France’s Best Garden Festival Friday, Sep 18 2015 

Following our last garden post on the marvelous Bagatelle in Paris, we just have to mention another not-to-miss garden experience in France – the stunning International Garden Festival of Chaumont-sur-Loire. Arguably the best ‘festival des jardins’ in the country (though of course there are many worthy contenders), Chaumont’s yearly garden extravaganza features remarkable landscape and garden designs created by specialists from around the world.

Located in the Loire Valley about 185 kilometers from Paris, the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire comprises a magnificent 15th century château, 19th century stables, beautiful gardens and an extensive park. Designated a UNESCO world heritage site, the medieval fortress-turned-Renaissance pleasure castle overlooking the Loire river is worth a visit, but to my mind the real Chaumont star is its annual garden festival. Wild, elegant, interesting, thought-provoking, and just plain fun, the festival is a must for gardeners, nature lovers and France lovers alike.



This past May, I had the great opportunity to take a lovely group of Dallas Garden Club ladies to Chaumont as part of a special garden trip to France. We were personally welcomed by the Director of the Domaine de Chaumont and its International Garden Festival, Chantal Colleu-Dumond, who gave us an up-close introduction to the incredible garden creativity and innovation going on there. We were also accompanied by French Affaires’ good friend and colleague Eric Sander, the celebrated garden photographer, who collaborates regularly with Chaumont on many projects (click here for a previous French Affaires’ interview with Eric).



Madame Chantal Colleu-Dumond (right), Director of the Domaine de Chaumont

During our visit with the talented and enthusiastic Madame Colleu-Dumond, she described the background and impetus of the world-renowned garden festival. In existence since 1992, Chaumont’s festival is actually a competition, or ‘concours,’ where a few projects are chosen from hundreds of entries submitted by landscape and garden designers the world over. Innovation, invention, creativity, diversity, boldness and passion are just some of the driving forces behind the winning selections. This year’s theme of ‘Jardins extraordinaires, jardins de collection(“Extraordinary Gardens, Collectors’ Gardens”) showcases the love of collecting, saving and multiplying plant treasures. She noted that each garden project for 2015 is a fascinating interpretation of the collecting theme using innovative plant materials, designs and displays.


Madame Colleu-Dumond led the way as we walked through several of this year’s 30 fabulous garden designs. Easy on the eyes was the ‘Bougainvillea Garden,’ a riot of pinks, reds and purples celebrating multiple varieties of this plant…



The color and lushness of the bougainvillea was in stark contrast to the ‘Garden of Orpheus,’ an impressive though somber collection of various cacti and succulents seen from above thanks to a long raised pathway…


Wonderfully intriguing was the ‘Porte-Bonheur’ or “Lucky Charm” garden which displayed an extensive collection of four-leaf clovers mounted in glass plates…



Then we saw the clever ‘A Table’ – “Time to Eat!” - garden celebrating one of life’s greatest pleasures – sharing a meal. The long table was ‘laid’ with a collection of amazing heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables, many of which belong to very old species…


Colorful and informative was the ‘Jardin du Teinturier’ or “Dyer’s Garden” which featured a collection of plants whose pigments form natural dyes. This garden reminded us of the usefulness and practicality of plants – and also human ingenuity in extracting the colors…




Then there was the ‘Carnivore Parc,’ an unexpected display of carnivorous plants in a rich peat bog arranged like works of art. There was even a picture sign telling guests not to ‘Feed the plants,’ a clever twist on the usual ‘Don’t feed the animals’…



My favorite design of the festival was the contemplative and thought-provoking garden called ‘Nuances.‘ The simple white frame with a stunning arrangement of lovely blue and green hued plants was presented as if it were a painting in a museum. A living painting. I was tempted to sit on the bench and take in the beauty for a while. Intriguing too was the photo below - which turned out to be frame within a frame within a frame…



Finally, another very memorable garden was the visually arresting yet peaceful ‘Carré et rond,’ “Square and Round.” Appearing like a red ribbon in the landscape, the garden design highlights the juxtaposition of curves and straight lines to marvelous effect. And the pathway is walkable, inviting visitors to interact with the landscape itself…



Putting on this over six-month long garden festival is no mean feat. From the choice of the yearly theme to the organization of the contest and voting by the jury to the installation of designs (every winning design is given a budget to carry out their vision) to the maintenance of the gardens over the spring, summer and fall growing seasons (a team of gardeners helps maintain and replace plants as needed) – it’s an amazing accomplishment. Our hats were off to Madame Colleu-Dumond and her colleagues at Chaumont for creating this extraordinary annual garden experience in France. When we asked her about her favorite garden among this year’s 30 winners, she wisely replied that they were all her favorites. “They’re like my children!” she laughed.

After our garden tour, we enjoyed a seated lunch in Chaumont’s gourmet restaurant Le Grand Velum. Of course, in true French style, the restaurant’s menu is inspired by the garden festival. When our strawberry dessert appeared, it reminded me immediately of the curved ‘red ribbon’ garden walk we had just experienced. What a superb way to end our beautiful day at the Chaumont festival!



The Chaumont International Garden Festival runs from spring to fall each year. This year’s festival concludes on November 1 so there’s still time to catch this marvelous event. And if you don’t make it there this year, think about trying to see it next year. The festival’s 2016 theme has already been announced (designs are due October 16, 2015, for all the landscape designers out there!) and is ‘Jardins du siècle à venir’ - “Gardens for the Coming Century.” 2016 is also the 25th anniversary of the festival so it’s sure to be a great celebration.

Chaumont is open daily all year round except for Christmas and New Years’, with the Festival open daily during the festival dates. You can click here for information on how to get to the domaine. For a fantastic virtual visit of this year’s festival gardens (including designer names and plant varieties) in French, please click here – for English, please click here.


French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

A beautiful keepsake from Chaumont is the lovely book written by director Chantal Colleu-Dumond with luxurious photographs by Eric Sander. Written in both French and English, the inexpensive volume can be purchased on site at Chaumont or on Amazon’s French website by clicking here.


Paris’s Best Kept Garden Secret Friday, Sep 4 2015 

It all started with a bet. French queen Marie-Antoinette wagered her brother-in-law that he couldn’t build a château on his large property west of Paris in less than three months. Famously, the Comte d’Artois won. Sparing no expense, he had his petit château built in a record 64 days in 1777.



To celebrate the completion of his folie known as the Bagatelle (or ‘little trifle’) the Comte d’Artois threw a housewarming party in honor of his brother king Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Unfortunately, he was able to keep his pleasure abode and its beautiful gardens for only a few years as he was forced give up the property during the French Revolution. Miraculously the Bagatelle château and park survived the revolutionary mobs and several owners in the ensuing years.


In 1905, the City of Paris purchased the Bois de Boulogne property to save and maintain this architectural and bucolic jewel. In addition to keeping harmony and beauty of the preceding garden designs, it also set out to turn the Bagatelle into a botanical paradise. Special gardens showcase peonies, irises, clematis, perennials – plantes vivaces, in French – and roses. Today, I think the Bagatelle is one of the best kept Paris garden – and château! – secrets as many visitors to the French capital don’t even know it’s there.



Come warmer weather, one of my favorite Bagatelle garden views is the fluffy clouds of white wisteria…


The Bagatelle’s hundreds of blooming peonies are a also must-see in Paris in the spring…


And the irises! Beautifully trimmed hedges surround the iris garden, giving it the feel of an outdoor ‘iris room’…



But the Bagatelle park’s pièce de résistance is the magnificent rose garden, renowned for its more than 10,000 rose bushes comprising 1200 different species. Every June the Bagatelle hosts one of the most famous international rose competitions in the world. Of course, to really understand what these roses are all about, I find it helps to organize a visit with a premier English-speaking French garden expert in Paris – who also happens to be a Bagatelle rose competition judge!



In addition to the floral and botanical riches of the Bagatelle, there are many other wonderful garden features including grottoes, rocks, bridges, waterfalls, ponds, peacocks, and a 19th century Chinese pagoda. A beautiful orangerie also graces the grounds.


To keep the gardens looking their best, Bagatelle patrons are gently reminded de ne pas piétiner les plantes de bordure – not to walk on the border plants…

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Or on the grassy areas where bulbs come up in spring!


So how does one visit this fabulously romantic garden getaway practically a stone’s throw from the Champs-Elysées? Located in the Bois de Boulogne, the park is open to the public every day from 9:30am to 5, 6:30 or 8pm, according to the season. Entrance is free unless there is a special exhibition going on at that moment. The easiest transport to the Bagatelle is by taxi. Or for public transportation, you can take the 43 bus direction ‘Neuilly-Bagatelle’ to the stop ‘Place de Bagatelle.’ Alternatively, you can take the metro to the stop ‘Porte Maillot’ on line 1 and then catch the 244 bus direction ‘Rueil Malmaison RER,’ and get off at the stop ‘Bagatelle – Pré Catelan.’ From the bus stops, it’s a short walk to the park grounds.


It is good to know that while the gardens are open every day, the exquisite château is not. Guided visits of the gardens and château take place every Sunday and major holiday at 3pm from April 1 to October 31 for 8 euros per person. Or if you want to treat yourself to an extra special Paris experience, French Affaires can help organize your own private guided visit of the gardens and château according to guide availability.


Last but not least, as if the gardens and little castle weren’t enough, you can enjoy the Bagatelle with music. Every summer, the Chopin Festival takes place at the Orangerie of the Bagatelle. This year’s festival marked the 32nd anniversary of the piano concerts that take place over three weeks in June and July.


There is also a lovely chamber music series in late July and August. And right now, classical music lovers can head out to the Bagatelle for the charming ‘Solistes à Bagatelle 2015.’ This festival celebrates young up-and-coming piano talent from all over Europe. The current concerts go on through September 13th, 2015. Enjoy!


Route de Sèvres à Neuilly
75016 Paris

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

For your own lovely copy of the Parc de Bagatelle brochure, please click here to download. (Note that it’s in French!) It includes a detailed map of the gardens and also a wonderful guide to when the various flowers are in bloom each year. The brochure is available at the Bagatelle as well for a nominal fee.


Parc de Bagatelle
Route de Sèvres à Neuilly
75016 Paris

A Very French Wedding Thursday, Aug 13 2015 

When traveling around France, you can often happen upon the most festive of occasions – weddings. How charming to pass by a wonderful historic church and see a happy couple and wedding guests spilling out into the square!  


Somehow I get treated to seeing a French mariage nearly every time I am in Arles down in Provence. Whatever my reason for being in town, I always make a detour through the impressive Place de la République (above) to take in the gorgeous west facade of the cathedral of St. Trophime (below). A jewel of Provençal Romanesque architecture dating from the 12th century, St. Trophime’s tympanum depicts the apocalypse in sculpture. The figure of Christ sits in the center with the evangelists, apostles, saints and other biblical scenes carved in the surrounding stone.

Sure enough, on this particular day, a nice French wedding was happening just as I passed through la place. My attention was drawn to the pretty bride and uniformed groom as they emerged from St. Trophime, military salute and celebratory air bubbles included…




Of course, it’s always more fun to be a part of a wedding than just to see it in passing. A few weeks ago, I attended a very French fête de mariage near Fontainebleau south of Paris. The daughter of dear friends was getting married in a little village church with the wedding reception following at the village château. What a fairytale weekend!

Following the lovely garden party rehearsal dinner on the Friday night, wedding guests gathered at the village church on Saturday afternoon. The local French Catholic priest conducted a heart-warming service complete with communion for the radiant bride and handsome groom. One of the bilingual guests translated his French for the Anglophones in attendance…


Given that we were in France, hats were a must for some wedding guests particularly the French and British ones…


After the ceremony, guests stocked up on rose petals to shower on the exiting bride and groom. The floral confetti rained down on the happy couple as they made their way to the magnificent horse and carriage. Even some of the villagers hung out of their windows to watch the festive proceedings…




We guests then walked the short distance to the 17th century château where champagne awaited. The weather was picture perfect…



My dapper husband and I were glad to have our French hats on such a sunny – and warmish - afternoon…


When plenty of champagne had been had by all and endearing toasts offered to les nouveaux mariés (the newlyweds), the wedding party enjoyed a marvelous seated dinner in the formal salons of the château…


After dinner, guests were asked to step outside as the night was getting dark. A special surprise was about to begin…




Wedding fireworks against the backdrop of the château - c’était étonnant (it was amazing). But the festivities didn’t stop there. Wedding cake with sparklers was followed by dancing in the vaulted cellar of the château. As we departed late that evening, lighted candles floated in the castle’s 17th century moat. A most special of French weddings for the most special of couples. Could it get any better than this?



Sip Code–A Short Guide to the French Café Experience Monday, Jul 20 2015 

French cafés are not just a place, they’re a way of life in France. You can drink, eat, converse, read, watch the world go by, even make it your home away from home. For the price of a cup of coffee or glass of wine, your café table and the accompanying cultural panorama belong to you for as long as you like. What a way to “own” some French real estate!

But like so many aspects of French culture, it really helps to know some insider tips and info to enjoy your French café time to the fullest. Here are my top 10 recommendations for cracking the French café code. Read on, and make plans to head straight for a café next time you are in France.

1) Which café? Wherever you are in France—in a small country village or in bustling Paris—be sure to choose a café with the most French people (i.e. avoid anybody wearing fanny packs, cameras, and tennis shoes). You want to feel like you’re in France, not at a Starbucks back home.

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2) Where to sit? Hands down, if it’s a nice day, sit outside on the terrace. It’s great for people watching, and the weather in France is generally nice. There’s often some street entertainment going on such as the Paris accordionist below. These days, even in winter, café going can be a pleasure as many cafés have electric heaters overhead to keep things warm and toasty. If it’s a super hot day in summer, some cafés have water misters to try and cool things down. (Click here for a previous post on how to keep cool when it’s baking hot in Paris.) On the other hand, if you’re on a budget, sitting inside is always a good option since some menu items cost more on the terrace than inside the café. On that note, if you’re going in for a drink, standing at the bar costs less than sitting at a table. Ditto in Italy.

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3) Engaging with the waitstaff: To ensure good relations with the  French waitstaff, always greet your (usually male) waiter with a nice “Bonjour, Monsieur!” and attempt your best French accent. He’ll be more attentive to you if you try. And whatever you do, don’t call him over with a loud “Garçon!” It’s very 1950’s…and also rude.

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4) Ordering coffee: Coffee is a French café staple. You can order un express (an expresso), un crème (how the French order coffee with hot milk these days), un café américain (black coffee but not as strong as expresso—more like drip coffee) or perhaps un thé (tea). My morning beverage in France is un grand crème, or an extra large coffee with hot milk. Note that the French do not typically take milk in their coffee later in the day or at night—it’s strictly expresso for them following lunch or dinner.


5) What about other drinks? There are a variety of beverages on offer at French cafés besides le café (coffee). Of the non-alcoholic variety, you can order un citron pressé (fresh-squeezed lemonade where you add sugar and water to taste), les jus de fruits (fruit juices), un Orangina (sparkling orange soda made in France), un coca / coca light (Coke and Diet Coke) and les eaux minérales such as Vittel or Evian (flat mineral waters) and Badoit or San Pellegrino (sparkling mineral waters). It is helpful to remember that Coke can cost more than the house wine in France. Also, hip French people these days forego all the wonderful French mineral waters in favor of San Pellegrino. Go figure?!

If it’s apéritif time – a ritual  in France - you can opt for one of the many interesting libations on offer. Draft bière (beer) is available as une pression or un demi (half pint). And then of course, there’s wine—un vin rouge, un vin blanc (a glass of red or white wine) or un rosé (glass of rosé wine). In summer in France, I often drink chilled rosé from Provence as it is the perfect warm weather drink. If you are celebrating something, or even if you’re not, a nice coupe de champagne (glass of champagne) is always a great beverage option in France. Then too, there are some good special wine-based possibilities such as Lillet or Pineau de Charentes. Finally, you can order hard liquor, brandy (France has amazing ones, bien sûr), or something like pastis, the licorice flavored liqueur typical of southern France.

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6) What about café food? Food is almost always good in France, even in low-key cafés. The menu du jour (day’s set menu) allows you to have a nice meal—often a starter, main dish and dessert—for a reasonable price. Another option is to ask the waiter what he prefers on la carte (the paper menu). He’ll be flattered you asked his advice, and often times will go above and beyond to make sure the plate he brings to the table is well prepared.

Or you can order quintessential French dishes such as quiche lorraine, un croque monsieur (open faced hot ham and cheese sandwich) or steak tartare served with a green salad. While most cafés won’t win gourmet food awards, you’ll get a good, honest meal and experience a slice of French daily life at the same time.

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7) How to get the check? In French cafés and restaurants, you must always ask for your check, or l’addition. Make eye contact with your waiter and call him over with “Monsieur.” Then you can say, “L’addition, s’il vous plaît.”

8) What about tipping? Tipping in France is often confusing for Americans. French tipping is included in the price of food and drink; menus will say  service compris somewhereto indicate this. So leaving another 15 to 20% can come off as an insult—the waiter might think you see him as a charity case. However, I have seen waitstaff in Europe who take advantage of the fact that foreigners are not aware tips are already included and relish or even encourage the additional tip windfall. In French cafés, the right protocol is to pay your check with cash or a credit card and then leave a bit extra in cash–typically 5% or less–as a gesture of good will.


You can also leave a cute note for your waiter. I once took some college girls on a February trip to Paris, and they thought our young waiter at Les Deux Magots was handsome enough to merit a quick thank-you note in English with a nice “Happy Valentine’s Day” in French. We left the café before he came back by our table—I wished I could have seen the look on his face when he read it!


9) Toilettes: You can use the facilities in a café if you are a paying customer. Note that café restrooms are often in the cellar or basement so look for a small stairway going downstairs. If it’s not obvious, you can ask one of the staff in polite French, “Monsieur, s’il vous plaît – où sont les toilettes?”

10) Good Paris cafés: Next time you are in Paris, drop by the Left Bank café icons Les Deux Magots and the Café de Flore. They’re pricier than some but the people-watching is divine. While there will be tourists, enough French people fill the tables to make these cafés endlessly interesting. A little more off the Left Bank beaten path and one of my favorite cafés in Paris is La Palette on the Rue de Seine. It’s very French and what most cafés used to feel like.

If you have a great café anecdote to share, let other French Affaires readers in on your experience by posting it here. We love to hear about any and all French cultural adventures!

NB: A version of this article was previously published on the French Affaires website in July, 2011.

French Take-Out™ ~ La France à emporter

For a great French apéritif experience in the U.S., think about joining us for the special French Cuisine & Culture workshop this weekend. From 3:30 to 5:30pm on Saturday in Dallas, we’re hosting “French Happy Hour: The Art of the Apéritif in France.

 In this unique offering, we’ll explore the cultural aspects of ‘happy hour’ in France, how the French use the apéritif moment to encourage the appetite, which types of apéritif drinks are often served, how to order apéritifs and which types of appetizers complement the apéritifs. Our class also includes a tasting of several French apéritif beverages and the hands-on French appetizer making class. Following our cultural lessons, tastings and appetizer-making class, we’ll sit down and enjoy our French appetizers with apéritifs and talk about great apéritif venues in Paris!

The cost is $75 per person and includes the hands-on French appetizer making class, wine & liqueur tastings, cultural lessons, an array of French appetizers with apéritifs, recipes and a guide to great apéritif venues in Paris. Advance registration is required. Class size is limited. Please click here for more information and to register. Or email us at


Date: Choose one – Friday, July 24 ~ FULL, OR Saturday, July 25 ~ OPEN
Time: 3:30 to  5:30pm
Cost: $75 per person. Advance sign-up required – please click here to register.
Location: Central Dallas location

What to do when it’s 104 degrees in Paris Tuesday, Jul 7 2015 

You may have heard about the heat wave engulfing much of Europe for the past several days. Last Wednesday, Paris hit a near-record high of 39.7 degrees Celsius. That was a sizzling almost 104 degrees Fahrenheit – whew. It was the hottest July 1 recorded there since 1947 when the thermometer reached 40.4 degrees, or nearly 105 degrees F. I found that while we all were melting and uncomfortable, it did lead to a good amount of camaraderie and commiserating about la canicule (heat wave of three days or more where temps surpass 30 degrees C. during the day and don’t go below 20 degrees C. at night).


Intrepid tourists on the go in hot Paris last week wearing hats, shorts & good walking shoes

Most Parisians I talked to were doing their best to combat la grosse chaleur (the sweltering heat). Public service announcements were reminding the French to drink lots of water, avoid heavy physical activity outdoors and call the heat wave hotline in case of questions or needing help. Since the terrible période caniculaire of 2003 when thousands of people perished across Europe, governments and municipalities now organize alerts and huge efforts to check on the elderly and frail quand il fait trop chaud (when it gets too hot).


One Parisienne sharing her water mister with another on the hot Paris bus last Wednesday

Since air conditioning is not a given in the French capitale, there are some common-sense practices Parisians follow when it’s burning up outside. First, they do as little as possible. Second, they open apartment windows in the morning to let in the cool air and then shut them for the rest of the day to keep the hot air out. However, if they do have to go out, they avoid standing in the hot sun and look for any sliver of shade. In addition, they sometimes skip the stuffy buses and metro cars and spring for air-conditioned taxis. And last but not least, they wear light cotton clothes and use hats. Most Parisians I saw were dressed in summer attire, but I did notice a few wearing strangely heavy clothes including an older gentleman in a wool herringbone tweed jacket. I figured he must have put it on out of habit!

This all might be good for residents, but what to do if you are visiting Paris and want to enjoy the incredible sights despite the heat? Here are a few recommendations to keep handy the next time Paris warms up un peu trop (a little too much) when you’re there:

1) Make sure your Paris hotel room or apartment is air-conditioned: Be sure to ask up front if your lodgings are climatisés. You never know when une vague de chaleur (heat wave) might hit the city.

2) Visit a Museum: Most Paris museums are air conditioned, if not for patrons then for sure to keep the artworks in good condition. I took advantage of the cool temps inside the Petit Palais museum on the Right Bank. The lovely permanent collections as well as the gorgeous 1900 building offer visitors a terrific cultural experience, heat or no heat outside.





3) Go Shopping: The big Paris department stores such as Galeries Lafayette, Printemps and Le Bon Marché are all air conditioned, making it a great excuse to go shopping when the heat is too much. Many smaller boutiques are as well but it’s more hit or miss. I opted to check out the big Hermès sale that started July 1 at Paris’s Palais des Congrès (convention center) near the Porte Maillot. (Note that it’s never held at the luxury retailer’s flagship.) Though you had to stand in line to get in, it was blissfully cool there and the incredible markdowns on scarves, clothes and shoes made it worth the wait!


4) Head for the Movies: If you don’t speak French, then choose an American or British film being shown in V.O., or version originale, and enjoy the cool, dark cinema.

5) Sit in a Café and Drink Cool Beverages: Paris cafés were doing a brisk business last week despite the heat, or maybe because of it. Awnings and misters on terraces provided welcome relief from the hot sun. I chose to sit inside at this Left Bank café where it was even cooler. First on my order were sparkling Perrier and Orangina with lots of glaçons (ice cubes). Then I decided on the cool plat du jour for lunch – melon, cured ham, tomatoes and mozzarella, and salad. It was the perfect hot day meal, and I bet the chef was sure happy not to fire up his kitchen for this dish.



6) Cool Off With French Ice Cream: Even though the Italians are famous for their gelato, the French do some great glaces as well. There are good ice cream shops around the city but my favorite is Berthillon on the Ile St. Louis.


7) Take a Boat Ride on the Seine: Take advantage of cool breezes with a boat ride on the Seine river. You can choose the Bateaux Mouches or the Vedettes du Pont Neuf for your cruising pleasure, amazing views of Paris included.


8) Enjoy Paris from the Top of a Double-Decker Bus: It’s also breezy up top on the double-decker buses that offer great tours of the city. History buffs will love that Paris had both double-decker buses and horse-drawn omnibuses way back at the turn of the century too.



The other alternative would be to get out of the city and go park yourself on a beach somewhere as France has so many great ones. Seriously, Paris can still be fun on hot days. Just take it easy, find the cool spots, drink lots of water and know that A.C. is waiting for you at your hotel or apartment at the end of the day!

A French Friday in Fontainebleau Tuesday, Jun 30 2015 

This past weekend, I was in Fontainebleau for the wedding of the daughter of some very dear friends. It was a fabulous event and also a great time to reconnect with this charming French town located about an hour south of Paris. While Fontainebleau is dominated by the royal château of the same name, the town itself is well worth a visit.


I began the day with petit déjeuner at the Grand Café on Fontainebleau’s pleasant main square…


It sits next to the historic Fontainebleau hotel the Aigle Noir. Celebrated French poet Jacques Prévert wrote his famous poem “Presque” while staying here.




After breakfast, I ambled over to Fontainebleau’s lively outdoor food and shopping market that takes place every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Residents and visitors alike enjoy the various offerings by local vendors at the Marché St. Louis.


Of course, I was more tempted by the antiques auction house located nearby. Osenat typically holds les ventes aux enchères in Fontainebleau every Friday and Sunday with viewings the day and morning before. I breezed through the galleries and saw lots of beautiful old French furniture, paintings and objets d’art



Then I headed across the street to the real historic experience, the Château de Fontainebleau. Situated in the center of the former royal forest of Fontainebleau and nestled up next to the town, the castle showcases 700 years of French monarchs and their history. The various architectural styles of the château invite visitors to meet the successive French kings and queens who lived and sojourned here throughout the centuries.


The place is so rich historically and visually, I could come here over and over and see something new every time. But the best part is that the Château de Fontainebleau usually has a reasonable amount of visitors, meaning that you can come here and really enjoy what you are seeing…



For example, I had the stupendous Galerie François Ier (above) – King Francis I had this part of the château constructed from 1528 to 1530 – practically all to myself on Friday, high season in this part of the world. Such a feat would NEVER happen at the galerie des glaces (Hall of Mirrors) at Versailles!

French king Francis I left his mark all over Fontainebleau as did Napoleon. You can visit the French emperor’s extraordinary throne room in the château. Interestingly, it’s the only throne room in France that still retains all its original furniture.


The Château de Fontainebleau also hosts temporary exhibitions. There was just a terrific one on Napoleon and Pope Pius VII and the pope’s two visits to France during  Napoleon’s reign. It’s the story of an epic power struggle, if there ever was one.



While small, the exhibition was very well done. The best touch was putting the marble busts of the two ‘rulers’ facing off in the center of the show (below left).


After visiting the château, you can stroll through the extensive grounds of the royal estate. Part of the gardens were designed by the famous French landscape artist André le Nôtre. You might also see preparations for a special event happening at the château. The day of my visit, party planners were setting up for the big gala that night for the French gendarmes – evening attire required!


Later that afternoon, I walked up Fontainebleau’s main street la rue Grande to check out the French boutiques and restaurants. It’s a good time to shop in France as the twice-yearly big sales just started last week and run through the beginning of August.


If shopping and town are not your thing, the area around Fontainebleau is horse country. You can find some stables and go for a ride or check out the numerous equestrian events that often take place in the neighborhood. Hiking and walks are also available due to the abundant walking trails in the beautiful forest of Fontainebleau. And rock climbers are big fans of the large granite rock formations found in the forêt de Fontainebleau.


All in all, the town of Fontainebleau has a lot going for it and is worth a day or weekend detour from the French capital. Only 45 minutes away by train and about an hour by car, Fontainebleau is a great mix of town, country and history all in one place. Bonne visite!

The French Festival Not to Miss in Provence Sunday, Jun 14 2015 


This past weekend, I got see one of the best festival traditions in France – the annual fête de la transhumance. If you haven’t come across this earthy term before, transhumance is the annual migration of animal herds from the plains to the mountains and vice versa. (The term itself derives from the Latin ‘trans’ meaning “across” and ‘humus’ meaning “earth.”) As temperatures start to warm up in late May and early June, animal herds in various parts of Europe are moved to higher altitudes for better grazing. Many French villages near mountains celebrate the centuries-old tradition with an animated parade and festival.

The village of Bédoin in the Vaucluse region of Provence held their fête de la transhumance last Sunday and hundreds of spectators turned out to witness the fun event. Bédoin is a picturesque town at the foot of the majestic Mont Ventoux, the 6000-foot peak of Tour de France cycling fame located about 40 minutes northeast of Avignon. Bédoin is also known for its colorful and lively open-air market on Monday mornings.



But back to the festival. We arrived in the village about 5pm to get a place along the parade route. Of course, things were so relaxed that everyone first headed to the village cafés for a glass of rosé or a beer. Then just a few minutes before the transhumance started at 6pm, we ambled over to the village ring road to get a good view. Loads of kids were running around full of excitement, and adults everywhere were readying cameras to capture the spectacle.

About 6:20pm, a frisson of anticipation swept the crowd as the transhumance festival got underway. Shepherds leading donkeys festooned with fragrant genêt flowers (broom, in English) kicked off the procession. We noticed the shepherds were wearing decidedly casual attire.




Then the real fun began as a sea of  sheep and goats started flowing through the town. There was plenty of jostling and jockeying for space as the animals trotted along the asphalt. And the sheepdogs weren’t about to miss out as they kept the herd in line. Also notice the shepherd’s t-shirt with the “Non aux loups” logo – he’s part of the group protesting the return of wolves to the natural environment in Europe after near extinction. Somehow I don’t blame him for not wanting his sheep to be eaten by a wild loup.




For all the crowding, the sheep and goats were a docile bunch as they clipped along. Even the sweet little lambs kept up pretty well with the adult herd. But as you might imagine, the air did start to smell fairly quickly like a nice, well-used barn!



My favorite moment was when the darling shepherd girl passed by gently keeping her animal friends in line with her walking stick…


Once the several hundred sheep and goats went past, about ten or so sheepdogs brought up the rear. Their job was to make sure no strays got left behind – or perhaps scooped up by an adoring visitor…


After the parade, the herd was shuffled off to a nearby field to await their transportation to higher pastures on Mont Ventoux or the Alps. In olden times, the herds would walk the whole way. Today, the animals are shipped by truck for a faster and safer transhumance experience.

Travelers to Provence know that the region is noteworthy for many wonderful things - sun, sea, sunflowers, lavender, perched villages, Roman ruins, markets, olive oil, garlic, rosé wine, cuisine and climate. With the charming fête de la transhumance, we could also add sheep to the Provence pleasures list?! In any case, if you’re traveling there in late May or early June next year, be sure and check local schedules for the festive happening. Especially if you’re bringing the kids!


French Strawberry Season 2015 Thursday, May 28 2015 

It’s strawberry season in France - and it’s about time too. After the gray and cold of the French winter, strawberries mean real spring and almost summer have arrived. Yesterday, the local village market here in Provence was overflowing with the juicy red fruit. This vendor had dozens of barquettes of strawberries for sale. I couldn’t help buying two or three.




Pendant la saison (during the season), I have des fraises every morning for breakfast. Ce matin, I enjoyed some with yogurt while perusing the latest edition of the French cooking magazine “Elle à table”. Of course, the main feature is all about strawberries. Entitled “Un amour de fraise: Votre fruit préféré est de retour” – ‘For the love of strawberries; Your favorite fruit is back,’ the article offered both sweet and savory (!) recipes using strawberries. I think the editor was reading my mind.




You also know it’s strawberry season here in France as just about every restaurant, brasserie or bistrot is featuring a strawberry dessert du jour (dessert of the day) right about now. After church this past Sunday, my husband and I had a leisurely lunch at a restaurant on the village square. The Provence sun and blue sky were heavenly as was the featured fraisier cake for dessert. Normally, we’re not big sweet eaters but you wouldn’t know it after we ate every bite of the strawberry cream cake – and we each had our own!




A week before, I was hosting a lovely group of ladies from a Texas garden club at this year’s garden festival at the Domaine de Chaumont in the Loire Valley. For our fabulous Sunday lunch, another wonderful fraisier cake made an appearance but with a creatively curvy twist…



And during our garden tour week, I also managed to take care of a nice tarte aux fraises at Angelina, the ‘grande dame’ of tea salons in Paris. While the array of other desserts was oh-so-tempting including their signature Mont Blanc pâtisserie, I just had to have the strawberry tart. Accompanied by a luscious crème de pistache (pistachio cream), it was divine.



But the pièce de résistance (showpiece) this fraise season was the wild strawberry éclair at the Michelin-starred Le Pré Catelan a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t even the real dessert – that came before. This was part of the mignardises which are the ‘little sweet things’ offered after the main dessert at upscale French restaurants. The fact that this was a strawberry éclair – normally you see chocolate or coffee versions – and then that it was made of fraises des bois (wild strawberries) was absolutely over the top. This was by far the best dessert I’ve had in ages - and an exquisite way to celebrate the French strawberry season this year!


NB: For a previous French Affaires’ article on the French strawberry season in 2011 complete with the Le Figaro newspaper ‘best strawberry tart competition’ info, please click here. Enjoy!

Eggs in France Thursday, Apr 9 2015 


Now that Easter season is past, it’s time to put away all those French chocolate eggs – and a good moment to focus on the real eggs that show up in so many great dishes in France.

French eggs are fabulous in my opinion – large, flavorful and with deep golden, nearly orange yolks. You can buy wonderful fresh eggs from vendors at weekly farmers’ markets all over France. This egg vendor and eleveur in Normandy raises his own chickens outdoors – “en plein air” – and is proud of his wares.


Recently, I’ve been craving the French version of deviled eggs, les oeufs mayonnaise. A popular staple on many bistrot and café menus, this cold French starter of hard-boiled eggs comes with a side of homemade mayonnaise and a little bit of salade. Though it may not sound all that interesting, les oeufs mayonnaise is always a surprisingly tasty and satisfying French dish. Not only French eggs but also real mayonnaise make it delectable whether the mayo is served straight up or enhanced with fresh herbs, spices or something else. The other day, I ordered les oeufs mayonnaise at a neighborhood café on the Rue du Bac in Paris. It felt like spring on a plate – and their mayonnaise came flavored with a hint of salty anchovies…miam, miam!


Also delicious were the oeufs mayonnaise served with lettuce spears I had not long ago at the cozy Left Bank bistrot La Fontaine de Mars…



Eggs take center stage in another very French dish, les oeufs en meurette. Originally from Burgundy, this comfort food of eggs poached in rich red wine sauce with shallots or onions and bacon is a classic hot starter on French menus. La Fontaine de Mars offers its own version with a Southwestern French red wine touch. 


But of course, there are numerous other French egg dishes that don’t require more particular ingredients such as wine or anchovies. Omelettes in France make a great lunch or an easy dinner at home and are often made with ham and cheese, herbs, mushrooms or other fillings. This nice tender one at Ladurée featured ever-so-pungent truffles. If you’ve never tried the divine egg and truffle combo in France, be sure and put it on your “Must taste” list! 



The French also do scrambled eggs remarkably well. Very creamy and almost pudding-like, les oeufs brouillés in France make me never want to eat scrambled eggs anywhere else. The secret is cooking the eggs very slowly using a bain-marie with the water kept just below the boiling point. Of course, French cooks add a bit of cream to the mixture for that perfect taste and texture. Les oeufs brouillés make a great French brunch as shown here in Paris with smoked salmon, shrimp and salade.


Not to be left out of any food conversation concerning eggs in France are quiche and soufflés. French quiches are rich and hearty and usually are accompanied by a side salad with vinaigrette. This one from the restaurant at the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris was délicieux, although it was hard not be distracted by the exquisite decor of Tiepolo ceiling frescoes, Flemish tapestry wall-hangings and ornate red and gold lamps. And if you are a fan of soufflés in all their egg glory, you can click here for a previous French Affaires’ post on “The Best Soufflés in the Universe.”




The French also use eggs to accent a variety of dishes in their meal repertoire including hard-boiled ones in la salade niçoise or un club sandwich… 



There’s also the noteworthy fried egg served on top of a croque madame sandwich – or sometimes on top of certain pizzas in France…


And this traditional bistrot in Versailles served steak tartare with a fresh egg yolk on the side to be mixed in by the diner – moi! – at the table… 


We could go on and on about French eggs – we haven’t even mentioned the nice soft-boiled ones the French sometimes eat for breakfast with toast sticks to dip into the yolk or poached ones that show up on top of salads or with steamed asparagus and hollandaise sauce. And exotic egg offerings like duck, goose or quail eggs are pretty readily available in France. This vendor at the Aix-en-Provence market had a basket full of tiny quails’ eggs waiting to be added to a dish or slightly boiled and served with sea salt to be eaten as an appetizer!


French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

A note on the pronunciation of ‘eggs’ in French – one egg or “un oeuf” is pronounced with the ‘f’ as in ’uhn uff’ (sounding almost like ‘enough’ in English). But in the plural “des oeufs,” the ‘f’ is no longer pronounced as in ’dayz euh.’

And to get that fresh, almost-like-eggs-in-France taste at your home, see if you can find a local producer who raises chickens and sells eggs regularly in your area. Our dear friend and Francophile Hugh in Texas has amazing ‘home-grown’ eggs and often shares his largesse with us. Below are some freshly gathered eggs from chez Hugh, including a nice goose egg resting on a newly-acquired-in-Paris piece of antique Quimper pottery (click here for a recap of the recent French Affaires’ Paris Antiques Trip). Bon egg appétit!



Paris Antique Finds Friday, Mar 13 2015 

Last week in Paris, our Paris Antiques Trip group hit the antiquing jackpot with loads of great finds and an abundance of great weather. Wonderful sunshine was ours as we wandered the various flea markets, antique shops, consignment stores and fairs in and around la Capitale. At the end of each day, everyone was loaded down with beautiful French treasures. Decorative objects, paintings, mirrors, furniture, linens were just some of the pieces scooped up by our intrepid antiques lovers.



Highlights of our trip were the big Paris flea market at St. Ouen/ Clignancourt and the bi-annual foire à la brocante at Chatou just west of Paris. St. Ouen is the world’s largest marché aux puces, or flea market, with everything from bric-a-brac to museum quality pieces. You could spend several days there alone as there are many different sub-markets spread out over the sprawling complex.

On the other hand, Chatou is one of my favorite Paris markets perhaps because it doesn’t happen all the time. Running for about 10 days each spring and fall, the fair showcases several hundred antiques vendors from all over France. It is a a collector’s dream - café au lait bowls, confiture jars, regular silver, hotel silver, pottery, china, pewter, paintings, portraits, chairs, tables, chests…it is all there. And bargaining is a definite must at this market. In fact, the negotiating was so good this year that dealers routinely dropped their prices almost without our having to ask!









One great find for the portrait lover in our group was the antique oval frame to go with the lovely portrait acquisition above. It was quite a coup to come upon a frame that would actually fit an existing painting – and an oval one to boot.


Another superb purchase was the beautiful painted chest below. One of our group had a ‘coup de coeur’ as soon as she saw it, she was so taken with the piece. We all agreed it was the prettiest chest at the fair.


Incredible sconces and mirrors were everywhere at Chatou as well. Trip-goer and interior designer Lisa Henderson spotted the amazing pieces below. I walked away with some nice sconces myself – but the desired mirror in the right size didn’t materialize. Tant pis – too bad!



Lisa also had a good eye for blue and white porcelain. Here are her purchases on display at the hotel later that night… 

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Blue and white is a lovely motif that shows up often in her interiors – and on her website as well:


All in all, it was a great week of antiques and decorative arts fun in Paris, and French Affaires is on track to do our 4th annual antiques trip next March. We’re still waiting on final dates for some of the antiques fairs to set our trip plans - but for sure, it will be the first or second week in March 2016. If you’re interested in joining us for this fabulous time of antique and brocante finds, you can pre-reserve your spot by emailing us at . Of course, we’ll let you know the definitive trip info prior to signing up. Our annual “Paris Antiques Trip” is a wonderful way of seeing Paris in a whole new light!


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