St Tropez

Arriving early to ensure a parking space in this popular town we still struggled to find a place as the long line of traffic ahead of us snaked into town.

This very touristy town never fails to excite me. Today we had come to the marche, held only twice a week in the main square, where we and hundreds of other vied and jostled for space in the small lanes between the packed stalls.  

Produce of every kind is on offer, and the sounds of the smallholders shouting their wares is enticing you to part with your euros. Taking a breather from the mayhem we stopped at a cafe on the border of the marche and watched the world go by as we sat in peace for a while.


After checking out every stall (or so Amr told me I did!) we headed through the small alleyways of the old town, wondering, window shopping and noses in the air to the delightful smells of moules and other aromatic fish wafting out of restaurants.


As always all roads lead to the sea and we found ourselves on the famous seafront with those gorgeous coloured houses…


We found ourselves climbing upwards to the Citadelle de St Tropez, walking round outside the walls until we found the path ended, so we followed the example of three young guys and jumped over the wall to find ourselves back on the road and headed for the correct entrance to the Citadelle!


The Citadelle was interesting and the story of its history and the St Tropeziens was told as you walked the walls. Inside the castle was a seafaring museum, fascinating to one who has discovered his interest in model shipbuilding! There where lots of local exhibits and stories of local seafarers and was very well presented.



Winding back into the town the aromas got the better of us and we ate a decadent meal in one of the harbour front restaurants watching the life of St Tropez walking by….. locals who belong, Frenchmen and women on holiday, yachties and yacht crew, and those tourists who looked like rabbits in the headlights with it all!

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St Paul de Vence Medieval village and artists colony

Having spotted a walled village high on a hill close to our camp in Colle de Loup, but being unsure as to the name of the village we decided to follow our noses and winding upwards we eventually found ourselves at the medieval village of St Paul de Vence.



 At this point I remembered reading about the artists of St Paul. Obviously a popular tourist destination – by the number of tour buses pouring out the French tourists and the very full car small car park. Fortunately finding a space to park we made our way towards the town, passing the boules pitches, with boules just asking to be played, on the way.


 

The entrance to the village revealed beautifully artistic pavements.”…


We walked around the ramparts, with the rain last night the views were clear of the haze we have had for the last few days, and we could see as far as the sparkling Mediterranean sea and the mountains behind us. 


The walk round the perimeter of the town via the walls was quiet in the main and we marvelled at the views and old houses which held artists galleries of many descriptions, paintings, pottery, sculpture – modern, traditional and all stages between.


Venturing further into the shade of the town and the small alleyways there were lots of small restaurants doing a brisk trade and many different arty shops with only a few typical souvenir shops. 


 Busier now, with all those bus passengers vying to get their souvenirs before heading off to their next stop. 


There were sculptures and statues placed strategically around the town, 


one even looking as though it was about to dive of the walls! 


 All-in-all an interesting visit and despite the number of tourists not overly commercialised.


Aigues Mortes celebrate the Fête de St. Louis 

This small Camargue town is completely surrounded by huge castle walls, as we made our way from the car park alongside the boats bobbing about on the water it was obvious there was something special in the air.


 As we went through the gates of the town we discovered that it had been taken back to its medieval roots to celebrate the Fête de St Louis. Everywhere were tents and everyone was dressed in medieval attire. 


Even the visitors were dressed up, particularly the children who looked gorgeous in their outfits (modern days caution stoped me taking their photos). 


 There was clearly lots of effort gone into the celebrations the whole town was decorated and all the businesses were focused on the event. 


 Lots of warriors and their ladies walked the streets 



and there were displays of weaponry and day to day life with people explaining everything to the visitors. 



Musicians played to anyone who listened, and troops of dancers encouraged visitors to join them in their dances.


 

One thing which brought us back to modern day with a bump was the amount of obvious security patrolling the event. Gendarmes, private security and army with their guns at the ready. The question really is, does this make one feel more or less secure? 

Clermont-Ferrand and the Regional Nature Park of the Auvergne Volcanoes,

The dark volcanic steeples of the cathedral of Norte Dame in Claremont-Ferrand can be seen for mile as you approach the city. 

We were heading into the city for the marche and bread from a tiny but fabulous boulangerie we found on our last visit.  


It seems the marche was elusive or we had the wrong day, however we found the boulangerie and Amr emerged looking like he had won the lottery with his ‘pain de puys’. It is the lightest centred, crispest crust bread we have ever eaten.


Wandering the small streets and its small individual shops we always seemed to find our way back to the cathedral.


 Entering it from the heat outside it was a cool respite, and what a treat. 


 The it is renowned for the stained glass windows, and they are amazing, with the sunlight flooding through they really lit up the workmanship and stories depicted in them.


Back out in to the heat we headed for Mont Dore. The whole area is part of the Regional Nature Park of the Auvergne Volcanoes, and everywhere is dotted with ‘puys’ or old volcanoes which provide lots of walking areas.


Approaching the town from above you see it spread out before you in the valley below. 


 Parking up and walking into the small centre laced with restaurants and souvenir shops the whole atmosphere is very ‘alpine’ you could be mistaken for being in the Swiss alps! That said it is a popular skinning area in the winter.


Heading back to camp Amr spotted the puy (hill) he decided we were to climb the following day!

So pre-warned, the following day we headed to the puy ready for our hike. Fortunately not as hot or sunny as the day before we made our way upwards, and upwards….. stopping every few hundred yards ‘to admire the view’!


The path was lined with electric wires to prevent you wandering off path or the local cows wandering onto it.


 With all the beautiful views around, what does an electrical engineer find fascinating? How the connections are made on the electric wire and pointing out one which has been wired incorrectly!!!


We managed to make it to the top eventually and were rewarded with 360 degree views.


Heading homeward we stopped at the Lac de Chambon where everyone was enjoying the fresh but cool looking water. 


 Then the Chateau Morel but decided we were too tired to visit so satisfied ourselves with photos from the road above!


Around the whole area churches and chateaux are atop the puys surrounded by houses looking like mother hens with their chicks! 


However one such hill has a beautiful white statue which can be seen for miles around. 


The village of Veyre-Monton has the statue of the Vierge de Monton standing proud with 360 degree views of the whole area. As we wound our way through the village it was full of people preparing for the following days festival ‘Pelerinage de Notre Dame de Monton’ where there would be a procession from the church through the village and up to the statue.


 Sadly we would miss the opportunity as we would be travelling south to our next (overnight) stop in Arles. But we did get to see the Vierge  without anyone else around!

Amboise, the Chateau and the Marché

Well, we are in the Loire, so chateau visiting is a must do. So we headed for Amboise. Nearing the town we noted that it was heavy traffic, remembering it was Sunday ( for those still working I should perhaps explain … you forget the days when retired!) and summertime so to be expected we thought. So after a while seeking a parking space we noticed that actually it’s market day. What an unexpected bonus, I do love a French marche! 


 A good browse round the vast number of stalls revealed fruit and veg, plants and flowers, so many cheeses, olives, bread, local wines, sausages and meats, chicken roasting in a van with huge queues waiting for them to be ready. All mixed with bric-a-brac stalls, homemade goods, clothing, haberdashery…. so much choice, you could basically get all your heart desires in a good French marche! well almost!


Leaving the marche behind we made our way to the chateau. Its not a huge one like some we have visited but what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality. The gardens and grounds surrounding the chateau are superb and from its raised position above the town it gave us great views of the town, river Loire and the countryside beyond. 


 Whilst there were quite a lot of people around it did not feel crowded or busy so we could take our time to enjoy the views before making our way inside the chateau itself.

 Well preserved or restored it looks like only yesterday the royals and aristocrats were living here. Vibrant colours and solid furniture abound. 

The guide gives a good description of each room which adds interest and intrigue to the visit. 

Interestingly, whilst the today west are trying to eradicate young marriages in the Middle East, at the time of the chateaux in France being occupied by aristocracy, marriage at 14 was commonplace.


Leonardo da Vinci lived here at some point, and also had a chateau down the road, he is buried in the grounds.


After finishing our visit, and a humongous ice cream we made our way back to the car. 

 Almost by magic the market had disappeared, and you wouldn’t know that there had been anything there just a short while ago!

Montrichard and the Donjon

Not wanting to overdo the chateau viewing we opted to drive to Montrichard on the Cher river to see the medieval village and ruined castle. The guidebook suggested arriving from the south to gain benefit of the best views, so although from the direction of travel we arrived from the east, we drove out south so we could turn round and get the views!
We were not disappointed, the old arched bridge over the river led you to view the town with the church overlooking it and the castle majestically up above. We learned later that as the castle fell into ruin parts of it had actually collapsed into the church.


After a relaxing stop for coffee in the central square we made our way through the small town and found ourselves quickly at the entrance to the Museum and Donjon. 


 For only a 5 euro entrance we were surprised at what was on offer. Firstly we made our way into the museum, which was about life in France and contained loads of information well displayed, as well as lots of typical daily scenes of people through he ages. The various sets of stairs taking us further and further downwards.  Fair enough the models weren’t Madame Tussards standard but you got the picture!


Following on from the museum we entered the Round Tower, which was an amazing collection of anthropology, archeology, palaeontology and a whole room dedicated to milling of corn etc from around the word. Whilst we were given information to read in English, we found there was lots more to read had our French been better – a lot better!  


The way up further to the castle gave us lovely views over the town, river and countryside beyond. 


However that’s was as far as viewing the castle got!


  There was lots of information describing the castle but it was closed off, obviously ruined it appears not to be too safe either, which was a pity.

Chateau Chaumont and Festival Gardens

Venturing eastwards to Chaumont to explore the chateau we purchased the additional ticket to the Festival Gardens. What a treat. Acres of beautiful gardens set out in a huge parkland which is the Goualoup Park and each designed by a different artist and all full of colour, butterflies and bees. 


 

In another area, which I can only describe as an RHS flower show without the crowds or commerce, multiplied substantially in size, more gardens with lots of surprises (and a few more families!!) 


We were awed and delighted as well as surprised by the ingenious ways the separate gardens had been set out and displayed. The use of mirrors in some intriguing.


 Having thought that it would be a visit of a couple of hours we spent hours just wandering the gardens before moving on to the chateau!  



Situated above the Loire the position of the chateau lends itself to beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and river. 


 The chateau itself was rather confusing from the outset! Usually when visiting an attraction you end up on the way out in the gift shop, here you start off in the gift shop!  


We discovered as we made our way around that the main focus of the visit is intended to be the various modern artworks on display, often in strange ways! One thing we found enjoyable was being able to view the rooms and contents without the restriction of ropes and barriers as is so usual. It almost felt naughty walking round the furniture!  


Although signposted we kind of kept going off at a tangent up and down stairs and resulting in a feeling that we had missed bits as we ended up elsewhere. One lot of stairs led up upward to what I assumed to have been servants quarters at one time but now held ‘junk’ which was on display, old bits of armour, chairs awaiting repair, old trunks of clothes, shelves of china and pots and pans, each room with a weird stained glass piece of art hung randomly. Guess i’m not a fan of modern art!


Downstairs in the kitchen there was a huge ‘artwork’ of logs stood on end each with an old church bell attached filling the floor space. The kitchen itself had been stripped other than a huge aga along the length of the wall. Small rooms off the main area were obviously cold store rooms and interesting in themselves but no indication as to what they were, such a wasted opportunity I felt.


After exiting the chateau the same way we entered we found ourselves in the stables. Yet more artwork on display but beautifully kept (or restored) stables show how revered the horses living there must have been, even with their own kitchen. The tack room would be the envy of any equestrian (Liz Dobson!).


Whilst it was a nice chateau, it’s piece de resistance is definitely the gardens.