Guessing Game: Best Kept Secrets of Paris

Can you guess where I took this picture?!?
HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW PARIS? THE CITY IS FULL OF SURPRISING PLACES!

Over the years I’ve become quite intimate with the back streets, local hang-outs and unexpected corners of the city… the better I get to know Paris, the more I love it. I share my favorite spots with my guests on SOJOURNER TOURS Best Kept Secrets and Off-the-Beaten-Path sojourns… and, I thought it would be fun for some of you to test your knowledge and get to know the city better.

Please post your guesses! I love seeing your ideas. 🙂

HINT: This isn’t ice cream… it is gelato and it is packed with intense flavors: nuts, tropical fruits, chocolates, coffee..! And it comes from an French chain  started by two Italian friends that you can now find all over Paris (and the world… here is a link to their website so you can find the one closest to you). I go out of my way to make at least one annual trip to the boutique with my boys and we all argue about who loves it the gelato most. The fun thing about the rose petals is that the gelato merchant will let you select an almost infinite number of strongly perfumed flavors to sample. Trust me, if you like icy treats… you have not lived until you’ve had one of these cones!

-Lisa (Sojourner Tours owner)

 

ANSWER: AMORINO

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A Postcard from Sault

Wish you were here!

This is lavender country. 🙂 We visited Sault on a Wednesday morning when the open-air farmer’s market was in full swing. The streets were alive with activity and to our delight it felt like we’d left the tourists behind (maybe it was just the season?). Locals were buying groceries and we jumped right in… olives, freshly baked bread, luscious local goat cheese garnished with dried lavender, apricots, tomatoes. Then to a fabulously eccentric butcher-shop for dried sausages. Yes, we had a really wonderful picnic!

France du Sud 2011 266We’ll definitely bring our guests here! First we’ll take them to a lavender farm, then we’ll do the market with them and recreate the first unbelievably delicious picnic we had here when visiting friends five years ago!

Our Live-Like-a-Local Provence itinerary is really coming together.

-Lisa (Sojourner Tours owner)

Lisa 2016 Ménerbes
Lisa Gustavson, Sojourner Tours Owner

 

A Postcard from Ménerbes

Wish you were here!!!

Wow. I am in love! (Yes, again… how can I not fall in love with all these charming French villages?)

As you’ll recall, when I wrote last, Francis and I had decided that Avignon was not right for our new Live-Like-a-Local Sojourn in Provence… so, we were on the hunt for someplace more charming and off-the-beaten-path for our guests. And, we found it!!! Ménerbes.

We headed out to take a peek at some of the villages that rank among France’s most beautiful, starting in Ménerbes. Talk about getting off to a good start! –I was instantly seduced by the sweeping views, the soft elegance of the shutters and doors in various sophisticated grey-toned colors, the vegetation, the pride reflected in the well-maintained buildings… now this is the kind of place I envision my guests strolling around!

Ménerbes is in the Luberon region which was made famous to the English-speaking world by Peter Mayle’s witty accounts of the travails of living here and renovating a home while being English. (Check out Sojourner Tours booklist –we’ve got his book listed first because it is one of my favorites.) This village certainly made me fantasize about buying an old place here to renovate. At least if I can’t live here, I can bring my guests here.

I instantly wanted to add it to the itinerary and the deal was sealed when I saw that the “House of Truffles and Luberon Wine” is located here. If I have one weakness, it is truffles. I don’t like truffles: I LOVE TRUFFLES!!!! Heaven, for me, is a multi-course meal featuring these intoxicatingly fragrant mushrooms in a classical French garden overlooking the mountains… oh Ménerbes! Wow. It should be named “Heaven”.

Yep. Francis is going to have to figure out a way to make this work in the budget because my guests deserve this experience.

-Lisa (Sojourner Tours Owner)

Lisa 2016 Ménerbes

 

A Postcard from Cadaqués

Wish you were here!

Cadaqués (on the Spanish side of Catalonia) is the last stop on our Best Kept Secrets of the French-Spanish Borderland sojourn. And it is one of my FAVORITE places on earth. The first time I visited here, it was love-at-first-sight. On a beautiful sunny day, this stretch of white buildings on the sea set against the arid mountains just enchants me. –No wonder so many of the great 20th century artists summered here… Picasso, Miro, Dali: those guys knew how to pick vacation destinations!

On the day that I took these pictures, I had a magical experience in the church that you can see in the first image. There is a baroque alter inside that is so ornate it is practically surreal; and, legend has it that Dali found inspiration here  because, back in the day, the local fishermen used to hang live lobsters on it that wriggled and slowly died during some ceremonies. –I’m not convinced that this led to Dali’s famous lobster-phone… but I still wanted to check it out again. To my delight, the church was open after hours and filled (appropriately) with baroque music. Just as I entered, someone lit the alter with light. MAGIC. –Timing can change everything! Outside, a man was playing flamenco music on a classical guitar, so I lingered a little longer than usual to enjoy my favorite view over the red rooftops of the boats bouncing gently in the harbor. Fittingly, we had lobster for lunch.

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Me, in Dali’s bathroom

I love strolling over to the nearby harbor. Dali and Gala lived there and a visit to their secluded home is always delightful (even if you don’t like Dali or his work, you can’t help but find his home fascinating in spots and enchanting in others).  I didn’t spot a lobster phone in the cottage but I may have caught a bit of Dali’s eccentricity because after being greeted at the door by a polar bear holding a lamp, I found myself doing silly things like taking this picture of myself in his bathroom!

TIP: Make reservations to visit Dali’s House-Museum, it is only open by reservation.

OUR FAVORITE FOOD: We’ve tried the restaurants in the harbor but the quality is pretty consistently tourist-level (disappointing). I recommend forgoing the view in favor of flavor and eating on the ugliest street in Cadaqués. The chefs who started Compartir had trained in what was considered the best restaurant in the world: El Buli (the documentary is on our list of favorite food films). As the name suggests, this is a fancy restaurant where you eat family-style –all the dishes are designed to share (“compartir”).

-Lisa (Sojourner Tours Owner

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Lisa Gustavson (Sojourner Tours Owner)

 

 

A Postcard from La Roque-Gageac

Wish you were here!

La Roche-Gageac was definitely my favorite village in the Dordogne and Francis agrees that we just absolutely must bring our guests here: La Roche-Gageac will be on our Live-Like-a-Local Castle Sojourn itinerary!

As you can kind-of see in the pictures, this is an incredibly charming place. The little village is a cluster of houses lining the river at the foot of a cliff. There is a castle which makes it really picturesque… but it isn’t a “real” one (it only dates to the turn of the last century). What you cannot see in the pictures are the troglodyte dwellings higher up in the cliff.

The natural setting and the charming architectural structures made this a lovely place to wander. I was shocked, as we wound our way up the hill, by the tropical vegetation –palm trees, bamboo…

We had a really delicious lunch of local foods on a sunny, vine-covered terrace (which you can read about in my post on foie gras on the Sojourner Tours blog) but, when we bring our guests to La Roque-Gageac, I think we should probably rent canoes and have lunch in the neighboring village of Domme.

-Lisa Gustavson (Sojourner Tours Owner)

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A Postcard from Domme

Wish you were here!

We headed up to a hilltop village called Domme which holds the title as one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages”.  We had high expectations because one of Francis’ colleague-friends bought a summer home here recently on a whim, she and her husband had been visiting and said it was love-at-first-sight.

Generally, I find low expectations or no expectations are a better way to travel as I’m often pleasantly surprised… and so, probably just because I arrived expecting something exceptional, this village was a disappointment. The first thing that caught my eye was the souvenir shops and then I couldn’t find much else to do. We took a quick 15 minute stroll around and it seemed like we’d seen everything. Francis said there was a real “old France” feel to the place but I wasn’t convinced that it was worth a detour until…

We stumbled upon the public square where some people were playing the French lawn-game of petanque: there were breathtaking views out over the valley below. This village is, after all, perched atop a hill. And, flanking the square were two restaurants: one of the restaurants looked rather hum-drum but the other had a charming terrace and a yesteryear aura and panoramic views.  –We’d already eaten lunch so we couldn’t try it out but I looked it up in the Michelin guide when we got “home” to our rental house and it looks like this could be a very enchanting lunch stop for our guests which could make it worth including a visit to the village on our Live-Like-a-Local itinerary.

I’d love to hear what people who’ve eaten there have to say about L’Esplande Restaurant in Domme. It looks DE-LI-CIOUS!

-Lisa Gustavson (Sojourner Tours Owner)

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L’Esplanade Restaurant: Domme, France

His Departure: TOMORROW!

Tomorrow morning, Francis will rise long before the crack of dawn to begin his day-long journey to France. He is in the final stages of preparation. His bags are already packed. His checklist, quickly becoming shorter and shorter.

I can see that he is too preoccupied with preparation to be excited about the trip but once he settles into his cramped economy seat in the back of the plane, his worries will lift and his mind will shift to the delicious anticipation of arrival.

He is headed for one of France’s “most beautiful villages”, Auvillars in the Dordogne where he will do research for our new Live Like a Local tour while he helps a group of half-a-dozen painters with the logistics of their three week visit to France. But, he’ll be going via Paris and Besancon. Paris, only because of the airport. Besancon for family.

He’ll spend a glorious week-end reuniting with his mother and father, aunts and uncles. I know from experience that most of the week-end will be spent passing from one relative’s dining room table to the next: long conversations, luscious meals lovingly prepared, course after succulent course drawing out the pleasure so everyone can enjoy each dish and savor the time together. It was no surprise to me when UNESCO named the French gastronomic meal part of the World’s Intangible Cultural Herritage… it all starts with these family meals and grows from the appreciation nurtured there.

He’s promised to give us updates once there. I’m sure he’ll tell as all about what he eats each day and who prepared what.

My departure for France is now rapidly approaching too. I’m at the 12 day mark! I’m feverishly preparing all our pre-departure material. This year in addition to printing the itineraries that I distribute to our guests upon their arrival in France, I am also preparing dozens of folders for the convention of the American Association of French Teachers… they are having a conference in Austin this summer and Sojourner Tours will have a booth there. The folders explain how to become a Sojourn Ambassador for those who are interested in earning a free sojourn with us by just organizing a group of seven friends to travel together. I love this program because it is so much fun working with groups that have something in common, so I’ve decided to focus on recruiting more Ambassadors.

I’m also preparing to be a cook! The group of painters that Francis is working with wanted to hire someone to cook for them during the second week of their sojourn instead of eating out: this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to give our Live-Like-a-Local format a try. For our Live Like a Local tours our guests will be eating lavish lunches in beloved local restaurants and fancy meals in prestigious Michelin star restaurants –so we’ll just be offering breakfasts and light French-style dinners. The painters, by contrast wanted lunches and dinners. They especially want me to shop at the local market and buy “the finest quality ingredients” possible. –So this should be a fun experiment. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve never cooked for two dozen people for a week before! Thank goodness my mother-in-law will be staying with us in Collioure while I do it to watch our two boys.

Below is the menu I initially suggested to them based on French-style eating habits and  the recipes I make the most often (I don’t want to try anything new this week!). Based on their feed-back, I quickly realized that I will need to flip the lunches and dinners so they can have an American-style light lunch with dinner as the main meal of the day.

I’m busy printing out all the recipes to take with me.

This experience made me begin to think: on our tours, we invite our guests to experience French food culture and eat the “French” way. I’ve never even considered offering American style meals in Frence… But, the way we eat is so different from one culture to another. It isn’t just that lunch is the main meal in France whereas dinner is the main meal in the States. As you can see on my menu, in France we spend a long time at the table eating in courses whereas American meals tend to be designed for efficiency so more time can be spent on other activities. And, there are silly little differences like how Americans eat cheese and salad before a meal whereas those two items are always reserved for the end of a French meal (my French-Algerian aunt called salad the “broom of the stomach” –eaten at the end of the meal to help clear everything out). I, personally, like to adapt to the local culture when traveling… but perhaps my guests would be more comfortable keeping their usual habits.

Is it important to adopt local eating habits while traveling?

May 24: Tues
25: Wed
Market Day
26: Thurs
27: Fri
28: Sat
29: Sun
Market Day
30: Mon
31: Tues
LUNCH:
– Main Course:
Pork with Armagnac soaked prunes and a sage-cream sauce. Accompanied by roast potatoes and rosemary-maple caramelized carrots.
*Vegetarian entrée: eggplant with pine nuts and parsley. Braised Fennel.
– Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
Apricot-Frangipane Tarte.
– Main Course:
Mediterranean Thyme Chicken roasted with zucchini, fennel, tomato, black olives, artichokes, etc. Accompanied by couscous made with the juice.
*Vegetarian option: Couscous with Ratatouille (if there are gluten-free diners, rice will be made instead of couscous)
– Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
North African Fruit Salad.
– Main Course:
Bagna Cauda:
(using the renowned local anchovies to make the fondue-like dipping sauce). Steamed veggies: asparagus, red and yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes, haricots verts, etc.
*Vegetarians can enjoy the vegetables with a non-anchovy dipping sauce.
Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
Flowerless chocolate cake.
– Main Course:
Duck Confit
Accompanied by green lentils and kale.
*Vegetarians can enjoy the lentils and kale.
Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
Sorbets with brandy snaps.
– Main Course:
Fresh fish and vegetables according to that day’s market. Accompanied by rice.
*Vegetarians can enjoy the fresh vegetables and rice.
Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
Poires belle Hélène.
– Main Course:
Steak au poivre (pepper steak). Accompanied by Gratin dauphinois perfumed with truffle.
*Vegetarian option: red beet carpaccio with parmesan and parsley.
Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
Poached Pears.
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­DINNER:
– Main Course:
Pumpkin Soup with optional cream and fried sage leaves.
– Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
Fresh Fruit or Yogurt.
– Main Course:
Pasta with fresh pesto.
– Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
Fresh Fruit or Yogurt.
– Main Course:
Melon
French Taboulé
Charcuterie platter (assortment of local hams & salamis)
*Vegetarian option: Salade niçoise without tuna.
– Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
Fresh Fruit or Yogurt.
– Main Course:
Celery root salad
Croute aux champignons
(There should be gluten-free bread)
– Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
Fresh Fruit or Yogurt.
– Main Course:
North African Red Lentil Soup
– Green Salad
– Cheese Board
Bread
– Dessert:
Fresh Fruit or Yogurt.