Wednesday, December 28, 2011

If You Live in the UK and Love France...

The sponsors of The France Show (January 13 to 15, 2012 at Earls Court in London), are offering the readers of a special two-for-one deal on tickets for this popular French lifestyle expo. (At-the-door tickets are normally £13. Kids under 16 are free.) This year there will be wine tastings, cooking demos, info on relocation and property buying, a wide selection of French properties for sale, tourism ideas, a French marketplace, live music, petanque games, a bistro operated by Mon Plaisir (London’s oldest French restaurant) and much more. For full show info including a list of exhibitors and events, opening hours, a map and more, click here. To get the special deal (two tickets for £13), use the code PRP21 when booking here. Or, to order by phone, call: 01242 264777.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Artist Blossoms in St. Remy

Born on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, Willy Dabriou was raised in Paris and came down to Provence to study art in Avignon. He settled in St. Remy in 1996. I've known Willy for years: he and his partner, Cornelius Alsen, have a thriving home-rental and management business here and are involved in lots of local activities. I see them at parties, gallery openings, concerts--and even once bumped into them on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. I knew Willy was a world traveler with a particular passion for North Africa. But I only found out recently that, trapped inside, was a talented artist just dying to bust out. (He also sings beautifully--but that's a story for another day.)

About a year ago, Willy finally gave in to the artistic urge and started making jewelry: beautiful one-of-a-kind necklaces and bracelets crafted from shells, exotic beads, buttons, mother of pearl and more. Then came handbags, belts and the Moroccan-style slippers known as baboushes. Word began to spread and people began to buy. So Willy converted a guest-house on his own property into a workshop and showroom, which is open to the public for the next few weeks. Here you'll find necklaces starting at 35€, belts priced at 35€, funky and fun wool hats and a few gorgeous calfskin handbags (including one draped in skunk pelts, which Willy pronounces skoonk). The selection changes just about every day as new pieces are finished. Custom orders are welcome so if you have a favorite outfit missing that certain something, bring it in or send Willy a photo and he'll create the perfect accessory.

Each time he has a large number of new creations, Willy stages a fashion show, complete with gorgeous models, great music, Champagne, a red carpet and a motorcycle (no fashion show should be without one!). Drop Willy an email and he'll add you to the invite list.

Willy's studio and showroom will be open to the public until January 13th so feel free to drop in. You'll know you're in the right place when you see the blue-hatted mannequin at the gate. If nothing else, you'll make a new friend: a charming and talented designer who had the courage to follow his bliss and transform his passion into an exciting new profession.

Willy Dabriou
#4, rue Emile Daillan
Photos: Willy set up the mannequin to make it easy to find his studio on his residential street; Willy's serene workshop overlooks the garden; a sampling from the newest "Afro-Glam" collection; the letters on the wall out front stand for Willy Dabriou Kreations; dusk falls on the garden, done up for the holidays.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

J'Adore This Dior Commercial

Have you guys seen this Dior commercial, with Charlize Theron, Greta Garbo, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe? It was directed by Oscar-winning French director Jean-Jacques Annaud and made using CGI or Computer Generated Imagery. Now I adore Dior even more...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Win This Lovely French Country Diary

A couple weeks ago I borrowed a copy of Pierre Deux's French Country, written 27 years ago by my old pal Linda Dannenberg. I needed a break from work...and a few hours on the couch with this gorgeous book was the perfect way to spend it. French Country is one of those timeless coffee-table books filled with captivating interiors that make you want to pull apart your house and redecorate immediately. It has beautifully researched chapters and sidebars on Provencale history, culture, fabrics, furniture, pottery, gardens and people, to name just a few. I decided then and there that I had to buy a copy for myself...and I planned to go to Amazon as soon as I got up off the couch. But the phone rang and I got distracted and the book--and the plan--were forgotten. And then, in one of those divine convergences of good luck and perfect timing that never seem to happen to me (I always pay full retail the week before the sale is announced), a friend gave me some old books because she's moving away. And lo and behold, there in the bag, was a copy of French Country. Score!

So why am I telling you all this? The book made me wonder what Linda had been up to, so I dropped her a note to check in. Turns out, Linda followed French Country with not one but five successful titles: New French Country, French Country Kitchens, Paris Bistro Cooking and Perfect Vinaigrettes. In between the last two, she collaborated with legendary chef Alain Ducasse on Ducasse: Flavors of France.

Clearly this is not a woman who lies down on the couch to read in the middle of the work day!

But wait, there's more. During all this fancy book writing, Linda has also been producing the hardcover French Country Diary, a week-at a-glance engagement calendar filled with evocative photos and vignettes of France. This is the 24th annual edition and apparently they've sold zillions. (Seriously, how did I miss all this?)

Stay with me here because we're almost at the part where you get free stuff.

So Linda tells me about the new calendar, produced by her company Arts & Style Publishing, and I'm thinking "My readers would love that!"  So I asked if she'd be willing to give one away on my blog and she responded: "Mais oui! Not one but three!"  

How nice is that?

The French Country Diary 2012, with a linen-textured, floral book cover, lies snug within a blue Provençal-patterned slipcase. Each of the 52 week-at-a-glance spreads, featuring photographs by Guy Bouchet, offers an intimate snapshot of the French countryside: gardens, private homes, gastronomy, villages, inspiring landscapes and so forth. Among the memorable spots in this year’s Diary is breakfast at a beautiful inn near Les Baux de Provence,  a postcard-perfect village in Burgundy called Semur-en-Auxois and a peek at an extraordinary Paris apartment furnished exclusively in 18th-century antiques (pictured).  Each spread features vintage French typography and a dates page adorned with a strip of Provençal fabric from Olivades. The Diary includes generous space for jotting daily notes and decorative address pages. It has 128-pages and it retails for $21.99,

To win one of the three copies that Linda is giving away, just leave a comment (by clicking "comments") right below this post. And be sure to leave your email address in the body of your message so we can reach you. To keep things simple for Linda, this giveaway is open only to readers with addresses in the U.S. and Canada. Or, feel free to enter to give the Diary as a gift to a U.S. or Canada-based friend.

If you'd like to buy the diary, a great gift for anyone who loves France, you can do that here.  It's also in bookstores and on Amazon. Meanwhile, if you don't have the book French Country or Linda's more-recent New French Country, treat yourself to a copy if you can find one online--you'll love it. Or, order a signed copy of New French Country ($40 retail) directly from Linda at the special "friends and family" price of $15. To do that--or contact her about anything else--email her at:  Meanwhile, good luck in our giveaway!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fun Gifts for Francophiles

The Canadian shop Raindrops has this "shit it's raining" umbrella in a wide range of colors. It's $45 (Canadian dollars) for the full size and $35 for the folding version. To see all of them or order, click here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

You Cruise, You Lose

The Italy-based MSC Cruises is launching a Dukan Diet-themed cruise in late January designed for passengers who want to to “shed kilos, tone up and tan.” The 11-night cruise (Jan 30 to Feb 10, 2012) has been created especially for French-speaking guests aboard the flagship MSC Fantasia, pictured above.

Guests will have the chance to meet Dr. Pierre Dukan himself at a private onboard party. 

Dukan is an MD, nutritionist and "food-behavior specialist" who created the protein-based diet after 20 years of research. The regime became widely known--and wildly popular--in France in the year 2000, with the release of Dukan’s book, I Don’t Know How to Get Slimmer.  (According to the Dukan website, it “has remained the number one diet there ever since.”)  The Dukan Diet Book, as it’s also known, has been published in 32 countries, translated into 14 languages and sold ten million copies. The book was released in the UK in May, 2010 and in the US in April, 2011.

A team of nutritionists, dieticians and a Dukan-trained physician will be onboard to give advice and care throughout the cruise, which departs Genoa and calls at Barcelona, Casablanca, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Funchal (Madeira), Malaga and Civitavecchia (Rome). Even shore excursions and walking tours of the famous ports where Fantasia docks will be part of the structured program.

At the start of the cruise, guests will receive a diet kit and personal health assessment, then get advice on diet and sports training. They’ll also be invited to daily workshops, culinary demos, cooking lessons and seminars.

I write about the cruise industry often and enjoy seeing how clever companies keep creating new theme cruises to lure first-time passengers and keep regulars coming back. From what I can tell, this is the first cruise in which Dukan has been involved.  And whether you like the diet or not, I think this is a great idea: a week to focus on weight loss and fitness while enjoying the amenities of a beautiful ship. I know quite a few people who would love to cruise but say they’re concerned about the overeating, so for them this could be a win-win. Good for MSC Cruises for the idea and good for the passengers lucky enough to go. And good for Dr. Dukan, who is probably making a bundle!

The Fantasia holds 4,000 people but MSC says it’s too soon to know how many will sign on for this particular package. Prices range from 759€ to 2779€ per person (double occupancy), based on cabin class. For more info on the cruise, click here. Meanwhile the Dukan Diet book is on Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Want to Help Restore a Medieval Village?

If you're thinking of visiting Provence next it this way and you'll learn new skills, give something back, leave your mark on an ancient village and meet people from all over the world.

Since 1969, the international volunteer program La Sabranenque has been devoted to the safeguarding and restoration of traditional rural architecture in Southern France. They're now accepting applications for summer 2012, to work on the restoration of the medieval Provencale site and village called Saint Victor la Coste. La Sabranenque hosts 150 to 200 participants of all ages and nationalities annually. No previous restoration work is required but you must be at least 18. 

Saint Victor la Coste is a picturesque village of approximately 1900 people set in a beautiful landscape between Nimes and Avignon.  At the foot of a hill dominated by a medieval castle, the village overlooks a small vineyard-covered plain. The territory has been inhabited for several millenia; neolithic and Bronze Age artifacts have been found and several known Roman sites are nearby.

Volunteers may sign up for various sessions in 2012, some of which include cooking and wine experiences. In the traditional program, volunteers work on the site in the morning and have afternoons free to explore and relax. Volunteers also participate in everyday, communal activities such as kitchen work. A Provencale cooking stage, which involves no stone work, is a new program this year.

The various options for 2012 are:  
*Traditional 12-day volunteer sessions (offered June 4 through Sept 22).
*Provencale Cooking Stage (with no stone work).
*Volunteer and Visit in Provence.
*Volunteer and Wine Exploration.
*Volunteer, Hike and Discover Provence.

For more info, visit the Sabranenque site here. You can also email:

Photos: The work, restored village walls, the village from above, more work.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Need a Photographer?

Everyone has a great camera these days but there are times when you need—or should use--a professional. I’m often asked if I know a great photographer here in Provence and the answer is mais oui!

Based full time in Arles, Remi Benali began his career in 1989 after receiving a law degree in Grenoble. He worked with the legendary photo agency Gamma for 12 years, including three years as a press correspondent in New York. He’s been freelance since 2002 and living in Provence since 2005.

Known as one of the world’s top travel photographers, Remi has journeyed to work in more than 80 countries, from the North Pole to the Sahari to the remote jungles of Sumatra to the plains of Tibet. His magazine clients rely on him for technical expertise and attention to detail; for his ability to capture exquisite traditions, tribal cultures and man’s relationship with nature; to tell a story in a sensitive, compelling  way.  Remi has worked for all the top publications including Life, The Sunday Times, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Paris-Match, Le Figaro and others; he also shoots for corporate clients such as Apple and Disney.

Most recently, Remi has been hired by the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. to document thousands of splendid Roman treasures being pulled from the murky depths of the Rhone in Arles, things like a 2,000 year-old wooden Roman boat, delicate gold rings, coins the size of a dab of mustard, thousands of amphorae and a leather sandal that still bears the imprint of the owner’s foot. It’s a big, impressive two-year gig and his best images will appear in 34 editions of the magnificent magazine in 2014.

But Remi still has time for other clients so definitely consider him for your next job, here in Provence or elsewhere in Europe. He’s especially excited about a new technique he has developed for shooting real estate (interiors and exteriors), so call on him if you’re trying to sell or rent your house…or if, perhaps, you own a hotel, restaurant, shop or gallery and need great shots for your website. Despite his world-class resume, Remi loves working locally too.

"It took some maturity for me to understand a saying we had at Gamma,” he says. “You don't have to take the plane to go to a faraway land…adventure and wonders can be found waiting on the corner of your street." 

For info, a price quote or fine-art prints:

Photos from top: Remi and his dog Ben; Mursi girl in the Lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia;  Amarvilas Resort, near the Taj Mahal; Balinese girl during preparations for rare Pedusan Alit ceremony; three homes in Provence.