history of the chateau gaillard

A short but insolent history of the Château Gaillard

If you’ve ever visited the Château Gaillard, perched majestically atop a tower-like rock overlooking the Seine river in Normandy, you would understand the title of the article. Richard the Lionheart ordered the construction of the château and likely laid a few bricks himself in his rush to have it finished, and was so enamoured at its completion that he is recorded as declaring “C’est un château gaillard!” It’s an old word, gaillard, and not easy to translate, but the closest we can get in this context is “What an insolent castle!” Strong and arrogant, bold and …

Suzanne Valadon

The audacious life of Suzanne Valadon

It’s easy to make Suzanne Valadon merely a footnote in the history of French art. Her body of work is often overshadowed by her body itself, laid bare on the canvases of artists such as Renoir, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. She is remembered more as a symbol of desire, seen only through the eyes of others, as model and mistress, and even the work of her own son, painter Maurice Utrillo…

girafe in paris

Her Highness the Giraffe, and other exotic specimens in 19th century Paris

On 30 June, 1827, an enormous crowd gathered in the streets of Paris, understandably so, for the sight they beheld was quite unusual. For the first time ever, towering high above the people, there was a giraffe in Paris. Nicknamed ‘Her Highness’, the giraffe was a gift from the Egyptian Pasha Mehemet-Ali to Charles X, …

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From coast to mountain, from champagne to red wine, there are almost 200 exquisite cathedrals to explore. Here is my list of the 10 most beautiful cathedrals in France

The 10 most beautiful cathedrals in france

From medieval stone crypts to soaring Gothic arches, from carved rose windows to sky-high spires. the cathedrals of France are simply magnificent. There is no other place in the world where the steeples of bell towers dot every corner of the landscape, or as the French saying goes, de clocher en clocher . Every small village has its church, and every region has at least one glorious cathedral rising to the heavens. There are almost 200 exquisite cathedrals to explore. Here is my list of the 10 most beautiful cathedrals in France.

lost royal chateaux

The lost royal châteaux of France

In a country with thousands of beautiful châteaux, it’s easy to imagine that any could simply be lost to history. War, weather, revolutions and natural disasters have all taken their toll on the built landscape. But lost royal châteaux? Today we can still visit many of the many palaces and châteaux which have harboured the French kings and queens over the past thousand years. Others have been razed to the ground, and only in our imagination can we glimpse the pomp and glamour of royal life.

Marie Antoinette and the Temple of Love

In the grounds of the Petit Trianon, the beloved neoclassical villa of Marie Antoinette, sits one of her follies – le Temple de l’Amour, or Temple of Love. Each morning, as she rose from her luxurious bed and glanced out the window, the sight of its elegant Greek-style cupola filled her heart with joy. Marie Antoinette may have loved jewels and fabulous new dresses, and knew how to party, but she also craved the peace and solitude which was completely lacking in the ornate and formal world of the Palace of Versailles. This, she found in the gardens of her Petit Trianon, in her Temple dedicated to Love.

presidential dinner

How to host a presidential dinner

In November 1975, an important world event took place – the first ‘Group of Six’, or G6 summit was held. French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing invited the other five largest and richest industrialised nations – UK, USA, West Germany, Italy and Japan – to a three day summit in a beautiful château surrounded by an ancient forest. There were informal chats, serious meetings about the world economy, and presidential dinners in a sumptuous salle à manger. Versailles? No. Chambord? No. Only 48 kilometres from Paris, the setting for this momentous event was…

1000 years of pilgrimage: Mont-St-Michel and the modern pilgrim

One of the most iconic and photographed places in France, the steeple of its ancient stone church rises majestically into the clouds, whilst its feet sit firmly in the shifting sands and resist the relentless tides. Popular with tourists all year round and overrun in the warm summer months, would it surprise you to know that…

5 places to smell the roses in Paris

I adore roses. My favourite time of the year is early June, when the delicious honey scent of hundreds of climbing yellow roses infuses every room of my old stone house. On another side, the gnarled trunks of an ancient rose tree rest against the cobbled wall, giving life to slowly unfurling pale pink roses with their heavenly scent. Are you a rose lover as well? If so, here are 5 places in Paris where you can go to see, admire (and smell) the roses.

french easter

A French Easter

Easter, or Pâques in French, is a beautiful time of the year. The bright yellow flocks of daffodils dance in the sunlight, joyous after a long winter. The first of the pink blossoms twirl their way around branches sprinkled with tiny green shoots, alive with tiny birds flitting to and fro, creating a nest for …

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french church

A serendipitous encounter with a 13th century church

Every morning, I hark the sound of church bells. They murmur gently, at first, shaping my dreams, but soon their insistent melody awakens me from my slumber. I am used to it now, my ancient alarm clock. For hundreds of years, church bells all over France have…

history of french cooking

8 surprising facts in the history of French cooking

What comes to mind when you think of French cooking? Snails cooked in butter? Fried frogs legs? Haute cuisine, or the rustic and hearty dishes of the countryside like coq au vin and bœuf bourguignon? Here are 8 things in the history of French cooking that may surprise you.

napoleon

Napoléon’s Pavillon

There is a stone bridge on the outskirts of a nearby town, where fishermen cast their lines and friendly locals stop and ask about the morning’s catch. It is a bridge I see often in the distance from my car. On either side the water glistens, or glares, depending on the season and the time of day…

Riding the Blue Train to Nice

Feeling the winter blues? Take a ride on the exclusive Train Bleu, all the way to the sun-drenched coast of the French Riviera. You’ll be in good company – the Blue Train to Nice saw the likes of The Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson, Coco Chanel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and all manner of celebrities.

Images of a Christmas in France

Christmas in France is a wonderful time of the year. Everyone is in a festive spirit when they visit their local marché de Noël, drinking mulled wine or a hot chocolate to warm your hands in the cold, or the snow if you’re lucky. You might be in Paris and peer into the dazzling window displays of Printemps. There’s the traditions of Christmas Eve, the Reveillon, where families attend midnight mass together and take their exquisite seafood dinner late into the night. And don’t forget to listen for the bells of père Noël. Here are some of my favourite images of a French Christmas.

A visit to the Ville d’Hiver, Arcachon

High on a sandy hill, tucked comfortably amongst the fragrant pine trees and looking over the breathtaking Bassin d’Arcachon, is the Ville d’Hiver, or Winter Town. An eclectic mix of ornate brick mansions, limestone houses and swiss style chalets, it’s a must-see on your visit to Arcachon. The tree-lined streets offer shade and serenity, and as you take a walk along the quiet streets, the exquisitely decorated facades of every colour are a window into the past.

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