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 France: Extraordinary Dining in France

Extraordinary Dining in France

I’ll bet you think this article is about the best tip top Michelin starred eateries….Well, you are partly right. Or maybe it’s about those little “off the beaten track” bistros that many great chefs are defecting to? Also, partly right. Or do you think it’s about the market streets…yep, just a little. Mostly, it’s about the special sort of balance you need in order to get the most out of your trip to a culinary Nirvana. So, even if you don’t travel with us, you can experience your own little bit of Bliss! So let me quote a great article by Moshulu:

“Eating done, what a pleasure it is to sit back comfortably, cradling a last glass of Jurancon (not too sweet, slightly bitter, slightly resinous), thinking about how good life is, and how silly people are. For example (and no offence!) why is it that The Chowhound Team continues to conflate “chow” with “food”, and “eating” with “dining”? Or why do so many Paris-bound chowhounds laboriously compile and post lists of restaurants, hoping to stuff themselves into a stupor throughout every moment that they are here? It’s just like being one of those manic tourists who rush through the Louvre making sure that nothing escapes them (Michelangelo? check!, Rubens? check!, Leonardo?, check!). It makes no sense. A gastronomic romp in Paris should be a quietly composed, elegant sonata, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Or maybe a tasteful country bouquet with just the right combination of colors, textures and smells. It should consist of a few choice selections from a palette that includes, among others, a neighborhood bistrot, a noisy brasserie, a simple fish place, a temple of “haute bourgeoisie” cuisine, a creperie, and (why not?) one of those phantasmagorical Senderens/Ducasse/Robuchon affairs. Each should be savoured for what it is, not checked off some list on the way to the next Michelin-rated clone. A quiet dinner… is like lingering for an hour in the Louvre’s Palissy room, grateful that someone once made such extraordinary efforts on one’s own behalf. And thankful that a few good restaurants still survive in Paris, even in the sixteenth arrondissement’s frigid, stony heart.”

If you eat at 3 star Michelin’s every day you will become numb. (And, not insignificantly, so full, you will not be able to move). If you go to Paris and eat nothing but crepes, quiche, croque monsieur or baguettes you will miss experiencing true culinary genius –and believe me, what passes in Paris (and other parts of France) for a nice quality bistro meal, is probably better than anything you’ve eaten anywhere else. (Yes, I’m talking to you foodies too. It’s just not possible to replicate terroir and the treatment that food gets as art in France). And, if you approach both food and art the same way, you will have a sensual and satisfying experience all around.

Mix it up…You’ve got to. The concept of courses at meals –not just giant plates of one thing is the same concept. You must have a little bit of a wide variety of foods. Your palate doesn’t become desensitized. Your body needs food that way. And the food is interesting, and your dining is mindful. Eating the same foods (high end or low end) every day on vacation is the same as eating a giant bag of chips in front of the TV. You stop tasting it. It’s just mindless repetition. But, when you switch it up –country lunch outdoors, gourmet tasting menu for dinner, cheese and baguette by a river bank, market fresh bistro –you magnify each experience, not just one of the experiences.


So, this is about balance. The idea for writing this article came from the above review. It so beautifully described how to have a top level culinary week, that I thought I’d excerpt it below and add one final point –yes, I know I make this same point a lot. Famous places can be great. Some restaurants are even famous because they are great. But, fame changes all but the most careful places (much like it changes all but the most grounded people). Thus, guidebooks and celebrities can help you find certain sorts of experiences. But, they likely won’t be unique or unspoiled. For that you must get “insider info” and go “off the beaten track”.

If you want to dine with Bliss, or come on one of our culinary trips, please contact us. All of our Spring and Summer trips can be found on our website, where you will also find our testimonials. Every one of our trips takes this approach to food. Our fall trips to Burgundy and Provence are pre booking and will be posted soon.

So, how about some coffee before you get up?

A bientot,

Wendy Jaeger –owner, Bliss Travels

Tour Provence: Vacation in Provence in a Day!

Tour Provence: Vacation in Provence in a Day!

From the ancient ruins you can freely climb through –to photography, to hiking, to pondering n’importe quoi… or just to put out a blanket and enjoy the view…

To the village panoramas…To the life within…
Why not open the door on a new adventure. It’s Bliss!

Come with us…

But first, read what others have to say…Don’t take  our word for it.

After you are through, book our last room. Watch the lavender flower, and experience the fragrance when a field is cut…It permeates the air for a quarter mile around it!

July 17-22 Provence (possible early arrival for Paris too!)

or

July 28-August 4 (Mediterranean and Paris) This trip is not advertised. It’s a small private trip. contact us for details wendy@blisstravels.com

Tour France: The Best Vacation in Provence!

Tour France: Provence in Cherry Season…The best vacation in Provence

Life may not be a “bowl of cherries” but you sure can pick your own treats….Fast food Provence style –pick your own dessert on the way home from dinner!

These cherry trees are so full of cherries that the bows are bent nearly to the ground. This little orchard is off of a Roman road, a few steps from the center of a Medieval village we like to call “home”.On our way back, the view was panoramic.
Today’s adventure begins with market day.

Contact us to know more about our last room in July (NEW dates: Arrive between July 13 and 16 for Bastille Day in Provence or Paris, and then spend July 18-22 in the Luberon) and our trip in October!

Tour France: Find Out About Summer Vacation in Provence (Bastille Day)

Tour France: Summer Vacation in Provence is spectacular.

Sunflowers. We stopped by the side of the road to photograph the sunflower fields.

Provencal Markets –All sorts of great foods and treats (see our earlier blog about how to shop the markets).

This particular Lavender field was a field we walked to –it was in a hidden, off road place. Up in the hills are Roman ruins that are not excavated, and also below –about a 1/2 mile walk is a watering hold where we went swimming. Not a tourist spot at all. In fact, a local friend showed it to us.

And, Bastille Day! What is Bastille Day and what are Bastille Day celebrations like?

See our next post. We’re going to tell you all about the fun activities and what you can do in France during BASTILLE DAY 2012.

A Bientôt,

Bliss Travels!

What is Insider Access & Insider Photos from Provence & Burgundy

What is “insider access”?

and why you should care!
Insider experiences are things that you can’t do on your own. They are little known, out of the way experiences, or they are things not open to the general public (and arranged especial for you).
As you can see from our photos, that’s what Bliss Travels is all about.
Perhaps you’d like to eat at a restaurant that isn’t filled with tourists –maybe one that is only opened for you?
Or experience a custom wine tasting in a private venue?Private Tasting of Chateauneuf du Pape
Have a Michelin starred restaurant prepare a special tasting menu or private room? 
Visit the bell tower of a Knight’s Templar church (not open to the public) with the curate?
Have a Provencal cooking class on a farm instead of a “sterile” kitchen?
Have a private chef prepare a superb picnic for a train ride to the South of France or to eat under a Roman bridge?
 train picnic
Enjoy a custom barrel tasting in a cellar with the winemaker? 
Visit a tiny little known gem of a village?
We think this makes travel special and that’s why we do it. And we do it for very small groups –usually 6-8 people. Never more than 12.
Not every exclusive access experience is about “money” or big names. Though sometimes they include those sorts of destinations. These are really the sorts of things you can’t “buy” with a deluxe credit card because they are not mass market  (even platinum and black cards) and they are not about commerce.   They are about time and effort and relationships.
You get them because you’ve got a “friend” with an “in”! So, if you want to have an authentic, hard to find cultural experience and interact with people in a way that goes beyond having them make change for you when you purchase a souvenir, then you want to experience Bliss!
September: all rooms full. 1 suite left (closing out May 10th)
October: 4 rooms only
June 10 -full
June 29: 1 room
July and August: 3 rooms.

Summer Vacation in Provence: 5 Tips for Shopping in Provencal Markets

Summer Vacations in Provence: 5 Tips for Shopping the Provencal Market The markets of Provence are world renown.  They are bustling, beautiful and bursting with mouth watering produce, cheeses, meats, breads, olive oils and wines. Just to name a few specialties. And, once your hunger and thirst have been quenched, you will notice flowers, linens, jewelry, artisan  products, gifts, clothing and more. A perfect  vacation day in Provence begins with a market tour. And just wandering the markets can be great. (Though we also like to send clients on a hunt for specific picnic or cooking class ingredients –part of the fun is learning to find and purchase.) How do you decide which of the cheese stands has the best cheese? How do you find the best baguette or artisan breads? Below are some tips for getting the most out of the Provencal markets.

  1. Tips for buying Produce. Buy local! French law requires that all produce be marked not just with its category  I, II, III (rating), but also its origin. I always stress buying and eating seasonally. I also believe local is better. So, first, look for the country. If it doesn’t say France, don’t buy it. Then look for the specific area of France.  Most people think that a sign that says “Provence” is a sign indicating “locally grown”. And, to a degree, it is. But, if you look carefully at the market produce stands, some will not just say Provence –but will say the town’s name. That’s when you’re at a truly local (and probably organic) stand. That’s where you want to look to buy first.  (And, if you know anything about the micro climates/towns, you’ll be able to decide whether you prefer strawberries from Carpentras or Aix-en-Provence –because you’ll know that they each have their own flavor –much the way wine from North Burgundy is different from wine from Southern Burgundy –even if they’re both Pinot Noirs.)
  2. Tips for buying cheeses. There are great cheeses from all over France. And certainly, importing cheese does not impact the quality the way it does for produce. Still, there are small local producers whose products are high quality, specially made, and cannot be found elsewhere. In Provence, this means goat cheeses.(There are no cows in Provence –so there are no cows milk cheeses made there..) The fresh goat cheeses  are local.  So try them. Look at what else they carry. If the cheese monger has a wide selection –he is likely to be an expert —  a knowledgeable collector of a wide variety of cheeses. If they carry one thing –just goat cheeses –then they are probably producers, and can provide you with a unique artisan product. You should look for one of these extremes.  They indicate special expertise, in two different ways.
  3. Tips for buying Meat and  Fish. Look and smell. Fish should look glossy and the eyes should look good. There should be no smell. Meat should look moist and fresh and also have no smell. It should be clear they are being kept cold. If you smell something, or it looks “tired”, this is not what you want. (Believe me, you know more than you think.)
  4. Tips for buying oils, jams and other “bottled and canned” products. The same principle applies. Look for a small artisan producer. Find a family business. Focus on small quality production. Look for handwritten labels (but proper canning procedure.) And taste. If you can’t taste, don’t buy. Artisan producers are very proud of their products and as such, offer tastes. They are convinced that you will buy it if you taste it. That’s the culture. So, if they won’t allow you to taste, that’ telling you something.
  5. Wait in line! If there are three vendors selling the same type of product –and there usually are –choose the one with the longest line (of locals). Why? Because these vendors come every week, have the same physical location at the market each time, and become as well known to market regulars as your local grocery is to you at home. If there’s a long line (of locals), there’s a reason.

Provence (Luberon) Special July/August Itineraries!

A perfect week in July or August –These are truly special travel itineraries with exclusive access to events and activities not available anywhere else. One for a week of festivals, fireworks and bull fights. The other for a week of Luberon experiences with option to attend photography, painting or cooking lessons. Tell us what you would do differently (or in addition)! wendy@blisstravels.com

Bastille Week  Day 1: Tuesday, July 10th

–           Pick up Avignon 2pm and transfer to Provencal inn in a Medieval village.

–            A selection of local aperitifs and a privately guided walking tour through a medieval village and private tour of a 1000 year old church, not usually open to the public.***

–            3 course, gourmet “welcome” dining experience at an authentic Provencal restaurant.**

Day 2: Wednesday, July 11

–            Gourmet breakfast

–            Private transport to a perched Medieval village. Explore the ruins and the church, and wander through the gardens below. Panoramic views of the countryside

–             Private wine tasting of wines from Chateauneuf du Pape and  lunch in a 500 year old bakery not open to the public. The chef prepares a  4 course gourmet menu, specially designed by Bliss Travels. ***

–            Visit an artisan jam and sorbet maker in her home garden behind her olive grove and vineyard. Learn how this artisan works and taste her products.

–            Visit a winery and museum (The nearby village is where Peter Mayle lived when he wrote “A Year in Provence”.)

­Dinner on your own

Day 3: Thursday, July 12

–            Gourmet breakfast

–            Visit the largest antiques market outside of Paris to shop and stroll the stalls. And, visit one of the deepest springs in the world. Tour the spring and the nearby ancient paper mill **OR

–            Or,  take the morning to relax then spend the afternoon in a cooking lesson with a famous area chef, followed by a multi course gourmet dinner**

(Private transportation and translation/guide provided for both. 6 people for antiques market required.)

 Day 4: Friday, July 13

–           Gourmet breakfast

–           Tour a village designated as one of France’s “most beautiful” during  market day and visit the restored Chateau. Learn about the village’s illustrious history (home to Albert Camus and Henri Bosco)**

–           Special gourmet picnic on the Chateau grounds, and a tasting of area olive oils and goat cheeses will be included with the picnic**

–           Afternoon back at your hotel to relax, shop, hike or sightsee

–           Dinner on your own

 Days 5 and 6: Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July 15

–            Gourmet breakfast, with fresh baked breads and croissants, jams, local fruits, yogurt, coffee/tea and juices

–            Go to St. Remy for Bastille Day for the weekend festivities

–            Check into a luxury boutique property in the town center.  (Hotel has private gardens and a pool with magnificent views)

–            A private guide to take you through the sites and also help you to choose things you can do on your own

Weekend festivities include:

–            Markets and street fairs

–            Bull fights (Tickets must be ordered in advance)

–            Running of the bulls in the streets and cowboys herding the bulls in the streets (You will be accompanied to these, and all the traditions will be explained)

–            Parades and evening dancing

–            A group meal hosted by the town (eat with the locals)

–            Fireworks

In addition, you may tour the galleries and museums with a private guide or independently.  Nostradamus lived in St Remy. Van Gogh lived and painted in St Remy (his sanatorium is in the village). There is an important archeological dig and there are Roman ruins in several locations nearby.

–            Celebrate with a tasting menu at a Michelin starred restaurant. Dinner and wines included

Day 7: Monday, July 16

After breakfast, you will be taken to the Avignon train station where our trip ends.

All inclusive Provence:  and  $3,100 (without antiques market trip) to $3,300 per person in a double room.

–ONE room at $2,900 per person.

609 462 6213. wendy@blisstravels.com

AUGUST ITINERARYspecial extras, painting lessons by a renown Provencal painter, photography tips and on the spot sessions, hikes, Roman ruins and independent time to relax!

This trip is exclusive to a private group of 12 until the end of April.

Sunday, August 5:

-Pick up in Avignon at the TGV station. Private transfer to hotel/inn with stop for an olive oil tasting, at a working olive oil mill originally used by the Romans

-Privately guided walking tour through a medieval village, and a privately guided tour through a 1000 year old church with foundations made of Roman stone (not usually open to the public)*** (optional photography lesson)

– Have a gourmet dining experience under the stars

Monday, August 6:

–        Breakfast, with fresh baked breads and croissants, jams, local fruits, yogurt, cheeses, cereal and coffee/tea and juices.

–        Private transport to a tiny Medieval village. Hike to the top of the village to visit the ruins, and the church, or wander through the gardens below. You will have panoramic views of the countryside

–        A private lunch in a 500 year old bakery, opened just for use –with a specially planned meal of 3 courses and local wines (and an optional private wine tasting in the cave –no charge). ***

–        Visit a 2,000 year old Roman bridge and learn about the Roman roads in the area (optional photo tips)

–        Dinner on your own in the village

Tuesday, August 7:

–        Breakfast.

–        Learn to paint***/**** or have 1 on 1 photography instruction.  Capture the Provencal landscape with a renown Provencal painter or with our professional photographer

–        Local color: a 2 course café lunch at a local cafe

–        Visit the Bories village (ancient structures)  or hike the cedar forest.

Wednesday, August 8

–        Breakfast, with fresh baked breads and croissants, jams, local fruits, yogurt, cheeses, cereal and coffee/tea and juices.

–        Visit the local Ocher mines.  (This is where Provencal pigments are found). Take one of the walking tours and then explore the art in the village and enjoy a lunch on your own.  (optional photography session –color)

–        Afternoon/evening on your own to wonder the village, swim, hike or relax.

Thursday, August 9:

–        Breakfast

–        Option for a  second painting lesson or photography session*** /****

–        Lunch on your own

–        Private transport to a village designated at one of France’s most beautiful. Learn about the village’s illustrious history (home to Albert Camus and Henri Bosco). Tour the beautifully restored chateau

–        An early dinner in the form of a gourmet picnic on the Chateau grounds is included** and you have the option to remain to hear a piano concert in the Chateau that evening.  (Additional cost for tickets, and tickets are limited and subject to availability)

Friday, August 10:

–        Breakfast

–        Visit the local Provencal market set up outside your door.  (If you are traveling as a family, the kids/teens will have their own outing to the market this morning.) (optional food photography)

Choice to:

visit a secluded family run Auberge, built into the base of the cliffs that surround you.  Enjoy an authentic, traditional Provencal lunch and sip the local wines. Afterwards, you can hike through the ruins of a fort more than 1000 years old.

Or,  spend the late afternoon in a cooking lesson followed by a multi course dinner with wine pairing. **

–        (For families, kids/teens can also have a special local cooking lesson of more kid friendly specialties followed by their own dinner at the inn).***

Saturday, August 11:

–        Breakfast

–        Tour the largest most beautiful market in Provence. Pick up your gifts and favorites for a picnic on the train back to Paris.

Private transfer to the TGV  station in Avignon where our trip ends.

 Priced from $2,900 per person, all inclusive Provence.

609 462 6213. wendy@blisstravels.com to get on the list for a spot.

 

5 Reasons Why July 10-20 Are the Best Summer Weeks in Provence!

The best time to go to Provence. People always ask me that. The answer –well, apart from “anytime” –might not surprise you. For summer time, the best time is July 10-20. And here are my  top reasons:

1. Bastille Day in Provence! Paris is Paris. And Bastille Day is quite an event. But, in Provence, in certain towns and small cities, they have the running of the bulls through the streets. Imagine sitting at a cafe, having a rose, or coffee, and watching the French cowboys herd bulls through the Medieval streets. The boys and young men jump the barrier and chase the bull trying to hold onto his tail. And there are bull fights (the kind where the bull is not hurt.)

2. Fireworks over a castle or ancient fort. When the night sky lights up a castle and then the fireworks pop up over that, that might even be better than the Eiffel Tower. (This is a hard choice to make!)

3. It’s prime festival season. There are wine festivals, village fetes and all manner of special celebrations. Even a melon festival! That means there are parades, special markets, special tastings and lit up village squares where you dance the night away!

4. The best beach weather! The Mediterranean is great in July. The weather is great. The excitement level is wonderful. The sky is blue. And there are street shows to watch almost every evening -as you have your dinner outside looking at the sparkling sea.
5. Lavender. Need I say more? You are assured of lavender all July –and first half of August (depending upon the weather that season. And you are assured of lavender related festivals and special events!

Of course, we love Provence almost all year round! It’s Bliss!

6 French Wine & Food Pairings

Friday night Bliss Travels had the pleasure to lead a food and wine pairing. So, off we went to Montclair, New Jersey to meet a great group of about a dozen people to share French wines, stories and photos (courtesy of our photography partner, Anthony Bianciella). We are leading a private one again today! Many of the same wines, but with cheeses this time.

Below are some of our pairings and suggestions from these two events.

We compared the Cotes du Rhone (Provencal wines from the area around Chateauneuf du Pape)

and Burgundy. 

Our two favorites both to visit and to drink.

1. Muscat. This is served all over the South of France as an apero. Usually, the accompanying food is salty –such as olives, tapenade, anchoiade. (For cheeses, we pair this with a Bleu, and serve this last, rather than first in in our tastings.)

Mas Amiel, Muscat de Rivsaltes, 2008

2. Cotes du Rhone, white! A Fleur de Pampre, Cotes du Rhone Village, Visan, Domaine La Florane. Great bouquet. Floral. Light and slightly sweet. We paired with this with an aged goat cheese from the region, served on toasts, and topped with a fig confit brought back from Provence on one of Bliss Travels recent trips. For our cheese pairing we are taking orange and fennel pastry spoons, made by a world famous Parisian bakery (we brought them back from Paris on this last trip) and filling them with a fresh, mild goat cheese, a drizzle of lavender honey will complete this amuse bouche! (Want more recipes and food ideas? Contact us!)

3. Burgundy, white. A 2008, Saint Veran, Tirage Precoce, Domaine Corsin. This was served with a smoked salmon. The full flavor of the Chardonnay pairs well with the full fatty flavor of the salmon. This Chardonnay also pairs well with Comte cheese.

4. Roses from Provence. These are under appreciated in the US. Rose is drunk all over France, all summer long. With fish, meats, vegetables…

We recommend the Roses from Provence very highly.. The Bandol’s are wonderful (Mediterranean). The Tavels (Northern Provence) are a favorite. Every community will have it’s own, and it will pair beautifully with the foods.

We paired ours with an Aioli,made using Bliss Travels recipe. It’s a dish we made last May in Provence –and will make again this May when we go with Anthony Bianciella to Provence for our custom spring trip through the region (his photos are here. If you’d like to see more, look at his website).

It pairs equally well with our Soupe au Pistou. Click on the link for the recipe and to “see” the lesson.

5. Burgundy, red. 2009 Savigny-Les-Beaune, Les Picotins, Domaine Jean-Luc Dubois. This pinot noir paired with sauteed mushrooms and a light ratatouille. It would have been wonderful with our lamb dish as well. We are pairing this with a hard cheese of Sheep’s milk , and also with St Marcellin.

Of course, the best pairings are food and wine, where they exist locally. Some of last September’s group to Burgundy.

6. Cotes du Rhone, Red. 2010 Mas de Libiun, Khayyaim. A full bodied Grenache. We served with with a herb encrusted rack of lamb. In Provence, we recommend lamb or even a strong local goat cheese to stand up to this full flavored wine. Coming full circle, this red can be paired with a strong, aged goat cheese, on a fig bread, with a fig confit….All of these items live, grow and are made in the same small towns.

Thank you to our wonderful host (and very frequent traveler) Karen! Thank you to Chef Nikko for making dishes to pair with our wines!

Want to know more about our trips or learn what our travelers have to say? Read our testimonials.  Or contact us at 609 462 6213 or wendy@blisstravels.com. Spring and Summer in France are spectacular!