Thursday, 22 January 2009

Ideas for Valentine's Day, Part Two

Bereft of any inventive ideas for Valentine's Day? How about a weekend in Bayonne and Biarritz? Chocolate for girls, surfing for boys – two gender clichés nicely covered. This landed in my inbox today, and sounds good:

If you’d like to combine a bit of romance with some good old-fashioned chocolate indulgence on Valentine’s Day, then head to the Basque city of Bayonne where France’s first chocolate-making took place, and combine it with a weekend in the nearby town of Biarritz.

Located in the south-western corner of France in the Bearn-Basque region, Bayonne’s chocolate-making expertise dates back to 1609 with the arrival of Jewish immigrants. In the 18th century, a Chocolate Maker’s Guild was formed and for over 100 years chocolate-making provided one of the city’s main raisons d'être. Two chocolate factories and five pastry cook-chocolate sellers exist today, all family-owned and run.

Bayonne is renowned for its hot chocolate (originally flavoured with cinnamon) and dark, bitter variety of chocolate, and there’s no better place to sample it than in the oldest chocolaterie in town, Casenave, which was established in 1854. Their delightful boutique offers a selection of chocolate bars and makes Chocolat Mousseux – the compulsory house speciality!

The Atelier du Chocolat is another must-see, where you can discover the art of chocolate and cocoa culture in its exotic environment, not forgetting the all-important tastings to finish the visit off…

When you have satisfied your chocolate cravings, make your way back to Biarritz for a bit of romance. Check into the luxurious Sofitel Thalassa Miramar for a spot of champagne and thalassotherapy whilst enjoying some breathtaking views over the Atlantic Ocean.

Alternatively, for something a little quirkier and easier on the wallet, the funky 70’s styled Hotel Le Mirano offers nine double rooms, each decorated in a unique retro style.

For more information on Bayonne, Biarritz and the surrounding area, visit

Ryanair ( flies directly to Biarritz from Stansted, Luton and Birmingham.

Sofitel Thalassa Miramar is offering a special Pure Serenity Package for two people from 13-22 February 2009 from 576 Euros which includes breakfast, dinner and champagne, one hour’s massage treatment for two with essential oils, as well as unlimited access to the spa which boasts a sauna, hammam, jacuzzi, indoor and outdoor heated pools and a gym. Contact Sofitel Thalassa Miramar on +33 5 59 41 30 01 or email

Hotel Le Mirano has double rooms from 70 Euros a night during February 2009 and will offer couples staying two nights over a weekend a complimentary bottle of champagne on arrival. Contact Hotel Le Mirano on +33 5 59 23 11 63 or email

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Party likes it's 1199

Find 26 million euros behind your sofa cushions and this compact, bijoux pad near Limoges could be yours. What parties you could have – imagine pulling one from the truncheon in your own medieval tavern. Make mine a mead top please, barkeep, and be quick with those pork scratchings!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Claude Berri dies

One of France's most respected film directors, Claude Berri, passed away yesterday. He achieved massive success with his two films about rural deceit and revenge – Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources.

Both were very well received in the UK, and Manon des Sources was especially well received in my house, thanks to the casting of the estimable Emmanuelle Béart as the, erm, titular shepherdess. Surely every hot-blooded young man fancied booking a trip to the Provence countryside upon witnessing her open-air bathing ritual.

Berri also enjoyed considerable success as a producer, mosty recently working on Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis – France's most popular film of recent years, woefully under-distributed in the UK – and La Graine et le Mulet (released here as Couscous), whose central family meal scene is one of modern cinema's most eye-catching and beautiful.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

It wasn't me

Happy New Year everybody.

Now that festive excesses are but claret-soaked memories, thoughts must turn to 2009 and the fun ahead. From a professional perspective, the year promises to be challenging in the extreme, but you get nothing done by moaning. I hope that those of you who have enjoyed reading French Magazine over the years will continue to do so.

I am off to the France Show at Earl's Court this weekend, where I hope to spy some familiar faces. The show is always a fantastic place to immerse oneself in a bit of French culture, and to think about planning a great holiday. I might see you there!

Meanwhile in the news, it's good to see that, despite more pressing issues to deal with, even the corridors of power in the French Justice Minsitry are rife with idle speculation.