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Yes, of course you must go to Paris. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world and is packed with things to do from checking out the Louvre (the most visited museum in the world) to strolling along the banks of the Seine (or chugging down it in a sightseeing bateau mouche), gazing in awe at Notre Dame Cathedral or climbing up the Eiffel Tower, to visiting the latest art exhibition at the Musée D’Orsay, the former Beaux-Arts railway station.
I did all these things on a recent trip to Paris, plus I discovered a quirky new museum called Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature which has fast become one of the city’s coolest museums.
Housed in a side street in central Paris, the rooms of this delightful museum are named for their exhibits such as the Monkey Room, the Dog Room, the Bird Room, a strange small dark room called the Unicorn Room, and lots more. Each room is packed with paintings, objects, interesting things (look out for the fox on an antique chair), and you can pull out the drawers of display cabinets, find more fascinating things, and then look through built-in binoculars to see the how and where of each creature, its history, its place in folklore and its relationship to humans.
The day I was there the museum was packed with children oohing and aahing at bears, wolves and a lifesize gorilla, while Papa was eyeing the fabulous collection of hunting rifles, and Mama was listening to individual birds sing by pressing a button next to her favourite bird.
Be sure to add this to your to-do list next time you’re in Paris, particularly if you’ve children or youngsters with you.
But my destination was the 15th-century village of Boussac in the Limousin, in the heart of rural France. I was to stay at the gorgeous 19th-century chateau lovingly restored over a decade by famous South African painter Louis Jansen van Vuuren, and his partner, master chef Olivier Hardy. Each year the couple hold courses including shopping for antiques, learning about the most beautiful gardens of central France, creative writing, cooking and painting courses.
And while I’m there, one of my favourite outings is to visit the local markets. Come with me now and visit a brocante – a country-style village market held in small towns and villages all over central France every week.
On Sunday morning with the church bells ringing, we set off from Boussac to go to a neighbouring town where stalls display a visual feast of tempting things to buy. Make sure you sort through the “tat” (all markets anywhere have a high degree of rubbishy stuff) but if you keep your eyes open you can find hand-embroidered antique bed linen, porcelain from Limoges, a ’50s fur coat, elegant shoes and boots from a past age, old clocks, dolls, and teddies worn threadbare by loving.
Stallholders tend to specialise: this man sells only old items of quality such as a battered leather satchel or old hats; this lady concentrates on glass; this man collects and sells tiny model cars.
The Thursday morning market in Boussac sells clothes and food but you can also find handmade clocks and wooden furniture.
I stock up on hand-sewn jeans (French cut and style but at e20 a pair a fraction of the cost of shops and malls) which I try on in the back of the vendor’s van.
And even though Hardy’s cooking is the best I’ve ever had, I can’t resist a fresh baguette and homemade cheese.
So, once you’ve OD’d on Paris, be sure to seek out the country markets of rural France. You’ll love them. - Sunday Tribune