Eat cake like a king!

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

If you are in France, it’s again time to celebrate  … oui …  bien sûr … more food! Don’t you love it? This time it’s all about a rich, almond cream (frangipane) enveloped by layers of light, flaky pastry (feuilleté).

Another joyful opportunity to bring friends and family around the table to share La Galette des Rois/The Kings’ Caketakes place on the first Sunday of January or January 6th and recognizes Epiphany, the arrival of the three wise men (Magis). This special pastry’s history can be  traced to Roman times.

During the French Revolution, the name was replaced with ‘Gâteau de l’Égalité’ (equality cake), as the word ‘king’ was a little out of fashion!

It’s so popular, many patisseries make the scrumptious cake through the entire month of January.

The cake is cut in the specific number of slices for the people present, with one extra symbolic slice for the first poor person passing by. The youngest child  (or the most innocent adult, if no children are present, which can result in great hilarity) goes under the table and calls out who will receive each slice to ensure fair distribution. The greatest excitement comes when one person discovers la fève (a lucky charm) hidden in a single slice.

Bon appétit!

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Click here to read an excellent account of the history and traditions of this special fête by my friend, Margo Lestz.

And speaking of food, have you signed up for the BECOME A FRENCH FOODIE IN 30 DAYS course with eFrench Café? Check with Ida Young-Bondi and see if you can still squeeze in!

Lost in the Camargue …

If it’s Friday, it must be France … 

Recently, I’ve been spending my days in the intriguing Camargue region of the south of France … well, on paper anyway … working away on my new novel and heading toward the January 15th deadline when it is due on my Lake Union editor’s desk.

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It was a thrill to spend some time in this Rhône River delta in June doing research for my story. This description might not fit your classic image of France:  you’ll find gardiens, what we might call cowboys, on white horses that run wild in the salty marshland when not being put to work herding the famous black  bulls;  ancient villages where gypsies gather each year to keep alive legends of old;  salt flats teeming with pink flamingos and other bird life. The region is part of UNESCO’s network of world biosphere reserves.

Here are a few photos from the Camargue and an excellent article to give you more information. Please be sure to scroll to the bottom and watch the video.

With your permission, I’ll save my words for my novel (for now) and get back to writing! I hope this little peek at the Camargue will make you eager to read the new story when it is published … looks like late 2017 at the moment! Bon weekend!

Memories of the Pays Basque

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Every few months, I post a photo journal for the #LLm emagazine. I love taking the time to loiter in my photo albums and choose which destination I’ll  take you to visit. I hope you enjoy this brief stay in  the Basque country of southwest France. Put your feet up, click on the link and take a mini-vacation without leaving home.

If I could, I would serve you a nice cold mug of Bob’s beer and some freshly grilled fish!

Click right here to join me!

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I LOVE Instagram! ~ Do you?

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

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Five years ago I was not using Instagram … in fact, I’m not sure I knew anyone who was. Hmm … let me google the history … okay, here’s the scoop: Instagram was founded in October 2010 by Kevin System and Mike Kreiger. After just a couple of months it had over 1 million users! In 2012, it was purchased by Facebook. Instagram now has over 300 million active monthly users! Wow! Now that’s successful! And it’s a FREE APP! YES, IT IS! 

I love that it’s free! If you’re a fan of photography, then I’m sure you would love IG too. Even if you don’t take a lot of photos, you can follow as many accounts as you like and see some spectacular galleries on every topic you can imagine. I won’t even begin to list them here.

I began my IG gallery https://www.instagram.com/patricialsands/ about two years ago and post almost every day.Of course I love to share my photos of France … no surprise there, right?  In fact, that’s probably the reason I don’t blog as much … I’m having too much fun on Instagram.

If you are on there too, I hope you will find and follow me. Be sure to say hello in the comments! I look forward to seeing what you’re posting there!

My photo on IG today (the large photo at the bottom of this post) actually took me back to a blog post of mine from 2011. I know a lot of you weren’t following me then. If  you didn’t see this post before, I hope you will enjoy it now. I’ve walked the Chemin de Nietzsche a few times now and look forward to doing it again next summer.

Come on along!

Take a hike!

Friday already? Then it must be France on my blog!

Like to hike? From serious hiking to a pleasant ramble through an astonishing variety of landscapes, France is a country amazingly well-equipped. There are over 100,000 kilometres of walking trails criss-crossing the country in all directions. It’s like a national sport! Click here to go to an excellent website with maps and more detailed information.

The following is just one small example. (You can click on the photos to see them full-sized.)

A picturesque 40-minute drive east from Antibes, Eze Bord de Mer (also known as Eze Sur Mer) is one of the most accessible places on the Cote D’Azur as the rail, road and bus links all run along its length. They create a dividing line between the mountains and the sea.  The thin strip of pebble beach provides just enough room for a few seaside restaurants on the turquoise edge of the Mediterranean. Typically the small town consists of everything from simple cottages to exclusive villas.

Approximately 500 metres (1400 feet) up the rugged corniche is the fortified perched village of Eze. With a history going back to 2000 BC, the current village dates to the 9th C. The stone structures and winding cobbled streets are well restored, with high walls and narrow paths. Today the town is full of small art galleries and boutiques and a couple of luxurious hotels as its setting, charm and ancient history make it a popular tourist destination. (But go early in the morning and you can have it to yourself.)The ancient alleyways wend their way upward to the well sign-posted Jardin Exotique Panorama. The plantings of cacti are spectacular and the view is one of the best on the Cote D’Azur, overlooking Cap Ferrat and on to Nice and Cap D’Antibes on a clear day.

These two communities encapsulate the best of both coastal and mountain worlds. Whether visiting the seaside part or the heart of the old town on the cliff, Eze offers a rich culture mixed with local traditions and a luxurious lifestyle.

The magical and unique ambiance of the town has an unforgettable appeal. But perhaps no one was more charmed by Eze than the tormented and controversial philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Though he spent only a short holiday in the area in the 1880’s, the environment had a profound tonic effect on the famously troubled philosopher. “I slept well, I laughed a lot, and I found a marvellous vigour and patience”, he later recalled. He also found the inspiration for the third part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, much of which was composed in his head (so the story goes) while hiking the steep trail from the seaside to the medieval village. The route, once a goat path, is now known officially as Le Chemin de Nietzsche or Nietzsche’s Path.

With my sister-in-law visiting us from her home in the south of Spain and our 28-year-old niece from Israel, I was eager to show them this beautiful area. Especially these two wonderful women who are always up for any adventure and turn everything into a laughter-filled event!

We took the train from Antibes to Villefranche Sur Mer and had a quick look around yet another beautiful town before catching the bus up to Eze Village. After walking around the town and taking photos at the castle ruin and the Jardin Exotique, we lunched on crepes and salad and then, water bottles filled, we headed down the Nietzsche Trail.

We talked. We laughed. We sweated. The sun was scorching but we were well armed with heavy-duty sun block, hats,  and mist-spray water bottles (LOVE these!) as well as our drinking bottles.

Winding down the corniche and through a forested ravine, the quiet trail lends itself naturally to contemplation. Birds chirped. Leaves rustled when gentle breezes made brief, welcome appearances. The gravel path crunched below our feet as the brightest yellow butterflies fluttered along with us. The sea washed the shore below, beyond the scent of pines and the many varieties of fragrant shrubs and plants that naturally fill these spaces. The clean, fresh air offered its own special brand of aromatherapy.

The path isn’t difficult but it’s not easy either. There are places where stairs have been built by France’s impressive sentier (walking trail) maintenance crews or possibly by local groups who take a keen interest in maintaining their trails. However there are also a few steep pitches and some spots where the stones or gravel are a bit loose and slippery if one isn’t careful. Faites attention!

It’s a quicker climb down than up, needless to say, and in 90 minutes, after a few brief stops to admire the changing views, we were back down in Eze Bord de Mer.  We cooled our feet in the Med and savoured a refreshingly cold brew on the beach before taking the train home.

If you ever go, take the train to Eze Bord De Mer and the 83 bus (which only comes by once an hour) to Eze Village. Wear good walking footwear and take the path down. You’ll be very glad you did.

The suggested advice when the going gets strenuous on the Nietzsche Trail?  Try repeating Zarathustra’s mantra from his own sojourn through the mountains: “You are treading your path of greatness: no one shall steal after you here.” Or take along good friends and laugh your way down.

If you have favourite places you like to hike, I would love to hear about them. The Bruce Trail? The Appalachian Trail? Whistler? Yosemite? Cotswold Way? Your own neighbourhood?

Here’s an excellent article from the New York Times about this area.

Tread your own path of greatness no matter where you are or what you are doing. Onward!

Can you believe October is almost over? I want to end this month as I began it, with a reminder about Breast Cancer Awareness.51dqik97nll-_uy250_ My friend, Erin Arbabha, is a breast cancer survivor and thriver, and has written a poignant and informative memoir about her experience. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Click right here for the link to I Have Survived.

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Allez Les Bleus in Arles!

Bonjour! We arrived in France last Tuesday and have been on the go ever since. Somehow I missed my Friday France post and now the weekend is almost over. I hope you had a good one!

Here’s a brief catch-up. Arles. In the département Bouches-du-Rhône. Two and a half hours west of Nice and Antibes, our usual destination and where we will be for July.

This is our home for the next two weeks as I research my next novel set in and around the town, as well as in the intriguing and unique Camargue wetlands to the south.

Ancient, beautiful Arles on the banks of the Rhône.  The Ligurians were here in 800 BC, followed by the Phoenicians who developed an important trading port. The Romans took the town in 123 BC. A rich and colourful history followed through the centuries. The Roman and Romanesque monuments of Arles were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1981. They are visible throughout the old town now as they were 2000 years ago.

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This is the view when we step out our door. 2000 years. Concerts and festivals fill the seats today as did the gladiators in Roman times. This isn’t my first time in Arles, but the Arènes still takes my breath away.

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At night, there’s a mystical air of history coming alive.

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The medieval 16thC old town has a comfortable mix of hotels, shops, restaurants and family life. Narrow streets make driving a challenge and most are accessible only to residents. This is a town for strolling and breathing in the historic atmosphere … and if you are like me … taking photos non-stop, particularly of doors and key holes!

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The arts are alive and well in Arles.

Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles from 1888 to 1889 and produced over 300 paintings and drawings during that time. His spirit lives throughout the town and at the moment the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh has an excellent exhibit of 31 of his paintings.

How exciting to read that a sketchbook of more than ten of Van Gogh’s drawings has recently come to light and will be published in France in mid-November, 2016.

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An international photography festival has been held in the city for almost fifty years.

The Rencontres d’Arles is an annual summer photography festival founded in 1970 by the Arles photographer Lucien Clergue, the writer Michel Tournier and the historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette. It has an international impact by showing material that has never been seen by the public before. In 2015, the festival welcomed 93,000 visitors.

I’m looking forward to sharing more information and photos of Arlescanstockphoto20827137 and the surrounding area. I’m excited about the novel on which I’m working and doing my best to ensure it will be a story that excites readers too. But for now, I’m going to say à bientôt /see you soon and do what most people in France will be doing for the next two hours … watch France play Switzerland in another match in the European Soccer championships. Allez Les Bleus!

 

Are you a soccer fan? Which team are you supporting?

Party on!

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

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Macarons for everyone! They go very well with champagne … and I would love to serve a glass to each and every person who helped make the launch of I Promise You This such a success last week. Thank you a million times over! Merci mille fois!

I want to send a special shout-out to all13319825_1109259932473766_2839702569582002087_n the readers in UK who, not only supported I Promise You This, but also bought The Promise of Provence in record numbers. I didn’t think to take a screen shot earlier this month, but did today to show how Book 1 in the Love in Provence series has been in the Top 100 for the past two weeks.

The online release party with BookRhythm was a lot of fun and so well-attended by readers from all over the globe, it was hard to keep up with everyone! Thanks again to all who took part and congratulations to the winners! There were a lot of you! Everyone will be notified shortly, if you haven’t already heard.

Now I’m working on my next novel and preparing to leave for France in two weeks. I know you will all be keeping me company and you can rest assured I’ll post lots of photos to help you feel you are there. I love taking you along!

Let’s start with this. Are you coming?

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Mark the dates and come celebrate!

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Bonjour tout le monde! This is a celebratory week for me

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… and I hope for you too! On Tuesday, May 17th, I PROMISE YOU THIS ~ Book #3 in the Love in Provence trilogy will be released by Amazon’s Lake Union Publishing!

Thank you to all the readers who have been patiently waiting and sending me lovely messages in the meantime. I can’t wait to hear how you enjoy the next part of Kat’s journey.

There’s still time to enter the print copy giveaway that Amazon is hosting until May 17th, on Goodreads. Just click here to enter.

On Thursday, May 19, as you can see here. I’m having an online launch party, hosted by the fabulous ladies of BookRhythm ~ a topnotch author services group.  Simply go to this link to join us.

These parties are always fun … although a little crazy to follow sometimes … REMEMBER TO KEEP REFRESHING YOUR PAGE TO FOLLOW ALL THE THREADS! It took me a while to learn that.

Some of my best writing friends are joining the celebration and there will be lots of great chat and tons of giveaways! Look at this lineup (in alphabetical order) ~ Bette Lee Crosby, Jillian Dodd, Jacquie Gauthier, Linn B. Halton,  Steena Holmes, Suzanne Kelman, Toby Neal, Christine Nolfi, Liza Perrat. Definitely a good time group! We’ll be talking about a lot of new releases from these fine authors too! See you there!

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Just to get us in the mood … and because we all know we love photos like these, here are a few old favourites for your viewing pleasure.

Bon weekend everyone and I hope I will see you next week to join in the fun!

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À bientôt ~ see you next week!

 

xxxx

 

It’s here!

 

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If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Bonjour! Here’s a Friday morning shot from Antibes … starts my day off right. Yours, too, I hope! This might be the street where Katherine lived in Antibes. You know that kitchen window where she liked to sit and look out into the back allée? Picture her there! In fact, it looks like she’s just disappearing around the corner on her bike … Find out more in my Love in Provence series.

And now the trilogy is complete because this box was delivered by the postman yesterday. I Promise You This, Book #3 in the series, will be launched on Amazon on May 17. In fact, it’s been available for pre-order for the last month and I can’t believe how many of you have done just that! Merci beaucoup!

You can order it online, of course, and if it is not on the shelf at your local indie bookshop after May 17th, any bookstore can order it from their distributor. I promise you this!  13087376_1090597354340024_1947364087370167836_n

I’m thrilled with the way the three novels look together!

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Gratitude. I’m filled with it.

I have a lot of thanks to share for this new addition to the series:

Thanks so much to the talented Scott Collie in Toronto for his beautiful artwork on all three covers.

Thanks to Amazon’s women’s fiction imprint, Lake Union Publishing, and the fabulous, hard-working, supportive, enthusiastic team that worked with me … Gabe, Mike, and all the gang in Seattle, my talented developmental editor, Amara Holstein, and my patient editor in New York, Miriam Juskowicz.

Thanks to Senior Acquisitions Editor at Lake Union, Danielle Marshall, who brought us together.

And the biggest thanks of all goes to every reader who has been so enthusiastic and loyal to this series! Thank you for your emails and reviews and for telling your friends and sharing your books and opinions. You made this happen!

Where would any of this be without the all-consuming beauty of the country and people of France and the region of Provence-Alpes- Côte d’Azur that provide me with constant inspiration. Nor should I forget my vibrant, much-loved hometown of Toronto, which has also played a big role in these stories.

There will be more! Because so many of you have asked, I’ve begun working on three more books that will carry forward the story of Kat’s journey … in a slightly different way. Stay tuned!

Right now I’m going to toast everyone I’ve mentioned … and lots more I haven’t … and enjoy the rush of publication. It’s a very good time to be an author and I feel blessed to be part of the incredibly collegial and connected global writing community.

p.s. Amazon is celebrating by giving away 20 print copies … TWENTY … on Goodreads. Click right here to enter!

If you are on FaceBook, join me there on May 19th, from 6 to 9 EDT. I’ll be celebrating the launch of I Promise You This with some of your favourite authors: Bette Lee Crosby, Christine, Nolfi, Jillian Dodd, Steena Holmes, Toby Neal, Suzanne Kelman, Jacquie Gauthier and from England, Linn B. Halton, and from France, Liza Perrat!

There’ll be tons of giveaways and great conversation. Join us!

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IF YOU HAPPEN TO BE IN THE WEST END OF TORONTO TOMORROW, SATURDAY APRIL 30, PLEASE VISIT A NOVEL SPOT AT HUMBERTOWN PLAZA. I’LL BE THERE FROM 10 A.M. TO 11 A.M. HELPING TO CELEBRATE CANADIAN AUTHORS FOR INDIES DAY. I’M GRATEFUL THAT A NOVEL SPOT HAS BEEN A WONDERFUL SUPPORTER OF MY WORK SINCE THE BRIDGE CLUB IN 2010.

Wherever you are, take a few minutes to drop into your  local independent bookstore tomorrow.  They put a lot of love into bringing you the best choices in literature. If it’s not on the shelf, they are happy to order for you. Like libraries, they’re an important part of our communities.

 

If it’s Friday, it must be Finland …

If it’s Friday, it must be Finland …

That’s it! I’ve decided not to write about France any more. I’m sure I’ve said more than enough about it these past few years. I don’t want to bore you. It’s time to move on.

Finland seems like an interesting and beautiful country for us to explore. I hope you’ll enjoy our change of scene as much as I will.

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APRIL FOOLS! As if you hadn’t already guessed! As lovely as Finland might be, you know I’m addicted to France.

And so we’ll carry on … like this …

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I never get tired of sharing scenes like this with you and I hope you feel the same way.

As I wrote in a blog post last year, April 1st is celebrated in an altogether different way in France.

Imagine my surprise the first time I saw childrenimages sticking paper fish on each other’s back, whispering and giggling, and then hollering, “Poisson d’Avril!”

Excusez-moi? Fish?

As Wikipedia explains: “In Italy, France and Belgium, children and adults traditionally tack paper fishes on each other’s back as a trick and shout “April fish!” in their local languages (pesce d’aprile!, poisson d’avril! and aprilvis! in Italian, French and Flemish, respectively). Such fish feature prominently on many late 19th- to early 20th-century French April Fools’ Day postcards.

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I had no idea where the tradition began and, after a bit of searching, found this explanation on France Travel Guide.

“Although the origin of April Fools is obscure and debated, the most widely accepted explanation actually credits the “holiday” as starting in France. The most popular theory about the origin of April Fool’s Day involves the French calendar reform of the sixteenth century.

The theory goes like this: In 1564 King Charles XIV of France reformed the calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1.

However, in a time without trains, a reliable post system or the internet, news often traveled slow and the uneducated, lower class people in rural France were the last to hear of and accept the new calendar. Those who failed to keep up with the change or who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st, had jokes played on them.

Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were thus called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish—which, to this day, remains the French term for April Fools—and so the tradition was born.”

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Boulangeries and patisseries deliciously get into the spirit with fish-shaped goodies. Oh … and did I mention the chocolatiers? Schools of fish of all sizes fill shop windows, the larger ones often filled with smaller treats. To a chocoholic, fish never tasted so good!

Since Easter usually falls around the same time, fish feature predominantly in shop windows through that holiday as well.

Maybe we should adopt a symbol for April Fool’s Day in North America, so there would be a good excuse to buy special chocolates on that day over here. Not that we ever really need an excuse for chocolate …

Wherever you are, have fun on April 1st and enjoy some chocolate.

Are you a prankster on April 1st or do you just grit your teeth and hope the day will pass quickly? Is there one April Fool’s Day joke in particular that you will never forget?

On  The Good Life France   (amazing photography and articles ~ you know I’m a huge fan!), there’s an article by Margo Lestz on this same topic.  Margo writes great articles, as well as entertaining books about some of the quirky history and traditions of France.  Click here and enjoy!

 

 

 

The real deal!

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

I’m having a throwback to our time in the Pays Basque of France in April/May last year. Two weeks ago I wrote a post for The Good Life France about these cookies. Les véritables macarons of the Pays Basque were such a surprise when I discovered them … how had I not known? They truly are the real deal when it comes to macarons.

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Click right here to read my article on TGLF and you’ll see what I mean.

I used to think all macarons were like these:  the trendy, frou-frou, multi-colored, every-flavor-under-the-sun kind that have become so popular in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, many people love these … and I have tried my best to love them too, with mixed results. But the moment I tasted the crisp crust and soft interior of the richly-flavored Basque macaron, the truth was revealed to me.

A single layer of gustatorial goodness. No filling required. Locally it’s called “mouchou”, from the Basque word musu, meaning kiss. Yes.

But my post on TGLF explains that.  Writing that article had me lingering in my photo files from our trip. I was reminded of the very different and fascinating Basque country of the Pyénées-Atlantiques departement of France. Although we were based in beautiful Biarritz, we explored widely … as we do.

Here’s the main beach, one of many, in Biarritz. A surfing capital of the world, a lot of newbies learn and experiment at this beach. The more serious … and I do mean SERIOUS … put on amazing spectacles just around the corner, when the surf is up.

IMG_8743IMG_8716The palace (shown below) was originally built by Napoleon III for his wife, Princess Eugenie, and entertained many aristocratic and royal guests during the golden years of the resort in 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s now a luxury destination with a first-class restaurant.

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But today I want to share a bit about the birthplace of the scrumpdiddlyumptious Basque macaron. The town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz is just twenty  minutes south Biarritz and even closer to the Spanish border. Fabulous San Sebastian, Spain is only a half-hour away … but that’s another story and I will definitely do posts later about those places.

Famous for its crescent-shaped bay on the Atlantic and its history of fishing, pirates and royalty, today many of the attractions are the beautiful beaches and golf courses more recently developed.

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Away from the sea, the countryside is pastoral and gently leads up into the Pyrenees. Dotted with farms and rustic villages,IMG_8550 the quintessential white-washed homes and outbuildings are finished with  wood timbers. Doors and shutters are stained blood red or deep green, the colours of the Basque flag. Garlands of local hot peppers hang everywhere.

The Basque people are proud of their ancient roots and language (Euskara), the latter spoken extensively and found on signage throughout the region. Lively traditions and delicious cuisine (particularly charcuterie, cheese, ham, seafood) are mainstays of the area, celebrated with frequent festivals. Click here for an excellent detailed article.

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Oops, I’m losing focus … as I often do! There’s just so much good information to share.

The heart of Saint-Jean-de-Luz history revolvesIMG_8564 around the royal wedding in 1660 of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’, and Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain. The chapel where the ceremony was held and the buildings in which the newlyweds and their entourages held court exist, along with much of the old town, as they did all those centuries ago.

The local pâtisserie, Maison Adam baked their popular macarons, even then. Apparently the king’s bride-to-be and his mother loved the cookies, so they were served at the wedding.

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The closely guarded recipe remains the same to this day and, through all these centuries, the family business has been handed down through father and son. Baked into rustic rounds that are sold as single biscuits, until recently, these Basque macarons were seldom found outside the Pays Basque.

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Visit the shop, in the same location, in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, or in Biarritz. They also craft irresistibly delicious chocolate … warning: there is a chocolate fountain in the store in Saint-Jean. If you have time, even if you don’t want to practise your French, take a look at this gorgeous website with vintage photos.

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I could go on here for pages, but will just share some more photos. As I mentioned above, this link is the one to read for a truly fine article … and, don’t worry, it’s not too long. You may even want to plan a visit to the Pays Basque of France by the time you finish reading. We would definitely return.

Oh, and berets! The Basque beret! That’s one of the reasons I wrote some characters from the Pays Basque into I Promise You This. I loooove the berets! *Promotion opportunity here ~ I Promise You This, Book #3 in the Love In Provence series will be released by Amazon on May 17th! It’s available for pre-order now. I can’t wait for you to read it. 

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Have you visited the Basque region of France or Spain? Have you ever tried the P’tit Basque or Petit Basque cheese? It’s mild and delicious and your local cheese shop might carry it. Check it out.

Bon weekend!