Sunday, 29 July 2012

St Emilion, France

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

Many of you may already have heard of Saint-Emilion, the UNESCO World Heritage listed medieval village located in the Bordeaux wine area of France (40 kms from the City of Bordeaux), and in the Province of Aquitaine.

I certainly had, and while I had heard of its beauty, I never expected to fall under it's spell so surely.  It's a true gem, and one that I intend to get to know well. 

I have just spent a week in this glorious region of France and I have another 2  weeks left. Lucky me! 

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Fancy a glass of St Emilion red in the historic Place de l'Eglise, St Emilion?

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Only the smallest of cars could pass along these village streets!
Photo of cars taken at the Ateliers d'anton

The picturesque and narrow cobbled streets of St Emilion are home to so many treasures; medieval buildings as well as ruins, cloisters, towers to climb, a lot of very good wine to sip, taste and or buy, many cafés, restaurants and even a store purely dedicated to selling nothing but delectable macarons. St Emilion has it's very own version of the Macaron, dating back to the 17th Century, click here), they are delicious I assure you.  I bought mine at the Les Macarons de Saint-Emilion.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

The streets are also dotted with many other speciality stores, with some of them concentrating purely on products made in France. 

If finding the quirky, the used and the interesting is your 'thing', then visit Frank at Ateliers d'anton, no 56 rue de Catusseau. It would be easy to spend a couple of hours here.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
St Emilion Street and mannequin from Ateliers d'anton

The most fascinating part of St Emilion is its history....and the fact that it has an underground life as well! There are approximately 200 kms of underground limestone quarries and tunnels under St Emilion and some of this area is used to store and mature wine as well as to grow mushrooms (champignons de Paris). I was told that the Chateau Beauséjour holds some 300,000 bottles of wine in their monolithic cellars.

To experience some of the 'sous terrain' of St Emilion and learn some of the history you should take the St Emilion tourist office  1 hour guided underground tour, (tickets and meeting point at the tourism office), and in fact it is the only way you are able to visit the underground Monolithic Church, the Catacombs and the Hermitage of St Emilion, (only guided visits are allowed entry), it's a really fascinating hour, do not bypass it.

NB- Monolithic (from the Greek word 'mono lithos' meaning one stone). So the Monolithic Church is built not from blocks of stone but entirely carved out of the limestone rock and was done so at the end of the 11th Century. Later, between the 12th and 15th centuries the huge bell tower (weighing 4500 tons) was added.

The history of St Emilion goes back to pre-historic times, but I'm only going to touch on the more recent history dating back to Saint Emilion himself.

Saint Emilion came from Brittany, and it is here that he worked for a certain Earl of Vannes. During this time it is said that he performed a number of miracles, which in turn gave him a level of status and popularity, something that he was not comfortable with, and so he fled to the South of France. Legend says that he stopped at a monastery in Saujon near Royan on his way, and it is here he became a monk.

Arriving in what was then known as Ascumbas  (now St Emilion) in the 8th Century, he settled in one of the many underground galleries and during this time he founded the village of St Emilion with his disciples. Here he lived out his life for the next 17 years and died in 767). 

He has become the village Patron but not the Patron of wine makers, this is Valery, one of Emilion's disciples.

His hermitage is included in the 1 hour underground tour and is quite a spiritual experience; you can see the natural spring that he used as a baptistery as well as his bed carved out from rock, and the meditation chair, (now called the fertility chair). Legend says that when a woman sits on it and prays she will become pregnant in the next few months.  No one in our group tired it!

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
The imposing tower that sits on top of the underground Monolithic Church

It was upon St Emilion's death that the Monolithic underground church was built.  You are not permitted to take any photos (with or without flash) in any underground site. We were informed that this regulation is mainly in place for copyright reasons, so I have no photos of the magnificent church to show you.

It is indescribably gorgeous, with light streaming through windows way above you onto the various alters. Huge limestone pillars dominate the interior. The walls were previously all covered in paintings, draperies and wooden sculptures.  Some faint paintings remain.

The church was abandoned during the French Revolution and the lack of maintenance and humidity led to the development of saltpetre which was essential at the time as a component of gun powder, and as a result of scraping this off the walls most of the paintings were destroyed.

NB: Interestingly, the underground monolithic Church is owned privately and has been since the French Revolution.

Other sites in the underground tour include:

The Catacombes, (probably carved out after St Emilion's death and the tombs appear to be older than the monolithic church (so sometime prior to the 12th century). This was the burial place for three types of people, the wealthy, influential members of the church and children (because they were naturally pure).

The Trinity Chapel, built at the beginning of the 13th century (only the choir remains from that period), the other part being transformed in 1730.

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Wine and food are plentiful in St Emilion. I was lucky enough to capture the chefs from the divine Hostellerie de Plaisance carrying in their daily supply of produce from car to kitchen. 

A little note here about the prices, you do not have to spend big dollars in France to get very good wine, you can, but you don't necessarily have to. I would no more walk away with a $5 bottle of wine in Australia than with a cask, however I have bought a 5 euro bottle of wine in France and enjoyed it.

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The area of Saint-Emilion is famously known for its excellent red wines and gorgeous wine Chateaux (there are more than 1200 of them).

The soil differs from area to area within the St Emilion jurisdiction, the area closest to the village (2,400 hectares) is mainly limestone and it is in this soil that the Merlot grape performs the best, and 11 out of 13 of the highest rated Chateaux come from this area.

The other 3 main soil types are gravel, alluvial, aeolian (fine and sandy), the gravel soil west of the town is conducive to the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cabernet Franc grapes (two of the other two highest rated Chateaux are here, Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Figeac).

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The St Emilion appellation system dates from 1955. The St Emilion classifications are, Grands Crus Classées, Premières Grands Crus Classées A, and Premières Grands Crus Classées B.

Maison du Vin Saint Emilion

Here you will find a wonderful wine shop (goes without saying)!, a fabulous interactive room where you can test your sense of smell for various wine aromas (photo below), as well as some incredibly interesting looking courses  (available for groups or the individual) ranging from 1 hour to a full day.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Test your 'nose' for wine aromas at the Maison du Vin Saint-Emilion

Accommodation St Emilion

Hostellerie de Plaisance.  As far as settings go, it doesn't get much more beautiful (I have seen that with my own eyes).  My parents had a wonderful stay here around 10 years ago and ate what they described as the best pheasant they had ever experienced. I believe through word of mouth that the hotel and dining is just as good now as it was then. So why not seat yourself on the terrace, sip a wine from the grapes at your doorstep and enjoy.

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Photo left; the historic Cloitre des Cordeliers

For a stay outside of St Emilion, the beautiful house La Forge is available to rent on a weekly or monthly basis and here you will be welcomed by one of the most gracious and lovely hostesses I have ever met, Carol de Montrichard.  The house itself is gorgeous and the scenery around typical of the beautiful Bordeaux area.  It is only a 15 minute easy drive from here to the village of St Emilion. 
NB: There is also a cottage sleeping 3 people next to La Forge the house, and it can be rented separately or along with the house.


C'est probablement l'endroit le plus secret de Saint-Emilion
(It is probably the most secret place in Saint-Emilion)
NB: Une Librarie in French means a book shop, not a library.

Since the middle Ages people from all over have been coming here to find their printed treasures; from books of magic, to scientific manuscripts and maps.

The address is, 5 rue de Thau, however apparently it is still not easy to locate. It will be my little challenge when I am there next!

Recommended Reading

I came across this gorgeous book in a shop in St Emilion, Saint-Emilion  by Phillippe DuFrenoy and Jean-Marie Laugery

Here is my recommendation......don't miss Saint-Emilion if you are in the South West of France, it would be a real pity if you did!

Millie x
© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

Ines de la Fressange, Parisian Chic

Win a copy of the ultimate French Style Guide

The chic, elegant and stylish Parisian Ines de la Fressange has published her own style Guide, 'Parisian Chic'.

It's the ultimate Parisian bible to achieving the same apparent effortless chic that Ines de la Fressange is so famous for.

In it she divulges her favourite Parisian addresses, her health, wellness and beauty tips as well as guides to putting together the ultimate stylish wardrobe that will take you from morning to evening.

It's every woman or girl's ultimate style guide, and Travel Notecards is giving away a copy of this little red book to the 100th person to sign up to our blog from today onwards. 

I can't wait to post it out to someone wherever you may be in the world. 

Good luck :-))

(The winner will receive an email from Travelnotecards requesting a mailing address).

Millie x

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Friday, 13 July 2012

Paris; The summer that isn't

Summer activities are in full swing in Paris, however the weather has other ideas........a rainy Thursday......

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"I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one".
Edna St Vincent Millay (first female to be awarded a Pulitzer for Poetry).

Millie x
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Thursday, 12 July 2012

Les Halles de Lyon - Paul Bocuse, Lyon, France

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

Recently while spending a few days in Lyon, France we had the pleasure of visiting Les Halles de Lyon - Paul Bocuse, situated in the Part Dieu area (3rd arrondissement), and only a 10 minute trolley bus ride from the centre of the city. 

This covered market is a food lovers paradise, and is a great way of experiencing the gastronomy that Lyon is so famous for (it's the market that pays homage to Lyon's most celebrated Chef, Paul Bocuse), you may even bump into him as he apparently shops here regularly. 

We hit the market aisles on a quiet Sunday morning arriving around 9.30 and we practically had the place to ourselves (love that)!  This meant plenty of time to sit with our croissant and coffee at the Café du Boulanger to start things off.

It wasn't until around 10 am that the locals started to filter in and by 10.05 some of them were already settling in at the oyster bar with their first glass of wine for the day (a touch early for me, but I can't say I wasn't a little tempted)!

The absolute highlight of this market is the visual display of food on offer, (there are close to 60 stalls) with the knockouts being the patisserie, chocolate and cheese stalls. The merchandising is glamourous and gorgeous and almost makes you too afraid to buy anything should you disturb the symmetry of all the gorgeousness!

Photograph taken from www.jé
This stunning chocolate cake is the award winning 'Kaina' by Pattisier Jerome Langillier and winner of the 2009 World cup for cakes 'Gateau de la Coupe du Monde'

While our taste buds were enjoying the tea infused macarons at the divine Boutique Clostan our attention was drawn to the 'Kaina' (above), it truly is a divine looking chocolate cake, and is created by head patissièr from the Boutique ClostanJérome Langillier. I only wish I had had the opportunity to taste it and describe it to you. It consists of;

Croustillant chocolat
Pain de Gène chocolat
Crémeux chocolat  noir et lacté avec une infusion citron vanille
Coulis exotique
Mousse chocolat grand cru Caraibe
(a LOT of chocolate in other words)!

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Boutique Clostan (above)

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No need to leave the market for lunch, with a choice between a typical  Lyonnais bouchon, an oyster bar, numerous cafés and even a Spanish jamon bar!....and if you are still a bit peckish don't leave the market without having tried at least one of Lyon's sugary specialties; the Praline Tart, you can't miss it, it's bright red.

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For another sugar hit on your way out grab some chocolates from Richart, one of France's most famous chocolate makers.

If you love and appreciate top quality produce as well as the beauty and elegance of French attention to detail then this market is for you.

Les Halles de Lyon
102 cours Lafayette
(open Tuesday - Sunday)
7am to 7pm
(closed between 12 & 3 pm)

Millie x

Friday, 6 July 2012

Menton, Cote d Azur

I have just jumped off the train after having spent a few hours wandering the gorgeous streets of Menton, a French town situated on the mediterranean and two steps from the Italian border. Its France and Italy all rolled into one, nothing not to like about that....

and it's made me feel moody and colourful....

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Menton is famous for its see it hangs around and bathes the town in its golden rays for 316 days of the year, definitely my kind of place!

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All this sunshine means that lemons and other citrus fruit adore to grow here. The lemon happens to be the town's symbol and even has its own Adam and Eve legend attached to it. (read about it here).

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.... and in honour of the wonderful lemon, Menton hosts its very own lemon festival each year in February.

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...but it's not just lemons and good weather that Menton is celebrated for, it's also well known for its magnificent gardens and festivals - two upcoming events are;

20 July to 5 August

3 to 16 July

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Basically if its sunshine, lemons and Tango that you like, look no further and pen Menton in your diary! 

Millie x
© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Anjuna Plage Privée & Papaya Beach, Cote d Azur, France

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Anjuna Private Beach

The Cote d Azur, France, has many private beaches along its shoreline, and I'm a big fan! 

However, when I say private, don't be thinking that you will be the only one enjoying the beach, far from it in fact...but you will at least be sharing it in comfort. 

Want a sun bed... you got it, problem, glass of rosé and something to munch on....only minutes away.  Fancy a spot of water sport....take your pick!

Eze sur Mer is a small quiet beach situated on the Riviera between Cap Ferrat and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. It has two private beaches to choose from, neither of them pretentious or precious, both have a relaxed and low key feel to them, and this is exactly what I love about them, (I am not your bling bling yacht type of girl)!

At Anjuna there is only one row of sunbeds, so there is nothing between you and the water (except for a few pebbles) and this means no stepping around are literally 2 meters from the waters edge. 

Note of caution; the pebbles on the seabed can get slippery, so to make your water entry a little more gracious wear some reef slippers (both my mother and father can attest to that)! Personally.... I find an ungracious entry much more fun to capture with the camera!

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Love these faces from Plage Anjuna

The atmosphere and amenities of these two private beaches are not the only attributes I love; the creativity and thought that has gone into the decoration of each of them makes them quite special. 

Anjuna Plage Privéè has a more eclectic slant to its decoration than Plage Papaya, and is re-decorated every year to co-incide with the start of the summer season.

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Plage Papaya at Eze sur Mer beach

Anjuna Plage rent out sunbeds and umbrellas for half or full days during the week and full days only on the weekends.

Papaya Beach gives full day as well as half day rates for both weekends and weekdays. Bookings by phone or in person (not email).

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Attention to detail at Papaya beach & Anjuna Plage

Parents, you can relax at both these beaches with a good sized swimming area under surveillance at all times and netting to protect bathers from jelly fish.

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Both of these private beaches offer non stop food during the day, either on the beach or in the restaurant. If you can make it for dinner to Anjuna, its hard to top the setting....simply drop dead gorgeous, with no exageration!  Good food and perfect service, the staff are a delight.

I haven't as yet dined at Papaya Beach  so I can't comment on their food, except to say that the setting would undoubtedly be just as stunning, (situated only a matter of 20 metres from Anjuna Plage). I have however spent a great day on their beach.

(PS Dinner at Anjuna, my nephews highly recommend the beef burger with foie gras, served with fries).

Piece of Advice
If you are heading for a private beach on a weekend I recommend you make a quick telephone call and reserve your sunbeds in advance (the day before or the same morning).

So, if a quiet chill out day on a mediterranean beach is what you are after, you'll love this corner of the French riviera.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Millie x
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