Provence is easily France’s most popular tourist destination after Paris and with books like A Year in Provence romanticising it even more, it is no wonder that everyone wants to travel there. To help inspire you even more, here’s a list of 10 things to do in Provence – both romantic and otherwise – many of which have been enjoyed by our contributors.
Kimberly took her family to the Luberon Valley and found it to be a spectacularly beautiful region. They based themselves in the hillside town of Gordes and also enjoyed visiting nearby towns like Oppède-le-Vieux and Roussillon. She particularly recommends visiting each town on their market day to stock up on tasty local delicacies.
Luberon Valley by Kimberly Sullivan
Gorges du Verdon
The largest gorges in Europe are apparently the Gorges du Verdon (Verdon Gorges) in Provence. In summer you’re able to swim in the gorges and throughout the year there are lots of outdoor activities available so it’s not just scenic, but a great destination for some healthy fun (especially if you’ve been over-indulging in the great local food and wine).
Gorges du Verdon by Kimberly Sullivan
Bullfighting in Nîmes
You may not expect to find bullfighting in Provence (it certainly doesn’t fit the romantic, scenic image) but in the town of Nîmes the annual bullfighting festival is well-known. It takes place in Les Arenes, the first century Roman arena that’s still there in the centre of town.
Here are our travel tips for museums in France, outside the capital city of Paris.
Matisse Museum, Nice
French artist Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse (1869- 1954) lived in Nice from 1918 until he died, and his great work is on display at death Musée Matisse. Located on 164, av. des Arènes de Cimiez 06000, the museum is open all year (with the exception of Tuesdays and some public holidays) and free to visit. It’s open from 10am till 6pm. The museum allows group tours that don’t have more than 20 people. However guided tours cost €20 for school groups and €80 for adult groups. Getting to the museum is also convenient. You just need to take one of these buses: 15, 17, 20, 22, 25.
Interestingly enough, France’s oldest public museum was at first the private collection of an abbot, although he wanted the public to be able to visit it two days a week starting from 1694. Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’archéologie de Besançon’s collections consist of 3 different areas: paintings, drawings and archaeology, though I find the archaeological aspect the most impressive. Some of the archaeology pieces are the complete sarcophagus of an ancient Egyptian (21 Dynasty) royal scribe named Seramon and several Roman pavements of mosaic as well as various artifacts from different sites of the area. The painting collection includes works from European artists like Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse Matisse, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Pieter Bruegel (Brueghel) the Elder, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Tiziano Vecelli and Sir Peter Paul Rubens – covering several centuries. The museum is also famous for the vast number of drawings it displays, which also covers several centuries and different countries. The museum is located in the France-Comte area, in the east of France, close to the Swiss border.
When planning what to do in France, the first thing that usually comes to mind is vistiting Paris. While the French capital does have a lot to offer, there are many other wonderful places to visit; here are my travel tips on what to see in France during your next vacation.
Situated along the Mediterranean, this coastal town is renowned for its beauty. A walk down the Promenade des Anglais will give you a tour of Nice‘s best beaches as well as a great view of the Côte d’Azur. If you want to experience some history and culture, visit Terra Amata, an archeological site from about 400,000 BC, or the Musée Matisse, which features the work of Henri Matisse and is free to enter.
While many people may think of St. Malo as nothing more than a ferry port, the city actually has a lot to offer. First of all, impressive walls surround what was once a medieval city. Once inside, you will be able to walk the medieval ramparts and the reconstructed city, perusing restaurants and shops along the cobblestone streets. And because of the city’s location, they serve excellent seafood.
It hurts to admit it, but my only visit to France has been an accident. A flight delay gave me a night (and a very early morning in Paris), and sneaking a visit to the Eiffel Tower on my way to the airport was all I could squeeze in.Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Paris the way it is meant to be seen, while discovering all its corners and streets, visiting the museums, and trying (yet failing to) manage French. For now, I made a list of museums that I shouldn’t miss the next time I go there, including tips from fellow writers on some of the best museums in Europe. You’ll find plenty more tips on what to do in Paris on Europe a al Carte.
Some of the best spots in Europe to visit during the summer can be found along the Mediterranean. And Nice, France is one of them. Of course, while Nice is world renowned for its beautiful coast, the city has things to offer throughout the year, from Christmas markets to Carnival celebrations. Below, you’ll find a list of ten things to do while visiting Nice, France.
Walk the Promenade des Anglais, named for the early English tourists who came to Nice. The promenade stretches along the beaches of Nice and offers an amazing view of the Côte d’Azur. Along with the views, throughout the year several events and activities are held on and around the promenade, and of course, there are always opportunities to take a seat in one of those famous blue chairs.
Terra Amata is an archeological site which is believed by many to show evidence of human habitation from about 400,000 BC, including the use of fire. The site is also home to the Musée de Paléontologie humaine de Terra Amata, which displays some of the finds.
Try Some Local Dishes
Sample some of the local cuisine such as socca (best described as a pancake based on chickpea flour), pissaladiere (a sort of pizza/tart made with onions and anchovies), or Niçoise salad (a salad often topped with anchovies).
Nice self-identifies as the green city of the Mediterranean and has several beautiful gardens including the Jardin Albert 1er, created in 1852 allowing you to take in the beautiful palm trees and flowers of the coastal city.
Matisee lived in Nice from 1918 until his death in 1954 and you can see his work at the Musée Matisse. The museum has been open for nearly 50 years with a great collection of work donated by Matisse and his heirs. The museum is open year round and, even better, offers free entry.
Nice is host to a wonderful international jazz festival known, appropriately enough, as the Nice Jazz Festival. Held annually since 1948, the 2011 edition of the festival will be held from July 8th to July 12th. The five day event sees musicians from around the world perform. If you enjoy jazz music, or just want a reason to be a part of a great party, don’t miss the festival.
If one festival isn’t enough for you, or you just happen to be in Nice in February instead of July, check out the Carnaval de Nice. The celebration is a two week affair culminating on Mardi Gras which draws over a million people to the city. Some claim that this celebration has been going on since the 13th century in the area.
This area has about 600 different shops offering enough local products and souvenirs to fill your suitcase. If shopping isn’t your thing, the area is still worth checking out due to the beautiful architecture, the Place Rossetti, the Opera house, and several churches.
While there is plenty to do in Nice itself, the surrounding area has a rich history and beautiful scenery. If you find yourself itching to get out and explore the countryside, follow Kimberly Sullivan’s advice and head to Èze. Just a short drive from Nice, the medieval city looks down upon the coast. Read more about Èze in Kimberly’s post, Views from the eagle’s nest in Èze, France.
Photo by Kimberly Sullivan
Visit the Nice Christmas Market
When I think of Nice, I think of beach vacations. I think of the Mediterranean. I don’t necessarily think of Christmas markets. But as Kimberly wrote on Europe a la Carte, Nice makes a wonderful winter get-away as well. You can find everything from Christmas trees to ice skating. Check out Kimberly’s great post The Christmas Market in Nice, France.
Photo by Kimberly Sullivan
Your Tips for Things to Do in Nice
Let us know what you consider to be the best things to do in Nice.
It is generally thought that the precursors to the modern museums were the so-called ‘cabinets of curiosities’. Wealthy individuals, established families or institutions collected a variety of objects ranging from fine art and sculpture, archaeological and historical objects to rare or curious natural objects and specimens. These collections would be private, and only open to ‘respectable’ individuals. The British Museum in London has in a sense re-created the feel of these early museums in their enlightenment galleries.
The oldest public museum in France, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’archéologie (Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology) in Besançon, started out as the private collection of Jean-Baptiste Boisot, an abbot. He bequeathed his personal collection to the Benedictines of the city of Besançon on condition that the collection was open to the public two days every week. This was in 1694, nearly a century before the Louvre became a public museum in August 1793.
There are three aspects to this museum: archaeology, paintings and drawings.
The archaeology collection of the museum has some striking pieces, including the entire sarcophagus of an ancient Egyptian (21 Dynasty) royal scribe named Seramon, (above) and a few mosaic pavements from Roman villas. The mosaic below is the central motif of what is called the ‘Neptune Mosaic’ that dates to the second century BC. The archaeology collection also has a number of artefacts from various sites in the area.
The painting collection has some well known pieces of European art from the 14th to 20th centuries. Including some well known artists, such as Titian, Brueghel the Elder, Rubens, Goya, Renoir and Matisse. But the museum is particularly known for its collection of drawings. With over 5,500 Italian, Dutch and French drawings, this is one of the largest collections in France ranging from the end of the 15th century to the middle of the 20th century.
Henri Matisse, Nature morte au lierre, 1916.
So if you are visiting the France-Comte area of eastern France, and crave some high culture, this museum is a must.
With Valentine’s day coming up next week, I thought I would post about about my favourite cheese – which just so happens to be heart shaped.
France is well known for the overwhelming variety of cheeses. I once heard that there was a different cheese for everyday of the year. In truth, there are more than 365 different cheeses and some of the lessor known cheeses, made using very traditional methods by only a small number of artisans, are in danger of disappearing from the list altogether. But each cheese is associated with a specific region, and named after that region.
If you think you know your French cheeses – take this quiz, and post your scores!
My favourite cheese, however, is made in the area where I live – Neufchâtel-en-Bray, which is in the pays de Bray region of Normandy. Neufchâtel cheese is said to be one of the oldest cheeses in France, and certainly in Normandy – where it is older than the better known camembert and brie.
The earliest record of Neufchâtel cheese is 1050, where it is mentioned as a tithe payment. But from the end of the 18th century onwards this cheese becomes well-known and much liked, it was sent to Rouen and Paris, as well as being exported to the United kingdom. The cheese comes in a variety of shapes, but the most popular shape nowadays is heart-shaped, or the coeur du Neufchâtel.
There is very little known for certain why it is made in this shape, but legend has it that this originates from the end of the 100 Years War. It is said that the women who made the cheese did so in the shape of the heart to express their love to the non-French speaking English soldiers. Who knows if this is true, but it makes a nice story, certainly for this time of the year.
The cheeses come in three different sizes, the small ones are not much bigger than a golf ball. I bake the small cheeses until the inside is runny, and then serve them on lettuce with a red-currant jelly.
If you have not yet planned anything special for your loved one – it is not too late to book a city break in Paris, or even a quiet, rural break somewhere in the country.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about mainland France’s region of Alsace. All my own experiences from visiting Alsace and anything I have read about the region comes back to one thing, the beauty of the mountainous landscape. But, in researching my post last week about the new and as yet still proposed memorial to French victims of Nazi concentration camps, I discovered information about a concentration camp in Alsace – Natzweiler-Struthof.
I have never heard about this camp, I did not know there had been a concentration camp in France. Interestingly, no one I know has heard about this camp either. Natzweiler-Struthof was in fact the only Nazi built concentration camp in what is today France. During World War II the Alsace-Lorraine region was annexed by Germany and was an integral part of what was the German Reich. I wonder then how many Europe A La Carte readers knew about this site.
Natzweiler-Struthof was in use from 21 May 1941 until the beginning of September in 1944, when the camp was evacuated to another camp Dachau. Over the next three years some 52 000 prisoners were brought to this camp from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the Soviet Union. On November 23 1944 this was the first concentration camp in Western Europe camp to have been liberated by American troops.
Today there is a memorial site at Natzweiler-Struthof, closed from Christmas to the end of February. But the memorial’s website has a rather poignant virtual tour, as well as all sorts of other interesting information, in French, English, Dutch and Italian, for anyone who has the remotest interest in this part of Europe’s history. The website has all the practical information anyone might need to visit the memorial when they are in the Vosges mountains.
When enjoying some of the most beautiful areas of France, of Europe – such as the Vosges mountains in the Alsace region, I think it is important that we are least mindful of some of the darker aspects of the continent’s history.
One of the buildings that housed a crematorium when the camp was in operation during World War II. Photograph by Lybil Ber on Wikipedia
Tomorrow, 27 January, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet troops in 1945. This anniversary had been variously observed by different groups and nationalities for some time, but it was only in November 2005 that the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 60/7 designated 27 January an international day of remembrance.
The abandoned railway station at Bobigny, Paris. Photograph by Jérémy Saint-Peyre on Flickr.
This week the national French railway company, SNCF, handed over to local officials the former railway station in the Paris suburb of Bobigny for the creation of a new memorial to the French victims of the Nazi concentration camps. Not only was the state-owned SNCF’s equipment and staff used to transport some 76,000 French and other European Jews to Germany, and on to various concentration camps, it was from the station in Bobigny that these final journeys began. Fewer than 3000 people are thought to have returned to France.
For the first time, SNCF last year expressed its “sorrow and regret” for the role the company played in the deportation of Jews during World War II.
There is no timetable for the construction of this new memorial. But when it is complete it will join the Mémorial de la Déportation on the Île de la Cité behind the Notre Dame Cathedral – looking out onto the waters of the Seine River.
The Île de la Cité is generally perceived to be the sacred center of France, and built on the site of a former mortuary, this is an appropriate place to remember the 200,000 people who were deported by the Nazis to their death in the concentration camps. This memorial is one of the most poignant memorials I have ever visited.
Standing behind the Notre Dame Cathedral you are abundantly aware of the hustle and bustle of a busy city all around you. You then descend a set of steps down on the very tip of the Île de la Cité, where you become surrounded by walls and the city all but disappears. You can still hear the sounds of the city, but you can only see the sky above and the river through the bars of window.
Another evocative part of the monument is a narrow chamber on which the walls have been covered by 200,000 crystals – each with light shining through them. Each one intended to represent the life of a French citizen who died in the concentration camps.
And, as with many other Holocaust memorial monuments, the exit of the chamber bears the words; Forgive but never forget.
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