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.

IMG_1251comp

IMG_2728comp

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).

_MG_3541comp

_MG_3522comp

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.

_MG_3569comp

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…

IMG_2628comp

IMG_6156comp

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…

IMG_6123comp

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

_MG_3580comp

IMG_2603comp

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…

IMG_2572comp

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…

IMG_2588comp

IMG_2590comp

IMG_2591comp

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’…

IMG_6047comp

IMG_6048comp

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…

_MG_3529comp

_MG_3533comp

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…

IMG_2680comp

IMG_2682comp

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!

_MG_3719comp

IMG_2721comp

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.

jardins-chaumont

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.

JC

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.

IMG_1096comp

IMG_1114comp

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.

IMG_1189comp

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.

IMG_1256comp

IMG_1253comp

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

IMG_1274comp

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

IMG_1154comp

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

IMG_1314comp

IMG_1335comp

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!

IMG_1349comp

IMG_1351comp

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.

IMG_1312comp

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…

photo (7)

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

IMG_1216comp

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.

IMG_1141comp

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.

IMG_1086comp

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.

chopb

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!

imagefest_fichier_fr_festival_affiche_flyer_bagatelle_2015_recto

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.

Picturebcomp

Parc de Bagatelle
Route de Sèvres à Neuilly
75016 Paris

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.

IMG_4177comp

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

IMG_3897comp

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

IMG_4161comp

IMG_3904comp

IMG_3902comp

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.

IMG_3909comp

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

IMG_3910comp

IMG_3911comp

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.

IMG_4244comp

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…

IMG_3989comp

IMG_3992comp

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.

IMG_4087comp

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.

IMG_4005comp

IMG_4008comp

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).

IMG_4011comp

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!

IMG_4149comp 

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.

IMG_4158comp

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.

IMG_4184comp

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!

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.

 CG1

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.

 CG6

CG5

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.

CG13

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…

CG14

CG15

CG7

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.”

CG8

CG10

CG12

CG19

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!

CG4

~ 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.

VV

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.

PA140933

~ Le Petit Trianon at Versailles ~

The French Coffee Table Book of the Decade Wednesday, Aug 20 2014 

Not long ago, I promised myself no more books. As a former French professor and a book lover in general, I have way too many books and can’t seem to edit my collection. But this past spring, a fabulous new French volume appeared that I just couldn’t pass up.

CBcvr

Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille celebrates the magnificent restoration of the historic Normandy château Champ de Bataille by French owner and world famous interior designer Jacques Garcia. Garcia acquired the run-down property in 1992 and slowly began to bring the 17th and 18th century gem back to life. The result is a truly stunning French architectural, decorative and garden experience which is brilliantly recorded in this oversized coffee table book. Two-inches thick and full of exquisite photos by the extraordinarily talented French photographer Eric Sander, the French book was published by Flammarion in France last winter and the English version in the U.S. this spring.

I recently had the chance to meet with Eric Sander in Paris. We had an engaging conversation about his photography for Champ de Bataille and some of his other projects. Eric began his photojournalism career in the late 70’s and since then, his work has appeared in major magazines and publications worldwide along with more than twenty books. For the past several years, he has focused more and more on capturing beautiful French estates and their gardens through photography. Here are some excerpts from our conversation about Jacques Garcia’s baroque and rococo masterpiece (translated from the French):

Elizabeth: How did it happen that you were chosen as photographer for the book?

Eric: It was a wonderful series of events. In 2008, I was working on a book of the Manoir d’Eyrignac in southwest France and had a great relationship with the owner Patrick Sermadiras. During the project, he would often say to me, ‘Tu sais, tu devrais aller voir le jardin du Champ de Bataille, c’est le plus beau jardin privé de France.’ (You know, you should go see the gardens of Champ de Bataille. It’s the most beautiful private garden in France.) One day, he called Patrick Pottier, Champ de Bataille’s landscape designer, to introduce me and to tell him that I was going to call him about taking a few photos sometime. All that led to my going there in October. 

October 10, 2008 – 8:40am: “It had frozen during the night for the first time that season. It was a good sign. When I arrived at the château, I was warmly greeted by Jacques Garcia who then said: ‘Hurry, Eric. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen such beautiful light.’ He suggested that I go up to the third floor balcony. I was running behind one of his staff who showed me the way. We went through a moody corridor full of stuffed wild animals, a leopard, a lion, an insect collection – it looked like a movie set – before finally arriving upstairs out of breath. And I opened the window to the most beautiful morning ever in the world. Then, startled by the noise, a group of pigeons suddenly took flight right in front of me. Totally surprised, I changed my camera focus quickly and had enough time to grab four images. It was a gift from heaven – my camera was in the right mode to capture the birds…It was an extraordinary moment.”

Jardin

That morning, the light was so exceptional, the kind that one rarely sees in a lifetime. I ran around for two hours taking photos. I was truly amazed by the size of the property. Then I rejoined Monsieur Garcia who offered me a glass of champagne. I showed him several images and he was surprised by the incredible beauty of the light. I was asked to join him and his other guests for lunch. We had made contact.

I was so fortunate the way that first meeting turned out. A few months later, Mr. Garcia hired me to photograph the interiors of the château. I then proposed a feature on the gardens to the French magazine Point de Vue and then a piece on the château to Le Figaro. Both were published. One thing led to another and then Mr. Garcia told his editor at Flammarion that I would be the one to shoot Champ de Bataille for the big book they had in view. I was terribly honored and proud to be chosen to photograph one of the most beautiful estates in France.

Elizabeth: How many times did you go out to Champs de Bataille to photograph? Clearly, you captured it in different seasons – how did all that work? 

Eric: From the beginning of the project until the last day of shooting, I went there 18 times often for two or more days at a time. I went in all seasons to capture the gardens and the various rooms in the château as soon as they were restored or redecorated. Jacques Garcia has a massive collection of museum-quality furniture, artworks, objets d’art and more. He is always changing around the interiors of the château which makes things very lively at his place – and it kept me very busy! I also had to respect the wishes of his very talented editor Suzanne Tise, an American from North Carolina who has lived in France for 35 years.

032

Elizabeth: How did you decide what to focus on inside the chateau? In the gardens?

Eric: JG made a list of the most important art objects in his collection, and I made sure to focus on these. Suzanne was also often there and she would help arrange them into marvelous “still life” poses. They really are the “pièces maitresses du château” (absolute masterworks of the château).

_MG_3485

_MG_4713

Elizabeth: What was it like working with Jacques Garcia?

Eric: It is very easy to work with JG. He is so charming and always in a good mood. But you have to deliver what he wants. That said, from the moment he decides to work with you, he has total faith in you and your abilities. He is also a wonderful host who makes the most of every moment.

Elizabeth: How long did it take to do this project? Did you stay at the estate when you were photographing?

Eric: We stayed at Champ de Bataille as privileged guests. There was champagne, a full staff, a beautiful bedroom with an antique canopy bed. We had our meals in all the wonderful venues of the property – the orangerie, the Indian palace in the summer, the two dining rooms of the château. We even dined in the salon of Apollo with a gorgeously set table next to the fireplace. It was magnificent and magical to be in the middle of this remarkable setting, yet it was so livable too. Not like a museum at all.

 _MG_4507 ret

Elizabeth: What was your favorite shot in the château? In the gardens?

Eric: My favorite photo in the gardens was the rising sun with the pigeons in flight. For me, it signified heavenly beauty and also the auspicious beginning of an incredible project. For the interiors, that’s difficult to say. I think I liked the green salon best with the objects and portraits of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. It’s a setting bursting with history yet it’s a extraordinary mix of emotions at the same time. You have not only the very refined taste and sensibilities of the late 18th century but also a sense of the tragic end of this king and queen.

Elizabeth: What did working on this book mean to you?

Eric: This book is the work of a master of decor, of settings and of a beauty of perhaps the best era of French style. Champ de Bataille is a property completely unique in all the world – a rare melange of Louis XIV, Nicolas Fouquet and Louis II of Bavaria – put together by the inimitable Jacques Garcia. I was very privileged to work with the interpreter of this exceptional place – a big merci to Jacques Garcia and to Flammarion and Suzanne Tise who had faith in me and my work.

16

This sumptuous book is a treasure trove of the ultimate in French 17th and 18th century style, brought to life for the 21st century. Perusing the images and accompanying text will afford endless hours of pleasure and discovery of the French art de vivre. The quality and scope of the book, however, mean that it costs a pretty penny – the retail price is $125, although it can be purchased at amazon.com for around $78 at the moment. One gets a lot for the price – the book is about two inches thick and weighs over 8 pounds.

Given the richness of the material and the presentation, Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion gets my vote for the French coffee table book of the decade, maybe even the best coffee table book ever. Think about giving it to yourself as a gift, putting it on your Christmas or birthday wish list, giving it to a friend, offering it to an antiques loving friend (Garcia got his start roaming French flea markets with his father), sharing it with your favorite interior designer. It might even be the French gift of the decade!

* Photos courtesy of Eric Sander. Many thanks to Eric for sharing his amazing talent and photo stories with us.

Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille

 
 
By Jacques Garcia and Alain Stella (authors), Eric Sander (photographer)
Flammarion
March, 2014
Hardcover, 400 pages 
 
NB: Champ de Bataille is open to the public and receives about 30,000 visitors per year. It is located 40 kilometers from Rouen in Normandy. Click here for the Château’s web site and more information. To view a short interview with Jacques Garcia about Champ de Bataille in French, please click here.
 
CBc
 
 plan
 

France’s Most Famous Party Ever Thursday, Oct 3 2013 

The most famous fête (party) ever in France was actually a housewarming that took place on August 17, 1661. It had everything going for it – the most stunning venue, the finest food and drink prepared by the finest chef, the most beautiful music, the most dazzling entertainments, the most elegant host, and the most VIP guest list of the time – the king of France and his court. But while the party was perfect in every way, this sumptuous evening also gave the king the needed pretext to arrest his host who in his eyes had become too powerful, too wealthy, too sophisticated, in fact too everything.

Wonderfully enough, the locale where this famous – and infamous – event took place still exists today, despite the vagaries of history. The château and estate of Vaux-le-Vicomte lie about an hour southeast of Paris. If you have not yet been to Vaux, I highly suggest taking a day to visit this exquisite jewel of French architecture and history as soon as you possibly can.

vlv1

So who was the host and how did he come to offend the king? In 1653, the successful and ambitious bureaucrat Nicolas Fouquet was named the Surintendant des finances of France. Not only a numbers man, Fouquet was highly cultivated with a taste for the good life. Accordingly, he soon began to plan the construction of a château and grounds befitting his social stature and urbane nature. Fouquet had a wonderful eye for talent in every form and in 1656, he gathered together the architect Louis Le Vau, the interior decorator Charles Le Brun and the landscape designer André le Nôtre to start work at Vaux.

nf

 A portrait of Nicholas Fouquet

After several years of highly costly construction, Fouquet and the three artists had created a baroque masterpiece that exemplified perfection in architecture, decor and garden design. From the impressive stone façade, dome and moat on the exterior to the wondrous grand salon and rich tapestries, gilded woodwork and painting on the interior, the château and its outbuildings surpassed any castle complex that had been seen in France before – we have to remember that Versailles in its present incarnation had not been created yet.

P9210132comp

P9210138comp

P9210134comp

And then there were the gardens! It has been said that landscape designer André le Nôtre formalized the art of French garden design in his realization of Vaux. The use of perspectives, symmetry, pools, fountains, canals, the grotto, and embroidered topiary hedges, or parterres de broderie in French, came together at Vaux-le-Vicomte as never before.

P9210045comp

P9210057comp

On that fateful summer night in August, 1661, Fouquet had invited the young Louis XIV to celebrate his new abode and also pay hommage to the king. But the dazzling spectacle in front of several hundred court guests only served to confirm the king’s suspicions of Fouquet’s embezzlement from the royal treasury and of Fouquet’s own ‘kingly’ aspirations. Of course, politics being politics, another of Louis XIV’s ministers and Fouquet’s political rival Jean-Baptiste Colbert had fanned the flames of Louis’s jealousy several months before. So in effect, the grand party served only to seal Fouquet’s fate and on September 5, Fouquet was arrested by the king’s soldiers.

After a lengthy trial, Fouquet was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against the king. Just following Fouquet’s arrest, Louis XIV appropriated much of the furniture, tapestries, books, statues and even some of the garden trees from Vaux which he then distributed amongst his own residences. He also decided to take the three designers Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Nôtre and put them to work remodeling his father’s hunting lodge at Versailles. Madame Fouquet was able to regain Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1673, though her husband never saw it again as he died in prison in 1680.

P9210162comp

Fortunately for us today, the château of Vaux managed to survive over 350 years of tumultuous European history virtually unscathed. Currently, it remains in private hands, and the French owners continue to restore the castle and grounds to their former glory. To my mind, Vaux is the most beautiful château in France for its aesthetic perfection on a human scale. And you just can’t beat the true story behind this storybook castle – with the greatest party ever in France, the jealousy of a king and the impetus and circumstances that led to the creation of Versailles.

Vaux-le-Vicomte is open every day from early March to mid-November each year and on specific days in December and January. It is located near the town of Melun and is accessible by train, car or shuttle from Paris. More information is available on the château’s website at www.vaux-le-vicomte.com. For more information on special ways to visit Vaux-le-Vicomte up close and personally, please contact French Affaires at info.french@frenchaffaires.com.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

We’ll go deeper into the juicy details of Vaux-le-Vicomte and enjoy a visual tour of its interiors in the upcoming France travel class “Magnificent Châteaux Near Paris” starting on November 4 in Dallas, TX. In this two-part seminar, we’ll explore the history, architecture, art and gardens of gorgeous French estates such as Vaux-le-Vicomte and also Versailles, Fontainebleau, Chantilly, Vincennes,  Compiègne, and more. You’ll be fascinated by the personal stories and famous personages who built and lived in these glorious castles. Included in the class are comprehensive handouts complete with details on how to visit these stars of French architecture and culture – including opportunities for the kids! – plus a reading and film list for further exploration.

Date:  Two Mondays – November 4 & 11, 2013

Time:  7 to 9pm

Cost:  $75 per person. Advance registration by check or credit card. Please click here to register.

Location: Central Dallas Location – The Cranmer Institute, 3308 Daniel Ave, Dallas, TX 75205 – located by the SMU campus (parking directions to be provided)

P9210072comp