Tag Archive | "France"

The Peak of Alpine Chic in Courchevel

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L'Apogee in Courchevel, France

L’Apogee in Courchevel, France

L’Apogée is the latest rarefied resort to open in Courchevel, that lair of ski-happy oligarchs in the French Alps that’s often dubbed Moscow-on-Snow. It’s situated in Courchevel 1850, the glamour-puss of the resort’s four villages (the number refers to the altitude in meters), an otherworldly locale where the sidewalks seem to sprout Parisian fashion designers and English celebrities, all jostling with those Russian magnates. This is the place, after all, that hired Karl Lagerfeld last year to give one of its cable cars a “makeover.”

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Terre Blanche, Provence

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Terre Blanche, Provence

Terre Blanche, Provence

By Richard West
My wife travels monthly to Kiev for work. Two hundred miles east a war rages that has claimed almost 3,000 lives and driven almost half a million Ukrainians toward the west. She was in Kiev when the Malaysian passenger jet was shot down by Russian separatists. Obviously it is an ongoing anxiety-ridden, stressful part of her life. World-class relaxation is needed.

It’s called Terre Blanche.

It is a 750-acre fenced-and-gated resort estate tucked up in the Provencal hills, 35 miles northwest of Cannes, about an hour from the airport in Nice: 115 private villas, two 18-hole golf courses, a heated infinity pool, four restaurants, a 35,000 square-foot spa, tennis courts…lots to do but, for us, it personified the Italian saying, “bella costa far niente,” it is beautiful to do nothing. Not exactly Tolkien’s Mordor.

Once settled in our villa, we wandered the paths, surrounded by jasmine and lavender, mimosa and rosemary, perfumemorying the day, mapping our way from pleasure to pleasure. Aha, Le Tousco Grill, a table-groaning buffet with a taste of the region’s most famous product, the local rose, finest in the world. The rose of choice? Terres des Amour Euses with a bouquet of “gooseberry, mango, and peach.” As always, I only tasted rose wine. Nearby the infinity pool, rentable cabanas, the kid’s pool, and a Jacuzzi.

Terrace of Faventia restaurant, Terre Blanche, Provence

Terrace of Faventia restaurant, Terre Blanche, Provence

After a rest and up the path to dinner we noticed some of the 220 pieces of modern art truffled around the resort, a Jim Dine; Dubuffet’s “L’Arbre biplane, version II”; Cesar Baldaccini’s bird at the entrance of Le Faventia, our fine dining destination for Michelin two-star chef Yannick Franques six-course eatarama.
With wine parings explained by young Alexander Pauget, one of the world’s most animated, enthusiastic sommeliers. A remarkable performance without once slipping into the usual wine snob’s fatuous “it’s a naïve Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption” jabber.
And the food? I recall the olive oil-fennel confit in a magnetized cup set in tilted saucer; the octopus with eel shavings and Japanese seaweed; a pigeon breast…the rest a culinary blur. The days of wine and cirrhosis. No surprise if we exuded a pate de fois gras faint gas for the rest of our stay.
Terre Blanche’s notable attractions are the golf facilities for those who disagree with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law who quipped about the game, “It’s unsportsmanlike to hit a sitting ball.” Hitting the ball is very much the point here, not only around the two gorgeous courses, but improving the skills at the Albatros Golf Performance Center; the putting and approach greens; and at the training/fitness Leadbetter Academy.

Infinity pool at Terre Blanche, Provence

Infinity pool at Terre Blanche, Provence

Terre Blanche was named “Golf Resort Of The Year-Europe” last year and will host the French Riviera Masters tourney, October 3-5.
Our mission was total relaxation so we left le vie sportive behind and followed the Italian’s advice of nothing doing. That didn’t mean not having things done to us: a masterly massage at the spa by head rubdowner, Etienne Demblans (but no Hot Stones Caress or Silk Revelation); sol-searching while being served lunch and drinks in our poolside cabana, the periodically delivered fruity ices especially nectariferous ; reading while watching gliders across the hills over the medieval towns of Fayence and Tourrettes.
Everything at Terre Blanche spoke to Baudelaire’s “luxe, calme et volupte,” luxury, peace, and sensuous indulgence. Relaxation? When leaving I felt sure even the earth’s rotation had slowed.
Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort
3100 Route de Bagnols-en-Foret
Reservations: +33 (0)4 94 39 36 00


 Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters. He lives in Amsterdam.

Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters. He lives in Amsterdam.

The Interview: Alexander Lobrano, Hungry for France

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Photo credit: Steven Rothfeld

Photo credit: Steven Rothfeld


Interview by Everett Potter

The writer Alexander Lobrano has lived in Paris for three decades and his latest book, Hungry for France, is a culinary love letter to his adopted country. It’s much more than a logical follow up to his earlier book, Hungry for Paris (which was just released in its second edition). This is a lively and opinionated hybrid, a mash up of travel book, cookbook, memoir and even coffee table tome, thanks to Steven Rothfeld’s wonderful color photographs. It’s a highly selective guide to restaurants, regions and specialties but also a road map for some of the newest culinary trends in a tradition-bound country.

Lobrano was the late Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent and writes now for the likes of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, The Guardian and Everett Potter’s Travel Report.

In short, he is a born storyteller, and his vignettes take you into his life even as he’s waxing poetic about the world’s best butter (Bordier), stating his personal belief for where the south of France really begins (Valence) or talking about buying a five franc tie from Monoprix on his 20th birthday so he could dine in the tony surroundings of Le Chantecler at the Hotel Negresco in Nice.

The recipes – for curried pork in cider sauce, buckwheat crepes with salted caramel, chard-roasted salmon with fennel salad, and apple-apricot strudel tartlets, etc – are a delicious addendum to each chapter. I spoke with him recently about the new book.

The idea of traveling from region to region of France, dining as you go, remains one of the most inviting travel experiences that I can think of. Do you see Hungry for France as a companion for such travelers, a sort of culinary road map for such excursions?

Yes, very much so. The reason that I wrote this book was to share a deeply meditated list of my favorite addresses in France after having lived, traveled and eaten from one end of this beautiful country to another over the course of nearly 30 years for reasons both personal and professional. As someone who travels constantly, I’ve come to understand that what food-loving travelers to France want most is a carefully curated menu of superb addresses rather than a phone directory length lowdown. Looking at long lists, or sifting through all of the information available on the internet I always find myself thinking, oh, dear, this is really time-consuming and how do I know which places are really good? So Hungry for France is the little black book I’d give to my closest friends, but it’s not really a guidebook either. Instead, with its gorgeous photographs and terrific recipes, it’s a combination dream book, cookbook, memoir and gastronomic primer, since I celebrate and explain the food of France region by region.

Alexander Lobrano. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld.

Alexander Lobrano. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld.

I was going to ask you how long it took you to write this book but I guess the answer must be the 30 years you’ve spent in France. That said, was there some hard travel and research during the past couple of years to produce this labor of love?

My gastronomic knowledge of France is thirty years deep, but since I really focus on the remarkable new generation of chefs, food producers and hotel keepers who’ve emerged in France, a lot of travel was necessary for simple reason that I worked by a process of elimination. Since I wasn’t writing a restaurant directory, but rather a gastronomic gazetteer of my favorite places in France, I had to be ruthless. And to say that the travel was very much a labor of love is to put it very mildly. It took over two years to do this book.

You say in your introduction that “France still has the finest and most deeply rooted culinary culture of any country in the western world, and can also stand up to challenges from any other place on the compass.” Is that a red flag to all the France bashers out there who think it’s lost its culinary supremacy?

William Randolph Hearst proved a longtime ago that nothing sells better than a story about smashing or slashing a sacred idol. So kicking France in the shins re. the quality of its gastronomy has been a great print lede and SEO website bait for at least ten years. The reality of what’s happened is considerably more nuanced. For starters, one can eat well almost everywhere now, which means that France is perhaps a neck or two above the crowd, rather than on a misty peak of absolute supremacy. And if there’s no doubt that the French food chain has been hit by the noisome effects of industrial catering, supermarkets and the same things that have diminished the quality of food almost everywhere, what’s different in France is that the French retain an intense exigence based a real historical knowledge of cooking and their country’s best produce when they sit down at the table. This enlightened gastronomic culture isn’t elitist either—almost everyone in France could name a couple dozen cheeses and tell you where they’re from, for example. Then, too, French produce actually is extraordinary–take fish, for example. Here there’s an expression that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world–“de ligne,” as in “bar de ligne,” which means line-caught sea bass, or fish caught by an individual fisherman on an individual fishing pole, since the French consider that this fish is higher quality than that which is landed in nets. The same is true of butter, vegetables, meat, everything–the language of food in France is hugely rich with phrases and designations that signal a specific type of quality. And finally, the quality and seriousness of French culinary education, or cooking schools, is point blank the best in the world. So if you can get a really lousy pizza in a shopping center in suburban Paris like you can get a really lousy pizza in suburban Madrid or Houston. What you won’t find in these other places is the same exalted caliber of excellence that informs French food.

You make the point that “the talent pool in urban France is deeper and more cosmopolitan than it’s ever been in the country’s history. Hundreds of ambitious young cooks from all over the world, but especially Japan.” Japan? Tell us why.

There’s always been a seriously love affair between France and Japan for a variety of reasons. Both cultures exalt the aesthetics of daily life, prize refinement and subtlety, and adore good food. So France continues to attract ambitious young Japanese chefs who come in search of the holy grail of the greatest western gastronomy, and once they’re here and have done an apprenticeship or two, they often chose to stay on, because life in France is so pleasant, the produce is so good, and the French provide an ambitious chef with such a demanding but receptive audience at the table.

Photo credit: Steven Rothfeld

A restaurant in Bordeaux. Photo credit: Steven Rothfeld

I almost get the sense that gastronomic traveling through the various regions of France, whether it’s Normandy, Provence or Burgundy, is akin to traveling in different countries, because each region is so distinct and so proud of what they have. Is that a reasonable comparison?

Very much so, because every region’s history and geography determine what you find on the table. They’re lots of invisible gastronomic frontiers in France, too, perhaps the most famous being between those parts of the country that love butter and those that prefer olive oil. This was pretty much defined by the Roman occupation of Gaul, but olive oil is now popular Lille in the same way that butter is well-liked in Nice. Still, every region’s vividly different history and geography explains the menu in any restaurant.

Auberge des Templiers, Loire Valley. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld

Auberge des Templiers, Loire Valley. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld

One statement I like is “I’d defy you to find another country anywhere in the world where you can so reliably find a spectacular meal—at all levels of the food chain—in its most remote and forgotten villages.” Give us an example of one of those forgotten villages and restaurants.

Two of my favorite restaurants are in tiny little places–Auberge La Prieure, which is in the minuscule village of Moirax just outside of Agen in the southwest, and La Grenouillere, a spectacular auberge in La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil in the north of France.

Was there a single big lesson that you learned while writing Hungry for France?
I came away humbled by the passion and seriousness of the hundreds of chefs, food producers, bakers, butchers, hotel keepers and others that I met during my travels. I was also reminded of how much the French love to share everything that’s wonderful about their country with foreigners. Contrary to what some people may think, they’re extremely generous and gracious.

Plates of oysters, Cancale. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld

Plates of oysters, Cancale. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld

Your life may look to some like an endless array or champagne, oysters and foie gras. Perhaps it is. But what is the biggest misconception that people have about what you do for a living?

I became a food writer because sharing and discovering food it’s the fastest way to understand where you are and who you’re with. Food is a deeply serious subject, so the idea of the over-fed restaurant critic who subsists on luxury produce like foie gras and Champagne is light years from the life I live. Of course I love Champagne, foie gras and oysters, but I’d be miserable if I were confined to the highest end of the French food chain, especially since street food, family cooking and comfort food–choucroute garni in Alsace, for example–is often the best eating to be found wherever you go not only in France but any country.

Finally, give us a Sunday meal you might prepare at home from a couple of the recipes in Hungry for France?

I’d go for the pan-roasted chicken with garlic and vinegar, the potato and cepe mushroom gratin and a strawberry tart–easy but delicious recipes that will leave you with some left-overs with which to see in the week.


Alexander Lobrano will be reading from Hungry for France at French Institute Alliance Française in New York on June 3.

Visit Alexander Lobrano’s website.


Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: La Boîte à Sardine

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La Boîte à Sardine, Marseilles

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

It may sound odd, but as far as I’m concerned, the best time of the year to visit Marseille is during the winter. This is when the city is quiet without its growing tourist throngs, and the Mediterranean sun is more welcome than ever. The strong wind-scoured light at this time of the year makes the city rather beautiful, too. Marseille is a wonderful weekend away from Paris as well, since it’s only three hours away by TGV train and rooms in most of the city’s hotels go for low-season rates. If Marseille is never a particularly self-conscious city even in high season–it’s bluff disinterest in travelers is one of the reasons I like it so much, actually–it’s even more devoid of any social artifice during the winter.

Spending a few days here recently, I loved the fact that no one asked me about my accent when I spoke French, probably because in Marseille, France’s second largest and perhaps most cosmopolitan city, almost everyone has an accent. The only exception was when I went for lunch to my favorite seafood restaurant, La Boîte à Sardine, which recently moved to a new location near the church of  Saint-Vincent-de-Paul at the top of la Canebière, the city’s storied main artery, which runs down hill to Le Vieux Port, or the old harbor where the city was founded as a colony by the Greeks some 2600 years ago. There’s simply no better place in this port town to get a really good reasonably priced feed of just-out-of-the-water seafood, so I popped in early and took a stool at the counter, since I knew they wouldn’t waste a table at this very popular place on a single diner.


Table with life vests at La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

Table with life vests at La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

I was very much hoping my favorite dish would be on the catch-of-the-day menu—sea anemone beignets, but when I asked the owner, Fabien Rugi, who directs the restaurant from behind the bar in front of the kitchen, he told me that he hadn’t been able to get any the day before and suggested I go have a look at the fish stand (they also sell fish) to see what else might tempt me. Before I could slip off my stool, though, he slid a glass of white wine across the bar and said, “Votre accent–vous n’etes pas d’ici.” No, I told him, I’m not from Marseille. “Vous venez d’ou? Vous etes Belge?” (Where are you from? Are you Belgian?”) No, I told him, I come from across the sea.

There were a few beautiful loup de mer (sea bass) on the stand, but I knew I’d have to order quickly to get my hands on one, since the restaurant was filling up quickly, and the reason it has so many regulars is that Rugi sources his menu from local small-boat fishermen. So I darted back to the bar and ordered some shrimp as a starter and then a loup de mer. Rugi warned that it might be a lot for one person, but I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble finishing a large specimen of one of my very favorite fish. The grilled baby squid, spaghetti with langouste (rock lobster), and rougets (red mullet) also tempted, but I held firm.

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille


If I had any doubt as to where I was, the shrimp–plump perfectly cooked crimson curls of juicy sea meat–came with a big spoonful of garlicky aioli as well as a lemon wedge, and I’d just finished my first one when I heard Rugi telling a businessman down the bar from me that he couldn’t have his fish if he didn’t close his iPad and devote his attention to his meal. “I just wanted to read the paper,” the man implored, but Rugi insisted. “Concentrate on your meal instead–how can you really enjoy your food when you’re reading? My fish deserves your full attention.” One way or another, the triangular shaped room hung with fish nets and decorated with nautical bric brac offered ample distractions of one stripe or another. I loved watching chef Celine Bonnieu at work in the kitchen behind the bar, and the high spirits of a table of molls with dolls  getting happy on a bottle of Champagne were contagious, too.

Some people might perceive of Rugi, a lean man in a knit cap who’s as light on his feet as a boxer, as being a little high-handed with his customers, but I rather admire it, because he’s incredibly proud of the quality of the fish he serves, and rightly so. And if I often have a magazine with me when I go for a solo meal, I rarely read it, for the simple reasons that I enjoy observing what’s going on around me and I prefer to focus on my food.


La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

When my sautéed sea bass arrived, with sides of deliciously smoky tasting caponata filled with capers, a timbale of Camargue rice and some broccoli florets in lemon butter, the first thing I ate were the gorgeous fish’s succulent meaty cheeks. “Bravo!” I heard and looked up. Rugi was nodding at me with a smile and some curiosity. “They’re the best bit,” he said, referring to the cheeks and topping up my glass even though I hadn’t ordered more wine. “Les Anglo-Saxons never know to eat the cheeks. In fact they don’t really know how to eat fish at all,” he said and shook his head. The curious French habit of referring to English speakers by the name of a long gone early medieval tribe notwithstanding, I felt more flattered than patronized by his remark for the simple reason that it’s often true as concerns people who come from countries that prefer filets to anything whole.

With just a little dribble of green olive oil from a mill in Les Alpilles, the fish was superb–firm and delicately tasting of the sea. I was completely lost in its voluptuousness when a handsome blonde woman edged up to the bar next to me and exchanged ‘Bonjours’ with Rigi. Then she asked him if he served bouillabaisse, and I knew what was coming.  ”You don’t eat bouillabaisse in a restaurant!” he told the abashed Scandinavian. “It’s really only good when you make it at home!” After the chastened woman withdrew, he picked up a plump red mullet by the tail. “This is what she should eat in Marseille!” he said, to me and the previously scolded businessman a stool down, and we nodded. He was right, of course, but I also couldn’t help but thinking how the cameo I’d just witnessed summed up so much of the impasse between Marseille and the rest of the world. In this city, you see, they’re blunt, they’re proud and they’re honest, and the power of this trinity often startles people who don’t realize it’s well intended. For my part, I like knowing I never have to bring a magazine with me to lunch at La Boîte à Sardine, and if it were just out my door, I’d be tempted to have lunch there every other day at least.

La Boîte à Sardine, 2 boulevard de la Libération, Marseille, Tel. 04-91-50-95-95, Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch only from 11am-3pm. Average 35 Euros.www.laboiteasardine.com



alec  Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His second book, Hungry for France, will be published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Bistrot Belhara

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Bistrot Belhara, Paris

Bistrot Belhara, Paris

It’s hard for me to say exactly when my deep love of good food first surfaced, but suffice it to say that the thing that interested me most when our local newspaper arrived on Wednesdays were the school-lunch menus, which were published weekly so mothers could decide what days they’d pack a lunch for their kids or let eat the hot meal at school. My first school, the GreensFarmsElementary School, had a crew of smiling Italian ladies in hairnets who cooked everything from scratch, so the food was usually delicious. They made lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, baked zitti, grilled Italian sausages with peppers, and lots of other hearty, healthy dishes, including corned beef and cabbage for Saint Patrick’s Day, and once when my mother ate with us in the cafeteria before an afternoon field trip to a nearby dairy farm, she got up at the end of the meal and went into the kitchen to thank the cooks. I’d returned to the rails for a spoon for my butterscotch pudding, and so witnessed the scene. Abashed by my mother’s thanks, one of the cooks replied, “You’re very welcome, Ma’am, but it’s a privilege to feed the children,” she said.

Similarly, I loved going to restaurants, which was an infrequent pleasure for me as a child, and not only because they offered an opportunity to eat things like egg rolls or fried clams (Howard Johnson’s) that Mom didn’t make at home, but because they were so interesting. I loved watching the people, catching snatches of other people’s conversations, observing all of the little dramas unfold all around the room–here a birthday party, there a quarrel or a romance. I couldn’t have expressed it this way then, but aside from the food, what I fascinated me was that every restaurant is like a little theater where you can glean a lot of information about where your are.

All of this came to mind the other night when I went to the Bistrot Belhara, a very good new bistro deep in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. I lived in the 7th arrondissement for many years, first on the rue Monsieur and then on the rue du Bac, and so I was sort of bemused to find the same cast of characters who populated my life for many years.

Diners at Bistrot Belhara, Paris

Diners at Bistrot Belhara, Paris

While waiting for Bruno, I listened to the cashmere sweater drapped couple next to me planning a golf holiday in Mauritus, while the quartet to my right was fulminating about Francois Hollande. There were at least a half-dozen velvet covered Alice bands in the room and tight chignons galore. On a weekend night, the coat tree just inside the door was hung thick with loden, Barbours and vintage Burberry, as if many of those dining in this snug but handsome old-fashioned dining room with stenciled tile floors and bare wood tables were planning to head off to hunting parties in the Sologne after dinner. All told, the clientele presented such an intricate and irony-free tapestry of the habits, manners and preoccupations of the French bourgeoisie that it would have made great material for a sociological dissertation.

As I sipped a glass of white wine and studied the menu, I wondered what sort of gastronomic baseline chef  Thierry Dufroux would chose to cater to such a crowd. On the one hand, he’s had a really distinguished career cooking in the kitchens of the Grand Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, Michel Guerard, Bernard Loiseau and Alain Ducasse in Monaco, and on the other, every chef surely has to do some sort of culinary calculus in terms of what’s likely to please customers from the neighborhood in which he or she has chosen to locate. To be sure, there are some addresses that will pull people from all over Paris if the food’s good enough, and which will ring bells in the foreign press, but before that happens, he or she is very much dependent pleasing the locals. And as I know not only from the dozens of Sunday lunchs to which I was invited to by the Englishman and his French wife who were one set of landlords while I lived in the 7th–I’ll still never forget my astonishment when I realized one warm May afternoon when their windows were tightly closed and the radiator in the dining room was still hissing that they were mutedly making an attempt at match-making between me and their shy sturdy scholarly daughter–and many years of living in the 7th, what makes these people happy is a penny-wise vieille France cuisine bourgeoise.

The menu read well, though, and the restaurant was packed, so I guessed we’d eat well. In the meantime, the cordial waiter answered a question I had even before I’d asked it when he told me that the restaurant’s Moroccan sounding name actually refers to a type of very tall wave in the Bay of Biscay off of Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque Country, a reference that might seem obtuse until you’re reminded that the chef worked in the Basque country for years and that it might be very roughly transliterated into “High Tide.” Once Bruno finally arrived from the distant suburb of Paris where he’d currently working, we ordered, and a homey well-made amuse bouche of butternut squash soup with brousse de brebis (fresh ewe’s milk cheese) and croutons announced the beginning of a very good meal.

As part of the 38 Euro prix-fixe menu, Bruno’s terrine of pheasant and patridge with foie gras was beautifully made and had a politely feral and charmingly bosky flavor, with twin tridents of Romaine referencing the fact that Dufroux had done time with Ducasse. And in a similarly autumnal register, my scallop stuffed ravioli in a light veloute of cepes might have made a pious old maid blush with pleasure and was just the sort of dish that the locals would love, because they’d never get up to anything this elaborate in the kitchen themselves. This dish tipped the kitchen’s hand, too, since it tacked safely away from cooking that might jar conventional ideas of French gastronomy while heading squarely towards a welcome haven of technical perfection and generosity informed by a well-disciplined creativity and the use of excellent produce.


escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham.

“Escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham.”

Our main courses were excellent, too. Bruno’s flaky golden petit pâté chaud was the type of exquisite dish that many of the other habituees of this restaurant that night might have enjoyed back in the sigh-inducingly long gone days when they could still afford full-time cooks, and it was filled with hashed duck and foie gras, one of the best pairings ever imagined in France. While Bruno was in a gamey mood that night, I couldn’t stay away from the escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham. In an inspired sleight of simplicity, the silky salty ham flattered the sweetbreads, and the appropriately unassuming sauce of deglazed pan drippings did what a sauce should do, which is meld the dish together. This preparation was perfect summary of Dufroux in the kitchen, too–casually elegant, technically perfect, and respectfully traditional with a tweak of irreverence to make it his own.

Small wonder then that this restaurant has so impressively established itself as a neighborhood favorite within months of opening, and this while walking the tight-rope of an affluent but reflexively parsimonious clientele who are wary of anything that wanders too wide of the mark of traditional French food.

I don’t own a loden coat, and I’m not planning on buying one anytime soon either, but I really enjoyed this meal too, and not just for Dufroux’s cooking, but for the alert, gracious service and the fact that even though it’s not a bargain address, it’s remarkably good value for the money given the caliber of the cooking.

"A Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf"

“A Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf”

With no trace of being tongue-in-cheek, the grand finales of our meal were vieille France enough to make me chuckle. Bruno had a Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf, and I had a fluffy rice pudding with caramel sauce, raisins, hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios. So everything about this restaurant is sincere and wholesome, and it’s not only a good choice for a supremely French bistro meal with sly haute-cuisine credentials, but a fascinating place for some sociological sleuthing if you agree with me that there’s nothing better than a neighborhood restaurant in any city for an intriguing keyhole wide view or two of local life.


Bistrot Belhara, 23 rue Duvivier, 7th, Tel. 01-45-51-41-77.www.bistrotbelhara.com Metro: Ecole Militaire. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Monday. Prix-fixe 38 Euros. Average 40 Euros


alec   Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His second book, Hungry for France, will be published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

When the Going was Good: Our 30 Favorite Trips in 2013

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The incredible team that puts together Everett Potter’s Travel Report every week is a well-traveled bunch. So asking our contributors about their favorite travel moment in 2013 produced joy, angst and lengthy answers, as well as the inevitable,  “Just one?”

Herewith are some highlights from our travels in 2013.



Riding a horse out of dense Brazilian rain forest and into a clearing where the Atlantic came into shimmering view, during a modified version of the horseback-and-hiking trek between two of my all-time favorite hotels, Fazenda Catucaba and Pousada Picinguaba. I was with the owner on a scouting mission for what will eventually become a two-day trip from the mountains to the sea (he’s hoping to get it going next year), with stops for gourmet picnics with the fazenda’s homemade cheese and breads and a night of glamping in a safari-style campsite, though virgin UNESCO-protected forests so untouched that we walked much of the way behind state park guides wielding machetes to break a path. – Ann Abel




I’d never really thought of going to one of the country’s biggest cities to unwind by a pool until last winter. My husband, daughter and I wanted to fly off to a beach for a relaxing winter getaway, but her UChicago break was too short. Our solution: we booked a mini-suite at the Four Seasons Chicago and promised ourselves we wouldn’t let the fact that all of Chicago was at our doorstep entice us to get into urban mode. Happily we kept our promise. The hotel’s Roman-columned pool, with a huge Jacuzzi and light streaming in through the skylight and floor-to-ceiling window wall let us forget how cold the Chicago winter was. We ventured out once to walk to one of the museums and take a shopping stroll down Michigan Avenue. But mostly our weekend consisted of lazing on the lounge chairs, swimming in the warm pool, and sipping cool drinks in the graciously-sized Jacuzzi. Oh yes, and enjoying room service. Pina colada anyone? - Geri Bain




By far it was taking my first solo trip with my son to New York City. For his birthday if there was anywhere he could go in the world, where would it be? “New York City,” he said and pointed to it on the map next to his bunk bed. “It’s my favorite place in the universe.” We spent one epic day and night in the city — stayed at the fun and funky Ace Hotel in Midtown (“What’s a record?” he asked while playing with the turntable), hit the NYPL’s Children’s Literature Exhibit, the Nathan Sawaya Lego Art exhibit, rode the subways (“Better than a rollercoaster!”) and had a fancy dinner downtown at Chef Ryan Hardy’s Charlie Bird. And to celebrate the big day? An appearance in the Today Show crowd, a stroll through the Lego Store at Rockefeller Center, lunch and gelato at Eataly and “The Lion King” on Broadway. Even the train rides in and out of the city were a hit. More importantly we got to share our love of travel, discovery, food, people and art  together! – Amiee White Beazley 




Just back from my best travel experience this year–sailing out of my home port, New York City at night (a thrill!) and cruising up the Atlantic coast to Canada on Regent’s Navigator.  All of the stops were fun–Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Saguenay, Quebec and Montreal, but the real surprise was visiting familiar close-to-home places like Newport and Bar Harbor that I’ve loved on land but found a treat seen from a new perspective, as ports of call.  - Eleanor Berman




Out on the road, every year has its special moments.  The Belgian province of Flanders, just beyond the center of Ypres, is where some of World War I’s bloodiest fighting occurred and where many events of the Great World War I Centenary will be celebrated in 2014.  Standing in Essex Farm Cemetery, beside the mossy bunker of the medical station where Lt. Col. John McCrae, a doctor, penned his poem, “In Flanders Fields,” I gazed out at the lines of headstones and could almost see those long-ago battlefields and hear his famous words: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the headstones, row on row.”  – Monique Burns


F 1


My best travel story of 2013 was staying up Little Woody Creek Valley with a recently-sited mountain lion, in a guest house once visited by Margaret Thatcher. The former Prime Minister happened to die while I was staying there, so each time I went for a walk, I imagined the mountain lion might appear and I’d suddenly find myself having tea with the Iron Lady in the ever after. - Melissa Coleman




One of the most memorable moments of our family trip to Northern California last summer took place during a guided sea kayaking tour of Monterey Bay. Just at a spot where the winds got strong and paddling got a little rough, a rollicking band of sea lions and harbor seals swarmed around us and started clowning around for what seemed to be our amusement.  Seals were playfully nudging our kayaks and diving in between us.  Sea lions pups were leaping out of the water and striking funny poses midair.  It was hard to take our eyes off of them.  Talk about the greatest show on earth! -Jessica Genova




The Andean Explorer, PeruRail’s luxury train service between Cuzco and Puno, is the greatest surface transportation trip I have ever taken in Latin America — and certainly the best choice for traveling to or from Lake Titicaca. The journey is not short — a full day, in fact — but the 10 hours go by quickly. One reason is the excellent entertainment: two different bands and dance troupes, featuring music and folklore from both the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the Andean plateau, perform in the morning and afternoon. A leisurely lunch consisting of regional specialties is included in the train fare, as is afternoon tea. Following lunch, the talented bartender in the observation car gives lessons in mixing Peru’s classic cocktail, the pisco sour. The scenic highlight of the journey — best enjoyed from the open-air rear car — is watching the sunset over Lake Titicaca, framed by the majestic peaks of the Bolivian Andes.  The staff provides friendly and attentive service throughout the journey; and given the international make-up of the train’s passengers, there are many opportunities to strike up interesting conversations with fellow travelers from many different countries. Cuzco and Machu Picchu are deservedly the leading tourist attractions in this part of the world; but Lake Titicaca — the highest navigable body of water in the world, and home to the fascinating people who live on the lake’s artificial floating islands — is a very worthwhile excursion. Especially since getting there is now half the fun. – Buzzy Gordon




Return to Brazil – from the toucans flying overhead, monkeys rustling the trees and up-close mists of Iguazu falls from our base at the newish Orient Express Cataratas – to the chic cobblestone streets, stylish boutiques, great dining and fabulous beaches of Buzios – to the always touristy but for a very good reason Christo in Rio, along with climbing up the base of Pao de Acucar / Sugarloaf Mtn. Bring on the Olympics and World Cup! - Cari Gray




You’ve just marveled at Alaska’s great receding Mendenhall Glacier and have heeded the ranger’s suggestion to head to a nearby stream. Even forewarned, you’re still startled by the sight of the bear pushing purposefully through the high grass toward the shallow water.  As if scripted, she enters the stream. Snatches a slow moving, spawning salmon.  And drops it in the grass maybe 15 feet from your privileged perch on a fenced, raised boardwalk built expressly for this moment. Her two cubs join her, but get little of this catch, as the sow bites hungrily into the fish.  You’re so close that you hear the salmon bones crunching.  - John Grossmann




Mall of America…where else can you ride a roller coaster, see a movie, eat in any one of 60 restaurants, witness a wedding in a Vegas-style marriage chapel, shop for Chanel, buy naughty lingerie or a hockey stick and have any part of your body pierced? Minneapolis itself was an eye-opening experience for this admitted New York City snob.  - Shari Hartford




While checking out the Saturday Farmer’s Market at Kapi’olani Community College in Honolulu, my husband and I ventured up to the hillside cactus and succulent garden on the campus. Pretty wonderful we thought. And then we discovered the “po.e.tree,” a virtual tree of poems written by visitors and clipped onto a hodgepodge of branches. (See if you can find mine in the pic.) Best part, though, was spotting Moriso Teraoka, a 100th Infantry Battalion Vet who founded the garden in ’88 with a donation of plants and still helps to maintain it with a battalion of volunteers (that’s him hiking up the stairs). Sweet guy for such a prickly project. - Linda Hayes




I’m not one for life-sized, wax replicas of historical figures. But in the Yusupov Palace on the Moika River in St. Petersburg, the waxen likenesses of the men who attempted the murder of Rasputin– and of the infamous Siberian “Mad Monk” himself at the end of the table–changed my mind. There, in the dark and creaky basement, the aristocracy will give the huge, fire-eyed peasant poison enough to kill a horse….but not, it turned out, to kill him. Instead, the seemingly indestructible mystic will undergo one of the most bizarre and protracted demises in history. It’s a mesmerizing and memorable stage set. - Dalma Heyn 




Floreana was the highlight of our family trip to Ecuador. Spent one perfect day viewing century-old tortoises, dining at a ranch with descendants of the island’s first settlers, and then snorkeling by ourselves with mega-sized sea turtles and none-too-shy sea lions. -Steve Jermanok




My Best 2013 Travel Moment was witnessing, firsthand, the power of travel to heal. In June, still reeling from the death of my mother and difficult ongoing divorce negotiations, I went to Amsterdam to do two stories for EPTR. Just being airborne gave my spirits a lift; experiencing a healing Watsu spa treatment gave me the first chance to unexpectedly be in touch with my mourning and the gifts of my mother’s life. New vistas, new energy, new perspective and new hope for the future sound like a lot of baggage to put onto a four-day trip, but that’s what happened. Travel expands and travel can help the healing process. I discovered that, and am grateful for it. - Mary Alice Kellogg




I rented an attic apartment atop a house in the Kilburn section of northwest London for two weeks – very basic, but light-filled, quiet and equipped with a small kitchen and bath – and spent my days writing, looking at art, and walking, walking, walking as I discovered areas and aspects of the city that, despite having visited nearly a dozen times before, were previously unknown to me. It was, far and away, the most enjoyable travel experience of my life. - Marc Kristal




Last April, the ski writers association held its 50th anniversary meeting at Mammoth Mountain, in California. The day I arrived it seemed like spring and I was concerned about having enough snow. O me of little faith! The first morning, I awoke and discovered that a storm overnight had covered the mountain and our base area with a blanket of new snow. We skied joyfully the next few days (though it was a tad windy!) On one particular day, I skied with a retired ski writer who spends many of her days in Vermont. She was not just beautiful to watch; she was swift. I had trouble keeping up with her. When I asked how old she was, she said in a conspiratorial voice: “I’m 84, but I don’t want people to know.” I replied: “You’re my hero!” - Grace Lichtenstein




Even though I’ve lived in Paris for years, I hadn’t done a long, comprehensive trip of the Loire Valley chateaux in many years, so it was a huge pleasure to rediscover their magnificence during a week-long trip this past May, the perfect time for visiting this part of France. I especially loved Chenonceau for its fairy-tale elegance and Villandry for its magnificent gardens and history–it was restored by a passionate couple–Joachim Carvallo, a Spanish nobleman, and Anne Coleman, a Pennsylvania steel heiress, who met while studying medicine in Paris. Other great finds were the Restaurant Olivier Arlot in Montbazon and the superb wines of the Domaine de la Taille aux Loups by winemaker Jacky Blot in Montlouis. - Alec Lobrano




I expected to be overwhelmed by Prague’s wealth of baroque, art nouveau, and gothic buildings. But I was speechless when I discovered cubist architecture unique to the Czech Republic. In 1911, Joseph Gočár designed the Herbst department store, now the landmark House of the Black Madonna and the Grand Café Orient where I had a cubist donut. Those prismatic architectural forms also welcomed me, a privileged houseguest, to my friends’ flat. - Julie Maris/Semel




We’re on Rarotonga, a reef-ringed isle in the middle of the South Pacific. Rarotonga has palm trees and beaches and tropical fish, but it’s best known for its church singing. We go to church. The singing is magnificent; harmonies that start with a couple of men in a back pew, then ascend through the pews and climax with the choir. I’m floored with the beauty. That’s the first revelation. The second comes when I notice what one of the choir ladies is doing during the sermon. Happily, Effin Older caught the moment with her Canon. – Jules Older & Effin Older




Tapas crawl in San Sebastian, spiritual heart of Spanish tapas culture. - Larry Olmsted




The highlight for 2013 has to be our July visit to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. This colorful gathering of some 150 artisans from all over the world–Korea, Israel, Mexico, Tajikistan, you name it–lets market-goers get up close and personal with the men and women who bring their wares and sell them on the spot. So you’re free to strike up a conversation with a woman from the Ok Pop Tok weaving collective in Laos, or a wood carver from Mexico who’s been proclaimed a national living treasure. One day we attended a lecture and demonstration of Tuvan throat singing, which turned out to be both fascinating and remarkably moving. (Quick: Can you find Tuva on a map?). Even better, the artisans are given the tools to return home and work in their villages to build solid businesses from their traditional crafts. All in all, we look forward to making it an annual pilgrimage.  - Tom Passavant & Karen Glenn (photo)




The view over Hanalei Bay on the north shore of Kauai must be one of the wondrous in the world, a backdrop of rugged mountains that form the Napali Coast, a dragons’ back covered in green. This is where my wife, daughter and I went on a short voyage on a handmade sailing canoe, crafted and captained by a local guy named Trevor Cabell. Trevor took us snorkeling among 250 pound sea turtles and provided commentary on a 60-something local surfing legend as the guy caught the biggest wave of the day, 50 yards from where we floated. Then Trevor hoisted sail and off we went on a thrill ride across the waves racing into Hanalei Bay. With the extraordinary green background, it was not hard to imagine Polynesians sailing the Pacific and approaching this same shore. Covered in salt spray, we seemed to be  flying over the breaking waves, as Trevor guided the outrigger using his paddle as a tiller. When the canoe finally touched the beach, I realized that what felt like a journey had been merely a two hour trip on the Bay. That’s when you know that the going is good. – Everett Potter


Oscar Wilde sculpture


An unexpected breath of joy in colored stone: A leafy retreat in Dublin’s Merrion Square shelters a beloved memorial to Oscar Wilde, nonchalantly lounging on a massive boulder in a natty green jacket with quilted red lapels and cuffs, looking at his long-time childhood home across the street at 1 Merrion Sq. Nearby, Wilde witticisms, graffiti-like, cover two black obelisks, to wit, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.” - Joan Scobey




New York City — where I’ve lived twice in my adult lifetime—once again welcomed me like an old friend in 2013. My husband, Joe, and I explored Manhattan from stem to stern, including a tour of the historic aircraft carrier Intrepid at Pier 86, a stroll along the Highline elevated park and a preview of the poignant and powerful 9/11 Memorial.  We made a delicious detour to Chef Mario Batali’s Eataly, browsed the beautiful book collection at Rizzoli and meandered through Central Park on perfect fall days. You can go home again, even if just for a holiday. - Julie Snyder




My most memorable travel moment of the year was rafting in Port Antonio, Jamaica. A “captain” on the log raft beside us was coaxed into singing the “Banana Boat Song (Day O),” a traditional Jamaican folk song made popular by Harry Belafonte.  The gentle soft crooning combined with the murmuring sound of the mini rapids of the river was soothing. (At least until the person next to me decided to sing along.)  - Gerrie Summers




I was on a ski trip to Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor last March. The nearest hotel was about 20 miles away in the town of Bend. I didn’t relish the idea of driving that far every day to get to the slopes, but then I didn’t know the highway ran straight through the Deschutes National Forest. Massive rocks, towering trees, and sweeping vistas at every turn. Hope to do again soon. – Bill Triplett




Best  Moment:  Standing with my wife in late July afternoon sunshine looking at our new home in an old canal house on Amsterdam’s Herengracht Canal. – Richard West




Paddle boarding with my bride — this was our 25th anniversary celebration — in Condado Lagoon, San Juan. Manatees with Ben Turpin mustaches (Note to 16th-century sailors: You really thought they were mermaids?) kept rising to the surface, where they lingered so we could get a good look at them. From there we went to Roberto Trevino’s Bar Gitano, a tapas bar in the Condado. Who knew they’d have soshito peppers sauteed in olive oil and salt? We polished them off and then drank way too much, but what the hell, great food + a great lady. - Ed Wetschler




This June, I finally understood what local say about Park City, Utah – you come for winter, you stay for summer. I discovered the wonders of mountain biking on terrain I’ve skied so many years. And I dined on Main Street with 2,300 others one summer’s night to experience the resort’s fine cuisine. – David McKay Wilson

The Interview: Luke Barr & Provence 1970

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Luke Barr, author of Provence 1970

Luke Barr, author of Provence 1970

Interview by Everett Potter

During the last weeks of 1970, the pioneers of modern gastronomy — Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Simone Beck, Richard Olney, Judith Jones – came together as much by happenstance as design in the South of France. In Provence 1970, writer Luke Barr, M.F.K. Fisher’s grand-nephew, documents that remarkable autumn, aided by his discovery of Fisher’s journals and letters. It’s delicious time travel to a golden age in American culinary world, light years before Food TV made us witnesses to instant food celebrity. Barr lovingly details the often sensuous meals, maps out the friendships, rivalries and the egos at play. He also makes a strong case for this brief season in France as the turning point for American cuisine. I recently had a chance to speak with him.

MFK Fisher

MFK Fisher

Everett Potter: One of my favorite parts of Provence 1970 was your recollection of visiting MFK Fisher at Last House in Sonoma when you were a young boy. Was it truly as magical as it sounds?

Luke Barr: Yes! Of course, I was a kid during those visits to my great-aunt’s house, so my recollections are tinged with a certain amount of sentimentality. But the house was truly beautiful. The walls were thick and in the summer it was hot outside but cool inside. I can still remember the smell of the house, which I describe in the book.
EP: Discovering your aunt’s diary was clearly a godsend. Had you started the book before you found it or did it generate the idea for Provence 1970?

LB: No, I had already started writing the book when I found M.F.’s diary. It was tremendous moment of discovery. I was methodically searching through huge stacks of unlabeled boxes in my cousin Kennedy’s storage unit in the San Francisco bay area, looking for anything having to do with her trip to France in 1970, and there it was: a pale green, spiral bound notebook with the year 1970 written on the cover.

The diary was crucial, and so were the letters M.F. wrote during the trip. All of the people I was writing about were great letter writers, but since they were all in France at the same time there are only a handful of letters amongst the group during those few weeks. But M.F. was carrying on a long distance (and mostly chaste) love affair with Arnold Gingrich, who was the founding editor of Esquire magazine—and they wrote each other letters every day. For my purposes, the existence of daily letters was a godsend.

EP: The interplay of strong personalities, with big egos and idiosyncratic styles, is at the heart of the book. Yet compared to the celebrity chef culture that surrounds us now, where knife skills, brashness and heavily tattooed arms seem to be the hallmarks of greatness, these individuals were thinkers, serious chefs, and writers — and in your great aunt’s case an exceptionally gifted one. Where would people like MF or Olney be today, and would they ever get near center stage? It’s hard to imagine them on “Chopped.”

LB: I agree—it’s impossible to imagine M.F. on Chopped! I think what this question highlights is just how much bigger the food world is today than it was 40 years ago. One of the charming things about the “Food Establishment” (as Nora Ephron mockingly dubbed it in New York Magazine in 1968) at the time was how small it was, how everyone knew everyone else. Of course, that made it a hotbed of gossip and sniping, which was fun to write about.

When I interviewed Judith Jones, who was the editor at Knopf who worked with many of the figures I write about, and who was also there in Provence in 1970, she bemoaned our present-day culture of celebrity chefs and hot restaurants, and reminded me that what it was always about for Child and the others was the pleasure of home cooking.

Richard Olney

Richard Olney

EP: At a time when famous chefs run personal media empires and have acquired substantial wealth, it’s refreshing to read about the brilliant but curmudgeonly Richard Olney spending years digging out his own wine cellar by hand. That happened in the 1960’s but it may as well be a tale from the Middle Ages. What other aspects of Olney’s very personal abode did you find interesting, or quirky?

LB: Olney’s house in Sollies-Toucas is stunning. it’s set on an extremely steep hill, and you can hike up above the house on a series of walled terraces. There was a quarry there long ago, and a small, deep swimming pool has been cut out of the rock face. The house is surrounded by vegetable and herb gardens, and inside, the kitchen is as he left it, and his paintings hang on the walls.

I was so glad to have Olney as a central character in my story, because it is useful, and entertaining, to have a truth-telling curmudgeon in the mix. He could be quite cruel and judgmental, and plays the role of villain in parts of my book. On the other hand I see him also as the hero of the story too, pointing the way to a more bohemian and earthy style of cooking.

EP: While MFK Fisher is the heart of your book, Julia Child seems to have been the force at the center of this culinary whirlwind, around whom MF, James Beard, Richard Olney and everyone else revolved. Would you agree?

LB: Child was a TV chef—she’d basically invented the genre—and was by far the most famous person in the food world at the time.

EP: Oddly enough, for a book about creative culinary giants coming together, one of the best parts of Provence 1970 is when MF is alone, in Arles and Marseilles. It’s compelling and maybe refreshing to see that not every moment in France was stunning, that food could be lousy, and that France was not always as magical as we might think, especially in this golden era. Did she tend to self-edit these types of experiences out of her books?

LB: I agree about those scenes being wonderful, and sometimes a little sad, as she’s wandering around Arles alone in the cold. The material in those chapters is almost entirely from her 1970 journal. But in terms of her self-editing: I don’t think so—in fact, if you go back and read Gastronomical Me, for example, there are numerous amusing scenes of dinners gone wrong. She had perfected a kind of eloquent, suggestive food writing that could also accommodate wry, gimlet-eyed observation. It was that combination that made her great I think.

Julia and Paul Child in France

Julia and Paul Child in France

EP: The Cote d’Azur has changed considerably since 1970, and you mention some of the development sprawl and change, as rural villages have become lairs for second homeowners. Still, what was your favorite place in the south of France as you researched your book, a place you’d gladly return to tomorrow?

LB: This will not come as a surprise, but I love Provence. The book started as an article I wrote in Travel + Leisure about Aix-en-Provence, one of my favorite places anywhere. But most inspiring was staying at La Pitchoune, the vacation house that Julia and Paul Child built on the estate of Simone Beck in Plascassier. The kitchen there is preserved just as it was when they owned it, and a delight to cook in. I stayed there a few times, including once in November, when the weather was cool, the roads were empty, and there was a faint smell of burning leaves in the air. I spent days driving around the countryside with Raymond Gatti, who was the chauffeur who drove all the food people around back in the 60s and 70s. We went to Grasse and Vence and St.-Paul de Vence, all unbelievably beautiful. Most of the restaurants were closed but we found a little roadside place outside Vence where we ate steak tartare and frites.

EP: In writing Provence 1970, what was the single most delicious recipe you came across and made for yourself or your family?

LB: I love to make stews of all kinds, and I find Richard Olney’s recipe for Daube a la Provencal to be inspiring. He is such a brilliant writer—I really recommend his French Menu Cookbook and Simple French Food books. “The daube, “ he writes, “like most rustic dishes that require a long, slow, even cooking process, is never as good as when prepared in seasoned earthenware, which absorbs heat more slowly and more evenly and holds it longer than any other kitchen utensil…. A daube is a good winter dish but has been placed here among the summer menus so that it may profit from fresh tomatoes.” I have been using my mom’s old covered earthenware pot for many dishes recently, including for roast chicken.

EP: One reaction I had while reading Provence 1970 was that I wanted to go back and read, or reread in some cases, M.F.K. Fisher’s works. She was a brilliant stylist and an acute observer. What is your favorite book of hers, and why?

LB: My first answer is that I most adore her letters, which are less stylized and more direct and funny than her books and essays. My grandmother, Norah Barr, edited a collection of her correspondence that is wonderful. But I also love her early book, The Gastronomical Me, for its unique combination of confessional, personal writing and super-stylish coming-of-age-in-food reminiscence. It’s close to the bone.



Smart Deals: Rail Europe offers France on Sale

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TGV in France

TGV in France

What’s the Deal: Rail Europe is offering travelers a “FAST 30% OFF TGV Premier Tickets” now through June 10th.

What are the Details:  TGV Premier Tickets provide an added element of comfort and convenience for those embarking on an  adventure. Travelers can enjoy large comfortable reclining seats while traveling across the French countryside and bookings made online include a choice of meal options while on board. Safe and speedy service allows you  to discover a host of popular French destinations, zipping from city to city at up 201 mph.

TGV Premier Tickets offer travelers the opportunity to relax while waiting for trains in one of 10 TGV lounges called “Salons Grand Voyageur.”  The TGV lounges are available to travelers in select train stations including: Bordeaux St. Jean, Djon, Lille Flandres, Lyon Part-Dieu, Marseille St. Charles, Nantes, Paris Est, Paris-Gare de Lyon, Paris Nord, Paris Montparnasse and Strasbourg train station.

Caveat: From May 14 through 5:59 pm ET on June 10, 2013 enter coupon code FAST30 during checkout on the delivery page. One coupon code per booking may be applied. No other discounts, except free shipping, can be combined. Offer is subject to change or extension without notice. Offer is limited to the first 400 bookings (each with a minimum value of $350), or until the promotion’s end date of 5:59 pm ET on June 10, 2013, whichever comes first. Offer is valid on Premier Ticket bookings. Only online bookings include a meal. Bookings of TGV train tickets to destinations outside of France are excluded from this offer. Prices are subject to availability

Fine print: Enter coupon code FAST30 during checkout.*Prices begin at $99 USD for TGV Premier Tickets

Booking: Bookings can be made by visiting Rail Europe’s website at raileurope.com



Starship Louvre-Lens

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By Marc Kristal

The selection of December 4, 2012 for the inauguration of the new $150-million-Euro, 28,000-square-metre annex of the Louvre, set on a fifty-acre former mine yard in the city of Lens (in France’s northern Pas-de-Calais département), wasn’t accidental: it is the feast day of the Great Martyr Barbara, patron saint of miners – and, given the hopes that have been hung on the museum, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese office SANAA (in association with the American firm Imrey Culbert), as a catalyst for the resurrection of post-industrial Lens, the saint’s intervention would be, as it were, a blessing. It’s perhaps useful as well that Barbara also watches over artillery gunners, military engineers, and other professions involving high explosives, as the revival of the region’s fortunes has long been a somewhat volatile challenge – in the words of the UK-born Diana Hounslow, director of Pas-de-Calais Tourisme, “the one hot potato everyone chucked to each other – we just didn’t know, within tourism, what to do with the old mining area.”

That the Louvre has been called upon to carry a lot of freight, in a variety of ways, is indisputable. The good news is that it seems poised to do so successfully – on its own, as a public institution and a work of architecture, and in the context of a larger vision.

Louvre-Lens, France

Louvre-Lens, France

Lens’ situation is evident in what was, prior to the Louvre, the city’s principal tourist attraction: a pair of pyramid-shaped slag heaps, the largest in Europe (and a UNESCO World Heritage site). A major industrial city following the mid-nineteenth century, when coal was discovered, it’s said that Lens suffered both from having the mines within its midst and then – and perhaps worse – from not having them (not to mention the depredations of two world wars). Hounslow describes what was, prior to the last pit’s closure in 1987, a classic company town: by fiat of Houillères du Bassin Nord-Pas-de Calais, babies were automatically baptized at birth – “in case they died before leaving the hospital,” she explains – after which townspeople received free schooling, medical care, housing, and of course employment, until the mining company (unable to compete with more economical, open-pit mines) began gradually shutting down operations in the 1970s.

“Only a very small percentage’ of colliers found new employment,” Hounslow says, in part because of denial bred by decades of dependency. “A lot of people actually believed the mines would come back,” she recalls. “And so they sat and waited it out and got social security benefits.”

Compounding the problem was not only a lack of alternative employment but an absence of job training. “When the Channel tunnel was being dug, 80 percent of the jobs were promised to people from this region,”  Hounslow says. “But they just couldn’t find qualified workers.”

Nor was there much inclination to strike out for greener pastures. ‘

“In France, people are very family-minded, and stick to their original region,” she notes. “So they wouldn’t move, and it just became a stalemate, really – people receiving benefits generation after generation, out of work, and with nothing to offer them.”

Gallery in Louvre-Lens

Gallery in Louvre-Lens

As an antidote, both the Pas-de-Calais governing council and that of Nord, the neighboring département,  “have been working since the seventies to encourage people into education, sport and culture,” Hounslow says – so when the prospect of a new Louvre was floated about six years ago, the chairman of the regional council sought out Henri Loyrette, the museum’s director, and proposed Lens as the location. Loyrette embraced the idea, and actively lobbied for Lens over other cities throughout France – seeing it, not only as a chance to help invigorate a struggling area, but for the museum, as Loyrette put it at a pre-opening press conference, “to rethink its mission;” to both extend the nation’s great wealth of art and culture beyond Paris, and experiment with new ways of presenting the Louvre’s incomparable collection.

To create what Louvre-Lens director Xavier Dectot calls “a museum with a human face” – one dedicated to making the public in general, and the people of Lens in particular, feel welcome and at home – the new institution would incorporate, in Dectot’s words, “new forms of mediation,” including multi- and new-media technologies, and also encourage a greater appreciation of the Louvre’s inner life with transparent, on-view storage rooms and restoration studios. As well, while the ‘mother ship’ in Paris displays its vast collection in discrete galleries organized by department, school and technique, the new venue presented an opportunity to bring typically separated artworks together in provocative, mutually amplifying presentations. (There was also, for the museum, a financial incentive: in exchange for creating a Guggenheim Bilbao-style tourist magnet, 80 percent of the project would be funded by local and regional authorities.) As Daniel Percheron, president of the Regional Nord-Pas-de-Calais Council, put it at the press conference, ‘The Louvre is a chance for Lens, and Lens is a chance for the Louvre.’

Gallery in Louvre-Lens

Gallery in Louvre-Lens

Lens made sense for another reason: Nord-Pas-de-Calais itself. The area, just south of Belgium and, on its west coast, within sight of the White Cliffs of Dover, has much to offer historically, culturally, and touristically. It is a tapestry of significant sites from the 20th century’s great conflicts, among them the fascinating (and moving) Carrière Wellington, a network of tunnels from which 24,000 Tommies staged a surprise attack on the Kaiser’s army in 1917, and, at Étaples, the largest of British World War I cemeteries, the final resting place of 11,000 soldiers. The region boasts a surprising 48 national museums, the greatest concentration to be found anywhere in France outside Paris; and some exhibitions, such as an exceptional installation of 18th- and 19th-century carriages, sleighs and other royal vehicles drawn from the collection at Versailles, presently on view at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Arras, are well worth the brief train trip from the capital. Many of the towns and cities offer a variety of architectural attractions, some dating from the medieval period – the Flemish-influenced buildings in Arras, eclectic Grand-Place of Béthune, and fortifications of Boulogne-sur-Mer (where Victor Hugo discovered the real-life models for the protagonists of Les Miserables) are of particular interest; the abundance of soberly handsome belfries constructed over the centuries – 23 in total, many UNESCO-listed – are a hallmark of the region.

Nord-Pas-de-Calais remains physically beautiful as well, with an unspoiled nature preserve and 120 kilometres of sandy beach – the Côte d’Opale – above the piquant, once-very-English resort of Le Touquet, and the area beyond it, from the seaside village of Wimereux nearly to Calais, declared one of only ten Grand-Sites de France. Most surprisingly, the entire region is easily accessible: Calais is 55 minutes by train from the heart of London (and another 45 minutes or so to Lens), and only an hour and ten minutes of exceeding comfortable high-speed rail travel separate the Paris Louvre from its new satellite. Given what’s on offer, says Hounslow, ‘Nord-Pas-de-Calais is the ideal place to have a big project.’

Recognizing that all of the Louvre-Lens’ positives could be neutralized if its core audience – the community – didn’t accept it, the regional council and tourism office worked with museum officials to (as the L-L website puts it) “‘integrate the museum into the local fabric and encourage the inhabitants to make it their own.” “‘It was supposed to be a gift to the local people,” Hounslow explains. “But to begin with, all they could see was that Lens was going to be inadequate – “we don’t particularly want it or know what to do with it – what we need are jobs.”’ Rather than being perceived as a boon, says Hounslow, “the museum was like a big UFO landing in the middle of the city.”

A number of gambits were undertaken to prep the citizenry for the arrival of Starship Louvre-Lens. The museum organized a series of coffees to which people were invited to ask questions and air concerns; these, Hounslow believes, were only partly successful, as rather than bringing in those who live in the old mining houses around the site, “what they mainly got were the culture vultures from the area.”

Visitors at Louvre-Lens, France

Visitors at Louvre-Lens, France

The Lens team – led by the chairman of the Pas-de-Calais council, Dominique Dupilet, who created a dedicated ‘Mission Louvre-Lens’ office – took a different tack. First, they engaged the Aix-en-Provence-based consulting firm Nicaya to speak to a range of different constituencies and assess what Hounslow calls “the values of the region.” What Nicaya discovered was “a group of people who’ve been the underdogs, and are being offered a chance to get out of that, and it’s really hard for them,” Hounslow relates. Accordingly, the consultants encouraged the Louvre and Lens officials “‘not to criticize people for not being ready, to work with them to find solutions.” At the same time, the years of mining, with their attendant hardships, had given Lens a strong sense of fraternity, the ability to band together in challenging times. “We needed to create a series of events linked to the opening of the Louvre that would get people involved,” Hounslow recalls. “‘So we looked to the local associations, and what they wanted to do, and started supporting them and their projects.”

Once they’d wrapped their minds around the needs of the community, the council next focused on finding ways to make Lens attractive to outsiders. They engaged the Dutch-born, Paris-based trend forecaster Lidewij (Li) Edelkoort, whose previous clients included Coca-Cola, Gucci and Donna Karan, to identify aspects of Lens with global potential. The outcome startled and energized even the stodgiest of the city’s bureaucrats.

“She put together this cahier de tendence – it’s a style book – with the colors, textures and other things that came into her mind after she’d seen the Nicaya study, met a whole load of people, and had a look around,” Hounslow recalls. “And she said, ‘The family is highly important here – the message is, if you come to Lens, you’re going to be part of the family.’” She said, “’Whether you like it or not, your color here is black, the color of coal: coal has stained the buildings black, the slag-heap pyramids are the new Louvre pyramids – and they’re black.’” To local people, the rows of brick miners’ houses are an eyesore, a sign of poverty, but Li said, “Whatever you do, don’t lose that brick.”’ Edelkoort also observed the many vegetable gardens people kept and counseled a garden-to-table sensibility – “‘fresh vegetables in restaurants, straight from the garden, not fancy food.” And the trend-spotter recommended that Lens look to the Romantics for aesthetic inspiration. “It’s a period when people were saying, ‘oh, isn’t the past wonderful,’ but Li wanted us to look forward and bring that style into fashion and interior decoration,” Hounslow recalls. “She basically told us, ‘This could be the trendiest spot in the world in ten years.”’ Following Edelkoort’s lead, Hounslow and her associates put together their own style book, which they present to people working on hospitality projects as inspiration, and created financial incentives for entrepreneurs who work with stylists and interior designers from the region.

The mining days of Lens, France

The mining days of Lens, France

As for the museum itself, the requirements of both the Louvre and Lens were, not surprisingly, complicated, and in 2005 the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, the project’s official overseer, announced an international competition, which generated in excess of 120 schemes. SANAA principals Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa were, in a sense, an obvious choice: their Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art (which opened in 2006), an entirely transparent structure of lapidary elegance, set in a public park, and incorporating a working glass-blowing studio and exhibition galleries that were visible from without and drew in visitors like a beacon, was in many ways a perfect trial run (and calling card) for what the Louvre and its host city had in mind. And the outcome, in Sejima and Nishizawa’s formulation, “fosters an open relationship between museum, nature, city, and landscape.”

The design, composed of four rectangular structures extending in two directions from a large square central entry hall – characterized by SANAA as collectively resembling a curving line of river craft that have gently drifted together – is a quietly stunning essay in transparency and reflectivity. “It’s an important principle for us to create spaces that are open to the society, the town, and the people,’” Nishizawa observed at the pre-opening press conference, and the 3800-square-metre entry hall – enclosed almost entirely by soaring glass walls and with its programmatic areas set within glass cylinders (a gambit borrowed from Toledo) – is a sublime expression of this objective: as Dectot described it, ‘an “open” museum in every sense of the term.’

Leonardo da Vinci's "The Virgin and the Child with Saint Anne"

Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin and the Child with Saint Anne”

At the same time, said Sejima, “We felt that this was a region with a very special light, and an exceptionally beautiful natural landscape, and the challenge was to build something that brought together this light, that beauty, and the [surrounding brick] miners’ houses, which represented the history of the region.”

Accordingly, SANAA clad three of the four rectangular volumes (containing the two major exhibition halls and an auditorium) in a softly reflective aluminum that transforms Louvre-Lens’ exterior into a vast and Turner-esque, ceaselessly mutable mural.

If the building at once invites the community in and mirrors it, the architecture carries the notion of inclusiveness a step further in the Galerie du Temps – the Time Gallery – which displays a diverse selection of the Louvre’s holdings going back roughly to 3500 B.C. Here, too, the walls are aluminum-clad.

“We have the reflections of works of art and the people looking at them,” observes Nishizawa, “and hope that this will be a brand-new, innovative concept of public space.”

It’s an impressive shell, and its holdings are even more so. In addition to the Galerie du Temps, in which the paintings, sculpture and objects will be rotated with others from the Louvre’s holdings every three to five years (with some 20 percent changed annually on the magic date December 4 because, observes Dectot, “if what we’re offering isn’t rich enough, it will become a problem very quickly”), Louvre-Lens incorporates an 1800-square-metre temporary exhibitions gallery (which debuted with a prismatic overview of the Renaissance). Beyond this space, the auditorium will serve as a multipurpose theatre that can create connections between the performing arts and whatever is on view in the exhibition halls; and appended to the Galerie du Temps is a smaller glass pavilion that will feature special exhibitions, including collaborations with the network of museums spanning the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.

The 19th-century neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot observed that “theory is good, but it doesn’t prevent things from existing.”  While the idea that, by making architecture “transparent” and “reflective,” you will somehow foster an air of friendly inclusiveness is an appealing one, it is probably of limited use in the face of reality: If SANAA’s building is less (for lack of a better word) elitist than, for example, the Paris Louvre, it nonetheless remains a dramatic, even bravura presence, a hugely sophisticated work of world-class architecture, created by practitioners at the height of their powers; if you are inclined toward feelings of cultural inferiority, it will definitely give you pause. Equally, the Louvre-Lens idea of creating a  “dialogue” across periods in the Galerie du Temps is something of a cliché; and the notion that reflective walls, which bring visitors and artworks together in the same visual plane, will serve as agents of egalitarianism seems like even more of a theoretical fancy.

Yet SANAA and the Louvre-Lens mandarins have unquestionably achieved a unity between theory and existence. The aluminum exterior and interior surfaces take ownership of their surroundings rather than reflect them; but they also demonstrate how architecture and art can transform your perceptions of yourself and the world, by encouraging a new ways of looking at things, whether quotidian or rarefied. And if exhibiting artworks with superficial gestural, graphic or thematic similarities together amounts to something less than a dialogue, it nonetheless reminds the beholder that certain subjects are timeless, and artists return to them again and again, reinterpreting them in response to talent, temperament, human events, the character of an age, and countless other influences, themselves timeless as well. By creating an exceptionally beautiful, welcoming and, indeed, ennobling environment in which to absorb the special pleasures the arts have to bestow, the museum – and all those who worked to bring it to Lens – have done the region, and everyone who comes to visit, a service.

Meanwhile, in the trenches of Lens, the work goes on. Catherine Mosbach’s ambitious vision for the in-progress park surrounding the museum seeks “to make a link between the town and local landscape and the museum and what’s inside it,” says the designer.

“The idea was to keep things very pure and open, to encourage people to come in,” explains Hounslow. “Initially the Louvre wanted the park to be closed in the evening. And the mayor said, ‘I can’t accept that, I need it completely open, so that people, even if they’re walking their dogs, can come and look in.”’

“It’s a subtle, and hopefully not too subtle, approach,” Hounslow suggests. So far, it would seem, so good: as of the new year, the museum had received in excess of 120,000 visitors.

“Lens was a black hole,” says Percheron. “But through the Louvre, we’ll see the soul of an entire region.”


Visit Louvre-Lens for more information and France Guide for information on travel to France.


Marc Marc Kristal is an architecture, design and travel writer. Kristal, a contributing editor of Dwell and a former editor ofAIA/J, and has written for The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Wallpaper, Surface, and numerous other publications. In 2003, he curated the exhibition ‘Absence Into Presence: The Art, Architecture and Design of Remembrance’ at Parsons School of Design, and in 2009 he was part of the project team that created the award-winning Greenwich South planning study for the Alliance for Downtown New York. His books include Re:Crafted: Interpretations of Craft in Contemporary Architecture and Interiors (2010) and Immaterial World: Transparency in Architecture (2011), both from The Monacelli Press. Also a screenwriter, Kristal wrote the film Torn Apart.  He lives in New York.


A Visit to Monet’s Giverny

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Monet’s garden at Giverny, France. Photo by Gayle Potter.

By Everett Potter

The New York Botanical Garden’s current exhibit, “Monet’s Garden,” is a sharp-eyed take on the painter Claude Monet’’s gardens in Giverny, France. Less slavish recreation than savvy re-imagining, it was clearly put together with the care that this institution seems to bestow on everything it does. I was at its birth in May, and if the intensity of the colors were profound, the arrangements themselves were even more so. Spontaneity like this can only be achieved through an artfully executed master plan – something  the master himself would have done. The added bonus of two Monet canvases in the stately but little visited Rodina Gallery in  the Botanical  Garden’s Library are a gift. Go now, before the show winds up in late October, when the real Giverny concludes its seasonal display. You can read Bobbie Leigh’s detailed review here.

But how close was this Botanical garden’s vision to the real Giverny, Monet’s home and studio as well as gardens in the Normandy countryside? I had visited Giverny 20 years ago and had delightful memories. By chance, my wife and daughter and I were headed to France in June. I booked Giverny tickets on line before we departed and off we went.

I have to admit that our visit started off with more chaos than tranquility. It began at Paris’ Gare St. Lazare, where we stood in an endless line for tickets and nearly missed the train. Ticket machines in French train stations only work with credit or debit cards that are embedded with a chip, which few American-issued cards have. After an hour long train ride to Vernon, we got off the train with what seemed like a thousand other people and were duly herded onto a fleet of motor coaches. This Impressionistic pilgrimage was becoming more Disney-like by the moment. I could only imagine what the gardens would be like with wall-to-wall visitors.

Yet miraculously, once we got to Giverny, a village that lies a few miles from Vernon,  the crowds seemed to be swallowed up by the small village with a handful of restaurants, gift shops, third-rate latter day Impressionist painters with their own galleries, and some quaint stone houses. Giverny – as in Monet’s house, studio and gardens – was busy but not overly crowded.

You enter through the vast studio where Monet painted his famed water lilly canvases. Now it’s a gift shop, peddling all manner of all things Monet. Never mind, the skylights and some strategically placed black and white photos of the painter leave you with some impression of what the space must have been like.

Monet in his garden.

Then the real show begins. As you step into the garden, “magical” is a pretty good word to describe Giverny. The gardens are perfectly tended, in hyperactive bloom, and filled with exuberant life. The allées, lined with nasturtiums, seem to go on and on, repeated past the point that a Sunday gardener would consider reasonable. This garden is incredibly ambitious. When we were there, umbrella shaped trellises covered with climbing roses were in bloom and poppies were just coming to blossom.  You don’t need to be a horticulturalist to appreciate the garden, as so much is in bloom, about to bloom, or will bloom shortly. On my previous visit, it was fall, and the garden looked completely different. Most memorable was that edging of nasturtiums. In June, they were an accent. In October, they become a carpet. This is the essence of Giverny, these dense, deceptively simple beds, which change with the seasons (and the labor of umpteen gardeners).

Monet’s house at Giverny. Photo by Gayle Potter.

Inside the house, the rooms are perfectly kept, wide windows thrown open to the garden. The intense sunflower yellow dining room is memorable. But my favorite space is the studio, a room that you enter on a slightly raised balcony. It’s a dramatic space, requiring you to descend a few steps and make an entrance. Thanks to large windows, and reproductions of Monet’s paintings on easels and the wall, it’s easy to get a feel for what the house must have been like in his lifetime.

Bridge over Japanese-inspired waters at Giverny.

We walked through a tunnel under a road that leads to the Japanese garden. Here, amidst wisteria and the weeping willows, nearly everyone felt obligated, it seemed, to pose for a photograph on the arched bridge over the small pond. It was painted many times by the master, but he could scarcely have imagined  the parade of humanity – with iPhones, tattoos and backpacks bulging with Evian bottles – posing, as if in a painting themselves. Well, make that an Instagram for those back home. The traditional garden trumped the Japanese garden for this observer, but I may well be in the minority.

We ate our picnic of sandwiches – bought from a branch of Monop’, the ready-to-eat food shop chain owned by Monoprix — in a grove of bamboo, looking at the water and a gaggle of Russian tourists.  Think of it as a 21st century version of a lazy Impressionist lunch near the Seine.

Even amidst the babble of languages, the jockeying for position to photograph poppy flower heads, and the fellow pilgrims ignoring Monet’s beloved Hokusai woodblock prints on the walls of the living areas, it was a wonderful day. And it made us appreciate that  we could taste the essence of this amazing assemblage of botanical splendor a mere 20 minutes from our New York home. The New York Botanical Garden has pulled off a remarkable feat, and while the Bronx may never be confused with Normandy, the intention and vision of Monet has been perfectly captured in New York.

Visit Giverny

Visit The New York Botanical Garden


Everett Potter is the Editor-in-Chief of Everett Potter’s Travel Report.