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
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
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
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
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!
52 du pain du vin du train to
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
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
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.
88 give aways
Win a row of gorgeous vines, return ticket
on the ferry from Dover to France and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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 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”
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Left: milk bottle collection at
Lactopole musuem; middle: view
over Sainte-Suzanne; above: in the
dining room of Chateau de la Mazure
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Pontarlier Tourist Office: www.pontarlier.org
Hotel Basss, Paris: en.hotel-basss.com
Musée de l'Absinthe: www.museeabsinthe.com
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
“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
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
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
“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,
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.
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.
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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
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..
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
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.
KEEP IT LOCAL
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
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
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
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
A FINAL WORD
Regulations may differ by département, so
it's always worth seeking expert advice,
especially for financial questions.
See Leggett Immobilier website for more
The good life in
Sue Aran tells how her heart was won by a house in Gascony despite trials
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
Second driver: $90
Total: $2,297 + insurance*
Second driver: 0
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.
FRENCH YULE LOG
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
seeds of 1 vanilla pod
Pinch of salt
4 tbsps good-quality cocoa powder
150g white chocolate, chopped
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.
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
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
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,