Category Archives: France

Champagne, in the snow…

How do you keep your spirits up when the weather is grim and grey? Drink bubbles of course! And the best bubbles are from the Côte des Blancs in Champagne, where chardonnay rules and the dosage sugar is kept low. So that’s where we go early December…

And blimey it was blanc, très blanc. We beat the snow by a day, but it caught us up. Not that it stopped us drinking the stuff, copious quantities, all in the name of research (to get our tastiest bargain…)

Épernay has a little festival first week in December – Les Habit de Lumière – well worth a visit if you want to see how the locals consumer their fizz…

Ahem…, several of the drinkers in these shots may well not be from Épernay at all… I shall not give their identities away…

Gimonnet and Bouquin Dupont came out top in our dedicated and fastidious research, so we stocked up (Mrs P cannot go a week without at least one glass of blanc de blanc); the car was loaded up and off we headed home, into the teeth of a storm and a slightly anxious ferry crossing. Didn’t spill a drop or pop a bubble. That’s the way to do it!

(Duchies – we missed you this year. Don’t go missing this again!)


Is Marseille really French…?

Is Marseille really French I wonder…? It’s such a brilliant hotchpotch of different styles, cultures and colours. Really it’s a bit of everything. Maybe the old greek Massalia-polis attitude lives on? Origins aren’t important, attitudes are. And Marseille has such a fantastic mixture of old and new. It’s a great city no doubt, and a couple of days work on the south coast of France never hurt anyone…

Here’s the old city, the Vieux Port, still looking good in spite of the stains on the mirror:

The basilica looks Moroccan, or a bit Eastern…., slightly Turkish…

 

The combination of old and new is very French, and in Marseille it’s done with great style. Here’s the single metal strip walkway bridge juxtaposed with the old port watch-tower.

 

The stunning Museum of the Mediterranean, closed on Tuesdays, because we are after all in France, so I couldn’t actually visit it…

 

 

 

There’s even a Brit influence in Marseille. Every French town has a covered market, but Marseille has a Norman Foster glossy mirrored-ceiling version.. Take a look, this is the right way up…

And so, back to the hotel for a very French breakfast with my traductrice, Jo Hair: animal artist extraordinary If you like a penguin, you’ll love this, check the link

(And finally, why did the Brits stick an “-s” on the end of Marseille…, Marseilles? Typical Brit sort of thing to do of course…)


Half term chaos on the slopes

Skiing should be a dream: Vast expanses of empty white nothing; no-one to interrupt the perfect carve; elegance and rhythm, speed and style. With a bit of luck the sun is shining, to take the edge off the crisp cold. That’s the dream… on a slope a bit like the ones below…

Le rêve

Le rêve

Slopes2

Le soleil

Then crash bang WALLUP! Reality kicks in and you realise it’s half term, the French Alps have become franglified with holidaying Brits, a Coke up the mountain costs ridiculous Euros, and queuing etiquette has been replaced by the shove of the masses…

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La foule

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La piste

(Nice style Sophie!)

The collective madness infects everyone. Here’s a brother crashing in slo-mo into a sister and them heaping up on the floor. Hilarious! Usually, I admit, it’s me that does the crashing. But not this time! I leave the honours to Mrs P and my bro-in-law. Young cousin is being gentlemanly and returning lost ski…

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Le crash

Next week I shall blog my way back to the serenity again and return to the dream. Leave all this chaos behind!

 


Champagne baby, Yeah!

Now personally I am rather partial to Côtes du Rhône, love a Gigondas, and delect over a delicious German Riesling. And I go crazy for a 2005 Ciaccipicolomini, the best red ever! But occasionally Mrs P needs bubbles, and there’s only one thing to do – a road trip to Champagne!

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And it really is like a road trip. Frankly the driving is a joy. Three and half hours on empty roads from coast to vineyard – I drive fast – a dream compared to the M25, where are all the people? (in the south of France is the answer – I mean, if you can why wouldn’t you!). I should be in a sports car with the top down, but hey, I need the space in the boot for the bottles, and I respect Mrs P’s barnet, so we’re in the people carrier.

 

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Épernay is the destination, and it’s the Fête du Champagne this weekend. We are meeting friends, so the party is on. We shall do some private tastings at micro-Champagne houses, and then go for the big boys at the Fête. It’s party time!

 

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Did you know that there are 100 million bubbles in a bottle of Champagne (count them if you don’t believe me). Le Champagne is the drink, La Champagne is the region. And the Côtes des Blancs is so because of the Chardonnay grape, not the chalky soil.

 

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See that little straw in the barrel above. They take that out to let some air in when they bottle from the barrel so that the wine doesn’t disturb the sediment at the bottom of the barrel. Amazing how easy it is to learn stuff when you’re having a little drink…

 

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Bouquin-Dupont Blanc de blancs. Creamy and dry at the same time, like a crème brulée zapped with an electric current. Awesome, and a steal if you buy direct from Dominique, the grower, at 15€ a bottle. And we did, buy that is… Lucky I had the space in the boot of the car for all 50 odd bottles. Should keep Mrs P happy for a week or two.

 

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(All photos with the iPhone – who needs a Leica..? Me, I do, I do, I do!) Santé! Prost! Cheers and Happy Christmas to all! Joyeux Noel as we say in French. May all your festivities be filled with bubbles! À la prochaine…


Whistle-stop France

I have to say, I do love France, I do, I do, I DO. I love the life, the style, the lifestyle. I love the people, the countryside and the weather. The love fails me, however, as soon as I get to the traffic (taxi strikes all over the place!). And, although it shocks me slightly to say this, the bistrot/restau food can be a bit indifferent. Blimey, I had to pause and reconsider when I wrote that sentence, but its true!

Banks of the Saone

Lovers on the banks of the Saone

 

Admittedly a whistle-stop business tour isn’t the best way to see everything. But good for snippets. Lyon is just delightful. How a big city should be. Lovers on the banks of the rivers. Marseille has vibrant character – a pastis in the Vieux Port and you can still hear Pagnol in the background.

Vieux Port view

Vieux Port view

Masts in the water

Masts in the water

 

Nantes is my favourite. Especially here at Le Chateau de la Garnison, an idyllic escape from the big city, wonderful service, lovely country-chic rooms, and the best breakfast I’ve had for years. So idyllic we had to have a ping pong tournament (…) Here are the other two battling it out for second place.

Chateau de la Garnison

Chateau de la Garnison

Second and third place wiff waffers

Second and third place wiff waffers

And then Paris. Where the traffic doesn’t move until about midnight, and I had to lots of iPhone trickery to get some perception of speed… And the food is indifferent and expensive. Rip off wine and cheeky service.

A blur, after midnight.

A blur, after midnight.

Go taxi, go...., please go!

Go taxi, go…., please go!

 

Ooops, the Opera looks like it’s falling down. Get me back to Nantes, double quick!

 

Wobble photo

Wobble photo

 

Like France? Check out wine in the Dordogne or champagne in Champagne and if you’re not bothered by booze, how about scorpions in the Luberon!


Quaffing wine in the Dordogne

France is just such a lovely place for a holiday! There I indulge, deeply, in my two great vices: Photography and Wine, not necessarily in that order.

 

The Dordogne at sunrise

The Dordogne at sunrise

 

It was on holiday in the Dordogne that we Pecks designed the Wine Rating System which I happily recommend as an excellent way to manage one’s wine consumption during the week.

Could only be France...

Could only be France…

specifically, the Dordogne

specifically, the Dordogne

 

The aim of this system is to recognise that some wines are better, i.e. more delicious rather than more expensive, than others. And the most delicious wines are the ones to be savoured and consumed, ideally in liberal quantities, without the problem of a heavy head at work the following morning. Herein lies the key…

Castelnaud, once English, alas no more...

Castelnaud, once English, alas no more…

Beynac at dawn

Beynac at dawn

Such a system is important for the photographer. After all s/he must be up at the crack of dawn to get those pictures in the golden glow, and a thick head doesn’t help work out the best exposure times…

Flowers in summer

Flowers in summer

Mist over our local lake

Mist over our local lake (again at dawn)

 

So how does our System work? Very simple – we rate wines according to days of the week: ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’ and ‘Wednesday’ wines are average. Pop the cork, drink the bottle and forget it. A ‘Thursday’ wine is better. Good for quaffing. But still only ok. ‘Friday’ wines are beginning to show a touch of class. These have to be happy making wines. They are the right way to start the weekend. ‘Saturday’ wines are getting serious. Wines to savour. Fine to share, and admire, with friends. But the best, most exquisite, wines are ‘Sunday’ wines. These are the stunners, so good you don’t want to share them. Keep it in the family.

Mrs P opens our holiday fridge - stocked with essentials...

Mrs P opens our holiday fridge – stocked with essentials…

 

2 weeks, 18 corks. Not bad going!

2 weeks, 18 corks. Not bad going!

The kids have been pretty adept with this system for some time. It is not unusual for them to taste a wine in a restaurant and exclaim ‘Tuesday’ or ‘Friday!’ much to the confusion of other diners, given that we often eat out on a Saturday.

So there we are. The Peck Wine Rating System. Not quite up to Robert Parker standards, but then I can’t afford his wines. Give it a go, and cheers! Or as they say in France, “tchin tchin”!

 

 


Happiness is…. Champagne!

Isn’t it odd how a bit of fizz can create such happiness in the world… And the best fizz of course is Champagne. Which is why every so often Mrs P demands a weekend trip to France to stock up on the happy making drink.

bottles of the bubbly stuff...

Bottles of the bubbly stuff…

I must admit I’m rather partial myself and being a francophile I don’t mind zooming across the Pas de Calais and Picardie to get to the Chardonnay vineyards just east of Paris. And how beautiful those vineyards were this weekend! It was cold, very. The frost had come down in force. Whilst Mrs P stayed in the warm luxurious hotel run by Champagne wizard M. Selosse, I got myself out to take some pics…

"le givre", I learned...

“Le givre”, I learned…

left overs for the birds

Left-overs for the birds

Now Moët et Chandon (don’t forget to pronounce the ‘t’) and Pol Roger is all very good, but we tend to go for the smaller viticulteurs. For a start their prices aren’t so astronomic, and they’re much friendlier too. M. Tissier, head of the cooperative in Chavot-Courcourt, gave us the full tour of the winery and then a full tasting of the full range of all his champagnes, plus a full glass of Marc de Champagne. Impossible not to indulge and buy 6 cases there and then…

they used to turn this lot every day by hand. Now a machine does it every hour.

They used to turn this lot every day by hand. Now a machine does it every hour.

Now M. Tissier’s nectar is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and very occasionally a hint of Pinot Noir. My favourite bottle is also stored for 3 years in Burgundy oak barrels (min 5 years old so the tannin has disappeared of course!). As a contrast however, we felt it was imperative to investigate M. and Mme Bouquin Dupont’s champagne as well. Nothing like another glass (or more) to crystallise one’s tasting notes…

no machinery here. All turning done by hand.

No machinery here. All turning done by hand.

the old ways are still the best!

The old ways are still the best!

les proprietaries showing us how to get the cork into the bottle (personally I like getting it out)

Les proprietaries showing us how to get the cork into the bottle (personally I like getting it out)

The Bouquin Duponts specialise in Blanc de Blancs – that’s just chardonnay and nothing else to you and me – so impossible not to add another 6 cases of that to the credit card damage. Lucky I brought a large enough car!

And then on to party into the late evening. Epernay was hosting its Champagne festival so we felt we ought to indulge just a bit more. As you can see, the evening remained completely sober throughout.

Our good friends Jan and Desiree getting into the spirit!

Our good friends Jan and Desiree getting into the spirit!

Mrs P keeps a firm hold on her bottle...

Mrs P keeps a firm hold on her bottle…

Well, I did say it was a happy making drink! Cheers, tchin tchin, and a Merry Christmas to you all.


Hands off my Ferrari!

Where’s this? Can you guess?

It’s a bit blowy…

Clue: it’s in the Med.

OK. So this is not an area known for its storms. Quite the opposite. The usual image is for slick, suave, mega-rich, luxury. Yes, this is Cannes on the Côte D’Azur. Not quite as azure as we would have hoped, but not bad on the luxury. I leave that to the ladies in the family…

If you can’t pose here, then where…?

A magnet for the ladies…

these girls start young!

(She takes after her mother…)

Even Charles can be seduced. This, he says, is the car he will buy when he starts playing for Chelsea (…)

Mine!!!

But you know what, this isn’t really what the Mediterranean coast is about, for me at least. Get 10 miles in land and it all changes. The villages are quaint and delightful. The countryside is beautiful, all that bling seems miles away. Here’s what the back country around Cannes looks like.

The gorgeous coast at Cap Ferrat

The Rothschilds know a good spot when they see it, Here’s their villa.

Jimmy Choos forgotten, replaced by roses

the villa mixes the sacred…

… and the profane

Ultimately, all roads lead down to the coast. And back to the flim flam of the Côte d’Azur. Ah well,…. when in Rome….

La Croisette!


An hour with the Sun King!

I managed to grab one hour in the gardens of Versailles recently. One hour is not enough to marvel at the Sun King’s Palace. Awesomely exquisite… Exquisitely awesome… heck, it’s both!

Lazy fish…

Could I get any of the business party to come with me? No! For them, the pull of blackberries, laptops, email was too strong, so I was on my tod (that being an old Yorkshire expression for ‘by myself’).

Last Year at Marienbad springs to mind

Statues everywhere!

A fine Grecian profile…

It’s important to chillax, and let’s face it, the memory of the emails will fade, but who can forget a garden such as this! The Sun King knew a thing or two about making an impression. The 17th century guests must have been blown off their feet (can you say that about the 17th century…?), and the 21st century visitors are too.

Neptune (one of many)

Vistas galore

This being France, and almost Paris, and a hot day to boot, there were suitable numbers of couples around. All enjoying each others’ company, of course. Everywhere you looked…

lovers in one direction

And lovers in the other

Mind you, who can blame the locals for taking advantage. The gardens are formal, but filled with sexy figures too. Bound to raise the temperature.

One for the ladies

and another!

Bacchus reigns

Louis XIV watches over all

It’s stunning, quite breath-taking. If you get the chance, go. There is no disappointment here.

Statement views everywhere you look.

Even the steps are elegant

Try not to do it like me, in a rush, barely an hour. Take your time, take a day, wander and relax. You will remember it forever. Hey, and I didn’t even manage to get inside the palace itself! That’s for another day…

That’s the way to do it.


Paris – a photographer’s delight!

To be in Paris for pleasure and not for business for once,… what a delight!

Who can resist a park bench…

It is just such a photogenic city. I love wandering about and soaking up the atmosphere, even if the weather is appalling.

Which century are we in?

In my opinion though it needs to be shot in black and white, preferably on a Leica. Overtones of Doisneau, Willy Ronis and Cartier Bresson. So on my perambulations, what did I see? Cafe life, of course: 

Too early for the terrasse

Still too early…

Good to get into the warm at last

A chance to gossip

Paris, being Paris, is not shy about offering delectation for the eye…

Shop window, Place des Vosges

Delightful!

Destined for someone’s garden? I’m jealous!

On the more romantic side of Paris is the bridge for lovers just by the Louvre. These padlocks are cropping up everywhere!

Jana and Lukas, for ever

But the best with street photography is always the people. Leica at F8 and shooting from the hip. A great way to spend a weekend in Paris…

Old soldier, Arc de Triomphe

 

France today

   

France tomorrow?

Modern France, yesterday, today and tomorrow