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  • A 'Lille' Christmas Poem

    A nice christmas poem to get you in the festive spirit.....

  • A special Christmas with my family

    Only 2 days to go and I will be in France where my family will be waiting for me at the airport in La Rochelle, where I was born.Only 2 days to go and I will be in France where my family will be waiting for me at the airport in La Rochelle, where I was born. It has been a long time since I have spent a lovely Christmas with my family so I am really looking forward to spend some quality time with them. Even so very sadly my mum is no longer with us, we know that she will still be there in spirit. As soon as I arrive in La Rochelle, the plan is to go shopping for a big Christmas tree so we can decorate it all together. It will be a very nostalgic moment and it will take me back to the previous childhood Christmas's when I used to go with my mum to chose our Christmas tree, this was so much fun for me… I cannot wait for the 24th to arrive when we are going to enjoy a typical French ‘reveillon’ at around midnight, which is our tradition in France, and different to England where the main meal is usually on Christmas day. Our food will include oysters, prawns, ‘foie gras’, duck with chestnuts, delicious creamy French brie, and last but not least the typical French ‘bûche de Noël you cannot miss. You have the choice of either the ice cream one or the butter cream one which I must admit are both very delicious and I find it very difficult to decide which one to have so I think I will have a bit of both! And afterwards we will open our Christmas presents...
  • Alsace Kuglehopf cake

    If you have ever visited France in December you will know what I mean when I say it is one of the most romantic times of year to visit this beautiful country.

    France starts celebrating Christmas from the very beginning of December in some regions. It is a very big country and Metropolitan France is divided into twenty two regions. Some regions have different traditions of their own and this can be seen with the Christmas traditions in many areas.

    In some parts of France Christmas starts on December 6th with Father Christmas, who is known as le Père Noël, bringing gifts for all the children whereas in other regions, children leave their shoes near the fire on Christmas Eve for Father Christmas, le Père Noël, to leave them small gifts and nuts and sweets.

    Most homes will have a Nativity scene known as a crèche or crib, with figures of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus, wise men and animals etc.

    This is more traditional than the Christmas tree although this is found in many homes nowadays.

    It appears that the origins of the Christmas tree date back to 1521 when it appeared for the very first time in the town of Sélestat which is in the Alsace region of France between Colmar and Strasbourg. It is mentioned in the records of the city of Sélestat in the Humanist Library or the Bibliothèque Humaniste which is one of the oldest public libraries in the world.

    It is remarkable how a custom started in this French region continued through the years and across the globe. Of course, the Alsace region in the fifteenth century was part of the Germanic world (having been part of the Roman Empire prior to this) and although the tradition continued through the 17th and 18th centuries it did not really catch on in France until much later. In its history during the 19th and 20th centuries Germany and France contested it's possession of the region four times in seventy five years.  This is probably why the tradition did not catch on with the French people as In France the nativity scene and the Yule log was much more popular and traditional.

    The Alsace is a region of France which you will truly enjoy for your Christmas experience in France. The food is plentiful and you will find there is plenty of wine, beer and of course the fragrant eaux-d-vie.

    The Christmas markets of Kaysersberg, Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Colmar are a joy to behold. In Strasbourg the Christmas market or Christkindelsmärik has been held around the cathedral since 1570 so a visit to this Christmas market will be a great treat for all the family. The cathedral or the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg is beautiful and well worth a visit as are the half timbered houses in the Bain aux Plantes of the old quarter which are so very pretty.

    It is very cold in the Alsace at this time of year in contrast to the hot summers but I feel that this is definitely a wonderful place to visit for everything magical it has to offer.

    The Alsace is famous of course for its wines, mostly of a Germanic origin. When shopping you will find the charcuteries offer the most wonderful sausages and all kinds of pork and goose products as well as their famous pickled cabbage - choucroute or sauerkraut.

    For those of you who have a sweet tooth the bakeries will astonish you with their displays of breads, the sweet and salted bretzels, cinnamon cakes, marzipan buns and the huge kugelhopfs.

    I love the kugelhopfs and if you have never seen or heard of them, they are a cross between bread and cake, in fact much like a brioche but not as sweet. I love them with dried fruit in them but they can be seen with a savoury flavour with pieces of bacon in them too.

    This cake is what I like to make at Christmas as it is great with a cup of coffee when you get tired of the rich Christmas foods. It also lasts for days so is good to have in for a quick treat. You don't see many of them here in the United Kingdom whereas there are plenty of other cakes around at this time of year such as the German stollen or the Italian Panettone.

    If you do visit this lovely region of France for Christmas, do try and buy one of these cakes, they are in my opinion a real Alsatian treat. You will find some great properties at French Connections for this fairy-tale region.

    For some help with your Christmas recipes, there are some lovely ideas at French Recipes to love. So whether you are at home with your families or on holiday you will have some great ideas for a lovely French Christmas.

    For this month's recipe I thought you may like the traditional cake from the Alsace which I assure you is very easy to make and to make it even easier I have given you two methods to choose from.

    Have a wonderful Christmas wherever you are, Joyeux Noël and Bonne année.

    Kuglehopf

    You will need an 8 inch traditional kougloff cake tin to make this cake which is a fluted tube tin or you can use a savarin tin. If you don't have either, a good pudding basin will do the trick but it will not give you the lovely traditional pattern with the hollow centre - however it will still taste good.

    Ingredients

    • 4oz raisins
    • 4 tablespoons rum
    • 1oz fresh yeast or 1 teaspoon fast action yeast such as Allinsons
    • 8fl oz milk
    • 9oz plain flour
    • 3oz butter cut into small pieces
    • 1oz chopped slivered almonds
    • 2oz sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 egg
    • Icing sugar for sprinkling

    Method

    I will give you two different methods here, one for the traditional way and one if you wish to make it in a bread tin to start it off.

    Prepare your tin by lightly buttering it and sprinkle the almonds into the sides and bottom.

    Traditional Method

    • Sprinkle the raisins with the rum and soak them for a few hours until well soaked.
    • Mix the yeast in a bowl with about 6 fl oz of warm milk (not hot).
    • Stir in 2oz of the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon.
    • Sprinkle the remaining flour over it and do not knead; cover with a tea cloth or cling film and leave in a warm place until the mixture rises and lifts the flour.
    • Mix in the flour, the sugar, salt, butter, egg and remaining milk.
    • Knead for a few minutes.
    • Place the dough into the tin or basin to about half way up the tin and leave to rise in a warm place until it doubles in size.
    • Place in the pre heated oven at 190C/375F/Gas5 for about 35 minutes until golden brown. Test if it is cooked through by piercing with a skewer in the centre - if it comes out clean it is cooked if not give it a few more minutes.

    Note:

    If you are using dry yeast, mix it in with the other ingredients and it only needs one rising in the tin before baking.

    Bread Machine Method

    Follow the instructions for your bread machine for the order that the ingredients go in but here is what I do with mine. The yeast must not come in contact with the salt as it will kill the yeast.

    Place the dried yeast in bottom of bread tin then the flour and follow with all the other ingredients. Depending on your bread machine model, you just need to knead the bread and I use the Pizza mode.

    Place the dough into the kuglehopf tin and place in a warm place to rise to double its size then bake in pre heated oven for about 35 minutes as above method.

  • Christmas holiday accommodation in France

    Made plans for the festive season yet? Christmas in France is magical, more traditional and less commercialised than in Britain. Our region of the month, Northern France, includes Paris which is transformed at this time of year, with lights twinkling along the Seine, streets lined with decorated fir trees and Christmas Markets springing up around the city.

    I love the idea of renting one of our cosy apartments in Paris for Christmas, shopping for presents in the chic department stores like Printemps for fashion and Galeries Lafayette for exotic foods and wonderful wines. Even outside the very centre, in trendy arrondissements, there are enticing local cafes and oh-so-French restaurants.

    I could wander the avenues, feasting my eyes on creative festive lights and tasteful shop windows, then maybe drop into a gallery or museum for some uplifting art and take time out in Notre Dame. Oh, and I’d have to go skating, take a trip on a bateau mouche and browse the Christmas markets for decorations that would grace my temporary Paris home and come out every year afterwards.

    For a big family or group Christmas, Northern France is an excellent destination and we have many country houses very close to lovely small towns where the Christmas spirit reigns with a very French, almost understated appeal. Some have fantastic special offers for the Christmas period.

    Browse our guides to Northern France and Paris and grab a festive season Special Offer.

  • Christmas in France and a Traditional Yule Log Recipe

    December has arrived! Are you one of those counting the days to Christmas or are you finding it a daunting task trying to juggle a busy lifestyle and trying to organise the Christmas presents, Christmas food and family parties etc.

  • Christmas shopping breaks in Nord Pas de Calais

    Just a hop across the Channel from south east England lies the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. When visiting France, we often get on the autoroute and drive quickly through, but this is an area that deserves exploration – and it’s our region of the month for November.

    Christmas shopping is a great excuse for a long weekend or midweek short break before the flurry of the festive season sets in and in Nord-Pas-de-Calais you’ll find everything from speciality wine cellars and France’s most famous cheese boutique to big names in European retail at the modern shopping city of Cite Europe near Calais.

    The region is proud of its gastronomy and local beers, along with traditions where fairs, fêtes and festivals are so much a part of daily life – and it’s full of enchanting Christmas markets.

    Big Christmas markets are held at Amiens, Arras, Lille, Bethune,  Calais and Boulogne. Follow the link below to our complete guide with all the details. At Licques the market is accompanied by a famous turkey parade with hundreds of turkeys rampaging through the town’s streets. Spectators are given a glass of the local liqueur, Licquoise, and then have the chance to buy a turkey. Beats the local supermarket!

    The region also offers varied landscapes of forests, meadows and marshlands, an unspoilt coastline that stretches for miles, Regional Natural Parks, a network of waterways and lots of historic sites. For great places to stay and visit in the region, check out our accommodation and guide to the Nord-Pas-de-Calais

  • Destination France magazine highlights Christmas at French Connections

    Destination France is a sumptuous magazine with a passion for France. It's packed with news, events, holiday ideas and in-depth guides with beautiful photographs. The Autumn issue features the Christmas and New Year pages at French Connections, where owners can see a useful guide and promote their properties and holidaymakers will soon be able to find and book their perfect French getaway for the festive season.

    One regional focus for the Autumn issue of the magazine is the department of Yvelines, just west of Paris in the Ile de France. Its most popular attraction is the vast Palace of Versailles, centre of the royal court since the 17th century and probably most famous for its association with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  Here, you can see not only the main apartments and chapel but also the gardens and even Marie Antoinette's farm.

    But Versailles is not the only chateau worth visiting in this area. The magazine also recommends the less well known Grand and Petit Trianon, the Chateau de Rambouillet set in forest in the south west of Yvelines and the Chateau de Breteuil at Choisel, which has stunning gardens and life-sized waxwork figures.

    Destination France magazine is published quarterly and currently has a special offer on postal subscriptions.

  • Discover the Nord-Pas-de-Calais

    There's a tendency to think of the Nord-Pas de Calais as an area of France that we rush through when heading further south - which is a pity. Every time I explore the region, I'm impressed by the clear impression that I have most definitely entered France with all that means in terms of ambience, way of life - and most especially way of eating.

    Particular favourite places? Well, let's start with Ardres, a small town close to a lake with beautifully planted public areas, a delightful square with one of those art-form patisseries and an excellent British-owned wine merchant and enough good restaurants to keep anyone happy from Monday to Friday and the weekend as well.

    If Ardres is a good example of small-town France, then Le Touquet is the epitome of Parisian chic and sophistication transported to the seaside. The Christmas shops and lights are wonderfully tasteful, the cultural events are impressive, the seafood is exceptional, the super-luxury houses set in woodland are well worth a drive-by and the people watching is superb. Oh, and for outdoor lovers there's a huge beach to stroll and some famous golf courses to play.

    Less well known but delightful in a different way is the seaside town of Wimereux, which has quite an Anglo-Norman feel with its beach huts and painted seafront houses. Equally charming is the historic town of Montreuil-sur-Mer, which is actually quite a way inland, but has some lovely medeival architecture and a very French feel.

    If I want to blow away the cobwebs of a good lunch and stretch my legs, then I climb the slopes of Cap Blanc Nez or Cap Gris Nez, take in the fabulous coastal views, reflect on the history and look back at Kent, feeling how cool it is to be so close and yet 'abroad'.

    Browse accommodation in the Nord -Pas-de-Calais region

  • Enjoy a magical Christmas in France

    Fancy doing something different this Christmas? Make the festive season a really feel-good time with a trip to France. Pop across before the event to savour the delights of Christmas markets and pick up some wine bargains; spend the holiday in traditional style in the countryside or a  French town; take family and friends for a fun New Year celebration.

  • French Christmas Shopping

    French stockings wrapped up.....At last I have finished my Christmas shopping! I started way back in November by compiling a list and making a note of suitable options for various family members and friends. This pre-planning did not stop me however, from frantically searching the High Street over the past couple of weeks along with thousands of others plus ordering stuff on-line (providing it was still in stock) and feeling somewhat frazzled at the end of it. Buying on-line or from the shops is not always the fun, happy, carefree experience the glitzy advertisements at this time of the year would have us believe. It is such a different experience in France. There, the emphasis is on ‘less-is-more’ and quality rather than quantity so not only do the French seem less stressed out by the shopping experience, they do not spend so much per head on gifts at Christmas either - ‘maxing the plastic’ does not seem to feature in their culture. Go down any Boulevard in France at this time of the year and you will see prettily dressed trees standing outside shops adorned with little red ribbons and bows. Their tastefully dressed shop windows, with enough glitz to spell out Christmas is around the corner without being gaudy, entice you in to choose a gift for a loved one with care. Having chosen your selected gift, the shop assistant then proceeds to wrap the gift and tie it up expertly with attractive ribbon and bows. The only concession to marketing can be found by the little sticker on the finished gift, bearing the shop’s name. Et Voilà! Christmas present buying is done.