Notes from Paris 2 Wednesday, Mar 19 2014 

Today’s post is a follow-on to the previous “Notes from Paris” describing current events and activities all over the city. You’ll have to agree, there’s always something happening in Paris!

TRANSPORT NOTE: Even in Paris, good things can have a down side. The sunny, warm and windless weather that recently brought everyone out of doors and into the parks, sidewalks and cafés has also delivered high pollution levels in Paris and northern France. The City has taken drastic measures over the past several days to help decrease particulate matter in the air. Wood-burning fires have been banned, covoiturage (ride-sharing) has been encouraged, car speeds have been reduced by 20 km per hour (about 12 mph), and public transport including the Métro and buses has been free for many days running. To top it off, government officials declared a partial driving ban this past Monday – only cars with odd-numbered license plates were permitted on the roads (electric and hybrid cars and vehicles containing three or more people were exempted). As you might imagine, all this has caused both hurrahs and headaches. Thankfully the wind has picked up and the pollution has abated – but everyone has to pay for public transport again.

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I love the Paris buses that run under the south wing of the Louvre Museum.

BIKE NOTE: On the subject of transportation, bikes are gaining ground as the vehicle of choice in Paris. Loads of my Parisian friends use their bikes to get around the city. And Paris is creating more and more bike lanes – taking parts of regular roads to do so – much to the chagrin of taxi drivers and regular drivers. However, in case bike riders think traffic rules don’t apply to them, there are regulations, marked lanes and even dedicated stoplights to remind riders to stay in line. Bonne route (happy riding)! 

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EVENT NOTE: You’ve gotta love this cool event that popped up in Paris week before last…hopscotch, or la marelle in French, for everyone. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Argentine writer Julio Cortazar who wrote a novel set in Paris called “La Marelle,” Argentine performance artist Marta Minujin created a Paris hopscotch zone in the Place du Palais Royal. The hopscotch fest lasted three days and drew the participation of kids and adults alike. 

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FOOD NOTE: Just recently, our antiques trip group was treated to a private tour of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and got to see up close some of the most beautiful French furniture and objets d’art from the 17th and 18th centuries. Following our visit to the “Arts Déco,” we went to the nearby Le Soufflé for lunch. (Click here for a previous post on this classic Paris restaurant.) For dessert, I decided to branch out from the decadent soufflé au chocolat and try the soufflé aux fruits rouges – red berry soufflé. It was divine, tasting like the most sweet and fragrant raspberry you can imagine. But I was more struck by how the big pink soufflé looked like a giant cupcake!

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MUSIC NOTE: There are always fabulous classical music concerts happening in Paris. If you’ve never taken in a musical performance at the Salle Pleyel or the Palais Garnier or one of Paris’s many churches, I would highly recommend putting this on your Paris to-do list. To find a performance, you can look up the venues online ahead of time or when you are there, look for the posters publicizing these great offerings. Tomorrow night and Tuesday night at the stained-glass heaven of La Sainte Chapelle for example, the Orchestre des soloistes français is performing works of Bach, Albinoni and Mozart.

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BOOK NOTE: Walking down the Left Bank’s Rue Jacob the other day, I was stopped in my tracks by all the women pausing in front of a window display. Intrigued, I went closer to see what they were looking at. It turns out the new Dictionnaire universel des créatrices was just published in France, and the Espace des femmes at 33-35 rue Jacob was sponsoring a photo exhibition to celebrate the event.

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Upon entering the gallery, I found out this new comprehensive dictionary of creative women – “creative” in every sense – includes more than 10,000 articles on well-known and lesser-known women and their contributions over the centuries. French feminist Antoinette Fouque was one of the driving forces behind the work. According to a recent interview in Le Figaro, she noted that while women make up half the population on the planet, only 5 to 10% of entries in dictionaries of proper names included women. So the idea for “Universal Dictionary of Creative Women” was born.

I spoke with a nice young woman there at the Espace des femmes. She mentioned that for printing reasons, the dictionary does not contain photographs of the women listed. So the gallery was exhibiting photos of many of them along with illustrations by French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel, some of which do appear in the publication. The woman also mentioned that an English translation of the dictionary is in the works and should come out later this year. Click here for more information on the Espace des femmes and this great contribution to the world of dictionaries.

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Notes from Paris – March, 2014 Tuesday, Mar 4 2014 

What a difference a year makes. Just after I arrived in Paris last March for the annual French Affaires’ antiques trip, the French capital was blanketed with a thick layer of snow. Verrrry chilly temperatures accompanied us for days as we zipped around to the various Paris antiques fairs and flea markets. This year, the wintry weather is back in the U.S., and Paris is set to be sunny and almost balmy this week. To capture the ambiance of Paris at the moment, today’s post includes notes and impressions from the past few days here. Enjoy!

FASHION NOTE: It’s fashion week in Paris and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel has just made headlines with his “Chanel Supermarket” at le Grand Palais. Under the sparkling glass dome, Lagerfeld accomplished another fashion first as he showed off his fall-winter collection on models roaming grocery store aisles lined with Chanel ‘food products’ and other goodies.  What a spectacle! Click here for a photo series of Chanel’s new supermarket chic.

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FOOD NOTE: Speaking of supermarkets and chic, my favorite neighborhood cheese shop was closed Monday so I went to La Grande Epicerie, the gourmet food halls of the Le Bon Marché department store for some good fromage (cheese). After extensive renovations, La Grande Epicerie is more gourmet than ever. They have a fantastic selection of everything food related from France and around the world and it’s all gorgeously presented. However, the store is now so beautiful and mod that it almost feels like a museum. I half expect to see signs – Merci de ne pas toucher (don’t touch). And the prices are not for the faint of heart. Still, the quality is outstanding so I knew I’d get some great cheese.

As I waited in line at the cheese counter, an older French gentleman was putting in his order for camembert. So typically French, he began a long discours (speech) about how exactly he liked this Normandy cheeseun demi camembert au lait cru…crémeux mais pas trop fort…et pas de blanc (half of a raw milk camembert, creamy but not too ripe, and no white chalky layer in the middle). The saleswoman opened several of the round boxes to find the right one for monsieur and finally wrapped up one to his liking. Fortunately for me, this is exactly how I prefer my camembert so I then stepped up to buy the other half. Perfect!

Had I had a little more time, I would have taken the escalator down to the snazzy wine department on La Grande Epicerie’s lower level. They are always having great tastings of wines and champagnes. I have a good American friend and long-time resident of Paris who heads to La Grande Epicerie for her Vidalia onions – the only place in Paris that sells them – and also for a nice free glass of champagne at the same time. Only in France.

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RESTAURANT NOTE: La Grande Epicerie recently opened a gourmet restaurant called “La Table” on the second floor of the store.

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Sleek escalators whisk you up to the glass atrium accented by four full-size trees. This indoor-outdoor space features numerous tables and a bar where lunch and afternoon tea are served. I met a French friend for a mid-day bite this week and the place was packed.

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We both chose the suggestion du chef (featured dish of the day) which was a delicious beef parmentier – a French specialty of slow cooked beef in a lovely sauce layered with mashed potatoes…and this version was flavored with truffle and served with dressed greens on top. A great choice.

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WINE NOTE: I decided to stop in my neighborhood wine shop for a nice red to go with the camembert, incidentally one of the most difficult cheeses to pair with wine. Still, a full-bodied red sounded good so the monsieur gave me some ideas. As he was wrapping up my purchase, I asked about his training in French wines and vineyards. As I expected and hoped he would do, he launched into his own discours in French about how to appreciate and taste wines. He repeated it was crucial to taste wines “avec humilité.” He said to forget about the pretensions of whether this year or that year meant a great wine. Just taste it and let the wine speak for itself, he insisted. Excellent advice.

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TV NOTE: There’s good news and bad news about French television. On the plus side, I caught a program the other day where a French family decided to bypass their local charcuterie (deli) and make their own pâté, rillettes et saucisson (pâté, pork spread and sausage). It was fascinating to watch the process and see how a father and daughter mastered what has almost become a lost art. On the down side, current commercials on French TV include Old El Paso and Advil brand products. Seriously? And there was a French version of “The Bachelor” on the air. Were it not in the French language, you would have thought you were in America. Thankfully, one can turn the TV completely off, walk outside and enjoy real French life.

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PARIS TRANSPORT NOTE: The Paris Métro and Bus system makes getting around the city pretty easy. I hopped on the 63 bus the other night to meet a friend for dinner in the 5th arrondissement. To my dismay, my bus/métro ticket – they can be used for both – had become démagnétisé. In other words, the magnetic strip on the back allowing it to be validated in the bus ticket machine was no longer working. This phenomenon happens when you put the tickets in close proximity to a cell phone or some other magnetic field. In any case, I needed to make a bus transfer to another line to reach my destination and therefore required a validated ticket to continue. I explained the situation to the bus driver who kindly took the time to mark my ticket with the bus number, date and time. I then was able to change to the 47 bus with no issues at all. The French can be very sympathique (nice)!

What’s Happening in Paris Friday, Feb 21 2014 

As a good friend of mine in Paris put it this past week, “we are in one of those doldrum periods for art exhibitions.” Many of the big fall art shows have just closed, and Paris is pausing to take a breath before a host of new exhibitions open for the spring and summer of 2014. If you’re traveling to the French capital anytime soon, you won’t want to miss these great cultural events. Be sure to click on the museum name for more details on each exhibition.

Current Art Exhibitions

Musée du LouvreRestoration of the iconic Greek statue “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” continues at the Louvre Museum. The 2nd-century B.C. sculpture and its monumental staircase will be re-opening this summer. A must-see. Click here to see a video of the restoration project in progress.

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Image courtesy of the Musée du Louvre

Musée d’Orsay“Vincent Van Gogh / Antonin Artaud, The Man Suicided by Society.” 5, Quai Anatole France, 75007 Paris. Twentieth century writer Antonin Artaud was asked to write a piece on Van Gogh to coincide with a 1947 art exhibition in Paris of his works. Artaud’s provocative thesis delineated how “Van Gogh’s exceptional lucidity made lesser minds uncomfortable.” And according to Artaud, it was these lesser minds that drove Van Gogh to suicide. From March 11 until July 6.

Grand Palais - “I, Augustus, Emperor of Rome.” 3, avenue du Général Eisenhower 75008 Paris. To commemorate the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ death, the Grand Palais is hosting a fascinating exhibition on his life and Roman times during his reign. A selection of  statues, reliefs, frescoes, furniture, silver as well as the reconstruction of a villa from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius round out this historical exhibition. From March 19 to July 13.

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Poster courtesy of the RMN Grand Palais

Musée Jacquemart-André“Watteau to Fragonard, les Fêtes Galantes.” 158 Boulevard Haussmann, 75008 Paris, France.  The jewel-like Jacquemart-André Museum welcomes a fabulous new exhibition of 18th-century French painting focusing on love scenes in lush pastoral settings. A sumptuous ode to a bygone era. From March 14 to July 21.

Musée Marmottan - “The Impressionists in Private: One Hundred Masterpieces from Private Collections.” 2 Rue Louis Boilly, 75016 Paris. This exquisite exhibition at the Marmottan Museum brings together 100 Impressionist works borrowed from private owners. You’ll want to make a point to see these pieces that have never been on view publicly until now. Until July 6.

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Poster courtesy of the Musée Marmottan

Musée Rodin“Mapplethorpe-Rodin.” 79, rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris. This intriguing exhibition compares and contrasts the sculpture of Auguste Rodin with the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. Similarities in themes and subjects abound. From April 8 until September 21.

Palais Galliera - “Coming into Fashion, a Century of Photography at Condé Nast.” 10, Avenue Pierre-1er-de-Serbie, 75116 Paris. The fashion museum of Paris is putting on this wonderful exhibition featuring 100 years of fashion photography. From March 1 to May 25. Then beginning in summer, the Palais Galliera is hosting “Fashion in the 50’s,” a superb show noting the ‘New look’ created by Christian Dior in 1947 and the fashion revolution that followed. From July 3 to November 15.

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Poster courtesy of the Palais Galliera

Musée du Luxembourg“Joséphine.” 19, rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris. This special exhibition features art and objects relating to the Empress Joséphine, first wife of Napoleon, at the bicentennial of her death. From March 12 until June 29.

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Poster courtesy of the Musée du Luxembourg 

Centre Pompidou“Henri Cartier-Bresson.” 19, rue Beaubourg, 75004 Paris. Lovers of photography will enjoy this retrospective devoted to the superbly talented twentieth-century French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Until June 9.

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Poster courtesy of the Centre Pompidou

Musée d’Histoire Naturelle “Night.” Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, 36 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 75005 Paris. This year, Paris’s Natural History Museum has put together an amazing interdisciplinary exhibit on the nocturnal world. Visitors will be fascinated by informative and interactive displays around four themes: The Night Sky, Night in Nature, Sleep at Night, and Night Myths and Monsters. Until November 3.

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Poster courtesy of the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle

French Champagne for All Occasions Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

If you are ever invited to a dinner party in France, what you won’t get is a tour of the home. Whether your French hosts’ abode is un appartement en ville (an apartment in town), une maison à la campagne (a house in the country), or une villa au bord de la mer (a house by the sea), you are likely to see only the living room and dining room. No gathering in the kitchen as the meal is being prepared, nor any guided visits of the rest of the house as is often de rigueur (the thing to do) in America. In France, ça ne se fait pas (it just isn’t done).

What you are very likely to experience, at the beginning of the most casual of French meals or at a more formal affair, is a glass of Champagne. The French have figured out that you don’t need a wedding or anniversary or boat baptism to drink the most famous wine in the world. Opening a bottle of Champagne creates a special occasion all its own, transforming an ordinary moment into a festive and memorable event.

Of course, a little bubbly goes beyond the dinner party. When I am in Paris, a must on my social calendar is the refined and intimate Champagne bar at the Hôtel Trocadéro Dokhan’s in the 16th arrondissement. Mood is everything in this cozy space entirely paneled in 18th century gilded boiseries (wood paneling). Tall candles illuminate every table. After a full day of work or visiting friends or taking in art shows or seeking out the latest and greatest in la Capitale (Paris), there is nothing I like better than to sink into one of the deep armchairs and contemplate the special Champagne offerings of the week. Or I let myself be tempted by the regular Champagne menu. As the first Champagne bar in Paris and arguably still the best, Le Dokhan’s Bar pours over 70 varieties of fine Champagne at any given time.

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The ambiance doesn’t stop there. The knowledgeable sommeliers can tell you anything and everything about how Champagne is made. They also can share fascinating details about about the various offerings from the small Champagne houses which are rarely seen in the U.S. And after you have chosen your glass or flight of Champagne, the sommelier then emerges from behind the bar with a dazzling tray of crystal glasses–tulips, coupes, flutes, and goblets of various sizes and shapes. You get to choose your bubbly AND the type of glass you will drink it in. Only in France!

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On a recent visit to Le Dokhan’s, I chose the featured millésime (vintage) Champagne in a violet crystal flute. My good friend Laura decided on the brut Champagne in a tulip. We sipped our sparkling apéritifs while enjoying the warm and salty gougères (gourmet cheese puffs) that are a specialty of the house. It was an instant fête (party).

Here are a few more festive photos of past Champagne moments at Le Dokhan’s…

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If you happen to be in Paris for Valentine’s Day tomorrow, you won’t want to miss the special romantic evening at Le Dokhan’s Bar starting at 6:30pm. For the very first time, they will be offering a duo tasting of the incredible Billecart Salmon Rosé and the rare Amour de Deutz Champagnes. And they will be welcoming Cathy Kelly for some live jazz. The Champagne and jazz evening is 53 euros per person. As always, advance reservations are recommended at Le Dokhan’s.

As you might imagine, Champagne is plentiful in Paris, and it’s easy to opt for a Champagne moment at this special bar or at any café or restaurant. But sometimes those Champagne occasions find you.

One chilly January night in Paris, an American friend and I were walking to dinner at a restaurant in the 7th arrondissement. As we approached la Tour Eiffel, it was bathed in a golden glow courtesy of the 335 spotlights that come on each day at sunset. We took a flurry of photos of the Iron Lady at marvelous angles.

 

Then it just so happened that I paused directly under the center of the Eiffel Tower as the clock struck 8pm. And voilà, the Tower exploded in a vertical shower of twinkling white lights…and so much did those little white lights feel like sparkling bubbles, I suddenly had the sensation of standing inside a glass of Champagne. It was a mystical experience worthy of Dom Perignon.

After that night, for me, the Eiffel Tower lost its “been there, done that” overtouristed patina. It has even re-earned a place on my Paris favorites list. Now all I have to do is tote a bottle of bubbly one evening to that cherished spot and raise a real glass when the sparling lights Champagne moment comes around again.

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NB: LE Champagne is the sparkling wine made in LA Champagne, the province northeast of Paris. Any sparkling wine made outside this region, whether in France or elsewhere in the world, cannot technically be called Champagne. Vintners will sometimes put la méthode champenoise (the Champagne method) on their wine labels to indicate that their sparkling wine made in the same fashion as true Champagne.

A version of this article was first published on May 14, 2008

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

You can find a variety of French Champagnes at your local U.S. wine shops and grocery stores. If you want a French bubbly for Valentine’s Day but without the Champagne prices, you might try a nice sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne or Crémant de Loire. Both Burgundy and the Loire valley produce lovely sparkling wines that are often available in the U.S. - at half the price of typical Champagnes.

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Whatever your choice of sparkling wine, be sure and have a nice toast together French style – make eye contact and wish everyone “Santé” (to your health) or “Tchin-Tchin” (pronounced ‘chin-chin,’ it’s an onomatopoeia intended to mimic the clinking sound glasses make when they touch). In other words, “Cheers!”

My Favorite French Sandwich Wednesday, Jan 29 2014 

Even with all their gourmet and ultra-gourmet cuisine, the French do have a sandwich culture. They eat sandwiches for many of the same reasons Americans do – they’re quick, they’re portable and sometimes, you just don’t need a full fork-and-knife meal. Still, like so many cultures, the French have their way of doing sandwiches.

In last week’s article on fabulous French butter (click here to read), we mentioned the very common but so good sandwich jambon-beurre – the classic ham and butter on baguette. From there, the French might add to it a hard cheese such as emmenthal for an even nuttier flavor. A good American friend of mine who goes regularly to France says the jambon-fromage is his preferred French sandwich – though minus the butter. Nowadays, in addition to these classics, you’ll find a bit more variety including baguette sandwiches with brie cheese, or a mozzarella-tomato combo or a tuna-lettuce-tomato offering. You can buy these baguette sandwiches in France at most boulangeries (bakeries), at open-air markets, and at sandwich stands at train stations, gas stations, airports and special events. They’ll be handed to you wrapped in paper along with one napkin – yes, just one napkin?!

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A French sandwich shop at the Gare de Lyon in Paris

At the festive open-air market in Vaison-la-Romaine in Provence a few months ago, I saw an enterprising salami vendor wanting to make his enormous selection of saucissons secs and cured meats more accessible to potential customers. He had lined up mini baguette sandwiches ready to emporter (take away). In addition to a mini jambon-fromage, he had a small salami version so you didn’t even have to wait to get home to cut your own saucisson for a sandwich.

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A runner up for my favorite French sandwich would be the traditional but pretty amazing croque-monsieur. What’s not to like about ham, gruyère cheese and béchamel sauce layered on white bread and served piping hot? Accompanied by a small green salad with vinaigrette, the croque-monsieur is perfect lunchtime (and inexpensive) meal option at French cafés and brasseries all over the country.

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There are also intriguing variations on the typical croque monsieur. The popular Le Comptoir restaurant in Paris’s 6th arrondissement serves a smoked salmon croque monsieur with a touch of caviar on top. C’est absolument délicieux!

My all time favorite French sandwich, however, would have to be the tartine. The tartine is actually not a specific sandwich but a type of French sandwich. It’s basically an open-face model that can come with a large range of toppings and is served warm. Some think the tartine – note this is not tarte which means “tart” or “pie” in French – hearkens back to an earlier time when people would reheat leftovers by putting them on sliced bread and then toasting or grilling the bread over an open fire. Personally, I find the tartine simple, interesting and maybe a little less heavy since it only has one slice of bread.

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In any case, you’ll often see les tartines on casual restaurant menus in Paris and elsewhere. And very often, you’ll see these Parisian establishments touting les tartines served on pain Poilâne. For those not familiar, the Poilâne family bakery is the most famous in Paris and arguably one of the best. (Feel free to click here for a little background on this special boulangerie.) Slices of Poilâne’s large sourdough loaves make a perfect base for tartines.

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So it’s no wonder that Poilâne opened a chic little restaurant next to their Left Bank flagship bakery on the rue du Cherche-Midi in the 6th arrondissement featuring les tartines. Called Cuisine de bar, the restaurant is the perfect place to grab a nice but quick lunch in Paris. They offer about 15 different types of tartines – both vegetarian and otherwise – all day until 7pm. And while the French normally eat most everything with a knife and fork, they tell their customers that hands are perfectly ok for tartines. These lunchtime sandwiches are a bargain as well, running from 10 to 15 euros per tartine.

So the next time you’re in Paris or France, forget the American Subway sandwich shops that have invaded Europe and give les tartines a try. Add a nice glass of wine, and they make for a tasty, quick and very French meal. You’re sure to find some with toppings you like and that Poilâne bread in Paris is certainly not to be missed. Bon appétit!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

French tartines are super easy to make at home. For inspiration, the Poilâne bakery has a couple of wonderful little cookbooks for both savory and sweet tartines. I bought both at the Left Bank shop years ago – the savory version is entitled Les Meilleures Tartines de Lionel Poilâne and the sweet one is Les Meilleures Tartines Sucrées de Lionel Poilâne. You can purchase them at the Paris bakeries; there are two other outlets in Paris, one near the Eiffel Tower and one in the Marais. There are also two Poilâne boutiques in London if you happen to be there. Or you can order them online at www.poilane.com. They run about 15 euros apiece. Note that they come in French and English but sometimes stocks run low on either so be sure to inquire. Enjoy!

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Divine French Butter Sunday, Jan 19 2014 

If you’re fresh into New Year’s diet resolutions, you may not want to read this week’s post since it’s all about le beurre – that’s right, butter. The French adore butter. They use it to cook. They spread it on toasted baguettes for breakfast. They count on it in pastries and desserts. Simply put, the French know there’s no substitute for butter’s rich taste and flavor. But then, the French are not dealing with just any old butter – they use French butter.

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It’s hard to imagine that something as quotidien as butter would be worth noticing, even in France. You have to hand it to the French, though. They have that “je ne sais quoi” about so many things, including their beurre which is divine.

What is it that sets butter in France apart?

First, French butters just taste better. They have a depth of flavor and a nuttiness that’s missing in American butter. There is also a bit of a tang due to the cultured nature of French butter. More important, butters made in France have a higher butterfat content – and lower water content – than their counterparts in America. French butter has 82% or higher compared to just 80% in the U.S. It’s hard to believe a few points of butterfat would make a big difference but they do. Just ask any pastry chef on either side of the Atlantic.

There’s more to the French butter story, however.

You probably know that many of those amazing French cheeses are still made using traditional methods. Similarly, some French butters continue to be made the old-fashioned way. Take the Beurre d’Echiré for example. This sublime French butter is produced à l’ancienne (as in olden days) in the village of Echiré southwest of Poitiers in the Deux-Sèvres region of France. The stellar quality of the milk – due to the care taken with the cows that graze nearby, the slow pasteurization at low temperatures, the culturing process and resulting acidity, and the traditional churning methods in les barattes (oak barrels) produce a butter like no other. As one might expect, the Beurre d’Echiré has AOC / AOP status in recognition of its finesse and taste of the terroir, i.e. the particular place where it is made. Other AOC / AOP butters in France include the beurre d’Isigny from Normandy, butters from Charentes-Poitou (the region around Echiré) such as Celles-sur-Belle, and the beurre de Bresse from eastern France.

French butters come unsalted – or doux – and salted – either sel or demi-sel. Salted butter in France contains 3% salt which is added after churning. And half-salted butter, le beurre demi-sel, has between .5 and 3% salt. In Brittany, cooks often use salted butter in recipes – even in cakes – no doubt due to the abundance of wonderful sea salt gathered nearby, whereas the majority of French chefs and home cooks tend to use unsalted butter. Sometimes butter makers even add sea salt in large crystals which give the butter a slightly crunchy texture. I adore this variety on baguettes for breakfast. And if I’ve somehow bought beurre doux, I will sprinkle a bit of loose fleur de sel myself on top of the buttered baguette!

You can buy French butter at the supermarket where you’ll find a large selection typically wrapped in foil or waxed paper. Nowadays, they even have beurre allégé or léger (light butter) for those watching their waistlines. Note that this type of butter is ok for spreading on toast but not very good for cooking due to its high water content and additives. Alternatively, you can buy butter in bulk from cheese vendors at French open-air markets. On the amount, you can gesture how much you want or feel free give the metric system a try – half a kil0 or 500 grammes de beurre would be about a pound of butter, 250 grammes would equal about half a pound, and so on.

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For some reason, while the French slather butter on their baguettes for breakfast, they don’t tend to butter their bread at lunch or dinner. So unless you’re at an upscale restaurant in France, yummy French butter won’t automatically come with your basket of bread. You’ll have to ask for it. After getting your waiter’s attention with a nice “Monsieur!,” you can request butter by saying “Du beurre, s’il vous plaît.” You will be brought a small slab of butter or if you’re really lucky and your restaurant goes for the best, a small disk of beurre d’Echiré still wrapped in its gold foil. And at Ladurée’s restaurants in Paris, the French butter arrives in a special signature wrapper with twists at both ends so that it almost looks like candy.

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There are a couple of other French idiosyncrasies when it comes to butter. One of the most common sandwiches found in France is the jambon-beurre. It’s part of a baguette cut in half lengthwise, then spread with butter inside and layered with slices of ham. No mayo, no lettuce, no tomato. Just baguette and butter and ham. I also have dined with French friends who serve butter with the cheese course. I watched them as they first put butter on their bread and then added a nice chunk of Camembert or Brie or even Roquefort. Talk about over the top. I tried my cheese this way, and of course, it’s fantastically good. Let’s just hope that red wine really does cancel out the side effects of all that fat!

You may know that the unofficial symbol or mascot of France is the Gallic rooster. I have to think, though, that the real unofficial symbol of the country is la vache, or the cow. France is blessed with a geography and climate that favor cows and their tremendous milk production. Couple this with the special French savoir-faire for making glorious butter, cream and cheeses and you have a match made in heaven.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

Thanks to global trade, Americans can find several French butters at gourmet shops and upscale supermarkets across the country. I did a quick tour of some shops in Texas recently and saw some good offerings. Celles-sur-Belle and the beurre d’Isigny would be my top choices for spreading on baguettes or making cakes and pastries. There was even a butter with coarse sea salt from the Camargue in southern France. And the cost? Even though these butters are not cheap, their prices are fairly reasonable given that they are imported all the way from France.

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One butter that I see everywhere in France and quite often in the U.S. is the mass-produced Beurre Président. While it’s definitely a step up from American butter, le Beurre Président is pretty basic for France. So if you’re going to go for French butter, consider one of the top-notch versions. Or conduct a taste test at home and see which one(s) you prefer. After all, “A chacun son goût” which means ‘To each his own,’ or more literally, ‘Everyone to his taste’!

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NB: These days, there are a variety of American-made butters which are produced more according to French methods and have a higher butterfat content. Plugra would be one. Be sure to check your local markets for various options. 

Happy New Year ~ Bonne Année 2014! Tuesday, Dec 31 2013 

Bonjour, friends! As 2013 draws to a close and 2014 unfolds, I want to thank you for being a part of French Affaires this year. Whether you have joined us for French language classes or the French Cookbook Club or French travel and culture seminars or trips to France or personalized French travel planning or a little armchair travel via ‘French Affaires Weekly’ articles, your participation and enthusiasm mean a lot. I invite you to rester en ligne – “to stay tuned” as the French say - as there are even more wonderful things planned for the coming year. 

On that note, je vous souhaite tous une très bonne année 2014 pleine d’amour, de joie, de paix et de bonheur – I wish you all a very Happy New Year 2014, full of love, joy, peace and happiness!

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Love Paris-style at Ladurée on the Left Bank 

Merci et à bientôt (thanks and see you soon)!

Elizabeth New Seitz

French Affaires ~ www.frenchaffaires.com

A French Winter Garden Sunday, Dec 8 2013 

With the winter storm currently blanketing the U.S., I was reminded of an extraordinary cold and misty December day my husband and I spent at the gardens of Eyrignac in southwest France four years ago. For this week’s post, I pulled the following article from the French Affaires’ archives describing this magical, though chilly winter adventure. Enjoy – and stay warm!

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Wherever I am in France, I never pass up the chance to visit a garden. Even in winter, I find French landscapes and gardenscapes enchanting on many levels.

The Sunday after Christmas, my husband and I set out to experience the gardens of the Manoir d’Eyrignac (Eyrignac Manor) which boasts of le plus beau jardin du Périgord, or the most beautiful garden in Périgord. Located in southwest France, Périgord is the land of truffles, foie gras, walnuts, prehistoric sites, medieval villages, cliff-top castles, and the Dordogne and Lot rivers. Although the privately-held manor and its 18th century gardens are located on a back country road, numerous signs point the way to this verdant extravaganza near the picturesque town of Sarlat.

I had the Eyrignac gardens on my agenda as they are renowned for some of the finest topiary art in Europe. Various shades of green are highlighted throughout the four seasons with the artfully trimmed bushes and trees. It takes a team five full time gardeners to maintain the various ‘outdoor rooms’ on the grounds.

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Not a soul was at the Manoir d’Eyrignac when we arrived. Even the woman selling entrance tickets had to hike over from the business office to open up as she didn’t expect any visitors on this frosty, misty morning. We decided the 9,50 euros per person to get in was worth it to have the 4 hectare (10 acre) gardens to ourselves, cold or no cold.

The exquisite jardin français lies in front of the 17th century manor house. It was originally designed to be best seen from the second floor of the dwelling. Since I don’t know the owners and couldn’t see it from the house (!), my view is from the gardens back towards manor. Still, I think this was my favorite ‘room’ of the gardens.

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The gardens are accented by other old buildings on the property. The anciennes écuries (former stables) are situated next to the spring fed pond which provided water for the horses once upon a time…

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Two pavillons flank the courtyard in front of the manor house. There is the romanesque chapel which is still consecrated and where all the family members have been baptized…

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And the former dovecote was a sign of nobility in olden times…

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Another ‘outdoor room’ is the Allée des vases which is named for the Italian ceramic vases that line the grassy “path.” At this time of year, the bases are wrapped in black plastic to protect them and the plant roots from the cold. The tall evergreens lining the allée give a secret air to this part of the gardens.

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Next to the Allée des vases is a wide lawn with topiary bushes and fancy arabesques. I wonder if creating these shapes is a bit like painting or embroidering with plants??

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In other parts of the gardens, Asian-inspired elements complement the classical French garden designs. Several red lacquer archways provide eye-catching perspective points in the rose garden…

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And the red lacquer pagoda at the end of this trimmed garden path gives a touch of the exotic to les jardins. But the winter mist has toned down the red this particular morning…

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Even though the weather was a bit nippy and damp, we loved our ‘private visit’ to the jardins d’Eyrignac. We found it hauntingly beautiful on this winter’s day…and I think we will be spoiled when we go back in warm weather and have to share it with other garden lovers. But of course, there is more than enough beauty to go around in this lovely spot in France. Just to be sure to mind the signs to stay off the grass!

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The Jardins du manoir d’Eyrignac are open every day of the year. You can visit the web site for specific hours and directions: www.eyrignac.com.

This post originally appeared on January 8, 2010.

Fall Flavors in France Thursday, Nov 7 2013 

There’s something about cool temperatures, fires in the fireplace and leaves changing color that makes me want to completely ditch summer ingredients and go all out for fall cooking. That first whiff of smoke in the autumn air brings the hardy flavors of mushrooms, root vegetables, nuts, game birds and other fall favorites to mind. All over France, restaurants and home cooks alike make the most of market-fresh fall offerings to prepare French dishes of the season. So in the spirit of celebrating fall, this week’s post is devoted highlighting France’s fall food wardrobe and ideas for putting French fall flavors on your table!

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Vegetables ~ Légumes

French onions, shallots and leeks are spectacular in the fall. Pencil-thin and tender, leeks in France – les poireaux – are terrific in soups and also make a great accompaniment to main dishes. All kinds of fall squash are front and center in French autumn cooking as well, including the deep orange potimarron variety of pumpkin. And root vegetables are a dream at this time of year. Celery root in particular is one of my favorites as I adore making a fresh céleri rémoulade salad with it. Or you can braise a variety of root vegetables and serve them as a first course or as a side to meats or poultry.  

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 Fresh celery root and potimarron pumpkins

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 Braising root vegetables on the stove…

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 The finished dish – braised vegetables with fall greens

And speaking of greens, those cool temps bring out the best in French lettuces. The gorgeous leaves almost make you want to eat nothing but salad…almost.

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Mushrooms ~ Champignons

France has dozens of types of mushrooms and they come into their own in the fall and winter. I am partial to les cèpes (porcini mushrooms) for their earthy, woodsy flavor. Cream of cèpes soup always gets my attention on a French menu. And the bistrot La Fontaine de Mars in Paris serves a wonderful cèpes flan as a starter. When I see it on the menu there, I know for certain that fall has arrived.

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Cream of cèpes soup at a little country restaurant in southwest France

Game ~ Gibier

Wild game in France is both a hunter’s and a cook’s delight. French hunters are passionate about shooting game birds, wild boar, deer and rabbits. Game – sometimes wild, though more often farm-raised – makes it way on to French tables in the city and the countryside alike. One December in Bordeaux, I tried the dish of the day at La Tupina, a terrific restaurant specializing in game and the cuisine of southwest France. It was ‘lièvre à la royale,’ or wild hare – get ready for this – in red wine and blood sauce with truffles. It was such an authentic version of the dish that I even managed to bite down on some metal shot a couple of times!

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Whole rabbit at an outdoor market in Paris

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 ‘Lièvre à la royale,’ an incredibly rich dish

If you haven’t branched out from chicken to other birds when dining in France, I highly recommend giving them a try. Guinea fowl – la pintade – is outstanding. Other birds such as quail, pigeon and pheasant are also excellent. However, I once had woodcock at a chic, Michelin-starred Parisian restaurant and concluded it was way too gamey tasting to be enjoyed – quel dommage (what a shame).

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Braised guinea fowl and endive with mushrooms and walnuts 

Nuts ~ Noix

In the fall, market vendors are selling freshly-harvested walnuts and chestnuts for use in both sweet and savory dishes. The region of Périgord in southwest France is known for its amazing walnut groves so many French nut recipes come from this area. One of my favorites is the ‘Gâteau aux noix,’ or Walnut Cake. This walnut vendor has his wooden hammer ready in case you want to try one of his nuts!

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To wrap up our French fall flavors tour, we can’t forget to mention desserts which feature seasonal fruits such as apples, pears, quince and plums – whether in cakes, tarts, clafoutis or other tempting sweets. When thinking of a fall French menu, consider the fruits as well. They make a great ending to a hearty fall French meal. I hope you enjoyed some of these French culinary joys of autumn – and as the French would say, Vive l’automne!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

Another fall French flavor not to be missed is the Beaujolais nouveau wine which makes its debut in France the third Thursday of November each year and in the U.S. the day after. The young fruity wine from Burgundy inspires Beaujolais wine festivals around the world every fall. The French-American Chamber of Commerce of Dallas-Ft. Worth hosts the largest Beaujolais festival in the U.S. – this year’s 30th anniversary celebration will be bigger than ever with French wines (Beaujolais and others), French beers and foods in addition to entertainment and a silent auction. Make plans now to come and enjoy these many tastes of France at this festival or one near you!

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Beaujolais & Beyond Wine Festival “All for Wine, Wine for All!”

Friday, November 22, 2013

7 to 9:30pm

Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas near Dallas, TX

Tickets are $60 for French Affaires’ readers (regular price is $65) for unlimited food & wine, a commemorative glass & live entertainment. Click here to order your tickets & for more info.

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Getting from Charles de Gaulle airport into Paris Friday, Oct 25 2013 

If you are like most travelers to France, you want everything to be perfect from the moment you set foot on French soil. To that end, this week’s post covers the various ways you can get from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport into the city. I have used each of them over the years and they all work fine. Whatever method you choose just depends on your preferences and how much you want to spend.

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First, though, a note about Paris airports. The city’s main international airport is Charles de Gaulle-Roissy, located about 23 kilometers northeast of the center of Paris. The French tend to call it “Roissy” (pronounced ‘rwah-see’) so don’t be surprised when they don’t say Charles de Gaulle. Most U.S. and international flights arrive here as well as a fair amount of domestic European traffic. Incidentally, the word Roissy comes from the name of the village near where the airport was built. It used to have a beautiful castle – the Château de Roissy – but today only a few ruins remain.

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A vestige of the Château de Roissy still standing near CDG Airport

Paris’s second international airport is Orly, located south of the city. While some international flights go in and out of Orly, it handles primarily domestic French and European flights. You may have heard about the original Paris airport of Le Bourget northeast of the city. It is now a hub for business and private planes as well as the location for the famous Paris Air Show held each year. And finally, there is the Beauvais airport located about 80 kilometers north of Paris. Beauvais serves low-cost European airlines such as Ryanair.

But back to your arrival at the Charles de Gaulle-Roissy (CDG) airport. Once you disembark, you will go through French passport control and get your passport stamped for entry into France. Next, you will proceed to the baggage claim for your flight (announced on your plane and posted on monitors inside the terminal). In my experience, bags sometimes come off right away while at other times, it can take a while. You just never know. Once you have your bags, it is a good idea to put them on one of the free luggage carts stored next to the baggage carousel. Finally, you will go through French customs – usually just a formality for foreigners entering France – and out into the CDG terminal. If you take American Airlines, British Airways, Delta or Air France to Paris, this will be CDG Terminal 2.

Now you are ready for that first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower! Here are your options to get from Charles de Gaulle-Roissy Terminal 2 into central Paris:

RER Trains

The RER (which stands for réseau express regional) is the Paris suburban train system. The RER’s Line B train goes from the Charles de Gaulle airport into central Paris every 10 to 15 minutes and intersects with the regular Métro lines there. Taking the RER into Paris is quick – it’s about 35 minutes to the Gare du Nord station. And you don’t have to worry about running into a traffic jam on the roadways which happens frequently. It’s also very economical. One-way tickets to central Paris cost about 10 euros. However, if you have a lot of bulky luggage and bags, going through the turnstyles and down into the station to get to the RER train can be a real challenge, especially if some of the elevators and escalators are not working.

To reach the train station from your arrival point in CDG Terminal 2, look for signs saying SNCF/TGV or Gare/Station. The RER trains depart from the TGV station located near Halls D/E in Terminal 2. You can roll your luggage cart through the terminal and then take one of the elevators down into the station itself. Note that if you take the escalator, you can’t take the cart with you. You can buy RER tickets to Paris from the automated machines marked “Billeterie Ile-de-France” located in the train station. You’ll want to have cash on hand as often U.S. credit cards don’t work in these machines. Alternatively, I like to buy mine at from a live person at one of the CDG information desks located in the terminal – just keep your eyes out for them as you walk towards the airport train station.

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CDG Airport with Terminal 2 in the foreground – the black box shows the Gare TGV / RER B station

If you decide to take the RER into Paris, here is the essential thing to keep in mind: Be sure to take the RER B express train that goes from the airport DIRECTLY to the Gare du Nord stop or beyond. Every other train is usually an express into Paris – the non-express RER B stops several times in the suburbs prior to arriving in town. You just need to look at the display board to see which stops the next RER train is making and avoid the trains with many stops between CDG and Paris Gare du Nord. Not only does it take longer but these suburban areas are not very safe. Stories are common about well-dressed travelers being accosted for their money and valuables on the RER B making suburb stops going into Paris.

RER B arrival stations in Paris are Gare du Nord, Châtelet les Halles, St Michel/Notre Dame, Luxembourg, Port Royal and Denfert-Rochereau. From there, you can take the Métro on to the closest stop to your hotel or apartment or take a taxi the last bit of the journey.

Roissybus

The other economical way to get from CDG into the center of Paris is the Roissybus. Managed by the Paris transport system RATP, these buses leave the various CDG terminals every 15 minutes and go directly to the Paris Opéra in the 9th arrondissement. The trip takes about an hour if road traffic is moving smoothly. If not – and this is the downside to taking the bus – it can take quite a bit longer. I often will opt for the bus if I arrive at CDG during off-peak hours, ie not during morning or evening rush hour traffic or during lunchtime as the roads into Paris can back up then too.

To find the Roissybus departure points in each terminal, you’ll want to look for the signs saying “Paris by bus” or “Roissybus.” Tickets cost about 10 euros and are sold near the boarding point. There is space for luggage on the buses and since you’re above ground, you don’t have to worry about lugging your bags on escalators or elevators or through turnstyles. Once at the Opéra, you can take a taxi to your final destination or enter the Métro there. For more info, click here for the Roissybus brochure and look for the instructions in English.

Air France Coach

The other CDG airport bus service is run by Air France though travelers on any airline can use this option. Their coaches depart CDG every 30 minutes and serve various stops in Paris including the Gare Montparnasse, Gare de Lyon, Place de l´Etoile/Arc de Triomphe and Porte Maillot. In particular, the Air France coach line 2 takes about an hour to reach Paris and makes stops at Porte Maillot and the Etoile. The Air France coach line 4 goes to the Gare Montparnasse and the Gare de Lyon, taking about one hour and 15 minutes. Of course, both of these routes can take longer if traffic is backed up.

Tickets for the Air France bus cost about 17 euros per person one way and can be purchased ahead of time online or from the bus driver at the airport. There is space for luggage on the coaches, and porters are available at both the departure and arrival points to help with bags. For more details, click here to visit the Air France Coach web site.

Taxis

The plus side of taking a taxi into Paris is that they drop you off exactly where you want to go. If there are no traffic issues, you can get into the heart of Paris in about 40 to 45 minutes. It goes without saying that a traffic jam means you’ll have a longer ride as well as a higher fare.

To take a taxi from CDG, follow the airport signs that say “Taxi.” You will exit the airport terminal building to find the taxi line outside. Note that you can take your luggage cart out there with you. There will be a person coordinating the taxi line – wait until they flag you to get into the next taxi. If you need to pay by credit card, be sure and say so to the taxi coordinator as not all Parisian taxis take plastic. The maximum number of people a taxi can take is three unless it’s a van. The cost to go into central Paris is about 50 to 60 euros plus a slight surcharge for each piece of luggage. Occasionally, there can be a long wait for taxis at CDG when several flights come into the same terminal at the same time, but I don’t run into this all that often. Regarding tipping, you can tip the driver up to 5% of the fare for good service.

Private Drivers

After a long overseas flight, it can be really nice to know that a private driver will be waiting there at the airport just for you. They meet you right outside the customs area inside the terminal and hold a sign with your name on it so there’s no way to miss them. They will help carry your bags out to the car – or roll your cart if you still have it – and will whisk you directly to your hotel or apartment in Paris, traffic permitting.

Private drivers must be booked in advance; this can be done through your hotel or various companies. I also have companies I work with regularly to book transfers for French Affaires’ clients. If you are ever interested in this, feel free to email me at info.french@frenchaffaires.com. The cost for private drivers starts at about 100 euros one way for two people and goes up from there. Some hotels and companies charge exorbitant rates for a one-way trip (sometimes 300 or 400 euros or more) so it pays to shop around. You will have to provide the car company with your flight information so they can track your arrival time. Be sure and know their policy for pick-ups in case you are extremely delayed, ie an hour and a half or more. Payment is sometimes done in advance or upon your arrival in Paris, depending on the vendor. You can tip if you want to – up to 5% of your contracted rate. If you are sharing a private driver with several friends and use a reasonably-priced company, it can be a good deal and you avoid the wear and tear of public transport.

Other Tips

When you arrive at CDG and exit customs, you may be approached by individuals asking if you need transport into Paris. Beware! These are not officially licensed drivers and they often charge more than the going taxi rate. Just say “Non, merci” and walk on. Note that they are very skilled at trying to convince you that they are just like a taxi but say “Non” firmly and WALK ON. I once fell for this in Sweden and later was so annoyed that I got taken in. Ah well, live and learn.

There are also shared ride options from CDG such as SuperShuttle. The up side is that they run about 25 euros per person one way so are more cost-effective than a taxi and you do get dropped off at your destination. The down side is that you may have to wait there at the airport for the other passengers before heading into Paris. And of course, you could also be the last person dropped off once in Paris so shared rides can take a while.

To sum up, it’s helpful to know your airport transfer options. Then you can decide how quickly you want to get into Paris and how much you want to spend. Once you’re on the road or on the train, just sit back and enjoy the ride into the city. The Eiffel Tower will be waiting!

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