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Interview: Une Francophile qui suit sa passion

MyFrenchLife™ - francophile - doni_belauQuite some time back now I stumbled across a great site! It was so COOL that I ‘subscribed’, ‘friended’, ‘followed’ and today I ‘Skyped’ the founder of this site! …

I was drawn to this particular site like a magnet, a big magnet, and being a ‘thinking non-chic lit, avoid the cliché type female Francophile’ I wondered exactly what the drawcard was; so, let’s review it together with a checklist. About France, check, about Paris, check, great ‘in-the-know’ info for women, check; chocolate, shoes, art, hotels, spas, and more, check, check, check… OK you get the idea so far.

And what’s the next thing you do when you discover something cool? You tell everyone, of course! Well I did this so well that when I visit this particular site today, I see their ‘facebook page’ friends’ images smiling at me. So much so, that I feel like I’m at one of our events or reunions as we call them. You are all there smiling at me! True!

There are so many members of our MyFrenchLife™ community worldwide and our FrenchConversationInMelbourne Group, that I feel right at home. How’s that for cool! No travel, no jetlag, no credit card damage and there we are, all in Paris together… kinda like a dream really.

As you may have gathered I ‘subscribed’ for a newsletter from the site, I ‘friended’ them on their facebook page and then I ‘followed’ them on twitter. Now this is sounding all a bit obsessive to you perhaps? Well it gets worse because as I mentioned earlier, today I ‘skyped’ the founder of this site! Have you worked out which site I’m talking about?

Interview: Doni Belau

MyFrenchLife™ - francophile - parisToday I had a really great and long Skype chat with Doni Belau the creator and CEO of Girls Guide to Paris. Please come along with me as we explore the story of ‘Girls Guide to Paris’ and what makes Doni, the founder tick.

Before I go any further I should let you in on some of Doni’s background, more of which you can find here.

In 2000, after many visits to Paris, Doni bought an apartment in the 6th Arrondissement during a ‘what the hell’ moment and the rest is history. This apartment has since been sold and replaced with a house on the river near Bordeaux.

Doni continues to visit her favorite place on earth and obsessively combs through every guidebook about Paris, scours nearly every blog and travel magazine and spends countless hours hunting down the newest restaurants and shops in the City of Light.

Before travel overtook her life, Doni worked in the not-for-profit arena and in advertising. Her mission now is to continue introducing her favorite parts of Paris to friends, acquaintances and anyone on the street who will listen. And hence the creation of The Girls’ Guide to Paris.

Firstly, I asked Doni which 3 adjectives would best describe her.

Her answer was: “Determined, enchanted and encouraging” and having spoken with her for the first time today I would like to add, enthusiastic, warm and savvy.

MyFrenchLife™ - francophile - bordeaux

Your first connection with France – what is your story?

“I went to Paris for the first time after graduating high school with my older sister. (typical whirlwind trip through Europe), Being from Nebraska (mid-west area of US) – I was bowled over! But I really fell in love hard & heavy in 1989 after a trip with my new husband to Bordeaux, then Aveyron (sis has a house there), Cognac then ending in Paris.

It made my heart sick to leave Paris – I remember grasping onto the bed in the little hotel we stayed at in the 6th. Why must we leave, why must we leave? We went back and back and then finally bought an apt. in the 6th in 2000. Paris is part of me, I cannot, simply will-not live without it!

I believe you have a home in Bordeaux, tell us about that…

“Very few Americans know the area around the gorgeous city of Bordeaux, a Unesco World Heritage site. We simply adore the region – home to Cap Ferret, oysters and glorious Atlantic ocean beaches, skiing in the Pyrenees and the Basque region, the young hip vibe and killer architecture that is Bordeaux, the wine the chateaux and the vineyards – simply to die for!

“I decided to do what I was most passionate about and launched a website that’s also a blog about Paris”

Oh and St. Emilion, another world heritage site is just 10 minutes away. We found a place on the banks of the Dordogne river – 4 bdrms and a pool – and went for it. It’s that quintessential French country farmhouse you dream of – limestone with blue shutters. The views of the river make me swoon. I feel so lucky to have found this hideaway a short hop away from Bordeaux.

We had been looking for a while after selling our place in Paris and Southwest France has been the answer. One can dine outside from April to November and then jump on a train to Paris which is only 3 hours away. ”

So, you split your time between NYC, Bordeaux and Paris. How does that work?

“Well, it’s easier now that my work is on the web and my kids are out of the house. Travel is my passion, so I’m on a plane a lot. Hubby joins when he can. We are getting ready to go to France this week avec famille.”

What is it that attracts you to Bordeaux?

“The oystermen who sell their freshly harvested shells in all the local villages on Sunday, the village of St. Emilion nearby and its princess/fairytale like atmosphere, Pomerol wines, incredibly friendly locals and expat Englishmen & women and the fact that you can be 2-3 hours from Paris & Spain and close to the Atlantic and the Med and spend only 700 euros a year on taxes! It’s a great place to retire. ”

When did you come up with the idea of GG2P?

“That’s a long story, but after being in politics and not for profit work for the last 10 years I decided to do what I was most passionate about and launched a website that’s also a blog about Paris that would be helpful and easy to use when planning a trip to the city of light.

It felt natural as I was the go to person in our circle of friends when planning a trip to Paris, having an apartment there and having led many a girls’ trip to my favorite town. The site has morphed and expanded and now we have a bunch of lady writers on the ground in Paris writing about everything from hotels to spas to fashion, festivals and museum exhibits – not to mention sexy shoes and dark chocolate.

Women enjoy talking about and dreaming of Paris, its fashion, food and fabulous culture and art de vivre. Sharing travel tips and ideas woman to woman makes for a very trusting environment. We have a lot of fun on our FB page.

What were you hoping to achieve when you created GG2P? (in business and personally)

MyFrenchLife™ - francophile - girls in paris

I’d like to see many more women throw caution to the wind and jump on a plane to Paris. I’d also of course like to make enough money (we also book hotels & tours  & sell downloadable DIY walking tours ) to keep the site going forever!

What are your personal passions?

Food, as in eating, shopping for (prefer farmer’s markets and local produce, especially from my own garden) and preparing oh and of course sampling new restos in Paris, NY and beyond! Travel – I’m a sick travel addict.

“Go to Paris as often as you can, sample weird stinky cheese, try discovering the lesser known regions of France”

I have an inner gypsy that is dying to take over my life. Art, seeing it and buying it (when I can afford it of course). Real estate – my guilty pleasure is the House Hunter’s International TV show. I would look at real estate in every town I visit if I could get away with it.

Can we play a little game of favourites for a minute?

MyFrenchLife™ - Francophile - 59 rivoliCity in France

Too easy, Paris of course!

Quarter in Paris

Tougher Q, love the Marais for all around fabulousness (architecture, restos & shopping and my fave Place des Vosges), but also love the 9th (rue des Martyrs), the 2nd (Montorgueil and Etienne Marcel) and the 11th for a fun night out. Plus I have a lot of nostalgia for the 6th where my old apt. was!

Gallery in Paris

Probably the recently opened ’59 Rivoli’ to view artists at work, a complete list here.

French music / book / or other – whatever you love…

Amelie really gets you in the mood like no other film for Paris, and as I often stay in Montmartre I think of her while walking down the streets of Lepic and Abssess. When I’m not in Paris, I drown my sorrows over one of the many books written by expats who have moved to France. I loved Lunch in Paris (we interviewed her for our blog) and recently Bon Courage was fun. Complete list here.

If it was a personal celebration where in Paris would you love to go for lunch and also for dinner – oh and what about a cocktail?

Hmm. Well my favorite places right now are Spring (Daniel Rose’s newly re-opened joint) and Le Chateaubriand  (so lunch at one, dinner at the other?) Cocktail – fancy would be George V, as I love to see the floral displays, drink with a view Chez Francis as it looks directly onto the Eiffel Tower – go at night when it sparkles (on the hour for 10 minutes). Marais (hip) – Belle Hortense, a literary bar with books. More here.

What have I missed?

Best chocolate in Paris, hands down Patrick Roger  – and the best shoe shopping street in the world – chocolate and shoes go together, don’t they?

MyFrenchLife™ - francophile - patrick roger chocolate

Do you have any advice for members of My French Life, who are all lovers of ‘La Belle France’? 

Go to Paris as often as you can, sample weird stinky cheese, try discovering the lesser known regions of France such as the Basque area, the Aveyron, Bordeaux, Ile de Re and the other French islands in the Atlantic.

This just might be our only life – so fill it with everything French as much as you possibly can! And when you cannot be in France, try to take a moment out of your day to live the way the French do – eat and cherish what you do (don’t gobble), sit at a café one afternoon and while away the hours, if your employer asks you for something urgently – tell them you’ll get to it after vacances!

Un grand merci à Doni Belau who contributed her time and shared her personal life stories with us so generously. Like me I’m sure that you will enjoy watching and being involved in the growth and development of GG2P.

What is your experience as a francophile or expat? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments box below.

Image Credits:
1. Doni by Judy Macmahon
2. Paris by Bruno, via Flickr
3. Bordeaux by Justin Balog, via Flickr
4. Dordorgne by Sarah Arnoff, via Flickr
5. In Paris by Paulo Santa Rosa, via Flickr
6. 59 Rivoli by Stefan Leijon, via Flickr
7. Patrick Roger chocolates by Lee McCoy, via Flickr


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