Monthly Archives: May 2013

Two Must-Haves Gadgets for Summer Travel

Kanex DoubleUp ESB ChargerPower when you need it – Dual USB Charger

Tired of traveling with two device chargers – one for your iPad and one for iPhone or iPod? Kanex makes this dual USB charger (called DoubleUp) that features two full-power 2.1 amp USB charging ports for fast charging for your smart phones and tablets. And the best part is its LED indicators let you know when each is done charging. Available in white and black. $49 @


Lifeproof iPhone CaseLifeproof your iPhone

This is the case to take when you’re traveling everywhere. It’s waterproof, dust-proof and shock-proof. So you can take it where you’re never taken it before – the ocean, a lake, or even the shower or tub. Plus it’s sleek low profile barely increases the size of your device. Protection and cool looking. $80 at Best Buy, Target.




Roll Out the Barrel

Many factors combine to make a great wine: the grapes, the soil and environment where they grow, the skill of the winemaker and even the very barrels in which the wine comes of age before bottling.

Oak barrels at CHATEAU LUSSAC

– There are actually three kinds of wood barrels that are used: oak, pine and chestnut. Oak is used primarily. Most of it comes from France and the U.S. (particularly Michigan and Minnesota).

– Typically barrels hold about 59 gallons. French oak barrels are the “gold standard” of the trade and cost about $600 each. American oak barrels are about $300 each.

– Oak can be used either in the fermentation or aging process.

– The porous nature of an oak barrel allows some degree of evaporation and oxygenation to take place in wine but typically not so much that it spoils the wine.

French oak tree

The best barrels are made from French oak trees.

– When the barrels are made, the oak staves are heated over a wood fire, so they can be bent and shaped. The charring that occurs is retained on the inside of the barrel during construction and is called “toasting.” Wineries ordering the barrels will ask for a certain degree of toasting. The more it’s toasted the more the tannin level and wood flavor will be in the wine. It also imparts that “vanilla” taste in a wine that you hear mentioned so often.

– Oak barrels have become so expensive that a number of U.S. wine producers have taken some short cuts to give their wines an “oak” flavor without spending so much money. These methods include floating oaks staves or oak saw dust in the juice to give it the oak taste, or even buying and using liquid oak extract and powders. In France, where wine production is highly regulated, only oak barrels can be used.

– California wines tend to be more “oakie” because that’s where the American palette is right now. In France and other parts of the world the wine has less oak and more mineral taste.

– Pinot Noirs, which are lighter in tannins, pass through the oak quickly. Heavier Cabernet Sauvignons stay longer.

French Words To Travel By: At the Market – Les tomatoes

les tomates

Tomatoes in a bowlIn the summer, the local French markets are teeming with vendors selling big juicy tomatoes right off the farm. They smell and taste just like the ones I remember from my youth and it’s impossible to get back to the villa with them all in tact. But we do save enough to stuff and bake for Les Tomates Provencal or to make a Tomato Tarte.

les tomates, f, (tomatoes) from the Spanish word “tomate.”


Illustration by Judi Janofsky

Finding The Great Gatsby in Paris

Hemingway and Fitzgerald in Paris

Getting ready to see the remake of the film “The Great Gatsby,” I’m reminded of the Jazz Age, a term coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald himself for the period of time in the 1920s just before the Depression when jazz music and dance became popular in the U.S. and Europe.

During most of the era, Fitzgerald lived in France, primarily in Paris. Back then Paris was the rage for ex-pat American writers, painters and intellectuals who would hang out at cafes and bars and attend private salons, many hosted by Gertrude Stein.

One of the biggest relationships that was forged in Paris during that time happened when Fitzgerald was introduced to Ernest Hemingway in the Dingo American Bar on 10 rue Delambre two weeks after Fitzgerald published “The Great Gatsby.” By then, Fitzgerald had already written to his publisher about the American writer that all of Paris was talking about. But what sealed the friendship was the uncorking of a champagne bottle and the evening spent together in the bar.

Hemingway would write about that meeting in “The Movable Feast.”

Today, The bar where Hemingway met Fitzgerald L’ Auberge de Venise, an Italian restaurant, occupies the address, but the wooden bar where they met, sat and drank remains and continues to pay tribute to two great American writers.

The Madness That Made Lacoste

remains of de Sade's castle in LacosteYears ago, in the middle of a surly storm, we were scouting villages for our Provence Escapes tours. We were checking out Lacoste, site of one of the most infamous castles in Provence – the family home of the Marquis de Sade. Rough gusts of rain pelted us as we climbed up crumbling stone steps leading to the castle doorway high above the village. Heavy storm clouds turned late afternoon sunlight into murky twilight, creating  gloomy images in our minds of villagers marching up the cobblestone alleys below us, shouting and waving torches and pitchforks in angry denunciation of the sadistic life on the other side of the castle’s door, like a scene from an early Frankenstein movie.

The castle was in ruins back then, two great walls jutting skyward, the rest in various stages of reckless neglect, with only a suggestion of where Sade committed his erotic dramas of human licentiousness and unrestrained pleasure.

de sade's castle, Lacoste valleyAll that’s changed today, thanks to designer Pierre Cardin’s purchase of the de Sade ruins. In philanthropic largesse, he’s restored parts of the castle, turning it into a performance venue for his Festival de Lacoste, a month of ballet, theater, concerts, recitals and opera staged in his partially restored de Sade castle. It’s an event that annually attracts thousands to this small village of less than 500 inhabitants.

But when we returned recently, we found the Marquis’ restored castle ruins lacking the nostalgic impact of those pre-Cardin days. It’s now fenced and sealed away from the rambling explorations that made it such a curious adventure. Sad for us, but what a boon to Lacoste to become a center of haute culture, raising it, on a sophistication scale, several notches above its sister hillside village of Bonnieux nine kilometers across the valley.

Doggie escort on path between Bonieux and LacosteOn our last visit, we made the pleasant jaunt from Bonnieux to Lacoste. Enroute, a little terrier in front of her owner’s cottage gave us a furious territorial warning – then joined us for the stroll to the famous village. We named her Bijou and enjoyed her doggy Joie de vivre. Alas, with typical French independence, she abandoned us as soon as we reached the cobblestone streets of Lacoste.

Nowadays, Lacoste’s beautifully restored buildings house the Savannah College of Art and Design’s French campus. The clock tower’s still there, along with artists’, weavers’ and potters’ studios, galleries, shops, cafes, the bakery, the sweets shop, the butcher – all the accoutrements that make village life so appealingly fascinating to foreign visitors. Today, Lacoste is many things: a walkable medieval remnant of the middle ages, a reminder of a later madness that gave us the word sadism, a contemporary center for English-speaking students studying art and design, a world-class stage for the performance of live art.

But perhaps best of all, Lacoste is a state of mind, adaptable to the satisfaction of any who visit with the open expectations of a child and the maturity to benefit from the experience.

French Words To Travel By: In the Café – le café au lait

le café au lait

French coffee served at a cafe
No matter where we are in France or home in the states, we love to go by a cafe and have a rich and creamy café au lait. It’s the perfect drink to sip while we’re doing some people watching along the village streets in Provence.

le café au lait, m. (coffee with milk), a French coffee drink made with espresso coffee and steamed milk and usually served in a white porcelain cup or bowl.


Illustration by Judi Janofsky

Dining Protocol In France

Eat Like a French Native …

plate with silverware

As hosts of our Provence Escapes tours, we’re often asked about what cultural differences Americans should be aware of when traveling in France. No one wants to make an embarrassing “faux pas” in a foreign country.

Well, in a country where food is king it’s good to have courtly manners, especially while dining. So here are a few cultural differences between eating styles in America and France that we’ve picked up over our years traveling in France.

– You’ll notice that most Europeans use the fork in their left hand, the knife in their right. It makes sense, especially if you’re cutting something – why keep switching hands every time? Try it; you’ll quickly feel comfortable with the new arrangement.

– Don’t cut your salad with a knife or fork. Instead, fold your salad on your fork (in your left hand) using your knife. (This will take a bit of finesse, so practice at home to get the hang of it.)

– Never cut bread. Break it with your fingers. And because there usually aren’t bread/butter plates, it’s OK to place your bread on the table above your dinner plate on the left.

– Good news: it’s OK to sop up your plate with a small piece of bread!

– Cut cheese long ways, not across. (For example, don’t cut off the point.)

– Never eat fruit whole – always peel and slice it before eating.

– When you’re finished eating, place knife and fork side by side on the plate at the 5:20 position. The fork should be on the left and the knife should be on the right with the blade of the knife facing the fork a la the photo above.

silverware message on a plate– To signify that you would like more food, cross your knife and fork across your plate.

Bon appétit.