Tour France: A Surprise Engagement

Tour France: A Surprise Engagement on the way to Burgundy

A guest on one of Bliss Travelstours through France got the best surprise during her time with us in  Paris!

A toast to the happiest couple!

A toast to the happiest couple!

Janice contacted Bliss Travels a several months ago to come on our wine trip to Burgundy. She was interested in extending the trip –learning more about places to visit in France and about our various food and wine adventures. This was going to be her boyfriend,  Jeff’s first time in France.

Several months later when she arrived in Paris on a crisp autumn day, Janice, blonde, bubbly, and full of smiles despite the jetlag, was still bursting with excitement as she introduced her boyfriend, Jeff, to the City of Lights for the first time.

The happy couple spent the next day exploring one of the most beautiful cities in the world—climbing the Eiffel Tower, strolling along the Seine, and even putting their own “love lock” on the Pont des Arts. But Jeff had more in mind than a sightseeing trip!

The couple eats a gourmet picnic on our TGV ride to Burgundy. Check out that ring!

The couple eats a gourmet picnic on our TGV ride to Burgundy. Check out that ring!

He was a bit nervous –trying to find the “perfect” setting. Should he propose during dinner? Afterwards? At the hotel? Jeff had no idea how things were going to proceed (and neither did Janice). After a romantic candlelit dinner at Le Reminet and Jeff’s favorite, hot chocolate, they wandered back to the hotel. There he resolved that the privacy of their little boutique Parisian hotel was the best place to state his “question”. Once back in their room, Janice was astonished—and delighted—to find Jeff getting down on one knee. “I was so excited, I’m not sure I remembering hearing anything besides ‘Will you marry me?’ ” laughed Janice, recalling the happy evening. But she immediately said yes—bien sûr!

As our little group of 7 enjoyed a picnic on the TGV trip to Burgundy the next morning, Janice and Jeff couldn’t wait to share their wonderful surprise and her stunning ring. As she told us the story, everyone asked if Janice was surprised. Jeff’s response was “nobody was more surprised than I!” I guess when love strikes, there’s nothing much you can do but follow through!

A trip to a wine maker's private cellar welcomed us to Burgundy. Not too shabby!

A private tasting at “closed to the public” Domaine de l’Arlot. The technical director himself conducted the tasting!

Jeff and Janice, we couldn’t be happier to celebrate your good news with you!  Wishing you years of “bliss”!

Janice wondered "how we will be able to go back to drinking the wines we liked before after tasting so many fabulous ones of this trip."

Janice wondered “how we will be able to go back to drinking the wines we liked before after tasting so many fabulous ones of this trip.”

Felicitations, nos amis!

A bientot-

Bliss Travels

Wine lovers–stay tuned for more tales from our trips to Bordeaux!

Our group loved exploring vineyards!

Tour France: Provence is “heaven on earth”

In the New York Times article “Steal My Vacation: Norma Kamali’s Provence” , renowned fashion designer and dedicated olive oil conoisseur Kamali extols the wonders of Provence. She mentioned that “If there was a description of what heaven looks like, I would say this is it.” Tell us something we don’t know!

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

Thankfully, Provence isn’t only visited for its (admittedly fantastic) olive oil orchards. Bakeries, farms, ancient ruins, resplendent cathedrals, and warm locals all beckon people from across the world to take a break underneath its spotless blue sky. It is one of the best places to visit in France! Period! Oh, and what about the wines? Chateauneuf du Pape wines, Cote du Rhones, Bandols….and Rose of all shades.

Provence is completely unique, with a relaxed pace that stems from each easy moment. The cicadas chirping in an ancient olive orchard, a secluded lavender field heated by the sun, and an incredible dinner made from fresh ingredients bought at that morning’s market. It is a retreat from stress, and a voyage into “bliss“. Parfait!

The list of our favorite places to visit in Provence could go for days. Luckily, Bliss Travels creates small group custom vacations in Provence at several points throughout the year, in MayJune, July, August, and October, so you can come up with your own list of favorites!  And do it with an insider. Exclusive access is the best part of what we do. (See what our clients say about that.) Escape to your own “heaven on earth” with us to see what Norma Kamali and the New York Times are raving about.

A bientot-

Bliss Travels

Check out some photos of our previous trips to Provence below!

Provence offers divine meals with incomparably fresh ingredients.

Provence offers divine meals with incomparably fresh ingredients.

Every corner offers a new view to take your breath away.

Every corner offers a new view to take your breath away.

Hiking to the Ancient cathedral on top of a perched village was one of the group's favorite moments in July!

Hiking to the ancient church on top of a 1000+ year old perched village was one of this group’s favorite moments in July!

Olive orchards are around every corner

Olive orchards are around every corner

Our clients loved to stop in the lavender fields when we passed them!

some very special return clients on an awesome trip. Summer is the time that everyone loves to stop in the lavender fields. We pass tons!

Our October trip also features professional photography lessons!

Our October and May (for poppies) trip also feature professional photography for those who want to capture the beauty. Poppy fields are astounding

Tour France; New Van Gogh Painting Discovered!

After being stored in a Norwegian attic for over 100 years, “Sunset at Montmajour” has been officially declared a long-lost van Gogh original. The first van Gogh to be confirmed since 1928, it took two years of extensive testing before art historians accepted the hypothesis. Museum director Axel Rueger called it a “once-in-a-lifetime experience,” going on to effuse praise on his fellow historians and van Gogh experts.

"Sunset at Montmajour" was unveiled by the delighted  van Gogh museum director, Axel Ruetger.

“Sunset at Montmajour” was unveiled by the delighted van Gogh museum director, Axel Rueger.

Over a million people visit Amsterdam’s van Gogh museum each year. “Sunset at Montmajour” will only be on view until September 24th, as it is owned by a private collector, giving audiences even more incentive to visit the museum quickly!

Much of van Gogh’s adult life was spent in various facilities in Provence, France–even in the village that Bliss Travels visits each summer and autumn! Visiting the same sites that van Gogh painted has always provided Bliss clients an intimate link to the painter and his oeuvre.

Van Gogh's Provencal self-portraits provded a look at his tumultuous feelings.

Van Gogh’s Provencal self-portraits provded a look at his tumultuous feelings.

We hope that someday soon we will see “Sunset at Montmajour” on our summer or autumn trips to Provence. Come with us to get a unique look at his life!

This past summer Bliss clients explored van Gogh's favorite region.

This past summer Bliss clients explored van Gogh’s favorite region.

Bliss clients also enjoyed a beautiful late lunch just outside of van Gogh's Provencal sanitorium.

Bliss clients also enjoyed a beautiful late lunch just outside of van Gogh’s Provencal sanitorium.

If you want to know more about the esteemed artist, check out our previous blog, Vincent van Gogh’s Provence.

A bientot-

Bliss Travels

Tour France; A Michelin-Starred Evening

Bliss Clients Create their Own Gourmet Meal

The chef shows us the ropes

The chef shows us the ropes

One thing Bliss Travels prides itself on is giving our clients unique insider experiences on our journeys through France, Spain, and Belgium. Since we customize each trip to suit the interests of the group, these experiences are always a little different. From private wine tastings in 800 year old cellars in Burgundy, to painting lessons in the lavender fields of Provence with a professional artist, to private tours of the Sagrada Familia Basilica of Barcelona with a seasoned art specialist as your guide, Bliss always leaves you with unforgettable memories.

Clients working hard for the perfect meal

Clients working hard for the perfect meal

For our clients touring France this May, this proved to be exactly the case! On our journey through Provence, this group of foodies were taken to a renowned restaurant to meet the head chef, a Michelin-starred creative genius and enthusiastic lover of cuisine. But of course things didn’t end there. The head chef led the group to the restaurant’s kitchen for a private cooking lesson, where they chopped, sautéed, and laughed their way to a gourmet meal.

You can practically smell it from here!

You can practically smell the ripe melon it from here!

Under the guidance of the engaging chef, who is also a TV personality here, the meal came out stunningly. It was promptly enjoyed with bottles of local wine hand picked by Bliss (Who turns down a local wine when the area includes Chateauneuf du Pape and the other great Cote du Rhone wines?)  Of course, it’s not all food and wine. It’s also a great (and small) group of eight fun loving, interesting people that make these sorts of events a success. And this group laughed and enjoyed themselves late into the night.

Pure Bliss? We would say so. Come tour France with us and decide what your next adventure will be!

A Bientot!

Bliss Travels

Vincent van Gogh’s Provence

One of several self-portraits van Gogh painted in Provence.

One of several self-portraits van Gogh painted in Provence.

The Bliss Travels trip to Provence is coming up soon, and it is one of our favorites. The untamed, easy beauty of the region is like no other in the world. Something about the rolling lavender fields, the ancient stone villages, and the smell of pure sunshine just diminishes your worries and makes your stresses seem silly.

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

It really is no wonder that Vincent van Gogh escaped here from the hustle and bustle of life in Paris. In February 1888, the painter moved to Arles, one of the larger towns in the area, to work on his fragile health and to rid himself of the ever-increasing modernity in the cities—the same reason his friend and fellow painter Gauguin left. For a while it even soothed his artistic needs—he had been surrounded by too much gray in the city for an artist whose very essence relied on vivid colors, used with the utmost intention. In Provence, the colors he saw in his head were reflected by nature.

(I sometimes think we give the Impressionists and other revolutionary painters of this time too much credit. Though their work is gorgeous, they did not need to strain themselves much to paint it—the south of France really does have that incredible brilliance to it!)

It was during this time that van Gogh’s inspiration struck. In 15 months, he created over 300 paintings in his “Yellow House” and the sanatorium he lived in after suffering a mental breakdown (culminating with a fight with fellow artist Gauguin and the infamous lop of his ear). This sanatorium can actually still be visited, as Bliss does regularly, and maintains a lovely flower garden similar to the one van Gogh took flowers from to paint.

"The Evening Cafe" looks the same today!

“The Evening Cafe” looks the same today!

Arles was the location of many of his most famous works, in fact, such as “Starry Night”, “The Evening Café” (seen here), “The Hospital Garden”, and “Trinquetaille Bridge”. Many of his floral and landscape pieces are from the time period as well, since he did not know many people to act as models in the new town (and those who saw his unconventional pieces were quite hesitant to be a part of them!)

For even more incredible examples of van Gogh’s work, click here.

It is incredible to think of all that was accomplished for art in such a sleepy town (that Bliss is lucky enough to visit each summer.) Not much has changed since van Gogh’s time there—Arles is still built around stunning Roman ruins, filled with markets and friendly folk, homemade olive oil and soap shops, warm terracotta roofs and lavender wooden shutters, and a deep, innate respect for the beauty of the land itself.

One of the most popular parts of Bliss’ French tours are our picnics out in olive tree orchards. The cicadas chirp lazily—a sound the region is never without—as we snack on typical Provencal food like figs, fresh fruit, and baguettes with locally made goat cheeses and tapenade. Sitting in the dappled sunlight, everything feels easy and utterly timeless, as if van Gogh is just beyond the trees, bringing us a tarte Tatin from his favorite bakery. Provence has an ageless beauty that connects old and new seamlessly.

Poppies and olive trees, some of the signature foliage of Provence.

Poppies and olive trees, some of the signature foliage of Provence.

One would hope that van Gogh had found as much inner peace in Provence as he did artistic inspiration.  Though sadly that wasn’t the case, we do know that he was in awe of the vivacity of the region. Now it is our turn to love it as much as he did! Come with us to experience his life in a completely unique way.

See you there!

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

2013-04-27 09.16.00Each glass had a name2013-04-27 11.30.25Just before arrival, our hosts and “penny” enjoying the sunshine.

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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

Bliss Travels….To Bordeaux and Barcelona. Tour France with us!

Bliss Travels is expanding! Watch for the best, most authentic, most exclusive experiences available anywhere (really).

We spent March in talks with the most exclusive, most stunning, most tasty places you can find in Bordeaux, South West France, and Barcelona Spain.

Tour France, Bordeaux

It’s hard to imagine, but our boutique lodging is this spectacular. Enjoy a glass

of Chateau Margaux as you sit in your stunning room. Yes, we’ll send it up to you!

DSCF0665Or have a taste of wines from the spectacular private collection of Smith Haut Lafitte, where we will enjoy a private culinary and wine event. Several Chateaux have agreed to open their “not open to the public doors” for us and we are humbled. Enjoy Premier Grand Cru Classe wines of world renown.Bordeaux France Wines

We will visit the top chateaux in St Emilion where we have been promised unparalleled experiences. When I heard from one Chateau that  Bliss was welcomed and had access to places that Robert Parker was not allowed I knew we were in for something special. We can’t provide photos of some items in order to keep them private.

After finishing in Bordeaux we will have a gastronomic and artistic experience on the

 French/Spanish border, before heading to Barcelona for tapas that rivaled anything we had seen before.DSCF0752Another newly discovered culinary gem lies in these quaint streets.
DSCF0758Finally,  we have made arrangements at an artistic boutique hotel in Barcelona for a warm, luxurious and welcoming experience. We will have a private tour by Bliss Travels’ newest guide and art expert, through the works of Gaudi, especially  Sagrada Familia (one of the most astounding places one can see anywhere). We will have the advantage of visiting with a guide who has met with the architects of this world wonder and has intimate knowledge of Gaudi’s life,  work and Barcelona generally. We will see Park Guell, another treasure of the city. And I will introduce you to an unknown chef whose cooking is superior, creative and truly a hidden gem.

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Welcome to Bliss! Contact us now to get one of only 10 spots on this amazing journey to Bordeaux. wendy@blisstravels.com