Category Archives: Tourism and Shopping

Fun all night at the Firemen’s Ball

After nine years living in France I clearly still have a lot to learn about the country.  I was intrigued to learn from this article on the Radio France Internationale website, that it’s traditional for fire stations to open their doors to the public on the night before the Fete Nationale for what look like some seriously fun parties.

It’s not clear if this is just in Paris or elsewhere in France, too.  It’s too late this year, but next year…..

  • Journées des Jardins – Open Days at 10 well-kept gardens

    10 gardens and potagers in villages in the beautiful Course Valley will be open to the public this weekend.  You can tour them in any order, just buy your ticket at the first one you visit.

    Tickets are 3 euros per adult (children free) and visitors will be treated to tea and scones free at one of the gardens.

    Les Journées des Jardins

    Saturday July 10 from 14h till 18.30
    Sunday July 11  from 10.30 till 18.30

    10 jardins d’agrément et potagers ouverts au public

    Estrée 1, Estréelles 2 Beussent 3 Doudeauville 1 Enquin-sur-Baillons 1 Hucqueliers 1 Bourthes 2

    These are all situated in the Course valley and its surrounding area, just to the north of Montreuil.

    Tea, cake and scones offered at Paul and Lalage’s, 156 rue du moulin, Estréelles

    Tickets 3 euros to visit all 10 gardens can be purchased from any of the gardens open.

    For further information contact Lalage 03 21 81 47 65  e-mail

    The Course is arguably the most beautiful of the famous 7 Valleys, and its villages are renowned as some of the prettiest in northern France.  While you’re on the tour, you might also want to stop to buy some delicious hand-made chocolates at the famous Chocolaterie de Beussent which you’ll pass en route.

  • “The Garden Route” and Rousseau in the Nord Pas De Calais

    In case you missed this article by Sabine Glaubitz in “Earth Times”, we are reprinting it here.

    Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau had clear-cut ideas, whether it was about the ideal state or the ideal garden.

    Citizens should be free and responsible, he argued, while gardens should be left to nature and not be so stringently designed like the baroque parks which were all the fashion of his time.

    Rousseau was also a passionate botanist and to this day a garden in the town of Ermonville, some 40 kilometres north-east of Paris, is named after him.

    The “Parc Jean-Jacques Rousseau” is designed in keeping with the Enlightenment philosopher’s view of the world and lies along the garden route running through northern France.

    The owner at the time, Marquis Rene Louis de Girardin, had created around 250 years ago a landscape park in the English style, one dedicated solely to nature’s design: no decorative flower beds along the paths, next to the walls and on the lawns.

    Part of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau inspired garden at Ermenonville

    Today, only a part of the park in which the philosopher was buried on July 2, 1778 has been preserved. But visitors can still stroll for hours along the curving lanes, through a natural-like landscape of trees and shrubs, ponds and artificial ruins and grottoes – decorative touches which do not fit Rousseau’s ideas.

    Among the smaller, nearly hidden parks along the route is the “Ferme du mont des recollets,” an oasis in France’s northernmost area, in Nord-Pas de Calais, between Steenvoorde and the carnival city of Cassel. Landscape gardener Emmanuel de Quillacq settled on this piece of fertile soil amidst gently rolling hills in 1990.

    Then, the L-shaped farm buildings lay in ruins: the main building was fully collapsed and the barn was threatening to at any moment. And except for knee-high weeds and wild seedlings there was only a single lonesome nut tree on the giant grounds, says Emmanuel, who prefers to be called “Manu.”

    In the 20 years since then he has converted the ruins into a model stone farmhouse, the kind you see in glossy magazines for stylish living: expertly restored with green-and-white windows which all look out over one of the 14 gardens.

    “Square-shaped, rigid, strict,” is how Manu describes the style in which he has shaped his green oasis.

    Each of his gardens is bordered by strictly-cut hedgerows, spheres and columns. The visitor gets the impression of strolling through a series of stately rooms from the 17th century.

    The labyrinth-like hawthorn hedges, artfully carved box tree squares and yew trees are a highlight of the so-called “Ars topiaria,” shaping and forming trees with special cultivation techniques.

    Only about 50 kilometres further, in the direction of Amiens, lies the village of Bergueneuse.

    Some 220 people live there today and in the Rue du Mont one can gather why the former County Artois is called the country of seven valleys. For scarcely has one passed the entry gate into the “Sculptures and Garden” park and the view opens up to gentle, luscious green hills.

    “This landscape immediately thrilled us,” recall Francoise and Jacques Droulez. That was back in 1978 when they left Lille and purchased the small, 17th-century thatched-roof farmhouse. At the time, a garden of only around 800 square metres belonged to the property.

    Today, the sculpture park measures some 3,000 square metres. The path leads through masses of flowers – blue columbines, orange- coloured poppy shrubs and pink-white porcelain flowers.

    While Francoise decorates the edges of the paths with azaleas and magnolias, former art professor Jacques decorates the gardens with his metallic sculptures. With human and animal-like shapes, they lurk behind the large hibiscus blossoms or stand as guideposts in the middle of open lawns.

    After Bergueneuse the garden route proceeds on to Sericourt, 25 kilometres away. The hamlet has just 50 residents, yet over the past few years it has developed into a magnet for thousands of Dutch, English, Belgian and German tourists. The reason for Sericourt’s fame: the gardens of Yves Gosse de Gorre.

    The French landscape gardener could not have dreamed of such success back in 1985 when he bought his first shrubs. But since then the plant breeder has created a garden which is virtually a work of art.

    The yew trees, closely-grouped together in squares, have been carved into the shapes of the famous terracotta warriors of Chinese emperor Xi’an.

    De Gorre has created hundreds of these warriors from the column- like yews. They stand facing each other in two rows, as if they were about to charge at each other at any moment.

    “The garden of the warriors” is what he calls it. Right next to it stands the “war council,” a group of round, bushy thujas.

    The artist gave them wild-looking faces to resemble the grotesque masks of Roman theatre. But anyone familiar with carnival in northern France immediately thinks about the beloved giant figures of the carnival festivities.

  • Gourmet cycling – a serious occupation

    France is a wonderful country for cycling, and Headwater Cycling Holidays have pioneered the best type of cycling holiday:  the sort where you cycle from one fabulous meal to another, getting rid of the calories with the pedalling exercise in between.

    There’s a rich treasure in France’s regional produce and the local recipes for its preparation.

    Pork-butchery is one of the oldest surviving traditions in Alsace with choucroute garni undoubtedly the region’s most acclaimed dish. Made from various cuts of meats, salted hams and sausages braised in local Riesling wine, it appears on every menu from local workers’ cafes to contemporary restaurants (although at the top end you’re likely to be offered the grander choucroute royale made with champagne instead of wine!).

    The tiny, subtle-flavoured Burgundy snail is considered to be among the finest in the world. Rather than drown it in tonnes of garlic – as is often the case! – Burgundian chefs prefer a more refined approach, opting instead for lightly sauteing in a parsley butter, adding possibly a dash of cream just before serving.

    Not many people know that there are no fewer than 13 varieties of oysters in Brittany! If you are a fan, then see if you can taste the difference between the nutty-flavoured Aven Belon oyster, the perfumed Cancale oyster and the beautifully smooth oyster found on the Bay of Quiberon.

    Some of the best cheeses in France come from the relatively unknown Massif Central. Personal favourites include the dry and fruity Cantal, the smooth and mild Saint Nectaire, and the stronger blue Fourme d’Ambert cheese, easily identifiable by its tall cylindrical shape.

    With its warm sunny climate and proximity to the coast, Provence produces some of the freshest and tastiest food in France. If you’re looking to try something a little different this summer, look out for the delicate lavender honey which is delicious served with roasted figs or eaten simply with fresh crusty bread.

    The fragrant black truffle, also known as the “black diamond”, is used widely by in the restaurants of the Lot & Dordogne, and is considered one of the pearls of French gastronomy. Chefs rely on it to turn a simple omelette into a gourmet dish, as well as often adding shavings to salads, hot cheeses and foie gras.

    Tarte tatin, or caramelised upside-down apple tart, was apparently invented by two absent-minded sisters in the Loire where it remains a specialty dessert. If you have a sweet tooth, look out too for almond patisseries from Comery and Poulain chocolates from Blois.

    Experience the gastronomic delights of France yourself with one of Headwater’s cycling holidays or walking holidays.

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