Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Secret Paris Alleyway - Left Bank

Located in the 6th district of Paris, close to Odeon Metro is a secret passage.
Most tourists and other visitors of the Quartier Latin, would walk up (or down) the Rue Saint André des Arts, and would miss giving a second glance to the narrow passageway called Cour du Commerce Saint André.
One entrance to this partly covered narrow street is from Rue Saint André des Arts, the other one is from Boulevard Saint Germain. the small street or alleyway has an of 18th century atmosphere, is covered by centuries- old cobble-stones, has a lot of charm and a number of historical references.

The first experiments with the guillotine (on sheep) took place in this building (no. 9).
The oldest still existing Paris café, Le Procope – opened in 1686 - , (OK for a coffee, but I would not recommend eating there) has its backdoor entry here. Among its regular visitors you can mention Racine, Molière, Voltaire, Diderot, Balzac, Napoleon and his marshals, George Sand, Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Jefferson … Benjamin Franklin (who is said to have “fine-tuned” the American constitution here)… a lot of ancient times’ actors (the old Comédie Française was just across the street) .. and the Revolutionary Robespierre, Marat, Danton….and Guillotin. Marat also printed the Revolutionary newspaper “L”Ami du Peulple” in this street (no. 8) and Danton had his home at no. 20 which corresponds to a part of the street which disappeared with the construction of Boulevard Saint Germain. Danton’s statue now stands where his house used to be.
Director Vincent Minnelli filmed here, set off the alleyway, for his musical, Gigi. Take a peek and see if you can recognize whose home it was in the movie.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Magical Stones of Brittany

Brittany is home to many megalithic sites that dot the landscape of the Gulf of Morbihan. Carnac is the most famous, but for something different and out of the way I recommend a boat trip to the small island of Gavrinis.
This small uninhabited island of Gavrinis is home to what is arguably Brittany’s most impressive Neolithic site – a pyramid-shaped stone burial chamber whose interior walls are covered with artwork. The island is accessible via a guided tour by boat from Larmor-Baden.
The boat tours leave from Larmor-Baden from April to October only.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Chicken No Other... I Know ...Only in France

At every outdoor market in Paris there’s at least one volaillier who has a constantly turning rôtisserie with long metal bars slowing spinning chickens until they’re bronzed…no, make that very well-bronzed, and unbelievably moist and succulent. If you can find ‘em, the poulet Portuguese are often called poulet crapaudine, a chicken that’s been split open, rubbed with lots of spices, raw garlic and more salt than one might think prudent. Then each bird is grilled until the skin is practically rock-hard and crackly-caramelized, which you pull off and enjoy in lick-smacking, crispy, salty bits.
One of the favorite roast chicken places in Paris is available only on Sunday at the Richard Lenoir market. (t the upper end of the market is a woman, the woman they call la Reine de Poulet, or the chicken queen, which is actually a title her daughter bestowed upon her which she carved on her old wooden cash box.
Wearing oversized glasses, short bobbed hair, and cackling like a mother hen, she shrieks out to all passers-by when the chickens are available; hot and ready-to-go. There’s always one waiting for YOU, just slid off the hot metal spit and wrapped in a crisp waxed paper bag. There’s all sorts of roast chickens available, but the crapaudine seems to be the favorite, BUT . If you’re one of those people that likes juicy, moist chicken, this ain’t the chicken for you. But for many of us, this is chicken candy.

The Best Place At Dawn on A Sunday

The Roman amphitheatre...YOU HAVE NO IDEA!
( In the city of Lyon)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Paris On The Cheap - A View Not To Be Ignored

One of the secret things to do in Pairs and it won't cost you a dime ***, is to get yourself the the Paris Department store, Galeries Lafayette and head towards the 8th floor and the terrace and take in all of the famous Paris Landmarks - From the Tour Eiffel, the Opéra Garnier, and Sacré Coeur, just to name a few.
What else can you do on the terrace? Well, judging by the people in the photo, you can share a special Parisian moment with your significant other, take a photo of the stunning cityscape, or completely ignore the view of the Eiffel Tower like the family who appear to be studying a guidebook and wondering what they should see next! You can also have something to eat and drink at the rooftop cafe or get a cup of coffee from the coffee cart. And if you would have been here during the French Open in June, you could have played tennis on the terrace with a pro.

The terrace is located on the 8th floor of Galeries Lafayette. The cafe is open Monday to Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. until the end of September

** If course, if you want to shop here (and its fantastic) then it won't be free, to say.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Barging - the French Rhythm Of Life

One of my pleasures along with my brother is barging in France. In past years, we have rented a self-drive barge and cruised ourselves and it’s very very easy. BUT, for the first time barger, I would recommend taking one of the many wonderful hotel barges. Barging in France is a magical experience and once you have done it, it grabs a hold of you and never let’s go and you go back again and again. Every turn in the river seems to be more spectacular than the last. France has the most developed waterway system in Europe with nearly 50 canals. Barging is not about covering huge distances – it’s about the pace of life, The French Way Of Life and waking up on beautiful mornings on placid water brimming with fish. Boat speed is never more than slow and pastoral as you drift past Romanesque churches and vineyards, cruising down canyons of poplars from village to village, town to town through giant naves of plane trees whose branches touch fingertips over your head. And the food and wine and cheese, I could go on for hours. Do as little or much ( local tours are arranged along the way,) besides walking and using the barges bikes to tag along as the boat makes its way to the next landing.

Day Trip From Paris : Strasbourg

Because the TGV ( fast trains) in France are so good, I recommend to many of my clients with a only a short time to spend in France, to stay in Paris and use it as a base and use the fast and efficient TGV rail service to visit the French Countryside for lovely day trips.
Situated only 2-1/2 hours away from Paris, in the eastern part of France, is the historic city of Strasbourg. It is the ultimate European city. It has flavors of both France and Germany, and sits right on the border of the two countries. It's picturesque "la Petite France" neighborhood looks like something straight out of a fairy tale book, a riverfront neighborhood with timbered buildings accented by colorful flower boxes.
The city is enclosed in a series of basins and canals and is sometimes called the Venice of the North. The Black Forest and the legendary Rhine River are just at or beyond the city's edge.

From the Rail station (a WOW of architecture) it’s only a 5 minute walk to the old town section called, La Petite France and is easily Strasbourg's prettiest and most enchanting neighborhood, and arguably one of the best neighborhoods in all of France. Stroll along its streets, along bridges over the Ill River. Breathe in the scent of fresh-baked gingerbread or the inviting aromas from the restaurants. Gaze at the timbered buildings, bursting with blooming plants that earned this city the prestigious four-flower ranking.
The Food, well, when you combine the best of French and German cooking and wine and beer, I could go on for days about my love of that.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Paris River Cruise With A Twist or Shall I say, With Bubbles...

Their 1 hour cruise starts at 6:00pm -Thursday to Saturday held in a private salon on a river boat.. Three Champagnes will be offered along with a sommelier to answer any questions you might have, coupled this with the experience and pleasure and beauty of the Seine River away from the crowds along with good Champagne.

As Ira Gershwin once wrote ' Who Could Ask for Anything More?"

The price is about Euro45 per person.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


(Note: the video is in French, as most of the clients right now are French, but I think you'll get the idea of what the new hotel is all about)
I LOVE THE OCEAN, AND I LOVE FRANCE AND THUS I LOVE ..Normandy, Brittany and some parts of the French Riviera, but as of late, my heart belongs to the Aquitaine area – Biarritz, Landes and The Aracachon Bassin with its fashionable yet underplayed and yet undiscovered beach chic, Cap Ferret and now near the giant sand dunes (the largest in Europe) across the bay at Pilat, is a a new and modern and hip ( I hate to use that word as I am a ‘stuffy’ person, if it be known) fabulous new hotel called La Co(O)rniche designed by Philippe Starck.

La Co(o)rniche is a hotel in an extraordinary location. The key landmark in the Pilat-Plage district, the vantage point over the Arcachon basin, backing onto the highest dune in Europe, it is suspended between sea and sky, nestling between sand and pines.
It is a mythical place which evokes the golden age and invention of the Côte d’Argent. A former 1930s hunting lodge in the heart of a preserved site, where aristocracy and the upper middle classes, attracted by the quality of the air, the magic of the site and the fashion for bathing in the sea, came to have Louis Gaume construct them a Neo-Basque home sheltered among the pines.
The landscape, combining several extraordinary phenomena, could not leave anyone unmoved. It reveals the immense Atlantic and the entry to the Arcachon basin, closed in the distance by the point of Cap Ferret.
“Like all places where there are major tide patterns, it is an extremely diverse landscape,” continues the designer, who is a regular visitor to the area and loves the ocean. “It provides incredible walks, even onto the seabed, and in the primal soup which reveals itself, you sense how and why life began.”
The hotel, its rooms, its restaurant and its terrace are the gatehouse of these marine depths, a “natural theatre with gigantic dimensions, where the planet’s forces are in constant interaction.” There we can admire the variable geometry of the Banc d’Arguin, an immense sandy spit which emerges at certain times of the day and, reread in the language of reality the finest pages from Victor Hugo’s “The Man Who Laughs”, whose evocations of the moon, attraction and dangerous and beneficial currents inspired the design of the rugs which Philippe Starck designed for the hotel’s rooms.
This perpetual astonishment is continued in the hotel’s unique location “placed on a sort of magic, a sort of miracle, an impossibility which is the largest dune in Europe”. A mass of Surrealist sand, a “grand site national” over which La Co(o)rniche has a unique vantage point.
Along with this evocation of the sea and the sand, I should add that of the ubiquitous pines. The Pilat-Plage district which borders La Co(o)rniche has developed in perfect harmony with them. The clairvoyance and perseverance of the Gaume family, which managed its development, ensured that the architecture blended in completely with nature. This is how only a few minutes from Arcachon, La Co(o)rniche nestles into surroundings which are preserved and still vibrant with that atmosphere so sought-after by the elite of the last century

Remembering Leo Ferre - Paname

Leo Ferre was one of France's greatest singer/songwriters.
This morning, feeling very homesick for Paris, I am hearing in my head his singing of one of his biggest hits called "Paname".
Paname is a slang name that Parisians give to Paris on some occasions that is difficult to explain - namely when they think of the city as an exotic place! Apparently this nickname was first given to those Parisians who wore Panama Hats at the beginning of the 20th century.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

France Takes A Tip From America's Restaurant Week........

Each February, My wife and I look forward to flying to San Francisco (One of our favorite cities in the world) to be part of that Cities restaurant Week. Here, scores and scores of the best restaurants in the city offer a prix fixe menu at great prices. It's a chance to sample food from many of San Francisco’s top restaurants at a reduced price and NOW, Paris has decided to do the same.
From September 19 to 25, France is hosting its own version of Restaurant Week, offering special two-for-one deals at participating restaurants all around the country. For its second year, celebrated chef Alain Ducasse will be in charge of this food-centric event called Tous au Restaurant (Everyone to the Restaurant), which will this year be part of the first annual national food festival La Fête de la Gastronomie on September 23.
All different types of restaurants around France, from everyday bistros to Michelin-starred destinations, will partake in this large-scale event. In the participating locations, diners can enjoy two prix-fixe meals (including an appetizer, main course and dessert) for the price of one. Reservations will open on Wednesday, September 7. Participating restaurants include Alain Ducasse’s establishments, Anne-Sophie Pic’s bistro the 7, Jacques le Divellec’s 39V, Bertrand Gautreau’s D’Chez Eux, and Alain Dutournier’s restaurants. The full list of participating restaurants, which are searchable by location and cuisine type, are listed on
The Fête de la Gastronomie is a new national event launched by Secretary of State for Tourism Frédéric Lefebvre. Aimed to celebrate French cuisine, the festival follows UNESCO's addition of the French gastronomic meal to their prestigious list of World Intangible Heritages, honoring the conviviality surrounding traditional French meals. For the festival’s first year, all the regions of France will focus on the theme of local cuisine, or “terroir,” thereby honoring and enjoying food that is unique to each individual area. A list of some of the events happening in conjunction with the festival can be found here.
        Famed French Chef Paul Bocuse meets Famous French Chef Remy
      Watch Chef Remy in action

Les Jardins de Marqueyssac - A Dordogne Surprise

The gardens of Marqueyssac are one of France's listed 'Jardins Remarquable'.
They sit high above the Dordogne river and as you wander through the gardens you get some amazing views of the river below.
The gardens were designed by a student of André Le Notre - famous designer of the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles.
When you enter the gardens by the Chateau of Marqueyssac the surrounding garden is a sort of crazy formal French style garden. Laid out in traditional French style as far as lots of clipped box goes this has been given a dramatic twist by clipping the box hedges into a mass of swirls, whorls and rounds giving the areas a dynamism not often seen in this type of gardening.
Wander a bit further from the chateau and you will see the long promenade added to the gardens at the end of the 18th century. This is bordered with immaculately manicured clipped rosemary and santoline.
Wandering a bit further and the garden becomes a pleasant stroll along the wooded cliff top with lots of box planted in the woods. Altogether there are 150 000 hard pruned box trees in the gardens! Clearings reveal picnic areas and swings and quiet areas to sit and contemplate the views. Altogether there are 6 km of walks some parts with easy access for pushchairs or wheelchairs.
There is a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the views, as well as a tea-room and a bookshop.
During the summer, they have evening Jazz Concerts!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Grand Canyon of Europe in France - Day Trip From Provence

                                                         ( Pont d'Arc)
Just less than a hours drive from the  city of Avignon ( Provence),is the Ardèche Gorges which sit at the base of the Massif Central, below the Cévenne Mountains. the Ardèche sits on the right hand bank of the Rhône river.  This region of southern France is a place of extraordinary natural beauty and is steeped in  history, for painters and photographers the region is truly inspiring, and for those looking for adventure it offers adrenalin combined with atmosphere among its mountains, gorges and rivers.
The Ardèche Gorges in France is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Europe with spectacular limestone cliffs towering up to 1000ft above the meandering river below. The entrance to which is through the famous Pont D'Arc based near Vallon which at 192ft is, according to the Natural Arch and Bridge Society, "the largest natural bridge in Europe".
                                     (Mountain goats and cars share the road)
It was here that the discovery of the Chauvet cave was made in 1994 where 32,000 year old cave paintings were found. As of the moment, the cave is closed for visitors.

Here you can canoe or take up white water rafting for the day. Canoe as little time as 3 hours for 6 Euros up to a full day. Must be able to swim before you rent a canoe. At the end of the river journey, there is a shuttle back to the rental area.

Being in the great wine producing region of Côte du Rhône and Côte du Vivarais means that there is an abundance of vineyards and local wines to sample and for sale. Lavender and sunflowers are other abundant local products which surround you as you drive through the area. It is also famous for its chestnuts, goats cheese, truffles and wild boar.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Howard's Thought for Today..being His Birthday..

"The Quality of my lunch and or dinner really does influence how I feel about the places I visit"

3 Most Beautiful Chateaux In France **

** According to me and writer/historian Ina Caro.
I am a great fan of both Robert and Ina Caro - historians and lovers of France. In Ina's latest book, 'Paris To The Past'; a wonderful read, I must say,  - Ms. Caro states that to her, the 3 most beautiful chateaux in France are
1) 16th century Chenonceau
2) 17th century Vaux-le-Viconte
3) 18th century Chantilly
I was floored, only because this is what i have been saying for years and years and here is someone, whom I admire, who says the same thing.
Chantilly is the easiest to get to from Paris, just a 24 minute rail trip from the Gare du Nord or 45 minute RER and then either a 5 minute taxi ( cost Euro8) or a 20 minute walk to the chateaux.
The Chateaux's art collection is the finest in France after the Louvre. The chateau has in its ancient  rules, that all art objects are never allowed to leave the chateau and all art hung is left as it was hung centuries ago. Nothing has moved since the last owner ( The Conde fanily) over a hundred years ago.  There are over 1000 paintings and 2500 drawings.
Ah! Don't forget the Horse Museum across the way - you might say it is a Four Seasons Hotel built for horses.

                                The musuem and stables for horses and also daily horse shows

Friday, August 5, 2011

Burgundy Wine Guide – Extraordinaire

I love the Burgundy area of France. It’s only 1 hour and 20 minutes by the fast TGV train from Paris. Did you know it is about the same size as the country of Belgium?
The vineyards play only a small part (albeit an important part) of this lush and fabulous area of France.
My old dear friend and fabulous wine guide, Colette BARBIER was featured recently on Rick Steves TV show.

I have been sending clients to Colette for over 10 plus years and she is the best guide in Burgundy, (in my opinion) when it comes to wines and the local countryside.
I guess my best kept secret ………is now out……………… worldwide.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Olive Buying In Provence - The best Way to Spend A Morning

Market day is Wednesday in Saint-Rémy de Provence and it is one of the most fabulous markets in Provence. The olive stalls are so popular that they have twelve people bedecked in orange aprons to attend to all the buyers.
One of my favorite pastimes in visiting country markets is buying bags and bags of Olives
St. Rémy has become a popular spot in Provence: so much to do and see. There are the beautiful Roman Ruins of Glanum, marked sites where Van Gogh painted, horses to ride, pools to swim in, bicycles for rent, and hiking trails everywhere. The area has now become popular with the film set. The locals bring their lavender into a mill cooperative where it is processed and sold for them.
Want to go?
Email or phone me for details

 The singer on the video was one of France's best loved male singers - Gilbert BECAUD

I saw him a year before he passed away and he was 'electric' on the stage. His nickname was the  'Man of a Thousand Volts"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The City Of Nantes - Appreciate it from the Top of an Elephant

One of my favorite French cities is Nantes, situated on the Loire River, near the Brittany Coast. What was once a provincial city, is now a 'buzzing' city. It is home to one of France's top symphony orchestras and a fine Opera Company. The historic center has been spruced up and is worth a visit. One of the fun and amazing things to do is to ride its famous 40ft tall mechancial mammoth. It lumberes along at 45 feet a minute, trumpeting loudly and spraying water at the delighted children jogging alongside.
When the majestic animal goes out for its walk, it is like architecture in motion departing a steel cathedral. The 49 passengers on board embark on an amazing journey on the Ile de Nantes. Each time the pachyderm goes out, it is a unique spectacle for everyone to enjoy. Cost Euro7
From the inside, the passengers will be able to see the moving gears that power the legs. They can make the elephant trumpet and control some its movements, thus becoming truly a part of the Machine. On the back of the Elephant, it’s like being on the 4th floor of a moving house, with a breathtaking view of the banks of the Loire River. In this time-travelling carriage, the passengers can voyage to the imaginary world of Jules Verne in the city where he was born.
12 m high and 8 m wide
50 tons
Wood: American Tulip
Hydraulic workings lubricated by 4 tons of oil
450 HP engine
An indoor lounge with French doors and balconies
A terrace accessible via stairways
Route: Approximately 45 minutes
Speed – 1/4 km per hour

Monday, August 1, 2011

Reims Cathedral Celebrates 800 Years

To help with the celebration, The Reims Cathedral is putting on the Reves de Couleurs ( technicolor Dreams) light show until October of this year. The light show begins at about 11pm. Its a choreographed light and sound show. The thing that France does so well.