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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Editor's<br />

Letter<br />

Welcome to the summer issue of The Good life France Magazine.<br />

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

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

can read about my visit to research the best things to do plus the restaurants and bars<br />

the locals love on page 30.<br />

In this issue discover sensational Strasbourg where I stumbled upon a secret speakeasy<br />

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

1472! Find out about Versailles and its opulent chateau, gorgeous gardens and lovely<br />

town. Visit Cognac in Charente, and Le Touquet, once the jet setters paradise in the<br />

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

making a name for itself in foodie circles.<br />

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

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

with his feet - a national obsession in France!<br />

We pay homage to the Cathedral of <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame with photos and comments posted by<br />

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

There are useful guides, real life expat stories including Billy and Gwendoline Petherick,<br />

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

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

Best wishes<br />

Janine<br />

Janine Marsh<br />


contents<br />

Features<br />

8 Spotlight on Strasbourg<br />

What to do and see in Strasbourg including<br />

the secret places that most visitors never<br />

discover - but should says Janine Marsh.<br />

20 Glitzy, Golden Versailles<br />

France’s most opulent chateau is full of<br />

treasures that can hold you spellbound, but<br />

don’t miss the town when you’re there.<br />

30 Le Weekend in Dijon<br />

Find out where the locals eat and the very<br />

best things to do in Burgundy’s historic<br />

capital city.<br />

The Opéra national de Paris is the<br />

Versailles of Opera Houses and has plenty<br />

of secrets…<br />

46 Cognac, Charentes<br />

A delightful town and delicious liqueur<br />

which share the same name – here’s what<br />

to see and do in Cognac.<br />

52 Le Touquet Paris-plage<br />

The “Monaco” of <strong>No</strong>rthern France is a<br />

brilliant weekend destination with loads to<br />

do from horse riding in the dunes and<br />

activities galore.<br />

42 Opera Garnier Paris

Features continued<br />

58 montreuil sur mer<br />

The small hill top town has world class<br />

restaurants, fabulous hotels & a long<br />

history...<br />

62 Hosts, Goats and<br />

Chambres d’Hotes<br />

Best selling author, stand up comedian,<br />

Mod and now B&B owner Ian Moore reveals<br />

all about his new life in France...<br />

66 The Secret Gorges of<br />

Ardeche<br />

Lucy Pitts discovers the wild side of<br />

Provence...<br />

74 fishing with your feet<br />

Michael Cranmer takes part in a French<br />

obsession - peche a pied, in Brittany.<br />

80 Homage to notre-dame<br />

We share some of our Facebook friends<br />

comments and photos dedicated to the<br />

Cathedral of <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame in Paris.<br />

86 Where to stay in paris<br />

Take a look at six fabulous hotels in the city<br />

of light - perfect any time of the year.<br />

Regular<br />

90 Your Photos<br />

The most popular photos on our Facebook<br />

page.<br />

118 My Good Life in France<br />

In the summer time, shutters are flung open<br />

and doors left ajar...

92 escape to the chateu<br />

Meet Billy and Gwendoline who bought a<br />

chateau in their twenties & became stars of<br />

a TV show...<br />

96 going solo in france<br />

Katherine Tasker left London to build her<br />

own home and open a café in rural northern<br />

France...<br />

Expert Advice<br />

102 Buying a historic<br />

monument<br />

When you buy a property that's listed in<br />

France, you should know what the<br />

restrictions and rules are...<br />

106 Top property buy tips<br />

Considering your ongoing finances before<br />

you buy in France is essential.<br />

110 how bank cards work in<br />

france<br />

Knowing how French bank cards work can<br />

save you heaps of prorblems...<br />

Gastronomy<br />

114 How to make crème<br />

brulee<br />

Deliciously creamy, utterly moreish, here's<br />

how to make this classic French dessert at<br />


Spotlight on<br />


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

is a city of medieval houses, glorious architecture, fabulous restaurants,<br />

cultural venues, wine and art, watery arteries and stunning buildings –<br />

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<br />

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

houses, winding alleys of shops and restaurants and elegant courtyards. Fairy tale<br />

pretty in some parts such as Petite France, architecturally splendid in others, the<br />

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

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

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

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

come to Strasbourg and start a diet!<br />

What to see and do in Strasbourg<br />

Petite France<br />

If you love towns with medieval halftimbered<br />

houses painted the colours of a<br />

pastel rainbow – you’ll be in seventh<br />

heaven in Strasbourg’s UNESCO listed<br />

Petite France district on the Grand Ile<br />

where canals cascade to create a stunning<br />

landscape. In the 16th century people<br />

suffering from syphilis were sent here to<br />

isolate them from the mainland and it was<br />

considered quite a poor district until the<br />

late 1980s. <strong>No</strong>w UNESCO listed, it’s a major<br />

attraction and perfect for a stroll and sitting<br />

at a terrace watching the world go by and<br />

for shopping, with many of the former wash<br />

houses now restaurants and quirky stores.<br />

It’s easy to spend a half day wandering, or<br />

even a whole day if you like to take your<br />

time and explore in detail and relax along<br />

the way.

The Cathedral of <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame<br />

The number 1 attraction in Strasbourg is the<br />

red stone Cathedral with around four<br />

million visitors a year. You don’t need to be<br />

a cathedral fan for this one, the sheer<br />

monumental size and exquisite detail is<br />

mind boggling. The cathedral is, to quote a<br />

cliché, breath-taking and features amongst<br />

its medieval stained glass windows, a 14m<br />

high rose window.<br />

It was the tallest man made building in<br />

France until the 19th century and though it<br />

was closed when I went, you can climb the<br />

329 steps in one of the towers for a bird's<br />

eye view over the city and as far as the<br />

Vosges Mountains.<br />

There’s an astronomical clock which lures<br />

the crowds every day, especially at 12.30<br />

pm when a parade of automaton figurines,<br />

including the apostles, takes place. Lit up at<br />

night on a cobbled square lined with shops<br />

and restaurants, it really is eye-poppingly<br />

incredible.<br />

Boat ride<br />

Hire an electric boat and see Strasbourg<br />

from its watery arteries at your own pace.<br />

Or, if you’d like to relax and take in the<br />

sights, including the swanky buildings of<br />

the European Parliament, without effort,<br />

join a guided boat ride with Batorama. On a<br />

sunny day, book the open top boat if you<br />


Left: Font at the Palais Rohan; above: statues at<br />

the Medieval museum; right: Street art at<br />

Museum of Modern Art, contemporary &<br />

modern art; right top, Tete de Christ stained<br />

glass window; below right, installation at<br />

Museum of Modern Art.<br />

Museums<br />

There are around a dozen museums and if<br />

you’re a history fan you’re going to<br />

absolutely love the Medieval Museum and<br />

the Museum of Decorative Arts…<br />

Musée des Arts Decoratif Le Palais<br />

Palais Rohan<br />

Many visitors miss this one as the building,<br />

although huge, seems tucked away in a<br />

corner on a large square overlooking the<br />

river. It’s in the former residence of the<br />

Prince-Bishops, built in the 18th century. It’s<br />

a fascinating museum composed of<br />

sumptuous apartments of the former<br />

cardinals with artefacts from the 17th to the<br />

19th century from tapestries to tableware,<br />

furniture and paintings. There’s an<br />

archaeological museum in the basement<br />

and a museum of fine arts on the first floor<br />

with a major collection of European<br />

paintings which includes Botticelli, Rubens<br />

and Canaletto.<br />

Musée de l’Ouevre <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame |<br />

Medieval Museum<br />

Next door to Palais Rohan, this is another<br />

museum that’s absolutely stunning. I could<br />

have spent several hours in here there’s so<br />

much to see. Located in a former stone<br />

masons house and buildings from the 14th<br />

-16th centuries, it houses masterpieces of<br />

sculpture from the middle ages and from<br />

the Cathedral. Stained glass windows,<br />

including the Wissembourg "Tête de Christ"<br />

window, one of the oldest known stainedglass<br />

windows, religious statuary, wood<br />

carvings, paintings and more, this is one of<br />

the most beautiful collections of medieval<br />

art I’ve ever seen.

Museum of Contemporary and<br />

Modern Art<br />

If you’re a modern art fan the contemporary<br />

and modern art museum will make you<br />

very happy. Just the other side of the<br />

Vauban Dam in a huge glass building,<br />

currently covered in black and white street<br />

art, it is huge and fascinating. It mixes a<br />

number of mediums including a very<br />

famous Monet poppy painting in the<br />

landscape themed area, alongside very<br />

modern art. Wassily Kandinsky is heavily<br />

featured including a room created from one<br />

of his Cubist creations. This is a museum<br />

that presents art by theme and juxtaposes<br />

modern alongside contemporary and<br />

modern could mean Monet or Sisley<br />

alongside something altogether more<br />

quirky - I saw a giant plastic spider with a<br />

cat's face which walks across the room!<br />

The Art Café on the first floor has a great<br />

outdoor terrace with breath-taking views<br />

over the city. Here you can take a break<br />

with tea, pastries or lunch.<br />

Voodoo Museum<br />

And, for those who like their museums to<br />

be seriously unusual - there’s a voodoo<br />

museum in a former water tower. It’s a<br />

private collection, in fact the biggest private<br />

collection of its kind in France and it is<br />

magic! www.chateau-vodoucom

Where to eat out in<br />

Strasbourg<br />

Food lovers will be in their element in this<br />

city – Alsatian food is very tasty indeed,<br />

and they love their cakes and desserts<br />

here. There’s a huge choice of restaurants.<br />

In the main tourist areas, they’re touristy of<br />

course, that doesn’t necessarily mean bad,<br />

you’ll get gorgeous views and some have<br />

excellent food too. But if you’re looking for<br />

authentic and the most delicious Alsatian<br />

cuisine, the restaurants the locals go to,<br />

then these are the ones that will make you<br />

very happy…<br />

Chez Yvonne was a favourite restaurant of<br />

Presidents Chirac and de Gaulle when they<br />

were in Strasbourg but I promise you<br />

there’s nothing statesmanlike about this<br />

place – it’s utterly authentic, old school<br />

Alsace style, cosy, comfy and traditional<br />

Winstub (Alsatian bar and restaurant) style.<br />

It looks just as it did 80 years ago in<br />

grandma’s Alsatian parlour, though it’s<br />

much older than that. Wooden chairs, red<br />

and white check curtains, wood panelled<br />

rooms, I felt a bit like I was dining chez<br />

Hansel and Gretel. Family run, it’s super<br />

friendly with a lovely service. They’ll warn<br />

you about the horseradish, it’s strong and<br />

traditional to have with your dishes in<br />

Strasbourg. This is food that makes you<br />

smile. You can reserve online at their<br />

website: www.restaurant-chez-yvonne.net<br />

Maison des Tanneurs built in 1572 on the<br />

Petite Ile showcases local gastronomy.<br />

Here you’ll find a mix of locals and tourists<br />

enjoying the great location alongside the<br />

river. 42 Rue du Bain aux Plantes<br />

Fink’Stuebel is not touristy at all and<br />

features real Strasbourg gastronomy. If you<br />

want to eat like the locals - go here. It’s<br />

lovely inside, friendly, cosy and charming.<br />

It’s a great menu – don’t miss the iced<br />

Guggelhopf with cherry Schnapps for<br />

dessert! 26 Rue Finkwiller

Restaurant Les Chauvins, Père & Fils is<br />

family run and specialises in Alsatian<br />

tapas and specialities using local products<br />

with a clever twist. The tapas menu<br />

includes their take on Sushi with locally<br />

caught trout, horseradish (of course), local<br />

cheese and rice with a superb sauce. The<br />

pickled vegetables are just delicious and<br />

their home made foie gras with onion<br />

chutney is superb.<br />

A funky interior features one long table at<br />

which strangers can become dining<br />

partners and friends! There are tables for<br />

small numbers too. Innovative, very<br />

original, great food.<br />

You won’t find typically heavy Alsatian<br />

food like Sauerkraut here but it’s a great<br />

way to discover the local gastronomy in a<br />

seriously delicious way, just a couple of<br />

minutes’ walk from the cathedral. You can<br />

book online: www.restaurant-les-chauvins.<br />

fr<br />

Night life and bars<br />

Supertonic is all about Gin and Saucisse, a<br />

genius combination. 57 different types of<br />

gin, 12 different tonics, sausages made by a<br />

local artisan – everything about this bar is<br />

brilliant. I tried a mountain top tonic water<br />

from Chilli which was superb mixed with a<br />

gin made by a father and son company in<br />

the Netherlands and flavoured with a slice<br />

of orange and a star anise. I though it was<br />

the best G &T I’d ever had…. until I tried a<br />

gin from the US with a Thomas Henry tonic<br />

water. If you’re a gin lover you’ll love their<br />

ginventory (they even have an app) to help<br />

you choose your perfect gin and tonic.<br />

Black n Wine Hotel Hannong wine bar and<br />

Roof top terrace is a bit of a secret place<br />

though well known to locals, visitors might<br />

miss it as it’s in a hotel but so worth<br />

seeking out. The bar is lovely, relaxing and<br />

welcoming and a superb wine list.

Aedaen: In rue des Aveugles you’ll find<br />

Aedaen which consists of several venues:<br />

an art gallery, brasserie which is fab for<br />

lunch and dinner and has a cake boudoir,<br />

the comptoir a dessert, with the most<br />

amazing pastry-chef made fancies, pizza<br />

restaurant and a secret bar. Aedaen place<br />

is gorgeous inside and out, with a kind of<br />

indoor jungle theme that is just lovely. The<br />

dishes are delish with all fresh products<br />

and a menu that changes every three days.<br />

They even have a Friday comedy club<br />

night, music nights, and cultural events.<br />

This would be my go to place if I lived in<br />

Strasbourg!<br />

Opposite, the art gallery has a fabulous<br />

collection. Locals love to go here to see the<br />

exhibitions and have brunch at the<br />

weekends.<br />

If you like pizzas, you’ll love their next door<br />

pizzeria… but it’s the secret bar that I fell<br />

head over heels for. It’s a French take on a<br />

speakeasy, and I have to tell you I am not<br />

allowed to reveal where it is but I am<br />

cleared to tell you to go to the pizzeria to<br />

find it. It’s the talk of the town, locals love it<br />

when they find it. Known as the “Secret<br />

Place” it’s open 7 days a week, it’s friendly<br />

and welcoming and very cool, think<br />

industrial chic combined with velvet<br />

couches and chandeliers plus an erotic<br />

cocktail list (yes erotic!)… go and find this<br />

place but don’t tell them I told you about it!<br />

www.aedaen-place.com/<br />

Head to Place d’Austerlitz on the right bank<br />

for bars the locals frequent. Try rue Klein<br />

and quai des Pecheurs where there are bars<br />

on boats.<br />

This whole area has been recently<br />

rejuvenated and if you came here five years<br />

ago you won’t recognise it.

Inside track – a +700 year<br />

old wine cellar/shop<br />

Created in 1395 this wine cellar in<br />

Strasbourg hospital car park is even older<br />

than the hospices de Beaune. When the<br />

hospital was founded, only the rich could<br />

afford to pay for their care with money. So<br />

the hospital took payment in wine and<br />

vineyards, becoming the biggest owner of<br />

vineyards in the region. Patients enjoyed<br />

“wine therapy”, 2 litres of wine per day<br />

each. Wine was lighter then with a 4-6%<br />

alcohol content and it was cleaner than<br />

drinking water, so it was seen as medicine.<br />

<strong>No</strong>wadays the hospital no longer owns<br />

heaps of vineyards but it is THE place to<br />

buy wine. The hospital did a deal with local<br />

wine producers to allow them to mature<br />

their finest wines in the renovated ancient<br />

barrels. In return the producers gift the<br />

cellar thousands of bottles of wine each<br />

year which are sold to benefit the hospital.<br />

Reach it via the hospital car park to<br />

discover the oldest bottle of white wine in<br />

the world, dating to 1472 - in fact they have<br />

a whole barrel of it but assured me it’s not<br />

drinkable! If you’re really lucky you’ll meet<br />

Thibaud, a genial Frenchman who speaks<br />

impeccable English with a strong<br />

Australian accent and who will answer your<br />

questions about wine and the cellar. Don’t<br />

forget to buy a bottle to enjoy tout de suite<br />

or take home - I had one of the best Pinot<br />

Gris’ ever from here, matured in one of<br />

those ancient barrels it was memorable at<br />

10 euros a bottle.<br />

Free visit during opening hours, you can<br />

rent an audio guide (several languages) for<br />

a 30 minute tour, group tours may be<br />

booked in advance (in English), and wine<br />

tasting on Portes-Ouvertes (special<br />

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

Tips for souvenir hunters<br />

If you’re after something to take home<br />

from Strasbourg, don’t miss the year-round<br />

Christmas shop. I went on a brilliant<br />

summer’s day but it still felt like Christmas<br />

inside this quirky store with its Christmas<br />

trees and figurines! Un <strong>No</strong>ël en Alsace, 10<br />

Rue des Dentelles.<br />

Gingerbread: Head to the shop of Mireille<br />

Oster to buy some of the best gingerbread<br />

in town - she’s a 3rd generation maker and<br />

travels around the world to source spices<br />

for the gingerbread and biscuits which are<br />

made to an original recipe. 14 rue des<br />

Dentelles.<br />

You could also buy some of the local pretty<br />

pottery, or kelsch (traditional linen cloth<br />

from Alsace), tablecloths, heart-shaped<br />

napkins. There are plenty of shops selling<br />

them.<br />

Where to stay<br />

Hotel Hannong in the centre of the city is<br />

superb. The breakfast here is legendary,<br />

when I mentioned to a hotelier in Mulhouse<br />

that my next stop was Strasbourg and the<br />

Hotel Hannong they raved about it, and<br />

they weren’t wrong. I loved the juice bar<br />

and smoothie bar where you can make<br />

your own combo – or ask for help.<br />

Everything about this hotel is designed to<br />

cosset and pamper you. The bathroom<br />

products are lovely, the comfiest bed,<br />

nothing jars the eye or the senses from the<br />

bedroom to the bathroom, bar and<br />

breakfast…<br />

How to get around<br />

You can take the tram – get tickets from<br />

vending machine on each platform or at the<br />

tourist office.<br />

How to get there<br />

Train from Paris takes from 1hr 46 mins.<br />

Useful websites<br />

Strasbourg tourist Office; France. fr

When Louis XIV was pondering over how<br />

to create the most magnificent palace the<br />

world had ever seen, one that truly showed<br />

off his glory and absolute power, he can’t<br />

have had any idea just how many people<br />

would tread in his footsteps and gaze in<br />

wonder at his legacy. The Chateau of<br />

Versailles is world famous but I promise<br />

you, nothing you see on the TV or in<br />

photos prepares you for the sheer absolute<br />

golden glitz and glamour of the real thing.<br />

It’s been on my bucket list for years,<br />

decades even, so when I got the chance to<br />

visit on a four-day guided tour, spending<br />

three days at Versailles and ending with a<br />

day at the chateau of Vaux le Vicomte, the<br />

inspiration for Versailles, I was over the<br />

moon. I went with The Cultural Travel<br />

Company, an offshoot of Martin Randall<br />

Tours well known for their gifted guides,<br />

and it was without a doubt everything I’d<br />

hoped for and more. Three days is just<br />

about enough to get a really in depth,<br />

insider view of the palace, gardens and<br />

town - and with this tour you get access to<br />

areas that the general public don’t.<br />

The best bit though for me, was having a<br />

guide who really knew the history and<br />

details of Versailles so well. In this case it<br />

was Tony Spawforth, the editor of a<br />

fascinating book about Versailles, TV<br />

presenter, historian and terrific storyteller.<br />

His anecdotes of life at the castle and<br />

knowledge of history married to day to day<br />

life, the ordinary things that people did<br />

during extraordinary times, made the visit<br />

come to life in a truly special way.<br />

The Chateau of Versailles<br />

700 rooms, 1250 chimneys, 67 staircases<br />

and 2000 windows – the chateau of<br />

Versailles is monumental, a colossus of a<br />

building. It was originally six storeys high,<br />

but the top layers were levelled off in the<br />

19th century.

Versailles has two facades - the Paris side and<br />

the garden side. The Paris side is approached<br />

by three wide avenues. They converge on<br />

Places des Armes which, once a parade<br />

ground, was paved over in the 19th century. We<br />

all know it for its shimmering view of the<br />

castle through golden gates, but in Louis XIV’s<br />

time it was an important military palace and he<br />

loved to review troops here. Underneath the<br />

courtyard are the barracks where the guards<br />

lived in a whole other underground world. It<br />

was said that the smell from the soldiers<br />

latrines was so bad that a layer of mastic was<br />

smothered under the cobble stones - it was<br />

apparently only partially successful. The whole<br />

place was bristling with troops, this was the<br />

seat of government and monarchy, security<br />

was paramount. Though, as we all know, it<br />

wasn’t up to the job.<br />

During the French Revolution the famous<br />

golden gates were ripped down. It might<br />

surprise you to know that they were only<br />

replaced with accurate reconstructions in the<br />

1980s. You can see an original gate still<br />

though - at the Potager du Roi, the king’s<br />

vegetable garden, which is a short walk from<br />

the palace and a must see if you’re in<br />

Versailles.<br />

Read more about it here on The Good Life<br />

France website.<br />

The gates were important, they defined<br />

different areas, administration, residential and<br />

the inner court. “If you didn’t have the right<br />

clothes on, you didn’t get in, though you could<br />

rent outfits at the palace” says Tony. Guards<br />

as fashion police – forward thinking Versailles<br />

style.<br />

If you’re lucky you’ll get to see the guts of the<br />

castle in rooms where there is ongoing work,<br />

the brick walls and ancient beams behind the<br />

glitzy facade. It’s a reminder of the reality of<br />

this place and how what you see is a façade.<br />

The beautiful wood panelling on the walls is<br />

detachable, during WWII it was removed and<br />

hidden in a coal mine in the Pyrénées.

Life at Versailles<br />

When Louis XIV made Versailles his home,<br />

he wanted the aristocracy and nobles of<br />

France to join him there. It was a way to<br />

keep them from plotting against the royal<br />

family as much as anything. But it wasn’t a<br />

life of luxury. Rules for how to dress, where<br />

to sit, what to say and where to be at<br />

certain times were rigidly adhered to.<br />

Even with more than a thousand fireplaces,<br />

the castle was bitterly cold in winter. It was<br />

recorded in 1695, that the King’s glass of<br />

wine froze on the table as he sat dining<br />

alone, watched by hundreds of courtiers. I<br />

was amazed that the room where this<br />

dinner ritual took place was quite small,<br />

you can really imagine everyone squashed<br />

in, eyes on the king and his heavily laden<br />

table, stomachs rumbling, hot and bothered<br />

in summer, shivering in winter!<br />

We pretty much know what Louis XIV did<br />

every day of his life as courtiers kept<br />

copious records detailing the minutiae of<br />

life at court right up until the king’s death<br />

from gangrene.<br />

It was rare for courtiers to have their own<br />

kitchens so they would send their staff out<br />

for food. A sort of shanty town grew around<br />

the castle and there were food booths and<br />

tuck shops on site.<br />

The wings of the palace were essentially<br />

apartments. Lots of records have survived<br />

from the days when courtiers lived there,<br />

there are logs of repairs and renovations<br />

and plenty of complaints, a princess<br />

without a bathroom, moaning about the<br />

cold and the fact there was nowhere to<br />


While in the winter it was wildly cold, in<br />

the summer it was roaring hot. In the<br />

King’s bedroom, sheets would be soaked<br />

in water and hung over the windows to<br />

try to cool it down.<br />

The palace is a labyrinth of rooms and for<br />

the royal family it was almost prison. It<br />

was said that Marie Antoinette,<br />

desperate for privacy would roam the<br />

palace, going through room after room<br />

locking doors behind her. One time a<br />

lock broke and it took hours to find and<br />

rescue her. Louis XVI liked to sit on the<br />

roof of the chateau with a telescope<br />

watching the comings and goings in the<br />

town.<br />

Etiquette and snobbery ruled the lives of<br />

all who lived there until the day when a<br />

mob turned up demanding access to the<br />

King and Queen. When they stepped<br />

onto the balcony, Marie Antoinette<br />

curtsied to the crowd, it was an<br />

extraordinary thing to do. Within hours<br />

the famous etiquette was destroyed.<br />

The Trianons and the<br />

Queen’s Hamlet<br />

The grand Trianon was commissioned by<br />

Louis XIV in 1670 and built by architect<br />

Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1687. Today<br />

it’s more 19th century in style than it was<br />

at the time of the Bourbon royal family,<br />

after being renovated by Empress Marie-<br />

Louise, wife of Napoleon I and Marie-<br />

Antoinette’s great-niece.<br />

The Petit Trianon was built in the park of<br />

the Grand Trianon was a gift to Marie<br />

Antoinette from Louis XVI but was<br />

originally built for Madame de<br />

Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV.<br />

The Petit Trianon later became a<br />

favourite with Marie Antoinette to escape<br />

the rigours of court life. She redesigned<br />

the Trianon gardens and created a model<br />

village round an artificial lake.

The gardens of Versailles<br />

The gardens at the chateau provided time<br />

out from the restrictions of courtly life. A<br />

series of lockable garden rooms and grand<br />

spaces with huge vistas were created.<br />

Fetes could go on for several days at a time<br />

in Louis XIV’s younger days. All in all there<br />

was a mind boggling 25 square miles of<br />

walled hunting park.<br />

were thousands and thousands of pots of<br />

flowers which were constantly being moved<br />

about so that there were always flowers in<br />

bloom. Deadheading was done vigilantly as<br />

the king wanted only to see blooming,<br />

healthy plants. Sometimes the scent was<br />

so overwhelming it drove people inside.<br />

Today those gardens can keep you busy<br />

for hours and walking for miles – literally.<br />

The King’s famous gardener André Le<br />

Nôtre had an army of gardeners. There

Versailles after the French<br />

Revolution and now<br />

After the French Revolution, the<br />

furnishings were sold off at knock-down<br />

prices, the British royal family being keen<br />

buyers. The castle was saved when locals<br />

petitioned to keep it thinking that the royal<br />

family might return one day. It was turned<br />

into a rather innovative museum for the<br />

day and was meticulously restored to look<br />

just as it did on the morning of October 6<br />

1789. Huge amounts of research have<br />

been carried out and it is, says Tony, “a<br />

work of extraordinary zeal and a miracle of<br />

conservation”. In fact work is still ongoing,<br />

when I visited, the bedroom of Louis XV, in<br />

which he died of smallpox, was being<br />

renovated.<br />

It’s still in some ways a working palace.<br />

Queen Elizabeth II stayed at the petite<br />

Trianon when she visited Versailles, and<br />

high profile government meetings still take<br />

place here.

Left: street in<br />

Versailles with a nod<br />

to the past; above<br />

cake at the market,<br />

seriously one of the<br />

best markets in<br />

France...<br />

Versailles town<br />

The town of Versailles is well worth your<br />

time. If it were anywhere else, it would be<br />

famous for its splendid houses and grand<br />

buildings even without the Chateau, but,<br />

overshadowed by the monumental castle,<br />

it’s easy to miss the fact that there is<br />

history everywhere and lots to see and do.<br />

While you’re there don’t miss the fantastic<br />

Versailles market. How it hasn’t been voted<br />

top market in France is beyond me. Marché<br />

<strong>No</strong>tre Dame was created in the early 1600s<br />

and it’s the second largest food market in<br />

France. Open every day except Monday, it's<br />

brimming with shoppers. The smell of<br />

spices, oranges, cooked chickens and<br />

fantastic street food is superb. Go through<br />

the historic pavilions which serve as indoor<br />

markets and on the other side discover little<br />

squares lined with cafés full of locals.<br />

Versailles is one of those places you have<br />

to see for yourself, truly astonishing and<br />

unforgettable...<br />

The Cultural Travel Company’s tours<br />

take place in France and Europe. The<br />

Versailles tour includes coach travel<br />

from Paris <strong>No</strong>rd station, hotel and<br />

welcome meal and a brilliant guide. I<br />

travelled solo as did several other<br />

guests on the tour but left with several<br />

new friends. I can’t recommend this<br />

tour highly enough.

Le Weekend in Dijon

Dijon is absolutely perfect for a fun weekend away. Immerse yourself in<br />

history, art, culture and enjoy scrumptious food and exquisite wine in<br />

this gorgeous city says Janine Marsh...

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

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

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

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

amazing city has all these things by the bucket load… and more.<br />

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

the French term for wandering and just soaking it all in…<br />

Cobbled streets, grand squares, half-timbered houses, a huge palace, narrow alleyways<br />

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

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

on every corner…

What to do in Dijon<br />

Rub the magic owl and make a wish<br />

On the wall of the medieval 13th century <strong>No</strong>tre<br />

Dame church is a small stone owl. <strong>No</strong> one knows<br />

why he’s there and to be honest, you can hardly<br />

tell he’s an owl because for centuries the locals<br />

and passers by have rubbed their left hand over<br />

him for luck. If you don’t know he’s there it looks<br />

very odd, as people will be just walking along<br />

and suddenly veer over to the wall, put their left<br />

hand up, rub and carry on…<br />

Don’t forget to look up when you get to the front<br />

of the church, there’s an extraordinary clock on<br />

top. Four metal automatons strike the hours.<br />

Jacquemart was the first to arrive. He came from<br />

Belgium in 1382. Jacqueline was added to keep<br />

him company in 1651. In 1714 they had a boy -<br />

Jacquelinet and in 1844 Jacquelinette, a girl.<br />

Pick up a leaflet from the tourist office for the owl<br />

trail (Parcours de la Chouette). It indicates 22<br />

markers of historic sites, it takes around 2 hours<br />

at a relaxed pace, and you’ll get to see the main<br />

sites of Dijon.<br />

Palace of the Dukes and<br />

States of Burgundy<br />

The former colossal residence of<br />

the immensely wealthy Dukes of<br />

Burgundy and seat of government<br />

in the region under the Ancien<br />

Régime (pre French Revolution).<br />

It’s an imposing sight which<br />

makes the Place de la Liberation<br />

where it is, all the more exquisite.<br />

It now houses the town hall, the<br />

ancient kitchens can be visited<br />

and there are courtyards you can<br />

use to make your way round<br />

Dijon or simply to sit and enjoy<br />

the views.

Musée de Beaux Arts<br />

The Palais des Ducs also home to the<br />

magnificent and monumental Museum of<br />

Fine Arts. Like all public museums in Dijon<br />

it’s free to enter. You reach it via the lavish<br />

hall of the tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy,<br />

formerly the guards room, and that is your<br />

first inkling of just what a treat you’re in for.<br />

Jewels of 15th century funerary art, the<br />

tombs of Philip the Bold and John the<br />

Fearless are extraordinary with their<br />

namesakes represented by lifelike statues<br />

held up by incredibly detailed Mourners. I<br />

could stare at them for hours as the more<br />

you look, the more you see.<br />

The museum has around 50 rooms of<br />

priceless treasures dating from antiquity to<br />

modern day with some fabulous works by<br />

Yan Pei- Ming, Monet, Manet and so many<br />

renowned artists it’s magnicent. I loved the<br />

religious artworks, the detail is astonishing<br />

and so well preserved they look as they did<br />

hundreds of years ago.<br />

The museum has undergone a major<br />

update and reopened in May 2019. Director<br />

David Liot told me that the renovation was<br />

a challenge “it’s a heritage space so we had<br />

to be very careful but it was dingy before<br />

and we needed to make it accessible to all”.<br />

The flow of the exhibits is vastly improved,<br />

there are two new spaces and the rooms<br />

are filled with light so you can truly<br />

appreciate the artworks. The walls are<br />

coloured to enhance the feel and look, I<br />

loved the Pinot <strong>No</strong>ir colour – it really made<br />

the paintings pop. Don’t miss this one –<br />

you’ll be missing out on an incredible<br />

opportunity to see one of the finest<br />

museums in France (for free).

Musée Rude<br />

His name might not ring a bell but<br />

you almost certainly know of his<br />

work. Francois Rude, son of Dijon<br />

(1784-1855) was the sculptor of La<br />

Marseillaise on the Arc de Triomphe<br />

amongst much else. You can see<br />

some of his main works in the form<br />

of casts in the museum dedicated to<br />

him in the former Saint Etienne<br />

Church (free to enter). It is a quite<br />

beautiful place.<br />

Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne<br />

Just one more museum you mustn’t<br />

miss though there are several more.<br />

If you can, squeeze in a visit to the<br />

quirky Museum of Burgundian Life<br />

(free). The reconstructions of 19th<br />

and early 20th century Burgundian<br />

shops are brilliant – hat shops,<br />

photography, chemists, filled with<br />

bits and pieces from the day.<br />

Place de la Libération<br />

This is essentially the main<br />

courtyard of the Dukes of Burgundy<br />

and it has to be one of the biggest in<br />

France. It’s set out on a semi-circular<br />

arrangement so that wherever you<br />

are, you’re facing the palace. It was<br />

designed by Hardouin-Mansart, the<br />

architect of Versailles, and built by<br />

one of his pupils, Robert de Cotte,<br />

between 1686 and 1701. Lined with<br />

restaurants, shops and bars, it’s as<br />

big a hit with the locals as it is with<br />

visitors. It doesn’t matter if you go<br />

first thing in the morning as I did and<br />

sat sipping coffee watching a lone<br />

pigeon waddling about, or in the day<br />

or evening, as I did with an aperitif<br />

watching kids play in the fountains,<br />

listening to church bells ring and<br />

enjoying the sight of people simply<br />

enjoying the square.

Les Halles – The covered market<br />

This has to be one of the best markets in all<br />

of France. The covered market is stunning –<br />

all wrought iron and wide open spaces. It’s<br />

said to have been inspired by son of Dijon,<br />

Gustave Eiffel. The smells, the sights, the<br />

sounds – they’re as much a cultural<br />

experience as any museum. Stop off at the<br />

stall of Le Gourmet Traiteur for a treat and a<br />

true taste of Dijon. Run by three chefs who<br />

make everything from pies to tarts, cakes to<br />

gingerbread and even a gateau moelleux<br />

(sounds like cake and it is but with a snail<br />

filling, bit of an acquired taste if you ask<br />

me).<br />

I had to be dragged away from their<br />

nonnettes. The market spills out into the<br />

streets around and if you like food, you’ll<br />

love the quality produce here. This market<br />

made me want to live in Dijon.<br />

Open Tuesday, Thursday (inside only),<br />

Friday, Saturday<br />

Visit a gingerbread museum<br />

Channel your inner Hansel and Gretel and<br />

head to Mulot & Petitjean’s gingerbread<br />

museum and factory. It’s just outside the<br />

city centre, a 20 minute walk or take the<br />

bus which takes a few minutes. The<br />

presentations take you through the history<br />

of the firm, founded in 1796, and gingerbread<br />

with some innovative museography –<br />

portraits which come to life and a collection<br />

of artefacts. You also get to see the gingerbread<br />

being made (unless you’re there on a<br />

machine cleaning day). Afterwards enjoy<br />

the gorgeous vintage shop and if you want<br />

to take home a memorable treat, take a<br />

trolley as the 6kg gingerbread cake is not<br />

easy to get in your handbag I discovered.<br />

Tour Philippe le Bon<br />

For a panoramic view over the city, climb the<br />

316 steps of the 15th century Tour Le<br />

Philippe le Bon. It’s said that on a clear day<br />

you can see Mont Blanc.

Le Consortium<br />

Art lovers will adore this contemporary art<br />

venue in a former cassis factory. More than<br />

400 pieces in an ever growing collection<br />

which dates mainly from the 1970s. It’s a a<br />

thought provoking selection. Don’t miss<br />

the book shop with its innovative moveable<br />

bookshelves and reading area. Le<br />

Consortium publishes around 50 art books<br />

a year. And if you’re lucky enough to be<br />

there on a day when they have a cinema<br />

showing in their private cinema or a music<br />

event – you’re in for a treat.<br />

Dijon Mustard<br />

You didn’t think I’d get through talking<br />

about Dijon without mentioning mustard<br />

did you? They’re very keen on it here! You<br />

can visit a mustard shop, or several, for<br />

your tangy fix. I fell in love with the taste<br />

bar at Moutard Edmund Fallot with its<br />

mouth-watering mixes: cassis, pinot noire<br />

and basil to mention just a few. They even<br />

had mustard dispensing machines, pop in<br />

a euro, pick your favourite and out pops a<br />

dinky little pot of yummy mustard.<br />

Bibliotheque Patrimoniale<br />

Harry Potter fan? You’ll love the city library.<br />

Once a Jesuits College, it became a library<br />

in the 17th century and groups can take a<br />

tour of the whole building with its beautiful<br />

wood panelled rooms and painted ceilings.<br />

Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin<br />

visited and loved the enormous 18th<br />

century globe. There are more than<br />

500,000 books, the earliest of which date<br />

back to the 9th century. There’s also a<br />

specialist collection of food books and<br />

menus. Anyone can access the reading<br />

room – it has a Hogwarts feel to it, as if<br />

Harry Potter might be under the twinkling<br />

lights, studying for his wizard’s exam.<br />

<strong>No</strong>w all this culture and fabulous sites are<br />

sure to make you hungry. Lucky for you,<br />

you’re in the perfect city to indulge – Dijon<br />

is a feast for the senses in every way.

Dijon’s incredible gastronomic scene<br />

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

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

Michelin starred Loiseau des Ducs to budget cafés.<br />

Restaurants the locals love for lunch<br />

Brasserie des Beaux arts: Savvy locals have<br />

sussed this one out in it’s superb location<br />

inside the courtyard of the Musée des<br />

Beaux Arts in the former Ducal palace. Chef<br />

Fred Guilland says “Regional, seasonal,<br />

weather, local products - these are my<br />

guides” as he prepares exquisite dishes for<br />

the lunch time crowd. He uses incredible<br />

spices in his classic and creative dishes<br />

and personally visits the farms where the<br />

produce comes from. “Knowing where the<br />

food comes from is essential to happy<br />

cooking” he says, and yes, this place did<br />

make me happy. Very happy.<br />

Maison Milliére: In a former house built in<br />

1438 you will find a rather wonderful<br />

restaurant and shop. Run by affable<br />

husband and wife team Lydia and Jean<br />

Francois Lieutet, there’s an upstairs,<br />

downstairs and gorgeous little courtyard for<br />

a sunny day. Tea room, open for lunch<br />

Tuesday-Sunday, dinner Friday, Saturday it<br />

is superb. Fans of Cyrano de Bergerac will<br />

recognise it from the film. It’s a listed<br />

historical monument, authentic and<br />

memorable.<br />

Restaurants the locals love for dinner<br />

L’Essentiel: This is one tourists rarely, if<br />

ever discover since it’s not right in the<br />

centre but a very short walk away. This is<br />

where the locals go, lured by the delicious<br />

dishes of chef Richard Bernigaud whose<br />

deft hand creates memorable and<br />

delectable flavours. The menu is terrific<br />

value, the ingredients are top quality,<br />

friendly service, and if I lived in Dijon, this<br />

would be my go to restaurant.

Sitting at Le Pre aux Clercs Brasserie par<br />

Georges Blanc, in the big, light Place de la<br />

Liberation with a glass of good local wine<br />

induces happiness. Listening to the tinkling<br />

fountain, the low hum of people talking and<br />

laughing, enjoying al fresco happy hour,<br />

knowing that you’ve got a delicious dinner<br />

coming up. Brilliant.<br />

Dine outside on a fine day, inside with its<br />

elegant interior when it’s cooler. This place<br />

serves classic dishes with aplomb. I went for<br />

the traditional, eggs poached in Pinot <strong>No</strong>ir,<br />

boeuf bourguignon – seriously good, and a<br />

really welcoming restaurant too.<br />

Brilliant bars<br />

If you like your cocktails served with finesse in a<br />

memorable location (a 13th century mansion no<br />

less), Monsieur Moutarde is THE place to go.<br />

Seek out the terrace area (go through the bar),<br />

it’s gorgeous and if you go early evening you’ll<br />

have it almost to yourself (I went at 17.30). There<br />

are little enclaves, a vintage looking interior and<br />

a long list of cocktails.<br />

Place de la Liberation has some terrific bars and<br />

is great for people watching. If you like live<br />

music, try Le Pop Art.<br />

Place Francois Rude is another great people<br />

watching place. Known to locals as Place du<br />

Bareuzai, because of the statue of a grape picker<br />

atop the fountain in the centre of the square. In<br />

years gone by wine growers would tread the<br />

grapes by foot which would give them “red<br />

stockings” (“bas rosés”/bareuzai).<br />

For a lunch time bevvy there are lots of bars<br />

around the Les Halles covered market.<br />

For sheer wow factor the bar of the Théâtre<br />

Dijon Bourgogne takes some beating. It’s In the<br />

former 15th century church of Saint Jean which is<br />

now a theatre.<br />

Dr Wine is popular with locals into wine, a bit<br />

bobo (bourgeois- bohemian French for middle<br />

class!. It’s very designer with a lovely courtyard<br />

in a posh mansion house (5 rue Musette)

Where to stay<br />

I stayed at the Residence Le Pré aux<br />

Clercs, right in the heart of the city. From<br />

here it's literally a 10 second walk to the<br />

Place de la Libération. A boutique B&B<br />

with just five rooms, including top floor<br />

suite, I loved feeling like a local staying<br />

here and being so close to the centre of<br />

everything yet in a quiet side street.<br />

Lovely breakfast provided in the<br />

restaurant next door.<br />

Getting around<br />

There’s a good tram system and buses<br />

too.<br />

How to get there<br />

The train from Paris takes just 1.5 hours<br />

so it's an easy day trip destination. But,<br />

you don’t want to just go for one day –<br />

two is much better as there’s simply so<br />

much to see and do.<br />

Useful websites<br />

Dijon tourist office; Burgundy tourist<br />

office; www.france.fr<br />

12 food specialities you should try in Dijon<br />

- Boeuf bourguignon – here’s how to make<br />

this classic dish at home<br />

- Ouefs en meurette, eggs poached in wine.<br />

- Jambon persille, ham with a jellied, herby<br />

lauyer<br />

- Gingerbread – interesting fact, it’s made<br />

with anis, not ginger!<br />

- <strong>No</strong>nettes – here’s how to make “little<br />

nuns” cakes at home<br />

- Poulet Gaston Gerrard - story of how the<br />

mayor of Dijon invited people for dinner<br />

and his wife cooked chicken dish but<br />

messed up the recipe. She mixed mustard,<br />

cream and Comte cheese ... here’s how to<br />

make it at home.<br />

- Brioche with pink praline<br />

- Kir with Cassis made with white wine, Kir<br />

Royale with Champagne and Cassis (a<br />

blackcurrant liqueur of Burgundy).<br />

- Brillat Savarin, soft cheese, created in<br />

1890 and made year round in Burgundy.<br />

- Epoisses, a very smelly cheese,<br />

apparently Napoleon Bonaparte's<br />

favourite.<br />

- Burgundy snails…<br />

- Gougeres – okay they may not have<br />

originated here but – the people of Dijon<br />

absolutely love them and the boulangeries<br />

all stock them because alongside<br />

gingerbread, they’re de rigeur with aperitifs<br />

in Dijon!

Opera Garnier<br />

the Versailles of<br />

Opera Houses

History of the Paris Opera<br />

Palais Garnier, Opéra National de Paris or<br />

Opéra Garnier, or more known commonly<br />

as the Paris Opera, is generally considered<br />

to be one of the most important buildings<br />

in Paris.<br />

It’s actually not as old as you might think.<br />

In 1860, the city of Paris held a contest to<br />

choose a design for the new opera house. It<br />

was at a time when Paris was undergoing<br />

huge change under the direction of<br />

Georges-Eugène Haussmann, commonly<br />

known as Baron Haussman. Napoleon III<br />

appointed him to carry out a massive urban<br />

renewal programme in Paris. More than 170<br />

designs were submitted and Charles<br />

Garnier, just 35 years old, was the winner.<br />

Born in rue Mouffetard, Paris, in 1825 he<br />

was formally educated but unknown. The<br />

opera house opened in January 1875 and it<br />

was to make him internationally famous.<br />

In creating Palais Garnier, he crafted the<br />

architectural style of the Second Empire.<br />

When Empress Eugénie, perplexed by the<br />

building's lack of unity, asked him: “What is<br />

this style? This is no style, it is not Greek or<br />

Louis XVI”, Garnier replied “<strong>No</strong>, those styles<br />

are all outdated, this is Napoleon III”.<br />

It wasn’t an easy project. During the course<br />

of its construction delays were caused by<br />

the discovery of an underground lake, a war<br />

in 1870, the Siege of Paris and fall of the<br />

Second Empire. Napoleon III died two years<br />

before the work was finished.<br />

The Paris Opera company founded by Louis<br />

XIV in 1669 moved here, its 13th home, on 15<br />

January 1875. It was an enormous success<br />

and became the showpiece of Haussman’s<br />

new Paris. To this day it is one of the largest<br />

theatres of the world with 1,979 seats.

The Versailles of Opera<br />

Houses<br />

Opulent, ornamental, gleaming, glamorous<br />

and glitzy – wow factor galore is what the<br />

Opera is all about both inside and out. The<br />

moment you enter its doors to the grand,<br />

mirrored foyers, designed for the rich to<br />

see and be seen, there’s no doubting that<br />

this was meant to be a statement building.<br />

One of the most famous aspects of the<br />

building is the Grand Staircase built from<br />

white marble, with beautiful mellow<br />

lighting, sculptures and lots of gold – it’s<br />

utterly breath-taking and a theatrical<br />

setting. Though, if you visit in 2019 you<br />

might find the sight of two gold painted<br />

tractor tyres a bit bizarre. They’re part of a<br />

modern art installation by French artist<br />

Claude Lévêque to celebrate 350 years of<br />

the Paris Opera. <strong>No</strong>t all who see it are<br />

enthralled. It’s not the first time that Palais<br />

Garnier has caused controversy with its art<br />

choices.<br />

In 1964, the ceiling of the auditorium was<br />

updated with a painting by Marc Chagall.<br />

So great was the criticism at this choice<br />

that the original painting by Eugene<br />

Lenepveu was retained underneath it.<br />

Chagall's secret message in<br />

the ceiling<br />

The ceiling painted by Marc Chagall is now<br />

considered one of the wonders of Paris and<br />

countless thousands have stood looking in<br />

awe at the incredible colours and images.<br />

Recently a secret was revealed in the<br />

painting. The Google Art Project which<br />

designs the most powerful cameras in the<br />

world and photographs major artworks<br />

around the world, captured images of<br />

Chagall’s painting. They invited Chagall’s<br />

son to review the images and he told them<br />

that his father had told him that he had<br />

painted him as a baby, but he had never<br />

been able to see the image despite looking<br />

for many years.

Opera cake<br />

In 1955 great French pastry chef<br />

Cyriaque Gavillon worked at the<br />

legendary Dalloyau bakery in Paris,<br />

trading since 1682 and supplier to<br />

the court of Versailles. Gavillon, a<br />

genius with patisserie, wanted to<br />

make something that, in taking one<br />

bite, would give a taste of the whole<br />

cake. He worked on layers and<br />

tastes and came up with a<br />

wonderfully sophisticated cake.<br />

Made with layers of almond sponge<br />

cake (known as Biscuit Joconde -<br />

Mona Lisa - in French) soaked in<br />

coffee syrup, layered with ganache<br />

and coffee buttercream, and<br />

covered in a chocolate glaze. His<br />

wife told him it reminded her of the<br />

Paris Opera House, with its golden<br />

balconies and deep red velvet<br />

seating. The Opera cake was born.<br />

The Google team zoomed in on the photos<br />

and incredibly, after more than 50 years<br />

the image was revealed, a tiny baby, the<br />

son of Chagall (above left) an emotional<br />

moment for the grown-up son.<br />

Below it hangs an enormous, 340 light, 7-<br />

ton bronze and crystal chandelier designed<br />

by Garnier. In 1896 a counterweight, used to<br />

lift it for cleaning, fell into the audience and<br />

killed a theatre-goer. It was partly this<br />

which inspired the famous tale of the<br />

Phantom of the opera by Gaston Leroux in<br />

1910. In fact go there today and you’ll see a<br />

door marked for the Phantom’s box!<br />

The stage is the largest in Europe and can<br />

hold up to 450 artists! When you visit there<br />

are often rehearsals ongoing so you can’t<br />

always get into the auditorium all the time<br />

but may have to wait to see it. In the Grand<br />

Foyer, lined with mirrors and lights is just<br />

like the Gallery of Mirrors at Versailles, and<br />

it’s easy to imagine it in the 19th century,<br />

thronging with jewelled, wide gowned<br />

ladies and top-hatted gents. It was as much<br />

then, if not more so, about showing off your<br />

wealth as it was about seeing an opera.<br />

You can take a tour (self-guided or guided)<br />

to enjoy it in all its splendour and of course<br />

you can see an opera there – but book in<br />

advance, tickets sell like hot cakes!<br />

How and where to get tickets from: There<br />

are a wide range of performances year<br />

round from ballet and opera, both classical<br />

to modern and a range of prices from 15<br />

Euros to hundreds of Euros.<br />

Book online at: www.operadeparis.fr<br />

Guided tours take place in English each day<br />

at 11:00 and 14:30. Reserve online at Opéra<br />

Garnier or via tour companys like Cultival.<br />

Fans of Escape Game might like to know<br />

you can take part in an immersive journey<br />

in the footsteps of the Phantom of the<br />

Opera, animated by actors in period<br />

costume! Book online at OperadeParis

Spotlight on<br />

COGNAC<br />

The town of Cognac in the Charente department, south west France makes for a<br />

great visit. Especially if you love cognac. And historic towns, gorgeous countryside,<br />

sitting at cafés watching the world go by says Janine Marsh<br />

Cognac<br />

The name cognac is famous the world over<br />

for the fine French brandy made from white<br />

wine grapes. And, as you’d expect, cognac<br />

the drink is a major part of visiting the town<br />

of Cognac. There are several important<br />

cognac houses and a dedicated museum<br />

plus discovery centre.<br />

The origin of cognac dates back to the 16th<br />

century when Dutch settlers visited to<br />

purchase salt, wood, and wine. As the long<br />

journey home made preserving the wine<br />

difficult, they started to distil the wine into<br />

eau-de-vie and they realized a second<br />

distillation made for an even finer, more<br />

elegant and very drinkable product. This is<br />

essentially the birth of brandy. The word<br />

“brandy” comes from the Dutch word<br />

“brandewijn” which means burnt wine.<br />

Brandy can be made all over the world, but<br />

only brandy made in the Cognac region of<br />

France and under the strictest guidelines,<br />

can be called “cognac.” It is made from<br />

white wine, using only very specific types of<br />

grapes grown in one of the six crus<br />

surrounding the town of Cognac in the<br />

Charente and Charente-Maritime regions of<br />

France. It’s distilled twice and aged in casks<br />

for a minimum amount of two years.<br />

Cognac the town<br />

Cognac is a pretty town with a “City of Art<br />

and History” label. It’s easy to spend a day<br />

here wandering it’s ancient streets, taking<br />

in the sights, relaxing by the river and<br />

indulging in the local cuisine. The town has<br />

a feeling of peacefulness, prosperity and<br />

good living.

A great starting point is Place Francois<br />

1er, a big square, lined with shops and<br />

bars. It’s a great place to grab a coffee,<br />

or cognac and watch the life of Cognac<br />

going on, before you start a walking<br />

tour of the town. It’s named after King<br />

Francis 1 of France, who was born here<br />

in 1515 (more on that later). It has in its<br />

time had several names and was even<br />

the site of a pig market for a while.<br />

You can take a guided tour with the<br />

tourist office or just amble. It’s not a big<br />

town and easy to see on foot. There are<br />

some beautiful old houses, fabulous<br />

shops ranging from gourmet food to<br />

fashion and art. The Jardin Public<br />

makes for a great picnic spot with its<br />

pretty fountains and peacocks<br />

wandering about. There’s a Museum of<br />

Art and History in a beautiful building<br />

with a collection of paintings and<br />

sculptures as well as a Museum<br />

dedicated to cognac,<br />

Le Musee des Arts du<br />

Cognac<br />

If you want to know about cognac the<br />

drink as well as the region, the Museum<br />

of the Arts of Cognac is a great place to<br />

start. You’ll discover all there is to know<br />

about the creation of cognac and the<br />

area in which it is made. There are<br />

thousands of objects to bring the story<br />

to life as well as a rather fascinating<br />

selection of posters and labels.<br />

Nip next door to the Discovery centre to<br />

find out all about the heritage of<br />

Cognac and the Charente area. You’ll<br />

get a great overview of how cognac<br />

came to be, the different areas of<br />

cognac production, the vineyards,<br />

landscape and villages.<br />

Then continue your walk down to the<br />

riverside. Wide open spaces, beautiful<br />

old warehouses and some of the major<br />

cognac houses are in this part of the

Cognac in Cognac<br />

You can’t go to Cognac and not do a tour<br />

and tasting. There are loads of options<br />

including Hennessy, Remy Martin and<br />

Martell. Just check at the tourist office for<br />

details of all that are available in the town<br />

and the surrounding countryside.<br />

One of the best tours is to be had at the<br />

Chateau Royal de Cognac.. It is an<br />

extraordinary visit of a majestic building –<br />

plus there’s a fabulous tasting…<br />

Royal Chateau de Cognac<br />

The Royal Chateau de Cognac overlooks<br />

the Charente river and was originally a 10th<br />

century fortress, designed to stop <strong>No</strong>rman<br />

invasions. Home to noblemen it was where<br />

one of France’s most celebrated kings,<br />

Francis I was born in 1515. It’s now the<br />

domaine of Baron Otard, whose cognac<br />

house was founded in 1795. The chateau<br />

then was in a state of neglect and the<br />

Baron had it restored and realised that the<br />

thick walls provide exceptional aging<br />

conditions for his eau-de-vie.<br />

Guided tours of the chateau are divided into<br />

two parts, French history and Baron Otard<br />

cognacs. (It's available in several<br />

languages). Tours begin in the historic part<br />

of the chateau, then onto the cellars.<br />

You can smell the cognac as you walk<br />

through the doors of the 12th century rooms<br />

above the cellars.<br />

The castle is wonderfully preserved, you’ll<br />

see the remains of a 12th century hot water<br />

system and the room where King Richard<br />

the Lionheart came to bless the wedding of<br />

his illegitimate son Philip of Cognac. There<br />

are sculptures and engravings, early style<br />

Renaissance rooms – in fact it’s said that<br />

the French Renaissance was born here.<br />

In some rooms there are engravings carved<br />

into the walls by English prisoners which<br />

are fascinating.

Cognac fact file<br />

Only brandy made in the Cognac region of France<br />

and under the strictest guidelines, may be called<br />

“Cognac.”<br />

V.S. (Very Special): stored for at least two years in<br />

cask<br />

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

four years in a cask.<br />

XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon: stored for at least six<br />

years in a cask<br />

Hors d’âge (literally meaning Beyond Age): equal to<br />

XO, term is used by producers to market a highquality<br />

product beyond the official age scale.<br />

Use a tulip- shaped or balloon glass. to capture<br />

cognac’s subtle aromas.<br />

The ideal temperature to serve cognac is between<br />

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

evaporate and lose taste and flavour.<br />

Napoleon Bonaparte’s favourite drink was cognac.<br />

Down in the cellars the 90% humidity and<br />

constant 15 deg C temperature are perfect<br />

condition for the spiders that are part of the<br />

cycle of production. The cognac is matured<br />

in wooden barrels, the spiders eat the bugs<br />

in the wood and keep it clean. Cognac<br />

evaporates through the wood and causes a<br />

blackened fungus to form on the walls and<br />

ceiling called “the angels share”, the locals<br />

joke that the spiders are drunk in here!<br />

The room where Francis 1 was baptised as<br />

a baby, more than 500 years ago, is now<br />

the dry cellar room. There are sniff tables<br />

where you can really tell the difference<br />

between the different types of cognac<br />

In the dungeons are the oldest bottles of<br />

cognac dating back 200 years. It’s a totally<br />

fascinating visit only made better by the<br />

tasting at the end of the tour!<br />

Eating out in Cognac<br />

Locals love: Le Bistro de Claude. Fresh food<br />

and a tasty menu, great atmosphere and<br />

lots of cognac to choose from! Friendly<br />

staff, English spoken and full of locals who<br />

know a great restaurant when they see<br />

one…<br />

Wine and dine: Atelier des Quais. From the<br />

door just off the main bridge, you might not<br />

realise just how lovely this place is. If you<br />

enter the door from the quayside opposite<br />

the towers of the Chateau Royal, it’s<br />

obvious you’re somewhere special. Go for<br />

coffee, tapas, cocktails and for the fabulous<br />

lunch or dinner menu. The courtyard with<br />

its twinkling lights at night is truly lovely.<br />

Poulpette, in the Saint-Jacques district is a<br />

unique and lovely tiny restaurant with a nochoice<br />

menu. The chef cooks whatever is<br />

freshest and most appealing to him; it’s<br />

creative and authentic.<br />

Chez Aristide, in the pedestrian zone of Old<br />

Town, traditional, regional menu with a<br />

fresh twist. Casual and hip with a nice<br />


Chai Meukow, a restaurant within the<br />

Cognac House Meukow in the centre of<br />

town. Lunch only with a no-choice menu<br />

that’s fabulous. Reservation is obligatory<br />

(online at their website) you can also do a<br />

tour and tasting.<br />

Gourmet specialities: Le Gourmet<br />

Charentaise. A terrific selection of local<br />

specialities and amazing liqueurs and<br />

cognacs. I spent 45 minutes in here<br />

admiring the heaving shelves and checking<br />

out the goods some of which I’ve never<br />

seen anywhere else. Seriously drool-worthy<br />

and perfect for souvenirs to take home (if<br />

they make it!)… (22 rue du canton)<br />

Where to stay<br />

Quai des Pontis is situated in the heart of<br />

Cognac, on the Charente River. It’s a<br />

magical setting with three different types of<br />

accommodation from gypsy caravans to<br />

cabins on stilts on the river’s edge and cosy<br />

wooden lodges. They’re all equipped with<br />

mod cons such as DVD’s, LCD television<br />

sets, Nespresso machines.<br />

But it’s the natural beauty of the resort that<br />

makes it a knockout location and really<br />

brings it home that the countryside laps<br />

right up to the edges of the town. There’s<br />

loads to do here from fishing, swimming,<br />

exploring the surrounding countryside or<br />

the short walk into town,.<br />

Discover what’s on and things to do in<br />

Cognac at www.tourism-cognac.com.<br />

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



Le Touquet Paris-Plage<br />

The "Monaco" of <strong>No</strong>rthern<br />

France<br />

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

Architecturally it has a mix of British Edwardian and French Belle Epoque styles.<br />

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

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

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

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

History of Le Touquet<br />

Le Touquet was named Paris-Plage by<br />

Hippolyte de Villemessant, the founder of<br />

Le Figaro in the 1800s because it was so<br />

popular with Parisians who loved its<br />

forests for hunting, shooting and fishing.<br />

In the 1880s, British visitor Sir John Whitby<br />

decided to develop the town targeting rich<br />

Britons and the upper classes. Le Touquet<br />

became a town in 1912 and is known in<br />

France as the “Monaco of the north”. Right<br />

from the start it attracted the wealthy and<br />

the famous from around the world, lured<br />

by its beautiful villas, world class hotels<br />

and penchant for fitness and sports.<br />

The great British writer H G Wells (Time<br />

Machine) eloped here in 1909. <strong>No</strong>ël<br />

Coward, P G Wodehouse, Marlene Dietrich,<br />

Edith Piaf, Cecil Beaton and Ian Fleming all<br />

holidayed here – the latter based his iconic<br />

Bond, 007, story “Casino Royale” on Le<br />

Touquet’s casino. Serge Gainsbourg got<br />

his first singing break here, singing at<br />

Flavio restaurant (it’s still there), Sean<br />

Connery signed his first James Bond<br />

contract in the town. The list is endless for<br />

those who have fallen for its charms. And<br />

it continues: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt<br />

are fans!

Le Touquet today<br />

Architecrurally, not that much has changed<br />

though the biggest difference of the last<br />

100 years is the disappearance of the<br />

Royal Picardy Hotel.<br />

Opened in 1930 it was a magnet for the<br />

wealthiest people. It was at the time the<br />

biggest hotel in the world with more than<br />

500 rooms and apartments so large they<br />

had their own swimming pools – 50 of<br />

them. There were 120 public lounges and<br />

more bars and restaurants than anyone<br />

can remember. Cole Porter stayed here and<br />

wrote “Anything Goes” on the piano at the<br />

casino across the road. It was majestic,<br />

splendid and grandiose on a supersize<br />

scale. Alas it was destroyed during WWII<br />

and what remains is now apartments and<br />

shops.<br />

The grand villas and Belle Epoque market,<br />

the casinos and the fabulous Westminster<br />

Hotel, the tennis courts and swimming<br />

pools, golf resort Inaugurated by British<br />

Prime Minister Lord Balfour in 1904) and<br />

horse racecourse all remain and if Winston<br />

Churchill was to return (as he so often did),<br />

he would still recognise it from its glory<br />

days.<br />

What to see in Le Touquet<br />

There’s a 7km long beach of soft white<br />

sand with pretty little beach huts, a water<br />

theme park on the beach with heated pools<br />

and a choice of spas are on offer. Climb the<br />

274 step lighthouse for jaw-dropping views<br />

over the countryside and coast.<br />

Take the little train ride around Le Touquet<br />

to view some of the magnificent turreted<br />

buildings in the town and the forest on the<br />

outskirts of the centre.

The streets are filled with chic French<br />

boutiques where you can buy Donna Karen<br />

and Chanel alongside less expensive but<br />

equally stylish brands. There are specialist<br />

food shops, chocolatiers, wine caves and<br />

some of the best patisseries I’ve ever come<br />

across in France. Head to rue Metz for<br />

gourmet cakes, marshmallow creations,<br />

artisan chocolate, and artisan food shops<br />

that are simply irresistible.<br />

The Saturday morning market in a listed<br />

covered art deco market is superb.<br />

Golf course La Mer (18 holes) is rated in the<br />

top one 100 courses in continental Europe<br />

and has fabulous views over the sea, plus a<br />

great clubhouse. There’s also La Foret (18<br />

holes) and Le Manoir (9 holes). Golf Le<br />

Touquet is an open golf club and attracts<br />

players from all over Europe. There’s a<br />

friendly atmosphere and rumour has it a<br />

certain golf loving British Royal prince is to<br />

be seen on one of the courses from time to<br />

time!<br />

There’s also a yacht club that’s open to all,<br />

boat rides, sailing lessons, tennis centre<br />

with more than 30 courts. And if you need<br />

a bit of a pick me up, try the Thalasso<br />

Therapy Spa right on the beach, created by<br />

Tour de France rider Louison Bobbet and<br />

located in the avenue named after him. The<br />

famous seaweed treatments will have you<br />

feeling sparkling and sprightly.<br />

And, when you want to take a break, there<br />

are excellent restaurants from the Michelin<br />

starred Le Pavillon in the Westminster<br />

Hotel to the famous fish restaurant Chez<br />

Perard (Lord Alan Sugar’s favourite, he’s<br />

often seen in there) to bistros specialising<br />

in classic French dishes.

Don’t miss: Horse riding in the dunes<br />

Horse riding along the beach and in the<br />

dunes is just about as much fun as it’s<br />

possible to have. It doesn’t matter if you’ve<br />

never ridden a horse in your life, now’s the<br />

time to start. I went to the Centre Equestre<br />

on Avenue de la Dune aux loups and<br />

booked a one hour walk with a horse (pony<br />

rides are available for kids separately).<br />

With my two daughters who’d never been<br />

on a horse, we had an orientation session<br />

then set off for the beach. With the wind<br />

blowing in our hair, we followed the walk<br />

leader and got to see a different side to this<br />

town, wilder and less manicured than the<br />

posh centre, the waves lapped the beach<br />

around the horses feet, they clearly loved it.<br />

And so did we.<br />

With more than 400 events a year ranging<br />

from wine tasting and book fairs, concerts<br />

with international acts, to the Women’s<br />

Open Tennis and Enduropal race set up by<br />

Thierry Sabine who also founded the Paris-<br />

Dakkar race, season in France, and month<br />

long Christmas festivities – Le Touquet is a<br />

year-round superb weekend destination.<br />

And very moreish. You’ll always want to go<br />

back…<br />

Useful websites:<br />

Tourist Office: http://gb.letouquet.com/<br />

Equestrian Centre: centre-equestreletouquet.ffe.com/<br />

Racecourse Le Touquet: www.hippodromeletouquet.com/


Montreuil-sur-<br />

A town for all season<br />

Montreuil sur mer<br />

Around an hour from the port town of<br />

Calais, Montreuil-sur-Mer is a perfect<br />

weekend destination as well as a great<br />

stop off point for travellers going to and<br />

from the UK. Easy to reach from the A16<br />

main auto route, coming here offers a slice<br />

of history and gastronomy as this little<br />

town is home to a superb Michelin star<br />

restaurant and a dozen truly excellent<br />

brasseries, restaurants and cafés.<br />

There are plenty of hotels and chambre<br />

d’hotes. If you’re after a special stay and a<br />

special meal, the 4 Star Chateau de<br />

Montreuil definitely fits the bill. This<br />

gorgeous little manor house has 10<br />

charming bedrooms, each different and<br />

each special - from medieval style with a 4-<br />

poster bed to Chanel-like elegance. The<br />

views from every room are fabulous.<br />

Owned by renowned chef Christian<br />

Germain, understandably the restaurant is<br />

a big lure and dishes are of the classic<br />

French style. An aperitif and nibbles in the<br />

gorgeous salon are de rigeur on a cool day<br />

with a big roaring fire. If the sun’s out, the<br />

landscaped gardens are exquisite.<br />

From here you can easily walk around the<br />

ramparts of the citadel, following in the<br />

footsteps of Hugo who sat under a plane<br />

tree in 1837 dreaming up the story of Les<br />

Miserables. The view is largely unchanged.<br />

In Place Darnetal, the chocolate boutique,<br />

complete with chandelier, is hard to ignore<br />

with its handmade chocolates tempting you<br />

from the windows. Walk to the left and<br />

you’ll arrive in Place Gambetta where you’ll<br />

find the Chapelle St Nicolas rebuilt by<br />

Clovis <strong>No</strong>rmand, a pupil of Violet le Duc.<br />

You’ll also find the Abbatiale St Saulve<br />

which was part of a much bigger building<br />

from the 12th century. Montreuil-sur-Mer<br />

takes its name from the Latin word<br />

monasteriolum’ meaning small monastery.

s<br />

Mer<br />

The town had a strong religious history<br />

attracting many pilgrims. Long before that,<br />

it was a Roman town.<br />

Over the years Montreuil-sur-Mer has seen<br />

its fair share of dramatic events including a<br />

serious earthquake in the 15th century,<br />

invasion by the armies of Emperor Charles<br />

Quint, a siege by Henry VIII of England and<br />

acting as headquarters for General Haig<br />

during World War I. A statue of him astride<br />

his horse sits before the town theatre,<br />

made by Paul Landowski (whose best<br />

known work is Christ the Redeemer in Rio<br />

de Janeiro).<br />

Just to the right as you face General Haig is<br />

a fabulous boulangerie - Le Grémont, a<br />

contender in the best baker in France<br />

competition. Here, the speciality loaf is<br />

called a Valjean, named after the character<br />

in Les Miserables, who in the book had a<br />

factory in Montreuil-sur-Mer. Just across<br />

the road is Fromagerie Caseus, a cheese<br />

shop that attracts cheese lovers from far<br />

and wide to buy its absolutely superb<br />

selection. There are plenty of local<br />

specialities from stinky Maroilles to<br />

sublime Sire de Crequy.<br />

The large central square, named after<br />

General de Gaulle is lined with bars,<br />

restaurants and shops. On a Saturday<br />

morning it bursts into life as the weekly<br />

market lures shoppers from all over the<br />

area.<br />

Head to the little rue du Clape en Bas for a<br />

tranquil aperitif, or a delicious snack in one<br />

of the tiny cafés.<br />

Then continue your walk of discovery<br />

heading back towards the Citadel to take a<br />

tour of the ancient buildings and visit the<br />

town museum.

The fortified gates date to the beginning of<br />

the 13th century as do several towers which<br />

once provided protection to what was a<br />

port town – hence the name sur Mer (on<br />

sea). There’s no sea there now, in fact<br />

Victor Hugo wrote that he was a bit miffed<br />

about it! But over the centuries the estuary<br />

from the channel which led up to the steep<br />

walls of Montreuil silted up and now the<br />

waves are some 10km away in Le Touquet.<br />

This was one of the first citadels built in<br />

France, commissioned by Charles IX in<br />

1567. It was improved by Vauban, Louis<br />

XIV’s engineer and now houses part of the<br />

collection of the Roger Rodière Museum of<br />

France and is a classified site for the<br />

protection of bats.<br />

Each year the townsfolk of Montreuil dress<br />

up to the nines and put on a most amazing<br />

show – Les Miserables performed on the<br />

ramparts by a cast of some 500 locals,<br />

accompanied by cannon and horses. It’s an<br />

absolutely brilliant event, professional but<br />

heart felt.<br />

While you're here - eat. Seriously –<br />

Montreuil-sur-Mer, “Destination<br />

Gastronomique”, really is that good. There<br />

are regular food and wine festivals and lots<br />

of really excellent restaurants.<br />

Locals love Froggys which specialises in<br />

rotisserie, Le Caveau (terrific brasserie fare<br />

and scrumptious Flemish pizzas), Anecdote,<br />

industrial chic décor and a fabulous menu,<br />

Bistronome for great steak frites. Walk off<br />

the calories round this picturesque little<br />

town or take a turn around the ramparts<br />

which takes about 40 minutes.<br />

Useful websites:<br />

www.tourisme-montreuillois.com/fr<br />

www.pas-de-calais-tourisme.com/en<br />


Hosts, Goats and Chambres d<br />

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

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

out loud…<br />

There’s a point in my first or second book,<br />

probably both, where my wife, Natalie, and I<br />

sit down and have one of those ‘The future,<br />

what shall we do?’ conversations. We’d<br />

already lived in France for a few years, but<br />

the weekly commute back to the UK to<br />

perform stand-up had left its mark; a<br />

hollow eyed ‘dead man walking’ stare<br />

whenever I had to leave home and the<br />

family, a spine so damaged from overuse<br />

of budget airlines that it resembled a<br />

fairground helter skelter and a mini-bottle<br />

rosé addiction from trying to make the<br />

Eurostar feel more glamourous than it<br />

actually is. It was time for a change, we<br />

agreed. Time for a new chapter in our life.<br />

"We're definitely not opening a<br />

chambres d’hôtes"<br />

‘Well one thing we’re definitely not doing,’ I<br />

said, tapping the table for emphasis, ‘is<br />

opening up our house as a chambres<br />

d’hôtes! We moved here for peace and<br />

quiet, not for other people.’<br />

Natalie laughed, ‘Can you imagine?’ She<br />

snorted, ‘You as a host? Having to be nice<br />

to people?’ She could barely control herself<br />

now, which was slightly insulting. ‘<strong>No</strong>,<br />

definitely not a chambres d’hôtes!’<br />

"Our Chambres d’hôtes opened<br />

last year"<br />

Our chambres d’hôtes opened in<br />

<strong>No</strong>vember last year in a u-turn so dizzying<br />

that the term u-turn itself seems<br />

inadequate, it was more a triple axel half<br />

loop with salchow and our heads still<br />

haven’t stopped spinning. So why the<br />

change of heart? Had the sardonic standup<br />

comic, the professional cynic,<br />

mellowed? Was I suddenly, that awful<br />

thing, a ‘people person’?

’Hôtes<br />

Well no, not exactly but in the end, you<br />

have to take what you have and work out<br />

the best way forward. I wanted to be at<br />

home more and concentrate on writing and<br />

the French house prices meant that, having<br />

sold up in Southern England, we had a big<br />

property with numerous outbuildings that<br />

would make a fine bed and breakfast<br />

independent of the family home. And,<br />

despite being told too many times for<br />

comfort, that maybe I wasn’t ‘genial host’<br />

material, it was still a no-brainer.<br />

‘I can change,’ I kept repeating, ‘not<br />

commuting every week will soften me.’ Of<br />

course, this was before French bureaucracy<br />

got involved, a combination of rabbit<br />

warren and threshing machine that has one<br />

purpose in mind, and one purpose only – to<br />

break you. For example, the necessary<br />

courtesy visit to the local Mairie to tell them<br />

of our plans added an extra 5,000€ to the<br />

bill when it turned out the new stable for<br />

the horse, let’s face it a glorified shed, also<br />

needed planning permission.<br />

‘Your horse needs planning permission,’<br />

said the Mayoress apologetically.<br />

‘I don’t think we’ll get her upstairs to your<br />

office.’ I replied, to no-one’s amusement.<br />

When renovation on the outbuildings<br />

eventually began, it was a massive relief.<br />

<strong>No</strong>t just that the project, eight months after<br />

that Mairie visit had finally begun, but that<br />

our outbuildings were finally being put to<br />

some practical use rather than acting as a<br />

Brocante recycling depot. For years we had<br />

pitched a stall at the local Brocantes and<br />

every year, thanks to Natalie and the<br />

children, we’d come back with more<br />

needless junk than we’d set out with.<br />

<strong>No</strong>w it was time to end this rigmarole and<br />

dump the whole nonsense at the<br />

dechetterie. (My favourite French word<br />

incidentally, dechetterie, it’s the local refuse<br />

tip but literally sounds like De-Shittery –<br />

which is exactly what it is.)

Eight fraught months later the place was<br />

finished, the gravel for the driveway went in<br />

on October 28th and our first guest arrived<br />

the following day, ‘This is beautiful,’ the<br />

guest said, ‘have you been open long?’<br />

‘About 40 minutes.’ I muttered under my<br />

breath.<br />

The idea of opening in the depths of winter<br />

was our canny way of using what would<br />

certainly be just a trickle of guests as<br />

Guinea-Pigs while we learnt the Chambres<br />

d’hôtes ropes, but immediately we were<br />

booked up! We had always reckoned that<br />

the heart of the Loire Valley was going to<br />

be fairly busy what with the chateaux, the<br />

wine and the cheese and so on, but the<br />

world famous ZooParc de Beauval just 20<br />

minutes away is open all year round and<br />

packed out to boot. Plus, Natalie never<br />

stops smugly reminding me, our own minifarm<br />

is partly stocked with animals from the<br />

zoo itself. <strong>No</strong>t Pandas, well not yet anyway,<br />

but our goats came from the zoo. They are,<br />

and I hate to admit this, a selling point. I’ve<br />

had a fractious relationship with the goats. I<br />

see now why the Zoo Beauval was so keen<br />

to be rid of them. They’re constantly finding<br />

new ways to escape their paddock and eat<br />

the roses, while encouraging the horse to<br />

do the same. I once had to wrestle a goat to<br />

the ground in our neighbour’s garden when<br />

she complained of being attacked. I carried<br />

the thing back home, it clinging to me like a<br />

hairy rucksack.<br />

I had complained bitterly about their<br />

behaviour for years but was now told that<br />

they couldn’t be sent back, that they were,<br />

in fact, a non-negotiable asset and I had to<br />

put up with it. I stormed out to the field to<br />

address the goats personally and in no<br />

uncertain terms.<br />

‘<strong>No</strong>w listen goats,’ I began, finger-wagging<br />

at the bemused animals, ‘I’ve had enough.<br />

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

I gave them the dressing down they<br />

thoroughly deserved and felt strangely<br />

empowered by my futile actions not<br />

realising that while doing so, a crowd had<br />

gathered. Three families staying in the<br />

chambres d’hôtes had assembled quietly<br />

to see what the fuss was all about. What<br />

they got was a middle-aged man in a tightfitting<br />

suit reading the riot act to three<br />

utterly disinterested farm animals. I went<br />

red.<br />

‘New members of staff,’ I said striding off<br />

like Basil Fawlty, ‘just breaking them in.’<br />

I expected Natalie to be angry at the show<br />

too, but no.<br />

‘That’s it,’ she said, ‘give the punters the<br />

angry, absurd, pent up man that’s in your<br />

books! That’s a great selling point!’<br />

think you have to calm down to run a BnB<br />

like the perfect host and the next you’ve<br />

created your own kind of ‘man at odds with<br />

the world’ theme park, a sort of Dollywood<br />

for expats. But you know what? It works.<br />

Ian has written two books on living in<br />

France and travelling as a comedian, and<br />

this year his first fiction was published, a<br />

crime novel set in the Loire Valley. All his<br />

books are available here<br />

And if you fancy a few days at Ian’s<br />

Chambres d’hôtes and to watch a grown<br />

man swear at livestock, you can see the<br />

place here www.lapausevaldeloire.<br />

com/<br />

And that’s how it happens, one minute you

The secret<br />

gorges of<br />

Ardeche<br />

The hardly known gorges and roads of the Ardeche region<br />

deserve to be discovered says Lucy Pitts as she wends her<br />

way south of France...<br />

The Ardèche and its winding roads and<br />

inspiring views is a surprisingly quiet<br />

corner of southern France. It’s at the very<br />

south of the Rhône Alpes region, flirting<br />

with both northern Provence and the<br />

Languedoc. There’s a hint of the Garrigue<br />

in the rugged landscape and you’re just a<br />

hair’s breath from the lavender fields and<br />

olive trees of the Drôme. At times you can<br />

almost feel the Alpes to the east but the<br />

Ardèche has its own unique personality<br />

that shifts and changes with the landscape;<br />

at times Mediterranean, then Alpine, then<br />

almost Grecian.

There’s all sort of reasons to visit here,<br />

especially in early September when the<br />

tourists have all but left but the sun is still<br />

warm. And one of the best reasons to come<br />

has be the Ardèche Gorges Nature Reserve<br />

and the surrounding area. And that’s where<br />

the yurt comes in.<br />

From the small town of Vallon Pont d’Arc<br />

about an hour and a half south west of<br />

Valence, take the tourist route signed to<br />

the Pont d’Arc. Although the map might try<br />

and persuade you otherwise, it’s not the<br />

bendiest road in the Ardèche (that’s further<br />

north) but it must come in a close second.<br />

Drive through the rock face of the great<br />

cliffs that surround the road (yes I mean<br />

through) and after a couple of miles, you’ll<br />

find a small sign announcing the Prehistoric<br />

Loges on your right, snuggled down<br />

discretely between the road and the river.

Photo: Sue Chapple

quiet and serene and once you’ve dried off,<br />

just stroll down to the beach and listen to<br />

the sounds of the river as dusk takes a<br />

hold.<br />

There’s a main cabin, with quiet views back<br />

over the gorge and a really good restaurant.<br />

You can connect to Wifi there if you need to<br />

or stay in one of their rooms. But why would<br />

you want to? And as you slip down under<br />

your luxurious covers in the snug of your<br />

yurt, the sounds of nature at night gently<br />

soothes you to sleep.<br />

The Pont d’Arc<br />

The Pont d’Arc is a 54 m high and 60 m<br />

wide, natural bridge carved out of the rock<br />

face of the gorge over the Ardèche River,<br />

and it happens to be just around the corner<br />

from the Loges. If you can, visit early in the<br />

morning, by which I mean about 8.30am to<br />

9am and after a feast of freshly cooked<br />

breads and pastries on your yurt’s balcony.<br />

Or you could try one for the Loges’ Paniers<br />

Gourmand for your day’s exploring.<br />

A yurt to remember<br />

The Loges is one of those places that<br />

takes you slightly by surprise. There are 5<br />

yurts tucked away from each other in<br />

amongst the trees on the slopes which<br />

lead down to one of the private beaches of<br />

the River Ardèche. And as you’ve already<br />

realised, they’re not any old yurts.<br />

Mine had a 4 poster bed (as well as a bunk<br />

bed), luxuriously dressed in leopard skin<br />

blankets and in the corner, my fabulously<br />

indulgent round bathtub. The bathroom<br />

area was created out of reclaimed wood<br />

(presumably from the gorge) giving it a<br />

rustic but still luxury feel. And because of<br />

the carefully secluded position, you can<br />

raise the external flaps of your yurt and<br />

enjoy the privacy of a bath while watching<br />

the sun slowly slip down the face of the<br />

gorge on the opposite side of the river. It’s<br />

Early morning is not the best time to get<br />

photos as the sun isn’t quite up over the<br />

cliffs yet, (well not in September) but<br />

something rather magical happens. I was<br />

the only person there that early, surrounded<br />

by a vast amphitheatre of cliffs as I strolled<br />

down passed a little circle of vines in the<br />

silence. But as I approached the Pont D’Arc,<br />

thousands of birds who live in the rock<br />

face, started swirling around and singing an<br />

exotic song. You can climb right down to<br />

the river and with the lush vegetative and<br />

still warm air, it felt tropical and almost<br />

magical. I went back later in the day when I<br />

got some great photos, but the hushed<br />

reverence and the birds had gone and<br />

without them, the sense of mystic wasn’t<br />

quite as intense.<br />

Photos: Top left Pont d'Arc a natural<br />

bridge carved out of the rock; above<br />

yurts with a luxury feel

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

Pont d’Arc Cavern<br />

I wasn’t expecting to be excited by a replica<br />

of the Chauvet Cave (about 15 minutes’<br />

drive from Vallon) but boy was I! The<br />

original cave was discovered by cavers in<br />

the 1990s and its location is kept secret in<br />

order to protect it. That’s because what<br />

those cavers inadvertently stumbled upon<br />

20 years ago is nothing short of<br />

staggering: cave art, which dates back<br />

30,000 to 45,000 years to the ice age<br />

period. And yet, remains vivid, vibrant and<br />

utterly compelling.<br />

The replica (the largest in the world) is<br />

about 15 minutes’ drive from Vallon and<br />

well signed. Set in a lofty orchard of chêne<br />

trees and limestone paths there are views<br />

across the valley as far as le Mont Lozère<br />

and Col d ’Escrinet. There are also a<br />

number of animations and educational<br />

galleries to enjoy including a children’s<br />

centre and the Aurignacien Gallery, before<br />

you head into the depths of the cave for<br />

your guided tour.<br />

The guide explains as you enter that you’re<br />

going to feel like you’re in the original cave<br />

and you do. It’s spine tingling. There’s<br />

almost a 3D feel to some of the work as the<br />

artists incorporated the contours of the<br />

rock face to add depth, movement and<br />

humour to their drawings. Scratches and<br />

grease marks from the coats of prehistoric<br />

bears are still visible and you start to get a<br />

sense of the artists, as little details like the<br />

bent, broken little finger of one (much like<br />

mine) appears again and again in some of<br />

the hand prints.<br />

As you come back out into the sunshine,<br />

with the Mistral wind nibbling at your<br />

cheeks, you feel a sense of serenity but<br />

also adventure. <strong>No</strong>w there’s just one last<br />

stop to make before you tackle the full<br />

might of the “route touristique des gorges<br />

de l’Ardèche”. <strong>No</strong>t far from Vallon Pont<br />

d’Arc (the starting point for the main tourist<br />

route along the gorges) is the town of<br />

Ruoms. Ruoms is pretty enough but from<br />

there, take a small, winding road signed to<br />


A quick stop at Labeaume<br />

Labeaume (one of the Ardèche’s many<br />

‘village de caractère’) is a small medieval<br />

village nestled against a limestone rock<br />

face. If you love mysterious and tiny<br />

cobbled streets, this is the place for you. It<br />

has a castle that watches carefully from<br />

above and the village opens out onto a<br />

large, pretty square surrounded by plane<br />

trees and perched on the banks of the<br />

Beaume River.<br />

Cross the bridge to look back at the village<br />

huddled into the overhanging cliff face and<br />

dotted with quirky boutiques and quaint<br />

houses, many of which have façades<br />

decorated with pebbles. Or watch a game<br />

of Pétanque unfold in the square.<br />

In July and August they have a musical<br />

festival here and it’s also not a bad place to<br />

use as a base if you want to explore the<br />

surrounding Beaume Gorge and discover<br />

some of the 140 dolmens (megalithic<br />

tombs). Or just sip coffee in the square and<br />

soak up the surrounding beauty before you<br />

head off to tackle the Ardèche gorges.<br />

The long & winding road to St.Martin<br />

There are many ways to explore the gorges,<br />

namely by foot, kayak or even by horseback<br />

but it’s worth starting with a car. Drive<br />

the tourist route from Vallon Pont d’Arc to<br />

St. Martin d’Ardèche to get a lofty feel for<br />

what you’re about to discover. It’s 35 km of<br />

hair pin bends and steep inclines, and not<br />

necessarily for the faint-hearted driver.<br />

Throw in the odd brave cyclist who you<br />

have to overtake, ignore the locals who are<br />

nudging you on from behind, and don’t<br />

expect to spend a lot of time in 4th gear.<br />

On the upside it is peppered with outstanding<br />

viewpoints along the way and<br />

although you tell yourself you’re not going<br />

to stop at each and every one, they’re very<br />

hard to resist mile after mile of breathtaking<br />

views over the limestone gorges<br />

(some of which are 300 metres high) with<br />

glimpses of the tiny river and kayakers, far,<br />

far below. Amazingly the road was only<br />

built in the 1960s and it’s not hard to<br />

imagine what an inhospitable and<br />

challenging terrain it must have been for<br />

anyone travelling before then.

threw open the roof and held on to our<br />

windows which had a life of their own as we<br />

sputtered and coughed our way amongst<br />

the vineyards of the Rhône, through the<br />

scrubby Garrigue and up round the gorges.<br />

With the famous Mistral wind pulling at<br />

your hair and a sense of the vastness of<br />

the region, when you finally drop down into<br />

St. Martin at the other end, you feel a bit<br />

like a conquering hero.<br />

A bit of exploring<br />

St. Martin d’Ardèche or St Julien de<br />

Peyrolas on the opposite side of the river<br />

(and actually in the Languedoc) is a great<br />

place to stay for exploring the gorges.<br />

You’re right on the border of the Drôme,<br />

Vaucluse and Gard and you feel like you’re<br />

back in the Mediterranean. There are<br />

vineyards, plains, olive groves and figs and<br />

the village acts as a bit of a gateway from<br />

the gorges to Provence and the south.<br />

From St Martin you can explore the gorges<br />

by guided tour on foot or by bike, but I went<br />

in a 2CV. My chauffeur was Rosemarie,<br />

who’s family own and run the local organic<br />

wine producing estate, Domaine de la Croix<br />

Blanche and her passion for where she<br />

lives oozes from every pore. She gave me a<br />

choice of quirky vehicles and our 2CV was<br />

both the best and the worst I’m sure. We<br />

I don’t think Rosemarie would disagree if I<br />

said gear changing wasn’t her greatest<br />

strength nor keeping to the correct side of<br />

the road, and the journey was filled with<br />

laughter (and possibly the odd scream).<br />

Rosemarie is pleasantly bonkers and I<br />

couldn’t think of a nicer person to spend a<br />

day with although I hate to think what you’ll<br />

get up to if you join her for one of her<br />

walking tours. Back at the Domaine we had<br />

a quick tasting of their organic Ardèche<br />

rosés which were refreshingly welcome.<br />

Rosemarie’s husband also makes tapenade<br />

and if you arrange it in advance via the<br />

tourist office, he will do demonstrations.<br />

However you choose to explore the<br />

Ardèche and its gorges, take time to linger<br />

in this stunningly beautiful and unusually<br />

quiet corner of southern France which has<br />

something to inspire at almost every twist<br />

and turn. From the civilised wines of the<br />

Rhône to the vast wilderness surrounding<br />

the gorges, it’s not often that you get to<br />

explore somewhere that in places feels<br />

completely untamed and has a past<br />

stretching back to the ice age<br />

For more information about the<br />

Ardèche: www.ardeche-guide.com<br />

To visit Rosemarie and try her wines<br />

and driving : www.<br />

domainedelacroixblanche.com<br />

Details of The Loges and their yurts:<br />

www.prehistoric-lodge.com<br />

For more information about the<br />

Chauvet Cave: en.cavernedupontdarc.fr

Fishing in France... with your feet!<br />

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

heads to the department of Finistere in Brittany to join in the fun...<br />

We’d been crouching on the sand for what<br />

seemed like hours. My knees were aching. I<br />

just had to shift position.<br />

“Tranquillement! Essayez de ne pas faire de<br />

bruit” Marie whispered (Quietly! Try not to<br />

make a noise). Our eyes were fixed on a<br />

tiny volcano-like mound of sand. Waiting.<br />

Watching. Waiting. Suddenly a squirt of<br />

water erupted from our target. Still Marie<br />

didn’t move.<br />

Perhaps I ought to explain at this point. I<br />

was doing what 3 million French people do<br />

every year, Pêche à Pieds, which translates,<br />

charmingly, as Walk Fishing, or, more<br />

literally, Foot Fishing. All you need is a pair<br />

of wellies, a bucket, and a hand rake. Oh,<br />

and local tide-tables. Very important that, if<br />

you want to avoid an unexpected dunking.<br />

The best tide for this activity is as low as<br />

possible, exposing fishy treasures normally<br />

underwater. One of the best places to do it<br />

is Brittany where tidal ranges of 10m occur.<br />

Marie has lived within a cockerel’s crow of<br />

Saint-Pol-de-Léon for all of her 82 years,<br />

wed to Yann, both steeped in Breton<br />

tradition, and speakers of that ancient, but<br />

still very much alive, language. More<br />

importantly to this tale, she is a Pêcheuse à<br />

Pied extraordinaire. She knows all the best,<br />

most secret places to seek out her quarry,<br />

and, how to cook it. She was to be my guide.<br />

We headed for our adventure in the<br />

secluded bay of Pointe Saint-Jean: Marie,<br />

Yann, teenage grand-daughter Léa, my wife<br />

and I, plus a carload of buckets and rakes.<br />

The first discovery of the day came when I<br />

put on my newly-acquired wellies to find<br />

they were both right feet causing me to<br />

walk in circles until I mastered the steering.<br />

The second was that the normally quiet bay<br />

was like Wembley on Cup Final Day, cars<br />

parked willy-nilly along the single-track<br />

approach. We were not alone.

Marie had allowed the time it would take to<br />

walk out to our hunting ground so we’d<br />

arrive about an hour before marée basse<br />

(low tide). So had what seemed like the<br />

entire population of nearby Saint-Pol-de-<br />

Léon. There were people everywhere along<br />

the vast sweep of beach; dogs, push-chairs,<br />

families, singles, couples, all searching for<br />

the same elusive treasure as us…like a<br />

Lowry painting without the grime, factories,<br />

tenements, and clogs, but you get my point.<br />

Our expert set off purposefully, skirting the<br />

coast and branching out towards rocks<br />

normally submerged, but now exposed by<br />

the sea’s retreat. She showed us how to<br />

scrape the sand with our rakes to turn up<br />

shells just below the surface, “Bon.<br />

Quelques coques” (Good. Some cockles)<br />

and showed us how to swill out the sand<br />

and mud with seawater to separate our<br />

catch.<br />

We turned up different shells and paused<br />

while Marie identified them: palourde –<br />

grooved carpet shell clam; bigorneau –<br />

winkles; amande de mer – dog cockle;<br />

praire – saltwater clam (aka Warty Venus!);<br />

lavagnon – peppery furrow shell clam; bulot<br />

- whelk. Lots of clams but each subtly<br />

different. Small ones were returned to the<br />

sand, fatter examples kept. Such is the<br />

popularity of Pêche à Pieds that strict<br />

regulations are in place regarding what and<br />

how much can be taken and when.<br />

Information, pocket guides, notice boards,<br />

and online sites are readily available, so no<br />

excuse for pleading ignorance if the<br />

Gendarmes Maritime nab you. Fines of<br />

several thousand euros have recently been<br />

levied in Finistère.<br />

I’d had my head down so when Marie said<br />

“Viens. Il est temps de revenir” it was a<br />

shock to see the tide coming in. (If you go<br />

without a guide, remember to set your<br />

phone alarm to allow plenty of time before<br />

the tide turns to get back to safety).<br />

Back on shore we took stock of our<br />

buckets. Lots of clams, a mound of winkles,<br />

and whelks. A pretty good harvest for three<br />

hours work. But Marie wasn’t content,<br />

“Demain, couteau et huîtres” she said<br />

firmly. (Tomorrow, razor clams and oysters.)<br />

We talked as Marie dealt with the catch:<br />

“We relied on fish to live when I was young”<br />

she told me as she changed the water in<br />

the buckets an hour after our return,<br />

mimicking the tide.

Next day we headed for a spot directly<br />

beneath Le Pont de la Corde over La Penzé<br />

river. Steep banks and thick gloopy mud<br />

made the scramble down tricky but Marie<br />

soon straightened up with a triumphant<br />

grin, holding a huge huître de sabot de<br />

chevaux (horse’s hoof oyster). Our buckets<br />

filled up with more conventional oysters<br />

and juicy palourdes fattened in the rich tidal<br />

waters of the river.<br />

Then off to Pointe Saint-Jean again for an<br />

even lower tide than the day before. “You<br />

don’t need your rakes today, but you will<br />

need these” said Marie, handing each of us<br />

a carton of salt. “I’ll explain when we get to<br />

the spot.”<br />

“Life was hard in the war, but I still like to<br />

catch what I can for free”. She covered the<br />

buckets with seaweed. “I will change the<br />

water again in the morning, same as the<br />

tide. The fish will be fresh for our meal<br />

tomorrow night.”<br />

We had only one mission left to fulfil: to<br />

catch the notoriously elusive razor clam, or<br />

couteau (knife), and to do so we needed<br />

ratlike cunning, patience, and a carton of<br />

salt. <strong>No</strong> point trying to dig, Marie told us,<br />

the couteau just buries itself deep in the<br />

sand using its powerful ‘foot’ to pull further<br />

and further in. <strong>No</strong>, once we’d found the<br />

‘volcanoes’ of sand pushed up by the<br />

creature squirting water, we must wait,<br />

without warning vibrations or sound, until<br />

the ‘siphon’ ejected more water, then pour<br />

salt on the spot.

oysters, whelks, and finally the hard-won<br />

couteau, each course washed down with<br />

Muscadet from Yann’s cellar. Marie<br />

generously shared the recipes which she<br />

learned from her mother. As we enjoyed the<br />

fruits of our labour it reminded me that the<br />

best things in life really are free.<br />

Here are some of Marie’s recipes: Clams<br />

and cockles. Change seawater one hour<br />

after gathering. Cover with seaweed<br />

overnight. Repeat in morning at tide time.<br />

Ingredients: clams or cockles, white wine,<br />

garlic, butter, parsley. To cook: boil in large<br />

saucepan in broth of wine until shells open.<br />

Remove from pan, open shells and put<br />

small knob of butter, finely crushed garlic<br />

and chopped parsley into each shell. Bake<br />

in hot oven for a few minutes. Serve.<br />

Bigorneau. Ingredients: bigorneau, salt,<br />

butter. To cook; Place in large saucepan.<br />

Cover with water and boil. Add salt and<br />

knobs of butter, then cover pan and steam<br />

10 minutes. Serve.<br />

This mimics the saltiness of the incoming<br />

tide, the head of the siphon appears above<br />

the sand exposing two or three<br />

inches…then GRAB and hang on for dear<br />

life! Grab too early and it’s gone. They can<br />

dig down up to a foot a minute. Naturally,<br />

Marie was the first to strike. Her hand<br />

whipped out like a cobra and she grasped,<br />

then pulled, and Hey Presto! The first<br />

couteau.<br />

Bracing ourselves to the task in hand<br />

(literally) we crouched, sprinkled, and<br />

pulled, until we had a decent haul and<br />

headed back to Marie’s to prepare for the<br />

evening’s fête de la mer.<br />

Ten of us sat down to the feast, starting<br />

with the bigorneau, ‘winkled’ out of their<br />

shells with a pin, followed by clams,<br />

Pan-fried clams. Ingredients: clams,<br />

breadcrumbs, garlic. Allow a dozen per<br />

person. To cook: Mix breadcrumbs and<br />

crushed garlic, roll the clams in the mixture<br />

and cook in a hot pan with melted butter.<br />

Serve.<br />

Razor clams. Ingredients: clams, garlic.<br />

Open the shells and remove the black<br />

digestive tract. Dry on kitchen roll. Fry for a<br />

few minutes in garlic and olive oil. Serve.<br />

Oysters. Open and serve with chopped<br />

shallots and lemon.<br />

For tidal information: maree.info or<br />

calendrier-maree.fr<br />

Further information: www.manger-la-mer.<br />

org/Peche-a-pied-conseils<br />


An homage to<br />

<strong>No</strong>tre-Dame<br />

The soul of Paris

Photo: Chris Waits<br />

On April 15, 2019 a fire broke out at the<br />

Cathedral of <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame in Paris. As the<br />

world watched, stunned to see this<br />

incredible 856 year old building suffer from<br />

the flames, we shared our hopes on<br />

Facebook that the damage would not be<br />

catastrophic.<br />

Hundreds of thousands of our Facebook<br />

followers shared photos from their visits<br />

and posted of their sadness and of what<br />

this ancient monument meant to them.<br />

More than just a church, <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame is the<br />

soul of Paris.<br />

History of <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame<br />

The creation of <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame took almost<br />

200 years. The first stone was laid in 1163<br />

at a ceremony attended by Pope Alexander<br />

III. It was commissioned by Maurice de<br />

Sully, Bishop of Paris who wanted to build<br />

a church that would be the most<br />

wonderous in Christendom. He died 150<br />

years before the main structure was begun<br />

but he did have time to hold the first mass<br />

in the Cathedral to be.<br />

<strong>No</strong>tre-Dame provided a backdrop to the<br />

lives of Parisians throughout the centuries.<br />

Enduring through the reigns of kings and<br />

wars. She wasn’t always loved, during the<br />

French Revolution, statues were destroyed,<br />

it’s treasures and roof tiles were pillaged.<br />

When Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of<br />

<strong>No</strong>tre Dame in 1831, he professed his<br />

sadness and disgust at what such a<br />

“venerable monument” had suffered.<br />

In 1844 a 25 year long restoration began<br />

and <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame emerged at last fulfilling<br />

Hugo’s claim that it was the “central<br />

mother church”.<br />

Restoration after the fire<br />

Despite the ominous sight of the spire<br />

toppling during the fire at <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame,<br />

experts say that much was saved and a<br />

huge restoration has begun. The French<br />

senate has declared that the Cathedral will<br />

be restored to exactly the way it was before<br />

the devastation and it is expected to be<br />

complete in time for the 2024 Paris<br />

Summer Olympics.

We'd like to share just a few of the hundreds and hundreds of<br />

comments left on our Facebook page. You can read all of them<br />

here and here and here on our Facebook page.<br />

My favorite memory of <strong>No</strong>tre<br />

Dame occurred during a random stroll in<br />

the early morning hours of a chilly late<br />

<strong>No</strong>vember day in 2016. As awe-inspiring as<br />

Paris is during the day, I found night to be<br />

the best time to explore to her streets,<br />

when there were no people to be seen, and<br />

the only sound to be heard was the<br />

occasional clinging of silverware from her<br />

famed street cafes. I was fortunate to have<br />

met so many phenomenal people during<br />

my time in Paris, but I was truly happiest<br />

when my only companions were the City<br />

and my thoughts.<br />

That night, like others, my route had no<br />

defined plan. As I left the Latin Quarter, I<br />

decided that tonight would be a good night<br />

for my first stroll along the Seine’s Right<br />

Bank and that I would loop back towards<br />

my apartment in Saint Germain.<br />

I crossed the bridge to Île de la Cité and<br />

shot a quick glance towards <strong>No</strong>tre Dame,<br />

the subject of my very first picture in Paris<br />

and at least 100 since. This <strong>No</strong>tre Dame I<br />

had never seen. While the City of Light<br />

needs no assistance holding this title, the<br />

moon sat perfectly aligned between the<br />

elegant lady’s bell towers, casting a light<br />

that even Paris cannot replicate.<br />

I instinctively reached for my camera,<br />

frustrated that tonight of all nights I left my<br />

tripod at home. I snapped picture after<br />

picture after picture, but it wasn’t until after<br />

I had resigned myself to the fact I had<br />

taken the best picture I would get sans my<br />

equipment that I allowed myself to take in<br />

the beauty before my eyes. I leaned in on<br />

the bridge and lost myself in the fleeting<br />

moment. For minutes, the Lady of Paris<br />

was mine and mine alone. When the moon<br />

finally decided to interrupt us and slid<br />

behind one of the bell towers, I said adieu<br />

and made my way back to my apartment,<br />

content that tonight could not get any<br />

better, and the Right Bank would have to<br />

wait until another night. I returned to <strong>No</strong>tre<br />

Dame the following night and many more<br />

with the hopes of perfecting “the shot,” but<br />

the moon always had other plans.<br />

As I reflect on what <strong>No</strong>tre Dame means to<br />

me, I at long last can empathize with The<br />

Little Prince and his beloved Rose. As St.<br />

Exupery stated so much more eloquently<br />

than I am capable, the most beautiful<br />

things in our world are ephemeral, or that<br />

“which is in danger of speedy<br />

disappearance.”<br />

Neither my memory of <strong>No</strong>tre Dame that<br />

night, nor <strong>No</strong>tre Dame herself, will endure<br />

forever, but rather than mourn the mortality<br />

of our memories, loved ones, and the places<br />

we love, I am grateful that I was lucky<br />

enough to cross paths with her during the<br />

short time our paths crossed. I never did get<br />

that “perfect shot” of <strong>No</strong>tre Dame with my<br />

equipment, but, looking back, I realize the<br />

memory of that night is all I need.<br />

My memory of that night is but one star in<br />

the galaxy of billions <strong>No</strong>tre Dame has<br />

created, and though I grieve among the<br />

other lucky stargazers she has blessed, I<br />

find solace knowing that the dark skies<br />

before us now will subside. France, as she<br />

always has done, will persevere, and <strong>No</strong>tre<br />

Dame will regain her throne as the brightest<br />

light in Paris.<br />

David Barnes, California, USA

The year after my husband died, I visited<br />

<strong>No</strong>tre Dame for the first time, attending<br />

morning prayers and Vespers. The<br />

luminosity from the stained glass, the<br />

incense wafting up to the light, the sacred<br />

music and chants, and the community of<br />

faithful gave me solace and a sense of<br />

well-being. I felt the spirit of my mom and<br />

my aunt, who had been in the French<br />

Resistance in WWII. The past, present, and<br />

future merge in this holy place. I spent a<br />

perfect day visiting Giverny in the morning,<br />

<strong>No</strong>tre Dame at noon mass, and saw the<br />

Tours de France arrive in front of me on the<br />

Pont Neuf. I've been to <strong>No</strong>tre Dame several<br />

times since then for celebrations such as<br />

Palm Sunday last year and the Assumption<br />

of the Virgin Mary procession and have felt<br />

a profound sense of the divine each time.<br />

This is a spiritual home for me. <strong>No</strong>thing<br />

can take away the essence of <strong>No</strong>tre Dame.<br />

Barbara Ball Lester California, USA<br />

Been many times over the years...a<br />

favourite "thing" my family enjoyed, was to<br />

visit the <strong>No</strong>tre Dame, then walk to the little<br />

park behind the cathedral and sit there<br />

while having our baguette-lunch. We wept<br />

while watching the news of the fire. We<br />

have no words...but we stand with you,<br />

Paris, and we will rejoice with you when the<br />

restoration complete. Linda Meillon,<br />

Gauteng, South Africa<br />

A photo from June 2017 whilst visiting from South<br />

me, it captures the serenity, grace and etherealnes<br />

We have visited this magnificent place on<br />

every visit to Paris, have been enthralled to<br />

listen to a mass sung in “plain chant” also<br />

to the glorious organ being played so<br />

beautifully that we had goose bumps! First<br />

ever visit in 1957 with my parents and I<br />

couldn’t stop talking about the ROSE<br />

WINDOW.....so many wonderful memories.<br />

Helen Steyn, Australia.<br />

As a Francophile I’m feeling for the sacred<br />

856yrd old <strong>No</strong>tre Dame cathedral and<br />

France, but she will become a stronger<br />

phoenix and rise again from these current<br />

ashes. Janelle Bray, Queensland<br />

In all her glory. <strong>No</strong>tre Dame. Duog Crawford, USA

We go here every time we visit The City of<br />

Light...climbed to the top with the<br />

gargoyles, sat in the back garden and<br />

wandered the aisles and stood in awe of<br />

the various side chapels and their amazing<br />

paintings. Gillian Hoekstra<br />

Such a sad day for Paris but thank God for<br />

les pompiers. My family is devastated and<br />

so grateful we were able to visit <strong>No</strong>tre<br />

Dame before this tragedy. Love and prayers<br />

to the people of Paris from Australia. Sue<br />

Hand<br />

I love this church. I just stare at it each time<br />

I visit Paris. It is very sad that Our Lady<br />

suffered this damage...Thanks for sharing<br />

and many thanks to the firefighters who<br />

saved most of the church Looking forward<br />

to restoring this beautiful and historic<br />

church. Sandra Ifeoma Orimilikwe<br />

Africa. It has always been a favorite because for<br />

s of her so perfectly. Monique Steuyn Olwage<br />

My husband and I visited in 2015 and again<br />

this Fall. You can see pictures before<br />

visiting but they still will not prepare you for<br />

the grandeur or magnitude of this<br />

cathedral. I remember running my hands<br />

down one of the many massive columns in<br />

disbelief. How could something like this<br />

have been built 800 years ago without the<br />

technology that we have today.<br />

Grace Marshall, British Columbia.<br />

I first laid eyes upon Our Lady of Paris on a<br />

visit 34 years ago, as a college exchange<br />

student from California. <strong>No</strong>tre Dame de<br />

Paris was stunning but her doors were<br />

locked that day. When I returned in 2016,<br />

when she finally revealed the secrets of her<br />

interior to me. As light streamed through<br />

the stunning stained glass—including the<br />

famous rose windows—I was awed by the<br />

beautiful treasures inside: a piece of the<br />

cross on which Jesus is believed to be<br />

crucified as well as the crown he wore on<br />

his head, stone sculptures, two incredible<br />

organs, and paintings commissioned in the<br />

17th century. Don’t wait to see the magic in<br />

our world. Chris Kelsey Roman

Where to stay in Paris<br />

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

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

hotels in the city of light...<br />

Cool and classy: Au Boeuf Couronné in<br />

the 10th arr. has a line 5 metro stop right<br />

outside. The hotel opened in 2017 and is<br />

next door to the restaurant of the same<br />

name, the oldest steakhouse in Paris. It’s<br />

right by the Philharmonic de Paris, Gare du<br />

<strong>No</strong>rd, La Villette and not far from Père-<br />

Lachaise cemetery. I am amazed this place<br />

is classified 3 star, I’ve stayed in higher<br />

starred hotels that were nowhere near as<br />

good as this. The rooms are big and the<br />

bathrooms are fabulous. It’s quiet and<br />

comfy and welcoming. It’s a bit of a steal<br />

as it’s not expensive at all (prices start<br />

from €80 for 2 people) though it looks like<br />

it ought to be. Location-wise, it’s terrific<br />

and it’s easy to get into the centre of Paris<br />

taking just 15 mins to Bastille from the<br />

Metro outside the front door.<br />

Fabulous and chic: the 5 Star MGallery<br />

Hotel Paris Bastille Boutet is close to the<br />

Marais district in the heart of lively Bastille<br />

in a wonderful art deco building, which was<br />

once a wood storage factory, before<br />

becoming a theatre then hotel. They have<br />

the comfiest beds I have ever experienced,<br />

like sleeping on a cloud. Beautifully<br />

converted, lovely, luxurious rooms, great<br />

spa, swimming pool and fitness area and<br />

terrific bar. It’s within easy walking<br />

distance of Père-Lachaise cemetery and<br />

there are many great bars and restaurants<br />

close by.

Stylish & gorgeous: The 4 star Hotel<br />

Balmoral is literally yards from the iconic<br />

Arc de Triomphe but in your room you're<br />

cocooned in tranquillity. I arrived quite late<br />

and must admit I had had every intention<br />

of going for a moonlit walk to take photos<br />

but the lovely deep bath and comfy bed<br />

lured me in. It is a 19th century Haussman<br />

designed building that’s pure boutique,<br />

personal, luxurious and very welcoming.<br />

The rooms are classically Parisian, elegant,<br />

modern and luxurious; there are also suites<br />

and apartments which can take two<br />

couples (and a child). Internationally<br />

renowned architect Michel Jouannet was<br />

instrumental in helping to create the new<br />

look for the hotel, his work is known in<br />

Venice, Rio de Janeiro and all around the<br />

world but this Paris hotel has to be one of<br />

his best projects.<br />

Chic and a stone’s throw from Gare du<br />

<strong>No</strong>rd: Hotel Mademoiselle is a comfy 4 Star<br />

hotel with a touch of luxury right by the<br />

Gare du <strong>No</strong>rd and Gare de l’Est. It’s just a<br />

15-minute walk to Montmartre, the metro<br />

stations are really close, Gare du <strong>No</strong>rd is a<br />

five minute walk as is Gare de l’Est and the<br />

RER line for Disney Paris. The road it is in is<br />

quite busy by day but a haven of tranquillity<br />

by night. Real Paris is just two minutes<br />

away. While one end of the road leads to<br />

the stations, the other end leads to<br />

restaurants and bars, pretty squares and<br />

churches and local life.<br />

The rooms are stylish, there’s a lovely inner<br />

courtyard where taking your breakfast is an<br />

uplifting experience, plus spa facilities<br />

(book them in advance, they’re free but get<br />

filled quickly).

Ultra-luxurious: Hôtel du Rond Point des<br />

Champs Elysées, just a few minutes away<br />

from the Metro station Franklin D<br />

Roosevelt is this very elegant Louis Vuitton<br />

owned hotel in a 17th century building.<br />

From the minute you walk through the<br />

doors of this hotel, you’ll feel utterly<br />

charmed. The staff are lovely and that’s key<br />

to having a great stay. The rooms are<br />

fabulous as you’d expect from a hotel<br />

owned by one of the world’s premier style<br />

companies. Some rooms have a view over<br />

the Eiffel Tower and the rooftops of Paris<br />

(ask when you book – all the staff speak<br />

English). Comfy beds, gorgeous striped<br />

wallpaper and very posh loos (all electric<br />

with warmed seats and all that jazz).<br />

There’s a stunning swimming pool so –<br />

take your costume or you’ll really miss out.<br />

Elegant and glamorous: Hotel de Sers in<br />

an 18th century, former nobleman’s<br />

mansion, a stone’s throw from the Champs-<br />

Elysées is next to the legendary George V<br />

and less than a mile from the Eiffel Tower<br />

has the location, the looks and the luxury<br />

without the massive price tag to go with<br />

them. It certainly isn’t a budget hotel but for<br />

the price compared to other 5 Star hotels in<br />

this part of Paris – it’s a real find. It is stylish<br />

and smart, the décor is elegant and inspired<br />

with a real touch of old school style<br />

glamour. The spa there is open to residents<br />

only, after a long day’s sightseeing, it's a<br />

real pick me up to be able to have a sauna<br />

and a massage. Most of the rooms have<br />

terraces and glass conservatories where<br />

you can sit and look out over the roof tops<br />

of Paris whatever the weather; the top<br />

apartment has a big terrace with a view<br />

over the Eiffel Tower.

Discreet, refined luxury: The<br />

Hotel Marignan Champs-<br />

Elysées in an 18th century<br />

building a stone’s throw from<br />

the Champs-Elysées is pure<br />

luxury, from the entrance with<br />

its smart doorman to the<br />

dining room with its modern<br />

trompe l’oeil, bar with comfy<br />

chairs and a grand piano and<br />

rooms that are elegantly<br />

decorated.<br />

Though it’s right in the heart<br />

of Paris, this is a little oasis of<br />

tranquillity and pleasure.<br />

There are rooms with a view of<br />

the Eiffel Tower, de-luxe suites<br />

and a fabulous restaurant.


Every weekend, we invite you to share<br />

your photos on Facebook - it's a great<br />

way for everyone to see "real" France<br />

and be inspired by real travellers<br />

snapping pics as they go. Every week<br />

there are utterly gorgeous photos being<br />

shared and here we showcase the most<br />

popular of each month. Share your<br />

favourite photos with us on Facebook -<br />

the most "liked" will appear in the next<br />

issue of The Good Life France<br />

Magazine...<br />

march:<br />

A misty morning in<br />

Conques, Aveyron,<br />

by Robin Lee

April:<br />

Wisteria hysteria in<br />

Paris! At Au Vieux<br />

Paris d'Arcole<br />

restaurant, 24 rue<br />

Chanoinesse, by<br />

Emma Budgen<br />

MAY<br />

Gorgeous in Goult,<br />

Provence in May, this<br />

photo by Helen Leather<br />

Join us on Facebook<br />

and like and share<br />

your favourite photos<br />

of France...

Escape to the Chateau:<br />

Sometimes dreams do come true....<br />

When Angel Adoree and husband Dick<br />

Strawbridge swapped a 2-bedroom flat in<br />

Southend, Essex, and bought the fairy-talelike<br />

Chateau-de-la-Motte Husson in<br />

Mayenne, Pays de la Loire for £280,000,<br />

their adventures were filmed for a British<br />

TV Show. Escape to the Chateau was a<br />

runaway hit. Millions were enthralled as<br />

they watched the couple fall head over<br />

heels for the run down 45-room castle with<br />

its moat and pointy turrets and millions<br />

saw them turn it into a dream home and<br />

successful business as an events and<br />

vintage wedding destination. Angel’s crafty<br />

talents and eye for a bargain and Dick’s<br />

determination won them a legion of fans.<br />

So successful was the TV show that it’s<br />

had several series and spawned a spin off<br />

series called ‘Escape to the Chateau: DIY’.<br />

This saw Dick and Angel use the<br />

knowledge they’ve built up to help other<br />

chateau owners with their projects.<br />

Audiences were mesmerised.<br />

When each programme ended, “viewers<br />

were literally switching off the TV, firing up<br />

their iPads and looking at what is available”<br />

said Jane Berry, head of estate agent<br />

Leggett Immobilier’s Prestige division. “We<br />

have seen a huge jump in website visitor<br />

numbers straight after each episode,<br />

indeed our dedicated Chateau page shows<br />

an 800 per cent increase in traffic...”.<br />

Click here to read our interview with<br />

Dick and Angel

Becoming chateau owners<br />

One of the couples featured on the first<br />

series of Escape to the Chateau DIY<br />

became firm favourites with the viewing<br />

public. They were young and inexperienced<br />

but had huge commitment to bring back to<br />

life a neglected and enormous chateau.<br />

Their willingness to do whatever it took,<br />

working night and day, impressed<br />

everyone. Billy Petherick from Greenwich in<br />

London was just 27 and his fiancé<br />

Gwendoline from Cherbourg, <strong>No</strong>rmandy<br />

was 24 when they bought the Chateau de<br />

la Baismagnée. In the heart of Mayenne,<br />

Pays de La Loire, it cost them €1,050,000<br />

in 2016. Billy had some building experience,<br />

Gwendoline had worked in retail but<br />

nothing daunted them.<br />

They’d met in France when Billy went to<br />

stay with his parents who live in France and<br />

decided to look for a house together.<br />

“We wanted to take on a project, a grand<br />

house, manoir, maison de maître, or small<br />

château, but then we stumbled across a<br />

listing for this château online” says<br />

Gwendoline. “We thought that even if it was<br />

bigger than what we were looking for, it was<br />

so beautiful that it was definitely worth a<br />

look, at least we could dream for an<br />

afternoon. But we fell in love with the place<br />

straight away. It made us re-think our plans,<br />

because after seeing Basmaignée we<br />

couldn’t really see ourselves anywhere else.<br />

After months of figuring out a way to<br />

pursue this crazy adventure, we got the<br />

keys to our beautiful chateau”. Funding<br />

came from a legacy from Gwendoline’s late<br />

mother and bank loans.<br />

The 50-60 room chateau, “we've never<br />

really managed to agree a definitive<br />

number” says Gwendoline, is set in 60<br />

acres of parkland with a private chapel,<br />

traditional walled garden and six cottages.<br />

To say it needed a huge amount of work is<br />

an understatement.

“It was uninhabited for many years and was<br />

in a terrible condition” says Billy, but the<br />

couple were undaunted. Billy’s brother<br />

Michael joined them to help our with the<br />

renovation after he too fell under the<br />

castle’s spell. And in 2018, Gwendoline and<br />

Billy welcomed baby Ernest to the chateau<br />

which has gone from being a neglected<br />

shell of a sleeping beauty to a fabulous<br />

home and business.<br />

A chateau isn’t an easy option<br />

When it comes to owning a chateau,<br />

upkeep costs are much higher than for a<br />

normal home. There’s almost always a<br />

constant need for maintenance and if your<br />

building is listed, you might need to get<br />

permission to renovate from Monuments<br />

Historique (Read about the requirements<br />

on page 102). In this case, the Chateau de<br />

Basmaignée is not listed.<br />

“When people dream about being chateau<br />

owners they usually think of themselves<br />

living like royalty, but unless you really are<br />

royalty, that’s not really how things go and<br />

we knew that right from the start” says<br />

Gwendoline.<br />

The couple took out a loan that enabled<br />

them to keep renovating and living until<br />

they could earn an income. They have done<br />

most of the work themselves with the help<br />

of family and friends, though they have had<br />

professional help when it comes to<br />

electrics and plumbing. They invested in<br />

essential equipment including a cherry<br />

picker. “By doing as much as we can<br />

between us, we estimate we’ve reduced the<br />

costs by 80%” says Billy adding “We focus<br />

on the work room by room, rather than<br />

think of what needs to be done over the<br />

whole chateau. When people ask “when<br />

will the chateau be fully renovated?” We<br />

tell, them, there’s not set date, we have to<br />

go step by step. It’s like any other<br />

renovation project, only it’s going to take<br />

longer.”<br />

The chateau is their only means of income<br />

and Gwendoline admits “we don’t have any<br />

idea of how much we can earn when it’s all<br />

finished, we’re not planning that far ahead.<br />

For now, we are just trying to make it so the<br />

chateau can pay for itself and for the<br />

renovation work, though we’re not really<br />

certain how much that needs to be.”<br />

Their hard work is paying off, the castle is<br />

now a stunning B&B, wedding venue, and<br />

hosts antiquing weekends. “There’s<br />

renovation, maintenance, the business to<br />

run, a baby to look after and it’s a serious<br />

challenge to balance it all but it’s totally<br />

worth it – we love it and wouldn’t change a<br />

thing” says Gwendoline.<br />

“To buy a chateau, you have to be<br />

determined, prepared to work seriously<br />

hard and perhaps just a little bit mad” adds<br />

Billy though he smiles when he says it.<br />


From London rat race to a<br />

dream home & café business<br />

in rural northern France<br />

Katharine Tasker from London upped sticks in the city and moved to the sticks in<br />

France bringing a sprinkling of urban style to her new build home and thriving<br />

new business, a café and shop, as Janine Marsh discovers…<br />

Pas de Calais is a region of meadows and<br />

forests, the countryside is criss crossed by<br />

streams and peppered with villages and<br />

hamlets. It’s blessed with the beautiful<br />

beaches and dramatic coastline of the Opal<br />

Coast as well as fertile agricultural land. It’s<br />

a largely rural department despite being<br />

the gate way to France for millions who<br />

cross the English Channel, many of whom<br />

simply exit the ferry or train and zoom off<br />

down the auto routes further south. For<br />

those who stop and look though, the<br />

charms of the far north can be compelling<br />

as Katherine Tasker found out when she<br />

visited a friend…<br />

A life changing weekend<br />

Katharine Tasker loved her life in London.<br />

She ran a successful gourmet food shop<br />

with a loyal clientele who adored the<br />

speciality products she sourced from<br />

France including some world famous jam.<br />

At a sales meeting in Lille in 2015,<br />

Katherine decided to visit the jam makers<br />

in Saint-Rémy-au-Bois, in the Seven<br />

Valleys, Pas de Calais, not far away. They’d<br />

met in London when British entrepreneurs<br />

Judy and Nick Gifford who created the<br />

mouth-watering jams at Tea Together<br />

delivered a consignment in person and got<br />

on well.<br />

Katherine spent just a couple of days with<br />

her friends at their beautifully restored<br />

farmhouse with their beloved Jack Russells<br />

and horses. As well as their jam making<br />

enterprise, they also run Le Tea Room from<br />

their home, serving scones with their homemade<br />

jam and clotted cream to smitten<br />

locals. But, it changed the direction of her<br />

life.<br />

“It was” says Katharine “love at first sight<br />

when I saw how glorious the countryside is.<br />

So tranquil and varied, lush valleys, forests<br />

and wide-open plateaux, it is just so<br />

beautiful. I thought it would be wonderful to<br />

have a bolthole here.”<br />

Swapping urban life for a plot in rural<br />

France<br />

Katharine returned to London, and when,<br />

shortly afterwards, the lease on her shop<br />

needed renewing, she sought alternative<br />

premises close by. “It was very tough trying<br />

to find a new place everything was horribly<br />

expensive” she says. She’d kept in touch<br />

with Judy who, in the midst of Katharine’s<br />

frustrating search in London told her that a<br />

plot of land had come up for sale in the<br />

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

“She told me it was special and that I ought<br />

to come and see it” Katharine reminisces.<br />

The land was well over her budget but Judy<br />

encouraged her to speak to the seller to<br />

see if there was any wiggle room. He had<br />

three cheaper plots for sale and Katherine<br />

decided to go and look. After viewing the<br />

affordable land, Katharine was persuaded<br />

by the seller to take a look at the more<br />

expensive plot. “It was” she laughs “a wow<br />

moment as soon as I saw it, I felt a<br />

connection. I instantly thought, what if I<br />

open my business here instead of in<br />

London?” Her head buzzed with ideas and<br />

London with its expensive rental options<br />

didn’t feature. Within hours, a deal was<br />

struck in France. And, Katherine had made<br />

up her mind. She returned to London and<br />

made places to move to France.<br />

Urban dreams in rural France<br />

Faced with a large, empty field which had<br />

panoramic views over the countryside,<br />

Katharine decided the only way to tackle<br />

the need for a home and business was to<br />

employ an architect and building team. The<br />

resulting three-bedroomed cube is not like<br />

any other building in the village, ultramodern<br />

with sleek lines and no hint of rural<br />

cottage. “I was surprised that planning<br />

permission wasn’t an issue” she confesses<br />

“but because it can’t be seen from the road,<br />

the application went through smoothly and<br />

I got the go ahead within two months of<br />

applying”.<br />

“A tree in the garden was my first<br />

inspiration” says Katharine “It was old,<br />

there long before me, I didn’t want to cut it<br />

down, so we designed the house around it”.<br />

The first six months of the build went well<br />

but the honeymoon period didn’t last. The<br />

roofers went bankrupt and the build came<br />

to a stop.

Katharine had already sold her house in<br />

London to raise funds and had no choice<br />

but to move into her not remotely ready<br />

French house.<br />

“It wasn’t ideal, but it actually helped me to<br />

refine the plans, and feel how the house<br />

could be used."<br />

The kitchen is located in the centre of the<br />

house and serves both the café and residential<br />

side. Filled with light, there’s a mezzanine<br />

floor and double height sitting room<br />

with huge windows that frame the views,<br />

and of course, the old tree. The house is<br />

one of a kind here for other reasons too, an<br />

ecologically built passive house, it utilises<br />

a geothermal heating and dual flow ventilation<br />

system. It’s so insulated just one<br />

wood stove heats the whole house.<br />

“Everything was much more expensive<br />

than I thought possible” admits Katharine.<br />

“I had to negotiate hard with the<br />

construction company to get a price I could<br />

afford”.<br />

The house took two and a half years to<br />

build. “On the whole” says Katharine “It<br />

wasn’t too bad. I have never regretted it.<br />

The issues with the roofers weren’t good<br />

but were overcome. Some of the systems<br />

were new to the builders but they were<br />

willing to learn. The architect was Greek<br />

and lived in London and admittedly there<br />

was a bit of a culture clash with the<br />

builders, but they worked it out and I’m<br />

really happy with the result”.<br />

L’Encas and L’Echoppe<br />

Katharine had known from the stat that she<br />

wanted to open a café and shop with a hint<br />

of London style in this rustic part of France.<br />

L’encas and l’echoppe are medieval French<br />

words for “in case” and “shop” and, tucked<br />

away from the road, it “seemed like the<br />

perfect name for my venture” she says.

“I love decorating a table, setting the places<br />

and making it look interesting and<br />

beautiful with a mix and match approach. I<br />

knew that in France there’s a long tradition<br />

and love of table dressing”. So she<br />

combined a café with a shop in which she<br />

sells vintage and new French, British and<br />

European china, cutlery and tableware. It’s<br />

an eclectic stock that’s appreciated by<br />

mainly French, British and Belgian<br />

customers who find their way to this little<br />

corner of France.<br />

The café has a menu of local produce, pies<br />

and tartes, soups, savoury salads, delicious<br />

quiches and dishes flavoured with herbs,<br />

spices, edible flowers and zingy dressings.<br />

Katharine produces delicious gluten free<br />

crispbreads which are stocked in gourmet<br />

food stores in London and Paris and served<br />

with meals at L’Encas et L’Echoppe. Her<br />

gorgeous gateaux have gained a<br />

reputation with the locals, especially the<br />

gluten free German poppy seed cake and<br />

berry bread and butter pudding cake. Her<br />

cake take away service is very popular and<br />

features all sorts from pumpkin pie to<br />

Christmas cake.<br />

An ongoing adventure<br />

Katharine’s journey has been tough at<br />

times, but she says “rewarding, a voyage of<br />

self-discovery and a real adventure…”<br />

“I love going back to London” she says<br />

“through the congestion drives me mad, so<br />

many cars. Here I’m used to the only traffic<br />

jam being a couple of cows crossing the<br />

road to reach a field! I love my little urban<br />

oasis in the French countryside... no” she<br />

adds emphatically “no regrets at all”.<br />

leleagouy.com for opening times;<br />

Address: 30 bis, Rue de Maresquel, 62870<br />


Historic<br />


Jane Berry heads Leggett Immobilier's<br />

prestige property department and<br />

gives valuable advice about buying and<br />

selling a Monument Historique…<br />

FRANCE IS RENOWNED THE world over<br />

for its outstanding collection of historic<br />

buildings. Châteaux in particular are<br />

strategically scattered the length and<br />

breadth of the country. The Loire valley is<br />

just one of 38 listed UNESCO World<br />

Heritage sites in France, attracting 3.3<br />

million visitors a year and the Loire river<br />

forms a valuable part of the architectural<br />

heritage of towns such as Amboise,<br />

Chenonceau, Saumur and Chinon.<br />

Simple barns, Cistercian abbeys, ancient<br />

fortresses and fairy tale châteaux all have<br />

one thing in common; they have the<br />

potential for preservation and protection<br />

under France’s cultural heritage scheme<br />

known as Monument Historique (MH).<br />

Buildings may be listed as Classé, for<br />

properties considered of national<br />

importance, or Inscrit (ISMH) for properties<br />

of regional or local value. This includes<br />

smaller châteaux and country houses.<br />

There are currently around 45,000 listed<br />

properties in France, of which nearly half<br />

are privately owned.<br />

Properties may have just an element of<br />

Monument Historique classification, for<br />

instance a staircase, a fireplace, or garden<br />

balustrade etc, whilst the rest of the<br />

building is not listed.<br />

“TV Shows; Escape to the Chateau, and<br />

especially Escape to the Chateau DIY have<br />

had an astonishing effect on the château<br />

buying market in France. We see a huge<br />

surge in visitors to the Leggett website<br />

straight after each show ends. The<br />

programmes showing ordinary people<br />

buying and doing up extraordinary<br />

buildings in France seems to have ignited<br />

our sense of romance and dreams, of<br />

preserving something important as well as<br />

living the good life and sometimes creating<br />

a successful business”.

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

parkland... Details<br />

Whilst the Prestige property department<br />

typically showcases properties that are at<br />

the top of the range, there are some<br />

amazing châteaux at incredible prices<br />

including a gorgeous, completed renovated<br />

château in <strong>No</strong>rmandy which at £535k is<br />

about what you’d pay for a 2-bedroom flat<br />

in London SE13.<br />

"Remember though” advises Jane<br />

“although the price may be affordable,<br />

there’s the upkeep to consider, so you need<br />

to go into this aware of the maintenance<br />

expenses, which will be ongoing”.<br />

The Leggett main property website also<br />

has many châteaux for sale including those<br />

in need of “doing up” and are typically at<br />

lower prices. www.leggettfrance.com<br />

Many château owners feel their castles are<br />

too large for use simply as a family home,<br />

and Jane is often asked if they can be used<br />

to create a business? Hotel or wedding<br />

venue perhaps?<br />

Sandy Guyonnet, Leggett's inhouse <strong>No</strong>taire<br />

explains that all business activities are<br />

possible within an historic monument, as<br />

long as the requirements/conditions<br />

imposed by the Planning Office and the<br />

Architecte des Bâtiments de France (ABF)<br />

regarding the business (i.e health and<br />

safety requirements, are met.<br />

Monument Historique<br />

means: building /object is of<br />

French historical importance,<br />

either nationally or locally<br />

and therefore needs to be<br />


At £535,000 this gorgeous chateau in <strong>No</strong>rmandy is not Monument Historique classified - but it is<br />

gorgeous and historic. Details<br />

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

and outbuildings... details

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

wife Catherine de Medici stayed here and it has a fabulous historic past... Details<br />

“As the vendor of an historic monument”<br />

says Sandy, “you are free to sell the<br />

property whenever you wish, you would<br />

simply need to inform the Minister of<br />

Culture. A DPE (Diagnostic Performance<br />

Energy test) is not required for these<br />

properties, however all other current<br />

diagnostic reports are required for the sale<br />

contract.”<br />

There are a number of advantages to<br />

buying a property that is listed as a<br />

Monument Historique:<br />

• The organisation offers invaluable advice<br />

and assistance in the restoration and<br />

upkeep of historic properties.<br />

• Under certain conditions these properties<br />

can be exempt from Inheritance tax.<br />

• There are a number of grants available for<br />

improvement works (subject to certain<br />

conditions).<br />

• Costs for various works, insurance, land<br />

taxes and certain interest charges on loans<br />

are currently deductible, at 50%, from your<br />

taxable income.<br />

However, they become 100% deductible if<br />

you open the building to the public for a set<br />

number of days a year, on the condition<br />

that the property is kept for at least 15 years<br />

by its owner (being an individual or SCI "de<br />

Famille").<br />

It's a thriving market say Leggett as both<br />

domestic and international buyers are keen<br />

to buy a slice of historic architecture while<br />

enjoying the joie de vie for which France is<br />

famous.<br />

see Page 92 to<br />

read about our<br />

rendezvous with<br />

chateau owners<br />

Billy and<br />

Gwendoline<br />


Top tips to help you plan<br />

your property purchase<br />

and move to France<br />

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

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

further down the to do list when it should be near the top?<br />

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

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

Wealth explains why you should consider your budget and finances so that you have no<br />

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

life in France.<br />

Consider your income requirements<br />

Before you move:<br />

Plan your Finances<br />

Be realistic about what you need income<br />

wise to live in France. There are already<br />

huge amounts of B+B’s and gites.<br />

Spending €150,000 on a holiday rental<br />

property to earn €3,000 p.a. may not be<br />

feasible in the long term.<br />

Consider your income requirements before<br />

you move. You may be required to pay tax<br />

on your income in France. A good adviser<br />

will be able to provide you with an estimate<br />

of tax payable and look at ways of<br />

minimising or reducing tax. If your income<br />

is not in euros, exchange rate fluctuations<br />

may seriously affect your regular income<br />

requirements.<br />

Start planning a strategy for your savings<br />

and income before you move. Some UK<br />

savings products are really square pegs in<br />

round holes when it comes to French<br />

taxation. It might be better to consider<br />

closing or changing them before you<br />

become French tax resident. BUT, take<br />

advice from an adviser who understands<br />

the French tax system and products that<br />

are available. A UK qualified adviser may<br />

unknowingly make your tax situation worse<br />

if they are not qualified to advise you about<br />

French financial products.

Consider how your pension might<br />

work better for you<br />

What about your pension? Do you have<br />

more than one pension and if so where are<br />

they held? And, can you access them yet?<br />

Review your pension with your qualified<br />

adviser to make sure your finances are<br />

best positioned for your move to France.<br />

You are likely to find it is much better for<br />

you to use a qualified and authorised<br />

independent financial adviser who<br />

understands both the UK and French tax<br />

systems. This way you can make an<br />

informed choice about your pension<br />

options. Careful planning here can<br />

potentially save you tax in the long run. If<br />

you haven’t done so already, get a state<br />

pension forecast which will tell you how<br />

much you will receive and when. https://<br />

www.gov.uk/government/publications/<br />

application-for-a-state-pension-statement<br />

Think about healthcare needs<br />

Consider your healthcare needs. Whether<br />

you're retired, working or enjoying life with<br />

no active employment you may need to<br />

pay for healthcare in the form of top up<br />

insurance.<br />

Get in touch with your tax office<br />

Inform the UK inspector of taxes at your<br />

local HMRC tax office that you are planning<br />

to move abroad by filling in form P85. This<br />

will enable the UK tax office to advise of<br />

and resolve any outstanding issues before<br />

you move.<br />

You can download the form online at: www.<br />

gov.uk/tax-right-retire-abroad-return-to-uk<br />

Understand how to deal with tax<br />

inheritance rules<br />

Consider your status with regard to the<br />

distribution of your estate. Inheritance<br />

planning in advance of your move can save<br />

considerable heartache later.<br />

For French inheritance tax purposes, you<br />

must include all of your assets (property<br />

and cash) wherever they based.<br />

The notaire handling your house purchase<br />

may only look at how the property<br />

ownership should be structured, which may<br />

be only part of what you have.

When you move to France<br />

Use a competent tax adviser to prepare<br />

your first French tax return. Getting it right<br />

first time means you’ll avoid unpleasant<br />

surprises later on and allows you time to<br />

figure out how the system works. Your tax<br />

adviser can also liaise with your financial<br />

advisor concerning the timings for<br />

moving/closing certain investments, which<br />

can help you reduce tax and make the best<br />

savings.<br />

Jennie Poate is a UK and France qualified<br />

and authorised financial adviser, working<br />

for Beacon Global Wealth Management.<br />

She is happy to answer any queries you<br />

may and she and her team would be<br />

delighted to help you plan your move to<br />

France.<br />

Jennie can be<br />

contacted at:<br />

jennie @bgwealthmanagement.net or<br />

info@bgwealthmanagement.net<br />

Tele: France 0033634119518<br />

www.beaconglobalwealth.com for<br />

information and factsheets<br />

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

solutions or advice. Beacon Global Wealth Management can accept no responsibility whatsoever<br />

for losses incurred by acting on the information on this page.<br />

The financial advisers trading under Beacon Wealth Management are members of Nexus Global<br />

(IFA Network). Nexus Global is a division within Blacktower Financial Management (International)<br />

Limited (BFMI). All approved individual members of Nexus Global are Appointed Representatives of<br />

BFMI. BFMI is licensed and regulated by the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission and bound by<br />

their rules under licence number FSC00805B.

How bank cards<br />

work in France<br />

Don't get caught out by<br />

spending limits that<br />

are typical...<br />

French banks may restrict the amount of<br />

money you can spend on your card,<br />

catching people out constantly. We asked<br />

the experts at Credit Agricole Britline, the<br />

French bank that speaks English, how to<br />

avoid this problem.<br />

The way in which banks operate in France<br />

compared to the UK is different and one<br />

good example are bank cards. It can prove<br />

frustrating if you find yourself in a situation<br />

whereby you have money in your bank<br />

account but discover – whilst waiting to<br />

pay at the check-out or withdrawing cash<br />

at an ATM – that the transaction has been<br />

refused.<br />

How can you plan ahead to avoid<br />

this problem and potential<br />

embarrassment?<br />

In a nutshell: know your spending limits,<br />

understand what the card costs (e.g. fees/<br />

charges) and decide which card best suits<br />

your lifestyle.<br />

The majority of bank cards in France are<br />

Carte Bancaire and you will see shops and<br />

restaurants displaying the CB sign. Carte<br />

Bancaires are debit cards and any<br />

transactions are deducted immediately<br />

from a bank account. The French certainly<br />

do not have the same appetite as Britons<br />

for credit cards, with most preferring the<br />

standard debit card. There are however<br />

plenty of options to ensure you have a card<br />

that matches your requirements and<br />

lifestyle.<br />

Cards have limits for cash<br />

withdrawals and payments<br />

Although UK banks will limit how much<br />

money you can withdraw from an ATM per<br />

day, usually £500, in France the limit is<br />

generally lower and there are also<br />

restrictions on card payments each month.<br />

Take a standard Carte Bancaire (Visa or<br />

MasterCard) for example; over a 7 day<br />

period the maximum amount for cash<br />

withdrawals is €450. For card payments<br />

(online or in shops) you can spend up to<br />

€2,300 per month.<br />

This is unlikely to pose a problem for many<br />

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

expenses, paying for renovations on your<br />

home in France for instance, or you receive<br />

a large (and unexpected!) bill, these limits<br />

may present a challenge…<br />

If you reach your spending limit, a phone<br />

call to your bank should resolve the<br />

problem. CA Britline (part of the Crédit<br />

Agricole group) has been helping British<br />

customers in France for 20 years,<br />

providing a full range of banking services<br />

in English. We can organise higher<br />

spending limits on your card temporarily or<br />

for a longer period. There is a cost to do<br />

this, but by using the free CA app ‘Ma<br />

Banque’ you can adjust the limit yourself. It<br />

is always a good idea to contact us first if<br />

you are planning a major purchase or<br />

undertaking an expensive renovation<br />

project. In certain situations an overdraft<br />

facility may be appropriate and customers<br />

living in France, the UK/Ireland are eligible.<br />

Bear in mind that if you do have a higher<br />

spending limit set on your card you must<br />

have the funds to cover it. Going overdrawn<br />

can cause problems in France. If you need<br />

to top up your account from the UK, you<br />

can use the Britline International Payment<br />

Service*, our bespoke transfer exchange<br />

facility.<br />

Choosing the right bank card for you<br />

CA Britline has two cards which are<br />

exclusive to our customers. They offer<br />

higher spending limits for payments and<br />

cash withdrawals. These are the CA Britline<br />

Classic and CA Britline Premier, which also<br />

have travel assistance, travel insurance<br />

plus other features. The Premier card has<br />

additional advantages such as extended<br />

warranties on purchases to cover the cost<br />

of repairs of damaged goods. There is no<br />

charge for increasing the spending limits<br />

for Premier card customers.<br />

Customers may use their CA Britline cards<br />

anywhere in France and internationally, to<br />

withdraw cash, make payments in shop<br />

and of course online. In addition to Euro<br />

accounts, we also offer accounts in<br />

Sterling, perfect for people who live in the<br />

UK but who are regular visitors to France.<br />

One further tip – you can save money by<br />

using your French card in France rather<br />

than incurring foreign transaction fees on<br />

your UK bank card. We also provide<br />

deferred payment cards which deduct the<br />

money at the end of month. This can be<br />

really useful for customers paid on a<br />

monthly basis.

Contactless cards<br />

France is a world leader in smart card<br />

technology and was amongst the first<br />

countries to use the chip and pin system.<br />

The use of contactless cards is widespread<br />

in shops, cafés and restaurants. There is a<br />

limit of €30 on payments; if you reach this<br />

amount you will need to enter your PIN<br />

code and the limit is reset to zero.<br />

account around a month after your account<br />

is opened and renewal is automatic.<br />

If you would like more information, consult<br />

or offers or wish to apply for a CA Britline<br />

bank card, please visit www.britline.com/<br />

cards.html<br />

Annual card fees and charges<br />

It may come as a surprise to people living in<br />

the UK - used to free banking services –<br />

that there are annual fees charged for<br />

holding a bank card in France. There are no<br />

charges however for using your card for<br />

cash withdrawals and payments across the<br />

EU. Britline Classic and Premier Cards may<br />

also be used around the world without<br />

charges. The annual fee is taken from your<br />

* Britline International Payments Service (BIPS)<br />

is provided by HiFX Europe Limited. HiFX is<br />

authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority<br />

(FRN <strong>No</strong>. 462444) for the provision of payment<br />

services. Registered office: Maxis 1, Western<br />

Road, Bracknell, Berkshire RG12 1RT.

How to make<br />

Crème<br />


Ingredients<br />

2 cartons double cream, 1 large (284ml) plus 1 small (142ml)<br />

500ml full-fat milk<br />

1 vanilla pod<br />

5 large egg yolks<br />

50g golden caster sugar, plus extra for the topping<br />

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

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

baking tray to sit well above the ramekins when laid across the top of the tin.<br />

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

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

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

pod in as well and set aside.<br />

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

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

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

take the pan off the heat.<br />

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

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

and pour the hot mixture through to strain it, encouraging any stray vanilla seeds through<br />

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

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

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

up the sides of the ramekins. Pour the hot cream into the ramekins so you fill them up<br />

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<br />

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

one side to allow air to circulate.<br />

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

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

middle. Don’t let them get too firm.<br />

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

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

done overnight without affecting the texture.<br />

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

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

(Anne Willan’s tip for an even layer).<br />

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

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

sugar and keep moving it round and round until caramelised. Serve when the brûlée is<br />

firm, or within an hour or two.<br />

Thanks to chef Spencer Richards at <strong>No</strong>rmandy Cooking Days for this brilliant recipe...

Around these parts people tend to get a bit carried away when the sun<br />

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

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

rarely too hot to handle.<br />

Come the summer, shutters are flung open, front doors are left ajar,<br />

barbecues are fired up and boules are polished. It’s remarkable how in the<br />

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

a bit of sunshine and everyone is out promenading, cutting hedges, putting<br />

out honesty boxes alongside eggs and strawberries, plums and potatoes, or<br />

nearer the coast, boxes of gleaming blue-black mussels on ice.<br />

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

the animals will. We do barter our relative youth and strength though. Mark is<br />

in demand with older neighbours when it comes to lifting things or carrying<br />

something from one barn to another. I am in demand when it comes to<br />

running about catching escaped animals who seem to want to run free in the<br />

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

which tastes like cough medicine and makes for an effective weed killer.<br />

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

sunny day and see a short woman chasing a goat across a field shouting<br />

“stop you bugger”, you’ve probably found my village!<br />

Have a great summer,<br />

Bisous<br />


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