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Travel Story by Richard Weinbaum and Shana Grummitt

  Travelling through the South of France
France
 


Lavender fields

For anyone looking for a cheap holiday, the South of France is not really a destination for those on a tight budget unless you find the right places!

MARSEILLE

We flew to Marseille, our first stop, where we stayed for two nights. Marseille is an old city filled with culture and has many traditions, which are kept alive through cultural music, art and theatre. Many big movies have been filmed in Marseille due to its cultural influences and the old architecture that exists here. There are several movie theatres where both popular and ‘art house’ movies can be viewed. We explored the crooked, narrow streets of the Quartier du Panier north of the Vieux Port, the oldest part of the city where the original Greek settlers built their temples. If you fancy some exercise you can walk around Vieux Port (probably the biggest port in the South of France) and it is awesome with hundreds of boats and yachts.

LES CALANQUES

The coastal, creek-lined mastiff gorges known as ‘Les Calanques’ dot the 12-mile jagged shore between Marseille and the attractive fishing port of Cassis. Gorse-covered white cliffs lead down to these clear, clean waterways, which are popular with swimmers. The best, at Port-Pin and d'En-Vau, can only be reached on foot or by boat. We decided to drive to the cosy village of Cassis and took a boat from there.

GORDES AND ROUSSILLON

On the way to Gordes, we recommend visiting the Lavender Museum to see how lavender is taken from flowers to make perfumes, soap, and other scented products. The best season to see lavender on the hills is between May and July before it is harvested in August.

It is worth stopping at Gordes for lunch - here the stone architecture has been perfected, reaching the pinnacle of fine art. Homes and walls cling to the rocky spur where the village was built centuries ago. Walking along the winding cobblestone streets, you sense the history of this beautiful village on the road to Apt.

The ochre-coloured fronts of homes in Roussillon, deep green pine trees against a backdrop of ochre cliffs and a brilliant blue sky and you could be mistaken for thinking that you were in the Australian desert or the Grand Canyon. It amazes us that such impressive scenery with vibrant colours can be found in the South of France!

AVIGNON

Avignon is famous for being the city to which the Popes fled when leaving the corruption of Rome, Italy in the 14th century. The Palais they built, 'Le Palais des Papes,' is the world's largest Gothic edifice. It was largely emptied over the centuries, and its vast stone rooms are filled with little more than old frescos, but it is still an imposing building. Within the city walls there were over 100 churches and chapels - many of which have since been transformed into everything from shops to a movie theatre! Le Pont d’Avignon is an unfinished bridge that crosses the Rhône River - you can walk to the end of the bridge, where it dramatically stops in the middle of the river.

ST TROPEZ

The world knows all about St Tropez. What can you expect on a visit there? Obviously the rich and famous go there but what are they doing there?

I must say St Tropez is a tame port village but it is a place for the celebrities, stars, supermodels, sporty cars and also good-looking people all dressed up to impress. The best time to visit is in the evenings either for a dinner or drinks where you will enjoy watching everyone at the harbour side. There are many stylish shops, but there is no specific shopping street. Most of the shops are tucked in out-of-the-way corners in the old town. The big names include Hermès, Sonia Rykiel, and Dior.

If you are a beach person, we suggest visiting Pampelonne, a few miles away from St Tropez. It is a quiet beach and the water is crystal clear and in our opinion, one of the best beaches in the South of France.

Port Grimaud makes an interesting side trip and is just 3 miles away from St Tropez. It was the dream of its promoter, François Spoerry, who carved it out of marshland and dug canals. Flanking these canals, fingers of land extend from the square to the sea. The homes are Provençal style, many with Italianate window arches. Boat owners can anchor at their doorsteps. One newspaper called the port "the most magnificent fake since Disneyland."

CANNES

Cannes is well known for its Film Festival but you can pose and walk on the red carpet to the entrance doors of the Palais. If you are Hollywood fans, you can find casts of the actors’ hand and footprints on the pavement similar to those on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. A short stay here is sufficient before travelling for Antibes or Nice.

Cannes is overrated and very expensive and does not have any of the charm that the other towns along the coast have. It is good if you want to shop for very expensive designer gear in the small boutiques along the seafront but that’s all.

ANTIBES

Over 2000 years ago the Ancient Greeks colonised the site of Antibes as the jewel of the Cote d'Azur. Ever since, Antibes ' wonderfully sandy beaches have given it the reputation as the most enjoyable place to be along the whole of the Mediterranean French Riviera. Located between Cannes and Nice, this old Mediterranean town has a quiet charm unique on the Côte d'Azur. It has emerged as a new ‘hot spot’ in recent years with its little harbour filled with fishing boats and pleasure yachts.

There was an eye-catching giant sculpture on display, Nomade, which is made up of letters from the alphabet and welded in the shape of a person’s upper body. You can spend hours there if you have an interest in photography.

NICE

Nice's signature attraction is the Promenade des Anglais. A walk up to Castle Hill is rewarded with a vista of the city, the Bay of Angels, pebbled beaches and the azure water that gives the Cote d'Azur its name. Nestled into the hills rising up from the shore are narrow streets, red-tile roofs, churches, outdoor markets, al fresco restaurants, parks and dozens of museums. The bay lights up after dark to usher in Nice's vibrant nightlife.

This historic part of Nice feels like a medieval village with narrow streets curving between old buildings with red-tile roofs, small restaurants and open-markets.

Nice is a great location, just a few kilometres away from Monte Carlo, Grasse and Eze where you can go for a day trips by train, car hire or bus.

GRASSE

This is a nice village near the French Alps and is well known for its perfumery factory. Visitors can take a free guided tour of the shop to see where perfumes have been made since the early 20th century. Then you can browse through the boutique shop which features jewellery, embroidered linens, quilted Provençal boutis, glassware, wickerwork, preserves, and other gifts and souvenirs, in addition to the exquisite perfumes.

There is also a nice walking route in the town centre where the buildings are more like those found in the Alps.

MONACO

Monaco is an independent state in France is well known for its Formula One Grand Prix and is also the home of Prince Albert, Rainier's heir. It is another place where the rich and famous like to hang out.

Monaco is the setting for one of our family's favourite movies, "To Catch a Thief," where the girls were entranced by the numerous portraits of Grace Kelly in the palace and the boys were thrilled at the sight of Prince Rainier's extensive car collection, ranging from a Model T Ford to a Formula One racecar. In Monaco, we made our one concession to traditional children's attractions and spent the afternoon at the famed Oceanographic Museum, which features not only a nearly 20-foot-deep shark lagoon but also rooftop views of the Italian Riviera to the east and the Esterel Mountains to the west.

EZE

When visiting the Cote D'Azur this is a ‘must-see’ - the views from the top are spectacular and the village of Eze is one of the most picturesque spots in the region.

The main attraction in Eze is undoubtedly the Jardin d'Eze, an exotic garden that features not only plants, but history and tradition as well. Located at Rue du Chateau, the garden is open all year round, though its opening hours vary according to the season. The first part of this attraction is the ruins of the 12th century fortified castle that sit upon a narrow peak overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The Castle of Eze was destroyed in 1706 during the war of the succession of Spain, under the orders of Louis XIV. However, the ruins are still impressive, especially where some sections of wall still remain.

For more original crafts, head to rue de la Paix and stop at Atelier Torraca for Mediterranean gifts and decorations; at Au Petit Chaperon Rouge for music boxes, sculptures, pottery, and toys; at Sophie Dentelles Art for handloomed weavings, tapestries, and porcelain; and at Au Souffle d'Eze for blown glass. On Place du Centenaire shoppers can step into Epices and Love for spices, aromatics, and soaps, or at Confiserie for sweets like nougat and pralines. And don't miss rue de Brec, where La Grotte aux mineraux offers jewellery, minerals, minatures, and old postcards; Ezis offers accessories and artistic jewellery; and Galerie du Rocher offers Limoges, porcelains, tapestries, paintings, and perfume bottles.

It is a good place to get away from the tourists especially if you are well known or famous!


Click on photo to enlarge


Le Palais des Papes, Avignon  Richard in Roussillon  Monaco


Date Submitted: 02 Mar 2008


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