Summer has arrived . . .
July / August 2001
The Seasons - When will you visit France?
France enjoys a temperate climate and exceptionally pleasant weather. Although the French may complain about too much rain in the winter months, and the country often suffers from the flooding of some of its rivers from time to time, they can also justifiably brag about having perhaps the best year 'round climate in Europe.
In the warmer months of late spring, summer and autumn the coastal départements are especially worth a visit. The Atlantic seaboard of France benefits from the Gulf Stream's warm waters -- terrific beaches encouraging lots of water sports (even surfing) are found beginning at the border with Spain and northward beyond Brittany's south coast. We have taken walks on the promenades in St-Jean de Luz and Biarritz and enjoyed the beaches and towns of the Médoc Peninsula and the Ile de Ré. Of course, everyone knows of the resort atmosphere along the Mediterranean, but also look for the less visited beaches such as those in Languedoc-Roussillon at St-Pierre-sur-Mer and Valras Plage north of Perpignan, or take the ferry to the Iles d'Hyères between Toulon and St-Tropez to enjoy isolated coves surrounded by ecological preserves. Remember that the shoreline at Cannes is sand, but bring along beach shoes if you plan to wade into the pebbly surf at Nice. North on La Manche (the English Channel) you will find a wide variety of coastal villages, such as those on the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy reminiscent of our New England seaside towns. The beach at Omaha, one of the most memorable places to visit, has peach-colored sand as soft as silk on one's bare feet -- belying the violence of war that took place there fifty-seven years ago.
Spring is beautiful in France as the earth warms and flowering plants begin to bloom. Many Americans visit France in April, May and early June. But, once again, if you wish to avoid crowds it may be a good idea to consider some out-of-the-way destinations during the Easter school holidays just as one might avoid taking vacation in Daytona Beach, Florida during Spring Break. Also, in France like most of the world, spring weather can be more unpredictable than summer or early autumn. It may be cooler than you would like, more overcast, with the remnants of winter rain still lingering. Despite fluctuations in the weather, however, there are rarely extremes of temperature -- although in recent weeks the French have experienced something of a heat wave -- a reminder that summer has truly arrived!
Summer in France, as with most of Europe, is vacation time for its natives, too. You will find the large cities, especially Paris, less crowded in August -- it seems that everyone has left for the countryside with their families. But, the highways are not less crowded, and the vacation spots are bustling with the French and tourists from all over Europe and the world. It is the wise person who avoids being at airports or on the highways the first few days or last few days of school holidays.
Autumn is our personal choice for trips to France, primarily because the crowds are gone, but also because the weather is ideal. It isn't too hot or too cold, the air is crisp and cool in the mornings, the days are comfortable for seeing the sights and eating lunch on a restaurant patio, and the nights are clear -- although we have enjoyed short-lived evening thunderstorms on more than one occasion. We love Normandy in the autumn months, but have been throughout France in September and early October and have found a consistently pleasant climate everywhere. Fall also brings the harvest -- the grape harvest -- when traffic along the roadways includes wagon loads of just-picked grapes! Visits to wineries are somewhat limited during harvest, but can still be arranged and enjoyed. Stay at properties with their own vineyards, such as Château de la Crée in Burgundy or Château de Berne in Provence, for an insider's view of the harvest. When traveling through France by car, look for fresh fruit sold along country roads at little farmstands. You will never regret buying a kilo of plums or a small sack of pears or apples to savor as you travel on your way.
Winter appeals to many visitors to France and seems to be a favorite time of year for the French to go on holiday. The French Alps boast of the best ski resorts in the world, with activities to please almost every taste. The Pyrénées offer a wide variety of outdoor pastimes throughout the year, such as climbing, hiking and hang-gliding, and winter sports are in abundance as well. Smaller lodgings, privately-owned, take in groups of guests, and can be found throughout the mountainous regions of the country -- an example near Grenoble is this gîte, a member of Gîtes de France, and there are many others. (We anticipate adding several château properties in winter vacation areas to accommodate visitors to this web site.) Planning ahead is important in order to be sure to find the accommodations you desire. Keep in mind that renting a chalet or other home for a week or more is an excellent and, most likely, less costly alternative to staying at a large and popular ski resort, especially if traveling with children or a group of friends.
Families with school-age children do not have the option to vacation at all times of the year, but they mustn't forget the holidays at Christmas time -- what fun to be in Paris then or on New Year's Eve! If traveling in the summer months with children, late June and July are probably good choices -- although the lines at Disneyland Paris, Parc Asterix or Futuroscope will probably be very long. Whenever you choose to visit France, you will find every season special in its own way. France has something for everyone at any time of the year.
Château de Garrevaques
Surrounded by its own wooded park, the Château de Garrevaques is a delightful location for a vacation in the département of the Tarn in southwest France. Not far from the city of Toulouse and the Canal du Midi, a variety of tourist sites and activities are offered to the visitor.
Toulouse is France's sixth largest city and is renown for its aerospace industry - the Concorde, Airbus and Ariane rocket all had their beginnings in Toulouse. Your hosts at Château de Garrevaques can arrange visits to tour Airbus Industries if you are so inclined. But Toulouse has more than aerospace. It is a great place to see on foot, has two magnificent cathedrals and is a bustling city filled with activities for all ages. The vielle ville (old town) is famous for its rose colored brick buildings, and it is said that this part of Toulouse is pink at dawn, red at noon and mauve at dusk.
If you are interested in seeing France lounging on the deck of a barge along the Canal du Midi, you have come to the right place. Monsieur and Madame Combes, your charming host and hostess at Garrevaques, can not only guide you to the right company for cruising the Canal, but can also arrange hot air balloon rides, horseback riding, biking in the countryside or even duck shooting in season. The towns of Castelnaudary (home of the original cassoulet), Revel (with its Saturday morning market) and the walled city of Carcassonne are all within easy drives.
countryside is lovely at all times of year, and Château de Garrevaques
will provide total luxury and comfort for your visit. All rooms are
recently renovated and each bedroom has a private bath en suite.
Excellent breakfasts are provided, while dinners of regional cuisine are
available by prior reservation au château.
There are elegant salons for relaxing after a day of sightseeing, as well
as abundant activities on the château grounds including tennis and
an inviting swimming pool. In 2002, the château pavillon
open with fourteen rooms, a restaurant, a beauty shop and a heated pool.
Getting married? Madame Combes can help you organize that perfect
wedding in a beautiful white tent in a park on the grounds, while only
150 feet from the château is the Orangerie, the ideal location for
a wedding reception and dinner for up to 350 guests. It will be an
event long remembered for its historic location and classical elegance.
Originally built as a castle in 1460 to protect the village population, Château de Garrevaques suffered through sieges and occupation and finally was set on fire in 1789. The rebuilding of the château began in 1800, and in keeping with the fashion of the times the château was designed with large window openings, three towers rather than four, a hot air heating system, a slate roof and stylish wallpapers of the day. Thus it evolved into what guests will find today. We believe you will be impressed by the affordable luxury of a stay at Château de Garrevaques, by delicious and authentic regional cuisine offered at the château, numerous area attractions, and, of course, by the realization that your hosts are the fifteenth generation living in this lovely château. Monsieur and Madame Combes welcome you either for a short stay or for an extended visit. Whatever your length of stay, your time at the château will be fondly remembered in the years ahead.
The city of Carcassonne has a population of about 50,000 and can easily be reached driving from Narbonne and the Mediterranean along the N113 in the direction of Toulouse. The interesting part of your drive will not be limited to reaching today's bustling Ville Basse, but what you see to your left before entering Carcassonne -- the medieval citadel, la Cité -- the walled, turreted, magical and nearly surreal Roman fortification that draws tourists like a magnet. You may have already had a few closeup glimpses of it, both inside and out, if you saw the movie Robin Hood with Kevin Costner. Its crenellated walls and numerous turrets make it appear more like a movie location than a real fortress city.
La Cité stands overlooking the River Aude with double ramparts surrounding the inner community, credited to King Louis IX and his son, Philip the Bold, in the 13th century. The original fortress was constructed by the Romans around a town founded by the Gauls. The two walls conceal a wide dry moat, easily defensible, and the entire fortification is ringed with fifty-two towers. Massive gates, Porte d'Aude and Porte Narbonne, are the only entrances to the old city. Visitors may not drive their vehicles into la Cité unless they are guests at lodgings within the walls; only residents may freely drive in and out, while visitors park in lots just outside.
What you see today, however, is not a well-preserved medieval city but a well-restored one -- Carcassonne endured its share of trouble beginning with the Visigoths in the Dark Ages, to the Counts of Toulouse in the 13th century, the Albigensian Crusades of the Middle Ages and its use as the French fortification on the border with Roussillon in the 17th century. It was in 1844 that Eugène Viollet-le-Duc undertook the awesome task of reconstruction and restoration, although today some of his architectural choices are being 'corrected', such as replacing slate roofs with Roman tiles. La Cité is in perfect condition today, something it never was for a moment in its long history. This has met with much criticism over the years, because there are those who believe it should have been left, at least to some extent, in a ruinous state.
The residents of Carcassonne, and there are many, go about their daily lives seemingly oblivious to the hordes of tourists who enter its gates annually. Unfortunately, as with most of France's major monuments to history, the presence of tourists encourages the souvenir sellers, and Carcassonne has its share along its main street. But, no one should find that a deterrent -- la Cité has a good selection of restaurants and cafés, a fine church -- Basilique St- Nazaire, built in the 12th century -- and the Château Comtal -- the Counts' Castle, dating back to 1125. The church has an 11th century Romanesque nave and a 13th century Gothic choir loft. The castle, surrounded by its own moat within la Cité's walls, has five towers of its own.
If you visit la Cité,
do try to also visit the newer (some say 'real' ) Carcassonne across the
River Aude. Its history goes back to 1260 , and it too
was rebuilt after Edward, the Black Prince, burned it to the ground.
Today the center is a walkable city with narrow one-way streets and ideal
to explore on foot. You will find a 14th century cathedral, 15th
century church, and an open air market in the central square. Of
special note is the bridge, Pont-Vieux, built in the 13th centry crossing
the river between la Cité and la Ville Basse. For more logistical
information about Carcassonne, we recommend you click here
for the web site of the Office of Tourism, or here
for the city's official web site (only in French).
French Quiz 3
famous French filmmaker is responsible for
You will find the correct answer at the end of this newsletter.
City View: Strasbourg
the print newsletter, FRANCE
Beautiful buildings and charming
doorways are found throughout
Our Visit to Lascaux II
Lascaux is a recent discovery in terms of prehistoric finds, stumbled upon by two little French boys and their dog in 1940, and closed to the public since 1963. Not far down the hill from the real thing is Lascaux II, a re-creation of the original Lascaux caves, painstakingly reproduced in an effort to protect the prehistoric art in the original cave from further destruction by a human presence. From the end of World War II, visitors had descended upon Lascaux and their breath had caused a coating of microorganisms to form on the walls. It is said that those two decades caused more damage to the paintings at Lascaux than the 17,000 years they lay undisturbed. In Lascaux II, paintings were not only faithfully recreated to look exactly like the originals, but the pigments were scientifically analyzed so they could be precisely reproduced. The result is awe-inspiring and magnificent -- a warm golden glow inside the cave is a backdrop for the rich ochre, red, brown and black dyes of the paintings. Our French-speaking guide, who could answer questions in English, explained that the caves were not lived in but used as places of spiritual or religious gatherings. Cro-Magnon men, women and children lived outside the openings of the caves under rock ledges or in teepees! The two chambers of Lascaux are exactly duplicated in Lascaux II, although the original goes deeper into the earth. Lascaux II is equipped with a ventilation system and air conditioning to protect the reproductions. Photography is not allowed, of course, so be sure to purchase a variety of color postcards or color transparencies in the gift shop – they will be tangible keepsakes of the paintings to take home. Guides take groups of about twenty people at a time through an air-lock, and the cave is open Tuesday - Sunday from February through June, and September through December, and daily in July and August. [Reprinted from the Spring 2001 issue of FRANCE On Your Own © ]
Tickets can be purchased in Montignac or at the site. But, if you reserve rooms at the lovely and hospitable Château de Castel Novel, part of your VIP Welcome gift will be free entry to Lascaux II -- a great opportunity you don't want to miss! Check our Special Offers page on our web site for the details of their VIP Welcome.
Art Nouveau Nancy with Arthur Gillette
Arthur Gillette is an expert on Paris and contributes his Paris Enigmas column to the quarterly print newsletter, FRANCE On Your Own, and also takes its readers on fascinating little journeys to places in France outside of Paris. In the upcoming Summer issue of FRANCE On Your Own readers will have the pleasure of enjoying a cultural stroll through the Lorraine city of Nancy, accompanied by Arthur's witty and insightful commentary on the charming city, its Art Nouveau architecture, furniture, ceramics and stained glass. To promote Nancy as a possible destination when you are next in France, we will excerpt a bit of Arthur's article with two photos supplied to us courtesy of Madame Valérie Thomas of the Musée de L'Ecole de Nancy.
The photos below show
the lopsided Villa Jika, designed by Henri Sauvage for Louis Marjorelle.
Photo by Olivier Dancy] The other photo, is
of a blown and etched vase with what appears to be a dragonfly on its surface
and it dates from 1889. [Credit: Studio Image]
is some of what Arthur has to tell us about Nancy's art scene:
[Arthur Gillette, for many years an executive with UNESCO, conducts fascinating walking tours of Paris and has produced wonderful printed guides available on the secure web site http://www.media-cartes.fr - click on the British flag for English. There you can find out more about Art Nouveau in Paris by requesting his Guide No. 9, "Smiling Architecture - Art Nouveau in the 16th Arrondissement". And/or, have Arthur guide you personally - just contact him at Armedv@aol.com.]
If you find yourself in the Meuse département of Lorraine, heading east from Paris toward Nancy, do consider a night or two at one of our château properties, Château de Labessière or Château des Monthairons.
French Quiz 4
is home to Europe's highest mountain, located in the
You will find the correct answer at the end of this newsletter.
Insight into Provence with the Var Village Voice
We have discovered a newsletter that is quite different from many others -- it is very focused, providing an insider's view of one département of France -- and it's called the Var Village Voice. Available to anyone who wishes to subscribe (and subscribers are around the globe), it is written in English for residents of the Var region of Provence by a British expatriate who moved there many years ago with her American husband (with a French surname!). Anita Rieu-Sicart puts out an information-packed newsletter listing everything from myriad cultural events and wine tastings to market days in the region of Provence she knows very well -- the Var. Her viewpoint articles are stimulating, amusing and well-written. The Var Village Voice recently has been featured in a French government publication and is getting lots of media attention We recommend that you look into a subscription if you either plan to buy a first or second home in Provence or spend any length of time vacationing there. The Var Village Voice will let you know everything that is going on! You can reach Anita for details about her newsletter at ANITAVVV@aol.com or write to her at Var Village Voice, 1142 Route des Miquelets, 83510 Lorgues, France. Please visit her new web site at Var Village Voice.
Regional Recipe: Monastery Quick Vichyssoise
This recipe is borrowed from a delightful cookbook entitled, Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila Latourrette (Broadway Books & Triumph Books, 1996, ISBN 0-7679-0180-0) a monk at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery near Millbrook, New York. Vichyssoise is, according to Julia Child, the American adaptation (chilled) of French leek and potato soup, and Brother Latourrette provides an easy way to prepare his delicious version of it in your own kitchen.
The ingredients are 4 tablespoons of butter, 4 leeks (finely sliced), 4 potatoes (diced), 1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, sprig of thyme and parsley tied together and removed before serving soup), 3 boullion cubes (if stock not used), 3 cups water or vegetable stock, 2 cups milk, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half, fresh parsley or mint leaves for garnish.
Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add sliced leeks and cook them over low heat for 5 to 6 minutes until they are tender. Add potatoes, boullion, bouquet garni, milk, salt, pepper, and water or stock. Raise the heat to mediuim and allow the soup to cook slowly, covered, for 25 - 30 minutes. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni and blend the soup in a blender until thick and creamy. Chill soup in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Just before serving, pour the heavy cream into the soup and stir thoroughly. Serve soup cold and garnish each plate with finely chopped parsely or mint leaves. Bon appétit!
We hope you have enjoyed au Château News. If you have, please forward it to friends and encourage them to subscribe. It's FREE!
(The answer to Quiz 3 is Louis Malle and to Quiz 4 is Mont Blanc.)