Highlights of Strasbourg (and a guide to events you shouldn’t miss)

I’m sure you’ve already seen hundreds of pictures of those cute little European villages with colorful half-timbered houses on Instagram and in glossy travel magazines.

You know, the houses that look like they were taken straight out of a fairy tale.

Maybe you’ve already been to some of those villages. Or maybe you’d love to, but you worry you might get bored if you spend your vacation somewhere small and slightly remote. Maybe you’re more of a shopaholic and a partylover, and the city life is what it’s all about.

As much as you’d love to feel like Belle (or Gaston, if you’re a guy reading this) from Beauty and the Beast while strolling along the little streets of an idyllic village, you just can’t escape the fact that you need something more than that. Is it possible to have a bit of Disney-magic and the urban city-life all at once?

Of course it is!

In the Alsace region in northeastern France, you’ll find plenty of those charming little villages and small towns (examples; Colmar and Eguisheim) – and a city just as gorgeous.

The capital of the Alsace region, home of the European Parliament:

Welcome to Strasbourg.

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Back in July, I visited Strasbourg with my mother and one of her friends. Traveling with my mom can be a bit of a challenge sometimes, as she’s someone who could easily spend a full day shopping and an entire evening in a cozy wine bar.

Me, on the other hand, I prefer visiting historical sites and taking pictures of places, people and nature. During our stay in Strasbourg, we both had to make a few compromises, and things didn’t always go smooth as butter (which is often the case when traveling with others) but at the end of the day, everyone ended up being quite satisfied with the trip.

We arrived by train and stayed at the modern hotel Apart’hotel Strasbourg Wilson which is conveniently located close to the central train station, and has an indoor swimming pool. Breakfast was not included in the rate, but I didn’t mind paying the additional fee so I could enjoy the varied breakfast buffet. The rooms come with a fully equipped kitchen, which gives you the freedom to prepare your own breakfast in bed – in case you’d rather not spend that extra money, or you prefer having your breakfast in bed!

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We filled our bellies with local specialties, such as the crispy and delicious flammkuchen/tarte flambée (photo above) at Le Kuhn, a veggie-version of the traditionally very meaty Baeckeoffe at Le Baeckeoffe , we stopped by a bakery for some kugelhopf and spent a couple of hours enjoying some refreshing Pinot Gris white wine and sandwiches at L’Épicerie. If Pinot Gris is too sweet for you, maybe a glass of dry Riesling is more up your alley?

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I didn’t get enough time (or space in my belly) to taste the famous Alsatian choucroute, so I’ll have to save that for next time. Sausages, salted meats and sauerkraut isn’t exactly something you’d eat on a warm day in mid-July anyway, is it?

While my mother and her friend were busy checking out postcards, fridge magnets and other items from the souvenir shop, I took my time to photograph the beautiful cathedral. The Strasbourg Cathedral is the sixth tallest church in the world, and is considered to be among the finest examples of late Gothic architecture. The cathedral houses one of Strasbourg’s popular tourist attractions; an 18-meter Astronomical Clock!

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We walked past street musicians and painters. Souvenir shops and jewelry stores. Small boutiques and well-known chains. Restaurants and bakeries.

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Snacking on French pastries and enjoying the sunshine, slow and steady, we made our way to the picturesque neighborhood, the one that looks all your fairy tale dreams.

Hello, La Petite France!

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Curiosity brought us to a nice little artisan market. As tempted as we were to buy something, we managed to move on and continue exploring the neighborhood without any additional bags in our hands.

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La Petite France contains the historical city center, which is surrounded by water, with the River Ill and various canals cutting right through it. The neighborhood was once home to fishermen, millers and tanners who worked in this part of town.

Visit La Petite France by foot – or embark on a nice little boat trip and let your feet relax while you enjoy the beautiful view.

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My trip to Strasbourg, and my first encounter with Alsace (I’ve since been to Colmar as well) left me wanting more. So much more. I know I’ll have to return to Strasbourg to see all the things I missed out on. And damn sure I’ll be there for at least some of the amazing events that take place in the city!

Ahem. Anyone wanna come with me to the Christmas market?

These are the events you shouldn’t miss in Strasbourg

  • 10.-24. November: Jazzdor Festival (Jazz Music Festival). Celebrate the 32nd edition of the Jazzdor Festival. Around 15 venues will be hosting the event, so check out the program, book your ticket and jazz it up in Strasbourg!
  • 24. November – 30. December: The famous Christmas Market. The oldest Christmas market in France, the Christkindelsmärik has been a tradition in Strasbourg since 1570. I don’t know about you, but I sure need my dose of Christmas markets to really get into the Christmas spirit!
  • 1.-4. February: Sacred Music Festival – The music festival devoted to celebration of cultural differences and different religious beliefs. Build friendships and break down barriers, through music!
  • 21. June: Music Day (Fête de la Musique). This is an event that takes place absolutely everywhere in France. In every city, every small town, every village. The streets of the city become your dance floor and DJ’s, bands and artists will entertain you all day and all night long. Fingers crossed for good weather!
  • 14. July: Bastille Day (La fête Nationale). The most important event in France is definitely one worth experiencing. The national day is nationally celebrated by watching the military parades, followed by the biggest highlight of the year; the spectacular fireworks display!

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kugelhopf(Photo above: this is a Kugelhopf)

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baeckeoffe(Photo above: This is a veggie-version of the Baeckeoffe)

AirBrush_20170928122515(Photo above: Blending in at L’Épicerie)

 

 

 

 

 

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Day trip to the Gardens of Versailles? Check out The Fountains Shows and Musical Gardens – before it’s too late!

Since April 1st and until October 29th, there’s a special event taking place in the magnificent Gardens of Versailles – and you don’t want to miss out on the fun.

I was lucky to spend an entire Sunday in the Gardens of Versailles last month and let me tell you, although it was quite windy that day and we weren’t exactly blessed with a cloudless blue sky, the wind was not the only thing that had me blown away that day!

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Enjoy the Musical Fountains Show

Les Grandes Eaux Musicales de Versailles (The Musical Fountains show of Versailles) is a celebration of the history and the beauty of the Gardens of Versailles – and a celebration of all the spectacular fountains located throughout the gardens.

Stepping on royal ground while classical music is played in the background and watching the fountains dance along to the melody – now that’s an experience that’ll have you feel like the queen or king you deserve to feel like. Even if only for a day.

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Study the map – or risk getting lost and missing out!

The first water display starts at 11 am. You will be handed a timetable and a map once you enter the gardens, and it’s up to you to keep track of what direction to take and which water display you’ll prioritize to see. Because, trust me, there’s a lot!

musical fountains

I was there with my boyfriend and his parents and we tried to see every single water display, but ended up getting kind of lost in the maze while walking from one part of the gardens to another. I don’t remember who started yelling at who, but somewhere along the line, someone got irritated because someone else were guiding them in the wrong direction, and then…we missed out on one of the preferred water displays as we didn’t make it to that specific fountain in time for the show. Bummer.

So, beware of that. I guess that’s the only negative thing I can say about French gardens and landscape with symmetrical and geometrical designs. They’re kind of like labyrinths! For someone who’s really good at getting lost everywhere, the Gardens of Versailles is just the perfect place to be if you don’t want people to find you. And you won’t even know where you are, yourself either.

And just so you know; the public toilets are also hidden in the maze somewhere.

There you go. Trust me. Study the map as well as you possibly can and there will be no issues!

versailles view

Let’s dig into a little bit of history

Ah, the famous Château de Versailles. Just seeing the palace itself – even from the outside – and enjoying the view of the spectacular gardens (especially the Orangerie) is already a magical experience on its own. No wonder the chateau and its beautiful gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

orangerie

If you’re someone who’s intrigued by the history of French Royalty and want to see the most famous gardens of them all, I’ll assure you, you’ll have a fantastic time visiting the historical Gardens of Versailles.

The history of the gardens (as we know them today)  dates back to 1661, under the reign of Louis XIV (also known as the ‘Sun King’). André le Nôtre might just be one of the most famous gardeners in history, and the style “French formal gardens” has its noble reputation thanks to him. The style has been widely copied by other European courts and most gardens of this style is usually compared to the famous Gardens of Versailles. Starting his career as the gardener to the king’s uncle, André le Nôtre later gained fame and fortune for creating some of the most beautiful gardens of the 17th century. He was the mastermind behind the creation and renovation of the Gardens of Versailles – a project that took about 40 years, and thousands of workers, to finish!

versailles sculpture

How we ended up having breakfast in the Gardens of Versailles

That Sunday morning spent in Versailles, my boyfriend and I were kind of hungover and extremely tired from a late night out, the previous night. We got up later than planned and didn’t even have time to eat breakfast. To make the morning a little more pleasant, we went to our favorite bakery and bought croissants, pain au raisin (my favorite) and pain au chocolat and drove as fast as we legally could, en route to Versailles. And then we realized we’d forgotten to bring our prepaid tickets. Oops!

We got to Versailles in time for the first water display and everything went according to plan. Well, apart from getting lost in the maze. That was not a part of the plan.

The security guards didn’t care about my handbag being stuffed with a greasy paper bag with probably 10 different pastries inside of it. I’m actually not sure if it’s allowed to bring food and drinks to the gardens or not, but we did – and we enjoyed it.

Relaxing on a bench and enjoying the view of what might be one of the most beautiful gardens I know, made me forget all about being tired and slightly hungover. And eating those delicious pastries at the same time, yeah, that totally made everything a million times better.

fountains shows

Why YOU should go

Most people who plan a trip to Versailles, go there specifically to visit the palace – which is understandable. Château de Versailles is absolutely gorgeous, and an important part of French history.

But don’t turn down the opportunity to visit the gardens!

And while you’re there, take your time. Don’t rush.

Go for a romantic walk with your significant other. Feel the magic while watching the water displays with your children. Enjoy the music. The nature.

versailles gardens

The Gardens of Versailles is the perfect place to take beautiful photos from all different angles. Landscape photos, photos of the beautiful fountains and sculptures, photos of the dancing water, portraits of your partner, selfies with friends. And photos from above, capturing the symmetrical design that is the trademark of the French gardens.

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versailles portrait

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The Story of my trip to Narbonne (South of France) – and why YOU should visit!

“Seriously?! You’re going to Narbonne….without me?”

Those were the words that came out of my boyfriend’s mouth after I told him I’d continue traveling for a week, instead of going home right after my trip to Toulouse. Little did I know that he had planned for us to explore that town together. Little did I know that he even knew anything about Narbonne at all – because I sure didn’t (then again, I’m not the French one in this relationship).

My reason for booking a night in Narbonne was no other than it being conveniently located as an overnight stay, before continuing my journey to Spain. Based on the photos I’d seen online, it did also look like a nice little place to hang out for a day. Not even for a second did it cross my mind that my significant other had considered it as a perfect location for a romantic weekend getaway and the ultimate place to go for a wine tasting experience.

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As I arrived at the Gare Routière (the bus station), I was greeted with sunshine. And heat. My black polka dot dress was accessorized with black tights underneath, and my cleavage and bare sleeves were hidden inside of my denim jacket. For the climate back home, that would have been a perfectly appropriate outfit for a spring day. Maybe I’d even add a scarf, just for the sake of layering. But here, all those layers were killing me. I was sweating like a pig. I felt like the spirit of the town was calling me, saying something along the lines of “welcome to Narbonne. Now, take off your clothes!”

My accommodation for the night was a lovely bed&breakfast called La Maison Gustave. The girl at the reception helped me carry my luggage to the room and gave me a list of restaurants to check out and things to do in Narbonne. The room looked exactly like the kind of bedroom I always wished I had; Scandinavian style interior, light colors and with a gorgeous view from the window. From my room I could see the old palace and it looked absolutely amazing! I don’t know about you, but that sure beats the view I’ve got from my bedroom window at home (view over a large construction site).

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For one second there, I imagined all the gorgeous Instagram-photos that could’ve been shot there. Just imagine a large coffee cup and avocado toasts and me in a silk robe, as part of a pretend “breakfast in bed” sorta photo shoot …Or don’t.

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I removed my sticky black tights and took off my jacket before heading out to explore the town. I wanted to visit the palace (Palais des Archevêques) and the Narbonne Cathedral which is situated right next to the palace, and I wanted to take some beautiful photos by the Canal de la Robine.

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As much as I’d like to pretend I’m not, I’m probably always gonna be that stereotypical woman who loves to go shopping. My fingers were itching to spend money on something new – whether it would be artisan biscuits, new books, sandals, hair care products, whatever. But, being on a limited budget I decided I’d be better off splurging on a huge meal later, instead of buying a bunch of stuff I’d have to carry around for the rest of my journey. So I went to a bakery and bought myself a pastry instead.

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Biggest regret of the day. The pastry, a religieuse (why on earth that thing is called “religious” remains a mystery to me), left my hands sticky with melted chocolate sauce going everywhere, while chocolate cream kept pouring out as I took a bite of the pastry. How was it even possible to stuff that much cream inside of that little thing? And why didn’t anyone ever tell me those should be eaten with a spoon, and not with my hands. My face ended up looking like a two year old’s face after eating chocolate cake for the very first time. Good thing I wasn’t there on a date!

I wandered around for a couple of hours until my feet started hurting, thanks to the combination of poor quality shoes and sweaty, swollen feet. Whoever said ballet flats are good for long walks is a big fat liar. By then I’d done quite a lot of window shopping (and no actual shopping), I’d visited the Tourism Office (to find out what I could have done in Narbonne if I had more time – or a car), I’d gotten lost while wandering off to places that turned out to be all residential neighborhoods with nothing to see (where an old man laughed at me and said “clearly you’re lost, little girl” in French).

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I finished the evening with a kind of expensive but delicious meal at Restaurant Gaia. The waiters were surprised, and seemed quite confused – kind of uncomfortable, even – to see someone enter the restaurant without a companion. As if solo travelers don’t eat?

Because of this strange welcome, I already regretted entering the restaurant by myself. I should have just ordered a burger somewhere. It would have made me feel less humiliated. But getting up as soon as I’d been seated, to make my great escape would look even more ridiculous, so I decided to stay.

I ordered a three-course menu, completely forgetting about the fact that I was alone and should have just gone for a main dish and get the eff out of there as soon as possible. To make matters worse, they didn’t serve wine by the glass, so I had to take a half bottle. Fine, I thought. It was probably small anyway. Right?

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Wrong. It got me drunk. And the staff gave me a bunch of magazines to read, while eating. Probably because I looked like a sad, lonely, pathetic little girl who’s getting drunk on her own and comfort-eating like crazy. I’m sure they thought I was single, with six cats waiting for me at home. I’m sure I would have thought the same if someone like me walked into a fancy restaurant all by herself, got drunk and ate a huge meal – without anyone to share the experience with.

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I must admit, though, the food was pretty damn delicious. By the time I got the dessert, I was too drunk to remember to take a picture. Hence its absence.

Before going to sleep, I watched Eurovision on TV and let my sweaty, swollen feet rest on the comfortable, Instagrammable bed.

Narbonne, I shall re-visit you. But next time, I’m bringing a plus one!

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So, if this post made you go “I’ll put some pants on, pack my bags and go there ASAP”, here are some ideas for what to do in Narbonne (apart from the things already mentioned):

In the town center:

Near Narbonne (by car)

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Enjoy French Cinema like a Parisian (with Lost in Frenchlation)

Two years ago, when I first moved to Paris, I remember telling my partner and his parents that my main goal with learning French was to be able to watch French movies without subtitles. A goal I have sort of achieved. Sort of.

Still, there are certain movies I know I won’t be able to completely understand because of the excessive use of wordplay and jokes that only the really Frenchified foreigners will get. A good example of that is the movie le dîner de cons. That movie is a 90’s classic and I know I can take my time and wait until I feel like I’ve reached a level of excellence in terms of language learning. Let’s give it a year.

What bothered me a lot when I first moved here, was how much I wanted to see certain French movies in the cinema, but couldn’t because they had no subtitles. I had the option of going to the cinema and understand absolutely nothing, or waiting patiently until the DVD-release of the movie and illegally download it from whatever sketchy website, and add subtitles found on other virus infected sites – and risk ending up with not just a computer virus, but also very poor subtitles.

Before moving to France, I used to watch a lot of French movies on Netflix…but as you may know, changing location changes your Netflix’ location and suddenly none of those movies have subtitles anymore. How frustrating is that?

My obsession with French cinema – and France in general – started when I first saw Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain when I was in high school. Yeah, THAT movie. The movie made Paris look like the most romantic and charming place on earth. I didn’t care if it was realistic or not, I was in love with the idea of Paris. I wanted to live in a small apartment on Montmartre and I wanted to become a Parisian waitress. Forget about being a wealthy businesswoman, supermodel or a future president. I wanted to wait tables in Paris, cut my hair short (which does not suit me at all) and see the world through Instagram’s Valencia filter (to set the mood right, I’ve added some of my photos of Paris – all Valencia filtered).

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Since my first taste of French cinema, I’ve been moved by Intouchables, laughed and felt slightly disturbed by les infidèles, felt inspired by Coco avant Chanel, re-lived the ups and downs of being an expat through l’auberge espagnole, fallen in love with un homme à la hauteur.

The last French movie I saw, was when I went to the cinema a couple of weeks ago, when Lost in Frenchlation invited me to the screening of compte tes blessures – a brilliant movie about grief, anger, love and acceptance.

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So what is Lost in Frenchlation?

As quoted from their website; “Lost in Frenchlation opens up the world of French cinema to the international community of Paris by screening the latest French films with English subtitles, and hosting drinks before or after the screening so that the international crowd can meet each other and native Parisians”. 

 

Manon Kerjean, co-founder of Lost in Frenchlation was quite busy mingling with all the guests when I was there for the screening, and introverted little me usually go hiding in the corner while attending social events, so I don’t blame her for not noticing my presence. But we managed to get an interview via e-mail, in the end – a really good one too. It just goes to show that if you’re truly passionate about something, you can make your dreams come true – and I can’t wait to visit their future full-time Parisian cinema and bar/cafe!

Tell me about Lost in Frenchlation. How did you come up with the concept?

Lost in Frenchlation was born from the frustration experienced by Matt, the co-founder who is Australian, when he came to live in Paris after we met in Berlin while studying on exchange. I wanted to share my passion of French cinema with him and realized that there wasn’t a single cinema in Paris showing French films with English subtitles. We thought it was such a shame considering how many international students, expats and tourists come to Paris, and because French cinema is such a huge part of French culture, so we decided to do something about it!

Who picks out the movies?

Most of the time I pick the movies, but Matt helps me understand what expats are likely to want to see. I studied French cinema and I want to help people discover more art-house independent films, but Matt tends to choose movies that are most attractive to the international community, such as films that are being widely advertised around Paris and talked about in peoples’ workplaces or schools etc.

What is the reason for selecting a specific movie? Personal taste, current news events, political climate etc.?

It’s actually a mix of all of that! We ask ourselves what everyone else in Paris would like to see, and then try our best to offer that experience to the international community. We want them to be as integrated into French culture as possible, so if their colleagues at work are speaking about politics and political films, then Chez Nous (This Is Our Land) for example, a controversial film about France’s far right Front National, is a great way for them to learn about contemporary French politics. We screen a variety of genres though – comedies, thrillers etc. – in a nutshell, we just try to provide our audience with what we think is the best of French cinema!

How do you envision the future of the company? Are you planning to expand?

A part of what we’re trying to do is help our audience discover great independent cinemas in different parts of Paris, so we may look to start working with cinemas in Le Marais, Champs-Élysées, or Le Quartier Latin in additional to our home cinema in Montmartre… we’ll see! More long-term and aspirationally, we’d love to one day have our own cinema where we bring French films to the international community all day, every day, maybe with a bar or cafe which could act as a hub for the international community. We may also look to start screenings with subtitles for various languages, but a full time cinema and additional languages are possibilities for the distant future at the moment!

What does an average workday at Lost in Frenchlation look like?

First we’ll catch up on any French film releases, and articles/videos about Cinema or Paris that might interest our followers. Then, we’ll watch any new trailers because as we’ve recently discovered, it takes a lot of work to come up with one film per week! There are also A LOT of emails to send to communicate each screening to as much of the English-speaking community of Paris as possible. We usually have one or two meetings a day to find new partners too, and that’s my favorite part of the day because we meet such interesting people who have the same energy and the same objectives as us. From 5pm, we focus on social media. It’s not my favorite part of the job, and there’s actually a good metaphor for it – when you want to have an active Facebook page, it’s like you created a hungry monster which you need to feed all the time!

What are your Top 3 favorite French movies – and why?

I would say Betty Blue/37°2 Le Matin by Jean-Jacques Beineix: This is my absolute favourite film. It’s also my favourite book! It’s a classic French movie from the 80s about passion and pain. It’s very powerful, and I think it really shows the intensity of French people with life and relationships. It’s quite a full on movie to begin your exploration of French film with, but it’s probably a good place to start anyway… it’s a real masterpiece. There’s the director cut DVD which is about 3 hours long, but it’s really worth it! – Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare) by Yann Samuell: Cap/Pas cap (Game on or not?) is a game that the characters start at the beginning of the film and which will last for their lifetimes. It determines every decision they make together. The chemistry between the stars Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard is perfect, and the couple actually went on to get married in real life after meeting during filming! Julien’s monologue as he is driving before the accident is a must-see – every romantic French person knows it! – La guerre est déclarée (Declaration of War) by Valérie Donzelli: Valérie Donzelli, the director, co-wrote the movie with the father of her son, Jérémie Elkaïm, and both star in the film which was inspired by their own personal experiences. It’s about a child who is diagnosed with a brain tumor and how his young parents, Roméo and Juliette, must come together to fight for his survival. Both actors give poetic performances and the film looks at the family bond as a beautiful declaration of love rather than war. Expect the Vivaldi music (Four Seasons – Winter) to keep playing in your head for a while…

What do you think is the main difference between French cinema and Hollywood?

I think that French cinema is original and closer to reality than many other kinds of movies. That’s probably due to the freedom left to the director, whereas sometimes in the US I think the producer has too much power over the film. In France there’s more independent, counter-stream cinema, the ‘cinéma d’auteur’, and more art-house cinema, ‘cinéma d’art et d’essai’… I also feel like some French movies tend to give more importance to the content rather than to the style of the film, and I like that. There’s typically less action, things are less obvious, and the spectator has to do a little bit more work to understand what’s going on. Because the psychology of French films is more complicated, it’s less Manichean than American cinema – there’s no black and white, but many shades of grey (excuse the pun!). I feel like I can really understand the characters and identify with them, but then again… I’m French!

How realistic do you find Hollywood’s portrayal of Paris?

Funny you ask that – actually there was a video released by the City of Paris not long ago to bring tourists back after the attacks – Paris Je T’aime. It really wasn’t typically French at all, it was very ‘Hollywood’ and fake. Two French directors responded with this an excellent video showing the real Paris – Paris, on t’aime aussi. We much prefer this second vision of Paris because it’s the one we really live in, and it’s the one we love because it’s more diverse and more exciting. We agree with the sentiment of the City of Paris though – we want the tourists to come back too!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to move to Paris?

Paris is an expensive city – do any job you can while trying to land your dream one so that you’re not burning through your cash. Make sure all of your documents are in order, e.g. your rental agreement, work contract etc. otherwise opening a bank account – or doing anything else administrative – will be an absolute nightmare. Always consult your French friends or colleagues if you’re not sure what to do – you might be instructed to do something in a particular way, but it might be widely known that there is a much faster and commonly used method for getting that task done.

Which French phrase, idiom, joke or even word would you say is impossible to translate?

‘C’est la vie’. Literally translated, it means “it is the life”, but it is more commonly used to as an expression for ‘oh well, shit happens!’ There are a lot of hidden meanings to it though and you can use it in many contexts… it’s in a lot of songs and movies!

And last but not least… why should tourists and expats watch French movies?

French cinema is undeniably a massive part of French culture. France hosts the Cannes Film Festival, and its film industry is the most active in terms of both shootings and cinema attendance – it is the world capital of cinema and French movies are one of France’s greatest arts. Tourists, expats and the rest of the international community want to experience as much French culture as possible – it’s why they’re here! With French movies, you are participating in France’s cinema culture while learning more about the French language, style, humor and general way of life. Besides being some of the highest quality cinema in the world, French movies are also highly informative and educational! And the best way to discover them is in one of our amazing art-house and typically Parisian cinemas.

Get in touch with Lost in Frenchlation for more information on upcoming events!

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Champagne tasting in Aÿ, France

The Goutorbe family presents its exquisite bottles which contain your most secret dreams. All the love of the earth, all the mystery of creation.

These are the words written in the brochure for the champagne house of H. Goutorbe, located in Aÿ – famous as a centre of the production of Champagne.

It is no secret that the French are proud of their wine. And the reputation of champagne has given the region with the same name even more of a reason to be proud. Marketed as a luxurious beverage, this sparkling wine is so much more than just sparkling wine. Champagne is a protected trademark and a symbol of France as a country of high quality produce.

We visited the house of H. Goutorbe because we needed to buy a few bottles of Champagne for our upcoming Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebration. We could have just gone to the nearest supermarket to buy a few bottles, but as my partner’s parents live just a one hour drive away from the Champagne region, we figured we’d might as well join them and buy our golden bubbles straight from the producer. My partner’s parents are loyal satisfied costumers who visit this particular producer annually to stock up on the good stuff. It was easy to see why.

Along with a group of British tourists, we were given a tour around the production site before heading to my favorite part of the visit: the champagne tasting. The guide described the traditional way to produce champagne compared to the modern way, the process of fermentation, bottling, and explained the difference between vintage (blend of grapes harvested in a particular year) and non-vintage (blend of different wines from different years) champagne. She took us to the cellar and explained the process of the second stage of fermentation. I’m not gonna tell you everything as there’s already a great video on their website documenting the entire process!

During our tour we noticed a fun detail that made me like this family even more. A gallery full of gorgeous travel photos. Just like me, they love to travel. Once a year they travel to a new destination and bring a bottle of their trademark champagne with them. Wherever they go, they capture a photo featuring a bottle of their champagne in front of beautiful landscapes, a volcano in Hawaii (!), monuments and even in front of penguins and glaciers in the Antarctic. How cool is that?!

Moving on to the champagne tasting we were welcomed to a cozy room with a large fireplace, and ended the visit with a taste of the golden bubbles before placing our order and taking home some fine bottles waiting to be shared in good company while celebrating those special occasions with our loved ones.

Would you like a tour?

Website: H. Goutorbe 

Visit: 9 bis, rue Jeanson / F. 51160 Aÿ-Champagne

Phone: +33(0)326552170

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The old press device

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The modern ones

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The cellar

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Paris Outskirts: Oise (thrill rides and castles)

Paris is beautiful. No doubt about it. Beautiful parks, amazing Haussmanian architecture, famous monuments, delicious food, fashionable people. But do you know any thing at all about the banlieues (suburbs) and the districts close to Paris?

Paris. We’ve all seen the thousands of photos shared on social media. We all know what the Eiffel tower looks like. And the Louvre too. And most of us Francophiles have heard the song “Champs-Élysées” and have either been – or want to go – shopping on this famous boulevard. “Now I feel like a real Parisian,” I heard one tourist say out loud as she let her friend hold her fancy shoppingbag from Ladurée – containing overpriced macarons- while she was trying on a beret from a souvenir stand. She was probably the kind of tourist who came to Paris determined to visit the same sites, do the same things, and share almost identical photos with others who had been there and done that before her. Or maybe she wasn’t like that at all. Maybe she just didn’t know any better. Maybe she even wanted to befriend locals and get to know the REAL Paris. Maybe even….the towns and villages close to Paris? Certain Parisians would probably burst out laughing and tell you you’re wasting your time exploring the suburbs, when everything you need is right there, in the centre of Paris. Others would encourage you to see absolutely everything and maybe even offer to come with you. Me, I am a curious soul, interested in seeing every corner of France – and not just the ones mentioned in glossy magazines. 

Before I moved to Paris, I was completely unaware of all the amazing places located only a stone’s throw away from the big city. Parks as beautiful as the ones in Paris, enchanting castles, charming little villages, lovely cafes and restaurants. It’s enough to make you wanna book a flight to Paris – without even visiting Paris.

I will write about each department individually, as this post would seem never-ending, otherwise. You see, the outskirts of Paris have quite a lot to offer!

First, I’ll take you a bit further than just a stone’s throw away, but still not too far to qualify for a spot in this series:

Oise

Parc Asterix

Oise (named after the river Oise) is a department 84 km north of Paris. The biggest tourist attraction of the department is also one of the most visited annually by locals; Parc Asterix – a theme park based on the stories of Asterix (a series of French comics). The park has a large variety of roller coasters as well as many other attractions and shows.

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Beauvais

If you’re flying to Paris with Ryan Air, you’ll be arriving in Beauvais, which serves as the capital of the Oise department. I have never been to Beauvais myself, but I’d love to visit the city’s spectacular gothic cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais)  and photograph the facade of the Museum of the Oise Department, which is a museum in the former bishop’s palace and is classified as a historical monument. And why not visit one of the expositions at the museum while you’re there?

Senlis

Medieval town Senlis is another destination you should add to your list. Visit the impressive, Gothic cathedral – a national monument of France. The ruins of the Royal Castle is also worth seeing. The actual castle dates back from the 1200’s. Once you’ve visited the cathedral and the castle ruins, sit down and relax with a glass of red or white in one of the local restaurants.

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Château de Pierrefonds

Another must-see is the Château de Pierrefonds, a beautiful medieval castle built between the late 1300’s-early 1400’s. I visited the castle last year, and coincidentally  got there in time for the local medieval festival. I bought myself some souvenirs and farmers produce from the festival market and enjoyed a tasty crêpe to-go!

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Château de Chantilly

Last but not least, Château de Chantilly, a historical castle located in the town of Chantilly. The chateau houses the Musée Condé, which is one of the finest art galleries in France and is open to the public.The park is a French formal garden, which is the same style of garden as the ones of Versailles. While visiting the beautiful garden, we saw happy newlyweds posing for photos, using the gorgeous nature as a backdrop for their wedding photographs. The estate overlooks the Chantilly Racecourse (Hippodrome de Chantilly) , and the Great Stables. Make sure you check out the equestrian shows and demonstrations while you’re there. It’s great fun to watch!

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Château de Montvillargenne

Would you and your significant other like a romantic celebration at a 4-star spa hotel? Then check out Château de Montvillargenne. My partner and I celebrated our one year anniversary at this luxurious chateau. They have an indoor swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath and they offer a variety of spa treatments – including a duo massage for couples (we tried it, we loved it!). The rooms are neat, the interior is modern and the restaurant serves fine gourmet cuisine. If you’re already in the neighborhood and if you have the budget for it – why not spoil yourself a little?

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Château d’Ermenonville

Set in a medieval chateau, this sophisticated hotel château d’Ermenonville is located in a calm environment – in the heart of the Ermenonville forest, overlooking the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park. The restaurant has a good reputation and I’d love to dine there someday soon. Just waiting for yet another special occasion.

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And you, will I see you in the department of Oise?