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Archive for france

The Burghers of Calais

By Linda Tancs

France and England may seem like kissing cousins in modern times thanks to the Chunnel (the predominately underwater rail tunnel linking the two countries), but history reminds us that it wasn’t always the case. Consider the Hundred Years’ War, when Calais was under siege by the English for about 11 months. Facing starvation, the French decided to surrender, led by six noblemen who were willing to be executed for the cause, only to be spared by the English king’s wife. The episode is marked by Rodin’s sculpture, La Statue des Six Bourgeois de Calais, the most photographed monument in the city. It stands in front of the Town Hall, considered one of the most beautiful in Europe, adorned with a massive belfry.

The Nectar of Gascony

By Linda Tancs

Armagnac, France’s first brandy, is over 700 years old. It hails from the Armagnac region in historical Gascony, where the art of making “ardent water” has prevailed since Roman times. Sometimes relegated to the status of second cousin to its rival cognac, the production of armagnac predates it by about 150 years. The grape harvest lasts from October to January, giving way to a months-long festival known as the Flame of Armagnac, a localized event where each weekend a flame is lit in a different still. Enjoy musical performances, tastings and walks through the vineyards.

The Lace of Queens

By Linda Tancs

The lace of queens or the queen of laces. Anyway you label it, the Normandy commune of Alençon has long been celebrated for its lace-making traditions. Thanks to the French court in the 17th century, a large number of women entered the lace-making trade to supply nobility with elaborate designs. The craftsmanship of this local lace is recognized by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It takes seven to 10 years of training to master the Alençon form of needle lace-making.

The Light of Things in Bourges

By Linda Tancs

A popular medieval city in central France, Bourges is known for its half-timbered buildings. It’s also home to Saint Etienne Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Monument) and Jacques Coeur Palace, a national monument in the flamboyant Gothic style commissioned by an influential French nobleman. As if the view by day isn’t fine enough, the city outdoes itself in summer with Illuminated Nights, bathing the top attractions in a light and sound show beginning at dusk. Lasting almost two hours, the show starts at Le Jardin de l’Archeveche beside the cathedral.

The Island of Mimosas

By Linda Tancs

Noirmoutier is an island off the west coast of France in the Vendée Départment of the Loire Atlantique province. It’s nicknamed the “island of mimosas” (no, not for the drink) because its temperate climate allows for the flowering of Acacia dealbata (mimosa) year-round. Its captivating name is translated “black monks,” a reference to the black cowls worn by the order of St. Philbert, the island’s founder. A popular seaside resort, make haste before the madding crowd arrives. Treat yourself to a two-hour cruise around the island on a Portuguese tall ship, O’Abandonado. You can even help hoist the sails.

France’s First Flower Show

By Linda Tancs

King Francis I of France called the Erdre the most beautiful river in the country. Imagine what he’d think of the fabulous display of flowers along its banks during the international flower exhibition, Comité des Floralies. France’s first flower show, the event takes place every five years in Nantes. Running from today through May 19, the popular exhibition convenes more than 200 flower and plant experts from around the world to create stunning displays at the expo center along the banks.

The Ocean’s Call in Brest

By Linda Tancs

A popular port city in Brittany, Brest is known for its rich maritime history. Nestled in one of France’s most beautiful natural harbors, it boasts incredible quayside views as well as architectural wonders like Pont de l’Iroise bridge, holding a world span record for a cable-stayed bridge. You can take a cruise across the entirety of the harbor, connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Goulet de Brest channel. Among its other charms are the National Navy Museum, housed in the medieval Château de Brest, and Océanopolis, a unique ocean discovery center in Europe with enormous aquariums and a seal clinic.

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