In France, it's not hard to discover la vie en rose. Every aspect of life is regarded and undertaken with that particularly French form of serenity, a sense of calm and pleasure that permeates each and every moment. From the daily stop at the boulangerie for a fresh, warm baguette, to taking a moment to sit and share a café with friends (or just with the newspaper), to marathon five-course meals in which every morsel is savored, life in France is truly a breath of fresh air—and a much appreciated séjour from the rat race of our daily lives.
We took a trip recently to indulge in these treasures first-hand. While there, we discovered small city of Orléans, nestled snugly in France's Loire Valley—a region renowned around the world and even in France itself for its superb cheese, wine and châteaux. The city is also well-known for its majestic Cathédrale de Sainte-Croix, dating from the 14th century. It is the simply picture of a perfect Gothic cathedral—its sculpted façade towering over the square below it, covered in gargoyles, saints, and breathtaking stained glass. We found ourselves awed and inspired by the impossible heights of the structure and the amazing slivers of colorful light thrown about the interior by rays of sunshine. The city is also the birthplace of Joan of Arc, and the French heroine is ever-present in the broad, cobbled streets and open social squares of the city. In true French fashion, these streets and squares are peppered with countless little cafés, each with a collection of tables outdoors that invite strollers to take a pause and enjoy the day—even in the cold (most cafés have heat lamps that keep the outside tables comfortable)!
While visiting, we also found it absolutely essential to experience the beloved ritual of l'apéritif, whetting our appetites with delectable tastes of the region's finest cheeses, from patay to tomme, always with a glass of the traditional cocktail kir—a mixture of crème de cassis liqueur and white wine—in hand. As each day passed, we also couldn't help ourselves but to fall into the utterly French tradition of a daily trek to the nearest boulangerie, feeling ever-so authentic walking through the streets with a warm, crunchy baguette in hand. The dedication to freshness in cuisine here is transfixing—from the ubiquitous boulangeries to the local, open air markets that pop up all around the city throughout the week—and we discovered that the fresh, handmade delicacies we were lucky enough to taste are truly unmatched. Throughout our travels around the world, we gain something a little different from each culture we experience—and what we brought home from France to share with you is a dedication, understanding and love for artisanal, authentic and handmade treasures.