Windows, wandering and wondering …

If it’s Friday, It Must Be France …

One of my favourite buildings in Nice is where the artist Henri Matisse lived for many years beginning in the 1920’s. There is no plaque marking this history  of the building and the space is not open for viewing. It was after a number of years of visiting this fabulous city that I learned about it. But I had always loved the building. It’s right at the end of Cours Saleya, the market street in the old town, and can’t be missed. Most tourists probably have a photo of it in their vacation collection because it literally hollers at you to take it’s picture.

I spent today wandering around Nice with a BFF who is visiting us for a week from the States. If you’ve read my novel, The Bridge Club, she’s the character Cass and we were in Nice together 44 (yikes!) years ago when we were 21. We shared a lot of memories today and laughed way too much! It was so much fun.

She’s a photographer too and we took a lot of window shots as we wandered. You can’t help yourself!

 

The colour combinations of buildings and shutters are striking. Old, restored, peeling, pristine.  Don’t ask how many photos I have of  them … it’s crazy …

These shots fall in the restored and pristine category. I’m saving the old and peeling for another day.

 

 

I often wonder who looks out the windows I photograph.

 

Sometimes I see faces in the windows as my shutter clicks away and I hope they don’t mind.

But as we wandered and reminisced and laughed and photographed and appreciated the beauty around us, we became increasingly aware of a very strong police presence throughout the city.  Unusual.

We speculated as to the cause and realized that Sunday is September 11. Everything that day symbolizes remains strong and clear ten years later and we wondered if that was the reason for the seeming increase in security visibility. We thought about the windows in the Twin Towers. How life can change in a fraction of a second.

We reminded each other that none of the horror or heroism of that day will ever be forgotten. We wondered if the world will ever truly be at peace. Everyone, every day, must work towards that goal.

 

Tourrettes Sur Loup

If It’s Friday, It Must Be France …

Buckle up and keep your camera ready! The drive to the medieval village of Tourrettes Sur Loup is breathtaking. Only 14 kilometres from the Côte D’Azur, it’s easy to reach and might be combined with a visit to St. Paul De Vence. Much smaller than St. Paul and far less touristy, we like to take visitors there. If you approach from the west, the moment you come around the last corner takes my breath away every time.

I can’t tell you the number of photos I’ve taken of this view. Different times of day, changing seasons, sunny, cloudy, any excuse makes it simply irresistible to my shutter mania.

Established in the 11th C, the natural setting created the fortification of the town. How did they build those towns? All by hand … it boggles my mind. The 12th C church is built on the site of a Roman temple. Don’t miss it!

The village isn’t overloaded with shops (click here for a complete list and the town’s official site … in French, but you can figure it out) and their products are truly artisanal. Le Bois D’Olivier is our favourite with beautiful olive wood products produced by hand since the 1950’s by the Dubosq family (father and now son). Simply walking into their shop is a buzz! I love the warm shades and textures of olive wood. I haven’t seen better prices or finer work anywhere. (Trust me, I’ve looked at way too much olive wood!)

Further along La Grande Rue you will find Poterie La Bergerie‘s awesome cave-like atelier where delicate ceramics are crafted and hand-painted with violet motifs.

You’ll want to pop into many of the other shops as you stroll through. Tourrettes Sur Loup has been famous for the cultivation of violets since the 1880’s.  The locally well-known Fête de Violettes is celebrated every March.

Walk down to the bottom of the village to find a panoramic view past a Roman aqueduct right down to the coast. When you’ve filled your camera chip, have a fine meal at La Médiéval, where the friendly owner fills a glass of rosé like I’ve never seen before. Check to make sure it’s open before you go.

I’ve attached a video below that gives you a bit of a tour through the village. It also shows how the Dubosq men work their magic with the olive wood.

It’s a long video so pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy!

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Le travail du bois d’olivier. Saladier artisanal…dubosqguillaume

Cocteau, the Cap de Nice walk and … ooops …

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

It was the best of times. It was the worst of … well, okay, not the worst ever but the air did turn a certain shade of bleu (not a typo, we are in France after all). It turned out I hadn’t researched this walk quite as well as I thought! Ever had one of those days?

We’ve been taking the train a lot here as the station is literally a  three minute walk from our little bit of heaven in Antibes. Our French friends tell us the trains are unreliable so I guess we’ve been lucky since they’ve really been working for us. We did learn to pick our times because in July and August the late afternoon trains can be jampacked with tourists, dogs, bikes, strollers not to mention the locals just trying to get home from work. Never mind … I’m getting off topic … as I easily do …

So my DH (dear husband) and I hopped on a train to Villefranche-Sur-Mer, another beautiful spot 30 minutes along the coast (with a great beach) that we visit often. To my surprise he had suggested he would walk a sentier with me and we thought this one would be perfect. He has a bad back so has to pick and choose what sort of walking he does. Stairs are not the best thing. Everything I read about this path made it sound like a good one for him. Gorgeous day! Perfect! We had our drinking water and our spritzer spray water bottles with us. (Do you know about these for walking on hot days? They are the best – great for kids too. You can make your own.)

Walking through town to the start of the sentier, we stopped in at La Chapelle St.-Pierre, which had been closed several times when we had been by before (Mondays). Dating from the 16thC, it fell into disrepair and had been used to store fishermen’s nets and stuff for about 200 years. In the mid-1950’s, it was restored and artist Jean Cocteau (a native of the area) created a magnificent homage on the walls and ceiling to fishermen and their patron saint. It’s a gem. A remarkable display of his talent. No photos are allowed inside but if you click here, I found a site with some. 

We walked past the Citadelle, along another beach, through a marina, looked lost, received unsolicited directions from a very nice French fellow, and were on our way. The scenery was outstanding as usual, red rocks, azure sea, aromatic shrubs and trees. Cicadas were buzzing. It was hot. But we were happy because it was not a long walk so we would be fine. There were a few more spots with stairs than we had anticipated but then the path would continue. We sipped and we spritzed. It was hot.

We looked down to see scuba boats anchored and from time to time kayakers would appear. It really was a perfect day for all this sort of activity. We wished

we had brought bathing suits. Gentle breezes would waft up from the sea from time to time. Oh, and there were a few most spots with stairs … quite a few … I commented on how impressive the French were about maintaining these trails and building stairs so hikers didn’t have to scale rocks any more. DH’s responses were fewer and shorter. Did I mention it was hot?

After two hours, passing four other sweat-drenched hikers going the opposite way, we came around a bend and there was Nice … in the distance.

 

 

 

I wondered aloud if I had somehow read about an entirely different sentier. There was a muffled response from DH. Then suddenly … the path ended abruptly and …

that’s when the air turned BLEU!  DH was not impressed.

Merde! This apparently was the end of our little hike along the Cap de Nice.

I’ve since read that there is a similar walk along the rocks going towards Villefranche from the Old Port in Nice but the two have not been linked. It is possible to combine the two walks but it does involve these and other stairs.

This photo shows the first part of the stairs. They did go on …

When we arrived at the top we were on a palm-tree lined street in a lovely part of east Nice and I thought the name of the bus stop was quite appropriate!  DH even laughed!

Part of my attempts to inject enthusiasm into the hike when another set of stairs appeared, was to remind DH that we were going to have lunch at one of his favourite restaurants when we finished our hike. We took the bus to the Old Port and walked down the street to Les Pins D’Alep, discussing what our order would be. DH began getting a bit edgy when we noticed the tables and chairs normally outside were missing. Don’t tell me … he said …

 

Closed all of August for holidays … and so we laughed. I thought I was going to have an accident right there. OMG, we laughed. What else can you do? Then we walked around the corner and had a delicious lunch and some nice cold beer somewhere else. It always works out.

What do you do when things don’t play out quite the way you planned? Do you have a meltdown or can you find the humour in the situation?  I find a little of the former and a lot of the latter works best for me.

Which route would you choose?

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Cycling is a big part of European culture. I’m not talking about biking home from work or over to visit with a friend. I’m talking serious, strenuous biking over long distances that often includes steep mountain roads full of challenging switchbacks.

Certainly in France, at any time on any day, you are likely to see men or women on high-performance bikes in colorful gear heading somewhere. I’m always amazed when we are driving to some remote hilltop village (on a road we thought was a challenge to drive!) and we pass incredibly fit cyclists near the summit. We are in awe – truly!

Le Tour De France , held for three weeks every July, is one of the most famous international sporting events.  For years from the mid-1990’s, it was often referred to as the Tour De Lance as American Lance Armstrong dominated the winner’s podium, winning a record seven times! The cyclists cover 3500 kilometres or 2200 miles crossing every type of terrain imaginable. The start location changes each year but the race traditionally ends with a celebratory ride up the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

First held in 1903 as a publicity stunt, Le Tour has continued ever since with few exceptions. The 2011 race was the 98th time the race was held. Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the title.

I love to cycle but I have to admit flatter stretches appeal more to me! Biking along a canal or through vineyards, taking in the scenery, and stopping for a delicious lunch or packing a picnic is right up my alley this summer.

Cycling is a great way to spend time as a family too. The bad news is that head injuries account for 25% of all bicycle-related accidents. Each province in Canada has its own laws about bicycle helmets as I’m sure is the case in the U.S.A. too.  Doesn’t it just make sense to always wear a helmet, obey traffic rules, and be sure your equipment is kept in good order?

Happy cycling and stay safe!

Typical of sports fans all over the world, there are always those who show their enthusiasm in unique ways. The video below spotlights some of those fans along with some humorous incidents along the route of Le Tour De France.
Footage from over the years of some of the more light-hearted moments in the competition

[vodpod id=ExternalVideo.1001726&w=425&h=350&fv=endpoint%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.guardian.co.uk%2Fsport%2Fvideo%2F2011%2Fjul%2F01%2Ftour-de-france-funny-bits-video%2Fjson]

Tour de France: The funny bits – video | Sport …, posted with vodpod

Cycling up steep mountain roads isn’t for everyone though. How do you challenge yourself through sports – as a participant, a fan, or both?  Leave a comment below if you like.

You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them and clicking the highlighted words takes you to more information. Thanks for visiting my blog!


Literature, lavender and lunch – part 2

If it’s Friday, it must be France!

Friday again! It seems to come around faster every week. Ok, I got so caught up in the excitement of the literary history on the Côte D’Azur last Friday that I didn’t get to the other two subjects in my title.

So now it’s on to lavender! Last week we rented a car and drove 2-1/2 hours north to the Valensole area of Provence. We were a little late for the full lavender whammy as the harvest had begun the week before. However, as you can see from my photos, there were still many fields in bloom so we weren’t disappointed. But here’s my word of advice about that: if you want to see the incredibly beautiful effect of the lavender fields in their full glory, go the first week of July. When you open the car windows or step outside, to take way too many photos, the fragrance in the air is amazing!

Of course when you have lavender, you have bees (they’re not interested in you, by the way) and many farms have apiaries to make their own lavender honey. They also often craft their own soaps, candles, and dried lavender products. I have one word for lavender honey – DIVINE!  When we popped into one small farm, they were just putting the fresh honey into jars and offered tastes with great pride. We stocked up!

I have to admit I was never a big lavender fan, although I always loved the look of  the plant, but after this experience I’ve become a convert. The true fragrance is so pure and sweet. There are also the holistic and aromatherapy benefits to lavender which are many. I had a moment of wishing I still lived in a house with a garden so I could plant some myself. Maybe I’ll try a plant on my condo terrace next summer and see what happens. I did see lots of  lavender in pots but suspect they had been there through many winters. Somehow I don’t think that will happen in Toronto!

When you google lavender, there’s a ton of information. You will find some really interesting sites. I’m including a video here that gives excellent information about growing your own lavender. Take a look!

Click here for the video which I couldn’t get to embed after a bizillion attempts!

And now on to lunch! We drove to the beautiful (it’s hard to find other words for these places …) village of Moustieres-Ste.-Marie which we have visited on previous trips.

In the past, we’ve had some fine meals at a small restaurant there and looked forward to another visit. Yikes! Not going to happen! There were tourists everywhere and the walk to the nearest available parking spot was better suited for a mountain goat. We drove straight through the village and tried to control our whining.  Then, voila! Just a few minutes out of town we saw a most inviting sign and quickly pulled in to the Restaurant Ferme Ste.-Cecile. The setting was pastoral and the cuisine was “gastronomique”, specializing in local products and surprisingly reasonably priced. Between the main course and dessert, the chef sent out a serving of perfectly aged chèvre accompanied by a tiny bowl of lavender honey. Bonus! Don’t you love it when a disappointment turns into something unexpectedly wonderful?

Are you a fan of lavender? Do you grow it in your garden? Have you tasted lavender honey? If you have any tips to share with readers about lavender or about your own travel surprises, please add a comment. It’s always so rewarding to receive them!

Literature, Lunch and Lavender – part one

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Talk about a good story! The literary history along the south coast of France is tough to match.

Poets and scribes from the Roman Empire told of the beauty of Antipolis, now Antibes. In later centuries writers began visiting the Riviera for the beauty, the sea,  the solitude or the company of other writers, as far back as the Italian poet Dante Alighieri  in the 13th century. Petrarch, John Milton and Michel Nostradamus were just some of the earlier men of letters who created their timeless works along this coast.

Tobias Smollett penned what is considered the first “travel” book for this area in 1763. Nietsche found inspiration in the 1880’s for some of his work as he walked the ancient donkey and goat paths here (see my earlier post). In the 1920’s F. Scott Fitzgerald was among those writers who ushered the Jazz Age to the area. In the 1980’s, Graham Greene wrote J’Accuse, opening up investigations into organized crime and politics in the area. Most came for inspiration. Others came to seek the fabulous weather and local colour, to gamble, to escape taxes or social ostracism.

The trend continues as witnessed by the “Local Authors” table in Heidi’s English Bookshop  from my post last Friday. I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting one of the writers in that group, Patty Knight from Boston. She writes under the pen name of Adora Bennett for Genesis Press and comes to Antibes for inspiration whenever it’s possible. I’m looking forward to meeting many of the others. Whether a writer with an established name or a fresh voice on the scene, the search for inspiration here is never ending.

Named for one of Antibes’ most revered sons , the Prix Jacques Audiberti de la Ville d’Antibes, worth 50,000 francs to the laureate,  honours a writer with a special interest in the Mediterranean.

Ted Jones, a British freelance writer, who lives in the south of France has written The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers. It’s an informed and entertaining book covering writers from  Graham Greene and W. Somerset Maugham who lived here,  to those writers whose work this area dominates, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Guy de Maupassant, to those who simply lingered there. His comprehensive work covers them all, including: Louisa M. Alcott, Hans Christian Andersen, J.G. Ballard, Simone de Beauvoir, Bertholt Brecht, Albert Camus, Casanova, Bruce Chatwin, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Vladimir Nabakov, T.S. Eliot, Andre Gide,  Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Victor Hugo, James Joyce,and countless others. Not only do you get the buzz on the authors and how they lived and were inspired here, it’s also an excellent travel guide to the area.

Albert Camus, who spent many years living in Le Cannett, once said: “Writers come here for the easy life but the beauty of the Côte inspires them to new literary heights!”

To experience the literary Riviera read what Ted Jones has to say and then go back to the books of these great authors.

We’ve rented a car for the day so better hit the road … so many places, so little time. I’ll save the Lunch and Lavender parts for next Friday.

What inspires you? Have you read many novels set on the Côte D’Azur? If you have a favourite, I would love to hear about it!

À bientôt!

Everything you could wish for in a bookstore!

If It’s Friday, It Must Be France …

Heidi’s English Bookshop, located in my home away from home this summer, Antibes, France, has been a mainstay here for 21 years. It can’t claim to be built upon Roman ruins as can many other buildings in the town, but it most definitely can claim to offer the largest selection of English-language books on the French Riviera.

Even so, the property has quite a history. The foundations in the cellar have been traced to medieval times and were part of the original fortifications erected to protect the village during that period. The vaults were used to store munitions and armaments during the Napoleonic Wars of the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The building itself has been a green grocer’s, a wine store,  as well as an antique shop, and, since 1992, its walls have been lined with hand-built bookshelves that are filled to overflowing with an amazing selection of literature, new and used.

An inventory of 15,000 titles is standard and any English-language book in print can be ordered, accompanied by a smile at all times.

The owner Heidi Lee, a former actress and an author, arrived here 26 years ago via England and Australia and has never looked back. The “book business” is not easy and to keep an independent bookstore running successfully for so long is most admirable. Ably assisted by Suzie Dean and Louise Vaughan-Arbuckle, the shop is warm and welcoming from the moment you enter. The door is always open unless a winter’s mistral is blowing through. Open 364 days a year,  Suzie’s adorable Norwich Terrier, Tiggy,  acts as the “official greeter” when on duty.

Along with the most recent modern fiction, there are large sections for Provencal guide books, Cookery, Craft, New Age, Travel and Language books. I was delighted when Heidi agreed to stock some copies of The Bridge Club in the store and was even more honoured when she included it in a special display of “local authors”. I wish!

Antibes has an illustrious literary history. Jacques Audiberti was born into the artistic community here, and is just one name on a cosmopolitan list of writers and painters which, apart from Picasso and Graham Greene, includes Guy de Maupassant, Jules Verne, Scott Fitzgerald, Nicolas de Staël and Nikos Kazantzakis. The latter wrote Zorba The Greek while he lived in Antibes. On my morning walks I often pass a bench where he liked to relax and which is marked by a plaque. Graham Greene lived here for most of the last 25 years of his life until his death in 1991. (Check my blog next Friday for some buzz on the literary history of Antibes!)

Literature by all of these authors is of course available from Heidi’s English Bookshop. Browsing is encouraged. There are no questions either Heidi, Susan, or Louise can’t answer, even if they have to do some investigation and get back to you.

Heidi’s store is situated in one of the best locations in the old town. Once you make your purchases, simply step out the door to find just the right choice of restaurants, cafés and bars to suit you. Pick a spot, place your order … café, rosé, pastis, un bon vin? Enjoy a good read in an ambiance that is hard to duplicate. (Click here to see a map and other important information about the store’s location.)

Thank you and merci bien to Heidi, Suzie,  & Louise for  the warm welcome to their community. It’s such a pleasure getting to know you.

Where is your favourite bookshop? Is it at home or in some exotic location like Heidi’s? I would love to hear about it and share the info with other readers!

Take a hike!

Friday already? Then it must be France on my blog!

Like to hike? From serious hiking to a pleasant ramble through an astonishing variety of landscapes, France is a country amazingly well-equipped. There are over 100,000 kilometres of walking trails criss-crossing the country in all directions. It’s like a national sport! Click here to go to an excellent website with maps and more detailed information.

The following is just one small example. (You can click on the photos to see them full-sized.)

A picturesque 40-minute drive east from Antibes, Eze Bord de Mer (also known as Eze Sur Mer) is one of the most accessible places on the Cote D’Azur as the rail, road and bus links all run along its length. They create a dividing line between the mountains and the sea.  The thin strip of pebble beach provides just enough room for a few seaside restaurants on the turquoise edge of the Mediterranean. Typically the small town consists of everything from simple cottages to exclusive villas.

Approximately 500 metres (1400 feet) up the rugged corniche is the fortified perched village of Eze. With a history going back to 2000 BC, the current village dates to the 9th C. The stone structures and winding cobbled streets are well restored, with high walls and narrow paths. Today the town is full of small art galleries and boutiques and a couple of luxurious hotels as its setting, charm and ancient history make it a popular tourist destination. (But go early in the morning and you can have it to yourself.)The ancient alleyways wend their way upward to the well sign-posted Jardin Exotique Panorama. The plantings of cacti are spectacular and the view is one of the best on the Cote D’Azur, overlooking Cap Ferrat and on to Nice and Cap D’Antibes on a clear day.

These two communities encapsulate the best of both coastal and mountain worlds. Whether visiting the seaside part or the heart of the old town on the cliff, Eze offers a rich culture mixed with local traditions and a luxurious lifestyle.

The magical and unique ambiance of the town has an unforgettable appeal. But perhaps no one was more charmed by Eze than the tormented and controversial philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Though he spent only a short holiday in the area in the 1880’s, the environment had a profound tonic effect on the famously troubled philosopher. “I slept well, I laughed a lot, and I found a marvellous vigour and patience”, he later recalled. He also found the inspiration for the third part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, much of which was composed in his head (so the story goes) while hiking the steep trail from the seaside to the medieval village. The route, once a goat path, is now known officially as Le Chemin de Nietzsche or Nietzsche’s Path.

With my sister-in-law visiting us from her home in the south of Spain and our 28-year-old niece from Israel, I was eager to show them this beautiful area. Especially these two wonderful women who are always up for any adventure and turn everything into a laughter-filled event!

We took the train from Antibes to Villefranche Sur Mer and had a quick look around yet another beautiful town before catching the bus up to Eze Village. After walking around the town and taking photos at the castle ruin and the Jardin Exotique, we lunched on crepes and salad and then, water bottles filled, we headed down the Nietzsche Trail.

We talked. We laughed. We sweated. The sun was scorching but we were well armed with heavy-duty sun block, hats,  and mist-spray water bottles (LOVE these!) as well as our drinking bottles.

Winding down the corniche and through a forested ravine, the quiet trail lends itself naturally to contemplation. Birds chirped. Leaves rustled when gentle breezes made brief, welcome appearances. The gravel path crunched below our feet as the brightest yellow butterflies fluttered along with us. The sea washed the shore below, beyond the scent of pines and the many varieties of fragrant shrubs and plants that naturally fill these spaces. The clean, fresh air offered its own special brand of aromatherapy.

The path isn’t difficult but it’s not easy either. There are places where stairs have been built by France’s impressive sentier (walking trail) maintenance crews or possibly by local groups who take a keen interest in maintaining their trails. However there are also a few steep pitches and some spots where the stones or gravel are a bit loose and slippery if one isn’t careful. Faites attention!

It’s a quicker climb down than up, needless to say, and in 90 minutes, after a few brief stops to admire the changing views, we were back down in Eze Bord de Mer.  We cooled our feet in the Med and savoured a refreshingly cold brew on the beach before taking the train home.

If you ever go, take the train to Eze Bord De Mer and the 83 bus (which only comes by once an hour) to Eze Village. Wear good walking footwear and take the path down. You’ll be very glad you did.

The suggested advice when the going gets strenuous on the Nietzsche Trail?  Try repeating Zarathustra’s mantra from his own sojourn through the mountains: “You are treading your path of greatness: no one shall steal after you here.” Or take along good friends and laugh your way down.

If you have favourite places you like to hike, I would love to hear about them. The Bruce Trail? The Appalachian Trail? Whistler? Yosemite? Cotswold Way? Your own neighbourhood?

Tread your own path of greatness no matter where you are or what you are doing. Onward!

If it’s Friday it must be France …

Ooops – it is Friday and I haven’t written a post. I’ve written tweets, Facebook messages, e-mails, information and bio as requested by another website, and 3000 words on my manuscript (I was on a roll!) but I haven’t written my Friday post. I made a commitment to write something about my four-month stay in the south of France every Friday and I intend to stick to that. I’m taking a blogging course that the awesome Kristen Lamb is running so I’ve had to make some firm decisions about my blog and better stick to them … or else! She’s made that very clear!

So this Friday, I’ll tell you a bit more about my temporary home in Antibes on the beautiful Cote D’Azur (French Riviera) and also encourage you to follow your dreams and make them come true. There are definitely benefits to getting older and being retired and being able to run away for a few months is one of them. No question, in these tough economic times, it requires saving and planning. But I’m here to tell you it can be done. More about that another time. In the meantime if you have any questions, fire away.

 Antibes-Juan Les Pins, as it is officially known is about half-way between Nice and Cannes. Fast and efficient bus or train service takes us to both and all sorts of beautiful places in between. But for today, it’s just about Antibes. Given the chance I could go on ad nauseum. Don’t worry, I’m going to brief  and show you some of what I see when my camera and I go for our morning walk.

The recorded history of the town goes back 2400 years beginning with the Greeks who were followed by the Romans. There is an impressive collection of artifacts and ruins in the town and at the excellent Musée Archéologique D’Antibes. Some of this history can also be seen here and there throughout the village.

For example, the column in the middle of this fountain dates from Roman times between the first and third century A.D. I think it’s cool that this piece of history is still very much a part of the everyday life of the town. There are cafes in the square all around the fountain and the street is one that leads to the daily provençal market. I realize it doesn’t exactly compare to the Forum in Rome or other places that have extensive ruins but somehow it’s a small detail that adds charm to this and many other small towns throughout the country.

The ancient communal washing area is still a gathering place for special activities.

Water troughs and fountains hundreds of years old continue to be used. Dotted throughout the village, one can refill a water bottle during a stroll on a hot day as the quality of the drinking water is excellent.

There are many ways to enter the old part of Antibes and one of them is through an original gate that is part of the walls that surrounded Antibes 500 years ago. I love this sort of history and the blending of old and new so I hope you find it interesting too. Inside the gate area, you can still see the beam and places where bolts held hinges to activate the drawbridge. The walls were very thick (20 feet) and originally inside housed military battalions. Today there are art galleries inside but the town has been very careful to preserve the fittings and finishes as they were. France really is to be commended for the way they have preserved the past. The cost is HUGE and sometimes communities step in to help. Such is the case with the beautiful Chapelle Saint-Bernardin, erected on the former site of a Roman temple in the 16th Century. Inside there are frescoes dating back to that time but the most beautiful part to me are these carved doors dated 1581. Apparently there had been a terrible plague in the countryside and the villagers gave these doors to the church in thanks for being spared. Every time I walk by them I get a little thrill to think of the history they hold. Magnifique.  (I have no idea why these last few lines are underlined and it’s too late to try and figure it out. I’ve got to go to bed as it is almost midnight here. Got to make my Friday deadline! Bonsoir!)

Renoir, Rubens & Frites City

There are few places in the south of France, large or small, that don’t offer a special reason to stop by. Treasures abound of every kind. I’m just saying …

Cagnes-Sur-Mer is ten-minutes west of Nice and easy to reach by the coastal train. Choose to spend time at one of many pebble beaches  or take the shuttle to Haut-de-Cagnes. Stroll the narrow streets of the medieval village where you will find great restaurants and the 13th Century Grimaldi Castle. Plan to visit the beautiful domaine “Les Collettes” , the Musée Renoir, where Pierre-Auguste Renoir, one of the founders of Impressionism, sculpted and painted for the last 11 years of his life. Visitors during that time included Albert André, Rodin, Bonnard, Matisse and Modigliani to name just some.  It was here that Renoir started sculpting with Richard Guino and later Louis Morel.The home and grounds have been authentically restored and visiting his studio, with his wheelchair, easel and brushes as he might have left them, is very touching. The view of Haute-De-Cagnes from the house and olive groves is simply beautiful and visiting artists are often seen throughout the property capturing their own masterpieces. You also suddenly come upon this view driving the A8 west of Nice and it’s quite stunning!

 

A return trip to Grasse  (click on the name to visit the website)was on the agenda last Wednesday only this time we took the bus from the  Grasse train station instead of the 200 steps up to the old town in Centre Ville. (Not to mention the inclines often found between the sets of steps!) I found the steps fun to do last time but my husband’s back did not agree! The more time we spend in this intriguing town, the more surprises we discover. Known as the perfume capital of the world since the 1500’s when the Italian glove makers in the area (this part of France was more connected politically to Italy for many centuries) began to add scents to the gloves, the perfume industry dominates the economy and supplies essences to manufacturers everywhere. At 300m above the Cote D’Azur, the open fields in the surrounding countryside offered the perfect environment for the profusion of fragrant flowers, many developed from seeds brought back from the Crusades. The excellent Museum of Provençal Art and History is housed in an Italianate Villa built  for Jean-Paul Clapier Marquis de Cabris who married Louise de Riqueti daughter of  the Marquis de Mirabeau.  When the couple were required to live with the Dowager Marquisese, Jean-Paul soon fell out with his mother. He proceeded to have his own house built in a way that entirely blocked  her previously magnificent view. If you visit, note the Gorgons Head depicting vomiting vipers  above the front door which reportedly was placed so it would be directly in the line of sight of the old lady. The French have a reputation for dealing with grudges in inventive and long lasting ways. There are several perfume museums in the town that are surprisingly interesting to visit as well.

The Cathedral Notre-Dame Du Puy,dates from the 11th Century and was extended in the 17th. Its bell tower dominates the skyline. The interior is stunning from the enormous, rough-hewn pillars to the three magnificent paintings by Rubens as well as the only religious painting known to be done by Jean Honoré Fragonard, born in Grasse in 1732.

Our week ended on a slightly different cultural note to the above trips. Through the last fifteen years, all of our trips to France have included more research into our quest for the perfect “frites”. Several years ago we spent some time in the beautiful Italian-influenced town of Menton right next to the border with Italy. Just off the main pedestrian way, at the foot of the old town, we discovered the best frites we have ever experienced in the, excusez-moi, unlikely-named “Frites City”. Seriously, we returned several times during our stay there. We hopped on the train and spent last Saturday afternoon in Menton and our first stop was to see if the establishment still existed. It does. The frites continue to be spectacular (the secret is the oil, the owner insists, not to mention the fact that the potatoes are freshly cut right then and there) and we had them for lunch … with a side of French mayonnaise. Magnifique, if not exactly the wisest food choice but we all need to break out every now and then!  Before or after your frites indulgence, visit the very personal Jean Cocteau Gallery  in the 12thC Bastion at the old port. A new museum to house more of his works and those of others from the collection of Severin Wunderman is under construction just across from this which promises to be quite spectacular.

As I share my travels with you, I would love to hear about yours. Where are your favourite places to visit? Some, I know, are in your own back yard. You can leave a comment below or on Facebook and I look forward to hearing from you!