When the King—any King--opens a hotel, you don’t exactly expect a Travelodge, Days Inn or Formule 1. Yet even by royal standards, the Royal Mansour is a beauty.
The King in this case is His Majesty the King Mohamed VI of Morocco and the hotel, the Royal Mansour in Marakech, was developed to be one of the world’s finest. It opened in July, with 53 individual riads, three restaurants and a 27,000-square-foot spa, all spread over eight acres. Built into the ancient city walls, the Royal Mansour was meant to re-create a historical medina, with Andalusian-style courtyards, winding alleyways, and spectacular water displays. The art throughout is from both popular and up-and-coming Moroccan artists.
And since no ordinary chef would do for King M6, as he’s known, Michelin three-star chef Yannick Alléno of Le Meurice in Paris was lured into being the “advisor chef.” Alléno will stay on at the Meurice but will travel back and forth to Marrakech, leaving chef Jerôme Videau (previously of the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg) in charge while he’s away. The hotel’s general manager Jean Pierre Chaumard was at the Royal Palm (on Mauritius) for 20 years.
The pampering begins the moment you step off your plane. A staff member greets you at the airport, serves drinks while your passport formalities are being sorted out and then whisks you off to the hotel in a Mercedes, free of charge.
The Royal Mansour has some serious competition of course, most notably the legendary La Mamounia, reopened in September 2009 after a three year $160-million redo.
Rates at the Royal Mansour, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, begin at 1500€ per night. For info, click here or here. Or, you can email (email@example.com) or call (Marrakech phone) 1 + 212 (0)529 80 80 80. RyanAir and Royal Air Maroc both fly between Marseille and Marrakech; Royal Air Maroc flies to Morocco from Nice, Montpellier and Toulouse as well.
Holiday decor is now 50% off and clothing is discounted 30% at the Christmas Market at the Chateau d’Estoublon, a magnificent 16th-century estate near Fontvieille where wines and olive oils are produced. This is the one market my friends and I never miss; each year the selection of food, decor, toys and tableware grows more elegant, eclectic and whimsical too. The items for sale come from all over the world and the displays are magnificent. On the grounds are an antique carousel, a beautiful little chapel, exquisite holiday lighting and more. The Christmas market runs until Thursday Dec. 30th and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Meanwhile Estoublon’s wine bar/restaurant Mogador, with its vaulted ceilings, huge fireplace and consulting Michelin-starred chef Eric Sapet, will be serving lunch and dinner throughout the holidays, with a special Saint-Sylvestre menu offered on New Years Eve. The evening (80€ per person without wine, 110€ with) includes music and dancing until 3 a.m. Check the site here for menus, prices and more.
The Shangri-La Hotel Parisopens today, marking the Hong Kong-based hotelier’s European debut. As elegant as one would expect, the 16th-arrondissement hotel sits between the Place des Etats-Unis, the Place d’Iéna and the Trocadero--in the 110-year-old palais of Prince Roland Bonaparte, grand nephew of Napoleon. It’s walking distance from the Arc de Triomphe, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. I’m told the neighborhood has one of the highest concentrations of museums in all of Europe.
Upon acquiring the building in 2006, Shangri-La took immediate steps to register it with “Monuments Historiques,” demonstrating their respect for its historical and cultural significance. Then they put prominent architect Richard Martinet to work on the restoration while legendary designer Pierre-Yves Rochon handled the interiors. All told the project took four years, the same amount of time spent building the palace in the first place.Inside, the 81 rooms and suites are the largest in any Parisian luxury hotel; some have Eiffel Tower views from the tub. Outside are beautifully secluded gardens. A vast indoor pool and 24/7 fitness center are under construction. There’s four staff for every guest.
And who’s in the kitchen? The highly pedigreed executive chef is Philippe Labbé, who comes, most recently, from the 36-room Château de la Chèvre d'Or, a Relais & Châteaux in Eze on the Cote d’Azur. There, he earned 19/20 from Gault Millau and maintained two Michelin stars. Philippe also worked at the Carlton and Martinez hotels in Cannes and the Plaza Athénée in Paris.
Originally from France’s Champagne region, he says his goal is to serve the finest Asian and French cuisine in Paris.
The first of the hotel’s three restaurants, La Bauhinia, opens this week serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea and drinks. The menu is modern European, sprinkled with Southeast Asian. La Bauhinia sits in the heart of the hotel, under a magnificent 1930s steel-and-glass cupola.
The next restaurant, the gourmet and very-French L'Abeille, will be ready to go in February. A third, Shang Palace, will follow serving high-level Cantonese cuisine prepared by a brigade of five Hong Kong chefs.
Shangri-La now owns and operates 70 hotels worldwide, under the Shangri-La (five-star) and Traders (four-star) brands. Early next year they’ll open an historic hotel in Vienna and then another, near London Bridge, in 2012.
Rates at Shangri-La Paris begin at 750€. For info and reservations, click here.
One of the many super-cool people I've met in the blogosphere isKit Golson, a California-based interior designer who's crazy passionate about Provence. And now Kit tells me she's leading a Design Tour of Provence over Easter: April 22 to 27. If I didn't already live here, I'd sign up for this trip for sure. And I'm totally planning to schlep along one day if the gorgeous-and-talented Kit lets me.
The five-day tour includes theFoire Internationale des Antiques et Brocante(the second largest antiques market in all of France), a private cooking class, a decorative arts class, work with a digital photography coach, market visits, plenty of shopping, sightseeing, fabulous meals with local wines, a Mercedes van to run around in and accommodations in an 18th-century villa. I mean, come on...is there anything in that list we don't love?
And get this: everything you buy will be safely shipped home for you. (If you've ever shipped things home from France, you know what a laugh riotthatcan be.)
So what else? You'll see Avignon, St. Remy with its ancient Roman village and famous "Van Gogh hospital," the village of Apt, the gorgeous ochre mines of Roussillon, those famous prehistoric dwellings called bories and much more. And all in five days, so wear comfy shoes is my best advice. Late April is a wonderful time to visit Provence.
You can find all the info on Kit's blogChic Provenceand email her with questions too: firstname.lastname@example.org. Kit has a big following online (and in real life too, from what I can tell), so if you're interested, I'd hop to it--I think this tour will sell out quickly.
Ten years ago, while on holiday with her husband and three children in Provence, Vicki Archer, an Australian, fell in love with Mas de Berard, a ramshackle 17th-century farmhouse in St. Remy. Yep, you know the rest: Vicki and David bought and then set out to restore the house, transforming it, over three years, into an exquisite showcase of Provencale style, all country-chic elegance and ease...farmhouse meets formal in the French countryside. Vicki first shared her journey and its joys in a book called My French Life, which came out in 2006. And now you can peek over the Archer’s gate once again with French Essence: Ambience, Beauty and Style in Provence(Viking Studio, New York), which came out in the U.S. a few weeks ago. The book was first published in Australia in 2009.
OMG, what a book!
Weighing in at just under five pounds, the 239-page hardcover is like an all-access, behind-the-scenes pass welcoming you—come in! come in!--to snoop around the Archer's beautifully restored home, where Vicki's love of French architecture, art and decor is evident down to the tiniest detail. "Ambience is the single ingredient that distinguishes and infuses life here," she writes. "French Essence is a written and photographic celebration of this."
But the book is so much more than a house-and-garden tour. Through gorgeous full-page photos and Vicki’s well-researched and pretty prose, French Essence explores many important facets of life in Provence including food, wine, gardening, design, the emphasis on family, seasonality, the beauty of the countryside, the energy of Aix, Avignon and Marseille—even the circus. Vicki has a practiced eye, an historian’s sensibility and a crazy all-consuming passion for her adopted home—it comes through on every oversized page.
And Vicki is nothing if not grateful…her sense of good fortune infuses every book page and blog post. "Beautiful surroundings have always fuelled my creative soul,” she writes, “and to live life here with such an abundance of nature and loveliness is a gift."
If you've spent any time on Vicki's blog, also called French Essence, you're familiar with Carla Coulson’s exquisite and dreamy images. The Paris-based photographer has her own distinctive sensibility and the two women have clearly forged a powerful creative connection. Turning the pages of French Essence, it struck me once again how viewing photos online so often pales compared to experiencing them full bleed (to the edges of the page), on heavy, semi-gloss stock, by a traditional and talented (and I’m sure very-expensive) printer. Carla deserves an award for these images and the art director deserves one too, for beautifully balancing lots of images and lots of text. Please do not read this book on your Nook or Kindle or iPad—you’ll miss so much.
Surprisingly, French Essence doesn't cost a fortune: Amazon (US) has it for $30 plus shipping. This is going to be my default gift for all my stylish, artsy, decorating-crazy, green-thumbed, photography-loving, Francophile, foodie, house-renovating, party-throwing, macaron-chomping, olive-farming, wanna-be-French friends.
Maybe I love this book so much because there are so many similarities between my life and Vicki's (except, of course, for her huge amazing house and its staff, the devoted husband and gorgeous children, the garden with its 2,000 olive trees and her impeccable sense of style.) We're both expats of course, who came here on vacation and felt an irresistible pull. We both took apart our previous lives—hers in Sydney, mine in New York--in order to start over in Provence. We’re both writers who find great pleasure in beautiful things, love the outdoors, love to entertain. Speaking of which, now that Vicki has welcomed me into her world, I wonder if I’ll have the guts to invite the Archers to dinner in my 70-square-meter, flea-market-furnished, wrong-side-of-St. Remy home. As if!
Photos: The US edition of French Essence is now available onAmazon; the Archers' sitting room in winter; the 17th-century St. Remy farmhouse at Christmas; Vicki's daughter Venetia in the garden at Mas de Berard. Photos by Carla Coulson.
The fast-food chain Quick will offer low-priced foie gras burgers in France as a pre-Christmas special. The “Supreme Foie Gras” is 5€ ($6.57, £4.20) and will be available at more than 340 Quick outlets across France from December 17 to 19. The sandwich contains beef, relish, lettuce and duck foie gras; Quick said the foie gras will be in slices but the photo they've released shows little (not so appealing) cubes. The Supreme Foie Gras has 672 calories compared to the standard burger's 633. "We want to give our clients great taste at cheap prices and give them the possibility to party a little ahead of time," Quick's 's marketing director Laurent Niewolinski told Reuters. Foie gras comes from the liver of force-fed ducks or geese; activists denounce the practice as cruel, saying the process causes the animals enormous suffering. Foie gras is, of course, a traditional dish in French cuisine and a particular delicacy at Christmas. To compete with McDonald's, Quick's strategy includes offering unusual burgers, like this one, on a short term basis. Earlier this year, the company sparked a debate in France by opening Halal-only outlets and releasing a Halal version of one of its burgers--replacing the bacon with turkey--in some of its other stores.