Living Abroad: The Evolution of Holiday Menu Planning

Growing up in Canada, our Christmas dining festivities would start with a Christmas Eve tourtière (meat pie). For the actual day of Christmas, I’ve always thought of our dinner as fairly classic. We had the turkey, dressing/stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes etc followed by an array of desserts. For us, it was normally Nanaimo bars  and a version of trifle my mum made based on the ones she had growing up in the U.K.  When my aunt married into a Ukrainian family, we HAPPILY added his mother’s amazing cabbage rolls to the menu. Did it traditionally fit with turkey and the trimmings? Not really. Did we care? Not at all.  They were delicious and a culturally important addition to the family.

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My own version of tourtière made at high altitude one Christmas in the French Alps

Since then, I have moved around the world and experienced first hand the role food memories play in people’s lives. If I taste a Nanaimo bar, I think of Canada. Fish and chips takes me mentally to England. Paris Brest sees me walking down memory lane in France. Food is important to our memories and most importantly, it helps us feel connected to the past.

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Paris Brest, I love you!! 

Our very first Christmas in Paris saw me panic a bit at the thought of the large shellfish dinner that is traditionally held on Christmas eve. I’m allergic to shellfish so this new tradition posed a problem for me. Instead, we embraced the addition of caviar, smoked salmon, plenty of champagne and the Bûche de Noël (aka Yule Log cake).

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Fish and Chips make me long for the U.K….

When we are lucky enough to return to my husband’s native England for Christmas, a personal highlight is celebrating Danish Christmas with his brother and family! I wouldn’t dare attempt to replicate my Danish sister-in-law’s cooking but I can assure you, that Risalamande (the best rice pudding I’ve EVER had with warm cherry sauce that is actually eaten as part of a game) and the browned sugared potatoes are both part of my Christmas flavour memories now.

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Risalamande – and I won the prize. Again. Sorry!

If you’ve stuck with me this long you will start to see my Christmas flavours and ideal menu have not stopped growing!  Each taste represents happy memories in my life and makes me think of the people I’ve been lucky enough to call family and/or friends over the years. In 2015, we relocated to Switzerland and saw the heavy introduction of cheese in both raclette and fondue format at Christmas time!  In addition to cheese, we’ve embraced panettone in our household as staple during the holidays!

 

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Bûche de Noël – Yule Log

So, what is an internationally-confused menu planner supposed to do?! In a world without calories my perfect Christmas would include tourtière, panettone, turkey and all the trimmings, brown Danish sugared potatoes, fondue, Cabbage rolls, smoked salmon and caviar, Nanaimo bars, trifle, risalamande and a bûche de Noël…all washed down with a few glasses of champagne! Phew! I’m not sure I could manage that! (Don’t even get me started on the challenges presented by living internationally with trying to locate and buy 90% of the items on my Christmas menu wish list!!!) 

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we have decided when we spend Christmases here in Switzerland, we will continue with the fondue-inspired meal. It’s how we celebrate Swissmas. This doesn’t mean we don’t miss all those wonderful flavours, we just keep them as happy memories, locked in our hearts, until the years when we are able to travel for the holidays.

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Swissmas Fondue dinner – 2016

 

This year, no matter where you are in the world, if you sit down for a holiday meal of some sort, think about how your family’s menu evolved. How have you chosen certain items over others? Who do the dishes remind you of? These same thoughts can be applied to many different cultures, but I can’t speak for others…only for myself. As long as my mouth isn’t too full 😉

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart – StockphotoVideo – Kalim – cynoclub 

 

Dîner en Blanc Paris – 2017

I’m lucky and I know it.

I have to start there because I am fully aware that this particular night, in this particular city, draws a lot of ‘but how did you get invited?’ questions and comments. It seems part and parcel with the whole affair and trust me, I’d LOVE to bring everyone I know with me, but it just doesn’t work like that.

What am I referring to? Dîner en Blanc (White Dinner) in Paris.

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Cheers from Passerelle Debilly. Dîner en Blanc Paris, 2014.

I think it is important to tell my story on how I came to be invited to Dîner en Blanc in the first place.

Back in 2006, when I was still new to life in Paris, my new husband and I were out for an after dinner stroll through the streets of our arrondissement/neighbourhood. It was on this night that we stumbled across a large gathering of people dress immaculately, in all white, dining on prime rib, pastas, beautiful French confections, all the while sipping champagne from china flutes.

“What on earth was that?” I asked of my husband and he replied, “ah, that is the secret pop-up dinner called Dîner en Blanc. You have to be part of the who’s who of Paris to be invited.”

That crushed me. Couldn’t they just TELL I would bring the fun by merely inviting me? I spent the next few years in search of an invite or a connection to someone invited.

No. Such. Luck.

Fast forward to 2011, I had a client who was invited. I was excited for her but she flippantly said to me “I have to do this white thing tonight…how ghastly!” I wanted to scream I WILL GO IN YOUR PLACE but I held my cool. How was it she ended up being invited in her first year living in Paris when I had been trying for YEARS?!

So, I gave up. I really did. It wasn’t going to happen and I was just going to be jealous once a year of everyone having this magical night in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  It hurt to give up but I surrendered to acknowledging I wasn’t one of the ‘who’s who’ of Paris.

Then, almost as soon as I gave up, I received a random email from someone I had worked with as a marathon training coach. We had a long history of random encounters, from running Santa Claus races in costume together to laughing about mutual friends at a pub night for something entirely different, so random was not new to our relationship. He asked me in a very convoluted manner if I was “in or out” for something happening in June 2013.

WHAT?

Yes of course I was in (I always dive head first).

I asked what it was and he laughed, “I will explain later but you are on the list!”

OMG I’m on a LIST! I did not care what list it was, it was all so secretive and exciting! My husband was more practical asking “what if you signed up to run a marathon you don’t know about??” I wouldn’t listen to him (or pretended not to panic would be more accurate).

Then the invite came. We were cordially invited to Dîner en Blanc 2013 – location and time TBA.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Since that fateful email, we have attend 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and now 2017. The evening never disappoints, no matter how much work it is to bring your dinner, table and chairs with you through Paris.

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Place Vendôme, Dîner en Blanc Paris, 2016

I believe part of the magic is still in the details, or lack therefore of. People have all kinds questions about it and I refuse to answer many but I will tell you this:

  1. It is true that the date and location are kept COMPLETELY SECRET to diners. We find out the date a few weeks before and the location only once our designated team leaders have taken us there. We meet first at another location and come together at the last minute to set up, sit down and pop some champagne
  2. In regards to how we coordinate everything if it is all so secretive, we receive a list entailing the exact size and shape of chairs/tables and what is expected of us as diners
  3. We are in charge of our space: that means we must bring our own garbage bags and help clean up after. We leave the location as we found it.
  4. The date changes yearly
  5. The Paris event is ‘almost’ free of charge (change in your wallet could cover your fees) but I have heard that other cities charge quite a hefty fee (could just be rumours…)
  6. It is absolutely as much fun as it looks
  7. We do not automatically receive invite benefits to pass along to other friends, family members, etc (I’m sorry!!!)

So, with that in mind, I leave you with some photos from this year’s event. If you ever find yourself receiving a strange email asking “are you in or out”, I implore you to find your wild side and see what might entail.

For me, this is always a highlight event of the year and I will never take that for granted!

See you in 2018 (date and location to be determined, of course!)

Photo Credit: Jennifer Hart

Photo Journal: Lake Como, Italy

My family and I are bona fide Italiophiles. We love anything and everything to do with visiting Italy, as readers of this blog may have already learned once or twice before! Once we cross the Italian border, we feel relaxed and happy. This may very well be built up in our heads, but even if that is true, is it really so bad?? Italy represents a slowing down of life for us. Taking some speed off of the pace of things and allowing ourselves to enjoy leisurely days and delicious food.

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Wine, sun, mountains and Lago di Como – when life is perfect

We recently booked a last minute long-weekend trip to Lake Como (Lago di Como) and spent 5 marvellous days soaking in the sun, the culture, the wine and the gelato! Lake Como, often known for its most famous resident, George Clooney, is breath-taking any time of year. The weather starts to heat up in April and really pumps up its volume in June, July, August and September. Outside of these months you can expect cooler weather and perhaps some rain but I promise, even then, Como will not disappoint.

Alas, we did not find George on our trip (to be honest, we didn’t look that hard) but we did find our own little paradise along the lake. We may not be in the same tax bracket as Mr. Clooney, but we were able to borrow his lifestyle for a few days. Thank you, Como. We’ll be back!

Enjoy the photos!

Photo Credit: Jennifer Hart

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking: Panettone

Love it or leave it but Panettone season is upon us again! Pana-what-y? Panettone (pan-eh-tone-eh). If you have to ask what this is then you must not live anywhere near an Italian market or somewhere like Switzerland where Italians make up a good chunk of the population. Something magical seemed to happen on the first of November in every single grocery store across Switzerland (and no, I’m not talking about discounted Halloween candy). Panettone popped up everywhere!! Just like cheese did a few weeks prior, panettone has taken over the supermarkets with bright boxes, colourful containers and more varieties than you knew were even possible!

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My homemade chocolate panettone!

So, what is panettone? Panettone is a sweet leavened bread with flavourings added. The traditional mix includes dried fruits but over the years versions such as hazelnut chocolate (think Nutella), grappa and lemon have appeared to gain in popularity. Panettone is similar to a brioche and is often served with tea or coffee as an afternoon snack.

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Endless selection
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Gluten-free versions

What to do if your local store isn’t chock full of panettone and you want to try it? You could always make it yourself! YES, panettone is a somewhat time consuming recipe but it is not difficult. You basically work with the dough or 10 minutes or so then leave it for a couple hours and repeat. I know someone that left their dough accidentally for 5 hours and it still turned out fine. It is a forgiving recipe so even newcomers can handle it.

The same basic recipe can be used for a chocolate panettone or a fruity one, just choose your ‘extra’ ingredients based on your taste. You can always mix and match. I’m a big chocolate and orange fan so candied orange with chocolate chips would be awesome! My husband and I like a bit of Grand Marnier splashed in the dough but we avoid that with the kids. Just have fun with it!

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With Grappa in the mix!

Panettone:
*NOTE: a panettone tin would be perfect for this but if you have another deep (20cm/7inch) dish, feel free to use that. Some bake shops and grocery stores sell disposible panettone dishes that work very well! I’ve heard of people in North America using old large metal coffee tins. Alternatively, I have heard of panettone being made in metal IKEA utensil holders (the silver one with holes) after being lined with aluminium foil and parchment. Deep is what you are after so get creative!

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My panettone tin
  • 60ml/4tbs warm milk (soy milk may be used if you are vegan but beware, the final texture may not be the same)
  • 14g/0.5oz dry fast-action yeast
  • 100g/ 1/2 cup of caster sugar
  • 500g/2 cups of strong white flour
  • 250g/1 cup butter or butter substitute
  • 5 eggs (or flax egg equivalent), lightly beaten
  • 1oml/2tsp vanilla extract
  • grated zest of 1 orange (you can omit this but I feel it rounds out the flavour)
  • pinch of salt

Extra items:
For a traditional fruit panettone

  • 250g/1 cup of your favourite dried fruits (i.e. raisins, cranberries, cherries candied orange and lemon, etc) You can chose just one fruit or several types to make a mixture

For a chocolate panettone

  • 250g/1 cup of dark chocolate chips, chunks or a broken chocolate bar (reserve some for sprinkling on top)

Finish for both versions:

  • 1 egg white, beaten (vegan – mix small amount of soy milk with sunflower oil)
  • 8-10 rough crushed sugar cubes or pre-made sugar crystals
  • optional – you can add slivered or whole almonds to the topping mix if you like

Directions:

  1. Place your warm milk, 1tbs/15ml of sugar and yeast together in a bowl and leave to sit for a few minutes. In the meantime, grease your panettone (or other) tin with butter or margarine. Using a different bowl, add the remainder of the sugar to the butter and vanilla extract. Mix together until pale and creamy.
  2. Gently add the orange zest and mix. Now add one egg at a time, making sure each egg is well incorporated before adding the next.
  3. Place all the flour in a large bowl with a pinch of salt. Make a small hole or well in the middle and first pour the yeast mixture into the well, followed by the butter and egg mixture. Begin to stir and bring together, gently mixing all the wet and dry ingredients together. Once the ingredients seem well blended, knead the dough in the bowl with your hands for about 5 minutes. This will be a VERY sticky dough at this stage so don’t panic if yours is sticking to you!
  4. Take the sticky dough and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Here, you will knead again for another 5-10 minutes until you have a very stretchy and soft dough. If your dough is sticking to your hands and the surface, you may use small sprinkles of flour to help with this process. After 5-10 minutes, shape into a ball and place into a large, lightly greased bowl. Cover with cling film/plastic wrap and leave for 2 hours to rise. Please note: your dough will double in size so make sure your bowl is large enough to accommodate this!
  5. After 2 hours, place the dough on a lightly floured surface again and knead for 5 minutes, gradually adding either your fruit mixture or chocolate mixture. If you are using chocolate, be careful not to knead too much and melt the chocolate into the dough. I would knead the dough for 4 minutes then add the chocolate at the last minute. Shape into a ball and place into your greased tin. Cover with cling film/plastic wrap and leave for another hour to rise.
  6. Heat over to 180C/360F. At this point, brush the egg wash or substitute over the top of the dough and add the sugar cube pieces. Place in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes (some ovens may take longer!). Test with a skewer before removing from oven. IF your panettone starts to brown too much on the top, gently cover with a foil tent to protect from the heat.
  7. Remove from oven and let sit for at least 30 minutes before attempting to turn out.
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Sticky dough
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My dough rising in front of the fireplace
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Final step! It gets exciting now and the smell is addictive throughout the house!

 

Final tips:
If you find the egg and butter mixture starting to curdle, add small (like a teaspoon at a time) amounts of flour to smooth it out.
Also, you can place parchment paper inside your tin before adding the dough to help remove the cooked panettone at the end.

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And she’s done!!! Yum!

Now, sit back and enjoy warm with a  fresh cup of tea or coffee!! Did someone say warm sugary bread? YUM!

Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part II

A weekend away in Torino is made easier with these tips and ideas!

My little family recently had the good fortune to spend a long, sunny weekend in Torino, Italy falling in love with its character, people, food and culture. As promised, I said I would follow up our visit with a list of What To Do and What to Eat in Torino. Although we were a family travelling with two kids (5 and 8) and yet I can just as easily see many of the things listed here as being fun for couples, friends, etc.

Here we go!

What To Do:
With no end of things to do in Torino, everyone in your group from the sports fan to anciet Egypt fanatic will be pleased. While not listed, I challenge you to count the number of Fiat 500s you see rolling through the small streets of Torino. A local car to Torino, it has never looked better than in her hometown! 

Egyptian Museum/Museo Egizi0 di Torino

-Parco del Valentino (Excellent spot for a run, walk, picnic or kick around with a ball. You can rent bikes in the park and there are a couple little cafes selling sandwiches, beer and gelato, of course)

-Market at Porta Palazzo/Mercato di Porta Palazzo (Located at Piazza della Repubblica, this is Europe’s largest market with 800+ venders and seemingly endless stalls to cruise past. Everything from fresh fruits, meats, cheese, clothing, home appliances and take-away food are for sale here. It can be a bit overwhelming but it is worth a nose around)

-Run/walk/cycle along the Po River (The Po River is the longest river in Italy and sparkles beautifully through the heart of Torino).

-boat tour along the Po River (you can either take a cruise along the Po river – departures near Parco del Valentino – or rent a kayak to go at your own pace. Times and departures are weather and season-dependant so please do some research on this one before adding it to your list. It is HIGHLY worth a tiny bit of effort!)

-Eat (see below)

-visit the Royal Palace 

National Museum of Cinema (a very different take on a museum but worth a visit – located inside Mole Antonelliana)

Juventus Stadium (home to the Italian Champions League 2015-2016 winners Juventus F.C., the stadium is a must see for sports fanatics and soccer/football fans. There are daily tours and a Juventus museum located inside)

-Mole Antonelliana (the official monument of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics, this impressive monument is also featured on the Italian 2cent Euro coin)

-Eat more (see below)

-Palatine Towers (remnants from the Roman era, the Palatine Towers or Palatine Gate are an architectural must-see)

-Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange (shopping district – think high street to higher end)

What to Eat:
Take note: avoid the tourist trap restaurants. Piedmontese cuisine is so fresh, varied and exciting that despite potential language barriers in understanding menus in Italian,  I promise whatever you order will NOT disappoint. Give in to the local flavours and try something new and exciting. I understand many people are upset about the idea of veal but I included it in this list as it is a very proud dish from this region and at least now if you ARE anti-veal, you know what to avoid on the menus (which are often not translated or poorly translated in the better restaurants).

-Risotto (the main ingredient in risotto, Aborio rice, hails from this region)

-Gelato (ice cream of the best quality and the most amazing flavours)

-Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna mayonnaise and capers)

-Antipasti (my favourites being misto-mixed antipasti and Tomini-creamy cheeses served with chilis)

-More gelato 😉

-Agnolotti (traditional meat stuffed ravioli)

-Cheeses (so many to choose from but I highly encourage that if the restaurant you are dining in offers a cheese plate, you should order it)

Good To Know:
To anyone that likes an early dinner, I’m afraid Italians aren’t prepared for this. Most places don’t start opening for dinner until 7:30-8pm. If you can’t deal with this, perhaps stop by somewhere and ask them if you can get snacks for aperitivo. This way you can satisfy your earlier need to eat without sacrificing on taste! 😉
The buses and trams in Torino are EXTREMELY easy to use and clear. We walked almost everywhere we went but took both bus and tram at other times to see things further afield.  We bought 2 day travel cards for sale at any tobacco shop / tabacchi (welcome to Europe, right?). These shops are easy to spot with the following on display outside each one.

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Tobacco / Tabacchi where you can buy your public transport tickets

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

 

 

Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part I

There isn’t much about Torino (Turin) not to love. We recently had the pleasure of spending 5 days in the former Italian capital and I have so much to say about it that I have decided to split this post into a few parts. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a wealth of cultural, culinary and artistic activities to take part in, Torino is definitely worth adding to your travel bucket list.

Before I dig deeper into what to do, what to eat (a LOT) and where to go, I present a visual journey through this amazing northern Italian city where the alpine views are as impressive as the city itself.

 

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Wise words. I suggestion you follow them! 

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MMMMMMM!! Gelato as far as the eye can see (and stomach can handle)

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Like pasta? Like it A LOT?

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Rent-a-bike for an hour or a day – available throughout the entire city

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When you are a pig and forget to take a stylised photo of your food before you dig in. I swear, nothing tasted bad in Torino!

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Chocolate shoes! Know someone that would like these?
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Obligatory Juventus photo!

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Thank you, Torino, for such a memorable vacation. I will expand upon these photos soon but for now, you live in my heart and memory!!! I can’t wait to return 🙂

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

What to do this Weekend: Street Food Festival Lausanne

I don’t even know where to start explaining what a good idea a street food festival is. With something for everyone, ranging from vegan cuisine to cocktails to the ultimate in BBQ eats, street food festivals are a great place to try a lot of different foods in a festive atmosphere. We recently took a tour around the Lausanne Street Food Festival and enjoyed it so much I thought I’d put together a a photo tour of our night of tasting, laughing and fun. If you are in Lausanne this weekend, you can enjoy the festival tonight, Saturday 30th April (even with the rain) or all day tomorrow (1st May from 11h00-20h00).  Entry is free but bring cash and an open mind to try as many things as you can!!  Some of the cocktail stands and bigger food trucks accept payment by credit/Maestro cards but I think you are safer assuming you will need to bring real money with you 😉

Good to know: The festival is definitely family-friendly.

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Ha!
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Fish burgers and more!
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The gourmet hot dog stand!
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Yours truly sampling a hot dog with Japanese bbq sauce, coleslaw and chips!
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Fresh chips/crisps made on site!
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My daughter checking out the donut stand
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Smoked salmon (made on site)
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My son was happy with this1
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See? Happy!
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Aperol. I love you.
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Long shot down one side of the festival
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For the vegetarians (and vegetarian-friendly folk 😉 )
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YES!!!! Arepas and tequeños! Love Venezeulan food!
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Upcoming tour dates for Switzerland
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BBQ Burgers
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Mountains, lake, sunshine, food, drinks…bliss!
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Lots of places to lounge, talk and eat on the lawn
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The bars were particularly busy !

 

Thanks for the memories, Lausanne! We’ll be back next year!

PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer Hart