A Travellerspoint blog

France

Printemps en Provence

sunny 17 °C

It is spring in the south of France and it’s easy to see why the Côte d’Azur (the Blue Coast) of the French Riviera is so named…
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The startling blues of the Mediterranean sea and sky, coupled with the vibrant colours of spring, make a beautiful backdrop for the historic stone buildings in this part of the world...
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It may only be the beginning of March but the sun is out, the skies are clear, and the festivals are in full swing. The Mimosa Festival was just winding down when we arrived in Mandelieu near Cannes, but the red mountains of l’esterel were still radiant with golden blossoms…
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The Mimosas of the l’esterel mountains herald the return of the sun and are celebrated along the coast from Cannes to St. Tropez on the road christened ‘Le Route de Mimosa’. We followed this winding seaside route to the ancient port that has been synonymous with the high life for more than a century. This is St. Tropez before the yachts of the glitterati arrive for the season…
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Interestingly, the Mimosas are an invasive species introduced from Australia. In British Columbia we have an equally invasive species – the Scotch Broom. However, while the French celebrate their golden bonanza with festivals and celebrations, we in Canada spend a great deal of effort trying to eradicate ours. But the Mimosa Festival is not the only celebration of spring, and mid-week we went to Nice to witness the annual Battle of the Flowers…
There was a parade of spectacularly adorned floats the length of the seafront, (Le Promenade d'Anglais), along with clowns, bands and giant inflatables…
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Hundreds of thousands of blossoms are used to decorate the elaborate floats... P1020850.jpg
And, while the flower girls threw bunches of Mimosa into the crowds, they were pelted with confetti in return.
The third festival on the coast in less than a week was the Fetes de Citron in Menton where more than 100 tons of oranges and lemons are annually used to create enormous monuments in the park. While the statues are certainly spectacular in size, one need to look no further than the market in Cannes for an amazing display of fabulous fruits and vegetables...
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...Not to mention an incredible array of cheeses, fish, meats and … Oh. Don’t get us started – just look at this mouthwatering lot….
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After a week soaking up the spring sunshine on the Côte d’Azur we are now en-route to England – C’est la vie!

Posted by Hawkson 13:40 Archived in France Comments (6)

Party Time on the Cote d'Azure

sunny 24 °C

An advantage of having family in exotic places like the French Riviera is that we get dragged along to great parties and fun events, so how could we refuse an invite to Roland's 60th. birthday...
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Here's a couple of real characters getting into the swing of things...
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And here's a couple of characters from Vancouver who we bumped into quite by coincidence. We knew that Tad and Michiko were somewhere in France, but were amazed when we bumped into them in the middle of Antibes...
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We're getting ready to leave the Cote d'Azure, and not a moment too soon. Although it's beautifully warm and sunny today there's a black cloud on the horizon - the G20 meets in Cannes in a few days and the whole city is being shut down by 12,000 machine-gun toting gendarmes. We're leaving in the nick of time - but that's been the story of our trip. We barely scraped by a devastating storm in Turkey and slipped off to Italy just before the earthquake, and while the Romans were rioting at the Colosseum we were visiting the Pontiff across the city at St. Peter's. Another storm clobbered Rome just after we left for Perugia, (where we were fortunate not to die of a chocolate overdose) and we had then planned to stay in one of our favourite seaside spots - Monterosso, one of the five picturesque villages of the Cinque Terra. Unfortunately, (or fortunately as it transpired), Cinque Terra has been featured on so many TV programs and travelogues that everyone and his brother got there before us and the local hoteliers and peasants are all driving Maseratis and washing down their caviar pizzas with champagne on the profits.We are not in the champagne clique and couldn't afford to rent a broom cupboard for a few nights in Monterosso, so moved along the coast to Rapallo before travelling to Cannes. But we do like a drop of bubbly and we really enjoyed this Italian Prosecco that we bought in Cannes..
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It's not a typo. This Prosecco was just 99 cents a bottle - $1.39 Canadian dollars for a bottle of very respectable bubbly (and regular plonk can be even cheaper). And as for the Maserati? - here's Sheila at the wheel of Roland's racing car - 0-60 mph fast enough to rip your pants off...
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But, back to Monterosso. Three days after we left Italy, seven people were killed and Monterosso and most of the other ancient villages of the Cinque Terra were almost totally destroyed by landslides when twenty inches of rain fell in just 24 hours. We're now off to Milan, and if there's riots in Cannes in the next few days we hope we won't get the blame.

Posted by Hawkson 05:44 Archived in France Comments (3)

Toulouse- Today and Yesterday

semi-overcast 24 °C

Last year we visited the Airbus factory in Toulouse to see the giant A380s being assembled, and we were in such a rush to glimpse the future that we completely missed the past. This time the historic waterway of the Canal-du-Midi led us directly into the heart of the city and we awoke to this view from our cabin’s porthole…
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Today, France’s fourth largest metropolis is a vibrant city bustling with students and high-tech aviation experts, but it has a storied history and a wealth of fine buildings mainly dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Here is Le Capitole in the centre of the city.
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The approach to the city was lined with a motley flotilla of barges being used as housing – many of them floating slums. However, once we had passed these boats and broken through the shell of industrial development that surrounds the city, we discovered a golden core – an absolute “ouvre” as the French would say. There is a maze of cobbled backstreets with quaint storefronts that appear not to have changed for a century and markets of all kinds appear around every corner. The iconic brick architecture gives the city its epithet of, “The Pink City.” Here is the basilica…
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And here is one of the many of the squares that are filled with outdoor cafes...
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As we leave Languedoc-Roussillon and head to London, we say “Au revoir and thank you” to Carmen and her owner, David. And we can say with certainty that we will return.

Posted by Hawkson 11:29 Archived in France Comments (2)

Carmen - Queen of the Canal-du-Midi

sunny 27 °C

The weather gods must be blog readers … No sooner had we mentioned that we were being climatically prepared for our return home than the wind dropped, the clouds parted, and the temperature shot up to 27 degrees. We are now approaching the city of Toulouse, where both the Canal-du-Midi and our cruise will end. Carmen, with David at the wheel, will carry on to Bordeaux .
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Carmen was originally built in 1925 as a working barge and over the past few years has been lovingly converted by David into a luxury cruiser. She is three or four times the size of the ubiquitous hire boats; has cabins more spacious and far more lavish than many hotel rooms; has air conditioning and absolutely all home comforts. She is undoubtedly the Queen of this canal. Camera wielding gawkers appear at every lock and bridge to wave us on our way and we bask in the glow of Carman’s notoriety, and feel like minor royals, as we glide regally past while nobly acknowledging the onlookers. Crewing this magnificent vessel has been a sheer delight and we will be sad to leave her. Here’s Jim at the helm…
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And here is Sheila tending the herb garden on the top deck at 6.2 kilometres an hour as we pass Villefranche-de-Lauragais…
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Creating local culinary delights has kept Jim busy in the galley for the past two weeks and here he is preparing tomato salad with herbs from the top deck – Now that’s what we call local!
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Over the last few days we’ve enjoyed duck breasts with cherry sauce, lamb’s liver crusted with herbs, and pintarde au pot, (a special variety of chicken that is normally eaten by the French as a Christmas treat), together with a slew of accompanying dishes. But this evening, in Toulouse, Jim handed the ropes to the chef at Le Bistrot de l’Etoile and let him take the strain.
Here we are enjoying the ambience and food at Le Bistrot...
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Posted by Hawkson 00:24 Archived in France Comments (2)

It's All Downhill from Here

semi-overcast 21 °C

We are on the top of the world as far as the Canal-du-Midi is concerned, 600 feet above sea level; the high point of our trip. Behind us, to the east, is the Mediterranean – ahead is the Atlantic Ocean – and from now on we will be going down in the locks. As if sensing that we are on the downhill run of our journey the weather gods have decided to re-acclimatise us to our Canadian home and have dropped the temperature ten degrees, ratcheted up the wind and turned on the showers. However, the sun shone on us in Castelnaudary – a canal-side town of terracotta houses with an Italianate feel – and Sheila put out the laundry on the foredeck.
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Castelnaudary is renowned for cassoulet, a dish of white beans, (lingots), duck thighs and Toulouse sausage, and, as expected, it was superb. Cassoulet may look just like Heinz baked beans to the uninitiated, but that’s where the similarity ends. It has the flavor of duck, the smoky aroma of cured ham and a crisp golden crust. We ate in the restaurant that claims to serve the finest and most traditional cassoulet – but they all say that. Here is Captain David enjoying his…
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We also visited the market – one of the best in our experience – and provisioned the boat with local lamb, duck and chicken, together with the freshest of fruit and vegetables. Tonight’s dinner began with escargot en vol au vent, (snails in puff pastry with garlic butter), followed by stuffed cutlets of lamb, petits pois, baby carrots and tiny new potatoes. Primeurs is the name given to these first vegetables of spring and the tender newborns are highly prized in France. The main course was accompanied by individual flans of infant leeks topped with a local cheese,
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The French are justifiably proud of their cheeses. Here’s a small selection especially for Gary and Jane to consider for our Village Store…
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Castelnaudary is a pick-up point for hire boats and, in the space of a few hours, we had bumped into four groups of British Columbians, including a whole boatload of people from Powell River. But visitors from all over the world come here to cruise on the Canal, and that’s not surprising with views like these around every corner…
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Posted by Hawkson 23:14 Archived in France Comments (1)

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