Bastille day in France

Bastille Day in France

The 14th of July is Bastille Day in France, and it is the best holiday of the year. For me it means a long weekend camping with the kids, fireworks at 11pm when the sun finally goes down, and walks along the coast. But it’s not called Bastille Day if you’re in France. It is the 14 Juillet or just la fête nationale, National Day. So what happened on this day to make it so important in France and to…

The medieval Abbey des Vaux de Cernay

Of all the medieval abbeys in France, the Abbaye des Vaux de Cernay is my favourite. Well to be honest I haven’t been to that many, but even if I had, this would still be my number one. Snuggled in the Valley of the Chevreuse, surrounded by verdant forest, walking through the remains of the medieval abbey will…

Famous French lovers

I met my lovely French husband whilst on a backpacking holiday. It was a coup de foudre, a bolt of lightning; we fell in love in 3 days. When I returned home after my trip, this is how I broke the news to my friends: “I’ve met someone”. “Ooh”. “He’s French”. “Ooh la la!” French men have a reputation for being amazing lovers, for romance and flowers and kisses on the ponts of Paris. Here are some famous French lovers…

A visit to Versailles (not the Château!)

If I were to say Versailles, you would more than likely think of a golden palace and a glittering hall of mirrors, not too far from Paris. You’d be right, of course, but there is so much more to the city of Versailles than its sumptuous 17th century château – dignified mansions, narrow arcades, soaring cathedrals and one of the best markets in France. And where else would you find a chandelier in a train station? So let’s take a…

A short but buttery history of the croissant

Surely there is nothing more French than a warm, buttery, flaky croissant fresh from the boulangerie, perhaps while savouring a café au lait with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Should you ever find yourself in mid-19th century Paris and craving such luxuries (without the view of the Eiffel Tower, of course), there is only one place to go – Zang’s Viennese Bakery. Wait, I hear you say. Why would a French croissant be made in a Viennese bakery? And…

walking tour paris

A seventeenth century walking tour of Paris

Welcome to Paris everyone. It’s a lovely, sunny day here in the 17th century, just ignore the ever present rumblings of war. I do hope you’re all wearing comfortable shoes, we’ve a lot to see today! Any first time visitors to Paris? All of you? Great to hear, you are going to have a wonderful day. Here are your maps, feel free to draw pictures of the sights as we go along. porte de Saint-Denis So we begin our tour…

Sophie Blanchard, a woman who took to the skies

Sophie Blanchard was destined to become an aéronaute. As a little one safely ensconced in her mother’s womb, a stranger passed through her tiny village in 1778 and happened to enter into conversation with her mother. He told her that if her baby was a girl, he would return sometime to marry her. Obviously one to keep his word on such matters, despite having abandoned his first wife, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, by then a famous balloonist, took Sophie Armand as his…

An invitation to the world’s first film

Fancy a night out at the movies?  To be the first to ever see a screening of a moving film, you’ll have to be at the Grand Café, Boulevard de Capucines, Paris, 28 December, 1895.  Bring one franc for entry. In 1895 Auguste and Louis Lumière created the Cinématographe, a machine to record moving pictures and project them onto a screen.  They had grown up in the world of imaging; their father Antoine Lumière was a portrait painter and award…

A short but sparkling history of champagne

I’ve always wanted to go to a restaurant, raise my hand languidly and say “Waiter, a bottle of your finest Dom Perignon”, as if it were a regular occurrence.  Unless this history blog takes off into the stratosphere, this is likely to remain a dream. So, champagne.  Not sparkling wine, I mean the real deal.  The Champagne region in the north east corner of France has long been known for its superior wines. Even Henry VIII kept his own vineyard…

Last words from the Guillotine

The Reign of Terror was exactly as it sounds – terrifying. Whilst the French Revolution in 1789 was generally fairly violent, the part of it which was the Reign of Terror was horrifyingly so. If you were of the aristocracy, if you were of the pre-Revolution parliament, a collector of taxes, or basically anyone who even looked sideways at the revolution’s leaders, you were definitely having to watch your head. LOUIS XVI King Louis XVI is probably the most famous…

Eiffel Tower

Surprising facts in the history of the Eiffel Tower

“There it is! I see it! I saw it first!” Whenever we drive into Paris, necks are craned, eyes are poised, waiting for that first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.  Someone always has to be the first to set eyes on it, and there’s tears if you happen to be the second. It is truly a wonderful sight, the Eiffel Tower, standing tall above all of Paris.  It’s easy to become a little blasé about it, “been there, climbed that”,…