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December 31, 2011

French Favorites

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Meeting French locals (Parisians) is one of the adventures of traveling to Paris– and it’s free. As a Francophile, I hear all the time that the French are unfriendly and that it’s such a tough country to visit, especially if you don’t speak the language.

But over the years, having lived in Paris, I learned a few tricks and that the hardened crust of a Frenchman (woman) often protects a soft center. Compliment a surly bistro owner on her cuisine, and — 9 times out of 10 — she’ll melt before your eyes. Admire a Parisian’s dog or praise a window display and you’ll find a loquaciously knowledgeable companion. Try to meet a Parisian halfway with some kind of personalized contact and just 1-2 words of French. Only then do you learn their best qualities: their famed charm, their savoir-faire — and, yes, believe it or not, the delightful courtesy that marks their social life.

With the holidays in my mind, I find myself singing, “These are a few of my favorite things” and France is one of them. So here I share some of my fave things to do in France. Bonne année!

Skip the Louvre and head right for the Musée D’Orsay which houses every major impressionist piece you’ve ever wanted to see. All of these works used to be available in a separate wing of the Louvre, but when they moved it to its own venue, an old train station on theSeine River, I never thought again about the Louvre.

Number 1 “gotta do” spot is theEiffelTower! Go there any time of the day or night, ride to the top, take all kinds of fun photos, post your location on Facebook and be sure to pack a lunch for a picnic on the grass.

Hang out for at least one sunset on the steps of Sacré Couer, then have a typical dinner of cog au vin in Montmartre.

For serious cheese-lovers, France is the ultimate paradise. As de Gaulle once commented “You can unite the French only through fear. You cannot simply bring together a country that has over 265 kinds of cheese.” Go into ANY fromagerie and sample. Buy some to go, next stop, the boulangerie for a fresh baguette and voila, you have lunch!

People-watching while taking your time over a coffee and a croissant is a quintessential French experience and one of the best ways to meet the locals.

Avignon, a convenient stop from the high speed train TGV, is one of my southern favorites. It’s the “Great city of the popes”, and one of France’s artistic centers with spectacular monuments and museums, countless places to eat and drink, and its annual summer festival.

Jazz clubs in Nice – oh la la, what a sensual place to be on the French Riviera.

Playing craps at the Casino de Monte Carlo. The first step inside and you’ll find yourself feeling immersed in your own James Bond movie! If you win big, have lunch at one my FAVORITE spots, Le Louis XV, an extraordinary (and uber expensive) restaurant of master Chef Alain Ducasse at the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco.

French wines are unrivalled in the world for their range, sophistication, diversity and status. I am a sucker for French wines since it’s where I got my start. Try wines wherever you go to get a feeling for what you like best. Maybe this will be the start of something new and wonderful for you too.

As a final note, I am not done withFranceand probably never will be tired of its allure. The more I visit, the more there is to see, learn and enjoy.

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