Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Provence Santons

Musee des Santons-Enchanted France

Musée des Santons- Enchanted France
Li Calendo is the month long Christmas festival in Provence.    It starts on the Feast of Saint Barbe, December 4 and lasts to Epiphany, January 6.  One of the beloved traditions of Christmas in Provence is the setting of nativity scenes filled with the usual nativity characters along with santons.  These exquisite hand-crafted little clay figurines represent characters of the local village life-- the shepherd, the baker, the peddler, the farmer, the postman, etc.. 

 It is believed that the first clay santons were created in Marseille by sculptor Jean Louis Lagnel in 1797 during the French Revolution when churches were closed depriving the population of religious symbols like nativity scenes.  Lagnel, molded using local clay from Aubagne, little figurines representing various village characters which people took home to set up their own creches alongside the nativity figures.  Santons became a cherished Provencal Christmas tradition ever since and Santons making a family craft passed on from one generation to the next.  To learn more about Santons, visit le Musee des Santons in Les Baux de Provence.  Bon Nouvè ! Joyeux Noel!

Musee des Santons- Enchanted France

For your next custom trip to France, visit www.enchanted-france.com

#Provence #NoelProvence #France #Santons

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Nice City Break

Nice, the capital of the French Riviera is a town  of great beauty and a convenient base from which to explore the wonders of the Riviera and beyond.  Earlier this past November,  I spent 48 hours in Nice and I would like to share here some memorable highlights. Not having at my disposal a car, I used the local transportation- tramway, buses and train.

 Friday afternoon-Arrival in Nice

 I arrived in Nice airport after a flight from Los Angeles with a connection in Paris.  Nice airport is small but modern and a short taxi ride (15  minutes) from the center of Nice. I stayed at Hotel Suisse, a small boutique hotel overlooking the Baie des Anges. The view from my hotel room was quite special as it overlooked the beautiful sweeping curve of the bay.  As  an added plus, the hotel was located   only five minutes walk from the picturesque Old Town where you can find many shops, art galleries, restaurants, cafes and the famous open-air market on Cours Saleya.  It was early November and the weather  could not have been better-- warm and sunny with temperatures in the upper 70's and  on this late Friday afternoon I went for a  leisurely stroll  along the sublime Promenade des Anglais.

Saturday- Monaco, Eze and Matisse

On Saturday  morning I joined a small minibus tour of Monaco and Eze .  Our first stop was at the perched village of Eze and our chauffeur/guide  scheduled our arrival just before the tour coaches' invasion.  It was before 10 AM and it was a treat to be able to explore the deserted hilly lanes of the popular village.  A walk to the top of the village led me to the Jardin Exotique (Botanical Garden ) where in the midst of a beautiful  collection of cacti and other mediterranean plant specimen you are rewarded with  stupendous views of the Bay of Villefranche.

The tour continued  on along the Middle Corniche (coastal road) to Monaco.  The tiny Principality's main landmark is the Prince's Palace and at 11:55 AM  I got to assist alongside an already packed and expectant crowd the Palace's Changing of the Guard.  Besides the Palace you can visit the cathedral where Prince Rainier and Grace of Monaco are buried and for those on a longer visit of the principality, don't miss the pride of Monaco-its Oceanographic Museum (Sea Aquarium).  The famous oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau was its director  for more than 30 years.

After the old town, we visited Monaco's marina and Port Hercules in the Condamine district which were crowded with  multimillion dollar yachts and large cruise ships.  And of course we made the obligatory photo op in front of Monte Carlo's famed Belle Epoque Casino.

Since the tour ended back in Nice in the early afternoon, I decided to travel on my own with  bus number 15 to Cimiez hill, the residential neighborhood in the north of Nice to visit the Matisse Museum.  Henri Matisse lived in Nice from 1917 until his death in 1954. The museum is housed in a 17th century Genoese villa  and features the artist's personal collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and even his color palette.  While in Cimiez, I had wished to visit the Chagall museum located down the hill from the Matisse museum but it was closed for renovation until December 2015.

Sunday -Market Cours Saleya and Villa Ephrusi de Rothschild

Early Sunday morning I took a stroll in the open-air market on Cours Saleya  where vendors of flowers, vegetables, fruits, cheese, freshly caught fish, and other tantalizing local specialities like pissaladiere and pain bagna crowd to create a feast for the senses.

I then traveled with bus number 81 along the coast to St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat to visit the gorgeous Villa Ephrusi de Rothschild. Located on top of a promontory on the peninsula of Cap- Ferrat, the villa was the early 20th century  creation of Baroness Beatrice Ephrusi de Rothschild.  A women of great means, she bought the land in 1906 after falling in love with the site while on the visit of the Riviera.  Starting in 1907, she endeavored to build a winter retreat in the  style of an Italian Renaissance palazzio; it took five  years to complete. As an avid collector she filled her pink Italian villa with exquisite and priceless
works of art- 18th century furniture and paintings, Aubusson and Savonnerie carpets, Gobelin tapestries and Sevres and Messein porcelains.  

No less spectacular than the villa, are the surrounding landscaped gardens created at the same time as the villa was built. There are nine gardens each with a  different theme-  the Spanish garden, Florentine garden, Japanese garden, exotic garden, Provencal garden, stone garden, rose garden and facing the villa is the magnificent French garden designed by Beatrice herself and shaped like the deck of a ship and adorned with ponds and a waterfall.

On returning to Nice in the evening, I watched a glorious sunset over the Mediterranean Sea.  This short but fully activity packed break in Nice left me wanting to come back soon to explore more of the treasures of the Riviera.

Contact www.enchanted-france.com for planning a custom vacation to Nice and other destinations in France. www.enchanted-france.com

#Nice #FrenchRiviera #Monaco

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran Day

November 11 marks the ends of fighting in WWI after 4 years, 2 months and 13 days  of unimaginably brutal and devastating combats that left  millions dead soldiers and civilians.

 The armistice was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month (Paris time) in the forest of Compiegne, located just northeast of Paris inside  a railway car. 

Here are some sobering facts:

More than 65 million men from 72 countries fought in WWI. 

Nearly 10 million died. The Allies (The Entente Powers mainly France, United Kingdom, Belgium and their colonies and   Russia)  lost about 6 million soldiers. The Central Powers (Germany, Austro Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire ) lost about 4 million.  More than twenty  million soldiers and civilian were wounded.

Casualties of the war included also a staggering number of animals used during the combats: more than 11 million of horses, asses and mules.

Combats took place mainly in Europe ( France, Belgium, Italy, the Balkans, Greece ) but fighting took also place in Africa, North America, Oceania and Asia. 

WWI brought new methods of warfare including the use of air power (airplanes, dirigibles), submarines, trench warfares and the use of chemical- poisonous gasses that killed more than 1.2 million soldiers on both sides.

The United States stayed neutral until 1917 when it declared war to Germany after their U Boats consistently sunk a number of  US ships.  US's role at first was to supply the Allied forces with material and food.  In the spring of 1918, United States started to send troops, (the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) under the command of General Pershing),  at a rate of 10,000 a day.  These fresh faced soldiers were welcomed by the battle weary Allied veterans and they played a major role in the Hundred Days offensive that lasted from August to Armistice Day on November 11, 1918. More than 116,000 US soldiers lost their lives in WWI and many are laid to rest in the US military cemeteries of Europe.

Enchanted France offers custom  tours of WWI battle fields and cemeteries in France. Tours can include visit such the memorials in Verdun, Bois Belleau and  Chemin des Dames. Visit www.enchanted-franc.com

#WWI #Francetours # 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Chartres Cathedral-An Enduring Icon

About 50 miles southwest of Paris, stands high above the flat wheat fields of the Beauce region, the Cathedral of Notre Dame  de Chartres.  This magnificent landmark comes almost intact straight from the Middle Ages  and is a must see on any France itinerary for  Chartres Cathedral is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. Since 1979, Chartres Cathedral is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites

The present cathedral replaced a Romanesque basilica that had been destroyed in 1194 in a fire ignited by lightening. Immediately after the destruction, a new church was rebuilt in record time  in the new gothic style (1194 -1220).  Chartres is recognizable by its two mismatched spires;  one romanesque, a remain  of the previous Basilica (1140) and another of flamboyant gothic style dating from the late 15th century.

Other distinguishing features of the Lady of Chartres are its magnificent stained glass windows ; most are authentic dating from the 12th and 13th century.  Of the original 186 stained glass window 152 survived. They are impressive for their artistry and vivid colors especially their special blue. They represents bible scenes, lives of saints as well as  scenes of specific trade guilds like the bakers, goldsmiths, winemaker, weavers and others.

Chartres' other unique features are its spacious nave (52 feet)- the widest in France and the crypt, also the largest in France .  On the floor of the nave is the famous labyrinth which medieval pilgrims used to follow on their knees. These days, the labyrinth  is usually covered with chairs except each Fridays in summer.

Chartres-Royal Portal
The exterior sculptures of the west, north and south portals portray scenes of the Old and New Testaments. A parade of statues of kings and queens adorn the Royal Portal. 
Thankfully, Chartres Cathedral came almost unscathed through the centuries.  It was spared from loot and destruction at the French Revolution.  During WWII, the  stained glass windows were preserved as they were taken down and hidden in the nearby countryside before German occupation.  Although the city of Chartres suffered much destruction from bombings in 1944, the cathedral was saved thanks to the brave actions of  an American officer, Colonel Wellborn Barton Griffith, Jr.  who stopped the order to destroy the cathedral by volunteering to go behind enemy lines to find out whether the German arrmy was occupying the cathedral and using it as an observatory post.  After reporting that the cathedral was clear of  enemy troops, the bombing orders were rescinded and the cathedral was spared from destruction. 
Henri IV Coronation in Chartres
It is interesting to know that King Henri IV was the only French king ever crowned in Chartres (1594).  It was a departure from the traditional coronation site in Reims Cathedral.

Chartres is easily accessible from Paris by train which makes for a pleasant day excursion. A short walk from the Chartres train station and you are the historical center.  On a day visit you can tour the cathedral and explore the charming historic town that has some very well preserved timber-frame houses. In the summer and through October, it is a great idea to stay overnight in Chartres to enjoy the amazing light display showcasing the cathedral and more than 20 other sites in town.  
For a custom itinerary to France, visit www.enchanted-france.com 

#Chartres #visitfrance  

Flicker-OT Chartres
Chartres' Light Show

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Great Wine Tours of Europe

Wine is an art de vivre in France, Italy, Spain and other European countries.   Wine is one of the oldest drinks to be enjoyed with a group of friends,  pairing with some cheese, a great meal or just the thing you need after a long day.  Some of the most sought after wine comes from Europe and for good reason.

Wine is like life, it gets better with age and that is the philosophy behind the wineries in Europe.

At Enchanted France and Beyond!, we work with professionals to bring you European tour packages that are geared towards your love for the preferred vintage of the gods. Our packages vary depending on the type of area you would like to stay in, but each package is customized so you can truly take in all of the aromas and tastes of the wines famous for their region. You will be able to learn about the noses and legs of wine, yes they do have them!; wine and food pairings and much more.

You can take your knowledge you’ve acquired from the experts to wow your friends! You’ll not only feel like a sommelier but you’ll also be able to appreciate each wine for their body and aromas. Well, what are you waiting for? Book your trip now to find your love and appreciation for wine in the vineyards of Europe.

Our custom wine tour specialist will help you in planning a memorable experience rich is sensory experiences. Contact www.enchanted-france.com


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Do's and Don'ts with Honeymoon Travel

So you just spent months and months of planning your dream wedding, now it’s time for relaxation with your new spouse! What a better way to celebrate your marriage to your favorite destination spot or to an exotic get away. How about a city break in Paris, the most romantic city in the world or to an island getaway like in Bora Bora in  French  Polynesia or to a French Caribbean hideaway in Guadeloupe or Martinique.  So, besides picking the destination of your choice there are certain guidelines that you should follow to ensure your honeymoon goes smoothly!

Some of the Do’s to remember are:
            Do – Follow your budget, you’ve already come this far with planning your wedding, there is no need to exceed your budget now!
·         Do – Plan early. While this is obvious, it is also a very key and important step.
·         Do – Work with a travel agency, like Enchanted-France.com, to look for honeymoon packages that you want.

Some of the Don’ts to remember are:
      Don’t – Forget to relax! You’re on your honeymoon; you should be spending time with your new spouse, not your co-workers or family.
·         Don’t – Wait until the last minute. We know this was also a do to plan early but its stressed
·         Don’t - Just travel somewhere on a whim, do you research on destinations that you want to visit not just a place someone else recommended.

The most important thing to remember is to have fun, be adventurous and make memories! 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fall Voyages in France

Paris Luxembourg Garden

With autumn settling in, this is the perfect time to consider visiting France.   Whether exploring the new and exciting cultural, fashion and gastronomic offers of the City of Light or taking a leisurely drive through the French countryside you are guaranteed to a experience memorable vacation.  Paris in October is when tourist season starts to die down so not only do you get to experience the wonderful attributes of this romantic city has to offer but you can experience it with a little less of a crowd!  The fall season is also of course the perfect time to explore the famous vineyards of France such as  Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace,  Provence and so many others.  

Look at Francetour packages to find the ideal one to compliment the fall weather and activities that can be fully enjoyed during this crisp time. While you might have to bundle up a little more, there are still fun adventures that can you experience. The fabulous thing about France is that there is so much that can be seen, throughout the entire year. You can experience wine tours, city tours, or driving tours of the fall foliage.

So breakout your cutest sweaters and comfortable boots and book your next vacation to experience the exciting season of fall in France. You will be happy you did!

#France #Paris #fallvacationinparis

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Vacationing in Spain

Cordoba Mezquita
France can be the stepping stone to visit  a host of other European countries.  France shares a border with Spain;  from Paris it is only a 2 hour flight to Madrid and  thanks to the high speed train Barcelona is reached in less than 6 hours.  While you are enjoying all of the wonderful aspects that France has to offer why not extend your trip to nearby Spain and experience this country rich historical and cultural heritage?

Granada- Alhambra
If you are looking to vacation in Spain, Enchanted France and Beyond!  is your number one stop to make sure that you check everything off of your Spain bucket list. We offer great custom vacation packages so you can visit Spain  --from the sophistication of urban centers like Madrid and Barcelona and from the green hills of Galicia  to the  sunny beaches of the Costa del Sol.  Madrid rivals Paris in the quality of its museums like  the Prado or the Reina Sofia and for cruisers, we offer  wonderful shore excursions such as a tour of Gaudi's architectural legacy in Barcelona or a visit of Montserrat Monastery.

How about a customized tour to explore  Spain's wine region  of the Rioja or to discover  the villages and historical cities of Andalucia?.  There is so much to see in this stunning country so contact Enchanted France and Beyond! Together we will design for you an  enriching and memorable journey to Spain.