Bordeaux is the New Paris Friday, Mar 3 2017 

The French sleeping beauty has woken up. Bordeaux has become the modern, hot, hip place to be in France. Whether you’re a resident or a visitor, you can’t help but feel the vibe every time you step out into the city streets. Named for the ancient Roman site of Burdigala, Bordeaux has it all – history, architecture, art, music, nightlife, cuisine, wine, shops, parks, gardens, modern transport, good employment, and much more. And it’s located smack in the middle of the best wine country in the world. In fact, Bordeaux is so noteworthy that the city of approximately one million inhabitants was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. And this year,  the travel guide Lonely Planet named Bordeaux the number one metropolis to visit in the entire world!

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Bordeaux has been a favorite of mine for years with its impressive medieval gates, elegant 18th and 19th century architecture, terrific cuisine, and superb situation along the Garonne River. And it’s been fascinating to see its urban renovation in progress. In 1995, Mayor Alain Juppé began a program of renewal, and Bordeaux has never looked back. First off, to combat its shabby, run-down exterior, the city incented residents and property owners to clean the facades of their buildings. Most residents responded and the beautiful blond stone shines bright once more. However, you can see below where a few Bordelais (residents of Bordeaux) have held out against the clean-up project and black soot remains on their building (or even their PART of the building) – and paid fines as a result!

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Bordeaux also has been cleaning up its dull and dilapidated industrial riverfront, tearing down old warehouses and creating new outdoor spaces and view-friendly development. To my mind, the stunning Place de la Bourse overlooking the river is the city’s centerpiece with its wonderfully symmetrical architecture set off by mirror fountains. 

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Also critical to breathing new life into the city was the installation of a modern tramway system which crisscrosses the town making it very easy to get around. Bikes are another great way to travel, thanks to kilometers of good bike paths and trails. And Bordeaux also decided to make large parts of the historic city center pedestrian only. Bustling shops and restaurants attract patrons day and night, particularly on the Rue Sainte Catherine the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe.

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Getting all the buzz these days, however, is smashing new Cité du Vin on the Garonne River north of the center city. Hailed as Bordeaux’s version of the ’Guggenheim Bilbao’ or Paris’s ‘Fondation Louis Vuitton’, the museum and cultural center focuses on everything about wine including the design of the building. The daring architectural curves of the upper portion are meant to resemble wine swirling in a glass and also the eddies of the Garonne outside. The lower part takes on the form of ship which recalls the centuries old shipping and wine trade of Bordeaux. The Cité du Vin offers exhibits, events, tastings, restaurants, shops and other activities all year round – click here for more details. It is the latest must-see for anyone interested in wines and their cultural significance in France. 

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We could go on and on about all the other things to see and do in Bordeaux. A few of the most important include the Esplanade des Quinconces – the largest square in France and one of the largest in Europe, the historic St. Pierre district, the Aquitaine Museum covering prehistory to modern times in Bordeaux and southwest France, the Bordeaux Fine Arts Museum, many churches in the center city, the Grand Théâtre – Bordeaux’s gorgeous opera house second only to the Palais Garnier in Paris, the antiques district, and Bordeaux’s lovely Botanical Garden and Public Gardens. And of course the shopping. You can find top designers and brands as well as local specialty boutiques. My favorite French scarf designer has their headquarters in Bordeaux and their design atelier in a chateau about 40 minutes outside the city – great article to come on their fabulous scarves, shawls and accessories!

And then there’s the food. Bordeaux has loads of super bistrots, classic brasseries, trendy restaurants, haute gastronomie (think top chefs Gordon Ramsay, Philippe Etchebest, Joel Robuchon), tapas bars, wine bars, fusion cuisine, and more. With the Atlantic not far away, seafood is a great culinary option as well. And all this can be paired with local wines coming from thousands of different Bordeaux vineyards, wineries and chateaux. Last but not least are two Bordeaux sweet treats that you can’t miss on a visit to this jewelbox of a city. The first is the divine cannelé bordelais – a delicious little fluted cake with a light custard-like interior and dark caramel-like exterior that fits in the palm of your hand. Culinary legend has it that the recipe was invented around 300 years ago by convent nuns eager to use up the egg yolks given to them by local vintners; the yolks were left over from the wine-making process when stiff egg whites were used to filter wines. Whatever the recipe’s origin, you’ll want to taste cannelés from a good shop such as Baillardran (see below) which makes them the old-fashioned way.

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Finally, Bordeaux has a specialty for chocolate lovers too – its version of the truffle. As soon as you arrive, be sure and head to the historic chocolate shop Cadiot-Badie for a box of ‘diamants noirs’. These ‘black diamonds’ feature a chocolate ganache interior flavored with crushed grapes soaked in Bordeaux wine and are enrobed in dark chocolate and then rolled in fine sugar crystals for a little culinary sparkle.

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To sum up, Bordeaux is now a true destination and not just a side trip. If you haven’t been, be sure and add it to your France visit list ASAP. And if you haven’t been in a while, it’s definitely worth coming back to see the city in its revitalized glory. As for me, it’s on my visit-as-often-as-possible list - I discover something new every time I’m there. Fun, dynamic, modern, historic, interesting, elegant, profound, Bordeaux might just be the new Paris.

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Photo courtesy of the city’s convention bureau

How to Get There

Bordeaux is accessible by plane, train or automobile. Air France has multiple flights a day from both Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports. This summer, a new super-fast TGV line will make it possible to get from Paris to Bordeaux two hours and four minutes, down from three hours and fourteen minutes. (With such a short journey now from la Capitale, the Bordelais are bracing for all the Parisians who will be zooming down from Paris for the weekend!)

Join French Affaires in Bordeaux This Fall!

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Our ‘Fall in Southwest France Trip’ this October includes several days tasting the pleasures of Bordeaux plus experiencing the delights of the Bordeaux and Dordogne countryside. For the full trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com. A bientôt!

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Hello from France! and France Travel 2017 Thursday, Feb 9 2017 

Bonjour France-loving friends! Greetings from my 17th century stone house in the French countryside near Paris. Life is good here in our little village of Courances, and French Affaires had another wonderful year sharing the real France with you through our trips, classes and events. Though I must confess, our newsletter pause to finish our new website lasted a lot longer than planned! Renovations on our French house have proceeded at the proverbial snail’s pace (anyone who’s read ‘A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle will know this side of France) and took much of our attention – we have our fingers crossed that everything will be finished this March. Whew. So we are now putting the finishing touches on the new French Affaires’ website, and it will go live very soon. Stay tuned for a whole new look with great stories and things to experience here in la belle France.

Despite the house finishing delays, my husband and I have still been able to enjoy the stunning beauty of French country life and the soul filling rhythm of the French seasons. Life is full too with saying hello to our neighbors on our walks to the boulangerie, with catching up on the latest village news from Madame la boulangère or Madame la charcutière ,and with having aperitifs or dinners with our friends here and in the villages around. And our French puppy Marcel continues to entertain us with his antics. Monsieur Marcel, as I like to call him, is growing up fast body-wise so he looks like a full-grown dog. But he still acts like a puppy through and through – puppy mind, adult body. Whenever any workmen or delivery people cross paths with Marcel, they immediately say, “Mais c’est un bébé!” (but he’s just a baby!) Here he is as a little tyke in our garden a few months ago:

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In addition to rolling out our new website for 2017, we have our 2017 France travel calendar ready to go. We’re featuring some client favorites this year including the “Paris Antiques Trip 2017″, “Provence Painting and Culture Workshop 2017″ and “Fall in Southwest France 2017″. As with all our French Affaires’ trips, these rich journeys allow our friends and guests to experience France at its finest. Our special custom trips leave behind touristy clichés and focus on personal contacts with locals, artisans and experts; the best places and sights to visit often with insider access; culinary excellence with special chefs and purveyors; and more. And best of all are the wonderful friendships and warm camaraderie that unfailingly develop amongst our travelers both on our trips and at home afterwards. Hopefully this will tempt you to come travel with us. Below are brief descriptions of this year’s trips – and come and join us for a real taste of France!

 

Paris Antiques Trip – September 25 to October 2, 2017

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Join us for a marvelous week in Paris filled with French antiques, vintage finds and heirlooms. We’ll spend a day at a special twice-a-year antiques market outside Paris featuring over 800 dealers. Also included in our trip are visits to the main antiques flea markets of Paris itself. We’ll get plenty of decorative arts, antiques and cultural inspiration during our private guided visit of an extraordinary historic mansion on the Right Bank filled with beautiful furniture, paintings, sculpture and objets d’art. As part of our special French decorative arts immersion, we’ll enjoy a fabulous gourmet dining experience at a private Paris townhouse-turned-restaurant where each salon is decorated with lovely antiques and period decor. Another great part of our trip is a visit to Paris’s principal auction house where fabulous finds and bargains abound. And so you can look for great French antique finds with confidence, we’ll share our special insider tips and strategies for navigating the markets and bargaining for your treasures. Be part of our unforgettable week of French antiques and decorative arts in and around Paris!

For the detailed Paris Antiques Trip 2017 trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com . This special trip is limited in size for a highly personalized travel experience.  

To see a recap of one of our previous antiques trips with great photos, please click here.

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Provence Painting and Culture Workshop – September 22 to October 1, 2017

Provence is possibly the most beautiful and rewarding region in all of France. It is known for its charming villages, stunning countryside, warm sunshine, lively markets, fragrant gardens, flavorful cuisine, wonderful wines, and relaxed culture. And Provence’s stunning light and color have inspired artists for centuries.

  

Everything is arranged for your perfect French art and culture adventure – private apartment accommodations in the heart of lively Aix-en-Provence, painting lessons for beginning to experienced artists with celebrated painter Jill Steenhuis, superb cultural excursions in the steps of artists Cézanne and Van Gogh, wonderful lunches and dinners featuring Provence cuisine with wine, visits to colorful outdoor markets, airport transfers and land transport, and more. You’ll love soaking in the art and ambiance of Provence during this personal and unique painting trip in southern France.

 For the detailed Provence painting trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com . This special trip is limited in size for a highly personalized art and travel experience.  

 

Fall in Southwest France – October 18 to 27, 2017

Southwest France is one of the country’s best kept secrets – a remarkable region still steeped in glorious French history & tradition. From medieval villages clinging to sheer cliffs to majestic fortress castles overlooking the Dordogne River to ancient cave paintings to exquisite topiary gardens to lush vineyards to fabulous cuisine & wine, Southwest France offers amazing opportunities to travel through time & culture across the French countryside. On our itinerary: the delightful towns of Sarlat, Bergerac, Trémolat, Rocamadour, St. Emilion and Bordeaux; gourmet meals with local wines; vineyard visits and tastings – maybe we’ll even catch the grape harvest like last year!; guided visits and tours with local experts; shopping outdoor markets; special viewings of authentic prehistoric cave art; and of course, enjoying the spectacular landscapes and ambiance of Southwest France in the fall (our favorite time to be there!). Join us for this rich immersion into spectacular Southwest France!

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For the detailed Fall in Southwest France trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com . This special trip is limited in size for a highly personalized travel experience. 

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French Easter ~ Your French Easter Basket Saturday, Mar 26 2016 

This past week in France has been la Semaine Sainte (Holy Week) in the Christian tradition. The culmination of the period of Lent or le Carême, it started off last weekend with Palm Sunday, le dimanche des Rameaux, and has continued on to le Vendredi Saint. In France on Good Friday, faithful Catholics often attend Good Friday prayer services and participate in the “Way of the Cross” liturgy. Of course, Notre Dame in Paris is a majestic place to be part of French Holy Week and Easter.

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But further afield, one of my favorite places in all of France to experience le Chemin de la Croix is in the breathtaking cliffside town of Rocamadour in Southwest France. A major pilgrimage stop on a key pilgrim route leading down to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Rocamadour is full of history and worth a visit at Easter or any other time of the year. And its stunning Way of the Cross path zigzags up the cliff to arrive at the 14th and final station hewn out of the rock, highlighting the spiritual culmination of Easter.

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On a more secular note, Easter in France also makes a splash at pastry and candy shops across the country. Colorful displays of chocolate eggs, chickens, chicks, rabbits, fish and more tempt shoppers of all ages. You’ll also see lots of chocolate bells both in chocolat noir and chocolat au lait. The presence of candy bells in France harkens back to the legend that on Maundy Thursday, all the cloches (bells) in French churches would fly away to Rome for the culmination of Holy Week. Then on Easter Sunday, they would fly back to France dropping chocolats and bonbons for the children on the way back. But whether you prefer the story of the Anglo-Saxon Easter bunny or the French cloches, they all make darling additions to Easter baskets. You can see the lovely array of French Easter treats below for just a sampling of items to add to your French Easter basket!

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French kids also love to go on Easter egg hunts to search for eggs and candy. In Paris, there are numerous options for the chasse aux oeufs across the city on Easter Sunday. This year, over 20,000 eggs will be hidden at the Champ de Mars park by the Eiffel Tower, an event sponsored by the French children’s charity Le Secours Populaire. In addition to the egg hunt, there will be lots of other activities including face painting, games, sports and dancing. The event lasts from 10am to 5pm, and the 5 euros per child supports a great cause.

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There are a couple of other important things to note about this Easter weekend this year. The French change their clocks for daylight savings time tonight – so everyone in France will be moving their clocks forward one hour. And Easter Monday is an official holiday so many businesses and official entities are closed on that day.

Wishing you a wonderful Easter – Joyeuses Pâques!

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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 ~

The French Love Affair With White Thursday, Mar 3 2011 

Celebrated French gourmand and food writer Curnonsky—also good friend of Julia Child—was the arbiter of French taste in the first part of the 20th century. He was a food journalist par excellence and wrote numerous books and articles on French cuisine. He had two favorite sayings:

« Et surtout, faites simple! » (And above all, keep it simple!)

« La cuisine, c’est quand les choses ont le goût de ce qu’elles sont. » (Good cooking is when things taste of what they are.)

I love this last one as it is what makes French cuisine so interesting, so delicious and so perfect. Food needs to taste of its own essence—of course, it needs to be oh-so-fresh to really taste good which is the norm in France. It also needs to avoid being covered up with bizarre flavor combinations or distracted by wacky textures.

But I would say that is only part of what makes true French dining so satisfying. The French know too that things need to be seen for what they are. In other words, the French make a habit of serving food on simple white dinnerware so that the food speaks for itself visually.

Recently I went back into my photo archives for examples of how this adage plays out. And once you start to pay attention, it is astonishing how many dining experiences in France happen on white porcelain that has little to no decoration.

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Occasionally, the white porcelain has a touch of decoration such as the pale gray lines here. But the food is as inviting as ever, not hidden or overwhelmed by overwrought color or decoration…

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Personally, I have been collecting white French porcelain for many years now, namely Apilco and Pillivuyt. It looks as new today as the moment when I bought it, and it always makes the food placed on it look fresh and enticing. And you can create a variety of table settings with flowers, decorative objects and colored linens–although using white linens for the “white on white” effect is eternally elegant.

This past summer in the Médoc region of France, I had a fabulous French porcelain moment when I stumbled across what was an Apilco ‘factory outlet’ for all intents and purposes. I had gone to the large outdoor food market at Vendays-Montalivet located on the Atlantic coast north of Bordeaux. As I perused the various vendors’ offerings, I came upon a sign for a nearby boutique that read « Porcelaine Blanche » (white porcelain).

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Curious, I made a beeline for this white porcelain heaven and was not disappointed. Everywhere I looked were stacks of Apilco, Pillivuyt, Limoges, and more. Standard dining fare, interesting serving pieces, tea services,  soufflé dishes (see February’s posting on Apilco and soufflés!), oyster plates, and more. Everything you could want in dining ware was there. And at prices a serious fraction of what you’d find in Paris or in the U.S. As I perused the offerings, I quickly saw that some pieces were less than perfect–but I just made sure to pick items that were flawless.

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So the next time you set your table—dinner tonight?—think about the French love affair with white when it comes to dining. Use white dinnerware and serving pieces and see if the food doesn’t stand out more…and taste better somehow. And next time you are in France, notice how many restaurants, bistrots, brasseries and cafés let the food be the star of the show.

If you want to purchase white French porcelain in France, check out the housewares section of the large Paris department stores such as Galeries Lafayette, Printemps or Le Bon Marché. You can also find a nice selection at A.Simon kitchenware shop on the Right Bank. For the Apilco factory outlet, you’ll have to travel farther afield. But if you’re in the Bordeaux area and love white porcelain, it just might be worth the trip:

ESPACE PORCELAINE
46 avenue Brémontier
33930 Vendays-Montalivet, FRANCE
(Open April 1 to October 1 from 10am to 2pm and 4pm to 8pm, the rest of the year by appointment.)

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The Châteaux Road Friday, Nov 5 2010 

There are several locations in France which merit the designation “la route des châteaux,” or ‘ châteaux road’ including the Loire Valley and the Auvergne. One of the prettiest is found in the Médoc region in southwest France. The Médoc is the peninsula extending approximately 80 kilometers north of Bordeaux and is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and by the Gironde estuary on the east.  The term Médoc comes from the Latin ‘in medio aquae’ meaning ‘in the middle of the water.’ Beaches, pine forests and vineyards make up this fairly rural area of France, with the vineyards being among the most prized in French wine circles.

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I recently had the chance to tour Médoc’s route des châteaux with British transplant Pamela Prior who has worked in the Bordeaux wine industry for more than 40 years. Vivacious and fun-loving, Pamela knows every inch of the château road (the D2 on a trusty Michelin road map) and was an expert guide and door opener to several exclusive vineyards.

First, she gave a short tutorial in the Médoc wine region’s characteristics. There are six AOC’s in Médoc: Listrac, Margaux, Moulis, Pauillac, St. Estephe, and St. Julien. (AOC stands for Appellation d’origine contrôllée; it’s the French government system of recognizing wine and where and how it is produced. It also applies to other products such as cheese.) The primary cépages, or grape varieties, grown here are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. Red wines, of course, are the star of the show in this region and are most often blends of several cépages.

We began our tour and tastings north of Pauillac, the capital of the Médoc. Our first stop was the charming Château Rousseau de Sipian. Its red wines are very fine and it also makes a smashing rosé which is perfect during warm summer months in southwest France. As Pamela currently serves as a wine consultant for the vineyard, she had access to the family château. We toured the 19th century mansion which has been beautifully restored. Several of the bedrooms are offered during the summer months as chambre d’hôtes and can be accompanied by gourmet meals served in the château dining room for a thoroughly enchanting stay.

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Next, we headed south on the  Châteaux Road to Château Loudenne where Pamela served as châtelaine for more than a decade. The château has kept its signature Médoc pink color and was awash in climbing roses the day of our visit. Our tasting at Château Loudenne was followed by a lovely lunch at the Café Lavinal, in a restored village on the property of Château Lynch Bages.

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Many of the big name chateaux are located in and around the town of Pauillac: Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, and many more. It’s a fairyland of white stone and steeply pitched slate roofs with glorious wines attached to their names.

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We ended our Médoc wine tour at the mythic Châteaux Margaux. Built in 1810, the stunning château commands your attention as soon as you enter the long drive. The property is unique for its outbuildings and cellars which are of the same period as the château itself. After visiting the chais (cellars and area where the wine is made), we went to the tasting room for a dégustation (sampling) of their wines. We were offered the chateau’s first wine, a premier grand cru classé aptly named “Château Margaux” from the 2006 vintage. It sells for several hundred euros a bottle—when you can get it. Most famous châteaux’s wines are snapped up even before the wines have been bottled. The next wine we sampled was the vineyard’s second wine called Pavillon rouge, a more affordable option at 95 euros a bottle. This was my favorite—it was strong yet immediately drinkable. The Châteaux Margaux 2006 needed a few more years of rest before it would soften up enough for my palate.

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All in all, it was another one of those fabulous days in France where landscape, architecture, wine, food, good weather, and good company all came together. With so many châteaux and vineyards in the area, we just touched the tip of the iceberg with our one-day visit. The Médoc merits many such days. However, I must confess that while I loved tasting the wines, I could have been happy just driving slowly down the D2 road taking in the château eye candy.

French Take-Out™ ~ La France à emporter

We have a couple of good French Take-Out items related to today’s posting to share this week…

Bordeaux at home:  First, enjoy your own taste of the Bordeaux region with Frog du Jour’s set of Bordeaux wine label placemats. Frog du Jour is a U.S. based company run by French expats who are passionate about sharing French culture through interesting and unique products from France.The set of four placemats includes authentic reproductions of Bordeaux wine labels on cotton canvas. Click here to see the other three labels and to visit the Frog du Jour web site.

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Dijon-Dallas French Week 2010:  If you love Bordeaux wines, you probably also are a fan of Burgundy ones as well. Not to be missed is a great wine and food experience beginning next weeked in Dallas, Texas. Dijon-Dallas French Week will be held at the Y.O. Steakhouse November 11 through November 18, 2010 featuring a week-long celebration of French dining and Burgundy wines. Guest Chef, Romain Détot, of Les Gourmets in Dijon, France, will be featured and Hugues Genot, President of the Association Dijon-Dallas, will be in attendance throughout the week. Dijon and Dallas are international sister cities. The November event follows last year’s celebration held in Dijon, where Tony Street, Chef & Owner of the Y.O. Steakhouse, cooked a Texas-themed Thanksgiving feast for Gala attendees in Dijon, France.

French Week 2010 will be held November 11 – 18 at the Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse in Dallas, with the French Week Gala evening scheduled for Friday, November 12. Each evening of Dijon Dallas French Week (November 11 and November 13 – November 18), Chef Romain Détot will prepare a three-course dinner with wine pairings. Tickets are $60 per person without wine or $80 with wine. An à la carte menu will also be available. Local area students are invited to join us to meet Chef Romain Détot and experience his amazing creations. On Tuesday, November 16, students and teachers (French, culinary or otherwise) receive 25% off of the three-course dinner. Tickets for all events may be purchased online or via phone reservations at 214-744-3287. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Association Dijon Dallas.

Dallas Dijon

The French Spice Factor ~ Le Piment d’Espelette Friday, Oct 22 2010 

Have you ever wanted French cuisine to be, well, a little more piquant (peppy)? Occasionally, I have. Don’t get me wrong, I love all aspects of French cuisine, especially those subtle tastes and flavors that the French do so well. But every so often, you need a meal with some spice. And when you do, just head down to the Basque country.

For about four centuries now, Basque cooks have been using their special spice factor—the piment d’Espelette—to flavor their cuisine

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Introduced into the region around the village of Espelette from South America in the seventeenth century, this special chili pepper has added a smoky, fragrant and slightly hot taste to all types of Basque dishes including poulet basque (Basque chicken), jambon (ham), pâtés, piperade (slow cooked tomatoes, red and green peppers , and spices) and axoa (a ragout of veal that is to die for!). In fact, axoa is my favorite Basque dish.

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As the peppers grow in Espelette and the villages nearby, they are green on the vine. Then the peppers are picked in the fall and hung to dry on balconies and buildings turning a deep red hue to form guirlandes de piments rouges (garlands of red peppers). Once dry, the peppers are often ground into a powder which you can buy in a small pot (jar) for about 6 euros. 

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To figure out just how hot this chili pepper is, I consulted the Scoville scale. Developed in 1912 by the chemist Wilbur Scoville, the scale measures the spicy heat, or piquance, of chili peppers. The piment d’Espelette rates level 4 on the scale, slightly spicier than the ancho chili pepper but definitely less hot than the jalapeno. (I love the French terms on the scale below–cayenne ranks as ’torrid’ and tabasco as ‘volcanic’ in spiciness!)

Table simplifiée de Scoville

Degré

Appréciation

Unités Scoville

Exemple

0 neutre 0 – 100 Poivron
1 doux 100 – 500 Paprika doux
2 chaleureux 500 – 1 000 Piment d’Anaheim
3 relevé 1 000 – 1 500 Piment Ancho
4 chaud 1 500 – 2 500 Piment d’Espelette
5 fort 2 500 – 5 000 Piment Chimayo
6 ardent 5 000 – 15 000 Paprika fort
7 brûlant 15 000 – 30 000 Piment Cascabel
8 torride 30 000 – 50 000 Piment de Cayenne
9 volcanique 50 000 – 100 000 Piment tabasco
10 explosif 100 000 et plus Piment habanero

 

So you can use piment liberally without putting your mouth on fire. In fact, the Espelettards (people from Espelette), have the following motto:  A consommer sans modération ! (Consume without moderation—a play on the phrase ‘A consommer avec modération’, consume in moderation , as required for alcoholic beverages in France.)

In practically any gourmet boutique in the Basque country, you can find the piment d’Espelette in a variety of forms-–the regular powder, jelly, jam, spicy oil for grilling, flavored salt, and even chocolats au piment d’Espelette. I found a wonderful jar of garlic cloves marinated in olive oil flavored with piment d’Espelette. And this vendor had a tempting array of dried spices that included mélange basque—basically a herbes de Provence mixture to which piment d’Espelette had been added.

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This weekend, you can find all these products and more at the Fête du piment d’Espelette. The festival is held every year the last weekend of October in the town of Espelette itself. In addition to the food fair with piments and regional products for sale, there are parades, concerts, pelota games and a competition for the best chili pepper of 2010. On Sunday, everyone sits down to a piment-inspired lunch at one o’clock following the Sunday mass and bénédiction du piments (blessing of the peppers). This year’s festival also marks the tenth anniversary of the piment’s AOC status, an official recognition of this regional product’s uniqueness.

Check out the piment d’Espelette website for more details on the festival and on the French chili pepper: http://www.pimentdespelette.com/. I particularly liked the “Recette du mois” (recipe of the month) section—this month’s winner created a “Piperade façon tarte tatin et sa glace au piment d’Espelette” (a savory version of the dessert tarte tatin). You can click here to see her recipe.

If you are inspired to cook with the piment d’Espelette in the U.S., you can find it at a variety of stores online. When in France, you can of course buy some in any Basque town or in Paris at La Grande Epicerie on the Left Bank. Happy, hot French cooking!

French Take-Out™ ~ La France à emporter

French Affaires readers in Dallas can enjoy a piment d’Espelette festival of sorts next week at Cadot restaurant. French chef Jean-Marie Cadot is offering an Espelette chili dinner from October 25 to 29 which features five courses for $39.95. The Basque chili menu includes:

Tomato & Red Bell Pepper Garnished with Espelette Crème & Popcorn

Crêpes with Shrimp, Onions, Espelette & Hatch Chilies, & Scrambled Eggs with a Mixed Green Salad

Blackened Ahi Tuna with Hatch Chilies, Prosciutto, & Chichoré Lettuce

Cornish Hen with Lemon Preserves, Espelette & Hatch Pipperade, & Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Crème Catalane (Crème Brûlée)

Cadot restaurant’s chef Jean-Marie is a native of Paris and grew up in a family that’s been in the restaurant, hotel and bakery business since the 1700’s.

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He trained in France before continuing his culinary career in New York City and Dallas. He opened his Dallas restaurant Cadot in 2009 bringing wonderful traditional and new French flavors to the Dallas dining scene. Reservations are recommended for this special Basque chili dinner. For more information and to reserve, please click here.

Made to Measure Tuesday, Sep 21 2010 

“Follow your instincts.” It’s possibly the best piece of travel advice around.

This summer in France, I was rewarded many times over for heeding this call. One particular instance occurred as I was exploring the Basque town of St. Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees mountains. I had been wandering up the Rue d’Espagne, one of the town’s main streets, with its charming houses and shops. Basque linens, espadrilles, gourmet food items, local wines, souvenirs, and berets were the main items on offer.

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Mid-way up the road, it appeared that the interesting boutiques and sights were tapering off. I was on the verge of turning back toward the center of town—when something told me to press on.

A few yards further ahead, I came up a small, unassuming shop not much wider than its doorway. Though the sign read “Sandales,” its specialty was espadrilles. The canvas shoes in solids and stripes of every color lined the shelves.

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But as I browsed, I noticed a small workshop in the back. A woman was seated at her workbench, and wonderfully enough, she making the colorful espadrilles by hand. What a find! It turned out that I had stumbled upon an authentic bastion of Basque culture. Madame Arangoïs and her family have carried on the tradition of hand-made espadrilles for generations. Madame Arangoïs learned the technique from her mother who learned it from her mother. It is Monsieur Arangoïs and their daughter who manage the shop.

On the spot, Madame Arangoïs gave me a private demonstration of her craft. All her espadrilles are faites main (made by hand), or more specifically, cousues main (sewn by hand), according to traditional methods. Though a quiet, patient woman, you could tell she was quite proud to demonstrate her creative expertise.

First, she selected a pair of hemp and rubber soles from the stock that she had pre-prepared. Next, she took the colorful cut canvas and glued it around the edges of the soles.

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The third step was to sew the edges down on the exterior with beautiful looping stitches. Her practiced hand was lyrical in its movements as she completed a pair of espadrilles in minutes.

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My next question was obvious. Could I order my own custom-made Basque footwear? “Bien sûr,” she responded. Of course! We do orders sur mesure. So I set about selecting the canvas for espadrilles that Madame Arangoïs would make especially for me. Uni (solid colors) or rayons (stripes)? The colors were fabulous—comment décider? How to decide? I ended up choosing a marvelous multi-colored stripe with red accents and also a black solid as black goes with everything. And my size–je chausse du 39. I wear an 8 and a half shoe size.

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Hmmmm, what about the timing? My train for Bordeaux left at 3pm le lendemain (the next day). Could she have the two pairs of espadrilles ready by lunchtime? Again, another robust “Bien sûr!” ensued.

So on Wednesday after a lovely final Basque lunch with my husband, I stopped by the Arangoïs shop to pick up my espadrilles. Sure enough, my shoe treasures were waiting—and what a bargain. The two pairs together were 20 euros, or about $26. J’ai vivement remercié Madame Arangoïs (I enthusiastically thanked Madame Arangoïs, or “Madame Espadrilles,” as I now call her.) And for a marvelous cultural experience—and for just a few euros, I had a tangible, chic souvenir of Basque culture.

For your own custom-made espadrilles, be sure to visit the Arangoïs shop when in the Basque country. It’s located at 42, rue d’Espagne, in St. Jean Pied de Port. Madame Arangoïs and her family are delightful hosts and would be happy to share the legacy of their livelihood.

And in case espadrilles for the feet aren’t enough, you can pick up a key-chain version at one of the many souvenir shops in town. Vivent les espadrilles (long live espadrilles)!

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Picturesque in the Pyrenees (Southwest France Part 3) Thursday, Sep 16 2010 

Toward the end of our time in southwest France this summer, my husband and I decided to take a break from the Bordeaux area and head down to the Pyrenees. I had never been ‘down under’ in France and looked forward to exploring the French Basque country nestled along the Spanish border.

We left Bordeaux’s Gare St. Jean (St. Jean train station) on a Monday morning and after changing trains in Bayonne, we arrived three hours later in St. Jean Pied de Port. The wildly picturesque town is situated on the Nive River at the base of the Roncevaux Pass across the Pyrenees mountains.

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St. Jean Pied de Port literally means “St. John at the foot of the pass.” Approximately five miles from Spain, it is famous for its place on the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, known as the Chemin de St. Jacques, and as the last stop before the difficult passage through the mountains.

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The afternoon of our arrival was market day and the village was thronged with tourists as well as the eternal pilgrims. Backpacks and hiking shoes were the main fashion items along the narrow streets.

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But for those looking for a more aesthetic type of footwear, the many boutiques selling locally-made espadrilles are a great place to start. I happened upon a fabulous shop specializing in custom-made espadrilles. I’ll be posting the story of this original addition to my wardrobe next week.

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Speaking of aesthetics, the Pays Basque (Basque country) owes part of its personality to its signature architecture. White stucco accented by red trim and red tiled roofs are required of residents who live in the region. Some houses and buildings also are accented by red granite native to the area, often carved with the date of construction.

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The principal architectural marvel of the town is the citadel, located at the top of the steep, cobblestoned streets. Built in the early seventeenth century in response to the wars of religion and conflicts between France and Spain, the citadelle was redone by the famous French fort architect Vauban around 1680. While the interior is not open to the public, the impressive facade attracts crowds of visitors. Its altitude affords impressive panoramas of the mountains around St. Jean Pied de Port. But I think my favorite view in this part of the village was the banks of hydrangeas resting innocently against the centuries old fortress walls.

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After exploring the town, we decided go further afield and try one of the many randonnées pédestres (walks) in the nearby hills and mountains. The Office du Tourisme in St. Jean Pied de Port was a wealth of information. They offered detailed maps for walks and hikes of varying degrees of difficulty in an easy, put-in-your-pocket format for a few centimes.

We started off and in just minutes, we were out in the countryside and headed up into the mountains to our destination—a panoramic view of the entire valley. The walk was so stunning that I’ll have to share more of it in another posting. But here is a photo looking back towards St Jean Pied de Port from our perch in the mountain vineyards:

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As I wrap up this week’s posting, I have to mention yet another spectacular part of St. Jean Pied de Port–its cuisine. Full of spices and peppers, it’s worth exploring in its own post as well. So bookmark this page for coming Pays basque attractions!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter™

So what sort of souvenir does one take away from the Basque country? Basque linens, of course! Signature stripes distinguish it from its Provençal cousins and from other types of French linens. In St. Jean Pied de Port, a multitude of shops were selling their version of linge basque but I think my favorite was the chic Jean Vier boutique. Here are some of their fabrics sold by the yard:

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And the colorful dish towels were creatively displayed on this mannequin:

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I bought a few things sur place (while there) and made a note that their beautiful offerings are also available online at www.jean-vier.com. The company has also sponsored a beautiful museum of Basque culture and craftsmanship in St. Jean de Luz. Another spot to put on the France must-visit list!

Wine, Wheels and Water (Southwest France Part 2) Sunday, Aug 8 2010 

Today is a full-bodied, sunny August Sunday in the Médoc. As I wrote last week, I am spending time in southwest France this summer for work—with a bit of vacation thrown in. The time so far has been rich, and there are some good stories to tell about French culture, sights, history, geography, food, wine, and more. But in the spirit of getting the flavor of the place, here is a short résumé (summary) of highlights from the past couple of weeks:

Wine – Tasting Tour of Wineries in the Médoc

Wheels – Tour de France Bike Race in Pauillac

Water – French Beaches on the Atlantic Coast

WINE:  Basically, the Médoc—the area north of Bordeaux bordered by the Atlantic ocean on the west and the Gironde estuary on the east—is about wine and water. Some of France’s most spectacular coastline is here. And some of the world’s greatest vintages are produced here. You can drive down the “Route des châteaux” (chateau road) and see breathtaking castles surrounded by grapevines basking in the sun everywhere you look.

A few days ago, my husband and I were treated to an ‘insider’s tour’ of several Médoc wineries. Our guide was Pamela Prior, a glorious British woman who has spent her career in the wine business in this region. We started at the northern end of the Médoc and worked our way down for a grand finale tour and wine tasting at Château Margaux, a legend in French wine circles. As is the case at top tier chateaux, visiting the chais, or wine-making buildings and cellars, is by appointment only.

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And the neoclassical chateau is only able to be admired from the outside…

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Our two-hour tour ended with a tasting of the winery’s first wine—a Château Margaux 2006. It retails for about 350 euros a bottle–definitely not in my wine price range. While it was an extraordinary wine, it did need some more aging to mellow out. More accessible in terms of taste and price was the chateau’s second wine called “Pavillon rouge” also from 2006. What a great wine! It sells for about 25 euros a bottle but maheureusement (unfortunately) none of the chateau’s wines were for sale sur place (on site) as they are snapped up way in advance of production!

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WHEELS:  A few days after arriving in the Médoc, we discovered that the Tour de France bike race was scheduled to come through the area on July 23rd, the day before the triumphant finale on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Riders would complete Etape 19 (Stage 19) of the Tour with the ‘contre-la-montre individuel’, or individual time trials, from Bordeaux to Pauillac, a small town that sits on the Gironde estuary. As fans of the Tour know, the time trials are a race against the clock for each individual coureur (rider). The trials began in Bordeaux at 10:25am with pairs of the slowest riders making the 50 or so kilometer trek to Pauillac and were staged all day long every few minutes ending with top riders Contador and Schleck who pulled into Pauillac about 5pm.

Brilliantly enough, our dear friend Pamela has a lovely flat on the main street of Pauillac with windows that overlooked the finish line. Here is a front-row-seat shot of the Arrivée with the action in full swing:

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And here are spectators lining the route just prior to the finish line:

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There was no shortage of souvenirs as this smiling vendeuse was happy to help Tour attendees with their purchases…

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WATER:   If wine isn’t enough of an attraction, the Médoc has miles and miles of beautiful pristine beaches. From Soulac-sur-Mer in the north down to Cap Ferret (not to be confused with the Mediterranean’s Cap Ferrat!) and Arcachon in the south, the coast is perfect for sunbathing, surfing, walking, and swimming. However, as we experienced firsthand, the cross-currents and tides are very strong so swimming is recommended only in the lifeguarded areas…

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The beaches have one of my favorite things about this time in France—there is so much coast that overcrowding is nearly a non-issue even at the height of tourist season (think Nice or Cannes in August). So if you’re looking for a new sunny spot to try in France, the Médoc may be just the place! 

Next week, I’ll have some more snapshots from southwest France and more French culture to savor. And if you’re on holiday in August like most of the French are at the moment, I wish you bonnes vacances! 

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