Spring is just around the corner . . .
March / April 2002
Spring Holidays in France
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Are you traveling to France this Spring? We hear from many people that they will be spending April in Paris or May in Provence -- so it might be a good time to remind you of the holidays which may or may not impact you while you are there. Keep in mind that the French make good use of their holiday time and, consequently, you should expect increased highway traffic and bank or shop closings.
Easter Sunday is March 31st, and observed throughout the Christian world. But, in France there is also Easter Monday, this year falling (obviously) on April 1st. This long weekend will find many families and friends traveling to visit one another. The next big holiday, celebrated throughout Europe, is May 1st, known as Labor Day -- or what Americans call "May Day". Your awareness of this holiday may be made more acute because of demonstrations by various groups from the workforce -- government employees, truck drivers, farmers or others. Hopefully, your visit won't be disrupted by any groups who choose to take to the streets or shut down services.
May is filled with holidays in France. May 8th is Victory Day (World War II) and falls on a Wednesday; Thursday, May 9th is Ascension Day (the 40th day after Easter Sunday); May 19th is Pentecost Sunday (Whitsun) stretching into Whit Monday on the 20th -- another three day weekend!
So, the combination of state and religious holidays totals seven just between the last day of March and the third week in May, the heaviest concentration of holidays in France for the entire year. Of course, if you plan to be in France in July, you will be there for the next holiday on the list (there's not one day off in June!), the biggest celebration of them all: July 14th, Bastille Day, the holiday many tourists hope to enjoy in France and in person!
The Most Beautiful Villages of France
You come upon a village that stuns you with its movie set appearance. Could this place be real? No one is out and about -- perhaps because it is high noon. But, you are sure people (real people) do live here. Flower boxes adorn the rough stone houses, filled to the brim with well-tended blooms. The streets are immaculate. Church bells toll and the wind rustles through the trees on this lovely autumn day. It appears to be nearly perfect. You don't even share the road with other traffic. And, there are no "A Vendre" signs anywhere to be seen. No one wants to leave this place! Where are you? Is this a dream?
Many visitors to France have had the opportunity -- or perhaps we should say the pleasure -- of finding themselves either by accident or intentionally in a village designated one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. Often as you turn the bend on a country road you come upon a village that takes your breath away, only to discover later that it wasn't only your opinion, but this place shares with other villages a distinct and honored designation. Perhaps you read about such a village and deliberately set out to find it. In either case, each of these wonderful places will leave you with an indelible memory -- and, if you are smart, a lot of terrific photographs snapped because you just know you've come upon something very special.
Eventually, everyone who knows of one or many of these villages is bound to ask questions regarding who selects a village, what are the criteria and how did it all begin? It's actually quite an interesting story. It wasn't that long ago -- 1982 -- when the mayor of Collonges-la-Rouge in the département of Corrèze, Charles Ceyrac, founded the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. His purpose was two-fold: patrimony (patrimoine: heritage) and promotion, and for many years the list was called "The 100 Most Beautiful Villages..." , but times have changed. Anxious to be on the list, many villages have taken the initiative to meet the high standards necessary, so today there are actually 142 named as members of the association. There are 27 criteria to be met, and each village has less than 2000 inhabitants. Keep in mind that a village can lose its designation. Every five years new experts meet to confirm or cancel the classification of each village. (Click here to read the history and find a list of villages throughout France that belong currently to this association.)
Monsieur Mayor had
a dream to rejuvenate forgotten rural villages, those that had been ignored
or neglected. He wanted to unite them in a single purpose
-- to bring them back to life! To accomplish this, he knew that their
unique architecture had to be preserved without turning them into museums,
that village life had to thrive once again around the village squares and
fountains, and that these villages had to be promoted on a national level.
Remember, this began at a time when young people were leaving the towns
and villages of rural France to find their futures in the larger cities
and when the number of family farms was shrinking as the farmers' children
were abandoning agrarian pursuits, passing the local villages by
and heading for a more cosmopolitan life. Monsieur Ceyrac took on
a formidable task!
Despite all our visits to the French countryside, we have only visited a dozen of these villages! These photos represent four of those: Beynac-et-Cazenac, Seguret, Riquewihr and Saint-Ceneri-le-Gerei. To put a name to each of these photos, hold your mouse over the picture.
Today, celebrating its twentieth anniversary, "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France" is a trademark grouping together 142 villages, which share traits such as their countryside locations, their patrimony or their exceptional architecture. The Association's purpose is to promote, preserve and enhance those special characteristics to transform member villages into places of excellence -- to use their new found fame to build a new and stronger economy. To quote the Association, " This economy, based on a partnership between the Locals and the French as well as the foreign clientele, should enable one to enjoy the discovery of a living patrimony, the hospitality and the 'art de vivre' ".
The Association is hoping to make rural France a place to be envied. If you have ever visited one of the designated villages, we think you may have said, as we have, "How lucky these people are to live here!". Looks like their plan is working!
Golfing in Provence
We know that for many people spending time on a golf course is often a necessity -- even when they are on vacation in France. The sport is very popular in France and gaining momentum. Golf courses are popping up everywhere, many owned or operated by huge château/hotels which offer other distractions for visitors such as spas, workout rooms, swimming, tennis and other activities. This is no less true in the beautiful Var region of Provence. Between games, the golfers and their traveling companions can visit the many vineyards of the region to sample the much improved Côte Varois and Côtes de Provence wines and purchase them at very reasonable prices.
In the Var of Provence our friend, Anita Rieu-Sicart, publishes her monthly newsletter, the Var Village Voice, crammed with current happenings in the region. Beginning in April, she will produce a series of nine monthly supplements to the newsletter in collaboration with "Art de Vivre en Provence" - a group of local golf hotels. These supplements will feature a different golf course each month, offering specials to the golfers. This all begins with the April supplement entitled, "Golf Courses of the Var - the well-kept Secret". The first participating golf course is Golf de St. Endreol in Le Muy.
Anita reminds us that the Var has twelve golf courses, offering wonderful scenery in a superb climate, and that the cost of greens fees is half that of Spain and Portugal the primary destinations abroad for golfers. She also wants readers to know that the golf package deals don't have to include the hotel stay -- there are wonderful chambres d'hôtes in the region for more personalized accommodations. We want to remind you that Château de Berne is one of them! Do pay them a visit on our web site.
If you are interested in keeping track of what is happening in the Var, you can subscribe to Anita's newsletter (and receive the golfing supplements) by clicking here: Var Village Voice. Please tell her you heard about the newsletter on au Château.
French Quiz 11
year the 200th birthday of one of France's greatest literary idols will
You will find the correct answer at the end of this newsletter.
The 2002 Red Guide is Here
Much chatter and tongue clucking has been going on in gastronomic circles in France -- as happens every year -- because the Red Guide (once known as the Michelin Guide) has hit the newsstands and book stores. And, as is always the case, restaurants and their dedicated chefs have either borne the brunt of having a star snatched away or are basking in the glory of either achieving their first star or being honored with an additional one.
Diners on average probably don't care if a restaurant in France has one star or three, except when the bill arrives! We love French food and find that most of our experiences (even in no-stars-at-all establishments) were more than acceptable, even wonderful at times. But, from the chef's point of view, these Michelin stars are very important, and it is obvious why. The highly respected Red Guide not only brings more business to the restaurant, but the professional and personal prestige of the chef is enhanced by every star. He or she, being French, is the most serious creator of fine cuisine in the world. It is a matter of great pride to possess the honorable designation associated with stars bestowed on one by the Red Guide.
Thus, some happy chefs this year include those at Ledoyen and Guy Savoy in Paris, and L'Arnsbourg in eastern France -- a third star was awarded to each. There are only 21 Michelin three-star restaurants in all of France - 9 of them in Paris. Ledoyen has been serving meals to an appreciative public since 1791! Seven restaurants gained a second star this year, and the most noteworthy is the restaurant of famed nouvelle cuisine pioneer, Roger Vergé, Moulin de Mougins in Mougins, département of the Alpes-Maritimes north of Cannes. Monsieur Vergé has been through it all with Michelin, having at one time possessed three stars, which followed by losing two in the 1990s. We imagine he is quite pleased to regain his second star.
But, some chefs are not happy at all. Two restaurants were demoted to one star, and Le Crocodile in Strasbourg from three down to two. Its chef, Emile Jung, is quoted as saying, "No words can appease the pain that is eating away at our hearts and stifling our spirits." Perhaps the hardest blow of all came to twenty-two restaurants who this year lost the only star they had! So, let's not be snobs about all of this -- the restaurants who lost a star are still worthy of a diner's business and those that gained a star are probably better than last year, but not so we would notice! It's like being nominated for an Academy Award and not winning...just to be nominated is an honor. For French restaurants and chefs who were considered by Michelin at all is probably honor enough...or maybe not.
Nestled in the hills of Provence's
the absolutely charming
[Photo Cold Spring Press © 1997-2002]
French Quiz 12
Who wrote, "They say when good Americans die they go to Paris." ?
You will find the correct answer at the end of this newsletter.
Paris Through the Ages...
Paris is definitely a city for walking. You can walk to museums, the boulangerie, churches, parks, restaurants, shops, your hotel, and anywhere else you would like, with a Métro ride here and there for convenience. Yes, Paris is best seen on foot. But, if you want to walk in Paris to learn her inner secrets, then perhaps you should stroll with Arthur Gillette.
"Paris Through the Ages" is a series of eleven strolls which will help you discover different facets of the history of the City of Light. Little-known facts about the city will be revealed to you in a most entertaining and enlightening manner, because Arthur Gillette knows Paris. Arthur is an American graduate of Harvard (Magna Cum Laude in French language and literature) with a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts. He has lived in Paris since 1958 and for many years was an official at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) head quartered in Paris. At UNESCO he was Editor-in-Chief of Museum International magazine. Arthur has been featured in major French periodicals including Le Monde, L'Express, Le Point, Le Figaro and Paris Match, as well as on French radio networks, and he served as adviser and guide for the Discovery Channel / BBC co-production called Paris: The Top Ten. Arthur is fluent in several languages and is preparing a series on Paris monuments for Beijing China's 2 television network.
You can just imagine what a stroll with Arthur Gillette will offer you! As the author of the Paris Through the Ages series of nine pocket map-guides, and an expert on Paris and her monuments (and the official guide/lecturer for the Association pour la Sauvegarde et la Mise en Valeur du Paris Historique), your time could not be better spent. He takes small groups only to allow people to interact and ask questions along the way, and focuses on the vestiges of a single historical period -- in some cases on a single monument.
Each stroll takes from two to two and a half hours and is done at a comfortable and leisurely pace. The themes of the currently-offered strolls are:
Quick and Easy Recipe: Sea Bass Languedoc Style
Just outside of Albi near the village of Lautrec a pink garlic is grown, known throughout France for being the most pungent of varieties. This recipe uses garlic to enhance the flavor of a firm white fish like sea bass.
The ingredients needed are 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, two 8-ounce sea bass fillets, salt and pepper, 12 large garlic cloves (sliced), 8 fresh thyme sprigs (left in tact), 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, chopped fresh chives or green onion tops.
Heat half the oil in a heavy non-stick skillet on medium heat. Season the fish with the salt and pepper and add to skillet, sautéing until cooked through, turning occasionally, for a total cooking time of 8 minutes. Transfer the fish to plates (we suggest using plates that have been warmed) and reduce the heat to low.
Add the remaining olive oil, the garlic and the thyme and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add lemon juice and simmer until the liquid becomes slightly thickened (for about one minute). Season to taste with salt, and then spoon the sauce, garlic and thyme over the fish. Sprinkle with chives and serve. Bon appétit!
[Credit goes to Bon Appétit Magazine for this 1996 recipe.]
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answer to Quiz 11 is Victor Hugo and to Quiz 12 is Oscar Wilde.)