Friday, October 4, 2013

Tulle - not just ballet costume netting - a old town in France

When you are driving through the south central region of France be sure to visit the old town of Tulle.

How old is Tulle?  Well Tulle was settled by the Gauls, then the Romans established a temple there,  and in the seventh century a monastery was built which was destroyed by the Vikings in 846…so you figure it out!!!

Yes, Tulle  is the home of the starchy, sometimes scratchy,  net-like fabric that ballet costumes are made of. And, it is also the world accordion capital. (Did you know a single accordion has between 3500 and 6800 parts and takes more than 200 hours to make.. and can cost up to €9000, about $11,700?) Usine Maugein - the last of the traditional accordion makers still produces instruments in Tulle.

But more importantly, Tulle is the scene of a really nice 4-day street music festival (Nuits de Nacre - September) and it is a GREAT place to just get off the beaten path… and roam around a bit.

Take a look at this video… Great isn’t it? Want more information?  Contact me. Let me help you plan the ‘roaming’ tour of your dreams.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

It is almost truffle season in France!!!

Just the other day, I was talking to someone about truffles. I was telling them that years ago, I read (probably in one of Peter Mayle’s wonderful books) that truffles used to be hunted using a pig. Apparently pigs have a keen sense of smell and can track down a truffle a mile away. (Well, perhaps not  a mile… but quite a distance!!)   A pig, with its innate truffle-sniffing sense, can find a truffle and root it out with its snout - even when the truffle is hidden almost underground!!

However pigs also love to eat truffles. So, since there was always a dispute with the pig over ownership rights (i.e. 300 lb. truffle-finders are always keepers!!),  they are no longer used in truffle-hunting. Instead, they have been replaced with ‘truffle-sniffing dogs’!! (Per Wiki: need to be trained, but easier to control!) As I recounted this tale to my friend, we laughed and mused about how much fun it would be to go on a truffle hunt. (From my mouth to the truffle-god’s ear.)

To see more of these photos and to read the story, check out  David Lebovitz's story about his hunt with the pig, on his  blog:
Lo and behold, guess what appeared in my email box today? An invitation from Johann & Lisa Pepin (who have a truffle plantation in the Provence) inviting me (and you - my dear readers) to visit them. They will tell us how truffles are cultivated and truffle dogs are trained, and we can go on a hunt for France's elusive "black gold" with professional hunters who know all the tricks of the trade. The hunters will even regale us with stories of truffle hunting successes and sabotage, and we will learn to tell the difference between the different types of truffles (French versus Chinese).
Interested? Contact me and I will help you plan a wonderful self-drive trip through the Provence which, of course, can include the truffle hunt.  (Truffle season: summer - May to September; winter - November to March)  

Or join me and a few other baby-boomer couples (no more than 6 couples) in the Provence during Christmas week (Dec 21 to 26)… as we share accommodations (6 private rooms, each with bath) in a fully- furnished, luxury villa.

Or join me from 27 December to 04 January for a week with ‘just us girls’... at the same luxury villa.  

(For both trips: a rental car will be available for each couple or every two women. )

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Christmas in the Provence

The Provence is wonderful any time of year… especially in the winter when only the locals are there.  Join us during Christmas week or New Years while we share accommodations in a luxury villa in the Provence.

The first week - December 21 to 27 - is reserved for baby-boomer couples,
The second week  - Dec 28 to January 03 - is exclusively for women who are travelling alone or with a friend. 
Share a 9 bedroom/ 9 bath luxury villa (one rental car available for every 2 people)!!

Dining out in France

Planning a trip to France? Why not get off the beaten path.. fly into Frankfurt, rent a car drive down Germany’s wine road, take the little road for Landau into Strasbourg and then head down to Dijon. A few miles outside of Dijon will put you right on the Route des Grand Cru.. and you can visit these restaurants.

Oktoberfest.... not only in Munich

Today in the New York Times, there was an article about more and more German women wearing the traditional outfit: the dirndl dress.  This outfit is typically worn – by Bavarian women - on festive occasions, like the Oktoberfest.

But as I mentioned in a previous blog post, Oktoberfests are now being held throughout the country. Yes, folks… in the past, Oktoberfest was traditionally a festival held only in Munich and which featured the beer from the 17 most famous breweries in Munich.

But now cities and towns - located throughout Germany – are offering Oktoberfests… and the women are wearing the traditional Bavarian outfit – the dirndl!! So no matter where you are in Germany… be sure to check out the local Oktoberfest if they have one.

And during the remainder of the year.. if you should happen to see a sign for a BierBörse, be sure to check that out also. (Translation: Bierbörse is a ‘beer exchange’). Apparently there are 16 of them held throughout the year, throughout Germany. These Bierbörsen offer beer from a wide variety of micro-breweries.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cattle drives In Germany

You’ve seen it on television, exclaimed ‘oh how quaint’, but never really thought much about it. However, it really is quite an event.  The herders bring the cattle down from their Alpine pastures to the valley, where the various herds are separated and then lead them in a grand procession through the town. The townspeople - dressed in traditional garb - adorn the head of the lead cow from each herd with ornamental head-dress and huge clanking bells. After the procession, the fun begins!! Another fest…. local food, oompha music and beer!!

 A friend once told me that he, his wife and two other couples had rented a small holiday house in one of these mountain pasture areas. One day, as they were leaving their house to go hiking, they were unable to get onto the main road because it was blocked by the Viehschied herds. Apparently, in modern times, realizing that the cattle lose a lot of weight during the long walk to town, the herders now load the cows onto trucks and drive them down to the valley, where they are unloaded and readied for their triumphant welcome home!!
While waiting to be loaded onto a truck, one of the cows took a misstep and tumbled off the road, down the side of the hill. The herders were having a devil of a time trying to get the cow back on her feet and up the hill. As a result, the herders enlisted the help of my friend and his male friends!! They, of course - being city men one and all - had no experience with cow-hauling!! But – men being men – after an hour or so, they devised some sort of rigging which was attached to one of the cars and were able to tow the cow back-up to the road. (Ok, ok… truth be told… for the first 30 minutes or so, they employed the time-honored pull-push approach. That is, 2 men pull the cow with a rope while the 3 men push from behind!! When that failed to do the trick, they devised the rigging /towing by car method.)

If you are in Bavaria … this is a great place to soak up some local culture, take nature walks, alpine treks (more than 300 kms of hiking trails), and do a bit of climbing while enjoying panoramic mountain views (more than 400 peaks)!! All of the trails are clearly marked and maps are readily available.

Oktoberfest begins in September!!!

Oktoberfest is the world famous, annual 16-day beer drinking festival in Munich.  While it is arguably the most famous and largest (6.5million+)  festival in the world, there are several ‘petty little details’ that most foreign visitors are quite unaware of.
Petty little detail #1: Oktoberfest begins in mid-September and ends the first Sunday in October.  Started in 1810, Oktoberfest is a big fair. It has rides and activities and beer, beer and more beer (on avg. 7 million liters served).  The beer is served at tables in beer tents (17 large tents - featuring beer from the top breweries in Munich and 20 small tents - featuring other non-beer specialties). 
Petty little detail # 2: The beer tents are ONLY accessible by reserved ticket. Tickets to the most important tents are sold to large corporations, banks, consulting and law firms, … (you know the ‘A-list’ of German notables, celebrities, business executives and their associates)… early in the year. At about the same time, savvy Germans buy up all of the available individual tickets in every tent. In order to accommodate the hordes of visitors, the tickets each have an entrance time.
Petty little detail #3: The tents officially open at noon, but you must be in line about 2 hours ahead of your scheduled entrance time. Who on earth drinks beer at lunch time??? And, who would want to stand online for 2 hours in order to do so??? However, in order to accommodate families and older people who are attending the fair, only ‘quiet’ music is played in the tents until 6pm.
Petty little detail # 4:  The beer is more expensive and stronger than the normal German beer AND there are always lots of drunken young guys hanging around.  
Nonetheless, Oktoberfest is fun!! If you are not ‘set-on’ getting into the tents, Munich is definitely the place to be. It is truly a ‘must do’ happening (been there, done that!!).
However, if you just want to sample some good German beer, visit the smaller Oktoberfests which are now being held throughout Germany.  They usually have only one tent, are accessible without a ticket and serve a wide variety of beers from microbreweries located throughout the country.
Oh, by the way, if you haven’t booked a hotel room in Munich far in advance of Oktoberfest, you can forget it. There is nothing available within 100kms and certainly not at a reasonable rate!! BUT, in other places, all over Germany, there are plenty of nice accommodations available – at good prices - in small-family owned hotels.