Archive | Weekends Away RSS feed for this section

Gaufres de Chez Meert

22 Apr

Meert, une institution rue Esquermoise

As the cold weather begins to envelop Melbourne this week, I’ve been thinking about Lille. For me, visiting Max’s hometown means a great many things. It means cold weather, sometimes snow. It means comfort food and hot drinks and long, indulgent meals en famille. It also means eating the gaufres de Chez Meert.

It’s no secret that I have a bit of a sweet tooth. From delicate macarons to thick slices of brioche studded with sugar crystals and spread with nutella, visiting Lille is a little bit like a trip to your grandparents house, where all the things that are off limits in normal life are allowed.

When max first told me about the waffles on offer at Chez Meert, I was unenthusiastic. As a child in Australia, waffles came frozen in boxes, and on rare occasions we were allowed to pop one in the toaster and eat it drenched in maple syrup with a scoop of Peter’s vanilla ice cream. Delicious, yes, but not in comparison to all the other finely crafted sweet treats France has to offer. I had also tasted a waffle in Belgium a few months earlier, and whilst I enjoyed the nutella-smeared, whipped cream-adorned concoction, I wouldn’t have returned in a hurry. Max simply shook his head at my reticence and said ‘Tu verra’.

And see, I did.

Gaufres de Chez Meert2

These ‘waffles’ could not be further from those of my childhood, or the one I’d eaten in Brussels. These were long, delicate, pliable tongue-shaped wafers, sandwiched together by an intoxicating vanilla bean paste. They were as moist as other waffles are dry, and require no accompaniments whatsoever, except perhaps a strong espresso to cut through the sweetness.

In the interest of research, I tasted not only their classic flavour, but their speculoos one too. And though we all know how much I love speculoos, I think the classic just wins out in the flavour race.

Getting to eat a gaufres from Chez Meert has long been a treat exclusively reserved for trips to Lille, and the only way to enjoy them back home in Paris’ 9th arrondissement was to buy up big on our last day in Lille and practise extreme self-control on the car ride home.  But, with the 2012 opening of a Meert café in Paris, this is no longer the case.

So be sure to check them out next time you are in Paris, or Lille. You’ll never think of waffles the same way again.

____________________

Chez Meert image courtesy of fred_v on Flickr.
Waffle image courtexy of
bionicgrrrl on Flickr.

Apartment Hunting in the French Capital

14 Jan

Over the Christmas break I got to partake in one of my all-time favourite activities – researching apartments in Paris.

Chandelier Apartment

Sadly no, a move to Paris isn’t on the cards for us right now, but we are planning a flying visit this July. The Official Trip Purpose is for the Wedding 2.0, a chance for many of Max’s relatives and our friends who cannot come to Australia for Part One to celebrate with us. But before that, we have a week in Paris with my family.

This time, thankfully, our trip falls in the middle of European summer, which not only means gloriously long daylight hours, but a chance to participate in the much-anticipated soldes d’été.

Soldes

The last time my family came to Paris they rented a beautiful two bedroom apartment in the rather fancy-schmancy 1st arrondissement. Literally metres from the Louvre, the entrance to the apartment was wedged between a chic passage couvert and a Christian Louboutin boutique. Despite having an apartment apiece at that point, Max and I found ourselves tempted night after night to camp out on the luxurious sofa bed and pretend that this was, in fact, where we lived.

Galerie

This time around though, I stumbled across a gorgeous three bedroom apartment in the slightly more down to earth 2nd arrondissement, close to the bustling Japanese quarter and close enough to the Opéra to feel very special indeed. There’s nothing I love more than discovering a new arrondissement from the inside out, and I can’t wait to see what delights the 2nd holds for us.

Where do you like to stay when you visit Paris?

________________
Apartment with chandelier image courtesy of fromtherightbank on Flickr.
Soldes image courtesy of Ma Gali on Flickr.
Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau image courtesy of Phil Beard on Flickr.

Bulong Estate

10 Dec

I’d heard rave reviews about Bulong Estate, so when we found ourselves hungry and with an evening to spare last month in the Yarra Valley, it was at the top of our list. When we’d mentioned our dinner plans to the owners of the cottage where we were staying, they’d given a very solemn nod of approval, so we figured we were onto a good thing.

We’ve been fortunate enough to dine at some fairly incredible Hunter Valley restaurants over the past couple of years, so our expectations were high.

Access to Bulong Estate is via a long, winding driveway, lit with small garden lights, a feature that only served to enhance our anticipation.

The terrace wasn’t set for dinner (I assume as a result of the chilly evening), but it was easy to imagine lengthy wine-soaked lunches spent here overlooking the vines. Indeed, Bulong Estate is a winery, first and foremost, so we weren’t all that surprised to find their wine list contained only their own product. Strangely though, they did not offer any beers, or any sparkling wine. When we enquired about the latter, we were offered an expensive bottle of French champagne (a seemingly recurring theme over this weekend!) but we had to politely decline as a) we felt it was overpriced and b) Max was driving, and whilst I do enjoy the odd glass of champagne or two, taking responsibility for the lion’s share of a bottle was a big ask. Instead, we both opted for a glass of their home grown wine, for me, the Fumé Blanc (a sauvignon varietal), and Max, the house Rosé (and the search continues..).

I decided against an entrée, as we’d had a delicious aperitif at the cottage and I’d spied some tempting dessert options on offer. Max chose a dish of fried oysters, scallops and prawns and was very pleased with the flavours.

As I still wasn’t particularly hungry (a rare, but possible occurrence), I elected to forgo a man-sized main and instead try the soup of the day – a delicious melange of lentilles du puy, succulent pork belly pieces and seasonal vegetables. It over-delivered on flavour and was more than enough for me. Max chose, not the duck as I had assumed, but the porterhouse steak with garlic butter, accompanied by the most sumptuous potatoes I’ve ever tasted.

Ordinarily, we’d be tempted by a cheese plate (and indeed, the menu description of Comte, Brie D’Affinois and Cashel Blue was enticing), but we’d had quite a lot of fromage earlier in the day, so turned our attention immediately to dessert. Whilst the green tea sponge roll intrigued me, my inner chocaholic could not pass up the chocolate fondant served with white chocolate mousse and a vibrant red berry coulis. Max of course, ordered the same.

Decadent does not begin to describe this dessert, which offered a chocolate so rich it coated the roof of your mouth. The mousse was equally indulgent and the combination teetered on the edge of over-the-top, were it not for the fresh berry sauce that brought it back from the brink. I was fiercely protective of my plate as the owner joked that I might need some help from Max, but just over halfway in I had to concede defeat, and pass the rest over to my very grateful fiancé.

From the moment we walked in, we felt as if we were dining in somebody’s elegant lounge room. Space was plentiful and white gloss and chrome abounded, pleasingly offset by a rich red and gold Persian rug through the centre. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and that dessert will live on in our memories for much longer than it spent on the plate.

__________
All images courtesy of the Bulong Estate Website

My Paris

26 Nov

As you know, I recently teamed up with the talented guys over at Unanchor.com to write a 4 Day Self Guided Itinerary for Paris in wintertime. Afterwards, they asked to interview me about what Paris is to me.

There are so many different things I love about Paris, so many favourite restaurants, so much advice I’d give to visitors to the city. Here’s my attempt at distilling that down into a short(ish) interview!

Of course, the long version can be found here.

What do you think of my tips for tourists? What would yours be?

_______________
Image courtesy of the extremely talented and exceptionally modest Maxime Thoreux.

Winter Wonderland

12 Nov

Are you heading to Paris in the next three months, or do you know someone who is?

Recently, I teemed up with the savvy crew over at Unanchor to put together a 4 Day Paris itinerary full of my top tips, hottest addresses and best advice for making the most of a visit to the City of Light in wintertime.

A visit to Paris in winter is a truly magical experience. From mid November through to mid January, twinkling fairy lights adorn the city’s boulevards, whilst pop-up Christmas Markets blanket town squares like snow.

But it can be hard to know where to start, and it’s easy to miss some of the best festive aspects (not to mention culinary delights!) without a local guide.

Whether it’s your first visit to Paris, or you’ve done the tourist thing and now you’re looking to experience Paris through the eye’s of a local, to find out where and what Parisians eat, see, and do in wintertime – then this guide is for you.

See all the key icons from a different perspective, and more importantly, discover the hidden gems of the French capital as I take you on an unforgettable Winter Wonderland adventure.

I’ve included a short synopsis of each day below as a taster… but hurry – the festive season is right around the corner!

My Paris itinerary also makes a great gift for wanderlust family and friends!

http://www.unanchor.com/itinerary/view/260

__________________________

Day 1

Your exciting Paris discovery starts right in the heart of the action today as we trace the historical axis through the centre of Paris. See the Champs-Élysées bathed in the gentle glow of fairy lights, and soak up the festive cheer at the vibrant Christmas Market. Discover La Défense, a region overlooked by many visitors to the city but one well worth a visit, and no more so than at Christmastime. Meander through two incredible manicured gardens that are art forms in themselves, before immersing yourself in the grandeur of the Louvre – free from the maddening crowds.

Day 2

Take in the fast-paced atmosphere along Paris bustling Grands Boulevards today. Admire the intricate Christmas window displays and get swept up in the pre-Christmas shopping mood. Then, for a change of pace we’ll take in the enchanting covered galleries hidden along the small side streets just steps from the Opera Garnier. See how the other half live with a visit to the Place Vendome, then get set for a fun-filled afternoon ice skating at the Hotel de Ville, which has been transformed into a magical winter wonderland. This evening, I’ll show you how to dine on the prestigious Rue St-Honoré, without breaking the bank.

Day 3

Step back in time a little today and imagine the Paris of years gone by as we explore the historic Left Bank. Picture Hemingway and Sartre whiling away their days in the cafés here and discover a secret about Paris’ oldest bridge. Today is also a feast for the senses as we take in a true Left Bank gourmet haven and an ever-popular-with-locals market. I’ll show you the best places to indulge in seasonal, and quintessentially French, dishes for lunch and dinner.

Day 4

Montmartre sits high in the north of Paris and evokes an intimate village atmosphere. Follow me as we take the back streets, far from the tourist trail to discover the hidden gems and iconic sights from a different angle. In wintertime Montmartre really comes to life with two gorgeous Christmas Markets filling town squares with delicious smells and an infectious sense of festive merriment. Visit one of Paris’ lesser-known museums and the ‘other’ cemetery in Paris. Stop off for a drink in Les Deux Moulins, made famous by the movie ‘Amelie’, before experiencing the elegance of a bygone era with dinner at a Belle Epoque institution.

__________________________

Discovering the Domaine Chandon

5 Nov

For me, a trip to the Yarra Valley means a stop at the Domaine Chandon. My favourite glass of bubbles (that can be bought in Australia) is Chandon Cuvée Riche, so it was worth a visit if only to pick up a bottle or two in preparation for the festive season.

The property itself enjoys sprawling views over the vines and the sunshine on this particular Sunday afternoon had drawn quite a few people to pull up a patch of grass, glass in hand. We were briefly tempted to join them, but as the Domaine was our last stop before heading back to Melbourne and we were eager to beat the traffic.

As we headed back inside to select my bottles, I spotted the tasting counter, offering tasting at $5 per person, redeemable upon purchase. And I figured, since I was already planning on buying something, why not indulge in (my third for the day) tasting? There were 5 sparkling and 6 still wines to try, but it had been a some-what wine-soaked weekend already, so I elected to stick to the bubbly varieties.

And whilst all were perfectly enjoyable, the Cuvée Riche still came out on top for me, though I acknowledge that it can be too sweet for others. That is, until the knowledgeable lady running the tasting offered me a sample of their prize 15 year old stash. Now I’m not sure if it was Max’s French accent that evoked this rare act of generosity, or something else, but we greatly appreciated the royal treatment.

In a word, it was divine. On par with my favourite French champagnes, albeit for a somewhat heftier price tag.

Sadly though, after a weekend of a bottle here, a bottle there, our budget couldn’t quite stretch to the $90 price. As well, I knew that we’d probably hold onto it for so long, waiting for a special enough occasion that it’d go off before we could drink it.

But I did slip an order form into my handbag, you know – just in case.

__________
All images courtesy of avlxyz on Flickr.

Charming Charnwood Cottages

29 Oct

Despite the fact that the Yarra Valley is just 1.5 hours drive from Melbourne; we thought that staying overnight would allow us to relax and enjoy ourselves all the more. But where to stay? There is no shortage of hotels and bed and breakfasts in wine country, but one property stood out to me above the rest.

Charnwood Cottages offer two self-contained hideaways perched above the Yarra River in the quaint township of Warburton. Both feature four-poster beds, gas fires and an in-room spa bath – ideal for a romantic getaway. One cottage has a pale blue colour scheme, the other, a deep claret red. (The photos on their website hardly do the cottages justice.)

We stayed in Savannah’s Cottage, and the décor that had appeared kitsch to us online was revealed to be modern, tasteful and warm. The bath was generous in size and luxuriously appointed. And, to our surprise the separate bathroom also featured a double shower.

The kitchen was truly state of the art with a stovetop, a fridge, a microwave and even a full-size oven and dishwasher. The fire was both picturesque and practical, and there was also the option of reverse cycle air conditioning to ensure the temperature would always be just right.

It was conveniently located mere seconds across a swing bridge from the main street, tennis courts and a golf course. I had a relaxing massage and whiled away a few pleasant hours browsing the speciality tea store and scribbling in one of the inviting cafes.

Breakfast was a lavish affair of bacon, eggs, mushrooms and toast, all thoughtfully provided the day before and waiting for us in the fridge.

The supremely comfortable bed, serene semi-bush location and thoughtful small details (like the plush Sheridan bathrobes and a checkout time of 12pm) all combined to make this a truly memorable stay.

________
Wine barrel image courtesy of Steel Wool on Flickr.
Romantic bath image courtesy of RebeccaBarray on Flickr.

Warburton swing bridge image courtesy of SplaTT on Flickr.

%d bloggers like this: