JANUARY 2017

 

 
About Intimate France – We travel every spring and fall to Europe's most beautiful destinations. Our small groups (between eight and 16 travelers) guarantee you the utmost in personal service and attention to detail. Contact us: IntimateFrance.com or (800) 676-1247. More about us. 
 
 

 

THE BEST OF 2016, PART 1 – HOTELS, VILLAGES, CASTLES

 

 

 

Come along on a pictorial romp through Europe as we revisit our favorites from the year just past.

Pictured here — adorable fishing village of Cadaqués, in Spain's Catalunya region.

 

 

 

JOIN US ON ONE OF OUR EXCEPTIONAL 2017 TOURS

 

THIS MONTH'S FEATURED TOUR —
DEVON-CORNWALL, ENGLAND
JUNE 5-17, 2017

 

 

TV's Doc Martin (actor Martin Clunes) poses on location
in the village of Port Isaac, Cornwall.

 

You'll love this tour if:

• You love TV's 'Doc Martin' and want to visit Port Isaac, where the program is filmed

• You like outstanding seafood cuisine & wines
• You're thrilled by English gardens — Eden Project, Trelissick, Heligan

• The thought of pretty villages intrigues you — Mousehole, Mevagissey, Fowey
• You like grand manor homes – Coleton Fishacre, Antony, Lanhydrock, Longleat
• You long to see the chic resort of St. Ives, with its Tate Gallery and Hepworth Museum

• You're curious about the English twin of Mont St. Michel — St. Michael's Mount, in Cornwall
• You want to visit ancient Wells, England's smallest cathedral 'city'
• Historic Plymouth and its vast harbor floats your boat

 

DEVON-CORNWALL TOUR DETAILS HERE

 

 

 

This meadow and towering cliffs are in the Weisse Lütschine Valley, Switzerland, part of our 2016 Alps tour.

 

EUROPE 2016 — THE BEST OF THE BEST
SIGHTS, 
HOTELS, VILLAGES, MONUMENTS AND MEALS

 

By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France

 

People sometimes ask, "George, don't you get tired of returning to the same places in Europe again and again?"

 

Somehow, that brings to mind the retort that Samuel Johnson gave his biographer, James Boswell, during a discussion of city life, when Boswell asked if Johnson ever got tired of London.

 

Boswell gathered himself up and proclaimed, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

 

I feel the same way about Europe. It simply has everything that appeals to me — dazzling antiquities, stunning mountains and seacoasts, precious villages, world-class art — and I am privileged to return there twice each year to sample what is old (well, a lot is, though not all) and what is new.

 

It's all divine, but to paraphrase George Orwell, "Some experiences are more divine than others."

Herewith, part 1 of my personal favorites from 2016. In this issue we cover villages, hotels, natural sites and castles. In our next newsletter we'll look at best B&B, best larger town, best religious site and, of course, the best meal we enjoyed in 2016. 

 

 

BEST INLAND VILLAGE

 

Lacoste, in the hills of Provence — a stone wonderland.

 

 

The view over the Lubéron Valley from Lacoste.

 

 

Lacoste, France

With so many gorgeous villages in France, Switzerland and Spain — all of which we visited in 2016 — it is impossible to mention only one. So let's start with Lacoste, an incredible stone village in the Provençal hills of the Lubéron.

 

What sets Lacoste apart, beyond its ruined castle once owned by the de Sade family (of Marquis fame) is the fact that an American university, the Savannah School of Art and Design, has bought many of its stone houses and turned the village into an art center for students.

Most of the rest of the town is owned by Pierre Cardin!

 

Our visit to Lacoste was enhanced immeasurably by calling in to the art school's "headquarters" and meeting Sean Fairchild, one of the school's assistant directors of admissions. Savannah School of Art and Design.

 

 

Sean Fairchild of SCAD shows us around Lacoste.

 

 

BEST SEASIDE VILLAGE

 

The view of Cadaqués, Spain, from the balcony in front of its church.

 

 

BEST INLAND HOTEL

 

    Hôtel Pré de la Cure, Yvoire, France.

 

 

   View from a guest room to the village and Lac Léman.

 

 

 

 

BEST SEASIDE HOTEL

 

Hotel Boutique la Mar lies at sea level in Peñiscola.

 

The view from a guest room, Hotel Boutique la Mar.

 

 

 

BEST NATURAL SITE

In the foothills of the French Alps, only a few kilometers from the alluring lakeside resort of Annecy, lie the dramatic Gorges du Fier.

 

Approaching the gorges, there is no indication that the Fier River has carved an impossibly deep, narrow and steep-sided canyon. But it has.

 

Once past the ticket gate, visitors clamber onto a wood-and-metal catwalk affixed to the cliff face.

Far below, the waters of the Fier rush in noisy rapids, the blue water continuing the work of eons of erosion.

 

It's believed that the river took many tens of thousands of years to carve the gorge, which is close to 100 feet deep at its deepest. The cantilevered catwalk has stretched along 270 meters (around 900 feet) of the canyon since 1869.

 

Halfway along the walkway, a measuring scale affixed to the cliff wall indicates historical dates of notable floods and their heights. Many of these floods would have completely covered the catwalk.

 

At the entrance station (which is also the exit), a small cafe and souvenir shop caters to visitors. Several picnic tables allow for an al fresco meal within sight of the gorge.

 

Cadaqués, Spain

A few kilometers south of Spain's border with France, on the Mediterranean, lies Cadaqués, an idyllic village that has simply everything. Our Mediterranean Spain group spent three days and nights here in September — a highlight of the tour.

 

Cadaqués is surprisingly sophisticated, perhaps because it's popular with local day-trippers, Spanish tourists coming for a few nights and French visitors making the short drive across the border. We encountered very few English-speaking visitors, however.

 

Our stay was enhanced by our lovely hotel, Playasol, and the views of the harbor from each room. Although the Playasol didn't win our Favorite Hotel 2016 nod, it came close. Also outstanding in Cadaqués —  Restaurant Compartir, where our group had an outstanding meal of dishes that we shared.

 

 

 

 

Hôtel Pré de la Cure, Yvoire, France

Saying that Yvoire, France, a village on Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), is charming and adorable doesn't do it full justice.

 

Yvoire is everyone's ideal of what a French village should be — enclosed by ramparts, blessed with crooked, cobbled streets, overflowing with flowers, boasting outstanding cuisine featuring many kinds of lake fish, and graced by both a harbor filled with bobbing small boats and a château that dips its toes into the waters of the lake.

 

The Pré de la Cure sits just outside the walls, with delicious views of the lake from many rooms. The owners are genial, prices are surprisingly affordable, and the cuisine at the hotel restaurant is quite outstanding.

 

There is private parking behind the hotel, and guests appreciate the spa facilities — covered swimming pool, sauna, hammam (steam bath) and Jacuzzi.

 

Yvoire boasts an onion-domed church, interesting shops, boutiques and bars, and restaurants with fine dining or more casual fare.

 

From the pretty harbor, with views over the "Petit Lac" (the part of Lac Léman that narrows as it approaches Geneva), it's possible to take small lake ferries to Geneva and to NyonSwitzerland, another village worth exploring.

 

RUNNER-UP, BEST INLAND HOTEL

I've taken groups to the Hôtel Calendal, in Arles (Provence), many times and everyone always loves it. Both the location and services are outstanding, and the desk staff are world-class. It's affordable, too!

 
 

Hotel Boutique la Mar, Peñiscola, Spain

What makes Hotel Boutique la Mar special is partly its location and partly its management.

 

The hotel is ideally situated facing the blue Mediterranean in Peñiscola, a cozy, whitewashed fishing village around halfway between Barcelona and Valencia. It's an area that Americans have yet to discover, which only adds to its charm.

 

Hotel owners Olga and Martin could not have been more accommodating. They gladly advanced the hour of our dinner with them — a delicious fish feast, of course — to 8 p.m. (early for Spain) and also agreed to feed us breakfast at an earlier-than-usual hour (8 a.m.). It only later dawned on us that Martin is also the chef, and was cooking dinner late in the evening for our group and others, then appearing cheerily at breakfast the next morning, happily fixing eggs to order.

 

All of our rooms featured sea views, a real treat morning, noon and night. The hotel was comfortably modern without being sterile, despite the fact that the building was many hundreds of years old. Olga and Martin had refurbished everything with great sensitivity and taste.

 

Peñiscola is well worth a stop because of its whitewashed old town on a rocky spur high above the Mediterranean, and it castle, built by the Knights Templar and dating from the 13th century.

 

Inside the old town, a stroll at dusk reveals steeply cobbled streets teeming with life. A selection of very good fish restaurants adds to the allure.

 

 

 

Gorges du Fier, Annecy, France

 

Catwalk rises high above the Fier River and its gorge.
 

BEST CASTLE OR CHATEAU

 

Château de Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, main facade.

 

In our next newsletter – continuing our Best of 2016

with larger towns, B&Bs, religious sites and best meal.

 

Château de Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, France

This imposing renaissance-gothic castle in the remarkable village of Châteauneur-en-Auxois is all the more delicious because one isn't rally expecting it.

The village may be on the list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (the most beautiful villages of France), but it's remote enough from tourist centers that few visitors make it there. Those that do are mostly of the French persuasion.

Strolling through the blissfully traffic-free streets of the village, you will come to the château, whose origins date from the 12th century. It was embellished over the next several hundred years by various owners, including high officials in the court of Burgundy. 

The village itself is also a joy, with imposing stone mansions giving way to long vistas over the Burgundy countryside, with the Canal de Bourgogne in the distance.