About Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.


Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett

Unique Meets Boutique at Hotel Saint Louis in Lisieux Normandy

October 30, 2014 by  

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Heading to Normandy? Then Lisieux is bound to be on your list. For stays, Hotel Saint Louis, which conveniently sits in the center of Lisieux is a great choice for those who are looking for unique and boutique blended into one.

Hotel Saint Louis isn’t a luxury hotel, nor does it have the bells and whistles you might need from a chain if you’re traveling on business, although they do have reliable wifi. It is all things quaint and charming however in more ways than one. The outside courtyard below is in the front of hotel, which immediately faces the infamous historical cathedral across the street. It’s a great place to sip that morning coffee during warmer months.

The place is run and managed by a highly energetic local woman who is not only hospitable and friendly, but she seems to be able to “do anything,” so if you have a quirky problem, run it by her and chances are she’ll come up with a solution. Below is the ever so French breakfast they serve in the morning in a delightful side room where guests meet up in the mornings. Juice, fruit, yoghurt, tea or coffee, baguettes, croissants and plenty of homemade jam.

The other thing that is special about the hotel are the artistic details throughout the property, from the lighting and teddy bears to the unique design of each and every room.

Below is a sample of some of the rooms, which are scattered across three floors. Each room is individually designed and no two rooms are alike. While some rooms may have a more spacious bathrooms, others make up for it in the main room, mainly in the details. My room faced the fabulous cathedral, so I was able to open those French windows every morning, and let the sunshine (and the spiritual presence of the cathedral) into my day.

What’s not to love? The only thing to note for those now accustomed to staying in inns, smaller or 3 star properties in Europe, they’re not abundant with toilet paper, shampoo or towels. I tend to ask for additional towels when I first arrive at a hotel in France if its not in Paris or a major city – they’re on the small side compared to what you might be used to in the states, but its nothing that an additional towel can’t fit.

Be sure to check out our Brittany/Normandy food & wine section (and posts), as well as our general section on Brittany/Normandy. And, of course for the passionate about all things France, we have quite a bit of content in our France section as well as Paris.

Note: My trip was hosted by the French Tourism Board, however all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Details:

Hotel Saint Louis

4 Rue Saint-Jacques

14100 Lisieux, France

+33.2.31.62.06.50 

Note: My trip was hosted by the French tourism board but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Taking in the Best That Nantucket Has to Offer!

October 30, 2014 by  

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When I lived in Boston, we would occasionally zip over to Nantucket although I can probably count only a half dozen or so times over the years we made the effort. We tended to go to Martha’s Vineyard more often, which we skipped this past summer during our August visit since Obama was there at the time and security was through the roof.

I always thought of Nantucket is the “older island” when I was in my twenties since it seemed to appeal to the older, wealthier, more established New Englander, many of whom either had a second home there or semi or permanently retired to the island.

For those of you not familiar with Nantucket, it’s an island roughly 30 miles south of Cape Cod. Together with the small islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, it constitutes the town of Nantucket, Massachusetts and spans across only around 105 miles, so you can easily get around the island in a day.  The feeling of the place is very intimate even in the bubbling summer months, where the population bursts to around 50,000, up from its year round population of only 11,000.

We came in by fast ferry from Hyannis in Cape Cod, the preferred way of getting to Nantucket. As the boat comes into the harbor, you’re greeted with sailboats, quaint weathered wooden houses along the shore and men fishing in the distance. Bikes seemed to be parked everywhere and the place is….well, quiet, relatively speaking considering the chaos you normally get in a harbor town.

Once you arrive by ferry, you’ll want to meander around the main town for a bit and perhaps even book a restaurant for lunch or dinner in advance depending on the season. Inside the center of town, you can walk around, cycle or go by car, although I’d recommend the former two as your views and experiences will be much more interesting and the place is small enough to avoid a car. The houses are quaint and oh so New England, except that all the houses are made from natural wood, some more weathered in color than others depending on their age.

This was taken in one of the cute and quirky antique shops in the center of town.

Flowers are abundant during the summer and it appears that every lawn — front, side or back — is crawling with seasonal flowers.

Below is the front porch of the White Elephant Hotel and adjoining Restaurant, a long time renowned meeting point just outside of the center of town. We biked there and it was an easy ride.

The harbor in front of the White Elephant Hotel.

The White Elephant front porch.

Depending on your plans for the island and duration of your stay, you’ll either want to bring a bike or rent one. We got lucky since I have an old friend who lives just outside town who had a couple bikes we could use for the day.

If you’re there for a day trip or only have a couple of days, here’s a great way to spend one of them. Book a lunch or dinner reservation somewhere with outdoor seating if you’re there during summer or early fall – there is no shortage of great restaurants in and outside the town. Be sure to read our separate restaurant review write-up on the White Elephant. There’s also Sayle’s Seafood on Washington Street Extension which is best known for its fried clams, fish market and take out meals. If you have space and time, save room for dessert by stopping into Aunt Leah’s Fudge Shop at the Courtyard, Straight Wharf.

After lunch, rent bikes and head out of town. You’ll pass farmer’s markets and stands, sustainable shops, windmills, sunflowers (be sure to read our article on sunflowers, which is mostly photos), offshoots to the many beaches that Nantucket has to offer, a seemingly old cemetery and well manicured trees.

As you’ll head out of town, one of the more remarkable observations (if you’re not from the area), is just how well manicured everything is – from the lawns and gardens to the porches and driveways, everything feels a bit like the colorful side of Pleasantville, except that everyone in the town (and island) seems to be wealthy and semi-retired. If there is a slummy part of Nantucket, I’ve never managed to find it.

We did two complete loops and since the island is so small, you can take in a lot in a couple of days if you plan a route or two in advance and nearly all the loops can include a beach of two if that’s on your agenda.

The beaches are equally manicured and exactly as I had remembered them from my visits years ago when I lived in Boston. The beaches on the north shore of the island tend to have a gentler surf suitable for children, with the notable exception of Brant Point which has a strong current. Many of these are easily accessible from town and all have great views of either Nantucket Sound or the harbor. Great Point is also visible from some of these locations.

The beaches on the south shore of the island all face the Atlantic Ocean and tend to have a heavier surf. Some can have rip tides as well. Several of these are accessible by bike path or shuttle bus and have parking, facilities, and/or lifeguards.

Among the east coast beaches are what they refer to as inner harbor beaches, which tend to be the beaches for the more adventurous. Siasconset is accessible by bike path or shuttle bus which is recommended since there is limited parking. The outer beaches require beach permits to drive to them and 4-wheel drive. Some car rental companies can provide you with a permitted vehicle, so it’s worth asking about this in advance if that’s your interest.

The sunsets are out of this world – be sure to see our separate photo post on Nantucket sunsets, a series of photos which were mostly shot on a ferry coming back from Nantucket to Hyannis.

Here are links to read all of our posts on MassachusettsBoston and Cape Cod.

Note: Some of our activities were sponsored/hosted by the Massachusetts Tourism Board, but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.

The Magic Spell of Normandy’s Mont Saint Michel

October 30, 2014 by  

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Rewind the clock to over twenty years ago. I’m in my early twenties and hitching my way through France…every nook and cranny of her, from the castles and valleys in the south, to Dijon, Lyon, the Loire Valley and Paris, through the coastline of Brittany and then to northern Normandy. I was young and my luggage and budget were both slight — back then, it was more about the discovery and meeting new people than it was about capturing an experience. Today, I somehow manage to do both.

There was a magical and remarkable place I visited oh so long ago on that lovely and free-spirited summer that has remained on my mind since I first set eyes on her. I didn’t have a serious camera at the time so never managed to get high quality shots of this magical, remarkable place and so I decided to make up for it this time. Welcome to Mont Saint Michel on the northern coast of France.


Mont Saint-Michel is an island commune approximately one kilometer off the country’s northwestern coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. It boasts several marvels of medieval architecture, with all the rooms related to monastic life stacked on top of each other around the top of the rock. The pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand. Founded, according to legend, after the appearance of the archangel Saint Michel, the monastery grew from the 10th to the 15th century on several floors around the abbey church.

The view at a distance is breathtaking and you’re not quite sure what to do with her before you enter her walls. You’re eager to get there and somehow, she feels untouchable somehow, almost sacred.

Sacred she most definitely is…. As you make your way over the bridge and start to walk up the meandering cobblestone streets to the top of Mont Saint Michel, you’re struck by the vastness of her while absorbing the site’s ancient historical and spiritual significance to France.

You start at the entrance through Bavole Gate, where you have little choice but to follow a single cobblestone street – Cour de l’Avancee. You’ll pass the Michelettes, the Boulevard Gate (built in the 15th century), the barbicon with its embrasures and loopholes, the King’s Gate, where the portcullis is visible and the Town Hall. There’s a pretty arcade house with a timber frame on the right, the well known Siren’s House and the silver statue of St. Michael and its chevet that extends over the street.

Aside from the myriad of shops and restaurants at the beginning of the main street, you’re mostly greeted with ancient stone on all sides as you begin to make your climb.

Once you pass the cafes and restaurants on both sides of lower Cour de l’Avancee, you’ll marvel at the charming houses with pointed gables, huddled close together.  Every architectural style and historical period can be seen here, from the Early Middle Ages to Flamboyant Gothic (10th to 15th centuries).

The Abbey of Mont Saint Michel is one of the most remarkable examples of medieval religious and military architecture and is known to be one of Christianity’s most important pilgrimage sites from the 8th to the 18th century. The Abbey comprises an ensemble of clerical buildings, which includes the abbey church, the cloister, the refectory, the monks’ ambulatory and the gardens, which has been known as the “Merveille” (Marvel) since the 12th century.

Even though there are 8-10 hotels or places to stay inside the walls of Saint Michel, I actually stayed in a nunnery (yes, really). Each room was about as basic as it gets – two single beds to a room, a table separating them, a simple sink in the room and a table. All the rooms had glorious views, some better than others. Mine had a view of the beach below the abbey, where people can go horseback riding during warmer months. Both shots were taken out of my stone window between 6 and 6:30 am.

I had the great fortune of meeting Father Andre Fournier who is the primary Recteur du Sanctuaire of Saint Michel. He always seemed to wear a smile on his face and his rosy red cheeks were likely the combination of the weathered cold temperatures and wind from living on the northern coast year after year and his love of red wine, which I was thrilled to see him embrace.

So often, you hear about about religious people who won’t deviate from anything that isn’t pure, even in the modest of ways, like alcohol for example. When I asked Father Fournier about this, he just shrugged his shoulders as if it wasn’t really a conversation starter. He’s French after all, he said, so like the cross that so many New York Italians wear, which is often more cultural than it is spiritual, the French passion for wine and integration of it into their daily diet is in fact, very cultural. It was let’s just say, refreshing.

Father Fournier shared some stories from his life before we got an official tour of the abbey, the cemetary and the church. His lodging is on the main drag leading up to Mont Saint Michel, which was adjacent to the nunnery where we were staying.

I learned a lot from my chat with Father Fournier, the man who never seems to lose the smile from his face. Having lived on Mont Saint Michel for over a couple decades now, his life is simple yet, blessed and.…happy. He has prayer times every day at 7:00 am, 12:15 pm and 6:30 pm, not a bad schedule when you consider my own.  You can feel his spiritual presence and I felt blessed to get so much time with him. The brothers and sisters of the Jerusalem Community are also a spiritual presence in the area and have supported the abbey with their prayers since 2001.

Life is somewhat limited socially for those who live year round on Mont Saint Michel since the ‘actual’ population is so small. Despite building modifications and improvements, getting to Mont Saint Michel by car is still restricted. This is a place where people with traditional jobs don’t live; the winds in the winter are cold and days are short.

There are under 25 people who live there year round, including Father Fournier who lives at the parish. You have to carry everything since you can’t get through the small cobblestone streets easily in a car and the houses are very small. People typically choose to live outside the walls of Mont Saint Michel, where there is more flexibility and frankly, more space.

There are only 8 hotels within the walls of Mont Saint Michel and while the populations numbers today are under 30, they did have around 150 people living there about a 100 years ago. Residents were mostly in the fishing industry, one of my hosts tells me and it was very poor.

The impressive structure was first built in 708 and three levels remain today. The monks and benediction monks would eat at the top, rich pilgrims sat on the second level and the bottom level was reserved for the poor. Roughly 60 monks lived here in the 12th century however only one monk could talk and it was he who would read religious passages – for the rest of the time they were all silent.

Of course in the 12th century, remember that he had to read by daylight – there were and are only 59 windows – but today, they can obviously add more light into darker areas. Five times a year, the monks eat with the nuns, otherwise they all eat alone. There’s also a massive feast every year, with roughly 100 people, which include the people of the village, people who work there, the association who supports the tourism board and a handful of others. They eat (well) and it wouldn’t be a French feast of course without wine, so yes, they drink wine. They do not eat beef, lamb or pork  however, but do eat chicken, duck and turkey and geese.

In 708, there were only 12 monks. Currently, there are only five monks and seven nuns, the youngest being around 30 and the oldest around 65. For the benediction monks, the garden is important. Weather greatly prohibited gardens surviving and thriving in the 17th century but now they have a courtyard loaded with roses and bushes.

Granite is what is widely used here. In the 13th century, they only used wood and granite, mostly granite because it is the primary stone of the area, and this is evidenced inside Mont Michel’s walls.

Making your way up to the top, you have a series of choices to make, some of which involve inside exploration of roughly 20 rooms. The granite, depending on the light of the day, is spectacular yet a reminder of how cold (and harsh) life was for the monks of the 15th and 16th centuries.


Below, Gaelle shares her knowledge of the Abbey.

When you come back out onto the main cobblestone street that leads you to the top, the diversity of what meets your gaze is broad — from natural green trees and flowers, to ancient stone structures and a cemetary that gives the word “old” a whole new meaning.


She’s breathtaking, magestic, ancient, wise, spiritual and ever knowing….

The cemetary was quite possibly my favorite stop — I found it hard to leave as there were so many nooks and crannies to explore despite its intimate size.





At the top, you’re met with even more grandiose architecture and history.

From the top, you’ll be met with spectacular views on all sides. It’s rare to get crystal clear blue skies along the Normandy coast, so we were blessed with not only incredible hosts, but incredible weather.

You can go horseback riding along the beach – the experience is beyond spectacular. In fact, I’d argue that it is one of those life time experiences you rarely have a chance to seize. If you get the opportunity, take it!!

We left at some insanely early hour on our second morning and the tiny and narrow populated street hadn’t quite woken up. Yet, I fell upon this narrow truck attempting to carry materials needed for a local construction project. The streets are so narrow that I could barely fit around the truck with my luggage.

Coming back to this sacred place after so many years was a gift….one of those rare gifts that the universe rewards you with when your intentions are pure and your desire to see someone or ‘thing’ is equally pure. Mont Saint Michel was like that for me 25 years ago and it blessed me with as many incredible memories on this trip as it did back then. Worth the trip? I think it goes without saying or perhaps I should just let this picture speak for itself.

One last thing to note is a project that is underway to protect Mont Saint Michel, which I hadn’t mentioned yet, but is a UNESCO world heritage site. With over 2.5 million visitors every year, the site is being threatened by the progress of silt and sand around the rock. This sand encroachment phenomenon in the bay is natural, but has been amplified by human activities around the Mont.

The French Government, Europe and local authorities have joined forces to preserve Mont Saint Michel in its original setting. Launched in 2005, the operation to restore it and put the Mont back in phase with the tides again, is slated to be finished sometime in 2015. As an aside, they plan to add a new car park 2.5 kilometers away from the Mont and new pedestrian pathways from the car park to the Mont.

 Details:

Abbaye du Mont Saint Michel

B.P. 22 – 50170 Le Mont Saint Michel

Normandy France

011.33.0.2.33.89.80.00

Useful websites:

www.machetourism.com

www.ot-montsaintmichel.com

www.monuments-nationaux.fr

www.projectmontsaintmiche.fr 

 Logistics:
  • 9 km north of the Caen/Rennes and Caen/Saint-Malo main roads, 22 km southwest of Avranches and 9 km from Pontorson
  • From Saint-Malo, exit 2 via D155 Pontorson along the coast road
  • From Caen: exit 8 via RN175 Rennes to the D43

Read our other articles on the area, including our experiences in Auray in Brittany: Auray’s culture and historical past,  Spiritual Auray and the organ concert at the Basilica St. Anne.

Also be sure to check out our Brittany/Normandy food & wine section (and posts), as well as our general section on Brittany/Normandy. And, of course for the passionate about all things France, we have quite a bit of content in our France section as well as Paris.

Note: my trip to Normandy was hosted by the French Tourism Office, however all opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Get Bathed in White at Le Royal Monceau Luxury Spa in Paris

October 29, 2014 by  

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A temple of well-being and contemporary beauty, Le Royal Monceau, a Raffles Spa in Paris, was a godsend stop on the tail end of my Normandy tour this past September. You’re bathed in all white from the moment you enter its doors. Imagine 1,500 square meters of space under one roof, including a 23-meter infinity pool, the largest ever built in a Paris luxury hotel.

On the same floor are the exclusive treatment rooms, where you can get everything from a pedicure, manicure or body wrap to a facial or more traditional massage. There’s also hammam, laconium room and sauna, a gym and dedicated fitness coaches. What else is cool is that you can access the spa from every floor regardless of where you’re staying in the hotel.

The experience was nothing short of 5 star and for those who travel a lot, you know that a 5 star spa experience in Paris is a notch above what you’d find in New York, Miami or Vegas. My favorite? Beside the fabulous facial that is, I’d have to vote for the incredibly luxurious and serene pool. There were big white day beds on both sides of the pool and there I sat for a couple of hours after my treatment, texting friends, getting email done and reading a fashion magazine while sipping pepperment tea and eating almonds.

Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon before venturing off to some fabulous dinner in Paris. Below is a sample of some of the services.

MY BLEND:

My Blend (by Clarins) is a unique line of body care products that can be customized and designed for the specific skin-care needs. The personally tailored facial treatments are based on a thorough analysis of each person’s skin to determine its biological age.

The Art of Touch:

“The Art of Touch” is a relatively new signature face & body treatment, exclusive to the hotel. It brings together the best of Clarins Skincare for a highly rejuvenating and relaxing experience – perfect after a long-haul flight or to relieve from the fatigue and tensions of city life.

My Royal Detox Day Spa Programme (220€ per person):

This new package includes:

- Detox Breakfast Buffet in the Michelin starred restaurant La Cuisine OR lunch at the Long Bar with a My Blend by Olivier Courtin-Clarins salad and a Royal Booster smoothie
- Pilates class OR Yoga class with private teacher (1 hour)
- Exotic Cleansing Body Wrap with a private therapist (45 minutes)
- Day membership to the fitness, swimming pool and hammam

Details:

Le Royal Monceau – Raffles Paris

37 Avenue Hoche 75008 Paris

Tel:+33 1 42 99 88 00

http://www.leroyalmonceau.com/

Note: I was hosted by the hotel but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Artistic, Creative & Fun, Provincetown Is Always a Blast!

October 29, 2014 by  

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I loved Cape Cod’s Provincetown when I used to hang out there on summer weekends twenty years ago and I love it today. On a recent trip there over the summer, I discovered how little had changed over the years.

Its history dates back to the Pilgrims’ First Landing in 1620 and the Mayflower Compact, no grave surprise give its strategic geographic location and the fact that it’s surrounded by water.

As colorful and fun as ever, this heavily touristed town at the very tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, continues to actively throw parties, festivals and other cultural activities that draw the crowds. From the summer to the early fall, they have dozens of events, which range from a celebration of whales, a homemade boat race, WorldFest, the Sea Bike Trek and the Afterglow Alternative Performance Arts Festival to Grape Stomp, Tennessee Williams Festival, Castle Hill Annual Art Auction and the GLAD Summer party.

LGBT: the town itself is known for its large gay and lesbian population and because of it, Provincetown continually attracts a fun crowd who seem to want to play hard. I love this about this Cape Cod gem.

Dog Culture: the town also attracts lazy dogs who are well loved. There’s no shortage of animal lovers in Provincetown, another aspect to love.

Flowers: they grow wild in the summer and there’s tons of vivid colors throughout the town and adjoining beaches.

Lobster pot buoys are everywhere, perhaps a reminder that you’re along the New England coast.

The miniature houses and architecture are all things seaside…..

Art and Culture: the art scene is a dominant factor in the town with no shortage of incredible talent. I’d recommend renting a bike and cycling it to all the galleries inside and outside the town so you can hit a lot of them.

Beaches: the beach scene is also spectacular and reminds you of the fact that if you do live in a city, you probably don’t want to for the rest of your life.

Food & Nightlight: the food scene top notch, especially for seafood. Options:

  • Pepe’s Wharf for seafood is always and if the weather is good, they have great waterfront dining.
  • Fanizzi’s by the Sea
  • Lobster Pot Restaurant
  • Red Inn for fine dining
  • Squealing Pig
  • Vorelli’s Restaurant
  • Victor’s
  • Mayflower Cafe
  • Harbour Lounge

Lodging: For where to stay, it depends on what you’re in the mood for but there’s no shortage of options of inns, resorts, hotels and motels and in a wide variety of price ranges. A few recommendations include:

  • Admiral’s Landing on Bradford Street.
  • Atlantic Light Inn on Pearl Street.
  • The Captain’s House on Commercial Street.
  • Crowne Pointe Inn, Spa & Bistro on Bradford Street.
  • The Crown & Anchor Inn on Commercial Street.
  • Gallery Inn on Johnson Street.
  • Crow’s Nest Beach Front Resort & Cottages on Shore Road.
  • Watership Inn on Winthrop Street
  • Snug Cottage on Bradford Street.
  • Sage Inn & Lounge on Commercial Street
  • Outer Beach Resort on Commercial Street
  • Provincetown Inn Seaside Resort & Conference Center on Commercial Street which is a great option for groups and families.

Here are links to read all of our posts on MassachusettsBoston and Cape Cod. All photos, credit and courtesy of Renee Blodgett.

Note: The Massachusetts and Cape Cod Tourism Board hosted and helped with some of our activities but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

 

Discovering the Best of French Calvados in Normandy

October 28, 2014 by  

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If you haven’t been to Normandy in France, then perhaps you haven’t heard of or tasted Calvados, which is a specialty in the region. The taste reminds me of a cross between a brandy and a bourbon, except that it is made from apples. As they say at the Calvados Boulard distillery I visited this past fall, “from the apple to the cider, from the brandy to the Calvados, to the pleasure of tasting….”

And…tasting we did. We started with a little Calvados education of course.

Below is a sampling of what we tasted at their distillery:

Boulard Calvados Pays d’Auge VSOP - toasted apple, but a little harsh on the palette, at least for me. It is the youngest one of their batch (4-8 years) and is often served with a soda water. The color is a gold amber and its nose is rich fruity nose with a light woody touch, toasted nut notes and hint of brioche. The taste is well balanced harmony between vanilla, wood and ripe apple compote purée due to aging in French oak little cask.

Boulard Calvados Pays d’Auge X.O. – this one is the second oldest of their batch (6-15 years). This one tasted of cooked apple, oak, wood and bees wax, as well as dried fruit and almonds. The color was more a shiny amber color, and had apple, spices, nuts and vanilla infused throughout, with elegant hints of oak. I found it to be a bit more spicy than the VSOP.

Boulard Hors D’Auge 12 Years – this one is also a shiny amber, copper color. Think of a blend between the fruit (apple) and the delicate hint of vanilla (wood) and dried fruit. There are hints of tannin from the Le Tronçay oak (with slow extraction of tannin). Yum! I felt that I was starting to like Calvados a bit more with this one although it was still a little strong for my palette which is largely used to wine.

Calvados Auguste – this one was smoother than the all the others we had tasted so far and is aged at between 10-22 years. Here, they use finer Calvados. I tasted a lot of vanilla in this one, which is common from calvados made from newer casks.

Boulard EXTRA is over 20 years ago. This delicious treat is spicy, nutty and also smooth. Apparently women really like this one and I’m not surprised since it was my favorite as well. The Calvados maker however prefers this one as a digestif and he recommended tasting it with a strong cheese although this one is so smooth, he said, that is it is preferable to drink on its own. I can also imagine men drinking this one in a drawing jacket while smoking cigars as well. It apparently took seven years of hard work for the Cellar Master to craft the Extra.

Worth noting is that the best way to taste is at room temperature.  We had a meander through the distillery itself to learn a bit more about its preparation, what makes for a perfect Calvados and of course, what goes into the process. Did you know that there are 120 varieties of apples in Normandy alone, some of which is used to make cider and others, used to make Calvados?

Here, you’ll get an idea of the distillery through a snippet of video I shot below. Ignore my atrocious French accent:

Like the wine industry which is known for having generations carry on the trade, Calvados Boulard has been a family business for over 180 years, starting with Pierre-Auguste, the founder. Since then, five generations have carried on the Calvaos Boulard tradition. Before we left, we had a little fun posing with the Boulard Calvados maker in the giant barrel outside.

Be sure to check out our Brittany/Normandy food & wine section (and posts), as well as our general section on Brittany/Normandy. And, of course for the passionate about all things France, we have quite a bit of content in our France section as well as Paris.

Note: My trip was hosted by the French Tourism Board, however all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Details:

Calvados Boulard

Moulin de la Foulonnerie

14130 Coquainvilliers, France

011.33 (0) 2.31.62.60.54

www.calvados-boulard.com

Spiritual Magic in Normandy’s Mist Against a Cloudy Sky

October 28, 2014 by  

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A major stop on any trip through Normandy is Lisieux, a commune in the Calvados area in northwestern France. I’d be hard pressed to find any traveler who doesn’t fall in love with Normandy after setting foot on her soil – it’s simply impossible. The serenity and beauty of the region is what pulls you in and the warmth of the people is what keeps you glued and this is all before you’ve spent time walking in the countryside or eating their delicious cheese.

It is the capital of the Pays d’Auge area, which is characterized by valleys and hedged farmland.  As you’re driving north from Paris, the landscape suddenly changes and you’re greeted by stunning countryside. Apple trees are scattered alongside the road on both sides and depending on the time of day, mist meets your gaze and suddenly you have no choice but to stop the car…

We headed north on Route A14 to Evreux where we went through town before then getting onto the D613 which headed further north towards the Normandy coast. At first, it felt a bit like France’s Kansas, where flat grassy fields stretched for miles. I had corn and beets to my left and to my right, there were wind mills and haystacks, haystacks in the mist that is…

Earlier in the day, the windmills danced against a clear blue sky.

And yet, despite my affinity towards sunshine and blue skies, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by Normandy’s beauty when the mist took over.

Oh that beautiful Normandy mist. Despite the fact that we could barely see in front of us later in the day, the sky overhead on one side had bouncy white clouds with a perfect amount of gray in the middle. 

I knew that after the sun declined just a tad more, it would make for a perfect post sunset shot although my Canon 7D was having none of that — it was only interested in what I was, and that was those magical haystacks in the mist against a cloud filled Normandy sky on a late fall afternoon.

Orange hues rose above the fields from the grains and tractors sat admidst the well manicured fields. Dozens of hay stacks surrounded them and there was not a soul in sight. This is the magic of Normandy and what made the experience surreal but also spiritual. The trip itself was focused on the Spiritual side of France and while I saw dozens of cathedrals, lit candles, learned more about catholic saints than I ever expected to know in my lifetime, a spiritual experience for me is often coupled with what nature can provide…naturally. The Normandy countryside has a way of doing that beautifully and I’d argue, delicately.

Apple and pear orchards were closeby and the trees are apparently were blossoming given its peak fall season. It was cider time for some of us and Calvados time for others.  I imagined myself sipping cider with some hard, aged sheep cheese on dill weed crackers in the field, a blanket spread and nowhere in the world that I needed to be for hours. Hmmm, perhaps for days….With the visuals you have in front of you (below), where else could my mind possibly be? Lost in the magic of Normandy’s mist, a sort of spiritual magic that her mist held, was enough to take me out of reality for more than just a moment. This is the pure joy you hope to achieve from every trip but don’t always experience.

Later, after spending a couple of days in and around Mont Saint Michel, one of my most memorable experiences in France twenty years ago and again this trip (be sure to read my separate write up on the Mont), we passed through the village of Pontorson. There’s nothing unique or special about Pontorson per se, except that we were driving through the village between 6:30 and 7:00 am, and the breathtaking mist coated the fields to my left and right. As the mist bathed the Normandy trees, a fiery orange sun began to emerge.

Whoahh, it was too much for my eyes to bear for some reason. Albeit beautiful, I reflected on the previous days and how the subdued skies calmed my spirit somehow, not unlike the less fiery orange sky that I woke up to in Mont Saint Michel before we left for Auray. It was a soft and subdued yellow and orange sunrise with purple hues and once again, my spirit began to relax as Normandy seems to be so good at doing again and again.

Be sure to check out our Brittany/Normandy food & wine section (and posts), as well as our general section on Brittany/Normandy. And, of course for the passionate about all things France, we have quite a bit of content in our France section as well as Paris.

Note: My trip was hosted by the French Tourism Board, however all opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

 

Le Chasse Maree, an Authentic Brittany Experience at Auray’s Port

October 28, 2014 by  

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Unlike further north on most menus in Normandy where calvados is the order of the day, the menu at Le Chasse Maree, a restaurant on the port in Brittany’s Auray is a sheer seafood delight.

For drinks, the menu had the traditional Kir of course as you’ll find pretty much anywhere in France, but also rum orange drinks, mojitos, martinis, pina coladas, punch planners, whiskey and local ciders. Ciders are common throughout France and Brittany is no different. I am told the Brittans love their beer much more than their wine, which isn’t surprising given its Britagne influence.

While seafood is the order of the day, they had a variety of meat dishes on the menu as well.

Unlike most other restaurants I have tried in France (bear in mind that I haven’t visited the Riveria now in many years, so this comment excludes the south), the menu selection overall was generally much lighter, with seafood as it’s core. 

Sure they had foie gras on the menu as well as duck, however appetizers included seared salmon and scallops for appetizers as well as 6, 9 or a dozen oysters, all at reasonable prices. I found the oysters (pictured above) to be tastier than off northern Normandy’s coasts, but it could just be a taste preference based on what I’ve grown more accustomed to over the years in New England and off the coast of Nova Scotia and Canada’s waters.

I tried the fresh cod with vegetables with a tepid citrus vinaigrette which was not only fresh, but tender and light. Yum! I added just a tad of lemon and tasted with a glass of Chablis — all after the oysters of course. Also worth mentioning was their scrumptious fish soup, which they served with croutons, a parmesan cheese and rouille, which is a dark yellow whipped creamy concoction, that appeared to include butter and garlic. Yum!!!

Common in Normandy and Brittany alike are mussels, so you shouldn’t leave the coast without trying them. You can often get them with a cheese sauce (in this case gorgonzola cheese), with cream or in traditional style or try the sampler seafood plate with whelks, clams, oysters, crab and winkles.

They also did a delicious scallop entree but done a little differently than you might expect — served with chorizo and mushroom risotto.

Details:

Le Chasse Maree

11 Place Saint-Sauveur, 56400

Auray France

Tele: 02.97.56.50.46

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