French Website of the Year ~ Castle vs. Palace in France Wednesday, Jan 21 2015 

Not long ago, we featured our choice for the ‘French Coffee Table Book of the Decade.’ Click here for a refresh of that post and our interview with the book’s French photographer. Well, now we’ve got a front-runner for the French website of the year. And this is no easy feat given all the French-related content out there. Have you come across the Château de Gudanes? If not, you’re in for a BIG French treat.

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Built in the 1700’s on the site of a former fortress, the Château de Gudanes was designed by the noted French architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, known for his pure lines and neoclassical symmetry. Some of his high-profile works include the Petit Trianon at Versailles, the Ecole Militaire near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Palais de Compiègne outside Paris, the Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux and the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The château is located in a remote valley in the Midi-Pyrénées region close to the Spanish border. An Australian family purchased the property in 2013 and has begun a massive restoration project to bring the château back to life.

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Over the centuries, the Château de Gudanes had been severely neglected. While the exterior walls were still standing, the interior was une horreur, as the French would say. The roof had collapsed in four places resulting in extensive water damage, mould and decay. Most of the inside was rubble and had become completely inaccessible.

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But the building’s bones were fantastic and the property’s history fascinant, so despite the daunting challenges the family has pressed on. Their plans for the château continue to evolve but a restaurant, hotel and faciltities for weddings and events are part of the picture. Most importantly, the family’s incredible commitment and devotion are slowly bringing the château back to its former glory…

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What makes this website so fabulous is not only the fairytale rescue of the ’beautiful maiden’ but also the almost daily discovery of marvelous decorative and architectural elements everywhere. These amazing finds are recorded in the website’s blog called the Captain’s Log.”

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Readers of these pages know our love for beautiful French things and also la patine du temps – the patina of age – so it’s no surprise that the Château de Gudanes and its gorgeous, well-done website caught our eye. So take a moment to browse more photos of the property’s restoration project and see if it doesn’t get your vote for the ‘French Website of the Year.’ As for us, we’ll be following the renovations – we can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

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~ Photos courtesy of the Château de Gudanes ~

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

Closer to home – i.e. Paris – there are numerous spectacular French châteaux and palaces which have been wonderfully restored and are well worth visiting. Just a day or half day trip from the city center, these magnificent estates combine exquisite architecture, art, decor and gardens for a matchless French cultural experience.

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To make visiting these French jewels really worth your while, French Affaires and SMU Continuing Studies are partnering to offer the upcoming seminar Magnificent Châteaux Near Paris: Day Excursions in the Ile de France on January 26th and February 2nd in Dallas. This visually illustrated course will also cover the difference between a château (castle) and a palais (palace) in France as well as the architectural history of French castles through the centuries. There are still a few spots open – come join us for a fascinating class and a bit of armchair travel to France!

“Magnificent Chateaux Near Paris: Day Excursions in the Ile De France”: In this rich two-part seminar, Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz will explore the history, architecture, art and gardens of gorgeous French châteaux and estates just outside Paris such as Vaux-le-Vicomte, Versailles, Fontainebleau, Chantilly, Vincennes, Compiègne and many more. You’ll also be fascinated by the famous personages who built and lived in these glorious castles and palaces. Included in this illustrated lecture series are inclusive handouts complete with details on how to visit these stars of French architecture and culture, plus a reading and film list for further exploration. After this class, you’ll want to put each of these châteaux on your France travel list! 

Date: Two Mondays – January 26 & February 2, 2015
Time: 7 to 9pm
Cost: $79 per person early registration. Advance sign-up through SMU Continuing Studies program – please click here to register.
Location: SMU main campus – Dallas, TX 75205. Classroom & parking information provided by SMU upon registration.

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~ Le Petit Trianon at Versailles ~

Vive la France ~ Your Opinion Please Wednesday, Jan 14 2015 

Our heart goes out to Paris and to the families of those whose lives were lost in last week’s terror attacks. But the City of Light will rebound. It will renew itself. And Paris’s beauty and spirit will shine through. Prayers for all involved.

A recent, very Paris photo from French Affaires’ friend and reader Kathy Boyett captures the enduring spirit of the city…

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Mindful of this tragedy but hopeful for the return of the regular rhythms of daily French life, we kick off 2015 here at French Affaires. We are excited for another year full of French events, classes, culinary offerings, insider trips, personalized travel planning, and more. We’ll also continue to share a variety of articles and insights about France and French culture via French Affaires Weekly. A propos, we’d love your input on French topics you like and what you’d like to see more of. Is it French food and wine? Is it fashion? History? Art? Museums? Films? Gardens? Antiques? People profiles? Holidays and festivals? Open-air markets? Daily life and culture? Or are you interested in travel tips? Language tips? Other?

Please take a quick moment to send us your thoughts. You can use the comment section below or feel free to email us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com . We have some great topics already in the works and would like to add your ideas to the mix. As always, feel free to peruse the French Affaires Weekly archive for previous postings that might interest you.

We also are working on some fun French giveaways to go along with French Affaires Weekly postings this year. Stay tuned for your chance to receive special France-related treats.

Do drop a line. We look forward to hearing from you. And vive la France!

King’s Cakes in Paris Tuesday, Jan 6 2015 

Move over les bûches de Noël (yule log cakes), it’s time for les galettes des rois (king’s cakes). In France, the holiday sweets keep coming even after Christmas with Epiphanie, also known as la Fête des rois (Three Kings Day, or Feast of the Epiphany), and its signature galette des rois. You can’t miss Epiphany in Paris as just about every Parisian pâtisserie sports loads of these round, golden disks in its windows from December until January.

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It’s proof that the sacred continues to infuse French life and cuisine even if fewer people actually observe this holy day. According to the Bible, three kings or Magi came to pay homage to the baby Jesus and brought him gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are” recounts this journey. Today, the arrival of the Magi and the news of the birth of Jesus to the Gentiles is celebrated by Christians twelve days after Christmas on January 6. This beautiful panel of stained glass from the Basilica of St. Denis just north of Paris illustrates the Epiphany events…

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So what exactly is a galette des rois? In most parts of France, the galette is made of puff pastry filled with a delicious almond pastry cream called frangipane. The Provence version, however, is more like brioche, a rich egg bread, and is studded with candied fruits. What makes the cake and the religious feast eternally festive in France is the tradition of hiding a lucky charm, or fève (literally a “bean”) inside the cake. Even though many pastry chefs today use small porcelain figurines instead of a bean, family and friends still gather around the table as the cake is cut. And whoever receives the piece with the fève inside is king or queen for the day (or year) and wears the gold paper crown that accompanies the galette.

A few years ago, a friend and I went on a girls’ shopping trip to Paris in January. We decided to prepare our own Sunday-night dinner and so shopped at the nearby Boulevard Raspail morning market for provisions. As it was a casual supper, we bought soup that was prête à manger (ready to eat), une quiche aux poireaux (leek quiche), de la salade (lettuce) for a beautiful green salad with homemade vinaigrette, and some stunning brie au lait cru (raw milk brie) for our cheese course. And since it was fête des rois time, we noticed the bread and pastry vendor was selling les galettes des rois, both whole cakes and quarter portions. Perfect! We bought a quarter and took our market loot back to the Paris apartment where I was staying. After a thoroughly simple and satisfying meal, we cut the kings’ cake and in my one-eighth piece was an adorable porcelain magi kneeling with his gift for the infant Christ. What are the odds, I thought. And I was reine (queen) for the day in Paris!

Interestingly, les fèves have become quite collectible in recent years. I keep seeing flea market vendors all over France with huge tables of the porcelain charms for sale. Here are selections from some marchands de fèves (lucky charm vendors – what a job!) at the Aix-en-Provence and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue antique markets.

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If you’ve shopped around lately in Paris for a king’s cake, you have probably come across ‘mod’ versions at some hip Paris pastry shops. Ultra-cool French pastry chefs always like to put their particular take on traditional pastry offerings and galettes des rois are no exception. Citrus, pistachio, chocolate, pineapple, coconut and other exotic flavors are showing up in king’s cakes at fancy pâtisseries such as Fauchon, Pierre Hermé and others. Click here for a quick article from the French newspaper Le Figaro on this phenomenon.

Many of the big pastry shop names also offer a special collection or coffret de fèves each year that fans can collect. This year’s set from from Hugo & Victor features four monuments of Paris for 30 euros. And Fauchon has a limited edition of seven fèves 2015 for 60 euros – only 250 sets will be sold. (Be sure and click on the links for photos.) While these shiny new sets are tempting, it might be more fun – and memorable – to put together one’s own set by rummaging through the colorful piles of figures at the French flea markets.

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Bonne fête!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

On the other hand, you can go fève-less for the fète des rois in America. If you’re looking to buy a French-style king’s cake in the U.S. this year, be aware that many pastry shops now are making the king’s cakes without the prize – see this article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. It seems that some American pastry shops are leaving out the fève or giving it to customers on the side in order to avoid any potential lawsuit due to choking on the charm. Sans blague (no joke). All the more reason then to celebrate Epiphanie in France!