Friday, July 22, 2011

Im Schwarzwald

View from our drive up the mountains
 Since we were already in the Black Forest area, we decided to push further and spend a few days in the Traube Tonbach,  a hotel located in a nature preserve within the Black Forest. And while I am a self confessed city girl, I have to admit that the views were breathtaking.

Vast panoramas of gorgeous trees and pristine meadows filled abundantly with vibrant mountain flowers were what greeted us at every twist on the mountain road and the view from our room was no less magnificent.
view from our room
 I couldn't resist taking a shot of this house nestled cosily among the trees....

And while I don't ordinarily do hotel reviews, I am making an exception this one time, to say that the Traube Tonbach exceeded all our expectations.  It has all the wonderful amenities (3 pools, a huge sauna/spa area, 4 restaurants including a 3 star Michelin one, and big comfy rooms) that one can find in a five star hotel but what really stood out was the gracious and kind attention to detail of the staff.  Nothing was too much for them to do and there were thoughtful touches everywhere. And unlike other big hotels, Mr. Finkbeiner whose family has run the hotel for over two hundred years, was always on hand, ready to help or just chat.

Our welcome gift 

A shot of the outdoor lounging area
It was a gorgeous experience and one that we hope to repeat in the future!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Last week's long weekend offered us a good opportunity to visit another part of Germany, not too far from the French border. Baden-Baden lies but a mere 40 kilometers away from the Alsatian city of Strasbourg but in terms of ambiance, they couldn't be more different.

Baden-Baden (or just Baden as it used to be known)  is a quiet and peaceful spa town lying on the western flank of Germany's Black Forest.  In fact the word Baden means baths in German and its origins as a spa town dates back to Roman times, when the Emperor Caracalla used to visit and take his ease in the imperial baths.  Nowhere is this fact more striking than in seeing these antique roman bath jars suspended high above the ground where they were found.
the Caracalla Spa
From the old thermal baths, there is a good view of the town

 while below, they cleverly built a mini-museum to house all the Roman artifacts they've excavated from the site.
The city's main sights are clustered around a small area and I for one, was completely distracted by this utterly charming cafe scene along the banks of the river Oos which flows through town.
 In the nineteenth century, Baden became highly fashionable thanks to the Prussian queen, Elizabeth who took Baden's spa waters to improve her health. Some famous visitors included Queen Victoria, Wilhem I and even Napoleon III.

Oh and one funny fact, Dostoevsky wrote the Gambler in Baden  after he gambled away all his money and some say, his shirt, in the Casino!
the Casino
 Brahms was also enamored of this town, and his house can still be visited today.

Below is a photo of the fantastic looking Trinkhalle (pump room) with its 14 greek columns and impressive murals. It is now used as a tourist information office.  Not bad huh?

 And here is a last photo of one of the many pretty parks in the town

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A leisurely lunch

In a city where a new cafe, brasserie or bistro seems to open every week, eating out can get pretty daunting. How to choose among so many?  I suppose it helps when the restaurant comes with a lot of positive reviews or when the chef at the helm is renowned.

I'd been dying to try La Regalade, ever since we got hooked on the cooking reality show Master Chef last year, because one of the judges was Yves Camdebord and he was the brains behind the restaurant.  He is feted for being at the vanguard of the Bistro Moderne movement which in essence advocates gourmet cooking for bistrot food.  Needless to say he was immensely successful.  Unfortunately for me, before I could get a chance to try his cooking, I found out that he'd already sold La Regalade in order to start another restaurant/cafe concept ( I did try to get into that but proved impossible. Not one to give up on food, I'm determined to keep trying.)  Despite his move, La Regalade continues to draw crowds thanks to the efforts of new chef Bruno Doucet who more than amply carries on the tradition.  

Its difficult to make reservations at this place. Especially since they are closed on the weekends.  Finally though, I was able to score a lunch reservation and it was with great anticipation that we set out.

Once  we arrived, we had the pleasant surprise of discovering that there was a formule of 35 euros for entree, plat and dessert. This is a steal for a restaurant of this quality. So I'm afraid we stuffed ourselves full that day.

the Entree

I started with the wonderful black ink risotto with gambas and boy, was that a good start to the meal.  The risotto was cooked to perfection and the gambas were the perfect accompaniment.  And since it was a good sized portion, I wondered how I was going to do justice to my plat.

I need not have worried since I took one look at the plat and knew that it wasn't going to be a hardship to finish. Hahaha! I don't know about you but I have a difficult time ordering red meat in restaurants. I like it cooked really really well done and very often, it comes less well done than I like.  This time though, I ordered roasted pork and it came exactly as I wanted it. It was roasted to perfection, the skin crispy while the flesh was tender and juicy. And if you're wondering what I had with it, it was actually served on a bed of lentils which was equally yummy!

I really should've stopped after the plat. Having dessert after the first two courses was simply a case of gluttony. But they had this wonderful chocolate ganache cake that proved irresistible. I tried to be virtuous by avoiding the chocolate ice cream it came with, but well, I still managed to put away the cake.

What a memorable and wonderful meal!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ingredients for a delightful at home treat

1. Gather some fresh fruits of the season. In our case, juicy strawberries and sweet raspberries

 2. Warm up a pot of this delicious Fondue au Chocolat for 15 minutes till the chocolate becomes warm and gooey (ours came courtesy of Benoit chocolates)
3. Assemble fruits and chocolate (bananas optional)
 4. Indulge and enjoy

Cheers to a great week!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A museum piece

One of my favorite places to walk around in is the Village St. Paul. In the village, there are a number of little antique stores where one can see amazing things but my favorite one for jewelry is hands down Cote Cailloux. It's not very big but in terms of content, it is a veritable Ali Baba's cave.  It has the added benefit of having as proprietor one of the friendliest people I have ever met in this city renowned for surly shopkeepers. I can literally spend hours in Diane's store looking at everything. She has jewelry from all eras, from turn of the century to the present and she also makes her own. Diane's jewelry is massive and wonderfully intricate, perfect for haute couture. 

What I like best about visiting is Diane's generosity in showing me the rare and the beautiful things she acquires for her personal collection.  Case in point, this magnificent 1930s cuff style bracelet.  Its wonderful face is made of landscape jasper but wait, what makes it special is....

the fact that it opens to reveal a built in mirror and a small powder box. I literally gasped in delight when I saw it.  Back in the thirties, ladies took a lot of care with their toilette and this bracelet was one of the ways by which they ensured that they looked their best. Isn't that cool?
I just had to take pictures of this marvelous museum piece to share with all of you.  Here below is another shot of it from the side. Its wonderfully built of solid metal but for all of that is surprisingly light.

Needless to say, I had a hard time putting this beauty back in the store....

Secret garden

I have this little routine that I do when I come home after being away so often.  The day after I arrive and after doing the chores that have accumulated in my absence, I take a little walk around our neighborhood. Getting reacquainted if you will, with the people in the neighborhood--the cheery folks selling fresh vegetables, my favorite boulanger with my preferred bread. I even take a peek at the couple who take in all our drycleaning.  We visit the park that's next to us, just to see if there are still as many pigeons there.  Its a nice sort of way to ease back into the home routine.

After Madrid, we decided after the walk to head further out and maybe do a bit of window shopping. We headed towards the Bon Marche but along the way, we got distracted. 

In the middle of all the Haussmanian buildings, there seemed to be a quiet square that I had never seen before.

 Its small with a few benches but enough trees to make it seem like a secret garden. Its the perfect spot to sit and read a good book. Or to make a little break from the hurly-burly of daily life (snacks are optional).

 There's even a little slide, perfect for a little one with a yen for big adventures.

What a nice homecoming treat!