Issue No. 16

Bringing you the best of France including captivating towns like sunny Montpellier, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the antiques capital of Provence, Gascony, Chateaux of the Loire Valley, Paris, Lyon, a long lost cheese story, mouth-watering recipes and a whole lot more.

Bringing you the best of France including captivating towns like sunny Montpellier, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the antiques capital of Provence, Gascony, Chateaux of the Loire Valley, Paris, Lyon, a long lost cheese story, mouth-watering recipes and a whole lot more.

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Bonjour and welcome to the autumn issue of The Good Life France Magazine. It's a<br />

lovely time of the year in France, mellow sunshine, spectacular sunsets, a feeling of joie<br />

de vivre as France goes through the unique experience known as la rentrée in<br />

September, the return to normality, to work and school after the long holidays.<br />

In this issue we start two new series: Le Weekend - a look at fabulous weekend<br />

destinations and the best things to do in a short visit. We start with stunning Isle-surla-Sorgue<br />

in Provence, the antiques capital of France. The second series is Du pain, Du<br />

vin, Du train: where to go by train from Paris. Many people visit the city and never see<br />

the rest of France. Paris is of course brilliant, but you can take a day trip by train and<br />

get a totally different experience of France.<br />

Discover Gascony with our insider’s guide, this sunny part of France is authentic and<br />

truly beautiful. Visit five stunning chateaux in the Loire, and meet a legendary florist at<br />

the Chateau de Chenonceau.<br />

Take a look at magnificent Montpellier, Paris in the autumn, Grignan, a tiny town in<br />

Provence that has a Versailles-style chateau and Toulouse. Ever fancied staying in a<br />

mountain refuge in the mountains? Rread what it’s like plus, find out what happens<br />

when you go skiing with your dogs in France! We meet a man with a passion for<br />

cheese who discovered his long-lost cheese love in the Auvergne and share the tale of<br />

an American who has Paris in her soul in a brilliant short memoire.<br />

Competitions, Your Photos, practical guides, Ask the Experts, expat stories and lush<br />

recipes – yep this a bumper, brilliant issue!<br />

Please share it with your friends if you like it – it’s totally free, forever!<br />

with best wishes,<br />

Bisous from France<br />

Janine<br />


Peter Jones is our regular columnist. A writer and<br />

photographer, he lives in Oxfordshire, UK and is a<br />

freelance writer for newspapers and magazines.<br />

www.jonesphotos.co.uk<br />

Rupert Parker is writer, photographer, cameraman &<br />

TV Producer. His articles appear in national<br />

newspapers, magazines. Read about his latest<br />

adventures on his website Planet Appetite & follow<br />

him on Twitter @planetappetite.<br />

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

The Good Life France Magazine. She divides her time<br />

between the UK and France where she has a home<br />

in the the Vendée area, known as the Green Venice<br />

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

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

writer and photographer. He spends most of the<br />

winter up mountains writing about, his primary<br />

passion - skiing – but also manages to sample less<br />

strenuous outings.<br />

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

stories have appeared in numerous dailies &<br />

magazines. She teaches writing at California State<br />

University, but keeps a bag ever packed for Paris, and<br />

tries to hold on to all the oh-la-la of it she loves.<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: Wazim Photos

contents<br />

p.56<br />

p. 8<br />

p. 48<br />

Features<br />

p. 32<br />

8 Lure of the Loire<br />

Janine Marsh visits 5 magnificent chateaux<br />

and has a floristry lesson with a legend.<br />

32 Insider’s Guide to<br />

Gascony<br />

Local, Sue Aran reveals the beauty of the<br />

sunny, southern region.<br />

40 Spotlight: Montpellier<br />

Janine Marsh visits the vibant sunny town<br />

and falls in love with its many faces.<br />

48 Le Weekend...in provence<br />

You’ll fall head over heels for pretry Islesur-la-Sorgue,<br />

antiques capital of France.<br />

54 Du Pain, Du Vin, Du Train…<br />

What to do in one day in Lyon, the<br />

gastronomic capital of France.<br />

56 Paris in the autumn<br />

Festivals, museums, walks in the parks -<br />

ten reasons to take a trip in the fall.

P. 60<br />

p. 86<br />

Features continued<br />

p. 68<br />

60 Grignan, the noble town<br />

of Provence<br />

Lucy Pitts heads to the wild countryside of<br />

Provence and discovers a mini Versailles<br />

chateau.<br />

64 The long lost love<br />

cheese of the Auvergne<br />

Michael Cranmer turns Sherlock Holmes in<br />

search of a long lost cheese love.<br />

68 Discover Toulouse<br />

Peter Jones visits the pink city and is<br />

bowled over by its vibrant beauty.<br />

72 Hiking in France’s biggest<br />

National Park – Ecrins<br />

Rupert Parker takes a break in a high<br />

mountain refuge.<br />

76 Skiing with your dogs!<br />

Lucy Pitts takes the kids, her enormous<br />

dogs and long-suffering husband skiing in<br />

the French Alps.<br />

86 The Making of My Maman<br />

We’re delighted to bring you this wonderful<br />

memoir from author Colette O’Connor.<br />

Regular<br />

82 Your Photos<br />

The most popular photos shared by our<br />

lovely readers on Facebook page.<br />

84 Three fab give aways<br />

1<strong>16</strong> My Good Life in France

P. 82<br />

Expats<br />

90 Buying French Property<br />

Advice to help you prepare thoroughly<br />

when you search for your dream home.<br />

92 I Spy with my Expat Eye<br />

Emily Commander takes a humorous look<br />

at life in France.<br />

94 The Good Life in the Tarn<br />

Meet the friends who've opened a cycling<br />

business in this lovely part of France.<br />

100 The Good Life in<br />

Dordogne<br />

How many of us sit in a pub or a bar and<br />

plan a new life in France? This couple did<br />

and they’re making the dream come true.<br />

104 Ask the Experts<br />

Financial expert Jennie Poate answers your<br />

money questions.<br />

Gastronomy<br />

106 Secrets of Bouillabaise<br />

Author Keith Van Sickle finds out how to<br />

make real bouilabaise and how the famous<br />

fish dish got its name.<br />

108 Tarte au Fraises<br />

Chef and TV presenter Cecile Delarue<br />

shares her strawberry and cream pie<br />

recipe – it’s so YUM!<br />

110 Life Altering Parmesan<br />

Cheese Soup<br />

Barbara Pasquet-James falls head over<br />

heels for a bowl of soup and persuades the<br />

chef to share the recipe with all of us!<br />

112 Gruyère Pamesan<br />

Gougères<br />

Moreish gougeres are easy to make with<br />

Sara Neumeier’s fabulous recipe.

The Lure of the Loire<br />

Janine Marsh falls under the spell of the Loire Valley and its magnificent chateaux…<br />

The Loire Valley is the largest listed UNESCO World Heritage site in the world –<br />

recognised for its architectural heritage, historic towns and world-famous castles.<br />

Covering 800 km sq. the area has more than 1000 chateaux and several nicknames<br />

“The Valley of the Kings” and “the Garden of France” among them.<br />

There are medieval villages with cobble stone streets, topsy turvy houses, grand<br />

cathedrals and buildings that are pickled in the past. Vine covered hills and lush green<br />

valleys make this one of the most picturesque regions in France.<br />

With seemingly a chateau on every corner in the Loire and when you visit this<br />

marvellous area, it’s hard to know just what to focus on.<br />

We take a look at five downright gorgeous castles, legendary places of art and culture<br />

toi this day. Follow in the footsteps of Kings and Queens, legendary artists and<br />

fascinating personalities and feel the past in the present…<br />

Chenonceau – du Clos Lucé – Chambord – Blois – Chaumont-sur-Loire

Photo: IheartFrance<br />

Discover the history and beauty of the “chateau des dames” and go<br />

backstage with the gardener and florist who bring the castle to life with<br />

flowers...<br />

Everyone who visits the Chateau de<br />

Chenonceau in the Loire Valley comes<br />

away with a memory of the exquisite<br />

gardens, the impossibly romantic white<br />

stone castle over a river with its pointy<br />

towers and arched bridge - and especially<br />

of the flower displays in every room…<br />

Jean-François Bouchet is the florist<br />

extraordinaire who creates and directs the<br />

floral displays at the castle and for some,<br />

he is the main reason to visit the chateau.<br />

When I visited and had a lesson on flower<br />

displays with him (I know, I know – how<br />

lucky am I?) we went around the chateau<br />

afterwards to see how it looks when it’s<br />

done by a master. Groups of ladies<br />

gathered round him cooing and praising<br />

and I’m not surprised, he’s thoroughly<br />

charming and anyone who can make<br />

flowers look like he does, deserves such<br />

devotion.<br />

A bit about the Chateau de<br />

Chenonceau<br />

Francis I, the renaissance King of France,<br />

took ownership of the Chateau of<br />

Chenonceau in the <strong>16</strong>th century. Later it<br />

was run by Diane de Poitiers who received<br />

it as a gift from her lover Henry II, the son of<br />

Francis I. She commissioned the famous<br />

bridge over the river Cher so that she could<br />

cross to the other side to hunt.

Photo: Brad Mushrush<br />

It’s said that she would sneak through the<br />

basement kitchens each morning to bathe<br />

in the icy waters of the river to keep her<br />

complexion bright. When her lover died,<br />

Diane lost the chateau to his wife<br />

Catherine de Medici, and was sent to live in<br />

neighbouring chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire.<br />

Catherine built the enclosed gallery on the<br />

bridge that makes it look so unique and<br />

she also developed the gardens.<br />

Chenonceau later passed into private<br />

ownership and is today owned by the<br />

famous French chocolate making family<br />

Menier. Madame Menier adores the flower<br />

displays and often has a hand in choosing<br />

the colours and blooms.<br />

Both ladies adored the chateau and were<br />

famed for their lavish parties in the castle’s<br />

beautiful grounds. In fact, the feminine<br />

touch that’s seen the chateau owned and<br />

developed by a succession of lady owners,<br />

is how it got its nickname ‘Chateau des<br />

Dames’ or ‘The Ladies’ Castle’.

The Flower master of the<br />

Chateau de Chenonceau<br />

Jean-François Boucher is a Master<br />

Craftsman of France, European Junior<br />

Champion of Floristry, French Vice<br />

Champion of floristry and a truly amazing<br />

floral designer whose creations fill every<br />

room in the chateau and who has a legion<br />

of fans worldwide (you can find him here on<br />

Instagram).<br />

Headhunted to do this job, the young florist<br />

gave up his thriving flower store in nearby<br />

Tours to take it.<br />

He is passionate about flowers and the<br />

history of the chateau, and together with<br />

his team of two, creates around 200<br />

bouquets per week, every week of the year.<br />

Some are small, some are enormous.<br />

The displays may be flowers or a mix of<br />

flowers and vegetables, sometimes with a<br />

nod to the past.<br />

“Did you know Catherine de Medici<br />

introduced the artichoke to France?” he<br />

asks. “Because it was believed to be an<br />

aphrodisiac and she thought it might help<br />

her win her husband back from her rival, his<br />

mistress Diane”.<br />

Floral Lesson<br />

Some days you think your fairy godmother<br />

has listened to you and when I was asked if<br />

I’d like to see inside Jean-François<br />

Boucher’s atelier where he creates his<br />

masterpieces I was over the moon. When I<br />

was offered the chance to create my very<br />

own bouquet under his watchful eye, I was<br />

over the moon and the sun.<br />

It’s a surprisingly tiny room. And, as you’d<br />

expect it is filled to the rafters with cut<br />

flowers. Jean-François gave me a small pot<br />

filled with gardeners’ foam and instructed<br />

me to do whatever felt right. I put roses in<br />

and peonies, pinks and whites, a bit of<br />

green. “<strong>No</strong>t bad” he said kindly then told<br />

me you should never be able to see the<br />

foam so “carry on, put more in”. I spent one<br />

of the most creative half hours of my life<br />

there and afterwards took my display home<br />

with me. On the train to Paris I carried it<br />

carefully and I am pretty sure everyone was<br />

admiring it, and then on to my home where<br />

I left it on display until it was well and truly<br />

over. But, I still have the pot – my very own<br />

bit of Chenonceau.<br />

(See end of article for details of how to book a<br />

lesson with Jean-François).

Above: in the atelier; left:<br />

making up a bouquet; below<br />

with one of his stunning<br />

arrangements in the chateau

The gardener at the Chateau<br />

de Chenonceau<br />

Of course, all those flowers and fruits used<br />

in the spectacular displays have to be<br />

grown and that takes place in the stunning<br />

gardens overseen by American gardener<br />

Nicholas Tomlan. He came to France to<br />

take this job from Longwood Gardens,<br />

Pennsylvania - named the best botanical<br />

Gardens in America by USA Today. He’s<br />

now the brilliant botanical director at the<br />

chateau.<br />

“In the old days, they’d grow root<br />

vegetables here” says this affable gardener<br />

“no flowers”. Looking around at the formal<br />

beds with a mix of vegetables and flower<br />

and roses spilling over walls in what is now<br />

the walled vegetable garden I can’t imagine<br />

it any other way. But, it wasn’t until the<br />

Renaissance days that flowers were grown<br />

simply to look good and to decorate the<br />

interior. Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de<br />

Medici both loved flower displays in the<br />

chateau. Records tell us that some of them<br />

were “monumental” taller than a man,<br />

flamboyant, colourful and showy.<br />

“<strong>No</strong>wadays it’s a mix of flowers and veg for<br />

the displays and also for the restaurant”<br />

says Nicolas as he stoops to pick some<br />

lettuce to put in his basket for the chef.<br />

“The queen would have never visited the<br />

vegetable gardens, but the flower<br />

gardens – absolutely”.<br />

I’m sure she would have approved of<br />

Nicholas’ work and would recognise the<br />

style. These gardens were recreated using<br />

drawings from the late 1500s. There are<br />

gorgeous giant wicker bird cages in which<br />

flowers grow, wild flower meadows, formal<br />

parterre gardens and the most beautiful<br />

arrangement of colour and blooms. The<br />

seven gardeners here grow more than<br />

130,000 plants each year and the gardens<br />

are as important a place to wander and<br />

admire as the chateau itself.

Above: gardening in the rain;<br />

below left: Nicholas and Jean-<br />

Francois discuss the flowers;<br />

below: the vegetable garden

“Do you ever feel anything ghostly here” I<br />

asked him. “<strong>No</strong>t really” he says, then adds<br />

“We do have a small greenhouse that has a<br />

double lock and we only ever turn the key<br />

once. But, every week, on at least one<br />

occasion, the greenhouse has been<br />

double-locked, and we’ve never been able<br />

to explain it”. The ghost of the gardens<br />

perhaps, I suggest. Would it be Diane or<br />

Catherine I wonder and decide Catherine,<br />

she was a very determined woman after all.<br />

Diane’s Garden, as it's called, is on the<br />

right-hand side of the chateau. Catherine’s<br />

garden is on the left-hand side. Clearly their<br />

rivalry wasn’t just contained to Henry.<br />

There is also a maze commissioned by<br />

Catherine and a grand Green Garden with<br />

tall trees in which sits the historic<br />

Orangery. In the <strong>16</strong>th century this part of<br />

the estate is where the animals and<br />

Catherine’s aviary were kept.<br />

<strong>No</strong>wadays the orangery is L’Orangerie<br />

restaurant and it is fabulous – both for the<br />

food and the interior. You’ll certainly enjoy<br />

Nicholas’ handiwork here, every dish<br />

seems to be adorned with fruit or leaves<br />

and it’s so beautiful you feel bad breaking<br />

up the artwork! The cheese cloche which is<br />

wheeled around for diners to pick what<br />

they fancy is a masterpiece. Don’t be fooled<br />

into thinking that it’s all just good looks, it’s<br />

not. The chef makes amazing dishes, the<br />

pastries are created by a master and the<br />

cheese is chosen by a legendary affineur<br />

(someone who matures cheese until<br />

perfection – a very French thing).<br />

Every table is decorated with a bouquet<br />

made by Jean-Francois and his team. I have<br />

to tell you – I’d go back just for the<br />

restaurant!<br />

The interior<br />

The chateau is gorgeous inside. There are<br />

tapestries, paintings and exquisite<br />

furniture. The kitchen looks as though a<br />

chef of medieval times has nipped out for<br />

some more vegetables and will be back at<br />

any moment to prepare a feast. But the<br />

flowers are truly the star of the show.

Above left: Amboise; above centre<br />

and right: Dessert and cheese<br />

platter at l'Orangerie; left:<br />

Catherine de Medici's motif<br />

Look carefully and you may notice that the<br />

royal insignia of Catherine de Medici at the<br />

chateau is rather familiar. When fashion<br />

icon Coco Chanel visited she loved the<br />

intertwined Cs topped by a royal crown and<br />

asked if she could use it as her own motif.<br />

She was told yes, but not with the crown –<br />

and the rest as they say, is history.<br />

Practical info<br />

Website for the Chateau de Chenonceau:<br />

www.chenonceau.com<br />

Botanical tour with Nicholas Tomlan and<br />

floral workshop with Jean-François<br />

Boucher is exclusively for small groups, by<br />

reservation only: events@chenonceau.com<br />

L’Orangerie restaurant can only be<br />

accessed once you’re inside the chateau<br />

grounds. You can book in advance at:<br />

restaurants@chenonceau.com<br />

Where to stay<br />

Nearby Amboise makes for a perfect base<br />

to visit the Chateau de Chenonceau, it’s<br />

about 20 minutes by car. I stayed at the<br />

lovely Hotel Bellevue which has a great<br />

little restaurant and fabulous bar and is a<br />

stone’s throw from the incredible Chateau<br />

d’Amboise in the centre of this historic<br />

town.<br />

If you do stay in Amboise, don’t miss out on<br />

a meal at the nearby Le Parvis restaurant (3<br />

rue Mirabeau) where the appetite you’ll<br />

build up walking around will be well<br />

satisfied!<br />

How to get there<br />

Trains from Paris run to Amboise, nearby<br />

Tours and to Chenonceaux station which is<br />

right by the chateau (making for a great day<br />

trip): UK-Voyages-SNCF.

Amboise in the Loire is dominated by a<br />

grand chateau, its turrets reaching high<br />

into the sky and windows giving<br />

impressive views over the ancient town<br />

and the surrounding Loire Valley<br />

countryside.<br />

A few minutes’ walk away is a much<br />

smaller chateau, far less grand. It was the<br />

home of a man who changed the world<br />

with his art and his designs – the great<br />

renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci.<br />

The Chateau du Clos Lucé where Leonardo<br />

lived, has been wonderfully restored to look<br />

as it did when he arrived in 15<strong>16</strong> at the<br />

invitation of King Francis I of France.<br />

Leonardo found himself down on his luck,<br />

without commissions and struggling to<br />

keep going in Italy. Francis I offered him his<br />

dream job: "First Painter, Engineer and<br />

Architect to the King" plus a home for life.<br />

Leonardo was a nomad, he had no home to<br />

call his own and moved from town to city –<br />

wherever the work was. He wasn’t rich, and<br />

jumped at the offer from the French King,<br />

making his way from Italy to France on a<br />

donkey. Among the belongings he took<br />

with him were his precious manuscripts,<br />

and an almost finished painting of a<br />

woman he called La Giaconda or Mona<br />

Lisa. It was to become one of the most<br />

famous paintings of all time.<br />

Francis I had never met Leonardo but his<br />

mother Louise de Savoie had seen the<br />

artist’s work and loved it. The King offered<br />

Leonardo the chance to practice his skills<br />

as he wished, quite an innovative prospect<br />

at the time when a painter was a painter<br />

and an engineer was an engineer.<br />

Leonardo’s genius extended to several<br />

areas and the opportunity to do as he<br />

wished was irresistible.

The Chateau rooms<br />

Leonardo moved into the Chateau du Clos<br />

Lucé and here he stayed until his death on<br />

2 May 1519. The rooms have been restored<br />

with the help of specialist historians and<br />

it’s easy to imagine Leonardo in his long<br />

gown moving through the castle.<br />

On the 4-poster bed in what was<br />

Leonardo’s room where he died of old age,<br />

Minette the castle cat is fast asleep most<br />

days (above). She is oblivious to the<br />

cameras that click, capturing her utter<br />

dismissiveness of the visitors who are lost<br />

in contemplation that here, 400 years ago,<br />

Leonardo snored through the night,<br />

dreaming his dreams and planning his<br />

projects.<br />

Leonardo liked cats and it’s fitting that the<br />

pampered puss has taken up residence in<br />

his former home.

This bijou chateau (at least by the<br />

standards of Amboise) is light and airy –<br />

perfect for an artist. The rooms are not<br />

enormous but big enough for a large<br />

canvas and to spread out the components<br />

for an engineering project.<br />

In one room, there are paintings in progress<br />

and a desk which looks as though the<br />

great man is still at work but popped out for<br />

a break. His cabinet of curiosities is very<br />

curious and somewhat macabre but you<br />

don’t get to draw the insides of bodies of<br />

humans and animals by looking at the<br />

outside so it’s not a surprise to discover<br />

such bits and pieces. He was an<br />

accomplished musician, wrote poetry, was<br />

an architect, botanist, engineer and had<br />

many more skills.<br />

His note books record the minutiae of his<br />

day from what he worked on to the fact<br />

that his cook was calling him to come and<br />

have lunch. Historians can tell the type of<br />

paper he used was French after he arrived<br />

so they’ve been able to date what he<br />

worked on at the chateau. One of the great<br />

projects Francis commissioned was to<br />

design a chateau that in itself was like a<br />

city (150 years later Louis XIV’s Versailles<br />

was to follow this route).<br />

It’s quite astounding to know that he<br />

worked on the Mona Lisa in this room.<br />

The Mona Lisa<br />

Francis I bought the Mona Lisa painting<br />

and adored it. He took it with him to<br />

another of his chateaux – Fontainebleau<br />

where he hung it in his bathroom. It seems<br />

strange to us but in those days bathrooms<br />

were thought to be creative spaces!<br />

If you’ve ever seen the painting in the<br />

Louvre, you might well wonder just what is<br />

it that makes her so very famous.<br />

According to Irina Metzl, the communications<br />

manager at the chateau, there are a

number of reasons not least of all the<br />

painting being stolen.<br />

In 1911 an Italian workman employed at the<br />

Louvre spent the night hiding in a<br />

cupboard, slipped the painting out of its<br />

frame and took off with it. At that time, the<br />

painting wasn’t well-known and the only<br />

way to see it was by going to the museum.<br />

The police printed 6,500 copies of the<br />

Mona Lisa and distributed them to the<br />

public. Every newspaper covered the story.<br />

Millions of people saw the painting and<br />

had an opinion. The Mona Lisa became the<br />

Kim Kardashian of her day – everyone<br />

knew who she was. The painting was<br />

eventually found, just down the road in<br />

what is now the Hotel La Giaconda. She,<br />

with her enigmatic smile, missing<br />

eyebrows, showing the special trademark<br />

technique Leonardo used called sfumato<br />

where you can’t see how the smile ends at<br />

each corner and the veil of craquelure, tiny<br />

age cracks in the paint now resides in<br />

majestic glory in the Louvre. Personally, I<br />

liked to see the reproduction on the wall at<br />

the Chateau du Clos Lucé where her maker<br />

finished creating her.<br />

Leonardo da Vinci passed away three years<br />

after he arrived in France and was buried,<br />

following his wishes, within the royal<br />

château. His tomb can be found in Saint-<br />

Hubert’s Chapel.

“I believe that great happiness<br />

awaits those men who are born<br />

where good wines are to be found”<br />

Leonardo da Vinci<br />

The Leonardo da Vinci Park<br />

Visit the Chateau du Clos Lucé late Spring<br />

through Summer and you'll be able to<br />

admire vibrant scarlet Mona Lisa Roses,<br />

planted in huge swathes in the terrace<br />

garden. The park is magnificent for the<br />

innovative way in which Leonardo’s<br />

artwork is depicted. Some of his famous<br />

creations have been bought to life, you can<br />

sit in a wooden tank made to scale, climb<br />

aboard a boat, cross a bridge, turn a giant<br />

cork screw and more. It brings to life in a<br />

unique way the works of the man known as<br />

the “Florentine Genius”. The trees are hung<br />

with huge translucent representations of<br />

his paintings and sayings – it’s rather<br />

romantic, certainly ethereal and beautifully<br />

done.<br />

Wine tasting in Leonardo’s<br />

Caves<br />

Chenin Blanc is the “royal grape” says the<br />

wine expert in Leonardo’s Caves. And yes,<br />

this is the very passage that linked the<br />

Chateau du Close Lucé to the Chateau<br />

d’Amboise where King Francis I lived. It’s a<br />

strange feeling to know that one of the<br />

greatest artists and thinkers of all time<br />

used to scurry along here, holding a candle<br />

to light the way to his meetings with his<br />

patron who also used this under-ground<br />

walkway to go to see the man he called “my<br />

father”.<br />

You descend via one of the exhibition<br />

rooms in the chateau. With candles lighting<br />

the cave I sipped the wine almost in<br />

reverence though not as much as our wine<br />

guru who tells us his thinks of “wine as<br />

people”. The pensioners he says, go back to<br />

1874 – he doesn’t offer us a glass. “This is a<br />

young adult” he advises pouring a glass of<br />

local red. “This is a baby” he says of a fresh,<br />

fruity white. Monsieur le wine expert speaks<br />

excellent English, has a great sense of<br />

humour and the most delicious wines. It is<br />

without a doubt an incredible way to<br />

connect with the past, to stand in the<br />

footsteps of the great King and the great<br />

artist, and a unique wine tasting.<br />

Book at: www.caves-duhard.fr/en

Dining at the chateau<br />

Take a break at the rather lovely terrace<br />

garden café. Don’t miss the shop with its<br />

gorgeous gifts and Leonardo models in the<br />

courtyard of the chateau.<br />

There’s also a pretty restaurant in the park<br />

alongside the river where you can enjoy<br />

snacks, drinks and meals.<br />

If, however you are in a group – don’t miss<br />

the chance of a medieval feast in the<br />

grounds of the chateau at the Auberge du<br />

Prieuré. The serving staff dress up in<br />

costumes of the middle ages, the food is<br />

from ancient menus. The atmosphere is<br />

great fun and educational as the food and<br />

customs of the times are explained. For<br />

instance, did you know the French word<br />

copain which means friend/mate comes<br />

from the term to break bread (pain) before<br />

prayers?<br />

Practical information<br />

The Chateau du Clos Lucé is open<br />

year-round (except 25 December and<br />

1 January). See the website for details:<br />

www.vinci-closluce.com<br />

Trains from Paris to Amboise take 2<br />

hours. There is a year-round bus<br />

service from the station to the town<br />

centre. UKVoyages-SNCF<br />

Leave time to visit Amboise town, it’s<br />

beautifully preserved and well worth a<br />

wander and of course there’s also the<br />

Chateau d’Amboise to visit too!<br />

www.amboise-valdeloire.co.uk<br />

www.valdeloirefrance.co.uk<br />


Photo: Geraldine Baker<br />

Chateau of Chaumont-sur-<br />

Loire hive of fun and frivolity.<br />

This is a stunningly pretty chateau which is<br />

unique for its presentation of art and the<br />

international garden festival that’s held<br />

here annually.<br />

It was bought in 1550 by Catherine de<br />

Medici who ceded it to her husband’s<br />

former mistress Diane de Poitiers. When<br />

Henry II died, Catherine evicted Diane from<br />

the Chateau de Chenonceau where Henry<br />

had installed her.<br />

Chaumont Chateau was sold and changed<br />

hands in ensuing centuries before being<br />

bought by an orphaned 17-year-old sugar<br />

heiress called Marie Say in 1875. When she<br />

married Prince Henri-Amédée de Broglie<br />

three months later, the pair restored and<br />

modernised the chateau and landscaped<br />

the gardens. They held festivals and shows,<br />

and hired the Ballets de l'Opéra de Paris<br />

and the troupe of the Comedie-Francaise<br />

from Paris for entertainment . It cost a<br />

fortune, but then the young woman was<br />

one of the richest women in France. An<br />

elephant roamed the grounds, a gift from<br />

the Shah of Persia and the castle was a<br />

<strong>No</strong>wadays the castle is owned by the<br />

region and is open to the public. Inside the<br />

chateau there is an annual art exhibition.<br />

The rooms are furnished and homely, they<br />

make you feel that the eccentric Marie<br />

might be out in the garden picking flowers.<br />

It’s a bit like Chelsea Flower Show meets<br />

Kew Gardens. There are temporary show<br />

gardens for the festival and all year-round<br />

gardens for general visits.<br />

And what happened to Marie? When her<br />

beloved Prince died, she re-married. At 72<br />

years old, her new husband was 43 and<br />

keen to help her spend her fortune. She<br />

was compelled to sell much of her art and<br />

property and ended her days in Paris<br />

staying at the Ritz and the George V hotels.<br />

The International Garden Festival takes<br />

place from April to <strong>No</strong>vember each year.<br />


Above: ethereal exhibit in the<br />

chateau's chapel; below left the<br />

perfume garden; below the chateau<br />

sitting room

Photo: @Toinou1375<br />

Chateau du Chambord<br />

Chateau de Chambord<br />

The Chateaux in the Loire that belonged to<br />

the royals were essentially second homes<br />

in some of the best hunting grounds in<br />

France. They were visual symbols of power<br />

and wealth. On the whole, owners visited<br />

them infrequently, taking their possessions<br />

with them. Unlike today when second<br />

home owners furnish their properties, in<br />

those days people carried their belonging<br />

from home to home. Beds, chairs, cutlery,<br />

dishes, tapestries etc were expensive and<br />

even the royal family rarely decked out<br />

their chateaux with permanent collections.<br />

Take the Chateau de Chambord which was<br />

built by Francis 1, the flamboyant King of<br />

France in 1519. The chateau was said to be<br />

inspired by Leonardo da Vinci (who died<br />

that year). It was one of the wonders of its<br />

time, making other royal families in Europe<br />

jealous. Immense, architecturally stunning<br />

with that double helix staircase. It cost a<br />

fortune. And yet Francis spent only 60 days<br />

there in total.<br />

The chateau has 400 fires and on chilly<br />

days some are lit. It's lovely to see the

embers glowing and the rooms scented<br />

with the smell of a wood fire, just as they<br />

would have been when it was inhabited.<br />

Climb the stairs to the roof top and look out<br />

over the extraordinary newly renovated<br />

gardens. A donation of 3.5m euros from an<br />

American benefactor has transformed the<br />

vast area in front of the chateau.<br />

Don't miss a trip to the shops, restaurants,<br />

maison des vins and the lovely biscuiterie<br />

in the tiny town like estate at the foot of the<br />

chateau. I had to be dragged out of the<br />

biscuit shop and away from the delish<br />

cherry fancies! Here you can do a free wine<br />

tasting and buy Chambord, a sweet French<br />

liqueur that's very more-ish. Made from<br />

honey, vanilla and raspberries, drink it neat,<br />

with white wine or Champagne or even<br />

splashed over ice cream. It's notoriously<br />

difficult to get hold of overseas and even in<br />

France - this really is an exclusive sip.<br />

www.chambord.org<br />

www.biscuiteriedechambord<br />

Stay at: La Maison d’a Cote<br />

it’s a gorgeous,<br />

boutique hotel<br />

and the chef/<br />

owner Christophe<br />

Hay makes the<br />

most delectable<br />

dishes ever, the<br />

chocolate<br />

mousse is<br />

something you<br />

will never forget!

Chateau de Blois<br />

<strong>No</strong>t far away from Chambord you'll find the<br />

chateau de Blois. Again, it's not massively<br />

furnished though there are some wonderful<br />

and quirky pieces. But architecturally, it's<br />

absolutely stunning<br />

Buildings from the 13th to 17th centuries are<br />

before you and the markers of time are<br />

clear. When the early Counts of Blois laid<br />

the stones for their fort-like palace, Blois<br />

was not then a part of the French Kingdom.<br />

Head out the courtyard towards the river<br />

and you'll see a stone tower, the oldest part<br />

of Blois with views over the river.<br />

Walk into the big inner courtyard and<br />

you're surrounded by history. The truly<br />

outstanding stair case is what most people<br />

remember above all else.<br />

Blois was home to several kings and<br />

queens of France including Francis I. It was<br />

his first building project when he became<br />

King in 1515. He lived here with his first wife<br />

Claude who was said to be boss-eyed,<br />

stooped and overweight. The poor girl gave<br />

birth to 7 children in 7 years and died aged<br />

25 - it certainly wasn't all fun being a queen<br />

in those days. Catherine de Medici, who<br />

was married to Francis I son, Henry II, also<br />

died here.<br />

You can feel the history in the chateau, in<br />

those thick stone walls and beamed<br />

ceilings, in the tiled floors and secret rooms<br />

with their wood panelling and paintings.<br />

One of the strangest portraits is of a hairyfaced<br />

girl, Tognina Gonsalvus, a victim of<br />

hypertrichosis ("werewolf syndrome"). She<br />

was kept at the court of Henry II as a<br />

curiosity but I like to think the painting<br />

shows there was some fondness there.<br />

Skulduggery, murder, drama and romance<br />

took place in bucket loads at this chateau –<br />

the audio guided tour explains all.<br />

From April to September, every evening as<br />

the sun sets, a Son et Lumière show takes<br />

place in the courtyard bringing the tale of<br />

the ancient castle to life – it’s terrific.<br />


Practical information<br />

www.valdeloire-france.co.uk<br />

uk.france.fr<br />

If you're arriving by train, the chateau<br />

is a 500m walk from Blois-<br />

Chambord train station.

Insider's Guide to G

ascony<br />

Sue Aran reveals the beauty of the<br />

sunny, southern region

Long ignored by mass tourism, this tranquil region is fast becoming France's<br />

hot new destination says Sue Aran who lives in the Gers where she runs<br />

French Country Adventures guided tours of Gascony…<br />

Where is Gascony?<br />

The area of Gascony is bordered on the<br />

west by the Atlantic Ocean, the south by<br />

the Pyrénées mountains, the east by<br />

Toulouse and the north by the vineyards of<br />

Bordeaux. It’s a region that’s sprinkled with<br />

ancient Roman ruins and humble bastides<br />

and it remains as historically rich as it was<br />

in medieval times.<br />

Unchanged since the 1950s by industry,<br />

tourism or major highways, its landscape<br />

has remained agricultural for centuries.<br />

Soft white clouds languish in deep blue<br />

skies above fields of bright yellow<br />

sunflowers, sun-kissed vineyards that<br />

stretch to the horizon, and velvet green<br />

pastures dotted with gaggles of geese and<br />

cream-coloured cows, Gascony’s appeal is<br />

seductively earthy, full-bodied and lusty,<br />

like its wines. It’s a culinary heartland of<br />

garlic, foie gras, duck confit, and France’s<br />

oldest brandy, Armagnac, and is as<br />

authentically farm-to-table as it gets.<br />

Gascony entered recorded history during<br />

the reign of Julius Caesar as the core<br />

territory of Roman Aquitania. Its fertile soil<br />

was nourished by the rivers descending<br />

from the Pyrénées to the plains below. In<br />

his memoir, Caesar described the<br />

machinations occurring during his nine<br />

years of fighting the Gauls, an alliance of<br />

nine tribes which included the Vascones.<br />

The Vascones defined a confederacy of<br />

non-Romanised tribes who inhabited both<br />

sides of the Pyrénées and shared common<br />

traditions. By the late 6th century several of<br />

their tribes moved north, over the Pyrénées,<br />

and down into the territory they called<br />

Vasconia, which now comprises the seven<br />

departments in southwestern France called

Salies-de-Béarn<br />

Salies-de-Béarn is a heady mixture of the<br />

Spanish and French Basque regions, rich in<br />

local gastronomie de terroir and robust<br />

wines. Salies is a picture-perfect village of<br />

vertiginous, gabled houses overlooking the<br />

Saleys River. Known from the Bronze Age<br />

as the ‘Salt City’ for having an underground<br />

water source seven times saltier than the<br />

ocean, its signature product was lucrative<br />

until the mid-19th century, when<br />

competition from the Languedoc and the<br />

Camargue weakened the salt market<br />

dramatically. Salies then reinvented itself<br />

as a spa village. In addition to the virtues of<br />

its salt, the local water contains more<br />

magnesium than any other natural spring<br />

in the world. Its spa is still in operation,<br />

offering health, beauty and fitness regimes.<br />

Gascony. The remaining portion in Spain<br />

became the Basque Country.<br />

As were their forebears, Gascons today are<br />

known to be independent, brave, hardy,<br />

boastful and, most of all, welcoming. Those<br />

visitors who venture into Gascony tend to<br />

follow the few well-publicised tourist paths<br />

such as Lupiac, the birthplace of<br />

D’Artagnan, one of the Three Musketeers<br />

made famous in the novel by Alexandre<br />

Dumas, or Lourdes, which, following the<br />

Marian apparitions of 1858, became a<br />

Catholic pilgrimage site.<br />

Undiscovered Gascony<br />

If, like many, you have a desire to escape<br />

the routine, here you’ll find an<br />

undiscovered paradise with some of the<br />

most spectacular scenery in France.<br />

Gascony is truly a land that time forgot.<br />

.<br />

There are many recreational choices to<br />

match your individual taste, including<br />

cycling, fishing, kayaking or rafting on the<br />

beautiful Gave de Pau and Gave d’Oloron<br />

rivers nearby. Whether you’re vacationing<br />

or just passing through, you’ll want to time<br />

your visit to include lunch at Les Fontaines<br />

Fleuries. The menu at this fabulous<br />

restaurant is sourced from local producers,<br />

prepared in-house, and is what memories<br />

are made of.

Lectoure was the first capital of the Gers<br />

department, considered the heart of<br />

Gascony.<br />

During the Middle Ages it became the<br />

capital of the Counts of Armagnac, three<br />

very influential territorial lords who<br />

commanded strategic parts of historic<br />

Gascony. It was sacked and rebuilt by<br />

Louis XI in 1473, and when Napoléon<br />

Bonaparte created the départements de<br />

France, the Gers’ capital was moved south<br />

to the city of Auch.<br />

Today Lectoure is a beautifully re-defined,<br />

Neo-Classical, hilltop village with its one<br />

main street running east to west. Its<br />

cathedral, Saint-Gervais, which was rebuilt<br />

in 1488, stands as a sentinel at the east<br />

entrance of the village. Walking from one<br />

end to the other, you’ll pass lovely old<br />

convents, half-timbered houses, and<br />

remnants of its original, fortified wall.<br />

Lectoure<br />

Book-ending the west entrance of the<br />

village is the château of the Counts of<br />

Armagnac which was recently renovated<br />

into a sprawling antique mall.<br />

The views from either side of the village are<br />

breath-taking, and on a clear day you can<br />

see the Pyrénées and a large swathe of the<br />

Gers Valley. Lectoure’s pièces de résistance<br />

include its annual crop of potently fragrant<br />

cantaloupe melons, rose-pink garlic<br />

(comprising more than a third of France’s<br />

entire crop), and 20 pagan altars from the<br />

2nd and 3rd centuries which are housed in<br />

its museum.<br />

Lectoure holds a fantastic farmer’s market<br />

every Friday. Sample cheeses, olives, fresh<br />

vegetables and wine, and stop at Maison<br />

Baudequin, a magical chocolate shop, for a<br />

thick hot chocolate topped with whipped<br />

cream that rivals those of the famous<br />

Angelina’s on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.

Labastide-d’Armagnac<br />

Founded in 1291, when Gascony still<br />

belonged to England, Labastided’Armagnac<br />

is the most charming,<br />

medieval village in the Landes department.<br />

Place Royale, its main arcaded square, is<br />

said to be the model for the Place des<br />

Vosges in Paris, commissioned by Henri<br />

IV. When I visit there, I always feel as if I’ve<br />

stepped onto a Hollywood movie set and<br />

you can easily be a flâneur* here. The most<br />

prominent feature of the Place Royal is the<br />

elegant church, <strong>No</strong>tre-Dame de Labastide,<br />

while a visit to the Bar Tortoré, the oldest<br />

bar in the region, offers a chance to rub<br />

shoulders with the locals.<br />

Labastide-d’Armagnac is the annual venue<br />

for the Armagnac Festival which takes<br />

place the last weekend in October.<br />

Considered the nectar of the gods and<br />

superior to Cognac, Armagnac is<br />

showcased in all of its vintages throughout<br />

the Place Royale. For a few euros, you can<br />

purchase an empty glass and taste your<br />

way around the square. As the locals<br />

enthuse, “Wine is the only thing that makes<br />

us happy as adults for no reason”.<br />

*French for wanderer

Nérac<br />

Once home to the court of King Henri IV,<br />

Nérac remains one of the most attractive<br />

larger villages in the Lot-et-Garonne<br />

department. During the Wars of Religion<br />

(1562-1598) Henri’s son, Louis XIII, ordered<br />

the entire city destroyed. Nérac lay<br />

forgotten and fallow until the 18th century,<br />

when it developed into a thriving<br />

agricultural community. So economically<br />

important was the city thought to be by<br />

then, that in 1830, Baron Haussmann, the<br />

architect who redesigned Paris in the<br />

1850s, was sent to rebuild Nérac’s roads<br />

and bridges.<br />

Nérac has one of the best Saturday<br />

farmers’ markets in the department. Arrive<br />

early, indulge in a mouth-watering pastry at<br />

the corner patisserie with a cup of delicious<br />

coffee, then set off on a leisurely stroll<br />

through the many market stalls. You can<br />

also ride one of several riverboats along the<br />

picturesque River Baïse, which dissects the<br />

village, or promenade beneath the shade of<br />

a variety of stately trees in the grand park,<br />

La Garenne. This 35-hectare park, with its<br />

many hidden nooks and crannies, was the<br />

inspiration for Shakespeare’s Love’s<br />

Labour’s Lost.

Bazas<br />

Perched on a cliff and surrounded by<br />

spectacular vineyards – most notably<br />

those of Château d’Yquem – Bazas is a<br />

jewel in the Gironde department. For 2,500<br />

years Bazas was the capital city of the<br />

Celts, then the Romans. According to<br />

legend, its original church held a coveted<br />

relic which gave the town its prominence: a<br />

cloth with the blood of St. John the Baptist,<br />

wiped up by a woman from Bazas. The<br />

building of a church began in 1233 to house<br />

the cloth, which remained there until the<br />

French Revolution in 1789, when a fanatic<br />

ripped it from its shrine and threw it into a<br />

cesspool.<br />

This amazing Gothic cathedral was finally<br />

completed in <strong>16</strong>35 and sits on an imposing<br />

rise at the end of an unusually vast,<br />

arcaded square that provides shelter and<br />

shade for shops and cafés. It’s serpentine,<br />

cobbled streets beckon admirers to view an<br />

eclectic variety of bourgeois houses and<br />

gardens.<br />

Bazas was listed as a UNESCO World<br />

Heritage site in 1998. It lies just off the<br />

Bordeaux-Graves-Sauternes Wine Route,<br />

where you can journey through 7,300<br />

hectares of vineyards and visit some 494<br />

winemakers in 52 villages for wine tastings.<br />

Gascony Essentials<br />

Take a tour with French Country Adventures and discover real Gascony and its<br />

authentic villages, gastronomic restaurants and wonderful vineyards.<br />

Getting there:<br />

By air: the nearest airport is the International Toulouse Blagnac Airport - although<br />

there a few other options within a couple of hours drive. (Carcassonne, Bordeaux,<br />

Bergerac and Pau.)<br />

By rail: There are regular train services from Paris to Toulouse, Montauban and Auch.

Spotlight on...<br />

Montpellier<br />

Janine Marsh visits the vibrant, sunny town of the south of France<br />

and falls in love with its many faces...

Montpellier is very much a tale of two cities.<br />

There's the old town with its wiggly medieval<br />

streets. And, there's the new bit of town which<br />

seems to change week by week. Also, there’s<br />

the seaside bit. Okay that’s three different<br />

faces to this dynamic city – all of which makes<br />

for a very intriguing visit with loads to discover<br />

and a whole lot to fall in love with.<br />

Montpellier used to be a fishing village<br />

many years ago, now it’s a cool town with a<br />

hip vibe. The sun shines pretty much from<br />

spring through autumn and then some –<br />

300 days a year on average of sun. There’s<br />

no need for formal dress or formality – it’s<br />

not that sort of place and with 80,000<br />

students (and the oldest university still in<br />

operation in Europe – it was founded in<br />

1180) it’s got a young and “hipster” feel to it.<br />

I love the sound of cigales squeaking in the<br />

plane trees, the fact that birds flit about<br />

openly and the old-fashioned lamp posts<br />

The old city of Montpellier<br />

add a certain je ne sais quois to the overall<br />

look.<br />

Wandering in the medieval town you<br />

suddenly find yourself on a hill, a reminder<br />

that this is a Mont – hence the name<br />

Montpellier. It’s not though, a hard town to<br />

wander. It’s a small city, easy to get your<br />

bearings and easy to get around. It’s also a<br />

great base for sightseeing in the area. The<br />

train service is very good and it’s a short<br />

distance to such legends as Narbonne,<br />

Carcassonne, Séte and even Barcelona<br />

from the local station.

What to see in Montpellier<br />

The pedestrianised place de la Comedie or<br />

rather Place de L'ouef (Egg Square) as the<br />

locals call it thanks to its oval shape, is the<br />

beating heart of the city and a popular<br />

meeting point. You can’t miss Café Riche in<br />

the square, it’s an institution and is owned<br />

by the same family who own the very<br />

popular La Grande Brasserie a few doors<br />

along. Locals meet at Café Riche for a<br />

Perrier tranche (Perrier water with a slice of<br />

lemon) or Perrier menthe (Perrier with a<br />

shot of mint, very refreshing!). Perrier water<br />

is from a source located between<br />

Montpellier and Nimes so everyone drinks<br />

it here like… well, water!<br />

This big, vibrant café is also popular for<br />

afternoon tea, coffee and aperitifs and is<br />

the perfect people watching perch. There’s<br />

also lots of street entertainment with<br />

musicians, magicians and dancers, it’s not<br />

organised, just spontaneous and much<br />

loved by the locals and visitors.<br />

Musée Fabre<br />

This huge museum hosts permanent and<br />

temporary exhibitions and regular exhibit<br />

swaps with the Louvre in Paris. It was<br />

founded in 1828 by the artist François-<br />

Xavier Fabre in what was his home and<br />

gallery. Since then it has grown and three<br />

buildings now house eclectic collection that<br />

span decades of art from 14th century<br />

religious masterpieces to the enormous<br />

and brooding art of Pierre Soulages, one of<br />

France’s greatest living artists. There are<br />

some fabulous and important works here<br />

including a Delacroix painting which<br />

inspired Monet, who called him the “Father<br />

of Impressionism”. There are paintings by<br />

Courbet, the bad boy artist of the<br />

mid-1800s, who loved to do self-portraits<br />

and why not, he was a handsome man! The<br />

collection is chronological and there are<br />

some 800 works of art so you can easily<br />

spend a half day browsing this huge<br />

museum, by the way it’s very cool inside on<br />

a hot day!

Marvellous marché<br />

The Marchés Les Arceaux is one of the<br />

best street markets I’ve ever been to. It's<br />

located under the arches of the gigantic<br />

aqueduct behind the famous landmark<br />

water tower (from which you can get<br />

magnificent views of Montpellier). Lots of<br />

people think the aqueduct is Roman, it isn’t,<br />

and neither is the Arc de Triomphe in front<br />

of it. It might seem that’s there’s a bit of a<br />

Roman feeling to this town but in fact they<br />

were never there.<br />

there is all manner of fabulous food and<br />

produce here. Most people miss this<br />

market – don’t, it’s wonderful!<br />

There’s also a covered market, Les Halles,<br />

in the old town, where you can buy fresh<br />

produce and sit at a table outside and enjoy<br />

your feast straight away!<br />

Marche des Arceaux is in the Peyroux<br />

district, a little way west of the old town and<br />

easily walkable though you can hop on the<br />

brilliant tram service if you prefer. In the<br />

summer months stalls groan under the<br />

weight of fresh fruit, huge cherries, melons<br />

and strawberries. Old ladies with baskets<br />

and old men with plastic bags wander<br />

along eyeing the produce, occasionally<br />

reaching out to taste before they buy. The<br />

smell of lavender and cheese, just baked<br />

bread, warm fruit and slowly roasting<br />

chickens is nothing short of drool-worthy.<br />

The stalls are shaded by plane trees and

If you only have time to go to one<br />

restaurant in Montpellier, then make it Le<br />

Grillardin in the little Place de Chappelle<br />

Neuve. In a shady little square surrounded<br />

by beautiful old buildings with pastel blue<br />

shutters of a shade you yearn to capture<br />

but seems to be peculiarly French, faded<br />

over decades, perhaps centuries. It’s a<br />

divine setting which nourishes as much as<br />

the delicious dishes. Tables spill onto the<br />

square, servers nip about explaining (in<br />

English if required) what’s on the menu.<br />

“Salmon is our starter of the day” I was told<br />

“smoked in our own chimney” with pride.<br />

Tables fill quickly here so book in advance<br />

or get there for 7.30 when service starts. It’s<br />

loved by the locals and no wonder…<br />

Chez Boris is famous in Montpellier for its<br />

meaty menu, if steak’s your thing you're<br />

going to love it here - and the crispy home<br />

cooked chips. The servers are friendly and<br />

speak English and it’s fun to watch them<br />

dash across the road with trays of food and<br />

drinks to the terraces on the other side<br />

under Plane trees.<br />

Where to eat in the Old Town<br />

Burger and Blanquette is a burger bar with<br />

panache and the most delicious salads<br />

ever. Eat inside the cool restaurant or on the<br />

esplanade outside under shade and<br />

watching the world go by. Seriously lush.<br />

Head to the contemporary art centre La<br />

Panacée for Sunday brunch, you need to be<br />

there by 11.am as there’s no reservation<br />

system but for about 18 euros you’ll get a<br />

great menu. The locals love this place and<br />

for a true taste of Montpellier – it’s perfect.<br />

Stop for a cooling chilled tea at the lovely<br />

Citron Salon de Thé.<br />

Cool bars<br />

Cafe Joseph has been going for nearly 3<br />

decades and makes for a vibrant night out,<br />

good music and dance floor - and it's not<br />

too young.<br />

Le Glougou (which means glug glug) 27 rue<br />

du Pila St Gély – great food and great<br />

atmosphere, there are big wooden tables<br />

that promote friendly chitchat and you can<br />

buy wine by the glass, great for a nightcap.

The new city of Montpellier<br />

Montpellier is a booming area, often voted<br />

one of the places the French would most<br />

like to live and the number of residents is<br />

growing year on year. To cope with the<br />

influx, the town is expanding in an<br />

extraordinary architectural experiment.<br />

The city has been expanding for a while -<br />

at first it went north towards the hills but in<br />

a calculated decision to control the growth<br />

and make it something special, the town is<br />

spreading south to the sea. The initiative<br />

that was hatched in 1977 by then Mayor<br />

Georges Frêche. The goal was to create the<br />

perfect city. The architectural team started<br />

with a blank canvas and turned the<br />

outskirts of Montpellier into a real-life<br />

laboratory of architecture.<br />

Antigone<br />

The Antigone neighbourhood, named after<br />

the ancient Greek play, was erected<br />

principally during the 1970s and 1980s. It<br />

has plenty of grand neo-classical buildings<br />

and wide-open boulevards, including the<br />

central axis nicknamed the Champs-<br />

Elysées by locals. The most innovative<br />

architects in the world have designed<br />

buildings here but it’s happened in a very<br />

organised way. It’s not a messy hotchpotch<br />

of looks, there’s a consistent theme being<br />

woven through this new part of Montpellier.<br />

Wide open spaces, height restrictions, even<br />

the look has to a certain extent been<br />

controlled although architects have been<br />

given a free hand overall while keeping to a<br />

few rules.

Port Marianne<br />

The fast-rising Port Marianne district<br />

features canals and a small lake which is<br />

home to ducks and giant water rats (which<br />

I thought were otters, they’re very cute). It’s<br />

lined by low height apartments of all<br />

different shapes but with a continuous<br />

theme of low central penthouses. The light<br />

in the area is great and the colours too -<br />

from deep blue of the Jean <strong>No</strong>uvel<br />

designed Hotel de Ville to deep chocolate<br />

on a swanky block of flats. Cafés,<br />

restaurants and shops are opening on a<br />

regular basis and the tram service (some of<br />

them designed by fashion legend Christian<br />

Lacroix) reaches all the news residential<br />

areas. The area is an architectural fan’s<br />

dream.<br />

The result is stunning and the NY Times<br />

has placed Montpellier in the top 100<br />

architectural cities to see before you die.<br />

Where to eat in the new town<br />

Terminal # 1 run by the Pourcel brothers<br />

(who at 22 were the youngest Michelin star<br />

chefs in France). Terminal # 1 is a great<br />

place for a drink, the food is quite fancy,<br />

certainly delicious, and though they're not<br />

searching for a star with this one, the<br />

quality is there.<br />

The RBC Kitchen is filled with design items<br />

for the whole home, as well as a basement<br />

area with affordable items. It might not<br />

strike you as the best place to go to eat but<br />

it has a fabulous restaurant hardly known<br />

by tourists but loved by savvy locals for its<br />

architectural style and stylish menu.<br />

La Gazette, Montpellier’s weekly magazine<br />

of events and news, has a cool, organic café<br />

in an old garage that’s popular with arty<br />


The seaside<br />

Get out of the city and take a dip in the<br />

Mediterranean Sea. With an unspoiled<br />

coastline, silky sand beaches and jut 10km<br />

from the centre of town, the beaches of<br />

Montpellier make for a fabulous day at the<br />

seaside.<br />

Petit Travers and Grand Travers (between<br />

the Grande Motte and Carnon), Palavasles-Flots,<br />

Aresquiers in Frontignan, or<br />

Espiguette in Le Grau-du-Roi, are ideal for<br />

water sports or just lazing about. You can<br />

reach them by bus or tram from the city<br />

centre (check at the tourist office for<br />

services/times), for instance Tram Line 3<br />

will take around 45 minutes to Pérols, a<br />

mere 800m from the Mediterranean Sea.<br />

How to get there:<br />

Take the train – just 3 hours from Pars (check) 5 hours from Lille (both on the Eurostar<br />

route). Its extraordinary that in such a short time you’ll find yourself plunged into the<br />

heart of Languedoc Roussillon, Occitainie as the new super region is called<br />

(Languedoc Rousillon merged with Midi-Pyrenees).<br />

By air - Montpellier airport is just 10 minutes’ drive from the city<br />

Stay at<br />

Hotel les Occitanes makes for a great base with roomy studios close to the station<br />

Useful websites: www.destinationsuddefrance.com; www.montpellier-france.com

Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence makes for the perfect weekend destination<br />

year-round thanks to its status as the antiques capital of France. <strong>No</strong>t to<br />

mention the fact that it is one of the prettiest towns you’ll ever meet, Full of<br />

charming restaurants, bars and cafés and a buzzing atmosphere.<br />

Janine Marsh falls head over heels for the little antiques paradise<br />

I arrived in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on a sultry<br />

evening having travelled by train from<br />

Paris. My base was the Hotel Les Terrasses<br />

and the first thing I did when I got to the<br />

room was fling open the windows to drink<br />

in the views. Bang, smack over the top of<br />

the famous Basin de Sorgue or as the<br />

locals call it Le Bassin Bouïgas, dusk was<br />

falling, lights glowed softly in trees, the<br />

reflections shimmering gently on the<br />

surface of the clear water. The sound of<br />

laughter, light chatter and glasses clinking<br />

floated up to my window tempting me to<br />

join the diners below.<br />

It’s an iconic sight that little lake,<br />

restaurants line the terraces around it,<br />

birds sing in the trees and it is the perfect<br />

place for people watching. A glass of rosé,<br />

the favourite drink of Provence, was set in<br />

front of me with a dish of crusty bread and<br />

dark tapenade. The scent of the crushed<br />

olives filled the air, my determination to diet<br />

dissolved, won over by the smell and the<br />

sight of the little dishes.<br />

The warm air and the pink and purple sky<br />

made for a magical moment and I couldn’t<br />

help thinking “it doesn’t get much better<br />

than this”. My salad was delicious, the<br />

ambiance was wonderful and I couldn’t<br />

fault my first night in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. I<br />

slept like a baby and woke up to deep blue<br />

skies and the sound of the town coming<br />

to – it’s enough to make you fall in love<br />

with a place.

I nibbled on a flaky golden croissant for<br />

breakfast on the terrace of the hotel where<br />

I watched a couple of local fishermen down<br />

“keep me awake for a week” espressos.<br />

Across the Basin, the clock on the wall of<br />

the restaurant read the same time as it did<br />

when I arrived, the same time as it does<br />

every day. I felt like it was saying, don’t<br />

worry about rushing, take your time, there’s<br />

nowhere you need to be except here,<br />

enjoying yourself. The word idyllic sprang<br />

to mind.<br />

I had heard that Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has lots<br />

of antique shops and flea markets. I’d seen<br />

some lovely photos of the town. But<br />

nothing prepared me for the sight when I<br />

walked a few yards along the road from the<br />

hotel and turned into Avenue des Quatre<br />

Otages. Filling the pavement and spilling<br />

into the road were stalls piled with things I<br />

wanted to take home from furniture to<br />

antiques heaven<br />

paintings, ornaments, knick knacks, china,<br />

textiles and this and that. Every alley, every<br />

side road, every entrance seems to lead to<br />

another antiques warehouse or shop or a<br />

whole cluster of shops in antiques villages.<br />

Shady squares and ancient buildings - full<br />

of stuff! It’s like the Antiques Road Show<br />

come to life right in front you times a<br />

hundred – or rather times 300 as that’s the<br />

number of permanent dealers here.<br />

And as if that’s not enough, every Sunday<br />

there’s an outdoor antiques market and<br />

there are international antiques shows<br />

every Easter and in August when around<br />

200 more sellers arrive so you can fill your<br />

boots. It's a popular event and a stall holder<br />

told me that each year, a foreign Prince<br />

arrives with his several wives to shop. He<br />

gives each of them a huge shipping<br />

container to fill with antiques and ship back<br />

home. That's what I call retail therapy!

When you’re done rummaging<br />

Through the town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue<br />

runs the bubbling river Sorgue, originating<br />

from the famous source of the Fontaine de<br />

la Vaucluse a mere 5 miles away. Along the<br />

river are a dozen or so historic, green mosscovered<br />

water wheels – they’re beautiful to<br />

look at and are a reminder of the town’s<br />

past when it was a centre of wool, paper<br />

and silk making. Follow the river to the<br />

point where it divides known as “le partage<br />

des Eaux” for a very pretty view and the<br />

perfect selfie spot.<br />

There are plenty of places to shop for<br />

souvenirs, clothes, gourmet food products<br />

and gifts that aren’t antiques.<br />

Eating and drinking<br />

Around Le Bassin, along the river, in cobble<br />

stone squares under the shade of plane<br />

trees – there’s plenty of choice here.<br />

Locals love:<br />

The perfect place for lunch is the Café du<br />

Village in the Le Village des Antiquaires de<br />

la Gare. It’s popular with dealers, locals and<br />

visitors for its shady ambiance and<br />

fabulous menu. In France, its de rigeur to<br />

take two hours for lunch and at this lively,<br />

pretty restaurant you won’t have any<br />

problems whiling away the hours.<br />

2 Avenue de l'Égalité<br />

Dinner at Les Terrasses hotel restaurant<br />

round the Le Bassin. Tasty food, friendly<br />

staff and the view is to die for…<br />

Grab a snack at Le Cri des Crocs food<br />

truck – my friend Marie who lives in Islesur-la-Sorgue<br />

says the food is always very<br />

good, organic salads and tasty hamburgers<br />

that you can eat at the little tables in front<br />

of the river, a picturesque spot.<br />

871 Route d'Apt

Wine and Dine:<br />

Le Vivier restaurant has a fabulous menu<br />

created by a talented team. With a<br />

Michelin star, creative, refined cooking,<br />

stunning location overlooking the river<br />

Sorgue with the sound of a water wheel<br />

gently splashing – it’s nigh on perfect and<br />

very romantic.<br />

800 Cours Fernande Peyre<br />

Aperitif heaven<br />

Sous la Robe, a wine bar with a pretty<br />

courtyard where they do a great planche (a<br />

plate with nibbles) with your drink.<br />

5 Avenue des Quatre Otages<br />

Pop in for a beer, glass of wine or pastis at<br />

the Café du France simply because it’s so<br />

very French and pretty!<br />

5 Avenue des Quatre Otages<br />

How to get to the Isle-sur-la-<br />

Sorgue<br />

By train from Paris via Avignon. In<br />

summer months the Eurostar runs<br />

direct from London to Avignon. The<br />

train from Avignon to Isle-sur-lasorgue<br />

costs a few Euros and takes 25<br />

minutes.<br />

By Air: Avignon Airport or Marseille-<br />

Marignane International Airport then<br />

take the train.<br />

Hotel: Les Terrasses de David et<br />

Louisa, simple, comfy rooms and a<br />

view to die for...<br />

Tourist office website:<br />

www.oti-delasorgue.fr; www.<br />


LYON<br />

A shade under 2 hours on a fast train from Paris will bring you to the south of France and<br />

the lovely city of Lyon. The gastronomic capital of France, Lyon is a feast for the eyes, the<br />

soul and the stomach. Janine Marsh seeks out tempting visits for culture vultures and<br />

shoppers and finds that in the old town, almost every other building seems to house a<br />

restaurant, bakery, wine bar or somewhere to tempt your taste buds.<br />

What to do in one day in Lyon<br />

Let’s assume you arrive in time for<br />

breakfast and will stay for an early dinner<br />

catching the 21.04 train back to Paris.<br />

At a Glance<br />

It’s a long walk to the old town from the<br />

station and as you’re only there for a day<br />

it’s worth taking the metro to Place<br />

Bellecour. Get a map from the tourist office<br />

which is in Place Bellecour and from where<br />

you can take a guided tour on an open top<br />

bus. It stops at 13 key sites and you can get<br />

on and off as you like, so you can spend<br />

time where you want and it saves you the<br />

trouble of buying a one-day travel pass,<br />

making it really good value at €19.00.<br />

If you don’t want to take the guided tour,<br />

from Place Bellecour you can walk over<br />

Pont Bonaparte, the bridge that crosses the<br />

River Saône and straight into the Old<br />

Town – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s<br />

a place of medieval towers, renaissance<br />

mansions, cobbled streets, amazing<br />

restaurants and a fascinating history.<br />

Culture Vulture<br />

There are several museums including the<br />

huge, recently opened Musée des<br />

Confluences in the regenerated docklands<br />

area. Its radical design has raised eyebrows<br />

but the exhibition of the story of mankind<br />

shown through a collection of two million<br />

objects is very popular.<br />

You’re bound to come across the word<br />

“traboules” in Lyon. These are a network of<br />

medieval covered alleyways and stairs in<br />

the Croix Rousse district linking courtyards<br />

and houses to the river. Lyon was famous<br />

for its silk weaving industry and the<br />

traboules enabled goods to be transported<br />

without getting wet.

Cinema fans will enjoy the fascinating<br />

museum dedicated to famous residents of<br />

Lyon - Auguste and Louis Lumière, the<br />

world's first film-makers, located in their<br />

former, art deco home.<br />

Shopping<br />

Lyon has a sweet tooth so there's plenty of<br />

opportunity to take home some luscious<br />

memories, Violette & Berlingot is a sugary<br />

feast (52, Passage de l'Argue). You might<br />

not be so keen on the local speciality,<br />

andouilette, a sausage made from offal, it's<br />

a bit of an acquired taste and one day may<br />

not be long enough to acquire it!<br />

Where to eat<br />

It’s hard to know where to start in a place<br />

that has more restaurants per head than<br />

any other town in France including 14<br />

Michelin star restaurants. Eating out is a<br />

passion and hobby for the Lyonnais and<br />

there’s a huge choice. Head to the old town<br />

to experience Bouchons, traditional Lyon<br />

eateries that are very charming. Fun dining<br />

to fine dining, microbreweries, ultra-posh to<br />

gourmet burger – this town has it all, and<br />

then some. Rue Mercier in the newer part of<br />

town is brilliant for restaurants too.<br />

Du Pain: <strong>No</strong>t strictly a bakery but a very<br />

special patisserie and chocolate shop –<br />

Bernachon of Lyon is an institution and a<br />

must visit for any sweet tooth. 42, cours<br />

Franklin Roosevelt<br />

Du Vin: Les Vins des Vivants - a wine bar<br />

that’s run by two brothers, a great setting in<br />

the Croix Rousse district, charming venue<br />

and absolutely brilliant wines. 6 Place<br />

Fernand Rey<br />

Du Train: Trains from Paris (Gare de Lyon<br />

or Bercy) to Lyon are direct and the shortest<br />

journey time is 1h57. Between Monday to<br />

Saturday the earliest train from Paris to<br />

Lyon leaves at 5:50am, arriving at 7:56am,<br />

in time for breakfast. The last train back to<br />

Paris is 21.04 arriving 23.12 (<strong>No</strong>te: times are<br />

subject to change so please check the<br />

departure and arrival times carefully via<br />

SNCF or your ticket operator).

Photo: Vicke Cunningham<br />

Autumn in France means is a time of joie de vivre and in Paris the weather is usually<br />

mellow, culture is on the menu, plus walks in parks where the leaves on the trees are red<br />

and gold is a memorable experience as is hot chocolate in a square and so much more.<br />

Autumn is the perfect time for a Paris getaway and here are ten reasons to<br />

prove it!<br />

Nuit Blanche<br />

Montmartre Wine Festival<br />

For one night only, each year Paris<br />

becomes an open-air museum. There is<br />

nothing quite like this truly astonishing<br />

night of art, culture and surprises. As dusk<br />

falls, the city springs to life as an<br />

extravaganza of luminous installations and<br />

sensory experiences astonish audiences.<br />

Nuit Blanche hands the city over to<br />

contemporary artists to reimagine its<br />

streets and buildings and the public are<br />

invited to join in. This is an exceptional<br />

night of art that will thrill, provoke and<br />

amaze from dusk to dawn. This one event<br />

alone is enough reason to visit Paris in the<br />

Autumn as far as I’m concerned.<br />

7 October<br />

Did you know that Paris has a secret wine<br />

producing vineyard in the heart of the city<br />

at Montmartre?! Each October the Fête des<br />

vendanges de Montmartre celebrates the<br />

art of food and wine. It’s one of the most<br />

popular events with Parisians with free<br />

concerts, exhibitions, parades and tastings<br />

in the heart of the city. Join the locals in a<br />

celebration of the grape harvest right in the<br />

centre of Paris.<br />

11-15 October

Museums museums museums<br />

With around 200 museums in the city to<br />

choose from, you’re truly spoiled for choice.<br />

20 museums are free all year-round<br />

including the Petit Palais which is home to<br />

1300 works of art. Other museums are free<br />

on the first Sunday of the month and some<br />

open late which makes for a special<br />

ambiance, such as the Palais de Tokyo<br />

which is open until midnight daily (except<br />

Tuesdays). Museums are less crowded in<br />

autumn and good for days when it’s raining<br />

or a little bit chilly out.<br />

Hot Chocolate à la terrace<br />

And, if it is a bit chilly out then what could<br />

be nicer than wrapping up warm and<br />

sipping a hot chocolate while you drink in a<br />

wonderful view. One of the most beautiful<br />

spots is by <strong>No</strong>tre Dame where you'll find<br />

plenty of cafés where you can sit outside<br />

and watch the sun set and listen to those<br />

famous bells toll – it’s priceless.<br />

Hit the book stores and chill<br />

There are loads of book stores with English<br />

language books in Paris and lots of them<br />

have cafés and even wine bars so you can<br />

sit and read in an ambient atmosphere.<br />

Two of the best are Shakespeare & Co. near<br />

<strong>No</strong>tre Dame Cathedral, it' has a lovely café<br />

alongside the book store, and WH Smith,<br />

an institution for Brits, in rue de Rivoli with<br />

its upstairs “olde English” style tea room.<br />

Exhibitions Galore<br />

Catch Hockney at the Pompidou featuring<br />

more than <strong>16</strong>0 artworks (ends 23 October);<br />

Gauguin at the Grand Palais (11 October<br />

2017 – 22 January 2018) and see a once in a<br />

lifetime exhibition of Picasso’s “year of<br />

wonders” artworks from 1932, with more<br />

than 100 paintings and sculptures at the<br />

Musée Picasso (10 October 2017 – 11<br />

February 2018).

Fountain Festival<br />

A chance to enjoy the musical Fountains<br />

Show at the Palace of Versailles without<br />

the crowds.<br />

Ends 29 October 2017<br />

Haute Culture<br />

The brand new Musée Yves Saint Laurent<br />

is scheduled to open 3 October, presenting<br />

iconic couture pieces and historic<br />

accessories – a must for those with a<br />

passion for fashion.<br />

Music Maestro<br />

The world’s top singers and musicians play<br />

at famous Parisian venues. This season<br />

brings the divine Lady Gaga and Shakira to<br />

Paris to perform at the AccorHotels Arena<br />

at Bercy. The Philarmonie de Paris begins la<br />

rentrée on 2 September with a full<br />

programme of concerts and shows<br />

featuring the greatest names in classical<br />

music from composers to performers.<br />

In the streets and squares, in the cafés and<br />

bars, music is alive and well in Paris, just<br />

wander and listen you’re sure to hear the<br />

sound of Paris in the autumn sooner or<br />

later…<br />

European Heritage Days<br />

The weekend of <strong>16</strong> and 17 September sees<br />

monuments, museums, sites and public<br />

buildings open their doors for free to the<br />

public in a spectacular weekend celebrating<br />

the city’s heritage. There are free<br />

workshops, guided tours and behind the<br />

scenes visits galore – this is an unmissable<br />

Paris cultural event.<br />

More info from www.parisinfo.com

Lucy Pitts explores The noble town of<br />

Grignan and its Parisian style surprise<br />

What a surprise Grignan is as you round a<br />

corner on your way to Nyons, in southern<br />

Drôme in the south of the Rhône Alpes<br />

region. This 11th century, fortified village<br />

suddenly comes into view, majestic and<br />

proud above the low lying lavender fields,<br />

looking decidedly regal in an area that still<br />

oozes rustic charm.<br />

There are a couple of different roads into<br />

the footings of the village and the one I<br />

chose felt very grand. Plane trees either<br />

side heralded my arrival as I swept through<br />

a small parkland area and arrived at the<br />

first wall of the fortifications.<br />

A farmer was hard at work putting his<br />

lavender fields to bed right up to the village<br />

boundary and the wall is broken by an<br />

imposing gate with large stone pillars<br />

either side, suggesting a medieval village<br />

with a bit more of a story to tell.<br />

A village with a secret<br />

Turn the corner and a broad esplanade<br />

escorts you to the first steps up to into the<br />

heart of the village and to a large, 19th<br />

century, circular bath surrounded by<br />

columns, known as the Lavoir du Mail. With<br />

the Mistral wind constantly pulling at your<br />

hair and the heat of an early September<br />

day, a quick dip and cool off is quite<br />

tempting.<br />

As you climb on, what awaits you inside<br />

the walls is a charming medieval village.<br />

There’s a tiered system of narrow and<br />

cobbled streets that wind their way around<br />

and up to the apex of the hill, with views<br />

across the lavender, vineyards and<br />

sunflowers. It’s predominantly pedestrian<br />

and makes a pleasant morning, walking<br />

fully around the village, stopping at the<br />

boutiques or at a pavement café.

Chateau Grignan<br />

Of course, you can’t help but be aware that<br />

the crowning glory of Grignan is its castle<br />

and as with any medieval village you have<br />

an idea of what to expect. One way or<br />

another the narrow streets of the village<br />

lead you to a grand approach and a large<br />

and imposing wooden door at the rocky<br />

top of the hill. But you can’t see the<br />

chateau until you’ve entered the inner<br />

circle. And even then, there’s one last climb<br />

before you turn the corner and there she is.<br />

In all her magnificent, unexpected and<br />

spectacular glory.<br />

It’s as if someone has transported<br />

Versailles or a large piece of Paris to this<br />

quiet corner of northern Provence. There’s<br />

a vast open forecourt at the far end of<br />

which stands the exquisite Renaissance<br />

façade. Mount Ventoux, the Pre-Alpes and<br />

the Dentelles are all visible behind you and<br />

for a moment you’re caught in a<br />

spellbinding silence. Horse drawn<br />

carriages spring to mind and you can<br />

almost see dainty feet topped by<br />

sumptuous ball gowns stepping out of the<br />

carriage doors to the sound of laughter<br />

from courtiers as they swish their way<br />

inside.<br />

\chateau with a troubled past<br />

The originally 12th century chateau, was<br />

completely transformed in the Renaissance<br />

period into this superb stately home. It<br />

boasts high and beautifully painted<br />

ceilings, grand ball rooms and galleries,<br />

Versailles style parquet floors and beautiful<br />

wood panels hung with huge tapestries.<br />

The ornate bedrooms have far reaching<br />

views to the south and east and the whole<br />

chateau is juxtaposed with the <strong>16</strong>th century<br />

collegiate church who’s roof acts as an<br />

additional terrace for the chateau. A terrace<br />

on the church roof, I hear you say, that’s<br />

sacrilege and that’s what the people of the<br />

time thought too.

Perhaps predictably, during the French<br />

revolution the chateau, like so many<br />

others, was partially destroyed and looted<br />

owing to its strong connections with the<br />

establishment and the royal family. Over<br />

the next two centuries, Chateau Grignan<br />

struggled to recover its glory.<br />

Famous one time owner, Parisian dandy<br />

with a fabulous name - Boniface de<br />

Castellane only added to its woes. He sold<br />

off many of its remaining treasures at the<br />

beginning of the 20th century to pay for his<br />

divorce from American heiress Anna Gould<br />

.<br />

It wasn’t until ownership fell into the hands<br />

of Marie Fontaine in 1912 that a full<br />

programme of restoration began. Today it’s<br />

one of the most prestigious and leading<br />

examples of Renaissance architecture in<br />

the south. So unexpected, so splendid.<br />

Website: www.chateaux-ladrome.fr<br />

Time for tea<br />

Right back down at the foot of the village is<br />

the utterly delightful Clair de la Plume, a<br />

quintessentially French tea house (if there<br />

is such a thing). Its courtyard garden is a<br />

little oasis with tables hidden in amongst<br />

the sage, lavender, honeysuckle, hibiscus<br />

and thyme and a long list of teas, cakes<br />

and pastries served in floral crockery is<br />

hard to choose from.<br />

This former ambassador’s house also holds<br />

a 17th century kitchen and a Michelin star<br />

restaurant, as well as a secret garden, a<br />

short walk from the courtyard. In the<br />

garden, behind the village wall, you’ll find a<br />

lover’s pavilion with views back across to<br />

Grignan, a Mediterranean garden and a<br />

natural swimming pool. If you’re looking for<br />

somewhere to stay while you explore, this<br />

is a sumptuous spot.

Grignan is a surprise and there’s just one<br />

last tip before you move on.<br />

Just outside the village, in the industrial<br />

zone, is a gift shop. It’s called Durance and<br />

you probably wouldn’t have given it a<br />

second glance. But from lavender hand<br />

cream, poppy shower gel and camellia<br />

body lotion, it’s filled with all sorts of<br />

natural produce, everything locally sourced<br />

and deliciously fragrant. If you want to take<br />

home the smells of Provence and Grignan,<br />

it’s worth a quick deviation.<br />

For more information about Drôme<br />

visit:<br />

www.ladrometourisme.com<br />

Transport to Drôme:<br />

Valence has a TGV station and it’s<br />

possible to get trains from the UK or<br />

Paris. ukvoyages-sncf<br />

Although Valence has an airport, most<br />

flights are to Lyon or Grenoble.

The long lost love Cheese<br />

of the Auvergne<br />

Michael Cranmer goes all Sherlock Holmes to find a mystery cheese<br />

he fell in love with in the Auvergne...<br />

It began ten years ago, on Friday 15<br />

February, 2008, to be precise, in a small<br />

hotel, in a small town called Le Mont-Dore<br />

in the Auvergne. I'd stopped for the night<br />

en-route to the Alps. After my long drive I<br />

just wanted a meal and then bed. The food<br />

was decent, the elderly waiter attentive.<br />

Clearing my plate he asked if I would like<br />

any cheese. I don’t suffer ‘cheese-dreams’,<br />

so said “yes”, little knowing that the<br />

memory would haunt me for the next<br />

decade.<br />

He brought a selection. In the centre was a<br />

small volcano, its pale lovely crust covered<br />

in a dusting of ash. How extraordinary! (...<br />

but perhaps not, as the Auvergne is dotted<br />

with dormant volcanoes).<br />

Intrigued, I cut a slice. An eruption of<br />

pleasure filled my mouth. I smiled. The<br />

waiter smiled, “Vous aimez ça?” Oh, yes, I<br />

like it very much. Intensely creamy, slightly<br />

pungent; I closed my eyes in ecstasy as the<br />

flavour held me. Finally, I asked the<br />

name…and promptly forgot it. That was a<br />

BIG MISTAKE, and one that was to haunt<br />

me for the next ten years. If only I’d written<br />

it down. If only my memory was not like a<br />

perforated plastic bag. If only…<br />

But for then I went to bed a happy man,<br />

savouring the aftertaste of my little slice of<br />

delectation. Somehow, as I slept, the<br />

volcanic remembrance embedded itself in<br />

my subconscious, to surface intermittently<br />

and worry at me like the equivalent of a<br />

snatch of a song...<br />

I knew I loved THAT cheese, and I wanted<br />

more. But how to get it? An early start<br />

meant no chance to enquire in the town.<br />

Time passed, the taste nagged at me: I<br />

would gaze wistfully in fromageries hoping<br />

for a glimpse of my lost love (which was<br />

definitely féminin in my mind, not<br />

masculin). I trawled the internet, always<br />

looking. On a visit to Paris, enquiries in the<br />

best cheese shops yielded only shrugs.<br />

But I never gave up. Always searching,<br />

always hoping, always longing.<br />

Then, nine years after that first and only<br />

assignation, whilst in London I bumped

into Corinne from Auvergne Rhône-Alps<br />

Tourism and told her of my plight. She<br />

understood at once, “Leave it with me. I will<br />

make some enquiries”.<br />

Two weeks passed, until, one morning I<br />

had an email from Corinne!<br />

‘I tried to find a pyramid-shape cheese<br />

covered in ash, made in Auvergne. I found<br />

one last Saturday, it is a goat cheese, it<br />

does exist’.<br />

My heart raced as I read her reply. But then<br />

came another email from my French<br />

‘Sherlock Holmes’, this time with a<br />

photograph: “Dear Michael, … there is a<br />

cheese in the centre of the picture which is<br />

the one you are looking for, in La<br />

Fromagerie Nivesse cheese shop in<br />

Clermont-Ferrand and the cheese is a raw<br />

milk goat cheese, from the region of<br />

Courpière, not far away from Clermont-<br />

Ferrand. The name of the cheese is Le<br />

mont de Courtesserre”.<br />

Eureka! I’d been right all along. My lovely<br />

did exist, just an hour and a half from where<br />

I’d had my first-and-only-taste.<br />

I began to study the photo ‘Sherlock’ (aka<br />

Corinne) had sent. It was tantalizingly<br />

ambiguous. Taken from directly above, it<br />

showed nine cheeses, the central one<br />

being square and ash-covered.<br />

As I puzzled over it, a sinking feeling came<br />

over me. This didn’t fit with my ten year-old<br />

memory. Yes, it was obviously a goat’s<br />

cheese. Yes, it was dusted with ash. Yes,<br />

the texture and rind looked right, but the<br />

distinctive volcano shape just wasn’t there.<br />

<strong>No</strong>w in a panic, I contacted ‘Sherlock’<br />

expressing my doubts. She explained that<br />

the overhead viewpoint didn’t show the<br />

volcano shape of my ‘chosen’ (as she so<br />

charmingly called it). It was like holding an<br />

identity parade from above. Phew!<br />

‘Elementary, my dear Watson’ (to misquote<br />

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Three months later I set out for Clermont-<br />

Ferrand and a date with my cheesedestiny.<br />

Crazy thoughts filled my head:<br />

would my ‘Long-Lost Love Cheese’ have<br />

changed? Would that distinctive taste and<br />

look be the same as the memory buried in<br />

my sub-conscious?<br />

Corinne had arranged lunch at La<br />

Fromagerie Nivesse. She laughed at my<br />

nervousness. It felt like a first date. The<br />

waiter fussed around, recommending a<br />

local wine. I couldn’t sit still. I pushed past<br />

the queue of hungry customers to look at<br />

the vast counters of cheeses, trying to spot<br />

‘her’…I felt overwhelmed by the dozens and<br />

dozens of products…but, then, there in the<br />

corner by the door, nearest to where we<br />

were sitting, almost as if ‘she’ was wanting<br />

me to see ‘her’ first, was my ‘Long-Lost<br />

Love Cheese’. There was no mistaking the<br />

soft angle of ‘her’ flanks, the delicate pale<br />

crust, outlined by darker dustings of ash,<br />

and the creamy skin. The hub-bub of the<br />

shop faded away as I bent over to gaze at<br />

this object of desire that had taken ten<br />

years to find.<br />

<strong>No</strong>w to taste! Before us was a plate of<br />

charcuterie, fruit, bread, and a selection of<br />

six local cheeses. I only had eyes for one. I<br />

gently slid a slice onto a piece of bread,<br />

and, oh! The first eruption of pleasure at the<br />

creamy inside overwhelmed me. Then the<br />

velvety sensation of the crust dusted with a<br />

complex bite of ash followed. Every-thing<br />

I’d remembered came flooding back. A<br />

mouthful of wine, and then another slice.<br />

The emotion of the moment I had waited<br />

ten long years for held me. I savoured it to<br />

the full. “So, it is your cheese?” Corinne<br />

chuckled. <strong>No</strong> need to respond. My silly grin<br />

said it all.<br />

“I have arranged for you to visit the farmer<br />

who makes your Love-Cheese” Corrine<br />

said, “He is expecting you this afternoon”.<br />

It took a while to find La Côte Courtesserre.<br />

Forty minutes east of Clermont, the GPS<br />

got me to the general vicinity, but I couldn’t<br />

find it. So I did the commonsense thing and<br />

explored every lane, every track, every byway,<br />

until eventually I spotted a field with a<br />

flock of goats.

This must be it! Sure enough a handpainted<br />

sign announced ‘Fromage de<br />

Chèvre fermier. J-B Navaron’.Jean-Baptiste<br />

peered thought the window of his tiny dairy<br />

as I pulled up.<br />

I’d interrupted his cheese-making but<br />

smiling, he explained he’d taken over his<br />

parent’s farm about eleven years ago and<br />

had around a hundred and twenty shegoats<br />

and a few billys. Out of sight was a<br />

small herd of cows. It was an idyllic spot,<br />

cresting a gentle hill, the Chaîne des Puys<br />

dormant volcano range is the backdrop. It<br />

was clearly not chance that my cheese<br />

mimicked the shape and exact angle of the<br />

slope of these giants.<br />

I asked Jean-Baptiste about his day. “I get<br />

up at six-thirty and milk the goats and<br />

cows”, he smiled. “On your own?” I asked.<br />

“Just me. I do it for love. For passion. Every<br />

single day. My last holiday was three years<br />

ago. Then I go to a Farmer’s Market or take<br />

my cheeses to shops like La Fromagerie<br />

Nivesse. Back in the afternoon to make<br />

more, around sixty a week” He produces<br />

four goat, two cow, and one mixed types.<br />

Mine didn’t really have a name, he<br />

explained, “Customers give their own<br />

name”. The Long-Lost Love Cheese with no<br />

name I thought. I was too shy to tell him.<br />

We crossed the track, negotiated an electric<br />

fence, and he called to his goats. They flew<br />

down from the hilltop to surround us, a<br />

joyful, nuzzling, inquisitive bunch, sleeklycoated<br />

and happy. I’d reached the pure<br />

source of my lovely cheese, a contented<br />

farmer, with his contented animals.<br />

Thus my story ends, but with a twist. In<br />

2013 I had a heart attack, and as part of a<br />

healthier regime, decided I would forsake<br />

cheese. The taste of my Long-Lost-Love<br />

Cheese was the first I’d had for three and a<br />

half years. I’m happy and at ease now. I’ve<br />

found her, and having savoured the taste,<br />

I’ve given up cheese again.<br />

But I have the memory.<br />

Michael Cranmer travelled courtesy of<br />

Atout France and auvergnerhonealpestourisme.com

Toulouse may not immediately come to<br />

mind as a destination for a short break but<br />

this exciting, vibrant and historic city is less<br />

than a 90-minute flight from the UK and is<br />

well served from all over France by the rail<br />

network.<br />

Toulouse is the fourth largest city in<br />

France, well known as the home of the<br />

European Space industry and of airbus,<br />

though I was here for the food, culture and<br />

architecture of La Ville Rose (“the pink<br />

city”).There are no stone quarries nearby<br />

so rich local clay is used to make pinkish<br />

terracotta bricks which many buildings are<br />

made of. In the early morning or late<br />

afternoon sunshine they are a<br />

photographer’s dream.<br />

Making for a great base, the Grand Hotel de<br />

l’Opera, is slap bang in the middle of the<br />

city on the vast Place du Capitole. It is one<br />

of the classic mansions of the city and<br />

boasts two restaurants, both sharing the<br />

same courtyard. Les Jardins de L’Opera is<br />

the gastronomic home of Michelin starred<br />

chef Stephane Tournie while the more<br />

affordable Brasserie de L’Opera run by chef<br />

Gratien Castro is terrific.<br />

Sitting here with a glass of Pastis, nibbling<br />

on amuse bouches, half a dozen plump<br />

escargot swimming in garlic butter and<br />

steak frites, makes for a very French, very<br />

relaxing lunch.

Place Charles de Gaulle is a good starting<br />

point for a visit to the city to find out what’s<br />

on and to pick up a one-day Toulouse Pass<br />

Tourisme at the tourist office. The pass<br />

gives you free entry to the museums and<br />

reduced rates at many of the city’s<br />

attractions. It also includes free travel on<br />

public transport, metro, bus, tram and<br />

airport shuttle bus as well as a guided tour<br />

of the city and a free cruise along the River<br />

Garonne.<br />

The walking tour of Tolouse starts from the<br />

tourist office housed in the historic Donjon<br />

du Capitole. This much-loved building<br />

houses the Hotel de Ville, the Theatre<br />

Nationale Orchestra and Opera House. It is<br />

well worth a visit to see the dramatic wall<br />

murals depicting the seasons of Toulouse.<br />

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

city are two symbols, a twelve-pointed<br />

cross and the scallop shell. The cross is<br />

The Occitan Cross also known as the cross<br />

of Languedoc, it is the symbol of Occitania<br />

and appears everywhere. The place du<br />

Capitole has a huge brass one set in the<br />

floor, designed by Raymond Moretti in<br />

1995, each point is a symbol of the zodiac<br />

A short stroll through streets lined with<br />

buildings of pink bricks brings you to the<br />

basilica of Saint-Sernin. This was an<br />

important stop on the Way of St James, one<br />

of the routes of Santiago de Compostela,<br />

which of course explains the appearance of<br />

the many scallop shell symbols in Toulouse<br />

(pilgrim's motif).

Next stop is the massive Jacobins Convent.<br />

To be fair it is not the most beautiful<br />

building from the outside. Don’t let this put<br />

you off because this severe brick built<br />

block is extraordinarily light inside with<br />

massive pillars and palm-tree-like ribs<br />

reaching huge heights. The cloisters are a<br />

welcome cool place to rest up from the<br />

heat of the city.<br />

There is so much more to see on this walk<br />

but rather than listen to me - go there and<br />

follow in my footsteps - you won’t be<br />

disappointed.<br />

Place St Georges is one of the locals’<br />

favourite squares in the city, ringed with<br />

cafés and restaurants. It is the perfect<br />

place to spend a relaxing evening watching<br />

the world go about its business. You<br />

couldn’t do much better than head to<br />

Monsieur Georges for a tasty dinner. The<br />

duck profiteroles are divine, washed down<br />

with a glass of perfectly chilled rosé.<br />

There are lots of hotels in Toulouse to suit<br />

all budgets. Many hotels get full during the<br />

week out of season with business folks<br />

visiting the aerospace and aviation<br />

industries but being empty at weekends,<br />

they offer some great deals.<br />

Toulouse is the sort of place where you can<br />

leave your maps and guide books, GPS and<br />

phone in your hotel room and dive into the<br />

city and got lost in its streets. There are<br />

shops to suit all tastes, great cafés and<br />

restaurants to fit all budgets, food markets<br />

and even a man-made beach on the banks<br />

of the Garonne. There really is something<br />

for everyone in this fabulous city.<br />

Leave room in your suitcase to take home<br />

some Toulouse specialities - saucissons,<br />

tins of cassoulets and other French<br />

gourmet delights.<br />

Toulouse Tourist office<br />


Take a hike in the largest national park in<br />

ECRINS<br />

Rupert Parker finds out what it's like to take a break in a high mountain<br />

refuge, a popular stopover in France, and climbs a glacier to reach an<br />

altitude of almost 3600m...<br />

I’ve always wondered what it would be like<br />

to spend the night in those high altitude<br />

French Refuges, which look so cosy,<br />

tucked in close to the mountains. Better<br />

yet, when I hear about a Tour Gourmand, or<br />

gastronomy tour, walking between them,<br />

I’m even more interested. So I pack my<br />

rucksack and set out for the Ecrins<br />

National Park, about a 90 minute drive<br />

east of Grenoble. It’s the largest National<br />

Park in France and features some of the<br />

wildest and most dramatic scenery in the<br />

Alps. Perhaps because of that, it remains<br />

relatively unknown, its paths less travelled<br />

than those famous trails further north<br />

around Mont Blanc.<br />

I’m told that the walking is quite strenuous<br />

and it’s better to take less rather than more.<br />

I whittle down my load to a change of<br />

clothes, a sheet sleeping bag, toiletries,<br />

sandals and of course a large water<br />

container.<br />

The trail starts at Gîte du Plan du Lac, near<br />

St Christophe en Oisans, and I settle down<br />

to a hearty lunch with a glass of wine to<br />

give me courage, before hitting the trail.<br />

The weather isn’t looking particularly<br />

promising but at least it’s dry and the first<br />

few kilometres follow the valley floor<br />

alongside the River Vénéon.

I see the village of St Christophe en Oisans<br />

perched high above the opposite bank, and<br />

the signpost points me up the steep<br />

hillside, directly adjacent to a magnificent<br />

waterfall. I get glimpses of this as I climb,<br />

but it’s beginning to rain and I’m keen to<br />

reach shelter. Finally, after plodding up<br />

600m, the tiny Refuge de l’Alpe du Pin<br />

pops into view and I collapse with a beer.<br />

It’s been tough and I’m hungry so I ask the<br />

guardian, Sylvie Danjard, what’s for dinner.<br />

She replies that it’s soup, made with<br />

foraged herbs and looks at me. It doesn’t<br />

sound like much but she’s teasing and of<br />

course there's more to follow.<br />

At 1805m, there’s no electricity, the toilet is<br />

outside and the running water comes out<br />

of a plastic pipe snaking down the<br />

mountain. The refuge can sleep twenty, all<br />

packed closely together on one platform,<br />

but fortunately it’s only half full. Sylvie is an<br />

excellent cook and her delicious herb soup<br />

is served with homemade bread and a<br />

glass of organic Cote du Rhone. Next are<br />

Oreilles d'Âne, or donkey’s ears, a lasagnelike<br />

dish of wild spinach, sandwiched<br />

between layers of pasta and cheese. I’m<br />

now thinking I’ve eaten my fill but local<br />

sausages arrive, then pieces of Comte<br />

cheese and finally her delicious fruit tart.<br />

Everyone of course sleeps well, although I<br />

do get complaints about my snoring in the<br />

morning.<br />

The weather is looking better as we set out<br />

early for the next refuge. The track takes us<br />

through the forest and then starts to<br />

descend. I’m worrying that I’m going to lose<br />

all the height I gained yesterday but<br />

fortunately the path takes a right into the<br />

Mariande Valley, then follows the Muande<br />

stream up to the Refuge de la Lavey at<br />

1797m. This is a much larger building than<br />

the previous night and can take up to 60.<br />

Its situation is stunning, surrounded by<br />

3000m peaks, with a snow filled glacier on<br />

the horizon. Facilities are slightly better<br />

than the previous night, as there are inside<br />

toilets, although if you want a shower, you<br />

have to brave the outdoors. They’re famous<br />

for serving world food and dinner is<br />

typically Nepalese – rice, dhal and strips of<br />

grilled meat.

Next morning it’s cold and crispy and<br />

there’s frost on the grass. After crossing<br />

the Muande stream, it’s a steep zig zag up<br />

the mountainside, climbing to 2350m. At<br />

this altitude, I’m feeling short of breath and<br />

it’s a bit of a slog, but the magnificent<br />

views more than make up for it. We<br />

descend slightly to the Lac des Fétoules,<br />

more of a pond really, where people have<br />

camped overnight.<br />

comfort. A taxi whisks us 14km to Vénosc<br />

and we take the cable car to Les Deux<br />

Alpes and check into the three star Hotel<br />

Le Souleil’Or. After a couple of nights<br />

roughing it, it really feels like a palace and<br />

it’s good to have a room of my own. Dinner<br />

at their Le Shakisky restaurant is excellent.<br />

From here it’s a scramble downhill, icy<br />

underfoot, back to the bridge over the<br />

Vénéon River. There’s another bit of<br />

climbing before we reach delightful St<br />

Christophe en Oisans. The amusingly<br />

eccentric Café La Cordée supplies the<br />

beers and then welcomes us into their<br />

Hamman - just the thing for washing the<br />

dirt and sweat of the last few days away.<br />

The Tour Gourmand continues onwards to<br />

a couple more refuges but I’m keen to try<br />

some glacier hiking, and I’m craving some

It’s wise to get on the glacier early, before<br />

the snow begins to melt, so at 8am, we<br />

meet Marc, our guide. We’ll need to be<br />

roped so are equipped with helmets,<br />

harness, crampons and ice axe. It’s then a<br />

ride by cable car and funicular up to<br />

3400m. At this altitude, even though the<br />

sun is shining, fingers are a little cold to be<br />

fumbling with crampons, but they’re<br />

essential on the snow. Marc inspects each<br />

of us, checking the harnesses and<br />

adjusting the positions of our ice axes so<br />

we won’t damage our partners, then leads<br />

us single file onto the glacier.<br />

Of course I’m the one who keeps standing<br />

on the rope, almost tripping the person in<br />

front of me, but I quickly learn from my<br />

mistakes. We climb steadily, across what<br />

looks like plain pristine snow, but there are<br />

hidden crevasses and Marc steers us away<br />

from particular patches which he deems<br />

dangerous. It’s tough walking at this<br />

altitude and any cold is banished by a sea<br />

of perspiration.<br />

Finally the snow runs out, replaced by a<br />

bed of rough slate, and I realise we’re at the<br />

summit. At this altitude the views are<br />

stunning: Mont Blanc to the north is<br />

completely clear and, looking south, I can<br />

just make out the distinctive shape of Mont<br />

Ventoux in Provence. There’s no time to<br />

linger as the ice is melting and we need to<br />

get off the glacier before it’s too late.<br />

The Tour Gourmand is all inclusive, and<br />

can be booked at berarde.com<br />

Hotel Souleil’Or<br />

For more information about the Vénéon<br />

valley, see www.montagne-oisans.com.<br />

For more information about Les Deux<br />

Alpes, see www.les2alpes.com.<br />

For further information about the<br />

mountains of France see www.francemontagnes.com.

It was to be a combined holiday of skiing<br />

for my children (aged 11, 10 and 9 - total<br />

beginners) and dog walking. When you own<br />

two huge hounds, Leonbergers, the<br />

youngest of which weighs in at 75 kgs,<br />

putting them in kennels isn’t really an<br />

option and anyway, they’re part of the<br />

family. Luckily we found a ski company that<br />

accommodates all your family - even the<br />

furry members.<br />

Two days before we left, the husband fell<br />

down the stairs at work and cracked his<br />

shoulder bone. I tripped over whilst walking<br />

the dogs giving myself concussion. As we<br />

pulled out of the Eurotunnel in the early<br />

hours, packed to the rafters, I couldn’t move<br />

my neck and was still seeing stars and he<br />

couldn’t move his shoulder. Things could<br />

only get better, couldn’t they?<br />

Arriving in Saint Gervais<br />

Our apartment was on the third floor so<br />

that was the first challenge. Leonbergers in<br />

a lift! They may be mountain dogs but they<br />

don’t do stairs and perhaps unsurprisingly,<br />

I’d never tried squeezing them into a very<br />

small space before. To their credit, they<br />

weren’t at all bothered (although some of<br />

the other residents might have been - we<br />

tended to exit at speed) but we did have to<br />

travel in two shifts as there wasn’t room for<br />

all of us in one lift.<br />

Once settled in, I think the dogs rather<br />

enjoyed eating their dinner on the balcony<br />

with views across to the Alpes and Mont<br />

Blanc.<br />

Day 1 – Taking it easy<br />

We had a plan. Being a particularly mild<br />

spring, snow was scarce, so our plan was to<br />

ski in the mornings and walk in the<br />

afternoons. We booked 5 days of lessons<br />

for all of us but spent the first morning just<br />

mucking about up the mountain on a small<br />

piece of flat but snowy space. After an hour,<br />

my kids declared they were now of Olympic<br />

standard (despite not yet having gone down<br />

a slope) and we returned to the resort for a<br />

dog walk, relieved to find the dogs hadn’t<br />

eaten the apartment. The temperature in<br />

Saint Gervais for our week averaged at 18<br />

degrees, so I felt a little over dressed in my<br />

thick sweater and woolly hat as we headed<br />

down to the Thermal Park – a well-known<br />

local spa.<br />

The spa sits in a valley, at the end of a tree<br />

lined driveway. Cherry and apple blossom<br />

welcomed us against a background of the<br />

snow tipped mountains and the sound of a<br />

river. Was this really a winter break?<br />

We walked along a woodland path which<br />

runs behind the spa. It was my challenge<br />

number three as in places the path is steep,<br />

rocky and narrow. <strong>No</strong>t so much a path,<br />

more of a goat track, and full credit to the<br />

very elderly lady we passed on the ascent,<br />

they make them tough round here.<br />

The path takes you over a slender<br />

footbridge across a waterfall. I’m all for an<br />

adventure and a beautiful vista but I don’t<br />

ever see the need for there to be holes in a<br />

footbridge with a gapping chasm below.<br />

Especially when I’m still vaguely concussed.<br />

And did I mention that I’m scared of<br />


Day 2: A flying start<br />

First day of ski school - an overwhelming<br />

success, though I only remembered on the<br />

way up the mountain that number 2 son<br />

doesn’t like heights. I was beginning to<br />

worry that I really hadn’t thought this<br />

holiday through. The lower green runs were<br />

open and we enjoyed meandering down<br />

with our respective classes. My children<br />

declared they were now semi-professional.<br />

In the afternoon, we walked the dogs up<br />

the mountain in Le Bettex. We had two<br />

choices: take the cable car or drive. I’m<br />

ashamed to admit that our courage failed<br />

us and we drove. A combined total weight<br />

of 150 kgs of excited dog in a cable car,<br />

was at this stage, an adventure too far!<br />

his wooden balcony, admiring Mont Blanc.<br />

An old lady doing her spring cleaning with<br />

half her furniture out on the grass after the<br />

long winter.<br />

We meandered through woods and across<br />

slopes with wonderful views. You get the<br />

occasional glimpse of magnificent chalets<br />

set in regal grounds. We rewarded<br />

ourselves with a G and T on our return. Gin<br />

and fresh mountain air in the sunshine with<br />

views across les Alpes. What a cure for the<br />

stresses of life.<br />

The drive from Saint Gervais to Le Bettex is<br />

not hard and it’s worth it. The mountain is<br />

dripping with pretty wooden chalets in all<br />

shapes and sizes and it’s a chance to see<br />

some of the local life. An elderly gent sat on

Day 3: It all falls apart<br />

The exceptionally mild weather meant all<br />

the lower slopes and most of the green<br />

runs were closed and ski school moved up<br />

the mountain. This revealed that my<br />

children were not the professional skiers<br />

that they’d come to believe they were. By<br />

lunch time, my husband swore his knees<br />

were finished and two of the children were<br />

declaring they would never ski again.<br />

Full credit to the ski school instructor who’d<br />

spent 2 ½ hours coaxing no. 2 son down<br />

the mountain as his fear of heights kicked<br />

in. And to my husband who spent the<br />

evening balancing the children on his feet<br />

(whilst wincing in pain) so that he could<br />

teach them about shifting their weight<br />

when they turn rather than shooting<br />

straight down the mountain.<br />

It’s at those moments of your life when you<br />

realise that three boisterous children, two<br />

large excited dogs and a dose of stress and<br />

fatigue is not the best combination for a<br />

small apartment. We went out for dinner<br />

that night.<br />

Our dog walk that day was around the town<br />

of Saint Gervais, our sense of adventure<br />

flagging. The old town is pretty and as you<br />

come into it from below it has some<br />

beautiful, mid-19th century buildings with<br />

intricate iron and glass arcades.<br />

Day 4: A turn for the better<br />

We chucked the kids out at ski school and<br />

ran. My concussion was finally easing and a<br />

combination of Voltarol and knee straps<br />

were holding my husband together. We<br />

reconvened at midday and were greeted<br />

with smiles. The kids had mastered “the<br />

turn”, the snow plough and had a great<br />

morning.<br />

We treated ourselves to an afternoon at the<br />

“Bains du Mont Blanc” back at the Thermal<br />

Park. They do a family session on a<br />

Wednesday and it’s well worth it. The<br />

thermal baths are warm, bubbly, outside<br />

and restorative. My snow burnt, rosacea<br />

covered cheeks needed some love and this<br />

hit the spot. A beautiful setting, a great<br />

chance to unwind and recover.

Day 5: A great day in the mountains<br />

With all of us beginning to find our feet (or<br />

rather our skis) this was a great day. We<br />

spotted deer on the slopes from the cable<br />

car and saw the famous Marmot scurrying<br />

around beneath us. They look a bit like a<br />

beaver but are in fact a large type of<br />

squirrel. The snow wasn’t brilliant but it<br />

was enough for us novices to enjoy the<br />

mountains.<br />

The dog walk was wonderful. We headed<br />

out from the nearby village St Nicolas De<br />

Veroce up into the mountains and back.<br />

With a Baroque church thrown in, it has<br />

awesome mountain views and is a great<br />

way to see what remains of the original<br />

way of life in the Alps. We passed a couple<br />

of little homesteads making and selling<br />

their own local cheese, walked through a<br />

farm yard and the dogs drank from the old<br />

stone water troughs that dotted the route.<br />

This was Heidi country indeed. Remote<br />

wooden chalets, green mountain slopes<br />

covered in buttercups and steep winding<br />

woodland paths. We met a weather-beaten<br />

farmer herding his sheep and an old lady<br />

tending her newly planted beds and we felt<br />

like we’d conquered the world as we looked<br />

down on the Chamonix Valley below. It was<br />

worth every bit of effort to get there.<br />

Day 6: We’ve nailed it<br />

As we were only skiing in the mornings, we<br />

abandoned ski school on our last day in<br />

order to ski together as a family. It’s not<br />

something I ever imagined doing and the<br />

sight of your children whizzing past you at<br />

speed after just 6 days, is both wonderful<br />

and terrifying. What a success! <strong>No</strong> injuries<br />

and everyone saying they wanted to come<br />

back soon.<br />

For the afternoon’s dog walk, my husband<br />

explored the lowest slopes around our<br />

resort while I packed up skis and prepared<br />

for our next adventure.<br />

Day 7<br />

My husband caught a bus from the resort<br />

to go to Geneva airport for the UK. The kids,<br />

the dogs and I were heading to the Atlantic<br />

coast. After all, how hard can swimming<br />

with Leonbergers be?

Top Tips for dog friendly Ski Holidays<br />

We stayed with Peak Retreats and Les<br />

Arolles (Lagrange) in Saint Gervais for 7<br />

nights self-catering. We travelled with<br />

Eurotunnel (Dogs cost extra on the<br />

Eurotunnel – at £18 / dog.).<br />

You can book ski hire, ski passes and<br />

insurance with Peak Retreats or buy/ hire<br />

them in resort on arrival.<br />

www.peakretreats.co.uk<br />

Pre book your visit to the thermal spa<br />

and choose any additional treatments at:<br />

thermes-saint-gervais.com<br />

Read Lucy Pitt's top tips for skiing with<br />



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 />

Stunning photo of Mont Blanc,<br />

<strong>No</strong>rmandy by Liz Wiliamson<br />

Montmartre Paris looking gorgeous by Na

Honfleur at dusk by Robin Cox - how lovely is that?!<br />

Join us on Facebook<br />

and like and share<br />

your favourite photos<br />

of France...<br />

netter Gordon

GIV<br />

Win a copy of Vagabonds in France<br />

by Michael A Barry<br />

When a couple lose their home in Florida they<br />

decide not to panic but to go travelling – their end<br />

destination being France. It’s a funny, warm and<br />

uplifting read and an honest account of life in<br />

France and Paris.<br />

Click on the picture to enter the competition<br />

to win an eBook copy of Vagabonds in<br />

France<br />

Read our review of Vagabonds in France

E AWAYS<br />

Win a copy of C’est Bon: Recipes<br />

Inspired by La Grand Epicerie de<br />

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Trish Deseine’s delicious and easy-to-prepare<br />

recipes are inspired by the fine ingredients at La<br />

Grande Epicerie de Paris, the famous gourmet<br />

food shop in the upscale Bon Marché<br />

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Click on the picture to enter the<br />

competition to win a copy of C'est Bon<br />

Win a copy of Voilà!<br />

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Delarue<br />

Fun and easy to follow recipes<br />

that will help you create authentic<br />

French dishes at home. Learn how<br />

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quiches, make savvy sauces and<br />

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bonjour to the pleasures of French<br />

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Click on the picture to enter<br />

the competition to win a copy<br />

of Voilà! Effortless French<br />


It started, as these things do, without<br />

a lot of hoopla – my mother and I arriving<br />

at the Place de la Concorde during her firstever<br />

trip to Paris. The day was brilliant, the<br />

sun glittered off the Seine, and our jet lag<br />

made us woozy with the city’s beauty. But<br />

then, to my surprise, my mother flung her<br />

arms out wide and let escape a sound loud<br />

enough for every Parisian within earshot to<br />

turn. “I’m baaaaack!” she cried, her joy<br />

bursting forth in a teary laugh. It was at that<br />

startling moment I became convinced that<br />

what she always had felt was true: in a<br />

previous life my mother was French and<br />

had lost her head to the guillotine – the<br />

deadly blade that once stood in that very<br />

spot.<br />

<strong>No</strong>w, she has lost her head in a different<br />

fashion. Or maybe it’s her heart. At 70-<br />

something, this mother of five,<br />

grandmother to seven and lifelong<br />

Francophile is cashing in her fantasy and<br />

becoming a French madame.<br />

Who knew she had it in her, this utter<br />

oneness with a buttered baguette for<br />

breakfast (it used to be plain toast), this<br />

bliss while browsing Monoprix, this<br />

absolutely transcendent expression she<br />

gets when she says to the pear man at the<br />

market in something that’s actually French,<br />

“deux belles poires, s’il vous plait,<br />

Monsieur.” My mom. <strong>No</strong>w she is my<br />


She has learned to tie a scarf, become a<br />

connoisseur of lemon tarts. And to see her<br />

charming them in the stalls of Saturday’s<br />

marché aux puces at the Porte de Vanves<br />

is to see my mom – excuse me, my<br />

maman – inhabiting a character I suppose<br />

has been there all along. Maybe it just was<br />

hidden within the harried housewife of<br />

classic California suburbia, the Frenchthemed<br />

person that lurked beneath the<br />

surface of the well-to-do, stay-at-home<br />

mom possessed of passions, apparently,<br />

far beyond the obvious: beautifully<br />

prepared meals and a house that, thanks to<br />

her own mastery of a mop and certain<br />

vavavoom with a vacuum, tilted toward the<br />

immaculate.<br />

I don’t know, maybe there were hints. How<br />

her garden behind our modest woodshingled<br />

house had to have precisely<br />

pruned rows of shapely, pointy things,<br />

gravel paths and a fountain – a formal style<br />

I later would learn channeled Versailles.<br />

How she said “lingerie” unlike anyone<br />

else’s mom, or even store clerks or TV –<br />

pronouncing it the authentic French way<br />

(lahn-je-ree) even though she never had<br />

been to France, much less learned a word<br />

of French or even met an actual French<br />

person.<br />

These were things, she said, she “just felt.”<br />

And it is not like translated French books<br />

and romantic French films fed her<br />

imagination. From the day she met my<br />

Army officer-turned-stockbroker dad on a<br />

blind date, married him two weeks later and<br />

gave birth to babies one, two, three, four<br />

and, after a brief timeout, five, her life was<br />

an all-consuming whirl of wifedom, children<br />

and housework. Even if she had had the<br />

slightest second to herself to study a<br />

foreign language or culture, she would have<br />

used it first to collapse, exhausted.<br />

“Endless drudgery,” she called it all. But we<br />

knew underneath the sometime whining<br />

she loved it (didn’t she?). Home and family,<br />

after all, were her pride of accomplishment.<br />

So today when my maman, who keeps a<br />

tiny, pink apartment in Paris’s chi-chi <strong>16</strong>th<br />

arrondissment, doesn’t just say, but wears<br />

sexy French lingerie, I wonder how she was<br />

born one person – my mom – only to<br />

become another: this mom-object of such<br />

major admiration (in me) that I would be<br />

beyond thrilled if I could be even a tenth as<br />

fabulous as she. How can becoming a<br />

French madame do that?<br />

Well, anyway, this is what happened. First<br />

there was the espadrilles and boat-neck,<br />

striped T-shirt thing. Maybe it was how<br />

Jackie Kennedy always was photographed<br />

in St. Tropez wearing the fetching, oh-so-<br />

French summer outfit (with white jeans), but<br />

my mom (who loves Jackie Kennedy, don’t<br />

we all?) wore espadrilles coming and boatneck,<br />

striped T-shirts going, even if it was<br />

only to the grocery store.<br />

Then there was the coq au vin. Maybe it<br />

was how Julia Child in TV cooking class<br />

would reminisce of her days at the Cordon<br />

Bleu while slapping around her chicken<br />

breasts, but my mom (who loves Julia Child,<br />

don’t we all?) started revising our meals.<br />

Coq au vin, remoulade, vichyssoise,<br />

tapenade: <strong>No</strong>t overnight but slowly, as<br />

surely as the Tour Eiffel lights the Paris<br />

night with romance, even magic, family<br />

dinners required a French accent to<br />

describe.<br />

By the time in her 50s she finally, finally put<br />

down the Hoover long enough to take her<br />

first trip to France, it was pretty much over.<br />

My mom was quite far gone as my maman.<br />

She could claim with pride a small,<br />

remaining shred of dignity (trés small) after<br />

being worked over for years by the<br />

terrifying Mme. Bliss, the adult-school<br />

French teacher who was none too<br />

impressed with my mom’s…well, let’s just<br />

say issues with the imparfait (for one).

She now routinely was going by Jacqueline,<br />

her French given name, instead of Gadgie,<br />

her father’s nonsensical childhood<br />

nickname for her – which my mom would<br />

use, but never my maman. She had our<br />

foyer, sunroom and bathroom floors all<br />

rehabbed in black and white tile (see,<br />

Malmaison), named our wire-haired fox<br />

terrier Pierre, and never, ever, even if she<br />

were flat out postal with hunger, eat so<br />

much as a bite between meals. Of course, a<br />

French madame is like that: Emerging<br />

from the boulangerie she might bite off the<br />

butt end of her baguette before lunch or<br />

dinner to avoid a faint, but dive into a sack<br />

of Cheetos? Horreur! I would learn things<br />

like that later, of course, after my mom was<br />

well into her mamaninization.<br />

So after her first trip to Paris and the I’ve<br />

lived before, but I was French! incident at<br />

the Place de la Concorde, my mom could<br />

not get enough of it. Like she was picking<br />

up the misplaced bits of a soul that long<br />

ago had shattered and was scattered by<br />

the winds of time; like she was ecstatically<br />

sticking each one back in place until her<br />

essence again was shining, happy, whole.<br />

She did a trip of French cathedrals, another<br />

of museums, a third of spas – Vittel to<br />

Evian. There was the chateaux tour, the art<br />

trek, the ancient villages drive-by event. If<br />

she didn’t pray to the Virgin at Lourdes<br />

(she did), she was buying a bikini in Biarritz<br />

that was oh-so-Brigitte Bardot. If she<br />

wasn’t getting teary at the beaches of<br />

<strong>No</strong>rmandy (she was), she was flipping over<br />

the faience of Quimper, lost in downtown<br />

Dijon, or found to have friends in Provence.<br />

Over the years each trip would leave my<br />

mom at little more maman-like. Her hair, for<br />

instance. My mom’s graying brunette bob<br />

that in the youth-obsessed U.S. was dyed<br />

(to its eternal shame) a shade not found in<br />

nature became in my maman a glossy bob<br />

of silvery pride, its au natural hue (as<br />

encouraged by her Paris hair people) a halo<br />

of honor for her ageless grace. Her shoes<br />

went down a heel height – the better to<br />

speedwalk Paris cobblestones – her<br />

handbags up in quality, and her closet….<br />

why, if my mom were to get a load of her<br />

closet, practically bare but for a few – a very<br />

few – exquisitely tailored things, she would<br />

wail I have nothing to wear! But not my<br />

maman. She finds her dribs and drabs of<br />

outfit take her from day to hot date with my<br />

dad (I don’t want to know about it) in<br />

something that before her Frenchification<br />

my mom tried for years sans success: total<br />

chic.<br />

" H e r s h o e s w e n t d o w n a<br />

h e e l h e i g h t – t h e b e t t e r<br />

t o s p e e d w a l k P a r i s<br />

c o b b l e s t o n e s "<br />

Weird, no? Or as my maman would say,<br />

non?<br />

And it’s not like my mom’s transformation<br />

is limited to such frippery as style. <strong>No</strong>, the<br />

more and more my maman emerged after<br />

mastering the many mom-challenges of life<br />

in France – the art of just saying yes! to rich<br />

French pastries daily without packing on<br />

pounds, say, or the science of shampooing,<br />

leg shaving, et al. with a shower nozzle that<br />

has an agenda of its own – the more I was<br />

convinced: I am the daughter of a madame!<br />

A madame almost as authentic as if once<br />

upon a time in another life she had been<br />

ruled by a Louis or two. Or has she? Who<br />

else holds family as the raison d’être of a<br />

happy life, and has made long French-style<br />

Sunday lunches a weekly ritual? Who else<br />

infuses grace in moments, charm in hours<br />

and meaning in years of loving and<br />

generous efforts on behalf of those she<br />

loves – never forgetting that nothing says<br />

love like a perfectly made tarte aux<br />

pommes? My maman, that’s who.

Oh, my mom could navigate her 70s<br />

convinced it’s time to slow down, stick<br />

close to home, be content to look back – a<br />

lot – at a fruitful life best enjoyed these<br />

days through the adventures of her<br />

grandchildren.<br />

Well…no. My maman will have none of it.<br />

Racking up Air France miles, she is –<br />

jetting between San Francisco and Paris<br />

with a vengeance bred of the<br />

overwhelming need I’m guessing she lost<br />

at the guillotine: that is, to fly along rue de<br />

Passy in the rain on her way to the Métro,<br />

her shoes French flat, her handbag Frenchfine,<br />

and her part-French heart totally at<br />

home.<br />

We miss her when she’s there, of course.<br />

But knowing my maman, with dad, is snug<br />

in her itsy-bitsy Paris pied-a-terre, which<br />

vacation schedules permitting we always<br />

are invited to share, is to thrill to my mom<br />

knowing a happiness – no, a bliss – that I<br />

hope one day to find for myself.<br />

The day I was born, long before she<br />

became my maman, my mom named me<br />

Colette. I should have seen it coming.<br />

In the next issue of The Good Life<br />

France magazine Colette<br />

O'Connor reveals how her<br />

maman moved to Paris at the age<br />

of 76 proving it's never too late to<br />

make your dreams come true...

BUYING<br />

French<br />

Property<br />

Karine Chariaud, contracts expert at<br />

Leggett Immobilier shares her<br />

advice to help you prepare<br />

thoroughly before you begin the<br />

search for your dream home.<br />

Holiday makers in France often love what they find – the relaxing<br />

lifestyle, sunshine and food. Before long, thoughts can turn to<br />

creating a long-term relationship with this beautiful country.<br />

For more information on buying see: A step by step guide to buying<br />

property<br />


Begin by drawing up the list of things you<br />

need to factor into your buying decision.<br />

Basic points, such as the number of<br />

bedrooms, are obvious. But have you<br />

thought about accessibility? If you make<br />

frequent trips back to your old country or<br />

expect family visits, it makes sense to be<br />

within 90 minutes of an airport. Budget<br />

airlines cover much of the country. There is<br />

also the TGV (high speed train), which<br />

makes travel to Paris and the Eurostar links<br />

easy. If you plan to drive back and forth to<br />

the UK, consider the distance to the<br />

Channel ports.<br />


My advice is to thoroughly investigate the<br />

area you have chosen. How are you going<br />

to spend your time here? Will your hobbies<br />

be feasible in your new French home? If<br />

you're an ardent skier, don't buy that<br />

beautiful house you fell in love with far from<br />

the ski slopes. It may seem obvious, but it's<br />

a mistake others have made.<br />


Are you willing to renovate or do you prefer<br />

a house where the hard work has already<br />

been done? Chances are you'll want to do<br />

some work to match the house to your<br />

taste, so factor that into your decision to<br />

buy, and your budget.<br />


France provides an array of opportunities.<br />

This is of key importance in any buying<br />

decision. To international eyes, and in real<br />

terms, French housing stock is good value<br />

at the present time.


Get professional assistance. An agent will<br />

be familiar with the details of French real<br />

estate law, keep you informed about the<br />

process of your purchase and help you<br />

avoid any potential pitfalls. Leggett is the<br />

only real estate company in France with<br />

their own in-house legal team and notaire.<br />

If you don’t speak French and your agents<br />

don’t provide documentation in English<br />

(we do), get it translated so that there are<br />

no nasty surprises.<br />

It's important to establish the legal status<br />

of exactly who is buying the property<br />

before you sign. If you're an unmarried<br />

couple, you might consider buying on a<br />

joint basis. If you're married and wish your<br />

surviving spouse to inherit all your estate,<br />

you will probably need to adopt a French<br />

marriage contract or buy 'en tontine.'<br />

Unrelated groups of people should<br />

consider establishing a property company.<br />


When you've found your dream house, it's<br />

time to make an offer. Once the purchase<br />

price has been agreed, a 'compromis de<br />

vente' is drawn up. You then have a sevenday<br />

cooling-off period. The sale proceeds<br />

through a notaire. You can share the<br />

notaire with the vendor or appoint your<br />

own – in either case the notary costs will be<br />

the same.<br />

Mortgages may be cheaper and may offer<br />

some tax advantages if you are permanently<br />

relocating. If you require a mortgage,<br />

this will be inserted as a conditional clause<br />

in the contract. You will need to pay a<br />

deposit, usually 10 percent of the purchase<br />

price. The buying process normally takes<br />

3-4 months.<br />


When the day of completion arrives, make<br />

sure your monies are deposited with the<br />

notaire several days beforehand to ensure<br />

the sale goes through smoothly. Should<br />

you have overpaid, the balance will be<br />

refunded. Visit the property to ensure all is<br />

as it should be – particularly the fixtures<br />

and fittings – and the sale can proceed.<br />

A FINAL WORD...<br />

If you do your research and take<br />

professional advice, the purchase of your<br />

dream home should be a simple process!

In France everything has its season: in<br />

February it’s skiing; in May it’s lily-of-the<br />

valley; in August it’s idleness; and in<br />

October it’s tax. This last is why, as the<br />

leaves begin to fall each year, my husband<br />

and I get together for a financial summit.<br />

Our budgetary discussions have a<br />

peculiarly French flavour, however: rather<br />

than generating spreadsheets and<br />

instigating household economies, we hold<br />

our annual discussion about whether or<br />

not we should have a third child.<br />

In the UK, our third child discussions were<br />

all about affordability. A third child meant<br />

maternity leave, a bigger car, an extra<br />

mouth to feed, and a third winter coat each<br />

year. Could our finances stretch that far, we<br />

asked ourselves? In France, our<br />

conversations on the subject take precisely<br />

the opposite course, for it seems that if<br />

French Presidents have one objective in<br />

mind it is that I should procreate. <strong>No</strong>,<br />

calmez-vous, there is no need for another<br />

sleaze probe: Governmental interests in<br />

this area are fiscal rather than prurient in<br />

nature.<br />

French families get to share their tax<br />

liabilities between them, you see. This does<br />

not mean a stingy little contribution via the<br />

child benefit system (though French<br />

families get that too), but a wholesale<br />

division of the family’s tax liabilities<br />

between each member of the family. Thus<br />

the more numerous the family, the smaller<br />

the bill. Whereas the super-rich in the UK<br />

are busy messing around with offshore<br />

bank accounts and dodgy investment<br />

funds, here in France, where all you have to<br />

do is go forth and multiply, tax avoidance is<br />

much more fun.<br />

A third child would not only reduce our tax<br />

liability by 25% but would transform us into<br />

a card-carrying famille nombreuse. Entire<br />

websites are given over to the privileges<br />

enjoyed by such families, which include<br />

state-subsidised reductions of up to 75% in<br />

the cost of train tickets, reduced entries to<br />

museums, cinemas and leisure centres,

and even, in some resorts, free ski passes<br />

for the fifth family member (lest the cost of<br />

the compulsory February activity become<br />

prohibitive). In addition to virtually nonexistent<br />

childcare costs and governmentsponsored<br />

rehabilitation of mothers' babymaking<br />

equipment, reproduction in France<br />

has much to recommend it.<br />

Of course, to benefit from the munificence<br />

of the French state, one has not only to<br />

give birth to additional children, but to<br />

remain in France. Prospective parents<br />

might do well to think this through before<br />

they embark on any course of action. <strong>No</strong>t<br />

only does raising a family in France commit<br />

you to a lifetime of being corrected on<br />

the use of the subjonctif by young relatives<br />

barely out of nappies, it also means that<br />

your children will demand at least three<br />

courses, one of which should be fromage,<br />

at every meal. You will tie yourself in to<br />

years of rote-learned poetry: charming<br />

when it is directed towards your many and<br />

manifold virtues on Mother’s Day, but<br />

rather less so when you are hearing a child<br />

drone on about the rentrée for the fifth time<br />

in their primary school career. You will have<br />

to learn to decipher that French curly script,<br />

le cursive, if you ever want to stand a<br />

chance of understanding a word that your<br />

child writes, and if they show the slightest<br />

glimmer of musical talent, you will become<br />

as expert as Julie Andrews on the subject<br />

of the gender of deer, or how far to run.<br />

In other words, the reduction in your tax bill<br />

comes at a price, which is why at our<br />

annual summit we postponed any decision<br />

until next year…<br />

Emily Commander is a freelance writer and<br />

journalist who lives in Lyon and blogs<br />

about the peculiarities of French life. You<br />

can find her at www.lostinlyon.com

Years ago, expats in France who wanted an income usually took the gite route.<br />

Gites really took off in the 1950s when the French Government introduced a gite<br />

classification system to breathe new life into rural economy and British expats in<br />

particular saw the attraction. These days expats are becoming more and more<br />

entrepreneurial and creating jobs for themselves in less traditional areas of<br />

business.<br />

Janine Marsh chats to a group of young Brits who’ve set up a cycling<br />

business in the Tarn region…

Charlotte Corner and Marcus Gough and<br />

Melanie and James Sewell from Coventry,<br />

England, moved to the Tarn in 2015.<br />

Charlotte and Mel are sisters and the<br />

couples are also great friends who had a<br />

vision. They’re in their 30’s and like an<br />

increasing number of people, didn’t want to<br />

wait until retirement to move to France to<br />

live the good life.<br />

After ten years of taking holidays in France,<br />

and much planning, they gave up their jobs<br />

and moved to the village of Espinas in the<br />

Tarn et Garonne, part of the new super<br />

region Occitanie.<br />

location location location<br />

started with a search for a house big<br />

enough for all of them. And they needed<br />

space to set up their business with lots of<br />

storage and accommodation. And it all<br />

needed to be in a really picturesque part of<br />

France.<br />

The couples fell head over heels for this<br />

area at the junction of three regions Tarn,<br />

Tarn-et-Garonne and Aveyron. “The<br />

landscape is spectacular” Mel enthuses “a<br />

combination of rolling hills and oak forests,<br />

impressive river gorges and medieval<br />

hilltop towns glowing golden in the<br />

sunshine”.<br />

“We were inspired to move to this area<br />

after a wonderful holiday in 2013 – this<br />

place just seemed to ‘click’ and we were<br />

won over by the beauty of local towns and<br />

villages, especially Saint Antonin <strong>No</strong>ble<br />

Val. It felt like there was a lot going on and<br />

that it was a place you could live in, not just<br />

a place for holidays” says Marcus.<br />

They knew they had to earn an income and<br />

their dream was to run a cycling holiday<br />

business – they’re all keen cyclists. They<br />

They love the impressive Gorges<br />

D’Aveyron, perfect to visit by bike, market<br />

day in Saint Antonin <strong>No</strong>ble Val is superb<br />

and they love the chance to enjoy wine<br />

tasting in the Gaillac vineyards. “Taking a<br />

tour of the bastide towns including Cordes<br />

sur Ciel, a trip to the city of Albi (a UNESCO<br />

world heritage site), a visit to the Royal<br />

chateau fortress at Najac, the cascades of<br />

the Bonnette river or the lush Foret de<br />

Gresigne” are just a few of their favourite<br />


finding the dream<br />

“We searched for hours and hours online<br />

making long lists, then short listed those<br />

lists until we had a selection of houses we<br />

wanted to view” Marcus says. In the end,<br />

they had 50 properties that were potential<br />

for their home/business goal. It took them<br />

a month to view them all until they saw<br />

“the one” close to the lovely town of Saint<br />

Antonin <strong>No</strong>ble Val.<br />

Their house is a large, Quercy style<br />

farmhouse with the date of 1786 above the<br />

door. It sits in six acres with its own<br />

woodland and surrounding meadows. The<br />

main house was mostly renovated so they<br />

were able to move in straightaway allowing<br />

them to concentrate their efforts on<br />

renovating the barn and creating cabin<br />

accommodation for their cycling business.<br />

“We also had to claw back the gardens<br />

from a very wet spring which had led to the<br />

grass growing six feet high! We spent a lot<br />

of those early days, weeding, strimming<br />

and mowing!” they say.<br />

Soon after they arrived, they were invited to<br />

take part in the Channel 4 TV series, A New<br />

Life in the Sun. “The camera crew captured<br />

some great footage of our ‘before and after’<br />

transformation which has given us a<br />

fantastic record of our achievements but<br />

did occasionally distract us from making<br />

progress” says Jim.<br />

Starting a cycling business in<br />

France<br />

The couple say they knew it wasn’t going to<br />

be easy to set up their new business in<br />

France. “We had no problems sorting out<br />

the sale of our houses in the UK, buying the<br />

property in France, finances, setting up<br />

websites etc but when it came to the official<br />

paperwork we didn’t want to risk getting it<br />

wrong” Marcus says. They hired an Englishspeaking<br />

company in France that helps<br />

expats resettle, set up business and sort<br />

out life in France. <strong>No</strong>t having to worry about<br />

paperwork freed them up to work on<br />

making their company exactly what they<br />

dreamed of.

“We run our holidays from our base – a<br />

beautifully renovated barn with ensuite<br />

bedrooms and swimming pool. Our guests<br />

can explore the best of the region on<br />

different routes each day but without<br />

having to move their belongings from<br />

place to place. We look after the pick-ups<br />

and drop offs each day, breakfast and<br />

dinner. It’s still a cycle touring holiday, but<br />

all within one region, from one base so<br />

guests can feel at home during their stay.<br />

We use local fresh produce for our cooking<br />

and the wine from the vineyards on our<br />

doorstep and a key aspect of our business<br />

is enabling others to explore and enjoy our<br />

beautiful region.”<br />

They also rent out their self-catering barn<br />

and woodland cabin with wood-fired hottub<br />

belong. “We’ve definitely adapted”<br />

Charlotte says, especially since baby<br />

Amadie arrived in January 2017. “Some<br />

things take a bit of getting used to like the<br />

fact that everything stays closed for lunch<br />

and how much form filling there can be!<br />

And we miss friends, family, even the rain<br />

some days - but those things are<br />

outweighed by all of the other special<br />

things that living in France offers. We<br />

particularly love the French approach to<br />

hospitality, there is something very civilised<br />

about the time and care taken to prepare<br />

and eat a meal – eating in France is an<br />

occasion not just a necessity!”<br />

For these young entrepreneurs the move to<br />

France has been everything they dreamed<br />

of and more.<br />

Living the dream<br />

The support from the town hall and their<br />

neighbours in Espinas has been<br />

overwhelming say the couples. They’ve<br />

been made to feel welcome and part of the<br />

community and really feel as though they<br />

Tours du Tarn run cycling holidays<br />

throughout the year, details on their<br />

website: www.tarncyclingholidays.com

The idea began, as most good ideas do, in the pub. Rebecca<br />

Randall, a criminal barrister and husband Greg who works in the<br />

City came to the realisation that they didn’t want to be commuting<br />

to and working in London until they reached 70. They talk to Janine<br />

Marsh about their plans for the good life in Dordogne...

“Several glasses in and one of us (we still<br />

aren’t sure who to blame) came up with the<br />

bright idea of moving to France and setting<br />

up a gite business. Brilliant. Easy. What<br />

could possibly go wrong?”<br />

Rebecca had spent time in France as an au<br />

pair when she was young. Greg had been<br />

on a boys’ holiday to Le Touquet. “I had<br />

done French at A Level. My husband could<br />

order a beer. We were clearly well equipped<br />

to make an incisive, life-changing decision”<br />

Rebecca laughs.<br />

They did though do considerable and indepth<br />

research of the kind that involves<br />

holidays staying in chateaux, drinking wine<br />

and sitting by a pool. They decided that the<br />

Dordogne was the region for them and that<br />

they could afford to buy somewhere that<br />

needed a little bit of renovation. “We<br />

thought we could cope with maybe a new<br />

bathroom or kitchen, but nothing – repeat,<br />

nothing – major”.<br />

They drove thousands of kilometres but<br />

there was nothing that got their hearts<br />

racing and butterflies fluttering. That is,<br />

nothing until a rainy, miserable day in<br />

March 20<strong>16</strong>.<br />

“On a dull, wet morning we saw an<br />

incredibly beautiful house with a large gite.<br />

It was designed to perfection and we<br />

wouldn’t have had to so much as lift a<br />

paintbrush. I wanted it. In the afternoon, our<br />

agent persuaded us to go and see one<br />

more property that she had on her books. It<br />

was a Mill and she uttered the fateful<br />

words, “you need a bit of vision” - and my<br />

heart sank.<br />

Nevertheless, off we went to see Moulin de<br />

Fontalbe. We got lost on the way and had a<br />

small marital disagreement. By the time we<br />

finally drove though the gates I was in no<br />

mood to have vision for anything, apart<br />

from a glass of wine.

Kitchen before...<br />

Kitchen after....<br />

The Mill was enormous and had been<br />

abandoned for several years. Roofs needed<br />

repairing, there was no kitchen or bathroom.<br />

It felt unloved. It was in a nice spot,<br />

but that was all. It was too big a project, I<br />

told Greg, we should just forget it" says<br />

Rebecca.<br />

They returned to their hotel and discussed<br />

the day’s viewings. Greg was very taken<br />

with the Mill, Rebecca wasn’t, but as they<br />

talked, she says she started to come round.<br />

The next day was beautifully sunny and<br />

they decided to revisit the Mill. “What a<br />

difference a day makes. We realised that<br />

the Mill was effectively on its own private<br />

island, with a huge mill pond and lake, plus<br />

forest either side. The stone walls glowed<br />

in the sun. It was picture perfect and truly<br />

unique. We both felt our pulses quicken<br />

and knew that our search could be over.<br />

What we didn’t know until it had utterly<br />

captured our hearts was that there was no<br />

mains water, a complicated sluice system<br />

and an insufficient and antique electricity<br />

supply. But, it was too late by then…”<br />

Rebecca and Greg are now the proud<br />

owners of Moulin De Fontalbe and say they<br />

feel “privileged to own a beautiful property<br />

nestled in the middle of the Dordogne<br />

countryside, close to Saint-Avit Senieur<br />

with its UNESCO listed medieval abbey,<br />

picturesque villages and a long, winding<br />

river. Everyone that we have met has been<br />

welcoming and helpful”.<br />

Their plan is to turn the Mill into a beautiful<br />

home plus a 6-bedroom gite with a yoga<br />

studio. It's an enormous project, not just<br />

the house and gite to renovate but <strong>16</strong> acres<br />

of land, forest, three fields and a quarry. In<br />

the meantime, home is a caravan whilst the<br />

work is ongoing. “It is tough, stressful and<br />

incredibly expensive but it will all be worth<br />

it in the end” says Rebecca.<br />

“The mill is starting to share its secrets with<br />

us and I'm looking forward to the days<br />

when, once again, it is filled with friends,<br />

laughter, chatter and love. Our agent found<br />

our original brief the other day. It says,<br />

“don’t mind a bit of painting and decorating,<br />

but no major projects”….<br />

Rebecca blogs about her adventures when<br />

she has time at Fontable.com


Local estate agent Corrie Phillips of Leggett Immobillier gives an overview of Bergerac<br />

and picks three fabulous properties for sale in the area...<br />

On the surface Bergerac is a quiet and understated city. Look a little closer and it is not<br />

difficult to understand what is attractive about living here. It has a temperate climate<br />

with longer summers and cool winters, making it conducive to a more outdoor lifestyle.<br />

There is something to do for all ages, from Go- Karting, to canoeing, wine tasting from<br />

one of the 120 wine producers of the region , or shopping at one of several weekly<br />

markets. If all this becomes too much, then people watching from one of the many cafés<br />

offers a welcome rest.<br />

With an International airport and major train station, Bergerac has excellent transport<br />

links to the rest of France and further affield.<br />

€140,000<br />

Situated within close proximity to Mouleydier, and a<br />

short stroll to the shops, with all the village facilities.<br />

This house is ideally located. With a little tender<br />

loving care this charming 2-bedroom house could<br />

make an ideal holiday home or permanent home for a<br />

young family.<br />

Click here for more information<br />

Large stone family house situated in the town of<br />

Bergerac. Sitting on two plots this house has 5<br />

bedrooms, a bathroom and a guest wc, large attic,<br />

large basement, private garden, with an immense<br />

double garage with the possibility to convert to an<br />

independent lodging or commercial business.<br />

Click here for more information<br />

€397,000<br />

€520,000<br />

Exquisite old stone house with far reaching views,<br />

renovated to an exceptional standard. Original<br />

features have been retained, such as bread oven,<br />

exposed stone wall, vaulted ceilings and beams.<br />

Whilst being enhanced by modern features including<br />

underfloor electric heating, bespoke kitchen with<br />

granite worktops, and remote-control Velux window<br />

blinds. It has a fabulous heated salt water pool.<br />

Click here for more information

We’ve had a record number of enquiries about life in France in the last 12 months. It<br />

seems that moving to France is on the minds of many and some questions come up over<br />

and over about financial issues, after all, you want to know that you can afford to live the<br />

dream and making sure that you take care of finances is important to getting that result.<br />

We asked financial expert Jennie Poate at Beacon Global Wealth who is qualified to give<br />

financial advice in both France and the UK to answer some of your questions...<br />

If I take early retirement and move to<br />

France? Do I need to pay the remaining<br />

amount to get a full pension before I<br />

move to France?<br />

The first thing to do is check how many<br />

years contributions you have achieved.<br />

Bear in mind that to receive a full UK Basic<br />

State Pension you will need 35 years full<br />

contributions.<br />

You can check here: www.gov.uk/checkstate-pension<br />

required maximum may mean you are<br />

penalised. The short answer is that if you<br />

retire and are tax resident in France this<br />

would mean the French authorities must<br />

obtain information on your UK state<br />

pension status and you won’t be penalised<br />

for the years accrued outside of France and<br />

in the EU.<br />

If you work in France there are a number of<br />

personal pension arrangements you can<br />

make depending on whether you are<br />

employed or self employed.<br />

Once you have that detail you can ask the<br />

National Insurance office about making<br />

catch up payments which can be done as a<br />

lump sum or regular direct debit.<br />

If I move to France and need to work.<br />

Do I get half a pension from the UK and<br />

half from France?<br />

The retirement ages may differ in each<br />

country depending upon your age.<br />

The UK system works on a number of years<br />

full NI (National Insurance) contributions as<br />

above.<br />

The French systems works on a number of<br />

trimestres or quarters and not reaching the<br />

Can I have my UK pension paid in either<br />

the UK or France if I'm living in France?<br />

Some personal pension providers can pay<br />

in Euros but most don’t in which case it<br />

would have to be paid in pounds either to a<br />

UK bank account or a French sterling<br />

account.<br />

The financial advisers trading under Beacon<br />

Wealth Management are members of Nexus<br />

Global (IFA Network). Nexus Global is a division<br />

within Blacktower Financial Management<br />

(International) Limited (BFMI).All approved<br />

individual members of Nexus Global are<br />

Appointed Representatives of BFMI. BFMI is<br />

licenced and regulated by the Gibraltar<br />

Financial Services Commission and bound by<br />

their rules under licence number FSC00805B

Can I have my UK pension paid in<br />

France and does the pension<br />

department fx it to Euros?<br />

UK state pensions can be paid in Euros to<br />

your designated French bank account. The<br />

amount will vary each month according to<br />

the exchange rate. You will normally get<br />

the ‘interbank’ rate of the day so no<br />

currency company is involved taking their<br />

share of profits.<br />

Is there the equivalent of an ISA in<br />

France?<br />

Yes, it's also tax free but it is a lifetime<br />

allowance as opposed to an annual one.<br />

They are available in sole name only. The<br />

rate is normally the same regardless of<br />

which institution you use:<br />

Livret A €22,950 0.75%<br />

Livret Bleu €22,950 0.75%<br />

LDD €12,000 0.75%<br />

LEP €7,700 1.00%<br />

Livret Jeune €1,600 1.75%<br />

There are tax free accounts for those<br />

saving for a mortgage and of course the<br />

Assurance Vie offers the option for higher<br />

risk investments to that of cash.<br />

If you'd like to ask<br />

Jennie a question<br />

about life in France,<br />

obligation free, please<br />

get in touch at:<br />

jennie @<br />

bgwealthmanagement.<br />

net<br />

www.bgwealth.eu<br />

The information on these pages is intended<br />

only as an introduction only and is not<br />

designed to offer solutions or advice. Beacon<br />

Global Wealth Management can accept no<br />

responsibility whatsoever for losses incurred<br />

by acting on the information on these pages.

Secrets of<br />

Bouillabaise<br />

Photo: Paul Gallagher<br />

Keith Van Sickle, author of<br />

Life in Provence, finds out<br />

how to make a real<br />

bouillabaise and how this<br />

famous fish dish got its<br />

name...<br />

My wife and I live part of the year in St.-<br />

Rémy-de-Provence. We love bouillabaisse,<br />

that magical dish that seems to capture the<br />

spirit of Provence. So when our friend<br />

Pascal, a retired chef, invited us over for<br />

homemade bouillabaisse, we were quick to<br />

accept.<br />

Legend has it that bouillabaisse was<br />

invented long ago by the fishermen of<br />

Marseille. <strong>No</strong>t wanting to eat the high-class<br />

fish that fetched the best prices, they<br />

instead created a dish from the bony,<br />

unappealing rockfish that no one wanted.<br />

Bouillabaisse is made in two stages. First<br />

comes the fish soup called, logically<br />

enough, soupe de poisson. To make it,<br />

rockfish are cooked with onion, fennel,<br />

garlic, tomato and white wine “very<br />

important” says Pascal.<br />

boiled potatoes and other vegetables.<br />

A bouillabaisse meal starts with a first<br />

course of soupe de poisson, along with<br />

little round toasts and rouille, a kind of<br />

spicy saffron mayonnaise with lots of garlic.<br />

The second course is the fish and<br />

vegetables.<br />

When we got to Pascal’s house he had<br />

already made the soupe and had a platter<br />

of fish marinating in olive oil and saffron,<br />

ready to be cooked.<br />

Pascal explained how he had made his<br />

soupe. “I buy the cheapest fish at the<br />

market,” he said. “They are bony and ugly<br />

but delicious if you know how to cook<br />

them.” I looked at the rascasse and could<br />

see what he meant about ugly.<br />

This mixture is seasoned to the chef’s<br />

taste, with top-grade saffron being the<br />

essential ingredient. Then it is ground up,<br />

bones and all, into the richly flavored<br />

soupe.<br />

Meanwhile, other fish are marinated and<br />

then cooked whole in the hot soupe. The<br />

cooked fish are fileted and served with

“Because it will EXPLODE. I know from<br />

experience.” Pascal pointed to the faint<br />

saffron stains still visible on his white<br />

kitchen walls. He explained that putting hot<br />

liquid in a blender, then whirling it around at<br />

high speed, increases the pressure and can<br />

lead to disaster.<br />

<strong>No</strong>w it was time to cook the fish. Pascal<br />

turned up the gas burner until the soupe<br />

came to a boil, then put in the fish and<br />

turned down the flame. “This is the secret to<br />

cooking the fish properly,” he said. “If you<br />

don’t lower the temperature you will<br />

overcook the fish.”<br />

“It’s also where the name of the dish comes<br />

from,” he continued. “You bring it to a boil<br />

(bouiller in French), then lower (baisser) the<br />

temperature.” So bouiller + baisser =<br />

bouillabaisse.<br />

Bottom left: Rascasse; above fishermen at Marseille<br />

"I always use rascasse, grondin (sea robin),<br />

congre (conger) and saint-pierre (John Dory<br />

or Peter’s Fish),” he added. “Look at the<br />

spot on the side of the saint-pierre, we<br />

believe it is the thumb print of St. Peter<br />

himself, the great fisherman.”<br />

Pascal went on to explain that soupe de<br />

poisson should be well seasoned. He uses<br />

at least a dozen herbs and spices, with his<br />

favorite being a mix of five different freshly<br />

ground peppers.<br />

He referred to his well-thumbed copy of La<br />

Cuisinière Provençale, the bible of<br />

Provençal cooking. “I always use this,” he<br />

said, “to respect our traditions.”<br />

“When all the ingredients for the soupe are<br />

cooked”, he continued, “you must grind<br />

them by hand. Never use a blender.”<br />

“Why not?” I asked.<br />

A few minutes later the fish was ready and<br />

we sat down to our first course. We spread<br />

rouille on the toasts and floated them in our<br />

big bowls of soupe, making little islands of<br />

garlicky deliciousness.<br />

“<strong>No</strong>t like the frozen stuff they serve in<br />

restaurants, eh?” asked Pascal with a sly<br />

grin. <strong>No</strong>, not at all - it was so good I had<br />

seconds.<br />

Then we had the fish and potatoes with a<br />

bit more soupe sprinkled on top. It was the<br />

food of the gods.<br />

As we said our goodbyes that night, Pascal<br />

told us, “Bouillabaisse teaches us<br />

Mediterranean history - through the dish we<br />

learn of the diversity of fish and of spices<br />

and of our traditions. Every time I prepare it,<br />

it is a great moment for me to share it with<br />

family and close friends.”<br />

A great moment, indeed.<br />

Keith writes at: keithvansickle.com

See Page 84 for<br />

details of how to<br />

enter the contest to<br />

win a copy of Voila:<br />

The Effortless<br />

French Cookbook

y Barbara Pasquet-James

Find more fabulous recipes from<br />

Sara at<br />

Beginning French

What a roller coaster summer it has been<br />

here in the middle of nowhere France.<br />

My book, My Good Life in France became a best-seller on Amazon in the UK and a<br />

hot new release on Amazon in the US in August. It was a massive surprise and I am<br />

most enormously grateful to all who’ve bought my book – thank you so much and<br />

especially to all those who left me such wonderful reviews. You needn’t think any of<br />

this has gone to my head – the animals make sure of that! I had 50 ducklings born<br />

this year and I didn’t really want any of them as I have so many ducks, chickens and<br />

geese already. I was vigilant about collecting eggs from coops but, the sneaky ducks<br />

hid in the fields at the bottom of the garden and then turned up followed by a trail of<br />

babies – one of them hatched 17 eggs! I’ve managed to find new homes for most of<br />

them because I have a plan to make.<br />

For years I have dreamed of living in Paris, but with 6 cats, 3 dogs and around 50<br />

birds, it’s not going to happen any time soon. I thought about taking them with me<br />

but they belong in the country where they can run about. I do quite like the idea of<br />

creating my own Marie-Antoinette style farm in the middle of the city of light but I’d<br />

need to win the lottery to do that. So for now, I’m aiming for a month. Four whole<br />

weeks to discover Paris up close and personal. It’s going to take quite a lot of<br />

organisation and a bit of luck but that’s my dream, and I’d love it to come true next<br />

year… so watch this space and wish me bon courage as I’m going to need it!<br />

One of the things on my plan is to finish the renovation on the house so that<br />

whoever house sits can do so with it looking good. I’ve been thwarted by a freak<br />

hailstone storm which means we need a new roof as it caused plenty of damage and<br />

put us back a few months. But we’re plodding on, rendering the walls, fitting and<br />

painting the shutters, clearing the jungle in the front and the back, getting the roof<br />

fixed.<br />

I have to say living the good life has its challenges but nothing we can’t overcome<br />

with will power and determination!

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