Wednesday, July 30, 2014

#EmbraceParis ladies learn to cook like Parisian chefs at the Alain Ducasse Cooking School (école de cuisine Alain Ducasse)

Chef William Groult of école de cuisine Alain Ducasse with Jennifer Brouwer and Lynne Knowlton

Most of the #EmbraceParis four-day itinerary was straightforward. The one intriguing exception was Tuesday, for which the program mysteriously read, "Our surprise dinner will be just that - a surprise!"

There was still some speculation about our precise destination when a couple of sleek, black cars whisked us away from Le Meurice on Tuesday evening. As they glided to a stop in front of a rather nondescript looking building in the 16th arrondissement, the sight of an "École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse" sign set my heart aflutter. Not only are the Michelin starred Restaurant le Meurice and Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée under Alain Ducasse's creative influence, the French chef has designed the menus of many prestigious establishments worldwide, from Monaco to New York and Tokyo to Doha. The #EmbraceParis ladies were in for a real treat!

Selection Alain Ducasse brut on ice

Chef William Groult welcomed us to his state-of-the art kitchen with a glass of champagne (selection Alain Ducasse brut, bien sûr!) and explained the menu for the evening: cooked and raw asparagus salad with deviled eggs garnish, red mullet fillets gratinated with tomato and basil followed by a surprise dessert. Without further ado, teams of two started cutting tomatoes and peeling asparagus. If our asparagus looked a bit rough around the edges, we slyly exchanged it for our neighbor's perfectly trimmed spears. The same thing may, or may not, have happened after we used tweezers to pluck the fine bones out of the red mullet filets.

Ready for action - the #EmbraceParis ladies, Marie-Aude from Le Meurice and Solène from the Plaza Athénée

Just as families bond over shared meals, the animated Alain Ducasse cooking class inspired teamwork, collaboration and camaraderie. It was the perfect way for our group of ten international women to spend our last evening together in Paris. Plus, the three-course meal that we helped prepare was absolutely delicious!

If you would like to learn to cook like a Parisian chef, the École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse offers a wide range of cooking classes in English from "Bistro Cuisine" to "Macaron Madness". The Alain Ducasse Cooking School has recently opened a brand new space on the third floor of the BHV Marais. There are also cooking classes for mini-chefs and teens.

64 rue du Ranelagh
75016 Paris


Le BHV Marais, 3rd floor
52 rue de Rivoli
75004 Paris

Here's a video of the #EmbraceParis cooking class at the École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse made by the talented Andrea Claire:

École de cuisine Alain Ducasse - Cooked and raw asparagus salad, deviled eggs garnish

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lead with your strengths. StrengthsMentor Lisa Ferguson introduces me to my "sweet spot"!

"Don't be like the rest of them, darling." - Wise words by StrengthsMentor Lisa Ferguson

It's Monday morning in Paris - a good time for musing about the valuable lessons that I learned from StrengthsMentor Lisa Ferguson during #EmbraceParis.

Admittedly, I wasn't the most willing student. When Lisa sent a gentle reminder saying that some of the #EmbraceParis ladies still needed to complete our Gallup's online StrengthsFinder online assessment, I momentarily thought about procrastinating until the next day ... or the day after. With blog posts to write and laundry piling up, the 30 minutes required to take the assessment felt like too big of a time commitment.

But after some internal coaxing and cajoling, I poured a glass of wine and got started. It was easy. All that I had to do to discover my top five strengths was choose between two statements, indicating that one or the other "strongly" or "moderately" described me. I could also select the "neutral" position by marking midway between the two. While I don't remember the specific phrasing of any of the180 paired statements, I do recall that one of the questions focused on my feelings about striking up conversations with strangers. Since it didn't mention that the exchange had to be in grammatically correct French, I indicated that it's something that I usually enjoy.

At the end of the assessment, I learned that my top five strengths out of 34 are achiever, learner, maximizer, ideation and relator. Since I'm happiest when I'm learning something new, I could immediately relate to number two. To understand the rest of the descriptions, however, I needed more information than what was included in the "Signature Themes Report" from Gallup.

That's where Lisa, a fully trained Gallup Strengths Finder® coach, proved to be invaluable. Whether it was during our group work, when she encouraged us to discover how we can "work smarter not harder" by maximizing our innate talents, or during the private mentoring session, I had a couple of insightful "aha" moments.

On our last evening together, after we had already prepared and eaten an incredibly delicious gourmet dinner at Alain Ducasse's cooking school, the #EmbraceParis ladies gathered in Jennifer's room for an important midnight meeting. Lisa asked us to simply, yet very specifically, state what we needed from the group and what we could give to the group. As one woman after another offered to help a newfound friend connect with a publisher or learn how to monetize her website, I was awed by the enormous potential in the room. We were all working in our "sweet spot of unique strengths" and loving it.

If embracing, investing and leading with your strengths would benefit you on a professional or personal level, be sure to contact Lisa!

Lisa Ferguson, StrengthsMentor

From Gallup Strength Center: For decades, the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment has helped people excel. From top business executives and managers to salespeople, nurses, teachers, students, pastors, and others, more than 10 million people have realized the benefits of leading with their strengths.

Article about Gallup's Clifton StrenghtsFinder in Forbes magazine: Need a Career Tuneup? Gallup's Tom Rath Has a Quiz for You

"What if I fall? Oh my darling, What if you fly" - a tangible and intangible gift from Lisa Ferguson!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Whizzing around Paris in Twiztour cars: #EmbraceParis ice-breaker

Author Ann Garvin and co-host Norma Thiessen of My Beautiful Paris 

Ladies, start your engines! Or, in this case, turn on your electric, ecologically friendly Twiztour car for one of the most thrilling tours of Paris.

Only hours after meeting each other over a lovely afternoon tea at Le Meurice last Sunday afternoon, taxis whisked the #EmbraceParis ladies to the foot of the Eiffel Tower for our first activity -- a Twiztour GPS guided tour of some of the most impressive monuments of Paris.

Assuring Brooke, who's from Australia, that I had complete confidence in her ability to navigate the streets of Paris on the right side of the road, I squeezed into the back seat of the car with the walkee-talkee. True to their names, "Leader of the Pack" and "Jessica Rabbit" set off at a brisk pace. The four other Twiztour cars made their way across pont de Bir-Hakeim, one of my favorite Parisian bridges, behind them.

We waved at all the people pointing at our cute little cars on the Champs-Élysées, laughed at the group chatter on the walkee-talkees, listened to descriptions of the monuments we passed and grooved to the eclectic selection of music that accompanies the tour. And, of course, we got lost a couple of times along the way. That was all part of the adventure and bonding process!

Twiztour Paris
Port de Suffren (pier of the cruise company “Vedettes de Paris”)
75007 Paris

Brooke Crowle of Elements I Love
Twiztour cars on the Champs-Élysées
Claudia Strasser of The Paris Apartment and Lynne Knowlton of Design the Life You Want to Live 
Forget the École Militaire. Look at those cute cars!
Jennifer Brouwer of Jennifer Brouwer Design and co-host Carina Okula of Carina Okula Photography

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Embrace Paris: The Women

#EmbraceParis: Our itinerary

For the past four days and three nights, I've had the most incredible time bonding with an international group of nine talented, warm, funny and vivacious women. The occasion? #EmbraceParis, a social media gathering at the beautiful Parisian palace, Le Meurice.

Together, we deboned fish, whizzed around the streets of Paris in electric cars, visited an atelier where luxury handbags are hand-stitched, lunched in a castle, learned how to apply make-up, snapped photos of the most magical views of Paris, ate breakfast in bed, stretched our bodies and expanded our minds. But, most importantly, we forged a network of women determined to empower each other through positive peer support on social media.

I'll be sharing lots of information about the activities and sponsors in future posts, but first of all I would like to introduce you to the ladies of #EmbraceParis - 2014.

#EmbraceParis -- Empower * Brainstorm * Collaborate * Engage * Social Media

Carina Okula (host) - extremely talented Australian photographer who resides in Paris

Norma Thiessen (host from Toronto) - personal guide for your fun and stylish Parisian adventure

Lisa Ferguson (Toronto) - Strengths Trainer determined to help people maximize their potential

Lynne Knowlton (Toronto) - designer, DIY’er, lifestyle blogger and wordpress wrangler

Jennifer Brouwer (Toronto) - residential/commercial designer and developer

Ann Garvin (Wisconsin) - author of The Dog Year and university professor

Brooke Crowle (Sydney) - retailer of antiques, homewares and French vintage

Andrea Claire (Singapore) - celebrity hair and makeup artist

Claudia Strasser (Miami) - author of The Paris Apartment. Claudia also takes small groups to Paris for shopping.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bonneval, the "Little Venice of the Beauce": Weekend Getaways from Paris

Bonneval is known as the "Little Venice of the Beauce" for its charming waterways.

Can you believe that it's Thursday? With the Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) on Monday, this week has gone by much more quickly than normal. It's already time to start making plans for the weekend!

If a relaxing afternoon boating on the waterways of a charming medieval village sounds appealing to you, I highly recommend making the short trip to Bonneval. Nicknamed the "Little Venice of the Beauce", this town located a mere 75 minutes by train from Paris is a surprising gem of a destination.

A washerwoman figurine in Bonneval

A stronghold since the Middle Ages, Bonneval is completely encircled by water from the Loir River (not to be confused with the Loire River). More than 100 outdoor washrooms, many of them part of the town's outdoor museum, line the banks. As we navigated past a mother duck proudly leading a long line of baby ducklings, the sight of washerwomen pounding clothes in metal basins and a 1905 hand-crank washing machine made me thankful for my modern-day appliances. Without them, I wouldn't have the freedom to discover some of the lesser-known attractions of the Loire Valley.

Heads down! Passing under one of the many stone bridges in Bonneval.

As we crouched low in the boat while passing under one of the many arched stone bridges, we marveled at the perfect reflection cast upon the water by the King's Tower. Used as a dungeon in the 13th century, it's a reminder of Bonneval's long history dating back to 857 when the town was founded under the auspices of Charles, King of Provence.

Leaving the medieval village behind, we were greeted by fishermen and couples picnicking next to the river. The pastoral scenes and lily pads floating on the surface of the river made me feel as if I had somehow fallen into one of Monet's paintings.

I can't wait to make a return trip with Stéphane. Bonneval is the kind of place that you want to share with someone special.

Practical information: It is not required to have a boat license to rent the 4-5 passenger self-drive electric boats. Boat rental for the 30 minute tour of "Little Venice of the Beauce" is 15 euros. The 60 minute tour is 25 euros. Kayaks are also available for rent.

June, July and August: Weekdays from 2:00 pm, weekends and holidays from 10:00 am. The last departure is 6:00 pm.

April, May and September: Weekends and holidays from 2:00 pm. The last departure is 6:00 pm.

As the electric boats are in high demand during the weekend, it's recommended that you call in advance to reserve one.

Electric Boats at the Capitainerie 
During the weekend, it's recommended that you call in advance to reserve a boat)
Direction rue d'Orléans
28800 Bonneval
Telephone: 33 (0)6 22 91 63 82 or 33 (0)2 37 47 29 94

For a special weekend getaway, combine your trip to Bonneval with the spectacular Lights of Chartres on Saturday night and a visit to the "Big Windmill" of Ouarville on Sunday.

Please click here to see more photos of Bonneval, the "Little Venice of the Beauce", on Facebook.

Bonneval's electric boats, environmentally-aware tourism since 1996

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't let a pickpocket or scammer spoil your trip to Paris. Some tips for staying safe.

Working as a team: the spotter at Paris Montparnasse and the young woman with the sleeping bag.

Paris is a wonderful place to visit. But, it's also a big city. By definition, that means that you have to be on your guard. Always.

I was recently reminded of this when I arrived at Paris Montparnasse train station flustered and worried that I would miss my train to the Loire Valley. After grabbing a quick cup of coffee and afternoon snack to bolster my flagging energy, I placed my purse somewhat haphazardly on the bench next to me. Within seconds, a young woman with a large sack and rolled up sleeping bag was by my side. Feeling an instinctive warning tingle at the back of my neck, I resolutely moved my purse to its normal place. Securely on my lap.

Wondering if my suspicions were correct, I followed the woman with my eyes. Not surprisingly, she rotated towards a man standing with his back against a large cement column. He was her spotter -- surveying the busy train station and almost imperceptibly directing her towards their next victim. Most harried travelers would never have noticed him. It made me furious that he had selected me as an easy target. In retaliation, I snapped a photo of him with my phone.

When I found myself with some extra time at the train station the following week, I decided to do some spotting of my own. The first thing that I noticed was a group of businessmen standing in a circle with their bags placed carelessly on the floor behind them. The unfortunate experience of having my wallet stolen while dining with friends has taught me that thieves are fast. It only takes them a couple of seconds to relieve you of your wallet, laptop or other valuables.

I'll never forget the elderly woman who discovered that her wallet was missing after she sat down next to me on a TGV bound for Geneva. During the entire three-hour journey, she exchanged frantic telephone calls with her son while I tried my best to console her. Don't let that happen to you.

Here are some tips for foiling pickpockets and petty thieves:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. People have had their wallets stolen while riding the metro, dining in a fancy restaurant and looking at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
  • Keep your purse and backpack securely next to you at all times.
  • As in all big cities, there are scams in Paris. Some of the most famous ones involve gold rings ostensibly found on the sidewalk, petitions that urgently require your signature and bracelets braided on your wrist. Use common sense if someone approaches you on the street. If it feels like a scam, it probably is.
  • If you hear a public service announcement about pickpockets on the metro, don't automatically pat the pocket where you keep your wallet to make sure that it's safe. A friend told me that reaction actually helps thieves who may be watching you.
  • If you're visiting Paris, don't carry unnecessary items in your purse. A credit/ATM card, some cash and one piece of identification should be all that you need. Make a copy of your passport and the front and back of any cards that you carry.
Do you have some more tips or a story to share? Click here to join the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Keep an eye on your bags. Never place them on the floor behind you!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"War and Peace" Bastille Day (Fête Nationale) fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. Imagine!

The Eiffel Tower illuminated for the Bastille Day celebrations.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowds of people singing La Marseillaise, France's national anthem, on the Champ de Mars last night, I fervently wanted to be French. It happens every July 14. A feeling of pride for a country that isn't my own sweeps over me, and I momentarily wonder how difficult it would be to obtain French citizenship. In actuality, it doesn't make any sense because my Swiss passport entitles me to live, work and pay taxes in France ... just like a French person. But, nonetheless, the thought always enters my mind.

That's why I was troubled to hear that French politician Marine Le Pen had recently called for a ban on French citizens holding double nationality. After clashes between police and soccer fans during the World Cup, Le Pen told iTele news channel, "They must choose: they are Algerian or French, Moroccan or French, they can't be both."

Madame Le Pen, I beg to differ ... but it's completely possible to be both. As an American/Swiss resident of Paris, I am deeply and irrevocably connected to the country and people of France. It is my home. I often compare my dual citizenship with having two children. There's room in my heart for two countries, and even more.

While intended to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, the theme of this year's Bastille Day (Fête Nationale) fireworks was a chilling reminder of all that's wrong with our world today. When the darkened Eiffel Tower was symbolically engulfed in flames, I had a frightening glimpse of what our future may hold.


Wondering how the firework display could end on a positive note, I had an "aha" moment when the first notes of John Lennon's Imagine immediately united the international crowd on the Champ de Mars. In unison, people started singing:

... Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one...

Bravo and thank you to the city of Paris for encouraging us to imagine what our world could be!

The Eiffel Tower during the firework display on Bastille Day.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Meunier, tu dors! The "Big Windmill" (Grand Moulin) of Ouarville, France

Le Grand Moulin (the "Big Windmill) of Ouarville, France

Meunier, tu dors! is a traditional French song that dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. It tells the tale of a miller whose windmill starts to spin too quickly while he's sleeping. When we visited the Grand Moulin of Ouarville last week, Alain Guillou was doing everything but napping. 

As he surveyed the ominous clouds moving rapidly in our direction, Mr. Guillou explained that he would need our help in rotating the two-storey mill on its axis. The windmill, which was declared an historical building in 1941, is the largest and the oldest of the windmills in the area known as the "Breadbasket of France". With a one, two, three -- and a heave, ho -- our group of four was able to turn the 50 tons (45 tonnes) mill so that its closed sails faced the wind.

The first drops of rain were starting to fall when we scrambled up the wooden steps of the mill. Following tradition, the ladies went up the stairs last so that the miller couldn't have a glimpse of our ankles. From our vantage point on the second floor, we had a clear view of the golden fields of wheat and the vast skies of the fertile Beauce region.

While Mr. Guillou cranked the handle that opened the wooden slats of the 45 foot (14m) long sails, he told us that the sails were occasionally positioned at different angles to send signals. The sails were set in the form of a cross if the miller was mourning the death of a colleague and at different angles depending on if the miller was taking a longer or a shorter break. Because of their prominent positions, windmills and churches were always the first buildings seized by invading forces during a war. 

Suddenly, the wind caught the sails and the mill shuddered to life. Over the creaks and groans of the wood, which is a good sign because it indicates that the dry oak hasn't become too brittle, Mr. Guillou told us that French novelist and feminist George Sand enlisted the help of Victor Hugo to change the laws regulating the proximity of windmills to roads after her horse was startled by the loud noises produced by one.

Of the 297 windmills that dotted the landscape of the Beauce region in 1830, there are only 12 working windmills remaining today. They are an important part of France's agricultural and cultural heritage.

Le Grand Moulin (82 km from Paris) - on the Route du Blé (Wheat Road)
Open from 2:30 to 6:00 pm on Sundays from Easter to November 1. For group visits, please contact Claude Chatin at 25. 
28150 Ouarville
Follow route D 939 from Chartres towards Angerville. Turn right at the water tower.

To prepare for your trip to the Beauce region you may want to read The Earth by Emile Zola.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Clothing swap (troc tes fringues) event at [freespace] Paris on Saturday, July 12

Free tango classes at [freespace] Paris

Guest post by Sélysette Sanchez. Find Sélysette on Pinterest and LinkedIn.

For those who have contemplated cleaning out their closet lately, you're in for a treat. [freespace] Paris is hosting their first clothing swap (troc tes fringues in French) event today. Bring any gently used piece of clothing, and all types of accessories (scarves, bags, inexpensive jewelry, etc.) and allow it to have a second life, while you scan someone else’s closet. No exchange of money should ever take place at [freespace], just of clothing in this case.
Here's how it works: take an item for each one brought, for instance, bring 7, take 7 items. Participants are asked to bring at least 5 or more. There is no limit to the number of items, although don't expect to swap an entire closet. Only for this occasion, it will be limited to garments only.

It is kindly requested NOT to bring undergarments, this includes no lingerie, underwear, bras, socks, also no footwear or pajamas. As a newly opened space, furniture and home accessories donations are always welcomed and kindly accepted. Any un-swapped items will be used by [freespace] for recreational, upcycling purposes unless the participant choses to recuperate their un-swapped items.

Clothing Swap // Troc tes fringues Event
12:00 - 6:00 pm on Saturday, July 12, 2014

[freespace] Paris
15-17 Rue de Sambre et Meuse
75010 Paris
Metro stops: Line 2 - Colonel Fabien or Line 11 - Goncourt

With its recent opening, [freespace] Paris has embarked on a very ambitious, yet heavily supported mission. It seeks to fill in the “culture gaps” through the free exchange of knowledge. This creative space is powered by the philosophy that sharing is empowering. Sharing with one another, whether it is knowledge, or material resources, is the main currency that cultivates and strengthens the community. Regardless of age, everyone has the opportunity to become a teacher or a student. [freespace] Paris is kept alive by its active community and supporters via proactive leaders and generous donations. Follow [freespace] Paris on Facebook for updates on upcoming events, or even host an event yourself.

This is an invitation to come visit and check out [freespace] Paris, even if you don't wish to swap!

[freespace] is a diverse, multi-discplinary, multi-cultural, free and open platform dedicated to civic innovation, creation, and community building. This global movement currently has 26 locations in 18 countries.

[freespace] est une communauté éphémère autour de multiples manifestations et de projets créatifs et éco-responsables. Berceau de la créativité autour d'une véritable initiative civique et communautaire.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Musée des Arts Forains (Museum of Fairground Art): An entertaining museum off the beaten path in Paris!

Musée des Arts Forains at Les Pavillons de Bercy

Do you remember the scene in Midnight in Paris when Owen Wilson's character Gil bumps into Adriana at a wild party hosted by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald? It's where exuberant guests are seen dancing the Charleston and spinning around on a Vélocipède, a nineteenth century bicycle carousel, at what appears to be some sort of fairground.

The setting is actually a little-known private museum, the Musée des Arts Forains (Museum of Fairground Art), located in some of the last remaining wine cellars in Bercy. The museum, which features a selection of one of the world's largest collections of fairground art, is the brainchild of former actor and antique dealer Jean-Paul Favand.

Balls in the air! University of Michigan students getting ready for the start of the Garçons de Café amusement game.

Even though I had previously visited the Musée des Arts Forains when it was exceptionally open to the general public during the Christmas holidays, the guided tour of the three, themed pavilions exceeded my expectations. You should have seen the smiles on the faces of the University of Michigan students when they were told that they would spend the next 90 minutes playing, singing and dancing. The fun started with the Garçons de Café race, a game based on an annual event in Paris when waiters ran 8 kilometers (5 miles) with glasses balanced precariously on a tray. In the carnival version, contestants roll a red ball to advance their mustachioed waiter. Roll the ball too hard and it comes back to you without scoring any points. Roll it just right and your waiter practically runs to the end of the track.

German or French horse? And the Parisian Waiter Race.

In addition to riding on a carousel from the early 1900s, swinging boats and Venetian gondolas, you'll learn how to tell the difference between German and French wooden carousel horses by examining their ears and tails (French ponies have real tails and their ears are straight, whereas German horses have wooden tails and their ears point forward). You'll feel as if you've floated away to Italy in the Venetian Rooms and shivers will run down your spine when a female opera singer hits a high note. But, perhaps best of all, you'll feel the same sense of wonder that you did when you were a child!

Rather than take a chance and show up at the front gate of the Musée des Arts Forains, like the couple on our tour from New Zealand, I suggest calling the museum in advance of your visit. If they already have a booking for a guided tour in English, they will ask the group if you can join them. Otherwise, they'll offer you the opportunity to do the tour with a French group. You'll be given some notes about the museum in English. The tour guides, who all speak English, will be able to answer any questions that you may have.

Guided visits are 16€/adult, 8€/children under 12 and free for children under 4.

Musée des Arts Forains (Museum of Fairground Art)
53 Avenue des Terroirs de France
75012 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 43 40 16 15

Take metro line 14 to Cour Saint-Émilion. When you exit the metro, you'll be facing the entrance of Bercy Village, which is a great spot for lunch or dinner. There are also lots of interesting little boutiques. Unfortunately, I only had just enough time to get an ice cream from Amorino before my tour. Exit Bercy Village onto Rue des Pirogues de Bercy. Turn left and then take a quick right onto Rue Lheureux. Walk to the end of this block and turn left onto Avenue des Terroirs de France. The entrance to the museum will be on the left.

Turn right onto Rue Lheureux
The Musée des Arts Forains (Museum of Fairground Art) at Les Pavillons de Bercy. You can't miss the entrance!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Get Your French On" for Bastille Day at the Assemblée Nationale Boutique

Berets at the Boutique de l'Assemblée nationale

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is decorated with blue, white and red banners fluttering in the wind and a massive presidential viewing platform has been erected at the Place de la Concorde. At exactly 3:30 this afternoon, the precision aerobatic demonstration team of the French Air Force (Patrouille de France) will perform their training flight over the Arc de Triomphe  and the Louvre. Paris is transforming itself for Bastille Day (La Fête Nationale) on July 14. It's time to get your French on!

My favorite shop for all things blue, white and red is the Assemblée Nationale Boutique. For our annual pre-firework Bastille Day picnic on the Champ de Mars, I'll be wearing my new tricolor espadrilles and Marianne watch in honor of the French Republic. Best of all, many of the items in the boutique are currently on sale.

I received such a warm welcome while taking photos this morning that I rushed home to write this post. If you want to experience the best of France, be sure to visit the Assemblée Nationale Boutique while you're in Paris. They also have an online shop with very affordable shipping abroad.

Assemblée Nationale Boutique (metro Assemblée Nationale)
7, rue Astride Briand
75007 Paris
Open 10:00 am - 7:00 pm Monday to Friday; 10:00 am - 6:00 pm on Saturday

My favorite boutique for all things Paris? Paris Rendez-Vous, the official boutique of the City of Paris.

Click here to view photos of some of the other items that caught my eye while I was at the boutique this morning.

My new espadrilles (right) and Marianne watch.

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Wine Tasting under the Stars" at the magical Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley - July 19, 2014

Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley

Whether you visit Château de Chenonceau on a rainy afternoon in May or a cold morning in January, you'll surely be enchanted by this beautiful castle straddling the River Cher. But, for a truly magical experience, plan a trip to the Loire Valley for "Wine Tasting under the Stars" ("Dégustation sous les étoiles") on July 19, 2014. During this exceptional event, winemakers of the new appellation AOC Touraine Chenonceaux, which includes 27 municipalities located on both sides of the Cher River, invite you to discover their white, red, rosé, sparkling rosé and sparkling white wines. The magnificent gardens of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medicis will be illuminated from 9:30 until 11:30 pm., while the music of Italian composer and violinist Arcangelo Corelli will transport you back to the seventeenth century.

For the inauguration of what will surely be a popular annual event, I was invited to Château de Chenonceau a couple of weeks ago. A hot air balloon slowly drifting over the turreted roof of the former royal residence set the tone for the evening. It was pure magic from start to finish.

The beautifully decorated gallery, with its checkered floor and exposed joist ceiling, was reminiscent of festivities hosted by Catherine de Medici in honor of her son King Henri III. As I sampled a glass of crisp Touraine Chenonceaux white wine and gazed out the window at the swirling water, I thought of how Diane de Poitiers attributed her flawless complexion to daily swims in the Cher River.

To create a symbolic link between Touraine Chenonceaux wines and the Château de Chenonceau, guests were invited to participate in a "murage". Three bottles of Chenonceaux red and three bottles of Chenonceaux white, were sealed within the walls of the castle's cellar. As an ode to the illustrious women who were so influential in the castle's history, the six bottles of wine were selected by an all female jury. In five years, they will be removed from the wall and sold at auction. The proceeds will benefit a charity. I hope to be among the bidders at Chateau de Chenonceau to celebrate the fifth annual "Wine Tasting under the Stars"!

Wine Tasting under the Stars
Saturday, July 19 from 9:30-11:30 pm
Entrance 6€ for adults, includes wine tasting. Free admission for children under 7. Bottles of Touraine Chenonceaux wine will be available for purchase.
Château de Chenonceau

Château de Chenonceau illuminated at night

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The most highly anticipated event of the summer: the opening of The Peninsula Paris on August 1, 2014

The Peninsula Paris

One of the city's most magnificent belle époque buildings is the main topic of Stephane's and my conversations whenever we drive down Avenue Kleber. And, it has been ever since we moved to Paris at the beginning of 2011. The sight of its creamy limestone facade, previously obscured by scaffolding, never ceased to spark speculation about when the former Hotel Majestic would re-open its doors, this time as The Peninsula Paris.

Teams of skilled craftsmen were observed entering the hotel and rumors circulated about the $580 million being spent on renovations. News that the Hotel Majestic's 400 rooms had been reduced to 200 and that the basement had been converted into a spa and parking garage with a paparazzi-free entrance only served to increase our anticipation. Located just steps away from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées, The Peninsula Paris is the first foray into the European market for the Hong Kong based luxury property group, The Peninsula Hotels. No expense has been spared to transform the formerly grand hotel, where George Gershwin composed "An American in Paris" in 1928, into a thoroughly contemporary one.

To ensure that the design of the hotel rooms would work in the real world, identical mock-ups of the Paris rooms were created in Hong Kong. From 2011-12, "guests" tested everything from the beds to the layout of the bathroom. When the team learned that daytime viewing of a hidden Mirror-TV was impossible, the design was replaced by a built-in television cabinet flanked by a hidden mini-bar and built-in espresso machine. The color scheme was modified and some of the furniture was changed when feedback revealed that the mock-up rooms didn't feel Parisian enough. Equipped with revolutionary in-room tablet technology that sets new standards for guest personalization, The Peninsula Paris boasts the most bespoke guest rooms in the world.

To learn more about the fascinating history of the building and the meticulous restoration project that required the ancestral savoir-faire of highly skilled craftsmen, here's a beautifully produced video that will give you a sneak peek inside The Peninsula Paris. They've done a remarkable job preserving the heritage, authenticity and spirit of the building, while setting spectacular new standards in design, luxury and comfort.


Now that we know the exact date that The Peninsula Paris will open, Stéphane and I are discussing whether our initial visit should include drinks on the rooftop terrace or the celebrated Peninsula Afternoon Tea.

If I seem over-the-top excited about the opening of Paris's newest luxury hotel, it's because I am. Our family has fond memories of The Peninsula Manila. It was our first "home" when we moved to the Philippines many years ago. And, I've never been able to forget their mango juice. It's the best in the world!

The Peninsula Paris - Opening August 1, 2014
19 Avenue Kléber
75116 Paris
01 58 12 28 88

The main entrance of The Peninsula Paris on Avenue Kleber