French Connections in Alexandria

Dix, neuf, huit—oh, excusez-moi. I’m just counting down until French tall ship Hermione sails into Alexandria’s harbor after its unprecedented voyage across the Atlantic. But you don’t have to wait until Hermione is here to celebrate Alexandria’s French connections! Starting this weekend, French-themed events kick off and our French shops and restaurants are standing by to equip you with French fare and flair. Can you say “j’adore Alexandria”? Read on for our guide to Alexandria’s French side:


Tall Ship Hermione Visits Alexandria

alexandria-va-hermione-2015-wide-viewImage via Flickr user SoGladia

77,000 pounds of iron, 1,000 pulleys, 3 masts and 15 miles of rope make up Hermione, “among the most handsome and most intricate history lessons every built” (CBS). From June 10-12, 2015, you can see history up close when this massive French tall ship arrives in Alexandria after sailing 3,819 miles across the Atlantic.

So what’s the story behind the boat? In 1780, Americans were fighting for independence from Britain, and George Washington’s troops had just undergone the harshest winter of the 18th century. But Washington’s friend the Marquis de Lafayette was on his way from France aboard the tall ship Hermione with good news: the French government had agreed to aid the American cause. Hermione would later play a critical role in the defeat of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, sealing the fate of the British.

Now, more than 200 years later, an exact replica of the ship that brought Lafayette to America and launched a long-lasting partnership between the U.S. and France is coming to Alexandria, featuring sailor-guided tours and pier-side activities like shipbuilding demos, Lafayette reenactors, Revolutionary era musical performances and a traveling exhibit. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this boat!


Alexandria, Lafayette and American History

alexandria-va-hermione-tall-ship-french-lafayette-george-washington-historyImage via Wikipedia

Alexandria’s French connections go way back—like, all the way to the eve of America’s birth. Lafayette’s dedication to the American cause resulted in his dear friendship with George Washington, who called Alexandria home. After the War for Independence was over, Lafayette visited Washington at Mount Vernon to discuss the fate of the new nation. Later, when the French Revolution broke out, Lafayette sent Washington a key to the Bastille, which you can still see at Mount Vernon today.

In 1824, Lafayette returned to Alexandria for several weeks and was treated like a rock star by adoring fans, who greeted him with multiple balls and social events in his honor.  But the war hero did not forget Washington—he visited Mount Vernon one last time to pay his respects at the general’s tomb, this time with his son George Washington Lafayette by his side.

You can learn more about Lafayette in Alexandria this weekend on May 31, with museum open houses and exhibits featuring artifacts from Lafayette’s 1824 visit to Alexandria.


French Food and Fashion

alexandria-va-hermione-tall-ship-2015-french-restaurantsImage credit: La Madeleine

Alexandria is fluent in French food, with eateries ranging from upscale and intimate to casual and cozy. To celebrate Hermione’s visit to Alexandria, from June 5-14 many restaurants will have special French menus and offers, including at La Bergerie, Del Ray Café, La Madeleine and Bastille.

To get your dose of French culture, head to Fontaine Caffe and Creperie on Thursday nights, when guests can enjoy champagne and crepes alongside a French film (you can see the classic French comedy La Chevre on Thursday, June 11). Grab some artisan cheese and fabulous French wine to take home at La Fromagerie on King Street, or check out the snug bistro at Le Refuge for classics like country pate and escargots.

If you’re looking for chic fashion, don’t miss An American in Paris, stocking one-of-a-kind styles from European designers. Also in Old Town, get your gourmet on with La Cuisine’s incredible collection of cooking equipment from France and elsewhere.


Special Events

Hermione arrives on June 10, but why wait to celebrate? Put on your 18th century dancing shoes, meet a Lafayette reenactor and explore Alexandria’s rich connection to American Revolutionary history with the following events leading up to Hermione’s visit:


“Lafayette in Alexandria” Day with Museum Open Houses
May 31, 2015, 1-5 p.m.
Old Town Alexandria

Free tours and Lafayette meet-and-greets? Oui! Start your French adventure at Market Square with the launch of Tides of Revolution: The Hermione Game, a virtual first-person game exploring the American Revolution at its turning point. Then head out to tour the Alexandria museums open for free:

  • Carlyle House Historic Park
  • Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
  • Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
  • Alexandria Archaeology Museum
  • The Lyceum, Alexandria History Museum
  • Alexandria Black History Museum
  • Lee-Fendall House Museum




“Lafayette in Alexandria” Exhibit at Alexandria Archaeology Museum
May 31-June 14, 2015; Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m.
Torpedo Factory Art Center

How did early Alexandrians roll out the red carpet for celebrities? Visit this exhibit inside the Torpedo Factory to find out, with artifacts from Lafayette’s return trip to Alexandria in 1824 including commemorative portraits, ribbons, cups, plates and more.

Lafayette Guided Tours
June 1-30, 2015, offered daily by appointment

Trace Lafayette’s footsteps on this guided tour of the locations he visited in northern Virginia in 1824, including Mount Vernon, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, and Lee Mansion at Arlington.

Lecture: “Teenage Hero: The Marquis de Lafayette” 
June 11, 2015, 7:30-9 p.m. 
The Lyceum, Alexandria’s History Museum

Did you know Lafayette was only nineteen when he became an American hero? Discover his story at this lecture and book signing by noted scholar and Lafayette biographer Harlow Giles.

Lafayette Ball at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
June 13, 2015, 8-11 p.m.
Gadsby’s Tavern Museum

Pull out your revolutionary-era couture for this ball, a chance to dance the night away as Hermione heads to its next stop in Baltimore. Expect English country dances, live music, and seasonal desserts and lots of period costumes. Reservations are requested.


To learn more about Hermione-related events in Alexandria, click here.