Experience the sparkle of the season at Georgetown GLOW

Two years ago my friend Sylvain Cornevaux, then Cultural Director for l’Alliance Française, partnered with the Georgetown Business Improvement District and other groups to bring a week-long public art and light display festival to DC’s oldest neighbour. Inspired by Lyon’s renowned Fête des Lumières, the festival, now in its third year, has now evolved into Georgetown Glow, independently organized by the BID in parallel to their annual holiday window display competition. 

The 10-night light art exhibition puts a modern, artistic twist on traditional holiday displays and takes place nightly along the C&O Canal between December 11 and 20th (from 6-10PM). The event still has a bit of a French flair, and three of the five artists represented in Georgetown Glow 2015 – Isabelle Duverger, Arthur Gallice and Hervé Orgeas, are Frenchies. Overall, the event makes for a fun stroll through Georgetown, especially since the temperatures have been so warm. Here is some of the work presented at Georgetown Glow:

"iGlow" by the DC-based trans-disciplinary design collective HiJAC

“iGlow” by the DC-based trans-disciplinary design collective HiJAC,  is a corridor of light in the courtyard outside of Grace Church in Georgetown

‪DC‬ artist Kelly Towles, known around town for his colourful murals, created the A Happy Place light and video installation for Georgetown Glow 2015.

DC‬ artist Kelly Towles, known around town for his large scale murals, created the “A Happy Place” light and video installation in the Jefferson Court office courtyard on K Street

 

 Laia Cabrera & Co.'s "Shifting Gaze," a video mapping/sound/animation mashup along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Laia Cabrera & Co.’s “Shifting Gaze,” a video mapping/sound/animation mashup along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

 

Frenchies Herve Orgeas and Arthur Gallice tell the story of 2 "lovers" in 'WIRED People Project: The Lovers" under the historic Wisconsin Avenue Bridge.

Frenchies Herve Orgeas and Arthur Gallice tell the story of 2 “lovers” in ‘WIRED People Project: The Lovers” under the historic Wisconsin Avenue Bridge

 

There’s nothing truly holiday-y in Georgetown Glow, if anything it reminded me a bit of the Nuit Blanche…  Curator Deirdre Ehlen MacWilliams has been involved with the Downtown BID’s Art All Night event, which I did not attend this year, but have found rather disappointing in the past, perhaps only because the caliber of the work presented falls well below what I have experienced at the original Nuit Blanche in Paris. There were definitely moments, however, at Georgetown Glow where I felt like I could have been at Art All Night, particularly watching Kelly Towles’ “A Happy Place.” I really wish they would bring more work like this and like “Wired” to Art All Night… hopefully next year right? 

Until then, Georgetown Glow 2015 is taking place from Friday, December 11  to Sunday, December 20. All of the work, except Kelly’s, are lit between 6 and 10 PM nightly. Kelly gets a shorter window: 7-9PM. Georgetown Glow is organized by the Georgetown Business
Improvement District (BID) with support from the JBG Companies (read this great article about the real estate giant’s sponsorship of street art around town), Jamestown/Georgetown Park, The Washington Harbour Ice Rink, HOK Architects, Hickok Cole Architects, AIR (American Institutes for Research), RB Properties, Inc., Sea Catch Restaurant, Jaguar/Land Rover, The Georgetown Current Newspapers, Grace Episcopal Church, Georgetown Suites, and Think Out Loud Productions. Maps are provided though 3 of the five pieces can be found alongside the C&O Canal. 

 

 

Holiday Spirit on Ice at City Center DC

I’m pretty sure the folks over at City Center DC didn’t anticipate that it would be 70 degrees outside when they planned a live ice sculpting event for December 12th. Despite the unseasonably warm temperature, the event was a ton of fun! While two sculptors worked on an ice dress and a Christmas tree at the Park at CityCenterDC, additional sculptures were slowly melting away in Palmer Alley! My favourite was the Birkin bag, of course 😉

Check out some of my pictures below. 

Ice sculpture at city center DC

Live ice sculpting at City Center DC

Ice sculptures at City Center DC

 Ice Menorah at City Center DC

Carolers at City Center DC

Ice sculpture at City Center DC

Ice sculpture at city center DC
And while I’m pretty sure none of the sculpture survived the evening, you can catch more icy action at the National Habor where ICE! at Gaylord National features 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures and five ice slides, among other attractions, inside 15,000-square-foot tent kept at a cool 9 degrees. Ok, that’s actually cold not cool! Brrr. 

It’s the Most Boozytiful Time of The Year

Mad props to my good friend Colleen who made this awesome wine advent calendar for her office. OK, yes, it helps that she works in the wine industry… but still, I think we all agree this is THE best way to countdown to Christmas day!

Picture courtsey of Colleen V. for International Cellars Inc.

Picture courtesy of Colleen V. for International Cellars Inc.

I’ve seen a lot of super original and cute advent calendar inspiration online this season, but this one is by far my favourite!! Every day until the 25th, International Cellars will be highlighting a different wine and region with a bottle from their advent calendar so make sure to follow them. And if you’re looking to make your own wine advent calendar (it’s not too late right?) World Market has a great tutorial (and sells the wine rack you need to make it, of course!)  Make sure the last bottle is champagne that you’ll toast Christmas with!! Cheers! 

8 Ways Washington, D.C. Rocks the Holidays

IMG_0889Washington does Christmas pretty well! Here are some of the holiday displays I look forward to year after year.

CHRISTMAS WREATHS AT UNION STATION

Union Station all decked out for the holidays

In addition to the three large wreaths hanging in the three main archways in front of Union Station, there’s other decorations including a giant Model Train exhibit inside in the West Hall and a 32 feet tall Christmas tree outside, both courtesy of the Norwegian embassy. In 2013, the tree was decked out with 700 shining replicas of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream. In 2014, the tree made a statement on the environment and was decorated with polar bears. I can’t wait to see what the Norwegian embassy comes up with this year! (<– CDs!)

 

OLD EBBITT GRILL’S NUTCRACKER SOLDIERS 

Nutcracker Soldiers Standing Guard outside Old Ebbitt grill

These guys are guarding the best oyster happy hour in the city – half price raw bar Monday-Thursday between 3-6PM, so swing by before heading to the National Christmas Tree (coming up at number 3!)

 

NATIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE (AND NATIONAL MENORAH) 

National Christmas Tree and Menorah

BOTANIC GARDEN CHRISTMAS DISPLAY

During the holidays, replicas of Washington, D.C.'s most famous monuments made entirely in tree products are displayed at the Botanic Garden.

During the holiday season, the U.S. Botanic Garden presents “Season’s Greenings”, a unique exhibit featuring model trains and replicas of Washington, D.C.’s most famous buildings and monuments, made entirely in tree products. In 2013, there was even an Eiffel Tower replica! Check out all the landmarks on display in 2015 in my Season’s Greenings at the US Botanic Garden post

 

DOWNTOWN HOLIDAY MARKET

Downtown Holiday Market offers seasonal shopping in the heart of Washington’s Penn Quarter. Don’t miss Vigilante Coffee to get your caffeine fix before going on the shopping spree, Migue’s Mini donuts and Cherry Blossom Creative and Grey Moggie‘s booths for awesome letterpress cards and prints. 

Downtown Holiday Market in Washington, DC

ZOOLIGHTS

Zoolights in Washington, DC

The annual winter celebration at the National Zoo runs from November 27 to January 2nd this year, with more than 500,000 LED lights brightening up the zoo from 5-9 p.m. each night (other than December 24-25 and New Year’s Eve when the zoo is closed.)

GINGERBREAD HOUSES EVERYWHERE

Gingerbread house at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, DC

If you’re a pastry chef in Washington, D.C. around the holiday season, you better know how to make a gingerbread house. In France, sweet Christmas creativity is typically channeled into bûche de Noël (some are real works of art!) but here it’s all about the gingerbread houses. Each holiday season, former White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier creates a gingerbread replica of George Washington’s mansion displayed at Mount Vernon. There’s always stunning gingerbread creations as part of the Christmas decor at the White House too, but many of the city’s hotels will also feature fun and festive creations in their lobbies or restaurants too, like the Ritz Carlton version of the Smithsonian Castle pictured above.

 

CITY CENTER’S TWO 25-FOOT REINDEERS & CHRISTMAS TREE

Holiday display at city center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are a new tradition started in 2014 and I certainly hope they’re here to stay!  

 

BONUS: MANDU’S DUCKS AND THEIR ADORABLE SANTA HATS

Mandu's duckies all decked out for the holidays

Beaujolais Nouveau Cranberry Sauce

There are two celebrations I particularly look forward to at the end of November. Both owe their dates, on the third Thursday and last Thursday of November, to laws in their respective countries. I’m of course referring to France’s Beaujolais Nouveau celebration and the United States’ Thanksgiving. Thanks to some rather brilliant promotion from Beaujolais’ PR people, the purple-pink Gamay wine is now often paired with turkey, stuffing etc. at tables across the country. This year, I decided to combine the two holidays in one festive dish: a Beaujolais Nouveau cranberry sauce. Since the recipe only requires about a cup of wine, it’s a perfect way to finish off a bottle!

Beaujolais Nouveau cranberry sauce

 For one 12oz pack of cranberries you’ll want to use:
  • 3/4 cup of Beaujolais Nouveau (of course, another fruity red wine works too…)
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice or 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 pinch of nutmeg

Start by combining the sugar, red wine, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Once the mixture is boiling, add the cranberries. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries begin to pop, which should take about 5 minutes. Add the cornstarch and the orange juice or zest and simmer for another 5 minutes or until the cranberries are soft and the sauce has thickened to an almost jam-like consistency.

Beaujolais Nouveau cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce can be served chilled or at room temperature, but you’ll still want to let it rest for a bit before serving.  Cranberry sauce can be prepared up to 1 week ahead, which works perfectly with the timing of both celebrations! No wonder Beaujolais Nouveau and Thanksgiving are such a perfect pairing! 

 

 

Life Goes On~Celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau in Washington, DC

I’m not exactly in a celebratory mood these days, but life goes on. Paris is about life, about being at a terrasse right now etc. Life has to go on and this week life includes the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau, which always takes place on the third Thursday of November (or midnight that Wednesday!) Here are a few, selected spots where you can partake in some Gamay-drinking in Washington, D.C.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2015

BITRO DU COIN    Still THE place to be at midnight when Beaujolais Nouveau is released. It’s probably too late to get reservations for dinner, but show up around 10PM when they start  clearing out the tables. The Beaujolais typically starts pouring 11PM, which technically is well past midnight in France anyways 😉 More details here.

CAFE DU PARC Get a complimentary glass of George Duboeuf Beaujolais at the bar between 6-9PM, with additional ones and small bites available for purchase too. If you like it, stay for the prix-fixe Beaujolais dinner ($55 diner only, $80 with George Duboeuf wine pairing).

CENTRAL   Michel Richard’s Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant will keep the party going from Thursday November 19 through Saturday, November 23. Rather than serve the Duboeuf Beaujolais you’ll find pretty much everywhere else, they’ll be pouring a Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 for $11 a glass, or $42 bottle. Executive Chef David Deshaies has also created a classically French 3-course prix fixe menu ($55) to pair with the grapes, featuring gougeres, escargot Fricasse, Filet mignon with syrah-shallot sauce, and winter vegetables; and a seasonal Apple-cranberry cobbler for dessert.  

SLATE   For those who want to try some of the finer vintages of Beaujolais, Slate’s owner/Sommelier Danny Lledo will be leading private at-the-table tastings of the 2014 Nouveau and three choice Beaujolais for guests on Thursday, November 19th from 5-8 pm.  The cost of the tasting is $15 and choices include: George Duboeuf Beaujolais “Nouveau” 2015, George Duboeuf Flower Label Beaujolais 2014, Jean Paul Champagnon Fleurie, Beaujolais 2013 andDomaine Laurent Martray Brouilly, Beaujolais 2013.

TABLE Who wants to cook the day before Thanksgiving? Nobody, that’s who. For $150, Table invites you to give thanks for Gamay wine with  masterfully prepared local cuisine paired beautifully with Cru Beaujolais on Wednesday November 25. Check out the full menu and book your spot here

 

Beaujolais Nouveau

 

BEAUJOLAIS FOR A CAUSE    The DC Center is hosting a Beaujolais-themed fundraiser at the Human Rights Campaign on November 19th to benefit its Women Center. Tickets are $20. L’Alliance Française and the French-American Chamber of Commerce are also hosting a “Beaujolais and Beyond” “fun”raiser celebration at La Maison Française. Beaujolais Nouveau and other red wines will be free-flowing and proceeds benefit causes dear to both francophone organizations. 

ENO Wine Bar in Georgetown is dedicating its Beaujolais celebrations to the 129 victims who lost their lives during the Paris attacks on November 13. On Thursday, November 19, the bar will be illuminated with France’s national colours blue, white and red. ENO will be pouring a Dupeuble 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau (same wine as Le Diplomate though it’ll be $9/a glass and $35/bottle at the 14th street bistro) for $10 a glass and $40 a bottle. Guests are encouraged to share prayers and messages over social media using hash tag #ENOPrayersforParis. These messages will be displayed on a loop on Thursday evening at the wine bar. I’m not a huge fan of the #prayforParis hashtag, though I really appreciate the sentiment. Consider adding a #Parisisaboutlife or . Paris may get tossed by the waves but she will not sink, even in a pool of Beaujolais.

Beaujolais Nouveau

 

Finally if you’re like me and your favourite way of “enjoying” a glass (or five) of Beaujolais Nouveau is at home with some friends, here are a couple of wine shop I recommend:

WEYGANDT WINES is carrying 3 unique cuvées of Pierre-Marie Chermette’s Beaujolais Primeur 2015: Cuvée Pierre Chermette ($12/bottle), Beaujolais Primeur Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2015 and Chermette’s Beaujolais Primeur Rosé 2015 (OMD Beaujolais Rosé!! Game changer!! That one is exteremely limited so go snag a bottle right now!!) ($12/bottle).

DCANTER carries a Domaine Descroix Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 priced at $13. This is a pretty decent Beaujolais option that would pair really well with your Thanksgiving meal, so you might want to reserve a few bottle since the Capitol Hill shop will most likely sell out pretty quickly. 

CORK & FORK is where I usually pick up my Beaujolais Nouveau every year. Dominque Landragin typically selects a couple of interesting bottles that you won’t find in most stores. Like DCanter, he’s offering the Domaine Descroix Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 as well as a Domaine Anoir du Carra Beaujolais Village Nouveau. My recommendation when it comes to Beaujolais is always go for the village if you can… 

Last Friday, terrorists sought to attack France’s way of life… what better way to show them that our spirit will never be defeated than with some headache inducing Beaujolais Nouveau. Or something like that 😉 Cheers!

 

 

 

Six Budget-Friendly French Wines for Bastille Day

From a baguette relay race at Paul to diner at Bistrot du Coin or a fancy patio fête at the Sofitel Hotel, there are plenty of options to celebrate France’s national holiday, le Quatorze Juillet, in Washington, DC. If you’re more of a homebody, why not stay at home and watch a great French film while sipping a good bottle of French wine!

For the films, I’ve narrowed down 20 of the best French films available on Netflix right here. And to help you find the perfect bottle of wine to go along whichever flick you pick, I turned to Michelle Lim Warner and Michael Warner, co-owners of DCanter, for some suggestions.  One of the things I love about the Capitol Hill wine boutique (other than the amazing chandelier in the tasting room!) is their “good juice wall” featuring affordable bottles in the $15 and under price range. In the spirit of that wall, Michelle and Michael recommended these six affordable French sippers:

Six Affordable French Wines for Bastille Day

 

PIERRE OLIVIER BRUT VIN MOUSSEUX NV

Champagne is the ultimate celebratory drink, but the price of a bottle can put a damper on your French party. Luckily, there are plenty of sparkly alternatives that won’t, like this $16 bottle of brut. This “vin de France” isn’t made in Champagne – it’s actually made in Burgundy using grapes from around the French/Spanish border – so it’s labelled as a vin mousseux which literally means foamy or bubbly wine (a bubble bath for example is called a bain moussant in French). Light and fresh, this “mousseux” will be a great aperitif to kick off your evening! It would also be great as a kir royal, with a few drops of cassis added to it!! 

CLOTILDE DAVENNE SAUVIGNON 2013

When you think Burgundy, you probably picture full-bodied reds, but the region also makes some great white wines like this Sauvignon Blanc. Most notable white burgundies like Chablis tend to be made from Chardonnay grapes so this wine is a bit of an oddity for the region. Another fact that makes this wine a bit of an oddity: it’s made by a woman winemaker, which sadly is still not that common in the male dominated wine industry. Like other white Burgundy, this sauvignon blanc pairs well with seafood (oysters and mignonette anyone?). 

Le Petit Gueissard RoseGUEISSARD LE PETIT GUEISSARD ROSE 2014

Since my grandparents lived in Bandol, I’ll always be partial to rosés from that part of Provence. Doesn’t hurt that they’re some of the best in the world either! Unfortunately, it’s hard to find an affordable bottle of Bandol, especially in the US. Just a few kilometers away from Bandol, however, is Sanary-Sur-Mer which also produces fine rosés like this $15 bottle. Pair it with Ma Vie en Rose or La Vie en Rose, bien sur 😉

ALAIN JAUME & FILS “HAUT DE BRUN” 2012

Alain Jaume and his three children make a great Côtes du Rhône that’s complex, yet perfect for every day drinking.

CHATEAU FESTIANO CUVEE DES FOUDRES 2013

Ever since I started planning my trip to the Languedoc-Roussillon I’ve been obsessed with trying as many different wines from that region as I can get my hands on! For research purposed of course. This juicy bargain, which retails at $15, is from the Minervois, one of the AOC in the Languedoc, and it’s definitely getting me excited for my trip!! Try it with some herbed cheese like Boursin, or blue cheese like Roquefort, whose caves I will also be visiting during my trip in a few weeks! 

CHATEAU BLOUIN BORDEAUX RED 2012

Bordeaux is probably the most well-know wine region in France, and this small right bank chateau makes a great red (80% merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc) with silky tannins and a well balanced finish. At $14, it’s a nice bargain that’s light enough to drink throughout the summer. 

What will you be drinking for La Fête Nationale on July 14th?

DCanter is located at 545 8th St SE near the Eastern Market metro. You can follow the wine boutique on Twitter, Facebook and Instragram for some cool wine tips! 

Discover the Wines of the Languedoc Region

Is it August yet? I’ll be traveling to Montpellier, Bezier and Carcassonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in a few weeks and I can’t wait!! The Languedoc isn’t as famous when it comes to wine as say Burgundy or Champagne, but the Southwestern French region is one of the largest and oldest wine-producing area in France. Two wines that I personally love from the Languedoc are Corbière reds and rosés. The Languedoc, which spans the Mediterranean coastline from Provence to the France’s border with Spain, enjoys a warm and sunny weather, with 320 days of sunshine Languedoc Day infographica year, and produces some wonderful rosés. 

Since today is #LanguedocDay, an occasion for wine lovers around the world to celebrate and share their appreciation for the AOPs from the regions on social media event, here are the wines that Languedoc is famous for: 

LIMOUX

The sparkling wines from the region around the town of Limoux, south of the Medieval walled city of Carcassonne, claim to be the bubbly with the oldest mention in official records. Take that Champagne 😉 

Picpoul de pinetPICPOUL DE PINET

The production of the world famous Picpoul de Pinet white wine is centered around a few small villages close to the Bassin de Thau, a large saltwater lake that also produces some of the country’s best oysters. This very affordable wine is the south of France’s answer to northern French Muscadet, with a similar lemony zing but sometimes also with a subtle floral whiff.

 

IMG_8411CORBIERES AOC

Corbières is the largest appelation in Languedoc, and one of the better known. You’ll easily spot a bottle of Corbières in most wine stores in town. 95% of the wines produced in that part of the Languedoc are herb scented reds made from Carignan, Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache, but you can also find a few rosés. All are typically reasonably priced too, though there are more expensive “grande cuvée.   

 

unnamed-1

ROSÉ

Right now, I cannot get enough rosés and the Languedoc produces beautiful pale pink wines that pair especially well with a hot summer day! Try the Chateau de Lascaux rosé cuvée Garrigue 2014 (available at Eye Street Cellars for $12.99,) Domaines Paul Mas (found at Cork & Fork on 14th street,) or a Corbières rosés like Domaine Sainte Eugenie (from Continental Wines).

 

The wines of Languedoc

I hope I’ve inspired you to pick up a bottle of wine from Languedoc today and join the conversation. Follow @languedocwines and use the hashtag #LanguedocDay to chime in!! And, if you want to take it a step further, Bistro d’Oc near metro center is an adorable little restaurant (it’s easy to spot with its purple facade!) that specializes in the food of the Languedoc region. Happy #LanguedocDay! 

 

 

A Taste of Burgundy: Jambon à la Chablisienne

Making Jambon à la Chablisienne is very simple and allows you to bring together two ingredients that are abundant in Burgundy: wine and ham. In this case, the wine in question is Chablis, one of the better chardonnays produced in the region. The original dish as it was created in the first half of the 20th century called for a whole ham cooked on the boned in Chablis with added flavouring and served over spinach or fresh noodles . Today, the recipe has been simplified: thick slices of ham are baked with a sauce made of tomatoes, wine and shallots and served over rice. Here’s how to make it at home…

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. cooked ham, sliced 1⁄4" thick; 1 3/4 cups chicken stock; 1 cup chablis; 2 tbsp red wine vinegar;  4 sprigs tarragon, plus 1 tbsp chopped for garnish; 2 large shallots, minced; ! small can of tomato paste; 1 1/2 sour cream; salt and pepper

1 pound cooked ham, cut into 6-8 1⁄4″ thick sliced ; 1 3/4 cups chicken stock; 1 cup chablis; 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar; 4 sprigs tarragon + 1 tablespoon chopped for garnish; 3 shallots, minced; 1 small can of tomato paste; 1 1/2 cups sour cream; salt and pepper

 

PREPARATION

Start by heating up the oven to 400° and preparing your ingredients. You’ll want to slice the ham (rolling it is optional, I didn’t, but most people do) and chopping the shallots into small dices. Measure all your other ingredients. The 1 cup of chablis is basically one hefty glass. Pour yourself a smaller one to enjoy as you cook!  

Before the oven is fully heated, you can start cooking the shallots and tarragon sprigs in the chablis in a dutch oven or ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Once it has started to reduce, you’ll want to add the 2 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and the chicken stock and reduce it all further until there’s only about half a cup left. At that point, you’ll want to blend the sauce in a mixer before returning to the pot and add the tomato paste. Once that has cooked a little (let’s say 3-5 minutes) add the sour cream, salt and pepper and simmer until the sauce thickens.

unnamed-2

Arrange the ham slices in an oven-proof dish (it’s ok if they overlap!) and strain the sauce over them through a fine-mesh sleeve. Shake the dish to make sure all of the ham slices gets coated with the sauce and bake for 30 minutes. Towards the end, you can add gruyere on top of the ham and sauce to make the dish into more of a gratin, but you don’t have to.

Once you remove the dish from the oven, sprinkle with one tablespoon of chopped tarragon and/or parsley and serve over 1 cup of white rice to absorb the sauce, as well as the rest of the chablis bottle you used for cooking! In the case of the recipe, a chablis (not petit, not 1er or grand cru) is best, as long is it about 3 years old. I chose a 2012 Chablis from Domaine Long-Depaquit that had been sent to me by Pure Chablis and it worked beautifully! 

 

 

Postcard from France: Marseille

Last Christmas, my uncle invited us to spend the holidays at his house in Goult, a lovely village in the Luberon, located halfway between Aix-en-Provence and Avignon. My uncle is my mother’s brother and they both grew up in Marseille, France’s second largest city. Rather than take the train to Avignon and get picked up by my uncle there, we decided to spend a day and a half in Marseille and rent a car to drive to Goult. I have very little childhood memories of Marseille, and my husband had never been so I was excited to discover the city, especially with my favourite Marseillaise – my mom – as our guide!

FIRST THINGS FIRST: LUNCH AT CHEZ ETIENNE 

IMG_1482The trip from Paris Gare-de-Lyon to Marseille-Saint-Charles is just over 3 hours. After dropping our bags at our hotel near the vieux port, we quickly headed off to lunch at Chez Etienne, a no-thrills pizzaria in Le Panier. My mom used to go there when she visited friends and family back in the city, so it’s been around for a while, and other than adding a second room across the street from the original location to accommodate demand, very little has changed over the years. Service and ambiance are not the reason to go to Chez Etienne. You go there for the best pizza in Marseille, which here is served as a starter, not a main course, and only comes with two options, cheese or no cheese. The anchovies and olives come automatically as toppings 😉 You also go there for the pavé de boeuf, which is excellent, and the supions, small squids lightly pan-fried with garlic and parsley. Warning: there’s no phone to make reservations and it gets very crowded so if go, you might have to wait (in the street) for a table to become available. They also only accept cash and as I mentioned, service is, well, let’s say it’s very French.

IMG_1479

STROLLING THROUGH THE PANIER

IMG_1504The core of Marseille, the old port, is surrounded by hills and starting our tour through the city at Chez Etienne was a smart move because we then weaved our way down to the Vieux Port through the neighbourhood known as Le Panier. If La Canebière, Marseille’s main boulevard in the old quarters, is the city’s answer to the Champs Elysées, Le Panier is its Montmartre. The neighbourhood, once rather dodgy and filled with sailors from across the globe looking for a good time, has become quite trendy recently.  With its hilly narrow cobbled streets and pastel coloured houses covered in street art, it’s in the midst of a bit of gentrification and there’s been quite the influx of hipsters and artists lately (as well as public funds from the city.) From Le Panier, we made our way to the Maison Diamantée, one of the oldest house in town, and the 17th century City Hall, where my parents got married, before landing on the Quai du Port. 

OH MARIUS! THE OLD PORT OF MARSEILLE

IMG_1737Life in Marseille has revolved around the vieux port ever since the trading post of Massalia was founded by Phocaean greeks in 600 BC. In the 1840s (after Algeria became a French department) the commercial docks were transferred to La Joliette but the colourful Old Port remained the emotional heart of the city, crammed with fishing boats, pleasure yachts and visitors. You can get from the quai du port to the Quai de Rive Neuve on the other side by foot (or even those public bikes, known as Le Velo in Marseille)… or you can take the free ferry boat like we did! It’ll probably take you just as long, but if you only have one opportunity to get on the water in Marseille, you should seize it! For me, it was extra fun because I’ve read and re-read Marcel Pagnol’s Triologie Marseillaise, and I couldn’t help but think of Felix Escartefigue, capitaine of the ferry boite, as we made a quick pastis stop on the other side of the port at Le Bar de la Marine, where the author/director filmed the famous “tu me fends le coeur” scene from Marius. If you have NO idea what I’m referring to, may I recommend watching Daniel Auteuil’s version of Marius and Fanny, which are currently streaming on Netflix

IMG_1517

There’s lots of great stuff on that side of the port… a block away from the Bar de Marine, you’ll notice La Criée, a former fish market and now one of France’s edgiest theaters. We continued on quai de rive neuve until rue Robert on our way to the Musée du Santon (also known as Les Ateliers Carbonel) before making our way to Le Four des Navettes, THE place in Marseille to get the city’s iconic boat-shaped, orange-flower flavoured navette biscuits. I’ll warn you if you’re going to try them (which you should!): their nickname is casse-dent (teethbreaker) so don’t bite too hard into them 😉 We actually grabbed about 4 kilos worth for everyone to enjoy at the Christmas table… A few streets away from the bakery is the stunning Abbaye Saint Victor. We didn’t linger too much there because our ultimate goal for the end of the day was catching the sunset at another famous Marseille church, Notre Dame de la Garde, which was a quick but steep 20 minutes walk climb away. 

STUNNING VIEWS FROM NOTRE DAME DE LA GARDE

IMG_1608The Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, or La Bonne Mère (the good mother) as it is familiarly known towers over Marseille and offers amazing 360 views of the city below, which are particularly striking at sunset. Topped by a massive golden statue of the Virgin Mary and Child, the Byzantine-style interior features anchor and sailing ship motifs. Since around the Mediterranean there’s a religious tradition of ex-votos to express gratitude for a wish granted, you’ll also see boat models hanging from the ceiling or displayed in glass cases to express thanks for a loved one having returned from the sea.  There’s also an Olympique de Marseille flag which was brought by the team after a victory so it’s not all sailing related (though l’OM is quite the religion in Marseille too…)

IMG_1594

 

DINNER TIME !

IMG_1750Since it was before right before Christmas, a marché de Noel and the Foire Aux Santons were in full swing at the old port and nearby Place Saint Charles respectively and we spent a little bit of time shopping at both before heading to diner at La Kahena, one of Marseille’s best Tunisian restaurant. I don’t get to eat a lot of North African food here in DC and Marseille happens to have very large Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisien communities, both muslims and jewish like my mother’s maternal side of the family. The fish couscous was excellent, as well as my brik au thon, and since we didn’t get a chance to swing by Les Delices Patisserie d’Aix, a famed oriental pastry shop, during the day we took full advantage of the dessert buffet to indulge our sweet tooth with some cornes de gazelles and makroud

 DAY TWO: MIXING THE OLD WITH THE NEW

IMG_2014Marseille is known as the gateway to the Mediterranean, so it was time for us to set sail! Well, or at least take a small boat trip 😉 First, we got up early to enjoy the small fish market that still takes place on the Quai des Belges around 8AM every morning. From there, we grabbed the Frioul If Express to the island fortress of If, where Alexandre Dumas imprisoned his fictional count of Monte Christo. Had it been summer or even spring, we may have extended the journey to the Frioul Island but instead we headed back to shore to explore the NEW Marseille. We didn’t realize how far the new Docks at La Joliette were so we only made it as far as la Cathédrale La Major before heading back to the brand new MuCEM where we had plans to meet my DC-based friend Laure, who was in town for the holidays visiting her family in Marseille. Inaugurated in 2013, the MuCEM offers perspective on mediterranean civilizations and mixes the old with the new by adding a modern building designed by Rudy Ricciotti to the 12th century Fort St. Jean. The two buildings are linked by a footbridge known as J4 (for Joliette 4.)

Lunch at the MuCEM

We didn’t actually visit the museum, focusing instead on exploring its architecture and enjoyed a sun soaked lunch with stunning views of the turquoise sea at Le Môlé Passédat, a restaurant on the top floor of the museum from Michelin-starred chef Gerard Passédat. The meal was amazing, but not cheap, so if you’re looking for a more affordable option, La Cuisine (Le Mole’s sister restaurant) offers a great lunch as well, minus the view.  Following lunch, we headed back to the vieux port to pick up a bottle of pastis at La Maison du Pastis, a shop that allows you to try any pastis from a selection of 75 different ones before you purchase the one of your choice. We also stopped at the brand new Galerie Lafayette Gourmet to do some last minute Christmas food shopping and then set out. On our way out of the city, we drove through an old industrial neighbourhood called la Belle de Mai. The area grew from the arrival of the railway and a former tobacco factory there has now become a thriving cultural center called La Friche la Belle de Mai, with lots of awesome street art nearby. We didn’t get to stop in this time but it was the perfect send-off to a quick stay at the once gritty, now thriving Marseille. Besides, I have a feeling I’ll be back soon enough!