Friday, January 21, 2011

Toulouse for a Day


The Wine.

The Lunch. An Edible Present!

Place du Capitole. Toulouse was certainly a lively, young and vibrant city! It is home to the University of Toulouse which has the third largest studednt population in France after Lyon and Paris.

Place du Capitole. Toulouse is known as the Ville Rose (The Pink City), for its distinctive brick architecture.

Place du Capitole.

Place du Capitole.

Pink, Blue and Red.

Inside Betty

Yesterday, I traveled to Toulouse and back. No easy feat by any means considering it was about three hours each way by car. We don't exactly have the speediest car around, but it has become our little road warrior and always seems to get me there and back again without a hitch. Since it was going to be a bit of a journey I decided to bring Rypien along to act as co-pilot, but mostly to keep me company.

The whole purpose of my trip to Toulouse was to have lunch with the fabulous Thomas Cabrol, founder and owner of ProDégustation – a very succesful wine tasting company which can be found in all major centers and cities within France. I met him while doing my WSET Level 3 at VinÉcole in the Languedoc-Roussillon, we were the only two people in the class!

We had lunch at a wonderful restaurant called Le Nez Rouge (such a great name), which is owned by a lady who used to work for Thomas as a wine instructor. The restaurant was a tiny little wine and food bistro located on a small corner in the middle of the bustling city. They had a great wine list, as was to be expected, with a selection of over 200 wines, all French of course. Oddly enough, there wasn't one wine on the entire menu from the famous wine growing region of Bordeaux. How is this possible? Thomas was quick to inform me that the owner hates Bordeaux, hence its absence on the menu.
We decided on a fantastic 2007 bottle from Gevrey-Chambertin by Domaine Trapet Père et Fils (a.k.a. a red Burgundy. For those who may be a bit unfamiliar, any red wine from Burgundy is going to be a Pinot Noir). Lunch consisted of a mouth watering chorizo soup to start, followed by butternut squash and fish which came wrapped up like a present in clear cellophane. It was quite something. 10 out of 10 for presentation! And of course the food itself was nothing short of a gastronomic delight, every bite was to die for.

With my belly full of French goodness, I thought it would be a good idea to go walkabout and see a bit of the city. I decided to head for the Place du Capitole, the main square in the city and home to the Hôtel de Ville, the Théâtre du Capitole (opera house) and the Donjon du Capitole (the archives tower). The narrow brick paved streets were lined with some very cool shops, one of which Thomas made me swear that I would visit. It went a little something like this:

Thomas: “You like cheese?”
Me: “Yeeees”.
Thomas: “Than you MUST go to Betty”.
Me: “Betty?”
Thomas: “It is the best cheese shop in all of Southern France! The man who owns it is a Lactose Engineer!”

So, I went, I saw, I bought, and then ended up smelling like a stinky cheese shop for the three hour car ride home. Merde!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who are the Basques?

Poster on the side of a building in San Sebastian.

Basque Houses

Basque Houses

Basque Coutryside

San Sebastian, Spain

If any of you ever take a trip down to the Basque region of France (where we currently live), you will no longer feel like you are in France. Throughout my travels of this beautiful country I've come to notice that everything here is different, from the colours of the houses to the language they speak, to the food they eat and the wine they drink.

Straddling the border of southern France and northern Spain, the land of the Basques (called Euskal Herria in the Basque language) has long been home to a people who had no country of their own but have always viewed themselves as a nation. Their history pre-dates the Roman invasion of the region and has carried on to the present day, frequently earning them the label of one of the oldest peoples in Europe.

There have been claims that the Basques are the original Europeans, this is based largely on the grounds of Euskara, the Basque language, which appears to have no linguistic relative and is likely the oldest European language still spoken.Written Basque is as strange looking as the language is sounding, featuring an extraordinary number of x's and an apparent disregard for vowels.

The Basques seldom get good press – especially with regards to the current news items about ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna, translated as Basque Homeland and Liberty) , the Basque nationalist group. For over thirty years, this group has been fighting Spain to win the independence of the Basque region, and killing some 800 people in the process.

Nevertheless, the Basques are without a doubt a distinctive and unique people who speak their own language, have their own radio stations and newspapers, have their own educational system, and continue to embrace a culture spanning thousands of years. But, perhaps the most remarkable fact about the Basques is that they still exist. Without a defined country and with no known related ethnic groups, the Basques seem to be a bit of a European anomaly.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Walking on Sunshine

The last few days have been fantastic in terms of weather. It's been super sunny with temperatures hovering between 15 and 18 degrees. Certainly can't complain considering it's January and it's been dumping snow back home in Canada. These are just a couple of pics I took from our walks and runs around Lake Hossegor. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Favourite Things: Maje and Sandro

Maje, Fall/Winter 2010

Maje, Fall/Winter 2010

Maje, Fall/Winter 2010

Sandro, Fall/Winter 2010

Sandro, Fall/Winter 2010

Sandro, Fall/Winter 2010

Love anything and everything French? Looking for something classic, feminin and sophisticated but with a slight edge? Than look no further than two of my favourite Parisian labels: Maje and Sandro. Yes, I know... Maje and Sandro are pure frenchness, and I know I have probably mentioned this to everyone – but these stores are amazing!

The labels are run by two sisters, Évelyne Chétrite and Judith Milgrom, heads of Sandro and Maje respectively. Their clothes combine simplicity and luxury in a paired-down chic sort of way. Less is more as minimalist pieces in fine fabrics, effortless and unfussy, ensure versatility and longevity! Trust me, these two labels are perfect for all those who desire to acquire a bit of that Parisian chic.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Soldes, Soldes, Soldes!

The Jean Vier Boutique in Hossegor

Colourful Stripes at Jean Vier

L'Atelier du Chocolat

L'Atelier du Chocolate

Soldes, soldes, soldes! Translation: Sales, sales, sales!

What better way to ring in the New Year then a day spent shopping the sales in all the stores!

France only has two sales a year. So its a big deal. The parking lots are full, the streets are jammed and the stores are bustling!

The soldes are the only time of the year that shops are legally allowed to sell merchandise on sale. In common with most things in France, the deadhand of government is evident here as the timing of the sales is trictly regulated. There are only two legal periods – the soldes d'hiver (winter sales) in January and February and the soldes d'été (summer sales) in June/July. It is of course typically French to have overly strict government regulation where much less is required, and of course to ignore everything outside France.

Nevertheless, the soldes are a great time to be in France, especially for shopaholics comme moi. So far, I've indulged in a few choice pieces from one of my fav clothing stores, Maje (more on this in my next post). Some very yummy chocolate from L'Atelier du Chocolat de Bayonne, also a fav. And I may have gone a bit overboard at Jean Vier. They make the most beautiful Basque style decor. Domestic I know, but their stuff is gorgeous. Their table linens in particular are to die for, with their colourful and vibrant designs, and all their collections are named after Basque towns or villages (St Jean de Luz, Espelette, Biarritz, Sara, Arnaga, Bilbao) or after traditional Basque past-times and traditions, Tixilin Txalan (a children's game) which I love.