In North America, Hallmark movies have become part of the Christmas tradition, a celebratory viewing of feel-good movies together with the whole family while snuggled on the couch, with Christmas decorations surrounding you. But what about those of us who want to travel over the holiday season, but would still like that warm feel-good feeling that small, Christmassy towns give you in the films?
If you find yourself in France, fret not, there are plenty of small, friendly towns and villages that give you that Christmas cheer and charm. I have selected some of my favorite places that give you a warm fuzzy feeling, with a quaintness that makes your heart soar, and doubly so around Christmas time.
Here are some not to be missed.
Picture yourself walking through medieval city gates, across an ancient bridge, looking down to an old watermill sitting in the middle of the river. Nearby are restaurants looking out over the river, and a main street decorated with pretty lights. Moret-sur-Loing lies on the perimeter of the Fontainebleau Forest and is picture perfect. If you ever wanted to send a Hallmark postcard from France, the view from the bridge at Moret-sur-Loing would certainly be on the front. Not surprising that the painter Sisley was inspired by the town, and you can follow in his footsteps on a private walking tour hitting all the scenic spots.
Pro Tip: While walking along the Loing River will occupy you for a while, this is a small, if hugely quaint town, so why not combine it with nearby, and also rather pretty, but a bit more lively Fontainebleau?
2. La Petite France, Strasbourg
Strasbourg is well known for its Christmas cheer, but when it comes to Hallmark movie-perfect settings, head straight to the old quarter by the river. La Petite France was, in the Middle Ages, the home of the tanners, because of its proximity to the river Ill. In those days, I am sure it was not a desirable place to be, with the tightly huddled houses, narrow lanes, tiny squares, and those smells. Today, Petite France is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but at Christmastime, it is still the same as centuries ago, but much improved. Tightly packed half-timbered buildings, all a little crooked, tiny squares filled with huts and stalls and twinkling trees, and the smells lingering in the air are that of mulled wine, hot chocolate, sausages with sauerkraut, and plenty of sweet things. The river is now clean and gurgling through locks and a double-decker 17th-century dam. Add covered bridges, and the cutest houses on little peninsulas right in the river, and you have probably found the most Hallmark movie spot in France. I would never suggest that you don’t look at the whole of Strasbourg, it is so lovely, but La Petite France is where you could easily imagine a film crew capturing the utter prettiness and charm of this quarter. And, you have a good chance of it snowing at Christmas.
Pro Tip: To really soak up the romance of Petite France, stay at the Hotel & Spa Regent Petite France located in a 17th-century former watermill, and you will be right in the movie.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a community just across the Seine from Paris. Perched high on a hill, with Paris stretching out below, not only are the views movie-appropriate but so is the small town. The marketplace of St-Germain-en-Laye is filled with a gorgeous selection of fresh food and produce stalls every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday, and together with the narrow, cobbled streets that lead out to a grand castle and those views across Paris, are reason enough to love this community. But add the Christmas sparkle and the Christmas Village which has the backdrop of the chateau, and it gets very picturesque indeed. This is the place many choose to live in preference to central Paris, mostly because of the community, charm, and quaintness, all within a 20-minute RER A train ride of Paris.
Pro Tip: Sit with coffee and a croissant on the terrace of Café de l’Industrie, at the back of the market square, and watch the hustle and bustle, and you will see why this community is included. Everybody knows everybody else, stopping to chat, and then go about their daily business, and you can just imagine a Hallmark plot taking place here.
4. The Saint-Louis Quarter, Versailles
Versailles is beautiful at Christmas, but for that extra touch of charm, away from the rather grandiose palace, head to the Saint-Louis Quarter. Here you find no imposing grandeur, nor rugged medieval history, but the superbly quaint and charming “Carrés Saint-Louis.” A village within the small town of Versailles, so very different from the rest of the town. There are squares hemmed by tiny buildings, the ground floor usually housing an individual boutique, an art gallery, an artisan workshop, or a small café, and on the floor above, former living accommodations. All painted in beautiful colors, and too cute for words, these little buildings cover a few blocks. They surround picturesque squares where children play and old people sit and chat and were constructed under Louis XV as accommodation for a new market, still perfectly retaining their unique charm that would be a perfect setting for a Hallmark movie.
Pro Tip: Stay within Saint-Louis so as to not lose that Christmassy feeling and sleep in the small and utterly romantic Hotel Berry.
Dijon has so many cutesy corners, crooked half-timbered houses, and small historic spots, that it is always a delight. But at Christmastime, all these special little corners are lit up, filled with market stalls, and turn into a Christmas wonderland. Especially the corner of Place Francois Rude, nearly too charming for words.
Place Darcy and Rue de la Liberté contain around 60 chalets selling beautiful arts and crafts and offering the best of Dijon’s famous cuisine, which is even better when sampled in winter. Who can beat a warming beef bourguignon? For that little bit of an extra special treat at Christmas, head to the truffle market held in the market hall.
The pretty market hall, designed by Monsieur Gustave Eiffel of tower fame, is one of the most iconic would-be Hallmark movie locations, with families doing their seasonal shopping, people meeting friends at the various stands over a glass of wine, and everything twinkling with pretty lights.
Pro Tip: For that old-world charm, stay at the Maison Philippe le Bon, which is a lovely hotel in the center, which has kept the old features of the house and enhanced them with modern touches. The restaurant is superb, too.
The capital of France’s Champagne region comes into its best at Christmas, with a Christmas market huddled around the ancient cathedral where France’s kings were crowned. Ignoring the rest of the city, however lovely and historic, and just strolling through the market, with its miniature train, Christmas trees everywhere, chalets full of mulled wine and warming food, and stalls of pretty Christmas decorations hand-crafted in the region, gets that warm fuzzy feeling going pretty quickly. Families are walking hand-in-hand, enjoying the miniature fairground and the large snow globe where Santa resides, and Christmas cheer is everywhere. What makes Reims stand out when it comes to potentially starring in a Hallmark movie, are the small champagne outlets that pop up throughout the market. Cozy little corners where you are provided with a warm blanket and a flute of champagne, and you can just visualize someone meeting up with the (future) love of their life.
Pro Tip: For a lovely, cozy meal after walking around the city, pop into the romantic L’Alambic for dinner.
7. Montmartre, Paris
Ask anybody, and most people will say that Montmartre is their favorite neighborhood in Paris. And the reason? Because it is a perfectly preserved village within a large city. Perched on the hill Butte Montmartre, it not only offers great views but is distinctly different and separate from the rest of Paris. At Christmas time, this village is prettier than ever. Even the carousel, which always stands at the bottom of the steep steps up to Sacre Coeur, looks prettier at Christmas if that is possible. But twinkling lights, stalls, and decorations enhance every feature of this neighborhood and if you cannot imagine a romantic girl-find-boy movie set right on Place du Tertre, the one with all the artists exhibiting their wares, then you don’t have a romantic bone in your body. On Place des Abbesses, the one with the gorgeous metro stop, a Christmas market takes over the square, and you can wander from there past the small shops and cafes and find yourself in movieland — quite literally, because this is where Amelie was filmed.Pro Tip: To soak up the atmosphere and run your own film edits in your head while watching life go on at Place du Tertre, sit in La Mer Catherine, one of the oldest restaurants in Montmartre, dating to 1793.
Visiting France at Christmas offers opportunities for other activities:
This luxury hotel opened in 2018.
At first glance, my arrival at the Hotel Chais Monnet and Spa doesn’t appear to be particularly welcoming. Thick imposing walls conceal what was once a 19th-century trading house and cellars owned by Jean-Gabriel Monnet in 1898. Once you’ve swept through the gates, you’ve entered an immaculately landscaped garden of lawn and ornamental grasses overlooked by two grand mansions – one a classified monument. Beyond sit two arresting, contemporary glass square structures adorned with steel tendrils which resemble vines.
As a reminder you’re in France, two pristine iconic Citroen 2CVs (which guests can use to pootle around the vineyards) sit at the entrance.
About a 90-minute train ride away from Bordeaux or La Rochelle, sitting just outside the town, the property is now in the capable hands of Javad Marandi (owner of celebrity hangout Soho Farmhouse in the Cotswolds). He enlisted architect Didier Poignant to transform this industrial estate into a luxury hotel which opened in 2018.
Most of the 92 rooms are reached via the vast glass atrium with original beams, a circular-glass elevator and a sweeping Hollywood-style staircase. It’s all been sensitively designed around the old structures and decorated with dramatic modern sculptural pieces. Despite its slick appearance, Chais Monnet is sublimely relaxing.
Perhaps it’s the light streaming through the glass roof, the incredibly discreet staff who hover silently, appearing just when you need them, or the pure joy of being in this quintessential part of rural France, but it’s a heady combination.
The hotel has 92 sophisticated and cosy rooms.
Rooms come in four categories. There’s also an additional four apartments for larger groups and a beautiful suite. All typify French elegance and come in the colours of the Cognac ageing process – from warming ambers to deep tobacco tones.
Textured fabrics from Pierre Frey sit beautifully against pale oak furniture with leather tops and herringbone floors are topped with beautiful rugs.
Rooms are sophisticated and cosy sanctuaries with little outdoor seating areas. There are cupboards galore, beautiful sofas and chairs, mini bars, even monogrammed writing paper. Nothing has been overlooked and the luxurious bathrooms come with toiletries from Grasse perfumer, Fragonard.
Food and Drink
You’ll be dizzy before you even try a sip of one of the 220 different Cognacs on the elevated bar in Le 1838, the former cooperage. It has a gentlemen’s club-meets grandcountry-house vibe with chesterfields, brass instruments and cowskincovered ottomans.
If the weather’s fine, there’s also a rooftop bar with sweeping views across town. Chais Monnet’s fine-dining restaurant, Les Foudres, has just been awarded a Michelin star and this year, for the first time outside Paris, the Michelin guide will be launched in Cognac. That’s some recognition.
Stylish Le 1838 cocktail bar is set in the old cooperage.
Chais Monnet’s Head Chef Marc-Antoine Lepage is a master at creating culinary masterpieces but also artistically visual creations. The elegant restaurant sits in the ageing cellars under 100-year-old barrels.
A taster of the menu includes artichoke cream ravioli, line-caught wild turbot and veal cooked in a crust of bread. The five-course tasting menu costs €135.
For something a little more relaxed, La Distillery, with its heavily beamed roof, wooden tables and tiled floors, offers all the French classics, from snails and oysters, to steaks, duck and guinea fowl. Starters from €14, mains, €22. And for a quick pick-me-up after touring the Cognac distillers, the Angelique cafe does a wicked afternoon tea served by the utterly charming Brit, David.
Housed in one of the glass buildings, begin your wellness journey in the spa either in the inviting indoor/outdoor pool, Jacuzzi or the array of “shower experiences” which includes a tranquil waterfall complete with tropical birdsong and warm waters, before the heavens open and a monster storm with lightning and thunder rains down. Five rooms offer everything from salt scrubs to deep massages. If you fancy something more intense, there’s a gym with all you need. Body exfoliation from €130.
Relax in the spa with a treatment or two.
THE DEAL: Double rooms at Chais Monnet Hotel & Spa start from £220, room only, chaismonnethotel.com. Excursions can be aranged via the hotel.
More to see and do
There’s so much more to Cognac than Cognac. Here’s a taster of things and places not to miss:
Chais Monnet sits minutes from the town. Meander through the winding streets, lined with beautiful shuttered buildings, 12th-century churches and boutiques. Grab a bicycle at the hotel for a pootle along the riverside promenade, home to classic Cognac houses, Martell, Hennessy and, further in town, Remy Martin.
Sail along the waters of the Charente River on a replica of a wooden sailing boat, the Gabarre. The boats sailed in the 18th and 19th centuries transporting goods such as wine, stone and salt. These days, you’ll have the river virtually to yourself as you glide along.
Cognac is home to 15 cognac houses and there are also more than 4,000 winegrowers in the region, and its biggest export market is the US thanks to their love of a cocktail. The Queen sources her cognac from Thomas Hine and Co founded in 1763 where Cellar Master Eric has been blending cognacs for 20 years. There are more variations than you might think, and with older ones, such as VSOP (very special old pale), the richer and smoother it becomes. Unsurprisingly a tour culminates in a marathon tasting of six types.
The smaller, fourth-generation Cognac House, Painturaud Freres, in the pretty town of Segonzac, has an adorable distillery and you can even enjoy a picnic in the vineyard before taking a tour of its “engine room”. Right now it’s harvest time and they are busy starting the distillation process.
The breakfast of French champions is oysters with balsamic vinegar, washed down with a crisp white wine. The tiny hilltop village of Bouteville, around a 20-minute drive from Cognac, is home to France’s only balsamic vinegar producer, Le Baume de Bouteville. Teaming up with Huitres Cocollos run by French- Irishman, Jacques Cocollos, they offer tastings with both French and Irish oysters, in their distillery.
(CNN) — The beautiful islands of French Polynesia have officially reopened their borders to travelers arriving from the United States.
Though that’s good news for people eager to find a vacation spot this summer, don’t assume that everything is back to normal in the archipelago.
The islands of Tahiti and Moorea still have a curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. every day until at least June 1.
Vaccinated travelers will be required to include an official certificate of vaccination, such as a CDC card.
All travelers, regardless of vaccination or immunity status, will be required to supply negative PCR test results taken three days prior to arrival. Antigen tests are required upon arrival, and another PCR test is required the fourth day after arrival.
Vaccinated travelers, as well as those with proven immunity documented by a serology test, can bypass the 10-day quarantine. Unvaccinated travelers will still be required to quarantine for 10 days.
For the return test required for travelers to get back into the United States, there is a rapid testing facility inside the airport.
What is there to do once you arrive? Shops, restaurants, bars, museums, houses of worship, video game parlors, sports grounds, salons and other businesses are largely open, although they must respect local curfews and maintain social distancing inside.
Masks are also required at all public places throughout the islands, except for kids under the age of 11. Nightclubs, outdoor markets and circuses are closed. Restaurants are limited to six people per table.
From the United States, there are direct flights from Los Angeles, Honolulu and San Francisco.
All flights arrive at Faa’a International Airport (PPT) in Papeete, the country’s lone international airport.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated quarantine rules for all travelers to the islands of French Polynesia. Currently only unvaccinated travelers must quarantine for 10 days. The story also has been updated to clarify who can travel to the islands now that tourism is reopened there. According to updated information on the Tahiti tourism website after the story was published, the islands are open only to travelers arriving from the United States.
BERLIN (AP) — Germany announced Sunday that travelers from France’s northeastern Moselle region will face additional restrictions due to the high rate of variant coronavirus cases there.
Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, said it would add Moselle to the list of “variant of concern” areas that already includes countries such as the Czech Republic, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
Travelers from those areas must produce a recent negative coronavirus test before entering Germany.
The Moselle region in northeastern France includes the city of Metz and borders the German states of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate.
Clement Beaune, the French minister for European affairs, said France regrets the decision and is in negotiations with Germany to try to lighten the measures for 16,000 inhabitants of Moselle who work across the border. Specifically, he said France does not want them to face the daily PCR virus tests that Germany has applied elsewhere to travelers along some borders.
“We don’t want that,” he said.
He said France is pushing for the use of easier, faster testing methods and for tests every 2-3 days rather than daily. More talks were expected later Sunday, he said.
The Robert Koch Institute recorded 7,890 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Germany over the past day, taking the total to over 2.4 million cases. The death toll rose by 157 to 70,045.
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
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French police say they will probably have to wait until spring to continue the search for a British hiker who went missing late last year in the Pyrenees.
Esther Dingley, 37, had been walking alone in the mountains near the border between Spain and France and was last seen on 22 November.
French police captain Jean Marc Bordinaro told the Times “all possible investigations” in French territory had been carried out “without any result”.
He said: “We have no indication permitting us to confirm the presence of Esther Dingley in France since she was seen for the last time on the Spanish side of the Pic de Sauvegarde. We’ll probably have to wait till spring to undertake more searches.”
Dingley’s partner, Daniel Colegate, who had been hiking with her but was house-sitting at a French farmhouse on 22 November, said earlier this month he did not believe she fell or had some other kind of accident.
He also dismissed suggestions she could have voluntarily disappeared.
Writing on Facebook, Colegate denied the suggestion Dingley would spark a major search operation by vanishing, rather than simply telling him she needed time alone. He said: “All of which leads me to believe that somebody else has been involved in Esther’s disappearance and against her will.
“This is a terrifying prospect and I wish I could believe otherwise, but I cannot.”
The couple, who have been together for almost 19 years, met at Oxford University and lived in Durham before they set off travelling around Europe in a camper van six years ago.
As the number of COVID-19 infections continues to climb and highly contagious variants of the virus have emerged, some countries are imposing new travel restrictions.
Breaking News: This trending news development is making news headlines at this time:
France is prohibiting all travel to and from non-European Union countries. Under the new policy beginning Sunday, travelers from EU countries seeking entry into France will have to provide evidence of a negative coronavirus test.
Travelers from several European and African nations — Brazil, Britain, Eswatini, Ireland, Lesotho, Portugal, and South Africa – will not be allowed into Germany. However, German residents traveling from those countries will be granted entry, even if they test positive for the coronavirus virus.
France, Germany and the Czech Republic said Friday they will restrict in-and outbound travel amid concerns about more contagious strains of the coronavirus spreading across the European Union.
The French PM added that more transmissible UK and South African strains pose a “great risk” of a surge in virus cases in the republic, he warned, adding that all big shopping malls will be shut and clients of smaller ones will be spaced further out starting next week.
The German government said it would bar most travelers from countries reporting more contagious coronavirus variants from coming in starting Saturday.
The Czech Republic will ban all non-essential travel to the country starting midnight. Exceptions include people traveling for work and studies and those who have a temporary or permanent residence permit.
Priti Patel says government considering mass testing of lorry drivers
Talks aimed at reopening the Channel crossing are ongoing after France shut its border with the UK for 48 hours over concerns about a new variant of coronavirus spreading quickly in southeast England, with hopes that an agreement could be reached as soon as today.
Around 50 countries have so far banned arrivals from the UK in an attempt to stop the variant from taking hold, with countries such as South Africa and The Netherlands also targeted by travel restrictions after cases were reported there.
China announced on Tuesday it was closing its London Visa application centre in the wake of the worldwide bans. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation gave its cautious backing to the flight bans, saying they were “prudent” but argued for key freight and passenger services to be maintained.
Where have talks got to on reopening the French border?
With queues of trucks snaking through Kent and supermarket shelves stripped just days before Christmas, Boris Johnson has scrambled to get French President Emmanuel Macron to lift a ban on freight from Britain.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, has said a deal to reopen the Channel crossing could come as soon as today.
“We speak to our colleagues in France constantly on a range of issues and that work has been underway over the last 24 hours and we’ll continue today,” she told Sky News. “We’ll see what materialises today.”
Asked if there would be an agreement on Tuesday, Ms Patel said: “We’re working to get a resolution. It’s in both our interests to ensure that we have flow.”
One possible solution could be mass testing of HGV drivers. But with wait times for test results of around 24-48 hours, there is no guarantee that would quickly clear the backlog, even if it did form part of the arrangement.
Tom Batchelor22 December 2020 12:28
Ryanair raises eyebrows with ‘last chance’ Christmas flight sale
With flight bans upending travel plans across Europe, now might not be the best time to advertise a “home for Christmas” ticket sale.
But that hasn’t stopped Ryanair from offering seats across its vast network for just €19.95 under the tagline “lockdown lifted”.
Tom Batchelor22 December 2020 12:17
Hungary bans UK flights for seven weeks
Hungary’s government banned air passenger planes from Britain from landing in Hungary until 8 February to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the government said in a decree published late on Monday in its official gazette.
The flight ban is one of the longest implemented globally, with most countries opting for a shorter time limit as they assess the potential threat posed by the new variant of Covid-19.
The decree, signed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, extends to regular and charter flights but does not include emergency landings, which are permitted.
Tom Batchelor22 December 2020 12:06
Ireland extends travel ban to January
Travel restrictions from Great Britain to Ireland will remain in place for the rest of the year, the Irish government has decided, Simon Calder reports.
Along with many other European Union nations, the republic originally brought in a 48-hour travel ban.
The prohibition has now been extended up to and including 31 December 2020.
Irish citizens who have been on short breaks to Great Britain or who are transiting UK airports are being provided with travel options – including government-provided flights and access to ferries.
Tom Batchelor22 December 2020 12:03
China suspends London visa application service
China is suspending operations of its Visa Application Service Centre in London from 22 December in response to the new Covid-19 variant, the Chinese embassy in Britain said on Tuesday.
Yicai Global, a Chinese state-affiliated news outlet, said the move would limit the travel plans of UK nationals hoping to visit China.
Tom Batchelor22 December 2020 11:57
‘Don’t travel to Kent,’ transport secretary tells hauliers
Grant Shapps has for the second day running told lorry drivers to avoid Kent as hundreds of trucks remain stranded.
In a tweet the transport secretary said hauliers risked getting “stuck for longer” if they attempted to reach France from the south coast of England, where Channel crossings for drivers have been suspended.
Tom Batchelor22 December 2020 11:44
Sweden closes border to Denmark
People living in Sweden and Denmark are unable to hop over the bridge linking Malmo and Copenhagen after officials in Stockholm banned travel to its neighbour over Covid fears.
The measure, which came into force at midnight on Monday, means everyone traveling from the UK or Denmark will be expelled if they try to enter Sweden.
Some exceptions exist, including for the movement of goods as well as Swedes and people who live or work in Sweden.
Tom Batchelor22 December 2020 11:20
Singapore Airlines offers UK travellers flight credit or refunds
Singapore Airlines has said customers with bookings for flights departing from the UK from tomorrow, 23 December, will be affected by new rules banning entry, with some exceptions.
Affected passengers will be notified of their travel options and may retain the value of their ticket as flight credits, rebook or seek a refund.
Tom Batchelor22 December 2020 11:13
Ryanair rescue flight
Ryanair is in talks with the Irish government about operating a “rescue flight” to help stranded people return from the UK.
Seats will cost €95 one way and anyone who is interested is being urged to contact the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.
Tom Batchelor22 December 2020 11:06
Wealthy turn to private jets to avoid flight ban
Private jets are being sought in increasing numbers to meet demand from the super-rich to travel this Christmas as travel bans ground planes around the world.
Mark Briffa, chief executive of private aviation business Air Partner, said there have been a “growing number of enquiries” from travellers in recent days.
He said bookings included private jets for individuals and families, as well as businesses wanting to charter larger aircraft to fly employees home for Christmas.
Mr Briffa added: “Businesses such as those in the pharmaceutical and oil and gas sectors have been in touch to fly groups of employees home in as little as 24 hours.
“Ultimately, this is a continuation of the trend we have seen throughout 2020 of many people turning to us to enable them to travel in a reliable and safe manner in these disrupted and uncertain times.”
Tom Batchelor22 December 2020 10:53