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Archive for the ‘Cultural Tours to Belgium’

French Escapade videos

March 20, 2010 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Cultural tours to France, Painting tours to France, Tours in Italy, painting workshops No Comments →

Last year, we decided to make videos to show what our tours really are about. Whether about our painting trips or our cultural trips, we hope they convey our philosophy of travel.

Thank you to all of our guests who have participated in giving testimonials. We were not able to insert all of them in the video but we really appreciate your enthusiasm and time.

Here are 2 videos (1. our general tours / 2. our painting tours in Belgium)

Video 1

 

Video 2

We also offer painting tours in France and in Switzerland. For more information about all our destinations, check www.frenchescapade.com

My winter in California

February 03, 2010 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Cultural tours to France, Painting tours to France, Provence, Tours in Italy, painting workshops No Comments →

I love my job because it offers a great variety of tasks: my favorite one being leading the tours, of course, because I enjoy interacting with my guests, sharing their joy and showing them wonderful new places.

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However, most of my tours happening between May and October, many people often wonder what I do then. No, I do not sit and relax for 6 months ! It is in fact when I have to do the toughest part of my job: marketing, selling and organizing.

However, having started my company 6 years ago, it becomes easier and easier: I have solid contacts and partners, and “word-of-mouth” makes wonders ! Right now, my cooking tour is really successful and Belgium is getting more interest than the past years . Belgium 2010 is  a cultural tour with an optional  writing workshop. My new tour in Tuscany  is getting filled. As for Provence and the painting workshops, they remain the greatest hits !

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For more information and availabilities about all our tours in 2010, check  www.frenchescapade.com

Picture info. 1. Visit of a ranch in Camargue / Provence 2. Picture by Jan Hagan

Samples of paintings and sketches in Bruges and around

September 12, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Jac's Travel diary, painting workshops 3 Comments →

Our painting tour in Belgium  has ended. Everyone had a wonderful time. The weather has been wonderful, sunny but not too hot. The painting sites were delightful. We had our “last supper” together at the hotel.

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Below are some of our guests’ drawing and paintings (they are work in process):

Our hotel near Bruges, by Bonnie C.

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A house on the herring market in Damme by Sylvia G.

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Curtain at the  hotel near Bruges, by Teresa G.

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Windmill in Damme by Margaret A.

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Statue at the hotel near Bruges, by Catherine D.

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House in Bruges by Sandy Delehanty, our teacher on the tour.

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Sheep statues at our hotel near Bruges, by Linda C.

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If you want to join us on our next plein air painting trips in France or Belgium, please check www.frenchescapade.com

Over a million bugs on Royal Palace ceiling in Brussels

September 11, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Brussels, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Jac's Travel diary, painting workshops No Comments →

Today we visited the capital of Belgium:  Brussels.

We took the train from Bruges to Brussels. At the train station, some of us had a hard time reading the signs without their glasses so Linda gave us a tip: Close one eye and look through your fingers with the other. It sounds odd but it works. Everyone tried it!!!!!

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We started the day with a visit of the Palace of the King. This is not where our King, Albert II, and the queen, Paola, live but where he works. Since the king is on vacation, the palace is open to the public.

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The Palace is of course very luxurious but maybe not always at our taste. We had a hard time with the ceiling of the mirror room decorated with 1 million 500 thousands beetles from Thailand!! Yes, real beetles (dead of course!!!). It makes it all blue and green. Even the chandelier was all covered with those bugs. It was maybe in fashion under the reign of  King Leopold II (the second King of Belgium at the end of the 19th century) but it was for sure not ours. Wish we could have taken pictures…

While we were walking in Brussels, Bonnie stayed at our accommodation near Bruges and painted all day. Here are some of her paintings:

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During that time, we were still wandering around and of course eating some Belgian waffles. Actually there is not such a thing as A Belgian waffle in Belgium. There are two types of waffles: the Liege waffle or the Brussel Waffle. The Liege waffle is harder and has more sugar than the Brussel waffle. The shape is also a bit different (oval for Liege, rectangular for Brussels).

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Here is the Brussel waffle (with powder sugar and whipped cream ):

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And here is the Liege waffle:

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You can of course have them plain or with whipped cream, chocolate, strawberries, etc…

The day ended with a great dinner at our hotel, served by Monique who is a real delight. To characterize Monique, I will just say: “Ask and you shall receive.”

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Teresa was cold one day and Monique prepared her a hot bath with candles for the ambiance. Sandy can’t eat sugar, so Monique would bring her an alternative dessert. Teresa wanted to take a pic of her chocolate pralines and Monique brought her a plate and arrange them for the picture to make sure it looked nice. It wouldn’t be the same without her. That is a big reason that made me choose her accommodation.

The evening ended with some of us dancing in the dining room (Teresa and Catherine on the picture)!!!!!

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Tomorrow, I will post some of the paintings made by the group. Make sure to check again.

Join us next year on this fabulous trip: check our site at www.frenchescapade.com

Looking stylish at the North Sea

September 10, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, painting workshops 2 Comments →

Today, everyone spent time painting at the house in the morning. The sun was out, everyone was so relax. Linda and Margaret chose to paint in the sun room because this is their favorite spot on the premises.

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Sylvia preferred the pool while Bill, her husband, was editing his pictures.

In the afternoon, off we went to the North Sea, direction Ostend. We couldn’t have a nicer day to hang out by the beach.

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Ostend is in the Flemish part of the country. It used to be a very elegant resort at the end of the 19th century. The king at that time, Leopold II, built a lot of rich houses and made Ostend the  queen resort of the North Sea. Unfortunately the 2 wars left their marks and now few buildings from that time remain. They are now surrounded by 20th buildings.

I decided to look stylish by wearing Catherines’s hat.

Check our site for the next tour to Belgium.

Walking tour in Bruges: the little Venice of the North

September 08, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, painting workshops 1 Comment →

I am running a plein air painting tour in Belgium with one art teacher, Sandy Delehanty, and 7 students: Bonnie, Catherine, Teresa, Linda, Margaret, Bill and Sylvia.

Today, I have decided to post the travel notes from the art teacher:

“My students and I are on a Watercolor Workshop planned and guided by French Escapade, a company that specializes in small group tours for people who want to really immerse themselves in the culture of the country they are visiting. Scroll down to my previous post to see the lovely country hotel where we are staying and you will get the idea that this is not your typical “if this is Tuesday it must be Belgium tour”.

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There is so much to see in Brugges Belguim that we decided to spend our first day exploring, photographing and soaking up the ambience in this beautiful city, “The Venice of the North”.

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The only Michaelangelo statue outside of Italy is here in Brugge. It was commissioned by Sienna, but the people from Brugge paid a higher price, so it came to live Brugge.

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Margaret with her lace fan she purchased from a young lace maker who showed us how she creates lace from 72 bobbins. The craft is passed down through the generations, but today’s lace shops sell mostly machine made lace to keep the price reasonable for purchase. The young lady had some small doilies for sale that took her 8 hours to make, but because they were small she had to price them at only 8 euros.

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Bonnie and Catherine after our boat tour, it is very sunny today.

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A painting everywhere I look. Scenes like this drew us to Belgium for our Watercolor Workshop. Our guide Jackie is from Belgium so we are getting the inside scoop on life in Belgium ” (from Sandy’s blog at http://havepaintswilltravel.blogspot.com/).

Plein Air Painting in Belgium goes on

September 06, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, painting workshops No Comments →

Today we visited Damme.

Damme is one of the most charming villages in Belgium. Located
in the Flanders, between the beaches and Bruges this village
enchanted everyone in the group: windmill, canals, barges, gothic church and
plaza.

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We will also visited a windmill in activity since 1878. The miller (second to the L) showed us how they still make flour with a the 19th century machinery.

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Everyone spent the afternoon painting and in the evening, we got our critique from artist / teacher Sandy Delehanty.

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Bonnie was the fastest painter and managed to finish her large painting of  Damme windmill.

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Everyone was quite happy with what they had accomplished.

Tomorrow, off to Brugges!!!!!!

Check our itinerary on our site at www.frenchescapade.com

Painting in the Flanders: day 1

September 05, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, painting workshops 2 Comments →

The full group has arrived. It was not an easy thing. Sandy missed her plane and arrived a day later. Her suitcase stayed behind in Dallas.

Linda had to take the train to Bruges because of a mix up in the time. But finally everyone arrived.

Bonnie and Catherine arrived at the hotel last night after I picked them up at their hotel in Brussels so they already had a full day today. Bonnie didn’t waste anytime and has already finished her first painting, inside the wonderful sunroom we have at the hotel.

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Everyone had time to relax and explore the lovely hotel. Sandy was amazed by the size of the flowers. They were huge!!!!

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After everyone settled in, we had our first drink together. The dog of the house was sleeping very deeply on the sofa taking two spots for herself. Teresa moved her a bit to find a little spot to sit. She moved Cayenne’s head (the dog) and put it on her lap. Cayenne didn’t even wake up. Teresa felt quite happy to have a puppy for herself. It made her feel at home.

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We had our first dinner together and it was a real delight. After the first dish (beef carpaccio), some people thought it was the end of the meal. What a surprise when we got fish with mashed potatoes and spinach,  and of course, dessert: ice cream with strawberries.

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If you want to be part of our tours to Belgium, check our site here.

Kim Clijsters is back and kicking in US OPen

September 04, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian news, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Sports, Women, Worldwide No Comments →

If you know me well, you know that I love tennis. I love watching it and playing it . Although I won’t be able to watch as much of the US Open as I want, I am extremely excited about Km Clijsters ’s results.

 

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She has won her first games very easily even though she is just back after taking 2 years off,  and she is now going to play …. in round 3. Ok, ok … some will say that I used to cheer for Belgian Justine Henin and did not care as much when it came to Kim. But that was a long time ago, when French-speaking Wallonia had a player in the game. Tonight my heart is Flemish (really, it should be , since I will be staying in the Belgian Flanders fo 10 days, starting tonight).

Well, Belgians are not easy to understand but for sure sport is a field where they seem to reconciliate (especially when they win).

And I have 2 reasons to cheer for Flemish  Belgium tonight. Kim will play against Belgian Kristen Flipkens ! The latter is not as well known, even though she recently made the news for posing naked in Menzo magazine. Anyway …  no stress for me tonight : there will be a Belgian winner on the court!

And for some fun and funny tennis ….

For our tours to Belgium and France, visit www.frenchescapade.com

From North Sea to Polders and Bruges

August 27, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Jac's Travel diary No Comments →

Our first day in the Belgian Flanders was another sunny day that we spent leisurely on the beach in Ostende. Some enjoyed sunbathing, some rode bikes on the boardwalk and others simply indulged in eating waffles and drinking beer.

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                                                                                          Jac and Bernice on the Beach

We spent today visiting Bruges. After a walking tour of the old medieval town, we took a boat ride on the canals (there are 5 kms of canals in town with 80 bridges) to enjoy views that cannot be seen from the street.

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Barabra was the bravest of all of us and decided to climb up the 366 steps of the Belfry tower to discover the town from above: she said there were some beautiful views from up there.

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                                                                                                          Seen in Bruges

Mary tasted one of the most famous beer sin Bruges: the Kwak beer,  served in a round-bottomed glass hanging on a wooden stand.

Dinner will be in Damme tonight, and we will spend tomorrow in Brussels, that we will reach by train.

For information about our tours, check www.frenchescapade.com

Wallonia out of the beaten paths

August 25, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Customs and Traditions, Food and Recipe, Jac's Travel diary No Comments →

Based in Namur for 3 days, we gave  our four guests (Mary, Holly, Bernice and Barbara) a tour of Wallonia out of the beaten paths.

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                                                                       In the visitor house of the American cemetery

On day 1. even though we visited the well-known museum of the battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, we spent the afternoon at the home of Germaine  (a survivor of WWII) who was 11 in 1944, and spent 6 weeks in a stable when the German army took over her farm. She talked about her experience of the war and treated us with Belgian cakes and coffee. We later paid a tribute to the American liberators by visiting the American cemetery in Neupré.

    

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                                 Translating Germaine ’s stories about WWII

On our second day, we attended a speculoos workshop at the Chateau de Harzé; our pastry chef was  tough about the shapes of our cookies but we all passed the class :) ! In the afternoon, we went to Hermalle for its Cramignon festival where couples dressed in prom oufits, dance in the street, drinking beer and fighting musicals feuds between loud  bands. But first, we had a decadent pastry feat at Annick and Fernand’s, 2 locals who had invited us in their home. They even offered each of our guests , a basket full of Belgian treats.

 

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                                                           Cramignon girls in Hermalle

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                                                             Speculoo workshop: the pastry chef and Bernice.

As for today, Monsieur and Madame Bouvier demonstrated the art of making chocolate pralines, in their family workshop near Dinant.

For more information about our tours, visit our website at www.frenchescapade.com

 

 

 

 

Visit of medieval Brugges, the little Venice of the North

August 16, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Customs and Traditions, painting workshops 2 Comments →

Our favorite tour of Bruges starts at the beguinage, the medieval quarter for women who wished to live alone without having to be locked in a convent. We then walked the tiny winding streets bordered by lace or chocolate stores.

We watched a lace-making demonstration on our way, before reaching the canal area and finally the Markt plazza.

Not much painting today; only a few people sketched in the afternoon. The beauty of Bruges is overwhelming to pick the perfect place to paint in one day. We will go back there 2 more days  at the end of the week.

 

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                                                        Lace demonstration

 

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                                                                                      Lunch time … and Belgian beer tasting!

 

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                                                                                                        Follow the guide !

Visit of picturesque Damme, in the Belgian Flanders

August 15, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Jac's Travel diary, painting workshops No Comments →

Our first group visiting Belgium has arrived … under the sun !

We are very glad to host our third painting workshop with Californian artist Sonja Hamilton. Seven American watercolorists are attending, sketching and painting  quaint scenic vignettes of the Belgian Flanders.

On our first day, we toured the charming village of Damme, near Bruges. We had a delightful picnic by a windmill along a canal, before Sonja Hamilton gave a demo and assigned each participant to pick a spot to sketch and paint.

In the evening, everyone learnt from the critique session that was followed by dinner in “Il Sonriso della Nonna” restaurant in Damme.

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                                       Picnic before sketching session

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                                Demo by the windmill

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                           Jackie explaining some historical  details about Damme by the canal

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                                                                                            Some more views of Damme

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                                                                                              Some more sketching pictures

50% OFF on our trip to Belgium in August 2009 !

July 11, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Brussels, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Customs and Traditions, history 1 Comment →

For the past 2 years I have been escorting visitors in Belgium, on painting workshops and cultural tours.

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It has been a special treat for me, a native from  Belgium, to introduce Americans and French people to the culture, the history and the traditions of my country. Designing the tour was  an enlightning experience for myself, as I learnt a lot of things about my own roots, my fellow-citizens and most of all, about the essence of what makes Belgium so special.

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                                          Pictures:  fine dining or sharing pastries at the home of a local

We started in April 2008 with a “Guinea pig” tour with French people (friends and family, as we always do when we have new tours). France is a neighbour and cousin of Belgium, but it was still very exotic for them when it came to speaking Belgian-French or eating “French” fries which are not French. We then had a cultural tour for Americans in August 2008. They loved learning about history (from medieval castles to WWII battle fields), tasting the incredible Belgian beers and chocolate, and meeting locals ( baking with a local baker or sharing memories at WWII survivor’s home).

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                                                               Pictures: local festivals

Indeed, our tour of Belgium offers a great deal of diverse attractions. On our cultural tour, you have the opportunity to discover both Wallonia and Flanders, as well as Brussels. First of all, our goal is to introduce you to authentic  local activities that you could not do on other tours:

  • attending a local street festival in a small Wallonia town
  • baking speculoos (cinamon cookies) with a local baker
  • chocolate tasting in a small family-owned chocolate factory
  • having tea at the home of a WWII survivor

We also want to show  Belgium through history, architecture and gastronomy; here are samples of our daily trips:

  • Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge Memorial
  • the medieval city of Bruges with its canals and romantic atmosphere
  • the beaches and harbour of Ostend by the North Sea
  • Brussels: the  Grand Place, Manneken Pis and its world famous museums

We are offering 3 tours this summer / fall 2009: 2 painting trips and 1 cultural trip. Only 4 spots remain available out of 18 overall. Our stays are 8 days, for 8 guests only, fully escorted by bilingual guide from your arrival at Brussels airport to your departure at Brussels airport. Comfortable van and quaint guesthouse.

We hope to see you in Belgium ! For our next availabilities and discount, check www.frenchescapade.com

Week 2: Belgium from A to Z

June 02, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Belgian Escapades, Cultural Tours to Belgium, Jac's Travel diary No Comments →

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Belgium is split in different linguistic areas, the biggest ones being the Dutch-speaking Flanders and the South-speaking Wallonia. More than a language divide, it is also a cultural, religious, and political one. When I travel in the Flanders, I sometimes feel like in a foreign country, more in the Netherlands than in “my” Belgium. Yet I love that about Belgium: we are as different as can be, and yet we know how to stick together when necessary.

So what is our commom ground ?

  • Mussels and French fries that we eat with mayo !
  • our  love for Beer and chocolate, plus tons of wonderful desserts like waffles !
  • our even share of rain all year long!
  • our lit highways that can be seen from space!

What are the specialties of each area?

In the Flanders

  • The means of transportations: bikes, bikes and more bikes !!!! Plus barges on canals.
  • The flatness of the lanscape
  • Windmills sticking out in most villages

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In Wallonia:

  • Deep forests on rolling hills
  • Our love for parties and local festivals
  • Hidden castles and historical battlefields (the battle of the Bulge, Waterloo …)

50% on August trip to Belgium! Check www.frenchescapade.com for details.