Skip to content

Easter Egg hunting…

April 19, 2011

It’s the Easter break this coming weekend and the chance to eat chocolate needs no better excuse. Easter basket Most places to stay in France understand the importance of having fun on your holidays and who of us as children did not love the chase after those goodies lovingly hidden in all sorts of nooks and crannies by  parents?

Read more of this post at the new location >>>


Real (French) Men Eat Quiche

April 12, 2011

We just took a weekend trip to Metz in the east of France and lunched on fluffy and delicious Quiche Lorraine and locally brewed beer sitting on beautiful yellow-toned limestone outdoor terracing.  The weather was spectacular, more like midsummer temperatures, but with all the spring blossom and tulips decorating the parks the city was dressed in its spring’s best.

Metz is in the heart of the region of Lorraine,……

for the rest of this post please go to the new site and sign up  >>>

Blog transferred….

April 5, 2011

Hooray – this blog has now successfully been transferred !!!

Please ensure you go direct to to continue your reading pleasure…

Thanks for your patience and thanks to Dominic at Vidahost for his hard work!

happy reading




March 29, 2011

Anyone for a cuppa? What do you fancy – strong and bitter, a little bit of flowery tang or are you more after a fruity flavour… Get down to the “Caféotheque” in Paris  and your tastebuds will be in a for a treat!

T. & I participated in an international coffee tasting evening recently where we were sniffing and slurping some very aromatic beans, pure, no blends by the way.

We learned that really good coffee is not blended into conformist tastes, but should be rather experienced as single varietal. The flavours vary widely “depending on the biodiversity of the flora surrounding the coffee plantations” as green coffee literally soaks up the flavours of whatever it comes into close contact with. Once roasted it doesn’t soak up anymore, but locks in what it has already gained, changes direction and gives off amazing aromas instead.

A very engaging personality, Gloria Montenegro is originally from Guatemala, but has long loved France, first studying architecture here and between 1996-2000 even serving as the Guatemalan Ambassador.  She now has turned her focus on her native love for all things coffee, creating the science of coffee-ology, and developing around her a network of “noses” who in their other lives are professional wine-tasters.

Convinced that France does not have a great coffee drinking tradition like Italy, she set about changing that and now employs professional baristas who are properly trained, prepare the perfect cuppa and can enrich your whole coffee supping experience.

Gloria taught us so much….like how to make a good selection of “gold” coffee: first check for no defects in the beans, ensure they are from a designated, named area (an ‘appelation’, like in wine), and preferably see that the beans have been dried naturally, all ensuring the highest quality.

We learned that beans that are roasted too much and are black rather than brown are effectively burned and not recommended.

We first smelled the whole beans, then the ground beans and finally the coffee infused drink itself, before a drop passed our lips. The flavours change at each step, but it is indeed possible to discern aromas like fruit or flowers – and a bit of guided help made it all much clearer to our novice noses.

So Arabica or Robusta?

Well they can both be good, but are different was the reply. There is more caffeine in robusta (xx% versus ZZ%). Arabica is also more difficult to grow and is considered subtler in flavour.

It’s a shame I cannot link to an aroma-video at this point to share the incredible smells and flavours with you as that really is the most enjoyable bit. However what I can do is provide the address so you can try it out for yourself under the expert eye of the baristas: sip, swirl & enjoy!!

Caféothèque of Paris
Open 7 days a week
9 h 30 to 19 h 30
52, rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, 75004 Paris
—  Line 1 Saint-Paul or Hôtel-de-Ville
—  Line 7 Pont-Marie
—  Hôtel-de-Ville

What’s the Evian baby up to at the Louvre?

March 22, 2011

Located right by the Louvre, the  new exhibition space “Recycling Alley” (Allee Recyclage) opened last week in the shopping area of the Metro station Palais Royal Musée du Louvre (lines 1 and 7). The first of several rotating exhibits follows what the water giant Evian is doing with regards the environment.  

“Recycling Alley” was set up to inform travellers about the benefits and the need to sort and recycle packaging. Sponsored by the RATP (regional transport network), in collaboration with the DesignPack Gallery, Promo-Metro, WWF France and Eco-packaging, it also showcases various good examples of eco-design and different actions to promote recycling. As is becoming quite a theme on this blog, artists put various bits of detritus to use in creative ways. Each type of packaging – glass, paper, cardboard, wood, metals and plastics – has its own display. Other areas are also devoted to information and sorting instructions so as to inform citizens, who often struggle to understand what is what.

In a Metro station where tens of thousands of users pass through every day, it should get quite a lot of attention.

Metro: Palais Royal Musée du Louvre (Exit Conseil d’Etat).

Apart from the obvious promotion of culture, the Louvre Museum also has a mission to raise public awareness of sustainable development issues, by providing information to a wide audience (8.5 million visitors in person and nearly 10 million by internet).

Last September the Louvre signed the Sustainable Development Charter joining sixty other public bodies already involved. This charter, which is part of the French National Strategy for Sustainable Development, aims to encourage institutions and public enterprises to integrate environmental sustainability into their actions and in their operation. The Louvre goes further as it has an important social dimension, ensuring both fulfilling staff working conditions and proper training on eco-responsibility.

Concretely, having completed its energy audit, up to 70% of internal printers were suppressed; a procurement mapping established; CO2 emission reductions made, adaptation of transport needs for staff  addressed, plus creation of bicycle parks & carpooling incentives put in place….

Deciphering where to stay in France

March 15, 2011

So you have decided on a holiday in France, you even know roughly where you want to go, but what about the accommodation, which should you choose, what does it all mean? B&B, gite de séjour, gite d’étape, chambre d’hôte, the list is seemingly endless: deciphering what it all means just needs a few basic pointers….and of course being France it is all controlled by legislation anyway so the owners cannot just do what they want.

Chambre d’hôte = Guest room
These are furnished rooms generally situated in the owner’s house. Usually priced per night and includes breakfast. There may also be evening dinner on offer, also called “table d’hôte”. The owner is limited to a maximum of 6 such rooms.

Before we delve into the world of the gite, just a few remarks on the B&B. In fact this description goes across all sorts of classifications and refers more to the service of providing a bed overnight and food for breakfast rather than a type of accommodation as might be expected in the UK for example. **

OK let’s look at gites > the word gite can be translated in several ways, but for simplicity  best to use “cottage” as very many of them fall into this description.

You may see the sign Gîtes de France. This is an umbrella organisation and comprises many sorts of gite. Their quality system is based on 1>5 ears of corn, 5 being the best.

Gîte rural = Rural cottage

Furnished accommodation preferably with a typical regional character. Houses in a housing estate and homes devoid of outdoor space re excluded from the scheme.

It is separate accommodation, and normally not more than two storeys high. If located above commercial premises the business should be compatible with holiday accommodation and not cause a nuisance. Rented primarily by the week, but weekend or midweek rentals can also be possible.

Gîte de neige = Snow cottage

Accommodation located within 15 km of the pistes or cross country skiing trails which may be either a cottage, a guest room or a lodge and residence.

Gîte accessibles aux personnes handicapées = cottage catering for disabled guests

either “Accessible with some autonomy” or “Accessible with assistance”.

Gîte de séjour

is group accommodation for young people or adults from 12 – 50 people, requiring the presence of the owner or manager nearby. Complementary sports or cultural activities should be offered either by the host team or by outside agencies. These cottages are ideal for groups of friends, families, sports clubs & associations wishing to spend weekends or short breaks together.

Gîtes d’étape

are situated on hiking, cycling or horse riding routes. Quite often these are quite large and arranged in dormitory style. However due to their remote location, hot meals are usually available. They focus on overnight stays expecting the guests to be moving on on their respective trails.

Gîte de charme = “Charming” accommodation

Not really translatable by cottage here as they are high-end character accommodation, particularly remarkable because of their architecture, their fitting out or their environment. you could even find yourself staying in a castle!

Gîte et cheval = Cottages and horses

Accommodation with several equestrian activities available (either for beginners or experienced riders).

Gîte de pèche = Fishing cottages

Unsurprisingly from the name these are specially designed with the fishing enthusiast in mind, located less than 10 km from a fishing spot. In each accommodation will be a place to store equipment, a pool to keep bait and all necessary relevant information (area map, etc…).

Les gîtes Panda.

Cottages located in regional or national which the WWF-World Wide Fund for Nature gives its label if three conditions are met:

– located in a quality natural environment;
– include equipment for nature observation and documentation of specific information
– managed by owners concerned with environmental preservation.


Finally, the new label Eco-Gite promises an environmentally friendly habitat not just for its natural setting, but in many ways for the concrete steps taken to reduce the impact on the environment in terms of energy, water and waste, plus in some cases the actual construction of the gite has followed some very specific eco-rules and falls with the HQE standard.

** There is even a budget hotel chain called B&B. These are hotels, eco-friendly par excellence for environmental labels awarded to them, but often more targeted at the budget business traveller. Therefore there tend to be located in industrial zones, so beware if charm and French countryside is what you have in mind! However if you are stopping for a night en route to your final destination they do offer very good value for money.

3 inspiring french women

March 8, 2011

On this International Women’s Day discover more about three French women who helped to shape the world we live in; three women who impacted the 20th century at a time when women were only just emerging from behind the kitchen sink; three women who were not from advantaged backgrounds, but nevertheless forged ahead, determined to make their mark.

Learn just why they are famous and where you can pay homage to them on your next trip to France….

It is also Paris fashion week this week, so let’s start with Coco Chanel

Maybe you saw the film of her life recently, Coco before Chanel with Audrey Tautou so you’ll know all this, but hers is certainly an inspiring success story. Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel grew up in difficult circumstances, lost both her parents at an early age and was taught to sew by the nuns in an orphanage.

She started out independent life as a dancer where she got her nickname Coco, but the sewing took over and with her free spirit and innovative style plus lots of hard work she became a fashion icon. Credited with the invention of “the little black dress” and the sailor outfit, she was part of the women’s emancipation movement from a fashion perspective. She opened shops in Paris, then in Deauville, a chic town on the Normandy coast where she also started the trend for getting a summer suntan, and finally in Biarritz on the Atlantic coast near the border with Spain.

Coco was an independent woman with a mind of her own and an undeniable self-belief: “I don’t create fashion, I am fashion!”

Addresses to check out in Paris:

The Chanel Couture House at 21, Rue Cambon & the present day Chanel store nearby in Place Vendome.

The Ritz Hotel where she lived for many years, being both practical for her shop but also as it suited her luxury lifestyle. The suite is still named after her and can be reserved for a cool 9000 Euros a night!

We now come to a lady that was affectionately known as the Little Sparrow as her voice was beautiful and she was tiny: Edith PIAF.

Another one with a tough start in life: Born in the East of Paris in Belleville and brought up partly by her drunk grandmother, she then travelled around with her circus performer father until she found a mentor and started to write her own songs.

When I was young I remember listening to my dad rave about some of these, such as “Non, je ne regrette rien” or “La vie en rose”. Anyway my dad seemingly wasn’t the only one who liked her songs and she really made a name for herself. She was also voraciously part of the resistance movement during WW2 using her singing to get her message across. Tragically her first love was killed in a plane accident shortly after the war, and she consequently became addicted to morphine. Continued abuse dragged her down and eventually killed her several years later.

Addresses to check out in Paris:

Musée Edith Piaf at 5, rue Crespin du Gast, 75011 Paris

Reservations necessary in advance Tel +33(0)1 43 55 52 72

One of many famous people buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery you can also go see her grave if that’s your thing.

Also a film was recently made of her life which won Marion Cotillard an Oscar. The best thing though is just to listen to that amazing voice so click on the song links above to enjoy!

Finally there is Marie Curie, an amazingly influential scientist, born in Poland but naturalised French. Yet another woman who endured many tough times, she lost both her mother and her sister to tuberculosis, but moved to France to study, met then married Pierre Curie with whom she would win the Nobel Physics Prize in 1903. Tragically he was run over by a horse-drawn carriage in 1906 and so she went on to become the first female professor at the Sorbonne taking the chair he vacated.

Bittersweet or what?!

Marie continued her work and won a second Nobel prize in 1911, this time for Chemistry. She put her newfound discoveries to almost immediate good use in WW1 by organising a fleet of mobile radiography units for treating wounded soldiers.

Her work was truly groundbreaking and has enabled further understanding and advancement in the fight against cancer. She herself succumbed to over exposure to the radiation she was working with, getting sicker and sicker, finally dying of Leukemia in 1934. By the way her daughter followed in her footsteps and was awarded her own Nobel Prize a year later. All the amazing good work now lives on and continues with the Curie Institute in Paris.

Although originally buried in the south of Paris with her husband, in 1995 they were both moved and re-interred in the Pantheon. Marie became the first – and so far the only – woman to be honoured there on her own merits. This burial place is not for just anyone, but rather reserved for “National Heroes”.

2011 marks the centenary of her Nobel Prize for Chemistry and as such will be commemorated by France and Poland jointly as part of UNESCO’s International year of chemistry.

There is a museum with all her work preserved in the Curie Institute, but it is closed for renovation in the first half of 2011. Many of her papers have had to be protected since they are still radioactive!

However try this walking tour in English compiled in order to give a real flavour of the places she lived and worked in Paris.

France would just not not be France without these women. So let’s reflect on the sustainable impact they each had on society and celebrate the richness of life today thanks to their valuable and remarkable contributions. Bravo ladies!!