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

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.

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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!

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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: 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 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

5 Tips for Getting Lowest Airfares: Great Airfare Sales for the Holidays

5 Tips: How do you find the best airfares? 

Here are some tips to share:

1. Kayak.com –This is a great search engine if you know how to use it. Input your  area airports (not just the single specific airport) and then use flexible dates. A matrix will appear and you can see exactly what your options are. For example, if you are leaving from New York City and going to Paris -make sure to input “New York -all airports”. You may not want to go to Newark or JKF, but if the fare is $300 lower, you just might find you feel differently.

2. Search nearby departure airports. In the NY area, we are not far from Philadelphia. That means that for minimal trouble you can fly from Philadelphia too. Sometimes the smaller (relatively speaking) airports cost  significantly less. Almost all the flights from Philadelphia to Paris were $1000 roundtrip and they were NONSTOP!

3. Search nearby destination airports the same way. If you are going to Paris, why not fly into Orly? It’s small. Customs takes 5 minutes (really) and it’s closer to Paris than Charles de Gaulle, so transport is cheaper. When I did this search I found a $900 flight from Newark to Orly. For $900 you can arrive in Paris Christmas morning and stay until the 30th –and the flight was a nonstop!

4. Expand your definition of “nearby”. European destinations are often very very close together… a train ride away. For example, I just searched Newark to Brussels. Why? Because a train ride of a little more than an hour is all that separates those two cities (and Brussels is quite beautiful over the holidays). The fare was $850 roundtrip for a nonstop. That is amazing.  I do this for a living, and I haven’t seen this fare level in several years!

5. Keep track of sales. When you see one airline go on sale, that means the others are likely to follow suit, maybe not that day….but soon.

On this point, it’s important to remember the immortal words of Bogart…

“If you don’t get on that plane, you’re gonna regret it…maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.” 

So, take that trip! Wherever you decide to go! “We’ll always have Paris….”

The flight sale prices we saw to London, Paris and Brussels were all in the $850-$1,100 price range, and were roundtrip, included taxes and fees and are sold directly by the airlines. Contact us if we can be of assistance. These are great deals. The best we’ve seen in a while, so if you want to go to Europe, don’t delay!

Tour Paris over the Holidays: 9 Special Things To Do!

TOUR PARIS OVER THE HOLIDAYS

9 SPECIAL THINGS TO DO AND SEE!

(and 1 extra!)

1. Tour Paris to see the decorations and trees. Each Arrondissement (neighborhood) puts up specially decorated trees in strategic locations. Get an idea of which arrondissement and which trees you’d like to see and go on a hunt for your favorites!

2, Oysters and champagne by the riverbank. Every holiday season, on the lower level embankment of the Seine River, by the Eiffel Tower, there are Champagne and Oyster vendors…check them out. What an experience to sip Champagne by the riverside, feast on oysters (or some other gourmet treat) and to do so all in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Even better –wait til it’s glittering at night!

3. Pastry and hot chocolate tastings. Take an afternoon stroll and taste the famously rich hot chocolate of various famous and lesser known hot chocolate vendors. Angelina’s is of course the most well known –They are famous for having both white and dark hot chocolate. I think this pairs just perfectly with their famous Mont Blanc pastry. That chestnut and meringue confection is not too rich to pair with their thick hot chocolate –yet it holds its own. Or, if you have the chance, purchase the “mix” offered by Pierre Herme to take home to make. What a treat! 

4. Christmas markets. Visit the Christmas markets. Each of them are different. Some have more foods/wines. Some have more gifts and some specialize in art or antiques. All have warm spiced wine and gourmet goodies and gifts. We like to find the special artisan vendors who have come to Paris from the countryside. They carry high quality and unique products. Hint: Many vendors in street markets, the Christmas ones included, will occupy the same space year after year –so once you find someone you love, you are likely to find them easily the next time!

5. Skating in Paris…in front of City Hall (where Rodin sculpted) or even in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower. Need we say more?

6. Notre Dame for Christmas mass. Even if you are not Catholic, this is certainly an interesting experience.

7. Christmas dinner –Culinary treats abound in Paris over the holidays.  Whether your tastes run to casual cafes and a glass of red wine, or something more whimsical or even something traditionally formal…..The gastronomic treats are endless. Truffles, scallops, roast pheasant, veal and duck, special cheeses infused with truffle or aged for many months until tiny bits of crystal appear –adding texture and punch –bouches de Noel, and other traditional desserts–in fact, there are 13 traditional desserts for Christmas. Our last few Christmas lunches and dinners in Paris included Champagne, foie gras, oysters, scallops, truffles, roast leg of lamb, truffle stuffed chicken breast, specialty breads, homemade desserts and fabulous wines from Burgundy and Chateauneuf du Pape…I’m stuffed just writing about these feasts. Make sure you don’t miss out on any of these wonderful treats!

The gastronomic treats are endless. Truffles, scallops, roast pheasant, veal and duck, special cheeses infused with truffle or aged for many months until tiny bits of crystal appear –adding texture and punch –bouches de Noel, and other traditional desserts–in fact, there are 13 traditional desserts for Christmas. Our last few Christmas lunches and dinners in Paris included Champagne, foie gras, oysters, scallops, truffles, roast leg of lamb, truffle stuffed chicken breast, specialty breads, homemade desserts and fabulous wines from Burgundy and Chateauneuf du Pape…Remember, this is red wine season –if such a season exists. Too hot for many reds in the summer, and white’s just won’t warm you up or stand up to that hearty winter fare! So, your best reds will be now!

I’m stuffed just writing about these feasts. Make sure you don’t miss out on any of these wonderful treats!

 

8. Concerts. Whether it’s Gregorian chants, or classical concerts, there are wonderful concerts held in the area churches and museums. Imagine listening to chanting in a Medieval building, or a choral group in a 1000 year old church.  Check into it!

9. Museums….That’s right. Visit the museums. What a great time of year to walk the city and come in to warm up (though last year it was about 55 degrees in mid December) while looking at world class art. We specifically take our clients through several of the smaller museums. Spending the day weaving in and out of these museums, mixed with the Christmas lights, and the early sunset, really makes for a magical adventure.

 If you have any ideas of your own to share, or if we can answer any questions, contact us at wendy@blisstravels.com

A water color by our very talented and charming Michel! Not all art is in the museums! And this is idea number 10 –sit with Michel  on a park bench, bridge or cafe, as he paints some amazing Parisian scene!!!

Tour France: 5 Tips for the Holidays in Paris, revisited!

5 Tips on How to Have it All: The Best of Being Home for the Holidays & Getting Away!

 

Reblogging last year’s tips for holiday travel

The big debate is whether to stay home for the holidays or whether to get away. You might want a homey “white Christmas” with your special dinner, relaxation, and family, friends and gifts. You may also want to get away and just take a break from it all –you know, a vacation! So, how can you have it all?

1. Go Away just before the holidays or between Christmas and New Year’s, and return home a couple days before your “family” celebration! Why not? You can get away, relax, shop in a new and exciting environment (buying truly unique gifts for your loved ones.) You can pamper yourself a bit before the (joyful) work of hosting your family, cooking the meals and cleaning up the holiday messes.

2. Bring your favorite aspects of your “at home” celebration with you when you go abroad for the holidays.That’s right. Bring some of your gifts or that homemade special treat. Or plan that favorite meal. Why not bring your empty stockings and have them filled while you’re away on your relaxing vacation! In other words, bring a little bit of “home” with you –just don’t bring the oven or the dishes!

3. Seek out some of your holiday favorites in your new destination. Do you love love love Chestnuts at Christmas time? Fine. Enjoy them locally prepared while you’re away. Do you always have hot chocolate on Christmas morning, or roast goose or 7 fishes or a special dessert on your holiday? Great! See how the locals prepare it. (I can only speak to France, but the French do all of these things extremely well. So no worries for us!)

4. Enrich your memories and experiences. Do you always take a walk? Sleep in? Go to mass? Do it somewhere else. You’ll forever say “remember that year we went to Christmas mass or took our walk…in that special vacation destination. Trust me. In the years to come, you won’t be saying –”gosh, I wish we hadn’t taken that Christmas morning walk along the Seine in 2011. Our neighborhood is so nice.” Nor will you say, “I’m so sorry we missed our local mass. Notre Dame wasn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.” You’ll be reminiscing about how lovely it was back then, and those memories will bring a smile to your face!

5. Develop new traditions while you’re abroad that you can incorporate into your future holiday celebrations. We all love our favorites. Grandma’s cookies. The roast beef or turkey dinner. But, sometimes it puts a little zing in the holidays to add something new to the mix. Maybe, while you’re away, you’ll find something new you love to do, eat, drink, see….(I sure hope so). Then, next year, you can engage in that activity at home. I have a friend who brought me some very special tea and cakes from Europe  one year. Now, we make or buy those same items each year around the holidays. Not only is it a good memory, it’s a new and special treat.

6. Enjoy the company of others. Go with a group and/or bring a loved one, or a friend, or two. It doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think. You can get cozy and share a room (since you probably won’t spend much time in it anyway, or you can live it up and do something super luxe.) You can enjoy your time with the people you travel with (even kids, who everyone worries won’t travel well, do, in fact, enjoy new locations. They’re interested and entertained and just as happy as you are. I know. Really. We do it all the time.) You can even travel alone and make new friends. Our experience from our small group trips is that people truly enjoy each other’s company and often remain friends and keep in touch.

Burgundy in September: A Wine Tour of France!

Burgundy in September: Tour France through Wines!

September in Burgundy is the grape harvest. Our group was here for that. We’re in Burgundy. There was one day of sunny harvest and one day of rainy harvest. Production of grapes for 2012 is much lower due, in part, to the weather this year.

This first post is a few group shots of what we’ve done. We’ve sampled small production wines in caves, homes and restaurants. The restaurants have been quite special with dishes such as roast breast of duck with cassis and poached lobster in a red wine butter with baby vegetables.

First a Champagne reception in Paris on the Left Bank.

Luxembourg Gardens on day 1. We walked the Left Bank –visited 12th century streets, toured the gardens as well as St Sulpice and one of the covered passages. After our gourmet lunch in a Michelin starred restaurant, we visited the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, the Tuileries gardens, and the Pont des Arts.

Champagne first followed by a dinner at Bernard l’Oiseau. Off a side street in one of Burgundy’s best wine towns.
One of our favorite main courses was a line caught roasted fish filet served on a bed of black risotto, topped with squid, tomato and grilled chorizo. I am always partial to the flavors of Southern France –even when dining in Paris! Wine tasting in Nuits St George, of wines from the Haute Cote de Nuits led by Charly. Next up: October in Chateauneuf du Pape and Provence. Ask us about that trip (we have one room left) or talk to us about Provence or Burgundy 2013. Last year sold out 6 months in advance.