Category Archives: France

What to do in France; French attractions and the best places to visit in France.

fort saint-jean marseille

Fort Saint-Jean in Marseille

One of the best places in Marseille to relax and enjoy the sunshine is Fort Saint-Jean, which lies at the northern mouth of Vieux Port (the Old Port).

fort sain-jean looking towards vieux port in marseille

The fort was built in 1660. I appreciated that you get a much better sense of it being a defensive building from the sea on the ferry from Vieux Port out to Chateau d’If.

fort saint-jean from the sea

After being used as the HQ for German troops during WW2, the fort was disused, until it was taken over by the French Ministry of Culture in 1960.

Since 2013, Fort Saint-Jean has officially been part of the adjacent Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM). The buildings are joined by a pedestrian foot bridge.

footbridge between fort saint-jean and muceum

However, you don’t need to pay an admission fee if you just want to explore the grounds of Fort Saint-Jean. There are free, clean pubic toilets in the grounds.

There are some great views of Vieux Port from Fort Stain-Jean. You can make out Notre Dame de la Garde on the peak to the right of the photo below.

vieux port from fort saint-jean in marseille

The gardens at Fort Saint-Jean are large and beautiful.

fort saint-jean gardens in marseille

There’s a selection of seats, picnic benches and sun loungers dotted around.

fort saint-jean path along garden terrace in marseille

fort saint-jean terraced garden in marseille

If you go to the top of the gardens near the footbridge to MuCEM, you can see Marseille Cathedral.

marseille cathedral from fort saint-jean

I loved the three heads sculpture at Fort Saint-Jean.

three heads sculpture at fort saint-jean marseille

I’d highly recommend that you take some time out to enjoy the gardens at Fort Saint-Jean when you’re visiting Marseille. You should also go across the footbridge to the rooftop terrace of MuCEM. where there’s a cafe.

Top Three Places to Stop Off when Cruising the River Rhone

The Rhone runs 813km from Switzerland, right through the rolling hills of the French countryside. Cruises along this stretch of water allow you to travel along the same routes as many ancient Greek and Roman traders once did, but it can be difficult to know where to go and what there is to see.

river cruise

I’ve listed the top three spots you’ll want to stop off and enjoy, but your river cruise provider will be able to inform you of the many excursions – making sure you book with an expert such as Cruise Deals, means you’re always pointed in the right direction for a relaxing cruise away.

1. Lyon

You cannot go on a relaxing river cruise without stopping off to bathe in the culture of this historic city. It has something for everyone, with it’s ancient winding streets taking you from stunning gardens to ancient ruins. Why not stop for a crepe in the gardens of the Parc de la Tete d’Or, before heading to their central zoo? Or if history and the arts is more your style, you can admire the gothic architecture of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.

lyon

2. Burgundy

While on your cruise, you’ll be itching to try out some excursions. Seen as you’re travelling through some of the most famous wine country in the world, it would be rude not to stop by and sample what they have on offer. There are many different tours available depending on your own knowledge, so whether you’re a seasoned connoisseur or a complete novice, you’ll be able to find the perfect expert guide to walk you through.

burgundy

3. Valence

This picture-perfect town may be small, but it’s postcard views make this a must-see sleepy town. Just because it’s quiet doesn’t mean you’ll be short of sightseeing opportunities though. The decorative gardens are home to the famous Kiosque de Peynet – a romantic bandstand built in 1890 – while Jean Perdrix Park is home to quirky examples of 1970s architecture, including a grass amphitheatre and two giant, shard-shaped wanter tanks. Hidden away from the world, this is a lesser-visited wonder along the Rhone.

End your trip in Avignon as the Greeks and Romans would have done, and if you travel in July, you can sample the vibrant annual spectacle of the Festival d’Avignon – it’s the oldest extant festival in France, and world-renowned for it’s ground-breaking contemporary art.

crossing a river on the train from marseille to nice

Travelling from Marseille to Nice on the TGV

After struggling to buy train tickets for our journey from Budapest to Prague on the Hungarian rail website, I was pleasantly surprised by the user friendliness of the English version of  SCNF (French national rail) website when buying tickets for the trip from Marseille to Nice.

I thought that the price of £22 per adult for a standard class rail ticket was very reasonable. I was also happy to be able to print the SCNF tickets at home. With the Hugarian rail tickets, I had to pick them up from a ticket machine at the station.

As we approached Marseille St Charles railway station on the day of travel, I was impressed by the grandeur of the exterior of the building. I stopped to admire some large paintings on display outside the station.

marseille st charles railway station exterior

art at the front of marseille st charles railway station

Once in the station, we discovered that our TGV Duplex train to Nice was running 15 minutes late. The journey from Marseille to Nice was scheduled to take around 2 hours and 30 minutes.

tgv train at Marseille St Charles railway station

Our reserved seats were in a standard class compartment on the lower level of the two tier train. The seats were quite comfortable. The train wasn’t that busy, so were able to have a double seat each for the journey. The toilet was absolutely awful. To make matters worse, someone had dumped two large suitcases in front of the toilet door, so you had to virtually climb over the suitcases to get in and out. We had taken our own food and drink, so we didn’t visit the buffet car.

I expected the rail journey to be along the coastline, but a lot of it was through countryside, some with vineyards.

vineyards from train between marseille to nice

There were some glimpses of the Mediterranean enroute.

sea from train between marseille to nice in france

sea view from train between marseille to nice france

Close to Cannes, I spotted a marina.

approaching cannes on the train from marseille to nice

Our destination, Nice’s main station Nice Ville, was another beautiful old building.

nice ville railway station

It’s a pity that the otherwise very pleasant train journey from Marseille to Nice was marred by the dreadful state of the toilet. The French rail company, SNCF, really need to ensure that the onboard toilet facilities are clean.

the head sculpture in Jardin Marechal Juin in Nice

The Giant Head Sculpture in Jardin Marechal Juin in Nice, France

I’d seen a couple of photos of the enormous head sculpture in Nice on Pinterest prior to my visit to the city. I intended to seek out the sculpture to take some photos. But I chanced upon it when I got slightly lost walking from our hotel to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMAC).

Jardin Marechal Juin Nice

The head sculpture is located in Jardin Marechal Juin, which lies between the Acropoplis conference centre and MAMAC.  It’s official title is ‘La Tete au Carre de Sosno’ which translates to ‘Thinking Inside the Box’. It was created by the French artist and sculptor Sacha Sosno. The sculpture is home to a library with three floors. I’m not sure if it’s ever open to the public, I couldn’t find any information about this.

Jardin Marechal Juin in Nice

There are a few other sculptures in Nice’s Jardin Marechal Juin. I liked the rock man, held in place by wire wrapped around his body.

rock sculpture in Jardin Marechal Juin Nice

The man below looked pensive as he stared up into the sky.

close up of sculpture in Jardin Marechal Juin Nice

I liked the simplicity of the predominately white sculpture in contrast to the intricate balconies and green shutters of the pink building behind it.

Jardin Marechal Juin Nice sculpture

 

fisherman on boat street art in marseille france

Street Art in Marseille’s Old Town

I decided to take a short cut through the Old Town in Marseille to our hotel, the Adagio Marseille Vieux Port, after a visit to Fort Saint-Jean. It turned out to be a good decision, as there was lots of colourful street art enroute.

I entered the Old Town up some steps, a block up from Marseille Cathedral.

street art on steps leading to the old town from the cathedral in marseille france

I wondered if the Douce France referred to the 1990s movie of the same name, which portrayed the life of Muslims in France.

douce france street art in marseille france

One of my favourite pieces was the fisherman in a multi coloured striped boat holding his haul.

fisherman street art in marseille france

The sea was a beautiful shade of blue in the piece below, with the seagull perched on the roof.

bird on a roof street art in marseille france

The four fanged green headed creature looked rather downcast.

fang tooth street art in marseille france

The wide mouthed green man appeared to be breaking through the door.

gren man on door street art in marseille france

The head of the animal below looked like a cross between a fox and a crocodile, with an extremely long rat’s tail.

jumping fox street art in marseille france

The character on the right of the piece below looked a bit like an explorer ready to stake his claim to the discovered territory by erecting his country’s flag, the pole of which was clasped in hands.

three characters street art in masrseille france

The purple nosed mouse was getting stuck into devouring his plateful of cheese.

mouse eating cheese street art in marseille france

In the Old Town of Marseille, you can also visit Vieille Charite, a former almshouse for the poor, which is now a cultural centre and museum. The museum was closed, as I was there in a Monday, but you could still enter the courtyards and the free public toilets.

vieille charite marseille in france

niki de saint phalle collection at MAMAC in Nice France

Photo Tour of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMAC) in Nice, France

When I searched for free things to do in Nice, one of the attractions which appeared was the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMAC). However, when I went to the museum’s website to check the opening hours, it stated that there was a 10 Euro charge for an individual ticket valid for 48 hours, which appears to also include entry to Matisse Museum, Palais Lascaris and some other galleries.

As it said that journalists could get in free, I practised my French to attempt complementary entry to MAMAC. I was successful.

MAMAC is a striking building, designed by the French architects Yves Bayvard and Henri Vidal.  It opened in 1990.

exterior of MAMAC in Nice France

Once you’re in the building, you realise the size of the arches in the central part.

MAMAC Nice huge arches in building

Below are photos of some of the pieces in MAMAC which caught my attention.

I loved the blue dress with the long train which was constructed with plastic bottles.

plastic bottles dress at MAMAC in Nice France

The female characters had barbed wire grids attached, presumably to keep their movements restricted.

barbed wire art at MAMAC in Nice France

The bride in the painting looked rather wistful.

bride and grrom at MAMAC in Nice France

I rather fancied having the gold coffee table in our living room.

tables at MAMAC in Nice France

The Marilyn Munroe poster reminded me of an exhibition of the movie star’s costumes, which I saw in Jersey Museum on the Channel Islands in 2010.

marilyn monroe at MAMAC in Nice France

One of the exhibitions by a single creator which I most enjoyed was that of the French sculptor and artist Niki de Saint Phalle. I found her work to be colourful and humourous.

The women in their swimming costumes looked extremely laid back.

niki de saint phalle women in swimsuits at MAMAC in Nice France

Perhaps the reading man might have been more usefully employed milking the cow with the bulging pink udder.

man reading and cow at MAMAC in Nice France

I’m not sure if the corseted angel’s holey wings would permit flight.

niki de saint phalle angel in corset at MAMAC in Nice France

On closer inspection, the life size sculpture of a woman had all sorts of plastic models attached which included horses, cows and humans.

detail on sculpture by niki de saint phalle in MAMAC Nice France

There’s a sculpture of the Loch Ness Monster by Niki de Saint Phalle a few hundred metres from the MAMAC building, in front of the National Theatre of Nice.

loch ness sculpture in nice france

If possible, visit MAMAC on a dry day, so that you can spend time up on the roof terrace.

In one direction, you’ll see the giant head sculpture in Jardin Marechal Juin and hills behind Nice on the horizon.

looking towards the head sculpture from MAMAC in Nice France

In another direction, you look towards Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill).

view to colline du chateau from roof terrace at MAMAC in Nice France

There’s a small garden. mainly planted with trees and shrubs.

looking toward the garden from the roof terrace at MAMAC in Nice France

I would have happily paid the 10 Euro entry fee to MAMAC. I spent more than three hours at the museum. I was impressed by the architecture and the contents.

If you plan to visit several museums in Nice, you can buy a 20 Euro Museum Pass, which is valid for seven days. I was only in Nice for two full days, so I didn’t want to spend too much time in museums.

museum of contemporary art in marseille france - black and white photos

Photo Tour of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseille

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseille is located around 4 miles south of the city centre. It’s quite close to the Museum of Decorative Arts, so it makes sense to visit both museums on the same day. The 5 Euro entry fee to each museum is waived if you buy a Marseille City Pass.

museum of contemporary art in marseille france - exterior

We didn’t see signs for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseille. We only knew that we were close when we spotted a giant thumb sculpture in the roundabout close to the museum.

giant thumb sculpture near museum of comtemporary art in marseille france

There’s a smaller gold thumb sculpture inside the museum, to which our son Gary gave the thumbs up.

our son gary at the museum of contemporary art marseille

Initially, I wondered why on earth there was a jacked up sofa. It was only on closer inspection that I noticed the hologram of a face beneath the elevated end of the sofa.

museum of contemporary art in marseille france - hologram under sofa

I think that the woman in a swimming costume sculpture should be relocated to the beach in Marseille.

museum of contemporary art in marseille france -sculpture of woman in bathing suit

The vulture perched on a post was reflected onto the adjacent wall.

museum of contemporary art in marseille france - reflection of bird sculpture

I wasn’t quite sure about the wood installation, which looked a bit like some kind of BMX or skateboard ramp, but I almost tripped over it as a I reversesd to take a photo of the black and white portrait photos.

museum of contemporary art in marseille france - photos and wood sculpture

There was another potential trip hazard for reversing photographers in the form of a metal sculpture lying on the floor.

museum of contemporary art in marseille france - metal sculpture and photos

The silver car was very narrow; it looked as though there was no room for a passenger next to the driver, except if both the driver and passenger were as slim as the skittle person sculpture.

museum of contemporary art in marseille france - car and skittle man

Maybe if you leave a pair of old boots sitting outside for long enough, a tree will take root.

museum of contemporary art in marseille france - branch in boot

I liked the colours in the penguin picture.

Imuseum of contemporary art in marseille france - penguins

I thought that the metal work on the branch looked some type of torture equipment.

museum of contemporary art in marseille france - exhibits

Never mind ten green bottles hanging from the wall, there were tens of orange bottles hanging from the ceiling.

musuem of contemporary art marseille orange bottles

The silver, red and black piece looked as though it would fit perfectly in the foyer on a 1930s cinema.

red and black piece at the museum of contemporary art marseille france

The Malcolm X portrait was different colours on each side.

musuem of contemporary art marseille malcolm x portrait

musuem of contemporary art marseille malcolm xI

Although I enjoyed my visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art, I wouldn’t rate it that highly. I thought that the Museum of Decorative Arts was far superior, so it you’re short of time, or not that interested in visiting many museums, stick to the Museum of Decorative Arts.

view from Colline du Chateau Nice

Photo Tour of Colline du Chateau in Nice, France

I was keen to visit Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill) when we were in Nice. It came up in a search for free things to do in Nice and the views over the city were highly praised.

port of nice from colline du chateau

I attempted to go there one evening. but by the time I found the path, it was only a few minutes until the closing time of 7pm.

The next morning,  Colline du Chateau was my first port of call. I took the free lift up, which is situated in Rue de Ponchettes, just behind the eastern end of Quai des Etats-Unis.

lift to colline du chateau

I stopped to admire the wall of mosaics to the right of the lift exit.

mosaics at Colline du Chateau Nice

The views towards the beach were fantastic.

looking down on nice from Colline du Chateau

There were more beautiful mosaics just past the castle ruins. Some of my favourites were floral mosaics by the steps under the flowering trees.

flowering trees at Colline du Chateau Nice

Below are a couple of close ups of these mosaics.

floral mosaics at Colline du Chateau Nice

flower mosaic at Colline du Chateau Nice

The steps leading up from the trio of floral mosaics looked even prettier with the fallen purple petals lying between the stones accentuating the single blooms.

floral mosaic steps at collline du chateau

There were fish mosaics on the adjacent pavilion.

fish mosaics at Colline du Chateau Nice

The fish mosaic below had such a pouting expression.

fish mosaic at Colline du Chateau Nice

There’s a cafe, kids play area and public toilets, which charge a fee of 50 cents per person.

There were even more mosaics, this time bird themed, as I headed down Colline du Chateau on foot towards the port.

bird of prey mosaic at Colline du Chateau Nice

swan mosaic at Colline du Chateau Nice

bird mosaics at colline du chateau in nice france

Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill) should be on your must-visit list for Nice. You’ll be impressed by the views and the mosaics are beautiful.

plage vieille chapelle marseille in the south of france

Marseille’s Beautiful Beaches

I wasn’t expecting the beaches in the French city of Marseille to be so beautiful. In fact the main reason that we went there was that our son Gary wanted to see the Bowl skate park, located at Plage Vieille Chapelle, which was featured in some skateboarding games he’d played when he was younger. As often happens, real life didn’t quite match fantasy, as the skate park looked much better and bigger in the game.

our son gary at the bowl skatepark marseille france

Heavy rain was forecast for the afternoon. The darkening skies made for some dramatic photos of Plage Vielle Chapelle in Marseille.

plage vieille chapelle in marseille france

plage vielle chapelle marseille france

culpture at plage vieille chapelle marseille france

anse de la chapelle marseille france

If you’re visiting Marseille, I recommend a visit to the beaches.

Chambre-18

Discovering Picardy in Northern France

The region of Picardy lies in the north of France. It stretches from the Channel coastline, on the estuary of the River Somme and west to the  border with southern Belgium.

Its location, a one hour drive from Calais, makes it an ideal location for a short break from the UK. The new Esprit de Picardie (the French spelling of Picardy) enables you to personalise and book a trip based on your own preferences.

There are various themes from which to choose, including visiting remembrance sites from WW1, stopovers, romantic and family breaks

On the homepage of Esprit de Picardie, you can select a theme and then browse the various options. Further down on the homepage you can search for local experts, all fluent English speakers, by area of expertise, e.g. nature outings or heritage.  The results appear on a map. If you click on the experts photo, you can see their specific knowledge. If that’s of interest to you, you can click through to their full profile. You can get in touch with the experts directly.

I decided to look more closely at the ‘Romantic Escapades a la Francais’.

I thought that ‘A Romantic Weekend in a Medieval Village on France’s Coast’, based in Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, looked lovely.

Les-Pilotes-CRTP-Nicolas-Bryant--2-

This area is renowned for its fresh seafood.

Les-Pilotes-CRTP-Nicolas-Bryant--6-

Accommodation is at the Hotel Les Pilotes, which has some water view rooms.

Les-Pilotes-CRTP-Nicolas-Bryant--5-

I also liked the idea of staying in a castle on the ‘French Romance in a Chateau with Champagne and Spa’, staying at the five star Chateau de Fere.

Chateau-de-Fere-en-Tardenois-SB

There are the ruins of an ancient viaduct in the grounds of the hotel.

Chateau-de-Fere-en-Tardenois-ASF--18-

If you’re interested in wine, you can take the Champagne Tourist Trail.

I loved the rustic style of the rooms at in a renovated farmhouse in Cauvigny, on the ‘Just the Two of Us….. In a French B&B with Beaucoup de Charme’ break.

FLAMENT--echappee-belle--chambres-hotes--le-chateau-rouge--cauvigny--nadine-et-jean-luc-Guirriec-0337

There’s a pond where you can fish in the grounds. If you feel like a day trip, Compiegne and Chantilly are close.

La-peche

Once you have put together your perfect trip to Picardy, you can make an instant online booking on the Esprit de Picardie website.