Issue No. 17

Packed with fabulous features: Carcassonne, Nimes, Orange in Provence, Nice Carnival, Paris at Christmas, Laval in Mayenne, absinthe, the fashion district of Paris, recipes, guides and more. Our secret ingredient is passion!

Packed with fabulous features: Carcassonne, Nimes, Orange in Provence, Nice Carnival, Paris at Christmas, Laval in Mayenne, absinthe, the fashion district of Paris, recipes, guides and more. Our secret ingredient is passion!

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Welcome to the winter issue of The Good Life France Magazine.

Wherever you are, whatever the weather, we've got a ton of fab features to entertain

and inform you in this edition.

Spend Le Weekend in Orange where you'll discover the most incredibly well

preserved Roman theatre, take the train to picturesque and historic Laval in the

Mayenne department or nip to Nimes to discover the legacy of the Romans in the

very sunny city. For a real pick me up in the winter, Nice can't be bettered with its

fabulous and fun carnival or head for the interior of Provence for a relaxing break

amongst the magnificent mimosa blossoms.

Michael Cranmer goes in search of the truth about Absinthe AKA the "green fairy",

Barb Harmon visits the new Yves Saint Laurent museum in Paris and Justine Halifax

finds Alpe d'Huez is perfect for skiing families.

Check out our locals guide to Paris at Christmas, the city's fashion district and a

fabulous short story about finding one's Oh La La!

There are lovely recipes, useful features for expats and a whole lot more.

Don't forget to enter our brilliant competitions - you could win your own row of vines

in France for a year, return ferry tickets and fabulous books.

Bisous from France, and a very Happy New Year to you

Janine xx


Michael Cranmer is an award-winning freelance travel writer and

photographer. He spends most of the winter up mountains writing

about his primary passion - skiing, but also manages to sample less

strenuous outings.

Justine Halifax is a multi award-winning writer who has worked as a

journalist and feature writer for +20 years. She writes for the

Birmingham Mail, Birmingham Post and Sunday Mercury, both in print

and online.

Barb Harmon is a freelance travel writer and hopeless Francophile. She

and her husband are looking forward to living the good life in France

(fingers crossed). She blogs at www.chasingthenextchapter.com

Lucy Pitts is a freelance writer and Deputy Editor of The Good Life

France Magazine. She divides her time between the UK and France

where she has a home in the the Vendée area, known as the Green

Venice of France. www.stroodcopy.com

Colette O'Connor is a writer from California. Her stories have appeared

in numerous dailies & magazines. She teaches writing at California

State University, but keeps a bag ever packed for Paris, and tries to hold

on to all the oh-la-la of it she loves.

Barbara Pasquet James is a US lifestyle editor, speaker and urban

explorer who writes about food fashion and culture, from Paris. She

helped launch, write and edit USA Today’s City Guide To Paris and her

photo blog is at: FocusOnParis.com.

Editor: Janine Marsh contact editor (at) the goodlifefrance.com

Deputy Editor: Lucy Pitts

Assistant: Sandra Davis

Advertising: sales (at) thegoodlifefrance.com

Digital support: Umbrella Web Solutions

Artistic support: Kumiko at KumikoChesworth.myportfolio.com

Front Cover image: Lori Prosser



8 A tale of two cities -


Janine Marsh visits the incredible old city

and the 800 year old “new” city at the


22 Le Weekend in ... Orange

The sunny city is home to a legendary

Roman theatre and much, much more.

30 Winter sun in the south

The Mimozas resort near Cannes is the

perfect winter break destination.

34 Nip to Nimes

A vibrant city centre, architecturally

splendid and a Roman footprint make

Nimes irresisitible.

42 Nice carnival

For a real pick me up in winter, there's no

better place to be than Nice!

46 Paris at christmas

What to do in Paris during the festive

holidays, fabulous tips from the locals!

Features continued

52 du pain du vin du train to

laval mayenne

Just an hour and 40 minutes by train from

Paris, discover the fabulous city of Laval in


60 an encounter with the

green fairy - absinthe

Michael Cranmer goes in search of the true

story of absinthe from the mountains to


68 ski-daddle to alpe d'huez

french alps

Justine Halifax heads for the hills and finds

the perfect family ski resort.

72 Yves saint laurent museum

opens in paris

Barb Harmon visits the brilliant new

museum dedicated to the designs of Yves

Saint Laurent.

78 the fashion district of


Judi Castille indulges her love of

haberdashery in Paris.


86 your photos

The most popular photos shared by our

lovely readers on Facebook page.

P 88

88 give aways

Win a row of gorgeous vines, return ticket

on the ferry from Dover to France and

fabulous books

80 short story - how i

found my oh la la

Colette O'Connor discovers her ooh la la in

Paris at the lacy lingerie store!

102 eye spy with my expat eye

Marty Neumeier recalls the tale of the

rabbit dish a la Francais.


90 living in france

Joanna Leggett explains how it really is to

live in France.

94 the good life in gascony

Sue Aran talks about life in Gascony, warts

and all.

98 how expats can benefit

from finanical advice

106 long term car rental for

non eu visitors

Keith van Sickle checks out car rental.


108 Buche de noel

110 galette des rois

111 lapin a la moutarde


A tale of two cities....

Janine Marsh heads to the south of France to discover the charms of Carcassonne.

Looking like something straight out of a fairy tale, the old city with its teeming turrets is

one of the most beautiful monuments in France. The "new city" at a mere 800 years old

and just across the bridge is magnificent and well worth the few minutes to cross to...

Almost always the first place that all

visitors head to when they go to

Carcassonne is the old city. You can see it

from miles around and it is a sight that’s

memorable. A chateau perched on top of a

hill surrounded by ramparts dotted with

fairy tale pointy turrets that contain an

entire medieval city. It is without a doubt

one of the most glorious places I’ve been

to in France, one that lives up to the hype

and the fabulous photos.

You do of course have to go to the old city,

you’d be crazy not to if you went to

Carcassonne but if you don’t cross the Pont

Vieux at the base of the ramparts and visit

the Bastide St Louis, then you’ll be really

missing out. Worth a visit in its own right,

this medieval district of Carcarssonne is a

little gem that gets overlooked thanks to its

more famous, popular neighbour. It’s just a

ten minute walk from the ramparts – go,

you’ll thank me!

The Medieval City of


The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the

old city of Carcassonne is every bit as

enchanting when you see it in real life as it

is in the photos.

Its legacy goes back centuries, ancient

tribes inhabited the area, the Romans

arrived and built a fort – they called it

Carcasso. The city changed hands several

times, its history was colourful, it’s always

been sought after. There is a legend that

the Emperor Charlemagne laid siege to the

fortified city for five long years in the 8th

century. On learning that her people had

just one pig and a bag of wheat left to

survive on, the reigning princess, Dame

Carcas, had the pig fed on the wheat and

lobbed over those famous ramparts.

Charlemagne, believing that the

inhabitants must have so much food

stored they could afford to chuck it away

called off the siege. Dame Carcas had the

bells of the city rung in victory, “Carcas…

sonne” it was said, “Carcassonne is

ringing” – hence the name. Dame Carcas’

likeness adorns one of the gates of the

magnificent enclosed city, looking down on

all who enter.

In the middle ages the poorest people lived

in ramshackle homes that leaned up

against the ramparts whilst those that were

more fortunate lived inside the protected

walls. Over time the ramshackle homes

spread and created the wider

neighbourhood of Carcassonne.

The old citadel gradually fell into ruin until

state commissioned architect Viollet-le-

Duc took on the restoration in 1844.

Far left: view of the Citadel;

left, quiet streets in June;

above: Dame Carcas

statue; below street view in

the citadel

It is now considered to be the largest and

best conserved medieval fortress in

Europe, grand, imposing and home to a

labyrinth of cobbled streets, churches, a

castle, towers and ancient buildings.

Of course all this beauty draws many

visitors, around 4 million a year. If you want

to see if without the crowds - avoid the

summer months. You can visit for free to

see most of it but there is a ticket fee to

see some of it – it’s well worth it.

Go in the evening when the tourists are

gone and sip chilled wine while you

contemplate the enormous history of this


Details: www.tourism-carcassonne.co.uk

The inside track

The Medieval city is a living monument, in

fact there are 50 residents, numerous

shops and restaurants, hotels and yearround

events. Some people bemoan the

number of tourist shops in the old city but I

didn’t think it was that bad. There were

some fabulous shops as well, clothes,

shoes and handbags and my local friends

tell me they shop there. It’s not all tourist

tat and lots of tourists love to be able to

take home a souvenir or something for the


Wine and Dine in

Carcassonne Old City

You’ve got lots of choice and part of the fun

is wandering round and looking at the

décor and the menu but here are some of

my favourites:

Refined Dining: La Barbacane in the heart

of the old city, classic dishes with a clever

twist, gourmet food that’s not to be rushed.

Place Auguste Pierre Pont.

Comte Roger is recommended by the locals

who go there for the fabulous terrace and

the fabulous dishes. 14 Rue Saint-Louis

Head to Place St Jean, the Restaurant le

Saint Jean is considered one of the best

places for the local speciality - Cassoulet

Aperitifs at: Brasserie A Quatre Temps

which is owned by 2 Star Michelin Chef

Franck Putelat. There’s also an excellent

bistronomic menu including a formule (set)

menu at just 16 Euros for three courses. If

you do want to eat here, book in advance if

you can, this place is always popular, the

locals love it. 2 Boulevard Barbès

Hotel de la Cité – one of best hotels in

Carcassonne, very elegant, ancient and has

amazing views over the city from the private

gardens. Sitting here, enjoyig a glass of

locals favourite, rosé, as the sun sets over

the castle is an experience that’s never


Where to eat in

Carcassonne just

outside the citadel:

Locals Love: Bloc G throngs with

Carcassonne’s locals who love this place for

its home cooked seasonal food like maman

used to make.

It’s not a huge menu, it’s seasonal and

everything is cooked from fresh in the

kitchen. The dishes are beautifully presented

by the owner Sophie and her lovely team and

the food is utterly scrumptious, if it’s on the

menu, try the “tellines” starter, tiny, delicate

shell fish in an olive oil, garlic and parsley

sauce and truly delicious. I hardly ever eat

bread but I couldn’t resist wiping the bowl, it

was either that or lick it!

renowned 2 Michelin Star chef Franck

Putelat and mentioned Bloc G, he agreed,

the food is fabulous.

Bloc G is also a B&B and it’s just a few

minutes’ walk up to the old city. Great

spot – great value, great food and a lovely

warm welcome.

Chef Michel is much loved in these parts, I’m

not surprised, the dishes are mouthwatering.

I met with Carcassone's internationally

Left: Le Parc

Franck Putelat

restaurant; top

Franck Putelet

Wine and Dine in style: At the 2 Michelin

star Franck Putelat restaurant Le Parc, in

his hotel, just minutes from the old city. I

was lucky enough to chat to this

internationally renowned chef. He told me

he’s been in Carcarssonne 21 years, adding

that he truly loves it here. Originally from

the Jura region Chef Putelat has worked at

some of the greatest restaurants in France

before setting up his own in Carcassonne.

Even after all this time, “it is my passion to

cook” he says with conviction. When I ask

him who cooks at home he laughs “me of

course” he says “my wife is very happy for

me to cook, her favourite dish is Tataki de

Thon Rouge with a salade tomate and oeuf


“I never get fatigued, I love what I do” he

said before heading off to the kitchen to

prepare for the full restaurant. I was there

to try his tasting menu but I managed to

sneak a peak at a couple of the rooms in

the bijou, 7 room hotel beforehand. You

cannot fail to fall in love with the idea of

lazing in a hot tub on the roof in the

shadow of la cité. The rooms are simple

and elegant, no overbearing colours, no

jarring furniture, zen-like is how I’d describe


Back downstairs in the restaurant I took my

seat. As usual I was on my own, solo travel

is great but there are times when you really

want to be able to turn to someone and say

“blimey – isn’t that amazing?”. I didn’t take

many tasting notes because I was so busy

enjoying the food and the ambiance and

I’m not sure that words can convey just

how special the food is. The restaurant is

undoubtedly theatrical. The bread board is

a glass cabinet, kept warm by the flames of

a real fire. The servers wheel the cabinet to

the tables to offer the bread – talk about

wow factor. From the home made bread,

including miniature baguettes that make

you smile, to the dishes that look like

works of art and taste divine – this is one

restaurant you’ll never forget. Pricey, bien

sur, of course, it’s a 2 Michelin star

restaurant – but for a special night out and

a memorable meal in captivating

Carcassonne, it’s worth every centime.

Photo: Paul Palau, Carcassonne TO

Above: the beautiful

chateau Pennautier;

far left: rue Trivalle,

home to La Maison

Vielle B&B; left: Porte

d'Aude, la citadel.

Picnic at: Chateau Pennautier owned by

the Comte and Comtesse de Lorgeril, just

3km from the Citadel of Carcassonne. The

30 hectare park was designed by Andre Le

Notre who also designed the gardens of

Versailles. Treat yourself to a bottle of

fabulous wine from the chateau shop, and

if you’re not in the mood for a picnic, the

restaurant here is fabulous.

Take a Selfie: Ask the locals of

Carcassonne and 9 out of 10 will say Porte

d’Aude, the famous 12th century gate that

leads into the citadel.

Stay at: La Maison Vielle, 8 rue Trivalle at

the foot of the citadel, it’s a charming B&B

at the bottom of the ramparts. There’s a

lovely terraced garden, common room and

a great kitchen where you’ll enjoy a stylish

breakfast which when I was there, included

a mini crème Brulée. I gulped at the calories

I’d be piling on “you’re on holiday and

besides, you won’t be able to resist walking

it off in la cité next door” I was told!

Or stay at: La Villa de Mazamet, a 45

minute drive away, it’s been voted No. 1

luxury B&B in France on TripAdvisor several

years in a row.

Don’t miss: The other old city of

Carcassonne, Bastide st Louis. Many

visitors aren’t aware of its existence, spend

a few hours within the ramparts and go

merrily on their way without even being

aware that just across the bridge at the

base of the old city is another old city!

astide saint-louis

Back in the middle ages, a new

Carcarssonne was created on the left bank

of the river Aude. it is called the Bastide

Saint Louis. Most visitors to Carcassonne

miss it completely and what a shame that

is. Focused on reaching the old citadel,

they don’t even notice the imposing gates

across the old bridge to this fascinating

area that’s rich in history, architecture,

cafés and restaurants, shops and markets.

Built in 1260, the Bastide Saint-Louis is

connected to the old city via the

picturesque Point Vieux bridge which gets

packed at night with photographers

attempting to capture the beauty of the

citadel when it’s lit up against a starry sky.

Built in the 14th century, the bridge was the

only link between the two towns until the

19th century. On the other side of the

Bastide lies the Canal du Midi gently

winding its way through Carcassonne. If

you only have a short time in town, take a

one hour boat ride with Bateau le Cocagne

(who also hire bikes) near the train station.

You’ll enjoy a tranquil taster of this historic

canal and fabulous views to the Citadel.

There is a quite different vibe in this city,

although it is ancient it has a more open

feel and is very light and vibrant.

Inside the Bastide is a warren of streets

and old buildings. It’s a cool place in

several ways. Even on roasting hot days

here in the far south, the city doesn’t

overheat thanks to its design that channels

the four winds that run through the area to

flow through its streets. There are 300

days a year of wind here and you can

expect to enjoy the breezy touch of the

Tramontane, le Vent d’Autun, the Marine

and Mediterranean winds.

The town seems to evolve outwards from

the central square Place Carnot with its

famous fountain, loved by famous French

writer Balzac. This square makes for the

most wonderful setting to take a relaxing

break at a terraced café and watch the

world go by. Where the moats of old once

were, there are now boulevards lined with

houses and shops.

You can’t help but notice that the pavement

is made from rose coloured marble. It was

laid to honour the visit of Louis XIV, the

Sun King, and was quarried from Caunes,

Minervois not far from Carcassonne.

Marble from this quarry was also used at

Versailles, the Opera Garnier in Paris as

well as in the White House in Washington.

The weekly market (Tuesday, Thursday,

Saturday) takes place here as it has done

for centuries. It’s a vibrant, buzzing market

and plenty of delicious smells scent the air.

At the popular stall of Chez Gaston, try the

arachides, peanuts in a rice pastry shell

dipped in mustard and spices. Or La

Lucque – enormous olives that are rugby

ball shaped, they’re considered the “rolls

Royce of olives” by the locals I’m told and

they’re grown in the area. From Monday to

Saturday there is a covered market at Les

Halles. This is the place to come to order

fresh cooked cassoulet to take home. It’s

sold in terracotta bowls which make for

great souvenirs. At one stall I spotted “La

cargolade” tiny snails ready to barbecue, a

speciality of the area. There’s “casser la

croute” salted pastry with a meaty interior,

a recipe that dates back to the middle ages

when makers would decorate the pastry as

their signature. And, don’t miss a visit to

the patisserie boulangerie shop of Chef

Fuster who makes the special madeleine

cakes of Carcassonne. Outside in the car

park you’ll see a circle of stones, they mark

the spot where the town pillory used to be

in the medieval days. The history in this

town is palpable.

Stop off at Bistro d’Alice (26 rue Chartran)

where the friendly staff take real pride in

the produce. Everything is home cooked

and its loved by the locals. Outside you can

enjoy the breeze, inside there’s a typically

French brasserie atmosphere, banquettes

and brass and a buzz of conversation, it’s

the perfect place for lunch after a trip to the

market or in the town.

There are several churches from the 13th

and 14th centuries. Magnificent mansion

houses date back to the 17th and 18th

century when the city was home to

prosperous merchants, who made fortunes

from the textile manufacturing industry.

The 14th century Cathedral of Saint-Michel, has

beautifully painted walls inside. All cathedrals

used to have painted interiors and the artwork

was covered with egg white as a preservative,

but over the centuries the paint faded. Here

though, the cathedral doors were closed in the

16th century and it was left like that for years.

Amazingly it looks so fresh you’d think it had

only just been done. While I was there an old

lady with white hair and a black dress wielding

a duster over the pews asked if I’d like to know

more about the Cathedral and of her own story.

“I come here every day of the week. I clean and

mend things and help the Bishop” she said

proudly pointing to the furniture she’s restored

and curtains she’s sewn. Rose’s work here is so

important that its even been recognised by the

National Monuments organisation of France.

“I come here to thank God for a miracle” she

says. She tells me that her grandchild was

gravely ill, suffering from multiple sclerosis and

at 8 years old was in a wheelchair. She prayed

to the Pope and to God “with all my heart and

my prayer was heard. My grandchild is now 19

years old, healthy, no longer in a wheelchair”.

This is a city with a lot of soul.

Above: Rose who helps out the

Cathedral Saint-Michel (right)

where she was granted a miracle


Getting to Carcassone:

The train from Paris takes from 5

hours 22 minutes.

Nearest airport: Carcassonne Airport,

shuttle service to city centre

(connections to the UK, Brussels and


Where to stay:

La Vielle Maison is at the base of the

citadel and a few minutes walk to

both the old city and Bastide Saint


Villa de Mazamet is about a 45

minute drive from Carcassonne and

offers a luxurious and delicious stay,

voted the best B&B in France on

TripAdvisor several years in a row.

Tourist office information:



in ORANGE Provence

Orange in Provence is a sunny city with

oodles of charm that has been built up over

the centuries quite literally - for the Romans

were here two millennia ago and the town is

proud of its ancient legacy. Janine Marsh

explores Orange and falls in love with its


When Louis XIV visited Orange, he said of

the theatre that it was “the most beautiful

wall in my Kingdom”. He would recognise it

if he visited today because, thanks to a

quirk of fate, the 1.8m thick, 103m long wall

has survived almost intact.

High up in the centre of the wall is a statue

of the Emperor Augustus – looking down

on everyone from his lofty perch. From the

ground you’d never know that he’s 3.5m tall.

But if you were able to climb up there you’d

be able to tell - and how do I know this?

Because I did climb up there!

My friend Guillaume who works at the

tourist office organised a special visit for

me. I have vertigo and don't like being up

high at all but I wasn't going to miss this

unique opportunity so I took a deep breath,

kept my eyes to the front - and climbed. If

you were thinking this is just a wall then

you'd be mistaken because behind that

stony time worn exterior is a narrow

building. The steps to the top are rough.

Carved away by time in places, worn and

crumbling in others, whilst some steps are

so steep I had to literally pull myself up to

them like climbing a tree. Onwards and

upwards, round and round we went,

through dusty ante chambers, and skinny

corridors, crossing planks of wood with

deep chasms below. Eventually we

emerged onto a platform high up, right

behind the famous statue of Emperor


The Roman Theatre at Orange

You can’t go to Orange and not see the

UNESCO listed Roman theatre – I think it

might actually be against the law!

It’s not a theatre like we might know it, a

dark interior with plush velvet seats. It’s an

open-air theatre with a 37-metre high wall

and a stage facing a round auditorium of

stone benches, the top seats gleaming

white against the azure blue sky.

I have to tell you it’s a heap higher up when

you're there with the Emperor than it looks

from the bottom of the arena. The visitors

milling about below posing for selfies on

the stone benches, taking photos of me

without knowing it, looked tiny. I wondered

if they would see my tiny head sticking out

behind the statue when they looked at their

photos later. I stood on my secret perch for

a while contemplating the immense history

of this incredible monument. That statue

has witnessed life since the year 1AD.

I made my way down rather more gingerly

than I went up and was happy to be on

terra firma a (sorry not sorry - I couldn't

resist a Roman phrase in this article). We

toured the old changing rooms of Roman

actors which now house museum artefacts

and saw film clips of people watching plays

here from 100 years ago.

If only these roman walls

could talk

This place has always had something

special about it even when it wasn’t in

use – which is how its survived so well.

Extraordinarily, hundreds of years ago, the

theatre became a housing estate of sorts.

In the 16th century, impoverished

inhabitants of Orange built ramshackle

houses up against the wall and within the

arena, their dwellings spread until the

whole place was under cover.

In the 18th century makeshift prisons were

set up in the theatre.

In the 19th century, while in some areas of

France, town architects had been pulling

down ancient buildings to make way for

new, this place survived when Prosper

Mérimée, an inspector with the newly

formed Monuments Historiques,

implemented an extensive restoration

campaign. This consisted of clearing away

the constructions built in and around the

stage area and the lower tiers.

The Roman theatre was finally restored to

its former glory and from day one, it wowed

the public.

The theatre at Orange continues to inspire

and delight audiences - just as the romans

intended. In 1869 the theatre hosted what

was then called “Fetes Romaines” and the

theatrical performances were an immediate

success. This became an annual summer

event renamed Chorégies and it now

attracts internationally-renowned artists to

perform in front of crowds of more than


Sitting on one of those ancient stone

benches (tip: squash a cushion in your bag

to make it more comfy), as the sun sets on

a warm evening, watching the stage lit up,

the performers inspired by their

surroundings, is one of those experiences

you never forget.

Many of the evening performances at the

theatre are free and you can get tickets

during the day at the theatre reception


The acoustics are stunning, the location is

wonderful, the ambiance is exquisite, the

events are spectacular.

Classical music, ballet, opera, pop, rock and

more – whatever you do, when you go to

Orange, if you get the chance to experience

this theatre in action – don’t miss it.

You can also take an audio guided tour of

the theatre, climb those steep bench steps

and see the “The Ghosts of the Theatre”

multi-media show.

Details of events and tours:


What to see and do in Orange

The Roman Museum in


Across the road from the Roman theatre is

the Museum of Art and History. It's a great

little museum located in a 17th century

mansion with an eclectic collection and a

very famous map. In France a cadastral

plan is a map that shows property in a

village or town. In Roman times it was the

same and amazingly fragments of a

cadastre of Orange has survived. Quite

how anyone could put all these tiny

fragments together to come up with a map

is beyond me, it must have been like doing

the hardest jigsaw in the world with loads

of missing pieces. It's enormous and

seeing it hanging on the wall makes you

realise just how amazingly advanced the

Romans were. Entry to the museum is free

and on a warm day, it’s cool inside.

The Roman Triumphal Arch

of Orange

A short distance from the theatre is yet

another souvenir of the Romans - a grand

triumphal arch which, until recently, was a

place that cars drove though (it really

doesn’t bear thinking about). Incredibly this

vast, ancient monument has managed to

withstand the pollution, the vibration of

traffic hurtling by and has not been

ostensibly harmed by having a road run

right through the middle. Thankfully the

authorities have seen sense and have

begun a programme of preservation,

placing the arch in the centre of a

roundabout and directing traffic around it

as well as creating a way for visitors to get

close to it as it deserves.

The inside track

The centre of Orange is an easy place to

get around on foot with plenty of shops,

restaurants and places to while away hours

in the sun.

Orange is more than its Roman legacy, the

town is lovely too and great for spending a

day relaxing, spoiling yourself with

fabulous food and enjoying sitting in the

sun watching the world go by. It makes for

a great base in Provence.

Wine and dine in Orange

The pretty town centre has lots of choice

for eating out…

Locals love: If you’re looking for

somewhere fabulous for lunch or dinner,

you can’t do better than La Grotte, built into

the Roman wall of the theatre! It’s popular

with the artists who perform at the theatre

and will the locals who love the ambiance,

the menu and the friendly service. www.


Ice Ice Baby: in this sunny place an ice

cream is always a good idea. Head to Regal

Tendance (1 Rue Madeleine Roch) by the

theatre for the best glaces in town. In

summer lavender flavour is de rigeur and in

winter the chocolate ice cream is delish.

The maker uses spices like pepper and

ginger to give a unique and utterly

scrumptious taste. The flavours change

regularly according to the seasons but if

they have the Baladine Irlandaise flavour

when you visit, don't miss it, a whisky and

marmalade ice cream that's utterly


Aperitifs: Rosé wine is the most popular

aperitif in Provence. Enjoy a glass at the

laid-back Salon du Charlotte, listening to

the bells of the cathedral next door whilst

you watch the locals meet and greet, faire

la bise and chat animatedly.

Have a picnic: Shop at the Thursday

morning market or head to the lovely Le

Comptoir des Gourmets shop in the centre

of town next to the ancient Cathedral. Run

by renowned pattisier Lionel Stocky who

came to Orange via Alsace and Paris and

Michelin star restaurants, this is a fabulous

gourmet shop full of the most amazing

goodies. From tea, jams and honeys and

every Provençal delicacy plus he makes

the most spectacular cakes daily. Lionel

personally tastes everything he stocks in

his shop (my kind of job!). Open from

Tuesday to Sunday, when, in the morning

the shop is packed with church-goers

buying their sweet treat for Sunday lunch

after the service.

For the best cheese, Pleine de Terre in the

rue de la Republique will stop you in your


Take home a souvenir: Nip to the theatre

shop for posters and books that make

great gifts and are easy to pack in your

suitcase. The theatre boutique also stocks

Provencal goodies and Augustine’s

chocolates, though they may not make it all

the way home.

Take a selfie at: Take a selfie at the Roman

theatre or on top of the mountain behind it

- with the theatre in the background. Well

worth the climb (photo: top right) for its

cool, shady landscape and in the summer

an outdoor guingette (restaurant with

music). On Sundays there is an orchestra

and tea dance and on Saturday nights

there's a DJ and young people flock to

dance under the stars (details from the

tourist office).

Stay at: Au Vin Chambré is a lovely B&B with

big, cool rooms and a gorgeous garden which

makes for a brilliant breakfast venue - what a

place to start the day. It's within walking

distance of the theatre and the train station.

There’s also a fabulous restaurant here at lunch

times only plus a wine shop. It doesn't get

much better than that does it?! www.


Around and about in Orange: Hire a bike and

take a leisurely 6km ride for a picnic and lake

swimming at Caderousse where you’ll find a

pretty little town.

Get there: Avignon is 25 minutes by train,

Marseille 1 hour, Lyon 2 hours and Paris from

3.5 hours by train.



Escape to the south of France

for fun in the sun in the winter!

Janine Marsh heads

to the Mimozas

Cannes Resort at

mimosa time…

On a freezing cold February day, I headed

to Cannes in the south of France. The grey

skies of wintery London turned into the

grey skies of wintery Paris where I arrived

by train to connect with the 5-hour fast

train to Cannes. Speeding through the

French countryside, after a couple of hours

I started to notice patches of Wedgewood

blue appear in the sky. By the time I arrived

I felt like I’d gone to a different country –

one where the sun shines and it's warm,

even in February. From here I took a short

taxi ride to my destination the 4-star

Mimozas Resort in nearby Mandelieu.

For a pick me up break or an extended

winter holiday in the south, this place is

brilliant value. There’s loads to do and see,

an onsite spa, access to the best golf

courses in the area, the chance to relax in

the sun, visit Cannes, nearby Grasse and

Nice and a host of fabulous hotspots on the

French Riviera. From January to March the

famous flower of the Provencal hinterland,

mimosa, is in bloom making a visit even

more special.

There’s a little on-site shop where you can

buy freshly baked croissants and basic

supplies. There are towns with markets and

shops within walking distance, but for me

the lure of the daily covered market at

Cannes was irresistible.

Mimozas Resort is not a dressy resort, it's a

place to chill. Families, couples, groups and

solo travellers fall in love with this place

and return again and again.

You can book an apartment in the main

building like me, or in the landscaped

grounds where there are cottages and


The gorgeous gardens and lake give

Mimozas Resort the feel of a private estate,

spotless and very Provençal in style. There

are walkways lined with herbs and rose

arbours, the scent of rosemary and thyme

even in winter are heady. You'll find

benches to sit on dotted around, places to

sit and chill and watch the wild birds that

flock here thanks to the lakes.

I collected the key for my self-catering

apartment in the main building, dumped

my luggage and headed to the restaurant

La Table du Lac on the ground floor. The

menu is seasonal, diverse and delicious

and the starter was substantial enough for

a main meal. The friendly staff speak

English, Thibaud the barman was great, he

remembered what I like to drink on my

second night, something that always

impresses me when someone does that.

Server Lissiane couldn't have been nicer,

she remembered my name and made me

feel at home, something I really appreciate

as a solo traveller.

For anyone coming here for a rest and

healthy eating it's the perfect option.

Though it's big, it never feels crowded or

like a holiday camp as it's spread over

several acres and the layout is well

designed so that you don't feel on top of

each other.

There are little waterfalls and canals that

run through the resort keeping it cool when

the sun is out and don't worry about

mosquitoes, they don't have them here.

And if I tell you that the famous Michelin

company hold their annual conference here

you'll get just how special this place is as

the gastronomic guidebook giant is hardly

likely to go somewhere that's not special.

The aim of the resort is to make you feel at

home, they’re very customer service

oriented and not remotely stuffy.

Close to Cannes and top


What I love about Mimozas Resort is not

just the fact that its great value, but you

feel like you’re in the countryside, just 20

minutes from Cannes by taxi or the No. 20

bus that stops outside. Plus you’re within

easy walking distance of Mandelieu la

Napoule a picturesque and floral town with

sandy beaches, loads of cafés and

restaurants and the Château de La

Napoule art centre. From here you can take

a ferry to the pretty Isles de Lerin. It’s also a

short walk in the opposite direction to the

shops and markets of Mandelieu in the

other. There’s a superb choice of scenic

walking and cycling trails close by.

Activities at Mimozas


There's a spa on site which is popular. It

gets very booked up so if you want a spa

treatment - book in advance, especially at

weekends as Mimozas resort is a favourite

destination for Parisians.

If you like to jog, there are paths around the

resort or outside on the quiet roads. There

are less activities in the winter months, the

pool is closed as well as the barbecue area.

You can take excursions from the hotel or

via the tourist office in Mandelieu La

Napoule and one of the best in the winter

months is the Mimosa trail and Fragonard

perfume tour. The thought of all that

beautiful yellow mimosa persuaded me to

tear myself away from the relaxing and

scented environs of the Mimozas Resort

and head to the hills - defiinitely worth it.

But the famous golf courses of the area are

right on the doorstep in fact, you’re right

beside the legendary golf ‘Old Course’ at

Cannes-Mandelieu. Founded by Grand

Duke Michael of Russia in 1891, it was the

first golf course under Mediterranean skies.

It has 18 holes and spans 74 hectares plus

a ferry between holes across the Siagne

River.The perfect place to enjoy a glass of

rosé and a spectacular sunset from the

clubhouse terrace after your round.

I found that the resort made for a great

base. There's a train station in Mandelieu

La Napoule) about a 15-minute walk) and

from there you can travel round the coast

to Cannes, Nice (about 40 minutes), Juan

les pins, Antibes, Monaco, Villefranche du

Mer and more.

Be warned, taxis are expensive in this area,

take the bus or the train to avoid clocking

up the Euros. As I sat on my balcony

overlooking a lake at 10 o’clock at night I

felt blissfully charmed by the beauty, and

warmth, of this place. On the phone to my

sister in London she moaned “it's sleeting

here in London".

“I'm outside in shorts and a t shirt” I told

her, and I can't tell you what's she said


It's surprisingly reasonable to stay here, in

fact I'd go so far to say that a winter break

is positively cheap. I could have been

happy there for several weeks, it’s an

inspiring sort of place, you could spend tie

on hobbies, painting, writing, diet, work on

your fitness regime, sight see, tour or

simply relax and get to know the area.

Details: MimozasCannes.com

Under the Roman sun in


If you arrive in Nimes via train as I did, the Roman connection is obvious before

you even leave the station, the vaulted ceiling and arched passage ways are the

clue. Wander out to the centre ville with its palm tree lined avenues and in the

distance straight ahead, a Roman tower looms. Walk for ten minutes into the

centre of town and there, right before your eyes, is one of the best preserved

Roman arenas in the world – it is a stunning sight.

The Roman influence is everywhere here, even in the names of the streets like

lovely Rue Agrippa by the beautiful Jardin des Fontaines. In these lovely public

gardens is a fresh water spring which was likely the reason the romans chose

this area to settle.

Today it seats 17,000 which is around

30% of the population. They come here

for the entertainment that takes place

from festivals, concerts, opera, theatre,

bull fights and more.

There are lots of gaps in our knowledge

of this immense arena, it’s not known if

any Roman emperor visited for instance.

And experts are sure that there were no

lion fights here, the walls in front of the

seating are too low apparently. They

know that gladiator fights took place and

plenty of relics have been found including

evidence of a school of gladiators.

Whatever went on here, the air of history

is unmistakable.

That it has survived so intact is due to the

fact that in the middle ages, the arena

was turned into space for houses which

were built up against its walls and inside

once the floor level had been raised by

filling the centre with rubble. Essentially it

served 900 years as a shelter for the

poor and that (like the Roman theatre at

Orange) saved it. Useful buildings with a

purpose tended to last longer than those

that just looked good in the old days.

Roman Games in Nimes

The Roman Arena of Nimes

The Roman arena is the beating heart of

this cosmopolitan little city. From the

outside it's impressive enough. But enter

through the desk of the arenas and you'll

discover an awesome spectacle: an

elliptical shaped ring with 34 seating rows.

It was built at the end of the first century

and in its heyday this place seated 24,000

people and that might well have been the

entire population and then some.

Each spring Roman Games are held here

taking visitors back to the era of Julius

Caesar. Channel your inner Roman, rent a

toga for a few Euros, fling on your

sandals and join in the fun.

Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner and her

bullfighter lover, Dominguin, were regular

visitors to Nîmes, staying at the now

genteelly decaying grand Hôtel

Imperator. Picasso too loved it here.

There are year-round events – see Nimes

tourist office website for details

More Roman stuff

Two thousand years ago, Nimes was one of

the most important cities of Roman Gaul.

Today there’s a lively cosmopolitan centre

but the city remains a treasure trove of

Roman ruins. Take a stroll here and you’re

following in well-trodden footsteps.

The first Roman road in France was the Via

Domitia which ran through Nimes. The

Romans turned Nimes into a walled city

and access was via gates, two of which

remain, the Porte Auguste and Porte de

France which is still in use to this day.

Five minutes stroll from the arena you’ll

find the magnificent temple called Maison

Carrée. Built in the 1st century AD it has

over the years survived by adapting. It’s

been a church, stables, even apartments.

Now it’s an art gallery and its impressive

imperial white stone lines against the blue

sky of Nimes is simply stunning.

The Jardin des Fontaines is home to the

ruins of what is thought to have once been

a Roman library. Music students sometimes

practice there and the day I visited, an

opera singer’s haunting voice carried over

the trees and fountains. There are also the

remains of Roman baths but today the park

is the focal point for those wanting to relax

in tranquil, surroundings in the shade of the

beautiful lime trees, or enjoy a game of


The Romans fortified Nimes, but only one of

their towers remains. The ruins are at the

highest point of the city, strategically

important but also a reminder of their

power. From its peak position you have a

fabulous panorama over the city.

Tip: Buy a combined ticket with entry to the

Nimes Arena, Maison Carrée, Tour Magne

and the Roman theatre at Orange. It’s valid

for a month, saves you money and queuing.

What to see and do in Nimes

Close to the Arena, as everything is in this

compact town centre, the Place du Marché

features two figures from the Nîmes coat of

arms: a crocodile and a palm tree

symbolising the Emperor August’ defeat of

his arch rival Marc Antony and his lover

Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. They’re

embedded in metal stamps in the ground,

created by France’s favourite designer,

Philippe Starck. In fact, you’re likely to see

these emblems in several places, including

in the town hall where giant crocodiles

hang in a rather macabre circle above your


Summer is wickedly hot in Nîmes

(whatever you do when you book

accommodation – make sure you get air

conditioning). Winter can be cold when the

famous Mistral wind is blowing, so much

so that rumour has it that Nîmes’s iconic

palm trees are kept warm with a heater.

It's not often that you see a Roman temple

next to an über modern Norman Foster

designed building but in Nimes

architectural surprises abound. The Carré

d'Art-Museum of Contemporary Art is next

to the Maison Carré Roman temple. Home

to a fabulous collection of art, modern art

fans will love its clean lines and the cool

white and glass interior which makes the

artworks pop.

The Denim connection

The Musée du Vieux Nîmes (Place aux

Herbes, free entrance) has a room devoted

to the city’s most famous export - denim.

The rough cotton fabric started out to

create tough clothes for labourers but is

now the uniform of the world. (You can read

more about Denim from France here).

The Inside Track

Late night dinners are de rigeur in this

sultry town. In the summer, you’ll find

people sitting outside restaurants lingering

over coffee until the early hours of the

morning, it’s almost too hot to eat in the

heat of the day!

Locals Love: The shaded terrace

restaurant of the Carré d’Art Museum

which offers spectacular views over the city

and a great, seasonal menu.

Bake my Day: Noailles (6 Boulevard

Alphonse Daudet; www.patisserie-noailles.

com), next to the Maison Carrée, is the best

patisserie in Nîmes. Try the oreillette a thin,

crispy beignet with a delicate orange

blossom filling.

Ice Ice Baby: Rumour has it that the best

ice creams in town are to be had at Maison

Courtois 8 Place du Marché, “not cheap“

says local Veronique “but truly delectable

and made by a master, the chestnut and

cognac ice cream is magnifique”.

Aperitifs: Brasserie Le Napoleon, which is

also great for dinner. Opened in 1813, this

place is an institution in Nimes. It’s utterly

gorgeous inside, filled with antiques, and is

a listed building. The locals call it “Napo”.

Have a picnic: the romantic Jardins des

Fontaines are the ideal picnic spot and Les

Halles, the vibrant covered market place of

Nimes is perfect for picking up fresh

produce (daily) from the 100 or so artisans

and traders.

Take Home a souvenir: Nimes loves its

sweet croquants Villaré, an almond bisuit

with a hint of lemon and orange blossom.

Get them from Maison Villaret, founded in

1775, a legend with the locals.

Take a selfie at: Ask anyone in Nimes and they’ll

tell you – the Arena, preferably in front of the

bullfighter statue, is THE place for a Nimes selfie.

Around and about: The spectacular Pont du

Gard (www.pontdugard.fr) is just 12 miles away

and should not be missed. Ingenious Roman

engineering brought water from the beautiful

nearby town of Uzès across this aqueduct to the

Castellum in Nîmes.

Far left in Nimes centre;

left: at Le Napoleon;

above: the symbol of

Nimes designed by

Philippe Starck

Get there: Nimes is served by TGV (fast trains)

and from Paris Gare de Lyon takes less than 3

hours. It’s just 30 minutes by train to Montpeller,

55 minutes to Marseille and 1 hour 20 minutes to


Nearest airport: Nîmes-Alès-Camargue-Cévenne,

15 kms from the centre, there’s a shuttle service


Stay at: Apartcity.com comfy, close and great


Tourist office website for loads of useful

information: OT-Nimes.fr

Nice Carnival

for winter fun in the sun

If, like me, you’re used to grey skies, biting

rain, sleet and snow in February – going to

the Carnival at Nice is the nicest possible

shock to your system. I arrived wearing a

coat, gloves, scarf and hat. Within minutes

they were off. It was a balmy, sunny day,

the sky was blue and people were

wandering about in what I class as summer


It was my first time at the famous Nice

Carnival and I arrived on a Sunday morning

in good time for the afternoon parade.

I met my friend Caterina who lives in Nice

and we headed into the old town for lunch.

There’s something wonderfully uplifting

about sitting out in the sun sipping a

chilled glass of rosé and scoffing a

delicious plate of tasty grub in the middle

of winter. By the time we finished, the

streets were starting to fill up with people.

The air of excitement was palpable and the

air vibrated to the sound of music as we

walked up to the famous chequered Place


Nice carnival isn’t the sort of carnival that

roams round the streets willy nilly. Its much

more organised than that. You can buy

tickets to sit in the stands at Place

Massena and watch the whole thing unfold

right in front of you.

Street performers, dancers and the most

incredible floats pass before the crowds to

the sound of cheering, drums beating a

hypnotic rhythm, hooting and whistling.

Dance teams egg the crowd on, they rush

up and down the stairs in their shiny

costumes, grinning, clearly loving every

minute – the upbeat music is so loud that

you can feel the energy of it inside you.

Confetti flies through the air, and not just a

handful either – there are bucket loads of

the tiny pieces of coloured paper. I was

finding bits of confetti in my handbag

weeks later when I was back in the cold

and grey weather of home, and every time,

in my head, I was back in sunny Nice.

Above: the house where

Matisse once lived

It’s impossible not to feel happy at the Nice

Carnival, it’s a feel good, real good, joyful

and crazy humdinger of an event. The

carnival takes place over 15 days of

mayhem, colour, flowers, floats, singing,

dancing, entertainment and fun.

In between carnival processions there’s

loads to do. My top five not to be missed

when you’re in Nice for the carnival:

Markets – Cours Saleya is a large square,

home to a daily market and lined with

gorgeous mansion houses and cafés and

restaurants galore. On Sunday there’s a

flower market, Monday – antiques market,

the rest of the week its food and fabulous.

Musee Matisse – the artist Matisse lived

and worked in Nice for many years. At one

time he lived in a house on Cours Saleya,

later he moved into a hotel.

Eat! There are too many fantastic

restaurants to mention here, but let’s just

say, the Nicois love their food. (You can find

some ideas for fab Nice restaurants here

on The Good Life France website).

Enjoy a cocktail at: the iconic seafront

Negresco Hotel with its pink facade

Wander: The old town is magnificent, a

labyrinth of winding narrow streets, shops,

restaurants, bars, galleries, museums and

houses. Go in the summer and you can

hardly move. Go in the winter and you’ll

almost have it to yourself (in the sun).

Nice Carnival 2018 is from 17

February - 3 March

Website for details and to book tickets:

Nice Tourism; en.nicecarnaval.com

Recommended hotel: The Grand Florence

Photo: Amelie Dupont, Paris TO

Christmas in Paris

The city of fairy lights

We asked our favourite

Paris locals for their top

tips on what to see and do

in the city at Christmas.

Thanks to Barbara

Pasquet James, a US

lifestyle editor who writes

about food fashion and

culture, from Paris and

photo blogs at:

FocusOnParis.com. And to

Francois Dapremont at our

favourite hotel in Paris, the

lovely Hotel Balmoral close

to the Arc de Triomphe,

he's a mine of information

on the best things do in

the city. And to Daisy de

Plume of ThatMuse who

runs Treasure Hunts at

Museums including the

Louvre. They've come up

with some brilliant

recommendations to enjoy

Christmas in Paris like a


Barbara: Usually Paris is “easy” during the

holidays as there is so much going on:

Christmas markets, later-than-usual

shopping, the ubiquitous after-dark light

show on the Champs-Elysées.

Many neighborhood streets (not just the

Champs-Elysées) get decked out in holiday

finery. However Christmas Day, which

would seem like a slam-dunk, can be

unexpectedly challenging because in

France, both Christmas Eve and Christmas

Day translate into Family with a capital F.

This means that finding restaurants that

are open are rare, and those that are, will be

quite expensive, requiring bookings well in

advance. To make matters worse, this year

Christmas Day falls on a Monday when

much is closed anyway. And those

Christmas markets? By the 25th they’ve

packed it in. But fret not there's loads to see

and do...

Daisy: With the rinks open, ice skating is

always a fave with my family from the Hôtel

de Ville to gliding about 57 meters up

within the Tour Eiffel. We love stopping off

at any one of the many wonderful manèges,

or carrousels, scattered about the city for a

whizz about (the oldest one being a doubledecker

carrousel at the Hotel de Ville). Then

we like to warm our tootsies on the

Bateaux Parisiens, which have musical

entertainment on the Seine in the

afternoon. Before toddling on home, we

stop for some quiet time at Notre-Dame,

which brings the meaning of Christmas,

and the history of Paris with those 12th

century walls, home so very meaningfully.

Christmas in Paris

Barbara: Create a local experience:

Head to Montmartre, find a café on rue des

Abbesses and order hot spiced wine (vin

chaud) even if you don’t see it on the menu.

Try a sharing planche of charcuteries and

cheeses then, if you still have room, dinner

of confit de canard or entrecôte frites. And


Or grab some oysters, cooked prawns,

maybe foie gras and a bottle of bubbly at a

morning market (it will be business as

usual on Sunday the 24th). Buy a gorgeous

scented candle, a bunch of flowers and

throw open your hotel or rental window -

and celebrate à la française.

While you’re being authentic don’t forget a

yule log cake - the traditional bûche de

Noël - at any pastry shop. Angelina’s (226

rue de Rivoli 75001) fabulous tea room,

which also happens to be open on

Christmas Day, will have gorgeous ones in

different sizes. (Recipe page 108)

Craving Christmas Pudding? Marks &

Spencer Foods (7 rue Mabillon Paris

75006) will be open the 24th from 08:30 -


Francois: Take a wander down the

Champs-Elysees, the wonderful lights will

make you feel very festive!

Shop at Le Marché Poncele, a very famous

food market for Parisians. It will be full of

luxury goods before Christmas (foie gras,

snails, fish and high end quality meats….)

Buy some delicious tea from the tea

boutique Mariage Frères - it's very special

and very Paris!

Photo: Victor Dapremont

Christmas eve in Paris

Barbara: Be honest: How many times will

you find yourself in Paris on Christmas

Day? Splurge for one of these elegant

brunches (reservation is essential)

HÔTEL RITZ PARIS Grand Brunch de Noël

(In the summer salon) 15 Place Vendôme

280 euros per person.


L’HOTEL MEURICE Brunch de Noël

(In the restaurant Le Dalí) 228 rue de Rivoli

150 euros per person. www.lemeurice.com

Barbara and Francois: Late night

Christmas Eve: Squeeze into Midnight

Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral with its

children’s choir.

Francois: pop to La Maison du Chocolat,

one of the best chocolate boutiques in


Christmas Day in Paris

Barbara: Well there’s more than you think:

1. The Pompidou Centre for an infusion of

modern art

2. The Eiffel Tower!

3. The old Marais Jewish District around rue

des Rosiers is just so pretty…

4. Most shops / showrooms on the

Champs-Elysées are open through they

close earlier than usual.

5. Brash brasseries on the boulevards do a

brisk business, try the iconic names such

as La Coupole, Les Deux Magots, Le Café

de Flore - sure to be filled with other holiday


6. Angelina's Tea Room – which will be

open during the day (226 Rue de Rivoli).

Photo: Linda Grams

Photo: Vincent Leroux, Ritz Hotel

7. If a nice hot Chinese soup for lunch is

your idea of Christmas coziness, try a

Chinatown: there’s one in Belleville and

another south of Place d’Italie in the 13th

around rue Tolbiac…

8. The Grande Roue de Paris, the giant

Ferris wheel on the Rivoli side of the

Tuileries Gardens, will take your breath

away - and it’s just a hop to Angelinas for

hot choclate afterwards! (above)

9. The Seine might be your scene: some

boat companies will be operating. Les

Vedettes de Paris whose boats dock at the

foot of the Eiffel Tower will operate

throughout the Christmas holidays

10. There's ice-skating (patinoire) at l’Hôtel

de Ville on the edge of the Marais district

and close to Notre Dame Cathedral

11. Palace hotels - Plaza Athénée, Bristol,

Saint James, Mandarin Oriental, Meurice

and Lancaster all have stunning bars (and

stunning drinks) come evening, sometimes

live music. Call first to make sure.

12. For many Parisiens taking in a movie is

a holiday ritual. There are multi-salles

galore on the Champs-Elysees; also in

Saint-Germain and the Latin Quarter. Pick

up a copy of Pariscope at any kiosk and

head for films in “V.O.” - version originale

with French subtitles.

TGLF: And for more ideas:

13. Head to the Bar Hemingway (above) at

the Ritz - it's open Christmas Day without


14. Celebrate with a star at Musee Grevin -

the famous waxworks museum 10

boulevard Montmartre

15. Wander the streets of Paris simply

enjoying the day. From the cobbles of

Montmartre to the wide avenues of Saint

Germain and the famous gardens - the

choice is yours.

Laval, Mayenne

Pays de la Loire

Janine Marsh takes the train to Laval in the

Mayenne department and discovers it’s a beautiful,

historic city with a fabulous market, museums and

hidden treasures galore…

Les slowly days Mayenne

The tourist office of Mayenne takes as its

theme "les slowly days" - and there's a

reason for that,. This is a place where you

can relax and chill out, eat the most

fabulous food, meander at markets, visit

chateaux and incredible art museums and

more. And, the best way to do it is - slowly.

No rushing, no stressing, just take it easy

and have a fabulous time.

Laval city of Art and


Laval is in the centre of Mayenne and it

only takes an hour and forty minutes to

get there from Paris by train (with just 2

stops). It’s the sort of small city where you

can walk everywhere quite easily. It’s a

designated “town of art and history” and

very pretty.

The fabulous Laval Market

Food is important to the people of

Mayenne, they are passionate about

seasonal and local produce - just nip to

the Saturday morning market to see what

I mean.

Mayenne a pinch of this & that

Mayenne is in the Pays de la Loire. It takes a

pinch of influence from its neighbours the

Loire Valley, Normandy and Brittany and

then it adds a little je ne sais quoi of its own.

For instance, it has its own microclimate

which means its warmer than Normandy.

And there's the lovely city of Laval through

which the river Mayenne sways, and where

the chateau of the lords of Laval set the tone

for mellow ancient buildings with black slate

roofs. And a whole lot more...

On market day, the queue for fresh

cooked bread at La Maison Du Pain in

Place de la Trémoille where the market is

based, just keeps growing. The locals

know that it's worth the wait.

Great steaming vats of paella, roasted

chickens and huge bowls of buttery new

potatoes stop you in your tracks. Jet black

shiny mussels are bagged up by vendors

at a rate of knots, shaded from the sun

under blue and white striped awning, the

salty scent of the sea fills the air. Plump

Oysters from Cancale are fast emptied

from baskets on stalls as savvy locals buy

weekend delicacies fresh from the sea.

Anyone will tell you, go to L'Escargotiere

for all things snail. Don't miss the cider stall

for artisan made cider and the most

delicious beer jam to drizzle over a slither

of Camembert on a thin slice of baguette -

it makes for a mouth-watering starter or


At the bread stall which is vibrant with

bowls and jugs of flowers the baker told

me that flowers are a tradition here. The

stall holders are all artisans and very proud

of their produce and the flowers reflect

their joy and pride in what they do.

At one end of Place de la Trémoille a

church looms, tolling its bells on the hour,

its mellow stone walls a brilliant backdrop

for the market. At the other end is the

chateau of the lords of Laval, its bright

white exterior glistens in the sunshine. In

the side streets are cobbled wiggly roads

and half-timbered houses, quirky shops

and cosy cafés and bistros.

It’s a memorable market and I think to

myself that I'd go back to Laval for that

alone... but there's much more to love here.

Where to eat out in Laval

Locals Love: Les Trois Petits Cochons (11

Rue Échelle Marteau) not expensive, good

menu, great atmosphere and it gets extra

points for the piano which anyone can play.

Wine and dine: l’Esprit Cuisine (8 rue

Mazagran: lespritcuisine.fr). Refined but not

formal with great French cooking which has

an international twist.

Chill out: Le Vin’yle (which means vinyl as

in record disc) a small bar with a lovely

vintage decor with a good selection of local

beers and wines (5 Rue Solférino).

Left: in the old town of

Laval, cobbled streets

and ancient buildings;

above: copy of Henri

Rousseau's The Dream,

the original is in the

MoMA, New York; right:

on the River Mayenne

What to see and do in Laval

Museum of Naïve Art and Singular Arts

The naïve painter Henri Rousseau was

born in Laval and you can see some of his

works in the Chateau de Laval alongside

many of the world’s leading artists in this

field. Naive art may not be to everybody's

taste, but I love it. It makes you smile,

think, discuss with whoever you're with -

just what were these artists thinking? This

is one of the largest collections in France

and absolutely fabulous. LavalTourism

Boat ride: Take a cruise on the River

Mayenne and enjoy the scenery from a

pedalo, electric boat or motor boat. If you

want to go on a longer journey and spend

several days on the water, visiting the

many beautiful riverside towns, you can

hire boats from Anjou Navigation.

Bike Ride: Follow the Velo Francette cycle

trail through spectacular countryside on a

designated cycle route. Of course you can

go much further, it runs for 630km in total.

It stretches from Ouistreham in Brittany to

La Rochelle, taking in iconic landmarks

from the D-day landing beaches, through

the Loire Valley, through vineyards and

along the most beautiful country lanes.


Jardin de la Perine on top of the hill of

Laval gives a fantastic view over the city

and castle, a great place for a selfie says

local Michel Talvard. Alain Gerbauot, the

first man to cross the Atlantic alone was

born in a house on the edge of this park

and there's a small museum in his honour.

French parterre style rose gardens soothe

the soul and the English garden style

woods offer a pretty place to rest.

Robert Tatin museum – weird

whacky & wonderful

No, Robert Tatin is not related to the Tatin

sisters of the famous apple tart fame. He

was an extraordinary artist whose home

became a museum. You may never have

heard of him but once you see his house

and art you're unlikely to forget it.

You can take a bus from Laval centre for

the short journey to the museum. If you

fancy a gentle cycle ride, rent a bike in

Laval and take the route along an

abandoned railway track from the town

right to the entrance.

From the road, nothing looks unusual

about this place but after entering via the

ticket office you’ll emerge onto a walk way

of giants. Enormous stone statues

representing artists, historic figures and

allegories are astonishing for their size and

their looks. At the end of the walkway is

Tatin’s house, now a museum and it is

extraordinary, unique, quirky and

fascinating. The first sight of it made me

think of a Mayan temple - in Mayenne! It is

in total contrast to the lush green bucolic

countryside - weird, whacky and wonderful.

Robert Tatin, born 1902 in Laval, was a

construction worker for most of his working

life but in his spare time he studied art. He

lived for a while in Brazil and travelled

around South America. At the age of 43 he

decided to follow his dream and moved to

Paris to open an artists workshop. By now

he had gained international recognition. He

returned at the age of 60 to Mayenne and

bought an old, small house on the outskirts

of Laval, here his artistic passions were

fully unleashed.

Top left: view of Tatin's extraordinary

house; bottom left: the alley of the giants;

mid left: the original entrance to the

house; above: the inner courtyard; mid

left: one of Tatin's paintings; left: the

artist's studio left as it was when he died.

Tatin decided the house needed a wood

store and it was this that launched him on

an astonishing creative journey. He built a

shed next to the house and let his

imagination run wild, influenced by his

time in South America. When the building

was finished he thought it was too

beautiful just to store wood, so he built

another shed for storage. Once again, he

let his creative spirit take over and once

again, he felt the shed was too special just

to hold wood. He built another, and another

until eventually he ran out of space.

By now his artistic juices were well and

truly flowing and Tatin wanted to build

bigger and bolder and more imaginative

rooms. He was told that if he declared his

home and creations as a museum he

would have more privileges. He applied for

museum status and seven years later the

house and buildings were approved and

Tatin used the additional rooms he built to

exhibit his paintings and sculptures. He

carried on building until he died in 1983.

His legacy is a truly extraordinary and

eccentric building in the middle of beautiful

countryside. The rooms are filled with his

minutely detailed, symbolic artworks.

Discover wild, dramatic and magnificent

paintings that are complex and fanciful.

Incredible sculptures, larger than life and

brilliantly bizarre designs make you smile.

Tatin is buried in the front garden of his

beloved home. His house is exactly as it

was when he died, even down to

toothbrush and toothpaste, and slithers of

soap in the bathroom. Every room bears the

mark of his artistic genius - and it makes

for a fabulous visit.

Website www.musee-robert-tatin.fr

Lactopole the world’s

biggest dairy museum

Yes, it may sound a tad odd, and perhaps it

is just a little. But, Mayenne with its

glorious countryside is a leading dairy

production area and, if you drink milk,

butter and cheese you may find Laval's

Lactopole Dairy museum a fascinating


Did you know an average cow produces

around 9000 litres of milk a year? Or that

the rind of Camembert is good for

digestion? Or that yoghurt as we know it

was introduced by Russian immigrants in

the early 20th century when you had to buy

it at a pharmacy because it was considered

medicinal? This is a big museum with

around 4000 artefacts - from milk churns

to cheese lids. Collecting cheese lids in

France is a thing, like some people collect

thimbles. Cheese lid collectors are called


There are displays of milk bottles and

butter pats, and explanations galore about

French cheeses and their origins – there’s

even a bibliotheque de fromage (cheese

library). The displays are in French, but you

can book a tour with an English guide or

ask for an English language booklet.

Website: The Cité du Lait, Lactopole

More to see & do near Laval


From Laval, it’s just over an hour by bus

(about 30 minutes by car) to one of the

officially most beautiful villages in France,

the steep hill top town of Sainte-Suzanne.

A fortress has stood here since the 11th

century and the town has the honour to

claim it is the only place that William the

Conqueror laid siege to and didn't succeed.

He did try, and he tried hard. For three long

years William tried to starve the residents

out. He gave up, defeated by its height, and

negotiated with Hubert de Beaumont who

lived there and then left.

Climb the ramparts and the ruins of the

ancient keep to admire the most stunning

views over the surrounding countryside.

The town is very pretty with floral displays

and gorgeous houses. Stop for a local beer,

or cider or glass of wine in one of the

friendly bars, and if you're there at the end

of the day you're in for a free show as

Mayenne is famous for its spectacular

sunsets. From this hilly position - they’re

outstanding. Even in the summer months

this plus beaux village, never gets so busy

that you can't feel relaxed and enjoy its


Cuisinez vous Français

30 mins by car from Laval is the gorgeous

19th century Chateau de la Mazure which

offers immersion into the language, culture

and cooking of France. Their “Langue et

Nature” courses are designed to give you

insight into the French way of life. They're

very good at helping you learn the


Website: www.chateaulamazure.com

Left: milk bottle collection at

Lactopole musuem; middle: view

over Sainte-Suzanne; above: in the

dining room of Chateau de la Mazure

Prehistoric Caves

30 minutes by car from Laval are the

famous Grottes de Saulges a complex of 22

caves. Only two are open to the public, and

the guided tours make for an intriguing

visit. There is evidence of human life going

back as far as 70,000 years here and

archaeologists have long been exploring

the inky black depths. They've made some

amazing discoveries, prehistoric paintings,

etchings left behind by ancient man, bones

of woolly mammoth, bears and other

prehistoric animals. There are also

reminders of more recent times from

Roman occupation to the 20th century

when German and later, American soldiers

lived in the caves during World War II and

left graffiti behind.


Photo: Eric Litton, Wikipedia.fr

An Encounter

with the


Michael Cranmer has sampled many drinks

in many countries - sometimes too many.

But he had never encountered the Green

Fairy – the mythical Fée Verte. Muse to

poets, painters, and writers in la Belle-

Époque, it was banned for 80 years after

being falsely credited with causing madness

and epilepsy. But Absinthe is back and legal.

He journeyed across France to uncover the

fascinating tale.

My insomnia sparked the whole thing off. I

listened to a radio programme in the wee

small hours entitled ‘Absinthe Makes the

Art Grow Fonder’. It told of madness,

creative genius, smuggling, fairies, suicide

and debauchery in le demi-monde of

Montmartre in la Belle-Époque. Captivated,

I set out to discover more.

Until that point my conception of absinthe

was scant: a perilously potent drink

containing wormwood, banned for its

reputation for causing madness - Vincent

Van Gogh’s insanity was a result of

drinking it to excess. I had naively always

visualised an actual worm in the drink,

squirming in the wooden barrels in which it

was stored, so I had never tried it, now

though, my appetite was well-and-truly


But what exactly was it, and where did it

come from?

A certain Dr. Ordinaire (you couldn’t make

that up) fleeing the guillotines of the French

Revolution, settled across the border in

Couvet, Switzerland. He adapted a local

herbal folk remedy to cure patients, and, on

his death-bed, passed on the secret recipe.

Fast forward five years and we find Henri-

Louis Pernod, father of the brand still in

existence today, opening a distillery in

Couvet, then, in 1805, to dodge the excisemen,

a bigger one over the border in

Pontarlier, France. The Doc’s wormwood

potion, now called Absinthe, was proving

very successful and soon Pernod was

churning out 25,000 litres a year. Before

long there were 22 distilleries utilising the

locally-harvested plant - Artemisia

absinthium - which, with the addition of

imported Spanish aniseed, gave the drink

its emerald-green hue.

French soldiers fighting in Algeria had been

given the medicine as an anti-malarial

treatment and brought a taste for the 73°

alcohol back home. Mass-production cut

prices, and a disastrous wine harvest

propelled absinthe to the top of the French

drinks charts.

Enter la Fée Verte…the Green Fairy. Named

for the swirling emerald opalescence

triggered by the addition of iced water to the

neat liquid, both the working class and

wealthy bourgeoisie consumed 36 million

litres a year.

A stroll through Montmartre at 5.00pm in

the 1860s would have revealed tables with

men and women, often alone, contemplating

their glasses of the spirit. This was the

l’Heure Verte – the Green Hour, origin of our

‘Happy Hour’. A single absinthe was

tolerated by the waiters. Drinkers solved that

problem by moving to another, and another

and another…

A closer look, perhaps, at the café tables, and

we spot the poet Rimbaud and his lover,

fellow poet Verlaine, both devotees of

absinthe. His artistic life ended as abruptly

as his relationship with Verlaine, who in a fit

of drunken madness, shot the young


Here we might encounter Guy de

Maupassant, writer of ‘A Queer Night in

Paris’ which tells of a provincial at an artist’s

party who drinks so much absinthe that he

tries to waltz with a chair, falls to the ground

in a stupor, and wakes up naked in a strange


Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wilde,

Hemingway, Degas, Gauguin…none were

strangers to la Fée Verte and her tempting

powers. Symbolist Alfred Jarry rode his

bicycle with his face painted green in

celebration of the joys of absinthe.

But, the Green Fairy’s effects were being felt in

society, much as cannabis is today. High in

alcohol, cheap, seductive, reputedly

hallucinogenic, it was blamed for epilepsy,

tuberculosis, crime and madness. Public morality

was outraged, bans followed: Belgium, Brazil, the

Netherlands, and Switzerland in the early 1900s,

the U.S. in 1912, and France, unequivocal

epicentre of absinthe culture, in 1915.

Two World Wars followed, the Green Fairy was

dead and forgotten. Or was she?

Please welcome a Brit. Yes! A British entrepreneur

by the name of George Rowley who, from

his base in Prague, became interested in the

legal validity of the ban. He teamed up with

cellular biologist Marie-Claude Delahaye, herself

fascinated by the legend after buying an absinthe

spoon in a flea-market in 1981. Together they

challenged the 80 year-old ban through the

European court, won, and, in 2000, launched the

first traditionally distilled absinthe commercially

produced in France since 1915 called La Fée


Time for a taste. Where better than Pontarlier’s

annual Festival of Absinthe. As I boarded the

Eurostar from St Pancras I reflected how Oscar

Wilde had fled to Paris after his trial, taking

refuge in absinthe. He took the boat train, I the

tunnel. My journey and my ruminations

continued. Reading more about the social history

I began to recognise similarities with the banning

of gin (‘Mother’s Ruin’) in London in the mid-18th

century due to widespread drunkenness and the

consequent moral outrage.

Pontarlier sits in the foothills of the Jura, with its

absinthe twin-town Couvet, just across the

border up the Val de Travers, an ancient, and, I

was soon to discover, very active smuggling

route. More of this later.

The Festival comprises film-shows, museum

exhibitions, discussions, a collector’s market, but

most importantly, tastings. All my research had

made me both eager and slightly wary of what it

might do to me.

This is a critical moment in the ritual. The

water trickles through the cube and into the

liquid, creating the la louche, the opalescent

conjunction of water, distillate and herbs,

from which initiates conjure the Green Fairy.

The bouquet drifts up and time seems to

stand still.

It was necessary out of politeness to

sample two of the Guy family’s products

before moving on to other parts of the

Festival which I did with some difficulty.

The Distillerie Pierre Guy sits down a

residential street nestled incongruously

between suburban villas. No Health and

Safety issues here, with thousands of litres

of explosive alcohol bubbling away! I was

welcomed by father and son François and

Pierre Guy who proudly showed me their

copper stills, shop and museum. Then, at

9.30 in the morning, they initiated me into

the ritual of la Fée Verte. Much of the allure

is in the preparation, the slowing down of

time, the anticipation, the various

accoutrements. The comparison with opium

smoking cannot be discounted.

The emerald liquid is poured into a

Pontarlier glass, with its bubble reserve at

the base indicating an exact measure. The

intense aroma should be sampled. Next an

absinthe spoon, flat with decorative

perforations, is placed across the top of the

glass. A sugar cube is rested on the spoon

upon which a delicate drip-drip of iced

water is directed from an absinthe fountain

(a tall glass bowl with small taps, often

styled in correct period fashion).

Absintheurs are, in the main, a jolly lot,

ready to chat and share. Serious

collectionneurs bought and sold glasses,

labels, spoons, and other ephemera. Then,

behind a table full of books on absinthe, I

spotted a diminutive auburn-haired lady

who turned out to be Marie-Claude

Delahaye, founder and director of le Musée

de l'Absinthe, probably the world authority

on the Green Fairy! We chatted and she

invited me to the museum in Auvers-sur-

Oise, Picardy. I arranged to meet her there in

two days.

Round the corner from the main hall was a

tiny shop, housing a small copper still

tended by Patrick Grand, producer of

Absinthe Grand. He’s a bit rock n’roll and, in

the true spirit of le demi-monde, makes a

cannabis-infused absinthe. “I have another

distillery over the Swiss border. It helps to

have a ‘fluid’ arrangement with border

patrols, if you understand me” he said with a

wink. “You can do anything in Switzerland if

you pay the right people”.

During the illegal years moonshiners

proliferated but stills were hard to procure.

Legendary coppersmith Georges-Edouard

Matthey-Claudet was the go-to man for a

still, which he duly invoiced as ‘a new


Green dreams filled my sleep all the way to


I stayed in Hotel Basss (yes, three ‘esses’) a

hip hotel halfway up the heights of

Montmartre, the very streets where la Fée

Verte wove her enchantment, now peopled

by tourists, chancers, beggars, and rich

dwellers from the very ateliers where

Degas and the like had eked out a living.

But no absinthe. I had go halfway across

the city to the Bastille to find some in a bar

called…guess what? La Fée Verte.

Martin, the young barman, helped me

select La Coquette (70%) from a long list.

He told me “I only drink shots sometimes,

just to get drunk. There’s not much

demand. Although a Brazilian guy once

drank 18. I had to put him in a cab”. I

managed 3 and navigated the Metro back

somewhat hazily.

It seems entirely right and proper that

Marie-Claude’s museum is in the charming

town of Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh

spent his last tormented years and is

buried next to his brother Theo. It’s packed

with rooms of memorabilia documenting

the history, production, consequences, the

creative flowering, the ban, and final

legality. She has spent years combing

antiques fairs, shops and markets for

absinthe material. She grows all the

constituent plants in the sunny walled


Naturally, there was one last thing to do.

Marie-Claude assembled all the

accoutrements for a ritual tasting of La Fée

Parissienne, the drink George and she

brought back to life, and legality.

Michael Cranmer travelled courtesy of

SNCF: uk.voyages-sncf.com

Pontarlier Tourist Office: www.pontarlier.org

Hotel Basss, Paris: en.hotel-basss.com

Musée de l'Absinthe: www.museeabsinthe.com

Alpes d'Huez

The island of the Sun

The French Alps are breathtaking no matter what season you choose to pay a

visit. But if you’re fan of ski-ing then its impressive chain of picturesque

mountains, which boast some of the highest and most spectacular peaks in

Europe, will float your adrenaline-seeking boat during the winter months. Justine

Halifax heads to Alpe D'Huez and finds its' fabulous for skiers at all levels...

While there’s a host of great ski resorts to

choose from, if you’re travelling as a family

the Family Plus resort of Alpe d’Huez is a

perfect location - and even manages to tick

the sunshine box too.

Poised on a mountain plateau that faces

directly south, and enjoying an average of

300 days of sunshine, Alpe d’Huez has

earned the apt nickname of “L’ile au Soleil”,

or the island of the sun. Yet despite

enjoying such prolonged warm weather, its

ski area is open for an impressive four

months, from mid-late December to midlate

April, as natural snow fall is propped up

by 1,033 snow cannons to deliver maximum

snow coverage over its 840 ski-able


High above the Oisans Valley, the ski area

at your disposal in Alpe d’Huez is vast,

stretching from 1,860 metres at village level

to 3,330 metres at the summit of the

magnificent Pic Blanc, where on a clear day

you can look out over a fifth of France.

Just one of the breathtaking mountains

that you can view from this spot include

the Alps’ highest mountain Mont Blanc, or

the white mountain.

While it’s stunning, picture postcard views,

sunshine and long ski season are enough

to entice you to take a ski holiday here, the

resort of Alpe d’Huez, in the Massif Des

Grandes Rousses, also has some

interesting claims to fame which might tick

a few more boxes for you. It’s the most

iconic Alpine ascent of the Tour de France

- while the tour route varies year to year,

Alpe d’Huez was first included in the race

in 1952 and has been a stage finish

regularly since 1976, and it hosted the

bobsled event as part of the Winter

Olympics in 1968.

If you’re more of a daring skier then Alpe

d’Huez is also home to what’s affectionately

known as the “Mother of all black

runs”, the Sarenne piste. At 16km it's the

longest black run in Europe stretching from

Pic Blanc (3300m) to Alpe d’Huez (1860m).

This resort is great for all levels of skier as

it boasts a varied mix of pistes mostly

above the tree line. They range from

beautiful wide blues just above the village,

to more challenging reds higher up and at

the top daring and steep bumpy blacks - as

well as Sarenne, Le Tunnel is also another

scary one if you’ve got the head and

stomach for it!

There are 43 green, 38 blue, 40 red and 17

black runs, two snow parks, recreational ski

area, over 2120m of vertical drop with more

than 250km of pistes, and the chance to

enjoy night ski-ing and sledding.

Left: Justine and family enjoy the

ski slopes; above: at the

fantastical Grotte de Glace; right:

above the alps

When it comes to beginners the resort also

has two dedicated areas exclusively for

visitors to learn the art of ski-ing or

snowboarding away from the main pistes,

as well as a kids’ area with a covered magic

carpet surface lift. A quirky fact that

appeals to little ones is that a couple of the

resort’s runs, as well as an avenue in the

resort and children’s play park, are named

after marmottes, or marmot, which are

large squirrel-like creatures that make their

home in this area. And, if you visit at the

end of the season, you’ll probably be lucky

enough to see them popping up to greet

the world above as the snow starts to melt

as we did.

If your children’s legs are weary after a

morning skiing, and they don’t fancy

getting back on the pistes after lunch, a

nice activity is to switch into your snow

boots and take them on the DMC Gondola

to the Grotte de Glace, up 2700 metres.

Here you’ll discover fabulous sculptures

carved into the walls of an ice cave

spanning a 120 metre long gallery.

Or, if your children can ski red runs, and

they’ve still got energy to burn off, you can

also ski to and from this cave, instead of

going via the gondola.

Once seen as a competitor to the premier

ski resort of Courchevel, Alpe d’Huez,

which encompasses the slopes of the

outlying villages of Auris, Villard Reculas,

Oz en Oisans and Vaujany, is one of

Europe’s premier skiing venues and the

fifth largest in France. And by 2021 there

will also be the opportunity to ski over an

even bigger area as a €350million gondola

link is being created to link Alpe d’Huez to

the neighbouring, and equally popular

resort of Les Deux Alpes.


As with all ski resorts there’s a plethora of

accommodation available to suit all

budgets. But my family and I stayed at the

Residence Pierre et Vacances’ Les Bergers

in the Bergers’ quarter, which is one of

eight quarters within the resort - there’s

also Cognet, Jeux, Eclose, Vieil Aple, Huez

Village, Passeaux and Qutaris. Our four

star accommodation, made up of various

sized apartments, boasted a heated,

outdoor swimming pool and sauna, and a

lounge with a bar, fireplace and pool table.

For more information visit www.


For more information on Alpe d’Huez in

general visit www.alpedhuez.com

“Fashions fade - Style

is elegant”

Yves Saint Laurent...

Barb Harmon visits the recently opened Musée Yves Saint Laurent in the 19thcentury

mansion house in Paris which was once home to the famous designer

Haute Couture house…

Yves Saint Laurent was a genius - a

visionary who became a legend at an early

age. Today his name graces a variety of

products from luxurious cosmetics to highend

handbags. Knowing a bit about his

background will enhance your visit to this

excellent new museum.

An impressive background

Saint Laurent's career began with The

House of Dior at the age of 19. When the

legendary Christian Dior died in 1957 he

named the 21-year-old Saint Laurent as his

successor, the youngest couturier in the

world. He had six months to put together a

collection for the January 1958 show. The

show was well received, putting his name

on the map and ensuring a bright future.

In 1961, Saint Laurent along with his partner

Pierre Bergé, established the legendary

fashion house YSL at 30 bis Rue Spontini.

Bergé raised capital while Saint Laurent

created garments that we consider

essential today. His debut collection in

1962, featured the first pea coat and trench

coat. I can't imagine life without a trench

coat. He revolutionized women's clothing

and changed how we dress.

The first tuxedo known as Le Smoking was

introduced in 1966. Borrowed from the boys

but feminized by the designer, this black-tie

suit is still à la mode half a century later.

Left: Musee Yves Saint Laurent collection photo

Luc Castel; middle: Saint Laurent's "Le Smoking"

Musee Yves Saint Laurent; above: the great

designer at work

Saint Laurent introduced the first pantsuit

in 1967 and in 1968 brought out the first

safari jacket and jumpsuit. Still classics to

this day.

I've barely scratched the surface of his

'firsts', it's easy to see why the museum's

opening was so highly anticipated. It's the

history of modern fashion.

Saving for the future

In 1964, Saint Laurent began to set aside

pieces from each collection along with the

corresponding sketches, fabric swatches,

and accessories. This amounted to

thousands of designs. Even though it was

early in his career, he could visualize a YSL

museum decades later. He continued to

create on many levels and in 1974 the

fashion house moved to the opulent Hôtel

Particulier on 5 avenue Marceau. From

there the designs continued to flourish.

In January 2002, Saint Laurent formally

announced the end of his design career

and the haute couture house. Retirement

was not on his mind however.

In 2004, Bergé and Saint Laurent opened

The Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint

Laurent. Its purpose was to promote art,

fashion (Saint Laurent and other designers)

and photography exhibitions. A staff

member stated "The exhibitions were

always popular but the most popular were

those devoted exclusively to Yves Saint

Laurent." I could see why.

Yves Saint Laurent passed away in 2008.

The Fondation continued until 2016 when

Bergé decided the mansion should undergo

refurbishment and reopen as a fullyfledged

museum devoted to all things Yves

Saint Laurent.

Soir Long collection board Spring-Summer 1988 haute couture

collection © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

Left: Musee Yves Saint Laurent © Luc

Castel; middle: the designer's former

home turned museum © Sacha; above:

Musee Yves Saint Laurent © Luc Castel

In a large elegant room with gilded mirrors,

golden statues and magnificent

chandeliers, a YSL fashion show is

screened. Sitting on a golden chair

watching the movie, it’s as if you’re

transported back in time.

The museum is laid out beautifully.

Mannequins on podiums make it easy to

view the details of the iconic garments. The

gallery titled The History of a Collection

depicts what goes into the making of an

outfit as well as how a collection is put

together. The sketches with fabric

swatches attached, covered with notes.

There is so much detail on every sheet.

There is a darkened room/theater on the

mezzanine. A short film titled 'An Eagle

With Two Heads' is about Saint Laurent

and Pierre Bergé his longtime partner in life

and business. In French with English

subtitles, it's like watching a home movie.

A wall devoted to Saint Laurent's brilliant

drawings is opposite the Cabinet of

Curiosities which contains jewelry. Some

pieces are simple but many are over the

top, all are superb.

The highlight is the studio. Large windows

provide light and the mirrored wall makes

the room appear larger. Saint Laurent used

the mirror to view a model's reflection while

working on a creation. The room looks as if

he just stepped out and will be returning

soon. Everything is where it was left,

including his work jacket draped over his

chair. His desk was simple, a covered board

atop two trestles, his glasses sit among the


There are six videos which give a feel to

what life was like in the studio. His

colleagues take you from the

conception of a garment to its sale. It

was fascinating. It really does take a

village - over 200 people worked with

Saint Laurent.

This is a museum with a capital M. The

Fondation owns 34,703 objects. They

include personal items, couture,

costumes created for ballet and films,

accessories, sketches, photographs,

and works of art—including four

paintings of Saint Laurent by Andy

Warhol. Because of the magnitude of

the collection, there will be a rotation

several times a year. A reason to return


Musee Yves Saint Laurent website


Buttons, baubles and beads in the

fabric district of Paris

Material girl Judi Castille explores the famous haberdashery shops of Paris

On a cold, crisp April morning, with numb

fingers, and an almost feverish

determination I searched for buttons.

Muscling locals aside I pounced on

another matching set. My fingers became

blue, nose snuffly, but the button search

went on and on, till every button had been

turned and either discarded or bagged as a

treasure found.

The assistant in the shop took the bulging

bags and pointed me to the heater unit to

thaw out whilst she weighed and tagged

the buttons. I shivered and dripped but felt

elated. Over 100 buttons – 10 buttons per

euro, what a bargain. Never mind what I

would do with 100 buttons, it was the

elation of finding such a shop in the first

place. Mes Folles De Soeurs (which

translates as My crazy sisters”), is on a

corner and easy to miss. The boxes are

outside, full of buttons, notions and zips.

When the rain comes, you get wet, but who

cares when you are a button seeker, fabric

fan or love material things.

The Paris fabric area in Montmartre, just

below Sacre Coeur is a revelation. A whole

district devoted to fabric, tassels, ribbons,

bias-binding and buttons. And it’s been

this way for many years. In 1882 Emile Zola

published Au Bonheur des Dames (The

Ladies Paradise) telling the tale of the rise

of a fabric empire in this part of Paris.

For me it’s like a candy store, the choice is

endless. My pulse raced taking it all in.

Boxes on the pavement and on the first

floor were labelled “Coupons”, remnants at

1-3 euros. For patch-workers there are

packs of little squares at discounts and

buttons are sold by weight.

Don't be shy, roll up your sleeves,

rummage and dig deep for those bargains

and savour the fabrics. Lawns, toiles,

wools, jersey, cashmere, silk, gabardine,

leather, they are all here and more. And

where best to start than Marché Saint

Pierre, six floors devoted to inspiring sewers,

old-hands and those new to the craft.

Here you can compare textures, weights,

colour, prices and come home with bolt

upon bolt of fabrics or just a few remnants

to make a cushion to remind you of Paris.

In the late 1800s the store Marché Saint

Pierre became the byword for fabric. Today,

broad beamed wood floors and old cash

registers in cubicles where you go to pay

are historic throw-backs that make this

place magical. I hovered by the assistant

who measured and cut, metre rule in hand

and large haberdashery scissors to the


In the 1930’s Tissus Reine, a more upmarket

shop came on the scene. Again, six

floors, the fabrics are more designer and

more organized. Here your fabric is cut and

held for you. A small hand-written ticket is

issued and you queue to pay at an oldfashioned

cashier desk. If you buy notions

[all those little bits n bobs you need for

sewing but can’t recall their name), you are

given a basket that you fill, leaving it with

an assistant, who tots up the whole on a

tab, like adding beers to the menu. The

cashiers still use the “air” system to send

notes to the accounting office, an overhead

(and several decades ago, pioneering)

transporting system that sends pods of

notes across the ceiling and into the

offices for counting.

On the ground floor, little mannequins are

draped in exquisite miniature outfits made

from the fabrics available. The store is

packed with women who it seems have the

same enthusiasm as me and the shop

does a roaring trade. On the upper floor is a

huger pattern section – Vogue and

Butterick included.

I love the old-fashioned terrazzo floors

here, made from multiple chips of marbles

and tile. You could be in the 1950’s with all

the hands-on measuring, wooden cabinetry

and the bump-bump sound of fabric bolts

being turned and measured on cutting

tables. Tables are piled high, shelves are

stuffed with pins, bobbins, tape measures,

pin cushions, embroidery thread and

dedicated button sections – neatly labelled

and tubed and not sold in silly packets of


Next MBF Decoration – where I bought an

ornate jacquard Belgian fabric. It was too

expensive to buy a meter, so I asked for a

small sample that included most of the

repeat design. This piece cost me 60 euros,

but I felt I would faint if I had to leave it


For embellished and heavy-weighted

upholstery fabrics, Ronsard Decors – Les

Meruelles De St Pierre – covered all my

bias-binding and notions needs.

This place is paradise for a seamstress –

Zola was quite right!

The day I found my Oh la la

Writer in Paris Colette O'Connor shares the moment she found her inner French

girl with the help of some luscious lingerie!

By most accounts, I look okay. My style,

such as it is, mainly impresses the world

with a mild, she’s nice. Yet I had been in

Paris mere weeks when Madame de

Glasse, the French neighbor with whom I

am friendly, announced some startling

news. As we chatted in the launderette we

both use on the rue de Passy, Madame

eyed a washer’s soggy wad of pajamas,

long johns, turtlenecks and sweats I had

plopped into a rolling basket. Then she said

with some alarm, “Mademoiselle, like many

Americans, you are a prude, non?”

Moi? I stared at her, shocked.

True, Madame’s wash was a jambalaya of

plunging necklines, peek-a-boo intimates

and colors the heart-racing hues of

passion. There were lace bits and sheer

slips and things that looked short and

clingy. But who would have thought that

what passes for hot where I come from – a

whole sack of comfy stuff snapped up for a

song at an outlet – would be seen by

Madame de Glasse (if not all of France) as

symptomatic of a horrible American

malady: dowdiness. And I had it!

Was my frumpiness so far gone that

nothing could be done? I squeaked,

meekly. Suddenly, I was insecure in my

one-size-hides-all hoodie. Madame swept a

sorrowful look over the laundry I loaded

into the dryer – a hefty cotton jogbra and

the shame of some unraveling granny

panties stood out – and rendered her

opinion. I held my breath.

“It is grave, very grave,” said Madame de

Glasse, gravely.

I had no idea. Yet my wardrobe of saggyass

sweats and what’s-become-of-me tops

certainly contrasted with the outfits fresh

from the dryer that Madame de Glasse was

folding. Among them: a tiny lime-green

thong, a demi-brassiere of transparent lace,

and a sweet, sexy skirt no bigger than a

wisp. Was it true I had no clue? That the art

of feminine fabulousness French women

take for granted had shut me out?

There I was, roving around Paris in my take

on cute – relaxed-fit jeans and U.S. Army

tee, while other women, frump-free women,

were gracing sidewalk cafés in revealing

décolleté, clicking down streets in chic

kitten heels, or flaunting their flirty figures

in tight-fitting everything. Meanwhile,

whatever womanly allure I might possess,

Madame de Glasse pointed out, was

obscured by my prude-wear. My vavavoom

was repressed by my unisex dress; my

pizzazz, she said, was hidden far, far

beneath the sorry fact I did not, it seems,

act French.

“What makes French girls as serenely selfsatisfied

as purring cats…and catnip to the

men who admire them?" asked Debra

Ollivier, author of Entre Nous – A Woman’s

Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl.

“The stereotypical French girl,” she said, “is

often insolently thin, casually chic, and

fashionable despite a simple wardrobe.

With or without makeup she is always put

together and utterly self-confident, imbued

with natural elegance and an elusive

distance that is particularly, maddeningly

French.” I guessed such a woman would

not be caught in a jogbra. Especially dead.

“Chérie? Chérie?” It was Madame de

Glasse, interrupting my reverie in a chirpy

tone altogether more cheerful than that she

used over my giant, white panties. “To

change the subject,” she said, “have you

been to that new gym at Beaubourg?” She

meant Espace Vit’Halles at the Pompidou

Center. “It is trés flash,” she said. “Make a

visit and tell me of your adventure.”

“Yes, yes, I will; au revoir Madame de

Glasse.” I scuttled my uptight self out of the

launderette as fast as my heavy duffle of

now shameful frump’s-clothes allowed. The

French girl understands that sexy is a state

of mind, maintained Ollivier. Sexy is a state

of mind…sexy is a state of mind….

Back at my apartment, I pondered this pearl

and dressed for bed in the tee-shirt, tights

and full-body nightie the frigid night

demanded. Surely Madame de Glasse, in

my place, would not don her tiny lime-green

thong and a babydoll peignoir! Then again,

maybe she would. After all, such a get-up

would guarantee she’d have a Frenchman

keeping her far warmer than floor-length

flannel ever could. If this wasn’t reason

enough to find my inner French girl, I didn’t

know what was.

“One is not born a woman,” said author/

philosopher Simone de Beauvoir; “rather,

one becomes a woman.” Simone had a leg

up, of course: she was, already, French. But

still: her words gave me hope. If I were not

born a woman who is catnip, perhaps I

could become a sort of cat’s meow – a

woman so Frenchly serene and purring with

self-approval that my laundry would tell of a

total transformation. Hide my thighs?

Disguise my derriere? Tent my tummy? Ha!

No longer. My new dare-to-bare wardrobe

of trim, tiny things would be as peek-a-boo

as what have you. They would declare to

Madame de Glasse, for one, that American

shame has no place in my life now that my

inner French girl is driving.

Then again, what would it take to achieve

such body confidence? Such feminine selfacceptance?

If only I could feel, as the

French say, “bien dans sa peau” – good in

one’s skin..

When American novelist Edith Wharton

traveled to France in 1919, she observed

that the French were “puzzled by our queer

fear of our own bodies.” So, I reasoned, my

queer fear might be the cultural baggage of

generations. But really, in these

enlightened days? It was silly. Time to let it

go. In the meantime, might as well try the

new gym.

Day 1. The instant I entered Espace

Vit’Halles, a friendly monsieur at the front

desk bid me a big, grinning welcome. Yoga,

dance aerobics, weights – I was

encouraged to profit from them all. “The

ladies’ changing room is on the second

floor, Madame,” he said, and shooed me in

the approximate direction. I found the door,

clearly marked “Femmes,” and entered a

sanctuary of sensual splendor. Lovely

lavender décor; chaise longues lined up for

lounging; flowers blooming on the mirrored

vanities: the room was a swoon of comfort

and beauty. Showcased under spotlights, a

hot tub as vast and artfully conceived as

ancient Roman baths bid welcome. Such

luxury. Such pampering! The gym-women

who showered or soaked or otherwise

performed their toilettes in various stages

of undress flaunted their inner French girls

exactly as Ollivier claimed. Women sinewy

and women plump, women with

goddesses’ bodies and women with pocks

and spots and skin that looked anything

but good to be in: All got in and out of

underwear that wasn’t underwear at all, but

rather, lingerie. There it all was, France’s

finest: lacy, racy and for sure, sensational.

These confections, no doubt expensive,

were also, let’s face it: frightening. How

would I ever undress in the presence of

women so adept in the provocative art of

underwear? Some of the self-satisfied

purring cats of the changing room

paraded…no, swaggered around naked.

And down to their brazenly exposed

French toes they seemed shame-free. If I

were to strip to my big dowdy whities

before their eyes, what then? So quaint! I

feared they’d exclaim. An American prude.

Doesn’t like to be nude.

I was in luck. There was a toilet stall that

could serve as a personal changing cabine.

My strictly utilitarian bra sans lace, plunge,

pads, push-up, or the least suggestion of

seduction could be kept secret. I scuttled in,

did my business and emerged dressed in

workout-wear. Ta dum! Embarrassment

deflected. I headed for the exit and dance

aerobic class, but stopped dead when I

heard a bit of catnip call.

“Oh, Madame! Madame!” I turned to see a

raven-haired, hipless thing holding aloft my

favorite faded cut-offs – the shorts that for

a good 30 years now, I have found

charming on me. “You dropped

your…your….” She did not have words for

what they were. But her sweet, sad smile

and pitying tone told me all that Inès de la

Fressange already had:

No Parisienne would dress mutton as


The ex-runway model and French fashion

guru put this rule in her Parisian Chic: A

Style Guide to let me know in advance of

coming to France that shorts, like

miniskirts, have no business on any woman

older than…young.

“Merci beaucoup, Madame,” I said,

sheepish. I waited until she pranced off,

pert ponytail swinging, and tossed my past

into the trash. Mutton?!

Day 2. “Bonjour, Madame,” said the

grinning monsieur when I returned to try

the gym’s yoga. “The ladies’ changing room

is on the first floor. Enjoy your class.” That’s

odd, I thought. Wasn’t the ladies’ changing

room just yesterday on Floor 2? Yet on the

first floor, as promised, there it was, the

door marked “Femmes".

I entered and saw at once all was odd.

Where was the lavender? Where was the

lovely? Loaded with lockers, lacking a hot

tub, the room was dim, dank, and

functional. Testosterone chose the décor

so sweat stains didn’t show, and from the

télé turned to sports to the vanities

equipped with manly-looking man-things

used by grooming men, this changing room

clearly was meant for well, men.

And yet, there they were: Women. The

Parsiennes flaunted their inner French girls

like they had the day before; they paraded

around queer-fear-free in brassieres like

pasties and thongs if not sheer then small.


“Entrez, Madame,” said one, as I lingered at

the door. The French girl had just contorted

herself into a contraption of an electric-blue

bustier, a towel on her head. “Oui, oui,

Madame, come in. You’ve found the right

place.” I wasn’t so sure. No toilet stall

announced itself after my first look around,

so I would have to strip and change into

yoga clothes in full view of a man-cave full

of catnip. My priggish panties! My not-hot

bra! Never mind. This wasn’t anything some

serious French lingerie acquisition couldn’t

fix. Plus, it was no lace off their merry

widows if, in front of the Frenchwomen, I

got naked like the place had caught fire

and I had better move fast or die. Which is

how I did. But in the process? It was

astonishing. There I was, whipping off my

clothes and slipping into Spandex, and nary

a glance went to my uncomely undies. I

was a blur, sure. But snug in their absolute

disinterest, smug in their elusive distance,

the Frenchwomen paid my flash of breast

and briefly bared behind no mind.

Whatsoever. Wow, self-satisfaction must be

catching. In the presence of such total

nonchalance, I felt for one wild, nude

moment…well, nude! It was awesome. I

wanted more of it.

Day 3. I arrived at Espace Vit’Halles, today

to try the weight room. “Bonjour,” bid the

big-grinned monsieur, as expected. He then

directed me to the ladies’ changing

room…on the second floor. The second

floor? Seriously? Yes. The door marked

“Femmes” had moved from the man-cave

back upstairs; it opened again on the lovely

lavender space filled with Frenchwomen


Encouraged by my undressing success of

the previous day, I was shy but excited to

unveil my treasures. I had gone shopping.

At the lingerie shop on boulevard

Haussmann, I could find nothing frumpy

whatsoever in a French granny panty;

neither was there a single serviceable bra

that would just do the job – as if such

things in Paris existed. So standing before

the display of wares both naughty and nice,

a woman I didn’t know spoke up.

“I’ll take the panties in slinky pink with their

matching bra of ruffles and bows – yes,

those,” she told the shop’s assistant. I was

stunned to discover it was I, myself, not just

speaking but also pointing to items so cute

that even Mademoiselle had to approve –

endowed as she was with come-hither hips

and considerable cleavage. This choice was

so surprising that it meant only one thing.

There was a French girl in me – in me! – and

she had been roused by ruffles.

Back at the gym I beheld this bold foreigner

with cool suspicion and moved to the

farthest corner of the changing room. There,

I could undress apart from the purring cats

and expose my newly-purchased pizzazz in

relative privacy. I claimed a locker and

settled-in on a bench.

My American fears still lingered, but my

new French bra of unabashed vavavoom? It

almost busted out of my blouse to shout

Here I am! And how my slinky pink French

panties were pleased to sashay free of my

jeans with a little wiggle of joy. Just then,

the door. A man announced himself.

“Bonjour, Mesdames,” he announced.

“Pardonnez-moi.” He begged everyone’s

pardon for the disturbance, but he was the

plumber, he said, come to the ladies’

changing room to solve the problem of the

leaky sink. Beside him laden with tools and

balancing a ladder stood his apprentice

son; he looked about 21. The changing

ladies in the buff, or in some version

thereof did not shriek or run or faint or

cover-up? “Bonjour Messieurs,” they said,

entirely nonplussed. The plumber and his

son passed through the friendly throng,

clattering wrenches and whatnot. As they

went they muttered pardon, Madame,

pardon. And the Frenchwomen stepped

out of panties and shucked brassieres;

they shimmied into shape-wear and

stripped out of slips. Plumbers? Any one of

them might have said. So?

Clad only in my new slinky pinks, I heard a

“Pardon, Madame” so close it had to be

directed to me. I froze.

Moi? I turned to stare at the hovering

plumber, in shock.

Yes, he meant me. I was blocking the way

to the sink, which stood directly ahead in

my corner. Leaking. The plumber’s son

scooched by with his ladder and tipped his

hat, “Bonjour, Madame.” Then the two,

clattering, set-up shop on the bench

closest to mine. The most miserable of

moments arrived. I wondered: Did Edith

Wharton ever have a fear of her naked

self? If so, what protocol did she suggest

for the presence of French plumbers when

one has stripped down to intimates – silk

bits that are the next thing to go?

“First of all,” she once said, “the

Frenchwoman is, in nearly all respects, as

different as possible from the average

American woman…The Frenchwoman is

grown-up. Compared with the women of

France, the American woman is still in the


What Wharton would say: Oh grow-up. If I

didn’t remove my slinky pink things

without an ounce of shame, I would never

make it to first grade. Really, what were the

plumber and his son to me, except perhaps

plumbers? In that flash of nudity between

underwear off and workout-wear on, what

harm could they cause in the midst of the

changing room’s entire colony of nonplussed

nudes? On the count of…three:

There I went. I squeezed my eyes closed

and off with the ruffles, out of all bows. But

I didn’t even have to peek to know. My raw

glory garnered less interest than a drip. The

men, both bent over the sink and fiddling

with a wrench, looked up at me and back at

the leak like, her? Her who?

“There is in France a kind of collective,

cultural shrug about nakedness,” Ollivier

said, said. Edith Wharton agreed: “The

French,” she said, “are accustomed to

relating openly and unapologetically the

anecdotes that Anglo-Saxons snicker over

privately and with apologies.” I’m sorry, but

the plumbers’ total disinterest in my body

bare left me giggly with a secret, newfound

freedom. Just think! Frump or no, I could

flaunt my feminine fixtures and ask for

nothing in the way of drama. Then, the

plumber’s son looked up, caught my eye,

and winked.


Day 4. When I arrived to attend class in

Pilates, the ever-friendly monsieur said the

usual Bonjour, Madame and directed me to

the ladies’ changing room – on the first


“But Monsieur!” I cried, by now perturbed.

“Why does the ladies’ changing room keep

changing?” Second floor, first floor; first

floor, second. “I don’t get it.”

“It’s the hot tub, Madame. The men’s

changing room does not have one, so it’s

only juste that the men are given the

opportunity to use to use the ladies’ tub

from the time to time, non? It made perfect


“Merci, Monsieur,” I said. Today the ladies

would change in the man-cave, so I found

the first-floor door marked “Femmes” and

entered. Empty. I claimed a sweet spot on

the most spacious bench, flipped open a

locker and proceeded to undress. Proud,

yes proud I was to strip to my second

shopping score – a brand-new sheer-lace

brassiere and panties frilled in fancy fringe.

Both were so pretty they should have been

strolling the Champs Elysees. Too bad no

one’s around to appreciate them. Nevertheless,

off they went so I could shimmy

into the tight body stocking I wore for


Just then, the door. Too late to run, too late

to hide; I thought for sure I was about to

die. In they came, like kids let out for

recess – a rambunctious bunch of buddies

with gym bags over their shoulders. I stood

stark naked, front and center, as the men

bounded in and saw me. How could they

not? Tied to the stake of shame, I burned

to a shade of true prude pink and felt my

inner American frump demand a good


Didn’t these men see the door marked

“Femmes”? Didn’t Monsieur at the desk

think to direct them? The herd dispersed

around me, the men claiming lockers and

dropping their gym bags on benches.

“Bonjour, Madame.” It was the one whose

bag landed closest to mine, and whose

hunky, handsome self took a seat not

three feet distant.

“Bonjour, Madame.” It was the next, who

scooted past to stake his spot before the

télé turned to a game of soccer.

“Bonjour, Madame.”

“Bonjour, Madame.”

“Bonjour, Madame.”

Too nude to speak, I could only nod my

Bonjour Messieurs in reply. If only I had

dabbed on a drop of Chanel No. 5! As the

legendary Coco herself once said: “A

woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no

future.” Then again, it hardly mattered if I

had been scented by irresistibility itself. To

the stripping Frenchmen, who soon had the

place bustling with their good-natured fun, I

was simply the naked woman among them

who didn’t get the message.

Désolé said the front desk monsieur later,

begging my pardon for his oversight. The

ladies’ changing room was on the second

floor and he didn’t think to switch the doorsigns

until after I had arrived. Meanwhile, in

the midst of men as blasé as the plumbers,

I felt a queer thing – not fear – come to life.

Could it be? Ah, oui. My inner French girl.

Since the people of Paris paid it no mind,

why did I try so hard to hide it? Bring on the

satin contraptions, France. I’m coming out.

“Pardon? Madame?” The Frenchman

sharing my bench brought my attention to

the fancy-fringed panties that lay on the

floor between us like an unspoken

question. I had flung them into the locker

but missed. Who would pick them up? Oh

my God! I lunged and swooped them into

my bag. I may have been wrong, but was

that the smallest flicker of a wicked smile?

“Très belle,” he said. I dared to believe he

meant not the panties but me.

At the launderette on the rue de Passy,

Madame de Glasse stood with me at the

folding table and eyed my neat stacks of

items surely even Chanel had in mind. “A

girl should be two things,” she said: “classy

and fabulous.” Then Madame said with

some surprise, “Mademoiselle,” she said,

“like many Americans who come to Paris,

you have gotten over your problem, non?”

Yes. Now I’ve got my oh-la-la. And, oh, how

even the plumbers of Paris would be proud.


Every weekend, we invite you to share your photos on Facebook - it's a great way for

everyone to see "real" France and be inspired by real travellers snapping pics as they go.

Every week there are utterly gorgeous photos being shared and here we showcase the

most popular of each month. Share your favourite photos with us on Facebook - the most

"liked" will appear in the next issue of The Good Life France Magazine...


This fabulous

photo taken in

the Sorbonne

District by

Dawne Polis got

an astonishing


comments - and

no wonder, it's a

fabulous photo...

and our Photo of

the Year!

Find out more

about the area:

The Sorbonne

district, Paris


This beautiful photo of

Annecy by Peter Saltiel got

3615 likes, comments and



Quintesentially French - delightful Dinan

captured on camera by David Juricevich

received 3157 likes, comments and shares.

Find out more about Dinan here

Join us on Facebook

and like and share

your favourite photos

of France...

Give A






a car





Get y



A brilliant gift for wine lovers



Two lucky winners will be able to choose from 9 of the most

iconic, authentic world famous wine locations in France with

www.my3dvines.com. Choices range from Champagne to

Bordeaux as well as less well-known but truly special

appellations and the winners will receive their very own row

of vines for a year. You’ll receive a bottle of wine from “your”

grapes *and the opportunity to buy more at less than the

cellar door price. A welcome pack, certificate, invitations to

exclusive tastings, lunches, workshops and the opportunity

to visit your vines and meet your wine maker make this a

really standout and not expensive present.

(*You’ll be presented with your bottle when you visit your

vineyard, winners in the UK may opt to receive it through the


Sorry this draw is done now

(Read our review here)


rry tickets with DFDS –

e world’s leading ferry


e got 2 sets of return tickets for use on

’ Ferries Dover/Calais (1 hour 30

tes) or Dover/Dunkirk (2 hours) route for

and up to 9 passengers.

are one of northern Europe’s biggest

operators and run multiple daily

ings to France. Boats are speedy and

ortable with brilliant onboard facilities.

our trip to France off to a great start with


this draw is done now....

ts are subject to availability for use in 2018*

2 copies of Drawing

Lessons by Patricia Sands

Win a signed copy of Patricia Sands's

book Drawing Lesssons - we've got 2

to give away.

The author of the Love in Provence

series returns to the South of France

with a poignant portrait of a woman

who must learn how to create a new life

for herself… From Toronto, Canada to

Arles France, the tale of a woman's

quest to embrace a new life.

Sorry this draw is done now....

3 copies of The


Cottage by

Patricia Dixon

The third novel by Patricia Dixon sees a festive

return to the tiny French village of Pierre de

Fontaine. Nestled amongst the sleepy hills and

misty valleys of the Loire you will be transported to

crisp, winter mornings and star filled, moonlit

nights. Relax around a glowing log fire and enjoy a

taste of Noël in France as you read the story of

The Christmas Cottage.

We've got 3 ebook copies to give away.

Sorry this draw is done now..

Living in


What's it really like to live in France?

We've all heard about the high quality

of life, superb climate and low crime

rate. Joanna Leggett of Leggett

Immobilier looks more closely at the

practical issues

The golden rule is: 'you'll get out what

you put in'.

Even if your French is basic, your efforts

to communicate will be appreciated. Try

to learn the language. Introduce yourself

to your neighbours and visit your Mairie.

Establishing contact with the Mairie staff

will be useful when you need advice, and

making friends with your neighbours will

enhance your French life. You can even

join the Comité des Fêtes: if you take

part in community events, you'll meet the

locals and become accepted.


Use local workmen for renovation work.

Importing a team of craftsmen won’t

endear you to your neighbours. French

artisans are used to working with local

materials, meeting regulatory standards

and handling the necessary paperwork.


According to the World Health

Organisation, France has one of the best

healthcare systems in the world. All

workers in France pay 20% of their salaries

into the state system, and French residents

have access to it. The state pays part –

sometimes all – of their medical costs.

EU expats arriving in France need an S1

form to apply for state healthcare. When

you register into the system, you receive a

medical identity card – the green Carte

Vitale. The health specialist logs it into a

central computer whenever you pay

medical expenses.

You need to register with a GP (Médecin

Traitant). Each visit requires an immediate

payment, but the state reimburses 70%.

Many people choose a 'top-up' insurance –

a Mutuelle – to cover the rest of the costs.


Those who move to

France must pay income

tax (Impôts sur le

Revenu) if they fulfil any

of these conditions:

• live permanently in


• have a residence permit

• spend more than 183

days in the country

during the calendar year

• hold most of their

wealth in France

• have their main

professional activity in



The French tax year runs from 1 January to

31 December. You must declare all your

earnings from the date of your arrival, which

you do in the annual Déclaration des Revenus

form available at your local tax office.

The declaration deadline is around 20 May.

Everyone with property in France must pay

two additional taxes. The Taxe d'Habitation

is the tax for living here, and the Taxe

Foncière is the property tax. Invoices for

both are usually sent to you in September.

As everyone's financial circumstances are

different, it is best to consult a tax specialist

for advice.


If you move here with school-age children,

they will integrate far more easily than you!

Initially, you should enrol them at the


School isn't compulsory before the age of

six, but most French children begin Ecole

Maternelle at three years old. Ecole

Elémentaire then takes them from 6 to 11

years of age. From there, they move to

Collège (11 to 15 years old) and then Lycée

(15 to 18). Boarding accommodation is often

offered from Monday to Friday for rural

Lycée students. Although pupils can leave

school at 16 years old, 94% choose further

education. The only entrance requirement

to a French university is the appropriate

baccalaureate. Students do not pay tuition


Schoolchildren have five holidays each year:

two weeks in October, at Christmas, in

February and in April – and most of July and



English cars are usually covered by their UK

insurance at first. However, you'll need to

change to French registration within six

months. If you choose to keep English

egistration and insurance, this will require

regular return trips to the UK. You can drive

on your English licence until it expires, at

which stage you must obtain a French

driving licence from a Prefecture or Sous-

Prefecture. Considerable paperwork is

involved. You'll need photocopies of your

birth certificate, passport and proof of a

French address.

Acquiring French registration is complicated.

First, get a Certificate of Conformity

from the garage representing your car's

manufacturer. Then change your headlights

and pass the Contrôle Technique –

the French version of the MOT. After this,

ask for the tax certificate, or Quitas Fiscal,

from your local Centre des Impôts.

You can then apply for your French log

book – the Carte Grise – from your local

Prefecture or Sous-Prefecture. Take all

your paperwork with you, plus your French

chequebook. They will give you an

exportation slip, which you must send to

the DVLA immediately.

Your new Carte Grise will arrive by

registered post within a fortnight. You can

then change your English car registration

plates to French ones.


If you are on a fixed income or pension

from the UK, remember that conversion

rates fluctuate. It is useful to establish a

relationship with a good currency exchange

company. Don't make the mistake of

calculating your income when the euro is



Regulations may differ by département, so

it's always worth seeking expert advice,

especially for financial questions.

See Leggett Immobilier website for more

helpful advice

The good life in


Sue Aran tells how her heart was won by a house in Gascony despite trials

and tribulations…

My husband and I first travelled from

Seattle, Washington to Gascony in May

2006 with a couple of friends, looking for a

house to purchase together. All of us loved

rural France. Our criteria included proximity

to airport, train services, village life, doctors

and a hospital. We rented a two-bedroom

stone cottage in a small hameau (hamlet)

in the Gers, (department 32). It’s often

called the Tuscany of southwest France

thanks to the great weather and bucolic


For five weeks we spent mornings sight

seeing and visiting local farmers’ markets.

In the afternoons we enjoyed alfresco

meals and long twilight evenings strolling

country roads under a panoply of stars. We

put 3,500 kilometers on our rental car

looking at 25 houses in various stages of

disrepair. A week before the trip ended we

saw the last house – a 300-year-old ruin

built of stone and colombage (halftimbering)

sitting on a knoll in the middle of

a 500-hectare farm.

The front door faced east, the rising sun

cresting the village of Campagne

d’Armagnac. To the south we could glimpse

the peaks of the Pyrénées mountains. Just

across the road to the west were vineyards

and to the north, through the branches of

an old oak tree, the 11th century Basque

church, Cutxan, rose majestically into the

azure blue sky. The ruin had no electricity,

no water, and no plumbing. The attic was

full of old bottles and rusted tools and the

barn was stuffed with ancient farm

equipment. An overgrown pond was a

watering hole for deer, wild boar, crayfish

and herons. For some inexplicable reason

my husband and I were smitten. Our friends

were not interested at all.

Left: typically Gascony

above: the house that

Sue Aran fell head over

heels for...

We returned to our respective lives, unable

to stop daydreaming about the ruin. Often,

we reminded each other of meeting the

elderly couple, Jeanette and Roger, who

owned the ruin, as welcoming to foreigners

as any two people could be. They spoke a

Gascon patois almost indecipherable,

especially Roger, but each possessed a joie

de vivre that was clearly communicable. In

October we decided to go back to the Gers

to see if the magic was still there. We

stepped off the plane in Bordeaux, picked

up a rental car and drove south. Once

actually at the ruin, we felt like we had

come home. We hadn’t the faintest idea

that 8 years after purchasing the property

we would be mired in the French court

system, tied up in legal bureaucratic knots

and intrigues and separated by more than

an ocean.

We purchased our half hectare (1 acre)

property for 70,000 euros, approximately

100,000 dollars. The whole process took 6

months. The following year we returned and

interviewed local builders and chose one

highly recommended by the only other

American couple we knew there. As a

former architectural designer, I drew up a

set of plans and researched local building

codes. I submitted six different sets of

plans, each summarily rejected by the head

of the local building department, Monsieur

Lafitte. However, after visiting him in

person, the plans were approved.

Renovation began the next year. We arrived

at the end of April, hopeful the project

would be completed by mid-summer. We

planned to sell our house in the States and

move permanently to France. After our first

walk-through of the house, we discovered

our builder was more charming than

competent: everything from the foundation

to the roof needed to be redone – our

renovation needed to be renovated. We

fired the builder and subsequently hired

two building experts and two attorneys.

The second building expert, hired by us but

appointed by the court, first found in our

favor then, remarkably, retracted his ruling

three months later. We waited to sell our

house in the States until we had a home to

live in. Our dream house sat untouched for

the next 4 years.

The following April, in 2011, we filed an

appeal and returned to France only to have

the judge tell us we had no right to

question a court-appointed expert. Our

new attorney changed his strategy and we

filed for another court hearing. Each year,

for two more years, we would return

hopeful a final court date would be set, but

each year the builder was granted a

postponement. In 2013 we were finally

allowed to continue work on our house, but

the lawsuit lingered, our retirement fund

was depleted, and my husband decided he

would never return to France.

I made the big leap across the pond, alone.

I applied for a visa and hired an

international moving company. By

returning every year and immersing

ourselves into the life of our village, we’d

been able to harvest deep and lasting

friendships and an appreciation for the

quality of life in southwest France which

provided the support I now needed to begin

my life anew. The lawsuit was finally heard

September 2014. My ex-husband and I

were awarded rien, nothing.

I was disappointed, to say the least, but not

disheartened for this is where my heart

truly resides. Who hasn’t felt the urge to

drop everything and follow their dream

regardless of the cost?

The Gascons genuinely embrace the joy of

living. The simple pleasures of life are the

most important: family, friends, good

cuisine and lively conversation. Well-being

is not a luxury but an ordinary, daily

prerogative. Economically, the cost of

medical care, car and home insurance,

utilities, taxes and food are a fraction of

what they cost in the States.

I can purchase a freshly baked, mouthwatering

almond croissant or a crusty

baguette at my local bakery for incredibly

good value and a glass of good local wine

is cheaper than a glass of sparking water.

My property taxes are a fraction of what

they would be in the States, a doctor’s visit

23 euros. Even airline tickets are less

expensive when purchased overseas. This

has allowed me to travel around the world

visiting my stateside children and friends

when they are not traveling to visit me.

When I arrived nearly 12 years ago, I

assumed the Earth was round and the sun

set in the west, but I’ve discovered that

lawyers have feelings, tomorrow was

yesterday and pigs can fly.

I have had many incredible adventures and

learned much about myself through living

in another culture. Instead of my world

becoming smaller at this stage of my life, it

has become larger and I will feel forever


Sue Aran runs tours of Gascony sharing her

insider knowledge of its secret gems, most

mouthwatering markets, picturesque

villages and glorious countryside at French

Country Adventures.

Three reasons to seek

financial advice when

you’re an expat in France

Whether you’re already in France or you’re considering a move to France, it’s natural to

have worries and fears about your financial future. Research shows that you’re likely to

gain peace of mind and to be significantly better off if you get professional advice about

your long-term future financial goals and requirements.

A study by the International Longevity Centre in July 2017 revealed that those who take

financial advice could end up significantly better off, by as much as 39%, than those who


We asked Jennie Poate at Beacon Global Wealth for three reasons why she feels

consulting an independent financial advisor is necessary to help you plan for your longterm

future in your new country.

1. There are a number of things you can do

before you make the move that will mean

you are in a better financial position once

you arrive in France. A financial advisor will

help you sort out your UK tax position, plan

a strategy for savings and income, consider

inheritance planning and advise how to

make your pension work best for you.

Sorting it out before you make the move

can be crucial to good finances.

2. As a qualified financial advisor in France,

it’s my job and that of my team to keep on

top of new developments in the finance

world that affect expats and to keep helping

our clients make the most of their

opportunities and finances.

For instance, in France in 2018 there may be

changes to investment income capital

gains tax and to French wealth tax changes.

We study the changes in detail and explain

them in plain English and we will look to

make recommendations to protect your

assets and maximise your savings and

minimise your tax liability.

Low interest rates may affect your financial

future, especially if you maintain funds in

the UK where if you’re leaving your savings

in instant access accounts you’re likely to

have seen your money fall in value due to

rising inflation and low interest rates. If you

want to earn an income from your financial

assets, a good financial advisor can help

you assess the alternatives.

For some investments you may have to be

prepared to accept a risk but we’ll advise

you on all aspects of what risk there is so

you can make an informed decision.

Please contact Jennie Poate if you

would like a free, confidential, no

obligation review of your finances at:



Tel: 0044 333 2416966

3. You’ll gain clarity and greater

confidence about your financial assets.

Uncertainly about what Brexit brings, low

interest rates, rising inflation – they all have

an impact on our lives, especially expats

where there’s also the added confusion

about how banking, tax and finance works

in a foreign country.

* Source: The Value of Financial Advice,

International Longevity Centre – UK

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

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

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

their rules under licence number FSC00805B.

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

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

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

Life in France...

Author Marty Neumeierof Beginning French by Les

Americains, tells how his family learned to live the French

way, and it's not always easy...

Every Wednesday and Saturday, the

Bergerac organic market, or marché bio,

encircles the Église Notre-Dame. The

church’s elegant spire is the pin that fixes

the city to the map. Bergerac is full of

contrasts. On the one hand it’s a tourist

destination with a fascinating mix of

architecture, and on the other it’s a workaday

town with peeling plaster and a

crumbling infrastructure. The view you get

depends on the weather. On a cloudy day

the town seems dingy and depressing. On

a bright day it looks charming and cheerful.

Today the sun poured freely into the city

center, painting the buildings with gold

highlights and cobalt shadows. Scores of

colorful food stalls spiraled out from the

church to the main parking lot, spreading

onto the sidewalk that borders the ancient

lanes of the vieille ville, or old town.

Parking on market days is très difficile.

Your best bet is to drive around to the

north end of town and squeeze between a

Renault Clio and a Fiat 500, often parking

halfway over the curb. While the police are

lenient on market days, the residents are

not. You must never—jamais!—block

someone’s garage access or impede a

motorist’s progress. The offended party will

have your car hooked up to a tow truck

before you can say bonjour. Locals are

acutely aware of these rules, even as they

park in the oddest of spots.

Sara and I left the car on the curved corner

of an intersection—normally a non-non—

and walked south to the bio. The sky was a

deep and cloudless blue on the Wednesday

after the Bodega. We carried shopping

bags and wore straw hats against the

intense rays of the July sun.

“What are we looking for?” I asked Sara.

“Something for tonight. I was thinking a

turkey roulade with grilled courgettes,

along with those yummy duck-fat potatoes

we had at the Bodega. We can use up the

duck fat we already have in the fridge.” She

stopped at a crowded stall and bought a

kilo of fingerling potatoes.

The market stalls in this part of France are

a feast for the eyes. Bins of bright red

radishes contrast with pure white leeks laid

side by side with their curly white roots

entwining. Cartons of stubby orange

carrots lie beside luscious bunches of deep

green parsley. Endive bulbs live next door

to bonbon tomatoes, and boxes of haricots

verts cozy up to crates of fresh green

mâche. Charming handwritten signs,

displaying the names and prices, wave

insouciantly from various boxes.

courtyard came through the windows to

give the kitchen a cold cast.

Sara stood with a chef’s knife in her hand.

A skinny pink body lay on the cutting

board, positioned horizontally under the

halogen track lamps. She placed the blade

of the knife against the rabbit’s neck. Using

the heel of her hand she shoved down hard.

Crunch. The blade cut deeply, but the head

stayed on. I was standing back against the

kitchen door with my hands over my face. I

peeked through my fingers. “Did it come


She felt around the rabbit’s neck and

peered into the gash made by the knife.

“I’m not sure I found the space between the

vertebrae.” She repositioned the knife and

got ready shove it downwards. Her hands

were shaking.

I found Sara standing in front of a butcher’s

truck, examining a skinless creature that

hung upside down from the top of the

window. “What is it?” I asked.

“Lapin. A rabbit. What if I made a delicious

fricassée instead of the turkey roulade?

Rabbit is such a classic.”

I hid my horror. A whole rabbit? Really?

With the head still on it? I tried to dissuade

her. “Isn’t rabbit stew a winter dish? You

know, for long cold nights in December?

It’s so hot right now.”

“Naw, it’ll be cooler by tonight. Let’s go for

it.” She pulled a wad of euros from her

purse. The butcher rolled the rabbit in

paper and placed it in a bag. While I love to

watch Sara cook, I wasn’t sure this was an

operation I wanted to observe.

The sun had arched around to the far side

of the house. The light from the shaded

“Everything okay?” I said, squinting

through my fingers. She stood staring at

the rabbit, both hands on the knife. “I can’t

do it. I can’t. It looks too much like a cat.”

She looked at me imploringly, lips mouthing

a silent s’il te plaît.

“Oh, jeez. You want me to cut the head off a

cat? Can’t we just bring it back and have

the butcher do it?”

“M-O-M!” she yelled, quickly casting me as

the weak, ineffective parent, which in this

case was accurate. “Mom, the head won’t

come off!”.

Eileen came in from the salon. She looked

at Sara, then at me, then at the rabbit. She

took the knife from Sara and set it on the

countertop. “Step aside,” she said, pulling a

heavy cleaver from the knife rack.

Sara and I backed slowly towards the

bedroom door. Eileen raised the cleaver,

using both arms for maximum force. Sara

and I slipped into the bedroom and closed

the door and waited for axe to fall.

We opened the door a crack. Eileen stood

there, arms raised, tears streaming down

her face. “What’s wrong, Mom?” said Sara

“I can’t.”

Sara looked at me. “I used to have a little

Dutch bunny,” said Eileen. “His name was


“Rabbit?” said Sara.

Not Rabbit. Wabbit. You know, ‘You cwazy

wabbit’?” She lowered the cleaver. “I just


Sara and I ventured cautiously back into

the kitchen. Eileen suddenly jerked back,

let loose a tortured yell, and down came the

guillotine. WHACK! —the head shot off the

table, bounced against the lower cabinets,

and rolled to a stop at our feet. On its face

was a strangely serene expression, as if

nothing at all had happened. Eileen was

sobbing. She pushed past us, ran into the

bedroom, and slammed the door.

lowers your unhealthy cholesterol. Others

disagree. Who cares? You’ll never taste

anything better.

“Sorry, Mom,” said Sara. “I shouldn’t have

asked you to do that.” She brought out

three dishes plated with lapin à la

moutarde, rabbit with mustard sauce, and

placed them on the table.

No one ever said being French would be

easy,” I said, pouring the pinot. Eileen and

Sara nodded as if I’d just said something


Eileen stood up. “Here’s to dear, departed

Wabbit.” We clinked our glasses. “Rest in

peace, old friend.”

The three of us ate our meal by candlelight,

serenaded by a lone cicada. The gentle

breezes of a warm July evening mixed the

scent of lavender with the aromas of the

roasted vegetables and rabbit fricasée. The

creamy mustard sauce contrasted perfectly

with the fresh fingerlings.

I turned to Sara. “It’s okay, sweetie. Start

cooking. She’ll be all right.”

I followed Eileen into the bedroom, sat next

to her, and put my hand on her shoulder.

She lay face down with a pillow over her

head, shuddering from the mental image of

a decapitated childhood pet. Her voice was

muffled. “Wabbit.”

I went back into the kitchen and poured

two glasses of rosé. I paused. I poured a

third. “Here,” I said to Sara, and headed

back to the bedroom.

Two hours later, out on the terrace, the

table was set, the candles lit. Eileen’s eyes

were still swollen and red. I uncorked a

bottle of pinot noir. Sara brought out dishes

of fingerling potatoes and carrots, both

roasted in duck fat. Duck fat is considered

by some to be a “healthy fat” because it

Author Keith van Sickle

investigates long term

car rental schemes in

France for non-


Have you ever seen mysterious red license

plates on a French car and wondered what

they mean? Was the driver a diplomat? A

military officer? A French James Bond

saving the world from an evil genius?

No, the car was from the French Buyback

Lease program. If you need to rent a car in

Europe for more than a few weeks, this

may be the way to go. You get a brand new

car with 100% insurance for less than the

price of a normal rental.

Sound good? Here’s how it works.

The program is available to non-EU

citizens and all the French car companies

participate. You don’t rent the car, you buy

it and the company buys it back when you

are done. This is all arranged up front and

the paperwork is much like a rental.

You need to sign up well before your trip

because the car is manufactured for you—

you pick from a list of models that are in

the program. Automatic transmissions are

available, which is great for those who

don’t like a stick shift, and the premium

you pay over a manual transmission is

lower than for a rental.

You can pick your car up at one of many

locations in France and drop it off at a

different one if you’d like, for no charge.

Cars are also available at locations outside

of France but there’s a fee for that.

The company wants to make sure your car

is well cared for so it comes with 100%

insurance coverage. AND zero deductible.

AND a 24-hour hotline for problems. Nice!

This is so much easier than figuring out

what kind of insurance to get when you

rent. Does my personal auto insurance

cover this? How about my credit card? Will

there be a hassle to get a claim paid?

By contrast, the insurance coverage for a

Buyback Lease car is easy. Mine was once

broken into and a window was broken.

Getting it fixed was simple. The worst part?

The thieves made off with my melons de

Cavaillon - the devils!

How can this be cheaper than renting a

car? Because there’s no VAT. In France,

that’s 20%! And you also save money

because there’s no charge for extra drivers

and the GPS is usually included.

Let’s take an example. The Buyback Lease

information is from Kemwel, the rental

information is from Europecar.

I looked at the Peugeot 308, a car that that

has plenty of room for a family with luggage.

I specified air conditioning, a GPS, a second

driver and an automatic transmission.

First, let’s look at having the car for six



Car: $2,011

GPS: $196

Second driver: $90

Insurance: ??

Total: $2,297 + insurance*

Lease Buyback**

Car: $2,179

GPS: 0

Second driver: 0

Insurance: 0

Total: $2,179

So far the difference is mainly the insurance.

But it grows the longer you have the car. For

three months the rental costs $4,181 +

insurance while the Lease Buyback is only

$3,036. Quite a saving!

Think about it - a brand new car, total

insurance coverage, lower price. And you get

those stylish red plates! The French Buyback

Lease program is definitely something you

should check out.

Information is available from Citroen,

Peugeot and Renault.

* depending on your personal coverage, this

can cost well over $1,000

**These numbers are based on 2017 research

and subject to change

Keith Van Sickle is the author of best-selling

One Sip at a Time, learning to live in Provence

Available from Amazon


Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla until creamy and thick. In the meantime,

whisk the egg whites (to which you’ve added a pinch of salt) until stiff. Now sift the flour

and cocoa into the egg yolk mixture and fold in. You will notice that the mixture is thick

and heavy. Add the egg whites in three batches. Do this gently so you don’t lose air.

Spread the batter evenly over the baking sheet. The batter should measure

approximately 33 x 27cm.

Bake for 12-15 minutes. Allow the cake to cool slightly on a wire rack. Lay another sheet

of parchment paper on your work surface, flip the cake onto the paper and gently peel off

the sheet it baked on.


The French yule log, or bûche de noël is something

all French families look forward to - and so do I. I

usually make one with dark chocolate, but this year I

decided to make it with white - it's delicious!

Paola Westbeek is a food, wine and travel journalist.

For more of her recipes, please visit ladoucevie.eu,

thefrenchlife.org and her YouTube channel,


Read about the origins of the yule log cake here

Bûche de Noël recipe


Serves 6-8

5 eggs

110g sugar

seeds of 1 vanilla pod

Pinch of salt

70g flour

4 tbsps good-quality cocoa powder

150g white chocolate, chopped

60g butter

125g sour cream

250g powdered sugar

To make the frosting, gently melt the chocolate and butter au bain-marie. Allow the

mixture to cool and whisk in the rest of the ingredients until you have a smooth


Pop into the fridge for 10 minutes so that it thickens.

Spread the genoise with a layer of frosting and roll tightly from the long side. Cut a small

piece from both ends at an angle. These will be used as branches. Use a little of the

frosting to ‘glue’ the branches to the sides of the roll. Spread the rest of the frosting over

the entire surface and use the prongs of a fork to swirl texture into the frosting.

Decorate as you wish and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.


des rois


Ingredients (for 6 portions)

75g butter (softened) (1/3 cup, 2.5 oz)

2 eggs (medium)

75g caster sugar (1/3 cup, 2.5 oz)

1 tablespoon plain flour

75g ground almonds (1/3 cup, 2.5 oz)

1 packet of puff pastry (about 400g)

1 tablespoon rum (optional)

Almond extract/essence (optional)

Pinch of Salt

1 fève – lucky charm


Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark

4/350°F and line a baking tray with grease

proof paper.

Keep the puff pastry in the fridge right up

until you need to use it.

Mix the butter, egg, sugar and flour

together in a bowl and then add the ground

almonds, salt, almond extract (a few drops)

and the rum if you’re using it and mix them

all well together.

Roll out the puff pastry and cut two 22cm

(8 inch) circles and put one on the baking

tray and the other in the fridge.

Spread the almond paste onto the puff

pastry circle on the tray leaving about 2 cm

(inch) clear around the edge to allow you to

join the” lid”. Put the fève into the almond

paste and then brush the beaten third egg

round the edge you left clear and place the

refrigerated puff pastry circle over the top.

Pinch the edges together gently so that

they stick but be careful not to squidge the

filling out! (Note some people leave the

feve out and just pop it on top afterwards to

avoid potential choking risk, or replace it

with a piece of candied fruit).

Brush more beaten egg over the top of the

cake, make a small hole to let the steam

out and then lightly score the pastry with a

knife creating a crisscross pattern – or a

fancy leaf pattern or anything you like, it

really enhances the appearance and you

can let your creativity run wild!

Place in the oven for 10 minutes and then

reduce the temperature to 160°C/Gas Mark

3/325°F for 25 minutes or until the puff

pastry is well risen and golden.

Place a paper crown on top and eat when


Sara Neumeier's

Lapin a la


Ingredients: serves 6

1 three-pound rabbit, cut into 12 pieces

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

4 ounces lardons fumes (or 4 slices American thick-cut bacon, diced)

18 white pearl onions, peeled

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 cups dry white wine (we use Bergerac sec)

1/3 cup crème fraîche

Place rabbit in a medium bowl and toss with mustard until it is thoroughly coated. Cover

and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, heat oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium high heat. Add

lardons and cook until golden and crispy; remove with a slotted spoon and reserve for

later. Add onions to skillet and cook until golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.

Transfer onions to a small bowl using a slotted spoon, and add rabbit pieces to skillet.

Cook rabbit until nicely browned, 5-8 minutes per side.

Add thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, salt, pepper, reserved onions, and wine. Bring to a boil,

cover, and cook at a low simmer until rabbit is tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in crème

fraîche, and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve over roasted

vegetables, mashed potatoes, or pasta. Sprinkle reserved crispy lardons over top.

My Good Life in France

At the end of the year I always make a list of things I want to do next year.

Almost always there is a line that reads - lose weight. The boulangeries

and patisseries are just too tempting, not to mention the wine! I'm trying

hard to keep to it now as in January I'll be appearing on stage at The

France Show London to chat about my book and France!

There's always a "get more organised" resolution. My office is what used to

be a tiny pig sty and keeping everything tidy isn't easy as I have a book


This year there is a new thing on my list - go to Paris!

I've wanted to spend more time in Paris for a very long time. It was always

my big dream. But I didn't reckon on getting animals in quite the mad way I

have. It started with a kitten. When I saw a tiny bundle being attacked by a

big cat I couldn't help taking him home. He's now the biggest cat in the

village. He was followed by a dog no one wanted. Then a stray turned up

and another. Then more unwanted dogs followed. Then chickens, ducks

and geese. Suddenly (well not really is it?!) I had more than 70 animals to

love and care for.

I thought about taking them all to Paris with me but there are a couple of

problems. The cost of course, finding somewhere for all of us to live would

be tres expensive. Secondly I think we might have very angry neighbours.

Ken, Kendo Nagasaki and Gregory Peck my three cockerels like to have a

shouting contest in the early hours of the morning and it can go on all day.

So, though my original plan was to go for 6 months, I'm now considering

one month as more doable if I can persuade someone to come and care

for my furry, feathery family. If I can't do it this year, then next year will be

fine, sometimes dreams take a bit longer to make them come true.

Whatever your plans and resolutions are for the new year, I wish you much

fun, luck and success sticking to them.

with love from France,


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