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Our recent trip to France in April 2011 - part two of three

New French vistas, villages and visits in the Southeast of France


Besides the events we attended this trip (part one),  we also planned to see a number of places/villages we still hadn't visited in France but even at those we had visited before we managed to find something new about them. Without our kids, we were able to explore quite a deal in a short period of time, although I am sure David would have preferred sitting back in our house in our lovely village of Pouzauges in the southwest potentially, but he would be there soon enough for the tour!

On our first whirlwind European tour we drove on the main coast  through Nice, only stopping briefly to be bemused that the beach had stones instead of sand. This time I got to spend a couple of days there to use Nice as a base to attend the Monte Carlo tennis masters. The pedestrian cafe/shopping streets, boardwalk and even beach were pleasant but I still prefer Cannes out of the two.

One of the highlights and cheapest things to do around this area is to get the train from Nice to Monte Carlo. It is a 20 minute, few euro ride which takes you along some of the best coastline France has to offer - at many points you are right next to the water much closer than the still impressive coast road. Provencal perched villages can then be found on the other side of the tracks.

Monaco was very much as I remembered it from 20 years earlier but not sure how last time I missed the Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace de Monaco outdoor laned swimming pool with diving platform, right next to the harbour with its many billion dollars worth of yachts moored  - they were filling the pool the day I was there and setting up stands for the upcoming Formula One race.

When David arrived we headed for Marseille. Even though it is only 45 minutes from Isle sur la Sorgue and we had flown many times into the airport, we had never been to centre ville/the old port area. I had heard from others about it being seedy but could see no evidence of this. It was one of the best French towns I have been to. The harbour area was abuzz in the mornings with fisherman selling their catches and there was even an old lady selling live snails - how French! At lunch and dinner the seafood restaurants come alive. The boats in the port are surrounded by great old buildings with an ancient fort at the harbour entry and a church on the hill behind it - from that church you get the best view of the white stone Marseille old town; almost as good as the view from our hotel balcony...


Just around the corner from the old port area is the beach - while it might be a little rocky for us Aussies, the French don't seem to mind not having sandy plage. The state of the beaches did improve and we found a number of nice places along the coast from Marseille to Toulon including Cassis, La Bandol and La Ciotat where we stopped for lunch. I had seen this place while on the train from Nice to Marseille - the town was unmistakable with its huge bolderous hills in between the port and ocean. It had a colourful, active working port as evidenced by the cranes and swordfish being cut up.

After a lovely seafood lunch in a harbourside restaurant filled with local French people (always a good sign), we made it to Toulon in enough time for a quick stroll through the street stalls and drink while we waited for the gates to open to the Corsican car ferry (bottom right to the right of David's head).
 

The overnight ferry trip was surprisingly pleasant. For a start the boat was more like a cruise ship with nine levels, a dance floor, bars and reasonably sized, comfortable cabins - the price was roughly the same as a 2-3 star hotel room.

We arrived in Corsica/Corse in the capital of Ajaccio and headed along the windy steeply mountainous coast road - pretty much this describes all roads in Corsica I think: the island is one big beautiful mountain range after another. Soon on our first uphill trek, we discovered an abandoned old stone house. It had views of the ocean and mountains behind - one of the mysteries of France that such glorious buildings can just be left to rot like this.

It was walking around this house that I saw my first poppy this trip. These had been my planned feature of our visit, geared around being on the Western front for ANZAC day where I pictured red poppies strewn across the once battlefields in remembrance of those who gave their lives.

    

After driving for an hour or so we came across the cute little village of Piana - from there the coast road was one of the most spectacular we have ever seen. The road was so narrow and the Calanche red cliffs so steep overlooking the Porto Golfe. The drive through the Foret de Piana to Porto was beautiful but difficult as you swerved to avoid avid French forest walkers on the road. Porto was a great stop for lunch overlooking the rocks, bay and fort. The Renault car club also pulled up for lunch as part of their tour then we saw the cutest little old yellow deuxchevaux on the side of the next mountain road.

We continued on to Calvi which was our scheduled overnight stop and what a great choice without knowing much about Corsica before we left. It was a seaside port looking up to the citadel on the hill on one side and the snow capped mountains behind.

 

All of the above fantastic places are within easy reach of our place in Isle sur la Sorgue. When I was there, this time the weather was just about the best France has seen in April, low to mid 20's with the sun shining. The outdoor sections of cafes next to our place were packed!

Since we had been last, our neighbours had put plants outside their place so I decided to do the same and add some geraniums to the planter box which one of our tenants had put greenery in.  

You can see the geraniums which should last all summer if you take up our extended summer special:
book by the end of June for any 2011 summer stays (til end Sept) and pay only the low season price.    This is a 20% saving paying only $795 a week: www.frenchdesire.com.au/french-property-rental/isls  

Stay tuned next month for definitely the last part of our trip story... (part 3 of 3)

Sharon

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