Chinon: A Perfect Loire Town Complete with Castle

Chinon is a small town of about 8000 that is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a castle on a bluff overlooking the Vienne river.

Chinon is a small town of about 8000 that is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a castle on a bluff overlooking the Vienne river.

The Loire Valley is full of magnificent towns, and hundreds of vineyards strung along the sides of its rivers, the Loire, Cher and Vienne.  We asked the folks who promote wine travel here to tell us what they thought was the most beautiful town to represent the region in the ‘Small Towns, Big Wines’ campaign and they answered, “Chinon.”   I couldn’t wait to get to see their selected town and when I got there, I quickly saw why it was chosen.

Chateau de Chinon

The Chateau de Chinon is a Middle Ages fortress sitting atop a bluff.

Vienne river in Chinon.

The river is part of what makes Chinon one of the most beautiful towns in the Loire.

Video screens in adjoining rooms tell the story of the Fortress of Chinon with actors portraying historic Medievel characters.

Video screens in adjoining rooms tell the story of the Fortress of Chinon with actors portraying historic Medievel characters.

It starts with a castle–a fortress, really, and this one in Chinon goes back to the Middle Ages.  Many of the castles here are not as old, but the well-preserved Fortress that sits atop a high bluff is King Arthur era all the way.  It’s perched up high, and down below, the blue Vienne river runs along the town. Inside the Chateau de Chinon there are videos that play the story of what happened here throughout the many rooms you see in the visit.  Chinon has caught the world’s eye, in 2000, it was annointed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On a brilliant sunny morning, we walked through the castle and onto the green lawns that surround the big fortress, looking out to the vast expanse of green vineyards, the lush river valley, and just below the cliff, the preserved ancient village, where the rooftops all still look like the Middle ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. No telephone wires, no ugly billboards, just the monochrome of how things used to look before modern day.

We took a lift down 75 feet from the castle to the village and strolled until we got to the town square. People were happily sitting at the cafes, sipping coffees and taking in the sun.  Today about 8000 people are lucky enough to call Chinon home.  There is a lovely bridge across the Vienne with graceful arches that reminded me of Chenonceau.

I’m not sure what it is exactly but Chinon is simply one of most perfect towns in France and there is no doubt the folks who chose it got it right!

A Day and Night in Paris In Pictures

Notre Dame Cathedral. In the front was a 100 yard long line to get in.

Notre Dame Cathedral. In the front was a 100 yard long line to get in.

Love Locks above the Seine.

So many of these love locks were falling off that authorities finally took them all off of one of Paris’s bridges. They were falling on the boats cruising full of passengers on the river.

Eiffel Tower

Hundreds of people lounged at the base of the tower while a booming amplified voice was hard not to hear at an athletic competition held nearby. In other parts of Paris these amplified booming cheering sections are quite annoying, and nobody turns it down.

We took our 15 km tour of the city along the Seine with Blue Bike Tours, and these are the bikes they use. Easy to avoid getting lost since both the bike and guide are all in blue.

We took our 15 km tour of the city along the Seine with Blue Bike Tours, and these are the bikes they use. Easy to avoid getting lost since both the bike and guide are all in blue.

We watched a fantastic dinner theater show at the Lido called Paris Merveilles, created by Franco Dragone, which was thrilling from beginning to end...with comedy, acrobats, singing and, yes, a few topless women to add to the spice.

We watched a fantastic dinner theater show at the Lido called Paris Merveilles, created by Franco Dragone, which was thrilling from beginning to end…with comedy, acrobats, singing and, yes, a few topless women to add to the spice.

Sunset on the Seine.

Sunset on the Seine.

Acrobats at Lido de Paris

This husband and wife acrobatic team added sparkle to the fantastic Lido show.

At Le Foodist in Paris, New Techniques Make Cooking More Fun

Chef Fred Pouillot sets the table for the lunch we made during his cooking class in Paris.

Chef Fred Pouillot sets the table for the lunch we made during his cooking class on the Left Bank in Paris.

Where better to learn new cooking techniques than in Paris?

Yesterday I learned quite a few new tricks when I spent the better part of a whole day cooking an elaborate meal with chef Fred Poulliot, at Le Foodist, a cooking school in Paris’ left bank. There were quite a few of us—two families with five children among them, Doug, a retired accountant, Natalya, a young woman from Puerto Rico and me.  Before i arrived they had made a trip to Fred’s favorite local market to pick up provisions and get shopping tips from the pro.  Bags in hand, I met them as they returned, and we began our cooking adventure by queuing in line to wash our hands and don disposable plastic aprons. 

A technique that was new to me was to pound seasoned chicken breasts then roll them and twist them into plastic wrap--they cook in about 7-10 minutes in boiling water.

A technique that was new to me was to pound seasoned chicken breasts then roll them and twist them into plastic wrap–they cook in about 7-10 minutes in boiling water.

Properly attired, we wasted no time as Fred divided us up into teams and set up our stations.  Le Foodist’s location at 59 Rue Cardinal is in a two story location that once was a restaurant. So the big gas stove and the many steel-topped workspaces were ready to be occupied by students and not full blown sous chefs.  Doug and i would be peeling potatoes, but the spuds weren’t familiar.

Preparing carrots and turnips cut with a melon ball into pleasing round pieces.

Preparing carrots and turnips cut with a melon ball into pleasing round pieces.

Fred explained that these were a variety of potato grown near Paris, they had the very light skins of a Yukon but they had a size in between fingerlings and baking potatoes. It wasn’t long before we had filled up a container with the spuds, which Fred took and began boiling on the stove. 

Along with the massive gas stove you would expect to find in a restaurant kitchen, however, Fred relied much of time on a small single burner induction burner.  “This is really the future of cooking,” he said. “You have way, way more control over the heat, and it takes seconds to go from cold to a full rolling boil. I predict that in the future, all restaurant chefs will be using these.”   While I’m not sure I am ready to ditch my dreams of a professional chef’s gas stove, he might have something there. 

Among other ideas I got from the class was using deep steel cookie molds to form salmon into delightful little rounds. They go perfectly atop the pre-cooked turnips, which he prepared with soy sauce and sugar and then washed off.  It turns them into savory disks that can be paired with lots of good things.

Using a steel cookie cutter is a great way to make these little rounds of salmon, cooked simply by the lime juice.Fred also showed how portion out butter, sugar and other ingredients using a scale–so if it calls for 4% sugar, you use the scale to measure the weight of the sugar so it will work for whatever quantity you want. The small scales he used would come in handy in any home kitchen too.   Le Foodist, 59 rue Cardinal Lemoine 75005 Paris 33 (0)6 62 74 32 98

In Paris, It’s the Four Seasons George V, Or Nothing

There is no limit to the flowers you'll find in the lobby, restaurants and all over the Four Seasons George V Paris.

There is no limit to the flowers you’ll find in the lobby, restaurants and all over the Four Seasons George V Paris.

An egg and caviar appetizer to start off in the garden of the George V.

An egg and caviar appetizer to start off in the garden of the George V.

A foamy fish entree was perfectly prepared in the garden of George V.

A foamy fish entree was perfectly prepared in the garden of George V.

To some travelers, spending 1700 euros on a night is pocket change. For them, there is only one choice in the City of LIght–The Four Seasons George V Paris, on the swanky Champs Elysees.  The bloggers on our trip met for the first time in this over the top luxurious property for a very elegant lunch. As we sat in their flower-bedecked garden, over across from us was a famous basketball player named Michael Jordan, sort of incognito in a Nike bucket hat and sunglasses.  Only a few fans came up, because at George V, you don’t have to deal with that sort of thing.

Here is where they bake the hundreds of croissants used every morning at the hotel.

Here is where they bake the hundreds of croissants used every morning at the hotel.

Everything at the V is accented with flowers.  We learned about their unlimited flower budget from the very charming and beautiful Helene Avril, their PR manager, who joined us for lunch. That means there are so many flowers you might think you’re at a mafia funeral, but they are just so plentiful it’s hilarious–and very pretty.  We had a sumptuous lunch, four beautiful perfect courses, with foam draped fish, perfectly arranged egg and caviar, fruit and then chocolate dessert.

But Helene had a surprise for us–we were taken downstairs to the restaurant’s massive wine cellar, where more than 50,000 bottles await.  First we snaked through the corridors to the kitchen, passing a bulletin board where employees children were pictured, then past the man in charge of making thousands of croissants each day, to the locked vault, “Le Cave,” and down a long curvy stairway.

With more than 50,000 bottles, this cellar is prepared for any party or wedding.

With more than 50,000 bottles, this cellar is prepared for any party or wedding.

What I wanted to see, of course, I found–Romanee Conti which is the most expensive wine made in France. Yep, they had plenty of that. Helene also showed us the empty bottles of Petrus that a certain South American gentleman frequently orders.  It’s all another day in the life of the most fabulous hotel in Paris.  Four Seasons George V Paris: If you can manage to reserve a room (they’re almost always sold out) it’s the ultimate splurge.

An Army of Bloggers Fans Out to Cover France’s Best Wine Regions

View of the Loire River from the Best Western hotel in Clisson, France.

View of the Loire River from the Best Western hotel in Clisson, France.

Today I set out on a mission, I”m part of a team of American bloggers who are fanning out all over France’s wine regions to share their photos, videos, blogs and experiences. The people who promote these areas chose an interesting range of writers and photographers.

Vivienne Gucwa

Vivienne Gucwa

One of them is photo superstar Vivien Gucwa who has a new book out about NYC and is a Sony ambassador who told me her incredible story of walking around NYC and seeing cool things and then just picking up a cheap camera to document it.  The NY Times took notice, and her social media following blew up, so now she’s got 51K followers on Instagram and 1.5M on Google plus. Oh, and 411K followers on her Facebook business page, linked above. Every time she posts to Instagram there are hundreds of comments…the stuff social media mavens dream of.  She is pretty casual about it all, and humble.

These are the kinds of numbers that make brands go crazy, so she’s shooting for Donna Karan and Coach, and she’s got Sony sending her out on paid gigs and shipping her every lens and camera they build to test out. I admire her modesty after such online fame!

I am joining Vivienne along with six others as France’s wine ambassadors and will be touring the  Loire Valley of France. The other wine ambassadors will be touring other beautiful wine regions of France, including Rhone Alps, Midi-Pyrenees, Bordeaux, Champagne and Cognac.

France Wine Travels  is where the posts that we write are all collected in real time. It’s pretty neat to see how diverse the group is and to see posts pop up all day and all night as we write them.   You can even use the link above to enter to win your own dream trip of a lifetime for nine nights touring wine regions of France.

Over the past three days and two nights, we also all collaborated on another site, called 24 Hours in Paris where we shared many different day trip experiences in the same live tweet way. So much fun!

Getting to Know Paris by Having Dinner at Home

The best way to get to know people is over a meal–and it’s even better when you’re dining in someone’s home, not in a restaurant.  That’s what VizEat is all about.

Christiane Lestage cooks for her guests from VizEat.

Christiane Lestage cooks for her guests from VizEat.

Christiane and Renaud Lestage, our hosts.

Christiane and Renaud Lestage, our hosts.

Renaud shares some Sauternes sweet wine at dinner in his home.

Renaud shares some Sauternes sweet wine at dinner in his home.

 

Last night I joined a group of six travel writers at a dinner with Christiane and Renaud Lestage in their large duplex apartment in the 16th arrondissement.  We walked down the busy Champs Elysees to the Metro and got out in a quiet neighborhood full of artists studios. Renaud took me to the window where they had herbs growing in a tray on the sill.  “The one thing an artist’s studio needs is north facing windows,” he said.  “Otherwise the sun is too strong and then can’t see what they are painting.”

Christiane prepared many appetizers for our enjoyment.

Christiane prepared many appetizers for our enjoyment.

This was the first time Christiane, who is a food blogger, and Renaud, who is retired from the French oil company Total, have ever had people join them with VizEat,  a Paris based website that organizes these in-home dinners, matching up travelers with hosts who want to cook for guests.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to socialize–our big meal cost just 30 euros per person plus tip–and the wines flowed as easily as the conversation.

VizEat has more than 300 hosts in Paris and is operating in 50 countries! Each participant is vetted by the staff, who visit their homes and who also provide the photos that are used on the VizEat site to attract travelers to dine with them.  The site has English, Spanish, French and Italian language versions, and this summer they’ll add German.