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Stories from our groups of women traveling to France, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland. Plus info and travel tips about the countries we travel to.

Archive for the ‘Switzerland’

Swiss fondue as our farewell to Switzerland

June 17, 2011 By: jgrandchamps Category: Jac's Travel diary, Switzerland, painting workshops No Comments →

This was our last day in Charmey, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Like every day, we had a picnic lunch and used the bags our teacher Sonja Hamilton made for us. She spent time before the trip researching what we were going to see on the trip and painted those scenes on picnic bags that she gave us on our first day. That was so sweet of her. Here are pictures of each bag she made:










She even made one for Valerie who was not on the trip with us this time.


She designed a new logo for Jackie’s company, French Escapade with all the countries in Europe she organizes trips to: Belgium, France, Switzerland and Italy.


We returned to Gruyeres (the castle) and painted outdoors. I actually finished a small painting in a couple hours…a record for me.


We had time to explore the village and castle, enjoy the views from a mountaintop, and shop…all at a relaxed pace.

Later we took a funicular to the top of Moleson, the highest mountain in Gruyeres, with an amazing view.


After photographing in every direction, we had a fondue dinner in the restaurant there.  Yum!  It was a grand finale for a wonderful tour.


And this was the end of a fabulous trip in Switzerland with French Escapade.


Chocolate and more chocolate in Switzerland

June 12, 2011 By: guest Category: Food and Recipe, Jac's Travel diary, Switzerland, painting workshops No Comments →

In the afternoon we went to a chocolate factory.  What a great experience in several ways.

The place is very well organized for visitors.  The tour began with a cinema, or so we thought.  It was all computerized.  English speakers were grouped together for the intro and history of the development of chocolate.  We walked into what turned out to be an elevator that took us down into the first of several rooms with a mini Disneyland-like presentation in each one.


Rooms were decorated, animated, interesting, informative, and fun  There was an ever-present smell of chocolate.  Everytime the speaking ended in a room, a door opened to another room.  That was followed by a room full of cocoa beans, hazel nuts, almonds, etc, with information about all the ingredients, the benefits of chocolate for our health, etc. The smell…..Hmmm, cocoa everywhere.


Cailler is one of the few manufacturers worldwide to use slightly condensed milk instead of milk powder. It is a special process of vaporizing the milk into the cocoa that gives Cailler chocolate its unrivalled  taste and texture.

The milk in milk chocolate is from local cows, and the sugar is also from Switzerland.  Other rooms showed the old and new machinery and process of mixing, forming, and packaging  of individual pieces of chocolate.

Then there was a tasting room where no one paid attention to how many samples you tried…with no wrappers to slow you down.


Oh boy!  I decided to risk a migraine headache, and sampled with reckless abandon.


So far so good, though I most definitely pigged out and enjoyed every bite.


We all skipped dessert after dinner tonight.

You too, taste this delicious chocolate by joining our tour to Switzerland.

Where to taste the double creme with meringue?

June 10, 2011 By: guest Category: Customs and Traditions, Food and Recipe, Switzerland, painting workshops 8 Comments →

In previous post, Betty, one of my guests on the Switzerland tour, mentioned that she ate meringe with double creme. Well, it is worth to tell you more about this Gruyeres specialty.

If the region of Gruyeres is most well known for its Gruyere cheese, a close second is the fresh, local cream, famous for its high butterfat content.  Gruyeres has more cheese and double cream per square metre than any other town in Switzerland.The local make a fuss about it and they are right, it is really  worth the fuss, for its unparalleled, unctuous texture and its rather unique aroma.
Thick cream skimmed off milk. Its aroma, its delicacy and its creaminess make it one of the region of Gruyeres specialities. That’s probably why it’s served on top of just about everything, at all hours of the day. It is most often served on top of meringues or various berries. Hmmmm, really delicious.


The meringues are weightless and have the same texture throughout.  Bite into one and it just crumbles away in your mouth (and all over your shirt). The double creme is always served in a traditional wooden dish and with a sculpted wooden spoon as well like in the old traditions.


If you’re in Gruyères, you won’t have any problem at all finding meringues or double cream to buy.  Step into any shop and you’ll see walls piled high of plain meringues, or bags with different flavors, including caramel, chocolate or even cheese.


Every restaurant serves it a different way. They are all soooooo gooood!!!!!!!



Copie de IMG_9229

Bon appetit!

If you want to taste this delicious double creme with meringue, join our tour to Switzerland.

Watercolor paintings from Sonja in Switzerland

June 09, 2011 By: guest Category: Switzerland, painting workshops No Comments →

Continuing on with our trip. We do play, laugh,eat but of course it is a painting trip so we paint too!

This watercolor workshop, run by French Escapade (me!!) is taught by artist Sonja Hamilton, SWA.

Here are a few demos she did during the trip. The demos are for the students to learn a specific topic. In 45 min, Sonja is done with a beautiful painting.

Demo on how to paint windows and shutters:


Demo on how to paint flowers in a field:


Demo on how to paint clouds, mist and landscape:


Demo on how to paint water reflexion (here is Geneva lake):


If you are interested in finding more about either our cultural tour in Switzerland or our painting tour, click here.

We met Charlie Chaplin by Geneva lake

June 08, 2011 By: guest Category: Jac's Travel diary, Switzerland, painting workshops No Comments →

We started the day with the usual more than ample breakfast buffet at our hotel.  Most of us ignored the blocks of cheese, and sampled everything else.  We have cheese from yesterday’s excursion for our lunches.  I had my usual (for here) bowl of uncooked oatmeal with applesauce, other fruit, and hot or cold water mixed in.  We also have
hard or soft boiled eggs, bread, pastries, and more.  The pie is different everyday and really to die for. Today was my first time to indulge in meringues with double cream (whipped). Yum!!!!


Then Jackie drove us to Vevey, by Geneva lake.

Vevey and Montreux are known as the Swiss Riviera, not to be confused with the French Riviera on the other side of Lake Geneva.  Today we explored Vevey.    As we strolled along the lakeside path, we looked across the water and saw a few communities nestled between the shoreline and the French Alps, one of them being the famous Evian town (where the Evian water bottles come from).

There were a couple surprises on our side of the lake.

First, there was an enormous fork sticking straight up out of the water, not far offshore.   It was strategically placed across from a large building specializing in nutrition.


The other surprise was a statue of Charlie Chaplin, who lived in Vevey the last 25 years of his life.


Because of the breathtaking scenery here at the Swiss riviera (lake, mountains, vineyards), many famous people chose Vevey and Montreux for their secondary or sometimes primary residence, like Phil Collins, Barbara Hendrix, Queen singer Freddie Mercury, Igor Stravinksy, Charlie Chaplin, and more.


A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lavaux vineyards illustrate a thousand years of labour. To make the most of the long hours of sunshine, man reduced the slopes by forming terraces in order to produce a highly appreciated wine: Chasselas. Lavaux consists of terraces on steep slopes all the way down to Lake Geneva, covering an area of 830 hectares between Lausanne and Montreux. The site enjoys a Mediterranean climate, warm temperatures and the reflection of the light from the lake.


Today was market day….quite a large outdoor market with produce and other food, clothing, jewelry, and more.  We were happy to have pleasant weather all morning to be able to explore comfortably.

Having a wonderful time in a beautiful place with fun people!

Post from Betty, a guest on our tour to Switzerland.

Check the full itinerary of our tour to Switzerland here.

Gruyere or Gruyeres?

June 07, 2011 By: guest Category: Customs and Traditions, Jac's Travel diary, Switzerland, painting workshops No Comments →

Today we learned that while Gruyere is a cheese, Gruyeres (with a “s”) is a town or village.

su-gruyere cheese

Gruyere cheese


Town of Gruyeres

We started the day watching one man make about 65 pounds of cheese in the old traditional way using cauldrons over an open wood fire.


Oups, that is not him but Lina. Here he is:

su-cheese maker

He makes about 10 tons of cheese per year, using milk from 50 cows.  There are only four people involved…caring for and milking the cows and one cheese maker.  The milk is heated, cut through as curds form, heated more (to about 125 degrees) while stirring; then curds are scooped up out of the whey, packed into cheesecloth lined

molds, and pressed.  There’s more.  The now solid cheese is floated in a salt water bath off and on for a week or two, shelved and turned several times, coated with something to seal it, then aged for a year.

After the fascinating demo, we sampled four cheeses.  Yum!

su-cheese tasting

By the time we left the cheese factory, the morning rain had stopped, and we were able to sketch and/or paint outside.


Most of us sketched the Gruyeres castle.


su-castle paint

But I simplified and began a painting of a church instead.  It was challenging enough to get the perspective right on that without attempting multiple towers and rooftops on the distant castle.


In the evening we drove to the base of the mountain we had seen from a distance, and walked up a steep path to the top and into the castle gate.  There is a whole village in there with cobblestone streets, hotels, restaurants, shops, a church, a museum, and a park with a playground.   The castle was built in the 12th century for the defense of a city, and had a protective wall all the way around.  We had a

delicious dinner there at a typical chalet.


Some of us ate one of the typical meals, where you heat your meat yourself. Just delicious.


Random facts…  The minimum wage in Switzerland is about $20/hour. The top tax bracket is about 15%.  Gas is about $7/gallon.

Plein air painting in Charmey, the heart of Gruyeres

June 06, 2011 By: jgrandchamps Category: Customs and Traditions, Jac's Travel diary, Switzerland, painting workshops No Comments →

A new tour, a new group, a new country, We are now in Switzerland. The West part of the country, the French speaking part, close to Geneva lake, in the heart of Gruyeres.


From Left to Right: Lina, Jim, the watercolorist art teacher on the tour Sonja Hamilton, Linda, Helen and Betty.

Here is the post from Betty, one of our guests on our painting trip in French Switzerland. The pictures are mine but the text is hers.



From Betty:

This is an absolutely beautiful place.  I took 301 photos today.  Everything here is sensational.  Had a huge breakfast, and smuggled leftovers into our pockets for lunch.  We wanted to picnic, rather than spend time in a cafe for lunch.

su-111 Our village of Charmey

The weather here changes radically in the course of each day (or hour).  We walked a short distance from our hotel, sketched, took pictures, and watched Sonja paint window boxes full of flowers…a very common thing here.



The window we painted



Painting of the window by Sonja Hamilton

It was hot in the sun, but a lovely site.

Then we took a gondola to the top of a mountain, where we were surrounded by breathtaking views of jagged mountaintops, hills covered with wild flowers, a distant lake, Charmey stretched out in the valley, and more.


Even the dandelions were beautiful.


This is where The Sound of Music could have been filmed.  Stunning!  After major picture taking, studying unusual flowers, and just gazing at the view, we found a picnic table and sat down for lunch.


We were soon scurrying for cover as a light rain began.  Looking at the darkening clouds above, we decided to go to a chocolate factory, rather than pursue outdoor activities.  However, the sky began clearing, so we proceeded to a nearby town or village.  We stopped at a beautiful viewing place and took more photos.  Our attention soon shifted to six cows fairly close to us…nice looking cows.

About cows…this area focuses on cows and dairy so much that there are curtains, tablecloths, murals, every kind of cow ornamentation imaginable everywhere.

su-cows fake

su-bl cow

Cheese making is serious business here, and cheeses are slightly different when made at different altitudes.  The
best or most traditional cheeses are made at higher altitudes, so in June some farmers take their cows up into the mountains, stay there with them until the end of September, and make cheese.  The sound of distant cowbells is a common and pleasing sound here.

After visiting with the cows awhile, we started down toward town in the van.  That is when torrential rain suddenly hit.  Maybe we would see the chocolate factory today after all.  However, just as we reached a cascading waterfall, the rain stopped.


We took more pics and started sketching again.  Fortunately, we had trees to shade us from the sun.  Later we visited a church with a small cemetery.  Each grave had a unique wood carved marker that showed the trade or major
activity of the deceased.

We had a couple hours of free time before dinner.  Lina and I decorated our bathroom with a clothesline full of laundry.  Then we set out to investigate a local swimming pool (for me) and a nearby mineral bath spa (for Lina).  We are both excited about the results. The pool is closed tomorrow, but I will be able to swim Tuesday!

Off to sleep now…another big day tomorrow!

Sketch for a Swiss escapade

November 14, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Jac's Travel diary, Switzerland, painting workshops 2 Comments →

I just wanted to share with you some details of my recent stay in Switzerland: half for pleasure and half scouting for places to soon offer a new tour in Switzerland.


As usual, my main concern was to find authentic places and people, interesting places to visit and a fun ambiance for our future groups.


Moreover, one of the goals of French Escapade is to introduce our guests to the culture of the visited country, and mostly to meet locals. So I visited farms and was glad to meet wonderful hospitable people we will be able to meet.

It didn’t take too long to decide that the Gruyere area was still a beautiful preserved countryside, with stupendous chalets, peaceful herds of cows enchanting our ears with the music from their bells, cheese and chocolate makers all around, and friendly people.


So here is a special preview of the possible visits for this new tour for you (work still in progress!):

  • Gruyere cheese fabric
  • walk to mountain chalet (when season permits) for artisan cheese making
  • medieval village
  • pastry workshop
  • lunch in a private home to discover Swiss specialty food and drinks
  • paper-cutting artwork demonstration
  • 18th / 19th chalet villages
  • Balthus chalet
  • Swiss Riviera and Geneva Lake
  • Montreux market
  • salt mine
  • terraced vineyards
  • Medieval castle
  • Scenic train ride
  • cable car ride to peaks
  • Nestle chocolate factory


In 2010, we will probably start with a painting tour in this area (just a few cultural visits and great painting opportunities) with teacher Sonja Hamilton.


If you are interested or want to check all our 2010 destinations, visit us at