Category Archives: The Germain’s European Adventures

Off to Saint-Amour (aka Saint-Collapse)!

Franck and I are off to Saint Amour (if there was a village in France called Saint-Collapse we would have gone there, as that’s what we will be doing) in the Beaujolais until late Thursday. Moving while trying to keep up with work, not to mention a one and a half year old out of the ER, has left us very much needing to recharge our batteries.

So there is no Authentic France Travel Tip this Tuesday, but here are some further photos of the Wine Cellar Baptism and Party last weekend at the Le Caveau du Relais du Vieux Beaune and then back at La Maison des Chaumes.












Frenchitude Lesson #27 : Food Is Worth Fighting For

The packing made me want to sit down in the middle of the floor and weep.

Just in case you were wondering, here are the ingredients for insanity: one weekend in a friend of a friend’s chalet in the Jura, three daughters, three snow ensembles, assorted gloves, mittens, hats, scarves, and warm socks…

We were crazy to say we’d go. I thought to myself as I stuffed another recyclable grocery bag full of Germain family flotsam and jetsam. This is just not worth the grief.

And don’t even get me started on Clem’s paraphernalia; fold out baby bed and mattress, bottle warmer, mineral water, stuffies, the list goes on and on and on towards infinity.

I, unwisely as it turned out, started stuffing grocery bags full of our stuff in favour of suitcases. At the time I think I was hallucinating with exhaustion, because I remember calculating that five or six grocery bags should do the trick.

THIRTEEN overflowing grocery bags later, and I was theeeees close giving up. The thought of unpacking all these bags in the Jura, then repacking them and then unpacking them in two days times was enough to make me want to lie and say that I couldn’t possibly go because I had come down with a sudden case of the plague.

Of course I was delighted with the prospect of spending a weekend with my friends. Of course I thought it would be wonderful for the girls to play in the snow. But truth be told, the only thing that kept me from capitulating in the face of packing was the thought of Raclette.

You see, we had planned ahead of time to eat Raclette for dinner on Saturday night.

In case you are one of the poor souls who has not yet sampled the god’s vittals that is Raclette, it is the heady combination of all sorts of charcuterie and boiled potatoes, with melted Raclette cheese (and the Jura is like the Mecca of Raclette cheese) poured all over it.

As any French person will tell you, food is the most important aspect of planning any trip.

I have to admit it; the Raclette was the clincher. If it wasn’t for the prospect of a sublime Raclette, I would have thrown in the towel before we had even got out the door.

So, dreaming of Raclette, we shoved our three girls, fold out cot, two sleds, and thirteen grocery bags vomiting our stuff everywhere into our trunk, and hit the road.

Two and a half hours later we reached a road that had about three metres of snow piled up on either side. Our leader, Pascal, directed us into a little parking area that had been carved out of a snowbank.

We all got out and looked around us. Lots of snow. Lots of Ice. No path. No chalet. No lights. Nada.

Turns out the chalet was lost somewhere in the Jura night about 250 metres up the hill (which in turn, was covered with 3 metres of snow).

It was pitch dark.. It was 10:00 pm. I started to wonder how on earth our grocery bags would ever make it up intact to the chalet. If they ever found the chalet, that was.

This is what happened next.


Thank God our friend Martial is officially the best equipped person in the universe. He handily pulled out snowshoes and head lamps out of his trunk and the three guys kitted up to go and find the chalet.

I stayed in the heated car with the girls, calming myself with visions of Raclette.

Anyway, to make a long story short, by midnight we were all in the chalet, along with all of our stuff which the guys had pulled up the hill on rigged up sleds. There may be a few odds and sods of ours that will be found by the chalet owners when the snow melts, but by that point I really didn’t care.

The men hardly even cursed me at all for my totally unadapted packing technique (there’s French gallantry for you). As I was hauling myself up the hill and kept getting my legs stuck thigh deep in snow I just thought of Raclette. Beats palm trees any day.

And when we got into the lovely chalet, I checked out the kitchen first thing. Judging from the size of the pots & pans it looked more than promising.

Saturday morning dawned and we found ourselves in Paradise;

There’s the chalet up on the hill to the left. That was quite a climb. Thank God for the Raclette is all I can say.


Franck strapped on a pair of snowshoes to get down to the car to go on the daily baguette run (because even if you are snowbound, a French person needs their daily bread). Camille hitched a sled ride on his way back up.


We made a snow fort with the girls when the rest of the gang went skiing…we basically worked up an appetite for our Raclette.

And then the skiers came home and Raclette time drew near;


Martial made several kilos of potatoes and threw in a couple of saucisses de morteau for good measure.


We got the platters of charcuterie ready. Yum.


Pascal took care of the precious locally-bought cheese.


And then it was time…ahhhhhhhhh….all the packing and getting stuck in the snow and repacking and unpacking…


It was all worth it.

And you know what? The Raclette tasted even better because we had earned it.

***Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Grignan or Georgia.

Authentic France Travel Tip # 21: Go To A "6 Nations" Rugby Match

Life is a funny thing. Turns out that as I was cheering on my unrequited loves in rugby matches during my high school years at my very British private school in Victoria, Franck was on the other side of the Atlantic, not only playing rugby but religiously watching the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament with his rugby-crazy Pépé Georges.

Of course at that time the 6 Nations tournament was actually the 5 Nation Tournament (France, England, Wales, Scotland & Ireland). Italy came and joined in the fun a few years ago.

This rugby competition is adored by all rugby-loving Europeans and is the perfect opportunity to capitalize on those underlying European cultural clashes

Franck and I went to the Scotland vs. France match at the Stade de France this weekend, and it wasn’t only an Authentic French moment, but an Authentic European moment.

When else can you witness first-hand an invasion of the streets of Paris (here Saint Michel in the Latin Quarter) by men-in-kilts?


Or be entertained waiting for the RER by a group of slightly tipsy, red beret wearing French rugby supporters from the South West of France?


Or be serenaded by bagpipes, and surrounded by be-wigged French people, as you get off the RER at La Plaine?


Or be offered a glass of wine from the impromptu French wine stand as you wander over to the gates of the Stade de France? I also had the chance to reconnect with a few of my distant Scottish relations in the photo at the very top of this post.

I wasn’t really sure who I was going to cheer for, after all I have a French passport but no French blood (though plenty o’ Frenchitude), and no UK passport but plenty of Scottish blood.

And although I was clearly sitting in a French section as you can tell by the berets in front of me;

The crowd was also dotted with a scattering of very vocal Scots. One particularly hilarious specimen behind us kept up a running commentary of the match in a gravelly brogue, and favored shouting “Ye ahhhhhshhhoooooooooles!!!!!!” every time the Scottish team fumbled the ball.

However, this being rugby (a gentleman’s sport) unlike Football (where they have to separate the fans so they don’t slit each other’s throats) at the end of the match all the French fans and the Scottish Fans shook hands and hugged and took photos together.

I cheered for both teams, and nobody around me seemed to have any objection to that.

How’s that for Inter-European harmony?

*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

Switzerland, Continued…

As promised, here are further photos of our recent flit to Switzerland, sans enfants.

It only takes two hours by car to get from Burgundy to a country where you are thanked for drinking your coffee in three languages.

Where you can visit the small but astounding “Musée de l’Art Brut” in Lausanne.

Where you take the time to stop and admire the swans on Lake Geneva.

And of course the beautiful wooden chalets.

Where you are serenaded by the sound of cow bells ringing around the valley all day long.


Where you can eat lunch looking out to this view.

Where you eat cheese fondue for lunch; then eat cheese fondue again for dinner.

And if you’re Franck and I, where you can go for an evening walk in a deep valley, feeling drunk with freedom.

Why I Love Burgundy – Reason #5

Why I Love Burgundy – Reason #5 : Because when you decide it’s time for a short break and a little change of scenery, you can flit over to Switzerland.


And discover the beautiful Lavaux wine region on the banks of Lake Geneva.

And take the train to Gstaad.



And admire the beautiful old wooden chalets.

Another Authentic France Travel Trip coming tommorrow, just like every Tuesday, but more Switzerland photos coming on Wednesday…

The Gelato Cure

We just got back from another great week in Italy. This time we stayed further North, in the refreshingly untouristy region of Piedmont.

The place we stayed in was actually an apartment within a villa nestled in the vineyards. The couple from Los Angeles who own it have done an absolutely stunning job on the renovations and restoration (and as someone who has done this more than a few times, I have infinite respect for the work and thought that goes in to such a project). The apartment was wonderfully comfortable and functional, and made perfect by such details as its vaulted brick ceiling.

The region was fascinating, and the town we loved most of all was the little town of Costligliole d’Asti which was only one kilometre away. We didn’t see another tourist in our whole week there, and the people in the shops were obviously not the jaded sort that you can come across in Florence, Rome, and other more popular areas.

Each time we went to buy our daily prosciutto and mortadello from the local “charcuterie” the girls were each given a Chupa Chups lollipop and a balloon! Imagine the joy! They were very proud that they knew how to say “Buonjourno“, “Grazie“, and “Ciao” to the lovely lady who served us our daily cappuccinos and hot chocolates in the town’s coffee shop. We also learned the Italian names for all the different flavours of gelato, as we had at least two each a day.

We did a day trip to the “Cinqueterre” area of the Italian Rivieria. The panoramas were indeed stunning, but I felt as though, besides the lovely little Italian towns perched on the cliff faces and of course the ubiquitous gelato shops, I had been jettisoned back to North America. Everyone who we met or passed us on the streets was North American, and spoke with the same accent as me. It was a bit unnerving, and made us rejoice in the authentic “Italian-ness” of our spot in Piedmont all the more.

It reinforced what we strive for back at home in Burgundy – to create places where our guests can truly live like locals.

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” –- Miriam Beard

Quick trip to Alsace

Several months ago Franck and I had arranged with his sister and brother-in-law for Charlotte and Camille to spend a weekend at their place in Magny-les-Villers with their cousins.

The designated weekend was fast approaching, however, and Franck and I still hadn’t chosen a place to go for our getaway. The problem with living in Burgundy is that we’re spoiled for choice. Did we want to grab a cheap flight to Morocco? Head up to the Swiss mountains? Go to Belgium perhaps for some moules frites?

Even though we’ve been living in France for going on three years now, the myriad of possibilities of things to see and do in such close proximity to our house never fails to thrill and, at times like this, paralyse me!

But when it came right down to it we only had two nights and not a huge budget, so on a whim we booked a hotel room in the gorgeous town of Colmar, in Alsace, where we had stayed in December 2004 with the girls taking in Colmar’s very famous and not-to-be-missed Christmas market. Within a few minutes of making the phone call I began fantasizing about enjoying a “tarte flambee” with a pint of cold Fischer beer.

Colmar (and the region of Alsace) is only a two and half hour drive away from our house here in the Cote D’Or, yet when we arrived we really felt as though we had landed in a different country. The proximity to the German border creates a fascinating French / German fusion evident in the culture, the architecture, and, of course, the fabulous food. You even hear many people in the street speaking incomprehensible (to me, anyway) Alsatian which is a mix of French and German.

Somewhere between a frothy hot chocolate and a huge slice of apple pie in our favorite tea and coffee shop, it occurred to me that Alsace is a wonderful short trip for our guests to take from any of our three vacation rentals, so here is all the info. that I have gathered to help you do exactly that.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions. I don’t want to post my email here so as not to be spammed to death, but you can find it if you go to our website http://www.myburgundy.com/ .

We find Colmar to be a great base in Alsace. It is an amazingly picturesque town, near all the famous wine villages such as Riquewhir, Hunahwir, Saint-Hippolyte, etc. and is very easy and pleasant to walk around. Similar to Beaune, there are tons of restaurants and shops for you to enjoy within easy walking distance.

DRIVING:

To plan the (short) drive, go to the website we always recommend for trip planning by car in Europe: http://www.viamichelin.com/

ACCOMMODATIONS:

Seeing as we would only be there two nights, and were planning on going to restaurants quite a bit, we chose a hotel rather than a vacation rental. When we were in Colmar for the Christmas market, we stayed at the very central and charming Hotel Saint Martin, but it was closed for winter holidays. However, we would certainly stay there again and recommend it. Their website is: http://www.hotel-saint-martin.com/uk/index.html

This time we stayed at the Hotel Le Colombier, which is also very central and near what they call “La Petite Venise” – a very picturesque area of town where the river winds its way through the colourful beamed houses and cobbled streets. The rooms were a bit more modern than the Hotel Saint Martin but they were very luxurious (a marble bathroom and free soaps!) and quiet. We would recommend it as well. Their website is: http://www.hotel-le-colombier.fr/

RESTAURANTS

The food in Alsace is just as sublime as in Burgundy, but completely different. A few of our favorite meals ; the tarte flambee I had been dreaming about, of course, which is like a pizza but with a base of mixed fromage blanc and creme fraiche, Choucroute which is the traditional hearty fare of sauerkraut and meat, and then other wonders such as the lovely smelly cheese munster melted over potatoes, and so on and so forth. We ended up eating in Colmar itself for every meal, and here are our favorites restuarants…

Jadis & Gourmande
8, Place du Marche aux Fruits 03.89.41.73.76

For breakfast, a casual lunch, or a snack you can’t do any better than Jadis & Gourmand which boasts amazing tarts and pies. The atmosphere is cozy and very Alsatian – great hot chocolates, teas and coffees.

Le Koifus
2, Place de l’Ancienne Douane 03.89.23.04.90

We ate at this restaurants, known as a “Weinstrub” or Alsatian bistro, several times. It is popular amongst the locals, very good, and reasonably priced. Go here for tarte flambees, munster melts, and all the other traditional Alsatian dishes. Reservations recommended as it is very busy (always a good sign!).

Chez HANSI
23 rue des Marchands 03.89.41.37.84

This was Franck’s choice, and I’m sure the fact that the waitresses are all kitted out in traditional Alsatian dresses had, ahem, nothing at all to do with that…in any case, at first glance it was evident that our waitress wasn’t quite the sort of fetching Alsatian lass that Franck had had in mind, but nevertheless we had a delicious choucroute with friendly (and costumed!) service. However, we felt the price to be a bit excessive compared to the Koifus. The choucroutes are HUGE so whatever you do, don’t bother ordering an entree beforehand.

WINE

Alsace is a very well-known wine making area, so of course we had to stock up our ever diminishing cellar and also buy a few bottles to put in my Dad’s cellar. the wines are completely different than Burgundian wines, and make a good contrast to gauge the mid-blowing depth and diversity of France’s “terroirs“.

Last time we stopped in the the wine co-op in the village of Hunawhir, which was very good, but this time it too was closed for winter vacation. Instead, we tried the Caveau de Ribeauville in the equally charming village of the same name, and were not disappointed!

The diversity of the wines was huge, the prices very reasonable with a large range in prices, and we had the luck of having a tasting with one of the winemakers who sells his grapes to the cooperative. He absolutely insisted on pouring us huge glasses as he was; a) thrilled to be talking to a Burgundian and, b) convinced that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to properly smell the aromas. Eventually Franck and I had to request for the “crachoir” to be brought out, which is a rare occurrence for us! Definitely a great place to taste and purchase local wines such as Rieslings, Muscats, and Gewurztraminer.
Cave de Ribeauville
2 route de Colmar 03.89.73.61.80
Alsace has a “Route des Vins” or “Wine Road” just like Burgundy, so just follow the signs and definitely devote a day to wandering around the winemaking villages such as Riquewhir, Saint-Hippolyte, Benwhir, etc. etc.
We also visited the Musee d’Unterlinden (right beside the tourist information office) in Colmar, which is a very human size (it only takes about 1 and a half hours to tour through) and has a a stunningly rich medieval art collection. If you have the time it is certainly not to be missed.
As always, Happy travels!
“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” — Frank Herbert

The Germain’s Paris Guide


One of the highlights of our summer vacation was a week spent in Paris. Our good friends Joelle and Nicolas have a stunning apartment smack in the middle of the quartier Montparnasse. They offered it to us while they sunned on the beaches of Tunisia, and of course we said “oui, oui, oui!”. To make what was already an amazing opportunity absolutely perfect was the fact that they have a little girl, Violette, who is Charlotte’s age and has a room full of Playmobile and Polly Pockets.

Franck and I lived in Paris for a year in 1993-94 when I did a year at the Sorbonne studying medieval french for my BA and Franck did an assortment of interesting jobs such as a journalist (got a free trip to Morrocco that included a nifty Djalaba) and coat check at the Louvre (free passes galore and he now knows the Louvre like the back of his hand). We lived in an apartment just behind Notre Dame, and just steps away from the Seine. We loved our year, so jumped at the opportunity to be able to share our love of Paris with our girls.

Here is our family’s little guide of our favorite things in Paris:

1. Glaces Berthillon

Franck and I have long thought this is the world’s best ice cream, and Charlotte and Camille have resoundly seconded this opinion, although Camille insists on calling it “Tourbillon” ice cream. You will find this nectar on the exquisite Isle Saint Louis (right behind Notre Dame), where it is made. Here, ten or so shops sell authentic Berthillon ice cream. Look for the line-ups on the sidealks and you’ll have found the right place.

2. The Louvre’s pyramids at night

It’s almost hard now to imagine how shocked many people were when IM Pei went through with his plans to add glass pyramids to the classically renaissance main courtyard of the Louvre in 1989. Now, however, they have now been fully accepted as part of the magical Parisian landscape, and rightly so in my opinion. Although they are certainly neat to look at during the day, where the largest pyramid serves as the main entrance to the museum, I think they really become magical when the museum closes, the tourists leave, and night falls. Go and see what I mean.

3. Bateaux Mouches at night

I never get tired of this one hour trip, and seeing Paris, its bridges, and most of its important monuments lit up in their nocturnal glory. We always take the boats right underneath the Pont Neuf – called “Les Vedettes de Pont-Neuf”, and of course we always get a seat up top in the open.

4. A dinner and walk at Saint Michel

Paris doesn’t need to be expensive. For dinner, go to Saint Michel and studiously avoid the tourist trap sit down greek restaurants with their plastic food in the vitrines, and instead buy a crepe or a greek sandwich for dinner, walk around being endlessly entertained by the people watching and plate breaking at the aforementioned tourist traps, and finish off your meal with a North African pastry from one of the local pastry shops. Voila – dinner for under five Euros.

5. Brasserie Chartier

We tried this traditional brasserie for the first time on this trip, but we’ve already decided to return. Count on;

1) standing in line to get in
2) getting yelled at by the officious matron because you’re standing in the wrong line or had the audacity to leave for a moment to go to the bathroom
3) the fact that the bustling atmosphere and reasonably priced traditional fare in this joint will have you coming back for more abuse

We were mortified when the matron led us inside the restaurant, saying our table was ready, and then proceeded to position us right beside our future table, which was still occupied by a nice couple who were commiting the unpardonable sin of taking to long to savour their dessert. After the matron billowed off like a ship at full sail to harangue other customers we apologized to the couple, and reassured them that they should feel free to take their time. They just laughed, picked up the pace a bit, and commented with a shrug, “c’est comme ca ici, mais on reviens toujours quand meme.”

Brasserie Chartier
7, rue du Faubourg Montmartre
75009 Paris o1.47.70.86.29

6. Les Jardins des Plantes / la Grand Mosquee

These are both in Franck’s and my old “quartier”. The jardin is a relaxing place to walk around, and includes both a gallery of Evolution and Gallery of Paleontology within its walls – great for the kids. For a break afterwards, go for a mint tea and a pastry in the enchanting tiled courtyard of the neighbouring mosque, and almost put yourself to sleep with the burble of the fountain. Apparently they have great and inexpensive massages at the “Hamam” here too.

7. Le Marais

This quartier is a fascinating place to poke around. For those who like home shops and funky cafes, you will have found Nirvana here. You can also visit Victor Hugo’s old house here on the Place des Voges for free, as well as Le Musee Carnavalet which documents the history of Paris, from Neolithic to present time – fascinating.

8. Montparnasse

This is where we stayed on this trip, and it gave us the chance to discover this quartier that has managed to maintain its bohemian spirit. Go for the famous cafes such as Le Dome and La Rotonde where Gauguin, Mogdiliani and friends used to hang out. Check out the amazingly comprehensive art supply stores and all of the neat little art galleries. My friend Joelle is opening up a vacation rental in the heart of Montparnasse this Fall, in a converted artist’s studio (baptised L’Atelier) in the same building which housed both Gauguin’s and Mogdiliani’s studios – it promises to be amazing and you can always contact me for further details…

9. Picnic in the Arenes du Lutece / rue Mouffetard

This ancient Roman amphitheatre is hidden behind stout wooden doors on the rue Monge, not far away from our apartment when we lived in Paris. It is a great place to take a picnic, and lounge where the Romans once did, except now you can watch children playing and elderly men debating their petanque game rather than slaves being devoured by lions: slightly less edifying perhaps, but certainly more of a balm to the spirit. Don’t forget to check out the nearby street the “rue Mouffetard” for the more authentic, untoutisty version of the Latin Quarter. If you are there on a Saturday morning, don’t miss the market which runs almost the whole length of the street ambling, twisting, medieval street.

10. The Eiffel Tower

Ahhhh…a tourist trap it may be, but for good reason. The view from up above is just about as good as it gets, especially at dusk when you can watch all the lights of Paris flicker on at your feet. This time we walked down by foot from the second floor, and for those who don’t have vertigo, it is very fun.

Camille and Charlotte will have the last word. Pretty much all that my daughters retained from their first Paris trip almost two years ago now (except for Violette’s toys) was the Eiffel Tower shaped lollipops that Nicolas had bought the kids from the cafeteria on the first floor. Since that momentous day, the girls would wax nostalgic about these special lollipops any time Paris was mentioned. Thus, this was the top and non-negotiable item on their “List of Must-Do Things” this time around. As you can see from the photo above, the girls got their wish and, clearly, when it comes right down to it, Paris is really all about the Eiffel Tower lollipops.