Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Arles, Nimes, Uzes and the Pont Du Gard

So it was time to quit the French Riviera, sadly, but in the not too far distance were the Roman Coliseums at Arles and Nimes and we could look forward to being back in our home region of Languedoc Roussillon.

Roman Coliseums & Romanesque Buildings

Hard to believe that the Romans built two such magnificent coliseums in such close proximity to one another.

Admittedly they wouldn't have had the benefit of a modern motor car, but even so there was only about a half hour drive between Arles and Nimes over a distance of about 34km.  So to find two buildings of such stature that essentially performed the same function was, to me anyway, astonishing.

I actually got a bit confused to begin with because someone had told me there was only one coliseum and it was at Arles not Nimes. Just goes to show you shouldn't believe everything you are told!

This whole area of France is full of the evidence of the amazing ability the Romans had for building spectacular structures from sandstone and it is reported that the coliseums, along with the Roman theatre and the Pont Du Gard are the best preserved evidence of the Romanesque period in France. Unesco certainly think so and have given the coliseum in Arles and the Pont Du Gard world heritage status, two of a total of thirty eight sites in France. Carcassonne and the Canal Du Midi are two more a little closer to home.

My personal opinion is that the coliseum in Nimes was probably more deserving than the coliseum in Arles, but to be honest there isn't much between them. So if you find yourself in a situation where you need to chose between the two. you really wouldn't be disappointed by either one.

We stayed the night in Nimes and visited the coliseum the following day, a missed opportunity I think because we were only 15 minutes from the centre and could have seen the coliseum lit up at night time. I am pretty sure that would have been really spectacular, so we were left kicking ourselves we didn't head in town for the evening.

Uzes and the Pont Du Gard

I can't really remember who told me or where I saw it, but I knew that Uzes was a must see place to visit if you are in this area. 

So we plumbed the town into our sat nav and set off to find it. Have to say we were not disappointed and we arrived just as the lunch period was getting going, so had the added bonus of sitting down for a lovely meal in this beautiful sandstone built town and alfresco of course. 

It felt a little like wandering around a Cotswolds town with a French twist, probably because the sun was shining and we had some lovely weather for our sightseeing. Although I think September in the UK wasn't so bad this year either. 

So yes I would add that if you are in this area, Uzes is a must see place and well worth the trip to have a look at it. virtually the whole town is built from sandstone and there are a myriad of cobbled streets and medieval arches in and leading from the centre square. Very nice. Next stop then was the Pont Du Gard, the Roman aquaduct.

Pont Du Gard

Not far from Uzes you will find the Pont Du Gard, which in Roman times was a little bit of ingenious engineering. Built around 50 AD to carry water from the Source d'Eure in Uzes towards the city of Nimes, serving this purpose until the 6th century. It was partly destroyed during the middle ages as a source of stone for other constructions..... bit like Hadrian's Wall really. Fortunately there is still an impressive structure there and a museum, open from 9.30 am until either 5.00 pm or 7.00 pm depending on the time of year, to tell you all about it.

If you roll up in your car, it is going to cost you €18, but that is for up to 5 people and includes access to the whole site.

So you could actually plan to spend the whole day there. There is plenty to do and it is lovely spot, just to sit by the river for example and admire the aquaduct. Or you can go walking and of course visit the shops and museum. So all in all €18 isn't actually so bad if you use your visit to its full potential.

So that was it, after the Pont Du Gard it was full steam ahead back to the Aude and our little place in France which, as you all know you are welcome to visit.

We did make one more stop, just past Narbonne for a quick driver change. It was as the sun was setting and I couldn't resist one more snap, this time it was a modern structure in the services area of the A61 as you turn off for Carcassonne and Toulouse. I thought it was a pretty nice photograph, so hope you do too.

Well it is different anyway, and perhaps it is just not the Romans that can knock a structure together. Does make you wonder what they would have thought of it had they stumbled across something like this back in their day.
This is where you will find a few more photographs https://plus.google.com/111129889170644567486/posts/XsYjjpun19M

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Living in France - A Little Look Back at the Highlight of 2013

After a bit of a wet start 2013 turned out to be a very good year at Le Moulin. We had lots of lovely visitors, made some new friends and, in a special birthday year, we decided to visit the French Riviera to see some of the places we had dreamed of visiting ever since we arrived in France to live, back in 2008. It was this trip that was without doubt the highlight of the year.

I have already talked about our trip to an extent on the post called The Cote d'Azure and the French Mediterranean. But to fill you in a little on the details, I should explain that around twenty seven years ago I went on a lone trip to the South of France. After arriving in Marseilles by train, I took a little advice from the tourist information office and caught a bus to the seaside town of Cassis. Unbeknownst to me, it was the beginning of the French national holidays, so as I was going around town looking for the best rate at the hotels, everyone else was actually booking in. End result was by the time I worked out where I wanted to stay, and could afford, everything was booked up.

Taken from just about where I slept on the floor for ten nights
The only option I had left was to head for the nearest camp site.   When I arrived and enquired after a pitch, I was asked how big my tent was.....to which I had to reply 'I haven't actually got a tent'. So to cut a long story short, I was charged 10 francs a night (about a £1.50) and took up residence on a rush mat in front of the bar. The weather was glorious and I stayed for 10 nights, made loads of friends and got an invite to Paris, on my way home, where I was offered a place to stay for a few nights.

So why am I telling you all this, other than to demonstrate how naive I was in my twenties, well it was because that was also the year that I met Angela. After telling her the story of my trip to France she said I would love to go there.  It only took 27 years but we got there in the end and the campsite was exactly as I remembered it, bar and everything. The main difference this time, with Angela along for the trip, was she insisted on a tent!

So Cassis was the starting point of our little adventure to the French Riviera and I was instantly reminded of how beautiful the French Mediterranean coastline is.

After a few nights at Cassis we headed off to Port Grimaud, a water taxi's ride from the famous St Tropez resort that has hosted so many of the rich and famous, including the infamous French siren - Bridget Bardot. We found a lovely little Italian cafe in the back streets of St Tropez, where BB had dined. An occasion the owner remembered very well, despite the fact he had seen many famous celebrities come and go, it is not hard to figure out why he remembered her so well when you are told it was around 40 years earlier.

Port Grimaud is a great place to stay for a while, even though the Port was actually only developed in recent times and is still relatively young. Most of the construction was done in three stages starting in the 1960's, then phase 2 was in the 70's and a final third stage was completed in the 90's. It has been built in a Venetian style canal system but with buildings based on the style of the housing in St Tropez, originally a fisherman's village. I know there will be people that crave the more traditional medieval buildings that abound in France, but the Port really is quite quaint and the nearby town of Grimaud can provide any medieval fix you need, including a hill top Chateau with views across the Mediterranean to St Tropez.

 Next on the agenda was a trip to Monaco. Port Grimaud is only a couple of hours from Monaco and we were staying in a mobile home at the lovely Holiday Marina resort. It is a bit English there (mainly because so many English stay there) but very well located, with a nice pool, friendly staff and a really good bar and restaurant.

But we wanted to make the most of Monaco, so we decided to book a hotel at the lovely resort of Villefranche-Sur-Mer, only about 1/2 an hour from Monaco heading back along the coast following the Corniche coastal road. That meant we could spend the whole day in Monaco sightseeing and having lunch near the casino at the Cafe de Paris.

The lunch was good, but be prepared for the snooty waiter who clearly prefers his customers not to look like a typical tourist, guess we should have gone black tie instead of St Tropez T shirt! That aside, Monaco is a fabulous place and it is worth getting the little red train from the Musée Océanographique that takes you all around Monaco. Then, when you get back, there is just a short walk to the Royal Palace and another short walk to a convenient bus station where you can get a ride back to where you parked. There are lots of car parks by the way and it is best to leave your car rather than trying to weave your way around the city using your own transport.

Once we were done with Monaco we headed off down the coast road to Villefranche Sur Mer which I have already discussed on my previous post (link at the top), but I couldn't resist sharing another photograph with you and of course recommending that if you ever do travel this coastline, make sure you are carrying your very best camera. The scenery really is spectacular, especially around Saint Jean Cap Ferrat which you can see either from Villefranche or as you approach it after leaving Monaco.

When we left Villefranche we decided to drive the Corniche coast road all the way back to Port Grimaud. This meant that we were lucky enough to lunch at Antibes and to pass through a long list of famous locations all along the French Riviera:
  • Nice
  • Cagnes-Sur-Mer
  • Antibes 
  • Cannes (Of film festival fame)
  • Saint Rapheal & Frejus
  • Sainte Maxime
Port Grimaud - a mix of Venice & St Tropez
Not the quickest way to get back to Port Grimaud but worth every extra minute. After one more night spent in Port Grimaud and a night out listening to a live band singing the Rolling Stones' best known songs it was time to think about heading back towards Languedoc Roussillon.

It was sad in some ways but not in others, because we are lucky enough to live in France and where we are is also very stunning, plus it has the added benefit that the roads are significantly quieter. 

Plus the trip wasn't over yet, there was still Arles, Nimes, Uzes and the Pont Du Gard on the agenda. So all I can say for now about our trip to the French Riviera is watch this space......to be continued.

In the meantime if you would like to see some more photographs from the trip go and have a look at the album on the Google+ page. Don't forget to like it while you are there.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Cote d'Azure and the French Mediterranean

We have just recently returned from a week or so travelling through the Cote d'Azure and Provence. A little bit of camping at Cassis, some Caravaning at Port Grimaud and some B&B at Villefranche-Sur-Mer and then Nimes on the way back.

 We were just chatting about our trip when we realised, if you include our visits to Port Vendre, Leucate, Gruissan, Narbonne Plage, Valras Plage, Cap d'Agde and the list goes on, that we have pretty much visited the entire French Mediterranean coastline from Spain to Italy.

So then the question begs.... were we disappointed by any of the places we have been to? The honest answer is absolutely not, there are differences as you travel such a long distance, changing scenery, terrain and pebbles that turn into golden sand and back again. But one thing they all shared in common was the beautiful blue Mediterranean, which never disappoints, and glorious sunny weather. How lucky are we to be able to visit such a fabulous coastline to the extent we have.

The photograph above, as I am sure many people will know, is Monaco and this was the furthest east we travelled on our trip. We stayed for the day, had lunch near the famous Casino, walked the full length of it and then got on the mini-train for a guided tour. It really is a fabulous place and a city that would impress anyone, so well worth the visit.

We then took the coast road back to Villfranche-Sur_Mer only about 1/2 an hour from Monaco and stayed the night in a hotel there. The evening was spent in a restaurant just off the Marina, which was surprisingly inexpensive and which served some fabulous food on their vinyl cloth tables. Personally there was more Moule et Frittes than I could handle and trust me, I never leave food without a fight. I was so impressed I went back the next day to take a photograph. It is actually located directly behind the 'Welcome Hotel' which overlooks the marina, but I couldn't work out where the name of the restaurant was hidden. Perhaps they don't worry about little details like that.

It turned out that Villefranche-Sur-Mer was a little gem of a place and a big favourite for the many tourists that visit this part of France. With a lovely marina, cafes, restaurants and a Friday morning market, we were certainly glad we hung around the next day to have a better look at the place. Although it was obvious by the highly attended restaurants and bars, from the evening before, that it was pretty popular and that was even before the arrival of a large liner that was there in all its glory the next morning.

After Villefranche, we went around the coast to Antibes, then Cannes before driving the Corniche coastal route back to St Rapheal and then Port Grimaud for one more night in the Caravan where we had spent a few days after our camping nights in Cassis. You can get a water taxi from Port Grimaud to St Tropez, which is a lovely way to visit and gets you off the very busy roads of the Cote d'Azure. But despite the traffic, driving the coastal roads of the Cote d'Azure is a delight and a must do at least once for everyone who loves France.
Actually that wasn't the end of the trip, we still had to travel home and on route planned to visit Arles and stay at Nimes so we could compare the Roman Colloseums that both cities play host to, they were actually pretty fabulous. Then we were off to see Uzes a city cited by many as a must visit location, we soon realised why, and then finally we wanted to visit the Pont Du Gard, a World Herritage Site and amazing water aquaduct. When you see places like this you start to understand why France is the most visited country in Europe, but I'll save that part of the journey for another post so I can do it justice.

So what I have I learned from our trip? Mostly that I want to do it again and next time I want to start at the Spanish border and drive all the way to the Italian border using the coastal route all the way. Then I will be able to say I have visited the entire French Mediterranean coastline rather than virtually all of it.

Images are the copyright of ©Brian Stephens 2013 but can be viewed full size by clicking on the images. Hope you enjoy them.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Sunflowers in the South of France

Wandering through the fields around Le Moulin is always a bit special. If there isn't a fantastic sky to see, or a contrast between the sun and the shadows then there is always a bit of wildlife or something else that nature is prepared to share with us.

But right now there has been a collaboration between mother nature and our local farmer, because the sunflowers are out and, even though they are still not in full bloom all around, they are already looking pretty spectacular.

 Of course they can't stay this gorgeous forever, they do need to dry out and in that process they go more than a little black. Although if I am honest I still like the way they look right up to harvest time. Might be my military background that supports that appeal, seeing them all lined up and looking like they are standing to attention. I think they look great even when they are in their most dried out state. But I am pretty sure not everyone will agree with me.

I also cannot argue that they really are at their most beautiful when they are in full bloom, just the sight of those amazing yellow petals really does bring a smile to your face. So I thought, as we were treated to a slightly later than normal flower show at our home in the South of France this year, that I would finally get around to editing the video of  our last sunflower harvest from 2011.

So for those interested you can have a look at how the sunflower seeds are harvested at the end of the season. You might not think that it will be very exciting, but you would probably be surprised how much interest the farming activity causes when they come trundling onto the fields with the farm machinery, especially if we happen to have people from the city staying who don't get to see this kind of activity too often.

So here you are the video of the sunflower harvest at Le Moulin in 2011, hope you find it interesting, I know I did.

It's always a bit sad when they are all done and dusted, but they are grown for commercial reasons and we all love to go and buy our sunflower oil or seeds once they have been processed. So I think we should consider how lucky we are that this beautiful plant can provide such a wonderful show before it is claimed for the commercial purposes it was planted for. 

There are going to be some very lucky guests arriving this September, who probably thought the sunflower season was going to be all but finished. But thanks to a late start in the planting program, I think they are actually going to be at their very best over the next few weeks.

Needless to say we aren't going to be going very far and even though I have already taken numerous shots of our favourite flower, I don't think I will be able to resist getting the camera out a couple more times.

You can see a few more photos on Facebook if you are subscribed https://www.facebook.com/FrenchHolidaysAude/photos_albums they are in the out and about album.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Midi Canal by Melinda Lusmore

 Cruising the Midi Canal is high on many a bucket list but if you have five days, why not take it slowly and walk from the start of the canal at Toulouse to the medieval city of Carcassonne?

Along the way, the canal is peaceful and serene with boat traffic through the locks providing interesting distractions. Go in summertime and you will be rewarded by fields of sunflowers lining the canal.

Every now and then, the canal passes over the top of the freeway or another river and reminds us what an engineering masterpiece it is. At other times, when there is no-one else in sight, it is easy to imagine the horses plodding along the same towpath 300 years earlier pulling a barge behind them.

From Toulouse to Avignonet-Lauragais – the path is bitumen and so flat you could almost drag your suitcase along behind you. After Avignonet-Lauragais, the path is dirt with patches of gravel and the odd tree root but still exceptionally easy to walk. The other advantage that the canal offers is that it is pretty much impossible to get lost – at least not until you venture off the path in search of your accommodation for the night.

Today the 65 kilometre stretch from Toulouse to Castelnaudary forms an easy three day walk. You could stop here and catch the train back to Toulouse or on to Carcassonne. Alternatively, you could rent a boat in Castelnaudary and sail the remaining 180 kilometres to the Mediterranean Sea.

 If you continue on foot, two more days will see you comfortably into Carcassonne. If you would like a bit more information before deciding that this is the walk for you, ILoveWalking publishes a series of travel guides to help you navigate through the vast network of French walking trails and choose the one that’s right for your walking holiday.

Each e-book is filled with –

  •  Dozens of photos – to help you choose an area that sings to you 
  • All the usual details – where to sleep, where to eat, market days … 
  • All the hard to find details – bus connections, taxi phone numbers and where to buy bandaids 
  • Links to hotels, train and bus timetables and other useful information accessible from your e-reader
‘Ilovewalking France – The Midi Canal’ is currently available from Amazon and Smashwords

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Our Little Trip to Pezenas

Pezenas is located in the Herault department of Languedoc Roussillon not too far from Montpellier and on first impressions it held a similar ambience to Montpellier, albeit on a much smaller scale. In other words 'cafe culture' was much in evidence and there were a lot of little cafe's and restaurants, not only in the main square but tucked away in delightful little alcoves and covered terraces.

Hotel Lacoste, Pezenas
The centre 'historique' was the main visitor's attraction and the first building that really caught our attention was the 'House of Lacoste' a property owned by the Montegut family who were the lords of Lacoste, hence the name. 

The only history available stated that the house was remodelled between 1509 and 1518 with further work taking place on the staircase in 1638 when it was ribvaulted. The main entrance was also altered during the 16th and 17th centuries.  Taking a little peek inside the entrance you find this amazing stone built staircase that runs up to the next level and we had really only just left the car park when we found this little gem which is clearly much older than the documented dates the description of the building shared. 

Street Entertainer in Pezenas
Expectations were high then as we walked on towards what looked like the main square and we were not too disappointed as we entered the square and found the first of what would prove to be many cafes and restaurants. It was lunchtime so most people were concentrating on their meals. But at least one (little) person was enjoying the street entertainment, no doubt as his parents were enjoying their meal in the adjacent restaurant. 

As you have probably realised, by hitting the town at lunchtime,  many of the shops were shut for the traditional 12.00 til 2.00 mid-day cessation of trade. Don't think we will ever learn that lesson, we still always seem to set off at a time that means we will arrive in a town either at the start, or smack bang in the middle of the lunchtime break, even now that we have lived here for more than 5 years. You can take a Brit out of Britain but you can't take the British out of the Brit; some might say!

Pezenas StreetsStreets of Pezenas, Languedoc Roussillon

But we didn't mind, we had packed our own lunch and we were happy whiling away a few minutes just enjoying the sun and beautiful weather that had finally arrived to mark the beginning of summer. It was a long time coming this year, but we are very glad to say, it seems to have set in nicely now. The streets were very attractive and we just took a little wander around the town, which I can now say is well worth the visit if you ever find yourself in this area. It is at the heart of the "Art and History Country", as stated on the placard outside the tourist information office where they invite you to go and find the Medieval Enclosure, Gateway fortifications, city walls and the castle mound along with several buildings of interest and a few different museums.

The other thing we missed out on of course, having decided to pack our own lunch, was the local delicacy of 'Petit Pâté' a small spicy mutton pie about the size of a cotton reel that found fame in the UK when Michel Roux Jr set the making of it as a challenge on Master Chef.  It is said the pie originated from India, but it has been taken to the hearts of the patisseries in Pezenas, because you can find it in any one of them.

It is not a huge town but stretching the visit to a full day is probably possible, if only just. However we decided after a couple of hours that the draw to the Mediterranean beaches was a bit too strong. So we left and made our way to Valras Plage, about 1/2 hour south. I think the absence of early summer sun probably influenced that decision. Now it had arrived, we wanted to take full advantage of it. So we did and very nice it was too, but not before we took a few more photos to add to our French Theme collection.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Affected by A French Air Strike? Apparently Ferry Services Can Offer a Lifeline!

Making plans for a hard earned holiday can be bad enough, but then when someone trying to make a point disrupts your plans so that they can benefit, it's a bit hard to take.

 Especially when it is in the holiday season and may be, for many, their only chance to have a decent break away from work. I guess it is fairly clear that I think people that have a work grievance should explore ways of settling that grievance that doesn't cause disruption and sometimes heartbreak to innocent bystanders. Times are hard for everyone so making them even harder, unnecessarily, shouldn't really be a tactic that is employed.
Although not particularly ideal for a lot of people it is worth pointing out that many cross channel ferries operate under capacity and can often fit in last minute bookings to at least get you across to mainland Europe. So if you are able to be flexible and are able to explore options other than flying, it would be worth having a look to see if there is a ferry with empty places that can accommodate you. You could also have a look at the Eurotunnel to see what is available. You just don't know when the next disruption is going to hit, so keep this in your back pocket as a reminder so that you can explore other options if it happens to you.

Hopefully it never will.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

It's 2013 in France Already!

It is hard to believe how quickly time passes living here in France, the end of 2012 disappeared while we were visiting everyone in the UK and when we got back in the new year it was a little nippy to say the least.

Just as well then that we had a good store of firewood already seasoned and ready to burn. Only problem was it was a little large to fit on the fire! But with the help of a couple of friends the wood was quickly adjusted to a more practical size. Well I say a couple of friends, it was actually only one that helped with the wood chopping, the other one just lay down and had a bit of a rest. Billy the goat only came for some company and free grass, but I couldn't complain because he does help keep the lawn trimmed now and then.

 January and February slipped by in what seemed like a blink of an eye as we were kept busy, giving the gite a bit of a makeover and adding in a few extra features to make the facilities even better than they were before. I know it's hard to believe we could actually make it better :-) , but we think we have and it was not too long before our first guests of the season arrived in March to try out the new features. Judging by their comments we think they approved.

So we are off to a good start for 2013, the first happy guests have been and gone and now we are looking forward to the arrival of our next guests from Australia due to arrive next weekend. A little bit of a coincidence because the first Australian guests we had last year came about the same time.

There is still plenty to do though, it is after all the start of spring and the time of year when everything starts to go a bit mad in the garden. But the mower blades have been sharpened and are ready for the onslaught, just need to do the same for the strimmer and we will be all set for spring. So it won't be long before the wood chopping duty is replaced by pool maintenance duties and that hot Mediterranean sun is warming us up a little too much sometimes.

It is sunflower year at Le Moulin this year as well and we are expecting the imminent arrival of the local farmer with his tractor and planter in tow to put the seeds in for the September harvest. Which means around the end of July and beginning of August we can expect glorious sunflower displays, just like this one, right in front of the house. They never fail to impress and the variety we get are normally over 6 feet tall with the flower heads as much as 12" in diameter.

So that is it for the moment, a quick update on Life in the France Lane to let you all know what has been going on. Life has been, as always, very hectic what with all the website designing and ebook publishing activities. This sort of accounts for why I have been a bit remiss on getting more updates posted. But, as the French view it, life should not be all work and no play so time does need to be set aside for a good meal, relaxing and spending time with family to enjoy the place we are so lucky to live in. Not forgetting of course that we are very happy to share this life for a little while with anyone that would like to visit our small piece of paradise in the French countryside.

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