TRAVEL | Provins, France

I have to admit, I feel privileged to have been given plenty of opportunities, more so in my career where I get to focus on my passion: health and wellness. Last May, I was given an opportunity to speak at an international conference in Dublin, Ireland, and learn from some of the best in the international health industry. It was an amazing opportunity I wasn’t going to miss, so I dragged Mr J and we decided to tag on a much needed holiday after the conference. Ireland, UK (by way of Scotland and my beloved, whisky), to the South of France, Paris, and finally Dubai. Short, sweet, but sensational!

I might be blogging backwards here, but I’d like to start our travel stories by talking about our last stop: Provins. It was the day before our flight back home, we had an extra day to explore outside of Paris, and we were totally, immensely in love with France. Provins was just the right amount of history, accessibility, and uber French romance for these two Aussie travellers. It was also the perfect last French city before we head back to the beautiful land of red earth and golden sunsets (Australia!). Plus, I had to admit, my inner nerd was fully geeking out at the fact that Provins is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Provins is about 1 1/2 hours train ride south east of Paris. Catch the Transillien P train from Gare de lest, which should take you straight to Gare de Provins. A return trip is an affordable 22€. The train ride itself is comfortable, and you get spoiled with the most beautiful French countryside views without having to travel too far.

This is a walking town, and I wouldn’t suggest any other way of exploring it. Like most small European places, it’s hilly, with cobblestone-paved streets, small lanes, not much street signs (and the rare ones we found were of course, in French), and quite deserted. Have no fear – everything leads to the church and the town centre in, well, the centre of town; just follow the streets and if in doubt, ask a local in your best broken French (or just consult Google Maps). Buses also run around the city, but why bus it when you can walk it? Make sure you’re wearing really comfortable shoes, a hat, sunscreen, and lots of water during summer.

We were pleasantly surprised and equally amazed by this beautiful city. Go to Provins if you’re after medieval architecture, French trading and commerce history, dainty little cafes and shops, underground galleries, and the perfect day trip from Paris without breaking the budget. 🙂

  1. Visitor’s House (or Tourist Centre) – it’s a bit of a walk from Gare de Provins, but I think it was worth going to the Visitor’s House to get your bearings of the place, purchase tickets, and get some local knowledge before exploring the town. The friendly lady at the Centre also gave recommendations on what to do and where to go, which shows were playing, and the times. We purchased our tickets to the Caesar Tower and the Underground Galleries here.
  2. Ramparts and the Fortified Gates – dating back to the 11th and 13th, the gates surround the Upper Town and are easy to spot on your way to the Visitor’s House.
  3. Town Centre – lots of choices for lunch, a bit of shopping for jams and souvenirs, and sightseeing.
  4. The Caesar Tower – built between 1152-1181, the tower was once a watchtower and a prison. There are multiple stairs (some quite steep and narrow) to get to the bells of Saint-Quiciace Collegiate Church, but once you reach the top, you’ll be treated with spectacular, panoramic views of Provins. Before leaving the tower, make sure you watch a short video of the history of Provins. This is found in the lower room.
  5. Eglise Saint-Quiriace – built as far back as 1019, this church remains unfinished and yet I found myself mesmerised by its modest beauty. Because of the many additions and renovations throughout the centuries, the church is a mixture of medieval, romantic, renaissance architectural styles.
  6. The Underground Galleries – learn more of Provins’ history and commerce as you walk through the Underground Galleries. Yes, it’s cold, damp, dark, and somewhat claustrophobic – and yet still worth checking out the Medieval graffiti in the vaults. Make sure you ask for the English tours; we joined the French tour because it was the only one running that day. Check the Visitor’s House for the tour details.
The bell tower inside The Caesar Tower
View of Eglise Saint-Quiriace from the top of The Caesar Tower
Inside Eglise Saint-Quiriace
Eglise Saint-Quiriace
Eglise Saint-Quiriace
Eglise Saint-Quiriace

 

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Cake Decorating at Sweet Sessions with Cakes by Cliff and Lime Tree Bower

I lost the motivation to bake.

There, I said it.

I haven’t really made any cakes or cupcakes in a while. Maybe it’s the lack of motivation, procrastination, moving to a smaller apartment (and hence a smaller kitchen), or all of the above. I felt uninspired, and no energy to exert any effort in baking.

Until last month, when Mr J gave me a birthday present in the form of a cake decorating class: Sweet Sessions with Cakes by Cliff and Lime Tree Bower. I knew I was going to enjoy the class, but I didn’t realise how much I was going to love it. Cliff and Helen were so knowledgeable in all things cake and florals – from the technical, to the artistic, to giving us creative freedom to just do whatever we wanted with the decoration. We covered the basics: how to make your own swiss meringue buttercream, the right temperature, the right tools to use, cutting, layering, and assembling. Wiring florals, choosing which ones are appropriate for cake decorating, taping, and then decorating. I had so much fun that it made me super excited to getting my hands dirty again with flour, butter, and buttercream! Thank you so much Cliff and Helen for your patience, generosity, and energy! Really enjoyed the class, and am looking forward to attending more!

 

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Special Sunday Scones

Are you jam first cream second, or cream first and jam on top?

With scones, that is.

It’s one week away from the end of winter, and we’re enjoying 8 degrees, gail force winds, and a forecast of snow up in the mountains. It’s also a Sunday afternoon and raining outside, and I’m in the mood for some baking. Luckily, I managed to buy all the ingredients that I needed from the shops this morning – fresh butter, self raising flour, milk, cream and jam. And let’s be honest: my go-to scones recipe does not need a lot of ingredients. The key here is to use fresh ingredients. I tried making this a few weeks ago, but using flour and baking powder from my pantry, and somehow they failed to rise and the taste were just not right. Today’s batch were a million times better: these babies have a golden brown crispy outside, but buttery and fluffy inside. Not too crumbly, not too doughy.

Simple this recipe may be, but I know that I’m only 5 ingredients and 20 minutes away from warm, soft scones and happiness on a Sunday. Oh, and I’m jam first, cream on top kind of girl. 🙂

Best Sunday Scones
Recipe from Taste

3 cups self raising flour
150g cold butter, cut in cubes
1 cup cold milk
Whipped cream (or better, clotted cream) and jam of your choice

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
  2. In a bowel, mix the butter and flour together by using your fingers. “Press” the butter cubes into the flour until you reach a sand-like consistency.
  3. Create a well in the middle of the bowl, and pour the milk in. Using a small, blunt knife, mix the flour roughly into the milk.
  4. Sprinkle a bit of self raising flour on a flat surface. Place the flour and milk mixture on top.
  5. Roughly knead the dough together, but do not overwork the dough. Tip: instead of using a kneading technique, I “fold” the dough in itself around 5 times maximum. What you’re trying to achieve is a soft, slightly crumbly finish with layers thanks to the roughly mixed butter and the “folding” technique.
  6. Cut small rounds and place on a pre-floured baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.
  7. Serve with cream and your jam of choice. Enjoy!

 

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