Chateau de La Verrerie. Loire Valley, France.

Chateau de La Verrerie

A truly wonderful way to experience the Loire Valley is to stay in one of the magnificent Chateaux. Fortunately, a number of these take overnight guests, and one of the best is the Chateau de La Verrerie. Located on the easternmost edge of the Loire near the small village of Aubigny-sur-Nere, it’s a gem. You drive deeper into the countryside until you reach a private road with a gatehouse. And there, at the end of a long road, sitting in splendid isolation at the edge of large lake, stands this ancient chateau.

The chateau is quite magnificent and the bedrooms rather grand. The rooms are large and elegant, but also quirky—seeming very much like bedrooms in a grand manor house rather than hotel rooms. Most of the second floor is given over to large high-ceilinged guestrooms with expansive views, while the main floor contains the historic rooms and art treasures. The owners live in a wing connecting the main house with the chapel. The chateau is mainly of a renaissance style, with some bits of leftover gothic—a grand gothic private chapel and fortified front wall with gate. There’s a large lake to one side, and the fortified wall on the lakeside collapsed some time ago and was not rebuilt—affording the courtyard a charming view. Your hosts are the Comte and Comtesse de Vogüé. You may see the count out strolling with his black Lab behind the family wing of the house. He might even host a pre-dinner cocktail.

Chateau de La Verrerie

While at the Chateau you can stroll the grounds, or borrow a bicycle, or even take a rowboat out on the lake. You can drive to Sancerre and sample the famous wines and spectacular views from this hilltop town. There are also charming villages quite nearby, or you can enjoy a game of Cluedo in the one of the comfortable lounges filled with books and board games (TV reception is non-existent and although wifi has been installed, it’s no match for the chateau’s thick stone walls.)

Chateau de La Verrerie

Dinner is at La Maison d’ Hélene, the little restaurant in a cottage on the chateau grounds. They serve quite good, seasonal, regional fare, and dinner gives one an opportunity for a look at the other guests of the chateau, where those with a flair for the imaginative may get the feeling of having been cast as minor characters in a gothic murder mystery!

Nighttime brings total darkness and silence to the Chateau. It is remote enough that there are no lights on the horizon and the stars are incredible–the brightest stars are dazzling and you can even see the bands of the milky way.

The Chapel

Morning brings croissants and homemade jam amid the antiques of the breakfast room while the resident black lab begs for scraps. You can also opt to take the guided tour of the Chateau’s main rooms and treasures.

Chateau de La Verrerie

We’ve stayed at the Chateau de La Verrerie several times over the past decade, and never failed to be enchanted each time.

Notre Dame de Paris. 2005.

As promised in the entry earlier today, here’s a picture of Notre Dame all cleaned up. This was taken by Clay Doyle in 2005 during Paris’s bid for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Note the bit of scaffolding in exactly the same location as 1954.

Île de la Cité, Notre Dame de Paris, 2005.

Île de la Cité, Notre Dame de Paris, 2005.

Vintage Slides: Notre Dame de Paris, 1954.

Some things never change and other things change quite a bit!

We’ve found a cache of vintage slides at the Cayucos Antique & Collectibles Street Fair.  We plan to bring you some scans of these vivid slides in the months to come.

To start here’s a picture of Notre Dame.  Scaffolding: that’s something that belongs in the things never change category.

However, what are all those cute cars doing parked right in front?  … and wow, the whole cathedral needs a good scrubbing!  (Stay tuned for a “scrubbed up” version.)

Île de la Cité, Notre Dame de Paris, 1954.

Île de la Cité, Notre Dame de Paris, 1954.

Please click on the picture for a larger version.

White Asparagus and Springtime

White Asparagus

I’ve been recently reminded that it will soon be white asparagus season in Europe. Living again in Los Angeles, I truly miss not only the changing seasons, but the various foods and flowers and activities that accompany the seasons. White asparagus was something that I truly looked forward to each year. Not only did it mean that springtime was fully upon us after the cold and dreary winter, but it is uniquely delicious. With the first, very expensive, arrivals in the markets I would buy a bunch and have a dinner party with a first course of the steamed stalks doused in clarified butter. Soon the asparagus would be everywhere, on restaurant menus and in all the markets, growing cheaper as it became more abundant. It’s extraordinarily popular in the Netherlands, Germany and France. I’d eat it often, because I knew that, as spring dissolved into summer, the white asparagus would one day disappear. It would vanish completely, as suddenly as it arrived.

I can get white asparagus in Los Angeles, sporadically, all year round. It’s flown in from around the world, from hot houses and South America. The northern European asparagus is grown locally, and there’s a difference, not only in preparation, but in the stalk itself, between the Dutch, the German, and the French sorts.

It’s hard to get excited about our imported white asparagus, partly because it doesn’t taste the same, and partly, yes, because of it’s ubiquity. Like the tulips, which would arrive in Amsterdam even before the asparagus, often when it was still quite wintry, the seasonality was central. For several months, I could buy 50 tulips, enough to fill the apartment, for a pittance. Every week would bring different varieties and colors to the flower market on the Singel. And then one day they’d be gone, replaced by other flowers. I still think of them when I see the expensive bunches of eight or ten here, already tired from their long flight across the ocean and continent. And I long for bunches of tulips and for asparagus season. —Clay


Seven views of the Mercado de San Miguel. Madrid, Spain.

A classic view of lots of jamon at the Mercado de San Miguel.

A butcher at one of the many stalls at the mercado.
A butcher at one of the many stalls at the mercado.
A list of sparkling wines to drink with all the wonderful food.
A list of sparkling wines to drink with all the wonderful food.
Bottles of wine served by the glass...I hope you are thirsty.
Bottles of wine served by the glass...I hope you are thirsty.
The old iron work blended harmoniously with the stylish new graphics above each of the stalls.
The old iron work blended harmoniously with the stylish new graphics above each of the stalls.
Vermouth and olives made a wonderful snack.
Vermouth and olives made a wonderful snack.

There were many creatures for sale.  Including this flounder.
There were many creatures for sale. Including this monkfish.

Hotel Roommate Oscar. Madrid, Spain.

The Hotel Roommate Oscar on the Plaza Mella in Madrid strikes a terrific balance between fun and comfort. It has everything you really need in a hotel – great location, comfortable rooms, nice bath, plus a few terrific extras. There is a terrific breakfast buffet with pastries, ham, juice, delicious coffee, cheese and more (the Spanish love a big breakfast). Plus the breakfast is served until late in the day. There is also a stylish rooftop bar that is perfect for a not-too-expensive drink or glass of wine while you watch the sun set behind the art deco Telefonica tower.

The roof deck.

The rooms are quirky, but quite comfortable. Although there seems to be a number of different configurations our standard room was spacious, had a bed that made you want to take a siesta, a spacious bathroom with a huge glass shower, plenty of storage and good lighting. The design of the room was clean and minimalist. The walls and fabrics were white.. On one side a large PG-13 black and white, nearly abstract photomural of naked models graced the wall (What must some of the guests made of this? The clientele is isn’t exclusively young or hip.) while across from the photomural was a functional and beautiful translucent mirror that had suspended lightbulbs behind it that created a relaxing atmosphere when you turned it on. There are also deluxe rooms which have large windows overlooking the square in front of the hotel.

The Room

The staff is stylish and friendly, service is minimal (no bellboys, no waiters at breakfast or room service). We suppose this is how they keep the price at a reasonable 100 Euros a night for such a comfortable hotel.

The Oscar is part of the Spanish Roommate Hotel chain. They have four other hotels in Madrid, each with a distinctive style and personality.

Seven Views of Iguazu Falls, Argentina.

Watch out for snakes with tongues!
A sign warned that snakes might stick their tongues out at you.

Garganta del Diablo
You soon feel the mist from the waterfalls as you approach.
If it wasn't so warm out you'd wish you brought a rain coat so you didn't get so wet!
People from above
There are many places to view the falls as you hike around the park.
Our friendly and knowledgable tour guides points to where we've been on a large map of the falls.
Our friendly and knowledgable tour guide points to where we'd been on a large map of the falls.
From the water: we took a boat ride!
Our tour to Iguazu Falls felt a bit like visiting a theme park. Our day would not have been complete without a boat ride.

What a view!
Did we mention the theme park aspect? There were lots of wet tourists.

Velo Vintage

I like finding places or stores that have vintage things that are either great fun to experience or realtively easy on the pocket book.  A New York Times blog pointed me to a fantastic looking little bicycle shop in Paris that is run by “two childhood friends who decided to open a totally awesome vintage bike shop.”

A neat Peugeot bicycle

I’d love to check out their store in the 18th arrondissement next time I’m in Paris and maybe “test drive all or any of our [Velo Vintage’s] old school bikes.”

Enjoy their colorful website with all the “charm retro des années 70/80”:

Culture clash at Bofinger

Sometimes the whole concept is just wrong.

I snapped this picture at Bofinger, the classic French brasserie, on my last visit to Paris, where this brochure seemed starkly out of place.

Bofinger is more than a century old, with leather banquettes, polished brass, white linen, well-used silver, and a stunning stained-glass dome. The menu is limited and classic, the service precise, perfect and very accommodating. Part of the pleasure of Bofinger, and places like it, is the feeling that you have stepped back in time—into a romanticized, literary or cinematic Parisian fantasy.

All this is prelude to my dismay at finding this glossy, 4-color promotional brochure dominating our otherwise impeccably set table. This photo-adorned shiny brochure—so very aggressive, so very American,  so expected at your local chain eatery—gave the impression of a very loud, uninvited guest.

I suppose the corporation that owns Bofinger (along with numerous other well-known Paris brasseries) would like you to know they have some special “value meals” as well as, apparently, a marketing arrangement with Guinness—but isn’t there a way to do it in a manner more in keeping with the Bofinger atmosphere, or I could even say, brand?

Of course there is: the decidedly old fashioned menus, when presented, contain a decidedly old fashioned card providing the same information as on the glossy brochure. Neither made me want to order a Guinness, but the card did not offend.

Lest you think I’m being over sensitive, the very correct waiters at Bofinger made no attempt to hide their contempt for these intruders on their “theater” of the table. They set each vacant table with the offending brochure and then—immediately upon seating the guests and handing out the menus—whisked them away, never to be seen again.

If only the waiters ran the company.

In the main room at Bofinger, Paris: it’s not Au Courant, it’s not trendy, it’s certainly not undiscovered, but I love it. As do many Parisians and visitors alike.