Paris illustrated by Leo Greenfield for Vicki Archer’s blog French Essence
After reading Vicki Archer’s little post on French Essence about the things she loved best about France it inspired me to write this post. As Julie Andrews sang in the Sound of Music, these are a few of my favorite things to love about France.
a room at the Hotel L’Universite, renovated all lovely and posh unlike its former self in 1988
#1 Paris, It hit me like a ton of bricks not the first time I visited at just 18 on a whirlwind trip through Europe but the second time when I was 25 with my new husband of just one year. We stayed at the L’Universite hotel in the 6th and I remember grabbing onto the bed and refusing to leave….why would anyone ever leave a city as beautiful as this. I still feel that way every time I depart. It was the architecture, the window displays and the cafés that simply crushed me, I felt like pinching myself….nothing including Rome nor Florence had ever looked and felt so ravishing.
beautiful French florist
#2 French Flowers, Its true we can get some pretty incredible bouquets in NY, San Francisco and London but it was first in France, particularly Paris that I witnessed the most talented and gifted florists on the planet. Romance + flowers = ecstasy in my book. Still the best way to experience the most stunning floral displays is to walk into the Four Seasons, your mouth will drop open, just try not to drool.
The flower displays at the Four Seasons, Georges V hotel
a little café in the Village of Estaing
#3 French Villages, Ok yeah I know what you are thinking that’s too broad. You are right but I can explain. I’m originally from Nebraska and before Europe all I thought of when it came to small villages was that I wanted to get out. Culture did not lurk in these places, nor did good food or wine. Enter France to completely blow up that theory. I’ve had some of the best meals of my life in tiny country villages plus the plus beaux villages de France organization absolutely is A+ in identifying the most beautiful villages in France. I recently visited Najac, which is too perfect for mere words.
Najac, France photo via Flickr
seen in Najac
the Oysters of Arcachon, near Cap Ferret on the Atlantic coast
#4 French Oysters, I love any kind of any oyster the big fat ones you get in New Orleans, the cute light grey ones with pearly white insides from the North Western Coast of the US and Canada and the East coast oysters we eat nearly every weekend in the summer, but nothing compares to a French oyster. Whether you slurp them in Cap Ferret on the Atlantic coast or in Cancale, the oyster capital of France in Brittany on the Emerald Coast, you’ll relish the briny fresh from the sea quality that I’ve never found anywhere else.
Citroen photo via www.lakanephotography.co.uk
#5 Driving through France, This is a practical and unromantic one but it’s so important. I’ve taken countless trips via car through France and the highways are incredible. Roads are always well-marked, roundabouts work – you never wait as long at a roundabout as you would at a traffic light and lets talk about those rest stops, you can get actual real food at them. Stunning!
Cycling along the canal
French blue + cycle
#6 Cycling in France, This is a new one. I never thought I’d be interested, nor able to cycle in France unless it was along the Canal du Midi (IE somewhere totally flat). My recent trip with Discover France using electric bikes that give you extra oomph when you pedal uphill changed my outlook entirely. This slowed down way to experience the magic of the French countryside, particularly in warmer seasons is something not to be missed and wonderfully is now available to all even if you are not in perfect shape!
Stone house with blue shutters for sale via Leggett Immobilier
#7 Architecture, Not long ago I realized that a town or a city needs brilliant architecture and incredible food to attract me for the long term. Interesting and varied history doesn’t hurt. The architecture in Paris is world-famous of course but the classic French limestone home, mostly those that were built at least 100 years ago continues to enthrall, as do the countless churches and cathedrals and other public buildings that were built with great pride by local inhabitants. It’s simply impossible for me to tire of examining these beauties.
La Flotte, Ile de Re, with hollyhocks. photo via Daily Mail
#8 Provinces, Each area in France has its own distinctive culture. The Bretons in Brittany are so English compared to their Norman counterparts in Normandy. The Basque region has a completely different style of cuisine than say typical Lyonaise dishes, think spicy Espellette peppers and Jambon de Bayonne. Of course the food closer to the Mediterranean has less cream and more olive oil based cooking, relying on seafood and fresh ingredients more so than their Northern compatriots. Homes down south can be painted pink or burnt orange whilst a cottage on the Ile de Re in the Atlantic will always be white-washed. Discovering these distinct differences is one of the great pleasures of traveling through France.
The Four Seasons bellcap delivering my flowers (i wish!)