Fashions in the Lauragais

When we visit the Lauragais—the rolling countryside of sunflowers and vistas west of Toulouse—the charming town ofSaintFélixLauragais and specifically the Sybella Mode & Accessoires boutique top my list of places to return to every year.

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The hilltop village of Saint-Felix has a covered market in the medieval central square surrounded by lovely, half-timbered buildings and sprawling views of the surrounding countryside. 
Next to La Cave de Sybella, the inviting café on the square, Sybella’s boutique offers women’s clothing and accessories, challenging you to sort through the racks and peek into the corners to explore the fashionable merchandise packed into this petite boutique.

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Owner Sybella, is a Berlin ex-pat who brings the world of fashion to the tiny town with her diverse collections of tunics and dresses from Berlin, knitwear from Italy, and her own custom jewelry and clothing. The beautiful Sybella first established herself as a designer with soft, fine leather clothing lines. Today she is a shopkeeper and designer who delights in color, texture, and casual, flexible clothing designs that are well priced for the level of design and quality. 

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I have bought a sleeveless dress in a subdued but unique fabric that is perfect for special events but practical enough for everyday. I also have bought unique Italian knits including a three-piece tunic, vest and scarf that work together or as individual pieces. Worth noting are her long tops and skirts, custom coats and jackets, chic pants, wide selection of dresses and belts, bold jewelry and much more. Sybella helps you style your outfit, advises you on sizing and selections and acts as your personal stylist by helping you choose what is right for you. 


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If you go… stop for lunch at Auberge de St Julia in nearby village of St Julia de Gras Capou, continue on to St 
Félix, shop at Sybella Mode & Accessoires, and then enjoy a coffee at the next-door café.

Beware of France Telecom Orange Mobicarte

2012 – Paris

Call me crazy, but I went with an Orange Mobicarte because I was told the it is the only pay-as-you-go micro-SIM available for an iPhone. (Getting my iPhone unlocked by AT&T is another horror story waiting to be told – luckily for all of us there is an FCC). Needless to say, service was poor. Texting worked only sometimes, or not at all. And help was never available. So, once again. BEWARE of Orange Mobicarte.


2011 – Lyon

It is with a heavy heart that I find I must criticize something in France. We love to visit France and have met many very nice friends and have had many wonderful experiences. France Telecom’s Mobicarte is NOT one of them.

Instead, the Mobicarte system seems designed for what would be called in the USA “theft of services.” In fact, the entire company seems to breed a culture of theft, especially against those who are not fluent in French. When you go into any Orange store, the attendants are so poorly trained that almost every answer to any question you have is wrong (whether they speak English or not).

Here is a brief overview of my experience with Mobicarte:

In 2010, I brought an unlocked Google Android phone to France and bought a Mobicarte SIM card to allow me to make calls in France at local rates. In addition, I could use the Internet because the phone is a smartphone. I was told in the Orange Mobicarte store on the Grande Rue de la Croix-Rousse that my phone was setup properly and all was well. So, I bought 75 Euros of time for the rest of the trip. Overnight, France Telecom sucked all 75 Euros out of the phone because the phone registers itself on the Internet! The “technician” at the Orange store failed to tell me that for only 12 Euros per month, I could have had Internet “Illimitée” – essentially unlimited Internet access. By not telling me any of this, the good little employee (manager) of the store was able to steal 75 Euros from me. The word in French for thief is “voleur.”

After visiting 5 Orange stores in Lyon, I found one that had a person who could fix my situation and setup the Internet.

Fast-forward to 2011, June, in Lyon. As my Mobicarte number was still within the French system, I foolishly turned it back on… only to discover that the convoluted menu system would not allow me to turn on the Internet service. How crazy can they be? A lot crazy, evidently. Their system seems to have been designed in the 1950s by pickpockets. Oh, well. Next time, I’ll try SFR or one of the others.

 France is a beautiful country… France Telecom is an ugly monolith that is helping to destroy France’s reputation across the globe, and especially with the English-speaking community.

Le Temps des Cerises – Bistro – Paris (4th arr)

Le Temps des Cerises resto in the Marais, Paris

Look for the smallest ancient building tucked between quai des Célestins and rue Saint- Antoine in the Marais and discover our neighborhood café, Le Temps des Cerises on the rue de la Cerisaie. In June 2011, we arrived in Paris with suitcases and camera bags and headed for the metro stop Bastille, a direct route from the Gare du Nord. Settled in for the ride, we immediately discovered that the Bastille stop was closed for construction. Two transfers later after lots of stair climbing (France is very stingy with its escalators) and a walk in the rain from the metro stop St Paul, we stumbled into Le Temps des Cerises, mid-afternoon, too late for dejeuner and too early for dîner. Not a problem for Sylvie Antoine: a plate of charcuterie and one of fromage, some bread and two beers magically appeared just before we passed out from exhaustion. Now all was right with Paris, the rain, and even our over-stuffed luggage.

We were surprised and relieved to find Le Temps des Cerises open because on previous visits to this Paris neighborhood, it was always closed. The young, new proprietor, Gregory Detouy, has expanded hours and the café is open every day (which is especially good for Monday, when many restos in Paris are closed). Facing a boulangerie-pâtisserie and around the corner from the local elementary school, Le Temps des Cerises is at a crossroads of one-way streets where there is busy foot traffic but relatively few cars.

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Chef Pascal Brèbant, Maîtresse & Server Sylvie Antoine & Proprietor Gregory Detouy of Le Temps des Cerises

Eglefin (haddock) rolled, sauced with dill, and served with mixed vegetables.

Three days later we returned for Sunday lunch. We shared an entrée of terrine de lapin, served with sweet/savory onions braised to a warm nest of flavor. For our main course, chosen from two plats du jour, we both had églefin (haddock) rolled, sauced with dill, and served with mixed vegetables. Following this delightful meal, we sauntered home, one of the joys of neighborhood dining.

Our recommendation to travelers: choose a restaurant or café in your neighborhood and put down roots, even if only for a day or two. While it’s fun to savor new experiences and tastes, a café on your block where you return a few times during your stay for a coffee, a kir, or a meal, can weave you into the local fabric of life. You’ll recognize the locals, be greeted a bit more warmly, and relax: for a moment, this street in Paris—or wherever—is home.

Le Petit Célestin Resto in Paris

January 2013: Oh, no! Zoot alors! Sylvie and Jean-Marie have sold the restaurant! Quelle dommage! We will have to wait until out next trip to France to see if someone good has taken over the new Petit. Otherwise, if Sylvie and Jean-Marie open another place in Paris, or elsewhere in France, we will let you know. Here is the review we wrote in the Fall-Winter of 2012:

Le Petit Celestin is a warm, friendly, red-checked tablecloth place that does not list the menu in English or serve as a tourist outpost in Paris.

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Yet this small restaurant on the edge of the Marais welcomes everyone with a relaxed atmosphere and a selection of delicious, traditional offerings on its blackboard menu.

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Host Sylvie is vivacious, funny and friendly and speaks English so she can explain the menu to English speakers without French language skills. She is sensitive to varying perceptions of “medium rare” and “à point” for meat dishes, and is helpful with recommendations. Her cheerful warmth sets the tone for a fun and relaxed evening.

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We have visited Le Petit Célestin with groups as small as four and as large as 10. The prices are truly reasonable with most plats (main dish) in the mid-teens and most entrées (starters) less. There is always a cut of steak (pave or entrecote) duck (magret) and slightly more exotic veals—foie, rognons, or riz—which are mild but savory. Plus you will find shrimp or fish. The main course is served with a supporting starch and vegetable.

Our favorite starter is moules farci (mussels broiled in the half shell with garlicky breading.) A small hors d’ouevre appears while you discuss the menu choices and share an aperitif. Desserts are traditional and worth the calories. The wine selection is affordable and appropriate for the cuisine.

A summer treat…salade de gésiers from Perigord.

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The new “team” as of 2012: Sylvie, Cédric and Jean-Marie. Sylvie and Jean-Marie are your hosts… Sylvie speaks English, as well as French, and is jovial and helpful…and Cédric provides attentive and quick service.

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As you’ve guessed, this is one of our favorite local restos – traditional cuisine, great atmosphere, and reasonable prices, especially for the Marais. Just a few short blocks from the Sully-Morland Metro stop (Line 7) on Quai des Célestins.

12, Quai des Célestins, 75004 Paris     Tel: +33 (0)1 42 72 20 81

2011 Trip in France – a Quick Look

A quick look at some of the sights and events from our trip to France in 2011…

We visited Paris, the Lauragais near Toulouse, Lyon, the Jura, Provence, and Collioure near the border with Spain. In Provence, we rented a house right in the center of a small village, Cucuron, for two weeks… a wonderful spot with many great local people, but many problems with the house – more on this later…

Please see other posts for more info on our trip.

À bientôt…

Auberge de St Julia – Lauragais near Toulouse

Less than 35 minutes from Toulouse by car is a beautiful region of France known as the Lauragais. As you drive its country roads, you pass through waving fields of wheat and colza.

Sunset near Maureville in the Lauragais

Sunset near Maureville in the Lauragais


In the small hilltop village of St Julia de Gras Capou is an Auberge with an excellent lunch.

Motion picture executive producer Serge Lebeau chats with one of the owners of Auberge St Julia after enjoying a fine lunch.

Motion picture executive producer Serge Lebeau chats with one of the owners of Auberge St Julia after enjoying a fine lunch.

A new venture, this good resto provides a single menu choice for lunch – trés simple! And Chef Pierre Batigne’s food is delicious. We enjoyed three courses including dessert – all for about 13 euros per person – and passed a pleasant afternoon talking with friends and the new owners, and sipping an excellent local rosé.

Auberge de St Julia
Rue du Vinaigre
31540 St Julia de Gras Capou

Tel: 05 61 83 04 79

Patricia makes you feel welcome instantly at Auberge de St Julia

Patricia makes you feel welcome instantly at Auberge de St Julia

Au Sanglier – Traiteur in Paris Marais

Wide selection of terrines and other delicacies from Au Sanglier in the Marais

Wide selection of terrines and other delicacies from Au Sanglier in the Marais

We have discovered a fabulous charcuterie-traiteur where one can buy the most sumptuous prepared foods available in Paris! This is one of the benefits of renting an apartment instead of staying at a hotel i Paris: you have a kitchen and space to have meals. This not only can save expense, but often allows a better choice of meals and wine than you may find in the local restos.

Les Dames de l'Au Sanglier - happy and helpful!

Les Dames de l’Au Sanglier – happy and helpful!

The family that runs Au Sanglier is very friendly and helpful, suggesting sauces and accompaniments to your main choice of meal. We experienced fabulous terrines – salmon, vegetable, beef – highly charged with the excellent taste of of their fresh and unique ingredients. Especially the vegetable terrine: the essence of flavors of haricots verts, artichoke and carrot, all suspended in a silky-smooth creamed gelatin – cool and refreshing for a light dinner if you’ve had a big lunch…

Vegetable terrine from Au Sanglier in the Marais, Paris

Vegetable terrine from Au Sanglier in the Marais, Paris

Au Sanglier – D.Gouas Charcutier – Traiteur
“Qualité et tradition depuis trois Générations”
49, rue Saint-Antoine
75004 Paris, France

Tel: +33 1 48 87 85 87

Le Royal – Traditional French Café near Eiffel Tower – Paris

We stumbled upon this resto-café near the Eiffel Tower. After over-paying for a few lunches in the tony neighborhood of the Marais, it was great to find traditional home cooking at a very affordable price.

Affordable traditional French resto-café near Eiffel Tower

Smiles all around for the food and ambiance at Le Royal

The resto is small, so it’s a good idea to get there a bit early. We sat at 12:15PM, and within a few minutes, the resto filled with business people, working people, and a few Americans who (obviously) lived and worked in the neighborhood. The food is home style and delicious, and the house wine is more than palatable – an excellent value: the formule – lunch or dinner, including Entreé + Plat + Dessert + Biosson (!!!) – 12 € 90 (almost unheard of in Paris!). A real find for a true experience…

Le Royal
212 rue de Grenelle
75007 Paris, France

Tel: 01 47 53 92 90

…from Paris to Toulouse

Crossing the Garonne on the way to Toulouse

We took the TGV from Paris (Montparnasse) to Toulouse to visit close friends. After a hectic few days in the “big city”, it is great to get to the countryside. Our friends live about 20 minutes south east of Toulouse in an area called The Lauragais.


The Lauragais includes part of the Canal Midi, and on a very clear day, one can see the Pyrenees a hundred miles to the south. (more to come…)

Looking south from Maureville toward the Pyrenees.

Looking south from Maureville toward the Pyrenees.