Issue No. 17

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

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

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Bonjour!<br />

Welcome to the winter issue of The Good Life France Magazine.<br />

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

and inform you in this edition.<br />

Spend Le Weekend in Orange where you'll discover the most incredibly well<br />

preserved Roman theatre, take the train to picturesque and historic Laval in the<br />

Mayenne department or nip to Nimes to discover the legacy of the Romans in the<br />

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

fabulous and fun carnival or head for the interior of Provence for a relaxing break<br />

amongst the magnificent mimosa blossoms.<br />

Michael Cranmer goes in search of the truth about Absinthe AKA the "green fairy",<br />

Barb Harmon visits the new Yves Saint Laurent museum in Paris and Justine Halifax<br />

finds Alpe d'Huez is perfect for skiing families.<br />

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

fabulous short story about finding one's Oh La La!<br />

There are lovely recipes, useful features for expats and a whole lot more.<br />

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

in France for a year, return ferry tickets and fabulous books.<br />

Bisous from France, and a very Happy New Year to you<br />

Janine xx

contributors<br />

Michael Cranmer is an award-winning freelance travel writer and<br />

photographer. He spends most of the winter up mountains writing<br />

about his primary passion - skiing, but also manages to sample less<br />

strenuous outings.<br />

Justine Halifax is a multi award-winning writer who has worked as a<br />

journalist and feature writer for +20 years. She writes for the<br />

Birmingham Mail, Birmingham Post and Sunday Mercury, both in print<br />

and online.<br />

Barb Harmon is a freelance travel writer and hopeless Francophile. She<br />

and her husband are looking forward to living the good life in France<br />

(fingers crossed). She blogs at www.chasingthenextchapter.com<br />

Lucy Pitts is a freelance writer and Deputy Editor of The Good Life<br />

France Magazine. She divides her time between the UK and France<br />

where she has a home in the the Vendée area, known as the Green<br />

Venice of France. www.stroodcopy.com<br />

Colette O'Connor is a writer from California. Her stories have appeared<br />

in numerous dailies & magazines. She teaches writing at California<br />

State University, but keeps a bag ever packed for Paris, and tries to hold<br />

on to all the oh-la-la of it she loves.<br />

Barbara Pasquet James is a US lifestyle editor, speaker and urban<br />

explorer who writes about food fashion and culture, from Paris. She<br />

helped launch, write and edit USA Today’s City Guide To Paris and her<br />

photo blog is at: FocusOnParis.com.<br />

Editor: Janine Marsh contact editor (at) the goodlifefrance.com<br />

Deputy Editor: Lucy Pitts<br />

Assistant: Sandra Davis<br />

Advertising: sales (at) thegoodlifefrance.com<br />

Digital support: Umbrella Web Solutions<br />

Artistic support: Kumiko at KumikoChesworth.myportfolio.com<br />

Front Cover image: Lori Prosser

contents<br />

Features<br />

8 A tale of two cities -<br />

Carcassonnne<br />

Janine Marsh visits the incredible old city<br />

and the 800 year old “new” city at the<br />

base.<br />

22 Le Weekend in ... Orange<br />

The sunny city is home to a legendary<br />

Roman theatre and much, much more.<br />

30 Winter sun in the south<br />

The Mimozas resort near Cannes is the<br />

perfect winter break destination.<br />

34 Nip to Nimes<br />

A vibrant city centre, architecturally<br />

splendid and a Roman footprint make<br />

Nimes irresisitible.<br />

42 Nice carnival<br />

For a real pick me up in winter, there's no<br />

better place to be than Nice!<br />

46 Paris at christmas<br />

What to do in Paris during the festive<br />

holidays, fabulous tips from the locals!

Features continued<br />

52 du pain du vin du train to<br />

laval mayenne<br />

Just an hour and 40 minutes by train from<br />

Paris, discover the fabulous city of Laval in<br />

Mayenne.<br />

60 an encounter with the<br />

green fairy - absinthe<br />

Michael Cranmer goes in search of the true<br />

story of absinthe from the mountains to<br />

Paris.<br />

68 ski-daddle to alpe d'huez<br />

french alps<br />

Justine Halifax heads for the hills and finds<br />

the perfect family ski resort.<br />

72 Yves saint laurent museum<br />

opens in paris<br />

Barb Harmon visits the brilliant new<br />

museum dedicated to the designs of Yves<br />

Saint Laurent.<br />

78 the fashion district of<br />

paris<br />

Judi Castille indulges her love of<br />

haberdashery in Paris.<br />

Regular<br />

86 your photos<br />

The most popular photos shared by our<br />

lovely readers on Facebook page.

P 88<br />

88 give aways<br />

Win a row of gorgeous vines, return ticket<br />

on the ferry from Dover to France and<br />

fabulous books<br />

80 short story - how i<br />

found my oh la la<br />

Colette O'Connor discovers her ooh la la in<br />

Paris at the lacy lingerie store!<br />

102 eye spy with my expat eye<br />

Marty Neumeier recalls the tale of the<br />

rabbit dish a la Francais.<br />

Expats<br />

90 living in france<br />

Joanna Leggett explains how it really is to<br />

live in France.<br />

94 the good life in gascony<br />

Sue Aran talks about life in Gascony, warts<br />

and all.<br />

98 how expats can benefit<br />

from finanical advice<br />

106 long term car rental for<br />

non eu visitors<br />

Keith van Sickle checks out car rental.<br />

Gastronomy<br />

108 Buche de noel<br />

110 galette des rois<br />

111 lapin a la moutarde

carcassonne<br />

A tale of two cities....<br />

Janine Marsh heads to the south of France to discover the charms of Carcassonne.<br />

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

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

and just across the bridge is magnificent and well worth the few minutes to cross to...<br />

Almost always the first place that all<br />

visitors head to when they go to<br />

Carcassonne is the old city. You can see it<br />

from miles around and it is a sight that’s<br />

memorable. A chateau perched on top of a<br />

hill surrounded by ramparts dotted with<br />

fairy tale pointy turrets that contain an<br />

entire medieval city. It is without a doubt<br />

one of the most glorious places I’ve been<br />

to in France, one that lives up to the hype<br />

and the fabulous photos.<br />

You do of course have to go to the old city,<br />

you’d be crazy not to if you went to<br />

Carcassonne but if you don’t cross the Pont<br />

Vieux at the base of the ramparts and visit<br />

the Bastide St Louis, then you’ll be really<br />

missing out. Worth a visit in its own right,<br />

this medieval district of Carcarssonne is a<br />

little gem that gets overlooked thanks to its<br />

more famous, popular neighbour. It’s just a<br />

ten minute walk from the ramparts – go,<br />

you’ll thank me!

The Medieval City of<br />

Carcassonne<br />

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the<br />

old city of Carcassonne is every bit as<br />

enchanting when you see it in real life as it<br />

is in the photos.<br />

Its legacy goes back centuries, ancient<br />

tribes inhabited the area, the Romans<br />

arrived and built a fort – they called it<br />

Carcasso. The city changed hands several<br />

times, its history was colourful, it’s always<br />

been sought after. There is a legend that<br />

the Emperor Charlemagne laid siege to the<br />

fortified city for five long years in the 8th<br />

century. On learning that her people had<br />

just one pig and a bag of wheat left to<br />

survive on, the reigning princess, Dame<br />

Carcas, had the pig fed on the wheat and<br />

lobbed over those famous ramparts.<br />

Charlemagne, believing that the<br />

inhabitants must have so much food<br />

stored they could afford to chuck it away<br />

called off the siege. Dame Carcas had the<br />

bells of the city rung in victory, “Carcas…<br />

sonne” it was said, “Carcassonne is<br />

ringing” – hence the name. Dame Carcas’<br />

likeness adorns one of the gates of the<br />

magnificent enclosed city, looking down on<br />

all who enter.<br />

In the middle ages the poorest people lived<br />

in ramshackle homes that leaned up<br />

against the ramparts whilst those that were<br />

more fortunate lived inside the protected<br />

walls. Over time the ramshackle homes<br />

spread and created the wider<br />

neighbourhood of Carcassonne.<br />

The old citadel gradually fell into ruin until<br />

state commissioned architect Viollet-le-<br />

Duc took on the restoration in 1844.

Far left: view of the Citadel;<br />

left, quiet streets in June;<br />

above: Dame Carcas<br />

statue; below street view in<br />

the citadel<br />

It is now considered to be the largest and<br />

best conserved medieval fortress in<br />

Europe, grand, imposing and home to a<br />

labyrinth of cobbled streets, churches, a<br />

castle, towers and ancient buildings.<br />

Of course all this beauty draws many<br />

visitors, around 4 million a year. If you want<br />

to see if without the crowds - avoid the<br />

summer months. You can visit for free to<br />

see most of it but there is a ticket fee to<br />

see some of it – it’s well worth it.<br />

Go in the evening when the tourists are<br />

gone and sip chilled wine while you<br />

contemplate the enormous history of this<br />

place…<br />

Details: www.tourism-carcassonne.co.uk

The inside track<br />

The Medieval city is a living monument, in<br />

fact there are 50 residents, numerous<br />

shops and restaurants, hotels and yearround<br />

events. Some people bemoan the<br />

number of tourist shops in the old city but I<br />

didn’t think it was that bad. There were<br />

some fabulous shops as well, clothes,<br />

shoes and handbags and my local friends<br />

tell me they shop there. It’s not all tourist<br />

tat and lots of tourists love to be able to<br />

take home a souvenir or something for the<br />

kids.<br />

Wine and Dine in<br />

Carcassonne Old City<br />

You’ve got lots of choice and part of the fun<br />

is wandering round and looking at the<br />

décor and the menu but here are some of<br />

my favourites:<br />

Refined Dining: La Barbacane in the heart<br />

of the old city, classic dishes with a clever<br />

twist, gourmet food that’s not to be rushed.<br />

Place Auguste Pierre Pont.<br />

Comte Roger is recommended by the locals<br />

who go there for the fabulous terrace and<br />

the fabulous dishes. 14 Rue Saint-Louis<br />

Head to Place St Jean, the Restaurant le<br />

Saint Jean is considered one of the best<br />

places for the local speciality - Cassoulet<br />

Aperitifs at: Brasserie A Quatre Temps<br />

which is owned by 2 Star Michelin Chef<br />

Franck Putelat. There’s also an excellent<br />

bistronomic menu including a formule (set)<br />

menu at just 16 Euros for three courses. If<br />

you do want to eat here, book in advance if<br />

you can, this place is always popular, the<br />

locals love it. 2 Boulevard Barbès<br />

Hotel de la Cité – one of best hotels in<br />

Carcassonne, very elegant, ancient and has<br />

amazing views over the city from the private<br />

gardens. Sitting here, enjoyig a glass of<br />

locals favourite, rosé, as the sun sets over<br />

the castle is an experience that’s never<br />


Where to eat in<br />

Carcassonne just<br />

outside the citadel:<br />

Locals Love: Bloc G throngs with<br />

Carcassonne’s locals who love this place for<br />

its home cooked seasonal food like maman<br />

used to make.<br />

It’s not a huge menu, it’s seasonal and<br />

everything is cooked from fresh in the<br />

kitchen. The dishes are beautifully presented<br />

by the owner Sophie and her lovely team and<br />

the food is utterly scrumptious, if it’s on the<br />

menu, try the “tellines” starter, tiny, delicate<br />

shell fish in an olive oil, garlic and parsley<br />

sauce and truly delicious. I hardly ever eat<br />

bread but I couldn’t resist wiping the bowl, it<br />

was either that or lick it!<br />

renowned 2 Michelin Star chef Franck<br />

Putelat and mentioned Bloc G, he agreed,<br />

the food is fabulous.<br />

Bloc G is also a B&B and it’s just a few<br />

minutes’ walk up to the old city. Great<br />

spot – great value, great food and a lovely<br />

warm welcome.<br />

Chef Michel is much loved in these parts, I’m<br />

not surprised, the dishes are mouthwatering.<br />

I met with Carcassone's internationally

Left: Le Parc<br />

Franck Putelat<br />

restaurant; top<br />

Franck Putelet<br />

Wine and Dine in style: At the 2 Michelin<br />

star Franck Putelat restaurant Le Parc, in<br />

his hotel, just minutes from the old city. I<br />

was lucky enough to chat to this<br />

internationally renowned chef. He told me<br />

he’s been in Carcarssonne 21 years, adding<br />

that he truly loves it here. Originally from<br />

the Jura region Chef Putelat has worked at<br />

some of the greatest restaurants in France<br />

before setting up his own in Carcassonne.<br />

Even after all this time, “it is my passion to<br />

cook” he says with conviction. When I ask<br />

him who cooks at home he laughs “me of<br />

course” he says “my wife is very happy for<br />

me to cook, her favourite dish is Tataki de<br />

Thon Rouge with a salade tomate and oeuf<br />

parfait”.<br />

“I never get fatigued, I love what I do” he<br />

said before heading off to the kitchen to<br />

prepare for the full restaurant. I was there<br />

to try his tasting menu but I managed to<br />

sneak a peak at a couple of the rooms in<br />

the bijou, 7 room hotel beforehand. You<br />

cannot fail to fall in love with the idea of<br />

lazing in a hot tub on the roof in the<br />

shadow of la cité. The rooms are simple<br />

and elegant, no overbearing colours, no<br />

jarring furniture, zen-like is how I’d describe<br />

them.<br />

Back downstairs in the restaurant I took my<br />

seat. As usual I was on my own, solo travel<br />

is great but there are times when you really<br />

want to be able to turn to someone and say<br />

“blimey – isn’t that amazing?”. I didn’t take<br />

many tasting notes because I was so busy<br />

enjoying the food and the ambiance and<br />

I’m not sure that words can convey just<br />

how special the food is. The restaurant is<br />

undoubtedly theatrical. The bread board is<br />

a glass cabinet, kept warm by the flames of<br />

a real fire. The servers wheel the cabinet to<br />

the tables to offer the bread – talk about<br />

wow factor. From the home made bread,<br />

including miniature baguettes that make<br />

you smile, to the dishes that look like<br />

works of art and taste divine – this is one<br />

restaurant you’ll never forget. Pricey, bien<br />

sur, of course, it’s a 2 Michelin star<br />

restaurant – but for a special night out and<br />

a memorable meal in captivating<br />

Carcassonne, it’s worth every centime.

Photo: Paul Palau, Carcassonne TO<br />

Above: the beautiful<br />

chateau Pennautier;<br />

far left: rue Trivalle,<br />

home to La Maison<br />

Vielle B&B; left: Porte<br />

d'Aude, la citadel.<br />

Picnic at: Chateau Pennautier owned by<br />

the Comte and Comtesse de Lorgeril, just<br />

3km from the Citadel of Carcassonne. The<br />

30 hectare park was designed by Andre Le<br />

<strong>No</strong>tre who also designed the gardens of<br />

Versailles. Treat yourself to a bottle of<br />

fabulous wine from the chateau shop, and<br />

if you’re not in the mood for a picnic, the<br />

restaurant here is fabulous.<br />

Take a Selfie: Ask the locals of<br />

Carcassonne and 9 out of 10 will say Porte<br />

d’Aude, the famous 12th century gate that<br />

leads into the citadel.<br />

Stay at: La Maison Vielle, 8 rue Trivalle at<br />

the foot of the citadel, it’s a charming B&B<br />

at the bottom of the ramparts. There’s a<br />

lovely terraced garden, common room and<br />

a great kitchen where you’ll enjoy a stylish<br />

breakfast which when I was there, included<br />

a mini crème Brulée. I gulped at the calories<br />

I’d be piling on “you’re on holiday and<br />

besides, you won’t be able to resist walking<br />

it off in la cité next door” I was told!<br />

Or stay at: La Villa de Mazamet, a 45<br />

minute drive away, it’s been voted <strong>No</strong>. 1<br />

luxury B&B in France on TripAdvisor several<br />

years in a row.<br />

Don’t miss: The other old city of<br />

Carcassonne, Bastide st Louis. Many<br />

visitors aren’t aware of its existence, spend<br />

a few hours within the ramparts and go<br />

merrily on their way without even being<br />

aware that just across the bridge at the<br />

base of the old city is another old city!

astide saint-louis<br />

Back in the middle ages, a new<br />

Carcarssonne was created on the left bank<br />

of the river Aude. it is called the Bastide<br />

Saint Louis. Most visitors to Carcassonne<br />

miss it completely and what a shame that<br />

is. Focused on reaching the old citadel,<br />

they don’t even notice the imposing gates<br />

across the old bridge to this fascinating<br />

area that’s rich in history, architecture,<br />

cafés and restaurants, shops and markets.<br />

Built in 1260, the Bastide Saint-Louis is<br />

connected to the old city via the<br />

picturesque Point Vieux bridge which gets<br />

packed at night with photographers<br />

attempting to capture the beauty of the<br />

citadel when it’s lit up against a starry sky.<br />

Built in the 14th century, the bridge was the<br />

only link between the two towns until the<br />

19th century. On the other side of the<br />

Bastide lies the Canal du Midi gently<br />

winding its way through Carcassonne. If<br />

you only have a short time in town, take a<br />

one hour boat ride with Bateau le Cocagne<br />

(who also hire bikes) near the train station.<br />

You’ll enjoy a tranquil taster of this historic<br />

canal and fabulous views to the Citadel.<br />

There is a quite different vibe in this city,<br />

although it is ancient it has a more open<br />

feel and is very light and vibrant.

Inside the Bastide is a warren of streets<br />

and old buildings. It’s a cool place in<br />

several ways. Even on roasting hot days<br />

here in the far south, the city doesn’t<br />

overheat thanks to its design that channels<br />

the four winds that run through the area to<br />

flow through its streets. There are 300<br />

days a year of wind here and you can<br />

expect to enjoy the breezy touch of the<br />

Tramontane, le Vent d’Autun, the Marine<br />

and Mediterranean winds.<br />

The town seems to evolve outwards from<br />

the central square Place Carnot with its<br />

famous fountain, loved by famous French<br />

writer Balzac. This square makes for the<br />

most wonderful setting to take a relaxing<br />

break at a terraced café and watch the<br />

world go by. Where the moats of old once<br />

were, there are now boulevards lined with<br />

houses and shops.<br />

You can’t help but notice that the pavement<br />

is made from rose coloured marble. It was<br />

laid to honour the visit of Louis XIV, the<br />

Sun King, and was quarried from Caunes,<br />

Minervois not far from Carcassonne.<br />

Marble from this quarry was also used at<br />

Versailles, the Opera Garnier in Paris as<br />

well as in the White House in Washington.

The weekly market (Tuesday, Thursday,<br />

Saturday) takes place here as it has done<br />

for centuries. It’s a vibrant, buzzing market<br />

and plenty of delicious smells scent the air.<br />

At the popular stall of Chez Gaston, try the<br />

arachides, peanuts in a rice pastry shell<br />

dipped in mustard and spices. Or La<br />

Lucque – enormous olives that are rugby<br />

ball shaped, they’re considered the “rolls<br />

Royce of olives” by the locals I’m told and<br />

they’re grown in the area. From Monday to<br />

Saturday there is a covered market at Les<br />

Halles. This is the place to come to order<br />

fresh cooked cassoulet to take home. It’s<br />

sold in terracotta bowls which make for<br />

great souvenirs. At one stall I spotted “La<br />

cargolade” tiny snails ready to barbecue, a<br />

speciality of the area. There’s “casser la<br />

croute” salted pastry with a meaty interior,<br />

a recipe that dates back to the middle ages<br />

when makers would decorate the pastry as<br />

their signature. And, don’t miss a visit to<br />

the patisserie boulangerie shop of Chef<br />

Fuster who makes the special madeleine<br />

cakes of Carcassonne. Outside in the car<br />

park you’ll see a circle of stones, they mark<br />

the spot where the town pillory used to be<br />

in the medieval days. The history in this<br />

town is palpable.<br />

Stop off at Bistro d’Alice (26 rue Chartran)<br />

where the friendly staff take real pride in<br />

the produce. Everything is home cooked<br />

and its loved by the locals. Outside you can<br />

enjoy the breeze, inside there’s a typically<br />

French brasserie atmosphere, banquettes<br />

and brass and a buzz of conversation, it’s<br />

the perfect place for lunch after a trip to the<br />

market or in the town.<br />

There are several churches from the 13th<br />

and 14th centuries. Magnificent mansion<br />

houses date back to the <strong>17</strong>th and 18th<br />

century when the city was home to<br />

prosperous merchants, who made fortunes<br />

from the textile manufacturing industry.

The 14th century Cathedral of Saint-Michel, has<br />

beautifully painted walls inside. All cathedrals<br />

used to have painted interiors and the artwork<br />

was covered with egg white as a preservative,<br />

but over the centuries the paint faded. Here<br />

though, the cathedral doors were closed in the<br />

16th century and it was left like that for years.<br />

Amazingly it looks so fresh you’d think it had<br />

only just been done. While I was there an old<br />

lady with white hair and a black dress wielding<br />

a duster over the pews asked if I’d like to know<br />

more about the Cathedral and of her own story.<br />

“I come here every day of the week. I clean and<br />

mend things and help the Bishop” she said<br />

proudly pointing to the furniture she’s restored<br />

and curtains she’s sewn. Rose’s work here is so<br />

important that its even been recognised by the<br />

National Monuments organisation of France.<br />

“I come here to thank God for a miracle” she<br />

says. She tells me that her grandchild was<br />

gravely ill, suffering from multiple sclerosis and<br />

at 8 years old was in a wheelchair. She prayed<br />

to the Pope and to God “with all my heart and<br />

my prayer was heard. My grandchild is now 19<br />

years old, healthy, no longer in a wheelchair”.<br />

This is a city with a lot of soul.<br />

Above: Rose who helps out the<br />

Cathedral Saint-Michel (right)<br />

where she was granted a miracle

information<br />

Getting to Carcassone:<br />

The train from Paris takes from 5<br />

hours 22 minutes.<br />

Nearest airport: Carcassonne Airport,<br />

shuttle service to city centre<br />

(connections to the UK, Brussels and<br />

France).<br />

Where to stay:<br />

La Vielle Maison is at the base of the<br />

citadel and a few minutes walk to<br />

both the old city and Bastide Saint<br />

Louis.<br />

Villa de Mazamet is about a 45<br />

minute drive from Carcassonne and<br />

offers a luxurious and delicious stay,<br />

voted the best B&B in France on<br />

TripAdvisor several years in a row.<br />

Tourist office information:<br />

en.destinationsuddefrance.com<br />


in ORANGE Provence<br />

Orange in Provence is a sunny city with<br />

oodles of charm that has been built up over<br />

the centuries quite literally - for the Romans<br />

were here two millennia ago and the town is<br />

proud of its ancient legacy. Janine Marsh<br />

explores Orange and falls in love with its<br />


When Louis XIV visited Orange, he said of<br />

the theatre that it was “the most beautiful<br />

wall in my Kingdom”. He would recognise it<br />

if he visited today because, thanks to a<br />

quirk of fate, the 1.8m thick, 103m long wall<br />

has survived almost intact.<br />

High up in the centre of the wall is a statue<br />

of the Emperor Augustus – looking down<br />

on everyone from his lofty perch. From the<br />

ground you’d never know that he’s 3.5m tall.<br />

But if you were able to climb up there you’d<br />

be able to tell - and how do I know this?<br />

Because I did climb up there!<br />

My friend Guillaume who works at the<br />

tourist office organised a special visit for<br />

me. I have vertigo and don't like being up<br />

high at all but I wasn't going to miss this<br />

unique opportunity so I took a deep breath,<br />

kept my eyes to the front - and climbed. If<br />

you were thinking this is just a wall then<br />

you'd be mistaken because behind that<br />

stony time worn exterior is a narrow<br />

building. The steps to the top are rough.<br />

Carved away by time in places, worn and<br />

crumbling in others, whilst some steps are<br />

so steep I had to literally pull myself up to<br />

them like climbing a tree. Onwards and<br />

upwards, round and round we went,<br />

through dusty ante chambers, and skinny<br />

corridors, crossing planks of wood with<br />

deep chasms below. Eventually we<br />

emerged onto a platform high up, right<br />

behind the famous statue of Emperor<br />

Augustus.<br />

The Roman Theatre at Orange<br />

You can’t go to Orange and not see the<br />

UNESCO listed Roman theatre – I think it<br />

might actually be against the law!<br />

It’s not a theatre like we might know it, a<br />

dark interior with plush velvet seats. It’s an<br />

open-air theatre with a 37-metre high wall<br />

and a stage facing a round auditorium of<br />

stone benches, the top seats gleaming<br />

white against the azure blue sky.<br />

I have to tell you it’s a heap higher up when<br />

you're there with the Emperor than it looks<br />

from the bottom of the arena. The visitors<br />

milling about below posing for selfies on<br />

the stone benches, taking photos of me<br />

without knowing it, looked tiny. I wondered<br />

if they would see my tiny head sticking out<br />

behind the statue when they looked at their<br />

photos later. I stood on my secret perch for<br />

a while contemplating the immense history<br />

of this incredible monument. That statue<br />

has witnessed life since the year 1AD.

I made my way down rather more gingerly<br />

than I went up and was happy to be on<br />

terra firma a (sorry not sorry - I couldn't<br />

resist a Roman phrase in this article). We<br />

toured the old changing rooms of Roman<br />

actors which now house museum artefacts<br />

and saw film clips of people watching plays<br />

here from 100 years ago.<br />

If only these roman walls<br />

could talk<br />

This place has always had something<br />

special about it even when it wasn’t in<br />

use – which is how its survived so well.<br />

Extraordinarily, hundreds of years ago, the<br />

theatre became a housing estate of sorts.<br />

In the 16th century, impoverished<br />

inhabitants of Orange built ramshackle<br />

houses up against the wall and within the<br />

arena, their dwellings spread until the<br />

whole place was under cover.<br />

In the 18th century makeshift prisons were<br />

set up in the theatre.<br />

In the 19th century, while in some areas of<br />

France, town architects had been pulling<br />

down ancient buildings to make way for<br />

new, this place survived when Prosper<br />

Mérimée, an inspector with the newly<br />

formed Monuments Historiques,<br />

implemented an extensive restoration<br />

campaign. This consisted of clearing away<br />

the constructions built in and around the<br />

stage area and the lower tiers.<br />

The Roman theatre was finally restored to<br />

its former glory and from day one, it wowed<br />

the public.

The theatre at Orange continues to inspire<br />

and delight audiences - just as the romans<br />

intended. In 1869 the theatre hosted what<br />

was then called “Fetes Romaines” and the<br />

theatrical performances were an immediate<br />

success. This became an annual summer<br />

event renamed Chorégies and it now<br />

attracts internationally-renowned artists to<br />

perform in front of crowds of more than<br />

9000.<br />

Sitting on one of those ancient stone<br />

benches (tip: squash a cushion in your bag<br />

to make it more comfy), as the sun sets on<br />

a warm evening, watching the stage lit up,<br />

the performers inspired by their<br />

surroundings, is one of those experiences<br />

you never forget.<br />

Many of the evening performances at the<br />

theatre are free and you can get tickets<br />

during the day at the theatre reception<br />

desk.<br />

The acoustics are stunning, the location is<br />

wonderful, the ambiance is exquisite, the<br />

events are spectacular.<br />

Classical music, ballet, opera, pop, rock and<br />

more – whatever you do, when you go to<br />

Orange, if you get the chance to experience<br />

this theatre in action – don’t miss it.<br />

You can also take an audio guided tour of<br />

the theatre, climb those steep bench steps<br />

and see the “The Ghosts of the Theatre”<br />

multi-media show.<br />

Details of events and tours:<br />


What to see and do in Orange<br />

The Roman Museum in<br />

Orange<br />

Across the road from the Roman theatre is<br />

the Museum of Art and History. It's a great<br />

little museum located in a <strong>17</strong>th century<br />

mansion with an eclectic collection and a<br />

very famous map. In France a cadastral<br />

plan is a map that shows property in a<br />

village or town. In Roman times it was the<br />

same and amazingly fragments of a<br />

cadastre of Orange has survived. Quite<br />

how anyone could put all these tiny<br />

fragments together to come up with a map<br />

is beyond me, it must have been like doing<br />

the hardest jigsaw in the world with loads<br />

of missing pieces. It's enormous and<br />

seeing it hanging on the wall makes you<br />

realise just how amazingly advanced the<br />

Romans were. Entry to the museum is free<br />

and on a warm day, it’s cool inside.<br />

The Roman Triumphal Arch<br />

of Orange<br />

A short distance from the theatre is yet<br />

another souvenir of the Romans - a grand<br />

triumphal arch which, until recently, was a<br />

place that cars drove though (it really<br />

doesn’t bear thinking about). Incredibly this<br />

vast, ancient monument has managed to<br />

withstand the pollution, the vibration of<br />

traffic hurtling by and has not been<br />

ostensibly harmed by having a road run<br />

right through the middle. Thankfully the<br />

authorities have seen sense and have<br />

begun a programme of preservation,<br />

placing the arch in the centre of a<br />

roundabout and directing traffic around it<br />

as well as creating a way for visitors to get<br />

close to it as it deserves.

The inside track<br />

The centre of Orange is an easy place to<br />

get around on foot with plenty of shops,<br />

restaurants and places to while away hours<br />

in the sun.<br />

Orange is more than its Roman legacy, the<br />

town is lovely too and great for spending a<br />

day relaxing, spoiling yourself with<br />

fabulous food and enjoying sitting in the<br />

sun watching the world go by. It makes for<br />

a great base in Provence.<br />

Wine and dine in Orange<br />

The pretty town centre has lots of choice<br />

for eating out…<br />

Locals love: If you’re looking for<br />

somewhere fabulous for lunch or dinner,<br />

you can’t do better than La Grotte, built into<br />

the Roman wall of the theatre! It’s popular<br />

with the artists who perform at the theatre<br />

and will the locals who love the ambiance,<br />

the menu and the friendly service. www.<br />

restaurant-orange.fr<br />

Ice Ice Baby: in this sunny place an ice<br />

cream is always a good idea. Head to Regal<br />

Tendance (1 Rue Madeleine Roch) by the<br />

theatre for the best glaces in town. In<br />

summer lavender flavour is de rigeur and in<br />

winter the chocolate ice cream is delish.<br />

The maker uses spices like pepper and<br />

ginger to give a unique and utterly<br />

scrumptious taste. The flavours change<br />

regularly according to the seasons but if<br />

they have the Baladine Irlandaise flavour<br />

when you visit, don't miss it, a whisky and<br />

marmalade ice cream that's utterly<br />


Aperitifs: Rosé wine is the most popular<br />

aperitif in Provence. Enjoy a glass at the<br />

laid-back Salon du Charlotte, listening to<br />

the bells of the cathedral next door whilst<br />

you watch the locals meet and greet, faire<br />

la bise and chat animatedly.<br />

Have a picnic: Shop at the Thursday<br />

morning market or head to the lovely Le<br />

Comptoir des Gourmets shop in the centre<br />

of town next to the ancient Cathedral. Run<br />

by renowned pattisier Lionel Stocky who<br />

came to Orange via Alsace and Paris and<br />

Michelin star restaurants, this is a fabulous<br />

gourmet shop full of the most amazing<br />

goodies. From tea, jams and honeys and<br />

every Provençal delicacy plus he makes<br />

the most spectacular cakes daily. Lionel<br />

personally tastes everything he stocks in<br />

his shop (my kind of job!). Open from<br />

Tuesday to Sunday, when, in the morning<br />

the shop is packed with church-goers<br />

buying their sweet treat for Sunday lunch<br />

after the service.<br />

For the best cheese, Pleine de Terre in the<br />

rue de la Republique will stop you in your<br />

tracks.<br />

Take home a souvenir: Nip to the theatre<br />

shop for posters and books that make<br />

great gifts and are easy to pack in your<br />

suitcase. The theatre boutique also stocks<br />

Provencal goodies and Augustine’s<br />

chocolates, though they may not make it all<br />

the way home.<br />

Take a selfie at: Take a selfie at the Roman<br />

theatre or on top of the mountain behind it<br />

- with the theatre in the background. Well<br />

worth the climb (photo: top right) for its<br />

cool, shady landscape and in the summer<br />

an outdoor guingette (restaurant with<br />

music). On Sundays there is an orchestra<br />

and tea dance and on Saturday nights<br />

there's a DJ and young people flock to<br />

dance under the stars (details from the<br />

tourist office).

Stay at: Au Vin Chambré is a lovely B&B with<br />

big, cool rooms and a gorgeous garden which<br />

makes for a brilliant breakfast venue - what a<br />

place to start the day. It's within walking<br />

distance of the theatre and the train station.<br />

There’s also a fabulous restaurant here at lunch<br />

times only plus a wine shop. It doesn't get<br />

much better than that does it?! www.<br />

auvinchambre.com<br />

Around and about in Orange: Hire a bike and<br />

take a leisurely 6km ride for a picnic and lake<br />

swimming at Caderousse where you’ll find a<br />

pretty little town.<br />

Get there: Avignon is 25 minutes by train,<br />

Marseille 1 hour, Lyon 2 hours and Paris from<br />

3.5 hours by train.<br />

www.orange-tourisme.fr<br />


Escape to the south of France<br />

for fun in the sun in the winter!<br />

Janine Marsh heads<br />

to the Mimozas<br />

Cannes Resort at<br />

mimosa time…<br />

On a freezing cold February day, I headed<br />

to Cannes in the south of France. The grey<br />

skies of wintery London turned into the<br />

grey skies of wintery Paris where I arrived<br />

by train to connect with the 5-hour fast<br />

train to Cannes. Speeding through the<br />

French countryside, after a couple of hours<br />

I started to notice patches of Wedgewood<br />

blue appear in the sky. By the time I arrived<br />

I felt like I’d gone to a different country –<br />

one where the sun shines and it's warm,<br />

even in February. From here I took a short<br />

taxi ride to my destination the 4-star<br />

Mimozas Resort in nearby Mandelieu.<br />

For a pick me up break or an extended<br />

winter holiday in the south, this place is<br />

brilliant value. There’s loads to do and see,<br />

an onsite spa, access to the best golf<br />

courses in the area, the chance to relax in<br />

the sun, visit Cannes, nearby Grasse and<br />

Nice and a host of fabulous hotspots on the<br />

French Riviera. From January to March the<br />

famous flower of the Provencal hinterland,<br />

mimosa, is in bloom making a visit even<br />

more special.

There’s a little on-site shop where you can<br />

buy freshly baked croissants and basic<br />

supplies. There are towns with markets and<br />

shops within walking distance, but for me<br />

the lure of the daily covered market at<br />

Cannes was irresistible.<br />

Mimozas Resort is not a dressy resort, it's a<br />

place to chill. Families, couples, groups and<br />

solo travellers fall in love with this place<br />

and return again and again.<br />

You can book an apartment in the main<br />

building like me, or in the landscaped<br />

grounds where there are cottages and<br />

apartments.<br />

The gorgeous gardens and lake give<br />

Mimozas Resort the feel of a private estate,<br />

spotless and very Provençal in style. There<br />

are walkways lined with herbs and rose<br />

arbours, the scent of rosemary and thyme<br />

even in winter are heady. You'll find<br />

benches to sit on dotted around, places to<br />

sit and chill and watch the wild birds that<br />

flock here thanks to the lakes.<br />

I collected the key for my self-catering<br />

apartment in the main building, dumped<br />

my luggage and headed to the restaurant<br />

La Table du Lac on the ground floor. The<br />

menu is seasonal, diverse and delicious<br />

and the starter was substantial enough for<br />

a main meal. The friendly staff speak<br />

English, Thibaud the barman was great, he<br />

remembered what I like to drink on my<br />

second night, something that always<br />

impresses me when someone does that.<br />

Server Lissiane couldn't have been nicer,<br />

she remembered my name and made me<br />

feel at home, something I really appreciate<br />

as a solo traveller.<br />

For anyone coming here for a rest and<br />

healthy eating it's the perfect option.<br />

Though it's big, it never feels crowded or<br />

like a holiday camp as it's spread over<br />

several acres and the layout is well<br />

designed so that you don't feel on top of<br />

each other.<br />

There are little waterfalls and canals that<br />

run through the resort keeping it cool when<br />

the sun is out and don't worry about<br />

mosquitoes, they don't have them here.<br />

And if I tell you that the famous Michelin<br />

company hold their annual conference here<br />

you'll get just how special this place is as<br />

the gastronomic guidebook giant is hardly<br />

likely to go somewhere that's not special.<br />

The aim of the resort is to make you feel at<br />

home, they’re very customer service<br />

oriented and not remotely stuffy.

Close to Cannes and top<br />

locations<br />

What I love about Mimozas Resort is not<br />

just the fact that its great value, but you<br />

feel like you’re in the countryside, just 20<br />

minutes from Cannes by taxi or the <strong>No</strong>. 20<br />

bus that stops outside. Plus you’re within<br />

easy walking distance of Mandelieu la<br />

Napoule a picturesque and floral town with<br />

sandy beaches, loads of cafés and<br />

restaurants and the Château de La<br />

Napoule art centre. From here you can take<br />

a ferry to the pretty Isles de Lerin. It’s also a<br />

short walk in the opposite direction to the<br />

shops and markets of Mandelieu in the<br />

other. There’s a superb choice of scenic<br />

walking and cycling trails close by.<br />

Activities at Mimozas<br />

Resort<br />

There's a spa on site which is popular. It<br />

gets very booked up so if you want a spa<br />

treatment - book in advance, especially at<br />

weekends as Mimozas resort is a favourite<br />

destination for Parisians.<br />

If you like to jog, there are paths around the<br />

resort or outside on the quiet roads. There<br />

are less activities in the winter months, the<br />

pool is closed as well as the barbecue area.<br />

You can take excursions from the hotel or<br />

via the tourist office in Mandelieu La<br />

Napoule and one of the best in the winter<br />

months is the Mimosa trail and Fragonard<br />

perfume tour. The thought of all that<br />

beautiful yellow mimosa persuaded me to<br />

tear myself away from the relaxing and<br />

scented environs of the Mimozas Resort<br />

and head to the hills - defiinitely worth it.

But the famous golf courses of the area are<br />

right on the doorstep in fact, you’re right<br />

beside the legendary golf ‘Old Course’ at<br />

Cannes-Mandelieu. Founded by Grand<br />

Duke Michael of Russia in 1891, it was the<br />

first golf course under Mediterranean skies.<br />

It has 18 holes and spans 74 hectares plus<br />

a ferry between holes across the Siagne<br />

River.The perfect place to enjoy a glass of<br />

rosé and a spectacular sunset from the<br />

clubhouse terrace after your round.<br />

I found that the resort made for a great<br />

base. There's a train station in Mandelieu<br />

La Napoule) about a 15-minute walk) and<br />

from there you can travel round the coast<br />

to Cannes, Nice (about 40 minutes), Juan<br />

les pins, Antibes, Monaco, Villefranche du<br />

Mer and more.<br />

Be warned, taxis are expensive in this area,<br />

take the bus or the train to avoid clocking<br />

up the Euros. As I sat on my balcony<br />

overlooking a lake at 10 o’clock at night I<br />

felt blissfully charmed by the beauty, and<br />

warmth, of this place. On the phone to my<br />

sister in London she moaned “it's sleeting<br />

here in London".<br />

“I'm outside in shorts and a t shirt” I told<br />

her, and I can't tell you what's she said<br />

next.<br />

It's surprisingly reasonable to stay here, in<br />

fact I'd go so far to say that a winter break<br />

is positively cheap. I could have been<br />

happy there for several weeks, it’s an<br />

inspiring sort of place, you could spend tie<br />

on hobbies, painting, writing, diet, work on<br />

your fitness regime, sight see, tour or<br />

simply relax and get to know the area.<br />

Details: MimozasCannes.com

Under the Roman sun in<br />


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

you even leave the station, the vaulted ceiling and arched passage ways are the<br />

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

distance straight ahead, a Roman tower looms. Walk for ten minutes into the<br />

centre of town and there, right before your eyes, is one of the best preserved<br />

Roman arenas in the world – it is a stunning sight.<br />

The Roman influence is everywhere here, even in the names of the streets like<br />

lovely Rue Agrippa by the beautiful Jardin des Fontaines. In these lovely public<br />

gardens is a fresh water spring which was likely the reason the romans chose<br />

this area to settle.

Today it seats <strong>17</strong>,000 which is around<br />

30% of the population. They come here<br />

for the entertainment that takes place<br />

from festivals, concerts, opera, theatre,<br />

bull fights and more.<br />

There are lots of gaps in our knowledge<br />

of this immense arena, it’s not known if<br />

any Roman emperor visited for instance.<br />

And experts are sure that there were no<br />

lion fights here, the walls in front of the<br />

seating are too low apparently. They<br />

know that gladiator fights took place and<br />

plenty of relics have been found including<br />

evidence of a school of gladiators.<br />

Whatever went on here, the air of history<br />

is unmistakable.<br />

That it has survived so intact is due to the<br />

fact that in the middle ages, the arena<br />

was turned into space for houses which<br />

were built up against its walls and inside<br />

once the floor level had been raised by<br />

filling the centre with rubble. Essentially it<br />

served 900 years as a shelter for the<br />

poor and that (like the Roman theatre at<br />

Orange) saved it. Useful buildings with a<br />

purpose tended to last longer than those<br />

that just looked good in the old days.<br />

Roman Games in Nimes<br />

The Roman Arena of Nimes<br />

The Roman arena is the beating heart of<br />

this cosmopolitan little city. From the<br />

outside it's impressive enough. But enter<br />

through the desk of the arenas and you'll<br />

discover an awesome spectacle: an<br />

elliptical shaped ring with 34 seating rows.<br />

It was built at the end of the first century<br />

and in its heyday this place seated 24,000<br />

people and that might well have been the<br />

entire population and then some.<br />

Each spring Roman Games are held here<br />

taking visitors back to the era of Julius<br />

Caesar. Channel your inner Roman, rent a<br />

toga for a few Euros, fling on your<br />

sandals and join in the fun.<br />

Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner and her<br />

bullfighter lover, Dominguin, were regular<br />

visitors to Nîmes, staying at the now<br />

genteelly decaying grand Hôtel<br />

Imperator. Picasso too loved it here.<br />

There are year-round events – see Nimes<br />

tourist office website for details

More Roman stuff<br />

Two thousand years ago, Nimes was one of<br />

the most important cities of Roman Gaul.<br />

Today there’s a lively cosmopolitan centre<br />

but the city remains a treasure trove of<br />

Roman ruins. Take a stroll here and you’re<br />

following in well-trodden footsteps.<br />

The first Roman road in France was the Via<br />

Domitia which ran through Nimes. The<br />

Romans turned Nimes into a walled city<br />

and access was via gates, two of which<br />

remain, the Porte Auguste and Porte de<br />

France which is still in use to this day.<br />

Five minutes stroll from the arena you’ll<br />

find the magnificent temple called Maison<br />

Carrée. Built in the 1st century AD it has<br />

over the years survived by adapting. It’s<br />

been a church, stables, even apartments.<br />

<strong>No</strong>w it’s an art gallery and its impressive<br />

imperial white stone lines against the blue<br />

sky of Nimes is simply stunning.<br />

The Jardin des Fontaines is home to the<br />

ruins of what is thought to have once been<br />

a Roman library. Music students sometimes<br />

practice there and the day I visited, an<br />

opera singer’s haunting voice carried over<br />

the trees and fountains. There are also the<br />

remains of Roman baths but today the park<br />

is the focal point for those wanting to relax<br />

in tranquil, surroundings in the shade of the<br />

beautiful lime trees, or enjoy a game of<br />

boules.<br />

The Romans fortified Nimes, but only one of<br />

their towers remains. The ruins are at the<br />

highest point of the city, strategically<br />

important but also a reminder of their<br />

power. From its peak position you have a<br />

fabulous panorama over the city.<br />

Tip: Buy a combined ticket with entry to the<br />

Nimes Arena, Maison Carrée, Tour Magne<br />

and the Roman theatre at Orange. It’s valid<br />

for a month, saves you money and queuing.

What to see and do in Nimes<br />

Close to the Arena, as everything is in this<br />

compact town centre, the Place du Marché<br />

features two figures from the Nîmes coat of<br />

arms: a crocodile and a palm tree<br />

symbolising the Emperor August’ defeat of<br />

his arch rival Marc Antony and his lover<br />

Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. They’re<br />

embedded in metal stamps in the ground,<br />

created by France’s favourite designer,<br />

Philippe Starck. In fact, you’re likely to see<br />

these emblems in several places, including<br />

in the town hall where giant crocodiles<br />

hang in a rather macabre circle above your<br />

head.<br />

Summer is wickedly hot in Nîmes<br />

(whatever you do when you book<br />

accommodation – make sure you get air<br />

conditioning). Winter can be cold when the<br />

famous Mistral wind is blowing, so much<br />

so that rumour has it that Nîmes’s iconic<br />

palm trees are kept warm with a heater.<br />

It's not often that you see a Roman temple<br />

next to an über modern <strong>No</strong>rman Foster<br />

designed building but in Nimes<br />

architectural surprises abound. The Carré<br />

d'Art-Museum of Contemporary Art is next<br />

to the Maison Carré Roman temple. Home<br />

to a fabulous collection of art, modern art<br />

fans will love its clean lines and the cool<br />

white and glass interior which makes the<br />

artworks pop.<br />

The Denim connection<br />

The Musée du Vieux Nîmes (Place aux<br />

Herbes, free entrance) has a room devoted<br />

to the city’s most famous export - denim.<br />

The rough cotton fabric started out to<br />

create tough clothes for labourers but is<br />

now the uniform of the world. (You can read<br />

more about Denim from France here).

The Inside Track<br />

Late night dinners are de rigeur in this<br />

sultry town. In the summer, you’ll find<br />

people sitting outside restaurants lingering<br />

over coffee until the early hours of the<br />

morning, it’s almost too hot to eat in the<br />

heat of the day!<br />

Locals Love: The shaded terrace<br />

restaurant of the Carré d’Art Museum<br />

which offers spectacular views over the city<br />

and a great, seasonal menu.<br />

Bake my Day: <strong>No</strong>ailles (6 Boulevard<br />

Alphonse Daudet; www.patisserie-noailles.<br />

com), next to the Maison Carrée, is the best<br />

patisserie in Nîmes. Try the oreillette a thin,<br />

crispy beignet with a delicate orange<br />

blossom filling.<br />

Ice Ice Baby: Rumour has it that the best<br />

ice creams in town are to be had at Maison<br />

Courtois 8 Place du Marché, “not cheap“<br />

says local Veronique “but truly delectable<br />

and made by a master, the chestnut and<br />

cognac ice cream is magnifique”.<br />

Aperitifs: Brasserie Le Napoleon, which is<br />

also great for dinner. Opened in 1813, this<br />

place is an institution in Nimes. It’s utterly<br />

gorgeous inside, filled with antiques, and is<br />

a listed building. The locals call it “Napo”.<br />

Have a picnic: the romantic Jardins des<br />

Fontaines are the ideal picnic spot and Les<br />

Halles, the vibrant covered market place of<br />

Nimes is perfect for picking up fresh<br />

produce (daily) from the 100 or so artisans<br />

and traders.<br />

Take Home a souvenir: Nimes loves its<br />

sweet croquants Villaré, an almond bisuit<br />

with a hint of lemon and orange blossom.<br />

Get them from Maison Villaret, founded in<br />

<strong>17</strong>75, a legend with the locals.

Take a selfie at: Ask anyone in Nimes and they’ll<br />

tell you – the Arena, preferably in front of the<br />

bullfighter statue, is THE place for a Nimes selfie.<br />

Around and about: The spectacular Pont du<br />

Gard (www.pontdugard.fr) is just 12 miles away<br />

and should not be missed. Ingenious Roman<br />

engineering brought water from the beautiful<br />

nearby town of Uzès across this aqueduct to the<br />

Castellum in Nîmes.<br />

Far left in Nimes centre;<br />

left: at Le Napoleon;<br />

above: the symbol of<br />

Nimes designed by<br />

Philippe Starck<br />

Get there: Nimes is served by TGV (fast trains)<br />

and from Paris Gare de Lyon takes less than 3<br />

hours. It’s just 30 minutes by train to Montpeller,<br />

55 minutes to Marseille and 1 hour 20 minutes to<br />

Lyon<br />

Nearest airport: Nîmes-Alès-Camargue-Cévenne,<br />

15 kms from the centre, there’s a shuttle service<br />

available.<br />

Stay at: Apartcity.com comfy, close and great<br />

value.<br />

Tourist office website for loads of useful<br />

information: OT-Nimes.fr

Nice Carnival<br />

for winter fun in the sun

If, like me, you’re used to grey skies, biting<br />

rain, sleet and snow in February – going to<br />

the Carnival at Nice is the nicest possible<br />

shock to your system. I arrived wearing a<br />

coat, gloves, scarf and hat. Within minutes<br />

they were off. It was a balmy, sunny day,<br />

the sky was blue and people were<br />

wandering about in what I class as summer<br />

clothes.<br />

It was my first time at the famous Nice<br />

Carnival and I arrived on a Sunday morning<br />

in good time for the afternoon parade.<br />

I met my friend Caterina who lives in Nice<br />

and we headed into the old town for lunch.<br />

There’s something wonderfully uplifting<br />

about sitting out in the sun sipping a<br />

chilled glass of rosé and scoffing a<br />

delicious plate of tasty grub in the middle<br />

of winter. By the time we finished, the<br />

streets were starting to fill up with people.<br />

The air of excitement was palpable and the<br />

air vibrated to the sound of music as we<br />

walked up to the famous chequered Place<br />

Massena.<br />

Nice carnival isn’t the sort of carnival that<br />

roams round the streets willy nilly. Its much<br />

more organised than that. You can buy<br />

tickets to sit in the stands at Place<br />

Massena and watch the whole thing unfold<br />

right in front of you.<br />

Street performers, dancers and the most<br />

incredible floats pass before the crowds to<br />

the sound of cheering, drums beating a<br />

hypnotic rhythm, hooting and whistling.<br />

Dance teams egg the crowd on, they rush<br />

up and down the stairs in their shiny<br />

costumes, grinning, clearly loving every<br />

minute – the upbeat music is so loud that<br />

you can feel the energy of it inside you.<br />

Confetti flies through the air, and not just a<br />

handful either – there are bucket loads of<br />

the tiny pieces of coloured paper. I was<br />

finding bits of confetti in my handbag<br />

weeks later when I was back in the cold<br />

and grey weather of home, and every time,<br />

in my head, I was back in sunny Nice.

Above: the house where<br />

Matisse once lived<br />

It’s impossible not to feel happy at the Nice<br />

Carnival, it’s a feel good, real good, joyful<br />

and crazy humdinger of an event. The<br />

carnival takes place over 15 days of<br />

mayhem, colour, flowers, floats, singing,<br />

dancing, entertainment and fun.<br />

In between carnival processions there’s<br />

loads to do. My top five not to be missed<br />

when you’re in Nice for the carnival:<br />

Markets – Cours Saleya is a large square,<br />

home to a daily market and lined with<br />

gorgeous mansion houses and cafés and<br />

restaurants galore. On Sunday there’s a<br />

flower market, Monday – antiques market,<br />

the rest of the week its food and fabulous.<br />

Musee Matisse – the artist Matisse lived<br />

and worked in Nice for many years. At one<br />

time he lived in a house on Cours Saleya,<br />

later he moved into a hotel.<br />

Eat! There are too many fantastic<br />

restaurants to mention here, but let’s just<br />

say, the Nicois love their food. (You can find<br />

some ideas for fab Nice restaurants here<br />

on The Good Life France website).<br />

Enjoy a cocktail at: the iconic seafront<br />

Negresco Hotel with its pink facade<br />

Wander: The old town is magnificent, a<br />

labyrinth of winding narrow streets, shops,<br />

restaurants, bars, galleries, museums and<br />

houses. Go in the summer and you can<br />

hardly move. Go in the winter and you’ll<br />

almost have it to yourself (in the sun).<br />

Nice Carnival 2018 is from <strong>17</strong><br />

February - 3 March<br />

Website for details and to book tickets:<br />

Nice Tourism; en.nicecarnaval.com<br />

Recommended hotel: The Grand Florence

Photo: Amelie Dupont, Paris TO<br />

Christmas in Paris<br />

The city of fairy lights

We asked our favourite<br />

Paris locals for their top<br />

tips on what to see and do<br />

in the city at Christmas.<br />

Thanks to Barbara<br />

Pasquet James, a US<br />

lifestyle editor who writes<br />

about food fashion and<br />

culture, from Paris and<br />

photo blogs at:<br />

FocusOnParis.com. And to<br />

Francois Dapremont at our<br />

favourite hotel in Paris, the<br />

lovely Hotel Balmoral close<br />

to the Arc de Triomphe,<br />

he's a mine of information<br />

on the best things do in<br />

the city. And to Daisy de<br />

Plume of ThatMuse who<br />

runs Treasure Hunts at<br />

Museums including the<br />

Louvre. They've come up<br />

with some brilliant<br />

recommendations to enjoy<br />

Christmas in Paris like a<br />

local...<br />

Barbara: Usually Paris is “easy” during the<br />

holidays as there is so much going on:<br />

Christmas markets, later-than-usual<br />

shopping, the ubiquitous after-dark light<br />

show on the Champs-Elysées.<br />

Many neighborhood streets (not just the<br />

Champs-Elysées) get decked out in holiday<br />

finery. However Christmas Day, which<br />

would seem like a slam-dunk, can be<br />

unexpectedly challenging because in<br />

France, both Christmas Eve and Christmas<br />

Day translate into Family with a capital F.<br />

This means that finding restaurants that<br />

are open are rare, and those that are, will be<br />

quite expensive, requiring bookings well in<br />

advance. To make matters worse, this year<br />

Christmas Day falls on a Monday when<br />

much is closed anyway. And those<br />

Christmas markets? By the 25th they’ve<br />

packed it in. But fret not there's loads to see<br />

and do...<br />

Daisy: With the rinks open, ice skating is<br />

always a fave with my family from the Hôtel<br />

de Ville to gliding about 57 meters up<br />

within the Tour Eiffel. We love stopping off<br />

at any one of the many wonderful manèges,<br />

or carrousels, scattered about the city for a<br />

whizz about (the oldest one being a doubledecker<br />

carrousel at the Hotel de Ville). Then<br />

we like to warm our tootsies on the<br />

Bateaux Parisiens, which have musical<br />

entertainment on the Seine in the<br />

afternoon. Before toddling on home, we<br />

stop for some quiet time at <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame,<br />

which brings the meaning of Christmas,<br />

and the history of Paris with those 12th<br />

century walls, home so very meaningfully.

Christmas in Paris<br />

Barbara: Create a local experience:<br />

Head to Montmartre, find a café on rue des<br />

Abbesses and order hot spiced wine (vin<br />

chaud) even if you don’t see it on the menu.<br />

Try a sharing planche of charcuteries and<br />

cheeses then, if you still have room, dinner<br />

of confit de canard or entrecôte frites. And<br />

wine.<br />

Or grab some oysters, cooked prawns,<br />

maybe foie gras and a bottle of bubbly at a<br />

morning market (it will be business as<br />

usual on Sunday the 24th). Buy a gorgeous<br />

scented candle, a bunch of flowers and<br />

throw open your hotel or rental window -<br />

and celebrate à la française.<br />

While you’re being authentic don’t forget a<br />

yule log cake - the traditional bûche de<br />

<strong>No</strong>ël - at any pastry shop. Angelina’s (226<br />

rue de Rivoli 75001) fabulous tea room,<br />

which also happens to be open on<br />

Christmas Day, will have gorgeous ones in<br />

different sizes. (Recipe page 108)<br />

Craving Christmas Pudding? Marks &<br />

Spencer Foods (7 rue Mabillon Paris<br />

75006) will be open the 24th from 08:30 -<br />

14.00.<br />

Francois: Take a wander down the<br />

Champs-Elysees, the wonderful lights will<br />

make you feel very festive!<br />

Shop at Le Marché Poncele, a very famous<br />

food market for Parisians. It will be full of<br />

luxury goods before Christmas (foie gras,<br />

snails, fish and high end quality meats….)<br />

Buy some delicious tea from the tea<br />

boutique Mariage Frères - it's very special<br />

and very Paris!

Photo: Victor Dapremont<br />

Christmas eve in Paris<br />

Barbara: Be honest: How many times will<br />

you find yourself in Paris on Christmas<br />

Day? Splurge for one of these elegant<br />

brunches (reservation is essential)<br />

HÔTEL RITZ PARIS Grand Brunch de <strong>No</strong>ël<br />

(In the summer salon) 15 Place Vendôme<br />

280 euros per person.<br />

www.ritzparis.com/en<br />

L’HOTEL MEURICE Brunch de <strong>No</strong>ël<br />

(In the restaurant Le Dalí) 228 rue de Rivoli<br />

150 euros per person. www.lemeurice.com<br />

Barbara and Francois: Late night<br />

Christmas Eve: Squeeze into Midnight<br />

Mass at <strong>No</strong>tre Dame Cathedral with its<br />

children’s choir.<br />

Francois: pop to La Maison du Chocolat,<br />

one of the best chocolate boutiques in<br />

Paris<br />

Christmas Day in Paris<br />

Barbara: Well there’s more than you think:<br />

1. The Pompidou Centre for an infusion of<br />

modern art<br />

2. The Eiffel Tower!<br />

3. The old Marais Jewish District around rue<br />

des Rosiers is just so pretty…<br />

4. Most shops / showrooms on the<br />

Champs-Elysées are open through they<br />

close earlier than usual.<br />

5. Brash brasseries on the boulevards do a<br />

brisk business, try the iconic names such<br />

as La Coupole, Les Deux Magots, Le Café<br />

de Flore - sure to be filled with other holiday<br />

homeless.<br />

6. Angelina's Tea Room – which will be<br />

open during the day (226 Rue de Rivoli).

Photo: Linda Grams<br />

Photo: Vincent Leroux, Ritz Hotel<br />

7. If a nice hot Chinese soup for lunch is<br />

your idea of Christmas coziness, try a<br />

Chinatown: there’s one in Belleville and<br />

another south of Place d’Italie in the 13th<br />

around rue Tolbiac…<br />

8. The Grande Roue de Paris, the giant<br />

Ferris wheel on the Rivoli side of the<br />

Tuileries Gardens, will take your breath<br />

away - and it’s just a hop to Angelinas for<br />

hot choclate afterwards! (above)<br />

9. The Seine might be your scene: some<br />

boat companies will be operating. Les<br />

Vedettes de Paris whose boats dock at the<br />

foot of the Eiffel Tower will operate<br />

throughout the Christmas holidays<br />

10. There's ice-skating (patinoire) at l’Hôtel<br />

de Ville on the edge of the Marais district<br />

and close to <strong>No</strong>tre Dame Cathedral<br />

11. Palace hotels - Plaza Athénée, Bristol,<br />

Saint James, Mandarin Oriental, Meurice<br />

and Lancaster all have stunning bars (and<br />

stunning drinks) come evening, sometimes<br />

live music. Call first to make sure.<br />

12. For many Parisiens taking in a movie is<br />

a holiday ritual. There are multi-salles<br />

galore on the Champs-Elysees; also in<br />

Saint-Germain and the Latin Quarter. Pick<br />

up a copy of Pariscope at any kiosk and<br />

head for films in “V.O.” - version originale<br />

with French subtitles.<br />

TGLF: And for more ideas:<br />

13. Head to the Bar Hemingway (above) at<br />

the Ritz - it's open Christmas Day without<br />

reservation.<br />

14. Celebrate with a star at Musee Grevin -<br />

the famous waxworks museum 10<br />

boulevard Montmartre<br />

15. Wander the streets of Paris simply<br />

enjoying the day. From the cobbles of<br />

Montmartre to the wide avenues of Saint<br />

Germain and the famous gardens - the<br />

choice is yours.

Laval, Mayenne<br />

Pays de la Loire<br />

Janine Marsh takes the train to Laval in the<br />

Mayenne department and discovers it’s a beautiful,<br />

historic city with a fabulous market, museums and<br />

hidden treasures galore…

Les slowly days Mayenne<br />

The tourist office of Mayenne takes as its<br />

theme "les slowly days" - and there's a<br />

reason for that,. This is a place where you<br />

can relax and chill out, eat the most<br />

fabulous food, meander at markets, visit<br />

chateaux and incredible art museums and<br />

more. And, the best way to do it is - slowly.<br />

<strong>No</strong> rushing, no stressing, just take it easy<br />

and have a fabulous time.<br />

Laval city of Art and<br />

History<br />

Laval is in the centre of Mayenne and it<br />

only takes an hour and forty minutes to<br />

get there from Paris by train (with just 2<br />

stops). It’s the sort of small city where you<br />

can walk everywhere quite easily. It’s a<br />

designated “town of art and history” and<br />

very pretty.<br />

The fabulous Laval Market<br />

Food is important to the people of<br />

Mayenne, they are passionate about<br />

seasonal and local produce - just nip to<br />

the Saturday morning market to see what<br />

I mean.<br />

Mayenne a pinch of this & that<br />

Mayenne is in the Pays de la Loire. It takes a<br />

pinch of influence from its neighbours the<br />

Loire Valley, <strong>No</strong>rmandy and Brittany and<br />

then it adds a little je ne sais quoi of its own.<br />

For instance, it has its own microclimate<br />

which means its warmer than <strong>No</strong>rmandy.<br />

And there's the lovely city of Laval through<br />

which the river Mayenne sways, and where<br />

the chateau of the lords of Laval set the tone<br />

for mellow ancient buildings with black slate<br />

roofs. And a whole lot more...<br />

On market day, the queue for fresh<br />

cooked bread at La Maison Du Pain in<br />

Place de la Trémoille where the market is<br />

based, just keeps growing. The locals<br />

know that it's worth the wait.<br />

Great steaming vats of paella, roasted<br />

chickens and huge bowls of buttery new<br />

potatoes stop you in your tracks. Jet black<br />

shiny mussels are bagged up by vendors<br />

at a rate of knots, shaded from the sun<br />

under blue and white striped awning, the<br />

salty scent of the sea fills the air. Plump<br />

Oysters from Cancale are fast emptied<br />

from baskets on stalls as savvy locals buy<br />

weekend delicacies fresh from the sea.

Anyone will tell you, go to L'Escargotiere<br />

for all things snail. Don't miss the cider stall<br />

for artisan made cider and the most<br />

delicious beer jam to drizzle over a slither<br />

of Camembert on a thin slice of baguette -<br />

it makes for a mouth-watering starter or<br />

canapé.<br />

At the bread stall which is vibrant with<br />

bowls and jugs of flowers the baker told<br />

me that flowers are a tradition here. The<br />

stall holders are all artisans and very proud<br />

of their produce and the flowers reflect<br />

their joy and pride in what they do.<br />

At one end of Place de la Trémoille a<br />

church looms, tolling its bells on the hour,<br />

its mellow stone walls a brilliant backdrop<br />

for the market. At the other end is the<br />

chateau of the lords of Laval, its bright<br />

white exterior glistens in the sunshine. In<br />

the side streets are cobbled wiggly roads<br />

and half-timbered houses, quirky shops<br />

and cosy cafés and bistros.<br />

It’s a memorable market and I think to<br />

myself that I'd go back to Laval for that<br />

alone... but there's much more to love here.<br />

Where to eat out in Laval<br />

Locals Love: Les Trois Petits Cochons (11<br />

Rue Échelle Marteau) not expensive, good<br />

menu, great atmosphere and it gets extra<br />

points for the piano which anyone can play.<br />

Wine and dine: l’Esprit Cuisine (8 rue<br />

Mazagran: lespritcuisine.fr). Refined but not<br />

formal with great French cooking which has<br />

an international twist.<br />

Chill out: Le Vin’yle (which means vinyl as<br />

in record disc) a small bar with a lovely<br />

vintage decor with a good selection of local<br />

beers and wines (5 Rue Solférino).

Left: in the old town of<br />

Laval, cobbled streets<br />

and ancient buildings;<br />

above: copy of Henri<br />

Rousseau's The Dream,<br />

the original is in the<br />

MoMA, New York; right:<br />

on the River Mayenne<br />

What to see and do in Laval<br />

Museum of Naïve Art and Singular Arts<br />

The naïve painter Henri Rousseau was<br />

born in Laval and you can see some of his<br />

works in the Chateau de Laval alongside<br />

many of the world’s leading artists in this<br />

field. Naive art may not be to everybody's<br />

taste, but I love it. It makes you smile,<br />

think, discuss with whoever you're with -<br />

just what were these artists thinking? This<br />

is one of the largest collections in France<br />

and absolutely fabulous. LavalTourism<br />

Boat ride: Take a cruise on the River<br />

Mayenne and enjoy the scenery from a<br />

pedalo, electric boat or motor boat. If you<br />

want to go on a longer journey and spend<br />

several days on the water, visiting the<br />

many beautiful riverside towns, you can<br />

hire boats from Anjou Navigation.<br />

Bike Ride: Follow the Velo Francette cycle<br />

trail through spectacular countryside on a<br />

designated cycle route. Of course you can<br />

go much further, it runs for 630km in total.<br />

It stretches from Ouistreham in Brittany to<br />

La Rochelle, taking in iconic landmarks<br />

from the D-day landing beaches, through<br />

the Loire Valley, through vineyards and<br />

along the most beautiful country lanes.<br />

www.lavelofrancette.com<br />

Jardin de la Perine on top of the hill of<br />

Laval gives a fantastic view over the city<br />

and castle, a great place for a selfie says<br />

local Michel Talvard. Alain Gerbauot, the<br />

first man to cross the Atlantic alone was<br />

born in a house on the edge of this park<br />

and there's a small museum in his honour.<br />

French parterre style rose gardens soothe<br />

the soul and the English garden style<br />

woods offer a pretty place to rest.

Robert Tatin museum – weird<br />

whacky & wonderful<br />

<strong>No</strong>, Robert Tatin is not related to the Tatin<br />

sisters of the famous apple tart fame. He<br />

was an extraordinary artist whose home<br />

became a museum. You may never have<br />

heard of him but once you see his house<br />

and art you're unlikely to forget it.<br />

You can take a bus from Laval centre for<br />

the short journey to the museum. If you<br />

fancy a gentle cycle ride, rent a bike in<br />

Laval and take the route along an<br />

abandoned railway track from the town<br />

right to the entrance.<br />

From the road, nothing looks unusual<br />

about this place but after entering via the<br />

ticket office you’ll emerge onto a walk way<br />

of giants. Enormous stone statues<br />

representing artists, historic figures and<br />

allegories are astonishing for their size and<br />

their looks. At the end of the walkway is<br />

Tatin’s house, now a museum and it is<br />

extraordinary, unique, quirky and<br />

fascinating. The first sight of it made me<br />

think of a Mayan temple - in Mayenne! It is<br />

in total contrast to the lush green bucolic<br />

countryside - weird, whacky and wonderful.<br />

Robert Tatin, born 1902 in Laval, was a<br />

construction worker for most of his working<br />

life but in his spare time he studied art. He<br />

lived for a while in Brazil and travelled<br />

around South America. At the age of 43 he<br />

decided to follow his dream and moved to<br />

Paris to open an artists workshop. By now<br />

he had gained international recognition. He<br />

returned at the age of 60 to Mayenne and<br />

bought an old, small house on the outskirts<br />

of Laval, here his artistic passions were<br />

fully unleashed.

Top left: view of Tatin's extraordinary<br />

house; bottom left: the alley of the giants;<br />

mid left: the original entrance to the<br />

house; above: the inner courtyard; mid<br />

left: one of Tatin's paintings; left: the<br />

artist's studio left as it was when he died.<br />

Tatin decided the house needed a wood<br />

store and it was this that launched him on<br />

an astonishing creative journey. He built a<br />

shed next to the house and let his<br />

imagination run wild, influenced by his<br />

time in South America. When the building<br />

was finished he thought it was too<br />

beautiful just to store wood, so he built<br />

another shed for storage. Once again, he<br />

let his creative spirit take over and once<br />

again, he felt the shed was too special just<br />

to hold wood. He built another, and another<br />

until eventually he ran out of space.<br />

By now his artistic juices were well and<br />

truly flowing and Tatin wanted to build<br />

bigger and bolder and more imaginative<br />

rooms. He was told that if he declared his<br />

home and creations as a museum he<br />

would have more privileges. He applied for<br />

museum status and seven years later the<br />

house and buildings were approved and<br />

Tatin used the additional rooms he built to<br />

exhibit his paintings and sculptures. He<br />

carried on building until he died in 1983.<br />

His legacy is a truly extraordinary and<br />

eccentric building in the middle of beautiful<br />

countryside. The rooms are filled with his<br />

minutely detailed, symbolic artworks.<br />

Discover wild, dramatic and magnificent<br />

paintings that are complex and fanciful.<br />

Incredible sculptures, larger than life and<br />

brilliantly bizarre designs make you smile.<br />

Tatin is buried in the front garden of his<br />

beloved home. His house is exactly as it<br />

was when he died, even down to<br />

toothbrush and toothpaste, and slithers of<br />

soap in the bathroom. Every room bears the<br />

mark of his artistic genius - and it makes<br />

for a fabulous visit.<br />

Website www.musee-robert-tatin.fr

Lactopole the world’s<br />

biggest dairy museum<br />

Yes, it may sound a tad odd, and perhaps it<br />

is just a little. But, Mayenne with its<br />

glorious countryside is a leading dairy<br />

production area and, if you drink milk,<br />

butter and cheese you may find Laval's<br />

Lactopole Dairy museum a fascinating<br />

visit.<br />

Did you know an average cow produces<br />

around 9000 litres of milk a year? Or that<br />

the rind of Camembert is good for<br />

digestion? Or that yoghurt as we know it<br />

was introduced by Russian immigrants in<br />

the early 20th century when you had to buy<br />

it at a pharmacy because it was considered<br />

medicinal? This is a big museum with<br />

around 4000 artefacts - from milk churns<br />

to cheese lids. Collecting cheese lids in<br />

France is a thing, like some people collect<br />

thimbles. Cheese lid collectors are called<br />

tyrosémiophiles.<br />

There are displays of milk bottles and<br />

butter pats, and explanations galore about<br />

French cheeses and their origins – there’s<br />

even a bibliotheque de fromage (cheese<br />

library). The displays are in French, but you<br />

can book a tour with an English guide or<br />

ask for an English language booklet.<br />

Website: The Cité du Lait, Lactopole<br />

More to see & do near Laval<br />

Sainte-Suzanne<br />

From Laval, it’s just over an hour by bus<br />

(about 30 minutes by car) to one of the<br />

officially most beautiful villages in France,<br />

the steep hill top town of Sainte-Suzanne.<br />

A fortress has stood here since the 11th<br />

century and the town has the honour to<br />

claim it is the only place that William the<br />

Conqueror laid siege to and didn't succeed.<br />

He did try, and he tried hard. For three long<br />

years William tried to starve the residents<br />

out. He gave up, defeated by its height, and<br />

negotiated with Hubert de Beaumont who<br />

lived there and then left.

Climb the ramparts and the ruins of the<br />

ancient keep to admire the most stunning<br />

views over the surrounding countryside.<br />

The town is very pretty with floral displays<br />

and gorgeous houses. Stop for a local beer,<br />

or cider or glass of wine in one of the<br />

friendly bars, and if you're there at the end<br />

of the day you're in for a free show as<br />

Mayenne is famous for its spectacular<br />

sunsets. From this hilly position - they’re<br />

outstanding. Even in the summer months<br />

this plus beaux village, never gets so busy<br />

that you can't feel relaxed and enjoy its<br />

sights.<br />

Cuisinez vous Français<br />

30 mins by car from Laval is the gorgeous<br />

19th century Chateau de la Mazure which<br />

offers immersion into the language, culture<br />

and cooking of France. Their “Langue et<br />

Nature” courses are designed to give you<br />

insight into the French way of life. They're<br />

very good at helping you learn the<br />

language.<br />

Website: www.chateaulamazure.com<br />

Left: milk bottle collection at<br />

Lactopole musuem; middle: view<br />

over Sainte-Suzanne; above: in the<br />

dining room of Chateau de la Mazure<br />

Prehistoric Caves<br />

30 minutes by car from Laval are the<br />

famous Grottes de Saulges a complex of 22<br />

caves. Only two are open to the public, and<br />

the guided tours make for an intriguing<br />

visit. There is evidence of human life going<br />

back as far as 70,000 years here and<br />

archaeologists have long been exploring<br />

the inky black depths. They've made some<br />

amazing discoveries, prehistoric paintings,<br />

etchings left behind by ancient man, bones<br />

of woolly mammoth, bears and other<br />

prehistoric animals. There are also<br />

reminders of more recent times from<br />

Roman occupation to the 20th century<br />

when German and later, American soldiers<br />

lived in the caves during World War II and<br />

left graffiti behind.<br />


Photo: Eric Litton, Wikipedia.fr

An Encounter<br />

with the<br />

Green<br />

Michael Cranmer has sampled many drinks<br />

in many countries - sometimes too many.<br />

But he had never encountered the Green<br />

Fairy – the mythical Fée Verte. Muse to<br />

poets, painters, and writers in la Belle-<br />

Époque, it was banned for 80 years after<br />

being falsely credited with causing madness<br />

and epilepsy. But Absinthe is back and legal.<br />

He journeyed across France to uncover the<br />

fascinating tale.<br />

My insomnia sparked the whole thing off. I<br />

listened to a radio programme in the wee<br />

small hours entitled ‘Absinthe Makes the<br />

Art Grow Fonder’. It told of madness,<br />

creative genius, smuggling, fairies, suicide<br />

and debauchery in le demi-monde of<br />

Montmartre in la Belle-Époque. Captivated,<br />

I set out to discover more.<br />

Until that point my conception of absinthe<br />

was scant: a perilously potent drink<br />

containing wormwood, banned for its<br />

reputation for causing madness - Vincent<br />

Van Gogh’s insanity was a result of<br />

drinking it to excess. I had naively always<br />

visualised an actual worm in the drink,<br />

squirming in the wooden barrels in which it<br />

was stored, so I had never tried it, now<br />

though, my appetite was well-and-truly<br />

whetted.<br />

But what exactly was it, and where did it<br />

come from?<br />

A certain Dr. Ordinaire (you couldn’t make<br />

that up) fleeing the guillotines of the French<br />

Revolution, settled across the border in<br />

Couvet, Switzerland. He adapted a local<br />

herbal folk remedy to cure patients, and, on<br />

his death-bed, passed on the secret recipe.<br />

Fast forward five years and we find Henri-<br />

Louis Pernod, father of the brand still in<br />

existence today, opening a distillery in<br />

Couvet, then, in 1805, to dodge the excisemen,<br />

a bigger one over the border in<br />

Pontarlier, France. The Doc’s wormwood<br />

potion, now called Absinthe, was proving<br />

very successful and soon Pernod was<br />

churning out 25,000 litres a year. Before<br />

long there were 22 distilleries utilising the<br />

locally-harvested plant - Artemisia<br />

absinthium - which, with the addition of<br />

imported Spanish aniseed, gave the drink<br />

its emerald-green hue.

French soldiers fighting in Algeria had been<br />

given the medicine as an anti-malarial<br />

treatment and brought a taste for the 73°<br />

alcohol back home. Mass-production cut<br />

prices, and a disastrous wine harvest<br />

propelled absinthe to the top of the French<br />

drinks charts.<br />

Enter la Fée Verte…the Green Fairy. Named<br />

for the swirling emerald opalescence<br />

triggered by the addition of iced water to the<br />

neat liquid, both the working class and<br />

wealthy bourgeoisie consumed 36 million<br />

litres a year.<br />

A stroll through Montmartre at 5.00pm in<br />

the 1860s would have revealed tables with<br />

men and women, often alone, contemplating<br />

their glasses of the spirit. This was the<br />

l’Heure Verte – the Green Hour, origin of our<br />

‘Happy Hour’. A single absinthe was<br />

tolerated by the waiters. Drinkers solved that<br />

problem by moving to another, and another<br />

and another…<br />

A closer look, perhaps, at the café tables, and<br />

we spot the poet Rimbaud and his lover,<br />

fellow poet Verlaine, both devotees of<br />

absinthe. His artistic life ended as abruptly<br />

as his relationship with Verlaine, who in a fit<br />

of drunken madness, shot the young<br />

Rimbaud.<br />

Here we might encounter Guy de<br />

Maupassant, writer of ‘A Queer Night in<br />

Paris’ which tells of a provincial at an artist’s<br />

party who drinks so much absinthe that he<br />

tries to waltz with a chair, falls to the ground<br />

in a stupor, and wakes up naked in a strange<br />

bed.<br />

Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wilde,<br />

Hemingway, Degas, Gauguin…none were<br />

strangers to la Fée Verte and her tempting<br />

powers. Symbolist Alfred Jarry rode his<br />

bicycle with his face painted green in<br />

celebration of the joys of absinthe.

But, the Green Fairy’s effects were being felt in<br />

society, much as cannabis is today. High in<br />

alcohol, cheap, seductive, reputedly<br />

hallucinogenic, it was blamed for epilepsy,<br />

tuberculosis, crime and madness. Public morality<br />

was outraged, bans followed: Belgium, Brazil, the<br />

Netherlands, and Switzerland in the early 1900s,<br />

the U.S. in 1912, and France, unequivocal<br />

epicentre of absinthe culture, in 1915.<br />

Two World Wars followed, the Green Fairy was<br />

dead and forgotten. Or was she?<br />

Please welcome a Brit. Yes! A British entrepreneur<br />

by the name of George Rowley who, from<br />

his base in Prague, became interested in the<br />

legal validity of the ban. He teamed up with<br />

cellular biologist Marie-Claude Delahaye, herself<br />

fascinated by the legend after buying an absinthe<br />

spoon in a flea-market in 1981. Together they<br />

challenged the 80 year-old ban through the<br />

European court, won, and, in 2000, launched the<br />

first traditionally distilled absinthe commercially<br />

produced in France since 1915 called La Fée<br />

Parisienne.<br />

Time for a taste. Where better than Pontarlier’s<br />

annual Festival of Absinthe. As I boarded the<br />

Eurostar from St Pancras I reflected how Oscar<br />

Wilde had fled to Paris after his trial, taking<br />

refuge in absinthe. He took the boat train, I the<br />

tunnel. My journey and my ruminations<br />

continued. Reading more about the social history<br />

I began to recognise similarities with the banning<br />

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

century due to widespread drunkenness and the<br />

consequent moral outrage.<br />

Pontarlier sits in the foothills of the Jura, with its<br />

absinthe twin-town Couvet, just across the<br />

border up the Val de Travers, an ancient, and, I<br />

was soon to discover, very active smuggling<br />

route. More of this later.<br />

The Festival comprises film-shows, museum<br />

exhibitions, discussions, a collector’s market, but<br />

most importantly, tastings. All my research had<br />

made me both eager and slightly wary of what it<br />

might do to me.

This is a critical moment in the ritual. The<br />

water trickles through the cube and into the<br />

liquid, creating the la louche, the opalescent<br />

conjunction of water, distillate and herbs,<br />

from which initiates conjure the Green Fairy.<br />

The bouquet drifts up and time seems to<br />

stand still.<br />

It was necessary out of politeness to<br />

sample two of the Guy family’s products<br />

before moving on to other parts of the<br />

Festival which I did with some difficulty.<br />

The Distillerie Pierre Guy sits down a<br />

residential street nestled incongruously<br />

between suburban villas. <strong>No</strong> Health and<br />

Safety issues here, with thousands of litres<br />

of explosive alcohol bubbling away! I was<br />

welcomed by father and son François and<br />

Pierre Guy who proudly showed me their<br />

copper stills, shop and museum. Then, at<br />

9.30 in the morning, they initiated me into<br />

the ritual of la Fée Verte. Much of the allure<br />

is in the preparation, the slowing down of<br />

time, the anticipation, the various<br />

accoutrements. The comparison with opium<br />

smoking cannot be discounted.<br />

The emerald liquid is poured into a<br />

Pontarlier glass, with its bubble reserve at<br />

the base indicating an exact measure. The<br />

intense aroma should be sampled. Next an<br />

absinthe spoon, flat with decorative<br />

perforations, is placed across the top of the<br />

glass. A sugar cube is rested on the spoon<br />

upon which a delicate drip-drip of iced<br />

water is directed from an absinthe fountain<br />

(a tall glass bowl with small taps, often<br />

styled in correct period fashion).<br />

Absintheurs are, in the main, a jolly lot,<br />

ready to chat and share. Serious<br />

collectionneurs bought and sold glasses,<br />

labels, spoons, and other ephemera. Then,<br />

behind a table full of books on absinthe, I<br />

spotted a diminutive auburn-haired lady<br />

who turned out to be Marie-Claude<br />

Delahaye, founder and director of le Musée<br />

de l'Absinthe, probably the world authority<br />

on the Green Fairy! We chatted and she<br />

invited me to the museum in Auvers-sur-<br />

Oise, Picardy. I arranged to meet her there in<br />

two days.<br />

Round the corner from the main hall was a<br />

tiny shop, housing a small copper still<br />

tended by Patrick Grand, producer of<br />

Absinthe Grand. He’s a bit rock n’roll and, in<br />

the true spirit of le demi-monde, makes a<br />

cannabis-infused absinthe. “I have another<br />

distillery over the Swiss border. It helps to<br />

have a ‘fluid’ arrangement with border<br />

patrols, if you understand me” he said with a<br />

wink. “You can do anything in Switzerland if<br />

you pay the right people”.<br />

During the illegal years moonshiners<br />

proliferated but stills were hard to procure.<br />

Legendary coppersmith Georges-Edouard<br />

Matthey-Claudet was the go-to man for a<br />

still, which he duly invoiced as ‘a new<br />

coffee-maker’.<br />

Green dreams filled my sleep all the way to<br />


I stayed in Hotel Basss (yes, three ‘esses’) a<br />

hip hotel halfway up the heights of<br />

Montmartre, the very streets where la Fée<br />

Verte wove her enchantment, now peopled<br />

by tourists, chancers, beggars, and rich<br />

dwellers from the very ateliers where<br />

Degas and the like had eked out a living.<br />

But no absinthe. I had go halfway across<br />

the city to the Bastille to find some in a bar<br />

called…guess what? La Fée Verte.<br />

Martin, the young barman, helped me<br />

select La Coquette (70%) from a long list.<br />

He told me “I only drink shots sometimes,<br />

just to get drunk. There’s not much<br />

demand. Although a Brazilian guy once<br />

drank 18. I had to put him in a cab”. I<br />

managed 3 and navigated the Metro back<br />

somewhat hazily.<br />

It seems entirely right and proper that<br />

Marie-Claude’s museum is in the charming<br />

town of Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh<br />

spent his last tormented years and is<br />

buried next to his brother Theo. It’s packed<br />

with rooms of memorabilia documenting<br />

the history, production, consequences, the<br />

creative flowering, the ban, and final<br />

legality. She has spent years combing<br />

antiques fairs, shops and markets for<br />

absinthe material. She grows all the<br />

constituent plants in the sunny walled<br />

garden.<br />

Naturally, there was one last thing to do.<br />

Marie-Claude assembled all the<br />

accoutrements for a ritual tasting of La Fée<br />

Parissienne, the drink George and she<br />

brought back to life, and legality.<br />

Michael Cranmer travelled courtesy of<br />

SNCF: uk.voyages-sncf.com<br />

Pontarlier Tourist Office: www.pontarlier.org<br />

Hotel Basss, Paris: en.hotel-basss.com<br />

Musée de l'Absinthe: www.museeabsinthe.com

Alpes d'Huez<br />

The island of the Sun<br />

The French Alps are breathtaking no matter what season you choose to pay a<br />

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

mountains, which boast some of the highest and most spectacular peaks in<br />

Europe, will float your adrenaline-seeking boat during the winter months. Justine<br />

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

While there’s a host of great ski resorts to<br />

choose from, if you’re travelling as a family<br />

the Family Plus resort of Alpe d’Huez is a<br />

perfect location - and even manages to tick<br />

the sunshine box too.<br />

Poised on a mountain plateau that faces<br />

directly south, and enjoying an average of<br />

300 days of sunshine, Alpe d’Huez has<br />

earned the apt nickname of “L’ile au Soleil”,<br />

or the island of the sun. Yet despite<br />

enjoying such prolonged warm weather, its<br />

ski area is open for an impressive four<br />

months, from mid-late December to midlate<br />

April, as natural snow fall is propped up<br />

by 1,033 snow cannons to deliver maximum<br />

snow coverage over its 840 ski-able<br />

hectares.<br />

High above the Oisans Valley, the ski area<br />

at your disposal in Alpe d’Huez is vast,<br />

stretching from 1,860 metres at village level<br />

to 3,330 metres at the summit of the<br />

magnificent Pic Blanc, where on a clear day<br />

you can look out over a fifth of France.

Just one of the breathtaking mountains<br />

that you can view from this spot include<br />

the Alps’ highest mountain Mont Blanc, or<br />

the white mountain.<br />

While it’s stunning, picture postcard views,<br />

sunshine and long ski season are enough<br />

to entice you to take a ski holiday here, the<br />

resort of Alpe d’Huez, in the Massif Des<br />

Grandes Rousses, also has some<br />

interesting claims to fame which might tick<br />

a few more boxes for you. It’s the most<br />

iconic Alpine ascent of the Tour de France<br />

- while the tour route varies year to year,<br />

Alpe d’Huez was first included in the race<br />

in 1952 and has been a stage finish<br />

regularly since 1976, and it hosted the<br />

bobsled event as part of the Winter<br />

Olympics in 1968.<br />

If you’re more of a daring skier then Alpe<br />

d’Huez is also home to what’s affectionately<br />

known as the “Mother of all black<br />

runs”, the Sarenne piste. At 16km it's the<br />

longest black run in Europe stretching from<br />

Pic Blanc (3300m) to Alpe d’Huez (1860m).<br />

This resort is great for all levels of skier as<br />

it boasts a varied mix of pistes mostly<br />

above the tree line. They range from<br />

beautiful wide blues just above the village,<br />

to more challenging reds higher up and at<br />

the top daring and steep bumpy blacks - as<br />

well as Sarenne, Le Tunnel is also another<br />

scary one if you’ve got the head and<br />

stomach for it!<br />

There are 43 green, 38 blue, 40 red and <strong>17</strong><br />

black runs, two snow parks, recreational ski<br />

area, over 2120m of vertical drop with more<br />

than 250km of pistes, and the chance to<br />

enjoy night ski-ing and sledding.

Left: Justine and family enjoy the<br />

ski slopes; above: at the<br />

fantastical Grotte de Glace; right:<br />

above the alps<br />

When it comes to beginners the resort also<br />

has two dedicated areas exclusively for<br />

visitors to learn the art of ski-ing or<br />

snowboarding away from the main pistes,<br />

as well as a kids’ area with a covered magic<br />

carpet surface lift. A quirky fact that<br />

appeals to little ones is that a couple of the<br />

resort’s runs, as well as an avenue in the<br />

resort and children’s play park, are named<br />

after marmottes, or marmot, which are<br />

large squirrel-like creatures that make their<br />

home in this area. And, if you visit at the<br />

end of the season, you’ll probably be lucky<br />

enough to see them popping up to greet<br />

the world above as the snow starts to melt<br />

as we did.<br />

If your children’s legs are weary after a<br />

morning skiing, and they don’t fancy<br />

getting back on the pistes after lunch, a<br />

nice activity is to switch into your snow<br />

boots and take them on the DMC Gondola<br />

to the Grotte de Glace, up 2700 metres.<br />

Here you’ll discover fabulous sculptures<br />

carved into the walls of an ice cave<br />

spanning a 120 metre long gallery.<br />

Or, if your children can ski red runs, and<br />

they’ve still got energy to burn off, you can<br />

also ski to and from this cave, instead of<br />

going via the gondola.<br />

Once seen as a competitor to the premier<br />

ski resort of Courchevel, Alpe d’Huez,<br />

which encompasses the slopes of the<br />

outlying villages of Auris, Villard Reculas,<br />

Oz en Oisans and Vaujany, is one of<br />

Europe’s premier skiing venues and the<br />

fifth largest in France. And by 2021 there<br />

will also be the opportunity to ski over an<br />

even bigger area as a €350million gondola<br />

link is being created to link Alpe d’Huez to<br />

the neighbouring, and equally popular<br />

resort of Les Deux Alpes.

Information<br />

As with all ski resorts there’s a plethora of<br />

accommodation available to suit all<br />

budgets. But my family and I stayed at the<br />

Residence Pierre et Vacances’ Les Bergers<br />

in the Bergers’ quarter, which is one of<br />

eight quarters within the resort - there’s<br />

also Cognet, Jeux, Eclose, Vieil Aple, Huez<br />

Village, Passeaux and Qutaris. Our four<br />

star accommodation, made up of various<br />

sized apartments, boasted a heated,<br />

outdoor swimming pool and sauna, and a<br />

lounge with a bar, fireplace and pool table.<br />

For more information visit www.<br />

pierreetvacances.com<br />

For more information on Alpe d’Huez in<br />

general visit www.alpedhuez.com

“Fashions fade - Style<br />

is elegant”<br />

Yves Saint Laurent...<br />

Barb Harmon visits the recently opened Musée Yves Saint Laurent in the 19thcentury<br />

mansion house in Paris which was once home to the famous designer<br />

Haute Couture house…<br />

Yves Saint Laurent was a genius - a<br />

visionary who became a legend at an early<br />

age. Today his name graces a variety of<br />

products from luxurious cosmetics to highend<br />

handbags. Knowing a bit about his<br />

background will enhance your visit to this<br />

excellent new museum.<br />

An impressive background<br />

Saint Laurent's career began with The<br />

House of Dior at the age of 19. When the<br />

legendary Christian Dior died in 1957 he<br />

named the 21-year-old Saint Laurent as his<br />

successor, the youngest couturier in the<br />

world. He had six months to put together a<br />

collection for the January 1958 show. The<br />

show was well received, putting his name<br />

on the map and ensuring a bright future.<br />

In 1961, Saint Laurent along with his partner<br />

Pierre Bergé, established the legendary<br />

fashion house YSL at 30 bis Rue Spontini.<br />

Bergé raised capital while Saint Laurent<br />

created garments that we consider<br />

essential today. His debut collection in<br />

1962, featured the first pea coat and trench<br />

coat. I can't imagine life without a trench<br />

coat. He revolutionized women's clothing<br />

and changed how we dress.<br />

The first tuxedo known as Le Smoking was<br />

introduced in 1966. Borrowed from the boys<br />

but feminized by the designer, this black-tie<br />

suit is still à la mode half a century later.

Left: Musee Yves Saint Laurent collection photo<br />

Luc Castel; middle: Saint Laurent's "Le Smoking"<br />

Musee Yves Saint Laurent; above: the great<br />

designer at work<br />

Saint Laurent introduced the first pantsuit<br />

in 1967 and in 1968 brought out the first<br />

safari jacket and jumpsuit. Still classics to<br />

this day.<br />

I've barely scratched the surface of his<br />

'firsts', it's easy to see why the museum's<br />

opening was so highly anticipated. It's the<br />

history of modern fashion.<br />

Saving for the future<br />

In 1964, Saint Laurent began to set aside<br />

pieces from each collection along with the<br />

corresponding sketches, fabric swatches,<br />

and accessories. This amounted to<br />

thousands of designs. Even though it was<br />

early in his career, he could visualize a YSL<br />

museum decades later. He continued to<br />

create on many levels and in 1974 the<br />

fashion house moved to the opulent Hôtel<br />

Particulier on 5 avenue Marceau. From<br />

there the designs continued to flourish.<br />

In January 2002, Saint Laurent formally<br />

announced the end of his design career<br />

and the haute couture house. Retirement<br />

was not on his mind however.<br />

In 2004, Bergé and Saint Laurent opened<br />

The Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint<br />

Laurent. Its purpose was to promote art,<br />

fashion (Saint Laurent and other designers)<br />

and photography exhibitions. A staff<br />

member stated "The exhibitions were<br />

always popular but the most popular were<br />

those devoted exclusively to Yves Saint<br />

Laurent." I could see why.<br />

Yves Saint Laurent passed away in 2008.<br />

The Fondation continued until 2016 when<br />

Bergé decided the mansion should undergo<br />

refurbishment and reopen as a fullyfledged<br />

museum devoted to all things Yves<br />

Saint Laurent.

Soir Long collection board Spring-Summer 1988 haute couture<br />

collection © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

Left: Musee Yves Saint Laurent © Luc<br />

Castel; middle: the designer's former<br />

home turned museum © Sacha; above:<br />

Musee Yves Saint Laurent © Luc Castel<br />

In a large elegant room with gilded mirrors,<br />

golden statues and magnificent<br />

chandeliers, a YSL fashion show is<br />

screened. Sitting on a golden chair<br />

watching the movie, it’s as if you’re<br />

transported back in time.<br />

The museum is laid out beautifully.<br />

Mannequins on podiums make it easy to<br />

view the details of the iconic garments. The<br />

gallery titled The History of a Collection<br />

depicts what goes into the making of an<br />

outfit as well as how a collection is put<br />

together. The sketches with fabric<br />

swatches attached, covered with notes.<br />

There is so much detail on every sheet.<br />

There is a darkened room/theater on the<br />

mezzanine. A short film titled 'An Eagle<br />

With Two Heads' is about Saint Laurent<br />

and Pierre Bergé his longtime partner in life<br />

and business. In French with English<br />

subtitles, it's like watching a home movie.<br />

A wall devoted to Saint Laurent's brilliant<br />

drawings is opposite the Cabinet of<br />

Curiosities which contains jewelry. Some<br />

pieces are simple but many are over the<br />

top, all are superb.<br />

The highlight is the studio. Large windows<br />

provide light and the mirrored wall makes<br />

the room appear larger. Saint Laurent used<br />

the mirror to view a model's reflection while<br />

working on a creation. The room looks as if<br />

he just stepped out and will be returning<br />

soon. Everything is where it was left,<br />

including his work jacket draped over his<br />

chair. His desk was simple, a covered board<br />

atop two trestles, his glasses sit among the<br />


There are six videos which give a feel to<br />

what life was like in the studio. His<br />

colleagues take you from the<br />

conception of a garment to its sale. It<br />

was fascinating. It really does take a<br />

village - over 200 people worked with<br />

Saint Laurent.<br />

This is a museum with a capital M. The<br />

Fondation owns 34,703 objects. They<br />

include personal items, couture,<br />

costumes created for ballet and films,<br />

accessories, sketches, photographs,<br />

and works of art—including four<br />

paintings of Saint Laurent by Andy<br />

Warhol. Because of the magnitude of<br />

the collection, there will be a rotation<br />

several times a year. A reason to return<br />

—regularly.<br />

Musee Yves Saint Laurent website<br />


Buttons, baubles and beads in the<br />

fabric district of Paris<br />

Material girl Judi Castille explores the famous haberdashery shops of Paris<br />

On a cold, crisp April morning, with numb<br />

fingers, and an almost feverish<br />

determination I searched for buttons.<br />

Muscling locals aside I pounced on<br />

another matching set. My fingers became<br />

blue, nose snuffly, but the button search<br />

went on and on, till every button had been<br />

turned and either discarded or bagged as a<br />

treasure found.<br />

The assistant in the shop took the bulging<br />

bags and pointed me to the heater unit to<br />

thaw out whilst she weighed and tagged<br />

the buttons. I shivered and dripped but felt<br />

elated. Over 100 buttons – 10 buttons per<br />

euro, what a bargain. Never mind what I<br />

would do with 100 buttons, it was the<br />

elation of finding such a shop in the first<br />

place. Mes Folles De Soeurs (which<br />

translates as My crazy sisters”), is on a<br />

corner and easy to miss. The boxes are<br />

outside, full of buttons, notions and zips.<br />

When the rain comes, you get wet, but who<br />

cares when you are a button seeker, fabric<br />

fan or love material things.

The Paris fabric area in Montmartre, just<br />

below Sacre Coeur is a revelation. A whole<br />

district devoted to fabric, tassels, ribbons,<br />

bias-binding and buttons. And it’s been<br />

this way for many years. In 1882 Emile Zola<br />

published Au Bonheur des Dames (The<br />

Ladies Paradise) telling the tale of the rise<br />

of a fabric empire in this part of Paris.<br />

For me it’s like a candy store, the choice is<br />

endless. My pulse raced taking it all in.<br />

Boxes on the pavement and on the first<br />

floor were labelled “Coupons”, remnants at<br />

1-3 euros. For patch-workers there are<br />

packs of little squares at discounts and<br />

buttons are sold by weight.<br />

Don't be shy, roll up your sleeves,<br />

rummage and dig deep for those bargains<br />

and savour the fabrics. Lawns, toiles,<br />

wools, jersey, cashmere, silk, gabardine,<br />

leather, they are all here and more. And<br />

where best to start than Marché Saint<br />

Pierre, six floors devoted to inspiring sewers,<br />

old-hands and those new to the craft.<br />

Here you can compare textures, weights,<br />

colour, prices and come home with bolt<br />

upon bolt of fabrics or just a few remnants<br />

to make a cushion to remind you of Paris.<br />

In the late 1800s the store Marché Saint<br />

Pierre became the byword for fabric. Today,<br />

broad beamed wood floors and old cash<br />

registers in cubicles where you go to pay<br />

are historic throw-backs that make this<br />

place magical. I hovered by the assistant<br />

who measured and cut, metre rule in hand<br />

and large haberdashery scissors to the<br />

ready.<br />

In the 1930’s Tissus Reine, a more upmarket<br />

shop came on the scene. Again, six<br />

floors, the fabrics are more designer and<br />

more organized. Here your fabric is cut and<br />

held for you. A small hand-written ticket is<br />

issued and you queue to pay at an oldfashioned<br />

cashier desk. If you buy notions<br />

[all those little bits n bobs you need for<br />

sewing but can’t recall their name), you are<br />

given a basket that you fill, leaving it with<br />

an assistant, who tots up the whole on a<br />

tab, like adding beers to the menu. The<br />

cashiers still use the “air” system to send<br />

notes to the accounting office, an overhead<br />

(and several decades ago, pioneering)<br />

transporting system that sends pods of<br />

notes across the ceiling and into the<br />

offices for counting.<br />

On the ground floor, little mannequins are<br />

draped in exquisite miniature outfits made<br />

from the fabrics available. The store is<br />

packed with women who it seems have the<br />

same enthusiasm as me and the shop<br />

does a roaring trade. On the upper floor is a<br />

huger pattern section – Vogue and<br />

Butterick included.<br />

I love the old-fashioned terrazzo floors<br />

here, made from multiple chips of marbles<br />

and tile. You could be in the 1950’s with all<br />

the hands-on measuring, wooden cabinetry<br />

and the bump-bump sound of fabric bolts<br />

being turned and measured on cutting<br />

tables. Tables are piled high, shelves are<br />

stuffed with pins, bobbins, tape measures,<br />

pin cushions, embroidery thread and<br />

dedicated button sections – neatly labelled<br />

and tubed and not sold in silly packets of<br />

four.<br />

Next MBF Decoration – where I bought an<br />

ornate jacquard Belgian fabric. It was too<br />

expensive to buy a meter, so I asked for a<br />

small sample that included most of the<br />

repeat design. This piece cost me 60 euros,<br />

but I felt I would faint if I had to leave it<br />

behind!<br />

For embellished and heavy-weighted<br />

upholstery fabrics, Ronsard Decors – Les<br />

Meruelles De St Pierre – covered all my<br />

bias-binding and notions needs.<br />

This place is paradise for a seamstress –<br />

Zola was quite right!

The day I found my Oh la la<br />

Writer in Paris Colette O'Connor shares the moment she found her inner French<br />

girl with the help of some luscious lingerie!<br />

By most accounts, I look okay. My style,<br />

such as it is, mainly impresses the world<br />

with a mild, she’s nice. Yet I had been in<br />

Paris mere weeks when Madame de<br />

Glasse, the French neighbor with whom I<br />

am friendly, announced some startling<br />

news. As we chatted in the launderette we<br />

both use on the rue de Passy, Madame<br />

eyed a washer’s soggy wad of pajamas,<br />

long johns, turtlenecks and sweats I had<br />

plopped into a rolling basket. Then she said<br />

with some alarm, “Mademoiselle, like many<br />

Americans, you are a prude, non?”<br />

Moi? I stared at her, shocked.<br />

True, Madame’s wash was a jambalaya of<br />

plunging necklines, peek-a-boo intimates<br />

and colors the heart-racing hues of<br />

passion. There were lace bits and sheer<br />

slips and things that looked short and<br />

clingy. But who would have thought that<br />

what passes for hot where I come from – a<br />

whole sack of comfy stuff snapped up for a<br />

song at an outlet – would be seen by<br />

Madame de Glasse (if not all of France) as<br />

symptomatic of a horrible American<br />

malady: dowdiness. And I had it!<br />

Was my frumpiness so far gone that<br />

nothing could be done? I squeaked,<br />

meekly. Suddenly, I was insecure in my<br />

one-size-hides-all hoodie. Madame swept a<br />

sorrowful look over the laundry I loaded<br />

into the dryer – a hefty cotton jogbra and<br />

the shame of some unraveling granny<br />

panties stood out – and rendered her<br />

opinion. I held my breath.<br />

“It is grave, very grave,” said Madame de<br />

Glasse, gravely.

I had no idea. Yet my wardrobe of saggyass<br />

sweats and what’s-become-of-me tops<br />

certainly contrasted with the outfits fresh<br />

from the dryer that Madame de Glasse was<br />

folding. Among them: a tiny lime-green<br />

thong, a demi-brassiere of transparent lace,<br />

and a sweet, sexy skirt no bigger than a<br />

wisp. Was it true I had no clue? That the art<br />

of feminine fabulousness French women<br />

take for granted had shut me out?<br />

There I was, roving around Paris in my take<br />

on cute – relaxed-fit jeans and U.S. Army<br />

tee, while other women, frump-free women,<br />

were gracing sidewalk cafés in revealing<br />

décolleté, clicking down streets in chic<br />

kitten heels, or flaunting their flirty figures<br />

in tight-fitting everything. Meanwhile,<br />

whatever womanly allure I might possess,<br />

Madame de Glasse pointed out, was<br />

obscured by my prude-wear. My vavavoom<br />

was repressed by my unisex dress; my<br />

pizzazz, she said, was hidden far, far<br />

beneath the sorry fact I did not, it seems,<br />

act French.<br />

“What makes French girls as serenely selfsatisfied<br />

as purring cats…and catnip to the<br />

men who admire them?" asked Debra<br />

Ollivier, author of Entre <strong>No</strong>us – A Woman’s<br />

Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl.<br />

“The stereotypical French girl,” she said, “is<br />

often insolently thin, casually chic, and<br />

fashionable despite a simple wardrobe.<br />

With or without makeup she is always put<br />

together and utterly self-confident, imbued<br />

with natural elegance and an elusive<br />

distance that is particularly, maddeningly<br />

French.” I guessed such a woman would<br />

not be caught in a jogbra. Especially dead.<br />

“Chérie? Chérie?” It was Madame de<br />

Glasse, interrupting my reverie in a chirpy<br />

tone altogether more cheerful than that she<br />

used over my giant, white panties. “To<br />

change the subject,” she said, “have you<br />

been to that new gym at Beaubourg?” She<br />

meant Espace Vit’Halles at the Pompidou<br />

Center. “It is trés flash,” she said. “Make a<br />

visit and tell me of your adventure.”<br />

“Yes, yes, I will; au revoir Madame de<br />

Glasse.” I scuttled my uptight self out of the<br />

launderette as fast as my heavy duffle of<br />

now shameful frump’s-clothes allowed. The<br />

French girl understands that sexy is a state<br />

of mind, maintained Ollivier. Sexy is a state<br />

of mind…sexy is a state of mind….<br />

Back at my apartment, I pondered this pearl<br />

and dressed for bed in the tee-shirt, tights<br />

and full-body nightie the frigid night<br />

demanded. Surely Madame de Glasse, in<br />

my place, would not don her tiny lime-green<br />

thong and a babydoll peignoir! Then again,<br />

maybe she would. After all, such a get-up<br />

would guarantee she’d have a Frenchman<br />

keeping her far warmer than floor-length<br />

flannel ever could. If this wasn’t reason<br />

enough to find my inner French girl, I didn’t<br />

know what was.<br />

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

philosopher Simone de Beauvoir; “rather,<br />

one becomes a woman.” Simone had a leg<br />

up, of course: she was, already, French. But<br />

still: her words gave me hope. If I were not<br />

born a woman who is catnip, perhaps I<br />

could become a sort of cat’s meow – a<br />

woman so Frenchly serene and purring with<br />

self-approval that my laundry would tell of a<br />

total transformation. Hide my thighs?<br />

Disguise my derriere? Tent my tummy? Ha!<br />

<strong>No</strong> longer. My new dare-to-bare wardrobe<br />

of trim, tiny things would be as peek-a-boo<br />

as what have you. They would declare to<br />

Madame de Glasse, for one, that American<br />

shame has no place in my life now that my<br />

inner French girl is driving.<br />

Then again, what would it take to achieve<br />

such body confidence? Such feminine selfacceptance?<br />

If only I could feel, as the<br />

French say, “bien dans sa peau” – good in<br />

one’s skin..

When American novelist Edith Wharton<br />

traveled to France in 1919, she observed<br />

that the French were “puzzled by our queer<br />

fear of our own bodies.” So, I reasoned, my<br />

queer fear might be the cultural baggage of<br />

generations. But really, in these<br />

enlightened days? It was silly. Time to let it<br />

go. In the meantime, might as well try the<br />

new gym.<br />

Day 1. The instant I entered Espace<br />

Vit’Halles, a friendly monsieur at the front<br />

desk bid me a big, grinning welcome. Yoga,<br />

dance aerobics, weights – I was<br />

encouraged to profit from them all. “The<br />

ladies’ changing room is on the second<br />

floor, Madame,” he said, and shooed me in<br />

the approximate direction. I found the door,<br />

clearly marked “Femmes,” and entered a<br />

sanctuary of sensual splendor. Lovely<br />

lavender décor; chaise longues lined up for<br />

lounging; flowers blooming on the mirrored<br />

vanities: the room was a swoon of comfort<br />

and beauty. Showcased under spotlights, a<br />

hot tub as vast and artfully conceived as<br />

ancient Roman baths bid welcome. Such<br />

luxury. Such pampering! The gym-women<br />

who showered or soaked or otherwise<br />

performed their toilettes in various stages<br />

of undress flaunted their inner French girls<br />

exactly as Ollivier claimed. Women sinewy<br />

and women plump, women with<br />

goddesses’ bodies and women with pocks<br />

and spots and skin that looked anything<br />

but good to be in: All got in and out of<br />

underwear that wasn’t underwear at all, but<br />

rather, lingerie. There it all was, France’s<br />

finest: lacy, racy and for sure, sensational.<br />

These confections, no doubt expensive,<br />

were also, let’s face it: frightening. How<br />

would I ever undress in the presence of<br />

women so adept in the provocative art of<br />

underwear? Some of the self-satisfied<br />

purring cats of the changing room<br />

paraded…no, swaggered around naked.<br />

And down to their brazenly exposed<br />

French toes they seemed shame-free. If I<br />

were to strip to my big dowdy whities<br />

before their eyes, what then? So quaint! I<br />

feared they’d exclaim. An American prude.<br />

Doesn’t like to be nude.<br />

I was in luck. There was a toilet stall that<br />

could serve as a personal changing cabine.<br />

My strictly utilitarian bra sans lace, plunge,<br />

pads, push-up, or the least suggestion of<br />

seduction could be kept secret. I scuttled in,<br />

did my business and emerged dressed in<br />

workout-wear. Ta dum! Embarrassment<br />

deflected. I headed for the exit and dance<br />

aerobic class, but stopped dead when I<br />

heard a bit of catnip call.<br />

“Oh, Madame! Madame!” I turned to see a<br />

raven-haired, hipless thing holding aloft my<br />

favorite faded cut-offs – the shorts that for<br />

a good 30 years now, I have found<br />

charming on me. “You dropped<br />

your…your….” She did not have words for<br />

what they were. But her sweet, sad smile<br />

and pitying tone told me all that Inès de la<br />

Fressange already had:<br />

“<strong>No</strong> Parisienne would dress mutton as<br />

lamb.”<br />

The ex-runway model and French fashion<br />

guru put this rule in her Parisian Chic: A<br />

Style Guide to let me know in advance of<br />

coming to France that shorts, like<br />

miniskirts, have no business on any woman<br />

older than…young.<br />

“Merci beaucoup, Madame,” I said,<br />

sheepish. I waited until she pranced off,<br />

pert ponytail swinging, and tossed my past<br />

into the trash. Mutton?!<br />

Day 2. “Bonjour, Madame,” said the<br />

grinning monsieur when I returned to try<br />

the gym’s yoga. “The ladies’ changing room<br />

is on the first floor. Enjoy your class.” That’s<br />

odd, I thought. Wasn’t the ladies’ changing<br />

room just yesterday on Floor 2? Yet on the<br />

first floor, as promised, there it was, the<br />

door marked “Femmes".

I entered and saw at once all was odd.<br />

Where was the lavender? Where was the<br />

lovely? Loaded with lockers, lacking a hot<br />

tub, the room was dim, dank, and<br />

functional. Testosterone chose the décor<br />

so sweat stains didn’t show, and from the<br />

télé turned to sports to the vanities<br />

equipped with manly-looking man-things<br />

used by grooming men, this changing room<br />

clearly was meant for well, men.<br />

And yet, there they were: Women. The<br />

Parsiennes flaunted their inner French girls<br />

like they had the day before; they paraded<br />

around queer-fear-free in brassieres like<br />

pasties and thongs if not sheer then small.<br />

Awfully.<br />

“Entrez, Madame,” said one, as I lingered at<br />

the door. The French girl had just contorted<br />

herself into a contraption of an electric-blue<br />

bustier, a towel on her head. “Oui, oui,<br />

Madame, come in. You’ve found the right<br />

place.” I wasn’t so sure. <strong>No</strong> toilet stall<br />

announced itself after my first look around,<br />

so I would have to strip and change into<br />

yoga clothes in full view of a man-cave full<br />

of catnip. My priggish panties! My not-hot<br />

bra! Never mind. This wasn’t anything some<br />

serious French lingerie acquisition couldn’t<br />

fix. Plus, it was no lace off their merry<br />

widows if, in front of the Frenchwomen, I<br />

got naked like the place had caught fire<br />

and I had better move fast or die. Which is<br />

how I did. But in the process? It was<br />

astonishing. There I was, whipping off my<br />

clothes and slipping into Spandex, and nary<br />

a glance went to my uncomely undies. I<br />

was a blur, sure. But snug in their absolute<br />

disinterest, smug in their elusive distance,<br />

the Frenchwomen paid my flash of breast<br />

and briefly bared behind no mind.<br />

Whatsoever. Wow, self-satisfaction must be<br />

catching. In the presence of such total<br />

nonchalance, I felt for one wild, nude<br />

moment…well, nude! It was awesome. I<br />

wanted more of it.<br />

Day 3. I arrived at Espace Vit’Halles, today<br />

to try the weight room. “Bonjour,” bid the<br />

big-grinned monsieur, as expected. He then<br />

directed me to the ladies’ changing<br />

room…on the second floor. The second<br />

floor? Seriously? Yes. The door marked<br />

“Femmes” had moved from the man-cave<br />

back upstairs; it opened again on the lovely<br />

lavender space filled with Frenchwomen<br />

changing.<br />

Encouraged by my undressing success of<br />

the previous day, I was shy but excited to<br />

unveil my treasures. I had gone shopping.<br />

At the lingerie shop on boulevard<br />

Haussmann, I could find nothing frumpy<br />

whatsoever in a French granny panty;<br />

neither was there a single serviceable bra<br />

that would just do the job – as if such<br />

things in Paris existed. So standing before<br />

the display of wares both naughty and nice,<br />

a woman I didn’t know spoke up.<br />

“I’ll take the panties in slinky pink with their<br />

matching bra of ruffles and bows – yes,<br />

those,” she told the shop’s assistant. I was<br />

stunned to discover it was I, myself, not just<br />

speaking but also pointing to items so cute<br />

that even Mademoiselle had to approve –<br />

endowed as she was with come-hither hips<br />

and considerable cleavage. This choice was<br />

so surprising that it meant only one thing.<br />

There was a French girl in me – in me! – and<br />

she had been roused by ruffles.<br />

Back at the gym I beheld this bold foreigner<br />

with cool suspicion and moved to the<br />

farthest corner of the changing room. There,<br />

I could undress apart from the purring cats<br />

and expose my newly-purchased pizzazz in<br />

relative privacy. I claimed a locker and<br />

settled-in on a bench.<br />

My American fears still lingered, but my<br />

new French bra of unabashed vavavoom? It<br />

almost busted out of my blouse to shout<br />

Here I am! And how my slinky pink French<br />

panties were pleased to sashay free of my<br />

jeans with a little wiggle of joy. Just then,<br />

the door. A man announced himself.

“Bonjour, Mesdames,” he announced.<br />

“Pardonnez-moi.” He begged everyone’s<br />

pardon for the disturbance, but he was the<br />

plumber, he said, come to the ladies’<br />

changing room to solve the problem of the<br />

leaky sink. Beside him laden with tools and<br />

balancing a ladder stood his apprentice<br />

son; he looked about 21. The changing<br />

ladies in the buff, or in some version<br />

thereof did not shriek or run or faint or<br />

cover-up? “Bonjour Messieurs,” they said,<br />

entirely nonplussed. The plumber and his<br />

son passed through the friendly throng,<br />

clattering wrenches and whatnot. As they<br />

went they muttered pardon, Madame,<br />

pardon. And the Frenchwomen stepped<br />

out of panties and shucked brassieres;<br />

they shimmied into shape-wear and<br />

stripped out of slips. Plumbers? Any one of<br />

them might have said. So?<br />

Clad only in my new slinky pinks, I heard a<br />

“Pardon, Madame” so close it had to be<br />

directed to me. I froze.<br />

Moi? I turned to stare at the hovering<br />

plumber, in shock.<br />

Yes, he meant me. I was blocking the way<br />

to the sink, which stood directly ahead in<br />

my corner. Leaking. The plumber’s son<br />

scooched by with his ladder and tipped his<br />

hat, “Bonjour, Madame.” Then the two,<br />

clattering, set-up shop on the bench<br />

closest to mine. The most miserable of<br />

moments arrived. I wondered: Did Edith<br />

Wharton ever have a fear of her naked<br />

self? If so, what protocol did she suggest<br />

for the presence of French plumbers when<br />

one has stripped down to intimates – silk<br />

bits that are the next thing to go?<br />

“First of all,” she once said, “the<br />

Frenchwoman is, in nearly all respects, as<br />

different as possible from the average<br />

American woman…The Frenchwoman is<br />

grown-up. Compared with the women of<br />

France, the American woman is still in the<br />

kindergarten.”<br />

What Wharton would say: Oh grow-up. If I<br />

didn’t remove my slinky pink things<br />

without an ounce of shame, I would never<br />

make it to first grade. Really, what were the<br />

plumber and his son to me, except perhaps<br />

plumbers? In that flash of nudity between<br />

underwear off and workout-wear on, what<br />

harm could they cause in the midst of the<br />

changing room’s entire colony of nonplussed<br />

nudes? On the count of…three:<br />

There I went. I squeezed my eyes closed<br />

and off with the ruffles, out of all bows. But<br />

I didn’t even have to peek to know. My raw<br />

glory garnered less interest than a drip. The<br />

men, both bent over the sink and fiddling<br />

with a wrench, looked up at me and back at<br />

the leak like, her? Her who?<br />

“There is in France a kind of collective,<br />

cultural shrug about nakedness,” Ollivier<br />

said, said. Edith Wharton agreed: “The<br />

French,” she said, “are accustomed to<br />

relating openly and unapologetically the<br />

anecdotes that Anglo-Saxons snicker over<br />

privately and with apologies.” I’m sorry, but<br />

the plumbers’ total disinterest in my body<br />

bare left me giggly with a secret, newfound<br />

freedom. Just think! Frump or no, I could<br />

flaunt my feminine fixtures and ask for<br />

nothing in the way of drama. Then, the<br />

plumber’s son looked up, caught my eye,<br />

and winked.<br />

Oh.<br />

Day 4. When I arrived to attend class in<br />

Pilates, the ever-friendly monsieur said the<br />

usual Bonjour, Madame and directed me to<br />

the ladies’ changing room – on the first<br />

floor.<br />

“But Monsieur!” I cried, by now perturbed.<br />

“Why does the ladies’ changing room keep<br />

changing?” Second floor, first floor; first<br />

floor, second. “I don’t get it.”<br />

“It’s the hot tub, Madame. The men’s<br />

changing room does not have one, so it’s<br />

only juste that the men are given the

opportunity to use to use the ladies’ tub<br />

from the time to time, non? It made perfect<br />

sense.<br />

“Merci, Monsieur,” I said. Today the ladies<br />

would change in the man-cave, so I found<br />

the first-floor door marked “Femmes” and<br />

entered. Empty. I claimed a sweet spot on<br />

the most spacious bench, flipped open a<br />

locker and proceeded to undress. Proud,<br />

yes proud I was to strip to my second<br />

shopping score – a brand-new sheer-lace<br />

brassiere and panties frilled in fancy fringe.<br />

Both were so pretty they should have been<br />

strolling the Champs Elysees. Too bad no<br />

one’s around to appreciate them. Nevertheless,<br />

off they went so I could shimmy<br />

into the tight body stocking I wore for<br />

Pilates.<br />

Just then, the door. Too late to run, too late<br />

to hide; I thought for sure I was about to<br />

die. In they came, like kids let out for<br />

recess – a rambunctious bunch of buddies<br />

with gym bags over their shoulders. I stood<br />

stark naked, front and center, as the men<br />

bounded in and saw me. How could they<br />

not? Tied to the stake of shame, I burned<br />

to a shade of true prude pink and felt my<br />

inner American frump demand a good<br />

explanation.<br />

Didn’t these men see the door marked<br />

“Femmes”? Didn’t Monsieur at the desk<br />

think to direct them? The herd dispersed<br />

around me, the men claiming lockers and<br />

dropping their gym bags on benches.<br />

“Bonjour, Madame.” It was the one whose<br />

bag landed closest to mine, and whose<br />

hunky, handsome self took a seat not<br />

three feet distant.<br />

“Bonjour, Madame.” It was the next, who<br />

scooted past to stake his spot before the<br />

télé turned to a game of soccer.<br />

“Bonjour, Madame.”<br />

“Bonjour, Madame.”<br />

“Bonjour, Madame.”<br />

Too nude to speak, I could only nod my<br />

Bonjour Messieurs in reply. If only I had<br />

dabbed on a drop of Chanel <strong>No</strong>. 5! As the<br />

legendary Coco herself once said: “A<br />

woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no<br />

future.” Then again, it hardly mattered if I<br />

had been scented by irresistibility itself. To<br />

the stripping Frenchmen, who soon had the<br />

place bustling with their good-natured fun, I<br />

was simply the naked woman among them<br />

who didn’t get the message.<br />

Désolé said the front desk monsieur later,<br />

begging my pardon for his oversight. The<br />

ladies’ changing room was on the second<br />

floor and he didn’t think to switch the doorsigns<br />

until after I had arrived. Meanwhile, in<br />

the midst of men as blasé as the plumbers,<br />

I felt a queer thing – not fear – come to life.<br />

Could it be? Ah, oui. My inner French girl.<br />

Since the people of Paris paid it no mind,<br />

why did I try so hard to hide it? Bring on the<br />

satin contraptions, France. I’m coming out.<br />

“Pardon? Madame?” The Frenchman<br />

sharing my bench brought my attention to<br />

the fancy-fringed panties that lay on the<br />

floor between us like an unspoken<br />

question. I had flung them into the locker<br />

but missed. Who would pick them up? Oh<br />

my God! I lunged and swooped them into<br />

my bag. I may have been wrong, but was<br />

that the smallest flicker of a wicked smile?<br />

“Très belle,” he said. I dared to believe he<br />

meant not the panties but me.<br />

At the launderette on the rue de Passy,<br />

Madame de Glasse stood with me at the<br />

folding table and eyed my neat stacks of<br />

items surely even Chanel had in mind. “A<br />

girl should be two things,” she said: “classy<br />

and fabulous.” Then Madame said with<br />

some surprise, “Mademoiselle,” she said,<br />

“like many Americans who come to Paris,<br />

you have gotten over your problem, non?”<br />

Yes. <strong>No</strong>w I’ve got my oh-la-la. And, oh, how<br />

even the plumbers of Paris would be proud.


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

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

Every week there are utterly gorgeous photos being shared and here we showcase the<br />

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

"liked" will appear in the next issue of The Good Life France Magazine...<br />

September<br />

This fabulous<br />

photo taken in<br />

the Sorbonne<br />

District by<br />

Dawne Polis got<br />

an astonishing<br />

23,488 likes &<br />

comments - and<br />

no wonder, it's a<br />

fabulous photo...<br />

and our Photo of<br />

the Year!<br />

Find out more<br />

about the area:<br />

The Sorbonne<br />

district, Paris

October<br />

This beautiful photo of<br />

Annecy by Peter Saltiel got<br />

3615 likes, comments and<br />

shares<br />

<strong>No</strong>vember<br />

Quintesentially French - delightful Dinan<br />

captured on camera by David Juricevich<br />

received 3157 likes, comments and shares.<br />

Find out more about Dinan here<br />

Join us on Facebook<br />

and like and share<br />

your favourite photos<br />

of France...

Give A<br />

Fe<br />

th<br />

We’v<br />

DFDS<br />

minu<br />

a car<br />

DFDS<br />

ferry<br />

cross<br />

comf<br />

Get y<br />

DFDS<br />

Sorry<br />

A brilliant gift for wine lovers<br />

everywhere<br />

Ticke<br />

Two lucky winners will be able to choose from 9 of the most<br />

iconic, authentic world famous wine locations in France with<br />

www.my3dvines.com. Choices range from Champagne to<br />

Bordeaux as well as less well-known but truly special<br />

appellations and the winners will receive their very own row<br />

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

grapes *and the opportunity to buy more at less than the<br />

cellar door price. A welcome pack, certificate, invitations to<br />

exclusive tastings, lunches, workshops and the opportunity<br />

to visit your vines and meet your wine maker make this a<br />

really standout and not expensive present.<br />

(*You’ll be presented with your bottle when you visit your<br />

vineyard, winners in the UK may opt to receive it through the<br />

post).<br />

Sorry this draw is done now<br />

(Read our review here)

ways<br />

rry tickets with DFDS –<br />

e world’s leading ferry<br />

operator<br />

e got 2 sets of return tickets for use on<br />

’ Ferries Dover/Calais (1 hour 30<br />

tes) or Dover/Dunkirk (2 hours) route for<br />

and up to 9 passengers.<br />

are one of northern Europe’s biggest<br />

operators and run multiple daily<br />

ings to France. Boats are speedy and<br />

ortable with brilliant onboard facilities.<br />

our trip to France off to a great start with<br />

!<br />

this draw is done now....<br />

ts are subject to availability for use in 2018*<br />

2 copies of Drawing<br />

Lessons by Patricia Sands<br />

Win a signed copy of Patricia Sands's<br />

book Drawing Lesssons - we've got 2<br />

to give away.<br />

The author of the Love in Provence<br />

series returns to the South of France<br />

with a poignant portrait of a woman<br />

who must learn how to create a new life<br />

for herself… From Toronto, Canada to<br />

Arles France, the tale of a woman's<br />

quest to embrace a new life.<br />

Sorry this draw is done now....<br />

3 copies of The<br />

Christmas<br />

Cottage by<br />

Patricia Dixon<br />

The third novel by Patricia Dixon sees a festive<br />

return to the tiny French village of Pierre de<br />

Fontaine. Nestled amongst the sleepy hills and<br />

misty valleys of the Loire you will be transported to<br />

crisp, winter mornings and star filled, moonlit<br />

nights. Relax around a glowing log fire and enjoy a<br />

taste of <strong>No</strong>ël in France as you read the story of<br />

The Christmas Cottage.<br />

We've got 3 ebook copies to give away.<br />

Sorry this draw is done now..

Living in<br />

France<br />

What's it really like to live in France?<br />

We've all heard about the high quality<br />

of life, superb climate and low crime<br />

rate. Joanna Leggett of Leggett<br />

Immobilier looks more closely at the<br />

practical issues<br />

The golden rule is: 'you'll get out what<br />

you put in'.<br />

Even if your French is basic, your efforts<br />

to communicate will be appreciated. Try<br />

to learn the language. Introduce yourself<br />

to your neighbours and visit your Mairie.<br />

Establishing contact with the Mairie staff<br />

will be useful when you need advice, and<br />

making friends with your neighbours will<br />

enhance your French life. You can even<br />

join the Comité des Fêtes: if you take<br />

part in community events, you'll meet the<br />

locals and become accepted.


Use local workmen for renovation work.<br />

Importing a team of craftsmen won’t<br />

endear you to your neighbours. French<br />

artisans are used to working with local<br />

materials, meeting regulatory standards<br />

and handling the necessary paperwork.<br />


According to the World Health<br />

Organisation, France has one of the best<br />

healthcare systems in the world. All<br />

workers in France pay 20% of their salaries<br />

into the state system, and French residents<br />

have access to it. The state pays part –<br />

sometimes all – of their medical costs.<br />

EU expats arriving in France need an S1<br />

form to apply for state healthcare. When<br />

you register into the system, you receive a<br />

medical identity card – the green Carte<br />

Vitale. The health specialist logs it into a<br />

central computer whenever you pay<br />

medical expenses.<br />

You need to register with a GP (Médecin<br />

Traitant). Each visit requires an immediate<br />

payment, but the state reimburses 70%.<br />

Many people choose a 'top-up' insurance –<br />

a Mutuelle – to cover the rest of the costs.


Those who move to<br />

France must pay income<br />

tax (Impôts sur le<br />

Revenu) if they fulfil any<br />

of these conditions:<br />

• live permanently in<br />

France<br />

• have a residence permit<br />

• spend more than 183<br />

days in the country<br />

during the calendar year<br />

• hold most of their<br />

wealth in France<br />

• have their main<br />

professional activity in<br />

France<br />

TAXES<br />

The French tax year runs from 1 January to<br />

31 December. You must declare all your<br />

earnings from the date of your arrival, which<br />

you do in the annual Déclaration des Revenus<br />

form available at your local tax office.<br />

The declaration deadline is around 20 May.<br />

Everyone with property in France must pay<br />

two additional taxes. The Taxe d'Habitation<br />

is the tax for living here, and the Taxe<br />

Foncière is the property tax. Invoices for<br />

both are usually sent to you in September.<br />

As everyone's financial circumstances are<br />

different, it is best to consult a tax specialist<br />

for advice.<br />


If you move here with school-age children,<br />

they will integrate far more easily than you!<br />

Initially, you should enrol them at the<br />

Mairie.<br />

School isn't compulsory before the age of<br />

six, but most French children begin Ecole<br />

Maternelle at three years old. Ecole<br />

Elémentaire then takes them from 6 to 11<br />

years of age. From there, they move to<br />

Collège (11 to 15 years old) and then Lycée<br />

(15 to 18). Boarding accommodation is often<br />

offered from Monday to Friday for rural<br />

Lycée students. Although pupils can leave<br />

school at 16 years old, 94% choose further<br />

education. The only entrance requirement<br />

to a French university is the appropriate<br />

baccalaureate. Students do not pay tuition<br />

fees.<br />

Schoolchildren have five holidays each year:<br />

two weeks in October, at Christmas, in<br />

February and in April – and most of July and<br />

August.<br />


English cars are usually covered by their UK<br />

insurance at first. However, you'll need to<br />

change to French registration within six<br />

months. If you choose to keep English

egistration and insurance, this will require<br />

regular return trips to the UK. You can drive<br />

on your English licence until it expires, at<br />

which stage you must obtain a French<br />

driving licence from a Prefecture or Sous-<br />

Prefecture. Considerable paperwork is<br />

involved. You'll need photocopies of your<br />

birth certificate, passport and proof of a<br />

French address.<br />

Acquiring French registration is complicated.<br />

First, get a Certificate of Conformity<br />

from the garage representing your car's<br />

manufacturer. Then change your headlights<br />

and pass the Contrôle Technique –<br />

the French version of the MOT. After this,<br />

ask for the tax certificate, or Quitas Fiscal,<br />

from your local Centre des Impôts.<br />

You can then apply for your French log<br />

book – the Carte Grise – from your local<br />

Prefecture or Sous-Prefecture. Take all<br />

your paperwork with you, plus your French<br />

chequebook. They will give you an<br />

exportation slip, which you must send to<br />

the DVLA immediately.<br />

Your new Carte Grise will arrive by<br />

registered post within a fortnight. You can<br />

then change your English car registration<br />

plates to French ones.<br />


If you are on a fixed income or pension<br />

from the UK, remember that conversion<br />

rates fluctuate. It is useful to establish a<br />

relationship with a good currency exchange<br />

company. Don't make the mistake of<br />

calculating your income when the euro is<br />

high.<br />


Regulations may differ by département, so<br />

it's always worth seeking expert advice,<br />

especially for financial questions.<br />

See Leggett Immobilier website for more<br />

helpful advice

The good life in<br />

Gascony<br />

Sue Aran tells how her heart was won by a house in Gascony despite trials<br />

and tribulations…<br />

My husband and I first travelled from<br />

Seattle, Washington to Gascony in May<br />

2006 with a couple of friends, looking for a<br />

house to purchase together. All of us loved<br />

rural France. Our criteria included proximity<br />

to airport, train services, village life, doctors<br />

and a hospital. We rented a two-bedroom<br />

stone cottage in a small hameau (hamlet)<br />

in the Gers, (department 32). It’s often<br />

called the Tuscany of southwest France<br />

thanks to the great weather and bucolic<br />

landscapes.<br />

For five weeks we spent mornings sight<br />

seeing and visiting local farmers’ markets.<br />

In the afternoons we enjoyed alfresco<br />

meals and long twilight evenings strolling<br />

country roads under a panoply of stars. We<br />

put 3,500 kilometers on our rental car<br />

looking at 25 houses in various stages of<br />

disrepair. A week before the trip ended we<br />

saw the last house – a 300-year-old ruin<br />

built of stone and colombage (halftimbering)<br />

sitting on a knoll in the middle of<br />

a 500-hectare farm.<br />

The front door faced east, the rising sun<br />

cresting the village of Campagne<br />

d’Armagnac. To the south we could glimpse<br />

the peaks of the Pyrénées mountains. Just<br />

across the road to the west were vineyards<br />

and to the north, through the branches of<br />

an old oak tree, the 11th century Basque<br />

church, Cutxan, rose majestically into the<br />

azure blue sky. The ruin had no electricity,<br />

no water, and no plumbing. The attic was<br />

full of old bottles and rusted tools and the<br />

barn was stuffed with ancient farm<br />

equipment. An overgrown pond was a<br />

watering hole for deer, wild boar, crayfish<br />

and herons. For some inexplicable reason<br />

my husband and I were smitten. Our friends<br />

were not interested at all.

Left: typically Gascony<br />

above: the house that<br />

Sue Aran fell head over<br />

heels for...<br />

We returned to our respective lives, unable<br />

to stop daydreaming about the ruin. Often,<br />

we reminded each other of meeting the<br />

elderly couple, Jeanette and Roger, who<br />

owned the ruin, as welcoming to foreigners<br />

as any two people could be. They spoke a<br />

Gascon patois almost indecipherable,<br />

especially Roger, but each possessed a joie<br />

de vivre that was clearly communicable. In<br />

October we decided to go back to the Gers<br />

to see if the magic was still there. We<br />

stepped off the plane in Bordeaux, picked<br />

up a rental car and drove south. Once<br />

actually at the ruin, we felt like we had<br />

come home. We hadn’t the faintest idea<br />

that 8 years after purchasing the property<br />

we would be mired in the French court<br />

system, tied up in legal bureaucratic knots<br />

and intrigues and separated by more than<br />

an ocean.<br />

We purchased our half hectare (1 acre)<br />

property for 70,000 euros, approximately<br />

100,000 dollars. The whole process took 6<br />

months. The following year we returned and<br />

interviewed local builders and chose one<br />

highly recommended by the only other<br />

American couple we knew there. As a<br />

former architectural designer, I drew up a<br />

set of plans and researched local building<br />

codes. I submitted six different sets of<br />

plans, each summarily rejected by the head<br />

of the local building department, Monsieur<br />

Lafitte. However, after visiting him in<br />

person, the plans were approved.

Renovation began the next year. We arrived<br />

at the end of April, hopeful the project<br />

would be completed by mid-summer. We<br />

planned to sell our house in the States and<br />

move permanently to France. After our first<br />

walk-through of the house, we discovered<br />

our builder was more charming than<br />

competent: everything from the foundation<br />

to the roof needed to be redone – our<br />

renovation needed to be renovated. We<br />

fired the builder and subsequently hired<br />

two building experts and two attorneys.<br />

The second building expert, hired by us but<br />

appointed by the court, first found in our<br />

favor then, remarkably, retracted his ruling<br />

three months later. We waited to sell our<br />

house in the States until we had a home to<br />

live in. Our dream house sat untouched for<br />

the next 4 years.<br />

The following April, in 2011, we filed an<br />

appeal and returned to France only to have<br />

the judge tell us we had no right to<br />

question a court-appointed expert. Our<br />

new attorney changed his strategy and we<br />

filed for another court hearing. Each year,<br />

for two more years, we would return<br />

hopeful a final court date would be set, but<br />

each year the builder was granted a<br />

postponement. In 2013 we were finally<br />

allowed to continue work on our house, but<br />

the lawsuit lingered, our retirement fund<br />

was depleted, and my husband decided he<br />

would never return to France.<br />

I made the big leap across the pond, alone.<br />

I applied for a visa and hired an<br />

international moving company. By<br />

returning every year and immersing<br />

ourselves into the life of our village, we’d<br />

been able to harvest deep and lasting<br />

friendships and an appreciation for the<br />

quality of life in southwest France which<br />

provided the support I now needed to begin<br />

my life anew. The lawsuit was finally heard<br />

September 2014. My ex-husband and I<br />

were awarded rien, nothing.

I was disappointed, to say the least, but not<br />

disheartened for this is where my heart<br />

truly resides. Who hasn’t felt the urge to<br />

drop everything and follow their dream<br />

regardless of the cost?<br />

The Gascons genuinely embrace the joy of<br />

living. The simple pleasures of life are the<br />

most important: family, friends, good<br />

cuisine and lively conversation. Well-being<br />

is not a luxury but an ordinary, daily<br />

prerogative. Economically, the cost of<br />

medical care, car and home insurance,<br />

utilities, taxes and food are a fraction of<br />

what they cost in the States.<br />

I can purchase a freshly baked, mouthwatering<br />

almond croissant or a crusty<br />

baguette at my local bakery for incredibly<br />

good value and a glass of good local wine<br />

is cheaper than a glass of sparking water.<br />

My property taxes are a fraction of what<br />

they would be in the States, a doctor’s visit<br />

23 euros. Even airline tickets are less<br />

expensive when purchased overseas. This<br />

has allowed me to travel around the world<br />

visiting my stateside children and friends<br />

when they are not traveling to visit me.<br />

When I arrived nearly 12 years ago, I<br />

assumed the Earth was round and the sun<br />

set in the west, but I’ve discovered that<br />

lawyers have feelings, tomorrow was<br />

yesterday and pigs can fly.<br />

I have had many incredible adventures and<br />

learned much about myself through living<br />

in another culture. Instead of my world<br />

becoming smaller at this stage of my life, it<br />

has become larger and I will feel forever<br />

grateful.<br />

Sue Aran runs tours of Gascony sharing her<br />

insider knowledge of its secret gems, most<br />

mouthwatering markets, picturesque<br />

villages and glorious countryside at French<br />

Country Adventures.

Three reasons to seek<br />

financial advice when<br />

you’re an expat in France<br />

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

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

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

your long-term future financial goals and requirements.<br />

A study by the International Longevity Centre in July 20<strong>17</strong> revealed that those who take<br />

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

don’t.*<br />

We asked Jennie Poate at Beacon Global Wealth for three reasons why she feels<br />

consulting an independent financial advisor is necessary to help you plan for your longterm<br />

future in your new country.<br />

1. There are a number of things you can do<br />

before you make the move that will mean<br />

you are in a better financial position once<br />

you arrive in France. A financial advisor will<br />

help you sort out your UK tax position, plan<br />

a strategy for savings and income, consider<br />

inheritance planning and advise how to<br />

make your pension work best for you.<br />

Sorting it out before you make the move<br />

can be crucial to good finances.

2. As a qualified financial advisor in France,<br />

it’s my job and that of my team to keep on<br />

top of new developments in the finance<br />

world that affect expats and to keep helping<br />

our clients make the most of their<br />

opportunities and finances.<br />

For instance, in France in 2018 there may be<br />

changes to investment income capital<br />

gains tax and to French wealth tax changes.<br />

We study the changes in detail and explain<br />

them in plain English and we will look to<br />

make recommendations to protect your<br />

assets and maximise your savings and<br />

minimise your tax liability.<br />

Low interest rates may affect your financial<br />

future, especially if you maintain funds in<br />

the UK where if you’re leaving your savings<br />

in instant access accounts you’re likely to<br />

have seen your money fall in value due to<br />

rising inflation and low interest rates. If you<br />

want to earn an income from your financial<br />

assets, a good financial advisor can help<br />

you assess the alternatives.<br />

For some investments you may have to be<br />

prepared to accept a risk but we’ll advise<br />

you on all aspects of what risk there is so<br />

you can make an informed decision.<br />

Please contact Jennie Poate if you<br />

would like a free, confidential, no<br />

obligation review of your finances at:<br />

enquiries@bgwealthmanagement.net<br />

www.beaconglobalwealth.com<br />

Tel: 0044 333 2416966<br />

3. You’ll gain clarity and greater<br />

confidence about your financial assets.<br />

Uncertainly about what Brexit brings, low<br />

interest rates, rising inflation – they all have<br />

an impact on our lives, especially expats<br />

where there’s also the added confusion<br />

about how banking, tax and finance works<br />

in a foreign country.<br />

* Source: The Value of Financial Advice,<br />

International Longevity Centre – UK<br />

Network). Nexus Global is a division within Blacktower Financial Management (International)<br />

Limited (BFMI). All approved individual members of Nexus Global are Appointed Representatives of<br />

BFMI. BFMI is licensed and regulated by the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission and bound by<br />

their rules under licence number FSC00805B.<br />

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

solutions or advice. Beacon Global Wealth Management can accept no responsibility whatsoever<br />

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

Life in France...<br />

Author Marty Neumeierof Beginning French by Les<br />

Americains, tells how his family learned to live the French<br />

way, and it's not always easy...<br />

Every Wednesday and Saturday, the<br />

Bergerac organic market, or marché bio,<br />

encircles the Église <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame. The<br />

church’s elegant spire is the pin that fixes<br />

the city to the map. Bergerac is full of<br />

contrasts. On the one hand it’s a tourist<br />

destination with a fascinating mix of<br />

architecture, and on the other it’s a workaday<br />

town with peeling plaster and a<br />

crumbling infrastructure. The view you get<br />

depends on the weather. On a cloudy day<br />

the town seems dingy and depressing. On<br />

a bright day it looks charming and cheerful.<br />

Today the sun poured freely into the city<br />

center, painting the buildings with gold<br />

highlights and cobalt shadows. Scores of<br />

colorful food stalls spiraled out from the<br />

church to the main parking lot, spreading<br />

onto the sidewalk that borders the ancient<br />

lanes of the vieille ville, or old town.<br />

Parking on market days is très difficile.<br />

Your best bet is to drive around to the<br />

north end of town and squeeze between a<br />

Renault Clio and a Fiat 500, often parking<br />

halfway over the curb. While the police are<br />

lenient on market days, the residents are<br />

not. You must never—jamais!—block<br />

someone’s garage access or impede a<br />

motorist’s progress. The offended party will<br />

have your car hooked up to a tow truck<br />

before you can say bonjour. Locals are<br />

acutely aware of these rules, even as they<br />

park in the oddest of spots.<br />

Sara and I left the car on the curved corner<br />

of an intersection—normally a non-non—<br />

and walked south to the bio. The sky was a<br />

deep and cloudless blue on the Wednesday<br />

after the Bodega. We carried shopping<br />

bags and wore straw hats against the<br />

intense rays of the July sun.<br />

“What are we looking for?” I asked Sara.<br />

“Something for tonight. I was thinking a<br />

turkey roulade with grilled courgettes,<br />

along with those yummy duck-fat potatoes<br />

we had at the Bodega. We can use up the<br />

duck fat we already have in the fridge.” She<br />

stopped at a crowded stall and bought a<br />

kilo of fingerling potatoes.<br />

The market stalls in this part of France are<br />

a feast for the eyes. Bins of bright red<br />

radishes contrast with pure white leeks laid<br />

side by side with their curly white roots<br />

entwining. Cartons of stubby orange<br />

carrots lie beside luscious bunches of deep<br />

green parsley. Endive bulbs live next door<br />

to bonbon tomatoes, and boxes of haricots<br />

verts cozy up to crates of fresh green<br />

mâche. Charming handwritten signs,<br />

displaying the names and prices, wave<br />

insouciantly from various boxes.

courtyard came through the windows to<br />

give the kitchen a cold cast.<br />

Sara stood with a chef’s knife in her hand.<br />

A skinny pink body lay on the cutting<br />

board, positioned horizontally under the<br />

halogen track lamps. She placed the blade<br />

of the knife against the rabbit’s neck. Using<br />

the heel of her hand she shoved down hard.<br />

Crunch. The blade cut deeply, but the head<br />

stayed on. I was standing back against the<br />

kitchen door with my hands over my face. I<br />

peeked through my fingers. “Did it come<br />

off?”<br />

She felt around the rabbit’s neck and<br />

peered into the gash made by the knife.<br />

“I’m not sure I found the space between the<br />

vertebrae.” She repositioned the knife and<br />

got ready shove it downwards. Her hands<br />

were shaking.<br />

I found Sara standing in front of a butcher’s<br />

truck, examining a skinless creature that<br />

hung upside down from the top of the<br />

window. “What is it?” I asked.<br />

“Lapin. A rabbit. What if I made a delicious<br />

fricassée instead of the turkey roulade?<br />

Rabbit is such a classic.”<br />

I hid my horror. A whole rabbit? Really?<br />

With the head still on it? I tried to dissuade<br />

her. “Isn’t rabbit stew a winter dish? You<br />

know, for long cold nights in December?<br />

It’s so hot right now.”<br />

“Naw, it’ll be cooler by tonight. Let’s go for<br />

it.” She pulled a wad of euros from her<br />

purse. The butcher rolled the rabbit in<br />

paper and placed it in a bag. While I love to<br />

watch Sara cook, I wasn’t sure this was an<br />

operation I wanted to observe.<br />

The sun had arched around to the far side<br />

of the house. The light from the shaded<br />

“Everything okay?” I said, squinting<br />

through my fingers. She stood staring at<br />

the rabbit, both hands on the knife. “I can’t<br />

do it. I can’t. It looks too much like a cat.”<br />

She looked at me imploringly, lips mouthing<br />

a silent s’il te plaît.<br />

“Oh, jeez. You want me to cut the head off a<br />

cat? Can’t we just bring it back and have<br />

the butcher do it?”<br />

“M-O-M!” she yelled, quickly casting me as<br />

the weak, ineffective parent, which in this<br />

case was accurate. “Mom, the head won’t<br />

come off!”.<br />

Eileen came in from the salon. She looked<br />

at Sara, then at me, then at the rabbit. She<br />

took the knife from Sara and set it on the<br />

countertop. “Step aside,” she said, pulling a<br />

heavy cleaver from the knife rack.<br />

Sara and I backed slowly towards the<br />

bedroom door. Eileen raised the cleaver,<br />

using both arms for maximum force. Sara<br />

and I slipped into the bedroom and closed<br />

the door and waited for axe to fall.

We opened the door a crack. Eileen stood<br />

there, arms raised, tears streaming down<br />

her face. “What’s wrong, Mom?” said Sara<br />

“I can’t.”<br />

Sara looked at me. “I used to have a little<br />

Dutch bunny,” said Eileen. “His name was<br />

Wabbit.”<br />

“Rabbit?” said Sara.<br />

“<strong>No</strong>t Rabbit. Wabbit. You know, ‘You cwazy<br />

wabbit’?” She lowered the cleaver. “I just<br />

can’t.”<br />

Sara and I ventured cautiously back into<br />

the kitchen. Eileen suddenly jerked back,<br />

let loose a tortured yell, and down came the<br />

guillotine. WHACK! —the head shot off the<br />

table, bounced against the lower cabinets,<br />

and rolled to a stop at our feet. On its face<br />

was a strangely serene expression, as if<br />

nothing at all had happened. Eileen was<br />

sobbing. She pushed past us, ran into the<br />

bedroom, and slammed the door.<br />

lowers your unhealthy cholesterol. Others<br />

disagree. Who cares? You’ll never taste<br />

anything better.<br />

“Sorry, Mom,” said Sara. “I shouldn’t have<br />

asked you to do that.” She brought out<br />

three dishes plated with lapin à la<br />

moutarde, rabbit with mustard sauce, and<br />

placed them on the table.<br />

“<strong>No</strong> one ever said being French would be<br />

easy,” I said, pouring the pinot. Eileen and<br />

Sara nodded as if I’d just said something<br />

profound.<br />

Eileen stood up. “Here’s to dear, departed<br />

Wabbit.” We clinked our glasses. “Rest in<br />

peace, old friend.”<br />

The three of us ate our meal by candlelight,<br />

serenaded by a lone cicada. The gentle<br />

breezes of a warm July evening mixed the<br />

scent of lavender with the aromas of the<br />

roasted vegetables and rabbit fricasée. The<br />

creamy mustard sauce contrasted perfectly<br />

with the fresh fingerlings.<br />

I turned to Sara. “It’s okay, sweetie. Start<br />

cooking. She’ll be all right.”<br />

I followed Eileen into the bedroom, sat next<br />

to her, and put my hand on her shoulder.<br />

She lay face down with a pillow over her<br />

head, shuddering from the mental image of<br />

a decapitated childhood pet. Her voice was<br />

muffled. “Wabbit.”<br />

I went back into the kitchen and poured<br />

two glasses of rosé. I paused. I poured a<br />

third. “Here,” I said to Sara, and headed<br />

back to the bedroom.<br />

Two hours later, out on the terrace, the<br />

table was set, the candles lit. Eileen’s eyes<br />

were still swollen and red. I uncorked a<br />

bottle of pinot noir. Sara brought out dishes<br />

of fingerling potatoes and carrots, both<br />

roasted in duck fat. Duck fat is considered<br />

by some to be a “healthy fat” because it

Author Keith van Sickle<br />

investigates long term<br />

car rental schemes in<br />

France for non-<br />

Europeans<br />

Have you ever seen mysterious red license<br />

plates on a French car and wondered what<br />

they mean? Was the driver a diplomat? A<br />

military officer? A French James Bond<br />

saving the world from an evil genius?<br />

<strong>No</strong>, the car was from the French Buyback<br />

Lease program. If you need to rent a car in<br />

Europe for more than a few weeks, this<br />

may be the way to go. You get a brand new<br />

car with 100% insurance for less than the<br />

price of a normal rental.<br />

Sound good? Here’s how it works.<br />

The program is available to non-EU<br />

citizens and all the French car companies<br />

participate. You don’t rent the car, you buy<br />

it and the company buys it back when you<br />

are done. This is all arranged up front and<br />

the paperwork is much like a rental.<br />

You need to sign up well before your trip<br />

because the car is manufactured for you—<br />

you pick from a list of models that are in<br />

the program. Automatic transmissions are<br />

available, which is great for those who<br />

don’t like a stick shift, and the premium<br />

you pay over a manual transmission is<br />

lower than for a rental.<br />

You can pick your car up at one of many<br />

locations in France and drop it off at a<br />

different one if you’d like, for no charge.<br />

Cars are also available at locations outside<br />

of France but there’s a fee for that.<br />

The company wants to make sure your car<br />

is well cared for so it comes with 100%<br />

insurance coverage. AND zero deductible.<br />

AND a 24-hour hotline for problems. Nice!<br />

This is so much easier than figuring out<br />

what kind of insurance to get when you<br />

rent. Does my personal auto insurance<br />

cover this? How about my credit card? Will<br />

there be a hassle to get a claim paid?<br />

By contrast, the insurance coverage for a<br />

Buyback Lease car is easy. Mine was once<br />

broken into and a window was broken.<br />

Getting it fixed was simple. The worst part?<br />

The thieves made off with my melons de<br />

Cavaillon - the devils!<br />

How can this be cheaper than renting a<br />

car? Because there’s no VAT. In France,<br />

that’s 20%! And you also save money<br />

because there’s no charge for extra drivers<br />

and the GPS is usually included.

Let’s take an example. The Buyback Lease<br />

information is from Kemwel, the rental<br />

information is from Europecar.<br />

I looked at the Peugeot 308, a car that that<br />

has plenty of room for a family with luggage.<br />

I specified air conditioning, a GPS, a second<br />

driver and an automatic transmission.<br />

First, let’s look at having the car for six<br />

weeks<br />

Rental**<br />

Car: $2,011<br />

GPS: $196<br />

Second driver: $90<br />

Insurance: ??<br />

Total: $2,297 + insurance*<br />

Lease Buyback**<br />

Car: $2,<strong>17</strong>9<br />

GPS: 0<br />

Second driver: 0<br />

Insurance: 0<br />

Total: $2,<strong>17</strong>9<br />

So far the difference is mainly the insurance.<br />

But it grows the longer you have the car. For<br />

three months the rental costs $4,181 +<br />

insurance while the Lease Buyback is only<br />

$3,036. Quite a saving!<br />

Think about it - a brand new car, total<br />

insurance coverage, lower price. And you get<br />

those stylish red plates! The French Buyback<br />

Lease program is definitely something you<br />

should check out.<br />

Information is available from Citroen,<br />

Peugeot and Renault.<br />

* depending on your personal coverage, this<br />

can cost well over $1,000<br />

**These numbers are based on 20<strong>17</strong> research<br />

and subject to change<br />

Keith Van Sickle is the author of best-selling<br />

One Sip at a Time, learning to live in Provence<br />

Available from Amazon

Instructions:<br />

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

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla until creamy and thick. In the meantime,<br />

whisk the egg whites (to which you’ve added a pinch of salt) until stiff. <strong>No</strong>w sift the flour<br />

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

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

Spread the batter evenly over the baking sheet. The batter should measure<br />

approximately 33 x 27cm.<br />

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

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

the sheet it baked on.


The French yule log, or bûche de noël is something<br />

all French families look forward to - and so do I. I<br />

usually make one with dark chocolate, but this year I<br />

decided to make it with white - it's delicious!<br />

Paola Westbeek is a food, wine and travel journalist.<br />

For more of her recipes, please visit ladoucevie.eu,<br />

thefrenchlife.org and her YouTube channel,<br />

LaDouceVieFood<br />

Read about the origins of the yule log cake here<br />

Bûche de <strong>No</strong>ël recipe<br />

Ingredients<br />

Serves 6-8<br />

5 eggs<br />

110g sugar<br />

seeds of 1 vanilla pod<br />

Pinch of salt<br />

70g flour<br />

4 tbsps good-quality cocoa powder<br />

150g white chocolate, chopped<br />

60g butter<br />

125g sour cream<br />

250g powdered sugar<br />

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

mixture to cool and whisk in the rest of the ingredients until you have a smooth<br />

consistency.<br />

Pop into the fridge for 10 minutes so that it thickens.<br />

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

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

frosting to ‘glue’ the branches to the sides of the roll. Spread the rest of the frosting over<br />

the entire surface and use the prongs of a fork to swirl texture into the frosting.<br />

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

Galette<br />

des rois<br />

cake<br />

Ingredients (for 6 portions)<br />

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

2 eggs (medium)<br />

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

1 tablespoon plain flour<br />

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

1 packet of puff pastry (about 400g)<br />

1 tablespoon rum (optional)<br />

Almond extract/essence (optional)<br />

Pinch of Salt<br />

1 fève – lucky charm<br />

Method<br />

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark<br />

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

proof paper.<br />

Keep the puff pastry in the fridge right up<br />

until you need to use it.<br />

Mix the butter, egg, sugar and flour<br />

together in a bowl and then add the ground<br />

almonds, salt, almond extract (a few drops)<br />

and the rum if you’re using it and mix them<br />

all well together.<br />

Roll out the puff pastry and cut two 22cm<br />

(8 inch) circles and put one on the baking<br />

tray and the other in the fridge.<br />

Spread the almond paste onto the puff<br />

pastry circle on the tray leaving about 2 cm<br />

(inch) clear around the edge to allow you to<br />

join the” lid”. Put the fève into the almond<br />

paste and then brush the beaten third egg<br />

round the edge you left clear and place the<br />

refrigerated puff pastry circle over the top.<br />

Pinch the edges together gently so that<br />

they stick but be careful not to squidge the<br />

filling out! (<strong>No</strong>te some people leave the<br />

feve out and just pop it on top afterwards to<br />

avoid potential choking risk, or replace it<br />

with a piece of candied fruit).<br />

Brush more beaten egg over the top of the<br />

cake, make a small hole to let the steam<br />

out and then lightly score the pastry with a<br />

knife creating a crisscross pattern – or a<br />

fancy leaf pattern or anything you like, it<br />

really enhances the appearance and you<br />

can let your creativity run wild!<br />

Place in the oven for 10 minutes and then<br />

reduce the temperature to 160°C/Gas Mark<br />

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

pastry is well risen and golden.<br />

Place a paper crown on top and eat when<br />


Sara Neumeier's<br />

Lapin a la<br />

Moutarde<br />

Ingredients: serves 6<br />

1 three-pound rabbit, cut into 12 pieces<br />

1/3 cup Dijon mustard<br />

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil<br />

4 ounces lardons fumes (or 4 slices American thick-cut bacon, diced)<br />

18 white pearl onions, peeled<br />

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped<br />

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary<br />

1 bay leaf<br />

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste<br />

2 cups dry white wine (we use Bergerac sec)<br />

1/3 cup crème fraîche<br />

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

and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight.<br />

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

lardons and cook until golden and crispy; remove with a slotted spoon and reserve for<br />

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

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

Cook rabbit until nicely browned, 5-8 minutes per side.<br />

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

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

fraîche, and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve over roasted<br />

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

My Good Life in France<br />

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

Almost always there is a line that reads - lose weight. The boulangeries<br />

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

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

France Show London to chat about my book and France!<br />

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

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

addiction!<br />

This year there is a new thing on my list - go to Paris!<br />

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

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

have. It started with a kitten. When I saw a tiny bundle being attacked by a<br />

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

village. He was followed by a dog no one wanted. Then a stray turned up<br />

and another. Then more unwanted dogs followed. Then chickens, ducks<br />

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

love and care for.<br />

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

problems. The cost of course, finding somewhere for all of us to live would<br />

be tres expensive. Secondly I think we might have very angry neighbours.<br />

Ken, Kendo Nagasaki and Gregory Peck my three cockerels like to have a<br />

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

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

one month as more doable if I can persuade someone to come and care<br />

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

fine, sometimes dreams take a bit longer to make them come true.<br />

Whatever your plans and resolutions are for the new year, I wish you much<br />

fun, luck and success sticking to them.<br />

with love from France,<br />


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