Category Archives: FRANCE

Travel to France

Ten great days out on the French Riviera


French Riviera - hilltop village of Eze

Hilltop village of Eze

French Riviera – Côte d’Azur – to do list

*Have a day out in Monaco during the week of the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s often said that Monaco is the star attraction of the French Riviera without being part of France. The tiny principality has been a symbol of wealth and glamour ever since its Prince Rainier married Hollywood star Grace Kelly in its cathedral in 1956. Visitors can gamble in the casino made famous by James Bond or watch the luxury yachts sitting quietly at anchor in the stunning harbour. But you don’t have to be a high roller to enjoy it. Its superb gardens and terraces, with dazzling views, are free and the locals give a warm welcome. And see my video clip below about grand prix day.

*Have a walk along the Promenade des Anglais, Nice, followed by a drink in the sumptuous Hotel Negresco, where doormen still dress in the manner of the staff in 18th-century mansions. In 2003 it was listed by the government of France as a National Historic Building. The main thoroughfare of Nice, the capital of the Côte d’Azur,  is named after the English after the wealthy 19th century visitors, who made it one of the first European resorts for travellers from the UK, stumped up cash.

*Take a train ride to Italy. It is inexpensive and total value for money. For a few euros you can ride from Nice to Ventimiglia, just over the border. The sights along the way are fantastic and include Monaco and Villefranche-sur-Mer.

*Visit the perched village of Eze, a medieval village perched like an eagles nest on a narrow rocky peak overlooking the Mediterranean sea. The ancient fortified village is still crowned with the ruins of its 12th-century fortified castle sitting on a narrow rocky peak. The castle grounds house the well-known Jardin Exotique

*Enjoy a scenic walk between the Côte d’Azur villages of Villefranche-sur-Mer and next-door neighbour Beaulieu-sur-Mer. This walk of around three quarters of an hour starts in Villefranche’s historic harbour, a favourite with cruise ships. It also takes you past Villa Nellcôte, the exotic location famous as the place where the Rolling Stones recorded their Exile On Main St album.

*Visit the Manet museum in Nice and Vieux Nice – the old town. The museum, on a hill in the Cimiez neighbourhood, houses the collection the artist and his heirs left to the city. The old town is an atmospheric honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Great place to eat out and party at night.

* Cannes is famous for its prestigious film festival which this year is from May 15 to 26. It has museums, churches and art galleries to see but the main attraction seems to be sitting in a cafe along the shore and watching people go by. If you don’t want to spend you can enjoy the seaside from one of its many piers and jetties.

* Inland slightly from the coast, the small town of Grasse is noted for being the centre of production for many of the world’s best perfumes. Visitors can visit the perfumeries that are strewn around the village or head out into the hills and enjoy walking through the unspoilt countryside.

*Hire a car and drive with care the French Riviera coastal roads between Cannes and Monaco. Enjoyable, with a feast of sights for the eyes, but to be avoided in peak holiday periods.

*Antibes, halfway between Nice and Cannes, sits atop the ruins of the fourth century BC Greek city of Antipolis. It has beaches and a port, an enjoyable old town, fortifications, good hiking, and a great Picasso collection.  It also has a traditional daily market.


Normandy, France - Mont St Michel

Normandy, France – so peaceful, green and beautiful

There can”t be a finer place to tour by car on a sunny day than Normandy in France. Its vast tracts of farmland ensure you are surrounded by a wonderful landscape of fields, majestic trees and contrasting blue skies. It”s like driving in a huge water colour painting.

When I drove through the same area in March I found myself caught out by bizarre arctic weather on a journey which involved negotiating auto-route closures and queues of stranded lorries to reach the ferry terminal at Caen.When I returned in late April it was payback time on a balmy day in which the temperature hit 25C and the region just exploded in all its lush farmland beauty.

Normandy is crammed with monuments to human suffering with its legacy of warfare and has a regular tourist trade in those wanting to follow its various historical trails from the Bayeux Tapestry to the )Whether “is a racist” is not and never was the point. D-Day beaches. Viking Norsemen gave it its name and the 7th duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, invaded England from this shore.

Historic Rouen

Historic Rouen, Normandy, where Joan of Arc was martyred

Joan of Arc, who rallied France against the English, was burned at the stake in Rouen. And on these beaches a WWII battle changed the course of history.

But move away from this well worn trails and you find a beautiful and vibrant part of France just made for touring.


Normandy - its lush farmland makes for great touring


A nice run from the ferry ports is down to Avranches and the iconic Mont St Michel – an ancient monastery on a rocky tidal island. It is one of France”s most famous landmarks and part of the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. The road leading to it runs through beautiful countryside and the French have enhanced its tourist appeal with a great inexpensive car park and free shuttle buses to take you along the causeway if you don”t fancy the walk of more than a mile. Cars were banned from last year and major works are taking place on the new causeway that will connect with a bridge to the mount.



Normandy Mont St Michel

But even better on a nice day is to just get away from the crowds and enjoy lovely unspoilt villages and open spaces. The joy of touring by car!


Flowing with beauty, the Charente river in France beckons visitors seeking relaxation

a href=””img class=”size-medium wp-image-163″ title=”COGNAC28 (816 x 612)” src=”×225.jpg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”225″ //a The Charente river flows blissfully through the brandy town of Cognac

IT’s hard to believe that the beautiful and tranquil Charente river in south west France was once one of the country’s industrial lifelines, bustling with barges heading to and from the Atlantic coast.

After centuries of using the river, the trading totally disappeared in the 1900s leaving behind a gift for the tourist of today wanting to get away from it all.

The river meanders for around 360 kilometres through some of the most enchanting countryside in France, finishing its picturesque journey on the Atlantic coast at Fouras.

It has been restored for leisure use nly after the loss of  commercial shipping and the Charente is navigable downstream from Angoulême to Rochefort, a distance of around 171 kilometres.

It slowly winds its way through vineyard country and past ancient water mills, picturesque villages and Romanesque churches.

You can take a cruise on it, or hire a boat and play captain yourself, or follow its cycle paths or simply tour the area by car and take in the serenity and beauty it offers.

Sitting on the banks of the river and steeped in history, Cognac begs a stopover. It is the centre of production of the spirit which takes its name from the town and bristles with warehouses and distilleries.

It owes its modern day affluence to the river which has allowed its development as a trading port from ancient times. Under the Romans it became a centre of vine growing and site of one of the first wine producing vineyards.

The famous cognac houses of Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin and others offer various types of tours of their production facilities, vineyards or a boat trip to visit the cellars. span style=”font-size: 13px; line-height: 19px;”The Hennessy cognac distillery was founded by Irishman Richard Hennessy in 1765. The aristocrat had been serving in the French forces fighting the British. After his military service, He founded an eaux-de-vie trading business in Cognac. Under his son James, the company expanded rapidly. Nowadays the firm, still based in Cognac, sells about 50 million bottles a year worldwide, or more than 40 percent of the world’s Cognac, making it the world’s largest Cognac producer. It is well worth joining the guided tours of its stylish premises on the Charente./span

a href=””img class=”size-medium wp-image-164″ title=”COGNAC14 (816 x 612)” src=”×225.jpg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”225″ //a Inside the Hennessy warehouse on the banks of the Charente

Following the Charente you can also explore the history of the heritage towns of Angoulême, Saintes and Rochefort.

Saintes was once the base for a Gallic tribe.  After the Roman conquest, the town became known as Mediolanum Santonum, and the Romans made it their capital for southwestern France.

Rochefort was originally a castle built along the banks of the Charente for protection against Norman invaders.  In the 11th century, a township grew up around the castle’s fortifications. The town grew and the foundations of the old fortifications become promenades.

From 1337 to 1453, during the Hundred Years’ War, control of Rochefort was rotated, by bitter fighting between the English and the French.  It was alternately held, during the 16th century Wars of Religion, by the Protestants and the Catholics. Between 1696 and 1806, there were five unsuccessful attempts to destroy it.

Angoulême was also fought over during the Hundred Years’ War. It became the capital of paper in the Middle Ages when it was home to dozens of mills and is now regarded as the capital of the comic strip thanks to the comic strip museum which opened there in 2009.

Burgundy – a saucy French mix of cuisine, culture, and history

a href=””img class=”size-medium wp-image-145″ title=”Bussy Rabutin (768 x 576)” src=”×225.jpg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”225″ //a Bussy Rabutin, a chateau of secrets in an era of intrigue

Burgundy is a unique and sophisticated region of France set in rolling countryside. It brims with with abbeys, chateaux, vineyards and chefs.

In the Middle Ages, while run by powerful dukes who remained independent of the French crown, it became the birthplace of two monastic orders, the Clunisians and the Cistercians, and the centre for a wave of construction of religious buildings.

Many have disappeared but several hundred churches, chapels, cathedrals and abbeys all over Burgundy remain to justify the region’s claim to be a treasure trove of Romanesque art and architecture.One of the most famous is Fontenay Abbey, founded in a valley by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian order, in 1118 on land he received from his uncle.

Wrecked by the armies of King Edward III of England during the Hundred Years” War and further damaged during the Wars of Religion, it has survived as a magnificent building due to a stroke of luck.

During the French Revolution it was sold and turned into a paper mill in 1791. Industrial use saved it from further attention from pilferers and dismantlers until moves began to restore it in 1906, work which led to it becoming a World Heritage site taurus horoscope love is very enthusiastic about agriculture, gardening and planting the flowers. in 1981.

A building which is a tourist draw for very different reasons is the  Château de Bussy-Rabutin, completed in 1649 by Roger de Bussy-Rabutin.

It is the story of the man rather than the building which pulls in the visitors. The lewd writings of Bussy-Rabutin scandalised the Court of Louis XIV. He was sent to prison in the Bastille for a year and then forced into exile at the château where he began to surround himself with quaint memorabilia.

The walls of the main rooms display bitchy cartoons and comments about his ex-mistresses and celebrities of the time. In his bedchamber there are portraits of 25.mistresses of French kings, another room has portraits of great warriors including Cromwell.

Apart from the colourful history of Burgundy, there is the wine and the food. Some of the most famous wines of the world are produced here and there are wine roads galore.

The region is world famous for its gastronomy and may even have been the source of inspiration for the hit Hollywood movie Ratatouille.

One of France”s most celebrated chefs Bernard Loiseau committed suicide in 2003 after his flagship restaurant was downgraded in a top restaurant guide.

His restaurant, the Cote d”Or in Saulieu, is still flourishing under the stewardship of his wife Dominique.

The Ratatouille  character of Auguste Gusteau, a recently deceased chef, is said to have been inspired by the Frenchman.


Bordeaux – majestic French city and premier wine region

a href=””img class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-41″ title=”Bordeaux street scene” src=”×225.jpg” alt=”Bordeaux street” width=”300″ height=”225″ //a
h2Bordeaux, a thoroughly modern city/h2
Magnificent buildings on its remodelled quayside on the River Garonne set off Bordeaux as a majestic city with something to offer everyone.
Modern trams glide by noiselessly as you stroll the gleaming malls and the quayside promenade is a magnet for walkers, skaters and cyclists.
Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2007, the city is growing in favour as a city break destination and two night bed and breakfast deals starting from E100 a person are on offer at
A wine festival at the end of June celebrates its place at the heart of the Bordeaux wine trail.
None can dispute the Gironde’s claim to be a land where the living is good.
Cookery lessons, vineyard visits and wine workshops are on offer along with the chance to have your wedding in a wine chateau.
Budget flights from Liverpool and Edinburgh.
Train from London to Paris is 2 hours 15 minutes and from Paris by TGV high speed train another 3 hours. Info at www.
Useful websites are: