Monday, November 23, 2009

Cheap Bike Renting In Nice

The beautiful and fun city of Nice France has started a public biking program called VeloBleu. It has 90 bike stations housing 900 bicycles accessible 24/7. As with its counterparts in Paris (Velib), Montpellier (VeloMagg), Lyon (Velo V), and Nantes (Bicloo), rental prices are somewhat unbelievably cheap, and the first thirty minutes of any bike use is included in the cheap rental fees, which are: One Day= 1 Euro; One Week = 5 Euros; One Month = 10 Euros; and One Year = 25 Euros. Bikes used for over thirty minutes are subject to a 1 to 2 Euro per hour additional charge.

You must be over fourteen years old to use the service, and use also need a cell phone, as the phone is used to lock and unlock the bicycles. Click here to access the downloadable PDF flyer with information in both French and English on how to use Velo Bleu with a map showing all the bike stations.

Enjoy bicycling on the Promenade Anglais along the magnificent turquoise water!

Biodynamic Farm and Farmstand in Appenzell Switzerland

If you are in Switzerland, a visit to the Appenzell canton of Northeast Switzerland, a region known for its beautiful farm land, progressive health laws, and rural traditions, is highly recommended. There are countless farms and fabulous “Wanderweg” hiking trails throughout. A favorite farm and farm store is in Gais, but if you don't know it's there, you wouldn't be likely to find it.

From the city of St. Gallen, you take the Appenzeller Bahnen, a small, red train which, as its name implies, travels through the Appenzell canton with trains running about every 30 minutes. Take this train for about half an hour to the town of Gais. (If you are in Teufen, Gais is about half-way to Appenzell on the train.) Once off the train, you will walk about 1 mile. Cross Schulhausstrasse and walk along Zung St., then cross Stossstrasse and slightly to the right of where you have been walking will be Kehr St. Walk on Kehr for about one-quarter to one-third of a mile and take a right onto Bommes Road – looks more like a driveway - within 20 yards or so you will walk into the yard of the Biodynamic Hofladen Farm where there is a little farm store. Biodynamic Hofladen Farm, Bommes 3, Gais, Tel: 71 793 37 85;

The store’s entry-way has fresh organic produce delivered on Fridays. Further inside you will find a mini-health food store with organic and free-trade food and treats, including farm fresh, biodynamic dairy products from the Hofladen Farm. There is nothing quite like farm fresh yogurt in a glass container – seems from a lost world - perfect and delicious (my apologies to non-dairy eaters.) Fresh, organic spelt bread, made from spelt grown a few towns over (a bakery that makes their own spelt pasta, pastries, and bread - directions on their Web site), is delivered Tuesday, Fridays and Saturdays. On those days the Hofladen store is open from 9:00 to 11:30 am and then again from 3:00 to 7:00pm. Every other day it is open from just 6:00 to 7:00pm.

Not much English is spoken, but everything seems to get across just fine. Two tips: In Switzerland (and many other places in Europe), when buying fresh produce you are responsible for weighing and pricing it. There is a number by the name of the item – e.g. Red Cabbage #62 – take your red cabbage over to the scale (somewhere in the produce area) and weigh it – you will need to punch in that number. A sticker will spit out with the weight and price that you apply to the bag or item. In lower-tech establishments, you may have to write it on the bag.

Also, remember to bring your own bags – many stores either do not have bags or charge for them, and often they are flimsy – so just get used to having a stash of canvas bags rolled up in your daypack.

The farm belongs to the Langenegger family. The grandmother, Lilly Langenegger, is a local famous artist who writes children’s books with beautiful illustrations of traditional Swiss rural images and Appenzeller farm life. The books are available in German, English and French. Pictures and purchasing information are available at the publisher Web site (in German, but translatable).

More Bread Searching in Spain - Madrid Now

 As I mentioned in my posts about searching for really good and artisanal bread in Barcelona, finding made-from-scratch, quality bread in Spain is harder than you might think. In Madrid you can go to one of the six locations for the Cosmen and Keiless bakeries. They offer a variety of bread and pastries, priding themselves on making their bread using traditional methods and with ingredients from  “clean crops”. Find baguettes, as well as spelt, multi-seed, multi-grain and olive oil breads, with a host of pastries. To find the locations for all six of the Cosmen and Keiless bakeries in Madrid click on “Tiendas” at the Web site. The La Salesas store is between the metros Colon y Chueca and the Principe location is between the Goya and Velzquez metro stops.There are no gluten-free options at this time, but if you can tolerate spelt you are in luck.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Magical Christmas: Markets in France

If you are thinking about a different Christmas experience and want to travel, both literally, as well as figuratively back in time, I would suggest going to one or more of the traditional Christmas markets that are held in Europe from the end of November to the end of December. France, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom have the greatest number of markets.

These markets conjure the images I remember from holiday books I used to read to my children -- The Gift by Aliana Brodmann, and The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden – both wonderful tales and with old fashioned Christmas markets featured in the stories.

France boasts over eighty Christmas Markets, or Marché de Noel as they are called in French. Some towns and villages have one Sunday in November or December dedicated to a Christmas market, but the large markets last for around four weeks and are usually open every day and all day.

Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of northeastern France, is home to the oldest Christmas Market in France - over four hundred years old. The Strasbourg market is today much like it was when it started in 1570, filled with musicians, craftspeople, food, and special events. There are special areas like the “Sharing Village” where sixty charity and humanitarian organizations have information about their work and where on December 14th a Flame of Peace from Bethlehem will be lit. You will find beautiful light displays amidst the stalls and historical buildings.

This year the Strasbourg market is held from November 28 to December 31, and is open from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm daily, until 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights. The market is such a tradition that the city has a Web page dedicated to it called Strasbourg Capitale de Noel. On the  “Practical Information” page you can download a PDF map of the practical aspects of the Market from tram routes to market stand locations most of which are located within the pedestrian zone of the city marked in yellow. At the “Editorial” page you can download a fourteen-page program guide listing musical and other performances and exhibits throughout the five-week market.

For green travelers you will be happy to know that Strasbourg is a very biker friendly city with over three hundred miles of bike paths and 18,000 bike racks for parking. Velolocation is a not for profit bike rental program with low cost bike rentals.

Metz, in the Lorraine region of northeast France, is under an hour and a half on the TGV high speed train from Paris with many daily round trips. Known as a Garden City (Ville Jardin), Metz has eleven parks and gardens covering four hundred and seventy acres. It also has one of the largest pedestrian areas in France so walkers rejoice!

Metz hosts a glorious and magical Christmas Market in the old city centre in and around the Place Saint Jacques, Place de General De Gaulle, Place Saint Louis, and the Esplanade. This quintessential Christmas Market with around one hundred stalls and filled with lights, roasted chestnuts, carolers, street musicians and dancers will be held this year from November 21 to December 27, open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, 9:00pm on Saturday night.

These are just two of the beautiful Christmas markets in France – I will cover more in subsequent posts – stay tuned.

Photo from the Metz Christmas Market Web site

Another Delicious Bread Source in Barcelona

Another bakery “heard” from – that is from fans – so we add Crusto to our list of delicious Barcelona breads and baked goods.  Open for just over a year, Crusto has been delighting bread oficianados in Barcelona with their fifteen yummy bread choices. Their Web page is new and minimal, but if you use Facebook you can find their fan page at Crusto.

You will find the Crusto bakery one block up from the major street of C/ Arago, about equidistant from the metro stops Diagonal and Passeig de Gracia. Crusto, c/ Valencia, 246, 08007 Barcelona: Tel: 934 870 551; Email:; Web:; open Monday to Saturday from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, Sunday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Searching for Good Bread in Barcelona

I have two high school friends living in Barcelona – one has lived there for years, the other is spending a sabbatical year there. On a recent visit we were discussing the abundance of wonderful food in Spain. My friend on sabbatical, who regularly lives in the United States in a region rich with artisanal breads, commented on how while so much of the food in Spain was fantastic, how disappointed he was with the bread in Spain. Given that I have had to regrettably give up gluten, I was not aware of the dearth of truly hand-made delicious bread in Spain. By appearances it would seem that Spain was rich in fresh-baked goods. This is true to the unsuspecting eye and traveler, but apparently much of what one sees as fresh baked local bread (and other baked goods) are in fact pre-prepared in industrial lots either partially baked and frozen, or as dough to be fully baked on site, made with industrial fast-rising yeasts and additives in factories to be distributed around the country.

Ahh, we had a mission! To find truly fresh local bread, made on site in local bakeries with slow leavening which enhances the enzymes, aroma, and taste of bread. We focused our sights on Barcelona since that is where two out of three of us are living. Happily we found that there are indeed numerous bakeries still churning out baked goods hand crafted on their premises. Listed here are just a few of the many with four of the six listed here using organic ingredients in some or all of their products.  All are delicious – you can do a taste testing tour and decide which are your personal favorites.

The Barcelona Reykjavik Bakery uses old variety grains such as spelt and kamut, as well as rice, corn, rye and oats – all organic, and all grown in Spain. The spelt flour comes from Asturias. They make a variety of breads and pastries – some plain, some unusually flavored. They also offer vegan and “low-gluten” and gluten-free options. Barcelona Reykjavik also does not use industrial yeast, but rather a starter as their leavening made from corn, peas, spelt and honey. Barcelona Reykjavik has two store locations both lined with gleaming white tiles. The store in the Raval area is four blocks west of La Rambla, and a couple of blocks north of La Boqueria market. The Gracia store is easily reached, one block from the Metro Fontana. Be prepared to pay for this delicious well made bread –some loaves are 8 euros. Both stores are open from Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 9:30 pm. Barcelona Reykjavik Bakery, Doctor Dou, 12 (Raval), and Asturies 20, (Gracia), Barcelona; Tel: 933 020 921; E-mail:; Web: (in Spanish, Catalan and English)

The Mistral Bakery has been housed by the University Plaza since 1879 and makes a range of breads and pastries in its wood-fired oven including certified organic breads. Mistral Bakery (Forn Mistral), Ronda Sant Antoni, 96 and around the corner at c/ Torres i Amat 7, Barcelona; Tel.: 93 301 80 37; Email:; Web:; Metro: Universitat; open Monday to Saturday from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm.

The one hundred year old bakery, Forn Fortino, uses their original wood-fired oven to bake their wide variety of breads by third generation family bakers. They make traditional breads and pastries as well as options with organic flour, and some without wheat or sugar. The closest metro stop is Fontana about seven blocks away. Forn Fortino, Travessera de Gracia 145, Barcelona; Tel: 932 373 873; Email:; Web:; open Monday to Friday from 6:30 am to 2:00pm/5:00 to 8:45 pm, Saturday from 6:30 am to 2:30 pm.

Born into a family of bakers, Xavier Barriga has been baking since he was fourteen and wanted to perfect his art making artisanal breads using natural leavening and quality ingredients. He founded Turris, rated as the best bakery in Barcelona by Barcelona Time-Out Magazine. Be prepared to wait in line for ten to twenty minutes to buy your baked goods, and expect to pay for quality -- do not go in with just a euro or two to spend – have at least ten euros in your pocket. Turris is four blocks from the Diagonal Metro stop. Turris, c/ Aribau 158, 08036 Barcelona; Tel: 932 179 606; Email:; Web: (in Spanish and Catalan)

Founded in 1953, the third-generation bakers at Forn d’en Pere make reasonably priced (2 euro/loaf) artisan bread with their own recipes offering fifty varieties of breads many with whole grains and seeds. Forn d’en Pere, Saints 326, 08028 Barcelona; Tel: 934 401 436; open Monday to Saturday from 6:00 am to 2:30 pm/ 5:00 to 8:30 pm.

Baluard is a bakery in the Barceloneta section of Barcelona making bread and pastries in the French-style with fresh baguettes, croissants, and whole grain varieties. Located a few blocks from the Barceloneta metro stop, by the beach and the Mercat Barceloneta (Market). Baluard, Calle Baluard, 38, Barceloneta, Barcelona; Tel: 932 211 208; open Monday to Saturday from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More Green Eats, Drink and Sleep Around France

La Vie Saine is a full service natural foods store chain in France. The Montpellier store is a Green Earth Guide Favorite, and not to be missed if you find yourself in Montpellier. If you are traveling in the regions of Burgundy, Savoie, Bordeaux or Languedoc Roussillon, you will be happy to know that La Vie Saine has ten stores in these regions. See the La Vie Saine Web site for all of their store locations. Remember when you see Magasins Bio that it means Organic Stores, not magazines☺

Chez Teresa is a two-bedroom bed & breakfast almost due east of Nantes in picturesque Fontevraud in the Pays de la Loire region of France. They serve vegetarian meals by reservation only, and have a little shop selling some vegetarian items plus conventional foods from the UK. They also offer writing workshops. Room range from 49-55 euros/night. Fontevraud is about equal distance from the sea and the mountains. Chez Teresa, 6, Avenue Rochechouart, right by the ancient and impressive abbey of Fontevraud;

Thirteen kilometers from Fontevraud you will find the town of Saumur where, among other sites, there is a great Saturday market and the museum of mushrooms, Musee du Champignon.

About one hour west from Fontevraud is the organic and biodynamic vineyard Domaine de Juchepie, Les Quarts, 49380 Faye D’Anjou; Tel: 02 4154 3347; Email:; Web: See the Traveling Naturally Ecological Wine Guide for more information about this vineyard.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween in Spain

As you might guess, Halloween is not a traditional Spanish holiday and has only started to be celebrated in the past few years. It differs wildly from Halloween in the United States. For starters, there are not gargantuan bags of candies being sold in stores as trick-or-treating is not part of the holiday in Spain. The focus is on costumes, making noise, partying and being with other people – the basic recipe for most festivities in Spain. Many clubs and bars will feature special Halloween events, people have private parties and some stores will offer special treats for customers. Street strolling and goggling is the most common activity.

Plazas can be packed with people, so if you are crowd phobic, Halloween may not be the best night for late night wandering – and late it is as people start to go home between 2:00 and 5:00 am. The traffic photo here was taken at 2:30am on Halloween “night” – imagine sound effects as well with shouting, honking and music. This is the busiest this particular street sees at any time of day.

Needless to the say, the day after makes for some pretty smelly and dirty streets as all sorts of bodily fluids are “shared” with the pavement, as well as discarded party remnants, as you will see in the photos.

If you love to dress-up and party, then Halloween in Spain is for you. If not, make sure you have ear-plugs in your suitcase.

Green and Groovy Eats in Paris

While abundant with eating options, large cities can be overwhelming when you are looking for quality food, and particularly anything special like natural & organic foods, vegetarian, or good local food. Here are some wonderful local, green and groovy places to eat and drink in the city of lights and love for all you travelers to Paris.

For a local dinner - but not for vegetarians - try Le Petit Canard (Canard means Duck). This is where locals go to eat and while they have some variety on the menu (like a salad with goat cheese), it does remind me of the old Dudley Moore/Peter Cook comedy routine about the Frog and Peach Restaurant, where you can order “Frog a la Peche”, or “Peche a la Frog”, because at Le Petit Canard it is all about duck! But you will be in heaven if you like duck. Le Petit Canard, 19, rue Henry-Monnier, 75009 Paris; Tel: 01 49 70 0795; open 7pm to 2 am every day for dinner. Metros: Pigalle or St Georges a few blocks from the rue des Martyrs within walking distance of Sacre Couer.

For organic crepes try the Breizh Café in the quartier Marais - not to be missed. Breizh Cafe, 109 rue Vielle du Temple, 75003 Paris; Tel: 01 42 72 1377; Web:; Metro: St Sebastien Froissard.

The Gentle Gourmet~The Vegan Place in Paris, is a bed & breakfast with a restaurant serving vegan, local and organic foods in the 16th arrondissement. A room with vegan breakfast is 130 Euros/night for one person, 155 Euros/night for two people. Dinner is 50 Euros/person, and Sunday brunch is 25 Euros/person. They are open seven days a week and you need to book ahead for all meals. Rooms have wifi and are stocked with organic terry bathrobes. The Gentle Gourmet also offers gourmet vegan cooking classes for those wanting to expand their cuisine repertoire. The Gentle Gourmet, is on Rue Duret between Avenue Foch and the Avenue de la Grande Armee, a few minutes from the Arc de Triomphe; The Gentle Gourmet, 21, Rue Duret, 75116 Paris; 0145 00 4655; Email:; Web:; Metro: Argentine.

For fabulous local and natural food and wine in Paris, explore the excellent web site at More Than Organic.  This link will bring you to the page where you can find wine shops, restaurants, bistros and wine bars serving natural wines and local foods. The web site offers information about wines and wine-making as well.  

La Cremerie is a wine store and bar specializing in natural wines, a couple of blocks north of the Luxembourg Gardens. Housed in an old creamery - hence the name - it has been a wine store for sixty years. La Cremerie, 9, rue des Quatre Vents, 75006 Paris; Tel: 01 43 549 930; Metro: Odeon; open 10:30 am to 10:00 pm Tuesday to Saturday with special times for tastings; Web site:

And as I mentioned in my post An Eco Saturday in Paris, the Tearoom at the Grand Mosque is a delightful way to spend some down time sipping fresh mint tea in the delightful blue and white courtyard. The Tea Room is open seven days a week from 9:00am until 11:30pm. Grand Mosque, 39 rue Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, 75005 Paris; Web:

Bon appétit!