Category Europe

Twelve Great Bordeaux Chateaux to visit: wine, food, art and more

Chateau Margaux is one of the most prestigious chateaux in Bordeaux

Chateau Margaux

Wine touring in Bordeaux is a bit more formal than in the New World. You don’t just rock on up for a tasting and maybe an alfresco lunch. You generally have to make an appointment (which can often be done on-line) and wine tasting will include a winery tour.  But Bordeaux is certainly jumping on the bandwagon of welcoming visitors. The chateaux listed here are particularly interesting to visit because they offer something extra including blending workshops, wine and food pairing, great art, architecture and more.  Remember, though, in France only a few chateaux are open on weekends.

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Insider’s Guide to Shopping Paris’ Left Bank

shopping the left bank of Paris

Shopping in Paris…ah yes, we all swoon with fantasies of Yves St.-Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Christian Dior, and Givenchy. Yet eminently more satisfying…and brag worthy…is to discover Parisian designers whose gorgeous boutiques are tucked away in the fashionable chic side streets of Paris’ arty Left Bank.

Sally forth into the narrow streets of the uber chic 6th arrondisement, where sophistication and intellectual rakishness are on display in equal measure.   This is where designer boutiques, art galleries, and publishing houses live cheek by jowl with institutes of higher learning such as L’Ecole des Beaux Arts and Sciences Po.

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Alain Ducasse’s classic Provencale Inn: La Bastide de Moustiers

La Bastide de Moustiers MFP

The terrace of La Bastide de Moustiers

It is a tradition in Provence that landlords who plant three cypress trees near the entrance to their properties welcome visitors for a drink, a meal and a bed.  French chef Alain Ducasse has a small army of these pencil-thin emblems of Provence lining the driveway to La Bastide de Moustiers.  They are a fitting symbol for this classic Provencale Inn which is a labor of love by the founder of a multi-starred restaurant empire spanning three continents.

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Photo Friday: Three-Michelin-star Michel Bras’ famous flower and vegetable dish

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The three-Michelin-starred Michel Bras restaurant in the small village of Laguoile in the heart of Central France is renowned for its contemporary interpretation of the Gargouillou, the traditional Aubrac dish of ham, potatoes and vegetables.

I photographed this dish recently during a revelatory meal there.

“We have a very simple principle of respecting raw materials and following the seasons,” said Sebastien Bras, son of the founder Michel Bras, who recently retired. “We particularly rely on vegetables and plants using all sorts of flowers, herbs and seeds in our creations.”

The restaurant sources more than 230 cultivated vegetables, herbs and flowers in addition to foraging for hundreds more…wild thyme, fennel and flowers with names like queen of the fields, melilot and liveche… in the hills and valleys around Aubrac.

“Our technique is always used to accentuate the taste of the raw material, never the reverse,” Sebastian explained...

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What to do with Kids in Vienna: cakes, carriages, choirs, castles

The Prater is one of the world's oldest amusement parks

There is so much to do with kids in Vienna in both summer and winter that you’ll have your clan clamoring to move to this pretty baroque capital of Austria with its elaborate cafes serving gorgeous cakes and pastries, its horse drawn carriages, exquisite palaces to explore and of course the famous Vienna Boys Choir. And teenage girls could get in a tizz about getting all dressed up and going to one Vienna’s winter balls.

Is it when my youngest daughter Julia conducts the philharmonic orchestra or perhaps when my teenage tom boy Claire waltzes in the arms of a handsome young man?  Or then again, is it the look of sheer astonishment in the eyes of the oldest Alice as she gazes at a ferris wheel made completely of sugar? Whatever tips the scale, I fall in love with Vienna as the perfect place to visit with kids AND teenagers, as I found out a few years ago.

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How to Have a Great Time at the Henley Royal Regatta

 The Henley Royal Regatta

The five-day Henley Royal Regatta is the most famous rowing regatta in the world. But this being England, it is not just a sporting event but also a highlight of the English summer social season alongside Ascot and Wimbledon, which together form a sort of trifecta of Olympic-quality pomp and circumstance. But of all these events, the Henley Royal Regatta is the easiest to participate in all the fun. Get dressed up and have a picnic by the river while you watch some of the best rowers in the world whoosh past.

A visitor from another planet dropping in on the Edwardian town of Henley-on-Thames in early July, could be forgiven for thinking that they had overshot prim and proper Britain and landed instead in the home of its flamboyant alter ego, the straw-boater, candy-striped-jacket wearing, fascinator-bedecked, Pimms drinking set who have elevated riverside picnicking to pure art.

“The very essence of the English is found each year at Henley with the soft breeze, youthful fitness and elegance of the boats cutting through the Thames.  I loved it. The trick is to appreciate that spectators are dressed to the nines for it is pure fun to stand in the sun in boaters and blazers with Pimms in hand,” says visiting Australian barrister James Bell.

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Eric Frechon’s Three-Michelin-starred Epicure Restaurant in Paris

In the heart of the fashion district of Faubourg Saint Honore across from the official residence of the President of the French Republic, the five-star Palace Hotel Bristol exudes the very essence of French elegance. This family-owned hotel may be grand but it is not stuffy. Two beautiful Burmese cats, Fa-Raon and Kleopatre, are the official welcoming committee and always enjoy a gentle stroke wherever you may find them.

We walk through the spacious flower-filled lobby to be welcomed warmly at Eric Frechon’s three-Michelin-star Epicure Restaurant. It is named for Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who believed that pleasure without excess is the surest path to happiness and wisdom.

The light and airy dining room opens out through French doors to Le Bristol’s fragrant courtyard garden with its towering magnolia trees. Floor-length floral curtains and bowls of fresh flowers bring the garden inside as do the crystal butterflies that are found on each table...

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Hallstatt is the Heart of Austria’s Beautiful Lakes District

Austria's village of Hallstatt reflected in the lake of the same name

Hallstatt

UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hallstatt is reflected so perfectly in the lake that it is often described as one of Europe’s most beautiful villages. The Chinese admire it so much they’ve built an exact replica. But it is just one of many “screensaver worthy” scenes in Austria’s Lakes District.

Set between the foothills and the Alps, this region, called Salzkammergut in German, is about 300 kilometers west of Vienna and just an hour’s drive southeast of Salzburg. With 76 lakes and soaring limestone mountains, the Salzkammergut offers exquisite scenery and water sports not to mention hiking, biking and fishing.

It is difficult to believe there are so many different blues, but each lake lays claim to its own unique shade. Centuries-old, flower-decked wooden holiday houses, simple lakeside cottages, and rustic boat sheds adorn each lake shore. Wildflowers carpet rolling fields; woodpiles are stacked with designer precision (Austria wins Olympic gold for wood stacking); small boats tootle on the waters; huge trout and arctic char slither underneath; walkers and cyclists breathe the clear mountain air.

The name Salzkammergut...

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Barging on France’s Canal du Midi

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I confess I’ve always had a fantasy about canal barging in France…gliding slowly alongside sunflowers and vines, biking to local bakeries, lunching at canal-side cafés, and snoozing away balmy afternoons. No more rushing about not appreciating France’s bucolic riches: our family of five travel a mere 157 kilometres in seven days along the Canal du Midi.

The boat

We start our journey at the Le Boat Company’s port in Castelnaudary, near Toulouse, where a staffer gives us a 15-minute boat handling class. “Yep, we understand how to go forward, reverse and sideways; sure, we’ll remember how to swivel and jiggle the toilet pump for the requisite flushing into the canal…nope we won’t be swimming there;  yes, we see how to fill the water tank and hook up for power. Mais, bien sur, we’ll stick to the speed limit. What is it again…eight kilometers an hour?”

After a full inspection of the 11.5-meter Tango barge boat, we are mightily impressed with its design...

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Photo Friday: Hiking around Gelmer Lake in Switzerland

Gelmer Lake is part of a massive hydro-electric system in the Bernese Oberland

I took this picture during a hike around the gorgeous aquamarine Gelmer Lake not far from Grimsel Pass in the Bernese Oberland mountain area of Switzerland.

To get here you drive on a spectacular road that climbs, in large zig-zag bends, through canyons of wild beauty. This is Swiss hydro-electric country and all the lakes here, like Gelmer Lake, are man-made but that doesn’t mean they aren’t beautiful. The color of their waters is exquisite and they are rimmed by wildflowers in summer and framed by dramatic granite rocks and snow covered mountain peaks.

Europe’s steepest funicular goes to Gelmer Lake

We took the Gelmerbahn, which is Europe‘s steepest funicular with a gradient of 106%, down the mountain from Gelmer Lake. It’s quite a hair-raising adventure which is topped only by the walk across the narrow swing bridge which sways 70 meters above the Handeck Gorge, offering a fantastic view of the Handeck waterfall.

Grimsel Hospiz

We stayed nearby at the beautifully restored...

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