The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                                            PAGE TWO

Ici et Là
This column is intended to advise you about cultural events, news and happenings
in France or France-related events taking place in the United States 
between now and the publication of our next issue.

o  Cézanne in the Studio:  Still Life in Watercolors is the title of an exhibit running through January 2, 2005, at Los Angeles' J. Paul Getty Museum.  The collection on display provides viewers with another aspect of the artist's talents, an artist known primarily for his oil paintings.  In conjunction with this exhibit is another entitled, "The Prismatic Palette:  Four Centuries of Watercolors" following the development of the medium since the sixteenth century.

o  Also through January 2, the Portland Art Museum in Oregon will present Christo and Jeanne-Claude:  The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Paris, 1975-85.  Bulgarian-born fabric 'sculptor' Christo and his collaborator, French Jeanne-Claude, wrapped Paris' oldest bridge in draped and folded fabric, and this exhibit takes the viewer through each stage of the project in sketches and images.

o  Art Deco:  1910 - 1939 -  the style is presented in over 250 works of art from around the world including fashions by Chanel and jewelry by Lacloche to furniture and metal designs, emphasizing the popularity of Art Deco worldwide from its beginning before World War I in Paris to its arrival in Hollywood, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, until January 9.

o  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City  will offer All that Glitters is not Gold:  The Art, Form and Function of Gilt Bronze in the French Interior until February 13, 2005.  This exhibit focuses on the gilt bronze light fixtures, clocks and other items of décor from the late 1600s until the early 1800s in French interior design, and it further covers the techniques used to create these objects.

o  * * PREHISTORIC FRANCE TOUR  * *  - the web site, au Château, presents a Prehistoric France Tour organized by France's Impressions (a professional tour guide company) and two au Château members, Le Prieuré au Château de Biron and Château de Garrevaques, scheduled for April 12 - 22, 2005.  Participants in this tour will not only pay visits to the sites of early man in France but will explore medieval villages, bastide towns, art museums and historic sites.  Accommodations, breakfasts and evening meals will be enjoyed at the priory and château.  For pricing and other details visit Prehistoric France Tour.  And, be sure to read our Feature on the prehistoric sites of Southwestern France beginning on page four of this issue.

o  Rodin sculptures are always the focus at Philadelphia's Rodin Museum, but until May 31, 2005, a special presentation entitled, Echoes:  The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, will help celebrate the Museum's 75th anniversary. 

o  A New Louvre Museum - The Pas de Calais city of Lens, suffering from the loss of many manufacturing jobs, was selected from a field of six cities in a contest held to determine where a new museum, to be called the Louvre II, would be located.  Paris' Louvre museum doesn't have space to display all the work it owns, so curators will fill the new museum with 500 to 600 works now being held in storage.  This new home, nearly 237,000 square feet of space, will be built at a cost of $139 million and is scheduled to open in 2006. [AP]

o  Menton will host its 72nd Annual Lemon Festival from February 11 to 27, featuring a lively Spanish theme. The culture of Spain will inspire the giant citrus patterns and motifs of the floats created with oranges and lemons. This festival attracts nearly half a million visitors each year, so if you're in the Côte d'Azur in February, be sure not to miss the fun and festivities.  And be sure to bring plenty of film! In addition to the two weeks of citrus exhibits and floats (on three Sunday afternoons) accompanied by marching bands, there are special exhibits of Orchids as well as the Artisan's Salon which offers jellies, jams, honey, liqueurs, soaps and perfumes inspired by lemons and a display of art work including carvings, small paintings and ceramics.

o The medieval quarter of Rouen is alive with the sights and sounds of the Christmas season through December 28th (but not on Christmas Day).  This year's event will pay tribute to Poland, and chalets will be set up on Cathedral Square where visitors can experience the spirit of Christmas Polish style.   Polish dolls, gifts and jewelry will be for sale as well as traditional Christmas treats and ornaments.    Nearby, people can gather on the ice rink or enjoy performers, clowns and puppet shows.

o  Decoration in the Age of Napoleon:  Empire Elegance versus Regency Refinement is the title of an exhibit of books exploring the empires of Napoléon I and King George IV of England regarding the styles of décor in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  The exhibit, at the Edna Barnes Salomon Room of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library  in New York City,  ends April 2.

o Maribeth Clemente, author of The Riches of France and The Riches of Paris, two books combining the love of traveling in France with the love of shopping there, now has a radio program, Travel Fun,  which she hosts from Telluride, Colorado.  If you can't receive the signal, you can check it out on line at  Be sure to visit her web site to learn more about Maribeth and for access to her books at  And, if you are doing some last minute shopping, her Boutique page at will direct you to some of the web sites she recommends for arts, antiques, and delicious gifts from France.

o  Rail Europe has banned smoking on all TGVs (Train Grande Vitesse - high speed train) to create a more pleasant atmosphere for travelers.  There will no longer be any need to request a 'non-smoking' car when you make your reservation ~ and reservations are always needed for a seat on a TGV.

o  Ice-skating is the newest reason to ascend Paris' Eiffel Tower!  At 188 feet above ground visitors will find an ice-skating rink about the size of a tennis court built between two of the tower's supports, a rink that can accommodate 80 skaters.  Visitors from France and around the world are enjoying this somewhat surreal rink high above Paris.

o  The Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami will present the Wine Spectator Collection ,Classic Posters of the Belle Epoque, the first exhibit of these century-old vintage posters by such artists as Toulouse-Lautrec, Cappiello, Livemont and others. The exhibit begins February 5th and continues through April 3, 2005.  For more information visit their web site at

o  There is more of the  Wine Spectator in the news:  its selection for Wine of Year goes to a 2001 Sauternes from France.  Rated a perfect 100, the Château Rieussec (selling for $80 a bottle) is said by the magazine's James Suckling to be a "phenomenal wine any way you look at it.   It's hyper concentrated, with layers of flavors that deliver an array of mineral, honey and pineapple with accents of dried spices".  He began by saying writing that "...sweet wines in general are out of favor these's time to get excited about this wine.  A classic vintage, a benchmark château, a perfect bottling..."  We counted a total of twenty French wines on the list of top 100, from Châteauneuf-du-Pape to Chablis and priced as low as $14 a bottle with a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac 2001 going for $155!

o  COPIA  -  When in the California town of Napa, be sure to visit COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts where you can enjoy complimentary tastings at the Wine Spectator Tasting Table from noon to 4 PM daily ~ wines from a different winery each week.  Enjoy a tasting of Charles Ellner Champagnes from France December 18 through 23.  And, on Saturdays, you can meet the winemakers as they pour their wine and answer your questions between noon and 2 PM.  Don't forget that COPIA is the home of Julia's Kitchen ~ Julia Childs was instrumental in the founding of COPIA several years ago,  and you can dine at her namesake restaurant for lunch Wednesday to  Monday, 11:30 PM - 3:00 pm or have dinner Thursday through Sunday, 5:30 - 9:30 PM. 

o  Afraid of heights?  Then the world's tallest bridge may not be for you!  On December 14th, with military jets flying overhead, the President of France, Jacques Chirac, dedicated the Millau Viaduct spanning the Tarn River in the Massif Central.  This 1.6 mile bridge will permit motorists to drive 891 feet above the valley floor, and makes the connection between two segments of the A75 autoroute, broken until now by the Tarn River where it flowed through a gorge between two plateaus.   The bridge, designed by British architect,  Norman Foster, is acclaimed for its beauty.  The structure, credited to French engineers, is supported by seven cable-stays, the tallest at 225 meters being higher than the Eiffel Tower, and the construction is credited to the use of Spanish/American hydraulic technology.   The project began October 16, 2001 and was scheduled for opening in January of 2005.  Ahead of schedule, the Millau Viaduct opens for public use on Thursday, December 16th.

Designing Your Itinerary

If you will be vacationing in France in 2005, you may be looking for ways to make planning simpler and to ensure that the trip goes more smoothly.  We'd like to offer a few tips to make the process easier.

  • Based upon what you want to see and do in France, decide just how long your trip will be.  Don't try to squeeze too much into a week or ten days.  We recommended a minimum of two weeks, and three weeks are ideal.
  • Determine preferred dates of travel, and then make your airline reservations. Be flexible if you cannot get your first choice.
  • After deciding how long you want to be in France, use a calendar or date book that provides enough room to write down what you want to do and see each day and where you will spend the night (in pencil to allow you to make adjustments as you plan).  Or, you can create a calendar on your computer for even easier editing.
  • If you are flying into or out of Paris, allow a full day there to rest after arrival and before departure home.  We suggest a few days in Paris at the beginning and end of a trip, with visits to the countryside sandwiched in between.
  • Select one or two regions in the countryside to visit.  Don't try to see Normandy, the Loire, the Alps and Provence in one 10-day visit! Three or four days in a region should be the minimum  ~ longer if you can.
  • Get a good, current map of France.  Spread it out on the kitchen table, and look at the specific places you wish to visit.
    • If those areas are far from Paris, consider flying directly into a secondary city from home such as Nice or Bordeaux.
    • Or, if you plan to spend a few days in Paris, consider taking a train from there to cover long distances and save time.
  • Decide where you will rent a car and where you will drop it off. (There is no charge to drop it off in another city as long as it is within France.)
    • Remember that rental cars have manual transmissions.  If you must have one with an automatic transmission, you'll have to request it in advance (some agencies won't be able to accommodate you) and expect to pay more for the rental and more in fuel costs.
  • Be realistic about driving distances.  Don't plan to cover more of France than is comfortable and practical in any given day.
    • Don't believe that you can cover hundreds of miles in a few hours (except on autoroutes).
    • Plan on averaging 40-45 miles an hour (that's an average of the higher speed highways and driving through built up areas at much slower speeds).  Of course, you could do much of your driving on autoroutes, which will mean you'll miss the beauty of the small villages and quieter countryside. We don't recommend it.  And, many sections of the autoroutes are 'péage' -- there is a toll to pay.  Stay with the N and D roads for a better countryside experience.
    • We suggest no more than 90 minutes driving between, for example, departure after breakfast and stopping for lunch.  Perhaps drive another 90 minutes in the afternoon before arriving at your destination for the night.  Based on this, you could cover about 120 miles in a day, but if you stop at sights along the way, even less.  We think 120 miles should be the maximum distance you'd want to cover in any given day without tiring of driving.   If you plan on a maximum of 80 miles, you will have ample opportunity to see the attractions, villages and scenic spots along the way.
    • You will want to arrive at your ultimate destination about 4 or 5 PM at the latest.  After 6, your hosts or hotel will expect a phone call to confirm you are still planning to arrive that day.
  • Sightseeing should not be overdone.  If you are in the Loire Valley, for example, don't plan to see 4 of the grand châteaux in one day.  One in the morning, a leisurely lunch, and another in the afternoon is more comfortable and enjoyable.  Take time at sights to really explore them.  Take guided tours when available at châteaux, museums or in such places as historic towns and villages.  Bring home brochures of places you've visited.
  • Try to stay at one accommodation for at least two, or preferably three, nights.  This allows for less packing and unpacking, and let's you become more familiar with the area.  And, of course, pack light in any case.
  • If possible, plan to have dinner at your place of lodging the evening of arrival.  If you should get in later than planned or have trouble finding your hotel, you won't have to go out again to find an open restaurant.  Make dinner reservations in advance.
  • Choose the places you stay based upon how convenient they are to the sights you want to see.  If you can enjoy two or three comfortable day trips from the same accommodation, you will have a more relaxed vacation.
  • We are firm believers in having reservations for a place to stay each night ~ as much as we appreciate spontaneity, we don't think a place to sleep should be left to chance.  France is a heavily-touristed country, and nice places are booked months in advance.
  • Consider renting a small country house or village apartment for a week.  You can do this on your own or with friends and family and become part of the community, albeit temporarily.  A rental also allows you to save money on meals if you do some of your own cooking, and you can do laundry, allowing you to pack fewer items of clothing for your trip. [See resources for rentals on our web site Links page.]
  • Mark a day somewhere on your calendar to do nothing!  This is especially enjoyable if you are staying at an historic place such as a château in the countryside.  You can take advantage of their swimming pool, library or even just sit in their garden to rest and become refreshed. [See for château chambres d'hôtes throughout France.]
  • Aside from planning for a friend or relative to watch over your pets and plants back home, don't forget to leave your itinerary and contact information with someone reliable as well.
  • Our last tip:  take along a journal to keep a record of what you did and what you saw or interesting people you met along the way.  Use it to jot down great meals you enjoyed or the phone numbers and addresses of someone you would like to get in touch with from home.  You may also want to use it to keep track of the photos you took so that, once you are home, you won't have to guess where they were taken.   Bon voyage!                       [March Issue:  Health, Safety, and Packing Tips]

page one    previous page                                             next page page three