The delights of French food

by Carmen Allan-Petale

Ah, French food. Try as I might, I haven’t found anything that quite beats it. When we recently visited the country the food once again didn’t disappoint – we didn’t have a single bad meal.

One of the best things about French food is that it’s so simple. The French have a way of cooking nothing but meat and two veg and yet it’s still a very tasty delight.

The French way - meat and two veg (plus frites) done like no other!

The French way – meat and two veg (plus frites) done like no other!

In fact, in the 17th century when spices were popular, French modernised cuisine by moving towards fewer spices and more herbs and creamy ingredients.

And if you’re a vegetarian you may as well steer clear from French cuisine altogether as the French love their meat! Before I did my exchange programme in France the exchange organisation advised against any vegetarians making a trip to the country because of difficulties housing them with a non-meat eating family.

Inside a French deli - which had a selection of meat, cheeses and wine - très bon

Inside a French deli – which had a selection of meat, cheeses and wine – très bon

So without further ado, I thought I’d write about some of our recent foodie experiences on our latest trip to France.

Raclette

Raclette is very popular in the Alps and is also a Swiss tradition – back in the day farmers used to melt cheese next to the campfire and before eating it with bread.

The modern raclette - an electric grill. All ready to eat with the potatoes being kept warm on top of the grill

The modern raclette – an electric grill. All ready to eat with the potatoes being kept warm on top of the grill

Now days when you eat raclette you take a slice of cheese, put it on a tiny tray and hold it under a raclette grill. The cheese melts and they you can pour it onto your plate and eat it with sliced meats (charcuterie), potatoes and gherkins. Delicious.

Raclette is perfect after a winter’s day skiing on the slopes of the French mountains. It’s a hearty meal and warms you up to the tips of your toes – and not to mention fills you up!

Yummy cheese from a raclette being poured. Delicious

Yummy cheese from a raclette being poured. Delicious

Galette des rois

Translated as ‘cake of kings’, this is a traditional cake the French eat on the 5th of January to celebrate the Twelfth Night – 12 days since Christmas eve. But the local people love the cake so much that it’s sold in the shops until the end of January.

The name of the cake is derived from the Three Wise Kings who brought presents to Jesus when he was born.

In the north of France, the cake consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a centre full of frangipane. It gives it an almond taste and as a result the cake’s quite rich.

The delicious galette with its crown and being cut to be served

The delicious galette with its crown and being cut to be served

Not only is the cake traditional – the method of eating it is traditional too. First of all, the youngest – me in this case – has to get under the table and delegate which order each guest is served. Then everyone eats and the person who finds a little trinket in their slice, normally a tiny baby Jesus, is crowned the King and gets to wear a golden crown for the rest of the day.

Mickael was the King of the galette!

Mickael was the King of the galette!

Typical French restaurant

Of course, French food is steeped in tradition but go to any typical French restaurant and so too is the service. We went to the Boullion Chartier on our recent trip to Paris – un restaurant typique de France.

The waiters inside

The waiters inside Boullion Chartier

The restaurant is over 100 years old and the food is simple French fare. Think roast duck with honey, lamb chops with frites and snails as an entree. Unlike some pretentious French food, the price tag isn’t high at around €10 for a main meal. If you go, make sure you enjoy the homemade Chantilly cream alongside one of their desserts – it’s delicious!

Me about to chow down on a bun filled with homemade Chantilly cream... yum!

Me about to chow down on a bun filled with homemade Chantilly cream… yum!

The waiters are typically French – they’ll take your order without any fuss and write it down on the tablecloth in order to remember it. Your food is brought to you quickly and without fanfare. But don’t ask for ketchup or you might be pooh-poohed for eating like a child. When you ask for the bill they add it up with a few more scribbles on the tablecloth. Typical French style – voila!

The waiter's notes on our tablecloth

The waiter’s notes on our tablecloth

Top 5 most romantic places we’ve been

by Carmen Allan-Petale

Happy Valentine’s Day! We hope that you were spoilt from your Valentine. And if you don’t have one, never mind, we think it’s a bit of a commercial day anyway. (Or maybe I’m just saying that to make me feel better because Dave didn’t buy me a gift this year.)

After nearly five years together romance could easily die. But even though Dave didn’t buy me a present today he didn’t need to – because he shows me he loves me every day, not just on Valentine’s day. Although don’t tell him I said that because I wouldn’t mind a gift next year!

Enjoying a romantic kiss in Budapest

Enjoying a romantic kiss in Budapest

But it’s true, he cooks me dinner most nights and contrary to the stereotypical husband, he does most of the vacuum cleaning. I know that when we one day have children he’ll probably change most of their nappies too. I’m lucky to have a husband like him – I know many men who wouldn’t lift a finger. (I’ve never seen my dad cook dinner that wasn’t a barbie, for example.)

But what about travelling and romance? We’ve been to so many beautiful places that it’s hard to choose our top five most romantic locations, but I’ll give it a go!

1. Santorini, Greece

I may have been bitten by mosquitoes all over my face, making me look like an ogre, but Santorini was still a romantic place for us. We went at the end of the summer season which meant the party scene wasn’t really happening, but we could skinny dip at the beach without any interruptions, so that was nice!

The beautiful view overlooking Santorini - much prettier than my mostquito-bitten face was at the time!

The beautiful view overlooking Santorini – much prettier than my mostquito-bitten face was at the time!

2. Paris, France

It’s not called ‘The City of Love’ without reason. Just strolling down the tree-lined promenades makes you want to embrace the person nearest to you – lover or not. Going for a boat ride along the Seine or being serenaded by a musician in a restaurant in any other city might seem cheesy but in Paris it just seems oh-so-right.

Paris. Is there a city on earth more romantic?

Paris. Is there a city on earth more romantic?

It's true - Paris je t'aime!

It’s true – Paris je t’aime!

3. Lisbon, Portugal

This was a bit of a surprise for us because even though we didn’t know what to expect, a romantic setting was far from our minds. But Lisbon has a lot of charm. The cobbled streets and rickety trams (Lisbon has the oldest tram system in Europe) make it feel as though you’re stepping back in time. And watching the sun set over terracotta-tiled roofs is something else.

Watching the sunset of Lisbon took my breath away

Watching the sunset of Lisbon took my breath away

4. Lucca, Italy

We went to Lucca whilst we were travelling through Tuscany. It was on a bit of a whim – we were driving by and thought it’d be a nice place to go for lunch. We spent the afternoon strolling the town housed within medieval walls and rode bikes in its parks. The highlight of the day was wandering past a jeweller when a sparkly diamond caught my eye. The rock drew me into the store and lo and behold we walked out with our wedding bands. Romantic, indeed.

The view from the top of the church tower in Lucca, Italy

The view from the top of the church tower in Lucca, Italy

5. Margaret River, Australia

Talking of weddings, Margaret River was where we spent our honeymoon so it has a special meaning for us. We’d watch the kangaroos hopping in the field outside our secluded hilltop retreat and in the evenings we’d lie in bed and look at the stars from the windows. Sigh. I’d do anything to be back there now, escaping the drab British winter!

Enjoying the serenity in Western Australia with a picnic next to Margaret River

Enjoying the serenity in Western Australia with a picnic next to Margaret River

My Destination’s Biggest Baddest Bucket List – please vote for us!

by Carmen Allan-Petale

What is your dream? What do you want more than anything else in the world? For some it’s to live in a mansion. For others it’s to own the best wardrobe.

For me and Dave, it’s travelling the world.

Of course, travelling doesn’t come for free which is probably why we haven’t spent our lives travelling indefinitely. (Although we do hope to get there someday.)

So when we saw My Destination’s competition – Biggest Baddest Bucket List – where you can win six months’ free travel to your bucket list locations, we knew we had to enter.

Not only do My Destination and its partners pay for your six month adventure, at the end of your tour they give you $50,000. Yes, that’s right, $50,000. You can spend it on whatever you want but for me and Dave (if either of us were to win) we’d spend it on more travelling.

But there’s a catch.

Over the six months, during which time you’re expected to visit at least 25 destinations (which means moving to a new spot once a week) you have to promote the location via blogging and social media.

Dave and I do this anyway and we LOVE it (as you all know) so this certainly seems like it’d be a dream come true.

So without further delay, please find our entries below. Please vote for us by sharing our entries on as many social media channels as you possibly can.

My entry can be found here.

Dave’s entry can be found here.

Thank you – please wish us luck!

 

 

Skiing at St Foy Tarentaise

by Carmen and Dave Allan-Petale

When the bone-cracking chill of Britain’s winter got too much for us we decided to embrace an even colder place – the ski resort of St Foy Tarentaise in the French Alps. Dave had never been skiing before and had to learn but Carmen rediscovered the thrill of speeding downhill and skiing along winding mountain paths. Watch her adventures here:

Skiing for the first time and conquering the downhill demons

by Dave Allan-Petale

I am intensely annoyed. I cannot believe it has taken me 31 years to learn how to ski. The thought of all the winters I could have spent sliding down 45 degree slopes with the wind in my hair and the ground running beneath me is more than I can bear.

I turned down the chance to go on a ski trip when I was in high school and never once thought of heading to the mountains in the four years I’ve spent living on Europe’s doorstep. But all that is going to change now that I’ve got a taste for it.

The nursery slope at St Foy Tarentaise. Terrifying!

The nursery slope at St Foy Tarentaise. Terrifying for a beginner!

I wrote about my fears of learning to ski a few weeks ago and must say many of them came true (save for broken bones) when I went to ski school in St Foy Tarentaise in the French Alps. I fell over quite a lot and well and truly embarrassed myself a few times.

On the first day I put my skis on at the nursery slope and slid over to the magic carpet; a sort of conveyor belt that takes beginners up the teeny tiny range where they can learn this slippery art. I reached the moving belt and fell arse over head with my skis in the air and my ego splattered all over the snow! Not a good start.

But my instructor coached me through the worst of the wobblies and by the end of the first day I could slide along and turn to the left and right. I felt like one of those newborns you sometimes see on nature programmes standing up for the first time.

I imagined David Attenborough’s voice narrating my first run down the slopes. ‘…and here, this red-headed buck is taking his first slide into a new world. Watched by the elders of this tribe he navigates carefully down the slope. But his legs are unused to this trial of strength. Luckily, an orange net has snagged him at the bottom, saving him from the precipice.’

Up we go!

Up we go! This is our mate Mags, her husband Roy and nephew Cameron – the daredevil snowboard crew

By day three I could slide, swing and stop on a threepence. Now it was time to go on the chairlift and face THE MOUNTAIN. It was a very peaceful journey gliding over the snow covered treetops and watching the elegant skiers and snowboarders down below as they  cut up the surface with bored aplomb. It didn’t look very scary from the chairlift but when we stood at the top of the run the mountains were as steep as a London fine dining restaurant bill.

Our French ski instructor Claire (who learned to ski age 2 and is a champion downhill racer) told us ‘puuut your skis in ze snow plough and have ze control. We go now, alleee!’

'I'm sorry, you want me to go down now? But it's so peaceful up here...'

‘I’m sorry, you want me to go down now? But it’s so peaceful up here…’

We took a run called Plan B from the first chair lift back down to the resort and zoomed along at the very edge of control. I loved the feeling of the snow sliding under my feet and the acceleration as we navigated the twists and turns. But the final run back down to the bottom was like fighting the boss in a computer game. It seemed to plummet away like an avalanche and I felt my knees go a bit weak at the sight of it.

My momentum carried me over the lip and I went sliding to the left and picked up speed. I then rounded out and turned onto the right, before whizzing along again. I swung to the left  and took another run down the slope, speeding faster and faster till I had to turn to the right, the cold air roaring in my ears as the snow slashed away under my sliding feet.

Then I was at the bottom on flat ground, panting like a racehorse and flushed with excitement. ‘Again?’ Claire asked.

Hell yes.

Now that I can ski I feel more accepted by my ski fanatic father-in-law Keith. The moustache helps too I think

Now that I can ski I feel more accepted by my ski fanatic father-in-law Keith. The moustache helps too I think

Exploring the Swiss village of Nyon

by Carmen and Dave Allan-Petale

We spent three days in Geneva, Switzerland last week and had a great time exploring the city’s charms. But we get itchy feet, even on holiday, so we headed to the little neighbouring town of Nyon. Check out our video below – Carmen’s parents make a guest appearance!

Photo Essay: Wells Cathedral

by Carmen Allan-Petale

We do try and avoid cathedrals on our travels, as we’re well aware of ABC syndrome (Another Bloody Cathedral) but sometimes the beauty of the buildings is too hard to resist.

Such as Wells Cathedral. The first church was built on the site, in Somerset, England, in 705 but construction on the cathedral that now stands began in the 10th century.

Even if you’re an atheist, like we are, there’s something magical about this place of worship. See the photos below and see if you agree.

The exterior of Wells Cathedral

The exterior of Wells Cathedral

Dave admiring the beauty of Wells Cathedral

Dave admiring the beauty of Wells Cathedral

The stunning stained glass windows - no cathedral is complete without them

The stunning stained glass windows – no cathedral is complete without them

The ceiling on the cathedral which is bound to give you a sore neck because you'll be looking up so much

The ceiling on the cathedral which is bound to give you a sore neck because you’ll be looking up so much

The organ overlooks the centre of the cathedral where the choir boys would sing

The organ overlooks the centre of the cathedral where the choir boys would sing

These beautiful halls wrap around the garden (and graveyard!) running alongside the cathedral

These beautiful halls wrap around the garden (and graveyard!) running alongside the cathedral

Top 13 places to visit in 2013

by Dave and Carmen Allan-Petale

A new year is upon us and many of you will shortly be planning your adventures for this year. We thought we’d devise a list of the top 13 places we think are worth visiting over the next 12 months. Some of the locations we’ve been to but others we’re yet to see

Places we’ve been and want to go back to:

1. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

If you haven’t been to Croatia, the country is worth a visit in itself but make sure you put Plitvice Lakes on your itinerary. Many people venturing to the country stick to the coast but this national park is well worth the trip away from the ocean. Imagine mile after mile of deep forest, crashing waterfalls and water so clear you can see the scales on the countless fish swimming through the reeds.

Dave admiring the view of  just one of the lakes...sublime

Dave admiring the view of just one of the Plitvice Lakes…sublime

2. Lisbon, Portugal

Portugal is one of our favourite European countries but most Brits head to the south when they visit. We loved Lisbon because it’s very charming – it’s almost like being in Italy except the locals aren’t as used to tourists, which is nice. The tram system is the oldest in Europe and as you roll up the cobbled streets it really feels as though you’ve stepped back to the early 1900s.

We know where we'd rather be...

We know where we’d rather be… in Lisbon!

3. Puglia, southern Italy

This is where the Italians go on holiday in Italy. When we went we stayed in a beautiful villa that’s been featured on the architectural show Grand Designs, called Il Collegio. It’s very remote but that’s half the beauty of it. Up on the hill is the town which has sweeping views over the vineyard-spotted land.

Try the fish - prego!

Try the fish in Puglia – prego!

 4. Cornwall, England

If you want to see the true English countryside, this is the place to visit. The best thing about going to the southernmost tip of the country is that the locals are a lot more relaxed than elsewhere in the nation, making for a pleasant visit. Tourism is their lifeblood here so you’ll be treated well. Ensure you go on a country walk and finish of your jaunt in a pub lunch, ordering the fish of the day.

Cornwall is beautiful any time of year, rain, hail or shine

Cornwall is beautiful any time of year, rain, hail or shine

 5. Santorini, Greece

Take advantage of the many tourists being deterred from travelling to Greece this year because of the austerity crisis and make the trip. Santorini is like an island out of fairytale. You can choose what colour sandy beach you’d like to visit – thanks to the volcano on the island there’s black, white and red sand to pick from. Take a day trip to the nearby uninhabited island where a volcano is still active a hike to the crater.

The market stalls in the main square are scary at first but if you overcome your fear a world of taste is yours

Marrakesh’s market stalls in the main square are scary at first but if you overcome your fear a world of taste is yours

6. Marrakesh, Morocco

If you want to visit a place that is a strange mix between first and third world then Morocco is the place to be. You can order a mint tea at a French cafe before visiting the hustle and bustle of the main market square where it’s not uncommon to see men carrying sheep on their shoulders. Relax in one of the many hammans as the women give you a scrub down, or go on a hiking trip to the nearby Atlas Mountains – the beauty is spectacular.

 7. Ypres, Belgium

Next year is the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of World War I but get in early with a historic trip to the battlefields. Dave went to Ypres last year with a friend to retrace the footsteps of their grandfathers who fought in World War I and II and although very sad, they found it rewarding to learn more about their ancestors. Ypres was completely destroyed in the Great War but its inhabitants rebuilt it brick by brick until it was restored to its former glory, so it’s well worth a visit.

 8. San Sebastian, Spain

We loved our visit to San Sebastian a few years ago, where we hired out a campervan and travelled like hippies all around the country. We found that if you’re worried about staying in touch with your family when you’re on the road, you can use local phone cards. And if you don’t wish to spend any money on phone calls, international texting is one more option that’s cheap and easy.

In San Sebastian, we spent a beautiful sunny afternoon swimming at the beach before enjoying an afternoon glass of wine at one of the many bars in the town. Everyone around us sipped their drinks slowly, revelling in being with their friends and enjoying the moment.

This is the minute's silence on Remembrance Day in Yvpes, Belgium

This is the minute’s silence on Remembrance Day in Yvpes, Belgium

Places we haven’t been and want to go to:

9.   Coral Bay, Western Australia

I used to visit Coral Bay as a kid but Dave’s never been and I’d love to take him there. Dubbed the new Great Barrier Reef, unlike Queensland’s reef you don’t need to take a boat out to reach the coral, you simply swim to it. Which makes it great for those who don’t yet have their scuba license – like me – as it’s easy to enjoy the fish with just a snorkel and some flippers. During my time there I’ve swum with some stunning fish and even a turtle.

10.   Utah, USA

After seeing the film 127 Hours we’ve put Utah on our list. In fact, the setting is so stunning there’s been many a film set here. The scenery in 127 Hours looks amazing and we’d love to hike through the rocky regions. We’d set out early to watch the sun rise but we’d make sure we let someone know where we’re travelling to so we don’t have to chop our arms off if we get stuck down a ravine.

11.   Kenya, Africa

I did a safari in Zimbabwe with my parents when I was nine and Dave’s never gone further south than Morocco in Africa, so this is another place I’m dying to visit. After watching David Attenborough’s Africa, how could you not want to visit this ever-changing continent? Serengeti looks stunning and I’d relish in the chance to see elephants and rhinos in the wild once more.

Me on a canoe on the Zambezi river in Zimbabwe when I was nine. I'd love to see Kenya!

Me on a canoe on the Zambezi river in Zimbabwe when I was nine. I’d love to see Kenya now I’m all grown up!

12.   Falkland Islands

We went to huge travel show in London and the Falkland Islands had its first ever publicly campaign to bring tourists to its remote shores in the freezing South Atlantic. The islands are famous for the violent tussle between Britain and Argentina in 1982 for control of their sovereignty. Politics aside, the folks at the stall told us about the miles of rugged coast to explore and the teeming species of wildlife there. Seals, penguins, albatrosses and even whales – all seen from the back of a hired Land Rover with a B&B and a warm pub waiting at the end. Worth fighting for!

13.   Havana, Cuba

Our good friends Corrin and Rosie just went to the Cuban capital and had a blast. We all know the sterotypes – mojitos, cigars, rum, salsa dancing and old American cars. We want to experience all of that, but also see how day to day life is in this Communist holdout. Decades of American sanctions and poverty have taken their toll but it seems things are loosening up so it would be cool to see the changes as well as the traditions.

Learning to ski the hard way

by Dave Allan-Petale

I have never been skiing. I can’t ice skate. When I tried a skateboard at a mate’s 8th birthday party I fell on my face and got a bloody nose. Balance is not my thing.

But I married into a family of skiing fanatics who spend every waking minute either reminiscing about ‘that time in Falls Creek’ or planning ahead for another alpine adventure.

My father-in-law is so obsessed the sport that it was with unconcealed horror he accepted a novice skier into the family. In fact, I think he used the words: “No son of mine will not be able to ski.”

So no pressure then.

Like a lamb to the slaughter, I’m heading to the slopes in France at Sainte Foy Tarentaise with my wife, the in-laws and our mates who are also ski obsessed. I will be the caboose on their high speed ski train, and if I don’t pick up the skill I’m bound to get left behind.

Great.

I'm more used to the gentler slopes of a British  common

I’m more used to the gentler slopes of a British common

I saw snow for the first time when I was 15. I was on a coach tour of western Europe with my grandfather and sister and had reached the Italian Alps which were draped in a fine layer of pure white. The driver stopped and we tumbled out into the fresh air, scooping up handfuls of the stuff and having a snowball fight. I didn’t realise you needed powder snow to make the right kind of snowballs and ended up bruising my sister’s shoulder with the weapon-grade missile I created. So not a good start.

I gave ice skating a go once in Vienna - look, one hand!

I gave ice skating a go once in Vienna – look, only one hand on the rail!

But I’m determined to make skiing a success. A few months ago, or was it six (?), I went along to a ski training centre at a golf club in leafy West London. For an extortionate amount of pounds I got to strap on a pair of skis and take turns with a middle aged man on an angled bit of wet Astroturf that was like a giant treadmill. A young English bloke coached me through ‘the snow plough’, which involves angling the skis in at the front and out at the back so you can slow down or even stop. I mastered this, just, only to be told what I had learned was in fact useless because no one ever does the snow plough and it’s really a last resort, kind of like using the hand brake on the motorway.

According to Carmen, the only cool way to stop is by using the ‘hockey stop’.

So I’m sure my snow plough skills will come in handy.

I've been training hard for apres-ski for many years.

I’ve been training hard for apres-ski for many years.

I’ve neglected to go back to the ski centre and learn more things I will supposedly never use on the ski fields, so I’m going to have to take lessons when we get to Sainte Foy. I don’t mind though. The experienced ones can go off and do black runs or whatever while I muck around on the baby slopes having the occasional espresso.

I really do hope I can pick up the knack because from what I have been told (over and over and over) is that skiing is amazing fun. I guess it’s like anything, trial and error, though error in this discipline means falling flat on your face in the snow. Or worse. Wish me luck.

But don’t say break a leg.