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

lovely time of the year in France, mellow sunshine, spectacular sunsets, a feeling of joie

de vivre as France goes through the unique experience known as la rentrée in

September, the return to normality, to work and school after the long holidays.

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

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

in Provence, the antiques capital of France. The second series is Du pain, Du

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

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

get a totally different experience of France.

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

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

the Chateau de Chenonceau.

Take a look at magnificent Montpellier, Paris in the autumn, Grignan, a tiny town in

Provence that has a Versailles-style chateau and Toulouse. Ever fancied staying in a

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

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

cheese who discovered his long-lost cheese love in the Auvergne and share the tale of

an American who has Paris in her soul in a brilliant short memoire.

Competitions, Your Photos, practical guides, Ask the Experts, expat stories and lush

recipes – yep this a bumper, brilliant issue!

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

with best wishes,

Bisous from France



Peter Jones is our regular columnist. A writer and

photographer, he lives in Oxfordshire, UK and is a

freelance writer for newspapers and magazines.


Rupert Parker is writer, photographer, cameraman &

TV Producer. His articles appear in national

newspapers, magazines. Read about his latest

adventures on his website Planet Appetite & follow

him on Twitter @planetappetite.

Lucy Pitts is a freelance writer and Deputy Editor of

The Good Life France Magazine. She divides her time

between the UK and France where she has a home

in the the Vendée area, known as the Green Venice

of France. www.stroodcopy.com

Michael Cranmer is an award-winning freelance travel

writer and photographer. He spends most of the

winter up mountains writing about, his primary

passion - skiing – but also manages to sample less

strenuous outings.

Colette O'Connor is a writer from California. Her

stories have appeared in numerous dailies &

magazines. She teaches writing at California State

University, but keeps a bag ever packed for Paris, and

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

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

Deputy Editor: Lucy Pitts

Assistant: Sandra Davis

Advertising: sales (at) thegoodlifefrance.com

Digital support: Umbrella Web Solutions

Artistic support: Kumiko at KumikoChesworth.myportfolio.com

Front Cover: Wazim Photos



p. 8

p. 48


p. 32

8 Lure of the Loire

Janine Marsh visits 5 magnificent chateaux

and has a floristry lesson with a legend.

32 Insider’s Guide to


Local, Sue Aran reveals the beauty of the

sunny, southern region.

40 Spotlight: Montpellier

Janine Marsh visits the vibant sunny town

and falls in love with its many faces.

48 Le Weekend...in provence

You’ll fall head over heels for pretry Islesur-la-Sorgue,

antiques capital of France.

54 Du Pain, Du Vin, Du Train…

What to do in one day in Lyon, the

gastronomic capital of France.

56 Paris in the autumn

Festivals, museums, walks in the parks -

ten reasons to take a trip in the fall.

P. 60

p. 86

Features continued

p. 68

60 Grignan, the noble town

of Provence

Lucy Pitts heads to the wild countryside of

Provence and discovers a mini Versailles


64 The long lost love

cheese of the Auvergne

Michael Cranmer turns Sherlock Holmes in

search of a long lost cheese love.

68 Discover Toulouse

Peter Jones visits the pink city and is

bowled over by its vibrant beauty.

72 Hiking in France’s biggest

National Park – Ecrins

Rupert Parker takes a break in a high

mountain refuge.

76 Skiing with your dogs!

Lucy Pitts takes the kids, her enormous

dogs and long-suffering husband skiing in

the French Alps.

86 The Making of My Maman

We’re delighted to bring you this wonderful

memoir from author Colette O’Connor.


82 Your Photos

The most popular photos shared by our

lovely readers on Facebook page.

84 Three fab give aways

116 My Good Life in France

P. 82


90 Buying French Property

Advice to help you prepare thoroughly

when you search for your dream home.

92 I Spy with my Expat Eye

Emily Commander takes a humorous look

at life in France.

94 The Good Life in the Tarn

Meet the friends who've opened a cycling

business in this lovely part of France.

100 The Good Life in


How many of us sit in a pub or a bar and

plan a new life in France? This couple did

and they’re making the dream come true.

104 Ask the Experts

Financial expert Jennie Poate answers your

money questions.


106 Secrets of Bouillabaise

Author Keith Van Sickle finds out how to

make real bouilabaise and how the famous

fish dish got its name.

108 Tarte au Fraises

Chef and TV presenter Cecile Delarue

shares her strawberry and cream pie

recipe – it’s so YUM!

110 Life Altering Parmesan

Cheese Soup

Barbara Pasquet-James falls head over

heels for a bowl of soup and persuades the

chef to share the recipe with all of us!

112 Gruyère Pamesan


Moreish gougeres are easy to make with

Sara Neumeier’s fabulous recipe.

The Lure of the Loire

Janine Marsh falls under the spell of the Loire Valley and its magnificent chateaux…

The Loire Valley is the largest listed UNESCO World Heritage site in the world –

recognised for its architectural heritage, historic towns and world-famous castles.

Covering 800 km sq. the area has more than 1000 chateaux and several nicknames

“The Valley of the Kings” and “the Garden of France” among them.

There are medieval villages with cobble stone streets, topsy turvy houses, grand

cathedrals and buildings that are pickled in the past. Vine covered hills and lush green

valleys make this one of the most picturesque regions in France.

With seemingly a chateau on every corner in the Loire and when you visit this

marvellous area, it’s hard to know just what to focus on.

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

toi this day. Follow in the footsteps of Kings and Queens, legendary artists and

fascinating personalities and feel the past in the present…

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

Photo: IheartFrance

Discover the history and beauty of the “chateau des dames” and go

backstage with the gardener and florist who bring the castle to life with


Everyone who visits the Chateau de

Chenonceau in the Loire Valley comes

away with a memory of the exquisite

gardens, the impossibly romantic white

stone castle over a river with its pointy

towers and arched bridge - and especially

of the flower displays in every room…

Jean-François Bouchet is the florist

extraordinaire who creates and directs the

floral displays at the castle and for some,

he is the main reason to visit the chateau.

When I visited and had a lesson on flower

displays with him (I know, I know – how

lucky am I?) we went around the chateau

afterwards to see how it looks when it’s

done by a master. Groups of ladies

gathered round him cooing and praising

and I’m not surprised, he’s thoroughly

charming and anyone who can make

flowers look like he does, deserves such


A bit about the Chateau de


Francis I, the renaissance King of France,

took ownership of the Chateau of

Chenonceau in the 16th century. Later it

was run by Diane de Poitiers who received

it as a gift from her lover Henry II, the son of

Francis I. She commissioned the famous

bridge over the river Cher so that she could

cross to the other side to hunt.

Photo: Brad Mushrush

It’s said that she would sneak through the

basement kitchens each morning to bathe

in the icy waters of the river to keep her

complexion bright. When her lover died,

Diane lost the chateau to his wife

Catherine de Medici, and was sent to live in

neighbouring chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire.

Catherine built the enclosed gallery on the

bridge that makes it look so unique and

she also developed the gardens.

Chenonceau later passed into private

ownership and is today owned by the

famous French chocolate making family

Menier. Madame Menier adores the flower

displays and often has a hand in choosing

the colours and blooms.

Both ladies adored the chateau and were

famed for their lavish parties in the castle’s

beautiful grounds. In fact, the feminine

touch that’s seen the chateau owned and

developed by a succession of lady owners,

is how it got its nickname ‘Chateau des

Dames’ or ‘The Ladies’ Castle’.

The Flower master of the

Chateau de Chenonceau

Jean-François Boucher is a Master

Craftsman of France, European Junior

Champion of Floristry, French Vice

Champion of floristry and a truly amazing

floral designer whose creations fill every

room in the chateau and who has a legion

of fans worldwide (you can find him here on


Headhunted to do this job, the young florist

gave up his thriving flower store in nearby

Tours to take it.

He is passionate about flowers and the

history of the chateau, and together with

his team of two, creates around 200

bouquets per week, every week of the year.

Some are small, some are enormous.

The displays may be flowers or a mix of

flowers and vegetables, sometimes with a

nod to the past.

“Did you know Catherine de Medici

introduced the artichoke to France?” he

asks. “Because it was believed to be an

aphrodisiac and she thought it might help

her win her husband back from her rival, his

mistress Diane”.

Floral Lesson

Some days you think your fairy godmother

has listened to you and when I was asked if

I’d like to see inside Jean-François

Boucher’s atelier where he creates his

masterpieces I was over the moon. When I

was offered the chance to create my very

own bouquet under his watchful eye, I was

over the moon and the sun.

It’s a surprisingly tiny room. And, as you’d

expect it is filled to the rafters with cut

flowers. Jean-François gave me a small pot

filled with gardeners’ foam and instructed

me to do whatever felt right. I put roses in

and peonies, pinks and whites, a bit of

green. “Not bad” he said kindly then told

me you should never be able to see the

foam so “carry on, put more in”. I spent one

of the most creative half hours of my life

there and afterwards took my display home

with me. On the train to Paris I carried it

carefully and I am pretty sure everyone was

admiring it, and then on to my home where

I left it on display until it was well and truly

over. But, I still have the pot – my very own

bit of Chenonceau.

(See end of article for details of how to book a

lesson with Jean-François).

Above: in the atelier; left:

making up a bouquet; below

with one of his stunning

arrangements in the chateau

The gardener at the Chateau

de Chenonceau

Of course, all those flowers and fruits used

in the spectacular displays have to be

grown and that takes place in the stunning

gardens overseen by American gardener

Nicholas Tomlan. He came to France to

take this job from Longwood Gardens,

Pennsylvania - named the best botanical

Gardens in America by USA Today. He’s

now the brilliant botanical director at the


“In the old days, they’d grow root

vegetables here” says this affable gardener

“no flowers”. Looking around at the formal

beds with a mix of vegetables and flower

and roses spilling over walls in what is now

the walled vegetable garden I can’t imagine

it any other way. But, it wasn’t until the

Renaissance days that flowers were grown

simply to look good and to decorate the

interior. Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de

Medici both loved flower displays in the

chateau. Records tell us that some of them

were “monumental” taller than a man,

flamboyant, colourful and showy.

Nowadays it’s a mix of flowers and veg for

the displays and also for the restaurant”

says Nicolas as he stoops to pick some

lettuce to put in his basket for the chef.

“The queen would have never visited the

vegetable gardens, but the flower

gardens – absolutely”.

I’m sure she would have approved of

Nicholas’ work and would recognise the

style. These gardens were recreated using

drawings from the late 1500s. There are

gorgeous giant wicker bird cages in which

flowers grow, wild flower meadows, formal

parterre gardens and the most beautiful

arrangement of colour and blooms. The

seven gardeners here grow more than

130,000 plants each year and the gardens

are as important a place to wander and

admire as the chateau itself.

Above: gardening in the rain;

below left: Nicholas and Jean-

Francois discuss the flowers;

below: the vegetable garden

“Do you ever feel anything ghostly here” I

asked him. “Not really” he says, then adds

“We do have a small greenhouse that has a

double lock and we only ever turn the key

once. But, every week, on at least one

occasion, the greenhouse has been

double-locked, and we’ve never been able

to explain it”. The ghost of the gardens

perhaps, I suggest. Would it be Diane or

Catherine I wonder and decide Catherine,

she was a very determined woman after all.

Diane’s Garden, as it's called, is on the

right-hand side of the chateau. Catherine’s

garden is on the left-hand side. Clearly their

rivalry wasn’t just contained to Henry.

There is also a maze commissioned by

Catherine and a grand Green Garden with

tall trees in which sits the historic

Orangery. In the 16th century this part of

the estate is where the animals and

Catherine’s aviary were kept.

Nowadays the orangery is L’Orangerie

restaurant and it is fabulous – both for the

food and the interior. You’ll certainly enjoy

Nicholas’ handiwork here, every dish

seems to be adorned with fruit or leaves

and it’s so beautiful you feel bad breaking

up the artwork! The cheese cloche which is

wheeled around for diners to pick what

they fancy is a masterpiece. Don’t be fooled

into thinking that it’s all just good looks, it’s

not. The chef makes amazing dishes, the

pastries are created by a master and the

cheese is chosen by a legendary affineur

(someone who matures cheese until

perfection – a very French thing).

Every table is decorated with a bouquet

made by Jean-Francois and his team. I have

to tell you – I’d go back just for the


The interior

The chateau is gorgeous inside. There are

tapestries, paintings and exquisite

furniture. The kitchen looks as though a

chef of medieval times has nipped out for

some more vegetables and will be back at

any moment to prepare a feast. But the

flowers are truly the star of the show.

Above left: Amboise; above centre

and right: Dessert and cheese

platter at l'Orangerie; left:

Catherine de Medici's motif

Look carefully and you may notice that the

royal insignia of Catherine de Medici at the

chateau is rather familiar. When fashion

icon Coco Chanel visited she loved the

intertwined Cs topped by a royal crown and

asked if she could use it as her own motif.

She was told yes, but not with the crown –

and the rest as they say, is history.

Practical info

Website for the Chateau de Chenonceau:


Botanical tour with Nicholas Tomlan and

floral workshop with Jean-François

Boucher is exclusively for small groups, by

reservation only: events@chenonceau.com

L’Orangerie restaurant can only be

accessed once you’re inside the chateau

grounds. You can book in advance at:


Where to stay

Nearby Amboise makes for a perfect base

to visit the Chateau de Chenonceau, it’s

about 20 minutes by car. I stayed at the

lovely Hotel Bellevue which has a great

little restaurant and fabulous bar and is a

stone’s throw from the incredible Chateau

d’Amboise in the centre of this historic


If you do stay in Amboise, don’t miss out on

a meal at the nearby Le Parvis restaurant (3

rue Mirabeau) where the appetite you’ll

build up walking around will be well


How to get there

Trains from Paris run to Amboise, nearby

Tours and to Chenonceaux station which is

right by the chateau (making for a great day

trip): UK-Voyages-SNCF.

Amboise in the Loire is dominated by a

grand chateau, its turrets reaching high

into the sky and windows giving

impressive views over the ancient town

and the surrounding Loire Valley


A few minutes’ walk away is a much

smaller chateau, far less grand. It was the

home of a man who changed the world

with his art and his designs – the great

renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci.

The Chateau du Clos Lucé where Leonardo

lived, has been wonderfully restored to look

as it did when he arrived in 1516 at the

invitation of King Francis I of France.

Leonardo found himself down on his luck,

without commissions and struggling to

keep going in Italy. Francis I offered him his

dream job: "First Painter, Engineer and

Architect to the King" plus a home for life.

Leonardo was a nomad, he had no home to

call his own and moved from town to city –

wherever the work was. He wasn’t rich, and

jumped at the offer from the French King,

making his way from Italy to France on a

donkey. Among the belongings he took

with him were his precious manuscripts,

and an almost finished painting of a

woman he called La Giaconda or Mona

Lisa. It was to become one of the most

famous paintings of all time.

Francis I had never met Leonardo but his

mother Louise de Savoie had seen the

artist’s work and loved it. The King offered

Leonardo the chance to practice his skills

as he wished, quite an innovative prospect

at the time when a painter was a painter

and an engineer was an engineer.

Leonardo’s genius extended to several

areas and the opportunity to do as he

wished was irresistible.

The Chateau rooms

Leonardo moved into the Chateau du Clos

Lucé and here he stayed until his death on

2 May 1519. The rooms have been restored

with the help of specialist historians and

it’s easy to imagine Leonardo in his long

gown moving through the castle.

On the 4-poster bed in what was

Leonardo’s room where he died of old age,

Minette the castle cat is fast asleep most

days (above). She is oblivious to the

cameras that click, capturing her utter

dismissiveness of the visitors who are lost

in contemplation that here, 400 years ago,

Leonardo snored through the night,

dreaming his dreams and planning his


Leonardo liked cats and it’s fitting that the

pampered puss has taken up residence in

his former home.

This bijou chateau (at least by the

standards of Amboise) is light and airy –

perfect for an artist. The rooms are not

enormous but big enough for a large

canvas and to spread out the components

for an engineering project.

In one room, there are paintings in progress

and a desk which looks as though the

great man is still at work but popped out for

a break. His cabinet of curiosities is very

curious and somewhat macabre but you

don’t get to draw the insides of bodies of

humans and animals by looking at the

outside so it’s not a surprise to discover

such bits and pieces. He was an

accomplished musician, wrote poetry, was

an architect, botanist, engineer and had

many more skills.

His note books record the minutiae of his

day from what he worked on to the fact

that his cook was calling him to come and

have lunch. Historians can tell the type of

paper he used was French after he arrived

so they’ve been able to date what he

worked on at the chateau. One of the great

projects Francis commissioned was to

design a chateau that in itself was like a

city (150 years later Louis XIV’s Versailles

was to follow this route).

It’s quite astounding to know that he

worked on the Mona Lisa in this room.

The Mona Lisa

Francis I bought the Mona Lisa painting

and adored it. He took it with him to

another of his chateaux – Fontainebleau

where he hung it in his bathroom. It seems

strange to us but in those days bathrooms

were thought to be creative spaces!

If you’ve ever seen the painting in the

Louvre, you might well wonder just what is

it that makes her so very famous.

According to Irina Metzl, the communications

manager at the chateau, there are a

number of reasons not least of all the

painting being stolen.

In 1911 an Italian workman employed at the

Louvre spent the night hiding in a

cupboard, slipped the painting out of its

frame and took off with it. At that time, the

painting wasn’t well-known and the only

way to see it was by going to the museum.

The police printed 6,500 copies of the

Mona Lisa and distributed them to the

public. Every newspaper covered the story.

Millions of people saw the painting and

had an opinion. The Mona Lisa became the

Kim Kardashian of her day – everyone

knew who she was. The painting was

eventually found, just down the road in

what is now the Hotel La Giaconda. She,

with her enigmatic smile, missing

eyebrows, showing the special trademark

technique Leonardo used called sfumato

where you can’t see how the smile ends at

each corner and the veil of craquelure, tiny

age cracks in the paint now resides in

majestic glory in the Louvre. Personally, I

liked to see the reproduction on the wall at

the Chateau du Clos Lucé where her maker

finished creating her.

Leonardo da Vinci passed away three years

after he arrived in France and was buried,

following his wishes, within the royal

château. His tomb can be found in Saint-

Hubert’s Chapel.

“I believe that great happiness

awaits those men who are born

where good wines are to be found”

Leonardo da Vinci

The Leonardo da Vinci Park

Visit the Chateau du Clos Lucé late Spring

through Summer and you'll be able to

admire vibrant scarlet Mona Lisa Roses,

planted in huge swathes in the terrace

garden. The park is magnificent for the

innovative way in which Leonardo’s

artwork is depicted. Some of his famous

creations have been bought to life, you can

sit in a wooden tank made to scale, climb

aboard a boat, cross a bridge, turn a giant

cork screw and more. It brings to life in a

unique way the works of the man known as

the “Florentine Genius”. The trees are hung

with huge translucent representations of

his paintings and sayings – it’s rather

romantic, certainly ethereal and beautifully


Wine tasting in Leonardo’s


Chenin Blanc is the “royal grape” says the

wine expert in Leonardo’s Caves. And yes,

this is the very passage that linked the

Chateau du Close Lucé to the Chateau

d’Amboise where King Francis I lived. It’s a

strange feeling to know that one of the

greatest artists and thinkers of all time

used to scurry along here, holding a candle

to light the way to his meetings with his

patron who also used this under-ground

walkway to go to see the man he called “my


You descend via one of the exhibition

rooms in the chateau. With candles lighting

the cave I sipped the wine almost in

reverence though not as much as our wine

guru who tells us his thinks of “wine as

people”. The pensioners he says, go back to

1874 – he doesn’t offer us a glass. “This is a

young adult” he advises pouring a glass of

local red. “This is a baby” he says of a fresh,

fruity white. Monsieur le wine expert speaks

excellent English, has a great sense of

humour and the most delicious wines. It is

without a doubt an incredible way to

connect with the past, to stand in the

footsteps of the great King and the great

artist, and a unique wine tasting.

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

Dining at the chateau

Take a break at the rather lovely terrace

garden café. Don’t miss the shop with its

gorgeous gifts and Leonardo models in the

courtyard of the chateau.

There’s also a pretty restaurant in the park

alongside the river where you can enjoy

snacks, drinks and meals.

If, however you are in a group – don’t miss

the chance of a medieval feast in the

grounds of the chateau at the Auberge du

Prieuré. The serving staff dress up in

costumes of the middle ages, the food is

from ancient menus. The atmosphere is

great fun and educational as the food and

customs of the times are explained. For

instance, did you know the French word

copain which means friend/mate comes

from the term to break bread (pain) before


Practical information

The Chateau du Clos Lucé is open

year-round (except 25 December and

1 January). See the website for details:


Trains from Paris to Amboise take 2

hours. There is a year-round bus

service from the station to the town

centre. UKVoyages-SNCF

Leave time to visit Amboise town, it’s

beautifully preserved and well worth a

wander and of course there’s also the

Chateau d’Amboise to visit too!




Photo: Geraldine Baker

Chateau of Chaumont-sur-

Loire hive of fun and frivolity.

This is a stunningly pretty chateau which is

unique for its presentation of art and the

international garden festival that’s held

here annually.

It was bought in 1550 by Catherine de

Medici who ceded it to her husband’s

former mistress Diane de Poitiers. When

Henry II died, Catherine evicted Diane from

the Chateau de Chenonceau where Henry

had installed her.

Chaumont Chateau was sold and changed

hands in ensuing centuries before being

bought by an orphaned 17-year-old sugar

heiress called Marie Say in 1875. When she

married Prince Henri-Amédée de Broglie

three months later, the pair restored and

modernised the chateau and landscaped

the gardens. They held festivals and shows,

and hired the Ballets de l'Opéra de Paris

and the troupe of the Comedie-Francaise

from Paris for entertainment . It cost a

fortune, but then the young woman was

one of the richest women in France. An

elephant roamed the grounds, a gift from

the Shah of Persia and the castle was a

Nowadays the castle is owned by the

region and is open to the public. Inside the

chateau there is an annual art exhibition.

The rooms are furnished and homely, they

make you feel that the eccentric Marie

might be out in the garden picking flowers.

It’s a bit like Chelsea Flower Show meets

Kew Gardens. There are temporary show

gardens for the festival and all year-round

gardens for general visits.

And what happened to Marie? When her

beloved Prince died, she re-married. At 72

years old, her new husband was 43 and

keen to help her spend her fortune. She

was compelled to sell much of her art and

property and ended her days in Paris

staying at the Ritz and the George V hotels.

The International Garden Festival takes

place from April to November each year.


Above: ethereal exhibit in the

chateau's chapel; below left the

perfume garden; below the chateau

sitting room

Photo: @Toinou1375

Chateau du Chambord

Chateau de Chambord

The Chateaux in the Loire that belonged to

the royals were essentially second homes

in some of the best hunting grounds in

France. They were visual symbols of power

and wealth. On the whole, owners visited

them infrequently, taking their possessions

with them. Unlike today when second

home owners furnish their properties, in

those days people carried their belonging

from home to home. Beds, chairs, cutlery,

dishes, tapestries etc were expensive and

even the royal family rarely decked out

their chateaux with permanent collections.

Take the Chateau de Chambord which was

built by Francis 1, the flamboyant King of

France in 1519. The chateau was said to be

inspired by Leonardo da Vinci (who died

that year). It was one of the wonders of its

time, making other royal families in Europe

jealous. Immense, architecturally stunning

with that double helix staircase. It cost a

fortune. And yet Francis spent only 60 days

there in total.

The chateau has 400 fires and on chilly

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

embers glowing and the rooms scented

with the smell of a wood fire, just as they

would have been when it was inhabited.

Climb the stairs to the roof top and look out

over the extraordinary newly renovated

gardens. A donation of 3.5m euros from an

American benefactor has transformed the

vast area in front of the chateau.

Don't miss a trip to the shops, restaurants,

maison des vins and the lovely biscuiterie

in the tiny town like estate at the foot of the

chateau. I had to be dragged out of the

biscuit shop and away from the delish

cherry fancies! Here you can do a free wine

tasting and buy Chambord, a sweet French

liqueur that's very more-ish. Made from

honey, vanilla and raspberries, drink it neat,

with white wine or Champagne or even

splashed over ice cream. It's notoriously

difficult to get hold of overseas and even in

France - this really is an exclusive sip.



Stay at: La Maison d’a Cote

it’s a gorgeous,

boutique hotel

and the chef/

owner Christophe

Hay makes the

most delectable

dishes ever, the


mousse is

something you

will never forget!

Chateau de Blois

Not far away from Chambord you'll find the

chateau de Blois. Again, it's not massively

furnished though there are some wonderful

and quirky pieces. But architecturally, it's

absolutely stunning

Buildings from the 13th to 17th centuries are

before you and the markers of time are

clear. When the early Counts of Blois laid

the stones for their fort-like palace, Blois

was not then a part of the French Kingdom.

Head out the courtyard towards the river

and you'll see a stone tower, the oldest part

of Blois with views over the river.

Walk into the big inner courtyard and

you're surrounded by history. The truly

outstanding stair case is what most people

remember above all else.

Blois was home to several kings and

queens of France including Francis I. It was

his first building project when he became

King in 1515. He lived here with his first wife

Claude who was said to be boss-eyed,

stooped and overweight. The poor girl gave

birth to 7 children in 7 years and died aged

25 - it certainly wasn't all fun being a queen

in those days. Catherine de Medici, who

was married to Francis I son, Henry II, also

died here.

You can feel the history in the chateau, in

those thick stone walls and beamed

ceilings, in the tiled floors and secret rooms

with their wood panelling and paintings.

One of the strangest portraits is of a hairyfaced

girl, Tognina Gonsalvus, a victim of

hypertrichosis ("werewolf syndrome"). She

was kept at the court of Henry II as a

curiosity but I like to think the painting

shows there was some fondness there.

Skulduggery, murder, drama and romance

took place in bucket loads at this chateau –

the audio guided tour explains all.

From April to September, every evening as

the sun sets, a Son et Lumière show takes

place in the courtyard bringing the tale of

the ancient castle to life – it’s terrific.


Practical information



If you're arriving by train, the chateau

is a 500m walk from Blois-

Chambord train station.

Insider's Guide to G


Sue Aran reveals the beauty of the

sunny, southern region

Long ignored by mass tourism, this tranquil region is fast becoming France's

hot new destination says Sue Aran who lives in the Gers where she runs

French Country Adventures guided tours of Gascony…

Where is Gascony?

The area of Gascony is bordered on the

west by the Atlantic Ocean, the south by

the Pyrénées mountains, the east by

Toulouse and the north by the vineyards of

Bordeaux. It’s a region that’s sprinkled with

ancient Roman ruins and humble bastides

and it remains as historically rich as it was

in medieval times.

Unchanged since the 1950s by industry,

tourism or major highways, its landscape

has remained agricultural for centuries.

Soft white clouds languish in deep blue

skies above fields of bright yellow

sunflowers, sun-kissed vineyards that

stretch to the horizon, and velvet green

pastures dotted with gaggles of geese and

cream-coloured cows, Gascony’s appeal is

seductively earthy, full-bodied and lusty,

like its wines. It’s a culinary heartland of

garlic, foie gras, duck confit, and France’s

oldest brandy, Armagnac, and is as

authentically farm-to-table as it gets.

Gascony entered recorded history during

the reign of Julius Caesar as the core

territory of Roman Aquitania. Its fertile soil

was nourished by the rivers descending

from the Pyrénées to the plains below. In

his memoir, Caesar described the

machinations occurring during his nine

years of fighting the Gauls, an alliance of

nine tribes which included the Vascones.

The Vascones defined a confederacy of

non-Romanised tribes who inhabited both

sides of the Pyrénées and shared common

traditions. By the late 6th century several of

their tribes moved north, over the Pyrénées,

and down into the territory they called

Vasconia, which now comprises the seven

departments in southwestern France called


Salies-de-Béarn is a heady mixture of the

Spanish and French Basque regions, rich in

local gastronomie de terroir and robust

wines. Salies is a picture-perfect village of

vertiginous, gabled houses overlooking the

Saleys River. Known from the Bronze Age

as the ‘Salt City’ for having an underground

water source seven times saltier than the

ocean, its signature product was lucrative

until the mid-19th century, when

competition from the Languedoc and the

Camargue weakened the salt market

dramatically. Salies then reinvented itself

as a spa village. In addition to the virtues of

its salt, the local water contains more

magnesium than any other natural spring

in the world. Its spa is still in operation,

offering health, beauty and fitness regimes.

Gascony. The remaining portion in Spain

became the Basque Country.

As were their forebears, Gascons today are

known to be independent, brave, hardy,

boastful and, most of all, welcoming. Those

visitors who venture into Gascony tend to

follow the few well-publicised tourist paths

such as Lupiac, the birthplace of

D’Artagnan, one of the Three Musketeers

made famous in the novel by Alexandre

Dumas, or Lourdes, which, following the

Marian apparitions of 1858, became a

Catholic pilgrimage site.

Undiscovered Gascony

If, like many, you have a desire to escape

the routine, here you’ll find an

undiscovered paradise with some of the

most spectacular scenery in France.

Gascony is truly a land that time forgot.


There are many recreational choices to

match your individual taste, including

cycling, fishing, kayaking or rafting on the

beautiful Gave de Pau and Gave d’Oloron

rivers nearby. Whether you’re vacationing

or just passing through, you’ll want to time

your visit to include lunch at Les Fontaines

Fleuries. The menu at this fabulous

restaurant is sourced from local producers,

prepared in-house, and is what memories

are made of.

Lectoure was the first capital of the Gers

department, considered the heart of


During the Middle Ages it became the

capital of the Counts of Armagnac, three

very influential territorial lords who

commanded strategic parts of historic

Gascony. It was sacked and rebuilt by

Louis XI in 1473, and when Napoléon

Bonaparte created the départements de

France, the Gers’ capital was moved south

to the city of Auch.

Today Lectoure is a beautifully re-defined,

Neo-Classical, hilltop village with its one

main street running east to west. Its

cathedral, Saint-Gervais, which was rebuilt

in 1488, stands as a sentinel at the east

entrance of the village. Walking from one

end to the other, you’ll pass lovely old

convents, half-timbered houses, and

remnants of its original, fortified wall.


Book-ending the west entrance of the

village is the château of the Counts of

Armagnac which was recently renovated

into a sprawling antique mall.

The views from either side of the village are

breath-taking, and on a clear day you can

see the Pyrénées and a large swathe of the

Gers Valley. Lectoure’s pièces de résistance

include its annual crop of potently fragrant

cantaloupe melons, rose-pink garlic

(comprising more than a third of France’s

entire crop), and 20 pagan altars from the

2nd and 3rd centuries which are housed in

its museum.

Lectoure holds a fantastic farmer’s market

every Friday. Sample cheeses, olives, fresh

vegetables and wine, and stop at Maison

Baudequin, a magical chocolate shop, for a

thick hot chocolate topped with whipped

cream that rivals those of the famous

Angelina’s on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.


Founded in 1291, when Gascony still

belonged to England, Labastided’Armagnac

is the most charming,

medieval village in the Landes department.

Place Royale, its main arcaded square, is

said to be the model for the Place des

Vosges in Paris, commissioned by Henri

IV. When I visit there, I always feel as if I’ve

stepped onto a Hollywood movie set and

you can easily be a flâneur* here. The most

prominent feature of the Place Royal is the

elegant church, Notre-Dame de Labastide,

while a visit to the Bar Tortoré, the oldest

bar in the region, offers a chance to rub

shoulders with the locals.

Labastide-d’Armagnac is the annual venue

for the Armagnac Festival which takes

place the last weekend in October.

Considered the nectar of the gods and

superior to Cognac, Armagnac is

showcased in all of its vintages throughout

the Place Royale. For a few euros, you can

purchase an empty glass and taste your

way around the square. As the locals

enthuse, “Wine is the only thing that makes

us happy as adults for no reason”.

*French for wanderer


Once home to the court of King Henri IV,

Nérac remains one of the most attractive

larger villages in the Lot-et-Garonne

department. During the Wars of Religion

(1562-1598) Henri’s son, Louis XIII, ordered

the entire city destroyed. Nérac lay

forgotten and fallow until the 18th century,

when it developed into a thriving

agricultural community. So economically

important was the city thought to be by

then, that in 1830, Baron Haussmann, the

architect who redesigned Paris in the

1850s, was sent to rebuild Nérac’s roads

and bridges.

Nérac has one of the best Saturday

farmers’ markets in the department. Arrive

early, indulge in a mouth-watering pastry at

the corner patisserie with a cup of delicious

coffee, then set off on a leisurely stroll

through the many market stalls. You can

also ride one of several riverboats along the

picturesque River Baïse, which dissects the

village, or promenade beneath the shade of

a variety of stately trees in the grand park,

La Garenne. This 35-hectare park, with its

many hidden nooks and crannies, was the

inspiration for Shakespeare’s Love’s

Labour’s Lost.


Perched on a cliff and surrounded by

spectacular vineyards – most notably

those of Château d’Yquem – Bazas is a

jewel in the Gironde department. For 2,500

years Bazas was the capital city of the

Celts, then the Romans. According to

legend, its original church held a coveted

relic which gave the town its prominence: a

cloth with the blood of St. John the Baptist,

wiped up by a woman from Bazas. The

building of a church began in 1233 to house

the cloth, which remained there until the

French Revolution in 1789, when a fanatic

ripped it from its shrine and threw it into a


This amazing Gothic cathedral was finally

completed in 1635 and sits on an imposing

rise at the end of an unusually vast,

arcaded square that provides shelter and

shade for shops and cafés. It’s serpentine,

cobbled streets beckon admirers to view an

eclectic variety of bourgeois houses and


Bazas was listed as a UNESCO World

Heritage site in 1998. It lies just off the

Bordeaux-Graves-Sauternes Wine Route,

where you can journey through 7,300

hectares of vineyards and visit some 494

winemakers in 52 villages for wine tastings.

Gascony Essentials

Take a tour with French Country Adventures and discover real Gascony and its

authentic villages, gastronomic restaurants and wonderful vineyards.

Getting there:

By air: the nearest airport is the International Toulouse Blagnac Airport - although

there a few other options within a couple of hours drive. (Carcassonne, Bordeaux,

Bergerac and Pau.)

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

Spotlight on...


Janine Marsh visits the vibrant, sunny town of the south of France

and falls in love with its many faces...

Montpellier is very much a tale of two cities.

There's the old town with its wiggly medieval

streets. And, there's the new bit of town which

seems to change week by week. Also, there’s

the seaside bit. Okay that’s three different

faces to this dynamic city – all of which makes

for a very intriguing visit with loads to discover

and a whole lot to fall in love with.

Montpellier used to be a fishing village

many years ago, now it’s a cool town with a

hip vibe. The sun shines pretty much from

spring through autumn and then some –

300 days a year on average of sun. There’s

no need for formal dress or formality – it’s

not that sort of place and with 80,000

students (and the oldest university still in

operation in Europe – it was founded in

1180) it’s got a young and “hipster” feel to it.

I love the sound of cigales squeaking in the

plane trees, the fact that birds flit about

openly and the old-fashioned lamp posts

The old city of Montpellier

add a certain je ne sais quois to the overall


Wandering in the medieval town you

suddenly find yourself on a hill, a reminder

that this is a Mont – hence the name

Montpellier. It’s not though, a hard town to

wander. It’s a small city, easy to get your

bearings and easy to get around. It’s also a

great base for sightseeing in the area. The

train service is very good and it’s a short

distance to such legends as Narbonne,

Carcassonne, Séte and even Barcelona

from the local station.

What to see in Montpellier

The pedestrianised place de la Comedie or

rather Place de L'ouef (Egg Square) as the

locals call it thanks to its oval shape, is the

beating heart of the city and a popular

meeting point. You can’t miss Café Riche in

the square, it’s an institution and is owned

by the same family who own the very

popular La Grande Brasserie a few doors

along. Locals meet at Café Riche for a

Perrier tranche (Perrier water with a slice of

lemon) or Perrier menthe (Perrier with a

shot of mint, very refreshing!). Perrier water

is from a source located between

Montpellier and Nimes so everyone drinks

it here like… well, water!

This big, vibrant café is also popular for

afternoon tea, coffee and aperitifs and is

the perfect people watching perch. There’s

also lots of street entertainment with

musicians, magicians and dancers, it’s not

organised, just spontaneous and much

loved by the locals and visitors.

Musée Fabre

This huge museum hosts permanent and

temporary exhibitions and regular exhibit

swaps with the Louvre in Paris. It was

founded in 1828 by the artist François-

Xavier Fabre in what was his home and

gallery. Since then it has grown and three

buildings now house eclectic collection that

span decades of art from 14th century

religious masterpieces to the enormous

and brooding art of Pierre Soulages, one of

France’s greatest living artists. There are

some fabulous and important works here

including a Delacroix painting which

inspired Monet, who called him the “Father

of Impressionism”. There are paintings by

Courbet, the bad boy artist of the

mid-1800s, who loved to do self-portraits

and why not, he was a handsome man! The

collection is chronological and there are

some 800 works of art so you can easily

spend a half day browsing this huge

museum, by the way it’s very cool inside on

a hot day!

Marvellous marché

The Marchés Les Arceaux is one of the

best street markets I’ve ever been to. It's

located under the arches of the gigantic

aqueduct behind the famous landmark

water tower (from which you can get

magnificent views of Montpellier). Lots of

people think the aqueduct is Roman, it isn’t,

and neither is the Arc de Triomphe in front

of it. It might seem that’s there’s a bit of a

Roman feeling to this town but in fact they

were never there.

there is all manner of fabulous food and

produce here. Most people miss this

market – don’t, it’s wonderful!

There’s also a covered market, Les Halles,

in the old town, where you can buy fresh

produce and sit at a table outside and enjoy

your feast straight away!

Marche des Arceaux is in the Peyroux

district, a little way west of the old town and

easily walkable though you can hop on the

brilliant tram service if you prefer. In the

summer months stalls groan under the

weight of fresh fruit, huge cherries, melons

and strawberries. Old ladies with baskets

and old men with plastic bags wander

along eyeing the produce, occasionally

reaching out to taste before they buy. The

smell of lavender and cheese, just baked

bread, warm fruit and slowly roasting

chickens is nothing short of drool-worthy.

The stalls are shaded by plane trees and

If you only have time to go to one

restaurant in Montpellier, then make it Le

Grillardin in the little Place de Chappelle

Neuve. In a shady little square surrounded

by beautiful old buildings with pastel blue

shutters of a shade you yearn to capture

but seems to be peculiarly French, faded

over decades, perhaps centuries. It’s a

divine setting which nourishes as much as

the delicious dishes. Tables spill onto the

square, servers nip about explaining (in

English if required) what’s on the menu.

“Salmon is our starter of the day” I was told

“smoked in our own chimney” with pride.

Tables fill quickly here so book in advance

or get there for 7.30 when service starts. It’s

loved by the locals and no wonder…

Chez Boris is famous in Montpellier for its

meaty menu, if steak’s your thing you're

going to love it here - and the crispy home

cooked chips. The servers are friendly and

speak English and it’s fun to watch them

dash across the road with trays of food and

drinks to the terraces on the other side

under Plane trees.

Where to eat in the Old Town

Burger and Blanquette is a burger bar with

panache and the most delicious salads

ever. Eat inside the cool restaurant or on the

esplanade outside under shade and

watching the world go by. Seriously lush.

Head to the contemporary art centre La

Panacée for Sunday brunch, you need to be

there by 11.am as there’s no reservation

system but for about 18 euros you’ll get a

great menu. The locals love this place and

for a true taste of Montpellier – it’s perfect.

Stop for a cooling chilled tea at the lovely

Citron Salon de Thé.

Cool bars

Cafe Joseph has been going for nearly 3

decades and makes for a vibrant night out,

good music and dance floor - and it's not

too young.

Le Glougou (which means glug glug) 27 rue

du Pila St Gély – great food and great

atmosphere, there are big wooden tables

that promote friendly chitchat and you can

buy wine by the glass, great for a nightcap.

The new city of Montpellier

Montpellier is a booming area, often voted

one of the places the French would most

like to live and the number of residents is

growing year on year. To cope with the

influx, the town is expanding in an

extraordinary architectural experiment.

The city has been expanding for a while -

at first it went north towards the hills but in

a calculated decision to control the growth

and make it something special, the town is

spreading south to the sea. The initiative

that was hatched in 1977 by then Mayor

Georges Frêche. The goal was to create the

perfect city. The architectural team started

with a blank canvas and turned the

outskirts of Montpellier into a real-life

laboratory of architecture.


The Antigone neighbourhood, named after

the ancient Greek play, was erected

principally during the 1970s and 1980s. It

has plenty of grand neo-classical buildings

and wide-open boulevards, including the

central axis nicknamed the Champs-

Elysées by locals. The most innovative

architects in the world have designed

buildings here but it’s happened in a very

organised way. It’s not a messy hotchpotch

of looks, there’s a consistent theme being

woven through this new part of Montpellier.

Wide open spaces, height restrictions, even

the look has to a certain extent been

controlled although architects have been

given a free hand overall while keeping to a

few rules.

Port Marianne

The fast-rising Port Marianne district

features canals and a small lake which is

home to ducks and giant water rats (which

I thought were otters, they’re very cute). It’s

lined by low height apartments of all

different shapes but with a continuous

theme of low central penthouses. The light

in the area is great and the colours too -

from deep blue of the Jean Nouvel

designed Hotel de Ville to deep chocolate

on a swanky block of flats. Cafés,

restaurants and shops are opening on a

regular basis and the tram service (some of

them designed by fashion legend Christian

Lacroix) reaches all the news residential

areas. The area is an architectural fan’s


The result is stunning and the NY Times

has placed Montpellier in the top 100

architectural cities to see before you die.

Where to eat in the new town

Terminal # 1 run by the Pourcel brothers

(who at 22 were the youngest Michelin star

chefs in France). Terminal # 1 is a great

place for a drink, the food is quite fancy,

certainly delicious, and though they're not

searching for a star with this one, the

quality is there.

The RBC Kitchen is filled with design items

for the whole home, as well as a basement

area with affordable items. It might not

strike you as the best place to go to eat but

it has a fabulous restaurant hardly known

by tourists but loved by savvy locals for its

architectural style and stylish menu.

La Gazette, Montpellier’s weekly magazine

of events and news, has a cool, organic café

in an old garage that’s popular with arty


The seaside

Get out of the city and take a dip in the

Mediterranean Sea. With an unspoiled

coastline, silky sand beaches and jut 10km

from the centre of town, the beaches of

Montpellier make for a fabulous day at the


Petit Travers and Grand Travers (between

the Grande Motte and Carnon), Palavasles-Flots,

Aresquiers in Frontignan, or

Espiguette in Le Grau-du-Roi, are ideal for

water sports or just lazing about. You can

reach them by bus or tram from the city

centre (check at the tourist office for

services/times), for instance Tram Line 3

will take around 45 minutes to Pérols, a

mere 800m from the Mediterranean Sea.

How to get there:

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

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

heart of Languedoc Roussillon, Occitainie as the new super region is called

(Languedoc Rousillon merged with Midi-Pyrenees).

By air - Montpellier airport is just 10 minutes’ drive from the city

Stay at

Hotel les Occitanes makes for a great base with roomy studios close to the station

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

Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence makes for the perfect weekend destination

year-round thanks to its status as the antiques capital of France. Not to

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

charming restaurants, bars and cafés and a buzzing atmosphere.

Janine Marsh falls head over heels for the little antiques paradise

I arrived in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on a sultry

evening having travelled by train from

Paris. My base was the Hotel Les Terrasses

and the first thing I did when I got to the

room was fling open the windows to drink

in the views. Bang, smack over the top of

the famous Basin de Sorgue or as the

locals call it Le Bassin Bouïgas, dusk was

falling, lights glowed softly in trees, the

reflections shimmering gently on the

surface of the clear water. The sound of

laughter, light chatter and glasses clinking

floated up to my window tempting me to

join the diners below.

It’s an iconic sight that little lake,

restaurants line the terraces around it,

birds sing in the trees and it is the perfect

place for people watching. A glass of rosé,

the favourite drink of Provence, was set in

front of me with a dish of crusty bread and

dark tapenade. The scent of the crushed

olives filled the air, my determination to diet

dissolved, won over by the smell and the

sight of the little dishes.

The warm air and the pink and purple sky

made for a magical moment and I couldn’t

help thinking “it doesn’t get much better

than this”. My salad was delicious, the

ambiance was wonderful and I couldn’t

fault my first night in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. I

slept like a baby and woke up to deep blue

skies and the sound of the town coming

to – it’s enough to make you fall in love

with a place.

I nibbled on a flaky golden croissant for

breakfast on the terrace of the hotel where

I watched a couple of local fishermen down

“keep me awake for a week” espressos.

Across the Basin, the clock on the wall of

the restaurant read the same time as it did

when I arrived, the same time as it does

every day. I felt like it was saying, don’t

worry about rushing, take your time, there’s

nowhere you need to be except here,

enjoying yourself. The word idyllic sprang

to mind.

I had heard that Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has lots

of antique shops and flea markets. I’d seen

some lovely photos of the town. But

nothing prepared me for the sight when I

walked a few yards along the road from the

hotel and turned into Avenue des Quatre

Otages. Filling the pavement and spilling

into the road were stalls piled with things I

wanted to take home from furniture to

antiques heaven

paintings, ornaments, knick knacks, china,

textiles and this and that. Every alley, every

side road, every entrance seems to lead to

another antiques warehouse or shop or a

whole cluster of shops in antiques villages.

Shady squares and ancient buildings - full

of stuff! It’s like the Antiques Road Show

come to life right in front you times a

hundred – or rather times 300 as that’s the

number of permanent dealers here.

And as if that’s not enough, every Sunday

there’s an outdoor antiques market and

there are international antiques shows

every Easter and in August when around

200 more sellers arrive so you can fill your

boots. It's a popular event and a stall holder

told me that each year, a foreign Prince

arrives with his several wives to shop. He

gives each of them a huge shipping

container to fill with antiques and ship back

home. That's what I call retail therapy!

When you’re done rummaging

Through the town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

runs the bubbling river Sorgue, originating

from the famous source of the Fontaine de

la Vaucluse a mere 5 miles away. Along the

river are a dozen or so historic, green mosscovered

water wheels – they’re beautiful to

look at and are a reminder of the town’s

past when it was a centre of wool, paper

and silk making. Follow the river to the

point where it divides known as “le partage

des Eaux” for a very pretty view and the

perfect selfie spot.

There are plenty of places to shop for

souvenirs, clothes, gourmet food products

and gifts that aren’t antiques.

Eating and drinking

Around Le Bassin, along the river, in cobble

stone squares under the shade of plane

trees – there’s plenty of choice here.

Locals love:

The perfect place for lunch is the Café du

Village in the Le Village des Antiquaires de

la Gare. It’s popular with dealers, locals and

visitors for its shady ambiance and

fabulous menu. In France, its de rigeur to

take two hours for lunch and at this lively,

pretty restaurant you won’t have any

problems whiling away the hours.

2 Avenue de l'Égalité

Dinner at Les Terrasses hotel restaurant

round the Le Bassin. Tasty food, friendly

staff and the view is to die for…

Grab a snack at Le Cri des Crocs food

truck – my friend Marie who lives in Islesur-la-Sorgue

says the food is always very

good, organic salads and tasty hamburgers

that you can eat at the little tables in front

of the river, a picturesque spot.

871 Route d'Apt

Wine and Dine:

Le Vivier restaurant has a fabulous menu

created by a talented team. With a

Michelin star, creative, refined cooking,

stunning location overlooking the river

Sorgue with the sound of a water wheel

gently splashing – it’s nigh on perfect and

very romantic.

800 Cours Fernande Peyre

Aperitif heaven

Sous la Robe, a wine bar with a pretty

courtyard where they do a great planche (a

plate with nibbles) with your drink.

5 Avenue des Quatre Otages

Pop in for a beer, glass of wine or pastis at

the Café du France simply because it’s so

very French and pretty!

5 Avenue des Quatre Otages

How to get to the Isle-sur-la-


By train from Paris via Avignon. In

summer months the Eurostar runs

direct from London to Avignon. The

train from Avignon to Isle-sur-lasorgue

costs a few Euros and takes 25


By Air: Avignon Airport or Marseille-

Marignane International Airport then

take the train.

Hotel: Les Terrasses de David et

Louisa, simple, comfy rooms and a

view to die for...

Tourist office website:

www.oti-delasorgue.fr; www.



A shade under 2 hours on a fast train from Paris will bring you to the south of France and

the lovely city of Lyon. The gastronomic capital of France, Lyon is a feast for the eyes, the

soul and the stomach. Janine Marsh seeks out tempting visits for culture vultures and

shoppers and finds that in the old town, almost every other building seems to house a

restaurant, bakery, wine bar or somewhere to tempt your taste buds.

What to do in one day in Lyon

Let’s assume you arrive in time for

breakfast and will stay for an early dinner

catching the 21.04 train back to Paris.

At a Glance

It’s a long walk to the old town from the

station and as you’re only there for a day

it’s worth taking the metro to Place

Bellecour. Get a map from the tourist office

which is in Place Bellecour and from where

you can take a guided tour on an open top

bus. It stops at 13 key sites and you can get

on and off as you like, so you can spend

time where you want and it saves you the

trouble of buying a one-day travel pass,

making it really good value at €19.00.

If you don’t want to take the guided tour,

from Place Bellecour you can walk over

Pont Bonaparte, the bridge that crosses the

River Saône and straight into the Old

Town – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s

a place of medieval towers, renaissance

mansions, cobbled streets, amazing

restaurants and a fascinating history.

Culture Vulture

There are several museums including the

huge, recently opened Musée des

Confluences in the regenerated docklands

area. Its radical design has raised eyebrows

but the exhibition of the story of mankind

shown through a collection of two million

objects is very popular.

You’re bound to come across the word

“traboules” in Lyon. These are a network of

medieval covered alleyways and stairs in

the Croix Rousse district linking courtyards

and houses to the river. Lyon was famous

for its silk weaving industry and the

traboules enabled goods to be transported

without getting wet.

Cinema fans will enjoy the fascinating

museum dedicated to famous residents of

Lyon - Auguste and Louis Lumière, the

world's first film-makers, located in their

former, art deco home.


Lyon has a sweet tooth so there's plenty of

opportunity to take home some luscious

memories, Violette & Berlingot is a sugary

feast (52, Passage de l'Argue). You might

not be so keen on the local speciality,

andouilette, a sausage made from offal, it's

a bit of an acquired taste and one day may

not be long enough to acquire it!

Where to eat

It’s hard to know where to start in a place

that has more restaurants per head than

any other town in France including 14

Michelin star restaurants. Eating out is a

passion and hobby for the Lyonnais and

there’s a huge choice. Head to the old town

to experience Bouchons, traditional Lyon

eateries that are very charming. Fun dining

to fine dining, microbreweries, ultra-posh to

gourmet burger – this town has it all, and

then some. Rue Mercier in the newer part of

town is brilliant for restaurants too.

Du Pain: Not strictly a bakery but a very

special patisserie and chocolate shop –

Bernachon of Lyon is an institution and a

must visit for any sweet tooth. 42, cours

Franklin Roosevelt

Du Vin: Les Vins des Vivants - a wine bar

that’s run by two brothers, a great setting in

the Croix Rousse district, charming venue

and absolutely brilliant wines. 6 Place

Fernand Rey

Du Train: Trains from Paris (Gare de Lyon

or Bercy) to Lyon are direct and the shortest

journey time is 1h57. Between Monday to

Saturday the earliest train from Paris to

Lyon leaves at 5:50am, arriving at 7:56am,

in time for breakfast. The last train back to

Paris is 21.04 arriving 23.12 (Note: times are

subject to change so please check the

departure and arrival times carefully via

SNCF or your ticket operator).

Photo: Vicke Cunningham

Autumn in France means is a time of joie de vivre and in Paris the weather is usually

mellow, culture is on the menu, plus walks in parks where the leaves on the trees are red

and gold is a memorable experience as is hot chocolate in a square and so much more.

Autumn is the perfect time for a Paris getaway and here are ten reasons to

prove it!

Nuit Blanche

Montmartre Wine Festival

For one night only, each year Paris

becomes an open-air museum. There is

nothing quite like this truly astonishing

night of art, culture and surprises. As dusk

falls, the city springs to life as an

extravaganza of luminous installations and

sensory experiences astonish audiences.

Nuit Blanche hands the city over to

contemporary artists to reimagine its

streets and buildings and the public are

invited to join in. This is an exceptional

night of art that will thrill, provoke and

amaze from dusk to dawn. This one event

alone is enough reason to visit Paris in the

Autumn as far as I’m concerned.

7 October

Did you know that Paris has a secret wine

producing vineyard in the heart of the city

at Montmartre?! Each October the Fête des

vendanges de Montmartre celebrates the

art of food and wine. It’s one of the most

popular events with Parisians with free

concerts, exhibitions, parades and tastings

in the heart of the city. Join the locals in a

celebration of the grape harvest right in the

centre of Paris.

11-15 October

Museums museums museums

With around 200 museums in the city to

choose from, you’re truly spoiled for choice.

20 museums are free all year-round

including the Petit Palais which is home to

1300 works of art. Other museums are free

on the first Sunday of the month and some

open late which makes for a special

ambiance, such as the Palais de Tokyo

which is open until midnight daily (except

Tuesdays). Museums are less crowded in

autumn and good for days when it’s raining

or a little bit chilly out.

Hot Chocolate à la terrace

And, if it is a bit chilly out then what could

be nicer than wrapping up warm and

sipping a hot chocolate while you drink in a

wonderful view. One of the most beautiful

spots is by Notre Dame where you'll find

plenty of cafés where you can sit outside

and watch the sun set and listen to those

famous bells toll – it’s priceless.

Hit the book stores and chill

There are loads of book stores with English

language books in Paris and lots of them

have cafés and even wine bars so you can

sit and read in an ambient atmosphere.

Two of the best are Shakespeare & Co. near

Notre Dame Cathedral, it' has a lovely café

alongside the book store, and WH Smith,

an institution for Brits, in rue de Rivoli with

its upstairs “olde English” style tea room.

Exhibitions Galore

Catch Hockney at the Pompidou featuring

more than 160 artworks (ends 23 October);

Gauguin at the Grand Palais (11 October

2017 – 22 January 2018) and see a once in a

lifetime exhibition of Picasso’s “year of

wonders” artworks from 1932, with more

than 100 paintings and sculptures at the

Musée Picasso (10 October 2017 – 11

February 2018).

Fountain Festival

A chance to enjoy the musical Fountains

Show at the Palace of Versailles without

the crowds.

Ends 29 October 2017

Haute Culture

The brand new Musée Yves Saint Laurent

is scheduled to open 3 October, presenting

iconic couture pieces and historic

accessories – a must for those with a

passion for fashion.

Music Maestro

The world’s top singers and musicians play

at famous Parisian venues. This season

brings the divine Lady Gaga and Shakira to

Paris to perform at the AccorHotels Arena

at Bercy. The Philarmonie de Paris begins la

rentrée on 2 September with a full

programme of concerts and shows

featuring the greatest names in classical

music from composers to performers.

In the streets and squares, in the cafés and

bars, music is alive and well in Paris, just

wander and listen you’re sure to hear the

sound of Paris in the autumn sooner or


European Heritage Days

The weekend of 16 and 17 September sees

monuments, museums, sites and public

buildings open their doors for free to the

public in a spectacular weekend celebrating

the city’s heritage. There are free

workshops, guided tours and behind the

scenes visits galore – this is an unmissable

Paris cultural event.

More info from www.parisinfo.com

Lucy Pitts explores The noble town of

Grignan and its Parisian style surprise

What a surprise Grignan is as you round a

corner on your way to Nyons, in southern

Drôme in the south of the Rhône Alpes

region. This 11th century, fortified village

suddenly comes into view, majestic and

proud above the low lying lavender fields,

looking decidedly regal in an area that still

oozes rustic charm.

There are a couple of different roads into

the footings of the village and the one I

chose felt very grand. Plane trees either

side heralded my arrival as I swept through

a small parkland area and arrived at the

first wall of the fortifications.

A farmer was hard at work putting his

lavender fields to bed right up to the village

boundary and the wall is broken by an

imposing gate with large stone pillars

either side, suggesting a medieval village

with a bit more of a story to tell.

A village with a secret

Turn the corner and a broad esplanade

escorts you to the first steps up to into the

heart of the village and to a large, 19th

century, circular bath surrounded by

columns, known as the Lavoir du Mail. With

the Mistral wind constantly pulling at your

hair and the heat of an early September

day, a quick dip and cool off is quite


As you climb on, what awaits you inside

the walls is a charming medieval village.

There’s a tiered system of narrow and

cobbled streets that wind their way around

and up to the apex of the hill, with views

across the lavender, vineyards and

sunflowers. It’s predominantly pedestrian

and makes a pleasant morning, walking

fully around the village, stopping at the

boutiques or at a pavement café.

Chateau Grignan

Of course, you can’t help but be aware that

the crowning glory of Grignan is its castle

and as with any medieval village you have

an idea of what to expect. One way or

another the narrow streets of the village

lead you to a grand approach and a large

and imposing wooden door at the rocky

top of the hill. But you can’t see the

chateau until you’ve entered the inner

circle. And even then, there’s one last climb

before you turn the corner and there she is.

In all her magnificent, unexpected and

spectacular glory.

It’s as if someone has transported

Versailles or a large piece of Paris to this

quiet corner of northern Provence. There’s

a vast open forecourt at the far end of

which stands the exquisite Renaissance

façade. Mount Ventoux, the Pre-Alpes and

the Dentelles are all visible behind you and

for a moment you’re caught in a

spellbinding silence. Horse drawn

carriages spring to mind and you can

almost see dainty feet topped by

sumptuous ball gowns stepping out of the

carriage doors to the sound of laughter

from courtiers as they swish their way


\chateau with a troubled past

The originally 12th century chateau, was

completely transformed in the Renaissance

period into this superb stately home. It

boasts high and beautifully painted

ceilings, grand ball rooms and galleries,

Versailles style parquet floors and beautiful

wood panels hung with huge tapestries.

The ornate bedrooms have far reaching

views to the south and east and the whole

chateau is juxtaposed with the 16th century

collegiate church who’s roof acts as an

additional terrace for the chateau. A terrace

on the church roof, I hear you say, that’s

sacrilege and that’s what the people of the

time thought too.

Perhaps predictably, during the French

revolution the chateau, like so many

others, was partially destroyed and looted

owing to its strong connections with the

establishment and the royal family. Over

the next two centuries, Chateau Grignan

struggled to recover its glory.

Famous one time owner, Parisian dandy

with a fabulous name - Boniface de

Castellane only added to its woes. He sold

off many of its remaining treasures at the

beginning of the 20th century to pay for his

divorce from American heiress Anna Gould


It wasn’t until ownership fell into the hands

of Marie Fontaine in 1912 that a full

programme of restoration began. Today it’s

one of the most prestigious and leading

examples of Renaissance architecture in

the south. So unexpected, so splendid.

Website: www.chateaux-ladrome.fr

Time for tea

Right back down at the foot of the village is

the utterly delightful Clair de la Plume, a

quintessentially French tea house (if there

is such a thing). Its courtyard garden is a

little oasis with tables hidden in amongst

the sage, lavender, honeysuckle, hibiscus

and thyme and a long list of teas, cakes

and pastries served in floral crockery is

hard to choose from.

This former ambassador’s house also holds

a 17th century kitchen and a Michelin star

restaurant, as well as a secret garden, a

short walk from the courtyard. In the

garden, behind the village wall, you’ll find a

lover’s pavilion with views back across to

Grignan, a Mediterranean garden and a

natural swimming pool. If you’re looking for

somewhere to stay while you explore, this

is a sumptuous spot.

Grignan is a surprise and there’s just one

last tip before you move on.

Just outside the village, in the industrial

zone, is a gift shop. It’s called Durance and

you probably wouldn’t have given it a

second glance. But from lavender hand

cream, poppy shower gel and camellia

body lotion, it’s filled with all sorts of

natural produce, everything locally sourced

and deliciously fragrant. If you want to take

home the smells of Provence and Grignan,

it’s worth a quick deviation.

For more information about Drôme



Transport to Drôme:

Valence has a TGV station and it’s

possible to get trains from the UK or

Paris. ukvoyages-sncf

Although Valence has an airport, most

flights are to Lyon or Grenoble.

The long lost love Cheese

of the Auvergne

Michael Cranmer goes all Sherlock Holmes to find a mystery cheese

he fell in love with in the Auvergne...

It began ten years ago, on Friday 15

February, 2008, to be precise, in a small

hotel, in a small town called Le Mont-Dore

in the Auvergne. I'd stopped for the night

en-route to the Alps. After my long drive I

just wanted a meal and then bed. The food

was decent, the elderly waiter attentive.

Clearing my plate he asked if I would like

any cheese. I don’t suffer ‘cheese-dreams’,

so said “yes”, little knowing that the

memory would haunt me for the next


He brought a selection. In the centre was a

small volcano, its pale lovely crust covered

in a dusting of ash. How extraordinary! (...

but perhaps not, as the Auvergne is dotted

with dormant volcanoes).

Intrigued, I cut a slice. An eruption of

pleasure filled my mouth. I smiled. The

waiter smiled, “Vous aimez ça?” Oh, yes, I

like it very much. Intensely creamy, slightly

pungent; I closed my eyes in ecstasy as the

flavour held me. Finally, I asked the

name…and promptly forgot it. That was a

BIG MISTAKE, and one that was to haunt

me for the next ten years. If only I’d written

it down. If only my memory was not like a

perforated plastic bag. If only…

But for then I went to bed a happy man,

savouring the aftertaste of my little slice of

delectation. Somehow, as I slept, the

volcanic remembrance embedded itself in

my subconscious, to surface intermittently

and worry at me like the equivalent of a

snatch of a song...

I knew I loved THAT cheese, and I wanted

more. But how to get it? An early start

meant no chance to enquire in the town.

Time passed, the taste nagged at me: I

would gaze wistfully in fromageries hoping

for a glimpse of my lost love (which was

definitely féminin in my mind, not

masculin). I trawled the internet, always

looking. On a visit to Paris, enquiries in the

best cheese shops yielded only shrugs.

But I never gave up. Always searching,

always hoping, always longing.

Then, nine years after that first and only

assignation, whilst in London I bumped

into Corinne from Auvergne Rhône-Alps

Tourism and told her of my plight. She

understood at once, “Leave it with me. I will

make some enquiries”.

Two weeks passed, until, one morning I

had an email from Corinne!

‘I tried to find a pyramid-shape cheese

covered in ash, made in Auvergne. I found

one last Saturday, it is a goat cheese, it

does exist’.

My heart raced as I read her reply. But then

came another email from my French

‘Sherlock Holmes’, this time with a

photograph: “Dear Michael, … there is a

cheese in the centre of the picture which is

the one you are looking for, in La

Fromagerie Nivesse cheese shop in

Clermont-Ferrand and the cheese is a raw

milk goat cheese, from the region of

Courpière, not far away from Clermont-

Ferrand. The name of the cheese is Le

mont de Courtesserre”.

Eureka! I’d been right all along. My lovely

did exist, just an hour and a half from where

I’d had my first-and-only-taste.

I began to study the photo ‘Sherlock’ (aka

Corinne) had sent. It was tantalizingly

ambiguous. Taken from directly above, it

showed nine cheeses, the central one

being square and ash-covered.

As I puzzled over it, a sinking feeling came

over me. This didn’t fit with my ten year-old

memory. Yes, it was obviously a goat’s

cheese. Yes, it was dusted with ash. Yes,

the texture and rind looked right, but the

distinctive volcano shape just wasn’t there.

Now in a panic, I contacted ‘Sherlock’

expressing my doubts. She explained that

the overhead viewpoint didn’t show the

volcano shape of my ‘chosen’ (as she so

charmingly called it). It was like holding an

identity parade from above. Phew!

‘Elementary, my dear Watson’ (to misquote

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Three months later I set out for Clermont-

Ferrand and a date with my cheesedestiny.

Crazy thoughts filled my head:

would my ‘Long-Lost Love Cheese’ have

changed? Would that distinctive taste and

look be the same as the memory buried in

my sub-conscious?

Corinne had arranged lunch at La

Fromagerie Nivesse. She laughed at my

nervousness. It felt like a first date. The

waiter fussed around, recommending a

local wine. I couldn’t sit still. I pushed past

the queue of hungry customers to look at

the vast counters of cheeses, trying to spot

‘her’…I felt overwhelmed by the dozens and

dozens of products…but, then, there in the

corner by the door, nearest to where we

were sitting, almost as if ‘she’ was wanting

me to see ‘her’ first, was my ‘Long-Lost

Love Cheese’. There was no mistaking the

soft angle of ‘her’ flanks, the delicate pale

crust, outlined by darker dustings of ash,

and the creamy skin. The hub-bub of the

shop faded away as I bent over to gaze at

this object of desire that had taken ten

years to find.

Now to taste! Before us was a plate of

charcuterie, fruit, bread, and a selection of

six local cheeses. I only had eyes for one. I

gently slid a slice onto a piece of bread,

and, oh! The first eruption of pleasure at the

creamy inside overwhelmed me. Then the

velvety sensation of the crust dusted with a

complex bite of ash followed. Every-thing

I’d remembered came flooding back. A

mouthful of wine, and then another slice.

The emotion of the moment I had waited

ten long years for held me. I savoured it to

the full. “So, it is your cheese?” Corinne

chuckled. No need to respond. My silly grin

said it all.

“I have arranged for you to visit the farmer

who makes your Love-Cheese” Corrine

said, “He is expecting you this afternoon”.

It took a while to find La Côte Courtesserre.

Forty minutes east of Clermont, the GPS

got me to the general vicinity, but I couldn’t

find it. So I did the commonsense thing and

explored every lane, every track, every byway,

until eventually I spotted a field with a

flock of goats.

This must be it! Sure enough a handpainted

sign announced ‘Fromage de

Chèvre fermier. J-B Navaron’.Jean-Baptiste

peered thought the window of his tiny dairy

as I pulled up.

I’d interrupted his cheese-making but

smiling, he explained he’d taken over his

parent’s farm about eleven years ago and

had around a hundred and twenty shegoats

and a few billys. Out of sight was a

small herd of cows. It was an idyllic spot,

cresting a gentle hill, the Chaîne des Puys

dormant volcano range is the backdrop. It

was clearly not chance that my cheese

mimicked the shape and exact angle of the

slope of these giants.

I asked Jean-Baptiste about his day. “I get

up at six-thirty and milk the goats and

cows”, he smiled. “On your own?” I asked.

“Just me. I do it for love. For passion. Every

single day. My last holiday was three years

ago. Then I go to a Farmer’s Market or take

my cheeses to shops like La Fromagerie

Nivesse. Back in the afternoon to make

more, around sixty a week” He produces

four goat, two cow, and one mixed types.

Mine didn’t really have a name, he

explained, “Customers give their own

name”. The Long-Lost Love Cheese with no

name I thought. I was too shy to tell him.

We crossed the track, negotiated an electric

fence, and he called to his goats. They flew

down from the hilltop to surround us, a

joyful, nuzzling, inquisitive bunch, sleeklycoated

and happy. I’d reached the pure

source of my lovely cheese, a contented

farmer, with his contented animals.

Thus my story ends, but with a twist. In

2013 I had a heart attack, and as part of a

healthier regime, decided I would forsake

cheese. The taste of my Long-Lost-Love

Cheese was the first I’d had for three and a

half years. I’m happy and at ease now. I’ve

found her, and having savoured the taste,

I’ve given up cheese again.

But I have the memory.

Michael Cranmer travelled courtesy of

Atout France and auvergnerhonealpestourisme.com

Toulouse may not immediately come to

mind as a destination for a short break but

this exciting, vibrant and historic city is less

than a 90-minute flight from the UK and is

well served from all over France by the rail


Toulouse is the fourth largest city in

France, well known as the home of the

European Space industry and of airbus,

though I was here for the food, culture and

architecture of La Ville Rose (“the pink

city”).There are no stone quarries nearby

so rich local clay is used to make pinkish

terracotta bricks which many buildings are

made of. In the early morning or late

afternoon sunshine they are a

photographer’s dream.

Making for a great base, the Grand Hotel de

l’Opera, is slap bang in the middle of the

city on the vast Place du Capitole. It is one

of the classic mansions of the city and

boasts two restaurants, both sharing the

same courtyard. Les Jardins de L’Opera is

the gastronomic home of Michelin starred

chef Stephane Tournie while the more

affordable Brasserie de L’Opera run by chef

Gratien Castro is terrific.

Sitting here with a glass of Pastis, nibbling

on amuse bouches, half a dozen plump

escargot swimming in garlic butter and

steak frites, makes for a very French, very

relaxing lunch.

Place Charles de Gaulle is a good starting

point for a visit to the city to find out what’s

on and to pick up a one-day Toulouse Pass

Tourisme at the tourist office. The pass

gives you free entry to the museums and

reduced rates at many of the city’s

attractions. It also includes free travel on

public transport, metro, bus, tram and

airport shuttle bus as well as a guided tour

of the city and a free cruise along the River


The walking tour of Tolouse starts from the

tourist office housed in the historic Donjon

du Capitole. This much-loved building

houses the Hotel de Ville, the Theatre

Nationale Orchestra and Opera House. It is

well worth a visit to see the dramatic wall

murals depicting the seasons of Toulouse.

You can’t help but notice that all over the

city are two symbols, a twelve-pointed

cross and the scallop shell. The cross is

The Occitan Cross also known as the cross

of Languedoc, it is the symbol of Occitania

and appears everywhere. The place du

Capitole has a huge brass one set in the

floor, designed by Raymond Moretti in

1995, each point is a symbol of the zodiac

A short stroll through streets lined with

buildings of pink bricks brings you to the

basilica of Saint-Sernin. This was an

important stop on the Way of St James, one

of the routes of Santiago de Compostela,

which of course explains the appearance of

the many scallop shell symbols in Toulouse

(pilgrim's motif).

Next stop is the massive Jacobins Convent.

To be fair it is not the most beautiful

building from the outside. Don’t let this put

you off because this severe brick built

block is extraordinarily light inside with

massive pillars and palm-tree-like ribs

reaching huge heights. The cloisters are a

welcome cool place to rest up from the

heat of the city.

There is so much more to see on this walk

but rather than listen to me - go there and

follow in my footsteps - you won’t be


Place St Georges is one of the locals’

favourite squares in the city, ringed with

cafés and restaurants. It is the perfect

place to spend a relaxing evening watching

the world go about its business. You

couldn’t do much better than head to

Monsieur Georges for a tasty dinner. The

duck profiteroles are divine, washed down

with a glass of perfectly chilled rosé.

There are lots of hotels in Toulouse to suit

all budgets. Many hotels get full during the

week out of season with business folks

visiting the aerospace and aviation

industries but being empty at weekends,

they offer some great deals.

Toulouse is the sort of place where you can

leave your maps and guide books, GPS and

phone in your hotel room and dive into the

city and got lost in its streets. There are

shops to suit all tastes, great cafés and

restaurants to fit all budgets, food markets

and even a man-made beach on the banks

of the Garonne. There really is something

for everyone in this fabulous city.

Leave room in your suitcase to take home

some Toulouse specialities - saucissons,

tins of cassoulets and other French

gourmet delights.

Toulouse Tourist office


Take a hike in the largest national park in


Rupert Parker finds out what it's like to take a break in a high mountain

refuge, a popular stopover in France, and climbs a glacier to reach an

altitude of almost 3600m...

I’ve always wondered what it would be like

to spend the night in those high altitude

French Refuges, which look so cosy,

tucked in close to the mountains. Better

yet, when I hear about a Tour Gourmand, or

gastronomy tour, walking between them,

I’m even more interested. So I pack my

rucksack and set out for the Ecrins

National Park, about a 90 minute drive

east of Grenoble. It’s the largest National

Park in France and features some of the

wildest and most dramatic scenery in the

Alps. Perhaps because of that, it remains

relatively unknown, its paths less travelled

than those famous trails further north

around Mont Blanc.

I’m told that the walking is quite strenuous

and it’s better to take less rather than more.

I whittle down my load to a change of

clothes, a sheet sleeping bag, toiletries,

sandals and of course a large water


The trail starts at Gîte du Plan du Lac, near

St Christophe en Oisans, and I settle down

to a hearty lunch with a glass of wine to

give me courage, before hitting the trail.

The weather isn’t looking particularly

promising but at least it’s dry and the first

few kilometres follow the valley floor

alongside the River Vénéon.

I see the village of St Christophe en Oisans

perched high above the opposite bank, and

the signpost points me up the steep

hillside, directly adjacent to a magnificent

waterfall. I get glimpses of this as I climb,

but it’s beginning to rain and I’m keen to

reach shelter. Finally, after plodding up

600m, the tiny Refuge de l’Alpe du Pin

pops into view and I collapse with a beer.

It’s been tough and I’m hungry so I ask the

guardian, Sylvie Danjard, what’s for dinner.

She replies that it’s soup, made with

foraged herbs and looks at me. It doesn’t

sound like much but she’s teasing and of

course there's more to follow.

At 1805m, there’s no electricity, the toilet is

outside and the running water comes out

of a plastic pipe snaking down the

mountain. The refuge can sleep twenty, all

packed closely together on one platform,

but fortunately it’s only half full. Sylvie is an

excellent cook and her delicious herb soup

is served with homemade bread and a

glass of organic Cote du Rhone. Next are

Oreilles d'Âne, or donkey’s ears, a lasagnelike

dish of wild spinach, sandwiched

between layers of pasta and cheese. I’m

now thinking I’ve eaten my fill but local

sausages arrive, then pieces of Comte

cheese and finally her delicious fruit tart.

Everyone of course sleeps well, although I

do get complaints about my snoring in the


The weather is looking better as we set out

early for the next refuge. The track takes us

through the forest and then starts to

descend. I’m worrying that I’m going to lose

all the height I gained yesterday but

fortunately the path takes a right into the

Mariande Valley, then follows the Muande

stream up to the Refuge de la Lavey at

1797m. This is a much larger building than

the previous night and can take up to 60.

Its situation is stunning, surrounded by

3000m peaks, with a snow filled glacier on

the horizon. Facilities are slightly better

than the previous night, as there are inside

toilets, although if you want a shower, you

have to brave the outdoors. They’re famous

for serving world food and dinner is

typically Nepalese – rice, dhal and strips of

grilled meat.

Next morning it’s cold and crispy and

there’s frost on the grass. After crossing

the Muande stream, it’s a steep zig zag up

the mountainside, climbing to 2350m. At

this altitude, I’m feeling short of breath and

it’s a bit of a slog, but the magnificent

views more than make up for it. We

descend slightly to the Lac des Fétoules,

more of a pond really, where people have

camped overnight.

comfort. A taxi whisks us 14km to Vénosc

and we take the cable car to Les Deux

Alpes and check into the three star Hotel

Le Souleil’Or. After a couple of nights

roughing it, it really feels like a palace and

it’s good to have a room of my own. Dinner

at their Le Shakisky restaurant is excellent.

From here it’s a scramble downhill, icy

underfoot, back to the bridge over the

Vénéon River. There’s another bit of

climbing before we reach delightful St

Christophe en Oisans. The amusingly

eccentric Café La Cordée supplies the

beers and then welcomes us into their

Hamman - just the thing for washing the

dirt and sweat of the last few days away.

The Tour Gourmand continues onwards to

a couple more refuges but I’m keen to try

some glacier hiking, and I’m craving some

It’s wise to get on the glacier early, before

the snow begins to melt, so at 8am, we

meet Marc, our guide. We’ll need to be

roped so are equipped with helmets,

harness, crampons and ice axe. It’s then a

ride by cable car and funicular up to

3400m. At this altitude, even though the

sun is shining, fingers are a little cold to be

fumbling with crampons, but they’re

essential on the snow. Marc inspects each

of us, checking the harnesses and

adjusting the positions of our ice axes so

we won’t damage our partners, then leads

us single file onto the glacier.

Of course I’m the one who keeps standing

on the rope, almost tripping the person in

front of me, but I quickly learn from my

mistakes. We climb steadily, across what

looks like plain pristine snow, but there are

hidden crevasses and Marc steers us away

from particular patches which he deems

dangerous. It’s tough walking at this

altitude and any cold is banished by a sea

of perspiration.

Finally the snow runs out, replaced by a

bed of rough slate, and I realise we’re at the

summit. At this altitude the views are

stunning: Mont Blanc to the north is

completely clear and, looking south, I can

just make out the distinctive shape of Mont

Ventoux in Provence. There’s no time to

linger as the ice is melting and we need to

get off the glacier before it’s too late.

The Tour Gourmand is all inclusive, and

can be booked at berarde.com

Hotel Souleil’Or

For more information about the Vénéon

valley, see www.montagne-oisans.com.

For more information about Les Deux

Alpes, see www.les2alpes.com.

For further information about the

mountains of France see www.francemontagnes.com.

It was to be a combined holiday of skiing

for my children (aged 11, 10 and 9 - total

beginners) and dog walking. When you own

two huge hounds, Leonbergers, the

youngest of which weighs in at 75 kgs,

putting them in kennels isn’t really an

option and anyway, they’re part of the

family. Luckily we found a ski company that

accommodates all your family - even the

furry members.

Two days before we left, the husband fell

down the stairs at work and cracked his

shoulder bone. I tripped over whilst walking

the dogs giving myself concussion. As we

pulled out of the Eurotunnel in the early

hours, packed to the rafters, I couldn’t move

my neck and was still seeing stars and he

couldn’t move his shoulder. Things could

only get better, couldn’t they?

Arriving in Saint Gervais

Our apartment was on the third floor so

that was the first challenge. Leonbergers in

a lift! They may be mountain dogs but they

don’t do stairs and perhaps unsurprisingly,

I’d never tried squeezing them into a very

small space before. To their credit, they

weren’t at all bothered (although some of

the other residents might have been - we

tended to exit at speed) but we did have to

travel in two shifts as there wasn’t room for

all of us in one lift.

Once settled in, I think the dogs rather

enjoyed eating their dinner on the balcony

with views across to the Alpes and Mont


Day 1 – Taking it easy

We had a plan. Being a particularly mild

spring, snow was scarce, so our plan was to

ski in the mornings and walk in the

afternoons. We booked 5 days of lessons

for all of us but spent the first morning just

mucking about up the mountain on a small

piece of flat but snowy space. After an hour,

my kids declared they were now of Olympic

standard (despite not yet having gone down

a slope) and we returned to the resort for a

dog walk, relieved to find the dogs hadn’t

eaten the apartment. The temperature in

Saint Gervais for our week averaged at 18

degrees, so I felt a little over dressed in my

thick sweater and woolly hat as we headed

down to the Thermal Park – a well-known

local spa.

The spa sits in a valley, at the end of a tree

lined driveway. Cherry and apple blossom

welcomed us against a background of the

snow tipped mountains and the sound of a

river. Was this really a winter break?

We walked along a woodland path which

runs behind the spa. It was my challenge

number three as in places the path is steep,

rocky and narrow. Not so much a path,

more of a goat track, and full credit to the

very elderly lady we passed on the ascent,

they make them tough round here.

The path takes you over a slender

footbridge across a waterfall. I’m all for an

adventure and a beautiful vista but I don’t

ever see the need for there to be holes in a

footbridge with a gapping chasm below.

Especially when I’m still vaguely concussed.

And did I mention that I’m scared of


Day 2: A flying start

First day of ski school - an overwhelming

success, though I only remembered on the

way up the mountain that number 2 son

doesn’t like heights. I was beginning to

worry that I really hadn’t thought this

holiday through. The lower green runs were

open and we enjoyed meandering down

with our respective classes. My children

declared they were now semi-professional.

In the afternoon, we walked the dogs up

the mountain in Le Bettex. We had two

choices: take the cable car or drive. I’m

ashamed to admit that our courage failed

us and we drove. A combined total weight

of 150 kgs of excited dog in a cable car,

was at this stage, an adventure too far!

his wooden balcony, admiring Mont Blanc.

An old lady doing her spring cleaning with

half her furniture out on the grass after the

long winter.

We meandered through woods and across

slopes with wonderful views. You get the

occasional glimpse of magnificent chalets

set in regal grounds. We rewarded

ourselves with a G and T on our return. Gin

and fresh mountain air in the sunshine with

views across les Alpes. What a cure for the

stresses of life.

The drive from Saint Gervais to Le Bettex is

not hard and it’s worth it. The mountain is

dripping with pretty wooden chalets in all

shapes and sizes and it’s a chance to see

some of the local life. An elderly gent sat on

Day 3: It all falls apart

The exceptionally mild weather meant all

the lower slopes and most of the green

runs were closed and ski school moved up

the mountain. This revealed that my

children were not the professional skiers

that they’d come to believe they were. By

lunch time, my husband swore his knees

were finished and two of the children were

declaring they would never ski again.

Full credit to the ski school instructor who’d

spent 2 ½ hours coaxing no. 2 son down

the mountain as his fear of heights kicked

in. And to my husband who spent the

evening balancing the children on his feet

(whilst wincing in pain) so that he could

teach them about shifting their weight

when they turn rather than shooting

straight down the mountain.

It’s at those moments of your life when you

realise that three boisterous children, two

large excited dogs and a dose of stress and

fatigue is not the best combination for a

small apartment. We went out for dinner

that night.

Our dog walk that day was around the town

of Saint Gervais, our sense of adventure

flagging. The old town is pretty and as you

come into it from below it has some

beautiful, mid-19th century buildings with

intricate iron and glass arcades.

Day 4: A turn for the better

We chucked the kids out at ski school and

ran. My concussion was finally easing and a

combination of Voltarol and knee straps

were holding my husband together. We

reconvened at midday and were greeted

with smiles. The kids had mastered “the

turn”, the snow plough and had a great


We treated ourselves to an afternoon at the

“Bains du Mont Blanc” back at the Thermal

Park. They do a family session on a

Wednesday and it’s well worth it. The

thermal baths are warm, bubbly, outside

and restorative. My snow burnt, rosacea

covered cheeks needed some love and this

hit the spot. A beautiful setting, a great

chance to unwind and recover.

Day 5: A great day in the mountains

With all of us beginning to find our feet (or

rather our skis) this was a great day. We

spotted deer on the slopes from the cable

car and saw the famous Marmot scurrying

around beneath us. They look a bit like a

beaver but are in fact a large type of

squirrel. The snow wasn’t brilliant but it

was enough for us novices to enjoy the


The dog walk was wonderful. We headed

out from the nearby village St Nicolas De

Veroce up into the mountains and back.

With a Baroque church thrown in, it has

awesome mountain views and is a great

way to see what remains of the original

way of life in the Alps. We passed a couple

of little homesteads making and selling

their own local cheese, walked through a

farm yard and the dogs drank from the old

stone water troughs that dotted the route.

This was Heidi country indeed. Remote

wooden chalets, green mountain slopes

covered in buttercups and steep winding

woodland paths. We met a weather-beaten

farmer herding his sheep and an old lady

tending her newly planted beds and we felt

like we’d conquered the world as we looked

down on the Chamonix Valley below. It was

worth every bit of effort to get there.

Day 6: We’ve nailed it

As we were only skiing in the mornings, we

abandoned ski school on our last day in

order to ski together as a family. It’s not

something I ever imagined doing and the

sight of your children whizzing past you at

speed after just 6 days, is both wonderful

and terrifying. What a success! No injuries

and everyone saying they wanted to come

back soon.

For the afternoon’s dog walk, my husband

explored the lowest slopes around our

resort while I packed up skis and prepared

for our next adventure.

Day 7

My husband caught a bus from the resort

to go to Geneva airport for the UK. The kids,

the dogs and I were heading to the Atlantic

coast. After all, how hard can swimming

with Leonbergers be?

Top Tips for dog friendly Ski Holidays

We stayed with Peak Retreats and Les

Arolles (Lagrange) in Saint Gervais for 7

nights self-catering. We travelled with

Eurotunnel (Dogs cost extra on the

Eurotunnel – at £18 / dog.).

You can book ski hire, ski passes and

insurance with Peak Retreats or buy/ hire

them in resort on arrival.


Pre book your visit to the thermal spa

and choose any additional treatments at:


Read Lucy Pitt's top tips for skiing with



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

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

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

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

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

Stunning photo of Mont Blanc,

Normandy by Liz Wiliamson

Montmartre Paris looking gorgeous by Na

Honfleur at dusk by Robin Cox - how lovely is that?!

Join us on Facebook

and like and share

your favourite photos

of France...

netter Gordon


Win a copy of Vagabonds in France

by Michael A Barry

When a couple lose their home in Florida they

decide not to panic but to go travelling – their end

destination being France. It’s a funny, warm and

uplifting read and an honest account of life in

France and Paris.

Click on the picture to enter the competition

to win an eBook copy of Vagabonds in


Read our review of Vagabonds in France


Win a copy of C’est Bon: Recipes

Inspired by La Grand Epicerie de


Trish Deseine’s delicious and easy-to-prepare

recipes are inspired by the fine ingredients at La

Grande Epicerie de Paris, the famous gourmet

food shop in the upscale Bon Marché

department store. From French classics to meals

with a British flavour, each recipe has tips to

help you create superb tasting dishes at home..

Click on the picture to enter the

competition to win a copy of C'est Bon

Win a copy of Voilà!

Effortless French

Cookbook by Cécile


Fun and easy to follow recipes

that will help you create authentic

French dishes at home. Learn how

to bake the best tartines and

quiches, make savvy sauces and

poach the perfect egg. Say

bonjour to the pleasures of French


Click on the picture to enter

the competition to win a copy

of Voilà! Effortless French


It started, as these things do, without

a lot of hoopla – my mother and I arriving

at the Place de la Concorde during her firstever

trip to Paris. The day was brilliant, the

sun glittered off the Seine, and our jet lag

made us woozy with the city’s beauty. But

then, to my surprise, my mother flung her

arms out wide and let escape a sound loud

enough for every Parisian within earshot to

turn. “I’m baaaaack!” she cried, her joy

bursting forth in a teary laugh. It was at that

startling moment I became convinced that

what she always had felt was true: in a

previous life my mother was French and

had lost her head to the guillotine – the

deadly blade that once stood in that very


Now, she has lost her head in a different

fashion. Or maybe it’s her heart. At 70-

something, this mother of five,

grandmother to seven and lifelong

Francophile is cashing in her fantasy and

becoming a French madame.

Who knew she had it in her, this utter

oneness with a buttered baguette for

breakfast (it used to be plain toast), this

bliss while browsing Monoprix, this

absolutely transcendent expression she

gets when she says to the pear man at the

market in something that’s actually French,

“deux belles poires, s’il vous plait,

Monsieur.” My mom. Now she is my


She has learned to tie a scarf, become a

connoisseur of lemon tarts. And to see her

charming them in the stalls of Saturday’s

marché aux puces at the Porte de Vanves

is to see my mom – excuse me, my

maman – inhabiting a character I suppose

has been there all along. Maybe it just was

hidden within the harried housewife of

classic California suburbia, the Frenchthemed

person that lurked beneath the

surface of the well-to-do, stay-at-home

mom possessed of passions, apparently,

far beyond the obvious: beautifully

prepared meals and a house that, thanks to

her own mastery of a mop and certain

vavavoom with a vacuum, tilted toward the


I don’t know, maybe there were hints. How

her garden behind our modest woodshingled

house had to have precisely

pruned rows of shapely, pointy things,

gravel paths and a fountain – a formal style

I later would learn channeled Versailles.

How she said “lingerie” unlike anyone

else’s mom, or even store clerks or TV –

pronouncing it the authentic French way

(lahn-je-ree) even though she never had

been to France, much less learned a word

of French or even met an actual French


These were things, she said, she “just felt.”

And it is not like translated French books

and romantic French films fed her

imagination. From the day she met my

Army officer-turned-stockbroker dad on a

blind date, married him two weeks later and

gave birth to babies one, two, three, four

and, after a brief timeout, five, her life was

an all-consuming whirl of wifedom, children

and housework. Even if she had had the

slightest second to herself to study a

foreign language or culture, she would have

used it first to collapse, exhausted.

“Endless drudgery,” she called it all. But we

knew underneath the sometime whining

she loved it (didn’t she?). Home and family,

after all, were her pride of accomplishment.

So today when my maman, who keeps a

tiny, pink apartment in Paris’s chi-chi 16th

arrondissment, doesn’t just say, but wears

sexy French lingerie, I wonder how she was

born one person – my mom – only to

become another: this mom-object of such

major admiration (in me) that I would be

beyond thrilled if I could be even a tenth as

fabulous as she. How can becoming a

French madame do that?

Well, anyway, this is what happened. First

there was the espadrilles and boat-neck,

striped T-shirt thing. Maybe it was how

Jackie Kennedy always was photographed

in St. Tropez wearing the fetching, oh-so-

French summer outfit (with white jeans), but

my mom (who loves Jackie Kennedy, don’t

we all?) wore espadrilles coming and boatneck,

striped T-shirts going, even if it was

only to the grocery store.

Then there was the coq au vin. Maybe it

was how Julia Child in TV cooking class

would reminisce of her days at the Cordon

Bleu while slapping around her chicken

breasts, but my mom (who loves Julia Child,

don’t we all?) started revising our meals.

Coq au vin, remoulade, vichyssoise,

tapenade: Not overnight but slowly, as

surely as the Tour Eiffel lights the Paris

night with romance, even magic, family

dinners required a French accent to


By the time in her 50s she finally, finally put

down the Hoover long enough to take her

first trip to France, it was pretty much over.

My mom was quite far gone as my maman.

She could claim with pride a small,

remaining shred of dignity (trés small) after

being worked over for years by the

terrifying Mme. Bliss, the adult-school

French teacher who was none too

impressed with my mom’s…well, let’s just

say issues with the imparfait (for one).

She now routinely was going by Jacqueline,

her French given name, instead of Gadgie,

her father’s nonsensical childhood

nickname for her – which my mom would

use, but never my maman. She had our

foyer, sunroom and bathroom floors all

rehabbed in black and white tile (see,

Malmaison), named our wire-haired fox

terrier Pierre, and never, ever, even if she

were flat out postal with hunger, eat so

much as a bite between meals. Of course, a

French madame is like that: Emerging

from the boulangerie she might bite off the

butt end of her baguette before lunch or

dinner to avoid a faint, but dive into a sack

of Cheetos? Horreur! I would learn things

like that later, of course, after my mom was

well into her mamaninization.

So after her first trip to Paris and the I’ve

lived before, but I was French! incident at

the Place de la Concorde, my mom could

not get enough of it. Like she was picking

up the misplaced bits of a soul that long

ago had shattered and was scattered by

the winds of time; like she was ecstatically

sticking each one back in place until her

essence again was shining, happy, whole.

She did a trip of French cathedrals, another

of museums, a third of spas – Vittel to

Evian. There was the chateaux tour, the art

trek, the ancient villages drive-by event. If

she didn’t pray to the Virgin at Lourdes

(she did), she was buying a bikini in Biarritz

that was oh-so-Brigitte Bardot. If she

wasn’t getting teary at the beaches of

Normandy (she was), she was flipping over

the faience of Quimper, lost in downtown

Dijon, or found to have friends in Provence.

Over the years each trip would leave my

mom at little more maman-like. Her hair, for

instance. My mom’s graying brunette bob

that in the youth-obsessed U.S. was dyed

(to its eternal shame) a shade not found in

nature became in my maman a glossy bob

of silvery pride, its au natural hue (as

encouraged by her Paris hair people) a halo

of honor for her ageless grace. Her shoes

went down a heel height – the better to

speedwalk Paris cobblestones – her

handbags up in quality, and her closet….

why, if my mom were to get a load of her

closet, practically bare but for a few – a very

few – exquisitely tailored things, she would

wail I have nothing to wear! But not my

maman. She finds her dribs and drabs of

outfit take her from day to hot date with my

dad (I don’t want to know about it) in

something that before her Frenchification

my mom tried for years sans success: total


" H e r s h o e s w e n t d o w n a

h e e l h e i g h t – t h e b e t t e r

t o s p e e d w a l k P a r i s

c o b b l e s t o n e s "

Weird, no? Or as my maman would say,


And it’s not like my mom’s transformation

is limited to such frippery as style. No, the

more and more my maman emerged after

mastering the many mom-challenges of life

in France – the art of just saying yes! to rich

French pastries daily without packing on

pounds, say, or the science of shampooing,

leg shaving, et al. with a shower nozzle that

has an agenda of its own – the more I was

convinced: I am the daughter of a madame!

A madame almost as authentic as if once

upon a time in another life she had been

ruled by a Louis or two. Or has she? Who

else holds family as the raison d’être of a

happy life, and has made long French-style

Sunday lunches a weekly ritual? Who else

infuses grace in moments, charm in hours

and meaning in years of loving and

generous efforts on behalf of those she

loves – never forgetting that nothing says

love like a perfectly made tarte aux

pommes? My maman, that’s who.

Oh, my mom could navigate her 70s

convinced it’s time to slow down, stick

close to home, be content to look back – a

lot – at a fruitful life best enjoyed these

days through the adventures of her


Well…no. My maman will have none of it.

Racking up Air France miles, she is –

jetting between San Francisco and Paris

with a vengeance bred of the

overwhelming need I’m guessing she lost

at the guillotine: that is, to fly along rue de

Passy in the rain on her way to the Métro,

her shoes French flat, her handbag Frenchfine,

and her part-French heart totally at


We miss her when she’s there, of course.

But knowing my maman, with dad, is snug

in her itsy-bitsy Paris pied-a-terre, which

vacation schedules permitting we always

are invited to share, is to thrill to my mom

knowing a happiness – no, a bliss – that I

hope one day to find for myself.

The day I was born, long before she

became my maman, my mom named me

Colette. I should have seen it coming.

In the next issue of The Good Life

France magazine Colette

O'Connor reveals how her

maman moved to Paris at the age

of 76 proving it's never too late to

make your dreams come true...




Karine Chariaud, contracts expert at

Leggett Immobilier shares her

advice to help you prepare

thoroughly before you begin the

search for your dream home.

Holiday makers in France often love what they find – the relaxing

lifestyle, sunshine and food. Before long, thoughts can turn to

creating a long-term relationship with this beautiful country.

For more information on buying see: A step by step guide to buying



Begin by drawing up the list of things you

need to factor into your buying decision.

Basic points, such as the number of

bedrooms, are obvious. But have you

thought about accessibility? If you make

frequent trips back to your old country or

expect family visits, it makes sense to be

within 90 minutes of an airport. Budget

airlines cover much of the country. There is

also the TGV (high speed train), which

makes travel to Paris and the Eurostar links

easy. If you plan to drive back and forth to

the UK, consider the distance to the

Channel ports.


My advice is to thoroughly investigate the

area you have chosen. How are you going

to spend your time here? Will your hobbies

be feasible in your new French home? If

you're an ardent skier, don't buy that

beautiful house you fell in love with far from

the ski slopes. It may seem obvious, but it's

a mistake others have made.


Are you willing to renovate or do you prefer

a house where the hard work has already

been done? Chances are you'll want to do

some work to match the house to your

taste, so factor that into your decision to

buy, and your budget.


France provides an array of opportunities.

This is of key importance in any buying

decision. To international eyes, and in real

terms, French housing stock is good value

at the present time.


Get professional assistance. An agent will

be familiar with the details of French real

estate law, keep you informed about the

process of your purchase and help you

avoid any potential pitfalls. Leggett is the

only real estate company in France with

their own in-house legal team and notaire.

If you don’t speak French and your agents

don’t provide documentation in English

(we do), get it translated so that there are

no nasty surprises.

It's important to establish the legal status

of exactly who is buying the property

before you sign. If you're an unmarried

couple, you might consider buying on a

joint basis. If you're married and wish your

surviving spouse to inherit all your estate,

you will probably need to adopt a French

marriage contract or buy 'en tontine.'

Unrelated groups of people should

consider establishing a property company.


When you've found your dream house, it's

time to make an offer. Once the purchase

price has been agreed, a 'compromis de

vente' is drawn up. You then have a sevenday

cooling-off period. The sale proceeds

through a notaire. You can share the

notaire with the vendor or appoint your

own – in either case the notary costs will be

the same.

Mortgages may be cheaper and may offer

some tax advantages if you are permanently

relocating. If you require a mortgage,

this will be inserted as a conditional clause

in the contract. You will need to pay a

deposit, usually 10 percent of the purchase

price. The buying process normally takes

3-4 months.


When the day of completion arrives, make

sure your monies are deposited with the

notaire several days beforehand to ensure

the sale goes through smoothly. Should

you have overpaid, the balance will be

refunded. Visit the property to ensure all is

as it should be – particularly the fixtures

and fittings – and the sale can proceed.


If you do your research and take

professional advice, the purchase of your

dream home should be a simple process!

In France everything has its season: in

February it’s skiing; in May it’s lily-of-the

valley; in August it’s idleness; and in

October it’s tax. This last is why, as the

leaves begin to fall each year, my husband

and I get together for a financial summit.

Our budgetary discussions have a

peculiarly French flavour, however: rather

than generating spreadsheets and

instigating household economies, we hold

our annual discussion about whether or

not we should have a third child.

In the UK, our third child discussions were

all about affordability. A third child meant

maternity leave, a bigger car, an extra

mouth to feed, and a third winter coat each

year. Could our finances stretch that far, we

asked ourselves? In France, our

conversations on the subject take precisely

the opposite course, for it seems that if

French Presidents have one objective in

mind it is that I should procreate. No,

calmez-vous, there is no need for another

sleaze probe: Governmental interests in

this area are fiscal rather than prurient in


French families get to share their tax

liabilities between them, you see. This does

not mean a stingy little contribution via the

child benefit system (though French

families get that too), but a wholesale

division of the family’s tax liabilities

between each member of the family. Thus

the more numerous the family, the smaller

the bill. Whereas the super-rich in the UK

are busy messing around with offshore

bank accounts and dodgy investment

funds, here in France, where all you have to

do is go forth and multiply, tax avoidance is

much more fun.

A third child would not only reduce our tax

liability by 25% but would transform us into

a card-carrying famille nombreuse. Entire

websites are given over to the privileges

enjoyed by such families, which include

state-subsidised reductions of up to 75% in

the cost of train tickets, reduced entries to

museums, cinemas and leisure centres,

and even, in some resorts, free ski passes

for the fifth family member (lest the cost of

the compulsory February activity become

prohibitive). In addition to virtually nonexistent

childcare costs and governmentsponsored

rehabilitation of mothers' babymaking

equipment, reproduction in France

has much to recommend it.

Of course, to benefit from the munificence

of the French state, one has not only to

give birth to additional children, but to

remain in France. Prospective parents

might do well to think this through before

they embark on any course of action. Not

only does raising a family in France commit

you to a lifetime of being corrected on

the use of the subjonctif by young relatives

barely out of nappies, it also means that

your children will demand at least three

courses, one of which should be fromage,

at every meal. You will tie yourself in to

years of rote-learned poetry: charming

when it is directed towards your many and

manifold virtues on Mother’s Day, but

rather less so when you are hearing a child

drone on about the rentrée for the fifth time

in their primary school career. You will have

to learn to decipher that French curly script,

le cursive, if you ever want to stand a

chance of understanding a word that your

child writes, and if they show the slightest

glimmer of musical talent, you will become

as expert as Julie Andrews on the subject

of the gender of deer, or how far to run.

In other words, the reduction in your tax bill

comes at a price, which is why at our

annual summit we postponed any decision

until next year…

Emily Commander is a freelance writer and

journalist who lives in Lyon and blogs

about the peculiarities of French life. You

can find her at www.lostinlyon.com

Years ago, expats in France who wanted an income usually took the gite route.

Gites really took off in the 1950s when the French Government introduced a gite

classification system to breathe new life into rural economy and British expats in

particular saw the attraction. These days expats are becoming more and more

entrepreneurial and creating jobs for themselves in less traditional areas of


Janine Marsh chats to a group of young Brits who’ve set up a cycling

business in the Tarn region…

Charlotte Corner and Marcus Gough and

Melanie and James Sewell from Coventry,

England, moved to the Tarn in 2015.

Charlotte and Mel are sisters and the

couples are also great friends who had a

vision. They’re in their 30’s and like an

increasing number of people, didn’t want to

wait until retirement to move to France to

live the good life.

After ten years of taking holidays in France,

and much planning, they gave up their jobs

and moved to the village of Espinas in the

Tarn et Garonne, part of the new super

region Occitanie.

location location location

started with a search for a house big

enough for all of them. And they needed

space to set up their business with lots of

storage and accommodation. And it all

needed to be in a really picturesque part of


The couples fell head over heels for this

area at the junction of three regions Tarn,

Tarn-et-Garonne and Aveyron. “The

landscape is spectacular” Mel enthuses “a

combination of rolling hills and oak forests,

impressive river gorges and medieval

hilltop towns glowing golden in the


“We were inspired to move to this area

after a wonderful holiday in 2013 – this

place just seemed to ‘click’ and we were

won over by the beauty of local towns and

villages, especially Saint Antonin Noble

Val. It felt like there was a lot going on and

that it was a place you could live in, not just

a place for holidays” says Marcus.

They knew they had to earn an income and

their dream was to run a cycling holiday

business – they’re all keen cyclists. They

They love the impressive Gorges

D’Aveyron, perfect to visit by bike, market

day in Saint Antonin Noble Val is superb

and they love the chance to enjoy wine

tasting in the Gaillac vineyards. “Taking a

tour of the bastide towns including Cordes

sur Ciel, a trip to the city of Albi (a UNESCO

world heritage site), a visit to the Royal

chateau fortress at Najac, the cascades of

the Bonnette river or the lush Foret de

Gresigne” are just a few of their favourite


finding the dream

“We searched for hours and hours online

making long lists, then short listed those

lists until we had a selection of houses we

wanted to view” Marcus says. In the end,

they had 50 properties that were potential

for their home/business goal. It took them

a month to view them all until they saw

“the one” close to the lovely town of Saint

Antonin Noble Val.

Their house is a large, Quercy style

farmhouse with the date of 1786 above the

door. It sits in six acres with its own

woodland and surrounding meadows. The

main house was mostly renovated so they

were able to move in straightaway allowing

them to concentrate their efforts on

renovating the barn and creating cabin

accommodation for their cycling business.

“We also had to claw back the gardens

from a very wet spring which had led to the

grass growing six feet high! We spent a lot

of those early days, weeding, strimming

and mowing!” they say.

Soon after they arrived, they were invited to

take part in the Channel 4 TV series, A New

Life in the Sun. “The camera crew captured

some great footage of our ‘before and after’

transformation which has given us a

fantastic record of our achievements but

did occasionally distract us from making

progress” says Jim.

Starting a cycling business in


The couple say they knew it wasn’t going to

be easy to set up their new business in

France. “We had no problems sorting out

the sale of our houses in the UK, buying the

property in France, finances, setting up

websites etc but when it came to the official

paperwork we didn’t want to risk getting it

wrong” Marcus says. They hired an Englishspeaking

company in France that helps

expats resettle, set up business and sort

out life in France. Not having to worry about

paperwork freed them up to work on

making their company exactly what they

dreamed of.

“We run our holidays from our base – a

beautifully renovated barn with ensuite

bedrooms and swimming pool. Our guests

can explore the best of the region on

different routes each day but without

having to move their belongings from

place to place. We look after the pick-ups

and drop offs each day, breakfast and

dinner. It’s still a cycle touring holiday, but

all within one region, from one base so

guests can feel at home during their stay.

We use local fresh produce for our cooking

and the wine from the vineyards on our

doorstep and a key aspect of our business

is enabling others to explore and enjoy our

beautiful region.”

They also rent out their self-catering barn

and woodland cabin with wood-fired hottub

belong. “We’ve definitely adapted”

Charlotte says, especially since baby

Amadie arrived in January 2017. “Some

things take a bit of getting used to like the

fact that everything stays closed for lunch

and how much form filling there can be!

And we miss friends, family, even the rain

some days - but those things are

outweighed by all of the other special

things that living in France offers. We

particularly love the French approach to

hospitality, there is something very civilised

about the time and care taken to prepare

and eat a meal – eating in France is an

occasion not just a necessity!”

For these young entrepreneurs the move to

France has been everything they dreamed

of and more.

Living the dream

The support from the town hall and their

neighbours in Espinas has been

overwhelming say the couples. They’ve

been made to feel welcome and part of the

community and really feel as though they

Tours du Tarn run cycling holidays

throughout the year, details on their

website: www.tarncyclingholidays.com

The idea began, as most good ideas do, in the pub. Rebecca

Randall, a criminal barrister and husband Greg who works in the

City came to the realisation that they didn’t want to be commuting

to and working in London until they reached 70. They talk to Janine

Marsh about their plans for the good life in Dordogne...

“Several glasses in and one of us (we still

aren’t sure who to blame) came up with the

bright idea of moving to France and setting

up a gite business. Brilliant. Easy. What

could possibly go wrong?”

Rebecca had spent time in France as an au

pair when she was young. Greg had been

on a boys’ holiday to Le Touquet. “I had

done French at A Level. My husband could

order a beer. We were clearly well equipped

to make an incisive, life-changing decision”

Rebecca laughs.

They did though do considerable and indepth

research of the kind that involves

holidays staying in chateaux, drinking wine

and sitting by a pool. They decided that the

Dordogne was the region for them and that

they could afford to buy somewhere that

needed a little bit of renovation. “We

thought we could cope with maybe a new

bathroom or kitchen, but nothing – repeat,

nothing – major”.

They drove thousands of kilometres but

there was nothing that got their hearts

racing and butterflies fluttering. That is,

nothing until a rainy, miserable day in

March 2016.

“On a dull, wet morning we saw an

incredibly beautiful house with a large gite.

It was designed to perfection and we

wouldn’t have had to so much as lift a

paintbrush. I wanted it. In the afternoon, our

agent persuaded us to go and see one

more property that she had on her books. It

was a Mill and she uttered the fateful

words, “you need a bit of vision” - and my

heart sank.

Nevertheless, off we went to see Moulin de

Fontalbe. We got lost on the way and had a

small marital disagreement. By the time we

finally drove though the gates I was in no

mood to have vision for anything, apart

from a glass of wine.

Kitchen before...

Kitchen after....

The Mill was enormous and had been

abandoned for several years. Roofs needed

repairing, there was no kitchen or bathroom.

It felt unloved. It was in a nice spot,

but that was all. It was too big a project, I

told Greg, we should just forget it" says


They returned to their hotel and discussed

the day’s viewings. Greg was very taken

with the Mill, Rebecca wasn’t, but as they

talked, she says she started to come round.

The next day was beautifully sunny and

they decided to revisit the Mill. “What a

difference a day makes. We realised that

the Mill was effectively on its own private

island, with a huge mill pond and lake, plus

forest either side. The stone walls glowed

in the sun. It was picture perfect and truly

unique. We both felt our pulses quicken

and knew that our search could be over.

What we didn’t know until it had utterly

captured our hearts was that there was no

mains water, a complicated sluice system

and an insufficient and antique electricity

supply. But, it was too late by then…”

Rebecca and Greg are now the proud

owners of Moulin De Fontalbe and say they

feel “privileged to own a beautiful property

nestled in the middle of the Dordogne

countryside, close to Saint-Avit Senieur

with its UNESCO listed medieval abbey,

picturesque villages and a long, winding

river. Everyone that we have met has been

welcoming and helpful”.

Their plan is to turn the Mill into a beautiful

home plus a 6-bedroom gite with a yoga

studio. It's an enormous project, not just

the house and gite to renovate but 16 acres

of land, forest, three fields and a quarry. In

the meantime, home is a caravan whilst the

work is ongoing. “It is tough, stressful and

incredibly expensive but it will all be worth

it in the end” says Rebecca.

“The mill is starting to share its secrets with

us and I'm looking forward to the days

when, once again, it is filled with friends,

laughter, chatter and love. Our agent found

our original brief the other day. It says,

“don’t mind a bit of painting and decorating,

but no major projects”….

Rebecca blogs about her adventures when

she has time at Fontable.com


Local estate agent Corrie Phillips of Leggett Immobillier gives an overview of Bergerac

and picks three fabulous properties for sale in the area...

On the surface Bergerac is a quiet and understated city. Look a little closer and it is not

difficult to understand what is attractive about living here. It has a temperate climate

with longer summers and cool winters, making it conducive to a more outdoor lifestyle.

There is something to do for all ages, from Go- Karting, to canoeing, wine tasting from

one of the 120 wine producers of the region , or shopping at one of several weekly

markets. If all this becomes too much, then people watching from one of the many cafés

offers a welcome rest.

With an International airport and major train station, Bergerac has excellent transport

links to the rest of France and further affield.


Situated within close proximity to Mouleydier, and a

short stroll to the shops, with all the village facilities.

This house is ideally located. With a little tender

loving care this charming 2-bedroom house could

make an ideal holiday home or permanent home for a

young family.

Click here for more information

Large stone family house situated in the town of

Bergerac. Sitting on two plots this house has 5

bedrooms, a bathroom and a guest wc, large attic,

large basement, private garden, with an immense

double garage with the possibility to convert to an

independent lodging or commercial business.

Click here for more information



Exquisite old stone house with far reaching views,

renovated to an exceptional standard. Original

features have been retained, such as bread oven,

exposed stone wall, vaulted ceilings and beams.

Whilst being enhanced by modern features including

underfloor electric heating, bespoke kitchen with

granite worktops, and remote-control Velux window

blinds. It has a fabulous heated salt water pool.

Click here for more information

We’ve had a record number of enquiries about life in France in the last 12 months. It

seems that moving to France is on the minds of many and some questions come up over

and over about financial issues, after all, you want to know that you can afford to live the

dream and making sure that you take care of finances is important to getting that result.

We asked financial expert Jennie Poate at Beacon Global Wealth who is qualified to give

financial advice in both France and the UK to answer some of your questions...

If I take early retirement and move to

France? Do I need to pay the remaining

amount to get a full pension before I

move to France?

The first thing to do is check how many

years contributions you have achieved.

Bear in mind that to receive a full UK Basic

State Pension you will need 35 years full


You can check here: www.gov.uk/checkstate-pension

required maximum may mean you are

penalised. The short answer is that if you

retire and are tax resident in France this

would mean the French authorities must

obtain information on your UK state

pension status and you won’t be penalised

for the years accrued outside of France and

in the EU.

If you work in France there are a number of

personal pension arrangements you can

make depending on whether you are

employed or self employed.

Once you have that detail you can ask the

National Insurance office about making

catch up payments which can be done as a

lump sum or regular direct debit.

If I move to France and need to work.

Do I get half a pension from the UK and

half from France?

The retirement ages may differ in each

country depending upon your age.

The UK system works on a number of years

full NI (National Insurance) contributions as


The French systems works on a number of

trimestres or quarters and not reaching the

Can I have my UK pension paid in either

the UK or France if I'm living in France?

Some personal pension providers can pay

in Euros but most don’t in which case it

would have to be paid in pounds either to a

UK bank account or a French sterling


The financial advisers trading under Beacon

Wealth Management are members of Nexus

Global (IFA Network). Nexus Global is a division

within Blacktower Financial Management

(International) Limited (BFMI).All approved

individual members of Nexus Global are

Appointed Representatives of BFMI. BFMI is

licenced and regulated by the Gibraltar

Financial Services Commission and bound by

their rules under licence number FSC00805B

Can I have my UK pension paid in

France and does the pension

department fx it to Euros?

UK state pensions can be paid in Euros to

your designated French bank account. The

amount will vary each month according to

the exchange rate. You will normally get

the ‘interbank’ rate of the day so no

currency company is involved taking their

share of profits.

Is there the equivalent of an ISA in


Yes, it's also tax free but it is a lifetime

allowance as opposed to an annual one.

They are available in sole name only. The

rate is normally the same regardless of

which institution you use:

Livret A €22,950 0.75%

Livret Bleu €22,950 0.75%

LDD €12,000 0.75%

LEP €7,700 1.00%

Livret Jeune €1,600 1.75%

There are tax free accounts for those

saving for a mortgage and of course the

Assurance Vie offers the option for higher

risk investments to that of cash.

If you'd like to ask

Jennie a question

about life in France,

obligation free, please

get in touch at:

jennie @




The information on these pages is intended

only as an introduction only and is not

designed to offer solutions or advice. Beacon

Global Wealth Management can accept no

responsibility whatsoever for losses incurred

by acting on the information on these pages.

Secrets of


Photo: Paul Gallagher

Keith Van Sickle, author of

Life in Provence, finds out

how to make a real

bouillabaise and how this

famous fish dish got its


My wife and I live part of the year in St.-

Rémy-de-Provence. We love bouillabaisse,

that magical dish that seems to capture the

spirit of Provence. So when our friend

Pascal, a retired chef, invited us over for

homemade bouillabaisse, we were quick to


Legend has it that bouillabaisse was

invented long ago by the fishermen of

Marseille. Not wanting to eat the high-class

fish that fetched the best prices, they

instead created a dish from the bony,

unappealing rockfish that no one wanted.

Bouillabaisse is made in two stages. First

comes the fish soup called, logically

enough, soupe de poisson. To make it,

rockfish are cooked with onion, fennel,

garlic, tomato and white wine “very

important” says Pascal.

boiled potatoes and other vegetables.

A bouillabaisse meal starts with a first

course of soupe de poisson, along with

little round toasts and rouille, a kind of

spicy saffron mayonnaise with lots of garlic.

The second course is the fish and


When we got to Pascal’s house he had

already made the soupe and had a platter

of fish marinating in olive oil and saffron,

ready to be cooked.

Pascal explained how he had made his

soupe. “I buy the cheapest fish at the

market,” he said. “They are bony and ugly

but delicious if you know how to cook

them.” I looked at the rascasse and could

see what he meant about ugly.

This mixture is seasoned to the chef’s

taste, with top-grade saffron being the

essential ingredient. Then it is ground up,

bones and all, into the richly flavored


Meanwhile, other fish are marinated and

then cooked whole in the hot soupe. The

cooked fish are fileted and served with

“Because it will EXPLODE. I know from

experience.” Pascal pointed to the faint

saffron stains still visible on his white

kitchen walls. He explained that putting hot

liquid in a blender, then whirling it around at

high speed, increases the pressure and can

lead to disaster.

Now it was time to cook the fish. Pascal

turned up the gas burner until the soupe

came to a boil, then put in the fish and

turned down the flame. “This is the secret to

cooking the fish properly,” he said. “If you

don’t lower the temperature you will

overcook the fish.”

“It’s also where the name of the dish comes

from,” he continued. “You bring it to a boil

(bouiller in French), then lower (baisser) the

temperature.” So bouiller + baisser =


Bottom left: Rascasse; above fishermen at Marseille

"I always use rascasse, grondin (sea robin),

congre (conger) and saint-pierre (John Dory

or Peter’s Fish),” he added. “Look at the

spot on the side of the saint-pierre, we

believe it is the thumb print of St. Peter

himself, the great fisherman.”

Pascal went on to explain that soupe de

poisson should be well seasoned. He uses

at least a dozen herbs and spices, with his

favorite being a mix of five different freshly

ground peppers.

He referred to his well-thumbed copy of La

Cuisinière Provençale, the bible of

Provençal cooking. “I always use this,” he

said, “to respect our traditions.”

“When all the ingredients for the soupe are

cooked”, he continued, “you must grind

them by hand. Never use a blender.”

“Why not?” I asked.

A few minutes later the fish was ready and

we sat down to our first course. We spread

rouille on the toasts and floated them in our

big bowls of soupe, making little islands of

garlicky deliciousness.

Not like the frozen stuff they serve in

restaurants, eh?” asked Pascal with a sly

grin. No, not at all - it was so good I had


Then we had the fish and potatoes with a

bit more soupe sprinkled on top. It was the

food of the gods.

As we said our goodbyes that night, Pascal

told us, “Bouillabaisse teaches us

Mediterranean history - through the dish we

learn of the diversity of fish and of spices

and of our traditions. Every time I prepare it,

it is a great moment for me to share it with

family and close friends.”

A great moment, indeed.

Keith writes at: keithvansickle.com

See Page 84 for

details of how to

enter the contest to

win a copy of Voila:

The Effortless

French Cookbook

y Barbara Pasquet-James

Find more fabulous recipes from

Sara at

Beginning French

What a roller coaster summer it has been

here in the middle of nowhere France.

My book, My Good Life in France became a best-seller on Amazon in the UK and a

hot new release on Amazon in the US in August. It was a massive surprise and I am

most enormously grateful to all who’ve bought my book – thank you so much and

especially to all those who left me such wonderful reviews. You needn’t think any of

this has gone to my head – the animals make sure of that! I had 50 ducklings born

this year and I didn’t really want any of them as I have so many ducks, chickens and

geese already. I was vigilant about collecting eggs from coops but, the sneaky ducks

hid in the fields at the bottom of the garden and then turned up followed by a trail of

babies – one of them hatched 17 eggs! I’ve managed to find new homes for most of

them because I have a plan to make.

For years I have dreamed of living in Paris, but with 6 cats, 3 dogs and around 50

birds, it’s not going to happen any time soon. I thought about taking them with me

but they belong in the country where they can run about. I do quite like the idea of

creating my own Marie-Antoinette style farm in the middle of the city of light but I’d

need to win the lottery to do that. So for now, I’m aiming for a month. Four whole

weeks to discover Paris up close and personal. It’s going to take quite a lot of

organisation and a bit of luck but that’s my dream, and I’d love it to come true next

year… so watch this space and wish me bon courage as I’m going to need it!

One of the things on my plan is to finish the renovation on the house so that

whoever house sits can do so with it looking good. I’ve been thwarted by a freak

hailstone storm which means we need a new roof as it caused plenty of damage and

put us back a few months. But we’re plodding on, rendering the walls, fitting and

painting the shutters, clearing the jungle in the front and the back, getting the roof


I have to say living the good life has its challenges but nothing we can’t overcome

with will power and determination!

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