Thursday, 18 December 2008

Paris Valentine's Special Offer

Here's a great offer for all your romantics out there...

If you fancy treating that special someone to a romantic break next year, I can strongly recommend the Hotel Aviatic, in Paris’s 6th arrondissement (Hotel Aviatic, 105 rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris;; 0033 153632550).

The hotel would like to give French magazine readers a special Valentine’s Day package. For the whole of February 2009 they are offering two nights in a superior room plus breakfast and a half-bottle of Champagne for 359 Euros instead of 579 Euros.

Monday, 8 December 2008

P&O Ferries Christmas crossings

For those of you heading to France or beyond over the festive seasons, this just in from the P&O press office:

P&O Ferries has an extensive choice of sailings over the festive period, with space available across its route network. However there will be no services, or reduced services, on some dates.

All services and timetables can be checked on or by calling 08716 646464.

Service changes include the following:

Dover - Calais
Reduced service on Christmas Eve. No service on Christmas Day. Reduced service on Boxing Day. Normal service over the New Year.

Hull - Rotterdam
No service on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, 31 December, 1 January.

Hull - Zeebrugge
No service on December 24, 25, 30 and 31.

Portsmouth - Bilbao
Full scheduled service.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Win a language course in Brittany!

There's a fabulous competition prize in the latest issue of French Magazine, on sale Thursday 4th December. You can enter here:

Go here to subscribe to French - until Christmas it's 40% off for 12 issues, so why not treat a loved one to the gift that gives all year?!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Film review: A Christmas Tale

I wondered when the standout French film of the year would land on my desk, and here it is just in time for Christmas, although you won’t be able to see it in UK cinemas until early next year.

Director Arnaud Desplechin has some serious prior: 2005’s Kings and Queen (starring his muse Almaric, pictured here after a glass of red too many) was rewarded with multiple gongs and it was clear from this César (French Oscars) triumph that he has a winning way with big name actors and large casts.

Set in the northern town of Roubaix (place of Desplechin’s birth – what a nice change to see a star-studded film set outside of Paris), we witness the gathering of the Vuillard clan for Christmas, each member having undergone a compatibility test that might save the matriarch Junon (played with trademark understatement by Deneuve) from liver cancer.

The offspring – a heavy-drinking black sheep, played with barnstorming gusto and lip by Almaric; a sad and bitter eldest sister, Anne Consigny; and a smooth and thoughtful fixer, Melvil Poupaud – harbour no end of defects (mainly self-medicated) and combine to form a perfectly dysfunctional family. Much of the humour and pathos in this tightly scripted drama comes from bickering and seething tensions. Meanwhile, Junon faces her illness with grace and fortitude.

Stylish, witty, poignant and intense, with a superlative cast and outstandingly fleshed out lesser characters, this film knocks the genre of family reunion drama – so often marred by slush in Hollywood films – into an artfully cocked beret. Go and see it.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Ségolène Royal and me

Before you get too excited, no, I am not the "dashing and handsome media figure" with whom the Socialist Party's defeated 2007 presidential candidate has recently been photographed in a "stepping out" kind of way, although you could be forgiven for thinking this to be entirely plausible.

The lucky chap in question is Bruno Gaccio, who founded the French equivalent of Spitting Image – a puppet show which lampoons politicians. He left the show in January 2007, so presumably will now be delighted that he doesn't have to take the rise out of his alleged new squeeze to pay the bills.

Me and Royal have history (well, sort of, very tenuously). I first heard of her a few years ago during a trip to the Poitou-Charentes region, of which she had just been elected Council President (2004, I think) and I vividly remember somebody – a tourism bod if memory serves – telling me that she, Royal, would be President someday. I've kept an eye out for her ever since and although Sarkozy convinced the electorate that he was the man to change France for the better, Royal is firmly back on the front foot.

As for news on the dynamic President, his wife Carla Bruni has taken an admirable public stance on Berlusconi's crude Barack Obama suntan "joke".

Whatever you say about France's current crop of public figures, boring they ain't.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Language course offer

A serious offer from the good people at Coeur de France, who run a language school in hilltop Sancerre, Loire. In addition to learning French in situ, you can make the most of the local wine and Chavignol goat's cheese. I've visited the area and can vouch for its appeal.

Study French in Sancerre!
Special Limited Time Offer from
Coeur de France Ecole de Langues

Exclusively for UK and Ireland Residents

Save 170 to 500 euros (up to 400 pounds) on 1 or 2 week GCSE preparation packages

Save 300 to 700 euros (up to 560 pounds) on 2 week Group and Couple packages

Save 100 to 200 euros (up to 160 pounds) on 1 week Group and Couple packages

Similar savings available for Family Programs and private One to One tutorials!

Available Dates
Choose a 1 or 2 week period between 15 November 2008 and 21 March 15 2009.

Available Courses
All of our courses are eligible: Group, One to One, Combination, Couple, Petit 1:1 child's tutorial. Even our famous Family Program is eligible!

Special offer ends 30 November 2008. All dates and courses are subject to availability. Don’t wait – with these low rates, availability is very limited and on a “first come – first served” basis -- don’t miss out!

For details, please see

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Lawsuits you, sir

Voodoo doll update... A judge has let common sense prevail and allowed production of the Sarkozy and Royal dolls to continue. Who says the French have no sense of humour?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Cistern addict

Is there a story whose headline more perfectly "does what it says on the tin"? I doubt it.

While I feel for the hapless passenger, one cannot help but marvel at the sheer suction power of a French train loo. Way ahead of us, as usual.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Do you do voodoo?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is fuming at news that some wag has produced 20,000 voodoo kits in his image, complete with instructions on how to stick pins in it. Of course, in France people own absolute copyright to their own image, so it's not surprising that Sarkozy plans to sue if the dolls are not withdrawn from sale.

Either the President is actually afraid of the dark art bringing him bad fortune or the thought of pins going in his thigh makes him wince. But as my doctor tells me, Benny Hill-style, when I go for a jab, "Don't worry, you'll just feel a little prick".

In the interests of fairness, the doll makers have also made one of oppostion leader Ségolène Royal.

* The image above is not of either of the aforementioned dolls

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

French cuddle crisis

Daniel Johnson, the very amicable marketing chap at Siblu , whom I know from knocking about at various industry do's, just pointed me to this bizarre survey on the GMTW website. It's the kind of thing that editors get sent all the time by PRs scrambling for attention – and, of course, the financial crisis is the current angle for all stories, no matter how tenuous the link.

Apparently the French aren't as handy as us saucy Brits at cuddling up in bed on a cold winter's night in their efforts to stave off ever-growing heating bills.

And they, the French, would do well, say the sponsors of the survey, to put aside ten minutes each week to do something 'green'. Fair enough, we all can do our bit and I'm as partial to credit crunch cuddle as anybody. But read further down, to the second bullet-pointed section "And in Europe", and among a list of things that some people are wasting ten precious minutes on each week, you find this:

"Twenty-one per cent of Frenchmen and women spend more than 10 minutes a week waiting for their food to arrive in a restaurant."

Quelle surprise! I would suggest that any restaurant where you don't have to wait ten minutes for your food to arrive is called Burger King. And how, one wonders, is something that takes longer than ten minutes to cook from scratch, supposed to be cooked in less than ten minutes?

In future I will order salade niçoise every time I eat out, thereby giving me ten more minutes to put my recycling out. If only steak tartare had been on the menu at Kyoto Agreement meetings...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

His Heineken Cup runneth over

A rather disingenuously teasing email came through from Toulouse Tourist Office's ever so charming press officer Fanny, with whom I dined heartily and happily on my most recent visit to the Pink City (as featured in the latest issue of French).

She was ribbing me about how her local rugby team had beaten mine over the weekend in a pulsating Heineken Cup tie. I replied, naturellement, with double the sarcasm, which I hope didn't upset her too much. Anyone who says the French have no sense of humour is quite wrong.

Anyone who says Toulouse deserved to win is also quite wrong, but c'est la vie. The winning kick was delivered by the talented, though inconsistent, David Skrela (pictured), who seems to be French rugby's latest poster boy.

The return fixture in Bath, on the weekend of January 23rd, promises to be a humdinger. What Entente Cordiale?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Monet's too tight to mention

No, this is not a post about Charlie Drake-alike warbler Mick Hucknall selling off his impressionist art collection to ward off the credit crunch, but a crafty way of introducing a fantastic offer to all new subscribers this month to French Magazine, the Giverny-bedecked issue of which is out now.
Ring the hotline on 01225 786 850 to subscribe and you will recieve a lovely 2009 Monet Pocket Diary for 2009 AND a stylish teneues Paris 2009 Wall Calendar. These two fabulous gifts are worth £29.50.
Oh, and of course you get 12 issues of the UK's best magazine about France and the French lifestyle delivered straight to your door before everyone else.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Laurels for Hardy*

I've listened to some lovely old Françoise Hardy tunes today as I tried get in the mood to write a piece about the food and drink of the Dordogne (duck and wine on the whole, but you knew that). Anyone looking for a logical link between the two – Hardy and the Dordogne, that is – will have no joy.
I got distracted and had a look at Ms Hardy's excellent website, thinking that perhaps we could feature her somewhere in French Magazine (new issue on sale this Thursday, complete with a free 86-page Traveller in France magazine; Monet's Giverny on the bright pink cover). Anyway, I decided that this is the benchmark for anyone blessed with rare beauty who seeks to age with grace. Swoon...

*Before you ask, this post wasn't created just so I could use this dodgy title.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Sloping off

I was informed by my old mate (and French tourism industry legend in his own lunchtime) Paddy Daly from that fine organisation ABTOF that, according to his members, ski holiday bookings to France are very healthy this year. In the face of seemingly endless rounds of credit crunch doom-mongering, this is great news for anyone in the French holiday business. If you haven't yet booked your winter visit, you'll find plenty of ideas and offers on the site.

I'm undecided about whether or not to hit the slopes this season. For a start, I'm not very good at skiing, and this annoys me greatly. I've only been a couple of times with a group of friends who leave me in their wake, struggling to descend even the simplest of red runs. This winds me up no end, especially as smug five-year-olds whizz past wearing all their fancy outfits.

I am, however, very good at scoffing artery-pillaging tartiflette (pictured) as if, ironically, my very life depended on it, and at indulging in boozy après-ski shenanigans. Actually, sod the skis – these are two very good reasons to book an Alpine jolly NOW.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Reindeers in Normandy

You heard! This is likely to confuse the kids this Christmas.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

I've Loved You (For) So Long

I have just reviewed new cinema release I've Loved You So Long for Issue 70 of French Magazine:

Once every few years, a French film emerges flare-like from the cloying fog of Hollywood PR and big budgets, a film so engrossing and original (Amélie and Hidden spring to mind) that you want to ring all of your friends and tell them to flick Batman the bird and instead turn to arthouse cinema for an “event” outing of equal import, but without the stunts, scraps, hollering and merchandise.

What’s remarkable about I’ve Loved You So Long, however, is that there are no clever and cute editing techniques, or time-bending narratives at work, as with the aforementioned French box-office winners. There’s barely even a plot to speak of, yet the exqusite tension of this exceptional family drama is held through slow revelation, superb use of intermittent music and some exquisite acting by the entire cast. That this film is the debut of writer ClaudePhilippe makes it all the more striking.

Scott Thomas – in what is a surely an Oscar-nominee turn – plays elder sibling Juliette, gaunt and world weary, who emerges from a 15-year hiatus (to disclose why would be churlish here) to stay with her once doting younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) and her young family.
Oozing frustration, yet showing flashes of wit that make this so much more than a study in self-pity, Juliette’s remoteness at first serves to push away those seeking to understand her. Slowly she must learn to trust and open up, which she does... eventually, explosively. You will not see a more moving and captivating performance this year, or maybe any other.

It's a cracker, as you can tell, but one thing troubles me: the title. Shouldn't it be called I've Loved You For So Long, as it's translated from the French Il y a longtemps que je t'aime? I will bow to your greater linguistic knowledge if you can clear this up for me.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Bag a bargain boating break


Leading French boating holiday specialist Le Boat has savings of up to 20% off August and September boat hire with prices for a one week holiday now starting from only £93pp. Le Boat offer the widest choice of cruising suggestions on the largest and most stylish fleet in Europe. What’s more, no previous boating holiday experience is required.

Cosmopolitan cruising in Alsace
Discover savings of 20% in addition to splendid scenery, pretty medieval villages and a multicultural atmosphere as you cruise the waterways of the Alsace – amazingly taking in three countries – France, Luxembourg and Germany. August and September prices start from £93pp based on five people sharing a Corsair boat.

A sunshine cruise on the Canal du Midi
Choose a cruise on France’s most famous canal following in Rick Stein’s wake. All along the canal you will see pretty restaurants offering delightful regional wines and speciality dishes to entice you to moor up for a relaxing lunch. Save 15% on August and September holidays. Prices start from £108pp based on six people sharing a 3-cabin boat.

A wine lovers break in Burgundy
A cruise on Burgundy’s beautiful waterways takes you through the wealthiest and most gastronomic region of France – a haven for those who appreciate fine wines and excellent cuisine. Save 20% on August and September holidays. Prices start from £130pp based on eight people sharing a 4-cabin boat.

Boating for beginners in the Camargue
For those looking to try a boating holiday for the first time the lock-free Camargue in the sunny south of France is ideal. Mix ancient ports, fishing villages and historic towns with fabulous beach resorts and wonderful wildlife. Save 15% on August and September holidays. Prices start from £103pp based on six people sharing a 3-cabin boat.

No previous boating experience is required as the boats are easy to operate and helpful base staff ensure you are comfortable at the helm before setting off on your holiday. With boats available to sleep from two to twelve people and holidays of one-week or longer are available as well as short-breaks, Le Boat has flexible options to suit every party size and budget.

Comprising the renowned brands Crown Blue Line, Connoisseur and Emerald Star, the Le Boat group has been providing self-drive river and canal holidays for over 40 years. For more information call 0844 463 3577 or visit

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Poubelle, ma belle

Just back from a fleeting trip to La Rochelle and île de Ré and neither disappointed in themselves, though my memory of them is now somewhat tarnished. I managed to raise a glass to dear old Raymond Rohou and soaked up the history and atmosphere of these Atlantic Coast gems. Particularly impressive was the harbour town of Saint-Martin on île de Ré – it's very pretty.

That my female companion decided I was good for the old poubelle upon our return suggests that either the sea air or the voluminous portions of seafood and wine she found ample room for sent her quite mad.

To cheer me up, I'd love to hear about places in France that you have especially fond memories of.

Meanwhile, the new issue of French Magazine is on sale in a good newsagent near you or by subscription here.

Highlights include guides to Albi, Amiens and the Wellington Quarry in Arras plus a look at Eco-Tourism in France. There's also the chance to win a fabulously indulgent break at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Language course

Sorry for the delay since last post. It's been all hands to the pump here as we put the final touches to the Autumn/Winter Edition of The Traveller in France. It's looking great, and you will be able to claim your free bagged copy when you buy the November issue of French Magazine, on sale October 2nd. Meanwhile, the October issue (are you following me?) of French is out next Thursday, September 4th! Full of French goodness, it is.

Today, amongst the pile of press releases and books that postie Steve jovially brings to our grateful editorial floor every day, I got a sample copy of this, a new edition one-day course in French, which is handy for anyone keen to extend their linguistic capabilities beyond baffled grunts, international hand gestures and just saying things slower and louder in English. It's on sale tomorrow.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Tot toreador shown the door

Michelito, a tiny bullfighter with a big following in his native Mexico, was recently banned from competing in a non-lethal version of a corrida in the sport's stronghold – the deep South of France. Apparently, the ban was enforced not on animal welfare grounds but because of child labour laws.

Whatever the reasoning, I can think of a million better things to do in Nîmes or Arles, can't you?

Friday, 15 August 2008

Heartbreak hotel

It seems I am not alone in questioning the dubious standards of certain sections of the French tourism/catering industries. This makes for sad reading if you love France as I do. What do you think?

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

La Rochelle revisited

Off to La Rochelle for a few days soon, once both the October issue of French Magazine and the Autumn/Winter issue of The Traveller are done and dusted. I have tarnished memories of this lovely West Coast port, a place that cropped up randomly in GSCE French texts.

I visited for the magazine many years ago and was given a guided tour of the harbour, old town and various museums and squares by a lovely, sweet chap called Monsieur Raymond Rohou.

White of hair and 'tache was he, and no spring chicken, yet his zest for sharing his considerable knowledge of his adopted town was infectious. He would stoop, arms behind his back, looking into the windows of antique shops, raving about which trinket he fancied. He took me for lunch at one of the town's many lively seafood restaurants and bombarded me with facts, stats and recipe tips. He was great company, very polite, wise and calm – a perfect gent, if there is such a thing.

I kept in touch with him intermittently by postcard over the years. I would send mine from whichever part of France I was visiting, as did he initially, but these arrived increasingly frequently with a La Rochelle stamp. He was clearly not getting about much. Then one day I received a heartbreaking letter from his wife, informing me of his sudden passing and thanking me for my efforts in keeping up correspendence, which apparently he enjoyed greatly. I certainly did.

The message? Don't just respect your elders, make friends with them, even if you do meet them randomly in France. I'll be raising a glass of Muscadet to the silver fox when I visit.

Friday, 8 August 2008

New French Magazine on sale now!

The latest issue of French Magazine is now available online and in the shops (WHSmiths, Tesco). We're thrilled with the redesign and new features, and hope our readers are equally impressed!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Eau no!

As money worries bite across the Channel, one of the first luxuries the French have forsaken is mineral water. The country that brought us Evian and Vittel has turned from bottle to tap, with sales of mineral water down 6.7% on last year. Eco-savvy consumers, too, are being blamed for the decrease in sales, as many people are concerned about the environmental impact of their discarded plastic bottles. Instead, soda streams – the 70s gadgets that turn tap water fizzy – are enjoying a comeback. What next, raspberry slush puppies at the Elysée Palace? If you've seen similar evidence of times-a-changin' in France, pray tell.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Get 20% off a summer cruise!

If anyone fancies messing about on a French river this summer, I just received this fabulous offer from Le Boat:

Follow in Rick Stein’s wake along the famous Canal du Midi

Leading boating holiday specialist the Le Boat group has made it even easier to follow in Rick Stein’s wake by offering 20% off Canal du Midi cruises for holidays between 15th August and 11th September 2008 in the South of France.

From Le Boat’s base in Narbonne it’s possible to cruise the same route taken by Rick, enjoying the fabulous views and scenery of this World Heritage Site, in addition to stopping off at the same wine cellars and many waterside restaurants serving local dishes such as the regions famous Cassoulet.

Longer cruises will also see you take in the impressive walled city of Carcassonne and the lovely town of Castelnaudary – both with great options for mooring up before heading off to explore.

No previous boating experience is required as the boats are easy to operate and helpful base staff ensure you are comfortable at the helm before setting off on your holiday. Also, for those new to boating holidays Le Boat provides a DVD with techniques and tips to introduce cruising.

Le Boat’s cruisers sleep from two to twelve people with prices for a one week holidays starting from just £179 per person based on four people sharing a two cabin cruiser. Holidays must be booked by 31st August.

Comprising the renowned brands Crown Blue Line, Connoisseur and Emerald Star, the Le Boat group has been providing self-drive river and canal holidays for over 40 years. For more information call 0844 463 3577 or visit

Monday, 4 August 2008

Service without a smile

A French Magazine reader wrote to me complaining about a recent stay in France that left a distinctly bitter taste in her mouth. What was the source of her ire? It wasn't the feeble euro exchange rate she got for her hard earned pounds. Nor was it an over-priced, below-par meal, dog poo on the trottoir or even striking public sector workers (at least one of these can usually be relied upon to wind someone up on holiday).

She had, in fact, been on the wrong end of some shockingly bad customer service at a (British-run) B&B near Carcassonne. A frosty reception (ie, the welcome, not the porch), uncleaned bathrooms, messy tables at breakfast (not cleaned since dinner the previous evening), unkempt gardens that didn't resemble the publicity photos... Her list went on, but the gist of it was that the owners couldn't really care less about making her stay a pleasant one.

I can sympathise. I've stayed in a few miserable places in France in my time, and I've written in the magazine before about why the star ratings system in French hotels needs looking at. It needs to reflect the subjectively assessed attributes of an establishment that currently aren't measured (friendliness, anyone?). We wait with baited breath. Have you had any similar experiences on your French travels?

Friday, 1 August 2008

Facebook Francophiles

Join our new French Magazine Facebook Group now to see exclusive previews of the new issue (on sale August 7th), join discussions with like-minded Francophiles and to share your thoughts and photos from recent visits to France. It's free and easy to join.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

That Sun King feeling

If you've never been to the Château de Versailles, whose huge hall of mirrors and golden gate have recently been returned, at great cost, to their former glory – this will whet your appetite. Of course, the gardens aren't too shabby either. I'm sure the numerous bewigged Louis' would approve.

If you are planning a visit, I can strongly recommend a stroll around the town's market (one of the finest I've seen in France) and a half-day here.

Monday, 28 July 2008

For lovers of France

Bonjour and bienvenue to my spanking new blog about all things French. If you are a Francophile like me, or you just love visiting this fantastic country, then please bookmark this page and pop back regularly. I will be posting updates on travel and holidays, the property scene, food, wine, cultural matters and much more!

As the Editor of French Magazine and the French Government Tourist Office's Traveller in France, not only am I lucky enough to visit France on a regular basis (in the name of research for features, bien sûr!), but I also get wind of all manner of tips and hints on visiting our cross-Channel neighbours. Thanks to my extensive contacts in the travel industry, I will be able to provide exclusive information on great holiday bargains and offers, and can tell you about them before they ever make it into the printed magazine.

Of course, the key to this blog is your invaluable input, so please do join in by adding your comments. I'd love to hear about your recent or upcoming trips to France, and hope that you will share your insights on great places to stay, to eat and to visit. For starters, can anyone tell me where I should head for a great meal in La Rochelle? I am off there in a few weeks.

Now, in a blatant bit of self-promotion, can I point you to the latest issue of French Magazine – the UK's biggest and best glossy magazine for lovers of France is on sale 7th August and sports a lovely new look.

We’ve been plotting our little spruce up for a while now, with Art Editor Nathalie working very hard on new designs and myself and the rest of the editorial team coming up with new features that reflect what you, the reader, most want from us – a clear, informative and stylish read on all things French. We hope you like it – it would mean a lot to us to hear your thoughts.

So what’s new? In addition to the usual in-depth articles (you might try the Loire, Gironde, Rouen and a brief history of French street names for starters), we’ve a few new treats for you. Our 10 reasons to visit... series begins in Brittany, while our regular history lesson starts with Louis XIV.

Each month, we will recommend an eco-friendly French getaway in our new Joie de Vivre page (p12), which also sees a reader tell us why they love France so much. Drop us a line, and it could be you in the spotlight next month! Finally, our new Taste of the Terroir series looks at regional food and wine of the Aude in Languedoc, and the importance of keeping things local.

Don’t forget to enter our Condor Ferries competition ( or to take advantage of our brilliant subscriptions offer – lovely free Louis Jadot wine is in the offing. This, as we know in these trying, credit-crunchy times, is a rarity indeed! To subscribe to French Magazine, visit and for all the latest property news, visit

Thanks for reading and come back soon – don't forget to bookmark!