Room Service

One of the best things about staying in a hotel is room service. What could be better than having a sumptuous breakfast and hot coffee brought to you in the morning?  


The Bristol Hotel

Upon our return to Paris, we checked in to the Bristol Hotel. I have always loved this hotel, occasionally stopping in for a cocktail or lunch when I was a student at Christie's just up the street. This was the first time I stayed as a guest and it was fabulous. As we received the keys to our room, which was ready for our early afternoon arrival, we received a beautifully hand-written note from the assistant to the general manager who had helped up with our reservation. 

A complementary bottle of Champagne, fresh fruit, chocolates, and a second hand-written note from the general manager himself welcomed us into our room.  

Southern exposure from one of three large windows provided lots of light and spectacular views of the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré.

Our suite was the perfect combination of space and coziness. It was comprised of a sitting room, a bedroom, a dressing area, and two luxurious marble baths.


Bonne route!

Driving up the Champs-Elysées with the top down and the Arc de Triomphe in sight was so much fun! As much as I hated leaving the countryside, I can't imagine a more enjoyable return to the city.


L'Orangerie at Chateau d'Etoges

That night, after touring the countryside, we headed to the restored Orangerie for dinner. I cannot tell you how nice it was to stroll across the grounds at dusk to the understated, yet extremely elegant dining room. Everything from the gentle flames of the fire, to the warm greeting at the door and the well-dressed dinner guests was a reminder that this was a special place, we were about to embark on a magnificent dining experience, and we were privileged to be there.   


Jean Marniquet

The next day, we hit the road. This is where our "Route du Champagne" guide comes in handy. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the region of Champagne, by all means, stop at the tourist office in Epernay and pick up one of these guides or link to the on-line publication

Our first stop, the house (quite literally) of Jean Marniquet in the premier cru village of Avenay-Val-d'Or, located just northeast of Epernay, nestled on the lower slopes of the Montagnes de Reims.

Marie, the daughter-in-law of the proprietor, greeted us at the door. She was in the midst of labeling this year's vintage. She told us a little about the history of Jean Marniquet and the nuances various blends.

After this brief introduction we tasted the champagnes of our choice and selected a few bottles to purchase. As Marie headed back to the warehouse to retrieve our bottles, she invited us to join her. She showed us the bottling process, posed for a few photos, packaged our champagne for travel, and we were on our way to next producer.


Moët & Chandon

No trip to Champagne would be complete without a stop at the historic house of Moet & Chandon. Founded in 1743, Moet & Chandon is the largest producer of champagne in France, with distribution to more than 150 countries. I love champagne, and I love Moet & Chandon champagne. Not just because it produces a particularly light and refreshing variety, but also because the staff where it's produced is incredibly welcoming and friendly. I have had numerous great experiences here.

Our tour began with a brief video introducing the history of the region, the composition of champagne, and the founding of the house of Moet & Chandon. Usually, I hate these sort of videos. But, this one is so well done and interesting that I enjoyed every minute of it. After the video, we had a brief tour of the building and then headed down to the massive cellar.

As you can imagine, it's a bit cold. A sweater or wrap is highly recommended.

During production, bottles are stored for about seven years on average. Last time I visited, Moet & Chandon was the only producer to turn the bottle exclusively by hand. Unfortunately, that has changed. As with other producers, bottles are now turned by machine.

After the tour, we tasted the an assortment of grand vintage blanc, rosé, and brut champagnes. The distinction: the mix of pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay grapes. 

Our guide was fantastic. She conducted a tour that was so dense with information about the production of champagne, interwoven with facts about the history of Moet & Chandon, that I needed to clarify a few points during our tasting. 


A Room With A View

The adorable little town of Etoges as seen from our room. Imagine waking up to this view every morning. It was absolutely delightful. 


Château d'Etoges

It's been a few years since my last trip to the country. Now that I am here, I think I should  do it more often. The experience provides so many opportunities that don't exist in Paris, as well as a real sense of "getting away from it all." For me, a huge part of the experience depends on my lodging. I tend to avoid hotels and, instead, opt for family-owned chateaux.

On this trip, I stayed in a 17th century chateau, just south of Epernay. The Chateau d'Etoges has 28 beautiful and well-appointed guest rooms in the main house and the orangerie combined. It is surrounded by a moat, 18 hectares of park, and a charming village. As you can imagine, I was thrilled as I pulled up to the large wrought iron gate and got my first glimpse of what would be "my home" for the next three days.

I usually book these sorts of places over the internet, and I sometimes worry that the photos are deceiving. That was not the case with the Chateau d'Etoges. It was everything it claimed to be and more. 

Our reservation was confirmed the day before with an email that included the pass code for the automated gate. As we drove up the long narrow drive, to the sound of pea gravel beneath our tires, I could hardly contain my excitement...this was going to be great. Understated elegance abounded. 

The tall narrow windows and a steep tile roof is contrasted with a gravel driveway and potted plants, give the house both elegance and charm. To my right, a beautifully restored orangerie that had been converted to a restaurant of haute cuisine. To my left, a manicured garden with sculpted shrubs that would have made Walt Disney proud.

We were greeted by a friendly hostess who had been anticipating our arrival. She was British, so of course her English was perfect, but she continued her welcoming remarks in French for my benefit and pleasure. I liked that very much. When I come to France, I want to speak French - it's a rare opportunity for me to polish my skills, and I like to take full advantage of it. She gave us a brief tour of the public places: two sitting rooms and a breakfast room. Then, we headed to our guest room.

We had a lovely room on the second floor. It extended the entire depth of the chateau, from front to back, and it was quite large. There was a fireplace, loads of closet space built into the paneled walls, a nicely updated bathroom, and a comfortable seating arrangement, and a large round table with two occasional chairs and a bowl of fresh fruit placed on the center of it. Most important, it was bright, clean, and had all the latest technology - a large flat-screen television with complimentary cable and internet service. And, when I made my reservation, I "liked" the Chateau d'Etoges web site on Facebook to receive a discount on our reservation.

We entered our room through a small private corridor that acted a bit as a foyer, with a large window that faced the village of Etoges. The primary window in the bedroom faced the rear garden, which featured a fountain. At night, it was as quiet as can been. The only thing to be heard was the soothing sound of fountain.


La Route du Champagne

After a busy weekend in the city, what could be nicer than a few relaxing days in the country?

So, I headed toward Epernay. Only a couple of hours east of Paris, the Champagne region is wonderful for tourists and wine lovers alike. The grape harvest usually takes place in early to mid September and this would be a great opportunity to see the French do one of the things they do best...make Champagne!

This was my third tour of Champagne, but there is so much to see and do that I will never grow tired of it. The tourist office publishes a great guide called "La Route du Champagne" outlining five half-day driving itineraries, with vineyards and welcoming producers noted on the map. The guide also includes interesting sites such as chateaus, churches, museums, remarkable architectural structures, and look-out points. The most charming and floral villages are rated with one, two, or three flower symbols, much like we rate films with stars. Road signs along the way mark the itinerary and make it nearly impossible for tourists to get lost.

It was unusually warm, so a little Renault Mégane Cabriolet proved to be perfect for taking in the sites and enjoying the good weather.

The French credit le terroir for their ability to produce exceptionally fine wine. By terroir, they mean the slope of the land, the disposition of the sun, the mineral content of the soil, the quality of the vine, and all of the other factors that contribute to a good growth. I think this photo says it all about the terroir of Champagne.

A windmill perched on the top of a hillside in Verzenay. The surrounding vines belonged to well-known producers such as Taittinger, Mumm, and Lanson.

The production of wine in the Champagne dates back to the Middle Ages. Born in Champagne, Pope Urban II declared the wine of this region the best in the world. It is no wonder that the statue honoring him presides over the town of Chatillion-sur-Marne.

From a speeding car, I tried to get this shot of Chateau de Montmort. It is one of the most beautiful chateaus in the region, dating back to the 11th century.

French cows.


Le Chardenoux

I absolutely love Sundays in Paris, especially when they are calm, quiet and slow. This past Sunday was such a day - mass at Notre Dame followed by a relaxing mid-day lunch at one of the best bistros in Paris.

I read about Le Chardenoux on one of my favorite French food blogs Paris by Mouth. It seemed to offer everything I want in a bistro - quality food, casual elegance, excellent service, and a welcoming atmosphere. It delivered on every point.

I was greeted at the door with a friendly bonjour. A large leatherbound reservation book sat on the corner of the bar, next to a glistening meat slicer and a perspiring champagne bucket. My reservation was duly noted with the stroke of a pen and cheery et voilà. With that, I was escorted to nice little table near the window. The place was bustling, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves - families engaged in lively conversations, children up and down from their seats, couples lingering over empty expresso cups, and waiters jumping from table to table like bees jumping from flower to flower. Outside, the sun shined brightly. The street was clear of traffic and noise. It was as if I was on the set of movie and I loved it.

Everything on the menu and everything being carried to the surrounding tables looked delicious. Unfortunately, a hearty dinner the night before prevented me from ordering a multi-course meal. Instead, I opted for a single dish and an unusual choice for me - Moussaka d'Aubergine au Cumin et Agneau Confit, an eggplant based dish from the Mediterranean, accompanied with a small green salad and a glass of pinot noir. Oh, so good!

An elegant little terrace for outdoor dining fit snuggly along the wall.

A friendly host happily posed for my photo.

My delicious meal.

Altogether, it was simply the best and more than anyone could ask for. I would go again in a heartbeat.

1, rue Jules Vallès
75011, Paris


18th Century Fashion for Today

During the flight over, I learned of a special exposition at the Grand Trianon - a 20th century interpretation of 18th century couture. I had not been to the Grand Trianon in at least ten years, so I decided this was the perfect opportunity to revisit the chateau and see the collection of couture gowns on display.

Anyone who has admired the luxury and beauty of gowns featured in films such as Dangerous Liaisons or Marie Antoinette and wondered what it must have been like to live at a time when women wore those gowns, will be comforted to know that those women and those gowns exist today.

The Grand Trianon is the major work of renowned architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the birth place of French tastes of the period, the perfect mix of sobriety and refinement. Only a ten minute walk from the Chateau de Versailles, it is one of the most beautiful, most unknown, and least visited palaces in France. The Grand Trianon receives a mere seven hundred thousand visitors each year, compared to six million visitors to the Chateau de Versailles.

Aside from the beauty of this architectural marvel and the furnishings within, the most amazing thing about the exhibition: I had to read the panels to know which gowns dated from 18th century and which dated from the 20th century.

Displayed among 18th century costumes, Aubusson tapestries, crystal chandeliers, and Gobelins rugs, stood mannequins dressed gowns from Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga and LaCroix to name a few.

Here is a sampling of some my favorites.

A pink taffeta, lace and ribbon gown from Vivienne Westwood's "Vive La Cocotte" ready-to-wear collection of 1995, inspired by frivolty and powdery colors of 18th century France. The dress is displayed in the Empresses Boudoir. The small door to the left of the fireplace connects this room to a series of other rooms, including a kitchen.

In the foreground, a white silk faille and blue satin ribbon dress from the Chanel spring-summer 2005 collection. This dress was inspired by an 18th century French "robe volonte" or sack-back gown, which was known throughout Europe as the "robe à la français." It became very popular in the 1730's. In the background, a bridal ensemble from the Chanel autumn-winter 1992-93 collection. The jacket and the dress are in ivory tweed fabric, lined with pearly white satin and trimmed with taffeta ribbon.

This was my favorite room in the chateau: The Room of Mirrors. It was Louis XIV's great study, where he met his private council. The décor features my favorite color palette of blue and white.

A white lace corset style dress from Azzedine Alaia's 1992 ready-to-wear collection. The dress's tightly laced up top is meant to evoke the whalebone corsets and wide hip panels of the 18th century, while the white lace cotton fabric is a nod to the "walking" or afternoon dress of the day.

The room still features the same décor of Louis XIV, with carved wood panels.

The "Antonia" evening gown from Pierre Balmain's 1954 haute couture collection. The dress is satin embroidered with gold scrolls, pearl beading, red chiffon roses and green foliage. The workmanship was incredible and this was one of my favorite gowns. It was fun and flirtatious, but also sophisticated and demure.
Originally built as a chapel, this room became an antechamber in 1691, with many of the original features kept in place.

Finally, one of the most outrageous dresses of the exposition: the "Infante" ball gown from Thierry Mugler's 1992-93 ready-to-wear collection. Thierry Mugler is known for highlighting a woman's shape and demonstrating her power - this dress perfectly illustrates his design.


Qu'est-ce qu'on est bien chez soi

After a two-year absence, I have finally returned to Paris. When I arrived at the apartment this morning, my first thought was "Home Sweet Home" or qu'est-ce qu'on est bien chez soi. Not quite a literal translation, but the sentiment is the same.

I am so happy to be here...here in Paris and here in my lovely apartment. This is a first. I have never before posted a photo of the interior of my living space and today I want to share it with you.

It is absolutely perfect - high ceilings, hardwood floors, large windows, marble fireplace, neutral décor, and a southern exposure.

I was introduced to the owners many years ago by mutual friends. I had the good fortune to live here for a year and the even better fortune to return year after year for vacation.

It is bright and cheery and exactly where I want to be.