Road Trip Across the Glamorous French Riviera

The Glamorous Côte d'Azur

Alejandro and I went on a road trip adventure with two friends across the French Riviera. Explore the glamorous Côte D’Azur region with us and find out more about cities like Nice, Monte Carlo, Cannes or Avignon.

Nice

Interesting facts about the city:

Nice has only been part of France since 1860, when Italy reluctantly gave the city up to repay France for helping defend itself from the Austrians.

Nice’s beaches are unusual – they are not sandy, they are filled with smooth stones that come from the mouth of the Var and Paillon rivers.

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For this trip, we decided to do a road trip in the south of France. We landed in Nice and rented a car at the airport with Sixt. We paid €245 for 7 days, including basic insurance. Everything went well, but at some point, we saw that the windshield had a small scratch but, fortunately, they never noticed it and our deposit was fully returned.

Nice is incredibly beautiful! From the whole trip, it was one of my favorite cities. Nice is the capital of the Cote D’Azur, and thousands of tourists from across the globe travel to this charming, historic and beautiful french city. Many world-famous celebrities have chosen the city as the location for a holiday home, including Elton John, Tina Turner, Keith Richards, and Bono, just to name a few

We arrived at night and booked two nights at the Villa Calliste, paying €285 for two rooms. The place was amazing! It was this big house with big balconies and a backyard with nice trees, a trampoline, a table, and a big BBQ. The owner was a friendly French guy who helped us a lot with everything we needed.

The next morning we went to Menton and Monaco (will talk about it below), and when we got back, we decided to take advantage of the backyard of our Villa and did a barbecue there. It was super nice! The food was amazing and we had music, drinks… it was fun!

On our second day, before heading up to Montpellier, the owner of the Villa had some bicycles there and let us use them for free. It nice riding a bike again, I surely missed it 🙂 We drove all the way to the closest beach and stopped there to go for a quick swim. This beach was not one of the most famous ones in Nice, but we loved it!

After our bike ride, we visited the thriving Promenade des Anglais, which hugs 7 km of the gorgeous coastline in the South of France. It takes its name from the English tourists who would promenade along the sea. Among the celebrated Brits that fancied Nice were Queen Victoria or Winston Churchill.

The historic Old Town is very nice as well. We walked around the old town, and one of my favourite sites was a fountain called Fountain of the Sun,  which was surrounded by a nice square – Place Masséna – and a nice garden – Jardin Albert I.

The Iron Man world championship competition was taking place there on that day. There were thousands of people from all over the world watching and/or competing. Connected to this fountain is the Avenue Jean Médecin, the main commercial street of the city. We went there as well to do some shopping.

We only had time to go for a swim in the Plage des Ponchettes on one of our last days, before catching the plane back to Malta. The beaches of Nice are rocky, which, among tourists is considered both positive and negative. Some people hate it and others love it. You don’t get sand between your toes, however, laying on the beach is very hard. I personally hated it! The waves were huge and the stones made it more difficult to enter or leave the water, and laying down was too uncomfortable.

Before leaving Nice we went close to the ‘I Love Nice’ sign to take some pics. There were a lot of asian tourists there, queuing for their alone-time with the sign, so it was quite difficult for us to do it.


Menton

Interesting facts about the city:

Menton, located at the Italian border, is nicknamed “The Pearl of France“.

The lemon became the symbol of the city, since it is the only region in France where, thanks to a unique microclimate, lemon trees grow. Also, since sixty-five years, the lemon festival takes place in the city.

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As I mentioned before, on our first full day in France we went to Menton. This city is situated on the French Riviera along the Franco-Italian border, 30km from Nice and 170km from Genoa (Italy).

A general view of the historic part of Menton from the seafront gives the appearance of a perched village. The narrow streets of the old town are bordered with the ochre façades of tall houses and are often dark, winding and vaulted. They are linked by covered passages (such as Traverse Saint-Miche) or reach cool little squares.

The campanile of St. Michel Church proudly soars above the steep narrow lanes and pastel-shaded façades of the historic old town, squeezed between two bays. From the seafront, a succession of majestic flight of steps leads up to the cobbled parvis of the church. It was a quick stop due to the small size of the city, but definetely worth it!


Monaco

Interesting facts about the city:

Almost 30% of the population of Monaco was a millionaire in 2014, similar to Zurich or Geneva. Monaco doesn’t allow its own citizens to enter casinos in the country.

Monaco was never a part of France despite its long history and geographical intimacy with France.

Three of James Bond Films have been shot here in Monte-Carlo Casino. The casino was opened in Monaco 153 years ago, in 1863.

Monaco Grand Prix is one of the main events that the country hosts every year. If you are curious about the winner of the event, note that “Ayrton Senna” has won the Grand Prix 6 times, more than any other race car driver.

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After Menton, we headed back to Nice but, before that, we made a quick stop in Monaco. Monaco, officially the Principality of Monaco, is a sovereign city-state, country, and microstate on the French Riviera. The principality stretches for only 2 square kilometers but, what it may lack in size, it certainly makes up for in style! This is one of the most affluent spots in the world as well as being blessed with an abundance of nature.

The old part of Monaco sits on a high rock called Le Rocher. We climbed all the way up and visited the Palais du Prince, where the prince lives. The views are really nice from there!

Close to the palace was the Monaco Cathedral. However, I couldn’t enter because of my clothes, as they didn’t offer anything to put on and cover your shoulders. Next to the Cathedral were Les Jardins Saint-Martin. These gardens are known for a memorial statue of Prince Albert I. The gardens skirt along the coast and take you along the Le Rocher coastline.

Of course, we couldn’t miss the main spot – the worldwide famous Casino de Monte Carlo. We saw a lot of fancy cars outside, for sure there were a lot of rich people there. We went inside and actually spent like 5 euros each, playing slot machines, just to get the experience. Needless to say, we all lost our money! Next to the casino was another impressive building, the Opera de Monte Carlo.

It was very nice to see the luxury of this tiny country. Even the tunnels where we drove looked like they had diamonds on the floor! We left Monaco feeling poor, but definetely amazed.


Montpellier

Interesting facts about the city:

The University of Montpellier is one of the world’s oldest universities, established in 1289 by William VII.

Montpellier is the 8th largest City in France. It is now the fastest growing city in France over the last half-century – as well as one of the most multicultural – more than doubling in size from 119,000 in 1962.

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On our third day we drove all the way to Montpellier. From Nice to Montpellier it was a 3h30 drive, quite a lot – specially for people who are now used to drive in the small Maltese islands! We arrived at night and stayed at my sister’s place.

It was so nice to see my sister Isabel again, after 6 or 7 years without seeing each other! I can’t believe we spent that much time apart, time just flies! I haven’t seen any of my siblings since I moved to Malta, almost 3 years ago, which is a shame.

My sister looks very nice! She’s 50 something years old but she looks younger now than the last time I saw her. It’s nice to see that she built a nice career path for herself. She’s now the owner of a real state agency chain, and travels a lot to check on what her employees are doing.

She lives in Dijon, like most of my siblings. However, she just bought a house in Montpellier and, luckily, she was still in Montpellier to finish decorating the place by the time we got there – which, by the way, was amazing – in order to rent it out to some students. My nephew (her son) lives next door so I also got to see him and his kids, which was cool!

The next day we explored the city. We started at Promenade du Peyrou. This is the part of the city that goes from the elegant Arc de Triomphe to the magnificent Château d’eau. It is the work of Etienne Giral and his son Jean-Antoine, although the castle-like building with Corinthian pillars that stands on top of the romantic pond was designed by Henri Pitot in 1768.

Behind it visitors will be able to observe one of Montpellier’s Roman aqueducts, a wonderful work of art that is beautifully preserved to this day. In this Promenade there was a flea market and we had some fun seeing the old stuff that people were selling.

We visited Place de la Comédie, this big central square. The imposing building at one end of the square is the city’s Opera, and there are also many cute French cafes and cinemas lining the sides. At another end there is a shopping mall with some exciting French stores, and in front lies the Esplanade, a beautiful green area where there is a relaxing pond.

We also saw the Cathedrale St Pierre. The city’s cathedral is spectacular. It was founded in 1364 although it was only declared a cathedral in the 16th century.

After visiting the city, we headed back to say goodbye to my sister and then continued our road trip, heading to the city of Nîmes.


Nîmes

Interesting facts about the city:

Nimes is sometimes called the ‘French Rome’. It was founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago. It has several well-known roman monument: the Arena, the Maison Carree and the Pont-du-Gard Aquaduc.

It is one of the few places in France where corridas are organized. It has also a very famous festival every summer for one month called ‘La Feria’.

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This city was nicknamed the ‘Emperor Augustus’ daughter’. This old Roman colony was built in 30 BC and has a wealth of sites considered as the best preserved in Europe.

In the city centre is the impressive Les Arènes, the Imperial oval-shaped Amphitheatre that the Romans built to hold their games. Twice a year, the arena pulses to the rhythm of Nimes revered tradition: bullfights. Close to the arena there’s a statue representing these bullfights.

Right next to the arena, is the Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle, a handsome open space, trimmed with plane trees hackberries, and decorated with the marble Fontaine Pradier, which was added in 1851.

Another monument left by the Romans was La Maison Carrée, which we also visited. This temple was designed after the Apollo Temple in Rome.

We went to the Nîmes Cathedral as well. There has been a religious building right here since the Roman temple of Augustus, and the northwest tower and a few arches on the facade were constructed in the 1100s. They are all that survived the French Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, so the rest of the building has a 19th century neo-gothic design, while the interior also got a neo-byzantine overhaul.

We finished our small tour around Nîmes with a visit to Les Jardins de la Fontaine. The gardens sit at the foot of the Nemausus fountain, that gave its name to Nîmes.  These gardens date back to the 18th century. Some Roman ruins were uncovered — a sanctuary, Roman baths, an antique theatre and a temple of Diana. Truly beautiful!

After visiting Nîmes, we decided to make a quick stop at Pont du Gard. The magnificent aqueduct traverses the Gardon River.

Pont du Gard is the most astonishing section of the aqueduct, standing at almost 50 metres, with three tiers of arches.


Avignon

Interesting facts about the city:

During the Middle Ages, the city was the seat of the popes, from 1309 to 1377. The Palais des Papes is still the largest Gothic palace in the world.

The Avignon Bridge is perhaps best-known as the subject of a children’s rhyme, “Sur le Pont D’Avignon.” The bridge, which was built during the 12th century, is fallen into ruins. Today, less than half of the original bridge remains, extending only halfway through the Rhone River.

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Our next stop was Avignon, the city of Popes. Located in the lush vineyards of the Rhone Valley, the ancient walled city and university town of Avignon is rich in history, artistic brilliance, and Provencal life.

When the popes moved from Rome in the Middle Ages, the city of Avignon became the capital of Christendom. This is illustrated in the churches, chapels, convents, and ornately decorated buildings and monuments all around Avignon.

We arrived at night and stayed at 23 Rue Carreterie and paid €132 for an apartment for one night. At night the city looked a bit dangerous. In fact, I stayed alone in the car while the rest tried to look for the hotel, and while I was alone, two young guys tried to enter the car! It was a bit scary but thankfully the car was locked and nothing happened.

The next morning we went to explore the city. First and main stop – the Palais de Popes. This is the grandest and most opulent of the religious attractions from the Middle Ages. Built in the 14th century, the Palace of Popes sits at the highest point in Avignon, a white granite majesty that rivals St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Originally built between 1350 and 1370, Avignon’s ramparts, or protective walls, give the city its defining architectural aesthetic. Within the walls there’s a wealth of museums, 17th and 18th-century mansions, and botanical gardens.

We also visited Saint-Benezet Bridge, the famous Pont d’Avignon. Sur le Pont d’ Avignon is a famous 15th century French nursery-rhyme song that commemorates Avignon’s Saint-Benezet Bridge.

This bridge was built between 1177 and 1185. It was abandoned in the mid-17th century as the arches tended to collapse each time the Rhône flooded making it very expensive to maintain. Four arches and the gatehouse at the Avignon end of the bridge have survived. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas sits on the second pier of the bridge.

After Avignon, we drove to Marseille, a city that Alejandro and I had already visited together two years ago.


Marseille

Interesting facts about the city:

Marseille is the second-largest city in France after Paris and the centre of the third-largest metropolitan area in France after Paris and Lyon.

One of the funniest fact about Marseille is that it was founded in 600 B.C. by Greeks from Focea, which is actually Turkey. Maybe this is why the city looks a bit Turkish.

It has the biggest commercial port in France. The port is one of the most important ones in the Mediterranean.

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It was my second time in the city but it was nice going back to the main places and trying to collect the memories from the previous visit.

We started off by visiting the Old Port, with the nice boats. The real industry has long moved to the modern docks in the north, and most of the boats in the old port are just for the views. Then, we walked all the way from the Old Port to the Cathédrale La Major.

Before leaving Marseille, we also visited the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. This is a 19th-century neo-Byzantine church 150 metres above the water, with a large golden statue of the Virgin and Child at the top of its tower to watch over Marseille’s maritime communities. The views from up here is jaw-dropping!

After a full day of sightseeing, we finished off the day in Aix-en-Provence.


Aix-en-Provence

Interesting facts about the city:

Aix-en-Provence is famous for being home to Cézanne, French artist and Post-Impressionist painter.

Provence has been producing wines for over 2,000 years – specially rose wine. This region is known for its fantastic wine productions!

To some, there’s nothing that epitomises the appeal of Provence more than the purple rows of lavender that pepper the landscape every summer in the famous lavender fields.

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We arrived to Aix-en-Provence at night and stayed at Hôtel Le Mozart. We paid €181 for two rooms for one night. Thankfully we decided to visit the city that night, because the following day it started to rain a lot and we couldn’t visit anything at all!

We started our visit in Cours Mirabeau. This avenue has a wide walkway shaded by rows of lush plane trees, and is replete with mansions and restaurants that were the haunts of French cultural icons like Camus, Cézanne and Zola.

On the western limit is La Rotonde, possibly the most beautiful of Aix’ fountains, while the strangest,  La Fontaine d’Eau Chaude is fed by a host spring, is covered with moss and creates a delicate mist on cold winter days.

Then we wandered along the charming narrow streets of Old Aix. These streets have gorgeous architecture, charming markets, unexpected historical flourishes and the constant feeling that you’re walking in the shoes of great artists and writers.

It’s a heady concoction, so you could use the city’s famous fountains as the basis for your tour. Many of these are Roman springs and have been hydrating Aix for thousands of years, even if their design has changed.

In the middle of Old Aix, we found the Aix Cathedral. Arriving at this monument you’ll see right away how Aix Cathedral blends different styles and eras. To the left is the gothic portal with beautiful sculpture and the Virgin with Child in the centre. But next door to this is the romanesque entrance from the 1100s, which joins onto a much older Roman wall, believed to have belonged to a temple to Apollo.

I fell in love with this city from the very first moment we arrived! After visiting the city centre, we stopped at a bar to drink some cocktails and I felt at home. I heard some University students doing games and drinking, and it reminded me of the ‘praxe’ and my time as a student in Porto.

The next day we were supposed to visit the rest of the city and then go to St. Tropez afterwards. However, since the heavy rain didn’t stop for a minute, we decided to stop at Ikea and Primark in a city called Toulon and do some shopping indoors. Then, we carefully drove back to Cannes.


Cannes

Interesting facts about the city:

The mysterious and iconic Man in the Iron Mask spent 11 years of his isolated life on the island belonging to the commune of Cannes, Just a 15-minute ferry ride from the main city.

The Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 classic “To Catch a Thief” shows a Riviera cat burglar in the Carlton Hotel. It was during the film shoot that Hollywood star Grace Kelly actually met Prince Rainier, ruler of Monaco, who then became her husband.

The famous Cannes International Film Festival takes place in the city every year. It was founded in 1939, but it had to be stopped by the war and it only returned in 1946.

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When we arrived in Cannes that night, the rain stopped and it didn’t rain again until the end of our trip. We were lucky! In Cannes we stayed at Zenitude Hotel-Residences Le Cannet. We booked two rooms for two nights and paid €342 in total.

At night we didn’t know where to go for dinner so we ended up going to a supermarket and buying lots of finger food and tapas and a bottle of wine, and made an amazing candle-light improvised dinner outside in our balcony. It was cheaper and much nicer than going out to a fancy restaurant for sure!

The next day we explored the city for a bit, before going to the beach. We started the visit in Marche Forville. Every day of the week, except on Monday, you can visit this colourful food market. After the market, we explored the narrow pitouresque streets of the city centre.

Then we visited the La Croisette, where you can find Palais des Festivals, the location of the world-renowned Cannes International Film Festival.

La Croisette is exactly like the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it is one of the most iconic streets in France and it certainly dominates Cannes. This is where you’ll find all the smartest hotels, many of which have their own private beaches.

After visiting the city, we stopped in one of the public beaches – Plage du Midi – and went for a relaxing swim. The temperature of the water was ok and the color of the water was super clear and beautiful! After this, we went again to Nice and swam there as well, but to be honest this beach in Cannes was much nicer than the one in Nice, as this one was sandy, not rocky.


Antibes

Interesting facts about the city:

Antibes was originally a Greek trading post known as Antipolis and it became heavily fortified over the centuries.

Musée Picasso is the first museum in the world dedicated to the artist Pablo PicassoPicasso has done much for Antibes’ reputation, and he was not the only famous painter that lived in Antibes: Claude Monet is another good example.

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After an entire day exploring beaches in Cannes and Nice, we finished off the day in Antibes. This stop was not in our initial plans, but we were looking for a special place to go for dinner and this place seemed super nice (and not that far).

We visited the city centre a bit. We saw the Château Grimaldi, the site of the Musée Picasso, was home to Picasso for six months in 1946. He himself donated a number of paintings to the museum, and the rest were given by his wife after Picasso’s death. Visitors today can see 254 works by Picasso, as well as enjoy the beautiful building and setting on the Cap itself.

In a beautiful location on the Baie des Anges, the Old Town is an inviting place to wander at a leisurely pace. The narrow, winding cobblestone streets are filled with little boutiques, gourmet food shops, cafés, and restaurants. With its seaside views, stone buildings, elegant fountains, and bougainvillea-draped alleyways, Vieil Antibes has the typical character of an old Mediterranean city.

We had dinner in an outdoor market square, in a nice restaurant where we ate lots and lots of mussels and drank very good wine. Totally worth it!


St. Paul de Vence

Interesting facts about the city:

The 1950s and ’60s were the village’s Golden Age. Saint-Paul became an amazing film set, hosting French and foreign movie stars drawn to the French Riviera.

For over a century now, Saint-Paul de Vence has been forging its identity as a hub of the arts and culture.

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On our last day in France we went to visit St. Paul de Vence before going to the airport to fly back to Malta. This was without a doubt my favorite city on the whole trip!

What this village lacks in size, it makes up for it with beauty! The walls that raise the village on its roost are from the mid-15th century, and have not been changed since they were built. Above them, Saint-Paul-de-Vence isn’t much more than one street, Rue Grande, with enticing crevasse-like alleys and stairways branching off it.

The art connection remains strong, and you’ll pass restaurants, galleries and cute shops selling materials for budding artists.

On the southernmost edge is a terrace with stirring views of a trademark Provence landscape: Look north and you’ll make out the limestone bulk of the Baou de Saint-Jeannet . Directly beneath you here is the cemetery where Marc Chagall is buried.

There are no major monuments to highlight here, the whole village is a monument, because of the pitouresque little streets full of live! I just loved it.

Then, it was time to fly back to Malta and go back to our daily routine. It was an amazing week and it was the break I just needed after a crazy week. It was nice travelling with some friends for a change as well – thanks Gabi and Ruben for the company! Hopefully we can do it again next year!


Check other posts about my travel adventures in the Travel section of my blog

Trip to Marseille: In the South of France

I went on a trip to Marseille for two days, in the south of France. It is a city with many contrasts, with both beautiful and ugly areas, but overall very interesting!

Facts about the city:

Marseille is the second largest city in France with a population of 1,604,550. Marseille is the oldest city in France and was created over 2,600 years ago.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is set in the Old Port and on the Château d’If, in Marseille.

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After our trip to Portugal, we took advantage of the fact that we had to change flights somewhere and we decided to stay in Marseille, in the south of France, for two days. The city was beautiful but a bit dangerous and ugly in some areas.

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When we got there, we couldn’t find anyone to give us the keys of our apartment. We had to wait for a while but finally someone came. On the outside the building looked terrible but the apartment was super beautiful and cozy. I really liked it! The name of the apartment is Grand Studio Vieux Port and it’s located in 4eme étage 24 Rue Pavillon, Marseille.

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In Marseille we visited the Vieux Port, the maritime port with a lot of yachts and boats, and a giant wheel behind. The Old Port was renovated in 2013. It is still the beating heart of Marseille and the U-shaped port is lined by restaurants and cafés, and is a social focus of the city. In 2013, the area was semi-pedestrianized as part of a big redevelopment project designed by the British architect Norman Foster.

We went to Abbaye Saint Victor. In 1794 the abbey was stripped of its treasures. The relics were burned, the gold and silver objects were melted down to make coins and the building itself became a warehouse, prison and barracks. All that now remains of the abbey is the church of St. Victor, dedicated by Pope Benedict IX in 1040 and rebuilt in 1200. The abbey was again used for worship under the First Empire and restored in the 19th century. The church was made into a minor basilica in 1934 by Pope Pius XI.

We saw the graffiti the lead to La Vielle Charité, a former almshouse, now functioning as a museum and cultural center. Constructed between 1671 and 1749 in the Baroque style to the designs of the architect Pierre Puget, it comprises four ranges of arcaded galleries in three storeys surrounding a space with a central chapel surmounted by an ovoid dome.

We passed in front of the Cathédrale de Marseille. It was built on an enormous scale in Byzantine-Roman style. It is 142 meters long, and the main cupola is 70 meters high. With a capacity of 3,000 seats, it is one of the largest cathedrals in France. Then we went down to the modern part of the city where there’s a big sign with the name of the city. I enjoyed exploring the narrow streets that reminded me of Porto.

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We took a bus to visit Parc Borély. The park was created in the 17th century by a French ship owner and merchant, Joseph Borely. From 1880 until 1915, the park was the site of a botanical garden, which moved to a different site adjoining the park. In 2002, a promenade of two hectares was laid out between the park and sea. Very beautiful.

Then we took another one to visit the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Gardethe city’s best-known symbol. It was built on the foundations of an ancient fort at the highest natural point in Marseille, 149 m high. It’s on the top of a giant hill and the views from up there are amazing, it’s really worth the climb.

The construction of the basilica began in 1852 and lasted for 21 years. The basilica consists of a lower church or crypt in the Romanesque style, carved from the rock, and an upper church of Neo-Byzantine style decorated with mosaics. A square 41 m bell tower topped by a 12.5 m belfry supports a monumental 11.2 m statue of the Madonna and Child made of copper gilded with gold leaf.

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In the last day we went to see the Palais Longchamp before going to the airport and we were lucky to have met a Venezuelan girl in a coffee place that kept our luggage there while we were out. This is a monument that houses the city’s musée des beaux-arts and natural history museum.

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We sat in the surrounding park (the Parc Longchamp), chatting for a long time. It was really nice. We spent these two weeks alone, always together, and we never had a fight. It was a good test to our relationship 🙂 We didn’t have the chance to visit Château d’If, Palais du Pharo, Les Calanques or the beaches, but we live in Malta, we have nice beaches here too.


Check other posts about my travel adventures in the Travel section of my blog

Trip to Switzerland: Across the Alps from Geneva

I went to Geneva in Switzerland with my mom to visit my sister. Then we drove through the Alps to France, to visit the rest of my family in Dijon, France!

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Curiosities about the city:

Geneva is a worldwide center for diplomacy due to the presence of numerous international organizations, including the headquarters of many of the agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross. Geneva is the city that hosts the highest number of international organizations in the world.

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This year I traveled for the first time with my mother. We went to Switzerland and France for Christmas. We flew to Geneva, because my sister Zeza no longer lives in France as she moved to Switzerland with her boyfriend.

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My mother was in a plane only once, when she went to Madeira (many years ago) and I think she loved to travel this time. Geneva was full of snow when we went there. My nephew Luis had to wake up very early every day just to get the snow out of the car before he goes to work.

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I loved the little cottage where my sister lives, it’s super cozy. We visited Lac Lèman, a giant lake with a giant fountain, which is the symbol of the city. Unfortunately they did not have free time to take us for a stroll through the city center.

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As we drove to France, heading for Dijon, we passed the French Alps by car and it was magical to see those cottages all lost in the snow. I think it was the first time I ever saw snow for real in my life.

 


 

BEAUNE

Curiosities about the city:

Beaune is considered the “Capital of Burgundy wines”. The city is surrounded by some of the world’s most famous wine villages, while the facilities and cellars of many producers, large and small, are situated in the historic center of Beaune itself.

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This second time around in France, in addition to visiting Dijon again, I went with my brother Hipolito and his wife to visit another French city: Beaune. This city is very old and it has a famous Hospice of 1443.

The Hospice de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune is a former charitable almshouse. It was founded by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor of Burgundy, as a hospital for the poor. The original hospital building, one of the finest examples of French fifteenth-century architecture, is now a museum.

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Beaune is the main center for the “Burgundian tile” polychrome renaissance roofing style of the region. We also visited a church called Collégiale Notre-Dame de Beaune.

 


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Back to Dijon, I visited all my family again.

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We also visited the same places where I had been last time: churches, historic center, etc.

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We spent Christmas at my sister Lila’s house and the New Year as a family in a rented warehouse.

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I think this trip was special for my mother because my father had died a few months before and I think my siblings had a beautiful attitude in not wanting us to be alone in this festive season.

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Check other posts about my travel adventures in the Travel section of my blog

Trip to Paris: In the City of Lights

Back in 2008 I spent New Year’s Eve with my siblings in Dijon, France. It was my first trip abroad ever and I went alone. Before coming home, we all went on a trip to Paris for the weekend. I loved it!

Trip to Bordeaux

Facts about the city:

Bordeaux is the world’s major wine industry capital. It is home to the world’s main wine fair, Vinexpo, and the wine economy in the metro area takes 14.5 billion euros each year


This was my first great trip abroad if we don’t count a few small trips to Spain (Vigo and Santiago de Compostela). The trip was not by plane but by car, in a typical emigrants family experience. I went with my nephew Stephane and my sister Isabel’s husband.

I always get sick in a car and I was very surprised to get to Dijon without vomiting. But worse, I only ate cereal bars during the trip and I was really feeling bad in a different way. Before arriving in Dijon, we made a quick stop in Bordeaux, to visit a brother of mine who lives there.


Trip to Dijon

Facts about the city:

Dijon is famous for Dijon mustard which originated in 1856, when Jean Naigeon of Dijon substituted verjuice, the acidic “green” juice of not-quite-ripe grapes, for vinegar in the traditional mustard recipe.


This was a journey that took me to my father’s life story and past. My father had 9 children from his first marriage and moved to France, like many Portuguese, in the sixties, in search of a better life. My father lived in Dijon for 18 years. In the meantime he became a widow, returned to Portugal, met my mother and they had me.

My siblings still live in France (and are a lot older than me), so we were never very close. I only saw them for a few days in summer, when they went to Portugal. However, in 2008 they invited me to go to France and spend Christmas with them. I remember that by then our father was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, because I remember buying the flight at a travel agency and needing my parents’ signature to travel since I was still a minor, and he could not sign his name (they had to stamp his fingerprint).

I remember staying at my sister Isabel’s house and then visiting everyone. I saw old family photos, I went bowling with the family, etc.

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I remember loving Dijon and its countless churches, like St. Philibert, St. Michel, or Dijon Cathedral, dedicated to the apocryphal Saint Benignus, the crypt of which is over 1,000 years old.

Among the more popular sights is the Palais des Ducs et des États de Bourgogne, which includes one of only a few remaining examples of Capetian period architecture in the region. The square in front of this palace is really beautiful. I also visited Lac Kir, which is a lake close to my sister’s place, and Porte Guillaume, a triumph arch in Place Darcy, where my father used to work.

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I also went to the Church of Notre Dame, which is famous for both its art and architecture. Popular legend has it that one of its stone relief sculptures, an owl is a good-luck charm: visitors to the church touch the owl with their left hands to make a wish. On my way there, I passed in front of Grand Théâtre de Dijon.

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Dijon is home to many museums, including the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon in part of the Ducal Palace. It contains, among other things, ducal kitchens dating back to the mid-15th century, and a substantial collection of primarily European art, from Roman times through the present.

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I stayed in Dijon for new year’s eve, in a large warehouse where we spent the whole night eating and dancing, as a family.

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Trip to Paris

paris

Facts about the city:

There are 1,803 monuments, 173 museums, and also 450 parks and gardens in the city.
There are on average 10 film or commercial shoots in the streets of Paris each day.
There are at least three replicas of the Statue of Liberty in Paris. The most famous of them exists on an island in the middle of the Seine and looks towards her sister statue in New York.


After new year’s even, we went on a short trip to Paris for two days, before returning home. We went to Paris by car: my sister Zeza, my brother Manel, his wife, his son (my lovely nephew Maxime), Isabel’s eldest son (Phillipe) and I. We stayed at a small two star hotel called Cécil Hôtel.

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This trip to Paris was memorable! I remember walking up to the Eiffel Tower at night. The view from up there is really stunning! It was very cold but for those who had never traveled before, like me, visiting the Eiffel Tower was a remarkable moment. The Eiffel Tower is located on the Champ de Mars. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, who built the tower.

Constructed from 1887–89 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world.

The tower is 324 meters tall. The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m above the ground – the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union.

Trip to paris - tour eiffel
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Trip to paris - tour eiffel 3

We then strolled down the Champs Elysées where we saw all the luxury shops. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is an avenue 1.9 km long. It is known for its theaters, cafés, and luxury shops, for the annual Bastille Day military parade, and as the finish of the Tour de France cycle race. It is one of the most famous streets in the world.

A trip to Paris cannot be complete without visiting the Arc de Triomphe. This arch stands at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly named Place de l’Étoile — the étoile or “star” of the juncture formed by its twelve radiating avenues.  The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

Trip to Paris - Champs Elysees

The next day we took a boat cruise on the river Seine. I loved seeing those beautiful bridges and the Notre Dame Cathedral! The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and best-known church buildings in the Catholic Church in France, and in the world. The cathedral treasury contains a reliquary, which houses some of Catholicism’s most important relics, including the purported Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails.

Paris - Boat Trip
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We visited a wax museum called Musee Grevin. Very interesting! It contains 450 characters arranged in scenes from the history of France and modern life, bloody scenes of the French Revolution, movie stars, and international figures such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Shah Rukh Khan, and Pope John Paul II.  New wax characters are regularly added to the Museum. Figures include Zinedine Zidane, Monica Bellucci, Isabelle Adjani and Nolwenn Leroy.

Trip to Paris - Musee Grevin
Trip to Paris - Musee Grevin 2

After this fantastic trip to Paris, I returned home. I remember being scared, because it was the first time I was going to be on a plane, and I was going to do it alone, not knowing where to go at the airport and not knowing how to speak French. But it all went well, and I think it was here that my uncontrollable desire for travel started!


Did you like this post about my trip to Paris and Dijon? If you want to check any of my other adventures in France, you can read this post about a trip to Marseille, and this post about a road trip in the South of France.

Check other posts about my travel adventures in the Travel section of my blog