Holiday Bliss: Top 5 Reasons Paris Should be Calling your Name

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Wintertime has a bad rap of being gloomy, dark, cold, and insufferable.

A Paris holiday is the exception indeed! Let the City of Lights soften your winter blues. Paris becomes a glitzy, sparkling wonderland, bustling with beautiful people, food, and sights. Everyone in Paris enjoys the breathtaking Tour Eiffel, but not everyone gets the inside scoop. Here are a few tips for people who want to make the most of their Paris holiday:

These are the top 5 reasons you need Paris this winter holiday. Be in Bliss, you deserve it!

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5. The Christmas Markets

Of course you have heard of the bustling street markets that dazzle with their seasonal delicacies, flashing lights, and twinkling charms. Imagine taking a stroll in these seasonal Christmas markets, where you can grab a warm cup of mulled wine to warm up the belly. But, here’s an insider’s tip: A few of the formerly Michelin starred chefs have taken stands at one of the markets, and are offering tastes of great bistro food, and even music….Gourmet bistro food on the streets? Only in Paris!

 

 

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what will you choose?

 

What will you choose in the sea of possibilities?

4. Bright Lights of the Streets and Storefronts

‘Tis is the season of giving (and of course treating yourself!) so don’t forget to pack lightly so you can fit all your new finds from the dazzling storefronts that glisten with light. Remember, the markets aren’t the only place to shop. There are fabulous finds in the 6th and also along the Grand Boulevards. Don’t forget Bon Marche, where you can indulge yourself in every category of purchase.

 

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3.  La Seine

There is nothing quite as dreamlike as the reflections of all the lights on the main vein of Paris like La Seine. Stunning to stroll along, or perhaps view on your way to or from Christmas mass at Notre Dame or ice skating at Hotel du Ville……. Can you say romantique?
In past years the weather was nice enough that we brought some special gourmet treats and treated our clients to an impromptu “casse croute” and a street performance!  Worried it’ll be cold? Not a problem –last year we switched it up and had oysters and Champagne under the Tour Eiffel.

 

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2. The Magnificent Monuments

Imagine the stained glass windows of the cathedrals illuminated as the winter light passes through them, or how about the fairytale-like views leading to L’Arc de Triomphe? Surely there is nothing more magnificent than the glittering lights of Paris and her beautiful adornments!

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and the TOP reason you need Paris this holiday season……..

1. The Food and Drink

Your taste buds will thank you for treating them to such excellent Parisian fare! It’s foie gras season, chocolate season,  truffle season, chestnut season, and more. The holidays are the culinary pinnacle of the year! From Champagne to Burgundy to Bordeaux, the wines enchant. From discreet patisseries to private dinners in the home of a chef (formerly of three Michelin star Arpege), discover foodie Bliss.  And share that holiday cheer with the new friends you meet along the way!

Yes that is a golden trees of delicious macrons, all for you!

Yes that is a golden trees of delicious macrons, all for you!

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a dish from a recent vacation in Paris!

Tour france visit paris over the holidays

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Tour France. Holidays in Paris

 

Tour France French food Paris for the holidays

Tour France Paris for the holidays

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Give yourself an incredible present this season: a holiday in Paris with Bliss!  Be an insider and put the treat in your retreat! Contact wendy@blisstravels.com for more tips and info!

 

A bientôt,

Wendy Jaeger

Bliss Travels

Tour France; A Couple of Days in Burgundy

A couple of days in Burgundy are eye opening, mouthwatering, and never enough for a wine lover! This region shows off its grapes like no other in the world. Winemaking has been an integral part of the region even before recorded history, eventually earning it the title of Côte d’Or, the “Golden Slope,” because of the sheer number of rolling golden vineyards in the fall, and the value of the wines they produce.

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

A trip to closed to the public Domaine de l’Arlot with the the technical director –Wow. Not too shabby!

We hop off the train in Burgundy (almost regretting leaving our comfortable first class seats) and find ourselves in the charming town of Beaune. Walking down the cobblestone streets, we see the iconic tiled roofs of Burgundy, first designed to replicate the homeland of a noble woman from Flanders that the designer wished to woo. An entire region’s architecture created out of love—just like the nectar we have come to taste!

Our little group drops our luggage off at a small private luxury inn, attached to the home of a Burgundy winemaker. We enjoy a personal introduction to Burgundy as we visit his 14th century cellars, located just under our lodging. This is where we learn the unique qualities and process for making Burgundy wines from the expert himself.

We say “unique” because only two grapes represent almost the entirety of production: Chardonnay for white and Pinot Noir for red. The focus here is on the soil and the artful process of winemaking: nowhere else in the world is there such an emphasis on “terroir” and location. What is truly amazing is the variation in flavor that results from these two things. Winemakers here can’t blend grapes (since only 1 of each color is grown), and they can’t blend things grown on different plots of land (or they lose their ranking). “Terroir” is all.

Even the ranking of the wines is determined by which plot of land grew the grape, rather than the winemaker or Domaine. Each bottle bears the name of the plot, each so famous that everyone knows them and what they produce. Everyone in our group eagerly takes in each name to decide on a favorite!

Burgundy creates about 180 million bottles per year, but only 2% of these will get the regal ranking of Grand Cru. We taste about 15 Grand Cru –from Corton Charlemagne (white) to Echezaux (red), to Chambertin (red) and the mythical Clos Vougeot (red).  The flavor and depth have tremendous variety.

Another 12% of production is Premier Cru. These very fine wines are known by their village—Meursault, Puligny Montrachet, Gevrey Chambertin—and the plot of land in that village where the grapes were grown. One of our favorite experiences is tasting a Premier Cru Meursault “Les Charmes” from the barrel. By the end of our 4 day stay, we will have tasted 4 or 5 wines from this very same small parcel of land, all from different years and different wine makers. And, interestingly, we will be able to identify that the wines came specifically from “Les Charmes”—a source of pride for the group. The parcel really does have a distinct flavor, just as different winemakers put their own special mark on each bottle.

This is the intersection of nature and art. Burgundy is where we get to taste how they work together—not something we could do if we were in Bordeaux for example. In France’s other major winegrowing region, the winemaker can take grapes from wherever they want, and often mix different grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot…) in any way they choose. In Bordeaux you taste the skill of the winemaker, instead of a special plot of land or a single grape.

Wine tasting in the cellar is always a favorite memory with our clients!

Wine tasting in the cellar is always a favorite memory with our clients!

Both regions offer incredible wines and memories for wine lovers. There is nothing like tasting a wine at the vineyard it grew in, and we encourage any enthusiast to put the experience on their bucket list!

A bientot,

Bliss Travels

Tour France: Dinner in the Home of a Paris Chef

Tour France: Bliss Travels has dinner in the home of a Paris chef

Have you ever dreamt of dining in the home of a chef in Paris? Maybe learning his/her secrets? Being treated to a special menu and feeling like a local as you sip wine in his living room, or peak into his kitchen?

Of course you have! We all wish we could do this!  Otherwise, how else can you explain the stunning popularity of the Food Network and our cult like obsession with “Celebrity Chefs” (all of whom we all know by name, and whose lives and travels we can intimately discuss, as if they were our own family)?

Our obsession with all things “food” is based upon our desire to get and insider’s exclusive access to this sort of experience! Bliss Travels has had the some extraordinary opportunities to do these sorts of “insider” foodie experiences. Our most recent, and, at the moment, favorite “insider” foodie experience, is our exclusive invitation to the home of a rising Paris chef for a gourmet dinner.  We truly enjoyed collaborating with this chef, formerly of Alain Passard‘s gastronomic Arpege, and loved having our clients visit the charming Paris apartment he shares with his wife and little (bien sur) Yorkie. We spent months creating a custom tasting menu and wine pairings to share with our clients. For sure, this will be something we do again and again! 

Our menu was truly special, as you can see below. An added bonus was the chance to  watch the chef plate his dishes and to enjoy them while learning how he made these signature preparations.  Here is our menu and some of the food photos of this truly “exclusive” dining experience.

Terrine of foie gras,  onion chutney and sauternes gelee with toasts

We paired this with a wonderful Champagne. And we watched as our chef showed us how he prepared this traditional holiday treat. (One of our foodie travelers, normally vegetarian, asked for, and received “seconds” of this dish, which she took for her breakfast the next morning (paired with a great fruit preserve the hotel was serving! Now, how often can you do that on a trip other than with Bliss Travels?)

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Endive salad with red onion, shaved parmesan, lemon, and truffle oil

 A refreshing segue into the meal. The bitter endive and the truffle oil paired beautifully with our Champagne as well as our first white, a white from Burgundy, and one of our most favorite villages, the picture perfect village of Meursault

Meursault, Narvaux, 2009.

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The famous Arpege  “perfect egg“ was our next dish.

I confess that I was so enraptured by the chef’s description of this dish, and dual temperatures of the one egg, along with the taste of this perfectly simple and elegant dish, that I forgot to take a picture!! We paired the egg with our second white, a rich, buttery Meursault Les Charmes 1er Cru, 2009. This was not just a  perfect ‘egg’ it was a perfect ‘pairing’!

Veloute of carrot, with tarragon

was an intense, non dairy carrot preparation made from caramelized carrots, cooked under pressure and reduced to a velvety richness. The two fold preparation of carrot (one caramelized, the other steamed led to this deep dark color. This dish had no meat and no dairy, and yet tasted richer than any beef based stock I’ve tried.

This rich dish led to the last drop of Meursault and a nice transition to our red wines.

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Salt crusted roasted beet root

Next our chef demonstrated how he made this absolutely perfect vegetable, salt crusted, intensely juicy and truly an unexpected star dish! We opened our 2007 , 1er Cru, Pinot Noir from Gevrey Chambertin, made by a winemaker and friend in whose 14th century cellars we get to enjoy exclusive barrel tastings  (We do love Burgundy!)

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Pan seared beef with a parsnip puree, creamed spinach, sweet and sour peppers and a red wine jus

A 2007 Premier Cru Burgundy from Gevrey Chambertin

One client enjoyed this dish so much, not only did she have 2 servings (a nice little perk of being in the home of a chef, instead of a restaurant, but also she said this was the best dish she had ever tasted.)

 

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Last, but not least, a real surprise for all was the dessert

A moist and delicious Olive oil cake, served with stunningly good Greek yogurt ice cream, Nutella powder and chervil

The Nutella powder was the “dark horse”. Nobody really expected to love that –but he made this using a great trick of molecular gastronomy and turned what is (in my opinion) a cloyingly sweet “kid’s” dessert, into a sophisticated delicious (please, sir, may I have more) end of meal. This was served with a fortified sweet wine from the south west of France.

Of course, that wasn’t really the end (it never is). We finished with a big bowl of creme fraiche caramels to take home. Yum! An absolutely Bliss-ful evening we intend to repeat with the next group of special foodies looking for something truly unique.

2013-12-23 11.20.57Let us know what you think. And let us know what dishes you’d like to see in your  “dinner at home with a Paris chef”

A bientôt,

Wendy

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: 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

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

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