Provence consists of three departements: Bouches-du-Rhone, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and thirdly Vaucluse, which is the region we were about to visit and tour. Within Vaucluse there are also three sub-regions, called Luberon, Mont Ventoux and Avignon and we did our best to get in a little bit of all three.
We left Avignon and headed south to Cavaillon, passing through, taking highway D2 towards Menerbes. This was beginning of our tour through small Provencal villages until we made our way to our stay at Auberge du Vin just outside of Carpentras. Wonderful countryside, a lovely drive and numerous hilltop villages to stop at and walk through, such as Menerbes, La Coste, Bonnieux, Gordes and Venasque. All cute and quaint, but Gordes stands out and is really quite something to see from the viewpoint when you arrive from the south on D2. And you will immediately know you are getting close to Gordes because of the unique walls or fences along the highway made solely of rock, flat, shale-like rock, starting with them placed horizontally up to about three meters, and then a top row placed vertically. Very unique.
On Saturdays and Sundays, from March to November, Paris shuts down some of the highways the run along the Seine. On the Right Bank the road is closed to motorized traffic from the Tuilleries to the Pont Charles De Gaulle. On the left bank, a portion of the Voie Expresse Rive Gauche is also closed, from near the Eiffel Tower to Bridge de la Concorde, where you can then switch to the right side. During July and August it may always closed to motorized traffic. Bikers share the highway with “rollers” and pedestrians. Since the views along the Seine are spectacular, this is a popular outing and something we try to do every Sunday we are in Paris.
Our travels today took us from Dol de Bretagne southeast to Fougeres and Vitré. Both are towns with chateaus and medieval castles, and some of the best examples of them in France. They are two of our favorites. It’s so difficult to have favorites in France, as there are so many wonderful French villages, but these two rank up at the top.
Fourgeres is divided into two, with a lower part encompassing a medieval castle and town, and the upper, more modern town of Fougeres. A good way to start is in the upper part of town and then work your way downwards to the castle. You can walk through the public gardens of Place aux Arbres, which features terrific views of the castle medieval town below, and features hundred different versions of ferns (Figueres translates to fern). As you go walk through the gardens by way of a footpath you’ll make your way to the lower part of town (actually more scenic as most of the upper town had burned down in a fire in the 18th century) and the castle. As always, grab a map at the tourism office.
Our special in-room dinner service began with a wonderful massage for both of us, which was just what we needed after a long day of exploring medieval chateaus and towns in Brittany. It was followed by a fire lit in the large fireplace in our room, served with a demi-bouteille of champagne and appetizers. As the last sips of the champagne went down, the Manoir staff re-appeared to set up our table with salad plates, a bottle of Bordeaux and a wooden cutting board with a large raw coté de Boef steak and aluminum wrapped baked potatoes. They then set up a special grill in the fireplace and left us with instructions that when we were ready, to grill the steak five minutes each side and reheat the already baked potatoes. We followed the instructions shortly after and the end result was a fantastic dinner for two by the fire in our room. Quite something. Oh yes, almost forgot. Dessert were to small pots, individual-sized with an apple crisp topped with chocolate chunks. A few minutes on the grill and we had hot dessert to finish off an unforgettable dining experience at the Manoir de la Begaudiere.
On day four we left Morlaix on D786 northeast to Lannion. Lannion reminded us very much of Quimper. We had lunch on the town bridge, which one of the few bridges in Europe that are still occupied (the other famous one is in Prague). We had lunch at one of the restaurants on the bridge that looked cute, but it wasn’t great. Too often those restaurants in great locations unfortunately do not have great food. They don’t have to, tourists go to them because they are conveniently located. We prefer to search for our food!
After Lannion we headed over to Saint– and Perros Guirec. This is just a great coastline for exploring and unusual due to its coloring. Known as the “Côte de Granit Rose” (pink granite coast), it stretches for more than 30 kilometres from Plestin-les-Greves to Louannec and is one of the outstanding coastlines of Europe. This special pink rock is rare and can be found in only three other places in the world; Ontario, Canada, Corsica and China.
On our third day in Bretagne we headed further north close to the town of Morlaix, to a chateau called Chateau du Bois de la Roche, near Garlan and a few minutes outside of Morlaix.
On the way we first visited the coast taking D887 out of Port Launay to Camaret-sur-Mer. This is a rugged coastline with a lighthouse out on a point. There’s numerous trails to take and worth doing. If you drive right out to the point of Camaret there is parking and you’ll find the trail. Be careful with your footing in some of the areas!
After that we continued on E60 and on the way we turned off before Brest to visit Landerneau. We were close to Brest but decided to skip it. Its rather large town, much of it new as it was bombed quite a bit during WWII, so we decided on Landerneau instead. Landerneau is actually quite similar to Quimper. We enjoyed walking its old town streets, lined with well-preserved half-timbered buildings.
We continued on to the Chateau to get checked in and take a nap. The Chateau is owned by a German who bought the chateau with his wife some years before. Unfortunately shortly the purchase of the chateau she died of cancer. He now rents out rooms, helped out by his son, while he takes care of the large property. Our room was on the third floor, shared with two other rooms. They were empty, which means the common sitting area and the shared bathroom, were all for us to use. This is something to be aware of when taking a room at a Chateau; do you get your own bathroom? If not, do you mind sharing? We prefer our own, but forgot to ask this time. Fortunately it worked out for us.
We took this trip at the beginning of June of 2012. We attended the wedding in St. Gildas (Bay of Morbihan) of Flo’s brother Tony to Christine, and then rented a car and headed north. We had a week to make a quick tour around peninsula of Finistere, to see what we liked and what we may want to come back to in the future. Flo’s sister has a newly built summer home in St. Gildas so we knew we’d be visiting this area regularly in the future.
There’s not a better way to get around Paris and really see the town. But its not for the faint of heart!
The transportation systems in Paris are first class, with a proven metro grid, functioning bus system with on-time routes, and fast-running trains that provide easy access in and out of one of the world’s most fascinating cities. But within Paris, getting around is quick, easy and more enjoyable by bike, especially using the Velib system implemented a few years ago. For just a couple of dollars a day, one can use one of the thousands of bikes available at hundreds of locations throughout Paris. Just charge your credit card and the bike is yours for 30 minutes, which is usually quick enough to get to your next destination. Want to ride longer? The cost is just one euro every 30 minutes. But the best way to use Velib is in 30 minute increments and then there’s no extra charge. Ride, park and walk. When ready, ride again for 30 minutes and then park and walk. That way your ride is never more than $2 dollars a day. Continue reading “Biking in Paris”
For the French, bread is a major part of their lives. And if you are going to be involved in their lives, you better pick up on the rules of bread etiquette for the results could be unpleasant . You don’t mess with their food!
Mornings start usually with brioche–a light, white bread, slightly puffy, enriched with eggs and butter (not low-cal) with a dark golden and flaky crust. Its the stuff Antoinette offered to the French when she was told they were rioting over not having enough bread. And we know how well that turned out (for those not too up on European history, think French Revolution). Or, they’ll settle for leftover bread from the night before that they cut up and heat in the toaster making it eatable again. This is about the only time they’ll make due with leftover bread. Continue reading “The French and their bread…”
One of our favorite places in Frances, although we have many. This place has been on the top of our list when we consider where we’d like to have a home in France later in life. Weather is quite pleasant most of the time, its a nice size, right on the Mediterranean and very close to Italy. Excellent transportation and easy to get around, even on foot. All bus rides cost 1 euro, so you can ride from Nice to Menton or Monaco, for just one euro. Same for the tram, just a euro. Trains run along the coast and into Italy and also are very reasonable. You really don’t need (or want) a car long the coast, take the bus or train. Save the car for exploring some of the villages behind Nice, such as St. Paul de Vence or St. Agnes.
Things To Do in Nice
Promenade Anglais Walk: A no brainer and a great casual walk on the promenade that runs the length of Nice from the airport to Vieux Nice. You can catch a bus back or make the long walk back. It’s nearly a 5 km walk.
Swim at the beach. There are public areas but you may want to make a day of it and try out one of the private clubs. They provide the lounge chairs, umbrella, drink service and lunch is available.
Walk up the hill to the Parc du Chateau – great views! There are stairs at the end of the Promenade as the highway makes its way around the cliffside and to the port, by the Hotel Suisse. Number of viewpoints on the way up, looking back at Nice and the Promenade, and also to the east towards the port. Good place for a picnic as well.
Visit the Fort du Mont Alban. There’s a town bus that will take you there. Can’t remember the number but its marked on the map, or ask a driver. Good views from up here as well. When you head back down the road, on your left will be a municipal park that has a path that zig-zags down the hillside (you can see it on Google Maps). Fun trail to take that leads you to the other side of the hill and into Villefranche-sur-Mer. Bring your bathing suit with you and enjoy the beach here. To get back you just have to walk up a bit to the train station and take it back to Nice.
Mont Boron Trail: This takes you to the top of Mont Boron, walk through the treed park, and then back down, with some nice view points and nice home/apartment buildings to view. Walk along the port towards where the ferries load. On the left you’ll see the small Nice Yacht Club with stairs beside it. Take these up to Bd. Stalingrad, cross the street and continue on the small path that leads up to Bd. Winston Churchill. Follow it until you see where it meets Montée Saint Aignon, there’s a path to take on the left. Follow it up, pass across Bd. Carnot, continue on the path to your left. Continue following it straight up the hill, all the way to you reach the Mont Boron bus stop on top. Here you’ll also see a path leading down. To return, follow it to a viewpoint looking back at Nice. Across the road is another viewpoint and a trail to follow. Follow it until you find a trail branching off to the right. Take this until it meets up with rue Forestiere. Follow it down, cross Bd. Carnot (again) and the path continues on the other side of the road. Follow it right down to Bd. Frank Pillate and follow it back to where you began. Takes about an hour and just over two miles long.
NiceOld Town Market at Cours Selaya. Wonderful market open in the mornings, which becomes restaurant space in the evenings
Old Town. Plenty of shops and restaurants and wonderfully restored buildings reached by narrow streets.
Nice to Villefranche Shoreline Walk: This walk begins in the port of Nice at the southerly end, where the ferries dock and leave from. You’ll see a sign for the Nice Yacht Club with a walkway next to it, take this up to Blvd. Franck Pillate. Walk south and you’ll pass the Chateau des Anglais (built back in 1856 by Englishman Robert Smith, this fairtale castle is now used for private apartments. You’ll come to a pathway on your right that leads down along the shore. Take this and enjoy a wonderful seaside promenade. Be on the lookout for a sign that directs you back up to the highway (a lot of steps, more than 250 I’m told). The trail does go a little further, but not much as it reaches the cliffs. When you reach the highway, continue south along it until you again see a sign for a path taking you back along the water. You can follow this now right into Villefranche. You can walk the highway back, take the bus (#81 or #100) or even the train.
Cap Ferrat Walk – Promenade des Fossettes and or Chemin de la Carriere: Take the #81 bus to Cap Ferrat and get off at the small town/port of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Follow Av. Jean Mermoz to where it intersects with Av. Claude Vignon. Across the street you’ll see a pathway the Promenade des Fossettes. Short but nice oceanside walk, that makes a circle around the point. On the way back you’ll find Paloma Beach, bring your bathing suit to cool off.
Few Favorite Restaurants
La Petite Syrah Small, quaint, limited menu but what they have it great, along with a wonderful wine selection (it is also a wine store). Good prices as well. 13, rue Cassini.
Villa d’Este Situated on rue Massena pedestrian street, doesn’t look big from the outside but is huge inside, upstairs seating as well. Excellent Italian cuisine; pizzas, pastas and seafood. Huge servings and decent prices. 6, rue Massena.