The moment I realised that the Tour de France could actually be watched in daylight came late in life for me. I was 40 and on my first summer trip in France. We walked past a cafe one afternoon that had the Tour showing on a big screen TV. There it was. The Tour. Live. On TV. In daylight. Could this really be happening? What is this crazy parallel universe where the Tour is on TV during the day?
What a lot of the world doesn’t appreciate is that thousands of Australians get up at ungodly hours of the night to watch the Tour. For three weeks every July we struggle to work all bleary eyed and fuelled on caffeine having had three hours sleep. Then the first hour of work is spent recapping the race, how the Australian cyclists are doing, and chatting about the scenery.
This watching the Tour live – not at 3am – is one of the many joys of moving to France. Last year the first three stages of the Tour were in Normandy so we joined thousands to see the peloton zip past as it flew through St Mere Eglise. And while seeing the Tour live is fabulous – the build up of the crowd, the caravan coming past with music blaring and free promo goodies being flung out (including lollies, stickers, flags, caps, madeleines and sausages…. yes, sausages) – it’s also a bit of an arduous process to find a spot, park, wait for the peloton, the peloton is gone in 5 seconds and you spend two hours trying to get home in the traffic. So this year we’re quite content that its coming nowhere near us and we can happily tune in every afternoon to watch the stunning French countryside (and a few cyclists).
Three years in France late we’re still more than a little bit excited to get to see the Tour during normal hours. So during the race weeks we’ll be setting up a TV in the guest living room every afternoon which will be tuned in to the Tour. (Note: we’re generally a TV-free zone here. In order to make everyone’s stay here as peaceful as possible, we don’t have TV’s in the guest rooms. But don’t panic, we’re not wifi-free… we’re not totally crazy.)
With only a few weeks to go until D-Day we hope that those lucky enough to have accommodation booked in Arromanches – and the even luckier few who are staying with us at La Pommetier – are looking forward to the amazing experience that awaits them.
Every year Arromanches becomes a hive of commemoration and celebration for D-Day. Its several days of ceremonies, shaking hands with D-Day veterans stooped with chests full of medals, concerts, fireworks, vintage cars and memorabilia from WW2, and my favourite, the enthusiasts that come fully dressed in their wartime gear. Soldiers, medics, pilots, teddy boys and land girls – the dedication and attention to detail is fabulous. Kudos to them!
Word of warning: Arromanches gets packed and getting in and out of the village by car can be difficult at times. Parking is limited (although they open up parking in local fields) and can involve a bit of a walk. For those staying with us, we have four rooms and four parking spaces within our gated walls so you’re covered – just arrive and relax and take in all the activities. When it gets a bit hectic down by the waterfront, just retreat back to our garden 200m away and have some time out on a deck chair.
Today, one of my favourite topics… shopping. Not just that, shopping in Paris!
Now, I’m no expert, I’ve never lived in Paris and some days feel like I’ve only just tippy-toed into Paris rather than rolled around the whole of it. So consider this a beginners guide and please leave your suggestions/fabulous finds in the comments section below. Here’s what I’ve found so far.
We’ll start with the big guns, le grand magasins. The big department stores. There are four in Paris you need to know about:
Galeries Lafayette: the mothership of shopping. All the big brands in one glorious galleried building on Boulevard Hausmann. Excels in the shoe department which is the entire basement level. We pop to Jour cafe for a pick me up when needed or to the champagne bar overlooking the cupola whenever a rare seat is available. There is also a fabulous food/grocery section in the ground and basement levels of the home store.
Printemps: right next door to Galeries Lafayette and with a slightly differing range of brands that are often a little edgier/fashion forward where it has an edge on Galeries Lafayette. Cojean in the basement of the women’s store is our snack spot of choice.
Le Bon Marche: the solo grand magasin on the Left Bank and the most upscale of the big four with on-trend fashion, beauty and homewares. It has labels the Hausmann stores don’t have and a cracker hair care section worth hunting down. Rose Bakery has a cafe on site, but then the best coffee in the city is two blocks down rue Babylone at Coutume Cafe. Next door is Le Grand Epicerie – mecca for foodies.
BHV: where the Parisians shop (read: enter on a weekend at your peril). The holy grail of hardware and homewares in Paris. We’ve bought everything from door knobs to fancy light globs to brass hinges and furnishing trims here. Its where Paris meets practical. Located in the Marais so if your in the area and the heavens open, this is where you can continue your shopping until the rain clears.
Like the world over, the big department stores allow you to shop in (airconditioned/heated/rain free) ease, all have cafes and restaurants within them, and all have duty-free desks to process your shopping on the spot. For me, its more what’s around them to add to my shopping day that guides me on which one to head to. So lets focus on that.
So you’ve got your two biggies – Lafayette and Printemps – but there’s a few others nearby to add to your shopping joy. Right next to Lafayette Home store is Uniqlo – a one stop for anything your travel wardrobe hasn’t catered for (their puffy down jackets are lifesavers should the weather turn, and likewise their rain jackets and Heattech extra-warm long sleeve tees). This store also has a great range of the line by uber-chic Ines de la Fressange.
If you didn’t find that exact piece you wanted from the big French brands in the department store concessions, you’re just two blocks to the Golden Mile of rue Saint Honore. Hermes, Chanel (plus a lovely Chanel make up store where they are super helpful), Longchamp (for every Pliage bag under the sun plus pret-a-porter and footwear) and all the big labels are along here. I generally go as far as Collette and then circle either back up to Hausmann via Pyramides and Opera or towards the Tuilleries for a bit of time out or a treat at Angelina.
Where the right bank is big brands, the left bank is small, quaint and charming. We’d had several trips to Paris from Australia where we’d only been to the Hausmann stores before we ventured out to discover Le Bon Marche. To say we were bowled over was an understatement. We felt like we’d discovered old Paris even though LBM is as chic and modern as they come. It didn’t have the hoards of tourists and cattle lines outside the Chanel and Louis Vuitton concessions. It just felt more luxurious, more discreet, more stylish. It has a lot of labels I love – our watercolour scene cushions by Genevieve Levy are here, sneakers by Pairs in Paris (the nude sneakers are perfect for pairing with a travel wardrobe), J Crew is here (my non-French go-to for fashion), and David Mallet (hairdresser to the stars – an Aussie based in Paris) has his haircare range here. But when you’re done with Le Bon Marche and Le Grand Epicerie, there’s a lot nearby to love.
First, the area around rue de Sevres, rue des Saints-Peres, rue de Grennelle and rue du Cherche-Midi is a great area for a shop and stroll. Many of my favourite French brands have stores here (see list below) and there’s the lovely cafe in Hermes for a refreshment stop and the Poilane Bakery for its famous french bread.
I’ve saved the best for (nearly) last here. Rue du Bac. This narrow street meanders up to the Seine and is full of gorgeous stores. Chocolate shops, stationers, and homewares abound: duck down the ally into Le Grand Comptoir; Blanc d’Ivoire has lovely sophisticated stuff; and we bought a few of our bedheads at Du Bout du Monde. My favourite stop of all though is Parisian institution Deyrolle. Enter through Le Prince Jardinier – the chic garden wares store of Prince Louis Albert de Broglie, and head up the winding wooden stairs between the stuffed antelopes wearing gardening aprons and be prepared to be wowed. If you were staging Noah’s Ark (why? who knows, just go with it) this is where you’d come to get your animals. My first visit I thought it was just an extension of the gardening stores (didn’t click when I passed the antelopes at the staircase) and upstairs was a safari park of baby animals set up having a tea party. It was the most fantastical thing I’d ever seen. On the shopping front, its great for botanical prints and calendars (or a giant stuffed water buffalo if that’s your thing).
There’s one other corner of the left bank I’ll add in here. Its a little fabric and homewares haven tucked in behind the Eglise Saint Germain des Pres. Here you’ll find Belgian brand Flamant full of lovely furniture, dinnerware and homey bits. Its set up by rooms and lovely to walk around. Around the corner (or out the side entrance of Flamant) is fabric heaven in the charming Place de Furstemberg which is also home to the Musee Delacroix. Pierre Frey, Braquenie (fabric from here is in our two-bedroom suite at La Pommetier), Manuel Canovas, and Lelievre are all here. If you happen to be in Paris at the time of the design fair Mason Objet, visiting Place de Furstemberg for its decorations is a must. Then around the corner again onto Rue Jacob you will find more famous French homewares at Gien (pottery and dinnerware – we have some antique plates on the wall again in our two-bedroom suite), Caravane bed linens, and (American owned) Caspari for a great collection of chic and quirky dinner and table ware.
One more! Always one more. Galerie Salon just along from Flamant (walk across the entrance to Place de Furstemberg then come back to it after Galerie Salon). This is a great place to buy gifts – for others or for yourself. It is a jewel box of French names: from Astier de Villatte ceramics to Antoinette Poisson paper to Marin Montagut’s fabulous illustrated city guide maps (photo below – we have a bunch of them here if you want to have a peek).
No secrets here. The Marais is such a great place to wander, shop, eat, shop, stroll. So when you’re visiting BHV, there’s lots more to discover and have your comfy shoes on as we’ll make it as far as the fabulous Merci. Firstly, BHV. I’ve already mentioned the homewares and hardware sections, but they also have an Anthropologie store in here now for those hailing from places without their own. Between BHV and Merci are streets full of great shopping: rue Rosiers has Annick Goutal and COS among many (and l’As du Fallafel – ‘that’ felafel place); and then I like to wander up the rue Vieuille du Temple and then right into Pont aux Choux to get to Merci where a great latte and chocolate cake awaits at the book cafe.
Merci is a destination in itself for shoppers. Its a fabulously curated collection of fashion, homewares and things you never knew you wanted or needed. I love their own brand shirts and they stock a favourite Belgian brand called Bellerose. Other great labels there include Soeur, Laurence Bras and cashmere t-shirt maker Majestic Filatures. The own brand Merci scarves are great gifts as are the super cute Grevi beach hats and Merci zip purses or “pochettes”. And I could wander around the homewares for days. Its a modern “classic with a twist” vibe going on at Merci. I love it.
OK – you’ve waded through this far, here’s the list of French brands I love. Leaving your Chanel and Louis Vuitton aside, these are the smaller brands that to me, ooze Frenchiness. Things you may not be able to find at home but when you get them there, they’ll give you back your inner Frenchie. Also, if you run out of time you might be able to buy things online (although be warned, online shopping in France is really only starting to get going. Three years ago when we moved here not even Galeries Lafayette had online shopping. Quel horreur!
Amor Lux – for the classic stripey t-shirts. Look out for the lycra ones with SPF for summer.
APC – one of my ‘cost per wear’ justifications. So Frenchie. The ‘Dinard’ rain coat with cute lining is a classic.
Bensimon – great for casual wear and their cute plimsolls.
Comptoir des Cotonniers – great mid-ranger for casual and workwear. A high-street staple here.
COS – great on trend minimalist staples. Sale time at COS stores is bedlam!
Eres – the most flattering swimwear possible. Also the most eyewateringly expensive. But cheaper and less painful than surgical intervention. On the “worth it” list.
Gerard Darel – I can always find something here – its a great upper mid-ranger of smart casual for me now I’m in the “mid 40s” box.
Eric Bompard – cashmere that is expensive but I have sweaters and cardigans that have lasted 5+ years and are still going strong. (I’m a big one for cost-per-wear to justify expensive purchases!)
Ines de la Fressange – uber chic. No more words needed.
Majestic Filatures – the softest tee shirts ever. Cashmere for winter. Silk and cotton for summer.
Hair and Beauty
French pharmacy products have a cult-like following – particularly City Pharma which is apparently a small but excellent place to stock up (near Saint Germain des Pres). Google away or start with these:
Goop – it its good enough for Gwynneth…
Lisa Eldridge – she’s an expert and has a lot to say to grab a coffee (or a wine). Be sure to also watch her video on tips for long haul flying video. She’s serious, but it cracks me up every time!
Vogue UK – Jeanne Damas, model of gorgeousness, gives us her insider tips. Try not to have heart failure at the cat sitting on the table on her fifth floor balcony.
Model Recommends – another expert and you’ll need another glass of wine.
OK – that’s enough shopping for one day! At some random point in time I’ll circle back here to add “gourmet” and “children” to the list of shopping treats and expand on the homewares. If there’s anything else you’d like me to have a crack at, just pop a comment below or send an email to email@example.com.
One final thing. There is a great outlet centre to the east of Paris called “La Vallee”. Its easy to drive to from Paris or Charles de Gaul or there is a shuttle bus that goes from the centre of Paris (google away to see if you can get a free transfer with a discount code – we did!) Men are luckier there than women – Mike got a perfect Moncler coat there in his size whereas there wasn’t a single coat in my size. It’s not a particularly “French” way to shop, but its highly effective.
Bah-ba-dah! This three note ditty signifies train travel and fabulous journeys in France for me. Its the signature “SNCF” sound that rings out before every announcement at train stations across France. Even now I get excited by it.
So odd as it may be, this post is about the train trip from Paris to Normandy. It’s a trip I’ve done dozens of times now and I love it every time (sad I know). It’s just over two hours from Paris to Bayeux (2 hours and 6 minutes to be precise) and there’s just one stop in Caen which is handy for those of you looking to hire a car as all the big rental companies are within a block of the station. Caen and Bayeux are part of the line that ends in Cherbourg.
So, lets start in Paris. The Normandy trains generally run from Gare Saint Lazare. Once you get to the station, head to the far right end of the platforms where you’ll find a giant board listing all the departing “Grande Lignes” trains, look for destination ‘Cherbourg’ and around 20 minutes before your train departure time the platform number will be on there. Carriages start at 11 (and the first two 11 and 12 are usually first class) so just walk along checking the numbers on the carriage doors until you find your carriage. An extra note here is that reserved seats are not marked on the train so if someone has taken a chance and planted themselves in your seat, don’t hesitate to indicate that you have that seat booked. The system whereby little paper tickets were put next to seat numbers to indicate they are reserved went by the wayside last year when the railway workers striked and hasn’t been seen since. Not ideal, but everyone gets along fine with out it.
Back to Gare Saint Lazare. This is the ace of diamonds of train stations in Paris as its located within a block of the big department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette and all manor of fabulous shopping and sight seeing. There’s a small shopping galleria at the front of the station and on the middle level is a fabulous restaurant called amazingly… Lazare, where you can have a lovely glass of bubbly or a coffee before your train. It’s open from 7.30am and while the coffee prices are steep (7 euro for a cappuccino) the 10 euro breakfast deal is more reasonable.
There’s also a Paul bakery (on the lower levels), Starbucks and a range of other options for gathering up a little feast for the train. Don’t be shy about doing this, you’ll find lots of others doing the same. I am convinced that 70% of French people’s luggage on this train is actually their lunch. We’ve seen three course meals constructed from 24 little plastic containers of stuff. One guy even decanted his wine to go with the masterpiece baguette he put together from the endless condiments that emerged from his backpack.
The journey itself gets you out of Paris via several crossings of the Seine and in no time you are whizzing through the Normandie countryside. In summer the green pastures slow your heart rate to the clickety-clack of the train and you’ll spot church spires poking from the treetops of every village along the way. In winter the bare fields and trees allow chateau spotting not possible when the trees are in leaf. Even now I spot chateaux not previously seen on countless earlier trips. And if you’re travelling early morning or at dusk, you’ve got a really good chance of spotting wild deer spooked from their grazing in the fields.
Those travelling on the right hand side of the train (facing forward) will see the amazing basilica at Lisieux as the train flies by. Its quite a sight up on the hill. And after Lisieux those on the left hand side of the train will spot some immaculately kept post-and-rail fencing with some very fancy horse flesh in the paddocks. This is the Aga Khan’s thoroughbred breeding stud. As you can tell, I am a window seat hogger for every trip and don’t take my eyes off the countryside for a second (other than to amaze at the culinary creations being put together by fellow passengers).
So if you’re coming to La Pommetier via the train from Paris, or your driving here in your own car and fancy a day trip to Paris without having to drive yourself, grab a baguette and enjoy the scenery. The two hours flies by.
Quick question round:
Which is the best train stop for La Pommetier?
La Pommetier is ten minutes drive from Bayeux train station and 45 minutes drive from Caen station. Most people needing to hire a car do so in Caen as the rental agencies are all within a 5 minute walk of the station (Europcar, Hertz etc). You can rent a car from Hertz in Bayeux but you will need to get a taxi to the Hertz Office (and taxis in Bayeux are not always easy to find).
Should I travel first or second class and how much are the fares?
Good question. There’s not a huge amount of difference and if you book in advance you can get very reasonable first class deals. The best possible first class fare is 20 euro each way (non changeable). The best possible second class fare is 15 euro each way (non changeable). Prices go up from there depending on peak times and travel dates and how long you leave it to book (earlier the better). There are no food or beverage facilities on the train so many people BYO. I really recommend making sure you get a seat reservation either way – that way you can just get on the train and be sure of sitting with your travelling partner.
How do I book my train tickets in advance?
The sncf.com website is terrific. It’s available in English and if you select “France” as your home country you have the option to print your tickets at home and access good prices. Paris to Caen/Bayeux is an Intercities train (faster than a regional, not as fast as a TGV) and you can book up to 90 days in advance or ask them to send you an email alert when tickets are open for booking. For the very tech-savvy you can use an e-ticket, but I am still a luddite that panics that my phone will be dead when the conductor comes through the train checking tickets. For more information, the website www.seat61.com is an excellent resource on train travel in Europe.
OK – first of all let me say that this was a very special occasion for us. Ten years of marriage to celebrate, or as Mike likes to say “It’s a life sentence, but I’m out on good behaviour now”. We tossed around many ideas on how we’d like to mark the milestone, but one kept coming back… the Ritz.
Years ago we watched a fabulous show about a very creative couple – Laurence and Jackie Llewlyn-Bowen – as they bought and renovated a beautiful English country manor house. The show was called “To the Manor Bowen” if you ever come across it – its a hoot! Anyway, during the filming they celebrated their ten year wedding anniversary with a private dinner in a suite at the London Ritz. We was so taken with that. It was private (other than the TV cameras and later broadcasting across the world), celebratory and special. Then and there I knew I wanted us to have our ten year anniversary at the Paris Ritz.
Only when we decided this we lived in Australia and it would have been a huge trip. It was a happy coincidence that we could now dine at the Ritz and still be home to sleep in our own comfy bed. So Mike booked us for High Tea then sent me into a tail spin with the confirmation response stating the dress code is ‘chic and stylish’ (“What the heck is that?”) My natural instinct for an afternoon of olympic level patisseries is stretchy-pants and a bib so plan B was needed.
On the day it was fine – apparently we were ‘chic and stylish’ because they showed us to a lovely table with two plush wing-back chairs by an open fire. And there we whiled away the afternoon sipping tea, nibbling on way too many pastries, and enjoying a lovely glass of champers prepared for the Ritz by the Rothschilds house. Tip for future players: you get a beautifully presented gift bag with all the treats you didn’t finish plus some little canisters of Ritz tea for you to continue the party at home the next day. And if you really want the full Ritz experience at home, head around to the concept store where you can stock up on everything from the coffee beans to the fluffy towels.
After the tea service is finished at 6pm, Salon Proust magically turns into a champagne bar. I’ve already set the date to try that out when my mum arrives in Paris in a few months.
Four years ago today, full of nervous excitement, we boarded a plane in Melbourne for our house-hunting trip to France. We had 25 houses lined up to see over two weeks and we were armed with a check list of things our new house would need to have. It was a crazy mix of the practical – close to trains and with a fully fenced garden – and prosaic – turrets and a sweeping gravel driveway leading up to a chateau. Here are a few of the contenders we viewed…
Those of you who have visited La Pommetier will know that the practical won the day with a 10 minute drive to Bayeux station and a six foot stone wall surrounding our house and garden. We did get lovely granite cobbles for our driveway but the turrets got swept aside by the charm of Arromanches and thoughts of long walks on beaches steeped in history.
Arromanches was the only village we visited that felt alive in the dead of a northern French winter. On a cold, wet and windy February morning there was a small crowd of visitors waiting for the museum to open, walkers were heading off along the beach and clifftops no doubt building an appetite for a hearty lunch, and locals were walking dogs and stopping to chat with baguettes from the village bakery poking out at odd angles. It was perfect. I was sold. Turrets would have to wait.
So last post I was all Mrs Busy with getting on with my winter projects around the house.
The new dishwasher is life-changing. Everything comes out perfect and I am once again spokesperson for Miele’s awesome electrical goodies. Mike and I are those boring people that show each other how sparkly each glass/spoon/plate is as we unload the dishwasher.
And my main project of painting the brown ceiling beams in the bathroom of our Le Jardin room is done. I can’t believe how much it has lightened up the bathroom not having those brown beams anymore. Actually, I can believe it. I never liked them but I was too chicken to paint them as there’s no “unpainting” wood without major works. I have now realised that I have no photos that showed the brown beams but here is the new and improved bathroom ceiling. Drum roll please…
Next project is reupholstering a bench in our family suit L’Arro. Then hanging some lovely cream cabbage leaf plates in La Mirabelle. Then the builders are back in late February to install some internal doors to cut down noise from our kitchen and help with heating insulation. And the driveway at the gate is being levelled to help with low sporty type cars coming and going. My project list never ends and everything has to be crammed into our winter months so that our guests are not disturbed in any way. As they say here “on y va!”
On the train home from Paris last night I had a lightbulb moment that in three days time it will be officially the middle of winter. Which means its just six weeks until spring. Which put me into a state of mild anxiety to get done all the jobs I promised I’d get done over our quieter months.
So this morning I was a hive of activity doing all those bits.
We finally went and ordered a new dishwasher and its being installed tomorrow – oh happy day! Our Miele that came with the house has started making some strange groaning noises during the rinsing cycle. We suspect it is around 25 years old bless it. So its in with a new one exactly the same only it has a steel facing instead of black. It baffles me as to why in a lovely light cream painted kitchen black appliances were installed… so happily this is step one of replacing them. Next target is the crazy oven… a story for another day!
Another “finally did it” was filling out my order for dahlias from an agricultural college in Normandy that specialises in dahlias. How lucky are we to have that! I am a new grower of dahlias but they’ve proven to be surprisingly easy for such gorgeous blooms … you feel they should be harder to grow to get such beauty. I bought my first two “Cafe au lait” at the Courson plant fair our first year here, and the plant fair’s last year at Courson before its move to Chantilly. Mike carried them back to the car through the crowd and when we got there we had a bunch of broken stems and no flowers, but they triumphed on despite us troopers that they are, and each year I lift and store them away in case of hard frosts or rot in the wet over winter.
Already in the garden the little green tips of bulbs and tubers are starting to peak through. I think the bluebells will be first to bloom and the iris are not far behind but have further to grow. Random unidentified bulbs are coming up everywhere as I am a shocker at labelling anything or noting where I’ve planted stuff. Probably why every time I put a spade in the garden I machete a bulb to death. Safer are the hyacinths I’ve got coming along by the kitchen window. I’ve had one store bought basketful of hyacinths already come and gone and planted out in the garden, and round two are coming along a treat. I love the smell of them.
Also having a great time in the garden are the turtle doves, blue tits and sparrows. I’m now onto our second 10kg bag of nuts and refill their feeder every day. Its like Heathrow Terminal 6 outside the kitchen. The doves are fed from seed thrown out for them every morning and the little birds all zoom in and out of the bird feeder all day.
But I digress – back to the to-do list.
Tomorrow I’m going to start painting the ceiling beams in the bathroom of Le Jardin – our largest guest room. When we renovated in there I was really mindful not to erase every bit of character from the house with my love of white paint. It takes a fair bit of bravado to paint 300 year old wooden beams. But the beams in there aren’t that old and I love a lovely clean pristine bathroom so they beams are in for it. Before and after photos will be coming next week.
And I’m about to do the final thing on my list for today – book Trevor (one of our two cavaliers) in for hydrotherapy for his arthritis. Winter isn’t kind to those with arthritic joints, particularly those getting on in years, so a chat with our vet this week got us a recommendation for some extra help for him. Allez!
We often get asked by our guests for last minute gift ideas to take home to friends and family so here’s a few suggestions (that don’t involve fridge magnets or snow domes).
Stripey stuff – here in Arromanches we have our own little “Saint James” boutique. Now strictly speaking, Saint James is a Brittany brand rather than a Normandy one, but its very French seaside all the same. They produce the classic ‘mariniere’ long sleeve stripy t-shirt for women, men, kids and babies or if you’re unsure of sizes go for the stripey socks and scarves. The baby-wear is gorgeous – they even have an accessories range with stripey beanies, scarves, socks and soft toys.
Smelly stuff – if you’re passing a Carrefour or E.Leclerc supermarket (both are located on the peripherique of Bayeux) head straight to the toiletries aisle to stock up on Marseilles body washes and lotions. There are two brands I really like – Le Petit Marseillais (the lavender hand wash is in all our rooms) and Marsaeille Savon Le Naturel (the orange hand wash truly smells like a bag of oranges). Le Petit Marseillais do a whole range of body lotions, hand lotions, lip balms and hair care products if you want the whole enchilada. If you’re a little wary of having bottles of liquid soap in your luggage, opt for the bars instead. For something a big fancier, the French brands Durance and l’Occitane produce lovely scented toiletries and the scented candles are the gift that keeps on giving (just make sure they’re in your checked luggage).
Gourmet stuff – while you’re in the supermarket, there’s plenty to keep your foodie friends happy. Both of the big supermarkets in Bayeux mentioned above have “Produit de Normandie” sections where you can stock up on tins of biscuits, jams, and honeys and of course, D’Isigny Caramels. I have often sent home to friends bags of French cooking salt from the condiments aisle – it costs a motza in Australia but for a few euro’s here your friends can feel like proper french chefs when they whip out the “Fleur de Sel de Guerande”. Also in the condiments aisle search out the Maille mustards. Founded in 1747, Maille is the mustard of mustards. There is a gorgeous Maille store across from the Madeleine in Paris where Parisians take in their own pottery pots to be refilled with their favourites – oh so French! And if you’re feeling really brave, the Maille olive oil and balsamic vinegars are fabulous.
There are endless French branded beauty products that are available in pharmacies here for a fraction of their overseas prices – many of which are relatively unknown outside of France. Much has already been written about them by others far more expert in the field than me (or Mike). Google “French pharmacy products” and Gwyneth Paltrow or Lisa Eldridge (UK beauty guru) and you’ll find great articles on what the experts stock up on while in France. For me, the absolute must is a great sunscreen by La Roche Posay called “Anthelios” which is factor 50, non-greasy and worked a treat even on my pale skin during Australian summers.
For the little ones – sure adults like to dress kids up in little French outfits – but clothes aren’t much fun as gifts for kids. Starting with the littlest of the littlies, Sophie the Giraffe is a french icon among babies (google “sophie giraffe celebrities” and you’ll see). There’s a whole range of Sophie the Giraffe stuff in the baby aisle at E.Leclerc supermarkets. For kids up to about 10, I look out for sticker books and activity books while I’m in the gift stores at different historical sites. Sure they are in French, but there’s not a lot of words and kids work them out pretty quickly. The Bayeux Tapestry has a good gift store where I’ve picked up medieval and princess themed sticker books and in Paris there’s a great section in most museum gift stores (and particularly the Jacquemart-Andre Museum).
Okay – I’m starting to give away my shopping obsession secret now so I’ll sign off. If you have any questions or suggestions, please send me a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A bientôt and happy shopping!
Now that the rose from Saturday night has worn off, I can let you in on a few little Paris gems I discovered last weekend.
Its just a quick two-hour train trip into Paris from Bayeux with just one stop at Caen and then express to Gare Saint Lazare. We often do it as a day trip (Saint Lazare is just one block from the ‘grand magasins Printemps and Galeries Lafayette), but this trip was special. My lovely lovely good friend Janine was heading back to Canberra after her three year stint at the Australian Embassy in Paris. So Mike agreed to hold the fort at La Pommetier while I tripped into Paris for the night.
First stop was lunch with another Aussie gal at the tucked away cafe in a florist that is, Cafe Fleuriste. Mismatched bistro furniture, iron tables, trays of seedlings, and blackboard menus all happily coexist here. A local and his French bulldog wandered in for an espresso. Outside a video-shoot was going on for what looked like a music video. On the opposite corner is a tiny fenced park and playground. It was all very Parisian. The dish du jour was “tarte” of which I think they reeled off at least five varieties – carrot and cumin for me and salmon and broccoli for L. Followed by orange cake for me and rhubarb tarte for L and great coffees to fuel us for a few hours of shopping and wandering in the Marais before the evenings festivities.
Fast forward to 4.30pm and our all Aussie soiree has upped to five of us and we’re installed at Le Meurice in the oh so handsome Bar 228. Leather chairs, low lights, wall murals and ceilings so tall its almost hard to see them. Add to that a backlit bar that goes right up to the ceiling behind which immaculately turned out waiters shine glasses and pour cocktails. The drink prices are eye-watering at 30 euro for a glass of house champagne (albeit Lanson’s Alaine Ducasse selection) and similar for cocktails. But this was a very special night that deserved the best of Paris and soon we were so comfy our thoughts of moving on to the Hemingway Bar at the newly reopened Ritz Hotel were tossed aside and another round of drinks was on its way.
Our dinner reservation was just a short walk down the rue de Rivoli and into the Musee Arts Decoratif. The museum itself is closed now, but Restaurant Loulou is open and on a perfect summers night you head straight through the chic dining room and out to the terrace. The terrace – wow. It is its own little piece of the Jardin de Tuilleries – the beautiful gardens across from the Louvre that run along side the Seine and right up to the Champs Elysees. Likewise the view also stretches from the Louvre to La Tour Eiffel and all the greenery of the Tuilleries and the rooftops of Paris between them. The only thing we needed now was a bottle of rose. A big one. And our magnum of rose from Provence at 88 euro was an absolute bargain after Le Meurice.
We sipped. We told stories. We watched the Parisian couples out on date night come and go. We shared a platter of charcuterie and zucchini flowers. We watched the sun set and the lights come onto La Tour. We ate big plates of pasta and fish and steak. We drained the bottle of rose and at some time after midnight sauntered off to take photos of the Louvre all lit up. We put a lock on the railings and threw the keys into the river to claim a little piece of Paris for our departing friends. On it we wrote, you’ll always have Paris.