Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Living the Monaco and Monte Carlo Dream   14 comments

One more day out before me move on to the last part of the trip. Another rather enjoyable if slow bus journey to Monaco.

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More wonderful views of the coastline

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After a supermarket inspired lunch (Monaco is pricey) we set off to explore, initially up to the Old Town with fine views across this city and country in miniature.

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Whether its common to Monaco due to the very steep cliffs that back the city, it was, like my last visit, overcast, humid and very hot. That last visit was when TBF was pregnant with TJS and it reminded just how hardy she was to walk around with all that extra load. We did some fairly strenuous activity on that trip.

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The old town is actually rather nice, lots of narrow streets, interesting buildings – and money!

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At the entrance is the Place du Palais and Le Palais des Princes de Monaco. Considering the wealth it’s a quite an understated affair.

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Saint Nicholas Cathedral.

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The Palace of Justice

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And the Musée Océanographique de Monaco, a very grand building indeed for what is in essence an Aquarium.

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Monaco is in reality, largely just an urban sprawl of very expensive apartment buildings and shops. It doesn’t have a beach of any sort but what it does have is lots of spare cash. Time to visit its most affluent and famous sights in Monte Carlo.

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It sits on the opposite side of the harbour to the old town and we took advantage of the boat bus to cross the harbour and save a bit of a walk.

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As with all things here it cost a bit more than it should but it was enjoyable if brief.

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I’d been told to watch out for all the expensive yachts and cruisers in the harbour but we saw more impressive craft in the harbour in Nice.

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While looking for the lift up to the Casino we spotted our first luxury sports car sat outside the hotel at the exit from the famous road tunnel used in the Monaco Grand Prix.

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Onwards into the heart of all that money, the Parc du Casino and all that surrounds it. This is the famous Casino and they let you in to the lobby for a peek inside.

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Very ostentatious as you can see.

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But it was the parking area outside where the real money was. Every space was filled with luxury sports cars.

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I’m no petrol-head but I have an idea of how much these things cost and I reckon there was a couple of million quids worth parked up in the few spaces around the square. First place where I’ve looked at a Porsche and thought “cheap tat”.

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This was the one I liked the looked of but possibly a little impractical as a family car.

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We found the whole experience fascinating, just people watching. We saw several middle-aged businessmen with their gorgeous trophy wives on show.

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In fact the Parc is rather nice in an ornate sort of way

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And a short walk down is the famous view of the hairpin bend on the Monaco GP circuit. Lewis Hamilton’s car for next season may see him struggle to retain the driver’s championship.

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For any of you visiting Monaco a word of warning on Mobile Communications. It’s not included in the roaming agreements in Europe so data and voice are chargeable. We racked up a few quid in charges before we realised. Another interesting example of control taken back after we leave the EU as it will drop us out of all roaming agreements and unlimited free use of data (within what you pay in the UK) while travelling in Europe will be a thing of the past.

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And that was enough for one day. We hopped on a train back to Nice, spent another day exploring the coast before heading off to our final stop of another epic trip.

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Days Out on The Cote D’Azure   9 comments

Lots of wonderful places to see on the Cote D’Azure and an excellent and cheap (if a little crowded) local bus service to explore them.

Eze is one of the most popular spots, a picture postcard village perched high above the coast on a rocky outcrop. The bus journey along the Moyenne (middle) Corniche Road were superb.

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As befitting a well known spot, Eze was rammed with tourists but not overly so as in some of the places we’ve been over the past couple of years. Most of the village is a private hotel complex but what you can walk around is rather nice.

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Although the high point is a sculpted cactus garden that you have to pay to visit. Worth it – just – for the magnificent views along the coast.

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The ruined castle at the top of the hill

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And views over the private part of the village.

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Clouds hugging the cliffs.

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More cactus – should that be cacti.

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As you’d expect it was brutally hot so there is only so much you stand before you crave a cool outdoor lunch and a cold beer. We took the bus down to Beaulieu-sur-Mer and a had an excellent, if quite expensive meal down by the harbour.

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Followed by a brief stroll through town to the Plage des Fourmis. We should have brought swimming stuff and had a dip as it was a very nice beach.

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On our last day we took a day trip to St Jean Cap Ferrat. If anything it was even hotter although the beaches and views were good.

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This beach, the Plage Paloma, looked rather fine but the beach bar was staggeringly expensive and after lunch it was too hot to walk back.

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After the only underwhelming meal of the whole trip (a disappointing and pricey pizza by the harbour) we returned to the closer Plage Cros Dei Pin for a very enjoyable afternoon swim.

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One of the nicest beaches we visited but being the middle of the day it was just too hot to hang around. I’d love to come back here in Spring or autumn when the water will still be warm but the temperatures more realistic for a laze on the beach and for coastal walks.

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A Day in the Mercantour Alps   12 comments

Warning! A post with lots of smug, blue-sky and mountains photos!

One of the main reasons we took to four wheels for a couple of days was to head out into the mountains inland. As you’ll see from they post they are truly spectacular. We got lucky with the weather as well. After the previous rainy day the skies were completely clear and fresh. Leaving the Funsters for a day of beach luxury on sunbeds in one of the beach bars in Nice, we struck out at 6am for a mountain day.

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One our concerns was that after the record high temperatures it might be too hot for walking even at altitude. This concept was soon quelled when we parked up and abandoned our plan for an al fresco breakfast as it was too cold!

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From a plethora of great sounding routes in the guidebook we’d plumped for a start from Madone de Fenestre, high up in the Vallee de Vesubie, taking in a couple of mountain passes and chance of a summit. It proved to be inspired.

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It was a stunning day and sensational spot. A lush green valley with sparse forest, tumbling streams and towering rocky mountains.

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A view across the the Cime de L’Agnelliere which we’d be hoping to climb later.

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The route follows an old mule path up to the Col de Fenestre an ancient trade route between Italy and the coast. In later years as a frontier between Italy and France it was the scene of fighting during the second world war and an attempt by Italian Jews to flee the persecution that ended in tragedy, most rounded up and shot by the SS.

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On a brighter note the path is wonderful and allows easy progress high into these majestic mountains.

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We saw a few Marmots and this Ibex as well as several others at distance, always pleasing to see these nimble creatures at work on the rocky slopes.

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The views became ever more impressive as we climbed in perfect conditions. A warm sun but cool mountain air. Walking on a day like this hardly seems an effort.

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We passed the stunningly clear Lac de Fenestre. Thoughts of a swim quickly dispelled by the achingly cold water.

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Our objective, the Col de Fenestre behind.

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After a brief rest we pressed on, again the well made path making the climb easy and allowing plenty of opportunities to take in the views.

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Just below the pass are several military buildings, barracks and watch towers, now deserted.

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The name is the pass of the rock window and here it is at 2476m.

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Views down into Italy and the Val Gesso and over the plain of Peidmont. We could even see the what I think was the snow capped Pennine Alps far in the distance.

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Onwards and the route got even better. A high path traverses steep rocky slopes over to the Pas des Ladres, an old military route to a less used smugglers pass through the mountains.

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As we climbed higher the highest peaks of the range came into view.

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I think this is the Cime Gelas, the highest peak in the area but without a map I’m not entirely sure. Whatever, it was high and looked rocky and difficult, the domain of the rock athlete and dusted with fresh snow from the day before. It was the focus of attention for the rest of the day.

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This part of the day was a sheer delight. Looking down to the Pas de Ladres at 2448m with our peak objective behind.

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A view down to the Lac de Trecolpas another popular walk from the other side of the range.

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With plenty of time to spare we took on the optional climb to the Cime de L’Agnelliere. It much narrower path but still easy to follow as it twisted along the ridge.

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The summit was a surprisingly flat plateau of bare rocks topped with shattered rocky tors.

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The panorama to the south and the Mediterranean coast.

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And north to the mountains of the Mercantour.

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It was the perfect spot for a long rest and lunch.

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TJS had no interest in climbing to the actual summit but I was keen despite the slopes looking rather loose. After seeing a woman make easy work of it I gave it a go.

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Other than one slightly loose and exposed section it was easy and the views from the top at 2700m well worth the effort.

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The lady I’d seem climbing was still on the summit and she confirmed that the big peak opposite was the highest peak and a bit Internet research confirms it is Cime de Gelas, 3134m high.

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She also kindly took a photo of me on the summit but had set off when I asked if she wanted me to return the favour.

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I sat on the summit for a while taking in the sensational views but had to press on back down to recover my junior sherpa.

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Close up view of the Cime de Gelas.

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Sadly (always a little sad on days as good as this) it was time to head down.

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Retracing our steps to the Pas de Ladres we followed a different valley back down to the car. Different but far less impressive than the route up.

The panorama looking back to our two cols and routes before we headed back down to the car.

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Our desire to climb mountains on what was a city break trip satisfied we headed back to the coast. TJS to laze in the apartment, me to grab a quick swim in the sea to finish off a tremendous day.

We love our city trips but my heart will always belong to the mountains!

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Nice By Evening Light   4 comments

One of the delights of a city in hot weather is that the evenings are relatively cool and ideal for strolling and soaking up the atmosphere and in the case of Nice, the coastal views. Taking a walk along the seafront or through the old town was a regular feature and one we all enjoyed.

On our second night it was the Bastille Day celebrations and rather impressive firework display over the bay.

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We always walked up to the headland between the Promenade des Anglais and the Port where the sweeping views across the bay under the setting sun was breathtaking.

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Follow that with a walk through the old town, people watching, reading restaurant menus and eating ice cream and waffles.

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The buildings of the old town always looked especially fine in the evening.

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There was always a happy crowd down on the pebbles every evening.

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A couple of the very grand and very expensive seafront hotels.

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By way of a slight diversion from the theme. We hired a car for a couple of days to explore inland a little. The first day was rather frustrating in that it was cloudy and wet and a closed road within a mile or two of our chosen destination meant we spent several hours just driving around.

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The scenery was superb and the rain stopped long enough for us to have a picnic but we should have gone back to the coast and driven along the corniches.

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However I was determined to fulfil my desire for a mountain swim in one of the narrow slot canyons or Clues as they are known locally.

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This one is the Clue de Aiglun and its spectacular and it coincided with a dry spell in the weather.

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The walk down was much further and much steeper than the guidebook had indicated so it was a solo swim in the end.

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A truly wild swim and a little daunting as the water was high after the rain and the flow pretty strong so I was nervous about some of the pools. A great swim anyway.

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We then tried the Clue de Riolan where the water was much calmer and the swim much better.

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The gorge was extremely narrow and the water deep and calm. It started raining again so again I was on my own but I enjoyed myself if a little guilty for forcing the rest of the family top spend most of the day in the car to indulge my whims.

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Reason for this little diversion in the post is that when we returned to Nice the skies were beginning to clear and the evening strolls were the most memorable of all.

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I took a brief stroll to pick up some food for tea and Place Massena and the Promenade du Paillon were in fine form.

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Reflections in the fountains area

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A Nice space age tram passing under our apartment balcony.

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Clearing skies from the apartment.

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The setting sun started the light show while we finished our evening meal.

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With clouds clearing, the haze washed from the air and a low setting sun the light was just amazing as we took our evening constitutional.

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The seafront was packed with people taking advantage of the drier weather after a wet day indoors for most I’m guessing.

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I got a bit carried away with the photos as you can tell.

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With views and light as good as this, well you just have to.

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From a disappointing and frustrating day came a grand finish. The clearing skies gave hope for a memorable outing I had planned for the next day.

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Nice – Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill)   10 comments

One of my favourite places in Nice was the Colline du Chateau, Castle Hill that overlooks the old town and the majestic sweep of the Promenade des Anglais. We walked up here several times over the course of the week and the views were always just reward for the hot and steep climb.

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The first set of photos is from our first mid morning effort. It was hot and hard work but I was instantly charmed. Its a series of walkways, and steps with views across the rooftops of the Vielle Ville, the seafront and the mountains.

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Its also a great place to watch the airline traffic to the airport just down the coast.

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Evening was a much better time to take in the views. Me and TBF took a walk along the promenade to the headland and walked up the side that overlooks the port.

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Different hazy views across the bay and old town.

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The top is a lovely open parkland with lots of vantage points and childrens play areas.

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One if its main attractions is a fountain/waterfall on the west side. Its a wonderful place as it crashes down and generates a fine cooling spray.

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Its artificial but impressive nonetheless.

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As I’m the only member of the family capable of an early morning start I took a solo walk up one morning on my way to pick up the breakfast bread.

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Just me, a few hardy walkers and a host of joggers enjoying the last of the cool air before the days heat kicked in again.

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The rooftops of the old town look especially dazzling at this time of day.

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The sea always looked deep blue and inviting from up here.

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And a walk past the waterfall was mandatory.

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One more evening walk although I think this was also a solo effort.

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The ferry port where you depart for Corsica.

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The setting sun from up high. I should have found time to watch the sunset from up here but never quite got around to it.

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A pretty decent combination of waterfall, park, coast and mountains.

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Enjoying the Delights of Nice (By Day)   9 comments

Onwards on our journey through Europe and a very pleasant train ride through the Italian countryside and coast into France and the Cote D’Azure at Nice. Our apartment was superb, large spacious, air-conditioned and with a balcony overlooking Place Massena.

Early evening view.

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Nightime view.

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And morning view.

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We had breakfast out there every morning and the odd meal. It was a great place to take in the atmosphere even if it was a bit hot most of the time.

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The only downside was the Nice Jazz Festival across the square. When I say Jazz, as with most music festivals the theme is rarely supported by the music. In this case I heard no Jazz played and the the theme would be better described as pop and hip hop (I don’t recall the Black Eyed Peas ever doing Jazz). At the risk of turning into my dad the music was way too loud even though we were a couple of hundred yards from the arena.

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As soon as we arrived we were straight down to the beach for a swim. Another ideal feature of our base was that its only a 5 minuet walk to the beach.

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The beach at Nice used to be almost exclusively private bars with little public access but this has changed in recent years. There are now extensive stretches of public beaches which despite the crowds are clean and well provided.

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It surprises many to realise the beach here is pebbles and not sand. I prefer this as pebbles don’t get stuck in a variety of cracks and crevices and the water tends to be clearer. It does make for an awkward entry into the water though especially with a steep shelving shore and big waves.

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It was great to be able to pop down for an evening swim when some of the crowds had gone and the temperatures were a little more bearable.

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We went down here for a swim most evenings, one of the special memories of the trip.

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Behind the apartment was the old town, the Vieux Ville and a marvellous place it is. A maze of narrow streets packed with shops and restaurants and a cool retreat from the power of the sun.

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This is the Place Rossetti. We spent many happy evenings here, eating in restaurants and tucking into crepes and ice creams.

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It was also the way through to the Castle Hill above the town (more on that in a later post) and a walk through the streets was always a pleasure.

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The inside of the Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate.

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The Cours Salaya Market.

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I grew especially fond of the Place Massena and the Promenade du Paillon. My research told me that it used to be an ugly eyesore, a heady mix of dilapidated buildings, a car park and bus station.

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Enlightened planners have turned the area into a pedestrianised square (other than Nice’s sleek and modern trams) and park full of fountains, children play areas and statues.

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Its utterly wonderful and a great example of how to create an green oasis in a urban sprawl. I walked through it many times and loved every step.

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The fountains were especially fine.

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Its completely free and there was always a vast number of small children playing from morning till night-fall. We could always hear the screams of delight from our balcony which is in the photo below, left centre, 3rd floor.

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We walked along the Promenade des Anglais many times and the long sweeping curve of seafront is quintessential Nice.

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Nice also has its harbour at Port Lympia.

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We took a stroll around looking the lavish and luxurious yachts moored. A little research told us the bigger one’s cost just shy of 100m Euros!

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Some less luxurious and more traditional sea faring craft.

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A view across the harbour from the headland.

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A couple more posts to come from Nice as well as our travels in the local area to come.

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Skiing in a Winter Wonderland   18 comments

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Just in case any of you are pining for a taste of winter, deep snow and blue skies let me fix that for you. A few photos and tales my my ski trip to the French Alps a few weeks back with some gratuitous food and beer pictures thrown in.

This was the view from the balcony on our second full morning.

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Took a while to reach this point after some travel hassle. We do this same trip every year and its normally gone without a hitch. This year we all faced delays and cancellations and losses. Me and THO had our outbound flight cancelled (ironically due to snow in the UK) and had to fly out the next day from a different airport (that flight itself was over an hour late). MM had his flight from Copenhagen cancelled and UF only just made it. Instead of all arriving in Geneva at the same time on Friday we arrived in 3 stages across 24 hours adding to the grief with transfers and car hire. And as final gesture EasyJet and its partners lost UFs bags for a few days!

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Despite all this we only lost one rather foggy day of skiing and the rest of the week was a cracker. Fresh, deep snow and abundant blue skies, cold enough to keep the snow light and fluffy, not so cold as to be unpleasant.

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Magnificent conditions and views.

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And the company of like minded souls (although this is MM and he’s a bit mad!)

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Probably the best day over in the quiet far reaches of Courcheval 1650.

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Fabulous weather and some awesome untracked powder runs.

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Skiing is energetic and much intake of food is required.

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Haven’t really got the hang of selfies and the ability to smile at the camera – I was happy, honest.

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Beer is not essential but it would be rude not to.

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After lunch we took on the off piste route down into the Vallee D’Arval. Its down the valley to the snow covered lake in the photo below.

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Amazing route away from the lifts and more deep untracked powder to play in.

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Looking back at our own tracks

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THO had done this before and was a little disingenuous is stating there was a “bit of flat stuff to exit the valley”. For that read a couple of miles of skating and walking in the sunshine. It was well worth it though!

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An evening shot while on our way to do the shopping.

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Shopping is a tedious activity at the best of times. We’ve discovered the best way to dull the pain is with a beer in a very friendly and convivial bar around the corner from the supermarket. We went shopping quite often.

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Look closely at the photos below and you can see the zip wire cables that cross well over 1,000 feet above the valley.

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Its been here a few years but this is the first time I’ve seen it in use. Here’s someone giving it a go, not sure I’d want to!

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We’ve had a few leans snow years but this year was superb. Its rare to see the area looking this white.

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Evening shot of the Aiguille de Fruit from the balcony.

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Not every day was blue sky.

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More off-piste fun off the back of Mont Vallon. Utterly horrid at the top, superb at the bottom.

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Off-piste skiing is hard work, more food was required. My second favourite eating place this one at Cafe del Mott (don’t remember the name of the best one but it was good)

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Our last night saw a superb show of pink Alpenglow from the balcony.

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And one final day of skiing through to the last lift before a rather more trouble free journey home.

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Superb trip with great mates. Hope I’ve not been too smug. I hear winter may be returning to the UK soon 🙂

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