Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Mercantour National Park

The Mercantour National Park on the northern edge of Provence runs along the border with Italy north west of Sospel, and hosts over 400,000 visitors per year.

Covering around close to 700 square kilometres, the Mercantour National Park is a largely uninhabited  area covering the valleys of the Roya, Haut Var/Cians, Verdon, Bévéra, Vésubie, Tinée and Ubaye - plus a handful of  villages, mostly set in stunning locations perched on hills or outcrops of rock.

The scenery in the Mercantour Park is sensational, and is acknowledged as the best in France.  Its mountains, snow capped from November to March and with views down to the sparkling Meditaerranean make this a very popular place to visit at any time of the year.  Walking and hiking in summer and skiing in the winter are the normal pastimes.  Alongside the mountains are numerous rivers and lakes offering a variety of habitats for animals and a massive range of flora and fauna.

10 kms hike from the Les Mesces Refuge takes you into the Valléedes Merveilles scene of many 3,000 year-old rock carvings of people and animals. Most visitors to the area base themselves in one of the towns on or near Sospel along the south of the park, for instance St-Martin-de-Entraunes, St-Sauveur-sur-Tinée, St-Etienne-de-Tinée and St-Martin-Vésubie. The road here goes up to 2800 metres and is one of the highest in Europe at the Cime de la Bonette.

Wolves have been reintroduced from Italy into the mountainous region, on in the Massif du Mercantour, but this development has not been universally welcomed by the few hardy hill farmers who still tend their flocks and exercise the old tradition of transhumance, where sheep are taken up in the mountains in summer and then down into the valleys in winter for grazing. Sheep can be targeted by wolves, but wolves also serve  useful service in keeping the wild dog population in check. Wolves died out France in the 1930s, but the represent no danger to humans, the will run away if they haven't seen you first, which they invariably do.

Winter is very different and then the focus turns to skiing, with several ski stations opening for visitors as early as December,  the best know among these is Isola 2000 a purpose built station lacking real alpine charm but with fantastic skiing facilities.

The walking and hiking opportunities here are vast and you can find Randonee (French for hiking)  maps in most villages, and this is what the Mercantour National Park is used for in summer.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Cannes and Monaco Madness

This week we are in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival and waiting for the Monaco Grand Prix which starts this weekend. The Cote d'Azur is alive and buzzing with international clients, celebrities and the F1 teams setting up in Monaco.

The red carpet is being rolled and un-rolled in front of the Palais des Festivals and La Croisette is home to the worlds press camped on the pavements, waiting for that all important shot...

And in Monaco, the circuit is complete and the pit lanes and filled with the noise of engines being tuned - albeit rather more quietly this year.

This is a great time to visit the Cote d'Azur, the weather is specatcular, the season is just beginning and there is so much to see and do.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Discover Theoule sur Mer South of France

Theole sur Mer is the picture perfect Riviera seaside village situated between St Tropez and Cannes, but closer to Cannes. It has wonderful sandy beaches, one of which allows nude bathing, from Pointe de l'Aiguille and Pointe St-Marc, some great beach restaurants such as the Marco Polo, huge rocky escarpments, loads of water sports and is ideal for swimming.  Fabulous views both up to the mountains behind or from the mountains over the village and the sparkling Mediterranean sea.  It is sheltered by those Esterel Mountains behind, which are fantastic in the summer as they offer some shade on the beaches in the late afternoons, but have the effect of making it a bit less sunny in the afternoons in winter, although none the less beautiful for all that in the winter months.

The small harbour is delightful, with its red rock lighthouse standing out and there are other fascinating buildings here such as the crenellated castle château des Mineurs which was originally used as a soap factory and is now accommodation.  The walks are also very beautiful, but more of a hike than a walk given the mountains (the Grosses Grues is 440 metres in altitude, that's nearly 1400 feet high) that surround this ancient village which can trace its history back to the 5th century, having always been a safe haven port.
The drive along the coast in the direction of St Tropez if one of the most beautiful in the world, with its rocky outcrops, untamed sea and the sparkling blue waters, set against the backdrop of the mountains, which are covered in bright yellow mimosa in January and February make this a truly breathtaking spectacle.
 Continuing on you come to Agay, a sleepy beach village much beloved by campers and then on to the delights of St Raphael and if you feel the need St Tropez.

In the other direction is Mandelieu La Napoule and the Cannes, There are a number of restaurants in Mandelieu and two very nice golf courses, the Riviera and The Mandelieu Old Course, which is particularly pretty as most of the fairways are made up of parasol pines and it is close to the sea.

Cannes itself is a fantastic vibrant festival town.  The Cannes Film Festival takes place in May each year and attracts film stars and media types from all over the world who swarm around the Palais des Festivals and fill up the Carlton, The Martinez and the Majestic hotels, plus most of the others as well.  the shopping here is delightful if you are a designer hound, Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and many others have shops here, most often on the Croisette, the road along the sea front and the beach restaurants are amongst the best in the world. The old town of Le Sucquet has any number of great restaurants as well, especially those congregated up the Rue St Antoine, the road that winds up from the port area to the old town.

Monday, 5 May 2014

St Remy de Provence Holiday villas to Rent

St Remy De Provence is a beautiful Provencal village nestled deep in the French countryside, located to the east of Arles, the south of Avignon and the west of Salon De Provence.  The area is outstanding for its natural beauty and St Remy de Provence is a gem of a village, almost totally un-spoilt by the vagaries of time.

It has a famous connection with the painter Vincent Van Gogh who loved this village and the surrounding area.  He featured it in over 150 of his works, a significant part of his entire output, and a reflection of the beauty that many artists in addition to Van Gogh discovered in this area. Indeed probably overcome with its beauty he received psychiatric treatment at the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole, a 16th century
Enjoy a guided visit featuring Van Gogh, Nostradamus and the Glanum site, but if your requirements are slightly less high brow, then walking and hiking are available along with tennis, swimming, horse riding, petanque (the local name for the game of boule) and even fishing. For most of the year there are daily festivals, markets and other events for visitor’s entertainment.

Remy St Provence is a fascinating little place.  Leafy squares, ancient cobbled streets, alcoves and archways enclose a myriad of commercial establishments, offering art galleries, craft out lets, elegant boutiques, lovely restaurants, old fountains and cafe's throughout the village.  It is a leafy and lush environment with a long history of olive production in the area. It stands on one of the oldest archeological sites in Europe, with the third century "Comptoir de Glanum" predating the Roman influence by over 700 years. The "Grand Thermes" predates even the 3rd century ruins, claiming to be 10 -30 years BC, when they claim that the thermal waters were harnessed for local use, although I believe that is unlikely. There are however 2 official French monuments, the "L'Arc De Triomphe" and the "Mausolee des Antiques"

Nearby are some other Provencal villages which merit a visit.  By far the most popular, receiving a reputed 1.5 million visitors a year is nearby Les Baux De Provence, with no less than 22 historic monuments to see.  It also has a vast array of wonderful little shops selling crafts and the inevitable olives, but also some very elegant boutiques and a number of galleries and art shops.  Set above the Provencal plane at 245 metres above sea level, that's around 750 feet, it has the moat spectacular views over the Provence countryside.  Another village worth a visit is Maussane, one of the most important olive oil growing and producing areas in the whole of France.

To get to St Remy De Provence requires a car. There is precious little public transport in the area, and its remoteness from any major towns, whilst a godsend if you are looking for peace and quiet, can be a problem if you are not independently mobile.  Flying to the area, the nearest airport is Nimes, but that has only 3 regular destinations, Brussels, London Luton and Liverpool, all courtesy of our Irish friends Ryanair. There are other airports a little further away offering flights to many European destination, at Toulon and Marseilles, but international flights are rare unless you go to Nice, under 2 hours drive away, which has daily flights to Montreal, New York and almost every major European city.