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...

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