Tour France: Burgundy, France and Wine: An Inseparable History

The Burgundy region is ancient, stunning, and rich with history.

The Burgundy region is ancient, stunning, and rich with history.

Burgundy, the “Bourgogne” region of France, has been known for centuries for its incredible wines. But when the Burgundians, the nomadic Scandinavian tribe that gave the region its name, first settled the area, they remained unaware of the territory’s great potential.

This changed when the Romans took over the region in the 3rd century BC. Suddenly, vineyards started popping up everywhere. The Romans specialized in a fermented grape concentrate that was then diluted and flavored with water, honey, and herbs. The popular drink became synonymous with the region- Thank you, Romans! Even when they left and the region was taken over by Christians, the new owners merely converted the vineyards into another moneymaking process for abbeys and monasteries. After all, wine was necessary for taking the Sacrament!

Thankfully, these monasteries and abbeys also specialized in the written word–copying Bibles, manuscripts, and many numbers of important documents for posterity. Thus, the details of the vinification process were saved and passed on to the next wine growers in the area. Vital tips, methods, and experiments were dispersed through the region to maintain the distinctive tastes and excellent quality wines that are still enjoyed today. Many of these abbeys still operate vineyards today, and those touring France are often oblivious to these national treasures. Bliss Travels visits (and tastes) with gusto–because shouldn’t such a time-honored tradition be properly revered?

One of the most famous wine-growing regions in the world- for good reason!

One of the most famous wine-growing regions in the world- for good reason!

At the time, the Cistercians, the major religious group in Burgundy and thus the largest wine producer, knew that production costs would skyrocket if they finished the vinification process for all their separate vineyards in the same place. Therefore, they created cellars near each separate growing area, where the wines were processed and aged appropriately. Eventually, each vineyard region began to have recognizable characteristics. The Cistercian cheapness of the Middle Ages is the reason that we appreciate the different wine tastes today!

Because of this, we can now fully appreciate unique wines such Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and all the more specific wines that have stemmed from these grape godfathers. Curious about the wines of the region? Thankfully, Bliss Travels does gourmet wine tours to the Burgundy region where we indulge in the fruits of the Romans’ labor. In the meantime, check out some of our favorites Burgundy wines from the Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits. We treat you to Grand Cru and 1er Cru treasures!

If reading about them simply isn’t enough, come with us in September  for a insider’s look at the world of wine in Paris and Burgundy. Check out the video of one of our last trips to Burgundy right here! Sip the best wines in the world in 800 year old cellars, abbeys and monasteries, and private farms with stunning views of the French countryside. Pure Bliss!

In Burgundy, there are no wrong choices!

In Burgundy, there are no wrong choices!

A Bientot-

Bliss Travels

French Wine Tasting: Tour de France of Wines in NYC

French Wine Tasting in NYC 

This past Saturday we co-hosted a blind wine tasting of fine wines from several fabulous regions of France. This fun event was held at the NYC home of “frequent travelers” Kat & Mark. They graciously opened their lovely home on a perfect day, and stocked the tables with fabulous French and Spanish cheeses and delicious gourmet treats!

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Getting ready for people

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We tasted 5 wines, all from France.

Wine 1: Laurent Combier Crozes Hermitage white. A beautiful wine with floral notes and a rich bouquet. This wine is from just north of Chateauneuf du Pape. People don’t think of Chateauneuf du Pape as a town or even area that produces whites, but they produce excellent white wines. This is a very small part of production but the top ones are truly special –and hard to find in the US. We regularly highlight these when in Provence.

The area around Chateauneuf du Pape, where our first wines came from

Wine 2: Meursault, Les Narvaux, 2010 David Moret. A great buttery chardonnay. Loved this wine (as I do all Burgundy wines). This wine has a bit more minerality than the Les Charmes, 1er cru, we like to profile on our Burgundy trips.

Typical of Burgundy, wines and quaint towns and villages

Typical of Burgundy, wines and quaint towns and villages

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Our hosts this past September in Burgundy on a private visit to the 14th Century cellars of the winemaker who owns our luxury inn!

Wine 3: Auxey Duresses, 2010, Billard.  A very nice pinot noir from Burgundy. However, Burgundy did not receive its due by comparing and tasting a village wine with the 1er Grand Cru classe from Bordeaux. Next tasting I will showcase wines from Burgundy that are equal in quality and ranking to the ones from Bordeaux. Because this region’s wines have such a “wow” factor  -and the area itself is so stunning –it’s a shame to leave people thinking one region is superior to the other!

The stunning town of Beaun

The stunning town of Beaune

Wine 4: Les Amouriers, Vacqueyras, 2010. This grenache and syrah wine is also from just north of Chateauneuf du Pape, and a very accessible alternative to the big names (and prices) of Chateauneuf du Pape reds. Needs to breath for about 90 minutes to 2 hours as it is young. But is a good wine, full flavored and a great example of what the region can produce.

St Emilion, from Pavie's vineyards

St Emilion, from Pavie’s vineyards

Wine 5: Chateau Pavie Macquin, 2007, her Grand Cru Classe. Predominantly merlot (84%) with 16% cabernet franc, this wine is truly a top wine. It surely overshadowed the other reds. It was smooth, rich and extremely well balanced. Still young, it was opened 2 hours before drinking. Next tasting, we will bring out the big guns in Burgundy to compare with Bordeaux. I think it will be a very tough decision for folks at that point!

Bordeaux France Wines

Thank you to all of your who came. And for those of you who couldn’t make it, we hope to be able to hold “reunions” for other groups and more return travelers!

One final shot of those of us who went out for dinner at a cute French style bistro after the tasting.

Dinner for those who could stay late

2013-04-27 15.35.19Hope to see you in all again very soon!

A Bientot,

Wendy

A Photographic Tour of the Best of Provence (One of the Regions of France)


Top 6 Reasons to Visit Provence

Last year I printed the top 4 reasons to visit Provence in the spring. But, really, there are so many more things to explore than just 4, and so many wonderful things to do and see all spring and summer (and fall). Here are Bliss Travels top tips for Provence.

1. Stunning scenery bathed in light that made world famous painters like Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet …..swoon. In May, there are poppies, cherry blossoms, almond blossoms, and all sorts of spring flowers. In June, the cherries are in full bloom. In July and August you have Lavender.bill m france 2008

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Our class topped the tart with cherries -not fresh like the ones here, found in June in Provence

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2. The Provencal Markets. Whether it’s the first fruit and spring vegetable, or the late summer melons, peaches and figs, the produce in Provence is unrivaled –and the crafts, crowds and street life are all showcased at the colorful Provencal markets.

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3. The Villages. They are beautiful and each one is a piece of art in its own right!

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3. Food. Mouthwatering, amazing, real, local, sustainable, gourmet FOOD.

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5. Wines. Provence is home to the Cote du Rhone and has many fine wines, Chateauneuf du Pape among them. It is home to Bandol, Tavel, Vacqueras, Gigondas and many many more.

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6. Festivals. The festivals in spring and summer are wonderful. Everything from fancy markets, to bull fights to street music, to games, to dancing, tasting and more. There are cherry festivals in May and June. Village festivals from May through August. Music festivals in June. Melon festivals in July. Lavender festivals in August. Bastille Day festivals –on Basstille Day (see our earlier post about this.)

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Taken by TourEiffel Fireworks

Taken by TourEiffel Fireworks

6. Time on your own with your family and friends--even with all the activity! Provence is a place with lots of beautiful little corners, fabulous walks, quiet beaches, empty mountain tops, miniscule villages –all where you can see something new, and be away from it all — Be with yourself, your family or your friends, or your thoughts.

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If you’d like to learn more about Bliss Travels, small, custom trips –and how we provide exclusive access to things your typical traveler never sees, please  look at our website at www.blisstravels.com or our testimonials and  email us or call us at 609 462 6213. We have limited spring and summer trips available.

Tour de France of Wines & Cheese: Virtual Travel with Bliss Travels

French Wine & Cheese Parings on our Tour de France

tour france paris for the holidays

Burgundy, Chateauneuf du Pape, Bordeaux… people “oooh and ahh” over these fabulous wines –forgetting that they are place names –names of villages and towns, not actually names of specific “brands” or even “makers” of wines.

Certainly the places have a terroir that creates a similarity between the wines and the foods. So too, certain grapes (which have different flavors) are grown in certain regions (like pinot noir in Burgundy or Grenache in Chateauneuf du Pape) and that also gives wines from a particular area similar flavor profiles. It’s a good idea to find what grapes you like, first.

The ruins of the Chateau at Chateauneuf du Pape which we visited on our May and October wine/photography trips

The ruins of the Chateau at Chateauneuf du Pape

In some ways saying “I like Chateauneuf  du Pape” is like saying “I like Princeton food” or “I like bread from New York City” –okay….but which food in Princeton? What restaurant? Which bread? They are, within a common American theme, all very different…just like the wines made by different people of the same region or village in France. One exception to this idea is where the place uses only one grape. The best example of this is Burgundy. By using one grape –the wines are much more identifiable by area. A French pinot tastes completely different than an American one.

Then there are cheeses. Also similar to wines in that their place names have almost become their brand names to us. Why do I say that? Well, Camembert is from ….you guessed it! And Roquefort? That’s right. Towns name their prized products (much like people do) after themselves! Now, it might make sense to you why “Champagne” would be so upset that people from other places started calling their sparkling wines by their regions proper name. They thought it was deceptive. Many of us would agree if we were to see a company called, for example, Beverly Hills Real Estate Brokers located in Brooklyn. Same concept.

So, what did we pair at our Tour de France of wine and cheese.

Here’s the list. Below are the tasting notes.

1. Champagne Marie Weiss,  paired with a Brie. (And a Cremant d’Alsace as the bargain substitute for this pairing).

It’s blend of 25% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier and 50% Chardonnay from the Montagne de Reims and the Cote des Blancs. About half of the juice comes from 1er Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. The Marie Weiss label is produced by the superb, small Champagne house of Ployez-Jacquemart, near Reims. The nose is of apple, white peach, brioche, and fresh nutmeg. It is full-bodied, crisp and balanced.

(Note: Sparkling wine is a wine with significant levels of carbon dioxide in it making it fizzy. The carbon dioxide may result from natural fermentation, either in a bottle, as with the méthode champenoise, in a large tank designed to withstand the pressures involved.)

2. Laurent Combier Crozes Hermitage Blanc with Chevre and fig jam. Both from Provence, where figs also grow –this is combination that really enhances the flavors of each. The wine is made up of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne, is aged in temperature controlled stainless steel, and 30% is fermented and aged in new oak.  Aromatic nose combines flowers, dried fruits. Medium body, perfect acidity. Ready to drink right away.

Tour France Provence

Artisan made goat cheeses in Provence

3. David Moret, Bourgogne, 2010 paired with Epoisses. Epoisse, a cow’s milk, bloomy rind cheese from Burgundy, that is washed in a Marc de Bourgogne is a wonderful treat. This was a great chardonnay made in the town of Beaune.

Tour France:: Regions of France: Burgundy

The town of Beaune Burgundy

4. Bourgogne Pinot Noir with a crystalized, well aged Comte. Unless you’ve tasted a real, well aged Comte –you won’t understand the allure of this pairing. We compared this with a California pinot noir to highlight the fruit forward flavor of the California pinots and to explain the common characteristics of the French Burgundy wines.

Tastings of Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines

Tastings of Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines

Burgundy cellar

There is a video linked to this photo so that you can see a wine trip to Burgundy. You can also access the video on the Bliss Travels website.

5. Vacqueyras (Les Amouriers) primarily grenache –with  small percentages of CarignanMerlotSyrahGrenache blancRoussanneViognier. This was served with a St Marcellin.  The wine was put in a carafe 1h 30m before drinking to allow it to aerate so that the tannins would soften. There was spice and fullness to this wine. This was best liked by the group as a whole.

6. Muscat de Beaume de Venise with Forme d’Ambert  -sweet and strong. A great finish to a meal. A muscat is a fortified sweet wine from a stunning postage stamp sized Provencal village like the one below. It is offered typically as an apero and served with olives or other salty contrast. Serve more chilled than typical whites. Is ready to drink right away.

Tour France luxury vacations in provence

So, other than following the list (mine or anyone else’s) how do you find a way to pair wine and cheese yourself? Well, you’ve probably figured out that cheese that is made from animals who graze on the same land  as the land where the grapes that make your wine have grown, fit the wine very well together. An herbed rack of lamb is lovely with a Rhone wine because the land infuses both with the same subtle flavors and spice.

So, if you’re looking for an “easy fix” find the cheese that is from the same area as the wine. This dish paired beautifully with a Chateauneuf du Pape, La Nerthe (white)….So well, we did it twice!

Tour France Paris French Food

A big thank you to Swati and Vinnay who generously purchased the wine and cheese “tour” to benefit the Pennington School! Thank you for being wonderful hosts and inviting a great group of people!

Any questions? Contact Wendy et a tres bientot a tous!

Tour France: New Year’s Resolutions & Provencal Dining: Bouillabaisse History & Recipes

New Year’s Resolutions & Provencal Dining

Traditional Summer Dining on Bouillabaisse & Soupe de Poisson, in Winter!

Summer dining in Provence is spectacular for the purity of the ingredients and the full rich taste of super fresh fish and produce. Those of you who regularly read our blog know that we are big proponents of seasonal dining. We don’t often advocate eating a summer dish in winter or visa versa. The food is not fresh or local and the flavors just aren’t the same. However, bouillabaisse or soupe de poisson is an exception to this rule. It is a dish that can be modified (indeed, as you will see below, it needs to be modified to be eaten in the U.S.) So, each January as we contemplate the excesses of the holiday season and how to get back on track, one of our “go to” fixes is to eat soups and stews. A great way to “rebalance”. So, the timing for this sort of dish is perfect. Try the recipe below or modify it to fit your favorite fish.

History: One of the most famous, traditional seaside dishes is Bouillabaisse. It’s truly an “experience”, not just a meal. Even if you can’t come with us to Provence in the summer to have this spectacular dish, you can try our soupe de poisson recipe (modified for the U.S.) and put on a good French CD and “passez un bon moment.”

Bouillabaisse served at the table

This dish is surrounded by myth.  Either it was either created by the Greeks around 500 years BC or perhaps it was created by Venus (goddess of love) to put her husband to sleep so she could have an affair with another god (Mars, the god of war). Certainly, the dish is so copious and so rich that this is believable. And as long as Venus didn’t eat with her hubby, she was probably still energetic enough to sneak away!

However the recipe was born, bouillabaisse is a fish stew –made from what was once considered the dregs of the catch…the fish that was boney and hard to sell. However, as it’s popularity spread, it became a culinary treat of the highest order, with gourmands traveling all day to experience this seafood smorgasbord.

The soup is made from fish broth cooked with fennel, tomato & leek, and seasoned with saffron, bay leaf and pastis. Unlike other stews, there is a full ritual associated with the service of Bouillabaisse.

The broth is served separate from the fish. The fish (and they are specific) are brought to the table on a huge plank or platter, whole. They are filleted  and then served in the bowl along with the other condiments: croutons, rouille or another form of sauce like a saffron aioli, and also shredded cheese. Sometimes whole garlic cloves are served. The diner takes these and wipes the toast with them, then spreads the sauce and plops the crouton into the soup.

Some places also serve the soup with potatoes. And some places serve the dish in courses.

One thing is certain. Bouillabaisse is serious business in Provence in the summer. It has become a sought after, highly gourmet treat. How many dishes do you know that have their own charter prescribing exactly which fish can be used? I know of only one! We have traveled all over the south to find the not just the “true”, but the “best” bouillabaisse. We have dined in Marseille, Saint Tropez, small villages dotting the coastline from east to west, and even on the coast islands of France. There are formal services, wood fired fish, copper kettle cooked stews, and rustic island treats. And the variations are very appetizing. We even tried a spectacular “play” on the dish in a small Provencal town this past October on our Fall foliage trip to Provence. One thing is certain. If you have good very fresh fish, a fine aioli or rouille and a hint of saffron, you have the makings of a great dish.

Tour France: Caio Chow Linda Blogs about Bliss Travels (Recipes included

 The official charter states that bouillabaisse should include at least four of the following types of fish:rascasse (rockfish or scorpion fish), araignée (weever or spider crab),galinette/rouget grondin (red mullet), fielas/congre (conger eel) andchapon/scorpène (red scorpion fish). Optional extras are: Saint Pierre (John Dory), bauroie/ lotte (monkfish), langouste(crayfish) and cigale de mer
Since some of these fish are found strictly in the Mediterranean, that means you can only make real Bouillabaisse in the South of France. (As if  you needed one more reason to go!)

If you’d like to experience this with us this summer along the Mediterranean (or learn what others say about traveling with Bliss), contact us! We have 2 rooms left on our July Provence, Mediterranean and Bastille Day trip!

Our Recipe: Bliss Travels, French Culinary Travel…Follow Your Bliss

 

Soupe de Poisson

¼ cup Olive oil

7-9 small Garlic cloves, chopped

1 ½ cups of chopped sweet onion

2 ½ cups of chopped Leek, white and light green only

1 cup of chopped fennel

4 ½ – 5 cups Tomato (peeled, seeded and chopped)

¾ cups of white wine

12 cups water  (or fish stock)

3-5 Tablespoons of Tomato paste, depending upon the flavor of the fresh tomatoes used above

Herbs:

Dried basil–optional

2 Tablspoons of fresh Thyme, leaves only

¾ Teaspoon of fennel seed

2 Bay leaves

2 -2 inch strips of Orange peel

¼ to ¾  teaspoon of Saffron

Salt and Pepper

Fish:

16 ounces filet of skinned flakey white fish, such as snapper, sole or halibut. Chef’s note: use sole if you wish to serve this incorporated into the broth as below. If you wish to poach the fish and place the fish filets into the broth table side, then a thick cut piece halibut is a great choice, as is scallop and some mussels.

Optional additional fish for poaching (a variety of bass, halibut, scallop, shrimp, mussels…are all good choices. ) DO NOT overcook. See below.

In a large soup pot, heat oil, then add garlic, stir for a moment, add onion, leek and fennel. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes until vegetables soften. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer mixture for 45 minutes to an hour. Use an immersion blender to thoroughly blend, after removing bay leaves.

 

Add the white fish and bring soup to a slow boil, check seasoning, adding salt if necessary. Boil until fish is done, 5 minutes or so. Break up fish into fine flakes with a fork, or by pulsing the immersion blender very very briefly.

 

If using additional fish, poach the fish at the last minute and add whole. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Your fish should be not quite fully cooked when you remove it from the poaching liquid. The heat from the poaching as well as the broth will continue cooking it.

 

Using wide, shallow soup bowls, place poached fish on bottom of bowl, ladle hot soup over fish, and serve with croutons, aoli (garlic mayonnaise with saffron, white wine, lemon and salt), and shredded parmesan or comte cheese on the table.

 

Tour France: Caio Chow Linda Blogs about Bliss Travels (Recipes included

Reblog: A “Whelk-come” Fish Soup by Caio Chow Linda —

A food blogger traveling with Bliss Travels our October, 2012 trip to Provence in October.

Our recipe is below. –A Bientot, Wendy

Part of the joy of traveling to foreign countries is sampling foods you don’t normally eat every day. This fish soup is one of them. When I’m traveling, I’m likely to choose fish at a restaurant — anything from waterzooi in Belgium, brodetto in Italy, or crab soup in Maryland. A lot of times I think I’m being virtuous by staying away from a fat-laden steak, but truth be told, I make up for the calories and cholesterol with all the cakes and pastries I can’t resist afterwards. I do really love fish though, and am always ready to try something new. When I ordered this fish soup at dinner one night on my recent trip to Provence, it came complete with three shells resting on top – unlike any other I’ve ever eaten.
  If you’re thinking they look similar to snails, that’s because they are a kind sea snail. They’re called “whelks” and they’re found all over the world, even in New Jersey. They’re commonly eaten in Europe, and the Japanese like to use them in sushi.  Some varieties are poisonous however, so don’t gather them on a beach and try to cook them if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you want to read more about them, you’ll find a wealth of information here.
Actually, they taste a little rubbery and I can’t say I’d go out of my way to eat them. But they were part of this delicious fish soup I ate on my recent trip to Provence with Bliss Travels, and I certainly would go out of my way to eat this soup again. It’s a lot different from other fish soups I’ve eaten, partly because of the variety of spices used in the recipe. I bought some of the spices one day at a local market in the village, hoping to recreate the soup at home.
Wendy Jaeger, owner of Bliss Travels, explained that there are two kinds of fish soup – bouillabaisse and soupe de poisson. The one I ate (in the photos above) was neither, but rather a “nouvelle” interpretation.  Soupe de Poisson is a fish-based broth, cooked with tomato, fennel, leek, saffron, and onion, and is typically strained after being pureed, Wendy said. It’s also served with croutons,  aioli (kissin’ cousin to mayonnaise but with garlic) or rouille (spicier saffron mayonnaise) and shredded cheese. In the photo below, you can see the small bowls of cheese and rouille alongside my fish soup.
  Bouillabaisse is properly made with fish from the Mediterranean only, Wendy said, one of which is rascasse (scorpion fish). First the broth, similar to the soupe de poisson, is made. Pastis, an anise flavored liqueur, is often added as well. Then whole steamed fish (sometimes boiled slightly in the broth — but never overcooked) are brought out on a platter, along with potatoes and other accompaniments. You then filet the fish you like and place a bit of each into your bowl of broth. The soup and sauces are replenished until you are finished.
The rich, red color in the fish soup pictured above comes from a variety of sources – a reduction of the shellfish shells, as well as the addition of saffron, tomato and sometimes red pepper. Not all fish soups have a red color, however, as you can see from the photos of fish soups I ate on other nights during the trip.
This was a bouillabaisse with freshly caught local fish, served with rouille and a slice of toasted baguette smeared with an olive paste.
 Another day I ate a fish stew served with rice and vegetables. It included a bright red crayfish.
 On my last night there, I chose this small casserole of scallops, shrimp and mussels as my first course — not really a fish soup in the traditional sense, but it deserves to be included because it was so delicious and beautiful too, with a crispy topping.
 How I’d love to be sitting in one of those restaurants right now, enjoying one of those dishes. But in the absence of a flight to Provence, Wendy’s recipe for Soupe de Poisson will have to suffice. If you want to put on your traveling shoes, and you’re looking for a great holiday getaway though, check out Wendy’s upcoming trip to Paris.
Soupe de Poisson
courtesy of Wendy Jaeger, Bliss Travels
 
“My Soupe de Poisson recipe is a hybrid, and has been adapted for the U.S. It is also much quicker to make.  (I would never ever use tomato paste in France, but find it’s a necessity to use here.) What I have done is make a broth that we eat with just the accompaniments — or for more full and formal dining, it’s a broth that we can add fish to it, to make it into a quasi-bouillabaisse. I do not strain it, just puree it. I prefer the fuller feel with the lighter flavor.  Mine is very light and vegetable oriented and I make a saffron and garlic aioli, because that is my preference and I am not a big lover of pepper.” – Wendy
¼ cup olive oil
7-9 small garlic cloves, chopped
1 ½ cups of chopped sweet onion
2 ½ cups of chopped leek, white and light green only
1 cup of chopped fennel
4 ½ – 5 cups tomato (peeled, seeded and chopped)
¾ cups of white wine
12 cups water  (or fish stock)
3-5 Tablespoons of tomato paste, depending upon the flavor of the fresh tomatoes used above
Herbs:
Dried basil–optional
2 Tablespoons of fresh thyme, leaves only
¾ teaspoon of fennel seed
2 bay leaves
2 -2 inch strips of orange peel
¼ to ¾  teaspoon of saffron
salt and pepper
Fish:
16 ounces filet of skinned flaky white fish, such as snapper, sole or halibut
Optional additional fish for poaching (a variety of bass, halibut, scallop, shrimp, mussels…are all good choices)
In a large soup pot, heat oil, then add garlic, stir for a moment, add onion, leek and fennel. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes until vegetables soften. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer mixture for 45 minutes to an hour. Use an immersion blender to thoroughly blend, after removing bay leaves.
Add the whitefish and bring soup to a slow boil, check seasoning, adding salt if necessary. Boil until fish is done, five minutes or so. Break up fish into fine flakes with a fork, or by pulsing the immersion blender just briefly.
 
If using additional fish, poach the fish at the last minute and add whole.
Using wide, shallow soup bowls, place poached fish on bottom of bowl, ladle hot soup over fish, and serve with croutons, aioli (garlic mayonnaise with saffron, white wine, lemon and salt), and shredded parmesan or comte cheese on the table.

Tour France: Best Celebrity Tips For Visiting Paris (or Anywhere in France)

It’s not what you see, it’s how you see it!

Last night, I watched Anthony Bourdain’s new show “Layover“, the first episode of which focuses on Paris. And I was struck by how much I agreed with him. He said the exact same things I say to my clients all of the time (without the use of @#%&  and other colorful wording.)  For the second time (he also did a show on Burgundy) I knew most of the places (restaurants, streets, sights) he spoke of quite well, having been to them many times myself with and without clients. I even knew several people he spoke with/visited on air –quite a surprise to see them on the television instead of in person! But it is not familiarity that made me agree with Mr. Bourdain. It was that his advice was the best recipe for having a truly outstanding experience in France. Let me explain why.

Everybody and their uncle tells you what to see while in Paris (or Burgundy, or Provence, or just about anywhere)….Your best friend, the guidebook, the blogger you love, the New York Times, your neighbor etc. There is a very long list of things you “absolutely should not miss”.  (Even I have items remaining on that list.) But, how you plan your time is even more important than what you decide to see. I know that they might not seem to be very different things. But they are.

People ask me all the time what they should see and when –well, that is the business of Bliss Travels. They also ask me to plan for their “downtime” (i.e. time not spent with Bliss Travels) and for the meals they will have on their own. And they should. They are, in fact, paying for my expertise. And they listen carefully to the names of restaurants and special streets and bakeries. The one thing I have a difficult time getting people to hear is that they shouldn’t overbook themselves or run themselves ragged. Sure, they should see a few major sites. Sure, they should see a few “off the beaten track” items. But, they should also allow themselves to absorb the place they are visiting. The magic of Paris (or France in general) isn’t revealed by a guidebook, or located solely in the many beautiful things to see. It is more keenly felt when one experiences the place and the culture as the locals do (even if a bit more intensely). There is something quite true about that old saying “when in Rome, do as the Romans” 

That is not to say that you shouldn’t take a tour….Of course you should. Obviously, we pride ourselves in our small private walking tours and discourage big bus tours. However, bus tours are of interest to some people –especially if they have limited mobility. If you can’t do a walking tour with someone like Bliss, then designing your own is a good idea.

Of course you should see art in Paris. If not there, where? So choose a museum or two (depending upon the length of your stay) and enjoy that experience. (Tip: Get museum passes if you are going to visit one of busiest museums so you don’t spend all morning in line.)

Do remember to meander the streets of some of the more interesting neighborhoods, not just the grand boulevards…Do it without a destination in mind. Do you know that some streets in Paris are 1000 years old?

Remember to try the local cuisine in one of the postage stamp size bistros that are so popular. (Unfortunately, once Mr Bourdain -a celebrity– recommends a place on national television, the character of the place, and maybe even the menu can change –so try to find a place that still has its neighborhood character.) If you don’t have someone like us to provide that information for you, wonder around  –off of a main street, in a nice, but less touristic neighborhood. Start reading menus. If they are in English, move on. Do the same thing if the menu is large. Find a market fresh place with a lot of native French speakers, and give it a try.

Lounge at a cafe with a coffee or a wine, and watch Paris go by. Walk along the Seine, or sit on the banks or a bridge and absorb the scenery. Visit a park.

Visit a market street. You must! Taste as you go. A great trick, if you are doing this on your own, is to find a good market street, and look at where the customers are. Stand in line behind a long line of French locals. Listen to what they are ordering –or watch, if you don’t understand the language…You’ll see a pattern. Try what they are trying! (Normally, I do not advocate acting like sheep –however, if you are trying to find truly fine, non touristy food and drink, and you don’t have anyone with inside knowledge helping you, then you must become aware of what the locals are doing. That’s the only way you can do a real “quality check” and also experience local fare you wouldn’t necessarily know was available.

Attend a performance of some sort. How about a concert in a church (Paris over the holidays has many)? A ballet? A local circus for festival? (A Provence activity in the spring and summer) Even a a street performance is a good idea. You will relax. You will find that humor and entertainment are different and exciting. I will never forget one particular performance in a Mediterranean beach town. It was at the beginning of a trip and I was with two clients from Princeton New Jersey. That evening, before the fireworks –fun huh?– there was a theatrical street performance as intricate and absurd as a Fellini movie. with actors tossing others into a small pool made on the sidewalk, yelling, laughter, grand gestures. And you didn’t need to speak or understand a word of French to appreciate the humor and also how different it was from our own American street performances.

Or the time last Christmas in Paris when, after lunch, we stumbled upon a street performer, who kept us in stitches without saying a word.

Most of all, just relax and eat and drink and walk…You cannot have a bad time if you do those things! This is Bliss!

Wendy