Our French Valentine’s Week Cake Thursday, Feb 16 2017 

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, my husband and I decided to make a nice French dinner at home here in France. I drew the lucky straw and got to come up with dessert and the sparkling wine. On the other hand, my husband spoke up for the main dish – God bless him. He had been wanting to try a recipe from one of our vintage French cookbooks – Veal Scallops with Tarragon. So I said, “Vas-y”. “Do it!” “Go for it!” I thought, how can you miss with a recipe that includes beef broth, tarragon and brandy? Simple answer, you can’t. It was divine.

Then for the dessert. As my French Affaires’ French Cookbook club friends and guests know, my French culinary roots run deep. I would have been game to try a challenging dessert recipe. Goodness knows, the French offer quite an array of sweets choices from every region of the country. But on Tuesday, I was running errands in our neighboring village of Milly-la-Forêt… mini-market for a few staples, boulangerie for baguettes, pharmacy for aspirin. And then, I remembered THE CAKE.

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For months, I had been wanting to try the signature local dessert from the Milly pâtisserie (pastry shop) called Le Pavé de la Halle. Also named le pavé de la Halle, this gâteau (cake) is a dream – rich butter pound cake laced with candied orange peel and candied bigarreau cherries and infused with cherry liqueur… then the whole thing is enrobed in a luscious layer of marzipan. Wow. Why had I not tried this before? I think I just had gotten distracted by the various French tartes, desserts and pâtisseries from other pastry shops in town. So I thought, THE special cake for the special day – le jour de Saint Valentin.

So I marched straight over to the pastry shop and said, “Bonjour Madame, un pavé de la Halle, s’il vous plaît.” Of course. She scooped it up from the pastry display case and placed it carefully in the square box made for this ultra-special, original cake. She gently handed me the dessert box. It was nice and heavy, and it just felt delicious. Then she said in French, “Be sure and cut it into tranches fines (thin slices). It tastes better that way.”

On Tuesday evening, I served the lovely cake chez nous with a nice crémant de Bourgogne (champagne-like wine from Burgundy). It was out of this world. With marvelous flavors and not too sweet, the taste was satisfying in every way. And in true French fashion, not only was it a culinary masterpiece, but it had special cultural meaning as well. For in honor of the pastry shop’s location facing the 15th century market in town, they had named the cake a ‘pavé de la Halle’ – a paving stone from the market square . The shape of the cake itself is formed to look like a square cobblestone. In addition, they modeled the almond marzipan on top to resemble many little paving stones. You’ve got to love France – they’re always putting great cooking, culture and history together with outstanding results. Here’s a great old postcard photo of the Milly 15th century market with the signature paving stones all around it. Looks a bit like the top of the cake, no?

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Our French Valentine’s Day gâteau has stretched into the Valentine’s week cake – we’ve enjoyed a wonderful tranche fine every day. And we’ve appreciated the thought and meaning behind this local specialty tied to the local architecture and history. Whoever said history was dry and boring wasn’t thinking about France! So next time you’re in or around Paris, you might think about making a detour by the delightful town of Milly-la-Fôret for a taste of this fabulous local dessert – and there are other great sights to see here too. Bon appétit et bonne visite!

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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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Paint in Provence this September! Wednesday, Feb 8 2017 

Provence is possibly the most beautiful and rewarding region in all of France. It is known for its charming villages, picturesque 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.

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In September 2017, your can have your own French art experience with French Affaires’ upcoming “Provence Painting & Culture Workshop” featuring southern France artist and resident Jill Steenhuis and trip organization by France expert Elizabeth Seitz. During this hands-on week plus of French painting and culture, you’ll discover various motifs including Provençal landscapes, village architecture, outdoor markets, still lifes and more while working on composition, brush stroke and color mixing. Cultural visits to Cézanne’s art studio, Van Gogh’s painting sites and more will deepen your understanding of the real Provence. Jill’s artistic expertise, energy and poetic spirit plus Elizabeth’s deep cultural knowledge, warm welcome and desire to share the riches of this region make it a creative journey you won’t want to miss!

“Provence Painting & Culture Workshop”

September 22 to October 1, 2017

Everything is arranged for your perfect French art and culture adventure – private accommodations in modern apartments 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, trip organizing by French Affaires, 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.

Provence Painting & Culture Workshop Highlights

Eight days, eight nights in your modern, centrally located Aix apartment

Outdoor & studio painting classes with celebrated artist Jill Steenhuis

Guided cultural tours of Cézanne’s & Van Gogh’s Provence

Gourmet Provence lunches & dinners with wine

Colorful Provence outdoor markets & villages

Full day excursion to the Mediterranean coast

Your wonderful paintings & sketches as souvenirs of your trip!

Your Connection to Provence 

Jill Steenhuis, Artist - Jill Steenhuis, an Atlanta native, is a French impressionist painter living in the south of France. Jill earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Sweet Briar College in 1980. Upon graduation, she studied at the celebrated Leo Marchutz School of Painting & Drawing in Aix-en-Provence, which follows in the tradition of Cézanne. Since then, she has become an acclaimed artist & has sold more than 2300 works to private collectors, museums & art enthusiasts. She regularly exhibits her work at art shows in France & the U.S. Jill has lived in Provence with her French husband for more than thirty years & has three sons.

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Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz, French AffairesA native Texan, Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz is a specialist in France & French culture. She is the founder of French Affaires, a unique company celebrating French travel, culture, language & l’art de vivre. She received her B.A., M.A. & Ph.D. in French from Vanderbilt University & studied at the Sorbonne in Paris & with Vanderbilt-in-France in Aix-en-Provence. She has lived, worked & traveled extensively in France since 1983. Her specialty is making France personal & special to everyone through her trips, classes & lectures. Elizabeth lives in the French countryside near Paris & travels regularly to the U.S. to speak about French culture to groups across the U.S.

Provence Trip Overview

Day 1: Friday, Sept 22 – Depart your home city & fly to Marseille.

Day 2:  Saturday, Sept 23 – Arrival at the Marseille Airport, Transfer to your apartment, Walking tour of Aix, Welcome bistrot dinner

Day 3: Sunday, Sept 24 – Cezanne art tour, French country lunch, Jill’s art studio, Creative activities, Artist’s palette

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 Jill’s beautiful home just outside Aix-en-Provence 

Day 4:  Monday, Sept 25 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Landscape Painting en plein air

Day 5:  Tuesday, Sept 26 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Charming Port of Cassis on the Mediterranean  

Day 6: Wednesday, Sept 27 – Van Gogh’s Art in Provence: Arles & the Arles’ Countryside St. Rémy’s charming town, Bistrot lunch

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Van Gogh’s Asylum near St. Rémy with reproductions of his works in the garden

Day 7:  Thursday, Sept 28 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Aix Flower Market, Free time in Aix, Sunset painting

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Day 8:  Friday, Sept 29 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Still Life & Garden scene painting, Hang artworks, Free time in Aix

Day 9: Saturday, Sept 30 – Aix Market Tour & visit, Time to shop, Jill’s home for Art Exhibit & Celebration Cocktail Dinner 

Day 10: Sunday, Oct 1 – Farewells & Trip Departure

About Aix-en-Provence

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Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous, vibrant city in the heart of Provence. With a rich history & welcoming southern French culture, Aix provides a superb base for our stay in France. Aix is known for its majestic monuments & architecture, beautiful old town, centuries old fountains, fascinating museums & cultural institutions, wonderful cuisine, colorful outdoor markets, popular universities& schools, lively arts & music scene, & grand boulevard the Cours Mirabeau, noted by many to be the prettiest main street in all of Europe.

 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.  

A personal invitation from Jill to the “Provence Painting & Culture Workshop”:

“We look forward to welcoming you to Provence for an intensive week of painting and cultural inspiration! Our French art workshop is designed for both experienced and beginning painters alike. The focus is on experiencing nature and culture in Provence through the senses in order to engage one’s inner poetry — to see, hear, smell, taste and feel, which will lead you to create new paintings expressing these experiences.

Out in the fields of wheat, sunflowers and lavender in the Provençal landscape, at the seascapes of Cassis or in the flower and vegetable markets of Aix, we will celebrate color. Our workshop will begin with learning to mix a harmonious palette at l’Abeille, my Provence studio and home, which will be our headquarters for the week. After warming up with special drawing exercises, each participant will do a landscape or garden painting in order to get used to the colors and light of Provence. The rest of the week we will draw and paint in the landscape and see places that inspired geniuses like Cézanne and Van Gogh, always seeking to release our creative spirit. Ideas come to our fingertips. Brush strokes go on the canvas. Immediacy is a key element to being able to let go of the intellect and let the paint fly onto the canvas without thinking and calculating, allowing artistic grace to happen. The exhilarating joy of being there to paint, to create from what is visually there in front of you, the sublime fragile beauty and translucent light of Provence will make it an unforgettable experience. A bientôt!”

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French Affaires Update ~ French Kings and Queens Wednesday, Jun 1 2016 

Bonjour France friends! It’s been a very full spring at French Affaires which has meant a slight pause in sending out our French Affaires Weekly newsletters. We thank you for your patience and look forward to sharing a great line-up of new French cultural and travel features in the weeks to come. In today’s post, we thought we’d highlight the latest news including photos from recent group trips to France, our newly designed website which will debut very soon and also the big news that my husband and I are now living in France. Yes, we’ve got a real French house complete with a real French wine cellar and a real French puppy. More on all that below!

French Affaires kicked off the 2016 France travel season with our annual “Paris Antiques Trip” in March. Our great group of intrepid antiques lovers scored lots of fabulous finds all week. And our special decorative arts culture excursion featured a private guided visit to the exquisite Musée Nissim de Camondo, a gorgeous 19th century Parisian mansion filled with extraordinary furniture, art, sculpture, porcelain and more.

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Next up was our custom ”Springtime in Paris” trip for the darling ladies of the Dallas Garden Club. Our special week in and around Paris was filled with luscious gardens, flowers and châteaux. In particular, the ladies received a royal welcome at the gardens and château of Chantilly from Frederic Nancel, Director of Special Events, as well as a unique opportunity to tour with Chantilly’s head gardener.  The trip even included a private perfume workshop where we learned all about various floral elements and created our personal scent to take home. Talk about the ultimate Paris springtime treat!

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Then we kicked off our two-week “Provence Language and Culture Immersion” in historic and lively Aix-en-Provence. Our fun and enthusiastic group savored French lessons, art and culture excursions, culinary delights and daily living in France. Below is a charming view of Arles from our ‘In the Steps of Van Gogh’ visit one afternoon. The inhabitants of this Arles house should win an award for always having the best flower boxes in town! On another day, our group enjoyed art and afternoon tea at the stunning new Aix museum known as the Hôtel Caumont. A former aristocratic mansion then music conservatory, the Hôtel Caumont now hosts wonderful temporary exhibitions – the current show is on Turner – and features restored period rooms and beautiful gardens.

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This spring, we’ve also been hard at work on French Affaires’ new website which will be launching very soon. For those of you who are Instagram fans, we’ve been posting great travel and culture tidbits on the photo sharing app. Here’s a recent posting from May Day in France where everyone gives muguet – lilies of the valley – to their loved ones. For photos that will transport you to France at a glance, come follow us on Instagram at ‘french_affaires’ .

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Last but not least, the move to France! As many of you know, I’ve been spending a good amount of time here each year hosting Americans on special France travels, all the while teaching, speaking and sharing the best of France back in the U.S. This spring, my husband and I moved to a small village near Fontainebleau, about an hour south of Paris. It is a beautiful corner of the world out in the French countryside – see our 17th century house below in spring – but with Paris right on our doorstep.  I will continue to create one-of-a-kind stays in France and also will be in the States regularly to speak and teach (come join me for a special seminar on “French Kings & Queens” on June 15th at SMU in Dallas). The best of both worlds!

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With the launch of the new French Affaires website, I’ll have many stories and cultural happenings to share from life over here in la belle France. There will be some great features on our small village of Courances – population about 350! – and on our new neighbor, the stunning Château de Courances. In the meantime, we have just found out that our village is going to be on French TV on June 7th. It’s one of 13 French towns up for the “Le Village Préféré des Français 2016″ award on channel ‘France 2.’ Hosted by Stéphane Bern, the show began five years ago and each year, the charming candidates are presented via spectacular footage. Before the show airs, the French vote on their favorite and the winner is announced at the end of the show. Click here to see a short preview of the Courances segment (you might be able to see the entire show later on the French channel TV5 Monde if you subscribe to it in the U.S.). And YOU can vote too – please click here to vote for our village of Courances by June 3rd. Merci beaucoup!

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UPCOMING FRENCH EVENT IN DALLAS, TEXAS:

If you need a French fix soon, I’ll be in Dallas for various events and talks including the rich seminar “French Kings & Queens: A History of the Monarchy of France” that I am teaching on Wednesday, June 15th, for the SMU Continuing Studies program. See the lecture details below:

“French Kings & Queens”: Come join us for this exciting overview of French royalty throughout the centuries! Discover the essence of French history with this special course focused on the monarchy of France. Through illustrated lecture, Dr. Elizabeth Seitz will trace the French royal dynasties through the centuries such as the Valois and the Bourbons. We’ll learn about the lives of known and lesser known French kings and queens as well as the castles and monuments they built. Remarkable stories and intrigues of the French court will add color to the rich content of this class. You’ll also receive travel tips on how to experience French royal history in France as well as a reading and film list for further exploration. Advance registration is required through SMU. Please click here for more details.

 

Paint in Provence This September! Monday, Feb 1 2016 

Provence is possibly the most beautiful and rewarding region in all of France. It is known for its charming villages, picturesque 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.

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In September 2016, your can have your own French art experience with French Affaires’ upcoming “Provence Painting & Culture Workshop” featuring southern France artist and resident Jill Steenhuis and hosting by France expert Elizabeth Seitz. During this hands-on week plus of French painting and culture, you’ll discover various motifs including Provençal landscapes, village architecture, outdoor markets, still lifes and more while working on composition, brush stroke and color mixing. Cultural visits to Cézanne’s art studio, Van Gogh’s painting sites and more will deepen your understanding of the real Provence. Jill’s artistic expertise, energy and poetic spirit plus Elizabeth’s deep cultural knowledge, warm welcome and desire to share the riches of this region make it a creative journey you won’t want to miss!

“Provence Painting & Culture Workshop”

September 15 to 24, 2016

Everything is arranged for your perfect art adventure – private accommodations in modern apartments in the heart of 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, trip organizing and hosting by Elizabeth Seitz, 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.

Provence Painting & Culture Workshop Highlights

Nine days, eight nights in your modern, centrally located Aix apartment

Outdoor & studio painting classes with celebrated artist Jill Steenhuis

Cultural activities & trip hosting by France expert Dr. Elizabeth Seitz

Guided cultural tours of Cézanne’s & Van Gogh’s Provence

Gourmet Provence lunches & dinners with wine

Colorful Provence outdoor markets & villages

Full day excursion to the Mediterranean coast

Your wonderful paintings & sketches as souvenirs of your trip!

Your Provence Trip Hosts

 Jill Steenhuis, Artist - Jill Steenhuis, an Atlanta native, is a French impressionist painter living in the south of France. Jill earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Sweet Briar College in 1980. Upon graduation, she studied at the celebrated Leo Marchutz School of Painting & Drawing in Aix-en-Provence, which follows in the tradition of Cézanne. Since then, she has become an acclaimed artist & has sold more than 2300 works to private collectors, museums & art enthusiasts. She regularly exhibits her work at art shows in France & the U.S. Jill has lived in Provence with her French husband for more than thirty years & has three sons.

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Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz, French AffairesA native Texan, Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz is a specialist in France & French culture. She is the founder of French Affaires, a unique company celebrating French travel, culture, language & l’art de vivre. She received her B.A., M.A. & Ph.D. in French from Vanderbilt University & studied at the Sorbonne in Paris & with Vanderbilt-in-France in Aix-en-Provence. She has lived, worked & traveled extensively in France since 1983. Her specialty is making France personal & special to everyone through her trips, classes & lectures. Elizabeth lives in the French countryside near Paris & travels regularly to the U.S. to speak about French culture to groups across the U.S.

Provence Trip Overview

Day 1: Thursday, Sept 15 – Depart your home city & fly to Marseille.

Day 2:  Friday, Sept 16 – Arrival at the Marseille Airport, Transfer to your Apartment, Walking tour of Aix, Welcome Bistrot Dinner with Jill & Elizabeth

Day 3: Saturday, Sept 17 – Aix Outdoor Market Tour, Cezanne’s Art Studio, Jill’s Art Studio, Cocktails & Dinner at Jill’s Provence Home

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 Jill’s beautiful home just outside Aix-en-Provence 

Day 4:  Sunday, Sept 18 – Provence Painting Workshop Begins: Color Palettes, Sketching, Painting Demonstration by Jill  

Day 5:  Monday, Sept 19 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Landscape Painting en plein air

Day 6: Tuesday, Sept 20 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Charming Port of Cassis on the Mediterranean  

Day 7:  Wednesday, Sept 21 – Van Gogh’s Art in Provence: Arles, Abbaye de Montmajour & St. Paul de Mausole, St. Rémy’s Charming Town & Market, Bistrot lunch

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Van Gogh’s Asylum near St. Rémy with reproductions of his works in the garden

Day 8:  Thursday, Sept 22 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Aix Flower & Vegetable Market

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Day 9: Friday, Sept 23 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Still Life & Garden Scene Painting, Hang Artworks, Evening Art Exhibit, Cocktail Party & Farewell Dinner 

Day 10: Saturday, Sept 24 – Farewells & Trip Departure

About Aix-en-Provence

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Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous, vibrant city in the heart of Provence. With a rich history & welcoming southern French culture, Aix provides a superb base for our stay in France. Aix is known for its majestic monuments & architecture, beautiful old town, centuries old fountains, fascinating museums & cultural institutions, wonderful cuisine, colorful outdoor markets, popular universities& schools, lively arts & music scene, & grand boulevard the Cours Mirabeau, noted by many to be the prettiest main street in all of Europe.

 For the detailed Provence Painting Trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com . This special trip is limited to 8 to 10 participants for a highly personalized art and travel experience.  

A personal invitation from Jill to the “Provence Painting & Culture Workshop”:

Elizabeth and I look forward to welcoming you to Provence for an intensive week of painting and cultural inspiration! Our French art workshop is designed for both experienced and beginning painters alike. The focus is on experiencing nature and culture in Provence through the senses in order to engage one’s inner poetry — to see, hear, smell, taste and feel, which will lead you to create new paintings expressing these experiences.

Out in the fields of wheat, sunflowers and lavender in the Provençal landscape, at the seascapes of Cassis or in the flower and vegetable markets of Aix, we will celebrate color. Our workshop will begin with learning to mix a harmonious palette at l’Abeille, my Provence studio and home, which will be our headquarters for the week. After warming up with special drawing exercises, each participant will do a landscape or garden painting in order to get used to the colors and light of Provence. The rest of the week we will draw and paint in the landscape and see places that inspired geniuses like Cézanne and Van Gogh, always seeking to release our creative spirit. Ideas come to our fingertips. Brush strokes go on the canvas. Immediacy is a key element to being able to let go of the intellect and let the paint fly onto the canvas without thinking and calculating, allowing artistic grace to happen. The exhilarating joy of being there to paint, to create from what is visually there in front of you, the sublime fragile beauty and translucent light of Provence will make it an unforgettable experience. A bientôt! Jill

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Be at Home in Provence This May! Tuesday, Jan 19 2016 

Dear friends - For a little winter pick-me-up, today we are spotlighting our upcoming Provence immersion trip this May. Provence is possibly the most beautiful and rewarding region in all of France. It is known for stunning countryside, amazing weather, picturesque villages, flavorful cuisine, wonderful wines, colorful markets, fragrant gardens, charming locals and relaxed culture. Please join us for this extra-special France language and culture immersion experience where you will have the chance to really ‘live in Provence’ for a glorious two weeks in May of 2016. 

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We’ve arranged everything for a perfect, easy stay – private accommodations in modern, fully furnished apartments in the center of Aix-en-Provence, French lessons for your level at Aix’s premier language school, superb cultural excursions in and around Aix organized especially for our group, excellent guides and hosts, wonderful dinners and lunches featuring Provence cuisine with wine, visits to colorful outdoor markets, time on the Mediterranean coast, chances to meet and interact with Aix locals, and more. You’ll love soaking in the ambiance of Provence during this unique immersion into the best of southern France.

I will lead our Aix-en-Provence immersion experience and connect you personally with French culture, the language and the people. This trip is ideal for individuals, couples, friends, and even families traveling together. After our Provence adventure, you’ll be speaking French like never before – and you’ll have a lifetime of memories of your time in Aix! A bientôt, Elizabeth 

P.S. I also call this our ’semester abroad for busy adults’ trip – so if you ever wanted to really be at home in France, this is an ideal way to do it!

Highlights of Our Provence Immersion Trip – May 6 to 21, 2016

Fourteen nights in your bright, modern, centrally located Aix apartment

French classes according to your level at Aix’s premier language institute

Gourmet Provence dinners & lunches with wine

Aperitifs at a private Aix home

Special tastings of local wines, cheeses, calissons

Excursions to Marseille & Cassis on the Mediterranean

Avignon’s amazing Palais des Papes, the Popes’ 14th century home

Roman Aqueduct of Pont du Gard still in amazing condition

Special Tasting at the Vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Visit to the wonderful Provence town of Arles & Van Gogh sites

Guided tour of Cézanne’s Provence by artist & Aix resident Jill Steenhuis

Colorful Provence outdoor markets

Experiencing ’strawberry season’ in May in France

Meeting Aix locals & residents

Living for two fantastic weeks in Provence & so much more!

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 Arles, the lovely Provence town where Van Gogh lived & painted

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 Our private tour of the stunning Roman Aqueduct the Pont du Gard includes a walk on the aqueduct itself!

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 Provence’s outdoor markets are always a feast for the senses

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Aix’s incredible new museum – a 17th century restored mansion in the heart of Aix

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We’ll get a great private tour of the 14th century Popes’ Palace in Avignon

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 Provence’s always delicious ’salade niçoise’ – perfect with a nice glass of rosé!

Your Provence Trip Host Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz

A native Texan, Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz is a specialist in French and founder of French Affaires, a company celebrating French travel, culture, language, and l’art de vivre. She received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in French from Vanderbilt University and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and with Vanderbilt-in-France in Aix-en-Provence. She has lived, studied, worked and traveled extensively in France since 1983. Her specialty is making France personal and special to everyone through her trips, classes and lectures. She still loves to teach the French language and is regularly asked to speak to groups, organizations and businesses in the U.S.

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About Aix-en-Provence in southern France

Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous, vibrant city in the heart of Provence. With a rich history and a welcoming southern French culture, Aix provides a superb base for your immersion stay in France. Aix is known for its majestic monuments and architecture, beautiful old town full of winding medieval streets, centuries old fountains, fascinating museums and cultural institutions, popular universities and schools, lively arts and music scene, and impressive boulevard the Cours Mirabeau, noted by many to be the prettiest main street in all of Europe. There is nothing better than to immerse oneself in French daily life – and Aix is the perfect place to do it. So come relax, learn, enjoy and experience that magical French ‘joie de vivre’!

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The two-week Provence Language & Culture Immersion trip cost is $4950 (double occupancy) & includes 14 nights accommodation in modern apartments in the center of Aix, 10 mornings of French language & culture lessons at Aix’s premier language institute, multiple special cultural excursions, daily breakfasts, many lunches & dinners with wine, various tastings, aperitifs, transfers to & from the Marseille airport, interaction with Aix locals, a personal introduction & connection to Aix by Dr. Seitz throughout the trip, & more. For the detailed trip description & to reserve your space, please email us at french.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com. You can also reach us at 214-232-5344 – we’d be happy to discuss the trip details with you!

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One of our previous Provence groups taking in the wonders of the Pont du Gard

Bonne annee ~ The Year in Pictures at French Affaires Thursday, Jan 7 2016 

Bonne année à toutes et à tous! Happy New Year to all!

As 2016 begins, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a ‘très belle année 2016’ and thank you warmly for your support, readership and participation in French Affaires’ classes, cultural events and trips to France this past year. It has been a fantastic time of sharing the best of French language, culture, travel and l’art de vivre – and it has been our most wonderful year ever, thanks to you. Still, as France is endlessly rich in culture, history, travel and more, I can promise that there will be some terrific new surprises coming shortly in 2016 as well as a continuation of great language, culture and travel offerings. But before we get to some of the 2016 French goodies, I’d like to share a few highlights of French Affaires 2015 in photos. Join us for this virtual year in pictures below - and maybe get inspired to come away with us to France this coming year!

Highlights of French Affaires’ annual “Paris Antiques Trip this past March were the big Paris flea market at St. Ouen/ Clignancourt and the bi-annual foire à la brocante at Chatou just west of Paris. St. Ouen is the world’s largest marché aux puces, or flea market, with everything from bric-a-brac to museum quality pieces. We could have spent several days there alone as there are many different sub-markets spread out over the sprawling, easy-to-get-lost-in complex. On the other hand, Chatou is one of my favorite Paris markets perhaps because it doesn’t happen all the time. Running for about ten days each spring and fall, the fair showcases several hundred antiques vendors from all over France. It is a collector’s dream - café au lait bowls, confiture jars, regular silver, hotel silver, pottery, china, pewter, paintings, portraits, chairs, tables, chests…it is all there. And bargaining is a definite must at this market. Our antiquing group this past year found loads of fabulous finds at these markets and more during our treasure-hunting week in Paris. For info about our 2016 Paris Antiques Trip, please email us at French.culture@frenchaffaires.com.

While hosting the Paris antiques trip, I tasted several versions of one of my favorite French comfort foods – les oeufs mayonnaise. Afterwards, I posted an article on “Eggs in France” which hit home with many French Affaires’ readers. You can click here to read (or reread!) some of the great ways eggs are done in France.

Spring was a riot of flowers and gardens on our French Affaires’ trip designed especially for the Dallas Garden Club this past year. The Dallas ladies came to France in May for the “Great Gardens of Paris & the Loire Valley – a nine day joyous extravaganza of everything gardens and châteaux. Our lovely French hosts gave us a warm welcome everywhere, and nature cooperated by gracing all our destinations with exquisite flowers, plants and landscapes. Quel bonheur!

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In late May and in September 2015, we spent lovely light and color filled weeks in the south of France for the “Provence Painting & Culture Workshops” co-hosted with wonderful artist Jill Steenhuis. From color mixing tutorials to composition discussions to painting en plein air to following in the steps of artists Van Gogh and Cezanne to enjoying the gorgeous scenery to sharing wonderful French meals with wine, our painting groups’ creativity and enthusiasm knew no bounds.

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Since we’re on the topic of Provence, as readers of our French Affaires’ newsletter know, we can’t get enough of this region of France. So this coming May we’ll be doing our “Provence Language & Culture Immersion” trip again from May 6 to 21, 2016. It is a fabulous and laid-back opportunity to “live” in France and really experience the people, the landscapes and the culture – including the art. It’s also a great chance to take tons of incredible photos since everywhere you look is just Provence picture perfect! For full trip details, please email us at French.culture@frenchaffaires.com.

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This past fall, a wonderful group of French Affaires’ trip-goers immersed themselves in the riches of Southwest France. We spent many glorious days in the cool, crisp weather of the Dordogne, the Lot and Bordeaux. The distinctive history, architecture, landscapes, culture, food, wines and people made this a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Our pictures of this harder-to-get-to French region tell it all…

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And of course, faithful to my French professor roots, I was able to share all manner of lovely things about France in illustrated culture courses through SMU’s Continuing Studies program and in French Affaires’ language offerings. We covered the incredible chateaux near Paris in January – perfect for planning day excursions from the French capital. In late spring, I designed a course on “French Kings & Queens: A History of the Monarchy in France” which was an amazing journey through French time and royalty. “Gourmet Paris: A Culinary Tour of the French Capital” was also on our culture course list – and our annual “French for Travelers” reached a sell-out crowd for the eighth year in a row. If you’re planning some travel to France soon or just want to get acquainted with French attitudes, etiquette and basic conversation, you might want to join us for this year’s edition of “French for Travelers” which runs from February 16 to 18, 2016, in Dallas, Texas. Please click here for more details and registration information with SMU’s Continuing Studies program. And more French language and culture classes will be coming in 2016 so stay tuned to this space.

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We do want to pause to remember the terrible events in Paris in November and January of last year. For a short article on our thoughts and support for the French, please click here. The French are strong – and Paris will always be Paris!

Last but not least, our special “French Cookbook Club” and “French Cuisine & Culture Workshops” immersed us in French culinary delights all year long. The hands-on “Spotlight on French Vinaigrettes” was a festival of French tastes and flavors – with nary a bottled salad dressing in sight. And the “French Cookbook Club” – now in its fifth amazing year! – has been an extraordinary coming together of great French Affaires’ friends, great cookbooks and great cooking. We are looking forward to this year’s final celebration dinner and weekend in France – and I’ll be on the hunt for next year’s special new theme.

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So, again, je vous remercie de votre fidelité et je vous souhaite une extraordinaire année 2016. I look forward to sharing more of wonderful France with you this year. Come have some fun French style…A très bientôt!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French Take-Out™ ~ La France à emporter

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A French Friday in Fontainebleau Tuesday, Jun 30 2015 

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

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

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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