorable and

delectable flavours. The menu is terrific

value, the ingredients are top quality,

friendly service, and if I lived in Dijon, this

would be my go to restaurant.

Sitting at Le Pre aux Clercs Brasserie par

Georges Blanc, in the big, light Place de la

Liberation with a glass of good local wine

induces happiness. Listening to the tinkling

fountain, the low hum of people talking and

laughing, enjoying al fresco happy hour,

knowing that you’ve got a delicious dinner

coming up. Brilliant.

Dine outside on a fine day, inside with its

elegant interior when it’s cooler. This place

serves classic dishes with aplomb. I went for

the traditional, eggs poached in Pinot Noir,

boeuf bourguignon – seriously good, and a

really welcoming restaurant too.

Brilliant bars

If you like your cocktails served with finesse in a

memorable location (a 13th century mansion no

less), Monsieur Moutarde is THE place to go.

Seek out the terrace area (go through the bar),

it’s gorgeous and if you go early evening you’ll

have it almost to yourself (I went at 17.30). There

are little enclaves, a vintage looking interior and

a long list of cocktails.

Place de la Liberation has some terrific bars and

is great for people watching. If you like live

music, try Le Pop Art.

Place Francois Rude is another great people

watching place. Known to locals as Place du

Bareuzai, because of the statue of a grape picker

atop the fountain in the centre of the square. In

years gone by wine growers would tread the

grapes by foot which would give them “red

stockings” (“bas rosés”/bareuzai).

For a lunch time bevvy there are lots of bars

around the Les Halles covered market.

For sheer wow factor the bar of the Théâtre

Dijon Bourgogne takes some beating. It’s In the

former 15th century church of Saint Jean which is

now a theatre.

Dr Wine is popular with locals into wine, a bit

bobo (bourgeois- bohemian French for middle

class!. It’s very designer with a lovely courtyard

in a posh mansion house (5 rue Musette)

Where to stay

I stayed at the Residence Le Pré aux

Clercs, right in the heart of the city. From

here it's literally a 10 second walk to the

Place de la Libération. A boutique B&B

with just five rooms, including top floor

suite, I loved feeling like a local staying

here and being so close to the centre of

everything yet in a quiet side street.

Lovely breakfast provided in the

restaurant next door.

Getting around

There’s a good tram system and buses


How to get there

The train from Paris takes just 1.5 hours

so it's an easy day trip destination. But,

you don’t want to just go for one day –

two is much better as there’s simply so

much to see and do.

Useful websites

Dijon tourist office; Burgundy tourist

office; www.france.fr

12 food specialities you should try in Dijon

- Boeuf bourguignon – here’s how to make

this classic dish at home

- Ouefs en meurette, eggs poached in wine.

- Jambon persille, ham with a jellied, herby


- Gingerbread – interesting fact, it’s made

with anis, not ginger!

- Nonettes – here’s how to make “little

nuns” cakes at home

- Poulet Gaston Gerrard - story of how the

mayor of Dijon invited people for dinner

and his wife cooked chicken dish but

messed up the recipe. She mixed mustard,

cream and Comte cheese ... here’s how to

make it at home.

- Brioche with pink praline

- Kir with Cassis made with white wine, Kir

Royale with Champagne and Cassis (a

blackcurrant liqueur of Burgundy).

- Brillat Savarin, soft cheese, created in

1890 and made year round in Burgundy.

- Epoisses, a very smelly cheese,

apparently Napoleon Bonaparte's


- Burgundy snails…

- Gougeres – okay they may not have

originated here but – the people of Dijon

absolutely love them and the boulangeries

all stock them because alongside

gingerbread, they’re de rigeur with aperitifs

in Dijon!

Opera Garnier

the Versailles of

Opera Houses

History of the Paris Opera

Palais Garnier, Opéra National de Paris or

Opéra Garnier, or more known commonly

as the Paris Opera, is generally considered

to be one of the most important buildings

in Paris.

It’s actually not as old as you might think.

In 1860, the city of Paris held a contest to

choose a design for the new opera house. It

was at a time when Paris was undergoing

huge change under the direction of

Georges-Eugène Haussmann, commonly

known as Baron Haussman. Napoleon III

appointed him to carry out a massive urban

renewal programme in Paris. More than 170

designs were submitted and Charles

Garnier, just 35 years old, was the winner.

Born in rue Mouffetard, Paris, in 1825 he

was formally educated but unknown. The

opera house opened in January 1875 and it

was to make him internationally famous.

In creating Palais Garnier, he crafted the

architectural style of the Second Empire.

When Empress Eugénie, perplexed by the

building's lack of unity, asked him: “What is

this style? This is no style, it is not Greek or

Louis XVI”, Garnier replied “No, those styles

are all outdated, this is Napoleon III”.

It wasn’t an easy project. During the course

of its construction delays were caused by

the discovery of an underground lake, a war

in 1870, the Siege of Paris and fall of the

Second Empire. Napoleon III died two years

before the work was finished.

The Paris Opera company founded by Louis

XIV in 1669 moved here, its 13th home, on 15

January 1875. It was an enormous success

and became the showpiece of Haussman’s

new Paris. To this day it is one of the largest

theatres of the world with 1,979 seats.

The Versailles of Opera


Opulent, ornamental, gleaming, glamorous

and glitzy – wow factor galore is what the

Opera is all about both inside and out. The

moment you enter its doors to the grand,

mirrored foyers, designed for the rich to

see and be seen, there’s no doubting that

this was meant to be a statement building.

One of the most famous aspects of the

building is the Grand Staircase built from

white marble, with beautiful mellow

lighting, sculptures and lots of gold – it’s

utterly breath-taking and a theatrical

setting. Though, if you visit in 2019 you

might find the sight of two gold painted

tractor tyres a bit bizarre. They’re part of a

modern art installation by French artist

Claude Lévêque to celebrate 350 years of

the Paris Opera. Not all who see it are

enthralled. It’s not the first time that Palais

Garnier has caused controversy with its art


In 1964, the ceiling of the auditorium was

updated with a painting by Marc Chagall.

So great was the criticism at this choice

that the original painting by Eugene

Lenepveu was retained underneath it.

Chagall's secret message in

the ceiling

The ceiling painted by Marc Chagall is now

considered one of the wonders of Paris and

countless thousands have stood looking in

awe at the incredible colours and images.

Recently a secret was revealed in the

painting. The Google Art Project which

designs the most powerful cameras in the

world and photographs major artworks

around the world, captured images of

Chagall’s painting. They invited Chagall’s

son to review the images and he told them

that his father had told him that he had

painted him as a baby, but he had never

been able to see the image despite looking

for many years.

Opera cake

In 1955 great French pastry chef

Cyriaque Gavillon worked at the

legendary Dalloyau bakery in Paris,

trading since 1682 and supplier to

the court of Versailles. Gavillon, a

genius with patisserie, wanted to

make something that, in taking one

bite, would give a taste of the whole

cake. He worked on layers and

tastes and came up with a

wonderfully sophisticated cake.

Made with layers of almond sponge

cake (known as Biscuit Joconde -

Mona Lisa - in French) soaked in

coffee syrup, layered with ganache

and coffee buttercream, and

covered in a chocolate glaze. His

wife told him it reminded her of the

Paris Opera House, with its golden

balconies and deep red velvet

seating. The Opera cake was born.

The Google team zoomed in on the photos

and incredibly, after more than 50 years

the image was revealed, a tiny baby, the

son of Chagall (above left) an emotional

moment for the grown-up son.

Below it hangs an enormous, 340 light, 7-

ton bronze and crystal chandelier designed

by Garnier. In 1896 a counterweight, used to

lift it for cleaning, fell into the audience and

killed a theatre-goer. It was partly this

which inspired the famous tale of the

Phantom of the opera by Gaston Leroux in

1910. In fact go there today and you’ll see a

door marked for the Phantom’s box!

The stage is the largest in Europe and can

hold up to 450 artists! When you visit there

are often rehearsals ongoing so you can’t

always get into the auditorium all the time

but may have to wait to see it. In the Grand

Foyer, lined with mirrors and lights is just

like the Gallery of Mirrors at Versailles, and

it’s easy to imagine it in the 19th century,

thronging with jewelled, wide gowned

ladies and top-hatted gents. It was as much

then, if not more so, about showing off your

wealth as it was about seeing an opera.

You can take a tour (self-guided or guided)

to enjoy it in all its splendour and of course

you can see an opera there – but book in

advance, tickets sell like hot cakes!

How and where to get tickets from: There

are a wide range of performances year

round from ballet and opera, both classical

to modern and a range of prices from 15

Euros to hundreds of Euros.

Book online at: www.operadeparis.fr

Guided tours take place in English each day

at 11:00 and 14:30. Reserve online at Opéra

Garnier or via tour companys like Cultival.

Fans of Escape Game might like to know

you can take part in an immersive journey

in the footsteps of the Phantom of the

Opera, animated by actors in period

costume! Book online at OperadeParis

Spotlight on


The town of Cognac in the Charente department, south west France makes for a

great visit. Especially if you love cognac. And historic towns, gorgeous countryside,

sitting at cafés watching the world go by says Janine Marsh


The name cognac is famous the world over

for the fine French brandy made from white

wine grapes. And, as you’d expect, cognac

the drink is a major part of visiting the town

of Cognac. There are several important

cognac houses and a dedicated museum

plus discovery centre.

The origin of cognac dates back to the 16th

century when Dutch settlers visited to

purchase salt, wood, and wine. As the long

journey home made preserving the wine

difficult, they started to distil the wine into

eau-de-vie and they realized a second

distillation made for an even finer, more

elegant and very drinkable product. This is

essentially the birth of brandy. The word

“brandy” comes from the Dutch word

“brandewijn” which means burnt wine.

Brandy can be made all over the world, but

only brandy made in the Cognac region of

France and under the strictest guidelines,

can be called “cognac.” It is made from

white wine, using only very specific types of

grapes grown in one of the six crus

surrounding the town of Cognac in the

Charente and Charente-Maritime regions of

France. It’s distilled twice and aged in casks

for a minimum amount of two years.

Cognac the town

Cognac is a pretty town with a “City of Art

and History” label. It’s easy to spend a day

here wandering it’s ancient streets, taking

in the sights, relaxing by the river and

indulging in the local cuisine. The town has

a feeling of peacefulness, prosperity and

good living.

A great starting point is Place Francois

1er, a big square, lined with shops and

bars. It’s a great place to grab a coffee,

or cognac and watch the life of Cognac

going on, before you start a walking

tour of the town. It’s named after King

Francis 1 of France, who was born here

in 1515 (more on that later). It has in its

time had several names and was even

the site of a pig market for a while.

You can take a guided tour with the

tourist office or just amble. It’s not a big

town and easy to see on foot. There are

some beautiful old houses, fabulous

shops ranging from gourmet food to

fashion and art. The Jardin Public

makes for a great picnic spot with its

pretty fountains and peacocks

wandering about. There’s a Museum of

Art and History in a beautiful building

with a collection of paintings and

sculptures as well as a Museum

dedicated to cognac,

Le Musee des Arts du


If you want to know about cognac the

drink as well as the region, the Museum

of the Arts of Cognac is a great place to

start. You’ll discover all there is to know

about the creation of cognac and the

area in which it is made. There are

thousands of objects to bring the story

to life as well as a rather fascinating

selection of posters and labels.

Nip next door to the Discovery centre to

find out all about the heritage of

Cognac and the Charente area. You’ll

get a great overview of how cognac

came to be, the different areas of

cognac production, the vineyards,

landscape and villages.

Then continue your walk down to the

riverside. Wide open spaces, beautiful

old warehouses and some of the major

cognac houses are in this part of the

Cognac in Cognac

You can’t go to Cognac and not do a tour

and tasting. There are loads of options

including Hennessy, Remy Martin and

Martell. Just check at the tourist office for

details of all that are available in the town

and the surrounding countryside.

One of the best tours is to be had at the

Chateau Royal de Cognac.. It is an

extraordinary visit of a majestic building –

plus there’s a fabulous tasting…

Royal Chateau de Cognac

The Royal Chateau de Cognac overlooks

the Charente river and was originally a 10th

century fortress, designed to stop Norman

invasions. Home to noblemen it was where

one of France’s most celebrated kings,

Francis I was born in 1515. It’s now the

domaine of Baron Otard, whose cognac

house was founded in 1795. The chateau

then was in a state of neglect and the

Baron had it restored and realised that the

thick walls provide exceptional aging

conditions for his eau-de-vie.

Guided tours of the chateau are divided into

two parts, French history and Baron Otard

cognacs. (It's available in several

languages). Tours begin in the historic part

of the chateau, then onto the cellars.

You can smell the cognac as you walk

through the doors of the 12th century rooms

above the cellars.

The castle is wonderfully preserved, you’ll

see the remains of a 12th century hot water

system and the room where King Richard

the Lionheart came to bless the wedding of

his illegitimate son Philip of Cognac. There

are sculptures and engravings, early style

Renaissance rooms – in fact it’s said that

the French Renaissance was born here.

In some rooms there are engravings carved

into the walls by English prisoners which

are fascinating.

Cognac fact file

Only brandy made in the Cognac region of France

and under the strictest guidelines, may be called


V.S. (Very Special): stored for at least two years in


V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale): stored for at least

four years in a cask.

XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon: stored for at least six

years in a cask

Hors d’âge (literally meaning Beyond Age): equal to

XO, term is used by producers to market a highquality

product beyond the official age scale.

Use a tulip- shaped or balloon glass. to capture

cognac’s subtle aromas.

The ideal temperature to serve cognac is between

15 and 18ºC (59 to 64.4°F); too warm and it will

evaporate and lose taste and flavour.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s favourite drink was cognac.

Down in the cellars the 90% humidity and

constant 15 deg C temperature are perfect

condition for the spiders that are part of the

cycle of production. The cognac is matured

in wooden barrels, the spiders eat the bugs

in the wood and keep it clean. Cognac

evaporates through the wood and causes a

blackened fungus to form on the walls and

ceiling called “the angels share”, the locals

joke that the spiders are drunk in here!

The room where Francis 1 was baptised as

a baby, more than 500 years ago, is now

the dry cellar room. There are sniff tables

where you can really tell the difference

between the different types of cognac

In the dungeons are the oldest bottles of

cognac dating back 200 years. It’s a totally

fascinating visit only made better by the

tasting at the end of the tour!

Eating out in Cognac

Locals love: Le Bistro de Claude. Fresh food

and a tasty menu, great atmosphere and

lots of cognac to choose from! Friendly

staff, English spoken and full of locals who

know a great restaurant when they see


Wine and dine: Atelier des Quais. From the

door just off the main bridge, you might not

realise just how lovely this place is. If you

enter the door from the quayside opposite

the towers of the Chateau Royal, it’s

obvious you’re somewhere special. Go for

coffee, tapas, cocktails and for the fabulous

lunch or dinner menu. The courtyard with

its twinkling lights at night is truly lovely.

Poulpette, in the Saint-Jacques district is a

unique and lovely tiny restaurant with a nochoice

menu. The chef cooks whatever is

freshest and most appealing to him; it’s

creative and authentic.

Chez Aristide, in the pedestrian zone of Old

Town, traditional, regional menu with a

fresh twist. Casual and hip with a nice


Chai Meukow, a restaurant within the

Cognac House Meukow in the centre of

town. Lunch only with a no-choice menu

that’s fabulous. Reservation is obligatory

(online at their website) you can also do a

tour and tasting.

Gourmet specialities: Le Gourmet

Charentaise. A terrific selection of local

specialities and amazing liqueurs and

cognacs. I spent 45 minutes in here

admiring the heaving shelves and checking

out the goods some of which I’ve never

seen anywhere else. Seriously drool-worthy

and perfect for souvenirs to take home (if

they make it!)… (22 rue du canton)

Where to stay

Quai des Pontis is situated in the heart of

Cognac, on the Charente River. It’s a

magical setting with three different types of

accommodation from gypsy caravans to

cabins on stilts on the river’s edge and cosy

wooden lodges. They’re all equipped with

mod cons such as DVD’s, LCD television

sets, Nespresso machines.

But it’s the natural beauty of the resort that

makes it a knockout location and really

brings it home that the countryside laps

right up to the edges of the town. There’s

loads to do here from fishing, swimming,

exploring the surrounding countryside or

the short walk into town,.

Discover what’s on and things to do in

Cognac at www.tourism-cognac.com.

More on the local area: www.infinimentcharentes.com/;



Le Touquet Paris-Plage

The "Monaco" of Northern


Le Touquet is a small seaside resort on the beautiful Opal Coast of northern France.

Architecturally it has a mix of British Edwardian and French Belle Epoque styles.

Combined with a zest for outdoor living (and its own microclimate), swanky shops and

excellent bars and restaurants. It’s a brilliant place for a weekend break (or longer). With

loads of activities from water sports, a historic golf course, horse riding in the sand

dunes, tennis and much more. You seriously won’t want for things to do here.

History of Le Touquet

Le Touquet was named Paris-Plage by

Hippolyte de Villemessant, the founder of

Le Figaro in the 1800s because it was so

popular with Parisians who loved its

forests for hunting, shooting and fishing.

In the 1880s, British visitor Sir John Whitby

decided to develop the town targeting rich

Britons and the upper classes. Le Touquet

became a town in 1912 and is known in

France as the “Monaco of the north”. Right

from the start it attracted the wealthy and

the famous from around the world, lured

by its beautiful villas, world class hotels

and penchant for fitness and sports.

The great British writer H G Wells (Time

Machine) eloped here in 1909. Noël

Coward, P G Wodehouse, Marlene Dietrich,

Edith Piaf, Cecil Beaton and Ian Fleming all

holidayed here – the latter based his iconic

Bond, 007, story “Casino Royale” on Le

Touquet’s casino. Serge Gainsbourg got

his first singing break here, singing at

Flavio restaurant (it’s still there), Sean

Connery signed his first James Bond

contract in the town. The list is endless for

those who have fallen for its charms. And

it continues: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt

are fans!

Le Touquet today

Architecrurally, not that much has changed

though the biggest difference of the last

100 years is the disappearance of the

Royal Picardy Hotel.

Opened in 1930 it was a magnet for the

wealthiest people. It was at the time the

biggest hotel in the world with more than

500 rooms and apartments so large they

had their own swimming pools – 50 of

them. There were 120 public lounges and

more bars and restaurants than anyone

can remember. Cole Porter stayed here and

wrote “Anything Goes” on the piano at the

casino across the road. It was majestic,

splendid and grandiose on a supersize

scale. Alas it was destroyed during WWII

and what remains is now apartments and


The grand villas and Belle Epoque market,

the casinos and the fabulous Westminster

Hotel, the tennis courts and swimming

pools, golf resort Inaugurated by British

Prime Minister Lord Balfour in 1904) and

horse racecourse all remain and if Winston

Churchill was to return (as he so often did),

he would still recognise it from its glory


What to see in Le Touquet

There’s a 7km long beach of soft white

sand with pretty little beach huts, a water

theme park on the beach with heated pools

and a choice of spas are on offer. Climb the

274 step lighthouse for jaw-dropping views

over the countryside and coast.

Take the little train ride around Le Touquet

to view some of the magnificent turreted

buildings in the town and the forest on the

outskirts of the centre.

The streets are filled with chic French

boutiques where you can buy Donna Karen

and Chanel alongside less expensive but

equally stylish brands. There are specialist

food shops, chocolatiers, wine caves and

some of the best patisseries I’ve ever come

across in France. Head to rue Metz for

gourmet cakes, marshmallow creations,

artisan chocolate, and artisan food shops

that are simply irresistible.

The Saturday morning market in a listed

covered art deco market is superb.

Golf course La Mer (18 holes) is rated in the

top one 100 courses in continental Europe

and has fabulous views over the sea, plus a

great clubhouse. There’s also La Foret (18

holes) and Le Manoir (9 holes). Golf Le

Touquet is an open golf club and attracts

players from all over Europe. There’s a

friendly atmosphere and rumour has it a

certain golf loving British Royal prince is to

be seen on one of the courses from time to


There’s also a yacht club that’s open to all,

boat rides, sailing lessons, tennis centre

with more than 30 courts. And if you need

a bit of a pick me up, try the Thalasso

Therapy Spa right on the beach, created by

Tour de France rider Louison Bobbet and

located in the avenue named after him. The

famous seaweed treatments will have you

feeling sparkling and sprightly.

And, when you want to take a break, there

are excellent restaurants from the Michelin

starred Le Pavillon in the Westminster

Hotel to the famous fish restaurant Chez

Perard (Lord Alan Sugar’s favourite, he’s

often seen in there) to bistros specialising

in classic French dishes.

Don’t miss: Horse riding in the dunes

Horse riding along the beach and in the

dunes is just about as much fun as it’s

possible to have. It doesn’t matter if you’ve

never ridden a horse in your life, now’s the

time to start. I went to the Centre Equestre

on Avenue de la Dune aux loups and

booked a one hour walk with a horse (pony

rides are available for kids separately).

With my two daughters who’d never been

on a horse, we had an orientation session

then set off for the beach. With the wind

blowing in our hair, we followed the walk

leader and got to see a different side to this

town, wilder and less manicured than the

posh centre, the waves lapped the beach

around the horses feet, they clearly loved it.

And so did we.

With more than 400 events a year ranging

from wine tasting and book fairs, concerts

with international acts, to the Women’s

Open Tennis and Enduropal race set up by

Thierry Sabine who also founded the Paris-

Dakkar race, season in France, and month

long Christmas festivities – Le Touquet is a

year-round superb weekend destination.

And very moreish. You’ll always want to go


Useful websites:

Tourist Office: http://gb.letouquet.com/

Equestrian Centre: centre-equestreletouquet.ffe.com/

Racecourse Le Touquet: www.hippodromeletouquet.com/



A town for all season

Montreuil sur mer

Around an hour from the port town of

Calais, Montreuil-sur-Mer is a perfect

weekend destination as well as a great

stop off point for travellers going to and

from the UK. Easy to reach from the A16

main auto route, coming here offers a slice

of history and gastronomy as this little

town is home to a superb Michelin star

restaurant and a dozen truly excellent

brasseries, restaurants and cafés.

There are plenty of hotels and chambre

d’hotes. If you’re after a special stay and a

special meal, the 4 Star Chateau de

Montreuil definitely fits the bill. This

gorgeous little manor house has 10

charming bedrooms, each different and

each special - from medieval style with a 4-

poster bed to Chanel-like elegance. The

views from every room are fabulous.

Owned by renowned chef Christian

Germain, understandably the restaurant is

a big lure and dishes are of the classic

French style. An aperitif and nibbles in the

gorgeous salon are de rigeur on a cool day

with a big roaring fire. If the sun’s out, the

landscaped gardens are exquisite.

From here you can easily walk around the

ramparts of the citadel, following in the

footsteps of Hugo who sat under a plane

tree in 1837 dreaming up the story of Les

Miserables. The view is largely unchanged.

In Place Darnetal, the chocolate boutique,

complete with chandelier, is hard to ignore

with its handmade chocolates tempting you

from the windows. Walk to the left and

you’ll arrive in Place Gambetta where you’ll

find the Chapelle St Nicolas rebuilt by

Clovis Normand, a pupil of Violet le Duc.

You’ll also find the Abbatiale St Saulve

which was part of a much bigger building

from the 12th century. Montreuil-sur-Mer

takes its name from the Latin word

monasteriolum’ meaning small monastery.



The town had a strong religious history

attracting many pilgrims. Long before that,

it was a Roman town.

Over the years Montreuil-sur-Mer has seen

its fair share of dramatic events including a

serious earthquake in the 15th century,

invasion by the armies of Emperor Charles

Quint, a siege by Henry VIII of England and

acting as headquarters for General Haig

during World War I. A statue of him astride

his horse sits before the town theatre,

made by Paul Landowski (whose best

known work is Christ the Redeemer in Rio

de Janeiro).

Just to the right as you face General Haig is

a fabulous boulangerie - Le Grémont, a

contender in the best baker in France

competition. Here, the speciality loaf is

called a Valjean, named after the character

in Les Miserables, who in the book had a

factory in Montreuil-sur-Mer. Just across

the road is Fromagerie Caseus, a cheese

shop that attracts cheese lovers from far

and wide to buy its absolutely superb

selection. There are plenty of local

specialities from stinky Maroilles to

sublime Sire de Crequy.

The large central square, named after

General de Gaulle is lined with bars,

restaurants and shops. On a Saturday

morning it bursts into life as the weekly

market lures shoppers from all over the


Head to the little rue du Clape en Bas for a

tranquil aperitif, or a delicious snack in one

of the tiny cafés.

Then continue your walk of discovery

heading back towards the Citadel to take a

tour of the ancient buildings and visit the

town museum.

The fortified gates date to the beginning of

the 13th century as do several towers which

once provided protection to what was a

port town – hence the name sur Mer (on

sea). There’s no sea there now, in fact

Victor Hugo wrote that he was a bit miffed

about it! But over the centuries the estuary

from the channel which led up to the steep

walls of Montreuil silted up and now the

waves are some 10km away in Le Touquet.

This was one of the first citadels built in

France, commissioned by Charles IX in

1567. It was improved by Vauban, Louis

XIV’s engineer and now houses part of the

collection of the Roger Rodière Museum of

France and is a classified site for the

protection of bats.

Each year the townsfolk of Montreuil dress

up to the nines and put on a most amazing

show – Les Miserables performed on the

ramparts by a cast of some 500 locals,

accompanied by cannon and horses. It’s an

absolutely brilliant event, professional but

heart felt.

While you're here - eat. Seriously –

Montreuil-sur-Mer, “Destination

Gastronomique”, really is that good. There

are regular food and wine festivals and lots

of really excellent restaurants.

Locals love Froggys which specialises in

rotisserie, Le Caveau (terrific brasserie fare

and scrumptious Flemish pizzas), Anecdote,

industrial chic décor and a fabulous menu,

Bistronome for great steak frites. Walk off

the calories round this picturesque little

town or take a turn around the ramparts

which takes about 40 minutes.

Useful websites:




Hosts, Goats and Chambres d

British stand-up comedian, mod, expat, goat whisperer (maybe) - and now Chambre

d’hote host, Ian Moore’s unique insights into life in the Loire Valley will make you laugh

out loud…

There’s a point in my first or second book,

probably both, where my wife, Natalie, and I

sit down and have one of those ‘The future,

what shall we do?’ conversations. We’d

already lived in France for a few years, but

the weekly commute back to the UK to

perform stand-up had left its mark; a

hollow eyed ‘dead man walking’ stare

whenever I had to leave home and the

family, a spine so damaged from overuse

of budget airlines that it resembled a

fairground helter skelter and a mini-bottle

rosé addiction from trying to make the

Eurostar feel more glamourous than it

actually is. It was time for a change, we

agreed. Time for a new chapter in our life.

"We're definitely not opening a

chambres d’hôtes"

‘Well one thing we’re definitely not doing,’ I

said, tapping the table for emphasis, ‘is

opening up our house as a chambres

d’hôtes! We moved here for peace and

quiet, not for other people.’

Natalie laughed, ‘Can you imagine?’ She

snorted, ‘You as a host? Having to be nice

to people?’ She could barely control herself

now, which was slightly insulting. ‘No,

definitely not a chambres d’hôtes!’

"Our Chambres d’hôtes opened

last year"

Our chambres d’hôtes opened in

November last year in a u-turn so dizzying

that the term u-turn itself seems

inadequate, it was more a triple axel half

loop with salchow and our heads still

haven’t stopped spinning. So why the

change of heart? Had the sardonic standup

comic, the professional cynic,

mellowed? Was I suddenly, that awful

thing, a ‘people person’?


Well no, not exactly but in the end, you

have to take what you have and work out

the best way forward. I wanted to be at

home more and concentrate on writing and

the French house prices meant that, having

sold up in Southern England, we had a big

property with numerous outbuildings that

would make a fine bed and breakfast

independent of the family home. And,

despite being told too many times for

comfort, that maybe I wasn’t ‘genial host’

material, it was still a no-brainer.

‘I can change,’ I kept repeating, ‘not

commuting every week will soften me.’ Of

course, this was before French bureaucracy

got involved, a combination of rabbit

warren and threshing machine that has one

purpose in mind, and one purpose only – to

break you. For example, the necessary

courtesy visit to the local Mairie to tell them

of our plans added an extra 5,000€ to the

bill when it turned out the new stable for

the horse, let’s face it a glorified shed, also

needed planning permission.

‘Your horse needs planning permission,’

said the Mayoress apologetically.

‘I don’t think we’ll get her upstairs to your

office.’ I replied, to no-one’s amusement.

When renovation on the outbuildings

eventually began, it was a massive relief.

Not just that the project, eight months after

that Mairie visit had finally begun, but that

our outbuildings were finally being put to

some practical use rather than acting as a

Brocante recycling depot. For years we had

pitched a stall at the local Brocantes and

every year, thanks to Natalie and the

children, we’d come back with more

needless junk than we’d set out with.

Now it was time to end this rigmarole and

dump the whole nonsense at the

dechetterie. (My favourite French word

incidentally, dechetterie, it’s the local refuse

tip but literally sounds like De-Shittery –

which is exactly what it is.)

Eight fraught months later the place was

finished, the gravel for the driveway went in

on October 28th and our first guest arrived

the following day, ‘This is beautiful,’ the

guest said, ‘have you been open long?’

‘About 40 minutes.’ I muttered under my


The idea of opening in the depths of winter

was our canny way of using what would

certainly be just a trickle of guests as

Guinea-Pigs while we learnt the Chambres

d’hôtes ropes, but immediately we were

booked up! We had always reckoned that

the heart of the Loire Valley was going to

be fairly busy what with the chateaux, the

wine and the cheese and so on, but the

world famous ZooParc de Beauval just 20

minutes away is open all year round and

packed out to boot. Plus, Natalie never

stops smugly reminding me, our own minifarm

is partly stocked with animals from the

zoo itself. Not Pandas, well not yet anyway,

but our goats came from the zoo. They are,

and I hate to admit this, a selling point. I’ve

had a fractious relationship with the goats. I

see now why the Zoo Beauval was so keen

to be rid of them. They’re constantly finding

new ways to escape their paddock and eat

the roses, while encouraging the horse to

do the same. I once had to wrestle a goat to

the ground in our neighbour’s garden when

she complained of being attacked. I carried

the thing back home, it clinging to me like a

hairy rucksack.

I had complained bitterly about their

behaviour for years but was now told that

they couldn’t be sent back, that they were,

in fact, a non-negotiable asset and I had to

put up with it. I stormed out to the field to

address the goats personally and in no

uncertain terms.

Now listen goats,’ I began, finger-wagging

at the bemused animals, ‘I’ve had enough.

But you play fair and I’ll play fair…’

I gave them the dressing down they

thoroughly deserved and felt strangely

empowered by my futile actions not

realising that while doing so, a crowd had

gathered. Three families staying in the

chambres d’hôtes had assembled quietly

to see what the fuss was all about. What

they got was a middle-aged man in a tightfitting

suit reading the riot act to three

utterly disinterested farm animals. I went


‘New members of staff,’ I said striding off

like Basil Fawlty, ‘just breaking them in.’

I expected Natalie to be angry at the show

too, but no.

‘That’s it,’ she said, ‘give the punters the

angry, absurd, pent up man that’s in your

books! That’s a great selling point!’

think you have to calm down to run a BnB

like the perfect host and the next you’ve

created your own kind of ‘man at odds with

the world’ theme park, a sort of Dollywood

for expats. But you know what? It works.

Ian has written two books on living in

France and travelling as a comedian, and

this year his first fiction was published, a

crime novel set in the Loire Valley. All his

books are available here

And if you fancy a few days at Ian’s

Chambres d’hôtes and to watch a grown

man swear at livestock, you can see the

place here www.lapausevaldeloire.


And that’s how it happens, one minute you

The secret

gorges of


The hardly known gorges and roads of the Ardeche region

deserve to be discovered says Lucy Pitts as she wends her

way south of France...

The Ardèche and its winding roads and

inspiring views is a surprisingly quiet

corner of southern France. It’s at the very

south of the Rhône Alpes region, flirting

with both northern Provence and the

Languedoc. There’s a hint of the Garrigue

in the rugged landscape and you’re just a

hair’s breath from the lavender fields and

olive trees of the Drôme. At times you can

almost feel the Alpes to the east but the

Ardèche has its own unique personality

that shifts and changes with the landscape;

at times Mediterranean, then Alpine, then

almost Grecian.

There’s all sort of reasons to visit here,

especially in early September when the

tourists have all but left but the sun is still

warm. And one of the best reasons to come

has be the Ardèche Gorges Nature Reserve

and the surrounding area. And that’s where

the yurt comes in.

From the small town of Vallon Pont d’Arc

about an hour and a half south west of

Valence, take the tourist route signed to

the Pont d’Arc. Although the map might try

and persuade you otherwise, it’s not the

bendiest road in the Ardèche (that’s further

north) but it must come in a close second.

Drive through the rock face of the great

cliffs that surround the road (yes I mean

through) and after a couple of miles, you’ll

find a small sign announcing the Prehistoric

Loges on your right, snuggled down

discretely between the road and the river.

Photo: Sue Chapple

quiet and serene and once you’ve dried off,

just stroll down to the beach and listen to

the sounds of the river as dusk takes a


There’s a main cabin, with quiet views back

over the gorge and a really good restaurant.

You can connect to Wifi there if you need to

or stay in one of their rooms. But why would

you want to? And as you slip down under

your luxurious covers in the snug of your

yurt, the sounds of nature at night gently

soothes you to sleep.

The Pont d’Arc

The Pont d’Arc is a 54 m high and 60 m

wide, natural bridge carved out of the rock

face of the gorge over the Ardèche River,

and it happens to be just around the corner

from the Loges. If you can, visit early in the

morning, by which I mean about 8.30am to

9am and after a feast of freshly cooked

breads and pastries on your yurt’s balcony.

Or you could try one for the Loges’ Paniers

Gourmand for your day’s exploring.

A yurt to remember

The Loges is one of those places that

takes you slightly by surprise. There are 5

yurts tucked away from each other in

amongst the trees on the slopes which

lead down to one of the private beaches of

the River Ardèche. And as you’ve already

realised, they’re not any old yurts.

Mine had a 4 poster bed (as well as a bunk

bed), luxuriously dressed in leopard skin

blankets and in the corner, my fabulously

indulgent round bathtub. The bathroom

area was created out of reclaimed wood

(presumably from the gorge) giving it a

rustic but still luxury feel. And because of

the carefully secluded position, you can

raise the external flaps of your yurt and

enjoy the privacy of a bath while watching

the sun slowly slip down the face of the

gorge on the opposite side of the river. It’s

Early morning is not the best time to get

photos as the sun isn’t quite up over the

cliffs yet, (well not in September) but

something rather magical happens. I was

the only person there that early, surrounded

by a vast amphitheatre of cliffs as I strolled

down passed a little circle of vines in the

silence. But as I approached the Pont D’Arc,

thousands of birds who live in the rock

face, started swirling around and singing an

exotic song. You can climb right down to

the river and with the lush vegetative and

still warm air, it felt tropical and almost

magical. I went back later in the day when I

got some great photos, but the hushed

reverence and the birds had gone and

without them, the sense of mystic wasn’t

quite as intense.

Photos: Top left Pont d'Arc a natural

bridge carved out of the rock; above

yurts with a luxury feel

Photo copyright Patrick Aventurier - Caverne-du-pont-darc

Pont d’Arc Cavern

I wasn’t expecting to be excited by a replica

of the Chauvet Cave (about 15 minutes’

drive from Vallon) but boy was I! The

original cave was discovered by cavers in

the 1990s and its location is kept secret in

order to protect it. That’s because what

those cavers inadvertently stumbled upon

20 years ago is nothing short of

staggering: cave art, which dates back

30,000 to 45,000 years to the ice age

period. And yet, remains vivid, vibrant and

utterly compelling.

The replica (the largest in the world) is

about 15 minutes’ drive from Vallon and

well signed. Set in a lofty orchard of chêne

trees and limestone paths there are views

across the valley as far as le Mont Lozère

and Col d ’Escrinet. There are also a

number of animations and educational

galleries to enjoy including a children’s

centre and the Aurignacien Gallery, before

you head into the depths of the cave for

your guided tour.

The guide explains as you enter that you’re

going to feel like you’re in the original cave

and you do. It’s spine tingling. There’s

almost a 3D feel to some of the work as the

artists incorporated the contours of the

rock face to add depth, movement and

humour to their drawings. Scratches and

grease marks from the coats of prehistoric

bears are still visible and you start to get a

sense of the artists, as little details like the

bent, broken little finger of one (much like

mine) appears again and again in some of

the hand prints.

As you come back out into the sunshine,

with the Mistral wind nibbling at your

cheeks, you feel a sense of serenity but

also adventure. Now there’s just one last

stop to make before you tackle the full

might of the “route touristique des gorges

de l’Ardèche”. Not far from Vallon Pont

d’Arc (the starting point for the main tourist

route along the gorges) is the town of

Ruoms. Ruoms is pretty enough but from

there, take a small, winding road signed to


A quick stop at Labeaume

Labeaume (one of the Ardèche’s many

‘village de caractère’) is a small medieval

village nestled against a limestone rock

face. If you love mysterious and tiny

cobbled streets, this is the place for you. It

has a castle that watches carefully from

above and the village opens out onto a

large, pretty square surrounded by plane

trees and perched on the banks of the

Beaume River.

Cross the bridge to look back at the village

huddled into the overhanging cliff face and

dotted with quirky boutiques and quaint

houses, many of which have façades

decorated with pebbles. Or watch a game

of Pétanque unfold in the square.

In July and August they have a musical

festival here and it’s also not a bad place to

use as a base if you want to explore the

surrounding Beaume Gorge and discover

some of the 140 dolmens (megalithic

tombs). Or just sip coffee in the square and

soak up the surrounding beauty before you

head off to tackle the Ardèche gorges.

The long & winding road to St.Martin

There are many ways to explore the gorges,

namely by foot, kayak or even by horseback

but it’s worth starting with a car. Drive

the tourist route from Vallon Pont d’Arc to

St. Martin d’Ardèche to get a lofty feel for

what you’re about to discover. It’s 35 km of

hair pin bends and steep inclines, and not

necessarily for the faint-hearted driver.

Throw in the odd brave cyclist who you

have to overtake, ignore the locals who are

nudging you on from behind, and don’t

expect to spend a lot of time in 4th gear.

On the upside it is peppered with outstanding

viewpoints along the way and

although you tell yourself you’re not going

to stop at each and every one, they’re very

hard to resist mile after mile of breathtaking

views over the limestone gorges

(some of which are 300 metres high) with

glimpses of the tiny river and kayakers, far,

far below. Amazingly the road was only

built in the 1960s and it’s not hard to

imagine what an inhospitable and

challenging terrain it must have been for

anyone travelling before then.

threw open the roof and held on to our

windows which had a life of their own as we

sputtered and coughed our way amongst

the vineyards of the Rhône, through the

scrubby Garrigue and up round the gorges.

With the famous Mistral wind pulling at

your hair and a sense of the vastness of

the region, when you finally drop down into

St. Martin at the other end, you feel a bit

like a conquering hero.

A bit of exploring

St. Martin d’Ardèche or St Julien de

Peyrolas on the opposite side of the river

(and actually in the Languedoc) is a great

place to stay for exploring the gorges.

You’re right on the border of the Drôme,

Vaucluse and Gard and you feel like you’re

back in the Mediterranean. There are

vineyards, plains, olive groves and figs and

the village acts as a bit of a gateway from

the gorges to Provence and the south.

From St Martin you can explore the gorges

by guided tour on foot or by bike, but I went

in a 2CV. My chauffeur was Rosemarie,

who’s family own and run the local organic

wine producing estate, Domaine de la Croix

Blanche and her passion for where she

lives oozes from every pore. She gave me a

choice of quirky vehicles and our 2CV was

both the best and the worst I’m sure. We

I don’t think Rosemarie would disagree if I

said gear changing wasn’t her greatest

strength nor keeping to the correct side of

the road, and the journey was filled with

laughter (and possibly the odd scream).

Rosemarie is pleasantly bonkers and I

couldn’t think of a nicer person to spend a

day with although I hate to think what you’ll

get up to if you join her for one of her

walking tours. Back at the Domaine we had

a quick tasting of their organic Ardèche

rosés which were refreshingly welcome.

Rosemarie’s husband also makes tapenade

and if you arrange it in advance via the

tourist office, he will do demonstrations.

However you choose to explore the

Ardèche and its gorges, take time to linger

in this stunningly beautiful and unusually

quiet corner of southern France which has

something to inspire at almost every twist

and turn. From the civilised wines of the

Rhône to the vast wilderness surrounding

the gorges, it’s not often that you get to

explore somewhere that in places feels

completely untamed and has a past

stretching back to the ice age

For more information about the

Ardèche: www.ardeche-guide.com

To visit Rosemarie and try her wines

and driving : www.


Details of The Loges and their yurts:


For more information about the

Chauvet Cave: en.cavernedupontdarc.fr

Fishing in France... with your feet!

All over France, catching fish for a free meal is a popular activitiy. Mike Cranmer

heads to the department of Finistere in Brittany to join in the fun...

We’d been crouching on the sand for what

seemed like hours. My knees were aching. I

just had to shift position.

“Tranquillement! Essayez de ne pas faire de

bruit” Marie whispered (Quietly! Try not to

make a noise). Our eyes were fixed on a

tiny volcano-like mound of sand. Waiting.

Watching. Waiting. Suddenly a squirt of

water erupted from our target. Still Marie

didn’t move.

Perhaps I ought to explain at this point. I

was doing what 3 million French people do

every year, Pêche à Pieds, which translates,

charmingly, as Walk Fishing, or, more

literally, Foot Fishing. All you need is a pair

of wellies, a bucket, and a hand rake. Oh,

and local tide-tables. Very important that, if

you want to avoid an unexpected dunking.

The best tide for this activity is as low as

possible, exposing fishy treasures normally

underwater. One of the best places to do it

is Brittany where tidal ranges of 10m occur.

Marie has lived within a cockerel’s crow of

Saint-Pol-de-Léon for all of her 82 years,

wed to Yann, both steeped in Breton

tradition, and speakers of that ancient, but

still very much alive, language. More

importantly to this tale, she is a Pêcheuse à

Pied extraordinaire. She knows all the best,

most secret places to seek out her quarry,

and, how to cook it. She was to be my guide.

We headed for our adventure in the

secluded bay of Pointe Saint-Jean: Marie,

Yann, teenage grand-daughter Léa, my wife

and I, plus a carload of buckets and rakes.

The first discovery of the day came when I

put on my newly-acquired wellies to find

they were both right feet causing me to

walk in circles until I mastered the steering.

The second was that the normally quiet bay

was like Wembley on Cup Final Day, cars

parked willy-nilly along the single-track

approach. We were not alone.

Marie had allowed the time it would take to

walk out to our hunting ground so we’d

arrive about an hour before marée basse

(low tide). So had what seemed like the

entire population of nearby Saint-Pol-de-

Léon. There were people everywhere along

the vast sweep of beach; dogs, push-chairs,

families, singles, couples, all searching for

the same elusive treasure as us…like a

Lowry painting without the grime, factories,

tenements, and clogs, but you get my point.

Our expert set off purposefully, skirting the

coast and branching out towards rocks

normally submerged, but now exposed by

the sea’s retreat. She showed us how to

scrape the sand with our rakes to turn up

shells just below the surface, “Bon.

Quelques coques” (Good. Some cockles)

and showed us how to swill out the sand

and mud with seawater to separate our


We turned up different shells and paused

while Marie identified them: palourde –

grooved carpet shell clam; bigorneau –

winkles; amande de mer – dog cockle;

praire – saltwater clam (aka Warty Venus!);

lavagnon – peppery furrow shell clam; bulot

- whelk. Lots of clams but each subtly

different. Small ones were returned to the

sand, fatter examples kept. Such is the

popularity of Pêche à Pieds that strict

regulations are in place regarding what and

how much can be taken and when.

Information, pocket guides, notice boards,

and online sites are readily available, so no

excuse for pleading ignorance if the

Gendarmes Maritime nab you. Fines of

several thousand euros have recently been

levied in Finistère.

I’d had my head down so when Marie said

“Viens. Il est temps de revenir” it was a

shock to see the tide coming in. (If you go

without a guide, remember to set your

phone alarm to allow plenty of time before

the tide turns to get back to safety).

Back on shore we took stock of our

buckets. Lots of clams, a mound of winkles,

and whelks. A pretty good harvest for three

hours work. But Marie wasn’t content,

“Demain, couteau et huîtres” she said

firmly. (Tomorrow, razor clams and oysters.)

We talked as Marie dealt with the catch:

“We relied on fish to live when I was young”

she told me as she changed the water in

the buckets an hour after our return,

mimicking the tide.

Next day we headed for a spot directly

beneath Le Pont de la Corde over La Penzé

river. Steep banks and thick gloopy mud

made the scramble down tricky but Marie

soon straightened up with a triumphant

grin, holding a huge huître de sabot de

chevaux (horse’s hoof oyster). Our buckets

filled up with more conventional oysters

and juicy palourdes fattened in the rich tidal

waters of the river.

Then off to Pointe Saint-Jean again for an

even lower tide than the day before. “You

don’t need your rakes today, but you will

need these” said Marie, handing each of us

a carton of salt. “I’ll explain when we get to

the spot.”

“Life was hard in the war, but I still like to

catch what I can for free”. She covered the

buckets with seaweed. “I will change the

water again in the morning, same as the

tide. The fish will be fresh for our meal

tomorrow night.”

We had only one mission left to fulfil: to

catch the notoriously elusive razor clam, or

couteau (knife), and to do so we needed

ratlike cunning, patience, and a carton of

salt. No point trying to dig, Marie told us,

the couteau just buries itself deep in the

sand using its powerful ‘foot’ to pull further

and further in. No, once we’d found the

‘volcanoes’ of sand pushed up by the

creature squirting water, we must wait,

without warning vibrations or sound, until

the ‘siphon’ ejected more water, then pour

salt on the spot.

oysters, whelks, and finally the hard-won

couteau, each course washed down with

Muscadet from Yann’s cellar. Marie

generously shared the recipes which she

learned from her mother. As we enjoyed the

fruits of our labour it reminded me that the

best things in life really are free.

Here are some of Marie’s recipes: Clams

and cockles. Change seawater one hour

after gathering. Cover with seaweed

overnight. Repeat in morning at tide time.

Ingredients: clams or cockles, white wine,

garlic, butter, parsley. To cook: boil in large

saucepan in broth of wine until shells open.

Remove from pan, open shells and put

small knob of butter, finely crushed garlic

and chopped parsley into each shell. Bake

in hot oven for a few minutes. Serve.

Bigorneau. Ingredients: bigorneau, salt,

butter. To cook; Place in large saucepan.

Cover with water and boil. Add salt and

knobs of butter, then cover pan and steam

10 minutes. Serve.

This mimics the saltiness of the incoming

tide, the head of the siphon appears above

the sand exposing two or three

inches…then GRAB and hang on for dear

life! Grab too early and it’s gone. They can

dig down up to a foot a minute. Naturally,

Marie was the first to strike. Her hand

whipped out like a cobra and she grasped,

then pulled, and Hey Presto! The first


Bracing ourselves to the task in hand

(literally) we crouched, sprinkled, and

pulled, until we had a decent haul and

headed back to Marie’s to prepare for the

evening’s fête de la mer.

Ten of us sat down to the feast, starting

with the bigorneau, ‘winkled’ out of their

shells with a pin, followed by clams,

Pan-fried clams. Ingredients: clams,

breadcrumbs, garlic. Allow a dozen per

person. To cook: Mix breadcrumbs and

crushed garlic, roll the clams in the mixture

and cook in a hot pan with melted butter.


Razor clams. Ingredients: clams, garlic.

Open the shells and remove the black

digestive tract. Dry on kitchen roll. Fry for a

few minutes in garlic and olive oil. Serve.

Oysters. Open and serve with chopped

shallots and lemon.

For tidal information: maree.info or


Further information: www.manger-la-mer.



An homage to


The soul of Paris

Photo: Chris Waits

On April 15, 2019 a fire broke out at the

Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. As the

world watched, stunned to see this

incredible 856 year old building suffer from

the flames, we shared our hopes on

Facebook that the damage would not be


Hundreds of thousands of our Facebook

followers shared photos from their visits

and posted of their sadness and of what

this ancient monument meant to them.

More than just a church, Notre-Dame is the

soul of Paris.

History of Notre-Dame

The creation of Notre-Dame took almost

200 years. The first stone was laid in 1163

at a ceremony attended by Pope Alexander

III. It was commissioned by Maurice de

Sully, Bishop of Paris who wanted to build

a church that would be the most

wonderous in Christendom. He died 150

years before the main structure was begun

but he did have time to hold the first mass

in the Cathedral to be.

Notre-Dame provided a backdrop to the

lives of Parisians throughout the centuries.

Enduring through the reigns of kings and

wars. She wasn’t always loved, during the

French Revolution, statues were destroyed,

it’s treasures and roof tiles were pillaged.

When Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of

Notre Dame in 1831, he professed his

sadness and disgust at what such a

“venerable monument” had suffered.

In 1844 a 25 year long restoration began

and Notre-Dame emerged at last fulfilling

Hugo’s claim that it was the “central

mother church”.

Restoration after the fire

Despite the ominous sight of the spire

toppling during the fire at Notre-Dame,

experts say that much was saved and a

huge restoration has begun. The French

senate has declared that the Cathedral will

be restored to exactly the way it was before

the devastation and it is expected to be

complete in time for the 2024 Paris

Summer Olympics.

We'd like to share just a few of the hundreds and hundreds of

comments left on our Facebook page. You can read all of them

here and here and here on our Facebook page.

My favorite memory of Notre

Dame occurred during a random stroll in

the early morning hours of a chilly late

November day in 2016. As awe-inspiring as

Paris is during the day, I found night to be

the best time to explore to her streets,

when there were no people to be seen, and

the only sound to be heard was the

occasional clinging of silverware from her

famed street cafes. I was fortunate to have

met so many phenomenal people during

my time in Paris, but I was truly happiest

when my only companions were the City

and my thoughts.

That night, like others, my route had no

defined plan. As I left the Latin Quarter, I

decided that tonight would be a good night

for my first stroll along the Seine’s Right

Bank and that I would loop back towards

my apartment in Saint Germain.

I crossed the bridge to Île de la Cité and

shot a quick glance towards Notre Dame,

the subject of my very first picture in Paris

and at least 100 since. This Notre Dame I

had never seen. While the City of Light

needs no assistance holding this title, the

moon sat perfectly aligned between the

elegant lady’s bell towers, casting a light

that even Paris cannot replicate.

I instinctively reached for my camera,

frustrated that tonight of all nights I left my

tripod at home. I snapped picture after

picture after picture, but it wasn’t until after

I had resigned myself to the fact I had

taken the best picture I would get sans my

equipment that I allowed myself to take in

the beauty before my eyes. I leaned in on

the bridge and lost myself in the fleeting

moment. For minutes, the Lady of Paris

was mine and mine alone. When the moon

finally decided to interrupt us and slid

behind one of the bell towers, I said adieu

and made my way back to my apartment,

content that tonight could not get any

better, and the Right Bank would have to

wait until another night. I returned to Notre

Dame the following night and many more

with the hopes of perfecting “the shot,” but

the moon always had other plans.

As I reflect on what Notre Dame means to

me, I at long last can empathize with The

Little Prince and his beloved Rose. As St.

Exupery stated so much more eloquently

than I am capable, the most beautiful

things in our world are ephemeral, or that

“which is in danger of speedy


Neither my memory of Notre Dame that

night, nor Notre Dame herself, will endure

forever, but rather than mourn the mortality

of our memories, loved ones, and the places

we love, I am grateful that I was lucky

enough to cross paths with her during the

short time our paths crossed. I never did get

that “perfect shot” of Notre Dame with my

equipment, but, looking back, I realize the

memory of that night is all I need.

My memory of that night is but one star in

the galaxy of billions Notre Dame has

created, and though I grieve among the

other lucky stargazers she has blessed, I

find solace knowing that the dark skies

before us now will subside. France, as she

always has done, will persevere, and Notre

Dame will regain her throne as the brightest

light in Paris.

David Barnes, California, USA

The year after my husband died, I visited

Notre Dame for the first time, attending

morning prayers and Vespers. The

luminosity from the stained glass, the

incense wafting up to the light, the sacred

music and chants, and the community of

faithful gave me solace and a sense of

well-being. I felt the spirit of my mom and

my aunt, who had been in the French

Resistance in WWII. The past, present, and

future merge in this holy place. I spent a

perfect day visiting Giverny in the morning,

Notre Dame at noon mass, and saw the

Tours de France arrive in front of me on the

Pont Neuf. I've been to Notre Dame several

times since then for celebrations such as

Palm Sunday last year and the Assumption

of the Virgin Mary procession and have felt

a profound sense of the divine each time.

This is a spiritual home for me. Nothing

can take away the essence of Notre Dame.

Barbara Ball Lester California, USA

Been many times over the years...a

favourite "thing" my family enjoyed, was to

visit the Notre Dame, then walk to the little

park behind the cathedral and sit there

while having our baguette-lunch. We wept

while watching the news of the fire. We

have no words...but we stand with you,

Paris, and we will rejoice with you when the

restoration complete. Linda Meillon,

Gauteng, South Africa

A photo from June 2017 whilst visiting from South

me, it captures the serenity, grace and etherealnes

We have visited this magnificent place on

every visit to Paris, have been enthralled to

listen to a mass sung in “plain chant” also

to the glorious organ being played so

beautifully that we had goose bumps! First

ever visit in 1957 with my parents and I

couldn’t stop talking about the ROSE

WINDOW.....so many wonderful memories.

Helen Steyn, Australia.

As a Francophile I’m feeling for the sacred

856yrd old Notre Dame cathedral and

France, but she will become a stronger

phoenix and rise again from these current

ashes. Janelle Bray, Queensland

In all her glory. Notre Dame. Duog Crawford, USA

We go here every time we visit The City of

Light...climbed to the top with the

gargoyles, sat in the back garden and

wandered the aisles and stood in awe of

the various side chapels and their amazing

paintings. Gillian Hoekstra

Such a sad day for Paris but thank God for

les pompiers. My family is devastated and

so grateful we were able to visit Notre

Dame before this tragedy. Love and prayers

to the people of Paris from Australia. Sue


I love this church. I just stare at it each time

I visit Paris. It is very sad that Our Lady

suffered this damage...Thanks for sharing

and many thanks to the firefighters who

saved most of the church Looking forward

to restoring this beautiful and historic

church. Sandra Ifeoma Orimilikwe

Africa. It has always been a favorite because for

s of her so perfectly. Monique Steuyn Olwage

My husband and I visited in 2015 and again

this Fall. You can see pictures before

visiting but they still will not prepare you for

the grandeur or magnitude of this

cathedral. I remember running my hands

down one of the many massive columns in

disbelief. How could something like this

have been built 800 years ago without the

technology that we have today.

Grace Marshall, British Columbia.

I first laid eyes upon Our Lady of Paris on a

visit 34 years ago, as a college exchange

student from California. Notre Dame de

Paris was stunning but her doors were

locked that day. When I returned in 2016,

when she finally revealed the secrets of her

interior to me. As light streamed through

the stunning stained glass—including the

famous rose windows—I was awed by the

beautiful treasures inside: a piece of the

cross on which Jesus is believed to be

crucified as well as the crown he wore on

his head, stone sculptures, two incredible

organs, and paintings commissioned in the

17th century. Don’t wait to see the magic in

our world. Chris Kelsey Roman

Where to stay in Paris

With more than 2000 hotels to choose from in Paris, it's not easy so we've

done the hard work for you. Tried and tested, enjoy our pick of the best

hotels in the city of light...

Cool and classy: Au Boeuf Couronné in

the 10th arr. has a line 5 metro stop right

outside. The hotel opened in 2017 and is

next door to the restaurant of the same

name, the oldest steakhouse in Paris. It’s

right by the Philharmonic de Paris, Gare du

Nord, La Villette and not far from Père-

Lachaise cemetery. I am amazed this place

is classified 3 star, I’ve stayed in higher

starred hotels that were nowhere near as

good as this. The rooms are big and the

bathrooms are fabulous. It’s quiet and

comfy and welcoming. It’s a bit of a steal

as it’s not expensive at all (prices start

from €80 for 2 people) though it looks like

it ought to be. Location-wise, it’s terrific

and it’s easy to get into the centre of Paris

taking just 15 mins to Bastille from the

Metro outside the front door.

Fabulous and chic: the 5 Star MGallery

Hotel Paris Bastille Boutet is close to the

Marais district in the heart of lively Bastille

in a wonderful art deco building, which was

once a wood storage factory, before

becoming a theatre then hotel. They have

the comfiest beds I have ever experienced,

like sleeping on a cloud. Beautifully

converted, lovely, luxurious rooms, great

spa, swimming pool and fitness area and

terrific bar. It’s within easy walking

distance of Père-Lachaise cemetery and

there are many great bars and restaurants

close by.

Stylish & gorgeous: The 4 star Hotel

Balmoral is literally yards from the iconic

Arc de Triomphe but in your room you're

cocooned in tranquillity. I arrived quite late

and must admit I had had every intention

of going for a moonlit walk to take photos

but the lovely deep bath and comfy bed

lured me in. It is a 19th century Haussman

designed building that’s pure boutique,

personal, luxurious and very welcoming.

The rooms are classically Parisian, elegant,

modern and luxurious; there are also suites

and apartments which can take two

couples (and a child). Internationally

renowned architect Michel Jouannet was

instrumental in helping to create the new

look for the hotel, his work is known in

Venice, Rio de Janeiro and all around the

world but this Paris hotel has to be one of

his best projects.

Chic and a stone’s throw from Gare du

Nord: Hotel Mademoiselle is a comfy 4 Star

hotel with a touch of luxury right by the

Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est. It’s just a

15-minute walk to Montmartre, the metro

stations are really close, Gare du Nord is a

five minute walk as is Gare de l’Est and the

RER line for Disney Paris. The road it is in is

quite busy by day but a haven of tranquillity

by night. Real Paris is just two minutes

away. While one end of the road leads to

the stations, the other end leads to

restaurants and bars, pretty squares and

churches and local life.

The rooms are stylish, there’s a lovely inner

courtyard where taking your breakfast is an

uplifting experience, plus spa facilities

(book them in advance, they’re free but get

filled quickly).

Ultra-luxurious: Hôtel du Rond Point des

Champs Elysées, just a few minutes away

from the Metro station Franklin D

Roosevelt is this very elegant Louis Vuitton

owned hotel in a 17th century building.

From the minute you walk through the

doors of this hotel, you’ll feel utterly

charmed. The staff are lovely and that’s key

to having a great stay. The rooms are

fabulous as you’d expect from a hotel

owned by one of the world’s premier style

companies. Some rooms have a view over

the Eiffel Tower and the rooftops of Paris

(ask when you book – all the staff speak

English). Comfy beds, gorgeous striped

wallpaper and very posh loos (all electric

with warmed seats and all that jazz).

There’s a stunning swimming pool so –

take your costume or you’ll really miss out.

Elegant and glamorous: Hotel de Sers in

an 18th century, former nobleman’s

mansion, a stone’s throw from the Champs-

Elysées is next to the legendary George V

and less than a mile from the Eiffel Tower

has the location, the looks and the luxury

without the massive price tag to go with

them. It certainly isn’t a budget hotel but for

the price compared to other 5 Star hotels in

this part of Paris – it’s a real find. It is stylish

and smart, the décor is elegant and inspired

with a real touch of old school style

glamour. The spa there is open to residents

only, after a long day’s sightseeing, it's a

real pick me up to be able to have a sauna

and a massage. Most of the rooms have

terraces and glass conservatories where

you can sit and look out over the roof tops

of Paris whatever the weather; the top

apartment has a big terrace with a view

over the Eiffel Tower.

Discreet, refined luxury: The

Hotel Marignan Champs-

Elysées in an 18th century

building a stone’s throw from

the Champs-Elysées is pure

luxury, from the entrance with

its smart doorman to the

dining room with its modern

trompe l’oeil, bar with comfy

chairs and a grand piano and

rooms that are elegantly


Though it’s right in the heart

of Paris, this is a little oasis of

tranquillity and pleasure.

There are rooms with a view of

the Eiffel Tower, de-luxe suites

and a fabulous restaurant.


Every weekend, we invite you to share

your photos on Facebook - it's a great

way for everyone to see "real" France

and be inspired by real travellers

snapping pics as they go. Every week

there are utterly gorgeous photos being

shared and here we showcase the most

popular of each month. Share your

favourite photos with us on Facebook -

the most "liked" will appear in the next

issue of The Good Life France



A misty morning in

Conques, Aveyron,

by Robin Lee


Wisteria hysteria in

Paris! At Au Vieux

Paris d'Arcole

restaurant, 24 rue

Chanoinesse, by

Emma Budgen


Gorgeous in Goult,

Provence in May, this

photo by Helen Leather

Join us on Facebook

and like and share

your favourite photos

of France...

Escape to the Chateau:

Sometimes dreams do come true....

When Angel Adoree and husband Dick

Strawbridge swapped a 2-bedroom flat in

Southend, Essex, and bought the fairy-talelike

Chateau-de-la-Motte Husson in

Mayenne, Pays de la Loire for £280,000,

their adventures were filmed for a British

TV Show. Escape to the Chateau was a

runaway hit. Millions were enthralled as

they watched the couple fall head over

heels for the run down 45-room castle with

its moat and pointy turrets and millions

saw them turn it into a dream home and

successful business as an events and

vintage wedding destination. Angel’s crafty

talents and eye for a bargain and Dick’s

determination won them a legion of fans.

So successful was the TV show that it’s

had several series and spawned a spin off

series called ‘Escape to the Chateau: DIY’.

This saw Dick and Angel use the

knowledge they’ve built up to help other

chateau owners with their projects.

Audiences were mesmerised.

When each programme ended, “viewers

were literally switching off the TV, firing up

their iPads and looking at what is available”

said Jane Berry, head of estate agent

Leggett Immobilier’s Prestige division. “We

have seen a huge jump in website visitor

numbers straight after each episode,

indeed our dedicated Chateau page shows

an 800 per cent increase in traffic...”.

Click here to read our interview with

Dick and Angel

Becoming chateau owners

One of the couples featured on the first

series of Escape to the Chateau DIY

became firm favourites with the viewing

public. They were young and inexperienced

but had huge commitment to bring back to

life a neglected and enormous chateau.

Their willingness to do whatever it took,

working night and day, impressed

everyone. Billy Petherick from Greenwich in

London was just 27 and his fiancé

Gwendoline from Cherbourg, Normandy

was 24 when they bought the Chateau de

la Baismagnée. In the heart of Mayenne,

Pays de La Loire, it cost them €1,050,000

in 2016. Billy had some building experience,

Gwendoline had worked in retail but

nothing daunted them.

They’d met in France when Billy went to

stay with his parents who live in France and

decided to look for a house together.

“We wanted to take on a project, a grand

house, manoir, maison de maître, or small

château, but then we stumbled across a

listing for this château online” says

Gwendoline. “We thought that even if it was

bigger than what we were looking for, it was

so beautiful that it was definitely worth a

look, at least we could dream for an

afternoon. But we fell in love with the place

straight away. It made us re-think our plans,

because after seeing Basmaignée we

couldn’t really see ourselves anywhere else.

After months of figuring out a way to

pursue this crazy adventure, we got the

keys to our beautiful chateau”. Funding

came from a legacy from Gwendoline’s late

mother and bank loans.

The 50-60 room chateau, “we've never

really managed to agree a definitive

number” says Gwendoline, is set in 60

acres of parkland with a private chapel,

traditional walled garden and six cottages.

To say it needed a huge amount of work is

an understatement.

“It was uninhabited for many years and was

in a terrible condition” says Billy, but the

couple were undaunted. Billy’s brother

Michael joined them to help our with the

renovation after he too fell under the

castle’s spell. And in 2018, Gwendoline and

Billy welcomed baby Ernest to the chateau

which has gone from being a neglected

shell of a sleeping beauty to a fabulous

home and business.

A chateau isn’t an easy option

When it comes to owning a chateau,

upkeep costs are much higher than for a

normal home. There’s almost always a

constant need for maintenance and if your

building is listed, you might need to get

permission to renovate from Monuments

Historique (Read about the requirements

on page 102). In this case, the Chateau de

Basmaignée is not listed.

“When people dream about being chateau

owners they usually think of themselves

living like royalty, but unless you really are

royalty, that’s not really how things go and

we knew that right from the start” says


The couple took out a loan that enabled

them to keep renovating and living until

they could earn an income. They have done

most of the work themselves with the help

of family and friends, though they have had

professional help when it comes to

electrics and plumbing. They invested in

essential equipment including a cherry

picker. “By doing as much as we can

between us, we estimate we’ve reduced the

costs by 80%” says Billy adding “We focus

on the work room by room, rather than

think of what needs to be done over the

whole chateau. When people ask “when

will the chateau be fully renovated?” We

tell, them, there’s not set date, we have to

go step by step. It’s like any other

renovation project, only it’s going to take


The chateau is their only means of income

and Gwendoline admits “we don’t have any

idea of how much we can earn when it’s all

finished, we’re not planning that far ahead.

For now, we are just trying to make it so the

chateau can pay for itself and for the

renovation work, though we’re not really

certain how much that needs to be.”

Their hard work is paying off, the castle is

now a stunning B&B, wedding venue, and

hosts antiquing weekends. “There’s

renovation, maintenance, the business to

run, a baby to look after and it’s a serious

challenge to balance it all but it’s totally

worth it – we love it and wouldn’t change a

thing” says Gwendoline.

“To buy a chateau, you have to be

determined, prepared to work seriously

hard and perhaps just a little bit mad” adds

Billy though he smiles when he says it.


From London rat race to a

dream home & café business

in rural northern France

Katharine Tasker from London upped sticks in the city and moved to the sticks in

France bringing a sprinkling of urban style to her new build home and thriving

new business, a café and shop, as Janine Marsh discovers…

Pas de Calais is a region of meadows and

forests, the countryside is criss crossed by

streams and peppered with villages and

hamlets. It’s blessed with the beautiful

beaches and dramatic coastline of the Opal

Coast as well as fertile agricultural land. It’s

a largely rural department despite being

the gate way to France for millions who

cross the English Channel, many of whom

simply exit the ferry or train and zoom off

down the auto routes further south. For

those who stop and look though, the

charms of the far north can be compelling

as Katherine Tasker found out when she

visited a friend…

A life changing weekend

Katharine Tasker loved her life in London.

She ran a successful gourmet food shop

with a loyal clientele who adored the

speciality products she sourced from

France including some world famous jam.

At a sales meeting in Lille in 2015,

Katherine decided to visit the jam makers

in Saint-Rémy-au-Bois, in the Seven

Valleys, Pas de Calais, not far away. They’d

met in London when British entrepreneurs

Judy and Nick Gifford who created the

mouth-watering jams at Tea Together

delivered a consignment in person and got

on well.

Katherine spent just a couple of days with

her friends at their beautifully restored

farmhouse with their beloved Jack Russells

and horses. As well as their jam making

enterprise, they also run Le Tea Room from

their home, serving scones with their homemade

jam and clotted cream to smitten

locals. But, it changed the direction of her


“It was” says Katharine “love at first sight

when I saw how glorious the countryside is.

So tranquil and varied, lush valleys, forests

and wide-open plateaux, it is just so

beautiful. I thought it would be wonderful to

have a bolthole here.”

Swapping urban life for a plot in rural


Katharine returned to London, and when,

shortly afterwards, the lease on her shop

needed renewing, she sought alternative

premises close by. “It was very tough trying

to find a new place everything was horribly

expensive” she says. She’d kept in touch

with Judy who, in the midst of Katharine’s

frustrating search in London told her that a

plot of land had come up for sale in the

village of Gouy-Saint-André near St-Rémy.

“She told me it was special and that I ought

to come and see it” Katharine reminisces.

The land was well over her budget but Judy

encouraged her to speak to the seller to

see if there was any wiggle room. He had

three cheaper plots for sale and Katherine

decided to go and look. After viewing the

affordable land, Katharine was persuaded

by the seller to take a look at the more

expensive plot. “It was” she laughs “a wow

moment as soon as I saw it, I felt a

connection. I instantly thought, what if I

open my business here instead of in

London?” Her head buzzed with ideas and

London with its expensive rental options

didn’t feature. Within hours, a deal was

struck in France. And, Katherine had made

up her mind. She returned to London and

made places to move to France.

Urban dreams in rural France

Faced with a large, empty field which had

panoramic views over the countryside,

Katharine decided the only way to tackle

the need for a home and business was to

employ an architect and building team. The

resulting three-bedroomed cube is not like

any other building in the village, ultramodern

with sleek lines and no hint of rural

cottage. “I was surprised that planning

permission wasn’t an issue” she confesses

“but because it can’t be seen from the road,

the application went through smoothly and

I got the go ahead within two months of


“A tree in the garden was my first

inspiration” says Katharine “It was old,

there long before me, I didn’t want to cut it

down, so we designed the house around it”.

The first six months of the build went well

but the honeymoon period didn’t last. The

roofers went bankrupt and the build came

to a stop.

Katharine had already sold her house in

London to raise funds and had no choice

but to move into her not remotely ready

French house.

“It wasn’t ideal, but it actually helped me to

refine the plans, and feel how the house

could be used."

The kitchen is located in the centre of the

house and serves both the café and residential

side. Filled with light, there’s a mezzanine

floor and double height sitting room

with huge windows that frame the views,

and of course, the old tree. The house is

one of a kind here for other reasons too, an

ecologically built passive house, it utilises

a geothermal heating and dual flow ventilation

system. It’s so insulated just one

wood stove heats the whole house.

“Everything was much more expensive

than I thought possible” admits Katharine.

“I had to negotiate hard with the

construction company to get a price I could


The house took two and a half years to

build. “On the whole” says Katharine “It

wasn’t too bad. I have never regretted it.

The issues with the roofers weren’t good

but were overcome. Some of the systems

were new to the builders but they were

willing to learn. The architect was Greek

and lived in London and admittedly there

was a bit of a culture clash with the

builders, but they worked it out and I’m

really happy with the result”.

L’Encas and L’Echoppe

Katharine had known from the stat that she

wanted to open a café and shop with a hint

of London style in this rustic part of France.

L’encas and l’echoppe are medieval French

words for “in case” and “shop” and, tucked

away from the road, it “seemed like the

perfect name for my venture” she says.

“I love decorating a table, setting the places

and making it look interesting and

beautiful with a mix and match approach. I

knew that in France there’s a long tradition

and love of table dressing”. So she

combined a café with a shop in which she

sells vintage and new French, British and

European china, cutlery and tableware. It’s

an eclectic stock that’s appreciated by

mainly French, British and Belgian

customers who find their way to this little

corner of France.

The café has a menu of local produce, pies

and tartes, soups, savoury salads, delicious

quiches and dishes flavoured with herbs,

spices, edible flowers and zingy dressings.

Katharine produces delicious gluten free

crispbreads which are stocked in gourmet

food stores in London and Paris and served

with meals at L’Encas et L’Echoppe. Her

gorgeous gateaux have gained a

reputation with the locals, especially the

gluten free German poppy seed cake and

berry bread and butter pudding cake. Her

cake take away service is very popular and

features all sorts from pumpkin pie to

Christmas cake.

An ongoing adventure

Katharine’s journey has been tough at

times, but she says “rewarding, a voyage of

self-discovery and a real adventure…”

“I love going back to London” she says

“through the congestion drives me mad, so

many cars. Here I’m used to the only traffic

jam being a couple of cows crossing the

road to reach a field! I love my little urban

oasis in the French countryside... no” she

adds emphatically “no regrets at all”.

leleagouy.com for opening times;

Address: 30 bis, Rue de Maresquel, 62870




Jane Berry heads Leggett Immobilier's

prestige property department and

gives valuable advice about buying and

selling a Monument Historique…


for its outstanding collection of historic

buildings. Châteaux in particular are

strategically scattered the length and

breadth of the country. The Loire valley is

just one of 38 listed UNESCO World

Heritage sites in France, attracting 3.3

million visitors a year and the Loire river

forms a valuable part of the architectural

heritage of towns such as Amboise,

Chenonceau, Saumur and Chinon.

Simple barns, Cistercian abbeys, ancient

fortresses and fairy tale châteaux all have

one thing in common; they have the

potential for preservation and protection

under France’s cultural heritage scheme

known as Monument Historique (MH).

Buildings may be listed as Classé, for

properties considered of national

importance, or Inscrit (ISMH) for properties

of regional or local value. This includes

smaller châteaux and country houses.

There are currently around 45,000 listed

properties in France, of which nearly half

are privately owned.

Properties may have just an element of

Monument Historique classification, for

instance a staircase, a fireplace, or garden

balustrade etc, whilst the rest of the

building is not listed.

“TV Shows; Escape to the Chateau, and

especially Escape to the Chateau DIY have

had an astonishing effect on the château

buying market in France. We see a huge

surge in visitors to the Leggett website

straight after each show ends. The

programmes showing ordinary people

buying and doing up extraordinary

buildings in France seems to have ignited

our sense of romance and dreams, of

preserving something important as well as

living the good life and sometimes creating

a successful business”.

This Château is classified as a Monument Historique since 1969 due to its facades roof and

parkland... Details

Whilst the Prestige property department

typically showcases properties that are at

the top of the range, there are some

amazing châteaux at incredible prices

including a gorgeous, completed renovated

château in Normandy which at £535k is

about what you’d pay for a 2-bedroom flat

in London SE13.

"Remember though” advises Jane

“although the price may be affordable,

there’s the upkeep to consider, so you need

to go into this aware of the maintenance

expenses, which will be ongoing”.

The Leggett main property website also

has many châteaux for sale including those

in need of “doing up” and are typically at

lower prices. www.leggettfrance.com

Many château owners feel their castles are

too large for use simply as a family home,

and Jane is often asked if they can be used

to create a business? Hotel or wedding

venue perhaps?

Sandy Guyonnet, Leggett's inhouse Notaire

explains that all business activities are

possible within an historic monument, as

long as the requirements/conditions

imposed by the Planning Office and the

Architecte des Bâtiments de France (ABF)

regarding the business (i.e health and

safety requirements, are met.

Monument Historique

means: building /object is of

French historical importance,

either nationally or locally

and therefore needs to be


At £535,000 this gorgeous chateau in Normandy is not Monument Historique classified - but it is

gorgeous and historic. Details

£333,633 for a 6 bedroom chateau in Charebte, lots of land, original features, stables

and outbuildings... details

This listed chateau in the Dordogne is truly magnificent, Henry IV of France and his

wife Catherine de Medici stayed here and it has a fabulous historic past... Details

“As the vendor of an historic monument”

says Sandy, “you are free to sell the

property whenever you wish, you would

simply need to inform the Minister of

Culture. A DPE (Diagnostic Performance

Energy test) is not required for these

properties, however all other current

diagnostic reports are required for the sale


There are a number of advantages to

buying a property that is listed as a

Monument Historique:

• The organisation offers invaluable advice

and assistance in the restoration and

upkeep of historic properties.

• Under certain conditions these properties

can be exempt from Inheritance tax.

• There are a number of grants available for

improvement works (subject to certain


• Costs for various works, insurance, land

taxes and certain interest charges on loans

are currently deductible, at 50%, from your

taxable income.

However, they become 100% deductible if

you open the building to the public for a set

number of days a year, on the condition

that the property is kept for at least 15 years

by its owner (being an individual or SCI "de


It's a thriving market say Leggett as both

domestic and international buyers are keen

to buy a slice of historic architecture while

enjoying the joie de vie for which France is


see Page 92 to

read about our

rendezvous with

chateau owners

Billy and



Top tips to help you plan

your property purchase

and move to France

When it comes to consider a move to France, you may have decided the area that you

want to live in, checked schools and transport links. But will organising your finances be

further down the to do list when it should be near the top?

Before moving to France, there’s no doubt you will have hundreds of things to organise,

think about and do - not just the packing. Jennie Poate, financial advisor at Beacon Global

Wealth explains why you should consider your budget and finances so that you have no

nasty surprises once you’ve bought your dream home and/or made the move to the good

life in France.

Consider your income requirements

Before you move:

Plan your Finances

Be realistic about what you need income

wise to live in France. There are already

huge amounts of B+B’s and gites.

Spending €150,000 on a holiday rental

property to earn €3,000 p.a. may not be

feasible in the long term.

Consider your income requirements before

you move. You may be required to pay tax

on your income in France. A good adviser

will be able to provide you with an estimate

of tax payable and look at ways of

minimising or reducing tax. If your income

is not in euros, exchange rate fluctuations

may seriously affect your regular income


Start planning a strategy for your savings

and income before you move. Some UK

savings products are really square pegs in

round holes when it comes to French

taxation. It might be better to consider

closing or changing them before you

become French tax resident. BUT, take

advice from an adviser who understands

the French tax system and products that

are available. A UK qualified adviser may

unknowingly make your tax situation worse

if they are not qualified to advise you about

French financial products.

Consider how your pension might

work better for you

What about your pension? Do you have

more than one pension and if so where are

they held? And, can you access them yet?

Review your pension with your qualified

adviser to make sure your finances are

best positioned for your move to France.

You are likely to find it is much better for

you to use a qualified and authorised

independent financial adviser who

understands both the UK and French tax

systems. This way you can make an

informed choice about your pension

options. Careful planning here can

potentially save you tax in the long run. If

you haven’t done so already, get a state

pension forecast which will tell you how

much you will receive and when. https://



Think about healthcare needs

Consider your healthcare needs. Whether

you're retired, working or enjoying life with

no active employment you may need to

pay for healthcare in the form of top up


Get in touch with your tax office

Inform the UK inspector of taxes at your

local HMRC tax office that you are planning

to move abroad by filling in form P85. This

will enable the UK tax office to advise of

and resolve any outstanding issues before

you move.

You can download the form online at: www.


Understand how to deal with tax

inheritance rules

Consider your status with regard to the

distribution of your estate. Inheritance

planning in advance of your move can save

considerable heartache later.

For French inheritance tax purposes, you

must include all of your assets (property

and cash) wherever they based.

The notaire handling your house purchase

may only look at how the property

ownership should be structured, which may

be only part of what you have.

When you move to France

Use a competent tax adviser to prepare

your first French tax return. Getting it right

first time means you’ll avoid unpleasant

surprises later on and allows you time to

figure out how the system works. Your tax

adviser can also liaise with your financial

advisor concerning the timings for

moving/closing certain investments, which

can help you reduce tax and make the best


Jennie Poate is a UK and France qualified

and authorised financial adviser, working

for Beacon Global Wealth Management.

She is happy to answer any queries you

may and she and her team would be

delighted to help you plan your move to


Jennie can be

contacted at:

jennie @bgwealthmanagement.net or


Tele: France 0033634119518

www.beaconglobalwealth.com for

information and factsheets

The information on this page is intended only as an introduction only and is not designed to offer

solutions or advice. Beacon Global Wealth Management can accept no responsibility whatsoever

for losses incurred by acting on the information on this page.

The financial advisers trading under Beacon Wealth Management are members of Nexus Global

(IFA Network). Nexus Global is a division within Blacktower Financial Management (International)

Limited (BFMI). All approved individual members of Nexus Global are Appointed Representatives of

BFMI. BFMI is licensed and regulated by the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission and bound by

their rules under licence number FSC00805B.

How bank cards

work in France

Don't get caught out by

spending limits that

are typical...

French banks may restrict the amount of

money you can spend on your card,

catching people out constantly. We asked

the experts at Credit Agricole Britline, the

French bank that speaks English, how to

avoid this problem.

The way in which banks operate in France

compared to the UK is different and one

good example are bank cards. It can prove

frustrating if you find yourself in a situation

whereby you have money in your bank

account but discover – whilst waiting to

pay at the check-out or withdrawing cash

at an ATM – that the transaction has been


How can you plan ahead to avoid

this problem and potential


In a nutshell: know your spending limits,

understand what the card costs (e.g. fees/

charges) and decide which card best suits

your lifestyle.

The majority of bank cards in France are

Carte Bancaire and you will see shops and

restaurants displaying the CB sign. Carte

Bancaires are debit cards and any

transactions are deducted immediately

from a bank account. The French certainly

do not have the same appetite as Britons

for credit cards, with most preferring the

standard debit card. There are however

plenty of options to ensure you have a card

that matches your requirements and


Cards have limits for cash

withdrawals and payments

Although UK banks will limit how much

money you can withdraw from an ATM per

day, usually £500, in France the limit is

generally lower and there are also

restrictions on card payments each month.

Take a standard Carte Bancaire (Visa or

MasterCard) for example; over a 7 day

period the maximum amount for cash

withdrawals is €450. For card payments

(online or in shops) you can spend up to

€2,300 per month.

This is unlikely to pose a problem for many

people day-to-day; but if you have bigger

expenses, paying for renovations on your

home in France for instance, or you receive

a large (and unexpected!) bill, these limits

may present a challenge…

If you reach your spending limit, a phone

call to your bank should resolve the

problem. CA Britline (part of the Crédit

Agricole group) has been helping British

customers in France for 20 years,

providing a full range of banking services

in English. We can organise higher

spending limits on your card temporarily or

for a longer period. There is a cost to do

this, but by using the free CA app ‘Ma

Banque’ you can adjust the limit yourself. It

is always a good idea to contact us first if

you are planning a major purchase or

undertaking an expensive renovation

project. In certain situations an overdraft

facility may be appropriate and customers

living in France, the UK/Ireland are eligible.

Bear in mind that if you do have a higher

spending limit set on your card you must

have the funds to cover it. Going overdrawn

can cause problems in France. If you need

to top up your account from the UK, you

can use the Britline International Payment

Service*, our bespoke transfer exchange


Choosing the right bank card for you

CA Britline has two cards which are

exclusive to our customers. They offer

higher spending limits for payments and

cash withdrawals. These are the CA Britline

Classic and CA Britline Premier, which also

have travel assistance, travel insurance

plus other features. The Premier card has

additional advantages such as extended

warranties on purchases to cover the cost

of repairs of damaged goods. There is no

charge for increasing the spending limits

for Premier card customers.

Customers may use their CA Britline cards

anywhere in France and internationally, to

withdraw cash, make payments in shop

and of course online. In addition to Euro

accounts, we also offer accounts in

Sterling, perfect for people who live in the

UK but who are regular visitors to France.

One further tip – you can save money by

using your French card in France rather

than incurring foreign transaction fees on

your UK bank card. We also provide

deferred payment cards which deduct the

money at the end of month. This can be

really useful for customers paid on a

monthly basis.

Contactless cards

France is a world leader in smart card

technology and was amongst the first

countries to use the chip and pin system.

The use of contactless cards is widespread

in shops, cafés and restaurants. There is a

limit of €30 on payments; if you reach this

amount you will need to enter your PIN

code and the limit is reset to zero.

account around a month after your account

is opened and renewal is automatic.

If you would like more information, consult

or offers or wish to apply for a CA Britline

bank card, please visit www.britline.com/


Annual card fees and charges

It may come as a surprise to people living in

the UK - used to free banking services –

that there are annual fees charged for

holding a bank card in France. There are no

charges however for using your card for

cash withdrawals and payments across the

EU. Britline Classic and Premier Cards may

also be used around the world without

charges. The annual fee is taken from your

* Britline International Payments Service (BIPS)

is provided by HiFX Europe Limited. HiFX is

authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority

(FRN No. 462444) for the provision of payment

services. Registered office: Maxis 1, Western

Road, Bracknell, Berkshire RG12 1RT.

How to make




2 cartons double cream, 1 large (284ml) plus 1 small (142ml)

500ml full-fat milk

1 vanilla pod

5 large egg yolks

50g golden caster sugar, plus extra for the topping

1. Preheat the oven to fan 160C/conventional 180C/gas 4. Sit four 175ml ramekins in a

deep roasting tin at least 7.5cm deep (or a large deep cake tin), one that will enable a

baking tray to sit well above the ramekins when laid across the top of the tin.

2. Pour the two cartons of cream into a medium pan with the milk. Lay the vanilla pod on

a board and slice lengthways through the middle with a sharp knife to split it in two. Use

the tip of the knife to scrape out all the tiny seeds into the cream mixture. Drop the vanilla

pod in as well and set aside.

3. Put the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk for 1 minute with an electric

hand whisk until paler in colour and a bit fluffy. Put the pan with the cream on a medium

heat and bring almost to the boil. As soon as you see bubbles appear round the edge,

take the pan off the heat.

4. Pour the hot cream into the beaten egg yolks, stirring with a wire whisk as you do so,

and scraping out the seeds from the pan. Set a fine sieve over a large wide jug or bowl

and pour the hot mixture through to strain it, encouraging any stray vanilla seeds through

at the end. Using a big spoon, scoop off all the pale foam that is sitting on the top of the

liquid (this will be several spoonfuls) and discard. Give the mixture a stir.

5. Pour in enough hot water (from the tap is fine) into the roasting tin to come about 1.5cm

up the sides of the ramekins. Pour the hot cream into the ramekins so you fill them up

right to the top – it’s easier to spoon in the last little bit.

6. Put them in the oven and lay a baking sheet over the top of the tin so it sits well above

the ramekins and completely covers them, but not the whole tin, leaving a small gap at

one side to allow air to circulate.

7. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the mixture is softly set. To check, gently sway the

roasting tin and if the crème brûlées are ready, they will wobble a bit like a jelly in the

middle. Don’t let them get too firm.

8. Lift the ramekins out of the roasting tin with oven gloves and set them on a wire rack

to cool for a couple of minutes only, then put in the fridge to cool completely. This can be

done overnight without affecting the texture.

9. When ready to serve, wipe round the top edge of the dishes, sprinkle 1½ tsp of caster

sugar over each ramekin and spread it out with the back of a spoon to completely cover

(Anne Willan’s tip for an even layer).

10. Spray with a little water using a fine spray (the sort you buy in a craft shop) to just

dampen the sugar – then use a blow torch to caramelise it. Hold the flame just above the

sugar and keep moving it round and round until caramelised. Serve when the brûlée is

firm, or within an hour or two.

Thanks to chef Spencer Richards at Normandy Cooking Days for this brilliant recipe...

Around these parts people tend to get a bit carried away when the sun

shines. The far north, or the north pole as those with a sense of humour in

the south call where I live, isn’t as grey and wet as some make out but it’s

rarely too hot to handle.

Come the summer, shutters are flung open, front doors are left ajar,

barbecues are fired up and boules are polished. It’s remarkable how in the

winter it resembles the land of the walking dead, not a soul to be seen, then

a bit of sunshine and everyone is out promenading, cutting hedges, putting

out honesty boxes alongside eggs and strawberries, plums and potatoes, or

nearer the coast, boxes of gleaming blue-black mussels on ice.

We don’t have anything to sell. If it grows in our garden and we don’t eat it,

the animals will. We do barter our relative youth and strength though. Mark is

in demand with older neighbours when it comes to lifting things or carrying

something from one barn to another. I am in demand when it comes to

running about catching escaped animals who seem to want to run free in the

sun. In return we are rewarded with excess fruit or home made wine, most of

which tastes like cough medicine and makes for an effective weed killer.

So if you come to a tiny village in the middle of nowhere rural France on a

sunny day and see a short woman chasing a goat across a field shouting

“stop you bugger”, you’ve probably found my village!

Have a great summer,



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