Friday, December 17, 2010

Journey Through Sparkling Champagne

Perfectly positioned between Paris and Belgium lies Champagne, a region popular for the bright bubbly wine it's soil produces. Beautiful countryside and vast vineyards draw visitors to the sparsely populated region famous for it's name which literally translates to "countryside." 

Postcard worthy views from almost anywhere around the plateau-like country reveal rolling hills, clear skies, and a land that sits above ancient caves and filled cellars that hold the country's number one export. Surrounded by Burgundy, Paris, and Lorraine, a trip to this region offers room to explore beyond its borders with much to do within.

The Grand Hotel des Templiers provides perfect accommodations, complete with large rooms, delicious food, and other amenities like a golf course, sauna, swimming pool, and of course, wine tasting. For a more stylish stay, the grand and luxurious Domaine Les Crayeres is THE perfect place to stay and dine.

Beyond the walls of this beautiful hotel await many activities in this appealing, agricultural region. From bicycling, boating, hiking, and fishing, the list of leisure activities are endless, and no trip is complete without an excursion to the beautiful Reims Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church that enjoys hundreds of thousands of visitors annually and the location where the kings of France were once crowned. 

The Taittinger Tour reveals legends and facts about the history of Champagne complete with wine cellars and vineyards that produce Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It is here you will delve into the history of champagne and its tie to this region, as well as the origin of Chardonnay. This tour combines gastronomy and history with competitive chefs from all around that see art and cooking as one. In short - a history lesson, fine cuisine, and excellent wine await the visitors of the famed Taittinger in Champagne. Tourists will be pleasantly surprised to find their tickets closeby the Cathedral as the tourist office is walking distance. 

A short drive to Epernay will bring you to a memorable train ride through the Mercier wine cellars allowing you to view 18 km's of Champagne underground. Home to 20,000 hectares of vineyards and 200 million bottles aging in cellars underground, it is no surprise this beautiful town is the capital of Champagne and welcomes many visitors every year.

What better way to bring such a feast for the eyes to an end than a scenic ride along the Avenue de Champagne where mansions and homes of famous wine producers line the street?

But before this trip is complete, the historical site of Chateau Thierry offers an interesting change of pace from the wine inspired sites all around. Home to the famous Battle of Château-Thierry, visitors are given a glimpse into the military history of French and American soldier surrounded by beautiful countryside.

This sample custom-made itinerary prepared for a client helps clients explore France beyond riverboat and barge cruise seasons. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

A One-of-A-Kind Experience from Head to Toe with Ana

The City of Lights has many things to offer besides welcoming locals, famed French cuisine and the Eiffel Tower. A bustling city year-round, this tourist hot spot is home to some very exclusive restaurants and shops, also custom-made finds or 'bespoke.'

In the high-end jewelry district of rue de la Paix is a shoppers treasure for timeless and unique creations by Phillip Tournaire. Tournaire has been creating unique jewelry for clients for more than 35 years, giving clients something made specifically for them. Using unique shapes that are adaptable to each client, the famed jeweler reinvents bespoke rings, necklaces, bracelets, and brooches. Another major Parisian district "Les Ateliers du Palais" is home to artisans that also create bespoke jewelry, or recreate older pieces into new ones. The emphasis is for each design to reflect the unique personality of the customer or in this case, the inspiration for the design.

"I find this refreshing," explains Ana P. Valente, co-founder of France Cruises. "With so many trends and how quickly things become old, custom-made jewelry has a timeless appeal." Contemporaries of the Les Ateliers du Palais (which was established in 1931 along the gardens of the Palais-Royal) include The French Factory and Dessine-moi un bijou. Both also meet the demand for bespoke jewelry, drawing inspiration from a sketch or antique pieces dating from 1880-1979.

A truly unique find is bespoke perfume - fragrances that are made with the wearer in mind. There are a handful of shops in Paris that also make custom-made perfumes for clients. These are experienced perfume creators that employ processes that could take months before the client receives their final perfume. No detail is spared in creating perfumes for clients, in fact, several meetings will commence before perfume designers are completely satisfied with the product they create for their clients. An added benefit besides the fact no one else is wearing the unique concoction is the ability for clients to order more in the future. The perfumers found here are experienced designers purposed to satisfy their clients needs in providing them an exclusive scent no one else will have access to.

Not interested in jewelry or a custom scent? Many Paris designers have bespoke fashion boutiques, including Louise Feuillère. Choosing the perfect ensemble depends on what the buyer likes in terms of fabric, comfort, or appeal. Clients can choose from a variety of clothing ranging from made-to-measure corsets, lingerie that suits their personality, or the perfect bathing suit. Mary Beyer is also in the Palais-Royal district providing clients with haute couture gloves. To complete the look, Derville and Pierre Corthay design bespoke shoes that fit clients exact wish. From stitching and color to shape and materials used, the perfect shoes await. 

Who can come to such a place without photos, a means to immortalize the memories made? Studio Harcourt in Paris has been providing clients with bespoke photography and photo sessions for more than 70 years. The Harcourt studio turns every client into a model, offering 2 hour photo sessions complete with makeup and professional direction. Tailor made sessions or even private lessons give clients an opportunity to learn photography and customize their own.

It is our many travels and pleasant experiences like bespoke shopping that gives Jean and I the inspiration behind many of the custom-made itineraries we prepare for clients. Besides beautiful scenery aboard a riverboat or canal barge, Paris can give each traveler a truly unique experience - from head to toe.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cognac vs Armagnac

As a true French native, it is impossible for me to read anything about the popular Cognac without thinking about the similarities, differences, and superiority (in my humble opinion) of Armagnac. Perhaps not as popular as its close relative, Cognac, Armagnac is definitely worthy of mention.

Armagnac originates from Gascony in the Southwest part of France, between Bordeaux and Toulouse. It is the land of D’Artagnan of the The Three Musketeers and home of Cyrano de Bergerac, the famed French fiction writer and duelist.

Serious brandy lovers may be surprised to know that Armagnac is a distinctive type of brandy distilled from wine, aged in oak barrels, but also a cousin to the more popular Cognac. It is in the distillation process where the major differences lie. Cognac is distilled twice whereas Armagnac just once. This additional time in the oak barrel requires patience, but rewards a brandy with more finesse and roundness.
This taste is exactly what drives the Southwestern part of France to continue in their production of Armagnac, along with the health benefits it carries. It may be common knowledge the positive effects Cognac may have after a heavy meal but Armagnac carries these same benefits and beyond. In fact residents of Southwestern France where consumption is the greatest enjoys a coronary mortality rate up to a third lower than their neighbors in Northern France.

Next time you are considering a trip to France, dining, or in the mood for a good brandy, I hope Armagnac comes to mind...


Monday, November 22, 2010

A Traveler's Tipping Guide

There seems to be increasing confusion about appropriate tipping behavior while traveling. This type of travel etiquette is a source of many travelers concerns  -- from staying in hotels to traveling on luxury barges or cruise ships. Small cruise ship tipping, including Riverboat Cruises, is based on industry standards and also our two decades plus experience in this business. Luxury travel comes with all the extras included in the experience, dining, locales, and especially service. On Riverboat Cruises, the following applies: for the Cruise Director we recommend 3 Euro's per passenger, per day of cruising and for the crew, 12 Euro's per passenger, per day.

When traveling aboard Barge Cruises, which range in size from 4 - 24 passengers, industry standard is 5% of the total cruise price paid directly to the Captain.

But the mode of travel throughout France is only one area of tipping that travelers should be aware of; there are other areas the prepared traveler would be interested in. When you travel to France or plan a holiday in France, you will have to dine, stay in a hotel, occasionally travel by taxi, and take tours. 

Almost all restaurants prices will include applicable taxes and a 15% service charge or service compris. If you find the service has been more than expected, indeed exceptional, leaving another 2-3% is customary, and so is leaving the waiter the small change from your bill when paying in cash. When service is not included or service non compris, a 15% tip is appropriate. For hotels you should tip porters around 1.50 Euro per day for each bag, and chambermaids 1.50 Euro a day. "A Travelers Passport to Etiquette" explains that every time a service is performed, you need to tip, "That's part of the cost of travel," says author Lisa Mirza Grotts.

You should pay a tip of 10-15% of the metered fare to taxi drivers; hairdressers should receive 10%, and assistants 5%. Smaller tips of around 1 Euro are reasonable for cloakroom and washroom attendants, ushers, and museum tour guides. When going on excursions, it is standard practice to tip tour guides and bus drivers 1.50 - 3 Euro, dependent on your level of satisfaction of the service. 

It is suggested for hotels that travelers consult with the front desk to see whether tips are customarily left behind for each service provider or given to the front desk; policies vary.

Hopefully these tips will help you focus more on your travel and less on the sometimes complicated etiquette of tipping when you travel. Including your tipping expenses in your budget when you travel makes you an informed and organized traveler.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

New Year's Eve in Paris with Monet

The spectacular Grand Palais in Paris is hosting an exhibition of the work of Monet, the greatest of the Impressionist painters.

It's been over 30 years since so many of Monet's masterpieces have been on display at one time; but for four months, until January 24, 2011, over 200 of the works of the French master can be seen together in Paris under the marvellous glass roof of the Grand Palais.

What a great excuse for our France lovers to plan the perfect New Year Eve week end in the City of Lights! This is the perfect base for a weekend in Paris..

Here is an opportunity to pick our brains as this is not your traditional travel agent recommendation, siphoned from a brochure or website; rather a customized trip including where to stay, where to eat, and what to do. We like to get our clients away from the crowds per se and give them a more genuine experience, immersing them in the culture.

Since it is a short stay, we will focus on a specific area of Paris: the Left bank / Latin Quarter.

“La Rive Gauche” is the Southern bank of the Seine river, what used to be the Paris of artists, writers and philosophers, including Picasso, Verlaine, Sartre, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and dozens of other members of the great artistic community.

Nowadays, this historical part of the city houses expensive flats, art galleries and high-end fashion boutiques; and the cafés once frequented by penniless intellectuals and struggling artists are filled with the well-educated bourgeois and students alike of the nearby Sorbonne University. The small streets, busy shops and lively neighborhood feel make this the perfect place to stroll or people-watch over a late-afternoon coffee or an after-dinner drink.

Where to stay: (Jean's picks)

We like to give customers choices -- as knowledgeable we are about the places to stay, it simply may not suit their tastes. Here's a few choices we like:
  • Victoria Palace - From the moment you walk in, only beauty, luxury and impeccable customer service surround you. The food, sleeping accommodations and ambiance is well worth every Euro spent!
  • Hotel de l'Abbaye - Here you can choose from the elegant class or deluxe rooms, or enjoy a junior suite or duplex. Every room has unique decor and personal atmosphere.
  • Hotel le Notre Dame - This is the creation of fashion designer Christian Lacroix, boasts amazing decoration that you won't see anywhere else and the view of the Cathedral is like in a dream
Activities and Dining on the left bank: (Ana's picks)
  • Café de Flore (Brunch in style) - Located on Boulevard St Germain and an ideal place for Sunday brunch. All of the great writers and artists of the 20th century came to hang out here.
  • Les Deux Magots- Just a block over where all the tourists flock...Parisians prefer Café de Flore.
  • Entrecote - Also on St Germain and only serve salad, steak, and fries..(BUT THEY ARE GOOD!)
  • Brasserie Lipp - across from Café de Flore with traditional French bistro food; has an older French crowd where you see older men with their mistresses and older women with their lovers...definitely worth a visit.
  • Dinner at Lasserre - *(gastronomic experience on the right bank)* The bill will be pricey but I guarantee a memorable experience with great food! (Space is limited!) 
…If time permits, I would “make the effort” to get out of the left bank for a meal at Le Soufflé on the right bank… While you must make a reservation, the soufflé is delicate and light, arguably the best in Paris (I recommend the chocolate for dessert).

To complete your stay, a Paris show is a must. I personally prefer the Lido which is dinner and a show, but many of our Parisian friends find the Moulin Rouge more "typical" -- just not too crazy about the area.

Tailor-Made Itineraries is a service our customers love! No matter your taste or reason for travel, we've got you covered!

Jean & Ana

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Normandy and Burgundy in the Fall

France is beautiful -- no matter the season or time of year, but here are a few photos we'd like to share of Normandy and Burgundy in the Fall (submitted with permission from a recent traveler). Don't you wish you could be there?

Our newsletter this month will focus on the beautiful art throughout France -- these pictures say it all...

Enjoy ~

Life on the Burgundy Canal is slow and easy | Canadian World Traveller

Recently published article about one of our luxury barges:

Life on the Burgundy Canal is slow and easy | Canadian World Traveller

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bonjour All!

Welcome to our blog!

For all France lovers, this is a special treat, as we will chronicle our travels and experiences throughout this beautiful country. As the owners of France Cruises, we not only have knowledge of what travelers want, we also have firsthand experience of the locations we send our travelers. We have actually taken trips with the exact itineraries of our cruises so we could revise them or provide more detailed / up-to-date information for clients. This is one reason our travelers feel comfortable calling us at anytime, about anything (train schedules, hotel recommendations, finding their way back after getting lost..)

Ana and I have traveled the world, but France being my birthplace, it holds a special place in our lives. You will find lots of pictures from our adventures, information about the best places to eat, best wineries, and so much more! The small barge and riverboat canal cruising experts want to share even more with you. Subscribe and visit often – we are your French Insiders.
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