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Making scents in Namur


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step straight into Patrick Süskind’s famous novel, Das Perfume? Rosie Khdir discovers the Belgian city of Namur and its enchanting perfumery.

In the depths of the Citadel of Namur in southern Belgium lies the perfumery of Guy Delforge, a world of unique fragrances.

The Citadel, situated within the Castle of the Counts, has been the home of Delforge’s laboratory for 20 years now and is the perfect setting for this ancient art. In 1990, after also restoring the officers’ mess to, he opened the doors to visitors who were greeted by a warm, delicate fragrance.

Visitors to the perfumery are taken on a journey through the process of creating a unique and fine perfume.

The one hour long guided tour starts with a description of the building’s history and of the plants used during the creation of the various essences.

Then visitors are taken upstairs to the laboratories and then through to the casemate where the “nose” or perfumer blends the fragrances. Here you can test the skills of you very our nose and see if you have what it takes to make the next Chanel No5.

The tour continues though the underground galleries where the hundreds of perfumes are left to mature in crystal bottles for four to six months. Lastly the tour leads you to the great exhibition hall a range of the 250 products made by Delforge are displayed to you.

This is a craft which dates back to the ancient Egyptian times and is a real delight to witness, and smell! If the tour itself doesn’t impress you, the Citadel is sure to please the eye with its delicately carved wood and natural stone decor.

Group tours operate Monday to Saturday; see the Delforge website for details.

Image credit: victoriabernal

Mush: husky racing in the Alps


“Mush, mush, mush”, a man in a fur trimmed parka urges on his husky team, racing through the crisp, white snow; only in Canada or Alaska right? Not quite. Europe has its very own mushing scene, and one extreme race as Tomas Mowlam finds out.

La Grande Odyssee is a 1000 km race, through 27 different Alpine ski resorts in Switzerland and France.

The 25 mushers 308 dogs set off from Avoriaz on Saturday 9th January and they are now just two days from the end in Haute Maurienne Vanoise.

It’s a deadly serious race with prize money of $100,000 (that’s just over £60,000).

The race was the brainchild of three men. Henry Kam, a businessman and keen follower of adventure sports who sponsored Nicholas Vanier on the Yukon Quest.

The Yukon Quest is a brutal 1,635km sled dog race from the Whitehorse, Yukon Territories and Fairbanks in Alaska. Temperatures can commonly drop to as low as -51°C with winds up to 50 miles an hour.

Dog sledding has millennia long tradition in North America and Canada, where until the coming of the aeroplane it was the main form of transport. It found popularity in Europe during the 1970s as a sport, and now European competitors try their hand in the two most famous North American races; the Iditarod and the Yukon quest.

Kam and Vanier decided in 2002 that Europe needed its very own version of the Yukon Quest and so got to work with Dominique Grandjean, a vet and husky specialist.

By 2004 16 French and four Swiss ski resorts had agreed to host stages on un-skiable areas, and a year later the first race of 18 mushers and 300 dogs hit the snow. The event has grown in popularity attracting media coverage and sponsorship from all over the world.

“These races are extraordinary sporting events in which man and animal develop in perfect harmony in an authentic environment,” according to the organisers. “It enables people to discover that the mountain is beautiful, that it can be used in a gentle and non-aggressive way.”

Sled dog racing is an incredibly green way to enjoy the alpine climate, and the organisers romantically say that “the only mark it leaves in nature is the footprint of the musher and his dogs in the snow: a mark which will disappear with the first gust of wind or snowfall.”

Image Credit: re-ality

The ultimate Van Gogh collection

korenveld met kraaien

Behold the largest collection of artist Van Gogh’s work at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Rosie Khdir takes a look at the museum exhibiting the life and works of the famous Dutch Post-Impressionist painter.

The Van Gogh museum opened in 1973 and now contains 200 canvas, 500 drawings and 700 written documents from Van Gogh’s very own hand. There is no place in the world where you can see so many of Vincent Van Gogh’s works under one roof.

Van Gogh’s pieces are arranged into the five periods of his working life; Early work to 1886, Paris – 1886-88, Arles – 1888-89, Saint Rémy – 1889-90 and Auvers – 1890 onwards. From his famous self-portraits, to still life’s to colourful landscapes, this museum can show you it all.

Visitors can see some of his most notorious works such as Sunflowers, 1889, and Self-Portrait with Felt Hat, 1888, and discover rest of his artwork that has been passed down through generations and now permanently loaned to the Van Gogh Foundation.

The Museum also shows collections of artwork by other impressive 19th century artists and the current exhibition, held in the new Exhibition Building, is dedicated to Alfred Stevens.

Stevens is a Belgian painter, famous for his romantic and distant depictions of women. This exhibit features 64 of his paintings and it’s on until 24th January.

The Van Gogh Museum is open daily and is open later on a Friday night; see the website for further details.

Image credit: Van Gogh Museum

Playmobil hits Paris


The Paris Musée des Arts Décoratif (Museum of Decorative Arts) is playing host to an art exhibition of a different kind. Tomas Mowlam goes back to his childhood.

It can often be difficult to keep kids occupied on holiday and Paris doesn’t have a reputation as the most child friendly of places, but there’s one exhibition guaranteed to amuse and entertain kids, even the adult ones.

Once upon a Time there was Playmobil traces the history of one of the most popular children’s toys in the world.

German toy designer Hans Beck (1929-2009) was working for the toy company Horst Brandstätter, when the oil crisis of the 1970s forced them to develop new toys that used less plastic.

Beck’s figures were flexible and safe for kids, unlike tin figures, and first hit the shops in 1975. The classic themes of knights, pirates, cowboys and Native Americans are still just as popular, alongside new ranges which go all the way from ancient Egypt to dinosaur adventures.

Expect a riot of colour with displays of figures both large and small; enough bright and shiny plastic to distract your kids for hours.

In even the most jaded adult, something about the bright primary colours and smiling faces of the figures brings out a little bit of the inner child.

Playmobil is so well loved that children send in thousands of letters to the company with new designs, they said:

“The young fans send their ideas and make suggestions. Sometimes they ask for war and horror items as well. From the beginning Hans Beck decided not to develop any aggressively violent items or short-lived trends. The company maintains this philosophy today.”

This innocent outlook is maybe why Playmobil gives us such fuzzy feelings long after we’ve stopped playing with them.

The museum is on 107, rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris. Champs-Elysées/Louvre district. The nearest metro stop is Tuileries or you can take any of the following bus routes: 21, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81, 95.


Image Credit: Kwan Kwan

The Diary of a Young Girl…

anne frank stairs

Most of us know the story of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who kept a diary of her time in hiding from the Nazi’s during World War II. Rosie Khdir looks at Anne Frank Huis, the setting for one of the most famous books in the world.

Visiting this house is an extremely moving experience, as it explores the lives of a family and a people who were treated horrifically during the war.

Otto Frank, the father of Anne, decided not only to publish the touching works of his daughter but, along with the Anne Frank Foundation, managed to save the very house it was written in from demolition.

It is now a museum, one with a story and a history within its very walls, of a family’s last hope of staying together, and staying alive. The little mementoes left behind, from the lines on the wall that show the growth of the children, to the pictures Anne pasted on the wall, help you to visualise how life would have been for the family in hiding.

The front of the house where the office and storage rooms were has been returned to the original style, and the house is decorated with images and quotes from Anne telling visitors her story as they walk round. Photographs from when Anne and her sister were younger are on show, along with objects from her childhood.

Otto had scale models made to show visitors just how little space they had during their two years in hiding. There are also video extracts from an interview the late Otto gave in 1967, and here you can see notes he made himself on his journey back from Auschwitz.

The diary room is a very special place where her original diaries including the famous red and white book, are kept in glass cases.

Along with this collection of Anne Frank artefacts, the Anne Frank Huis also holds temporary exhibitions which focus on the wartime persecution of Jews, contemporary fascism, racism and anti-Semitism. The current “Free2choose” exhibition is one which focuses on human rights and democracy.

The museum is located in the center of Amsterdam on the Prinsengracht, and buses stop at the nearby Westermarkt.

Millions of people visit this house every year to see with their own eyes the place they have read about in The Diary of a Young Girl.

Image credit: © Anne Frank House

Bobsleigh time in France


Is snowboarding just a little too passé? Is skiing those black-slopes just not doing it for you anymore? Do you enjoy wearing lycra and a helmet? Then bobsled could just be for you as Tomas Mowlam finds out.

In the French Alps the bobsled track at La Plagne is 1500 metres of immaculately smooth and glistening ice. Speeds can exceed 75 miles an hour, and submit you to up to 3.5 Gs in some of the turns. Do not fear though, the human body can resist up to 15 G.

The instructors say that anyone who is pregnant, post natal, has any kind of injury, heart condition or vascular problem can’t ride as “the bobsleigh is quite a brutal activity, it’s literally a bone shaker”.


“Crammed in you feel nice and secure, if not a little squashed, your upper body though, especially with the weight of the helmet gets flung side to side as you hit corner after corner.”


Warm clothing is advised (I was only joking about the lycra) as the track was built in a valley to keep the track ice constantly frozen, and will be dark from early afternoon in the depths of winter.

For those of you not put off by the above description then it’s time for the numbers; departing at an altitude 1684m you’ll drop 124m in approximately 62 seconds, twisting through eight left hand and eleven right hand bends.

The track was built for the 1992 Winter Olympics and from 8th – 23rd February, 350 athletes fought it out for gold in three different luge and two different bobsleigh competitions.

The track has been maintained ever since by the bobsled mad Macot Club and opens every year from October to early March.

The French national bobsled, luge and skeleton teams train here, so public openings are limited to weekends, and from 4.30 – 6.30pm.

And for those of you thinking of your own Cool Runnings, you won’t be able to drive bobsled, that job is wisely handed over to a professional; some of the pilots and instructors used to race for the French Olympic team and are “highly experienced” which is comforting.

You don’t really have to do a great deal as you will be strapped into the sled, given a helmet and pushed down the slope by an instructor.

You can try to scream but at that speed no sound comes out.

Contact whitetracks.co.uk for details.

The Basque Country says goodbye to winter


Towards the end of January we will no doubt still be shivering and moaning about the cold, but Rosie Khdir discovers the villages of the Basque Country that will be celebrating the end of winter.

On the last Sunday of January the people of Ituren and Zubieta, two small villages in the Pyrenees, begin preparations for their end of winter carnival.

This festival is a long standing tradition with both villages, where local people dress up and chase away the bad spirits of winter. The main part of the carnival involves a procession from the depths of the forests toward the village square by what are known as the Joaldunak.

At the sounding of a horn from the mountain slopes above the Joaldunak, villagers clad in sheepskin, high hats, neckerchiefs, ribbons, lace petticoats, carrying whips and with huge copper cow bells round their waists, make their way to the crowds waiting in the village.

Some villagers dressed as witches and demons, representing the darkness of winter, are scared away by the carnival bear, a man dressed in rams wool and horns (not far off resembling a character from Where the Wild Things Are). Then a week of celebrations begins, with traditional foods, drink and songs, to welcome in the forces of spring and fertility.

The carnival is of Pagan origin and is considered to be linked to the energies of the earth. In 2008 the carnival was recognised by UNESCO as part of the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

This year the festival starts on January 30th and last until February 6th, so why not take a trip to the beautiful Basque Country and wave goodbye to winter the Pyrenean way.

Image credit: birasuegi

High speed crossing without the ferry


Crossing the English Channel to France has been P&O Ferries’ area of expertise for many years now. Throughout that time it has risen to many challenges and faced down a lot of stiff competition, but, says John Hillman, the latest cross-channel innovation could just prove to be the final straw.

What is the point of P&O Ferries? Getting your car from one side of the English Channel to the other would appear to be the main reason. So it is with heavy heart that we report on the fact that a Swiss inventor has developed a car that simply, er, doesn’t need the ferry.

Passengers on board a P&O Ferries crossing to Calais may soon be witnessing the incredible sight of men such as Mr Frank M. Rinderknecht , boss of the Swiss design company Rinspeed, driving their super fast hydrofoils, simply zipping along on their way to the duty free shops of Calais without a care in the world.

Mr Rinderknecht set the Guinness Book World Record for his English Channel crossing from the British port of Dover to the French town of Sangatte in a time of 193 minutes, 47 seconds. The sight of his sports coupé whizzing along the top of the sea must have come as quite a shock to travelling ferry passengers.

He described the crossing as being like a rather perilous slalom on an Alpine piste, as he had to navigate his way between ferries and super tankers on what is one of the busiest stretches of water anywhere in the world.

So it looks like P&O Ferries can breathe a sigh of relief for now. With all the will in the world there are very few motorists out there who feel confident enough to navigate their way across such a obstacle course, especially with a couple of arguing children on the back seat. Best off sticking to the benefits of P&O Ferries’ Club Lounge for now, we say.


Image Credit: Rinspeed

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