In Which Two Chefs, An Insane Frenchman, And The Gay Mafia Arrive

sycamores (afternoon)

After Carolyn gave us our tour of Demeure’s exquisite Le Petit Hôpital, we met the two chefs who would be cooking our dinner that night. (!) They were young, adorable, very cool, had great taste in music (which was playing softly in the living room), and we knew immediately that we would be in capable culinary hands.

Even better, before heading into town for supplies they introduced us to their own personal stash of top-shelf liquors. Continue reading

In Passionate Defense Of The Rest Of France

St Guilhelm le Desert

You guys, seriously. France is so incredible. If there’s one thing I got out of writing about France for BootsnAll, it is a profound love for the entire country. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s got great infrastructure. (Giving you the side-eye, Italy.) I mean, I love me some trains, we all know this; but I can’t tell you how astoundingly easy it is to drive around France and see the most unbelievable things.

And yet, unlike Italy, it seems like nobody knows a thing about it.

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Showing Off Local Life In France

Usclas-du-Bosc

We could have easily stayed on Domi and Gwennie’s Peniche Oz for a month, but it was time to move on – Melanie and some members of the Montpellier Coven were about to meet, and these things cannot be stopped.

First, we popped over for a quick stroll around Lac Salagou. It should be noted that I always have to think twice before saying this name, as I often get it confused with Sagaloo, the guru employed by Eddie in AbFab. Anyway, the lake is surrounded by otherworldly red earth, and young lovers have taken to collecting the bleached-white rocks that are scattered around the area – where they come from in this Martian landscape, heaven only knows – and forming words of undying love as well as other interesting shapes.

La spirale du 24 Août au Salagou 11

But the real magic started just around the time that we both had to pee. We hustled back into the car, drove about 10 minutes and pulled into a supermarket complex. We found restrooms immediately, which was more thrilling than it should have been. And as I stood at the entrance to the store waiting for Mel to come out, I heard my name being called – there was Vic and her little peach of a daughter, Mia! I guess we were closer to our destination than we thought.

And so it was that we had a delightful lunch in St-Privat with Vic and Great Scot Sheila on Vic’s mother-in-law’s terrace, which is next door to Vic’s and offers a view of the surrounding mountains. (Yes, I was back in the mountains. We’re not talking about it.)

St. Privat

We then proceeded to our accommodations for the next two nights – the Salamander Gite in Usclas-du-Bosc, located on another mountain. Like St-Privat, Usclas-du-Bosc is one of those places in the Languedoc region that barely warrants a dot on the map, but is kind of near everything. I think I’m going to write about this area in another post, because we saw so much and I really want to tell you about it.

But for now, Vic gave us a tour of the funky, comfortable gite and we got our first look at the view from the terrace, which was breathtaking.

Usclas-du-Bosc

Then, like a superhero and/or whirling dervish, Vic actually stayed and prepared a dinner for us to eat later! (Baked ham and endive in a bechamel sauce, OMG.) And then boom, she was off again, with Mia in tow, after we agreed to meet up in Lodève the next day.

Why Lodève? The weekly market, naturally. And, naturally, superhero and/or whirling dervish Vic was there with her stall all set up. You see, in addition to raising three kids, helping her husband with his business, singing in the local choir and managing four gites, she has started a business of her own.

It’s called Fou d’Anglais, which is a play on words – it means crazy about English, but it sounds like “Food Anglais” – English food. And that’s exactly what it is! Vic sells old-home favorites to English expats, wayward American freelance writers (ahem), and an increasingly large number of curious French people. Within about a month she’s going to have her own store and cafe, but for now she’s getting the word out at the local markets around the region.

Mel and I wandered around the Lodève market for a while, tasting, well, everything, and then set up at a cafe near Vic’s stall that had Internet and worked a bit. After the market was over, we joined Vic at the Bar des Halles for a glass of rosé, and Mel marveled at the teensy street cleaning machines that made the town look as good as new.

We then all met back at the Salamander, and Vic’s husband joined us, and we had a feast of breads, cheeses, meats and of course, more rosé. Then it was time to crawl into my way-too comfortable bed, because we were about to have even more fun somewhere new!

How Not To Drive From Paris To Avignon

Gourdon

I actually don’t have any photos of the trip. This was taken on another harrowing mountainside two weeks later.

On the last day of April in the Year of Our Lord 2012, fellow travel writer Melanie Waldman and I decided to rent a car in Paris and drive down to Avignon for our stay at the Hotel d’Europe. This is our story.

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On Anniversaries

Zest Bar

Recently I entertained the parents of a childhood friend who had just come off a 15-day tour of Italy and were spending a couple extra days in Rome. After finding out that one of my favorite restaurants had closed its doors forever and successfully schlepping them from San Lorenzo to Campo di Fiori, which by the way is always such a bust and please avoid it, we toasted the sunset at my favorite bar, atop the Radisson Blu near Termini. Coming from the chaos of Rome’s historic center the silence up there is deafening, there’s always an in-season berry at the bottom of your Prosecco glass, and the previous day’s rain brought the most spectacularly clear view of Rome’s surrounding hills and mountains I’ve seen in all of my nine years of living/being in Rome. Which happened to be nine years precisely on that day.
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I’m Eeeeeeating, On a Jet Plane…

NCE-FCO

I first flew to Paris on TWA flight 800, which some of you will remember had been thoughtfully renumbered sometime after it went into the sea off Long Island. I was traveling on Famous Designer‘s dime to Semaine du Cuir – the leather and suede exhibition where I was to meet vendors I’d known only via phone and fax (hi, I’m old), and hopefully pick up some new sources.

Before I left, I asked the designers for direction in choosing samples to bring back from the show. I will never forget their responses:

  • “I’m thinking…sherbet.”
  • “Bring me back beautiful things.”
  • “I love horsey leathers.”
  • “I want the Marc Jacobs jacket that’s at Barney’s.”

Fashion people aren’t like you and me.

But I digress. Continue reading

Summer Trip Planning

Alison's Car

So. I got a Eurail pass in the mail this week, courtesy of my France Travel Guide peeps at BootsnAll. I’m super excited to start using it. Since it’s good for 15 days over two months – and I can travel on as many trains as I can during each day – it’s going to take some planning to be able to visit as many places as I can this summer. I envision long, fun days of hopping on and off trains, running around gorgeous towns and cities, and then heading off to the next place on my list. BLISS.

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Hotel Rant: Not Singing My Tune

I’ve been traveling a lot recently and I’m excited to show you pictures and describe all the fantastic things I’ve done. But first, Cal, ever vigilant of my hotels obsession, alerted me to the most egregious hotel marketing stunt I’ve ever seen. While it should be noted that I’ve never stayed at a Tune Hotel, nevertheless I shall now rant about it. Gather the kids and make some popcorn, this one’s going to be a doozy.

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Visitors

So, I have been going online to see what I need to look like for my trip to Europe. I have already transitioned from full coverage foundation make-up by Kevin Aucoin to tinted moisturizer by MAC so that I have the Parisian nude look. Also, I am working on reducing my pores. And, I am going to buy lots of black clothing although I hear Scott should purchase brightly colored pants for Italy. Additionally, I have to find very expensive shoes. Any other suggestions?

-In which my very best friend in the whole wide world prepares to visit me. AND I LOVE HER FOR IT.

What A Day It Was, Part Two

Villefranche-sur-Mer

When I was making plans for the MK & Bern Weekend, I knew I wanted to go to another town along the French Riviera. And since everything is so close, I figured it would be fun to hop on and off the train from Ventimiglia after our fantastic lunch to hang out at one of these places. Eventually, I narrowed it down to Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer, and left it up to the guy at the hotel to decide. He couldn’t say “Villefranche-sur-Mer” fast enough, so that’s where we went.

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What a Day It Was, Part One

Travel addict MK and her sister Bern came to Nice for the first of (MANY) 40th birthday celebrations this year. We had an amazing time, pretty much doing nothing but lounging and chatting and letting the sun hit our faces and tasting delicious things. It was absolutely divine, and much needed on all sides – for me coming off a six-month job that hijacked my life, and for MK and Bern who’d been digging themselves out of the constant East Coast snow this past winter.

I’m going to be saving the logistical stuff for the BootsnAll France Travel Guide, so go there now and sign up in the orange box on the right-hand side to receive those pithy missives in your inbox – but I can tell you here about our lunch in Ventimiglia, Italy.
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Link-o-rama

OK, get those mouses ready – I’ve got a lot of stuff for you to click on.

First, here’s what I’ve been doing on some other sites recently:

I’ve also been busy working on the France Travel Guide for BootsnAll, mostly cleaning up and updating old posts. It’s hard work, but important to me as my name is on it now, and I want it to be perfect! However, I have been able to sneak in a few posts I’m particularly proud of:

Also, if you have not already done so, it greatly helps my bottom line if you become a fan of the WhyGo France Facebook page, and if you sign up to receive WhyGo France posts and newsletters in your email inbox. (It’s the orange box on the right side of the page.)

In personal news, I spent a delightful girls’ weekend in St.-Privat last weekend with my Montpel girls; photos and tidbits to follow. And I’m excited to be spending another girls’ weekend in Nice at the beginning of April, combined with a ton of on-the-ground research of the French Riviera – so you can expect more photos and tidbits here, as well as super-awesome posts on WhyGo France.

And finally, in non-me news:

  • My friend Pam went to Antarctica, and she’s writing about it on her blog, Nerd’s Eye View. Because of her schedule her gorgeously written, amazingly insightful posts are interspersed with some “best of” older posts, so scroll down to read the whole thing. Definitely worth your time.
  • Clements International is doing an Expat Youth Scholarship. I’m deeply saddened that I don’t have the time to be a judge for this worthy cause, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be checking in to see the entrants – and you should, too. And if you know an expat kid who could use a scholarship, please encourage him or her to enter.
  • I just finished reading David Farley’s An Irreverent Curiosity, about his quest to track down perhaps the strangest of all relics venerated by the Roman Catholic Church. He tackles the subject with respect and with grace, he weaves a fair bit of fascinating church history, and his tales from his year living in Calcata, a hilltop town outside of Rome, are truthfully told and an absolute joy to read. I highly recommend this book.

What have you been up to?