Don't be a tourist. Be our guest!

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 ‘Women’

Cooking sessions in Provence continue with chocolate

October 11, 2013 By: guest Category: Cooking trip Provence, Food and Recipe, Jac's Travel diary, Provence, Women 2 Comments →

I know you are all waiting for the chocolate but before that, there is more.

We went with the owner of our hotel and the chef to the supermarket to buy the veggies for our cooking session. Pierre, the owner, explained the local produces you can find at this local store:

photo 4

photo 3

Jutta, with the green shirt, was very attentive. Jutta is probably our A student on the trip. Lani and Cathy, on the other end, would probably not get a A. They were much more …dissipated.

photo 2

At least they are having fun and that is what matters. Below is a picture of the whole group with the chef Yvan (below to the L and the owner Pierre):

photo 1

Back at the hotel, we started our cooking session. Yvan taught us easy recipes to reproduce, that involved pistou (=provencal version of pesto), tapenade, lamb, veggie tart, tian of veggies (a version of ratatouille), mashed potatoes with raw garlic (and gallons of olive oil in it!!!!) and for dessert, a “fondant au chocolat” (chocolate lava cake).


As you can see, in the back, Jutta is watching very carefully and taking notes. I told you she was our A student.

We aslo went in the herb garden with “kilted” chef….Yes our chef wears the kilt (see pic below) and I couldn’t answer Lani’s question. Does he wear it the “real” way meaning the scottish way, without anything under???

Kyle was following him, not because of the kilt-I think- but because she didn’t want to miss an opportunity to taste some samples from the garden. When it comes to picking up herb and tasting and smelling, Kyle is the A student.


Lunch was served in the garden.


Kathy had a different question, not about the kilt but about the the pot. What does it have a hole in the tip?


Lani suggested it was to avoid dripping and Kyle, who also gets a A for google searching, confirmed the hypothesis.

What about the chocolate pastries? Well, we did make a chocolate lava cake but I forgot to take a picture. Tomorrow, we will go to see a pastry chef who will teach us how to prepare some fine chocolate desserts.

Too see the whole itinerary of this cooking and food trip to Provence, click here.

Olive oil tasting and truffle hunt in Provence

October 09, 2013 By: guest Category: Cooking trip Provence, Food and Recipe, Jac's Travel diary, Provence, Women 3 Comments →

French regulations demand that the origin of the olive oil must appear on the bottle. Look closely. At times, such info appears in mouse type. The FR5 sleuths embarrassed one shady vendor at a market in Aix-en-Provence who was selling olive oil from Spain.

Take the generic phrase “a product of the European Union” that appears on the back-of-the-bottle label of the popular French supermarket brand Puget. Origin of this olive oil: Spain.

So if you want to make sure the olive oil is from France, you should go and see Andre in Gordes, Provence. That is what we did on our food trip. Andre built his beautiful shop in 2003 and started to produce olive oil.


We started the visit with a walk in the olive orchards. We learned everything about the olive tree, the harvest technique by hand and the process to produce the oil: extra virgin first cold press of course.


We then tasted the different oils Andre produces: AOC or tradition olive oil but also basil, rosemary and truffle olive oil. But that is not all: toasts with different tapenades and of course some rose wine.


Kathy, from our group, felt very comfortable with Andre…


Kathy is the “trouble maker” in the group. You will see what happened to her in the afternoon.

After lunch we went truffle hunting. Of course, we needed a dog. We went with Robert, truffle hunter and his dog, truffle hunting under the white oaks in the forest of Gordes. Kita, the dog, was excellent and found 5 truflles in the 3 different areas we visited.


After the hunt, we were invited by Robert to eat truffle toast in his house. He served us toasts with butter, fleur de sel de Camargue, sliced truffles and olive oil. It was simply delicious. He also served us two different types of white wine.


Kathy, again, decided to double the slices of truffle on the toasts. So she removed the slice from one toast and put it on another one. She started to pile up all the toasts from where she had removed the truffles. She finally tried to hide them but doing so, she spilt her glass of wine on the table and on Jutta’s pants…Robert had to take care of it.


I think Kathy should be voted out of the truffle farm too!!! Just kidding. We all love her.

It is actually a very nice group and everyone is getting along great. More adventure to come on our food and cooking tour to Provence.

Gourmet Catalan food on our painting tour to Spain.

September 17, 2013 By: guest Category: Food and Recipe, Jac's Travel diary, Travel to Spain, Women, painting workshops No Comments →

Every day started with an enormous and delicious breakfast: many pastries, cheeses, yoghurts, egg tortilla, but also ham, chorizo, salami, salmon, sardines, a lot of fruits, different types of bread, water, juices, even wine!!!!, hot chocolate, many different types of coffees, teas, etc…


spain-breakfast (1)


VID10812 2

And in addition to the sumptuous breakfast, you have the incredible view on the ocean.


We also had gourmet dinners. I will let Sandy Delehanty, our teacher on the watercolor workshop, tell you about it:

“Our French Escapade led Watercolor Journaling trip to Spain, continues with gourmet food that Jackie our French Escapade guide has included in this trip and we are all LOVING!

Judy said one night that she thought Jackie should have advertised this trip as a “Painting/Gourmet Food Trip” since every one of our dinners together have been fabulous and we have learned so much about the Catalan way of cooking.  I think she is right!

Here is a market photo that gives you an idea of the freshness of the ingredients that the chefs use to do their magic.

food_1752 copy

One of our dinners was at Can Joan in a nearby town that some locals recommended to Jackie when she was planning her first tour of this area.  The specialty was a unique version of Paella made with the rice negro grown here and a very soupy style sauce and of course loads of fresh seafood and sausage etc.


dinner_Sept_1_1877 copy

Really great, as were all the many tapas.

June not only loves the food and the company she also loves the Sangria, but do not worry, not all of the glasses in this photo are hers, she is too much a lady to go overboard.

June_Sangria_1875 copy

The next morning at breakfast June confessed that she did not have quite as much “spring in her step”! The dessert was a real treat as well.


And since we are by the coast, the fish is caught that day. At many restaurants we went to, we were presented with the fishes of the day so you can choose which fish you want.  I am not a fan of mussels but everyone else in our group has been raving them.  At home I do not like sardines, but fresh caught here they are terrific.


Those big shrimps were used in a typical Catalan dish called Fideua. It is a different version of the paella. The rice has been replaced by little noodles.

Below was the best salad I had on  this trip, warm goat cheese salad.  The large round of goat cheese was actually grilled, their were all kinds of goodies along with it as you can see, even tiny sweet strawberries, and the dressing was balsamic vinegar and oil, artfully drizzled.  The restaurant’s name I have forgotten but it was in the tiny seaside village of Calella de Palafrugell where we have been staying.
food_5006 copy
It was as much a painting than a food experience!”
If you want to taste the Catalan food either on a painting tour or a cultural tour, click here.

From the sea to the plate in Palamos, Costa Brava

July 08, 2013 By: guest Category: Jac's Travel diary, Travel to Spain, Women 1 Comment →

Today, after learning everything about fish at the “museum of the fish” in Palamos, we went to see the boats coming back from their day of fishing: octopus, gambas, sord fish, makerel, sardines, St Peter’s eye, and many more….



The fish auction was a hit. Buyers bit electronically on the box of fish they want to buy but they only bit when the price goes down and reaches what they think it is worth. If they wait too long watching the price goes down before biting, then another buyer will have bought before them and they get nothing.


The cherry on the cake was the cooking demonstration by a chef, preparing some specialties from Catalonia. Sharon helped preparing the “crema catalunia” which is similar to the French creme brûlée. The French say that the creme brûlée came first but the Catalan say that the catalonia crema come first of course.


Kathryn prepared the”pan amb tomaquet” which are toast with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil.


Kelly and Kate prepared the aioli: Kate kept on mixing in one direction and Kelly on pouring the olive oil.


Barbara didn’t feel like cooking but she admired the fish.



The chef showed us how red wine is drunk by the fishermen:


Barbara, Kate and Lé tried and Lé was the champion. She mastered the art of drinking like a Catalan sailer vey well.


We ended the evening with a swim in the sea at sun set.


This is our last night on the Costa Brava, in a magical place:


Boating with Californian girls on the Costa Brava

July 07, 2013 By: guest Category: Jac's Travel diary, Travel to Spain, Women No Comments →

Now, I am in Spain again with 8 women from California, all friends. I was expecting them to be wild but it is not the case at all. I guess I should not listen to rumors….


From L to R: Gail, Kelly, Kate, Lé, Boo, Kathleen, Sharon and Barbara in front.

We went boating in Cadaques, on the Costa Brava. Cadaques is a magical town. Everyone in the group said that it was like a movie set and that after we leave, the decor will disappear.




Here is a pic of Lé and Kate and they were posing for the paparazzi called Gail and Kelly below:


Lé and Kelly jumped and in the water and told us it wasn’t cold. Four of us jumped too but it was freezing cold!!!! I should have had a clue when I saw them swimming non stop. It got warmer after awhile but it was quite a long while!


From Cadaques, we went to the “end of the world” called Cap Creus. Some were so fit they decided to walk up there. A strenuous walk for Barbara and Sharon (kind of…):


A superb day on the Costa Brava.If you want to join us on this cultural trip to Spain, visit

Painting Gordes: a big challenge

June 18, 2013 By: guest Category: Jac's Travel diary, Painting tours to France, Provence, Women, painting workshops 2 Comments →

Who says life is easy? Who says that being on vacation is a piece of cake? Today, the painters on the oil painting workshop to Provence have been confronted to a big challenge: painting the hilltop village of Gordes.


Here is Lynn Gertenbach’s painting in progress (Lynn is the teacher on this trip).

For the students, it was more of a struggle.


Bobbi and Betsy found a shady part but to get there they had to be a bit of a climber.


Holly was even more adventurous. After climbing, she went down a wall to be in the middle of a field with flowers. All the tourists coming to Gordes took pictures of her. She is going to be in pictures all over the world.


From Left to Right, Josephine’s easel (sorry Josephine, you are hidden behind Ghislaine), Ghislaine, Lynn (standing up), Lori and Patrish. They didn’t feel like climbing to paint. Besides, they like to paint a street going down towards Gordes to make it even more dramatic so they chose another spot by the side of a non busy road.


Oh, I do have a picture of Josephine. I can stand behind Josephine and she doesn’t hear me because she listens to her iPod.


Lori is advertising for me because she is wearing the “French Escapade” visor I gave each of them. You can tell by her smile that even though it was not easy to paint all those medieval houses, it was still fun.

But the trip is not all about painting. We went to an olive oil factory and the owner, Andre, gave us a tour of the factory explaining how he makes olive oil.


Then, the best part, was the tasting:  plain olive oil, basil olive oil, truffle olive oil and rosemary olive oil. Even though everyone’s suitcase was already heavy when they arrive, everyone bought the oil. How can you resist such a great first cold press, extra virgin fresh olive oil?


So far, it has been a wonderful trip. The group is great, very funny and everyone is getting along.

Great weather, great food, handsome people, what else can you dream of?

Dancing the night away in Provence

June 16, 2013 By: guest Category: Art, Jac's Travel diary, Painting tours to France, Provence, Women, painting workshops 1 Comment →

Lynn Gertenbach, an oil painter from South California, has arrived with her students for a week long in Provence.

Luckily, the weather is wonderful, even quite hot. Until last week, it had been chilly in France, even here in Provence, which is very unusual. But now the sun is here and the sky is blue.

We are staying a week long at the same location, la maison aux volets bleus, in Venasque, a charming village in the Luberon.


Here is the group at dinner:


From L to R: Ghislaine, Holly, Betsy, Bobbie, Lynn, Patrish, Josephine and Lori.

After dinner, we had a great surprise. The little tiny village had a special festivity planned: a latin night. There was a DJ playing not only salsa, rumba and merengue but also some disco, hip pop, etc…

Eight of us went to check it out (while Patrish decided to stay at the hotel and read). The minute we got there, Holly and her mother Betsy went on the dance floor and never left it.


Holly and Betsy danced all night long…

Well, the dance floor was gravels since we were on an outside parking lot. Lori, Josephine, Ghislaine, Bobbie, Lynn and I joined them. Luckily, the DJ taught us the moves for all the latin dances so it became sort of a line dance. There were 4-year-old kids dancing the night away as well as older people. Some were really excellent some were just trying out but the most important is that everyone had a blast.


We called it a night around 11PM. Nice start for our week.

To follow the full itinerary of our painting week in Provence, check our site

We got invited into a French home

October 07, 2012 By: guest Category: Cultural tours to France, Food and Recipe, Jac's Travel diary, Women 2 Comments →

It is not everyday that you travel to France and get invited into someone’s home. When you travel to France in a small group with French Escapade, you do.

Our guide, Jackie, had a surprise for us. She invited us into her house in France. Valerie, her friend was our host and had prepared a wonderful lunch for us.


Smoked salmon, rice salad with tuna and beans, hams, tomatoes and mozzarella, corn bread, cereal bread, walnut bread and of course wine. Here, Lupe, Susan and Kaye:


From L to R: Judy, Valerie (our host in the back), Carol, Laurie and Cathy:


Sandra and her mother Kaye:


Christine and her daughter Megan:


The other surprise was the celebration of Carol and Lupe’s birthdays. Valerie had bought some pastries made by the chocolate maker we visited in the morning. Delicious!!!!!




Here is our entire group with our host Valerie (front  right).


It was such a wonderful event and really unexpected. Make sure you go on a French Escapade tour to France to experience the same.

Sun, pottery and walnut oil in the French Alps

October 05, 2012 By: guest Category: Cultural tours to France, Jac's Travel diary, Women No Comments →

Yesterday, the surprise was a boat ride  with dinner on the Bourget lake. It was also Lupe’s birthday. There was someone else celebrating his birthday, the pilot’s father.


Her came to congratulate Lupe, took a picture of both of them and asked Lupe for her email so he could send her the picture. Nice way to get someone’s contact info. Just kidding!!!  The guy was really friendly and said he loved America.

Today, we went to Chanaz. It is the cuter village in Savoie (in my opinion).

There is a canal going through the village, going from the Rhone river to the Bourget lake, the biggest natural lake in France:


The village is from the medieval time but they have now built very cute wooden houses on the water. You can rent them for holidays. I think I might, they were too cute and in my favorite village…


Before visiting the 19th century mill where walnut oil is made, we stopped in a little cute pottery. The new design of the pottery maker was inspired by the drwings of her 10 years old daughter. She called her new collection “sales gosses”, meaning “mischievous kids”. Kaye felt in love with the design and couldn’t resist her shopping temptation:


The other Kaye and her daughter Sandra felt for for mugs with a different design. It is not made in China but made in Chanaz !


If it was not pottery, it was tea with wonderful exotic flavors, or candies or, of course, the walnut oil that we bought (it is hidden in the orange plastic bags that everyone is carrying):



This morning, we were in Annecy, the little Venice of the Alps: more water and more canals:




Here is the entire group. From L to R: Sandra, Lupe, Kaye, Susan, Carol, Laurie, Kaye, Christine, Judy (you can only se her hair…),  Megan and Cathy.

It was market day so we got a chance to taste all the specialties from Savoie: cheese, salami, honey, …



The weather was very nice. Another wonderful day.

If you too want to share a wonderful experience with French Escapade, check our tours at

Cheese tasting in the French Alps

October 04, 2012 By: guest Category: Cultural tours to France, Customs and Traditions, Food and Recipe, Jac's Travel diary, Women No Comments →

Yesterday, a new group has arrived. This time a bit bigger: 11 people. I know it is still a small group but usually I take 8 so it is bigger.

We are staying in the charming town of Aix les Bains, by the Bourget lake. A real feeling of vacation.

Today, we went to Haute-Savoie in the town of Thones to visit a cheese factory. They make raclette, abondance, tomme de savoie and reblochon cheese. The cow in Haute Savoie are mostly the Abondance type. How do you recognize an Abondance cow? She wears sunglasses. Really, she has a brown stain around her eyes:


We had a chance to see the cheese being made then went to the cellar to see how long and how the cheeses age:


We saw a movie about the making of the reblochon and the unique story of how this cheese got its name that means “double milking”  and then …did the tasting of course, everything served with Savoie white wine:




In the afternoon, we went to the biggest ski resort in the world: Chamonix.

Did I take pictures of Mont Blanc? of the glacier? of the “Aiguille du midi”? Well, not exaclty. I took a picture of Mont Blanc but not the mountain but a pastry. Here it is, next to some other ones that are worth being in the picture as well:


Tonight, I have a surprise for the group so I can’t tell you what it will be!!!!!

To join us on our tours to the French Alps, Belgium Provence, Swizterland or Spain, check our site at

Will you stay in Provence for the weather or for ….

September 27, 2012 By: guest Category: Cooking trip Provence, Food and Recipe, Jac's Travel diary, Provence, Travel notes from our guests, Women No Comments →

What will be your reason to decide to live in Provence? The sunshine 300 days a year? The lavender? The olives? The nougat? The potteries? The art? or ….?

Well, Sherri M., one of our guests on the cooking tour for women in Provence has another reason for living here:

Sherri M. says:

“No cooking expedition to France would be complete without an exploration of that most precious of “mushrooms”
known as the diamond of the kitchen- the truffle. While many amateur cooks visiting France would be content to purchase truffle pieces or truffle oilat Fauchon or Hediard, we were fortunate to go on a truffle hunt in Gordes with Robert Florent, a third generation truffle hunter, and his son.

Our hunt took us in search of summer or white truffles, but Mssr. Florent educated us about winter or black truffles as well. We learned about truffles from the region, from Perigord, and the less desirable truffles from China. We now know how truffle oil is made, what truffle products to avoid at the grocery, and how to store and use fresh truffles.

truffThis is not Sherri but Diane holding the truffle found by Robert’s dog.

tourrettecavage 014

(Sherri continues..): For me, it was love at first sight, or should I say at first bite. The unique flavor of summer truffles, which we tried thanks to the hospitality of Mssr. Florent who welcomed us into his home and served us savory truffle canapes, and winter truffles which I’ve been privileged to taste in the past, had made me dreaming about relocating to Provence and marrying the charming and entertaining Mssr. Florent :)!”


Here is a picture of Sherri cooking while dreaming of the truffle man!!!!!!


Oil painting workshop by Victoria Brooks in Provence

September 17, 2012 By: guest Category: Jac's Travel diary, Painting tours to France, Provence, Women, painting workshops No Comments →

The new group of artists has arrived. It is an oil painting workshop taught by Victoria Brooks.

Yesterday, the day started with a demo from Victoria.


Then everyone started to paint a vignette from the terrace. Our hotel is so cute and charming, there is plenty to paint.



Today, we went to Gordes. If you have been reading my blog you know how beautiful that hilltop village is.

vic7From L to R: Brenda, Linda, Susan H, Jan, Donna, Karen, Victoria and Susan M.

In the morning, the group painted from outside the village looking up to the village on the hill. Some people got intimidated by the complexity of the buildings and they decided to paint the landscape or a little shed by the side of the road. I didn’t take many pics because I was busy shopping for the picnic and then looking for Susan’s glasses (which we found!!!).



In the afternoon, we went to the cute village of Maubec but that will be for my post tomorrow.

Stay tuned for more adventures of our oil painters in Provence. See the complete itinerary of the painting workshop to Provence.

Watercolor paintings produced on the trip to Provence

September 14, 2012 By: guest Category: Jac's Travel diary, Painting tours to France, Provence, Women, painting workshops No Comments →

I think it is time for you to see what our guests did during this week. Each artist was asked to show one of their paintings they like the best and here they are:

View from the terrace of our hotel in Venasque by Ann:


Ochre cliffs in the village of Roussillon by Carole:


House in the village of Venasque by Bobbie:


Doorway from a house in Venasque by Pat:


Pottery shop in Roussillon by Loris:


Fabric pattern, displayed in Roussillon, by Pollie:


Courtyard from our hotel in Venasque, by the teacher JoAnne:


Last night, we celebrated Pollie and Carole’s birthday with a tropezienne (cake with vanilla custard) and some champagne. It was also Jerome’s, our chef, birthday:


Our lovely group after loading all the luggages in the van:


Since we can’t see Bobbie much in the picture (yes she is there, you can see her eyes under Carole’ fushia arm, I have taken another one. From L to R: Judy (our general), her mother Lois, Ann, Carole, Pat, Pollie (whose birthday was that day), Bobbie and JoAnne.


I drove everyone to the train station this morning. A page is turned and a new one will start. Tomorrow I will go and pick up an oil painting group. Stay tuned for more painting adventures in Provence with French Escapade.

Our watercolor group in Provence

September 13, 2012 By: guest Category: Jac's Travel diary, Provence, Women, painting workshops No Comments →

Like I promised in my previous blog, I want to show you that our guests did paint in addition to shopping, eating, drinking and having fun!!!!!

Here is Bobbie in the garden of the Van Gogh museum in St Remy de Provence:


Here is Carole drawing from the terrace (from our hotel) overlooking the Mont Ventoux:


Below is Ann, very concentrated in the old monastery that is now part of the Van Gogh museum in St Remy:


Pat was also sitting in the same courtyard:


JoAnne, the teacher is doing a critique of everyone’s work in the living room of the hotel:


Lois, our senior but I am not allowed to tell you her age, has been very busy too:


Her daughter, Judy, is not painter but came along for the fun. She is a knitter:


Oops, did I forget anyone? Oh yeah, Pollie. You can find her on the phone….


or feeding the cats…


or shopping on the market…


ok, I was just teasing her. She has been painting a bit too, see below the arts of our artists:


Everyone did a wonderful job, some more abstract, some more colorful but all very meaningful. Good job!

Join us next year on a painting tour to Provence. Check here.

Truly amazing Van Gogh show in Les Baux de Provence

September 12, 2012 By: guest Category: Jac's Travel diary, Painting tours to France, Provence, Travel notes from our guests, Women, painting workshops No Comments →

Part 2 of the testimonials from our guests on the Provence painting workshop:

“We had an awesome “surprise” today. After spending part of the day painting ( and knitting ) at the hospital in St. Remy, Jackie took our group to carrieres-lumieres (quarry of lights) to see a wonderful presentation of Van Gogh and Gauguin paintings. They are illuminated on the walls of a former limestone quarry. Tres magnifique! “


“The art of Van Gogh and Gauguin displayed in the “carrieres-lumieres (quarry of lights)” was very inspirational, especially with the music of Brahms and Pavarotti. I was so moved, I almost start crying.”


“It was amazing.You felt like you were in the painting, you were part of the art, it was all around you, even on the floor”.


‘When I first got in, I was disoriented because of the the images on the floor moving under my feet. Then I got used to it and it was fabulous. It affected all your senses: your vision, your motion, your hearing,… I had never seen anything like that”.

Below is a picture of the quarry without the show so you have an idea of the size of the walls.


Besides having fun, people have been painting as well. Yes, really!!! Tomorrow, I will post some pics of people “at work”….

More info about our tours to France, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland at