Villa Ephrussi—Am I in France or Italy?

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Located on the gorgeous Cap Ferrat peninsula, overlooking the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, is an Italian-style villa built during France’s Belle Époque by Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. The mansion, with its nine exquisite gardens, was bequeathed in 1934 to the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France. With its priceless works of art, the villa is a site dedicated to art and gardens. While walking the grounds, one can’t help but stop and wonder if they have somehow crossed the border into Italy.

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Being that we only had an hour before continuing on to explore the peninsula, we spent our time wandering the gorgeous gardens and gazing through vistas that beautifully framed the blue water of the Côte d’Azur.

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The Cap Ferrat peninsula and the stunning Villa Ephrussi are well worth a trip when exploring the French Riviera.

À bientôt!

Escape to the Rolling Hills of Perthshire

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Just a mere hour from the Edinburgh Airport in a misty land of rolling hills with sheep and cattle grazing about awaits the Hayloft—the most charming, high-quality, peaceful retreat one could find to stay for a night or two! On our way to Scotland’s Isle of Skye, we spent a night, and I was ready to move in. Though I love the sun of Provence, I immediately felt like I could live in this beautiful place. Another place that feels like a world away, like something out of a Jane Austen novel.

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The Hayloft Bed and Breakfast, just outside of Pitlochry, is composed of two independent cottages—the Hayloft and the Barn. We stayed in the Hayloft, a beautifully decorated room with the most gorgeous high-quality fabrics and peaceful views. I couldn’t stop staring out the window at the sheep grazing on the hill or at the charming, rustic outside terrace, which reminded me of  le Clos de Rohan in Provence.

We had the most peaceful sleep in this quiet location. And our morning breakfast basket delivered to our room was a delight—yogurt, berries, croissants and honey, and freshly brewed coffee. Do we really have to leave? I still can’t stop thinking about this place.

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Before we headed out to the Isle of Skye, we took a little walk down a misty lane.

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Serious charm for days! Why is everything so cute?

À bientôt!

An Enchanting Evening at Hôtel Crillon le Brave

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Tucked away in a small hilltop village overlooking a landscape of vineyards and olive groves, lying in the shadow of Mont Ventoux, and practically bordering the villages of the Côtes du Rhône appellation is an intimate gem of a resort intertwined in the streets of the village. Hôtel Crillon le Brave consists of just 36 rooms tucked away in 8 old village houses connected by secret alleyways and hidden courtyards, along with two beautiful restaurants, terrace lounges, and a small yet gorgeous spa.

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While not staying there ourselves, we sure don’t mind stopping in for a glass of wine, a cup of tea, a massage, or a special meal under the Provençal sky. Bistrot 40K hit the spot! Our evening unfolded as with an artist’s stroke the color of the sky changed moment by moment over the valley.

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Bistrot 40K and its gourmet neighbor, Restaurant Jérôme Blanchet, are passionate about using local, seasonal produce. From the fresh baked bread to the tapenade to the amuse-bouche to an amazing bottle of local Ventoux wine, we were off to a good start.

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From there, we enjoyed appetizers and a delicious le côte de cochon du Ventoux rôtie along with gratin d’aubergine and a cherry tart for dessert.

For an enchanting evening under an intoxicating Provençal sky, we recommend a meal at Crillon le Brave. Other options for extreme ambience are la Bergerie in Maubec and le Petit Café  in Oppède-le-Vieux.

À bientôt!

Scotland’s Mesmerizing Fairy Pools

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Most visitors to the Isle of Skye plan to visit the popular Fairy Pools. And you should too! Rain or shine, I was going. And it was mesmerizing to say the least.

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After leaving the parking lot and walking the trail a little ways, you come to a gushing river crossing with three slippery rocks overflowing with water that you must cross in order to proceed. First thought. Now, what could possibly go wrong here? Yes, it is treacherous! After searching for some time for another way across and studying the strategy of others in how to do it without falling, we said: “Let’s go! Make it quick and get it over with!” Thankfully, we escaped a fall and were on our way. Though on our way back, it was sad to see one young person down while the Mountain Rescue team was making its way down the trail to carry him out. Here’s a thought. How about a small bridge instead of  rocks covered in gushing water? Or is there no fun in that?

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After the treacherous water crossing, the rest is easy. It is a moderate walk—with good hiking boots—amid beautiful glistening pools of water and ominous mountains lurking behind.

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When we got to the end of the Fairy Pools, my husband naturally wanted to keep going despite the sign.

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So we continued on a little further until the only way to continue was to wade through water. Seeing the rain clouds coming and being the mountain “experts” that we are, we decided it would be best to make our way back. After all, we still had to cross the treacherous rocks at the end.

For more information on the Fairy Pools, located near the village of Carbost on the road to Glen Brittle at the foot of the Black Cuillins, the Isle of Skye.com has a wealth of information.

À bientôt!

Les Bories & Spa Hidden in Gordes

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Secluded in a 20-acre aromatic park of olive and cypress trees, lavender, rosemary, and thyme is a hidden little retreat called les Bories, which is located on a quiet road across from Gordes. Les Bories is a five-star luxury hotel with a beautiful spa that offers extensive treatments.

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So in keeping with my tradition of getting a massage while my husband is biking away in a cyclist’s paradise, I just can’t get enough of les Bories! Being able to wander around Gordes afterward is a plus.

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Funny story though. My first time to les Bories, I felt a little out of place since I wasn’t use to luxury resorts and had never even had a massage before. In fact, in our early travels, we use to travel on $30 a day for two people. Now on $30 a day, you can still eat like a king in France—the outdoor markets, the bread, the cheese, the everything!

So I am dropped off at les Bories, planning to meet up with my husband later in Gordes. My plan was to walk the hotel’s gentle fitness trail that takes you from the resort right into the village. Graciously, the five-star resort offered to drive me to the village after the treatment, but I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone since I already felt out of place. So I said: “That’s okay. I can just walk the trail down. No problem.”

Problem! With my inherent lack of sense of direction, somehow I got off the short trail and was completely lost. Perhaps it had to do with my not understanding French signs. So after just enjoying the most relaxing massage of a lifetime, I am now wandering around in the intense heat of Provence completely lost in the garrigue on a very secluded dirt road. On top of that, bees are swarming me as I am covered in honey and other concoctions from my massage. I walked and walked in the blazing sun, occasionally passing gated mansions and thinking that sooner or later I would have to ring someone’s intercom for help. Somehow I kept going. After quite some time, I made it out onto a main road. At this point I sensed I was well above the village and started to make my way down the road, relieved that at least I had made it to a main road. Long behold, a happy biker goes whipping by with delight. Yes, my husband is having a grand old time while I am now a disheveled mess of sweat and dehydration and terror!

Yet, none of that has stopped me from returning to les Bories—a beautiful, secluded retreat with treatments such as the Egyptian Beauty Therapy, the Greco-Roman Therapy, and the Coeur de Provence Therapy that will keep you coming back again and again.

IMG_5381IMG_5386À bientôt!

Scotland’s Captivating Isle of Skye

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Filled with raw, rugged, breathtaking landscapes, this 50-mile-long island is one of the largest of Scotland. Voted as the fourth best island in the world by National Geographic, the Isle of Skye is a hiker’s paradise. Just ask the Munro baggers—hikers who are striving to climb all 282 Munros, mountains that are over 3,000 feet. From majestic mountains to breathtaking waterfalls to the sea, the lochs, and the moors, the scenery is dramatic to say the least. This isle of beauty is a photographer’s dream.

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We were told by a local: “You don’t come to Scotland for the weather!” And to that, we have to add: “That’s why you go to Provence!” Though it does rain nearly every day on the isle, the weather can change every five minutes. One minute it may be raining and the next the sun is shining, at least for a few minutes. We had no trouble in the month of October, as it mostly rained only during the night or in the early morning hours. Rain was quickly replaced by spectacular rainbows, and the sheep didn’t seem to mind.

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Driving for hours a day around the isle seemed like minutes as we were captivated by the spectacular scenery. Although at one point, I did have to wonder where in the world we were when the sign said we were entering Sleat peninsula. Here is an introduction to Skye.

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À bientôt!

A Provençal Oasis in the Luberon Valley

IMG_4313.JPGI really don’t want to share this one, I really don’t. But it’s pure kindness that makes me not withhold. In the Luberon valley, just below Bonnieux and Lacoste, lies an oasis of perfection called Mas des Sens. Le mas is a gorgeously manicured property in a quiet, rural location and is made up of three rentals along with two private lavender fields. Our rental was Suite Gordes, my favorite due to its being completely private and in a separate building away from the other two rentals that face the pool.IMG_4293.JPGIMG_5559.JPGIt was a Provençal dream to awake each morning to the sight of a hot air balloon over the valley. And each day I watched as my own private lavender field turned more vivid in purple. From my bedroom, I had a view of Bonnieux from one window and of  Lacoste from the other. And each night, I watched a spectacular light show as the sun set over the valley, the light changing minute by minute. As never before, I sensed just why this place is so special.IMG_4845.JPGIMG_5505IMG_5570.JPGThe English caretakers of Mas des Sens are an absolute delight. They prepared a gorgeous breakfast for us on the first morning of our stay. Breakfast can be requested for an additional charge and delivered to your own private terrace outside your door.IMG_4289.JPGThe bike path passes right by the rental, making it a perfect location to rent bikes. In fact, the bike shop in Bonnieux will deliver bikes and pick them up for your convenience.

What a peaceful place to stay! Staying down in the valley instead of up in a village was a whole new delight, surrounded by farmhouses and quiet country lanes. Here are a few photos of the surroundings.

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À bientôt!

Plockton—The “Jewel of the Highlands”

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“I’ve a feeling we’re not in Provence anymore!” Far away from the land with over 300 days of sunshine a year, our travels take us to the misty, captivating land of Scotland—a land of rolling hills, majestic mountains, cascading waterfalls, and more sheep than there are people. Travel along as we visit the “Jewel of the Highlands”—the picturesque village of Plockton.

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Sitting on the shores of Loch Carron lies this sleepy little village with its whitewashed chocolate-box cottages and photo opportunities for days. From boats bobbing in the calm waters and picturesque islands off the shore, not to mention the chance of spotting a seal or an otter, this village is a place to stop and explore.

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There are several scenic walks around the village, which take you through open moorland to vistas overlooking the sea and through enchanted forests. Ian’s walk is an easy hike that offers beautiful views of the sea. The Woodland walk takes you through a forest with tranquil views of Plockton. The marked shoreline path takes you to Duncraig Castle. And last but not least, most definitely walk the peaceful country road above the village, looking down on the loch and charming string of cottages.

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For home-cooked comfort food at its best, stop at the cozy Plockton Inn. The menu changes daily from a selection that includes fish-and-chips, shepherd’s pie, fish pie, fish soup with tomato and basil, and braised beef and potatoes. All were excellent. But the fish pie was outstanding. It was a smoked fish with potatoes and vegetables in a crust. There is also the Plockton Hotel and the Plockton Shores restaurant, both serving fresh and delicious food. The carrot and coriander soup at the Plockton Hotel was memorable.

If venturing to the Highlands on your way to the Isle of Skye, stop at the “Jewel of the Highlands.” Like us, you might even find your car surrounded by a herd of Highland cattle as you make your way around the winding roads of the village.

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À bientôt! Or see ye efter! (as they say in Scotland)

Allergic to Provence?

IMG_4378Please no! Anything but that. Upon visiting Provence this past June, with the unusually high temperatures of 95-100 degrees, my pasty white, sun-deprived skin went into shock. I developed hives or eczema all over! What to do?

I finally stopped in at the pharmacy in Bonnieux—the French pharmacy is the know all cure all—and was told, “You need to stay out of the sun!” Stay out of the sun? That’s not good! I will just have to live with leprosy. Continuing on one day, while hiking to the calanques in Cassis, I felt this intense burning on my lower legs like they were on fire. I looked down to see, this time, large red patches. What was that? Psoriasis?

Thanks to the French pharmacy and the special cream prescribed to me, I continued on. I’m nervous to come back to you my dear Provence, but I can’t help myself.

IMG_5544À bientôt!

Monieux: A Hidden Gem Near the Gorges de la Nesque

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One day while driving through the Gorges de la Nesque, we “needed” a place to stop to have an apéritif before heading to Venasque for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, les Remparts. My husband suggested Monieux, since he had passed through the village on his bike in the past. I, on the other hand, was hesitant, thinking that perhaps Sault would be a better choice. I had never heard of Monieux. Well, as it turns out, Monieux was a dream! Charm for days! The type of village that tops my list.

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After venturing around the village, with its Bourgogne-like charms, we relaxed by a beautiful fountain for apéritifs at a place called les Lavandes. The inside restaurant looks quite beautiful and no doubt would be worth a return for dinner.

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After discovering Monieux, I wonder how many more “hidden” villages are waiting to be discovered in this area of Provence. I definitely have Brantes and Crestet on my radar as villages having charm for days.

À bientôt!