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  • The beautiful Provencal farmhouse Mas de l’Hermitage is the exciting destination for the winner of our latest competition. We’ve teamed up with FrenchEntree magazine to offer you the chance to win a week’s stay at this place of luxurious calm close to the Alpilles Hills, the Mediterranean sea and the heritage city of Arles.

    At the Mas owners Tony Spit and Bernard Balet  have created three stylish apartments, each with its own private terrace, and all set in a spacious garden with a large swimming pool and fresh herbs and vegetables for your barbecue.

    The winning couple will stay in La Camargue, a spacious duplex apartment with fabulous views. Click on the link below to take a look at this lovely property (ID 103659). If you can’t wait for the competition, you can always book your own stay !

    Nearby is the medieval village of Les Baux and in Arles is the recently opened Van Gogh Foundation. Visit the magnificent Roman Pont de Gard and enjoy picnics or canoeing. Don’t miss the wild lands of the Camargue with its flamingoes, white horses and beaches – or the colourful Provencal markets with their food, flowers and fabrics.

    To enter the competition see the latest issue of FrenchEntree magazine – or you can enter online in the magazine’s Competitions section.

  • Friends and family frequently ask “why France?”  It wasn’t my idea! A besotted better half hankered after a more ‘rural’ life with lots of space, sunshine, delicious food and ingredients and, of course, great wines. Well it didn’t sound all that bad and, after three years spent travelling the South West looking for our ideal home and commercial venture, I was smitten and pressing him for decisions.

  • Easter Saturday falls on 19th April this year, so the evenings will be lighter and the flowers blooming for this spring holiday. Easter is a lovely time in France as the days become warm and sunny, especially in southern parts. And we have an almost unprecedented number of special offers for April 2014, including Easter and the two preceding school holiday weeks, so there’s even more reason to plan a trip to France.

  • It’s the magical Christmas market season! All over France cities stage these fabulous mixtures of shopping, community and carnival to capture the traditional magic of Christmas as a season of light, good food and family feeling.  The markets are really worth a visit for both their atmosphere and the great shopping  - no wonder so many Francophiles and lovers of traditional Christmas spirit go every year for a market mini-break.  So where are this year’s Christmas market hotspots?

    Strasbourg market is really the daddy of them all. Dating back to 1570, it’s the oldest Christmas market in France and one of the largest. As if that weren’t enough, the setting in front of Strasbourg Cathedral is quite breathtaking. A must-see on a visit to Strasbourg market is La Petite France, a cosy neighborhood of timbered fairy-tale buildings with Christmas shops and a gingerbread bakery.

  • Last month my French food recipe was a pear dish and it is of no surprise as this is the time of year, pears and apples are being harvested and stored for the coming winter months.

    I could reminisce about my younger days of climbing trees (yes, I was a bit of a tom boy) and shaking the apples from the apple trees when they were ripe – it was such good fun.

    I was reminded of these days when staying with my son in Sussex last year and we gathered an enormous amount of really good apples. What was hilarious to me at the time was the fact that the chickens were also perched on the branches as we gathered the apples. To see the chickens in the trees was to me fascinating, I simply loved them.

    We made apple pies, including French apple tarts and of course apple chutney - so delicious. I gave my neighbour some of the apples and she was very impressed with their flavour.

    Of course, Kent and Sussex are known for their cider apple growing and a glass of local cider is always welcome when in the area.

    In France, in the Normandy region they grow the apples for making Calvados which is a famous French brandy. It is distilled from cider or perry and aged in the French oak barrels for about two years.

    Calvados is also the name of one of the original departments of which was formed during the French Revolution.

    Legend has it that a shipping vessel, a galleon of the armada called the Calvador or el Salvador was wrecked on the coast of Normandy in 1588 and this is where the name of the department is derived from. Whether or not it is true is unsure but there have been distilleries in the area since around the 1600’s.

    Being so near to Paris, it is a really good choice of area to stay for a holiday or a weekend break. It is often referred to as the countryside of Paris.

    But to get back to the brandy, the French are very proud of their Calvados brandy and it is drunk as an aperitif as well as used in many French sauce recipes – one of which I have for you this month.

    It is the type of soil which decides whether apples or pears are grown in the area. The apples have shorter roots and so they are more suited to the soil which is softer. Pears, having longer root systems and can grow well in the harder soils.

    Calvados is made from apples and/or pears but these are not of the eating variety as they are very small and acidic There are about forty eight varieties which are suitable for making Calvados ranging from a very bitter to a very sweet fruit.

    The Calvados brandy must contain 70% bitter and bitter sweet varieties. Also it must contain 30% acidic varieties. It is the pears that can give the sweetness needed in this combination which gives the brandy the fragrance and the bouquet.

    Harvesting of the fruit takes place between September and January each year. If you decide to take a holiday in Calvados you may very well see some of the harvesting or indeed, have a taste of their famous brandy.

    Calvados is very much a tourist destination being one of the most visited areas in France – mainly because of its seaside resorts which are among the some of the most prestigious in France. You will find luxurious hotels, casinos, wonderful countryside, manors, French castles, chalk cliffs, typical Norman houses, Bayeux with its famous tapestry, the famous D-day beaches and much more besides.

    Food in the countryside of Calvados has abundance of specialities and apart from the cider and calvados brandy, there is the Camembert cheese, and the Pont l’Eeveque cheeses too. So staying in this region should be an absolute pleasure and don’t forget, as I said earlier, it is very near to Paris too!

    The recipe I have chosen for you this month is one using the Calvados brandy. Of course you can have the brandy as an aperitif too which I recommend – however, it is the sauce that will make this dish simply divine and it is not a difficult one so don’t be alarmed. There is a little bit of igniting to do, so please keep the children away!

    Other than that it is a beautiful dish, one everyone will love. Worried about your diet – don’t be – simply watch your portions, not too much and have a light meal tomorrow. Why miss out of something so delicious when you can be good tomorrow!

    Chicken with Calvados
    For Four People

    • 1 chicken cut into portions
    • 1oz/25g butter
    • 3 tablespoons of Calvados brandy
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 8fl oz/225ml crème fraiche or double cream

    Method

    Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed flameproof casserole pan.
    Place the chicken portions in the pan and season with salt and pepper.
    Cook over a medium heat for about an hour.
    Using a spoon, skim as much fat from the pan as you can.

    This is when you will ignite your dish.

    Pour the Calvados over the chicken pieces and bring the juices to the boil.
    Now ignite the Calvados and wait for the flames to die down.
    Place the chicken on a warm plate.

    Mix the egg yolks into the cream or crème fraiche and mix it into the cooking juices in the pan – over a very low heat.
    Beat the mixture with a wire whisk until it thickens but DO NOT LET IT BOIL.
    Pour the sauce over the chicken pieces when you are ready to serve.

    Serve your dish with boiled potatoes, sauté potatoes or rice.
    I think a few French green beans are good with this dish too.

    Bon Appétit

  • The best Christmas market in France for crystal and Le Creuset is Amiens; at Licques market there’s a turkey parade, while Noisy le Grand, Paris offers hand crafted wooden toys and horse-drawn carriage rides. All this and more is in our comprehensive 2013 online guide to Christmas markets, a veritable treasure trove of information for lovers of these luscious shopping experience–cum-theatre events that are so special in France.

    Each market reflects the character of its location, so a visit is a good chance to discover a new area of France. Mulhouse market, for instance, is typically Alsatian, with half-timbered stalls featuring exceptional fabrics - and there’s mulled wine to sip on and little biscuits to nibble.

    The medieval town of Nancy, famous for its triumphal arch built to honor Louis XV, hosts its celebrated market in the historic Place Maginot, selling delicious fresh bread, spicy charcuterie, Bergamotte bonbons and mouthwatering macarons. Enjoyable Christmas activities here include carol singing, folk dancing and lively street entertainment.

    The guide lists around 25 markets – from Arras in the North to Avignon in the South - all in complete and tantalising detail, including location, goods for sale, food specialities and associated events. It also gives options for travel by road, rail and air and local accommodation, both hotels at discounted rates and self-catering options.

    So, what are you waiting for? To plan your trip, browse our 2013 guide to Christmas markets in France

  • Easter is just around the corner and in France that means age-old community traditions and joyful celebrations – especially in the countryside, which is also great for getting active outdoors in the longer spring days. French cities combine tradition with the stimulation of an urban buzz and there are even more thrills as Disneyland Paris celebrates its 20th year from Easter Monday onwards. So Easter in France really does offer fun for all ages and tastes.

    One of the joys of staying at a holiday home in a village or town in the French countryside is dipping into a way of rural community life that has held fast to its traditions, humanity and sense of identity.  This is particularly evident at Easter, the announcement of Spring and rebirth that is evident all around in field, forest, vineyards and verdant hillsides.

    Even the smallest French village has its church, often with a distinctive tower or steeple housing the all-important bells that peal to mark the great occasions and transitions of human life. But on the Thursday before Good Friday, the bells of French churches fall silent. “The peal of the bells has flown off to Rome to see the Pope,” it is said. Only on the morning of Easter Sunday do the bells fly back to peal once again, bringing with them chocolate Easter eggs.

    The eggs are said to be strewn by the bells for children to find in gardens and parks. This is why French children hunt outdoors for their chocolate eggs – and why the gorgeous displays in the window of the village chocolatier includes lots of bells with wings as well as eggs. The tradition behind Easter chocolate fish is less clear – but they are beautiful works of confection, sometimes containing smaller items of chocolate shellfish.

    Churches hold an Easter Mass on Saturday evening and the Sunday is marked by a long family lunch with plenty of local produce and wine, which seems like a pretty good model to follow if you’re holidaying in France!

    Easter Saturday falls on 30th March – and there’s still time to book your Easter getaway for this or the following week at a cottage, farmhouse, chateau or chambres d’hote in many rural areas of France with great walking, cycling and sightseeing. More in our guide to Easter – including a fantastic choice of Easter accommodation still available - and in our calendar of Festivals and Events.

    Photo: Tulip picking at the Chateau de Percey in Burgundy

  • The Alpes-Maritime region in the South of France lies between dramatic Provencal mountains and the azure coastline of the Mediterranean. This is home to the French Riviera, with all its associations of glamour, but there are lots of options for holidays here – and they need not break the bank! Anyone who wants to be at the heart of things in Nice, Cannes or Antibes can rent a self-catering apartment with sea view and balcony for less than you might think.

  • Anyone remotely interested in football will know that, after some exciting qualifying matches recently, the Euro 2016 championship will be held in France next summer, from 10 June to 10 July. Matches will be at several venues around the country, with the final in Paris.

    Tickets will go on sale after the finals draw on 12 December, giving you time to find accommodation. Hotels will be busy – and probably expensive - so why not look for one of our friendly B&Bs or self catering holiday lets in your chosen regions?

    As a reminder, the countries that have already qualified are: France (as hosts), England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Italy, Spain, Germany,Czech Republic, Belgium, Slovakia, Poland, Switzerland, Romania, Austria, Russia, Croatia, Portugal, Albania, Iceland.

    The venues for matches will be:
    Parc des Princes, Paris
    Stade de France, Saint-Denis
    Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
    Stade des Lumières, Lyon
    Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille
    Matmut Atlantique, Bordeaux
    Stadium Municipal, Toulouse
    Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens
    Allianz Riviera, Nice
    Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne

    Fixture dates are:
    Group stage: 10-22 June
    Round-of-16: 25-27 June
    Quarter-finals: 30 June-3 July
    Semi-finals: 6-7 July
    Final: 10 July

  • No wonder France is such a popular family holiday choice. The country is easily accessible by road, rail or air, is affordable - especially for accommodation - and offers a great variety of landscape, history, activities and fun for adults and youngsters alike. Oh, and let’s not forget the child-friendly culture and delicious local food and wine.

    The Dordogne, Languedoc-Rousillon and the Mediterranean are all favourite destinations – and for somewhere different, try the Auvergne or Burgundy. Most accessible for family holidays is North West France, especially Normandy and Brittany. You’ll find spacious countryside, Celtic traditions and every kind of seaside from unspoilt rocky coves to buzzing resorts with wide, sandy beaches.