The Pastry Experience You Can’t Miss in Paris: Baking Macarons

Bon Appetit!

“I think this is my favorite thing we’ve done this entire trip. Yes! This is the best thing ever!” 

Baking Macarons in Paris - www.AFriendAfar.com

My husband and I treated my mother to a trip to France last month. We had the most amazing food and wine experiences, from meals that we raved about so much that our neighboring diners had to order the same thing, to biking through vineyards and tasting all the wines Burgundy had to offer. In Paris, we had a few specific opportunities for Mother-Daughter “foodie” time. We spent one afternoon in the Mariage Frères tea room, enjoying pastries and tea, after a morning in the Louvre. Our favorite experience, however, was when we took a macaron baking class from La Cuisine Paris. Even if you only have a few days in Paris, you have time for a cooking or baking class!

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La Cuisine Paris is located in the 4th arrondissement, just a block from the Hotel de Ville, and a short walk from the Notre Dame. When you step inside their darling shop, you’re greeted by their friendly, English-speaking staff in a simple, but chic room with branded aprons and classic baking supplies. After greeting the other students in our small, intimate group, we headed downstairs to the kitchen. Much like the wine caves we had spent the previous days exploring, the cellar we’d be baking in also had a rounded, cavernous roof. That’s where we met our wonderful pastry chef and teacher for the day!

Let it be known that I am by no means an experienced baker. I tend to bake things that start in a box and only require a few extra additions. So when your teacher started explaining all of the steps in our macaron recipe, I might have panicked a little. Thank goodness my mom was there! She’s the baker in the family!

Not to worry though, La Cuisine Paris has even the most inexperienced bakers covered. All of our ingredients were pre-measured, and our wonderful teacher walked us through each step very slowly. We all took very detailed notes on our recipes, and she provided great explanations for each step we took. She was right when she said that licking your fingers is an occupational hazard. Just look at that meringue! I could have eaten the entire bowl!

Our class was split into two different filling flavors – white chocolate with espelette pepper and praline. Both were delicious, and we might have kept licking our fingers when  we were filling the cookies, too. By the time we filled our boxes full of overflowing macarons, we had already eaten “the slightly broken ones” until we were full.

Baking Macarons in Paris - www.AFriendAfar.com

All in all, it was an absolutely amazing experience, and I can’t recommend it enough! We only had a few full days in Paris, and we are so glad that we squeezed this wonderful two-hour experience in. Just make a reservation online and head over toward the Île de la Cité for a quick class before visiting the Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle. They have other classes as well, from making the perfect french baguette to cooking entire meals with ingredients from the market!

This post is part of a collection of our guides to France. Click here to read other great stories from France.

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.
5 Reasons to Fall in Love with Beaune in Burgundy, France - www.AFriendAfar.com

5 Reasons to Fall in Love with Beaune in Burgundy, France

We fell madly in love with Beaune and the entire regino of Burgundy on our most recent trip to France, and we know you will, too!  There are so many amazing things about the town and the area, but below are our Top 5 reasons to fall in love with Beaune!

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Small Town Charm

Thank God we found out about Beaune! It’s a quick train ride from Paris, perfect for a few nights away, but it couldn’t be more of a world away from a bustling, international city. Beaune is a wonderfully tiny town of under 25,000 people, and while it’s the wine capital of Burgundy, it seemed to us that the larger crowds of tourists were coming in on buses for just a quick visit. In the evenings, the town goes quiet, and you feel as though you have the cobblestone streets all to yourself.

Beaune is also an incredibly walkable city. The city itself has sprawled beyond its medieval walls, but the historic center is where you’ll be spending all your time exploring, shopping, eating, and drinking. The area within the walls is about a half mile in diameter, meaning that when you have a list of places to visit or wine caves to try, it’s a really quick walk along very pretty streets.

Historic Sites and Architecture

The main historic site in Beaune is the Hospices de Beaune, or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, a charitable hospital that served patients from the 1450s to the 1970s. The hospital was established shortly after the Hundred Years’ War by the Chancellor of the Duke of Burgundy with permission from Pope Eugene IV.
5 Reasons to Fall in Love with Beaune in Burgundy, France - www.AFriendAfar.comToday, the Hospices de Beaune draws visitors that marvel at its beautiful and brightly colored tile roofs, an icon of Burgundian design, and the interior that has been preserved. We loved the way the sunlight reflected off the roof. The pharmacy with shelves full of ceramic jars was our favorite room, but we really enjoyed viewing the large halls of hospital beds that were still set up as they would have been hundreds of years ago.

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About half of the original battlements, ramparts, and moat are in good condition and worth a stroll.

As I mentioned above, Beaune’s historic center is within medieval walls and ramparts, so while the Hospices is a must-see site, as you walk down the cobblestone streets, you’ll be passing beautiful and historic architecture the entire time. We also enjoyed a nice walk and a few bike rides along the perimeter of the city walls.

Wine!

Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy in the Côte d’Or region and Côte de Beaune subregion in eastern France. There is so much to be said about Burgundian wine, and even though I feel like I learned so much on this trip, I’m definitely not an expert so I will try to keep this short and simple. The villages to the south of Beaune, such as the famous Mersault, Pommard, and Chassagne-Montrachet, specialize in white wines but do have some wonderful red wines as well. Villages to the north of Beaune like Nuits-Saint-Georges and Savigny-les-Beaune specialize in reds. The mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay reflects the varying soil composition as you move from north to south. What does this mean for your typical non-sommelier? It means that you’re in a wonderful location for both world-renowned reds and whites, so no matter your preference, there’s something in the Côte de Beaune that you’ll enjoy!

5 Reasons to Fall in Love with Beaune in Burgundy, France - www.AFriendAfar.com

Where to go in France: Biking Through Vineyards in Burgundy - www.AFriendAfar.com

Where to go in France: Biking Through Vineyards in Burgundy - www.AFriendAfar.com

Wine Caves are the underground cellars for storing wine located all over the city of Beaune and the entire region. Visit these caves for educational tastings and the opportunity to purchase wines from vineyards throughout the surrounding area. In America, I’m used to visiting a specific vineyard with a tasting room on the property. It’s a little different in Burgundy. The vineyards are all on the outskirts of town and the tasting rooms operated by vineyard owners are located in the city centers.

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I must share with you our favorite wine cave that we visited! Patriarche is located within the historic center of Beaune, and our experience there was extraordinary! The company has over 3 miles of caves filled with over 3 million bottles of local wine. Many of the caves date back to the 14th century and were all connected over time. After weaving through caves filled with bottles and barrels, the wine tasting is at the end. Extremely knowledgeable guides will describe the intricacies of each of the 13 wines that you will try. Here’s the best part – they give you a small silver “tastevin” cup, and you get to pour your own tasting! That means that when it finally came time to decide which bottles we’d be purchasing, we were able to try a few of those favorites again. That amazing and delicious experience was only 16 Euros per person, and we got to keep our delightful silver tastevin as a souvenir!

I wrote last week about the wonderful bike trails that weave through the vineyards to each village throughout the Côte de Beaune. It was truly one of the greatest experiences of any vacation we’ve had so far!
Where to go in France: Biking Through Vineyards in Burgundy - www.AFriendAfar.com

Food

There’s so much to say about Burgundian cuisine, but for us, the highlight was escargot. We had never had escargot before, but we were certain we’d like it since we like similar foods like oysters and mussles. It turned out that we absolutely love escargot. We could not get enough of those wonderfully garlic-buttery snails, and once we had finished off a platter, we’d dip our bread in the leftover sauce. What a treat! Now to find a restaurant in Atlanta that serves good escargot!5 Reasons to Fall in Love with Beaune in Burgundy, France - www.AFriendAfar.comBeaune also has a wonderful market on Saturdays and Wednesdays. The Wednesday market is much smaller, but we greatly enjoyed shopping for bread, cheese, and charcuterie for lunch, and since Beaune is so close to Dijon, there was a large selection of local mustards that made great gifts for foodie friends back home. My husband made fast friends with these gorgeous truffle-sniffing dogs that work for the truffle stand at the market. They may have a job to do other days, but on market days, they were enjoying a lot of attention and belly rubs!

Night Lights

This is one fabulous aspect of Beaune that we would have missed had we gone to bed any earlier. In April, July, and August, once the sun goes down, historic sites all over the city light up! It was fascinating to watch the moving projections that beautifully illustrated the history of the town.

One of our favorites was the Notre Dame cathedral. In addition to covering the cathedral in images of its beautiful stained glass windows and frescos, the illumination starts with drops of water that begin to pour down from the top, hitting different columns and gargoyles and spilling out across the building, making use of the building’s architecture to create a fascinating, moving work of art.

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At the clock tower, an illustrated cat jumps out of one of the windows and chases a ball of light all across the building’s walls until it dives into another window – so charming! And the Hospices shows the history of the building and gorgeous illustrations of the famous altarpiece inside.

When we decided to include Beaune in our trip across France, we were focused primarily on visiting a wine region and touring the vineyards on bicycles. We had no idea that Beaune and Burgundy would become our favorite place in France!

Have you been to Burgundy? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments! If not, which of these wonderful reasons to visit Beaune appeals to you the most? Tell us below!

This post is part of a collection of our guides to France. Click here to read other great stories.

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Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.
Where to go in France: Biking Through Vineyards in Burgundy - www.AFriendAfar.com

Bikes in Burgundy: A Two-Wheeled Tour of French Wine Country

Quick! What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done on vacation? It’s hard to decide, I know! What about the fanciest thing you’ve ever done? If you had told me a few weeks ago that I’d be wearing shorts, tennis shoes, and sunscreen while simultaneously feeling at the height of luxury, I’d have laughed! But when we traveled through the amazing scenery of Burgundy, France on two wheels, it was clear that we were enjoying the vacation of our lives. Biking in wine country was absolutely the best!

We all know France is famous for its world-class wines and amazing meals, but if you’re looking for a truly memorable vacation, here’s why you should throw out all your previous plans and head to Burgundy.

Where to go in France: Biking in Wine Country in Burgundy - www.AFriendAfar.com

We spent a few nights in Beaune, just a short train ride south of Dijon, and it was the perfect decision! Beaune is a wonderfully small town that is surrounded by an old wall just like Avignon. It’s smaller than Avignon though, and somehow when the sun sets, the town falls quiet, and you suddenly have the cobblestone streets to yourself. We stayed at La Villa Fleurie, a charming B&B with a wonderful breakfast and friendly, helpful staff, and we can’t wait to go back!

Beaune is also home to Bourgogne Randonnées, the most helpful bicycle rental shop you could ask for. They set us up with bikes and baskets for a very affordable price for 2 days and provided us with a great map and directions to all of the places we wanted to see. Since they’re the experts, they gave us great advice about what towns to visit and which wine “caves” would be easiest to visit for non-French speakers. Thanks to them, our adventure was off to a great start and ran so smoothly!

We were a little nervous about our trip until they explained to us that the only cars allowed on the roads we’d be taking were for vineyard operations. Not only did we pass very few cars while riding through the vineyards, but the paths were also not very crowded with other cyclists. We found ourselves wondering how we’d stumbled across such an amazing secret!

Where to go in France: Biking in Wine Country in Burgundy - www.AFriendAfar.com

We started our ride right here, with the vineyard walls and gates that announce that we’re entering the Veloroute la Voie des Vignes, the Routes de Grands Crus. We stopped to take pictures at the signs and to take it all in. I can’t begin to describe our enthusiasm and disbelief!

A quick primer on Burgundy wines (by this non-expert):
If you think of Beaune as your home base and the hub of the Côte de Beaune, white wines are the specialty of the villages to the south due to the soil composition, and red wines are more common to the north. Here’s a great guide to the more in-depth details about wines from the region and their classifications. We learned all about this from the expert sommeliers at the vineyards and wine caves we visited.

Where to go in France: Biking in Wine Country in Burgundy - www.AFriendAfar.com

Our view as we headed into Pommard – How perfect is that ivy covered home surrounded by grapevines?

Our path led us from Beaune through Pommard (pictured above) and Volnay to the gorgeous town of Mersault where we enjoyed a picnic from a boulangerie by the fountain on the square. Mersault has some wonderful boulangeries and cafes, and we found that it was the best place to stop for a meal along the way. From Mersault we continued our tour through the vineyards to the tiny towns of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet before we realized that we were worn out and should probably head home. We weren’t expecting our energy to drop off so quickly! If you’re in far better shape than us, try to make it to Satenay. All in all, we biked about 22 miles that day. All that exercise meant we had even more bread, cheese, and desserts later that night than we normally would, and that’s saying a lot! Oh, and extra wine, of course!

Where to go in France: Biking Through Vineyards in Burgundy - www.AFriendAfar.com

Views of brightly colored tile roofs are part of the Burgundian experience. The square in Mersault, with its beautiful buildings and cheerful fountain was a wonderful place to rest and picnic!

Burgundy was more than we could have ever imagined! The scenery was breathtaking, and knowing that we were biking through some of the best vineyards in the world made the trip so luxurious. Even with all that we read before we arrived in Beaune, we were still really surprised by the following:

  1. Lack of crowds – We expected everyone to be in such an important region for French wines. While we saw a lot of tourists in Beaune at the wine caves and the Hospices, it seemed that the majority of them were just passing through on a tour. There were definitely tourists in Beaune, but it never felt crowded.
  2. Tiny towns – Each little village that we rode through had its own unique personality. When we entered the smallest of the towns in the afternoon, they all had a very sleepy atmosphere.  As I mentioned before, it felt as though we had stumbled upon a wonderful secret. When part of your vacation is set in a tourist magnet like Paris, these towns were a mini-vacation!
  3. Vines as far as you can see! We knew we’d be biking through vineyards. We just didn’t realize that every inch of land in Burgundy would be devoted to vines. It was a never-ending vineyard surrounding each village, and only the short stone fences marked the property lines.
  4. Everyone is making wine! When entering a small village like Volnay or Puligny-Montrachet, we’d leave the marked route for a bit to venture down the side streets. We were always surprised when someone would open up their garage doors or we’d get a peek through a gate into a backyard and someone was cleaning wine barrels or tasting the wine they’ve been laboring for so long to make. I dream of living in a small Burgundian town, surrounded by vines, where wine and all of its intricacies define daily life!
Where to go in France: Biking Through Vineyards in Burgundy - www.AFriendAfar.com

Vines for days! Wines for days!

This post is part of a collection of our guides to France. Click here to read other great stories about traveling through France.
If you’re interested in other stories from the French countryside, don’t miss the lavender fields in Provence!

Where to go in France: Biking Through Vineyards in Burgundy - www.AFriendAfar.com

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

Oh-La-La Lavender Fields in Provence

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I hope you’re ready for some breathtaking pictures of the French countryside! If these don’t inspire you to put France on the short list for your next vacation, we don’t know what will!

When I was planning our trip to France, I read that July was the perfect time to see the blooming lavender in Provence. Instantly, Provence was added to our itinerary with Avignon as our home base for a few days. We chose Avignon for a few reasons:
1. It’s incredibly accessible from Paris via a short 3 hour TGV train ride.
2. Avignon is a wonderfully historic town within a 13th century wall. Its Palais des Papes, or Palace of the Popes, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. With the TGV station in town, Avignon has multiple rental car companies to choose from for day trips around Provence.

Avignon and its July theatre festival did not disappoint. In fact, one of my favorite meals ever came from the town’s delicious Chez Lulu restaurant. Today, however, let’s talk about what you’ll see just outside those historic city walls.

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Provence is so wonderfully agricultural. As soon as you head out of town, you’ll pass vineyards, olive groves, and fruit orchards. Lavender starts to appear just a short drive from the city, and the higher in elevation you go, the more fields begin to appear.

We headed straight to the Musee de Lavande on the road to Gordes. It was a great first stop, and the incredibly helpful and multi-lingual staff served as a wonderful information center for our day. They helped us map out our trip, explained the process of distilling lavender, and its medicinal qualities. Don’t forget to drop into their beautiful gift shop for a bit before you head out on the road!

Next stop, the hilltop village of Gordes with its wonderful views of the valley below. We’ll be sharing a whole post on hilltop villages of Provence with you soon, but for lavender fields, you’ll head past Gordes to its beautiful Abbey de Sénanque. This 12th century monastery is picture perfect, and its lavender fields are over-flowing with wonderful smells, bees, and butterflies. The monks distill lavender, and you can buy their products in the Abbey’s bookstore. You can take a guided tour of the Abbey (proper and modest dress are required since this is a place of worship), or you can just enjoy the wonderful scenery.

Traveling through the Lavender Fields in Provence - www.AFriendAfar.com

From the Abbey, our helpful guides at the Musee de Lavande instructed us to head over to the ochre hilltop town of Rousillon before heading north for more lavender fields. We headed toward the town of Sault, stopping at every lavender field along the way.

Traveling through the Lavender Fields in Provence - www.AFriendAfar.com

Traveling through the Lavender Fields in Provence - www.AFriendAfar.com

Traveling through the Lavender Fields in Provence - www.AFriendAfar.com

As we headed toward Sault and then onto Mont Ventoux, we started noticing that more and more lavender fields were in the process of being harvested. If you’re headed to the South of France in search of lavender, be sure to time your trip for mid-late July so that you don’t miss those beautiful purple fields!

This post is part of a collection of our guides to France. Click here to read other great posts on traveling through France.

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.
Mariage Frères - www.AFriendAfar.com

J’Adore: The Mariage Fréres Tea Shop in Paris

The Mariage Fréres Salon de Thé in Paris is my personal definition of luxury. When I’ve spent all morning navigating the Louvre or wandering down cobblestone streets, a nice, long break to savor the flavors of Paris is exactly what I need. It’s the most wonderful tea shop in Paris and a feast for the eyes!

Mariage Frères - www.AFriendAfar.com

The Mariage Frères Tea Emporium – a beautiful shop with Old World charm. [Photo credit: Blueberration]

The Most Wonderful Tea Shop in Paris

Stephanie and I first discovered Mariage Fréres tea at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, where we were looking for an escape from the city. We had been living in Bangkok for months, and while we thrived on the city’s chaos and excitement, we needed to treat ourselves to occasional peace and quiet. It was there that our obsession with fine teas began.

Mariage Fréres is a French tea company that began in 1854 and served as a wholesaler of fine teas until opening its first Salon de Thé on Rue du Bourg-Tibourg in 1983. The company currently has brick and mortar stores only in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan, but you can order anything from 100g of tea to a $2,000 gold-plated teapot on their website. I’ve visited their Japanese store in Ginza and their Parisian stores at the Louvre and in the Étoile neighborhood.

Mariage Frères - www.AFriendAfar.com

With this many beautiful options, how does one choose? I brought home 3 different canisters of tea for myself, and another one for Stephanie. We’ll be having some glamorous tea parties very soon! [Photo credit: Blueberration]

During my time in Paris last week, my mother and I dined in the Salon de Thé at the Louvre while my husband searched for his perfect Tour de France viewing spot in the rain. We had different goals for the day.

The Mariage Frères Salon de Thè - www.AFriendAfar.com

The Mariage Frères Salon de Thè [Photo credit: Blueberration]

The ivory-suited waiters took wonderful care of us, providing us with a menu of their tea selection, which is so vast that they also handed us a book that cataloged each tea. A large catalog of options can be overwhelming, so you can always count on their recommendations. I can be a creature of habit, so I chose my absolute favorite tea, their Marco Polo black tea and a delicious tiny canelé cake. My mother ordered the Paris Breakfast tea with a scone. Our teas arrived in their Art Deco tea pots, which went wonderfully with the beautiful white marble tables and vintage decor of the store.

The Mariage Frères Salon de Thè - www.AFriendAfar.com

Afternoon tea at the Mariage Frères Salon de Thè in the Louvre

It was the perfect mini-vacation from our exciting day in Paris. The most difficult part was deciding what to bring home from the shop! No, I didn’t splurge on that lovely gold camel teapot, but I did bring home the matching tea spoon and a few canisters of tea!

This is the first of many posts on our Tour de France. Click here to read other great posts, and see our favorite pictures here.

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.