There are hundreds of Chateaux in the Loire Valley ranging from small, gorgeous and rather cosy like the Chateau du Clos Lucé, former home of Leonardo da Vinci, to the grand and imposing like the Chateau de Chambord, a Renaissance masterpiece.
The Chateau de Chenonceau is one of the most grand and gorgeous of them all, like a fairy tale castle, nestling on the banks of the River Cher where former owner Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566), mistress of King Henri II used to bathe. The waters, it was said, made her even more beautiful.
The chateau today is owned by the Menier family, famous for making chocolate in France. It is open to the public year-round and has a unique attraction – flowers!
The Chateau de Chenonceau has a reputation for being a “ladies castle” as, other than Diane de Poitiers, several women have had a strong influence over its destiny, including Catherine de Medici, wife of Henry II. Both women loved the gardens of the chateau and would have grand bouquets displayed in the rooms. Go there today and every room in the chateau provides the most amazing backdrop for beautiful floral displays.
Most of the flowers are grown in the chateau grounds by a master gardener. And the displays are created by Jean-Francois Bouchet an internationally renowned florist. He and his team make the magnificent bouquets in a tiny workshop at the castle, and the colour, scent and life they bring to the rooms are world famous.
Beautiful furnishings, tapestries, paintings and historic rooms including a 60m long gallery across the river Cher where balls were held, make Chenonceau a real must see for any chateau lover.
Visit this chateau and it’s not just the gorgeous interior with its flowers that you get to enjoy but the stunning gardens too. Head gardener Nicholas Tomlan, an American, has distinct areas to look after. Diane’s Garden (with a fountain in the middle) and Catherine de Medici’s Garden (with a pond in the middle) are a riot of colour and formal beds filled with beautiful flowers – around 130,000 bedding plants are grown for the summer borders alone.
The potager is where flowers grow side by side with fruit and veg, destined for the chateau’s delectable L’Orangerie Restaurant. There’s also a maze, a grand Green Garden, stunning avenue of trees that lead to the castle and a recently developed small garden dedicated to the great botanist Russel Page.
The gardens are illuminated on summer nights and on some weekends, classical music is played, the perfect accompaniment to a fairy tale stroll.
This is a fabulous year-round visit including at Christmas, when the chateau de Chenonceau is decked out in style.
If you’re headed to France this autumn, then you’re in for a treat as at this time of the year there are so many fabulous festivals, events, and celebrations taking place.
Here are just a few of our favourites:
Braderie de Lille
Braderie de Lille 1-2 September, Europe’s biggest flea market www.lilletourism.com
Journées Européennes du Patrimoine – European Heritage Days: Nationwide event 15-16 September. Hundreds of historical buildings, famous monuments, Government sites and places of interest, some of which are normally closed to the public, open their doors and welcome visitors. It is an amazing opportunity to explore and find out more about some truly fantastic buildings in France. Discover the heritage of France, more about Journées Européennes du Patrimoine. www.journeesdupatrimoine.culture.fr/
Fete de la Gastronomie 21-23 September, every corner of France will come alive with events to celebrate its UNESCO-listed ‘world intangible heritage’ status. From grand-scale concerts to local sing-a-longs, Michelin-star set menus to small village banquets, the country will be in lively spirits to celebrate one of its most popular claims to fame. www.economie.gouv.fr/fete-gastronomie
Festival Musica, Strasbourg (contemporary classical music) September 19–October 6.
Monaco Yacht Show (pricey exhibition of mega-yachts) September 26–29.
Nuit Blanche Paris
Paris Nuit Blanche – a fabulous artfest of illuminated public art and concerts in the streets of Paris. First Saturday in October.
Paris Grape Harvest Festival, Montmartre. Did you know that there is a vineyard in Paris, it’s a tiny relic of the once abundant vineyards that flourished in Paris. Once a year, Montmartre celebrates the Fete des Vendanges de Montmartre - the Grape Harvest festival. 10 to 14 October. www.fetedesvendangesdemontmartre.com
National Event: Semaine du Gout – Taste Week: 8-14 October. Throughout France, this foodie event focuses on original and varied cuisine. As part of the event, workshops for the public include cooking classes, tastings and entertainment. www.legout.com
Chartres en Lumières ends October 13. Chartres is universally known for its UNESCO listed cathedral. “Chartres en Lumières” reveals dozens of cultural and architectural sites of a city that brightly shines every night from dusk until 1 am, thanks to original lighting and outstanding video technology (April – October). Chartres-Tourism.com
Paris Salon de Chocolat: Chocolate lovers will be thrilled with this event as dozens of chocolatiers from all over France and as far away as Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, Japan and Canada present their wares on more than 400 stands. The Chocolate Fashion Show is a must! 31 October to 4 November at the Porte de Versailles. www.salonduchocolat.fr
Hospices de Beaune
La Toussaint, All Saints Day. A national holiday in France. Public offices and lots of shops will be closed. November 1.
Dijon International and Gastronomic Fair November 1–11 www.burgundy-tourism.com
Annecy Wine and Food Festival. Wine and gastronomic exhibition with tastings galore. www.salondesvins.org 9-11 November
Armistice Day. Public offices and lots of shops will be closed. November 11.
Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Held the third Thursday of November, the festivities start at midnight on Wednesday for the celebration of new wine from the Beaujolais region, Burgundy. November 15.
Les Trois Glorieuses, Beaune, Burgundy. Wine auction and festival. November 16–8. www.beaune-tourism.com
And, as if that’s not enough, France will be gearing up for the Christmas markets from the end of November!
French Connections has hundreds of holiday homes for rent all over France, enjoy the festivals with us, we love to make your holiday dreams come true…
Caption: Bassin du Commerce Photo: F Goddard Normandy Tourist Board
Le Havre in Normandy is an ancient town with a contemporary footprint. It’s a UNESCO listed city, recognised for its extraordinary architecture.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Le Havre’s origins go back to 1517 when Francis 1 commissioned the construction of a port, it was known then as Francispolis. These days Le Havre is one of the biggest of French ports, a vast, vibrant and buzzing city.
Le Havre suffered enormous damage during World War II and afterwards needed almost complete rebuilding. Belgium born Auguste Perret was chosen to redesign the city and he persuaded the town planners to let him use reinforced concrete as his main medium. In those days, it was an unusual idea. Then, and even now, it’s not a commonly seen sight, or at least not in France. The result is an a very modern looking city with clean lines and light-coloured buildings.
What to see and do in Le Havre
Caption: Le Havre skyline Photo D. Dumas Normandy Tourist Board
Between 1945-1964, Perret created a template for modern living. Wide boulevards that let in light, sensibly laid out streets and buildings with all mod cons. His vision was for large bright living spaces as can be seen at the Perret show flat. It showcases Perret’s architectural innovation which led to the city becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 for urban planning. Those who have a penchant for modern architecture will love this city. Details: perretshowflat
Avenue Foch, designed to be a modern Champs-Elysées, is lined with smart shops and links the centre of the city to the sea.
The huge church of St Joseph stands 110m high and is a fitting concrete landmark for Le Havre and in fact can even be seen from the sea from the boats that arrive in port.
André Malraux Modern Art Museum (MuMa) build from metal and glass with huge windows facing the sea is idea for displaying paintings in any light. It contains many treasures from the 17th to the 20th century, including the second largest collection of impressionist works in France. Dufy, Monet, Bodin, Fantin-Latour and many others are represented here.
Le Volcan (The Volcano), Le Havre’s arts centre and theatre, designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer, and built in 1982. The architecture represents a white veil of concrete, with curves and open shapes, and the state-of-the-art library inside is well worth a visit.
Le Havre Marina and Beach
Le Havre beach Photo: F. Lambert Normandy Tourist Board
Le Havre’s marina has 1,150 berths; many famous races and international sailing events set sail from here. A 2km beach with promenade is just 500m away from the city centre and you’ll find a wide range of bars and restaurants serving tasty local cuisine right on the beach.
You can also take boat tours of the port of Le Havre and discover the daily life of the port, tickets from the kiosk at the marina. Details: lehavreboattours
Food and Markets of Le Havre
Normandy is a food lover’s paradise with an abundance of lush farmland, and home to some of France’s most famous products. Le Havre is no exception, with all the classics from Norman cheeses, fresh seafood and apple products like Calvados, Pommeau and delicious pastries. The Place des Halles Centrales hosts a daily indoor market and an outdoor market on Sundays from 9am to 1pm. Fresh fish and shellfish straight off the boats can be found at the specialist fish market on the Place Saint-François.
For an authentic taste of Normandy try the Taverne Paillette 22, rue Georges Braque. Founded in 1596, it’s loved by the locals for its impressive seafood platters, Paris-style sauerkraut and home-brewed beer.
Revel in the hustle and bustle of Le Havre’s popular bar and restaurant district and head to Le Grignot, opposite Le Volcan. It’s one of the most famous brasseries in Le Havre and the menu specialises in seafood, seasonal and traditional recipes www.legrignot.fr
Find out more about Le Havre and Normandy: https://www.lehavretourisme.com/
French Connections has hundreds of fabulous gites and holiday rentals in Normandy, you’re sure to find your ideal holiday home with our handy search facilities. We love to make your holiday dreams come true
Medieval streets, half-timbered houses, a pretty harbour and gastronomic delights galore, the walled town of Vannes is one of Brittany’s most charming towns.
In the Morbihan department of Brittany, Vannes invites you to wander around the well-preserved medieval streets before enjoying a harbour-side lunch or a boat trip around the gulf.
This is a terrific place to browse and amble at your leisure. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings you’ll find a pretty street market in Places Lices. This is where jousting tournaments were once held but these days the only contests are among the sellers of fruit and vegetables, calling out to draw attention to the lush, shiny produce.
Mr and Mrs Vannes
A popular place for a selfie is in Place Valencia where on the corner of a half-timbered house you’ll see the carving of a man and woman known to the locals as “Mr and Mrs Vannes”, it dates back to possibly the 15th, or the 16th century and though no one knows exactly why it was made.
There are two museums in town – Château Gaillard in a 15th-century mansion, houses an exhibition of archaeology and the town’s history. La Cohue, is a museum of fine arts, located in a 13th-century covered market that was the home of the Breton Parliament from 1675-89.
Outside the town walls is the Château de l’Hermine, once the home of the Duke of Brittany, now an exhibition space with pretty gardens.
Take a boat trip from the Parc du Golfe, about a mile from the town centre and float around the Gulf of Morbihan.
There’s also an aquarium with a huge collection of tropical fish and the Jardin aux Papillons, a glass dome filled with vegetation where hundreds of butterflies fly free.
Further south is the Conleau Peninsula, Vannes’ only beach.
Andreas G. Törl Wikimedia
Just outside the old walls of the departmental capital of Vannes lurks a hidden gastronomic treasure.
The main gate into Vannes is the Porte St-Vincent Ferrier, named after a Spanish monk who died in the town in 1419 and became its patron saint; he is buried in St-Pierre cathedral. To the left and right of the gate are town houses: many of their ground floors have been turned into cafes and make a lovely location for lunch as they face the marina.
If you pass by the cathedral and head for the Port Prison (yes it really was the prison) keep left and find the Rue de La Fontaine you will find a great collection of restaurants.
Vannes is well worth a visit…
If you’re planning to drive in France, make sure you know the road rules and have the right equipment in your car.
1 High Visibility vest
There should be one for all passengers since it’s a requirement to wear a high-viz vest if you breakdown on the motorway and have to get out of the vehicle. You should carry them in the front of the car where they’re easily accessible. This is a legal requirement (including motor bikes).
2 Warning Triangle
By law, you need to have a warning triangle in the car in France which must be used, placed a minimum of 30m from the car, in case of breakdown or accident.
3 Spare bulbs
You can be fined for having a broken bulb in France so if one breaks, you need to have a kit in the car for immediate replacement.
4 Headlight beam adjusters
If your car doesn’t have adjustable headlights to make them compliant for driving on the left-hand side of the road, you’ll need to fit adjusters.
Drink-Drive limits in France
The limit for consuming alcohol and driving are lower in France than in the UK by almost half.
Speed limits in France
Fines are on the rise in France for breaking the speed rules.
As of midnight 30 June 2018, the speed limit on all two-lane roads in France, was reduced from 90 kilometres per hour (55 miles per hour) to 80 kilometres per hour (50 miles per hour).
Motorway: 130 kilometres per hour, 110 kilometres per hour in wet weather (80 miles per hour, 68 miles per hour in wet weather)
Dual Carriageway (Major Roads): 110 kilometres per hour; 100 kilometres per hour in wet weather (68 miles per hour (62 miles per hour in wet weather)
Two-lane roads outside built-up areas: 80 kilometres per hour; 70 kilometres per hour in wet weather (50 miles per hour; 43 miles per hour in wet weather)
Built up areas (towns and villages): 50 kilometres per hour (31 miles per hour). Sometimes reductions are in place for 30kph but this will be signed.
Child on board
Children under the age of ten must travel in the back of cars with child seats/restraints unless there is no rear seat or the seats are full (with other children under the age of 10). Babies up to 10kf months in a rear facing child carrier may occupy a front seat (if the airbag is turned off), carry cots must be in the rear of the vehicle.
It’s illegal to carry or use a speed camera detector – doing so carries a heavy fine. You need to disable Satnav speed camera alerts before you travel in France.
Priority from the right
Be aware that some roads in France give priority to motorists approaching from the right. This is indicated by a red triangle with a black cross.
Low emission zones
In some cities in France you must carry a CRIT’Air sticker in the car, an Air Quality Certificate. Currently this rule applies to 28 zones including Paris, Lyon, Lille, Strasbourg and Grenoble. Find out where the ruling applies and get a badge online at: https://www.crit-air.fr/en.html (English language).
The Alps are not just for winter, they make for an amazing summer playground too. And, they’re one of the best kept holiday secrets for nature lovers and families.
There’s not much to beat the fresh mountain air, the scent of summer blossom and wild meadow flowers, and blue skies reflected in clear lakes. A holiday in the French Alps in is all about experiencing a different world that’s revealed once the snow has melted...
The Alps are Europe’s longest mountain range, starting in the south of France and extending out to Vienna. Those mountains help to provide a natural barrier against cloud and rainfall, creating a warm and dry summer climate.
5 reasons to take a holiday in the French Alps in the summer:
1. Spectacular landscape
When warm air rolls in across the mountains after winter and the snow melts, the Alps undergo a remarkable change. White snow disappears, and green leaves and bright meadow flowers rise and colour the landscape. The scent of blossom fills the fresh air, and you can’t help but be moved by the intensity of the colours and the captivating beauty of the French Alps in the summer.
2. Glorious summer weather
Summer in the mountains tends to be hot and sunny in the lower valleys, but it does get chilly at high altitudes. The driest, hottest months are July and August, although if you’re high up, it can still snow. There’s nothing quite like the quality of light in the mountains, the skies somehow seem bluer, the grass greener, it’s quite astoundingly beautiful.
3. Something for the whole family
Getting out and about in the fresh air, walking with the kids through flower filled meadows, through Alpine passes and picturesque villages, it’s one of life’s true pleasures.
If you don’t feel like walking, there’s always the cable car and chairlifts – they work in summer too!
Cycling – or e-bikes which will take you further with less effort, there are hundreds of miles of marked trails. Or why not try pony trekking, horse riding, fishing, mountaineering or potholing and paragliding for the adventurous - those stunning views are worth the effort. There’s even golf with several nursery ski slopes being put in to use as golf courses in the summer
There’s nothing mass tourism about a holiday in the French Alps, it’s all about natural, unspoiled countryside and adventures galore.
4. Lovely lakes…
There are around 40 beautiful, natural lakes, their calm surfaces reflect the beautiful blue skies and sparkling in the sun. Where there are lakes, there are water sports - canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, boating, scuba diving, swimming, even white-water rafting. If you’re hankering after something a little less active, a gentle boat ride with views of the mountains and lake side villages might tempt.
Or a picnic on the lakeside, or a relaxing break in the bars and restaurants that pepper the shores of lakes such as gorgeous Annecy.
5) Its brilliant for families
Many of our alpine holiday homes have stunning views, plenty of room for families, and with plenty to do for kids of all ages, the French Alps makes for a great holiday destination.
French Connections have a great selection of holiday homes in the French Alps, so if you’re looking for a holiday with altitude, let us help you make your holiday dreams come true…
When you’re on holiday in France, the chances are you’ll either be invited to play boules or you’ll find a pitch to play on. It’s a great way to make friends, have fun and get under the skin of real France. The game is also called pétanque, which means “feet fixed”, boules is easier to say.
Pétanque, or boules, is a serious affair in France. Pretty much every town and village has a boules pitch and every French person plays boules – well maybe not every single one, but it is the most popular game in France with an estimated 20 million people playing it regularly.
The point of the game is to get your boules, heavy balls that are often silver coloured, closest to a marker called a cochonnet, which means piglet. The game takes place on a flat, level surface.
Officially you should have no more than three players per team. In reality, unless you’re playing at a serious level, you pretty much turn up for a game and space is made however many people are playing.
Officially players toss their boules from a circle 50cm in diameter. Normally, someone marks a line in the sand or gravel with their foot – you all stand behind it. And you’re supposed to keep both feet on the ground when you toss your ball, not all dramatic like ten pin bowling with one foot behind.
The cochonnet, often made of wood or coloured red so you can see it easily, is to be thrown between 4-8 metres from the marker. If a cochonnet can’t be found, a distinctive stone will do. Then players must throw their balls to see who can get closest to it.
When all the balls are silver, you can tell whose who’s by the markings etched into the metal (or by the rust).
It sounds simple and it is - but there are some twists. Getting the ball close to the cochonnet is as much luck, for most of us, as skill. You need to move balls that are closer than yours to the cochonnet by throwing your next ball and knocking their ball further away.
Someone usually produces a ruler or piece of string to measure the distances.
There’s a lot of laughing, quite often cheating, there’s none of this let the holiday makers win malarkey.
Don’t try and be nice and let your French friends win, go all out for victory – it will be appreciated!
One final piece of advice, it’s not mandatory, but a glass of wine or Pastis is de rigeur when playing.
French Connections has thousands of holiday homes all over France where a boules game awaits you – we love to make your holiday dreams come true…