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Christmas in France is pretty much all about food.

The finest wines, cheeses, breads, oysters – the best of everything beautifully prepared, cooked, and presented are what make the Christmas meals in France truly stand out.

Market stalls heave with stunning displays, shops dress windows and shelves to look their festive finest. If you don’t want to spend hours cooking in the kitchen, you’ll find it’s easy to buy food ready prepared – and utterly delicious.

Le Reveillon - Christmas Eve

In France it is Christmas Eve when the big get together generally takes place. “Le réveillon” as it is called, can go on for several hours and into the next morning - hence its name which literally means the “wake up”.

For many French families, the Christmas Eve meal is more important than Christmas Day lunch.

Actually, there are two meals called the le réveillon in France. If you haven’t over indulged enough on Christmas Eve, you can do it all again on New Year’s Eve just to make sure!

For le réveillon it’s tradition to start with an aperitif, a pre-dinner drink served with nibbles or an amuse-bouche, literally something that amuses your mouth, a mouthful of deliciousness and easy to buy in the shops.

Aperitifs: Champagne of course, or perhaps Kir - white wine with a splash of liqueur, usually cassis (blackcurrant) or perhaps raspberry (framboise) or peach (pêche). Or maybe a Kir Royale – sparkling white wine or Champagne served with liqueur. Champagne cocktails are also popular – here are five classic Champagne cocktail recipes. Even beer gets festive at this time of the year, you can add a liqueur called Picon or simply buy Christmas beer, bière de Noël, which you’ll find easily in supermarkets.

Starters: Work your way through the entrée (starter) which is often oysters, snails, lobster or foie gras. Rich foods and the best that money can buy is the order du jour.

Plat Principal: The main dish is usually roast turkey or chapon (castrated cockerel), goose or other birds and wild fowl served with vegetables and maybe mash, but not roast potatoes, they’re not traditional in France.

Cheese: It is unthinkable for a French person to consider a meal without cheese at Christmas.

In France, cheese is served before dessert. For a great cheeseboard, mix flavours, textures and colour. Aim for five cheeses and include hard, soft, blue, mild and strong so that everyone’s taste is covered. Also try to include cows and goats cheese, maybe even cheese made from sheep’s milk.

Go overboard with a bit of fromage carving and decorating, serve with baguette or savoury biscuits and say cheese for those Christmas photographs…

Dessert: Bûche de Noël (yule log) is a tradition in France, every boulangerie, patisserie and supermarket will have them. Crystallised fruits, nougat and praline nuts are also really popular. In some parts of southern France thirteen desserts are traditional!

Wine: Expect to serve a different wine, paired perfectly with each course.

Dreaming of spending Christmas in France? Hop over to our Home Page and use the easy to search facilities to find your perfect French holiday home…

Pays de la Loire in western France comprises 5 departments that span countryside to coast. Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Sarthe, Vendée and Mayenne.

Mayenne – glorious countryside and rivers galore

Mayenne is in the interior of Pays de la Loire but its borders are just 30km from Normandy’s famous Mont Saint Michel. The capital of Mayenne is lovely Laval. It’s a sleepy sort of town except on a Saturday morning when the market takes place and the whole town bursts into life. The department neighbours the Loire Valley, Brittany and Normandy though it tends to be warmer than Normandy thanks to its microclimate.

There’s plenty to do and see in Mayenne from chateaux, to water activities, vineyards, museums and more.

5 Things to do in Mayenne:

Laval

Laval is in the centre of Mayenne. It’s the sort of small city where you can walk everywhere quite easily. It’s a designated “town of art and history” and very pretty. There’s plenty to see and do in the town as well as round and about. Enjoy wandering the streets of the town. A great place to admire the views is across the river to the Quai Gambetta, at night, the lights twinkle and reflections sparkle. Roam the streets around Place de la Trémoille where the market takes place, and you’ll find dinky creperies, art shops, fromageries and boutiques in the winding, hilly lanes. Don’t forget to buy some of the local cheeses while you’re here – the famous Port-Salut is made at Entrammes, just outside Laval. Other Mayenne-made cheese include: Chamois d’or, Chaussée aux Moines, Vieux Pané, Saint Paulin, Rouy, Babybel, Bons Mayennais and Président. There are plenty of delicious restaurants and bistros and for a gastronomic break, l’Esprit Cuisine (8 rue Mazagran) takes some beating.

Saint Suzanne

Officially one of the most beautiful villages in France, Saint Suzanne is charming, wonderfully pretty and makes for a great place to visit. A town and castle perched on a hill, flower filled streets, cosy cafés and stunning countryside make this a memorable destination.

Robert Tatin Museum

Local artist Robert Tatin is remembered at the house he transformed from a modest home to a work of art. You can take a bus from the centre of Laval for the short journey to the museum. If you fancy a gentle cycle ride, rent a bike in Laval and take the route along an abandoned railway track from the town right to the entrance. The sprawling house and outbuildings are covered inside and out with Tatin’s art and the gardens are full of extraordinary pieces of work. It’s unusual but brilliant.

Cite du Lait Lactopole

The world’s biggest diary museum is in Laval, and Mayenne is a leading dairy production area. Did you know that the average cow produces around 9000 litres of milk a year? Or that the rind of Camembert is good for digestion? Or that yoghurt as we know it, was introduced to France by Russian immigrants in the early 20th century and that in those days you had to buy it at a pharmacy because it was considered medicinal? This is a big museum with around 4000 artefacts – from milk churns to cheese lids. It’s quirky but rather fascinating!

Bike and Boat

Follow the Velo Francette through spectacular countryside on a designated cycle route in Mayenne. Of course you can go much further, it runs for 630km in total. It stretches from Ouistreham in Brittany to La Rochelle, taking in iconic landmarks from the D-day landing beaches, via the Loire Valley, through vineyards and along the most beautiful country lanes.

Or take a gentle cruise on the River Mayenne, enjoy the scenery from an electric or motor boat or pedalo if you’re feeling a bit more energetic.

Useful information: http://www.laval-tourisme.com/en; Atout France

French Connections has lots of lovely holiday rentals in the Pays de la Loire, just hop over to our easy to use search pages and find the holiday home of your dreams.

 

We all know of Cognac for its famous alcoholic drink. It’s not brandy as any Cognac lover will tell you, it’s eau de vie, the water of life. There’s no real translation for it into English that conveys quite the same meaning.

Cognac is also a rather lovely town in the Charente department, where the pace of life is relaxed, the historic buildings are beautiful and the history is tangible.

5 Things to do and see in Cognac

Cognac tasting

You can’t go to Cognac and not try a tasting of the famous eau de vie. There are plenty of places to do it but one of the most unique and truly special venues is Chateau Royale de Cognac, home of the Baron Otard Cognacs.

It’s located on the river front, in a magnificent castle built on the site of a 10th century fort, in which the French King Francis I was born in 1494. As soon as you enter the castle you can smell the Cognac maturing in the cellars. Baron Otard, the founder of the house, bought the castle because he knew the thick walls and damp cellar over the River Charente would be perfect for the slumbering Cognac. He wasn’t wrong.

A fabulous tour and tasting can be had here and there’s a super boutique area where you can buy some to take home.

Wander the ancient cobbled streets

The old town is small but lovely and houses dating from the 15th century to the 19th century can be spotted in the cobbled streets. Pick up a walking route map from Cognac tourist office and follow the “King’s Walk” trail which takes you through the old town, pointing out the historic buildings which date back to the days of the salt trade that Cognac was famous for before it became known for eau de vie.

Take a break in the public park where there are peacocks strutting, ducks quacking and tinkling fountains to soothe.

Take a boat ride

The River Charente runs through the middle of Cognac, wide and gentle it’s perfect for a boat ride. Maison Hennessy include a solar powered boat ride in their behind the scenes tour, following in the ripples of the ancient wooden gabarre barges that used to carry the Cognac barrels up and down the river.

Take in a museum

Cognacians are proud of their famous product as you’ll discover when you visit the Espace Découverte en Pays du Cognac. Located in one of the oldest Cognac houses in the town, you’ll learn everything about the heritage and history of Cognac country. Right next door is the Musée des Arts du Cognac in a modern building with exhibits which retrace the history of eau de vie. Themed visits, lectures and workshops also take place here.

Wine and dine

There are lots of great restaurants in Cognac. Two of our favourites are: Le Bistro Claude and L’Atelier des Quais.

Le Bistro Claude serves superb fresh food picked by the chef and owner and made into an imaginative and utterly delicious menu, and of course there are lots of cognac brands to choose from.

L’Atelier des Quais doesn’t look like anything special from the front door on the bridge but it’s very misleading – this place is fabulous. Enter downstairs through the gates leading off the river and you’ll find yourself in a beautiful little courtyard. The restaurant is smart, bistro-ish and the menu is superb.

French Connections has lots of excellent holiday rentals in the Charente department – we love to help you make your holiday dreams come true

 

Here at French Connections we love to find out what’s coming up in France and of course to share that news with you! France is the most visited country in the world and there’s a reason that this is a constant, so much to see and do – everywhere you go.

La Rosière: A new ski area in Savoie

La Rosière-Espace San Bernardo has expanded its ski area for the 2018-19 season, with a new sector named Mont Valaisan opening in December. Five new red pistes have been created, served by two high-speed, six-seater chairlifts: the Moulin and the Mont Valaisan. The expansion has cost €15m and offers a more technical ski area with greater freeride opportunities. It’s all part of a dramatic transformation of this once-sleepy resort. www.larosiere.net/en/new-in-winter-2019

Viva Leonarda da Vinci 2019 Loire Valley

2019 will mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci at Amboise at the Chateau du Clos Lucé (above), the start of the construction of the Château of Chambord and the birth of Catherine de’ Medici in Florence. The Loire Valley region will celebrate the artistic, scientific and intellectual effervescence of the Renaissance in France with a major programme of events, trips and exhibitions. www.loirevalley-france.co.uk/

Commonwealth War Graves Commission “Behind the Scenes” Visitor Centre, Arras

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will welcome visitors from Spring 2019 to the battlefields of Northern France, to gain a fascinating insight into the work of the extraordinary international organisation as it opens its first visitor centre in Beaurains, near Arras. www.cwgc.org

10 years of Roman Games, Nimes

Channel your inner Roman during the weekend of 3-5 May 2019 in Nimes which is celebrating 10 years of annual games with extra-special circus shows (‘ludi’) in is famous Roman arena. Expect horse demonstrations, chariot races and gladiator battles, military parades, Roman bivouacs, themed tours, exhibitions, conferences and around 500 participating actors from all over Europe. The theme for 2019 is Barbarian Kings. www.arenes-nimes.com/en

75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings, Normandy

All eyes will be on Normandy in 2019 as Thursday 6 June marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, a momentous occasion to celebrate peace, liberty and reconciliation. The D-Day Festival will run from 1-9 June with a programme of events bringing the memory of this tragic period of world history to life, all the while emphasising the spirit of hope. The 75th anniversary will be commemorated with events and festivities such as parades, firework displays, air shows and military re-enactments. www.normandy-dday.com

Rouen Armada, Normandy

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, this key event in the international sailing calendar draws thousands of sailors to Rouen’s quaysides alongside 50 magnificent tall ships, military boats and submarines from all over the world. The 10 days of celebrations, from 6-16 June 2019, will conclude with a parade along the River Seine. The Rouen Armada is one of the largest free-admission maritime events in the world and expects to welcome over 10 million visitors. The sailors will party with the locals in the city's bars and clubs, while the Armada village will come alive with concerts, fireworks and other entertainment. http://en.normandie-tourisme.fr/calendar-of-events/rouen-armada-834-2.html

Cité de la Gastronomie, Lyon

Lyon is often called the gastronomic capital of France and in the summer of 2019, the French city will see the opening of the Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie. Visitors will experience a venue entirely devoted to fine food from around the world as well as culinary traditions. It will be housed in the newly renovated Grand Hôtel Dieu. The project will be listed as UNESCO World Heritage just as French cuisine is.

Fondation Luma, Arles

Designer Frank Gehry’s vertiginous, twisting tower at LUMA Arles is taking shape on its 16-acre site in the city of Arles, Provence. The tower will support a variety of functions including research facilities, workshops and seminar rooms as well as artists’ studios. Work is expected to be completed in summer 2019. While it used only to open during summer, the Fondation LUMA itself is now open all year round. www.luma-arles.org/en

Modern Art at Fontevraud, Pays de la Loire

A new museum of modern art will open at Fontevraud Abbey in autumn 2019. It will contain major 19th and 20th century works by artists including Corot, Dubuffet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Derain and Delaunay. Fontevraud is the largest collection of monastic buildings in France, burial place of three English royals – Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine – and today it’s a cultural centre where concerts take place, exhibitions are held, and artists are in residence. There’s also an outdoor cinema. www.fontevraud.fr/en/

Find out more great things going on in France at www.France.fr

We have loads of great holiday rental properties in all areas of France and our easy to use search facilities make it fun to search for your dream holiday home…

The French Connections team will be at The France Show in London 25-27 January 2019 and we have 100 tickets to give away!

We’re one of the leading websites for property rentals in France with gorgeous gites, beautiful B&Bs, enchanting chateaux and charming villas for rent. And, if you have a property you want to rent out – come and see us, we can help you get bookings for next year!

The France Show brings you the best of France, a real flavour of the best French food, wine, property, holiday ideas, travel offers and entertainment. The lovely cancan dancers will be there of course – and it’s all under one roof. It’s a great day out without having to travel to France!

There’s a French market, you’ll meet top French chefs and enjoy their fabulous cookery demonstrations, and, you can join tutored wine tasting classes where you’ll get to sample some of the finest French wines. Join in the workshops at the language and travel theatre and meet the experts.

There are some great presenters this year including Anthony Peregrine, the expert on France at the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times – he’ll be entertaining you with his tales of authentic France and says he’s “enthusiastic about eating, drinking, watching rugby and recounting tales of kings and Cathars until listeners fall asleep”. And Ian Moore, author and comedian will be back to make you laugh with tales of his life and new B&B venture in France.

The France Show also hosts the largest French Property Exhibition in the UK.

Our very own Janine Marsh, author and travel writer, who writes our weekly blog will also be there, she’ll be chatting about life in northern France on the Flavours of France stage on Friday and Saturday.

We really look forward to meeting you there, stop by our stand and say hi!

GET TICKETS TO THE FRANCE SHOW

Just click on the link below to get your free tickets – it’s first come, first served so don’t delay, click away!

The France Show 25-27 January; 10am-5pm Friday and Saturday | 10am-4pm Sunday

Enjoy a great French day out in the heart of London – see you there!

Click here to get your tickets for FREE:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-france-show-2019-tickets-48331137734?discount=EX224

You’ll probably know of Le Mans in the Sarthe department, Pays de la Loire. It’s famous for its race track that runs through the town and hosts the 24 hour Le Mans race. You might even have seen it, Steve McQueen immortalised Le Mans on film in the 1970s.

What you might not know is that this Plantagenet City, an official “City of Art and History” with Roman roots and remains is actually a truly charming place to visit with lots to see and do.

5 things you shouldn’t miss in Le Mans

Take a slow walk in Le Mans – don’t race!

This is a town with a unique architectural heritage (it’s a candidate for UNESCO heritage listing) and the best way to see it is on foot.

The famous Cathedral of Le Mans is on the edge of the old town and a great start for a walk into the historic district with its half-timbered houses, Renaissance mansions, cobbled streets, Roman walls and towers and fabulous boutiques. Most people are astounded to find that there is such a beautiful old town here – it’s well worth stopping off for.

In July and August, there’s a glorious free light show in the town as the Night of the Chimeras illuminates the streets and monuments.

Wine and Dine

There are plenty of restaurants in the old town as well as the newer part of Le Mans. If you love cakes, don’t whatever you do, miss the shop and café of Japanese master chef Takayanagi (12 rue du Tertre; www.takayanagi.fr). His take on classic French cakes with a Japanese twist, has made him a legend in this town. You can also enjoy a delish sushi lunch here (followed by a cake of course). Take a wine tasting at la Cave de Pedro in a 15th century building (6 Rue Saint-Honoré - book in advance for English language visit). Take home a sweet souvenir from La Sablésienne (2 rue de la Perle; www.sableseienne.com) where they’ve been making biscuits for more than 100 years, though some of the recipes date back more around 350 years (delicious!).

Wine and dine at Auberge de la Bagatelle, 1 Michelin star, and food that’s simply divine (489 Avenue Bollée; www.augergedebagatelle.fr)

Locals love: La Ciboulette (14 rue Vielle-Porte; www.laciboulettelemans.com) for its warm welcome, lovely menu and great ambiance. Or Brasserie des Jacobins (7 Place des Jacobins; www.brasseriedesjacobins.com) which is a big, bright restaurant and very popular.

Hop on the tram to experience the countryside on the doorstep

 

The tram service in Le Mans is excellent (buy tickets at the tram stops). Hop on in the centre of the city and just a few minutes later you’re in the idyllic countryside of Sarthe. Head to Épau and enjoy dining out at the Domaine de L’Épau, a fabulous restaurant set in a 600-acre area of preserved nature. They specialise in local food with some very interesting and healthy smoothies on offer. Then nip next door to the beautiful Abbaye Royal de L’Épau, the last resting place of Queen Berenger, wife of Richard the Lionheart. Make sure you’ve got room for a cake from the café here, Sylvie who makes them, is an absolute cake maker master. They also do a nice lunch or snacks here. Wander the beautiful grounds, admire the centuries old architecture where Cistercian monks lived in the 13th century and the gorgeous grounds with their outdoor artworks and pretty potager.

Go to the market

You’ll find a market in Le Mans every day except Monday. One of the best is the Sunday morning market by the Cathedral in Place du Jet d’Eau. Seasonal, local produce and fish fresh from the sea in neighbouring Charente-Maritime and Brittany. Don’t miss the “mushroom man” when you’re there, you can’t miss his stall, the most incredible mushrooms you’ve ever seen, and utterly delicious. Afterwards head to the bustling traditional Café du Jet d’Eau and watch the action at the market whilst you enjoy a delicious lunch (the oysters here are really popular), it’s also good for a coffee or glass of wine.

Museum of Le Mans

Credit: Alan McGowan

You can’t go to the world capital of motor sports and not stop off at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Museum where you won’t fail to be impressed by the cars in the permanent collection. Bentley, Ferrari, Jaguar, Porsche, Ford, Audi and more – all the great names are represented. They also have excellent temporary exhibitions each year. Take a walk in the tracks of history while you’re there, the famous race route runs just outside the museum…

Find out more at: www.sarthe-tourism.co.uk; www.paysdelaloire.co.uk; www.france.fr

We have lots of fabulous holiday homes in and around Le Mans and the Pays de la Loire – do take a look and contact us if you don’t find what you’re looking for – we love to help you make your holiday dreams come true…

Reims, the capital of Champagne is small enough to walk everywhere, big enough to offer something to suit just about everyone. And, of course, it’s a place where the bubbles pop!

Stellar Cellars in Reims

You can’t go to Reims and not visit a Champagne house and the biggest and one of the best in town is Champagne GH Mumm & Co. (pronounced “moom” as in “took”). Walk through their hallowed doors and you’ll enter the world of myth, celebrity and champagne glory. It began in 1827, a company of three brothers whose legacy is a legend. George Hermann, the son of one of the brothers, gave the company his name: ‘GH’, and its motto “only the best”. GH may be long gone, but his philosophy lives on. Take a tour to discover the history of the company and of Champagne.

Head a little way out of the centre to visit Champagne Ruinart, the oldest Champagne house in existence. They also offer a tour which is fascinating and takes you under Reims into the chalk quarries where the Champagne matures. They don’t have a shop as such but a boutique where you can order from an iPad and someone will nip to the cellar and bring your bottles up – superb!

There are thousands of different flavours to Champagne - some might only be subtle, but others are really widely different. It depends on the blend, the terroir, that impossible to explain French word that means soil, climate, and a few other things. It depends on the ageing and the cellar master and experts who decide how much sugar, yeast and wine to add. It’s complicated and rigorously controlled for the hundreds of Champagne houses who produce around 320 million bottles each year.

Taking a tour will enable you to learn fascinating facts and of course get to taste the results of hundreds of years of perfecting the drink that has become synonymous with luxury, celebration, love and happiness.

Raise your glass in Reims

At the Boutique Tresors de Champagne (2, rue Olivier Métra), artisan Champagne producers club together to provide the most delicious fizz, more than 170 varieties. It’s the perfect place for a Champagne tasting, workshop. to buy bottles to take home and to discover more about the bubbles and the provenance of the production.

Visit Pol Couronne’s Champagne shop and tasting bar in the shadow of the cathedral (11 Cours Jean-Baptiste Langlet). Utterly delicious bubbles in a fabulous location where you can also learn the art of sabrage (opening a bottle with a sword), take a workshop and learn about the fizzx.

Culture Vulture in Reims

The best place to start is at the UNESCO listed Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims. You can’t overestimate the importance of this gothic masterpiece, it’s a truly symbolic emblem of France and a place of enormous history. This is the place where Christian France is said to have begun. A plaque inside the church marks the spot where on Christmas Day in 496 AD bishop Remi baptised Clovis, King of the Franks.

Dining out in Reims

Foodies should head to rue Porte du Champ de Mars (a nod to the city’s Roman past and the huge Roman triumphal arch which remains, an incredible monument) for fabulous gourmet food shops and the covered market Halles du Boulingrin (open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings). If you’re there on a weekend or peak visiting season, try to book in advance as the best restaurants get booked up quickly.

Champagne is enjoyed with lunch, dinner, supper, as an aperitif and a digestif!