[2 March 2008]
Travel + Leisure’s Unexpected France
Nancy Novogrod (Introduction)
January 2008, 192 pages, $24.95
Sandwiched between commentaries by two former Vogue editors on the fashion inspiration to be found in Paris and Versailles, and a final article on tracing the footsteps of fashion icon Coco Chanel through the capital city is a mesmerizing journey of largely lesser-known parts of France. This beautiful book is comprised of selected articles from Travel + Leisure magazine, and includes helpful itinerary planners in the way of maps and tips on what to see, plus where to eat and stay. For the more adventurous, it is a taking off point; after perusing descriptions of the myriad spectacular villages in the southern Aveyron region, I just want to jump on a plane, rent a car, and wander twisting stone passageways in hillside settlements or dream among ruined monasteries.
The armchair travelers among us can all find something to love in the mouth-watering descriptions of cuisine in various regions, and the photography is wonderful, ranging from close up shots of sumptuous four course meals (as well as rustic country bread) to glamorous chateaux atop misty riverbanks. The range of the collection is excellent, from describing the faded glory of the Ritz to the currently popular roulottes, gypsy wagons where one can spend a cosy evening surrounded by colorful decorations and simple cooking. There are also handy tips on renting a small French cottage and living like a native for a week or two, booking such an economical dream vacation being possible via Internet.
Just when my eyes started to glaze over from the unending glory of descriptions of the French countryside and phenomenal food, an unusual section toward the back of the book details the craftsmanship of 20th century artists in restoring the stained glass windows of churches nationwide. There is an entire guide to contemporary stained glass, laying out a navigable tour of highlights. Widespread desire to restore sacred spaces damaged by WWII has led to some amazing artistic efforts.
Whether you prefer architecture, dining out, museums, or attempting to live as a Frenchman for a week, this volume provides unexpected inspiration for dreams of future travel.