Alsace France and Germany for Christmas - markets, flammenkeuche, and hot wine

The Alsace Region of France was a favorite place of ours when we lived in Belgium.  It was only a five-hour drive from our home.  We last visited in 2011, right before we moved to Singapore.  It was so nice to go back.

This time we shared our experience with my sister-in-law Tammy!



A night at the chateau



Santa is called Père Noël, or Father Christmas, in France.  Father Christmas originally wore a white gown; and the modern Santa with the red outfit came about from Coca Cola ads of the 60's.  Merry Christmas! = Joyeux Noël !






When we visit the Alsace region, we always stay at our favorite B&B in Europe, Ambiance Jardin.  We have stayed here six times, including a trip with D's parents.  The owners are now our friends.  If you visit this area you MUST stay here!  Pierrette makes the sweetest breakfasts.  We were there five nights and each morning our table was decorated in a different theme.



Wine tasting



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Wine tasting



The Alsace region has fantastic gastronomy and world famous wines, charming towns and villages, and wonderful hospitalityThis region is in the very eastern side of France in a valley along the Rhine River – a river that separates France and Germany. On the other side of the river is Baden, Germany.  Alsace’s capitol city is Strasbourg and is said to have France’s oldest Christmas market, established in 1570. It is known as the "Capitale de Noel" (the Capital of Christmas).  This whole region has some of the most spectacular Christmas Markets (Christkindelsmarik) in Europe. 




Our favorite part of the markets?  Flammenkeuche!!  Depending on the region, this dish can be called Tarte Flambe in French, (which translates as "pie baked in the flames.") or Flammenkeuche in German (which means "flame cake").  It is a pizza-like dish with sour cream, bacon, and onions and it is actually baked outside in an oven or on the flames. Let's just say... to die for!!!



Wine tasting



Another favorite market treat... Gluhwein or vin chaud .... it's hot-spiced wine.  You can get it in the red or white version.  Ohhhhh so good when you are walking around the cold market.  Each village has their own special cup or mug.  You pay a deposit and continue to fill up the cup.  In the end - you can keep the cup as a souvenir or return it for your deposit.  Of course we kept ours.



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Other market favorites

.... Choucroute Garnie (sausage and sauerkraut).



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... bacon, potatoes, cheese, and cream


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and sweets!!



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A night at the chateau



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We enjoyed a wine and food tasting called Cave de Noel.  Alsace is known for its white wines; Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris.  Most people think of Riesling as sweet, but in Alsace they are dry. The vineyards have mineral-rich soils, which add acidity to the juice and overpowers the sweetness.

This area also produces a lot of organic wines. Largely due to the dry, windy climate, about 15 percent of grape growers farm without chemicals, making it the largest organic wine region in France.

The vineyard we visited, Domaine Baumann-Zirgel, was an organic vineyard.  We bought a few bottles to bring home.



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 The Christmas markets are very festive with fun activities for all ages.



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You know this is a special time of year when they have rides that can only be used at Christmas.  This one was adorable.  The tree branches go up in the air, along with the seats. 



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Every year Strasbourg puts up a very tall Christmas tree at the main market.  It is the largest Christmas tree in France.   This year, it took them three tries to get a tree that would not crack under the decorations, costing the city 50K Euros.  And if you notice this one, even it leans a bit to the side.



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At Christmas time, Ribeauvillé decorates with a medieval theme.  Dilly Dilly!



A night at the chateau



You can find decorations in every nook and cranny of the little village streets.



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And in the windows!  We love the way they decorate the windows.  Looks like what Dr. Seuss had in mind when he created “Whoville” in How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  Common themes this year were polar bears and mice.



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If you look closely, this little bear is actually blowing bubbles.


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In France, Christmas Day is considered the “First Day of Christmas” and the Twelve Days are the 25th of December to the 5th of January. It is on January 6th where gifts are opened and they eat ‘la galette des rois’ – the cake of kings.



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The Cathédral of Notre-Dame 



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There are so many little villages in this area to visit - each more magical than the next.  One of our favorites was Eguisheim.


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A perfect snow!


One wish of mine for this trip was to have snow.  My wish was granted!  The morning we were visiting the Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle we had the perfect snow.  It made the little vineyards and the castle even more enchanting!



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Brother and sister!



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Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle was built in the 12th century. Its purpose was to watch over the wine and wheat routes to the North and the silver and salt routes from West to East.  It was reduced to ruins during the Thirty Years' War and then abandoned.  In 1899, Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to rebuild the castle and turn it into a museum.  It was restored using the architecture of the middle ages. 



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Our two-day adventure into Germany

A castle and a Michelin Star Restaurant


Germany is just across the river so we put the car on a ferry and off we went.  Thanks to the Schengen Agreement, we can cross into Germany without showing our passports.


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I booked us a night at this castle along with a Michelin star dinner.  It was our Christmas/Anniversary treat.  And a special treat it was!



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Otto I built this castle in 1272, but only the ramparts and the foundation of the keep survived.  William IV of Eberstein expanded the castle in the 16th century, as did Philip III in the 17th century. At the end of the century during the Palatine War of Succession, or Nine Years’ War, Prince Leopold Wilhelm and the nuns of the Convent School of the Holy Grave found safety here.  Over time, the estate came into the hands of the Margrave of Baden. In 1802, the castle was rebuilt in a neo-Gothic style.  Since 2006, the castle has been open as a hotel and restaurant.



Image may contain: sky, house, tree, outdoor and nature 

{Above photo is from their site}



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The view from the castle looking back into the Murg Valley and the Black Forest. 



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Bernd Werner, one of Germany’s top young chefs holds a Michelin star.  He creates innovative cuisine using local produce.  His focus is on food that's perfectly executed.  It was some of the most beautiful dishes we have eaten.  Each bite was a mouthful of exotic flavors.


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We started with an amuse-bouche of a fried oyster and celeriac soup.



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First course - foie gras with chocolate and fig.  Oh my!


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Next course - caramelized pork with shrimp. 

Did I mention we had wine pairings with each course?   :  )


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Then halibut with artichokes and tomato-caper relish


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A palate cleanser of sorbet and foam before the main dish.



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The main dish was venison.  I am not a huge fan of venison, but I have to say this dish was exceptional.


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My dessert, speculoos and coffee brulee in a glass bulb.  Yes the bulb was eatable - made of paper-thin sugar.  A very unique dessert and really delicious.



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D and Tammy opted for the chocolate dessert.  Equally as decedent.


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 It was truly a memorable meal.   


Our Day in Germany


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Have you ever seen a can of sauerkraut this big?



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 Check out this rotating grill.


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These tools are actually handcrafted from chocolate. 


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 We bought a few tools for D's dad for Christmas.






Here is the chocolate version of the wrench compared to a real one!  An amazing amount of detail.




Back in France

Champagne Region of Reims



A night at the chateau



It was fun pretending we lived in a Chateau.  There are only two rooms so we were the only guests.  The family lives here as well.  It was in a very small village outside of Reims and luckily there was a fantastic restaurant just around the corner.  My dish was duck with a pumpkin sauce served in the pumpkin shell.  Two of my very favorite foods.



A night at the chateau



Look closely at the trees; they are made of wine bottles.  It is my goal to drink enough wine this year to make a wine bottle tree next December!  Looks like there are around 65 on each side, so 260 bottles.  That is almost a bottle every day!  Okay, I am probably going to need some help.



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A night at the chateau



And last but not least is a very special story we have from this trip.  Over the years, I have met many people from my blog.  Most of them are on-line friendships, but many I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet in person. 


Meet Odile and her daughters Kim and Thanh Le.

Odile lives in Reims, France. She and I have been writing back and forth for many years.  We have a common bond of photography and all things vintage!  Especially papers and books.  We have even sent each other little gifts through the mail.  As soon as I knew we were going to be in Reims, I sent her a message to meet up for a coffee.  But being the lovely person she is, Odile invited us to her home for lunch.  Words cannot describe how special this get-together was for me.

The lunch was wonderful!  To us, it felt like a very local french.  We started with a bottle of champagne and foie gras.  For lunch we had Duck confit parmentier - a baked duck dish.  Similar to our shepherd's pie, but with duck.  and much tastier!  And we had a fabulous cheese plate.  Why can't we have cheese like this in the US?  As stuffed as we were, we finished with a frozen dessert.  Just perfect!!



A night at the chateau



The three of them could not have been any more gracious, hospitable, friendly, and kind.  It was as if we were family that had not seen each other in years.  Not only did they spend their entire day with us, but they showered us with gifts.  After lunch, we had grand tour of Reims.  It is such a beautiful city and really made me miss living in Europe.    





We arrived at noon and left at 6!  Thank you Odile, Kim and Thanh Le for the special memories you left with us.



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Note:  D was with us, but was taking the photos and why he does not appear in any! 



Happy 29th anniversary to my Poo-Pie!


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D's big 5-0 in Paris!




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My honey-pie turned 50 on Dec 23rd.  As crazy as we are with the move, the morning of his b-day we hopped on the train to Paris for the night.  We came home the next day, which was Christmas Eve.


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He did all HIS favorite things on HIS special birthday


We visited the Christmas Market:

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We discovered fabulous caramels made by Henri Le Roux.  I love caramels, D is so-so about them.  But after eating an entire bag - he agreed these were delicious and the best he had ever eaten.

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Early evening, we checked out the department stores  “Vitrines de Noël” (holiday windows).  Gallery Lafayette and Printemps are known for their special Christmas windows.





Galeries Lafayette’s theme was “Noël Rock ‘n’ Mode” created by New York artist Andrew Yang.  Because they are animated, it is very difficult to get clear photos.



The miniature puppets were called Kouklistar poupées with names like Brigitte, Imany, and Inna Modja, along with Mademoiselle K, Medi, and Cyril Mokaiesh. Made of soft muslin and hand-painted, they danced away in front of the crowds.





 The musical bus.





Inside Galeries Lafayette there is a huge tree in the center of the store that goes up 66 feet, almost reaching the the grand domed ceiling, created in 1912.  It was decked out in  55 neon signs continuing the "Rock in Mode" theme.  The store was so crowded, we only took a quick look at the tree and left.  I must be getting old  :  )









At Printemps, the windows were created by Karl Lagerfeld. Titled "Christmas Dreams of Far Away", the windows displayed holiday scenes from legendary cities around the world.  The cities were selected by Lagerfeld as sources of inspiration and destinations that have been part of Chanel’s history.





His concept was designed to take visitors on a small trip around the world in just a few minutes. It even had an airplane from Los Angles to take you on this magical ride. 





Featuring a pilot and a flight attendant embraced in a kiss on the top of the plane.





The displays had an enchanting appeal, fused with Lagerfeld’s trademark charisma and flair.  Many were animated, but not all.

A few of the cities included Moscow:




New York




















And I am not sure which country this one is from:






My favorite, was Paris - with many tiny Carls dancing around the city....








For D's birthday dinner we ate at Le Tir Bouchon, one of our favorite Parisian restaurants in the 2nd arrondissement.  D had baked camembert cheese for a starter, and the beef onglet in a red wine sauce for his main.  I had ravioli des poisson (fish) and the house special of duck confit, foie gras, and mashed potatoes.  We had a lovely bottle of red wine from St Emillion and we shared a chocoalte moelleux for dessert.  It was a delicious meal



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The next day, to continue doing all of D's favortie things for his B-day weekend, we went to the flea market!  Wasn't he lucky that it was open Christmas Eve Day?

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We ate lunch at another favorite Brasseries just down the street from the flea - La Porte Didot.  It is a very local place where they serve typical French food.  Always good.  We also got to visit Dave and Fatama in their new Paris apartment.  They just moved in on Dec 21 so I did not think it was fair to take any photos.

I had an excellent Birthday trip doing all my favoite things in Paris....I mean.....D had an excellent birthday trip.  Look at that is a happy 50 year old!



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Farewell Paris - we may not see you again for many years!



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Christmas in Alsace France




Not quite French, not quite German - Alsace France is a world all to it's own.  Nestled between the Rhine River and Germany, Alsace has some of the most spectacular Christmas Markets in Europe.  Dating back to 1570, the markets run from late November until December 31st.




Strasbourg claims to be the capital of Christmas.  History says..... that Christmas tress were sold here back in the 16th century along with decorations of paper roses, apple and sweets.




Folklore says that in 1858 there was a bad drought and there was no fruit for the children to hang from the trees, so a glass blower created glass balls - the first Christmas balls.




Unfortunately, due to high winds and heavy rains - the Strasbourg Christmas market was closed for the day.  All of the chalets were shut tight.




A custom of this area is to decorate the windows and doors with elaborate decorations  - with the primary ones being stuffed animals.  To see many more of the decorated windows, hop over to my art blog - Ma Vie Trouvee.


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Kaysersberg,  a charming village with less than 3000 residents was the market we visited on Saturday.  I was not able to get any photos of the market as it was crowded and raining so lots of umbrellas! 


There were some elaborate decorations in the village. 


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This was outside of a restaurant.






So much yummy food to eat in this area, and extra special treats for the season.




A peek through the windows.










With lots of sauerkraut and meat!




We stayed at our VERY favorite B&B in Europe, Ambiance Jardin.  We have stayed here five times over the four years we have live in Brussels.  If you visit this area you MUST stay here!  I have shared many photos of the B&B in previous posts - but here are a few more with Pierrette's beautiful Christmas vignettes (and a little PSE altering).




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Our lovely breakfast table.




Despite the rain, we still had a fun time.  We highly recommend a visit to this part of France anytime of the year, but especially at Christmas!

The Loire Valley: Fairy-tale chateaux, stone houses, wine, and wonderful cuisine.


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The Loire Valley is a picturesque region of France renown for its fairy-tale chateaux, historic villages, stone houses, wine, and wonderful cuisine.  It is south west of Paris and a seven-hour drive from Brussels. 


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In 2000, UNESCO added the central part of the Loire River valley to its list of World Heritage Sites.  We had toured this area fifteen years ago and visited many of the larger chateaux so this time we selected smaller ones to visit.

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A Castle?? A Chateau?? What is the difference? 

A chateau (plural chateaux) is a very large French country house, often giving its name to wine made in its neighborhood.  It is usually the residence of the lord of the manor or a country house for nobility.  They are usually found in France, with the largest grouping in the Loire Valley.

A Castle is a fortified residence (designed for defense), usually for prince or nobleman, a fortress.

"Chateau" is not interchangeable with  "castle".  Most châteaux are described in English as "palaces" or "country houses".


Chateau de Villandry 

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Chateau de Villandry was our favorite.  It was completed around 1536 and was the last of the large chateaux built in the Loire Valley during the Renaissance period.



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They allowed us to take photos inside, which is very unusual.  I was intrigued with the beds.  Oh would I love a bed in nook like this.



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Throughout the Chateau they had fresh flowers.  No other Chateau did this - it was a nice touch.


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In 1906, Joachim Carvallo purchased the property and he put an enormous amount of time, money and devotion into repairing it and creating what many consider to be the most beautiful gardens in France.



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It is famous for its Renaissance gardens, which are laid out in formal patterns created with low box hedges.  In 1934, Château de Villandry was designated a "Monument historique" and is a World Heritage Site.  It is still owned by the Carvallo family.


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One of the most beautiful sections is the ornamental gardens made up of several "gardens of love".  Here, boxwood hedges are trimmed into heart shapes, connected by white, red and pink begonias. 



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It certainly was the garden of love....while we were there, eight couples were getting married.  All at the same time!  We watched the entire service - sweet.

The vows:


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The Kiss:



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The Toast:



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Behind the ornamental gardens there is an artificial lake - complete with swans (his mate was off to the side).



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There are vegetables and herbs growing in the tradition patterns of the gardens that used to be planted by the abbey monks.


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On the walk out, there are long terraces lined with grape vines with the most beautifully colored grapes I have ever seen.  



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Chateau Blois

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The Royal Château de Blois was the residence for many kings and queens (including the famous Queen Catherine de Medici)  and where the Archbishop of Reims blessed Joan of Arc in 1429 before departing with her army to drive the English from Orléans.  The statue below at the entrance is of King Henry XII.

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Built in stages between the 13th and the 17th, it has undergone several renovations over the centuries.  The dominant styles are Gothic and Renaissance.  It has 564 rooms; 100 are bedrooms and every room has a fireplace.  It is most famous for its spiral staircase shown below.

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Chateau de Beaureguard


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Château de Beauregard was built around 1545 and has been inhabited without interruption since the late 15th century.  The castle of Beauregard is hidden behind the foliage of the forest of Russy. 

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As we walked through the lovely forest we discovered interactive art displays, like these over-sized bird nests with giant eggs.

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We had fun climbing inside of the bird nests to take a few photos.


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We also stumbled upon this interesting guy.  It is called arion rufus or the red slug.  Most people report their color as orange (like this one), not red as the name implies.  They live in the woods around the vineyards, preferring the dark and moist ground to the bright sun.  It was approximately three inches long.  D almost picked it up as he thought it was a rubber toy.

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The Cheyron du Pavillon family now owns the Chateau and reside here.  Must be odd to have so many people visiting your home while you are living there.

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Chateau Azay-le Rideau

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The Château of Azay-le-Rideau was built between 1515 to 1527 and is one of the earliest French Renaissance châteaux.


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Built on an island, its foundation rises straight out of the water.

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Over the centuries, it changed hands several times until the early part of the twentieth century, when it was purchased by the French government in 1905 and restored for visitors. The interior was completely refurbished with a collection of Renaissance pieces.  

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The Chateau at Saumur

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Chateau de Saumur was originally constructed in the 10th century.  In 1621 the castle was converted into an army barracks.  Two centuries later it was converted into a state prison under Napoleon Bonaparte.  We did not tour the inside of this one.

A few more chateaux....

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Priory of Saint-Cosme - Ronsard's Residence


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The Collegiate Church of Saint-Martin-de-Tours founded the priory in 1092.  In 1565 Pierre de Ronsard, a very famous poet in France, was gifted the priory from the King.  In 1565, Catherine de'Medici (Queen of France married to KingHenry II) visited him along with her sons.  Ronsard died in 1585 and his remains are buried there today.

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We stayed at Le Lavoirdu Coteau a lovely gîte.   It looks quite simple from the outside...but inside was beautiful.

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A gîte is a French holiday home that is available for rent.   Gîtes are usually fully furnished and equipped for self-catering.   To be called a gîte, the owner must live close by in order to provide help if needed. 

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Gîtes are generally old farm worker's cottages or converted outbuildings and barns.  The building below is the owner's house and had the most gorgeous interior I have ever seen - magazine quality.  Don't you love those big old doors?

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The house was an old vineyard/barn that they refurbished.  Our room is the one on the far wall; the windows were where our loft bedroom was.  One evening the owners, Anna and Richard, invited us to join them for a glass of wine.  She spoke very good English; his English was about as good as D's French so they both got to practice.  It was a fun evening.

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Here is our cozy living room.  It had a lot of character with the beams and the stone floor.  I wish it had been cold so we could have had a fire.

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But the trade off for a fire was a grill!  A real treat for us.  We ate our lunches out and grilled dinner every night we were there.  A very happy D grilling.

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And a happy D relaxing with a glass of local wine.

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We went to a very nice restaurant for lunch one day.  The menu had multiple courses; fresh pea soup, foie gras with figs, lacquered tomatoes with fresh goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette (one of our favorites), ravioli with lobster and a foam sauce, samosa of duck confit, ten desserts - YES I SAID TEN....

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And if that wasn't enough, we finished with a mignardises (a bite sized dessert at the end of meal).....super rich chocolate.  Talk about ending the meal on a happy note!

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We really enjoyed the bottle of wine we had with lunch.  This area is said to have some of the best white wines in France.  D looked up the wine, Domaine des Aubuisières, and it was produced in the village we were staying in, Vouvray.

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So we went for a visit to the vineyard where they make the wine.  D saw the owner (recognized him from an article he read on-line) and said bonjour Mr.  Fouquet, may we purchase some wine from you?  D explained we had a bottle in the restaurant and really enjoyed it (D did this all in French).  Mr. Fouquet invited us into his tasting room.

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He was so nice.  We purchased a case; he rang up the sale himself, boxed the wines and insisted on carrying it to our car.  And this vineyard is rated as one of the top two in the area.  We were very impressed and very happy we found the wine!

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This is where the wine is made.  Domaine des Aubuisières is a fairly small producer. 

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Another unique and very interesting feature of this area are the stone cliffs with houses built into them. 


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The stone is called Tuffeau stone and the caves were created when they mined the cliffs in the 15th century.  


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Many of the caves were converted into houses as well as the larger ones are used for growing a wide variety of mushrooms, which are transported daily to the markets in Paris. The Loire is the largest supplier of mushrooms to Paris.

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As we drove around we were in awe of these stunning houses.  There are hundreds of them.  The photos do not show the real beauty of these structures.


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The little house below is just down the street for our gite.  Can you see the chimney coming out of the grass?


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The sunflowers were in full bloom.  I love a good sunflower field for a photo shoot.  They are such a happy flower  :   )


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 I hope you enjoyed the Loire Valley. We sure did!


My birthday weekend in Alsace France


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We have not been to France in such a long time so I picked one of our favorite areas, Alsace, for my birthday weekend.  Great food, great wine, and most importantly FLEA MARKETS! 

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Alsace France is right on the border of Germany so you see a real mix of the two cultures.  The houses look more Germany with traditional half-timbered style.  They are very colorful.


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 There are so many sweet little villages to visit all within a short distance from each other.  This area is very clean and they take pride in their neighborhoods - notice all the flowers.  This one had canals running all through it.

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If the village meets certain requirements, they are awarded a flower icon.  They can be awarded one to four flowers.  The ones rated four are exceptionally quaint.   At the entrance of each little village, they have sculptures and statues in the circles. 

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This is one of my favorites, two children playing seesaw, and it is actually the one for the village where our B&B is located.  They move up and down - how precious!

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We stayed at our very favorite B&B, Ambiance Jardin located in Diebolsheim, between Strasbourg and Colmar.  This is our fourth stay and I have already booked a long weekend for the Christmas markets in December.  Here I am with Pierrette, the owner.

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A few photos at the lovely B&B:

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D relaxing and reading in the garden.....


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It is hard to capture how lovely the garden is.  There are little pathways that twist and turn, along with sweet little sitting areas.  If you want to see more images of Ambiance Jardin, visit my art blog, ma vie trouvee.


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Diebolsheim was awarded the highest rating of four flowers.   There are only six villages out of 137, which have this rating.  This restaurant is just down the street from the B&B.  A young couple owns it and he is the chef.  The food is always delicious.  

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This was an interesting house in the neighborhood.

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One evening Pierrette's neighbor, Jean -Luc, stopped by.  We chatted and he told us all about his garden.  He invited us to stop by for a visit the next morning, so we did. 

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It was very interesting as he has over 40 different varietals of tomatoes and many other fruits and vegetables.  Here is Jean-Luc with his insect house.

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It was quite the structure - below is a close-up.  Each insect has a special spot (log, brick, etc).  All good insects, to help keep his garden healthy.

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His English was about as good as D's French....but we had fun figuring out what each was saying.  And Jean Luc had a very ornery sense of humor.  His wife kept him in close earshot to make sure he was behaving!  Obviously she was not around in this photo as he had D laughing!


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Below, he is showing D how to create the best soil for plants.



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D was very excited about the tool and plans to order one to take back to Virginia.  You can see part of it below.  It had metal prongs about 12 inches long.

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We went to several flea markets where I found some real treasures.  To see what I bought, visit my art blog by clicking here: ma vie trouvee.   I found a real treasure, a very old stamp (see below).  To read more about it,  click here.


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Even D found a treasure for one euro!  What is it you ask?  An old mallet.  What is he going to use it for - to flatten meat.  Remind me NOT to eat the meat he uses this on.

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Alsatian cuisine is influenced from both the German and the French. 


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On of the traditional dishes of the region is flammekueche, also called flambees; our favorite.  Basically like a pizza, but with bacon and cream - oh so yummy!  They are also well known for foie gras made in the region since the 17th century.  We had this too!

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The scenery in this area is stunning with so many different landscapes to see -  including an old castle.

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Look at the colorful tile on the church steeple.


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A sweet little wedding.

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This was her car....not sure why the photographer had her walking all over the cobblestones!



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Alsace is well known for their wines.  Alsatian wines are dry and white, most being rieslings and gewürztraminer.  Before we traveled to this region, we thought the wines were very sweet, but they are not.  We have come to really like them.


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In this region the vineyards are not set up for visiting or tasting, instead each "house" has a store front set up in the village.

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They are quite beautiful.  Many use restored farmhouses and have restaurants or B&B's attached.


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Our favorite of this trip was the Beck Hartweg vineyard.  They also had our favorite wine of the trip, Frankstein Grand Cru Gewürztraminer.  There was a lovely sitting area outside.


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And a really cool tasting cellar inside.


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And a very cute guide, Florian, the son of the owner, who told us about the wines we tasted.  He spoke very good English, which was not the case at all the tastings we did.


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He invited us into the cellar - so small, with only eight tanks.   But his family has been making wines from their vines since 1590!


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Don't think anyone will be tasting these!



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 A wonderful birthday weekend I had!

J'aime Paris!

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Who says Parisians aren't friendly? 

On Sunday we were in one of our preferred Brasseries eating our favorite dishes,  Mine being a mixed salad with warm goat cheese on toasted bread with ham, an easy over egg, and potatoes.

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 D's is steak with pomme frites.

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We struck up a conversation with three older french people next to us They were ahead of us in eating so their dessert came out while we had our main course.  They selected the one I had eyed when we walked in - Figue Tartlette.  About 15 minutes passed and we ordered ours - or we tried to order - "fini" - all gone.  OH NO.  The three saw this and knew I was disappointed so the one women shared her tartlette with us!  If that wasn't the sweetest thing.

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We arrived early Saturday morning.  We checked into our hotel, grabbed sandwiches made on pretzel bread and headed to one of the largest flea markets in Paris, Porte de Clinghancourt officially known as Les Puces de Saint-Ouen but known to everyone as Les Puces (the fleas).  This flea market was officially opened in 1885!

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I am ready for the hunt.

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I told D he looks too sophisticated - he is going to hurt my negotiation technique!

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For a more detailed tour of the flea markets and to see all the goodies I bought, hop over to my art blog at Ma Vie Trouvee.

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That afternoon Thien, Donald's co-worker in from the US joined us.  He has only been to Paris once so we took him to see MontMartre and the Sacre Coeur.  We had a beautiful evening, in fact, we think this was the best weather we have ever had in Paris!

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This was a fun street performer. 

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 And those were real fish in the glass.  If people tried to take his photo without giving him money he would stop the performance.  But he did it in a fun way.

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A few photos from our walk.  I really like this one D took in B&W.


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The romantic dream of being an artist in Paris!

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This photo looks like a watercolor painting to me.

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On Sunday there is an artist market.

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We purchased a photo collage from the artist below.  The one we liked the best was not of Paris, but of Lisbon.  But since we were going to Lisbon the next week - we decided to buy it.

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Ahhhh another wonderful time in Paris!

Southern France: Two magnificent bridges built 2000 years apart

Pont Du Gard    Built in 1 AD




Le Viaduct de Millau

"The Pont Du Gard of the 21st Century", completed 2004 


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Donald had a speaking engagement in Toulouse France so we decided to extend it with a few vacation days and visit Millau and Uzes (more on the bridges later).  In Toulouse, we stayed at the elegant B&B, Le Loges de Saint-Sernin in the city of Toulouse.  It was a restored 19th century bourgeois townhouse with four rooms.

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From our balcony, we could see the famous Basilica St. Sernin, the largest Romanesque church in Europe built between 1080 and 1120.  I always double check the dates because I find it so hard to believe things are really that old.


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I shopped and ate ice cream while D worked.  It was a Monday so all museums were closed.  But I was as happy as I could be because Toulouse has one of my VERY favorite ice cream shops in Europe.  Thank goodness we were there this week, as the following week they were closing for the season.

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In order to help them clear their inventory before closing for the season....... I took D back that night and had two more scoops.  THAT'S RIGHT - I ate 4 {FOUR} scoops of ice cream that day; chocolate espelette, panna cotta with fig, violet and berry.  D had panna cotta with fig and pear with brandy.  

The next morning we headed to Millau to view Le Viaduct de Millau.  One of the best views of the Viaduct/Bridge was from the picturesque hillside town of Peyre.



The bridge was awe-inspiring.  Many of you have probably seen photos of this bridge floating around the internet in an email showing unbelievable sites around the world.  



It spans across the river Tarn and was designed by British Architect Norman Foster.  It cost 394 million euros to build.  One quote said it had the delicacy of a butterfly.  That was a good description of it. 



It is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world with one of it's masts height at 1,125 feet - slightly taller than the eiffel tower and slightly smaller (125 feet) than the Empire State Building.  This photo is a little fuzzy from the sun, but we wanted to show all seven masts. 



We spent most of the day driving around it and over it, seeing it from every perspective possible.  The articles we read before we left said it is an engineer's dream.  D agreed.

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The total length of the bridge is 8,100 feet long and it cost 5 euros (approx $7.50) to cross.  Crossing the bridge also gave a beautiful perspective.


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As we crossed it I took continuous photos and D created this very cool video from my photos.  There is music, so make sure your volume is on. 

A very pleasant surprise we were not expecting were the autumn leaves - they were at peak.  It was also exceptionally warm and sunny while we were there.  Red - Orange - Yellow.  Gorgeous.


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Doesn't this leaf look like it could be stained glass?


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All so intense and bursting with color.




A self-serve pumpkin patch.






The old stone houses were dripping with vines of color.  

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The camera did not capture the true intensity of the colors we were seeing.


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I love this photo of the cow.  It looks like we placed her in front of a fake background.



Our drive from Millau to Uzes, bursting with color and winding roads, was one of the most beautiful drives we have ever taken.  I took this photo while the car was moving.  I was trying to capture the colors as a blur.Millau and uzes c2 (20)

Our second B&B was as lovely as the first but with an artsy flair.  It was an old stone house which Natasa and Michiel transformed into a B&B with tons of character.  There were beautiful oil paintings hung everywhere in the house (inside and out).


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This was taken in their outdoor courtyard.  Look closely on the back wall, you can see where Natasa  hung original paintings outside.


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The view from our bedroom window.


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Meet the guard of the front entrance to the neighborhood.


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We loved this B&B and really enjoyed talking to Natasa over our morning coffee.  She was born in Yugoslavia, moved to Amsterdam where she met Michiel (who is Dutch) and they both ran away to France to open the B&B of their dreams.  This would be pretty close to the B&B of our dreams too!


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The next morning we went to the famous market of Uzes.  It was a very pretty market with typical French produce and regional specialties.   We purchased olive oil.  We did see one unusual item...


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Ostrich eggs!  They were huge.  I had to research this one and found that the ostrich lays the largest eggs of any living bird.  It weighs around 3 lbs and is equivalent to 18 to 24 chicken eggs.  The female lays 15 to 60 eggs but they have a very low survival rate, usually only one per nest.


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We visited several small towns and had a very nice traditional french lunch.  When I woke up the next morning, the day we had to go home, I declared we were having too good a time and I did not want to leave!




We did get in one last sight before our 1:00 train, the Pont Du Gard, a World Heritage Site.  It is hard to comprehend that this was built 2000 years ago.  And still today it is considered one of the great engineering feats in the world.




Unlike the Millau Viaduct which was built for cars, the Pont Du Gard was built to carry water hundreds of miles from the mountains to populated towns.  What you see here is just one segment.  An interesting fact; the water flows all the way from one end to the other solely based on gravity.  The architect is unknown.



Built from blocks of local yellow lime stone, it is the highest aqueduct ever built by the Romans and is remarkably well preserved.  We were there many years ago and were able to walk along the middle tier, now you are only allowed to walk along the bottom tier.  You can really get the feel for how immense this structure is ....look how small I look. 




We really enjoyed this part of France and look forward to going back soon!




France: Sunflowers, Lavender and Castles, oh my!






and Castles....


Happy Birthday to me!


D had to be in the US for meetings on my birthday this year so we celebrated the week before in Provence, France.  I have always wanted to see the lavender in bloom.  Mid July is usually when they are in full bloom, but the weather has been unseasonably warm and they bloomed early.  They were slightly past peak, but still full of color.


The fields glowed with many shades of purple and the smell from the lavender as you walked through (some of us skipped) was divine!  I wish this blog had a sctatch and sniff feature.


We could even smell it on our clothes hours later.  The fields were filled with very happy bees, hundreds of them, in many different varieties.  Lavendar honey is very special and has a delicate sweet taste. 


There were lavender fields everywhere.  Look into the far right and you can still see purple.


Freshly cut lavender at the market.


An extra special treat - like the lavender, the sunflowers were in full bloom!


There were many happy bees in the sunflower fields too.


The fields went on for acres and acres.


This photo is slightly blurred, but I love that it caught the bee in flight.


The first chambres d'hote we stayed in was the Vieux Figuier (old fig tree).  We had stayed there seven years ago and loved it.  On our second night, Jacque and Maite the owners, invited us to have dinner with them.  It was a very casual, with simple but delicious food.  A special experience.  Maite speaks English well, but Jacque only a little, so D got to practice his french.  Our room -


and the view out of our bedroom window.  Stunning!  We did go for a swim one night well, D did I only dipped my toes in - too cold!


Of course I had to have my ice cream fix...can you guess the flavor?   LAVENDER, what else!  Just perfect, my purple cone, in my purple dress, in a little purple chair!  Am I cute or what?


 This area of Provence has many beautiful hilltop, cliff towns.


 We enjoyed exploring them and finding fun places to eat.


They were very quiet for this time of year.


One of my favorite fruits, the fig, was in season and there were signs all over the area for the Fete de Figue (festival of the fig).  All the towns were so small we questioned how good would it actually be - but we ventured out and the festival was really big and lots of fun!


There was a parade, food to eat, items for sale, like the garlic below, and lots of figs!  I bought fig juice, fig soap, fig preserves, fig vinegar, and a fig pastry.


D is buying little pancakes served with Fig jelly from the boy below.  It was the equivalent to our childrens lemonade stand.  He was very excited as D was his first sale (his mother was excited too!).  Cute. 


We left the Fete de Figue and headed five hours north to the Loire Valley and the Sancerre wine region, one of our favorite white wines.  We really enjoy visiting the areas that are home to our favorite wines.  It makes the wine more special to drink when we have seen the vineyards where the wine originated.  The region was so plush and green.  The grapes were just starting to form. 



We stayed at the enchanting Castle de Gerigny owned by Yann and Delphine.  This is our new favorite place!   We highly recommend the castle if you are looking for a special place to go in France and it really is not that expensive.  We cannot wait to go back!!


Porsche-pette was also pretty happy here and decided that she wanted a castle too; or maybe it was her owner who wanted a castle!


Yann and Delpine purchased the castle in 2005.  It was in shambles.  In two years they completely restored it with no professional help.  We are not sure where they found the time as they have 4 boys ages 8 - 16 and the two youngest are twins. 

The castle had a moat and all!


It was restored and decorated with TLC!  There were so many special touches everywhere, like the sheet which were 100% linen with embroidery all along the top.   Here is our bedroom -


The first night we paid to eat dinner with the family (minus the twins as they were at their grandparents).  It was such a fun evening.  D had a chance to practice his french and Delphie and the boys had a chance to practice their English.  Yann spoke English very well.  Yann and the oldest son are lighting the candles.  The table was huge, you are only seeing half of it in the photo.


The meal was delicious and the table was beautiful.  The candles made it even more special as it grew dark.  We were full and happy when we went to bed.

The next day, D took one of the boys for a ride in the Porsche.  He had been eying it since we arrived.  The boys were into old rock groups so D played Janice Joplin as they drove.  Delphine reminded D to drive safely as that is one of her babies in the car!


Doesn't this photo looks like it was a painting by a french impressionist artist?


The second night Yann and Delphine invited us to join them on the back porch overlooking the moat for pizza and wine.  We offered to pay for a bottle of the wine, but they would not let us - they said it was their treat.

In the morning they were leaving for England so they left us a beautifully set table for breakfast and the keys to close up when we left.  We had our own private Castle for a few hours!!!


There were lots of fun things to do in this area of France.  We visited the midieval town of La Charite-sur-Loire and the Notre Dame church built in the 12th century, now a UNESCO world heritage site.


There were beautiful contemporary stained glass windows in the church.


We visited the Castle de Saint-Fargeau which is over 1000 years old.  They had a very interesting wall display.


Can you tell what they are?  Let me help you......


Hooves from the hunt with braided legs!  icky...yet interesting!  All the castles we have visited and we've never seen anything quite like this.

There was a sweet little village, Ville du Livre et du Mot (translated  - the city of the book and the word).  They had many bookstores that sold very old and new books, but what made it really sweet was the poetry and words on all the buildings throughout the town.


Shakespeare - "What do you read sir? Words, Words, Words.

For a few more photos, go to the main page and click on the album in the upper right titled "Provence and Sancerre".

Great weather, great food, great places we stayed and visited......another wonderful trip to France!



We were in Paris for five days for the Paris Air Show, which happens every two years.  This is the first time D has attended.  The event is geared mainly towards military and commercial sales. 

Here he is in the flight deck of the gigantic Airbus 380.  If you want to experience it for yourself, click here for a 360 view of the flight deck.




The A380 is the world's largest passenger plane.  The cabin has 50% more floor space then the next largest plane (the 747-400) and holds 525 people in the typical three class configuration.




It is a four engine, double decker, wide body.  Yep, that IS a pretty wide body!  Later in the day the A380 flew a demo flight which D said was unbelievably quiet for such a large beast!.







The next day, D was off very early (7 am) for a day crammed with meetings.  Between the meetings, he was able to catch the F18's demonstration.  As I mentioned, the Paris Air Show is geared towards the military so their flight demos are much more extreme than a normal air show. 




The F18 fighter jet was his favorite.  It has the ability to come to an almost complete stop mid-air.   We did not take the photo above, but I wanted to show what one looked like.

And......What did I do while D played with planes?  I wandered the city, shopped, and enjoyed a lovely meal at an outdoor cafe with a little glass of wine!






I was invited to attend day two's evening event - a cocktail reception at the Louvre!  How cool is that?  We we not sure I would be invited to any of the events, but luckily I packed a black dress just in case.


It was an invitation only event and the Louvre was closed to the general public.




  It was a beautiful evening.  At the entrance they had the dancing girls in a bubble.



This must be the hot new event "thing" as Brussels had bubble dancers at the Iris festival a few weeks ago.  Very fun to see in person.



The reception took place in the grand entrance of the Louvre.  They had open bars everywhere and all kinds of fancy appetizers.  My favorite was the crab meat in an avocado sauce served in a martini glass.

Me, lost in the crowd!    



It is amazing how late it stays light in Paris and Brussels.  This photo was taken at 9 PM and it looks like early afternoon.



We were allowed to walk and see the Mona Lisa (look closely she is behind us).  We were not allowed to take our drinks in that section.  I wanted my photo having a glass of champagne with the Mona Lisa.



The main hall leading up to the Mona Lisa.



 I thought this was an interesting view of the Eiffel Tower as it has a replica of the Statue of Liberty.  Did you know our Statue of Liberty was given to the US by France?


This shot was taken as we were driving.  I really like the feel it gives the Eiffel Tower.



This shot is for Tammy and all you Lady Di fans out there.  This is the road leading into the infamous tunnel.....


and here we are in the tunnel at the point of the curve where the deadly accident occurred.  Very sad.



A few photos of the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, which was built at the end of the 19th century.  




Many famous painters have featured it in their art.  


Our hotel was just down the street.  This is a different part of the city from where we usually stay. 




Remember the big bunnies from the restaurant in Belgium?  Well they hopped on over to Paris for an appearance. 





A carousel in the city. 




The final day, we ate at a sweet little french cafe. 


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And last but not least....the ice cream photo!  This had to be the most beautiful, unique cone we have ever had.  Look closely and you can see the flower they created by scooping the second flavor around the first to create a flower.  Ice cream was excellent as well.



Off to the US for two weeks.  Next trip...Provence for the Lavender. in bloom.









France Road Trip! Castles, Gardens, and Foie Gras









D was asked to speak again this year at the Aeronautical University in Toulouse, France.  It was the Tuesday after a three day holiday weekend, so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and drive.  In total, we covered 1800 miles, driving with only quick breaks from Toulouse to Brussels, took us eleven and a half hours.

Toulous map      

As we got further into France, we started to see the yellow rapeseed fields.  They are the most intense yellow when they are fresh in bloom.  This photo is one of my "in motion" shots" meaning I took it while D was going 100mph on the highway. 


Our first stop was the Dordogne also know as the Perigord region.  I really love this area of France, it has a very apecial charm.  It is know for the white and yellow stone houses and villages.


We stayed in three very charming chambre d'hotes (B&B's) on this trip, the first one, La Roche d' Esteil, was a stone farm house from the 18th century.  Marc and Sandrine, a very nice young couple bought it 8 years ago and lovingly restored it.  It took them 5 years to restore.  The "before" photos were unbelievable.  It did not even have a roof. 


If you are wondering about the pose in this photo below, I watched a special about how they teach movie stars to twist their bodies slightly when being photographed to make them look thinner......


humm.......I think it may work, what do you think?


We stayed in the single room cottage above.  Absolutely adorable!  And a fireplace - ahhhhhhh.  It was chilly that evening so a fire was just perfect.


They offered an evening meal the first night, which we did have.  A very nice duck dinner.  But the best part was that D got to REALLY practice his French as very little English was spoken.

The next morning we started our day by visiting the medieval town of Sarlat. 


Here, D loaded up on his foie gras, cassolet, duck confit and duck fat. 


On to the the Gardens of Marqueyssac, listed as a national historical monument. 


We barely got through the gate and there he was - Mr Peacock.  Quick, get the camera out, he was in full strut.  Not fast enough.  Missed him. 


So I inform D to get comfortable as I REALLY need to get this photo.  I have always admired peacock photos and I wanted one!  We settled in front of his cage, cameras in hand.  Sure enough, within a few minutes, full spread. 






We were clicking away for 10 minutes when we finally popped up to see why he was putting on such a show for us.  And there SHE was, right behind us, oh la la. 


We were between the two of them......and I thought it was my coat.   Really!  Doesn't it look like the female peacock?


But he was the BRILLIANT one!


We still had energy so we headed to the Beynac Feudal Castle, dating from the 12th century. 


I thought the parish church was very beautiful and believe it or not, it still holds service every Sunday.


Not only was the castle very beautiful...


but it also had spectacular views of the countryside.  


From Beynac Castle, you get a lovely view of the Castle of Castelnaud, also founded in the 12th century.  We visited this castle on another trip, so we skipped it this time. 


Remember how I told you about the movie star twist?  D teased me at first, but you can see here, he is trying this method out to see if he too can look skinny.


and his attempt to show you how the royal toilet worked back in the days...


Maybe a bit too much wine for D at lunch!

After a very full day, we had wine and cheese in the garden of our chombre d'hote for dinner.  A lovely way to end a lovely day!

Friday (YES, up until now you have only seen one day of the trip as Wednesday we drove 9 hours straight), we headed west to the Bordeaux Region.  But first, a stop at another garden, Les Jardins du Manoir D'Eyrignac. 


It is a private estate that has been in the same family for 500 years, or 22 generations. 


a fun fountain.


We also stopped at the immense Chateau de Hautefort, also listed as a National Monument. 


It was built in the middle of the 17th century, but fell into disrepair.  Baron And Baroness de Bastard purchased the chateau and renovated it over several decades. 


Sadly, in 1968 there was a very bad fire.  But this did not stop them, they resumed work and renovated the chateau to it's current grandeur.  We did get to tour the inside.


Our next chambre d'hote, Moulin de la Virvee, was an old water mill.  Etienne and Michelle were the sweetest innkeepers.  They were an older, retired couple. 


This was the smallest place we have stayed, meaning they only had one room they rent.  The room itself was quite large and was off the side of their house with a separate entrance. 


It was set among the vineyards of some of the best Bordeaux wines.  As a welcome gift, they gave us a bottle of wine from their neighbors vineyard D is standing next to it here.  We drank it that evening, it was a very nice bottle.


Michelle served us a generous breakfast in their kitchen on a beautifully set table. 

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Thirty minutes from our place is one of our favorite towns from a trip we took 10 years ago, the wine town of Saint Emilion.  They say Romans planted vineyards here in the 2nd century AD. 


We had to go back to St. Emilion to have the most delicious Macaron cookies we have ever eaten!


We we lucky as on the day we were visiting the vineyards were having open house were you could taste the wines and buy them direct.  In France they do not have open tastings of the wine like they do in California.  So we headed for one of our favorite small wineries, Chateau Pipeau. 


We had a tour (all in French), tasted the wines, and here is D as happy as he can be with a half case of wine!  Pipeau 2002, which we can drink now.  He has several bottles of this wine in his "cave" back in Virginia otherwise known as mom's basement.


Our hosts at the chambre d'hote recommended Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure.  Etienne is also into photography and thought we would enjoy taking photos of this site.  He was right!



Look closely, that is D in the tower. 


It was a Benedictine Abbey built in the 12th century.  It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.  Side note....D printed out the list of UNESCO World sites and checked off how many we have been to.  After this trip, we have visited 50 in Europe.


 We could not have ordered prettier clouds!


Next stop, Toulouse.  D was very sweet and drove me out of the way to try and find a flea market.  The flea market was a bust, but we did discover that the town was Bergerac - home to Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) the famous poet and play-write, known for his very large nose.  Several movies have been done on him.

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Not only were the flowers in full bloom for the season, the grass was vibrant green and there were lots of babies in the fields!



Lamb pie

Well, this cow looks more like a teenager  :  )


We stayed at the beautiful artsy La Pradesse Chambre d'hote for the second time.  Christine and Frederic also renovated an old farmhouse.  This one one of our favorite places to stay.

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On Monday, we spent the early afternoon in Toulouse.  It is the forth largest city in France and is known as "la ville rose" because of the color of it's brick.  We had to hit one of my VERY favorite ice cream shops.  I would have to put it in my top three best ice creams EVER.  I had violet and carmel de sur, D had sheep cheese and chocolate with hot peppers.

On Tuesday D had his presentation.  It  went very well.  We had a nice dinner that evening and then hit the road on Wednesday for an 11 hour drive back to Brussels.  But oh so worth it!

Would you like to see a few more photos?  Please click on the peacock in the upper right hand corner on the front page - album titled France Road Trip.