Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Most Beautiful Villages in France: Alps

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of city life and perched amid expansive landscapes in the heart of the mountain valley in the Alps are some of The Most Beautiful Villages of France.

These remote jewels are members of the Association "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France," each one dotted with wooden chalets, narrow cobblestone streets and century-old architecture, all symbolizing authentic charm and unspoilt beauty.

The five villages, which are mentioned below, are certainly worth a detour while visiting France.

The splendidly-preserved village of Bonneval sur Arc is synonymous with idyllic beauty. Positioned at an altitude of 1800m in Savoir, the medieval area is decorated with small houses made of stone with slate roofs, many having wooden balconies, and offers spectacular views of the alpine pastures. December through May brings thick sheets of snow, which is ideal for its small yet reputable ski resort. A visit to the Snow and Mountain Centre is a must, which showcases the beginnings of alpinism at Bonneval. Moreover, individuals can attend the Cross-Country Skiing Race in April or the Derby-Gliss, the French ski wall cup during April and May. In the summer, individuals can hike, take a bike ride, and enjoy a trekking climb through the mountains.

Dive into the medieval village of Yvoire, situated on the shores of Lake Geneva. Clutched just thirty minutes from Geneva, the village transports visitors back to the 14th century with its two fortified gateways, the lakeside castle locally known as Château d'Yvoire, and the House of History which displays the founding documents of the village. A stroll through its cobbled streets will allow visitors to discover the magnificent flower displays, artisanal workshops and restaurants nestled into stone buildings allowing picturesque views of the lake. Finally, nature lovers will enjoy a crisscross walk through the Le Jardin de Cinq Sens, or The Garden of the Five Senses: a labyrinth of plants where individuals are encouraged to use their “5 senses” – from smelling and touching its perfumed flowers to tasting its fruits and vegetables.

It’s stone galore in the village of La Grave in Haute-Romanche. Homes and traditional shops lining the old narrowed streets were built predominately by volcanic rock or shale with earth-based cement. Interestingly, the local houses face the stunning La Meije, the emblematic peak that upstages the entire surrounding landscape. Come winter, it’s time to strap on those skis because it’s a going to be one exhilarating ride at the famous ski resort during the annual Derby de La Meije; the 2,150 m vertical drop shall prove challenging even for them Black Diamonders. The 11th century church of Notre Dame deserves a stopover with its historic Romanesque art, known as the “Lombard style.”

Located in the heart of Haute Savoie, the gorgeous village of Sixt-Fer-a-Cheval is the place where nature speaks and outdoor enthusiasts rejoice. It provides spectacular views of mountains, waterfalls and forests, and hosts the largest Nature Reserve in all Haute Savoie. Guests will marvel at the impressive Cascade de Rouget, or “The Queen of the Alps,” the most impressive of the waterfalls. Furthermore, the 12th century Abbey also deserves a quick stop. The wintertime allows for alpine skiing, cross country skiing, snow trekking, and ice climbing. Summer also brings a myriad of opportunities: leisure hiking through classified sites, like Le Cirque du Fer a Cheval with its giant limestone cliffs up to 2300 ft, with friends or pack donkeys; water sporting including canyoning, swimming and white-water rafting; and of course, rock climbing.

Sitting high and proud at 2042 meters, Saint Véran is the highest inhabited village in Europe. The tiny village is devoted to preserving the old century life. Chalets here are made of stone and timber, and inhabitants continue to eat cereal-made bread directly from the fields. Highlights of the town include the 17th century church; La Vieille Maison Traditionnelle, an authentic traditional house; and the Soum Museum which recreates life in the olden days. Visitors can ski down the slopes during winter, or have pleasant walks and hikes with the family during the summer.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas in Provence: Traditions Live On

The Provencal culture comes alive on the 4th of December.

The day signifies the start of the Christmas season, called “La Calendale.”

It’s a vibrant period filled with festivities, customs and rites. Nativity displays, songs, and “Santons,” or little saints, are all part of the grand tradition.

If you’re currently visiting France, or planning to visit during the Yuletide season, an excursion to the renowned region of Provence is a must.
Christmas Markets
It’s a winter wonderland all over Provence. Throughout the region, streets are presently being adorned by wooden little chalets brimming with handcrafted gifts, seasonal goods and more mulled wine than you can knock back. The market in Avignon - featuring santons, street acts and artisan crafts - is one not to miss. Located in Place de l’Horloge, you’re guaranteed to have a taste of the Provencal life.

Pastorale in the Alpines
Every year, a Nativity ceremony, referred to as a “pastorale,” plays out on Christmas Eve in the hilltop medieval village of Baux de Provence. Residents of the rural town gather to watch the theatrical story of the nativity. The ceremony takes place at midnight in the Roman church of Saint-Vincent.
Les Treizes desserts de Noel: The 13 Desserts of Christmas
It isn’t Christmas in Provence without a heaping of tasty sweets. Before attending the midnight mass, families gather at the table to have the “Gros Souper” (big supper). The 7-course meal typically consists of meatless dishes, veggies and cheese. Afterwards, they head back to their homes to indulge in 13 sweets, the number representing Jesus and his 12 apostles at the Last Supper. Each one has symbolic meaning in local tradition. The table is set with 3 tablecloths and 3 candles symbolizing the Holy Trinity. Although each village has its own choice of desserts, some of the typical foods include:

Dried fruits and nuts -  The first 4 are known as the “Les quatre mendiants,” or the four beggars, which include figs (symbolizing the order of the Franciscans), hazelnuts/walnuts (for the Augustine order), almonds (for the Carmelites) and raisins (for the Dominicans)

Pompe à huile – sweetened yeast bread made with olive oil. Bread is broken apart, not cut, like Jesus did at the Last Supper.

Nougats – Two types: a black one containing honey and almonds, and a white one made with sugar, pistachio and hazelnuts. It is actually believed that each color represents good and evil.

Given that this has been going since the Middle Ages, it's quite clear that the century-old Provencial traditions are here to stay.

Care to visit Provence? Click here for Hotel Packages and Land Tours

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy 60th Birthday, Beaujolais Nouveau!

Call it fresh, celebratory wine or phony, immature “cookie dough” (as one critic nicely put it), there’s no doubt the young Beaujolais Nouveau has become one of the wine world’s most successful stories.

Last Thursday, precisely at one minute past midnight, thousands of barrels were festively breached with the traditional cry: Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé! Revelers across the globe gathered in bars and restaurants to celebrate the wine’s 60th anniversary. 

Before 1951, France didn’t allowed the vin de primeur (newly-harvested wine) to be sold a month before wines are meant to be kept.

But once the ban was lifted, the race to bring bottles to Paris began, and thus Beaujolais Nouveau Day was born. Now, every third Thursday of November marks a ritual of merriment and red wine galore.

Originally drunk to celebrate the end of the harvest, the wine, made from Gamay grapes, saw an explosion of popularity in the 70’s and 80’s thanks to genius marketing campaigns, and spread to Japan, US, Germany and beyond.

Although bottles are currently being uncorked, the global frenzy has since decreased, mostly in part to quality and overproduction. Sales have taken a serious hit, from 72.4 million bottles in 2002 to approx. 36 million bottles last year.

Still, a survey reported that 60 percent of the French intended to celebrate the wine's release this year. And I’m certain the rest of the world followed. 

2011 Beaujolais Nouveau: One Attractive Vintage

2011 might just be a very fortunate year.

Due to excellent weather conditions, the grapes of the wine matured three weeks earlier than 2010. As a result, this year’s wine boasts a richer color and strong fruity flavors of cherries and strawberries, among others.

It also pairs well with just about any kind of food, and is best served slightly chilled. They’re inexpensive, too, costing between $10 and $13 a bottle.

Although enthusiasts shy away from this red, wine drinkers should try to appreciate Beaujolais for what it is: versatile, casual and above all,  fun.

But remember, since the fermentation process is short, you must consume it rather quickly.

So with all due respect, chug your beverage.

Interested in visiting the Beaujolais region? Click here for Hotel Packages and Land Tours

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tour de France 2012: Eyeing the Yellow

The quest for next year’s Yellow Jersey is going to be one steep ride.

It seems like just yesterday 34-year-old Cadel Evans assumed the highest step on the podium on the Champs-Elysees, becoming the first Australian to win the 2011 Tour de France title.

However, the Tour’s 99th edition just got one step closer following the announcement of the race’s 2012 routes at the convention center in Paris. The 2012 Tour de France will bring fiercer mountain climbs and longer time trials. With 9 flat stages, 5 mountain stages, its clear next year’s contenders will have their work cut out for them.

The tour will commence on Saturday, June 30 in Liège, Belgium – where the prologue will begin. The race will make its way through France before concluding in Paris on July 22.

New for 2012
Covering a total distance of 3,479 kilometers, the 2012 Tour route will feature 20 stages with two individual time trials totaling 96.1km, more than double of last year’s total and the most time-trial mileage since 2007.

Competitors will reach new heights on 5 new mountains summits.

Riders will be introduced to the Côte de Saulcy in stage 7 in Porrentruy, before facing the long stretch to the stages’ finish atop the brutal Planche des Belles-Filles in the Vosges, featuring a staggering 20-degree gradient.

Another ascent debut is the Col du Grand Colombier in the Jura Mountains, followed by the steep Col de la Croix in the Swiss Jura Mountains, which is an intimidating 2 mile long stretch with a gradient of 9.2%.

Finally, we move into the last pass – and a daunting one, at that. The Mur de Péguère is 9.4km long, with gradients sometimes reaching 18%, a rarity in the race’s history.

The Scenic Routes of the Tour
The 2012 Tour De France will take us through beautiful landscapes and historic towns in some of the most stunning regions in the country.

Once again, the route will pass though the heart of “La Douce France,” which includes the villages of Normandy and the regional city of Rouen, the location of St. Joan of Arc’s execution.

Contenders: In It To Win It
While defending champion Evans is an obvious choice, 3-time Tour winner Alberto Contador can regain his title due to his luminary time trial skills. Britain’s Bradley Wiggins is another favorite because the extra time trials could serve in his favor. And Tour runner up Andy Schleck, a superb climber, may just surprise everyone and finally take a step up on the podium.

Also noteworthy are the vineyards of Champagne and its capital Epernay, known for its bubbly.

Moreover, the race will visit the rolling hills of Southern Burgundy and its old town of Macon, with a history dating back more than 2000 years.

Contador and Schleck

Whatever the outcome, Christian Prudhomme, the tour’s director, said next year “should make for a thrilling race.”

I’m thinking it should make for an epic one.

If you plan to visit France to witness the 2012 cycling event, enrich your experience with a Land Tour of the regions visited by the tour - Normandy, Champagne and Burgundy, or celebrate the race by taking a Bicycling Cruise.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mind your Manners: Restaurant Etiquette in Paris

A new country means a new way of dining. And France is no exception. Food and eating out is a national obsession. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that dining etiquette is considered as important as the cuisine itself. Whether it’s Haute or casual fare dining, these few pointers will help you have a desirable experience in the City of Light and might just help you pass for a Parisian.

Asking for a Table
Once you scope out your restaurant of choice, wait at the entrance and establish eye contact with someone from the staff, which might include the waiter, maitre-d’ or owner. Be certain to greet the individual with a friendly Bonjour Madame/Monsieur. It’s always appropriate to use this expression when entering a restaurant or shop. Don’t shy away from using French phrases, regardless of how faulty it might be. Speaking or attempting to speak French will take you a long away. Proceed to tell the waiter how many people are in your party by saying deux or trois or using the universal language of hand gestures.

Table Manners
When sitting at the table, you must remember to avoid the following no-no’s. One mustn’t place elbows on the table. The French consider this rude and unsanitary. In addition, make sure to keep both hands on the table and out of your lap. Violating these rules will inadvertently portray you as disrespectful.

Grabbing the Waiter’s Attention
After you decide on a dish, close your menu; this shows one is ready to order. Never call the waiter “Garcon” (boy).  Although some Parisians may get away with it, saying this is extremely insulting and will prompt you to receive less than cordial service or even be asked to leave the establishment. Restaurant personnel take their jobs very seriously, and it is therefore imperative to treat the staff like the professionals that they are. Instead, signal the waiter by saying s’il vous plaît or Monsieur.

End of the Meal
Once you’ve finished eating, place your knife and fork together vertically in the center of the plate. This alerts the waiter that the dishes are ready to be cleared. However, you will need to ask for the check. It is considered impolite to give a guest the bill before they request it. Simply say s’il vous plait, l’addition, and your bill will be on its way. 

To tip or not to tip?
Although we’re accustomed and expected to tip, France is quite different. Cafes and restaurants in the country already include a 15% service charge in the total bill. The phrase service compris seen on the menu actually translates to tip included. Thus, it is not necessary to leave gratuity. The French usually don’t leave tips, but in Paris tipping is far more common. However, feel free to leave a little extra something for your waiter if they provided great service. It is typically customary to leave pièces jaunes or small change; leaving 1 or 2€ or 5% is more than generous.

Friday, August 5, 2011

800th Anniversary of Reims Cathedral

The Reims Cathedral celebration began May 6 and lasts until October 23, 2011. Numerous concerts, street performances, exhibitions, and conferences, as well as an extraordinary illumination of the cathedral are all planned for the City of Coronations.

The event celebrates a symbolic monument for the Champagne region and the history of France - a building renowned all over the world over for its magnificent architecture and the splendour of its statuary. Location of the coronation of the kings of France (twenty-nine kings of France were crowned in Reims between 1027 and 1825), the cathedral acquired for the contemporary world a European destiny after the Franco-German reconciliation formalized in its vaults by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer in July 1962.  Notre-Dame de Reims also plays a key role in the history of art: a jewel of Gothic architecture, the cathedral, which acts as a global reference, has been a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site since December 1991.

The year 2011 honors the builders of yesterday and today.

Wines from the Champagne region were historically served at the royal banquets that accompanied coronations, contributing to Champagne's reputation as a luxurious beverage. "The Reims Cathedral is a stunning showcase of the Champagne region's history and beauty," said Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, the U.S. representative of the Comit Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne CIVC.

Reims buzzes with the energy of more than 20,000 university students. Restaurants with names like the Ernest Hemingway Café and the James Joyce Pub spill out onto the wide sidewalks of the main boulevard, the Place Drouet-d'Erlon, enabling their customers to take part in a national pastime: people watching. Lime green and neon pink trams glide through the city, their ends curved up in the smile of a Champagne glass, the region's lifeblood.

View the week-by-week schedule of events centered around the Reims Cathedral:

For information on great hotel packages & tours in the Champagne region: click here

Friday, July 22, 2011

Unusual Bars in Paris - Part 4: Bars with Bubbles

Pleasant and sociable, bars are great places to unwind in after a day’s work or a day of leisure. Paris is no exception to this trend, with chic or offbeat establishments that never fail to amaze. The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau has created a list of the most unusual bars in Paris.

In Part 3 of Unusual Bars in Paris, we explored the Large Venues for those inclined to claustrophobia or who favor going out as a group. Now, let's celebrate the end of our journey with some champagne - the essential drink for celebratory occasions which is showcased in the capital's champagne bars. Our last, but certainly not least, stop delights us to Bars with Bubbles:

Bar à Champagne at the Eiffel Tower sits at a height of 180 metres and offers a magical view of Paris, making a glass of champagne here really something special. At Flûte l'Etoile, housed on two levels, the atmosphere is cosy on the ground floor with seating for couples and groups in the lounge atmosphere of the mezzanine. Flûte Paris is a spinoff of the two New York Flûte bars which have existed for ten years or so. It offers a wide selection of champagnes … by the flute or by the bottle.

The Louis 25, conceived by the former boxer Louis Acaries, is a champagne bar housed in a listed mansion house at the bottom of the Champs Élysées. La Grande Dame, at the Hôtel Sezz, is a bar dedicated to the champagne Veuve Clicquot, where champagne buffs can taste all the different champagnes from this Reims champagne house.

At the Radisson Blu Le Dokhan's Hotel, the champagne bar boasts some 60 different champagnes, including some old vintages, in a baroque setting dominated by gold and black colours. Every evening, the bar organizes tastings led by a sommelier and proposes tastings by the glass, or associating three types of champagne, dry, pink and vintage.

These are great spots to include in your exploration of Paris.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Restaurants Newly Awarded by the Michelin guide

No less than 15 Michelin stars now shine in the Vaucluse, which makes it the most "starred" department in France (in relation to the number of inhabitants) and 5 new "Bib Gourmands" have been granted to establishments that offer their clientele tasty cuisine with excellent value for money.

First of all, the much-awaited is the The Hôtel d'Europe**** in Avignon and its chef Bruno D'Angelis, where three stars have just been awarded. They have rightfully regained a star which had been taken away in 2007.

Two new-comers are now gathering much attention, the Diapason, on the green outskirts of Avignon and the Gourmet de la Coquillade, in Gargas, in the Luberon, in the heart of a prestigious house.

The La Bastide de Capelongue in Bonnieux, still has 2 Stars; its Chef, Edouard Loubet, has been elected Best Chef of the Year 2011 by Gault & Millau.
And with just One Star:
  • Christian Etienne and La Mirande in Avignon
  • Le Saule Pleureur in Monteux
  • Les Bories & Spa in Gordes
  • Le Vivier at l’Isle sur la Sorgue
  • la Petite Maison de Cucuron
  • le Phébus in Joucas
  • l’Auberge La Fenière in Lourmarin
  • le Pré du Moulin at Sérignan du Comtat
  • le Moulin à Huile in Vaison la Romaine
  • le Grand Pré in Roaix
For all those who enjoy good food without spending a fortune, Bib Gourmand restaurants offer a complete menu for under €29 on weekdays and €33 on weekends.

The 5 new Bib Gourmand restaurants in the Vaucluse:
For more information on the newly awarded restaurants by the Michelin Guide click here.

Travel information on Hotel Packages & Land Tours in Provence.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Unusual Bars in Paris - Part 3: Large Venues

Pleasant and sociable, bars are great places to unwind in after a day’s work or a day of leisure. Paris is no exception to this trend, with chic or offbeat establishments that never fail to amaze. The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau has created a list of the most unusual bars in Paris.

In our previous posts we discussed Hotel Bars & Bars with a Difference. Those inclined to claustrophobia and who always go out as a group, will favor spacious venues. Today our journey takes us to the unusual Large Venue Bars:

The Crystal Lounge is one of the capital’s newest trendy venues. Installed on the premises of a former oriental cabaret, the place has been fully renovated and now boasts a modern design and atmosphere over 650 m², inspired by that of some of the finest London clubs. Chic and luxurious evenings from Thursday to Saturday are held on different themes with resident DJs, fashion evenings, etc. The venue is also available for private hire on other nights of the week for private or professional events.

Installed in a former art deco function room dating from 1923, Le Renard has retained the latter’s sumptuous volume which are shown off to great effect with Asian-style interior decoration and the play of light. This vast area which is both a restaurant and night bar offers an amazing atmosphere that mixes architectural splendor of the past with a program of contemporary music.

Le Petit Bain is another spacious venue: open in summer on a terrace along the banks of the Seine, it will from this summer onwards be housed on a huge 40-metre-long barge and will extend over 630 m². This “floating cultural space” which will serve as a bar, restaurant, concert hall and a place for art, will be able to host up to 400 people for convivial evenings.

These are great spots to include in your exploration of Paris.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The ‘UNESCO Effect’ in Albi

The ‘UNESCO Effect’ waits for no one. On July 31, 2010, a few minutes after Albi’s inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list was made public, the city was unexpectedly stormed by waves of tourists who had been visiting France’s South-West, soon to be followed by eager tour operators. Local hotels were besieged. During the rest of the summer, the cathedral and the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum saw a 30 % increase in visitors and L’Esprit du Vin, the city’s Michelin-starred restaurant, was fully booked for lunch and dinner during the entire month of August. Recently we saw buses filled with Japanese tourists and a crew from the Japanese TV station NHK busily filming a 26-minute feature about the red city.

Albi la Belle, a red city that looks like it might belong in Lombardy, well deserves the public’s admiration. Its classified area is a twenty-hectare gem which includes the Sainte-Cécile Gothic cathedral, the adjoining Palais de la Berbie, the Saint-Salvi collegiate church (Albi’s oldest religious structure, dating from the early 11C), the Old Bridge (also from the 11C) and parts of the banks of the River Tarn. The city, whose glory days were in the 16C during the peak of the world trade, harbors several venerable old quarters which are extraordinarily well-preserved and conscientiously showcased.

Around the cathedral - something of an enormous brick elephant which truly looks like it belongs in Gotham City - are old private manors and half-timbered houses with corbelled features. Albi has an excellent quality of life (à la south of France) and is peppered with fine establishments of all genres. From the organic wine bar to the Michelin-starred restaurant; from the 18C flourmill transformed into a hotel to the sustainable design boutique, Albi is full of surprises. That the city has not been engulfed by nearby Toulouse is a gift to us all.

Practical Information from the Centre Départemental de Tourisme du Tarn:

Michelin-starred Restaurant:

L’Esprit du Vin:
Like many of his peers nowadays, David Enjalran, the chef at L’Esprit du Vin (one Michelin star), has got rid of the heavy yoke of his elaborate old menu in order to better devote his talents to the ingredients and inspiration of the moment. While his roots are firmly planted in his region, he tends to wander, taking patrons along for ever-interesting culinary journeys.


Le Sens des choses:
Made in France by small regional manufacturers (from Cantal to the Ariège) using recycled or recyclable natural, tactile materials (clay, cardboard, wood, wool, linen, porcelain, stoneware), the objects chosen by Séverine Paillet are ‘meaningful’ - the shop’s name in French signifies ‘The Meaning of Things’. As sustainable as they are useful, from the window planter made of linen fibre to the walking stick with a silicone handle; from the wool jewellery to the natural schistose sandstone whetting stone; from the fruit bowl made of chestnut wood from the Limousin region to the cardboard bookshelves, everything in this boutique which opened in May 2010 opposite Albi’s covered market is thought-provoking and attractive.

To watch a video of this UNESCO World Heritage city click here. For travel destination ideas click here.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Unusual Bars in Paris - Part 2: Bars with a Difference

Pleasant and sociable, bars are great places to unwind in after a day’s work or a day of leisure. Paris is no exception to this trend, with chic or offbeat establishments that never fail to amaze. The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau has created a list of the most unusual bars in Paris.

In a bar, the originality can be in the decoration, the musical environment with a good DJ at the turntables orquite simply in the atmosphere created by regular clients and newcomers. In Part 1 we discussed Hotel Bars. The second stop on our journey through the Unusual Bars of Paris is Bars with a Difference:

Original and unique in its concept is the Soiréebus organized by Bus Event and taking place aboard a bus, which changes from an ordinary means of transport into a venue for partying. Fully-equipped (video screens, lighting and sound system, DJ, cloakroom and toilets), the vehicle takes clients on a “mobile” soirée around Paris enabling them to admire the beautiful streets of the city, the Palais Garnier opera house, the Eiffel Tower and Place Vendôme and the Champs Élysées. The bus can host up to 60 people, including 23 people seated.

It may be rented by groups for an evening, but may also be boarded by individuals during the Paris Night Ride evenings on Friday evening, when the bus shuttles between three partner pubs, in three different districts.

At Le Pompon, a former synagogue transformed into a bar and nightclub, a festive ambience is assured right from the start of the evening. Guest DJs or live bands offer a variety of rock, electro or hip-hop. Created by Charaf, from Pain O Chokolat and Omar, the owner of the famous couscous restaurant of the same name, the place became one of the trendiest places in the capital in just a few months.

Vodka fans will find glasses to their taste at the Molotov, an opulent little Russian bar, all in red and black and decorated with paintings and objects on the theme, tongue-in-cheek of course, of Soviet propaganda, with portraits of Stalin and uniforms of the Red Army. More than fifty vodkas are on offer and the place is purposely offbeat in its ironic concept and decoration.

Another place for fans of Russia, the piano-bar of the restaurant Le Raspoutine, is an evening institution that never ages. Serge Gainsbourg was a regular in the 1980s; vodka is the drink here and the atmosphere is lively with dances and songs taken up in chorus as the night advances…

In a different genre, Le Footsie offers an atypical concert, as the price of cocktails varies according to the offer and demand in the establishment. Taking its name from the equivalent of the English CAC 40, the place displays the prices of drinks on plasma screens and it requires the art of a trader to order at the right time, i.e. when the client’s favourite cocktail is displayed at a low price! Atmosphere guaranteed, just like on the market floor in Paris, London or New York.

These are great spots to include in your exploration of Paris.

Friday, March 18, 2011

France’s Var-Provence Named Top Destination by Cruise Panel

The Var-Provence region is the second-leading touristic destination in France just after Paris. Located on the southern coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea at the heart of both Provence and the French Riviera, the region has sunshine for at least 300 days of the year. The region is home to famous places such as Saint-Tropez and the Verdon River Gorge. In the last two years, the number of cruise passengers has more than doubled. Recently awarded as “Destination of the Year 2010” by a panel of cruise experts, the Var-Provence has established itself as a go-to tourist destination. The Var-Provence Cruise Club will be exhibiting at the Cruise Shipping Miami trade show from March 15 to 17 on the French Pavilion.

In two years the cruise passengers’ number welcomed in Var-Provence has more than doubled and recorded an increase of 165 percent, to reach a total of more than 310,000 cruise passengers welcomed in 2010. Toulon, the leading port of the network, welcomed 85 percent of these visitors thanks to its sheltered facilities that can accommodate the biggest ships currently deployed in the Mediterranean.

Aware of important strides made by the Var-Provence Cruise Club, the cruise community represented by a panel of cruise experts has designated it “Destination of the Year 2010” during the last Seatrade Insider Cruise Awards ceremony held at Seatrade Med in Cannes in last December. This recognition combined with the outstanding growth of the cruise activity in the area make of the Var-Provence more than a growing destination, but a true tourist establishment. For travel destination ideas click here. For more information, email or visit For travel destination ideas click here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Unusual Bars in Paris - Part 1: Hotel Bars

Pleasant and sociable, bars are great places to unwind in after a day’s work or a day of leisure. Paris is no exception to this trend, with chic or offbeat establishments that never fail to amaze. The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau has created a list of the most unusual bars in Paris:

During our series on Unusual Bars in Paris we will explore Hotel bars, Bars with a difference, Large venues, and Bars with bubbles. First we will explore Hotel bars:

Such is the case at the Ice Kube the bar of the hotel of the same name, without doubt one of the most astonishing bars in Paris. The new decor of this bar in ice is a copy of one of the hotel’s guest rooms with bathroom, bedroom and private bar in ice. For a 30-minute session, and after having dressed in the necessary warm clothing (chic down jacket designed by Alexis Mabille, fur mittens and chapka), clients enter this unusual place with its temperature of -20°C to enjoy a series of vodka-based cocktails, served in glasses of ice … Like the bar counter, the large armchairs and the rest of the furniture are cut out of blocks of ice.

The Hemingway bar at the Ritz is a memorial of sorts, where time seems to have stood still with supreme elegance: it was here that Ernest Hemingway celebrated the Liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 and nothing seems to have changed since. Comfortable leather armchairs, wood paneling on the walls, black and white photos of the author of A Moveable Feast, an old typewriter and bust of the writer create a unique atmosphere. The head barman, British man Colin Field who has been shaking cocktails here for more than 30 years is the living and inexhaustible memory of the place and serves alcohol and cocktails that were dear to the writer, including the famous Bloody Mary. History has it that one day Ernest Hemingway asked the barman of the time to concoct an odorless cocktail for him, to avoid any caustic remarks from his wife about his breath, when returning to his hotel suite in the early hours of the morning after heavy drinking. An additional and very chic touch to the place, writers from around the world can have a letter sent to them here where it will be carefully kept until they visit the bar!

At the Plaza Athénée, the bar decorated by Patrick Jouin, featuring a transparent counter illuminated by touch when a glass is placed on it, and a mirror above the chimney place where flames are displayed on a plasma screen, has very quickly become one of the trendiest places of its kind. The head barman, Thierry Hernandez, is always creating new cocktails, like Fashion Ice – cocktails with an ice lolly in assorted flavors and colors in a glass.

These are great spots to include in your exploration of Paris.

Friday, February 18, 2011

127th Carnaval de Nice

The 127th Carnaval de Nice [Nice Carnival] will take place from February 18 to March 8, 2011, with the theme of Le Roi de la Méditerranée [The King of the Mediterranean]. The opening festivities begin on Friday night at 8:30 pm, when King Carnival arrives at Place Masséna to take the keys to the city, announcing his brief reign. From then on, extravagance knows no bounds, and originality and exuberance are what’s expected!

The Corso Carnavalesque [Carnival Procession] consists of 20 floats based on the carnival theme, 30 or so giant papier-mâché puppets (known as grosses têtes or ‘big heads’) and 200 entertainers who circle around the floats. It turns into a motley, brightly colored parade that blends in street artists and music groups from around the world.
As tradition has it, on the last night, King Carnival parades alone, before being burned at the stake, either on the sea or on the shore. A firework display to music then takes place over the Baie des Anges and the castle mount comes ablaze as if in response.
The Bataille de Fleurs [Battle of Flower] shows off the quality and huge variety of flowers on the Côte d’Azur, with 85% of the flowers used being produced locally. The floats completely covered in flowers, parade along the Promenade des Anglais between the Avenue des Phocéens and the Hôtel Négresco.
On each float, costumed dolls throw 100,000 flowers to enthusiastic crowds: gladioli, chrysanthemums, mimosas, gerberas, marguerites, roses, carnations, and more.
The event, the only one of its kind in the world, is one of the Côte d’Azur’s best-known festivals. Nice exports its expertise in the elegance, beauty and charm of battles of flowers all over the world.
Carnival is accompanied by traditional events like the Bain de Carnaval [Carnival Bath], Carnasocca (tasting of the traditional Nice dish, socca), the Bal des Enfants [Children’s Ball] and the Corso Illuminé [Moonlit Parade].

For the full program, visit the Carnaval de Nice website.
For information on great hotel packages & tours in the French Riviera click here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

France Awarded Sexiest Romance/Honeymoon Destination in Europe

Recommend Magazine, one of the leading travel trade publications of North America, recently issued their 14th Annual Readers’ Choice Awards, in which France was, for the 11th year, awarded as the Sexiest Romance/Honeymoon Destination in Europe.

Indeed, beyond France’s romantic “piece de resistance,” Paris - a.k.a. the “City of Love” - every corner of France is about romance. Like Recommend states it: “Roads to romance wind through France, hugging Mediterranean and Atlantic shores, passing beneath snow-capped Alps and Pyrenees heights, linking picturesque villages and treasure-filled historic towns.”

According to the France Tourism Development Agency, more than half of American visitors to France are repeat travelers.

For romantics, Paris is usually the centerpiece, and over the next two years, the Paris luxury brand – with Asian accents – is in for a big expansion. Just opened in October, the Raffles Royal Monceau, whose guest attractions range from a private library and art gallery to a 100-person cinema. This month, Shangri-La Hotel Paris becomes the second new entry, occupying a building originally built in 1896 as the home of Roland Bonaparte, Napoleon’s great-nephew. Here, rooms boast an exceptional Eiffel Tower view. Mandarin Oriental Paris, set to open in mid-2011, will be home to Michelin-star chef Thierry Marx. In the summer of 2012, look for the debut of the Peninsula Paris in the former International Conference Center of the French foreign ministry.
And, no doubt, hotels with a “palace” label fill many a romantic traveler’s dreams, and palaces will get new meaning when France awards a handful of hotels displaying “excellence, perfection, luxury and timelessness,” a special palatial class rating – only one fifth on the 100 five-star hotels in France are due to receive this honor. This is an extension of a new hotel classification system under which previously rated French four-star-luxe hotels were moved into the five-star category. This official classification of hotels makes them more transparent and helps travelers pick the right place to stay. Beyond Paris, the top region for U.S. visitors is Provence/Cote d’Azur, where the romance of France stretches from Marseilles. Always a favorite here is Antibes, which just celebrated the 50th anniversary of its famous Jazz Fesival.
Get inspired with some of France Cruises romantic trip selection:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sparkling Champagne Meets Lively Paris

Wine appreciation has reached new heights in Paris, producing a region prolific in wine bars, champagne tasting workshops at prestigious Parisian wine merchants,  and other popular champagne-related activities. 

Hervé Rousseau opened the Flûte l’Étoile in Paris after testing his restaurant concept in the New York with two Flûte bars. His recipe includes a lounge atmosphere that gives guest a VIP welcome, great finger foods, exciting and diverse venues and both charitable and educational events.
 Customers can relax and sip champagne while noshing on finger foods like Pétrossian caviar, smoked salmon and foie gras, Androuet cheeses, bread from the Kayser bakery, chocolate from the Maison du Chocolat, and champagne macaroons from Ladurée. 

The capital's first wine bar, Le Dokhan’s bar offers an Empire style decor and luxurious yet intimate atmosphere for guests. Aside from offering more than 60 different prestigious champagne labels, the sommelier presents three different vintage wines, per week. Wine fans can frequent this Champagne bar inside the Hôtel Radisson Blu Le Dokhan’s, in the Trocadéro district. 

The champagne bar, Call Me Bubbles on the heights of Montmartre hill serves up a "happy hour" type of experience for patrons, with select bottles of champagne served in flute glasses champagne glasses. Champagne is also served in department stores just like clothing and home decor. At the Bar à bulles at Galeries Lafayette, shopping is enhanced with a glass of water or sparkling champagne. To truly grasp champagne's impact on the Parisians culture, consider the ability to sip choice champagne  at the Bar à champagne de la tour Eiffel for a memorable moment.

Golden OdysseyThe Parisian love affair with the bubbly drink does not end there; everything related to champagne can be learned about during workshops and seminars, or enjoyed through wine-themed activities. Espace Nicolas Feuillatte is a prestigious wine merchant who also offers workshops. Sommelier Christian Ghion facilitates workshops for small groups, explaining the differences between wines, different  types of grapes, the bottling process, with the highlight being able to taste three or four different wines throughout the workshop. Champagne barge cruises and tours are also popular, and even wine-themed cruises in general. Caves Taillevent helps people choose  the perfect wine for their Christmas and New Year's holiday's with advice from sommeliers and access to varieties of wine from champagne houses of Reims.

Wine enthusiasts have another way to enjoy Paris, and those interested in trying something new will find plenty to do. Wine has been incorporated into the daily lives of the French people for centuries; they have successfully turned a natural resource into a profitable and popular product in demand all around the world. There seems to be no end to the ways wine can be enjoyed.
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