Scrabble in France: Tile Twins

Thousands of French families hunch over their Scrabble boards every weekend, as it’s the country’s favorite board game. But did you know that French Scrabble is different from the English-language version? And that its highest-scoring word is the name of a Scottish tipple?

And…it’s hard to believe…the French Scrabble world champion doesn’t speak French!

Read all about it in France Today!

Trouble in Paradise

Imagine the scene:

You are in a giant storage facility in middle-of-nowhere Provence. It’s a blazing hot day and you’ve just gathered some items from your storage locker.

You are about to leave when suddenly the power goes out. You find yourself in the dark, your wife is trapped in an elevator, and there is no one in the building to help.

You suddenly feel very far from home.

Ah, isn’t travel fun? Yes, this is what happened to Val and me last summer and, happily we lived to tell the tale. But it wasn’t easy! Burly firefighters might have been involved.

Read all about it in Frenchly!

Amazing Prehistoric Art in France

prehistoric drawing cave of lascaux representation of a horse world heritage

Would you want to visit a fake cave? Isn’t that like going on the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland and saying you’ve been to Switzerland?

In France, the answer is non. The French have created brilliant reproductions of three caves full of prehistoric art, each one so perfect you think you are in the real thing.

First is Lascaux, with its famous pot-bellied horses and “Sistine Chapel.” Then there’s Chauvet, with its spooky bear skulls on the ground, staring up at the lions and rhinos on the walls. And now a new cave has been opened in Marseille, with paintings of—astonishingly—penguins! It seems that during the Ice Age, all sorts of surprising animals lived in and around France.

I’ve written up a description of these three amazing caves, any one of which could be a highlight of your next trip to France.

Read all about it in Frenchly!

A New Life in France: A Photographic Journey

Jamie Beck was a sought-out photographer working for top brands like Cartier and Veuve Clicquot. She had legions of Instagram followers and what seemed like a rich, fulfilling life. But something was missing.

As Beck tells us in her brilliant new book, An American in Provence:

“I had it all. A ‘dream life’ with a cool job, amazing clients, luxury trips, designer clothes, a cute little vintage Mercedes convertible, a house in the Hamptons, a French-looking apartment by Riverside Park, and I could eat at any restaurant I wanted, any night of the week in New York. Why on earth was I so unhappy?”

Beck realised that all the personal sacrifices required to “make it” were squeezing the life out of her. Photography fed a deep artistic need, but working for others year after year, adapting to their needs and their timetables, had extinguished her creative spark. She desperately needed a break.

And so she moved to Provence. And now has written a book about her life-changing experiences in this magical corner of France.

I really enjoyed An American in Provence, with its fabulous photos and compelling story. Read all about it in France Today!

Secrets of St-Rémy #4: Favorite Boutiques

Val and I live part of the year in St-Rèmy-de-Provence, a charming town between Marseille and Avignon. I’ve written a guidebook about the area, An Insider’s Guide to Provence, where I share some of our favorite things to see and do. Now I’ve put together a series of articles I call Secrets of St-Rémy, based on that book.

St-Rémy has plenty of famous places, like the room where Vincent van Gogh once lived, or the fabulous weekly outdoor market. In this article I write about some of my favorite boutiques–where to get great ice cream, for example, or the best chocolates in Provence. And if you’d like to buy some stylish shoes or a new purse, or you need to get your hair done, I’ve got you covered!

Read all about my favorite boutiques in My French Life!

My Webinar with France Today

I was thrilled to be invited by France Today to talk about Provence and my book An Insider’s Guide to Provence!

I spent about a half hour giving a little presentation, with lots of great photos, and then took questions from the audience. The webinar was recorded, so you can watch it if you’d like. Here’s the link (registration is required but it’s no big deal.)

France Today has done a bunch of these webinars, on subjects like French food and wine, French history, and different regions of the country. They are all recorded so check them out!

The Best-Value Wines in France?

Just minutes from one of France’s most famous sites, the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, sits the tiny village of Estézargues. There’s not much there, no charming cafés or famous monuments, but on the edge of town you can find some astonishingly good wine.

That’s where the local cave coopérative sits, a big, unassuming building. In a cave coopérative, winemakers share expensive equipment that none of them can afford by themselves. And they make wine together—everyone puts in their grapes and they divide the profits based on the volume that each contributes.

This is the reason that cave coopérative wines are inexpensive. It’s also why most of them are not very good. Think about it: each winemaker wants to maximize the volume of grapes that he or she contributes. And high-volume grapes equal low-quality wines.

The clever winemakers of Estézargues have done it differently. They use the shared equipment to make their own individual wines and keep the profits. This makes them want to grow better grapes and make better wines.

The result is wines with prices that are almost as low as a cave coopérative but with quality that is light years better. Val and I love these wines and go to Estézargues with our friends to stock up every year. We go so often we even have a frequent buyer card!

This is a working winery and not a fancy place, but it does have a well-stocked tasting area. The ladies who run it are very friendly and informal. They let you taste all you want and are not afraid to open a new bottle just for you. They are also happy to give advice – “I think this one is particularly good right now.”

One of the best things about these wines is that they are ready to drink right away. So we usually do that after we buy, heading out to a secret picnic spot the tasting room ladies told us about.

It’s a 12th century church called the Chapelle de la Clastre that sits on a rise with beautiful views of vineyards all around. It has been abandoned for centuries and is currently being restored by a local volunteer group. Next to the church is a big grassy area just perfect for picnicking with our friends. It’s flat and shady and seems to invite you to lay out a blanket and enjoy some baguettes, cheese and wine. And maybe take a nap afterwards.

Santé !

 

The French President and the Green Fairy

François Mitterrand was in trouble. Elected president two years earlier on the promise of a “French road to socialism,” things had not gone as planned. Perhaps he had gone too far, too fast, but within a year the French franc had collapsed and he was forced to make a U-turn. Then came an austerity program, and his popularity plunged.

Mitterrand decided to do what many unpopular politicians do: go on a foreign junket. He could strut about the world stage, show presidential leadership, and generally try to change the subject.

He picked neighboring Switzerland as his destination. It would be the first state visit by a French president in nearly 75 years—a nice way to capture headlines. And Switzerland being such a calm and safe country, what could possibly go wrong?

Enter absinthe, the drink nicknamed “the green fairy” that had long been banned, blamed for making people like Vincent van Gogh go insane. Find out how this illegal drink was at the center of an international scandal in calm little Switzerland.

Read all about it in The Good Life France!

A Holiday Gift for the France Lover in Your Life?

France has a long and rich literary tradition, and the country has won more Nobel Prizes in Literature than any other. But that doesn’t mean that all French books are stuffy and boring–there are plenty of ripping good reads coming out of France!

But where do you find them? One good place to start is by looking at the winners of France’s literary awards. Many of these winners later get translated into English and are widely available. I’ve read a number of these books and really enjoyed them.

There are six big French literary prizes and they’ve all just been awarded. I’ve written an article describing them, to give you an idea what they are all about. If you want to skip the article, here’s on thing to remember: the Goncourt Prize. It’s the biggest of the Big Six awards and the books that win this are almost always great.

Read all about it in My French Life!

A Special Offer from Bonjour Paris

I’d like to pass along a special offer than might be of interest to you or someone you know.

Bonjour Paris is THE website for all things Paris. It has more than 5,000 articles on restaurants, museums, hotels, history, and more, with new articles every week. I especially like the Bonjour Paris Live lectures and tours of lesser-known corners of Paris.

Bonjour Paris is currently offering a “Friends and Family” subscription discount, and as one of their writers I get to pass it along to you. Here you go!

https://bonjourparis.com/friendsandfamily/

Happy Holidays and Joyeux Fêtes!