Author: A.V.

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Where to Stay … For Art-Lovers

From Monet to Le Corbusier, we have a great selection of hotels with artistic connections

La Ferme de Saint-Siméon, Honfleur, Calvados

Set on a hill above the historic port of Honfleur in Normandy and with splendid views of the coast, this five-star hotel was once a favourite of artists attracted by the soft light from the sea and sky. In this restored 17th-century farmhouse, Impressionist paintings adorn the walls of the light-filled rooms, while the public areas have period features such as exposed beams and laminated walls. The hotel hosts painting classes, and there is also a spa and a restaurant.

Hôtel Providence, Paris

Built in 1854, this hotel has witnessed the evolution of the neighbourhood surrounding Beaubourg and the Canal Saint-Martin, which is now part of a trendy arrondissement with plenty of bars and restaurants. The hotel is a work of art in itself: each of the 18 bedrooms is individually decorated with designer fabric, bright wallpaper and vintage furniture, and the rooftop boasts a picture-perfect view of Montmartre and the Parisian skyline. The cocktail bar and restaurant also offer a chic atmosphere with cosy sofas and a fireplace.

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Hôtel Providence, Paris

Hôtel des Académies et Des Arts, Paris

Situated in the 6th arrondissement, minutes from the Jardin du Luxembourg, this hotel knows the value of art. For starters, this boutique property is directly in front of the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere –once associated with Paul Gauguin and the sculptor Alberto Giacometti – and is adorned with works from Montparnasse-based sculptor Sophie de Watigrant. The 20 bedrooms are individually decorated and feature Jerome Mesnager’s ‘white body’ paintings. You can also watch films of the hotel owners’ favourite artists in the video art lounge. Other facilities include the Chez Charlotte tearoom and a wellness area offering massages and beauty treatments.

Hôtel Vent D’Ouest, Le Havre, Seine-Maritime

In the heart of the Channel port of Le Havre, among Auguste Perret’s Unesco-listed post-war architecture, the four-star Hotel Vent d’Ouest lives up to its maritime connections, with many of the 35 rooms having seaside and seafaring themes. The hotel is perfectly positioned between the sea and the city centre. The port has a special place in the hearts of art-lovers as the birthplace of Impressionism, after Claude Monet painted Impression, Sunrise (1874) here. Another big attraction is the Museum of Modern Art (MuMa), which has one of the biggest collections of Impressionist art in France.

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Hôtel Vent D’Ouest, Le Havre, Seine-Maritime

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Snow Savers

Ski holidays are not cheap, but it is possible to keep down costs and still have a great time

Let’s make one thing clear: ski holidays are never cheap. In order to experience the incredible feeling of standing atop a mountain peak, ready to ski or snowboard down, there is a shopping list of expensive items to pay for: travel, accommodation, ski pass, equipment, insurance, lessons (if required), clothing, food and drink. It adds up to a hefty outlay. But don’t despair; there are ways to save money and to get better value, as I shall explain.

Where to Ski

The choice of resort affects the cost of a holiday. Generally, it is more expensive in the larger, more famous resorts. For a start, there is the ski pass – and it pays to ask yourself whether you need miles and miles of terrain. “If you are a group of beginners or a family with young children, you aren’t likely to need to ski a big area,” says Xavier Schouller, managing director of Peak Retreats, a tour operator which has built its reputation on helping skiers to choose less well-known destinations. “Instead of paying for slopes that you won’t use, choose a smaller ski area.”

A six-day ski pass for the vast 600-kilometre Trois Vallées domain, for example, costs from €294 per adult. Yet for many skiers, particularly families, the 55 kilometres in Aussois would be enough – and the equivalent ski pass costs only €146.

But what about an advanced skier who wants a huge ski area to roam in? Money can still be saved, Schouller says, by considering where to be based. “There are plenty of smaller villages that share the same ski area as larger, more expensive resorts. A good example is Vaujany – a charming village in the Southern French Alps. It is part of the massive l’Alpe-d’Huez ski area, but the accommodation is significantly cheaper. You get a great village atmosphere and world-class skiing, for less.”

Go In a Group

Location also affects the cost of ski lessons. In Val-d’Isère, France’s most popular resort with British clients, a six-morning group lesson will cost 3D4 around €280 per adult; over in Les Contamines, close to Mont Blanc, the equivalent course costs a mere €130. Why such a difference?

“It’s simply choice and popularity,” says Mark Neville, UK business manager for the École de Ski Francais (ESF). “A pint of lager in central London costs around £5, but in Newcastle it’s around £3. It’s like that with lessons, so choosing a smaller or less fashionable resort can help those on a budget.”

Committing to group lessons is a good way of getting the most instruction time for your money. For example, about €200 will buy six consecutive three-hour morning group lessons in La Rosiere, whereas €150 would only buy a private lesson for up to three people, for two and a half hours.

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On the ski slopes of Les Gets in Haute-Savoie

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Take a Stroll in … Valbonne, France

Although not the most familiar name on the Riviera, this medieval village has plenty to lure you away from the glamorous resorts

I could never tire of the Côte d’Azur: a golden thread of sensory delights with its sentries of fragrant pines, the relentless chirrup of cicadas, chic boutiques, bouillabaisse and the sparkle of an impossibly blue sea. Neither, it seems, can the millions of tourists who flock here each year.

But few look beyond the cosmopolitan glitz and glamour of the coastal resorts and head inland to a lazier, quainter and altogether more French way of life. Just 13 kilometres north of Cannes and 25 minutes’ drive from Nice airport, Valbonne is one of my favourite inland villages on the Riviera; still considered part of this exclusive strip of coastline, but refreshingly removed from its frenetic activity – the very place to take a stroll.

The village was founded in 1519 alongside a 12th-century abbey and, influenced by Roman military camps, was laid out along a grid pattern, in contrast to the spiral layout of many of its neighbours. Two principal perpendicular avenues converge at a forum known as Place des Arcades. Today this attractive, quintessentially Provençal square, with its cheery pastel facades and parasols shading café tables from the midday heat, is Valbonne’s beating heart. Traffic is banned for much of the time, so it is just the place to while away a happy afternoon of people-watching with a citron pressé. Historical clues are etched and scrawled everywhere: the arcade of the prominent Hotel Les Armoiries is engraved with ‘1628’.

Wander from the square down any of the side-streets and you’ll find ochre stone houses with porches smothered in vines or exuberant bougainvillea, doors with lintels decorated with the emblems of penitents and journeymen, and the occasional snoozing cat. On Friday mornings, though, the village is shaken from its slumber to host a busy market, considered one of the best in the area. Spilling from the square on to the surrounding streets is a veritable riot of scents and colours; stalls are crammed with mushrooms and gleaming olives, rubbing shoulders with bunches of lavender and jars of local honey. Nibble your way around here and you almost won’t need lunch.

At the bottom of the village stand the 12th-century Église Saint-Blaise, its attached monastic abbey, the Moulin des Moines (now a restaurant) and ancient carved stone monuments. The abbey has been painstakingly restored and, together with its integrated museum proudly displaying Valbonne’s heritage, is the place to make for if you want to immerse yourself in history. The village is also noted for its many art galleries and creative workshops (especially for ceramics, pottery and glass) and has hosted several major exhibitions. A busy cultural calendar blends modernity with tradition in the form of numerous festivals: antiques, theatre and wine-making.

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The village is built on a grid pattern

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Southern Belle – Figeac, France

The medieval centre of Figeac is now a bustling town with distinctive architecture and a link to Ancient Egypt

As soon as you arrive in Figeac, in the Lot département, you know you have reached the south – the narrow cobbled streets, the dusty squares shaded by plane trees, the café terraces, the age-old buildings, and the marketplace – a feast for all the senses.

I arrived on the last day of the school year to the sound of happy children playing on a hot summer’s afternoon, and in the background the gentle sound of a fountain in a cool garden. The soothing presence of water is close by, with the River Cele flowing along the edge of the historic centre. In medieval times there was a canal here, and mills and tanneries were commonplace. The canal ran through Place d’Estang and into the Cele until the 1950s, when it was covered up.

The square is a stone’s throw from the river and a couple of alleys away from the marketplace. This is one of the great things about Figeac; it is compact, but each street and building is worth savouring, with history oozing from every pore. A guided tour means you won’t miss the hidden gems, but if you prefer to wander around on your own, pick up a ‘keys to the city’ leaflet at the tourist office and look out for the numbered symbols on the walls.

Sculptured Motifs

The town’s architectural heritage is stunning. The majority of the buildings date from the medieval period, but they intertwine with Renaissance architecture – magnificent staircases and ornate doorways can be glimpsed next to half-timbering. The oldest house is thought to be the 12th-century Maison du Griffon in Place Champollion. It is typical of this period with its sculptured motifs of fantastical animals and leaves. Turn around and look up to see the ornate arched windows of a 14th century dwelling, no doubt once the property of a rich merchant, given the quality and sumptuousness of the craftsmanship.

On the same square is a museum dedicated to Jean-François Champollion, who was born in Figeac in 1790. Champollion was the famous Egyptologist who deciphered the hieroglyphics of the Rosetta Stone, and his birthplace is incorporated into the museum. By all accounts, he was a child prodigy gifted in languages, mastering Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Persian during his teens.

The museum also explores the origins of the world’s written languages, from runes to the development of the alphabet and the invention of printing. It is a fascinating mix of the personal – Champollion’s letters to his brother and his work notes are on display – and the global, with examples of writing from South America to Asia. There is even a mummy from the fourth century BC, miraculously preserved in its linen bandages in the Egyptian room.

The museum’s ultra-modern double facade, with its thousand letters, makes a striking impression. The stone exterior represents the traditional architecture of the town, and on top there is a modern `solelho‘, from which you have one of the best views of the square. Look up and on most streets you will see these upper, covered terraces which in days gone by were used to dry fruit and vegetables, and skins used in the tanning industry. The museum’s second, copper facade is set about a metre behind the original stone one and features symbols from 28 writings of the world, hinting at the contents within. It is an imaginative design which took five years in the making.

At the back of the museum is Place des Écritures, where a replica of the Rosetta Stone holds pride of place, and a stone staircase leads to a patio where three papyrus plants are growing. The square is often used as an exhibition area, and for small gatherings. The apartments overlooking the square are ‘social housing’, underlining the democratic feel of Figeac.figeac-france-1

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Taste of the Coast – Occitanie, France

The region of Occitanie is home to many flavours and culinary traditions going back centuries

I am sitting at a suspended wooden table, staring at the silver shellfish in my hand, poised for the dreaded moment. “Whatever you do, if you can’t stand it, don’t force it. I’ve seen people swallow an oyster when they weren’t sure about it. It’s not a pretty sight. Just spit it out if you don’t like it,” Laurent says gravely. Three pairs of eyes watch as I lift the oyster to my lips and tip. It’s cold, it’s slimy but then I taste the salt, the sea, the lemon and pepper, and the tart but not unpleasant flesh of the oyster and swallow. A look of surprise and relief comes over Laurent’s face and we all laugh at my oyster christening.

Glass of chilled Picpoul de Pinet in hand, Laurent talked about his tasting bar, which he opened only last season. Here, the shellfish couldn’t be fresher. For Laurent Arcella is a third-generation oyster farmer on the Etang de Thau, the largest lagoon in the Hérault département. Upturned oyster baskets serve as hanging lamps, metal chairs are placed around sea-washed wooden tables, a raised bar hides the drinks and a blackboard announces the day’s tasting dishes. “It’s simple, sturdy, but it looks good,” says Laurent, shrugging. It certainly has one of the best views of the Thau lagoon, being set directly on Laurent’s oyster farm and looking out on to the waters and over to the port of Sète.

As my companions and I devoured fresh oysters and baked mussels, boats drifted past the pontoon, and it was hard to think of a better place to sample the AOC-protected Huîtres de Bouzigues. Just two days before, we had arrived in Collioure where the journey into Occitanie’s gastronomic culture along the southern coast of France had begun. Every day brought new surprises that delighted the senses.

Collioure is one of those fishing villages that appear frozen in time. The old stone church and its tower, the little pebbled beach dominated by the historic castle, and the traditional barques catalanes moored on the small pier on the seafront, all paint a picture of traditional French seaside life. It isn’t surprising that Collioure became such an important refuge for artists such as Henri Matisse in the early part of the 20th century.

Although the village is now quite small, it used to be a major anchovy-fishing port, with more than 150 barques catalanes plying their trade in the 17th century. Numbers dwindled to around 40 in the 1960s in the face of foreign competition and now just two of the traditional fishing boats are left.

Anchovy fishing is still engrained in the local community (two fish are carved in the stoup at the entrance to the church) and one indomitable producer still holds out against the tide. Maison Roque was founded in 1870 and is now demi-johns lined up outside in direct sunlight and facing the sea, thus enriching the aromas of figs and spices. As we sat outside, tucking into a delicious pissaladiere starter – a thin layer of puff pastry topped with anchovies and capers – and tasting the various wines, I turned my gaze towards the sea and the vines, and thought that the Catalan art de vivre was one that I could get used to.

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Seafood Heaven Beside the Étang de Thau

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Beaune, Uncorked

Burgundy’s wine capital gives us a taste of the good life, both above and below ground

In the gloomy light of the Joseph Drouhin wine cellars, which cover a hectare below the streets of Beaune, my guide Christophe Thomas points to a door covered in dust and cobwebs. “That’s where Maurice Drouhin escaped the Gestapo,” he tells me. “There are some spiral stairs, and this is the corridor that goes to the cellars of the Hospices de Beaune.” The dramatic story of Maurice Drouhin’s escape during World War II is among the most intriguing chapters in the long history of Maison Joseph Drouhin, one of the town’s most prestigious winemakers.

As Christophe, the firm’s export director, explains to me in the semi-darkness of the ancient cellars, Maurice Drouhin was heavily involved in the Resistance. When the Gestapo came for him in the early hours of that morning in 1944, he had already escaped into the cellars which led to the Hospices de Beaune, the town’s famous hospital. There, the nuns hid him for two months, until the town was liberated by the Allies in early September.

It just so happened, however, that the months of his absence were the most crucial in the winemaking calendar. “His wife had no clue how to run a winery, so she got a bit scared because she couldn’t meet him,” explains Christophe. “She went every day to pray, and the Mother Superior would go as well, and they would pass notes [between each other] and ask questions and get responses to what was needed in the winery. Maurice would write things like: ‘Don’t forget to buy barrels’.”

The story goes that after the war, Maurice was so grateful for the nuns’ help that he handed the Hospices de Beaune a lucrative gift. “He gave a massive amount of Beaune Premier Cru [vineyards] to thank them for saving his life. So every year, we buy back most of the production.”

In the depths of the cellars, Christophe points out the barrels – marked ‘Maurice Drouhin’ – which were bought in the last auction. The sale, which dates from 1859 and takes place over a long weekend in November, is one of the most prestigious in the French wine calendar. Proceeds go to the modern hospital and various charities (the 2015 auction set a record for a barrel at €117,700, around £106,000). A visit to the Hospices de Beaune themselves, housed in the magnificent Hotel-Dieu, puts the history in context and shows how the town’s charitable spirit dates back centuries .

With its multi-coloured tiled roof, the Hôtel-Dieu is the town’s most iconic building. When you bear in mind the architecture of modern hospitals, it is hard to believe that the flamboyant Gothic building was intended as a hospital and not a palace. It was founded in 1443 by Chancellor of Burgundy Nicolas Rolin to care for the poor and sick as the country recovered from the Hundred Years War and the plague.

The Grande Salle des Povres must have had a soothing effect in itself, with its beautiful ceiling and 30 red, velvet-curtained beds. The museum tells how Rolin and his wife Guigone de Salins established the hospital, appointing a religious order to care for the patients. The stories of 15th-century remedies are fascinating, while the kitchen and apothecary show how early medicine drew on nutrition and herbs to treat the patients. Later, it became possible for people to ‘buy’ their care, which led the hospital to become the wealthy operation that it remains today. “It’s probably the most profitable hospital in France,” laughs Christophe when he tells me about it in the Drouhin cellars.

In the wine-tasting that follows the cellar visit, he tells me more about the famous vineyards that generate the area’s wealth. The vineyards are divided into ‘climats’, parcels of land that were inscribed into Unesco’s World Heritage list last summer. The `terroie changes so significantly over a relatively small distance that the wines resulting from the vineyards offer a specific character and are highly sought after. Indeed, the world’s most expensive wine comes from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, in the Côte de Nuits between Dijon and Beaune, where red pinot noir is the main grape variety.

Closer to Beaune, however, there are a number of vineyards that specialise in white grapes and so I venture south of the town to one such area – the village of Puligny-Montrachet. Here, Olivier Leflaive continues his family’s winemaking business that dates from 1635, making him the 18th generation to do so. He owns 18.5 hectares of vineyards but also buys in grapes to make his 82 different wines.

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Clockwise: Puligny-Montrachet vigneron Olivier Leflaive; A packed audience at the Annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction; Maison Joseph Drouhin’s Caves de la Collégiale in Beaune

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Take to the Slopes … Alpine Adventures

The resorts of Méribel, Les Gets and La Toussuire will appeal to all skiers in search of a fun holiday

This ski season, why not drive to the French Alps to indulge that love of snow,with a range of resorts to suit all abilities and ages. Taking the car with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle is a convenient way to travel: you can pack as much equipment as you want for your Alpine adventures without incurring any extra fees and you can shop on the way.

One of the most accessible resorts is Méribel, in the huge Trois Vallées area. It is a great place for anyone who enjoys clocking up plenty of ski miles, with the highest accessible point being Mont Vallon, at 2,952 metres, which offers panoramic views of the Gébrolaz glacier and Grande Casse mountain.

For families, Méribel Altiport has several fun beginner zones, including the Inuits Piste, which organises outdoor games. Skiers aged from five to 12 have a daily entertainment programme, which includes an eagle show, husky-dog encounters and stalls selling home-made hot chocolate.

A lesser-known but equally enticing resort is La Toussuire, part of the Les Sybelles ski area in the Maurienne Valley of Savoie. The 45 kilometres of pistes include the Vallée Perdue, a scenic route that links La Toussuire with Le Corbier, and the more advanced, five-kilometre-long Grand Truc, while the floodlit Petite Verdette piste is perfect for a spot of skiing after dark. Facilities for children include practice slopes, a ski nursery and a ski school.

For somewhere that retains a traditional mountain-village atmosphere, head for Les Gets, with its rows of wooden chalets. The resort is in the Portes du Soleil ski area of Haute-Savoie and has a charming road-train shuttle to ferry skiers to the slopes. Attractions away from the pistes include a weekly market selling regional produce, an ice rink and a quirky mechanical music museum.

Arguably the best local slopes are on Mont Chéry, which has sweeping red intermediate runs that remain relatively quiet due to the location at one end of the huge ski circuit. Once a week, the English-run Ours Blanc hotel-restaurant, at the foot of the mountain, offers candlelit dinners at which guests can enjoy breathtaking views over the Portes du Soleil.

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Some of the resort’s beautiful chalets

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Tasteful Towns – Jackson, Mississippi

The cuisine of Jackson reflects such a distinct mélange of ingredients and traditions that visitors from other regions of the U.S. may feel as if they’ve arrived on foreign land.

Jackson is the “City with Soul” luring food lovers from around the world with menus populated with regional favorites – smothered oxtails, smothered pork chops, fried chicken, beef tips, freshly picked greens, macaroni and cheese, yams and cobblers.

Most recently noted James Beard Foundation 2016 American Classic, Bully’s Restaurant was built by Tyrone Bully and his father with their own hands. Today Tyrone and his wife operate Bully’s, and you will always find Mr. Bully behind the counter with his white bouffant cap and a smile. The soul food dishes are made from scratch with fresh ingredients.

No stranger to uniquely established restaurants, Chef Jesse Houston has been named a semifinalist by the James Beard Foundation for “Best Chef: South.” He started at Parlor Market, but has since ventured out and established Saltine Oyster Bar in the Fondren neighborhood. His style of cooking is creative and playful such as his crowd pleasing variations of Ramen Noodles. Houston’s love of craft beer coupled with his motivation to offer his patrons a cutting-edge craft beer selection led to a partnership with local Lucky Town Brewing Company. The full Saltine experience is not complete without one of their signature deserts from the bakery – the Banoffee Pie is highly recommended!

Where the Locals Eat and Drink In Jackson, Mississippi

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The Palette Cafe at the Mississippi Museum of Art

The Palette Cafe at the Mississippi Museum of Art run by Chef Nick Wallace who has coupled the influence of his grandmother’s upbringing as the matriarch of the family farm with French technique creating amazingly elegant dishes using fresh ingredients aligning with his farm-to-table values. Chef Nick hosted a soulful James Beard dinner on April 13th. reflecting cherished recipes passed down by Southern mothers and grandmothers.

Chef Owner Mitchell Moores Campbell’s Bakery is located in the Fondren Neighborhood. The bakery has been around since 1962, but Moore took over as it was closing in 2011. Campbell’s Bakery has one key constant that makes it distinct – everything served in the bakery is made fresh, from scratch every day. First timers often receive a complimentary iced teacake!

An all-time favorite, Brent’s Drugs has received notoriety for its prime role in the movie “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. Recently featured in Vogue magazine as one of the 7 Coolest Diners in America and listed on Delish’s 20 Best Diners in America, the authentic diner’s retro decor invites patrons to reminisce and enjoy a signature float.

Truly a mainstay, Big Apple Inn has made its home in the historic Parish Street District since 1939. Geno Lee is a fourth-generation owner and the great grandson of a Mexican immigrant and a son of a Freedom Rider. Surrounded by memories of a booming district, it still stands offering authentic favorites. The smoked sausage sandwiches affectionately known as “smokes” and pig ears have been a favorite, along with tamales, and bologna fried just right.

Walker’s Drive-In and CAST are both owned by Chef Derek Emerson, a former James Beard semi-finalist in 2014. Walker’s is a nostalgic 1950’s diner in the heart of Fondren. Emerson and wife/partner Jennifer, jumped at the chance to own the regional favorite. Walker’s offers an upscale experience in a casual atmosphere, and also features local ingredients. CAST is the newest offering from the husband and wife team. CAST features a small plates menu along with a full bar featuring over 30 by-the-glass fine wine selections each night.

Also located in the historic Fondren District, Babalu’s dishes are chef-inspired and prepared daily with a focus towards sourcing natural, hormone free fresh produce. Always the perfect starter, Babalu’s fresh guacamole is made table-side using Haas avocado, sun-dried tomato, red & green onions, kosher salt, cilantro, and lime juice.babalu's

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Tasteful Towns – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Pittsburgh food scene is on the rise, just like the delicious Mancini’s bread used in the classic Primanti Brother’s sandwich. Today, the city boasts 300+ restaurants all within easy walking distance of downtown hotels.

W hat’s the dish on Pittsburgh’s new culinary scene? Try chef-driven fare, new restaurant concepts. and a cutting-edge beverage scene. Yes, this isn’t your father’s Pittsburgh any more.

Consider these tasty news morsels: Gaucho Parilla Argentina, located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, was coined one of the top places to eat in the U.S. for 2013 by Yelp. Food & Wine magazine named Chef Justin Severino of Cure and Morcilla the best new chef of the mid-Atlantic region. Playboy magazine rated two Pittsburgh diners as having the best breakfast in the Northeast. The crepe-style pancakes served at Pamela’s Diner have received presidential approval, and Coca Café is noted as having “an artsy and adorable” 20-seat dining room with a foodie-focused menu. Even the food trucks are getting their share of notoriety. The Pittsburgh Taco Truck was named among the great spots in the nation for Mexican food, according to the Business Insider.

The Pittsburgh food scene is on the rise, just like the delicious Mancini’s bread used in the classic Primanti Brother’s sandwich. Today, the city boasts 300. restaurants all within easy walking distance of downtown hotels. Among the many newer Downtown eateries gaining attention all their own are Poros, Bakersfield, Butcher and the Rye, take., Ten Penny, Revel . Roost, Emporio: A Meatball Joint, and Pork and Beans.

Pittsburgh celebrates its 200th birthday in 2016, and The City of Bridges hasn’t forgotten its roots. A visit to the Original Oyster House will take visitors back 144 years to Pittsburgh’s oldest bar and restaurant. Located in the heart of Market Square, the unique tavern has been designated a historic landmark by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

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Butcher and the Rye

Pittsburgh’s appetite for Old-World fare – those pierogies, kielbasa, and cabbage rolls introduced by Easter European immigrants – is still going strong. In fact, the Pierogi Festival and Picklesburgh – a dilly of a pickle festival in honor of Pittsburgh’s own H.J. Heinz – are the city’s newest annual food festivals.

Foodies and locals alike love the Strip District. “The Strip” as the neighborhood is called, is all grit and pure Pittsburgh. With its ethnic grocers, sidewalk vendors, and string of small shops, the Strip is a scene seven days a week. Venture into the countryside, and find culinary nirvana in a AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five-Star restaurant, Lautrec.

The libation scene in the ‘Burgh has a long history – after all, Western Pennsylvania is the birthplace of the Whiskey Rebellion. Named for the man who sparked the battle, Wigle Whiskey puts on cocktail classes and offers tours of the distillery and barrelhouse. Cheers to that and Pittsburgh’s smoking hot food scene.

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Strip District Mural

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Tasteful Towns – Greater Morgantown, West Virginia

Greater Morgantown is an extraordinary land of natural beauty; high country and mirrored lakes are gifts, referred to by locals as “Almost Heaven.” Countless customs and traditions passed down over generations are a vibrant part of daily life and make Mountaineer Country an epicenter of Appalachian culture that is reflected in handcrafted artwork, locally grown food, music and celebrations!

There’s no better way to get a true taste of Mountaineer “Spirit!” than to take a day and sample the local wines and the ports fortified with moonshine at Forks-of-Cheat Winery. For craft brews, stop by West Virginia’s oldest operating microbrewery, Morgantown Brewing Company, or the taproom of Chestnut Brew Works in the historic South Park area of Morgantown. You’re bound to run into friendly people, eager to share their stories and learn about yours over the rim of a glass!

You’ll find a diverse and imaginative cuisine at Morgantown’s fine dining restaurants. Stefano’s is family owned and specializes in Old World Italian and American cuisine with recipes that have been handed down through generations. Local Chef Marion Ohlinger focuses on farm-to-table fare and Appalachian flair at his new restaurant Hill and Hollow, located in the renovated Seneca Glass factory.

Dining alfresco by the mighty Monongahela River is a must and the 19-mile rail trail that winds along the river’s banks will lead you to local eateries that offer waterside dining, like Table 9, Terra Cafe Oliverio’s Ristorante, and Mountain State Brewing Company.

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Waterside Dining at Table 9

Just off the beaten path of I-68’s Bruceton Mills exit is Little Sandy’s Restaurant. With simple country cooking, like homemade biscuits and gravy, it’s one of the best places to sample the local specialty, buckwheat cakes and sausage. Two good reasons to visit Aurora: Cathedral State Park where you’ll find an ancient hemlock forest of majestic proportions, and Melanie’s, “home of good food, friendly smiles, and low prices.”

Downtown Morgantown pulses with the beat of countless live performances and talented DJs. Because the downtown is compact, club hoppers can stroll streets that teem with activity all night long.

Venture out of the city and you’ll find honkytonks, beer gardens. and family-run taverns. While Crockett’s is a legend to any student who ever visited or attended West Virginia University, it’s Mario’s Fishbowl that holds so many memories: 60 years of reflections are written on the receipts, napkins, and business cards that layer the walls and “the coldest beer in Morgantown is served in “Weiss” goblets, or “fishbowls.”

Annual festivals are a great chance to see us as we really are: the last weekend in July draws more than 60.000 riders to MountainFest motorcycle rally. Gear down and unwind on our country roads; our incredible twists and turns have been compared to those in Europe. Fall brings the WV Wine and Jazz Festival, a stage for the state’s award-winning wines. More than 100,000 visitors make the pilgrimage to nearby Kingwood for the unique local flavor of buckwheat cakes and sausage during the Preston County Buckwheat Festival. Autumn drives through dazzling foliage displays pair up handily with September events.

Breathtaking outdoor adventure, local wine and local bands give this picturesque university city a laid back vibe. Take time to wind down in small art galleries, antique shops, intimate little eateries by the river and year ’round friendly festivals. You’ll run out of time long before you run out of things to do in Greater Morgantown.

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Preston County Buckwheat Festival