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Tips and Advise for visiting France by Road to Travel Inc.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Exploring Avignon

Known for its beautiful historic buildings and museums, Avignon is a delightful destination to visit on private tours of France

Enjoy the charming Provençal atmosphere exploring the town’s old streets and picturesque squares. The imposing Palais des Papes is a great place to start you tour of Avignon. Europe’s largest Gothic palace, dominates the town with its spires and towers reminding of the unlimited power of the Papacy in the Middle Ages. 25 rooms are open to the public where you can see old frescoes, paintings, Gothic tapestries, imagine grand feasts that were held in the huge Banqueting Hall. 

Palais des Papes
The Place du Palais is spacious cobbled square flanked by beautiful historic buildings. Pop in to the Petit Palais, a former archbishop's palace with a stunning arcaded courtyard, to see an excellent collection of Italian Renaissance painting.

Although only a fifth of the 800-year-old Pont St-Benezet has survive to modern days, the bridge is still an iconic symbol of Avignon. Check it out for a few snapshots and great views of the city. 

Another spot to admire the panoramic views of Avignon is the gardens of Rocher des Doms that overlook the city’s main landmarks, the mighty Rhône river and surrounding countryside. 

Pont St-Benezet
The beautiful square of Place de l'Horloge is a perfect place to chill out in a café and people watch. 

While sipping your coffee admire the local theater and the pretty Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) with a 14th-century clock that strikes the hours. To rub shoulders with locals head to the lively indoor market Les Halles where you can sample the best of local delicacies.

Avignon is famous for a variety of festivals that take place throughout the year: the International Jazz Festival in August, Epicurean Festival in summer, Blues Festival as well as a vibrant Christmas market in December.  

For a traditional tasty meal check out the elegant the bistrot L'Épicerie to devour hearty Provençal dishes and excellent foie gras washed down by local wines.

Photos via Flickr by: Guillén Pérez, Stephen Colebourne.

The mystery of the Carnac Megaliths

Brittany’s mysterious megaliths near the town of Carnac are often included in private tours of France. Despite several archaeological excavations and numerous published scientific papers no one knows exactly what these 3,000 stones signify with some theories saying they were used for druidic rituals, others suggesting they served as astronomical observatories. While the jury is still out on the exact purpose of the Carnac Megaliths, there is no doubt they make up an unforgettable site where visitors can ponder on the mysteries of civilizations.

Carnac Megaliths
Dating back to around 4000 BC, the ancient standing stones are located in three fields: Ménec, Kermario and Kerlescan with various circles, alignments, dolmens, passage and mounds. The dolmens are thought to have been once graves of prehistoric people, however, no bones have survived to modern times. In the Dolmen of Kercado that retains its original shape, archaeologists found some fascinating artefacts such as pearl, axes, arrowheads, pearls and beautiful Nephrite gem beads.

Dolmen in Carnac
Several mounds (tumuli) built over chambers that once contained tombs of important families with artefacts that can be seen today in the Museum of Prehistory of Carnac located a short walk from the Ménec field. The museum has an excellent, one of the best in Europe, collections of prehistoric stone chests, tools, pottery, jewellery and other objects. 

The stones are fenced off and are only accessible on a guided tour in summer months, so plan your visit accordingly. 

Beach at Carnac-Plage
The old town of Carnac, Carnac-Ville, is worth a visit after you have explored the mysterious megaliths. The pretty old centre retains its old days charm and has plenty of pretty streets, flower-bedecked old buildings, cosy cafes and excellent restaurants that serve delicious local oysters and hearty traditional dishes. A short walk from the old town is the seaside resort of Carnac-Plage with a 2km-long beautiful sandy beach swept by waves and winds typical for Brittany.

Photos via Flick by: Nicolas Raymond, Jürgen Mangelsdorf, Jérôme Choain.

Alsatian Wine Route

The Alsatian Wine Route is one of the most popular destinations among wine lovers on private tours of France. Running from Thann to Marlenheim for 170 km, it takes travellers through the area where wine has been made for thousands of years. Apart from excellent local wines such as riesling, gewürztraminer, sylvaner and pinot noir, the region has a lot more to offer with its picture-perfect medieval villages, cultural and enogastronomic events and friendly locals.

Alsatian Wine Route
100 villages are scattered along the Alsatian Wine Route, one more beautiful than the other. Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Ribeauvillé, Turckheim, Eguisheim are among the most popular which means they might get rather crowded in summer and during harvest celebrations. If you like quieter places head to Saint-Hippolyte, a sleepy village near a grand castle, Haut-Koenigsbourg. The village of Bergheim has well-preserved medieval walls and the imposing gate with a fortified tower that has been used for many centuries as the entrance to the village. The brightly painted half-timbered houses have not changed much since the 15th century creating a charming atmosphere that takes visitors back in time. The capital of Alsatian wine, Colmar, is filled with flower-bedecked half-timbered houses, museums and wine cellars offering degustations to visitors. 

The Alsatian Wine Route is famous for its wine and food festivals loved by tourists and locals alike. In August Eguisheim hosts the annual Wine festival with open wine cellars, village dances and traditional feasts. There are great wine festivals in Mittelbergheim and Bergheim in July. In Autumn, many villages celebrate the grape harvest with wine tastings, parades, concerts and traditional meals.

Apart from fine wines, you can enjoy hearty Alsatian cuisine. Locally made foie gras, classic choucroute cabbage with tasty sausages, jambonneau pork knuckle, veal tripe braised in Riesling and baeckeoffe slow cooked meat stew. Every village has at least one Winstub, a traditional Alsatian restaurant that serves great wine and simple local dishes.

Photos via Flickr by: Travis Nobles, Tjeerd Wiersma, Francois Schnell.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The most beautiful bridges in France

There are so many things to see on private tours of France. Towns steeped in history, elegant palaces, ancient castles, sunny seaside resorts and art museums. Some French bridges are often compared to works of art. Here we have selected some of the most beautiful ones in France for you that are worth a trip across the country.
Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard, Gard

Built across the Gardon River between 19 BC and 150 AD, this aqueduct is a living reminder of the Roman Empire’s engineering genius. The bridge was constructed with stones weighing up to six tons cut with such precision that no mortar was needed. 49-metres high, the aqueduct carried water to the homes, baths and fountains in Nîmes and was used until the 6th century. Over time it has become one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.

Millau Viaduc

Millau Viaduct, Millau

The world's tallest vehicular bridge, the Millau Viaduct spans a valley not a river and is part of the autoroute from Paris to Montpellier. It is almost 2.5 kilometres long, weighs 290,000 tonnes and sees between 10,000 and 25,000 passing vehicles daily. Inaugurated in 2004, it remains one of the greatest engineering achievements of our time.

Pont Alexandre III

The Pont Alexandre III, Paris

With its Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs and gilt winged horses the 19th-century Pont Alexandre III is certainly the most ornate and beautiful among the 37 bridges that span across the Seine River in Paris. Classified as a French Historic Monument it connects the Champs-Élysées quarter with the Invalides and Eiffel Tower

Pont du Diable
The Pont du Diable, Céret

The single elegant arch bridge raises at 22 metres above the river Tech in the town of Céret. A local legend says that when the Pont du Diable was constructed in the 14th century, the builders asked the devil for help (hence the name), who agreed in exchange for the first soul to cross the bridge. When it was finished, the clever locals sent a cat across the bridge to trick the devil. 

Photos via Flickr by: Julian Fong, Richard Leeming, Joe de Sousa, Thierry Llansades.

Historic fortified city of Carcassonne

The picture-perfect city of Carcassonne is a must-see on private tours of France. The country’s second-most visited tourist spot after the Tour Eiffel, the medieval La Cité citadel attracts nearly four million visitors a year. 

La Cité Citadel
Surrounded by impressive concentric double walls and a moat, the citadel is a marvel of drawbridges, towers, basilica and a small town, which inspired Walt Disney’s The Sleeping Beauty. Visit the stunning 12th-century Château Comtal with 31 towers and stroll along the cobbled streets. If you are not fainthearted, check out the fascinating Torture museum inside the La Cite to see graphic reconstructions of torture instruments from the Middle Ages through to the French revolution. Linger on the grassy river banks below outside the citadel to admire the views over Carcassonne and the snow-capped Pyrénées on the horizon.
Pont Vieux
Most tourist stay inside the walls and never cross the river to see lower part of the city known as the the Ville Basse. Dating back to the Middle Ages it is full of charm, shops, cafés and restaurants and is certainly worth a visit. Walk across the pretty 14th-century Pont-Vieux, one of the few surviving medieval bridges in France that connects Carcassonne’s lower and upper towns. Check out the colourful busy food market that sprawls across Place Carnot in the centre of the town every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday where you can stock up on the best cheeses, charcuterie and other delicacies from the area. Stroll along Rue du Verdun wondering into tiny dusty shops and admiring the medieval buildings lining the street. Pop in to the Chapelle des Dominicaines to see the time line of the city’s history on its walls and look at the 17th-century paintings in the Church of Saint-Vincent

Canal du Midi
Hop on one of the boats on the Canal du Midi that will take you on a trip through the countryside along its tree-lined banks. 

Before you leave Carcassonne make sure you sample some of the delectable local dishes such as cassoulet, a meat stew with white haricot beans or duck breast.

Photos via Flickr by: Rob Glover, Thierry Llansades, Jeremy Eades.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Exploring Cahors

The time-burnished city of Cahors in south-western France is renowned for its stunning architecture and robust red wine. With 120 building listed as historical monuments, Cahors is a delight to explore. Its long rich history can be traced back to the Gallo-Roman times from which some ruins remain preserved. In the Middle Ages, its strategic position on an important route to Santiago de Compostela and Jerusalem brought many pilgrims and prosperity to the town.

Start you walk through the old town from the Pont Valentré across the River Lot. The local legend says that during its construction in the 1300s, the architect in exchange for his soul asked the devil to help him to finish the bridge. Today, the striking Pont Valentré is one of the most photographed landmarks in France

The 12th-century Cathedral of Saint Etienne dominates the town’s beautiful old centre and resembles a sturdy fortified castle with lovely stained glass windows. A local market sprawls across the square in front of the cathedral every Saturday and Wednesday. Stroll along the stalls laden with colourful fruit, glossy vegetables, fragrant herbs and delicious cheeses from the area. 

Pont Valentré
Follow a marked trail through the old town to see the medieval gardens of Augustinian friars, Moorish gardens and a lovely cloistered garden of Henri IV. During high season, hop on a Petit Train to see the city or hire a horse-drawn carriage. From May to September you can also board a cruise boat to see the splendour of Cahors from a different angle. 

Cathedral of Saint Etienne
Stroll along the tree-lined Boulevard de Gambetta dotted with elegant fountains, excellent restaurants and great shops. Chill out in one of the charming cafes here sampling delicious cakes or sip a glass of Cahors’ famous dark red wine that has been produced here since medieval times. The town has a museum dedicated to local wines or you can also visit a vineyard for a degustation.

Photos via Flickr by: Tom De Mulder, Marcel Musil, Jean-Jacques Boujot.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Exploring the city of Strasbourg

Strasbourg a stunning destination to visit on private tours of France. It has a wealth of architectural gems, museums and archaeological sites that serve as reminders of the city’s long history. 

Once the richest city in the Holy Roman Empire, Strasbourg prospered throughout its history and remains an important cultural hub and home to the European Parliament. History awaits at every corner in Strasburg as you walk its narrow cobblestone streets lined with  charming burghers' houses and elegant palaces. 

The impressive Cathedral of Notre-Dame dominates the city. One of the most important monuments of Western architecture, the Cathedral took several centuries to complete. With the 142-meter spire, the Strasbourg Cathedral is one of the highest churches in the Christian world. Inside you can admire stunning medieval stained-glass windows, an old organ and an old astronomical clock that strikes at 12.30 every day while mechanical figures of Christ and the Apostles parade in front of spectators. 

Climb up the 330 steps to the top of the tower for spectacular views of the city the Black Forest, and the Vosges Mountains.

View from the Strasbourg Cathedral Tower
There are many well-preserved historic corners in the old city with the Quartier des Tanneurs, also known as "La Petite France” being one of the most charming. Take a walk back in time admiring 16-17th centuries half-timbered houses where the city's leather tanners and fishermen used to live. 

Another characteristic neighbourhood with a lively village atmosphere is the Quartier Krutenau where you will find picturesque canals, art galleries and quaint restaurants.

The opulent 18th-century Palais des Rohan houses three museums: the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Decorative Arts and Archaeological Museum. Here you can see priceless works by such European masters as Botticelli, Delacroix, Van Dyck, Giotto, Goya, El Greco, Rubens, Véronèse, the opulent bishop’s apartment, excellent collections of decorative arts and antiquities.

La Petite France
At the quay by the Palais des Rohan you can hop on one of the boats that sail around the Grande Ile and take you up past many important sites including the beautiful modern European Parliament’s building.

Don’t leave Strasbourg without trying its delicious hearty cuisine. The city boasts several Michelin-starred restaurants and a plethora of excellent eateries serving typical Alsatian dishes accompanied by excellent world-famous local wines.

Photos via Flickr by: Carlos Andrés Reyes, Michael Camilleri, Gerry Balding.

Natural wonders in France

France is not all about museums, art galleries and castles. There are also the great outdoors with many spectacular natural wonders to visit on private tours of France. Stunning mountain ranges, dramatic gorges, caves, cliffs and dunes, - the list of things au naturel is endless. Here are just a few to whet your appetite.
Cliffs of Étretat
Cliffs of Étretat

Arching above the water, the dramatic white cliffs of Étretat in Normandy inspired painters Monet, Boudin and Courbet. One of the picturesque arches resemble an elephant with its trunk in the sea. There are three arches, the Manneporte, Porte d'Aval and Porte d'Amont, and a pointed needle rising from the water. You can go to the beach to see the cliffs close up in their full splendour or admire them from a distance from the lovely town of Étretat.

Dune du Pilat
Dune du Pilat

Europe’s highest, the Dune du Pilat in it is almost three kilometres long and 500 metres wide. The sand dune attracts one million visitors per year. Here you can try paragliding, walking through the deep sand or simply sunbathing and enjoying the sea breeze.

Gorges du Verdon
Gorges du Verdon

Carved by the turquoise waters of the Verdon River over centuries, the canyon is one of the most beautiful in Europe. It runs for 25 kilometres and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Adrenaline junkies come here to climb the gorge’s steep limestone walls, kayak down the river or hike along the rocky outcrops. Less adventurous visitors admire spectacular drives near the canyon and have relaxing picnics while enjoying the views.

Camargue salt flats
The Camargue 

The Camargue delta of the Rhone River in Languedoc covers an area of over 900 square kilometres filled with surreal looking red salt lagoons, marshlands and rice paddies. Flocks of pink flamingos and herds of white Camargue horses make the landscape irresistibly beautiful. 

Photos via Flickr by: Michel Marie, Francois Pouzet, Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho, Jeroen Komen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Arles, the city of van Gogh, Picasso and Roman ruins

The beautiful city of Arles in south-eastern France is steeped in history and rich with architectural gems. Its origins can be traced back to the 7th century BC when it was a Greek settlement. During Roman times, Arles was an important centre and many well-preserved ruins remind of those glorious days. The city’s ancient amphitheatre, Roman theater, remains of the Roman circus, the Baths of Constantine and the necropolis attract many visitors today.

Roman Amphitheatre in Arles
Arles also has many buildings dating back to medieval times. On Place de la Republique you can see the Church of Saint Trophime famous for its ornate carved doorway depicting the Final Judgement and the 13th century cloisters. From the roof gallery you can admire views over the city.

Art lovers enjoy the Arles’ connection with Vincent Van Gogh. The famous artist was attracted to the city because of its exceptional light and, although, he only spent 15 months in Arles, he painted more than 300 masterpieces. Many visitors enjoy following the Van Gogh Trail to see the scenes of the artist's famous paintings that he created during his stay in the city. 

Place du Forum
Another artist who spent some time in Arles was Pablo Picasso, who came here because of the city’s Van Gogh connection and the famous bullfights in the Camargue area. In 1971, Picasso donated 57 of his paintings to the the Musée Réattu housed in a beautiful Renaissance building where they can be admired today along with a fine collection of contemporary art as well as works by Provençal artists from the 18th-19th centuries.

Fête du Costume
The relaxed Provençal atmosphere of Arles with its leafy squares and outdoor cafés is a big draw in itself. There are many great restaurants in the city serving delicious local dishes. During spring and summer Arles hosts many interesting festivals. From Easter to September “Feria Corridas” takes place with bullfighting and bloodless “course camarguaise” bull spectacles organised in the Roman arena. In July, during the festival “Fête du Costume” hundreds of locals dress up in historic costumes and children parade through the old centre with torchlights. 

Photos via Flickr by: Ming-yen Hsu, Jacqueline Poggi, Max Guitare.

The best festivals to visit in France

French festivals are known for their vibrancy and great atmosphere. No matter what time of year you decide to visit France, there is always a festival going on somewhere in the country celebrating local food, wine, historic event or cultural traditions. Here is our pick of the best festivals to get a taste of French culture.

Nice Carnival
Nice Carnival

One of the largest carnivals in the world, Nice Carnival is celebrated for 15 days and nights with parades, dances, music and fireworks. A theme is chosen every year for the main parade of colourful gigantic floats and figurines. One of the highlights is the Flower Parade during which 100,000 flowers are thrown into the crowd. The event attracts almost one million visitors to Nice every February.

The Festival of Lights, Lyon

On December 8, the residents of Lyon celebrate the Virgin Mary, whose statue overlooks the city from the Fourvière hill. Since the 19th century, they have been putting candles and lamps on their windows and balconies creating a mesmerising display of lights. In the last few decades, La Fête des Lumières has also become a celebration of light show design with international artists putting on spectacular performances that last for four days.
Pentecost Feria in Nimes
Pentecost Feria, Nîmes

Held on the fifth weekend after Easter, Feria de Pentecôte starts with a huge costumed parade and runs for five days. Apart from bull fights in the ancient Roman amphitheatre and bull runs along the city streets, expect to see stunning fireworks displays, open-air concerts and street parties. It is one of the biggest events in South France attracting almost a million visitors annually.

Chorégies d'Orange
Chorégies d’Orange

One of the oldest music festivals in France, Chorégies d’Orange takes place every July in the historic town of Orange. Live opera and classic music performances are staged in the atmospheric Roman theatre that sits 9,000 spectators and has magnificent natural acoustics. Some of the biggest international names in opera perform here, so tickets sell out very fast.

Photos by: Alessandro Baffa/Flickr, Office de Tourisme de Nîmes/Facebook, Chorégies d’Orange/Facebook.

Marseille: cafes, ancient churches and souks

The cosmopolitan city of Marseille is France's oldest and the second largest after Paris, however, it is often ignored by foreign tourists. Travellers looking for a more authentic corner of France find Marseille’s rich history and cultural diversity stunning coastal setting exciting.

The Old Port (Vieux Port) is the heart of Marseille. Founded as a Greek port in 600 BC, the vibrant harbour is a great place to spend a few hours wondering around and sample the excellent bouillabaisse fish stew, a local specialty in one of the port’s restaurants. Check out the old fish market on the east side of the harbour that is open every morning. From the port you can take a ferry to the majestic Château d'If and the dramatic Calanques cliffs.

Marseille has several splendid churches that are worth a visit. The 19th century Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde with a gilded Madonna on the top of the belfry is famous for its opulent décor with marble arches, colourful mosaic magnificent views over the city. The Basilique Saint-Victor’s foundation dates back to early Christianity and is one of the oldest buildings in Marseille.

Notre-Dame de la Garde
Often called the Champs-Élysées of Marseille, the city’s main avenue La Canebière reminds of Marseille’s great colonial trading past when local merchants built spacious Haussmannian town houses showing off their wealth. Here you will find many shops and inexpensive restaurants that are always full with locals.

Vieux Port
Le Panier city district is believed to be the oldest urban quartier in France. Explore charming narrow streets, tiny artisan shops and picturesque little squares with atmospheric cafes. Here you can pop in to the splendid arcaded 17th-century La Vieille Charité that once was the city’s poorhouse. Today it houses an excellent museum of African, Oceanic and Amerindian Arts.

To soak up the city’s multi-cultural heritage head to the Capucin district where you will find North African style souks and open-fronted shops selling ethnic food, clothes and other colourful paraphernalia. 

Photos via Flickr by: Thibault Houspic, Selden Vestrit, Jopa Elleul.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The most beautiful villages in France

Many stunning villages are scattered across France but if you are trying to find crème de la crème of the French countryside check out the villages that are part of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages in France) association, which includes 153 locations across the country and two in Corsica. Here is our pick of just a few of them to give you a flavour of rural France’s beauty.

Castelnaud-La-Chapelle, Dordogne

Home to the magnificent Chateau de Castelnaud, the village is full of meticulously preserved stone arches, half-timber houses and medieval towers combined with spectacular views of the Dordogne countryside. Visit the castle and, afterwards, sit in the charming village’s café to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and watch the locals unhurriedly going on their daily business. 

Pradelles, Auvergne 

Perched on high on a hill, the old fortified village of Pradelles boasts spectacular views of the Upper Allier valley. There is a beautiful 17th-century church, Chapelle Notre-Dame de Pradelles, the Chapel des Penitents, an ancient watchtower (Tour de Rochely) and two medieval gateways into the historic centre. 

Locronan, Brittany

Going back almost 2000 years ago when the village was a sacred Celts’ site, Locronan is steeped in history. In the village’s old centre, you can admire traditional well-preserved stone houses, beautiful medieval squares, 15th-century Church of Saint Ronan with a tall bell tower, the stunning ancient Chapelle Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, which has a picturesque pond. There is an interesting Museum of Art and History of Locronan and several charming cafes, restaurants and artisan boutiques.

Church of Saint Hilaire in Semur-en-Brionnais
Semur-en-Brionnais, Burgundy

Despite its size, the village has many architectural treasures: the stunning town hall, Saint-Hugues Priory, an ancient public washhouse (lavoir), many grand townhouses dating back to the 16th-18th centuries. Many visitors come to Semur-en-Brionnais to see the famous 12th century roman-style Church of Saint Hilaire, the remains of the 11th century Chateau de Saint-Hugues and soak up the laid-back atmosphere of this charming village.

Photos via Flickr by: Marc Lacoste, Claude Valette, Holly Hayes.

The International Cheese and Wine Fair in Coulommiers 

The French take cheese seriously and organize many festivals in its honour throughout the country. The International Cheese and Wine Fair that takes place every March in the small town of Coulommiers, an hour drive from Paris, is one the most interesting. The event attracts over 60,000 visitors who come to Coulommiers to sample some of the best cheeses from the area sold by 350 farmers and artisan producers.

Coulommiers cheese
Coulommiers cheese is similar to the more famous French classic Brie that is also made in the area. Produced with raw cow’s milk, Coulommiers cheese is matured for 4-8 weeks and has a rich nutty flavour with creamy supple texture. When it is made with pasteurized using industrial method, its taste is more simple and generic, so it is always better to try artisan varieties.

Coulommiers is abuzz during the International Cheese and Wine Fair. You can go to local product tastings, visit a big exhibition of livestock, see various competitions such brie contest or the farm fresh dairy produce contest. One of the most popular events is where the visitors have to guess how much the cow Marguerite weighs, which is open to the public. Contestants submit their guesses and the closest guess wins a prize. 

The historic town itself is a delightful little gem with medieval buildings, charming cobbled streets decorated with bright flowerpots and romantic tiny cafes. In the Parc des Capucins, you can see ruins of once spectacular château de Gonzagues et de Clèves. The Capucins Museum of Coulommiers tells the town’s history and has a fascinating collection of artefacts from the past. At the top of the town, stands the majestic 12th-century Commandery of the Knights Templar, one of the best preserved ones of the Ile-de-France region, which takes visitors through the history of the soldier monks.

Photos via Flickr by: Frédéric Bisson, Daniel Marinaud.

Blois: the royal castle and magic Houdin

Take a short train ride from Paris to reach the beautiful town of Blois to admire the famous castle and stunning views of the Loire Valley.

Clustered around the Chateau, Blois is one of the best preserved historic towns in France. As you stroll along the beautiful old streets towards the medieval centre, you can see the stunning noble palaces and churches, charming cafes, tiny artisan shops and restaurants. 

Once home to a succession of seven kings and ten queens, the magnificent Chateau de Blois is open to the public. The opulent apartments will take you through 400 years of royal life and daily life of the Court. The castle also houses a national museum of fine arts with a collection of sculptures, French and Flemish tapestries and paintings from the 16th – 19th centuries. In summer, the chateau hosts special exhibitions, concerts and events.

Chateau de Blois
Near the castle is another famous attraction - The House of Magic (Maison de la Magie) devoted to the French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin who is often called the father of modern magic. Born in Blois in 1805, Houdin was famous for his bullet catching trick, the levitation and electromagnetic light and heavy chest illusions. In the museum you can see some of the equipment he used and enjoy daily magic shows in the summer season.

Maison de la Magie
There are many other historic buildings around the castle but make sure to check the Puits Chatel district with its stunning Renaissance town houses, the western part of the city near the Church of Saint Nicolas where once an old abbey stood, the Cathedral of Saint-Louis, Town Hall with its beautiful gardens and Halle aux Grains, where an old market used to be. Walk across the river to admire spectacular views of Blois and the castle and see the lovely Saint-Saturnin Church, once an important pilgrimage site.

On Rue du Commerce you will find some delightful shops selling local delicacies. Blois has a long chocolate making tradition, so make sure to sample at Patissier-chocolatier Stephan Buret or Eric Saguez.

Photos via Flickr by: Niko Kaptur, Jean-Claude MOUTON, Emilio del Prado.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Celebrating the Lemon Festival in Menton

The small sleepy town of Menton is overshadowed by its famous neighbours on the Côte d'Azur such as Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Nice. Located on the eastern edge of the French Riviera, just before the Italian border, the town has a stunning old town with medieval architecture, beautiful beaches, excellent restaurants and boasts 316 sunny days a year.

For many centuries Menton was one of the most important European centre of citrus fruit production. However, with time, the citrus orchards were abandoned and slowly disappeared. Very few farmers still grow the famous Menton lemon that has a very distinctive flavour. To celebrate its past, every February, Menton hosts the Lemon Festival (La Fête du Citron). Celebrated since the end of 19th century, the event attracts more than 200,000 people and is the second most important event on the Riviera after Nice Carnival. For three weeks, Menton fills up with the beautiful fragrance of oranges and lemons that are used to create spectacular decorations and sculptures. 145 tons of citrus fruits turned into the most spectacular designs by 300 professionals working for the festival.

Citrus Sculpture
Every year the festival organizers choose a different theme: Disney, Music of the World, China, Spain. This year’s theme is Cinecittà the Italian cinema of the 50s and 60s. 
The town’s gardens Jardins Biovès become an open air gallery filled with citrus sculpture, some of them up to 10 metres tall. At night time, the garden illuminates with light shows and fireworks. One of the most exciting event of the festival is the Golden Fruit Parade with giant citrus floats carried along the town’s streets accompanied by music, dances and cheering of thousands of excited spectators. 

Citrus Sculpture

There is also an arts and crafts show where local artisans exhibit their work: wooden sculptures, glass engraving, ceramics, pottery and food stands sell delicacies such as citrus liqueurs, lemon infused olive oil and many other. During the Lemon Festival local restaurants try to outdo each other with special selections of citrus-based exquisite dishes.

Photos by: Ian Britton/Flickr, Fête du Citron/Facebook.

The most beautiful parks and gardens in Paris

You have been busy strolling down Champs-Élysées, climbing up the Eiffel Tower, visiting museums, shopping and dining, so now it is time to relax, listen to birds and stretch on the grass. It is surprisingly easy to find beautiful green spaces in Paris to escape the city’s hectic rhythms. 

Jardin des Plantes
Jardin des Plantes

Created in 1626 as the royal medicinal plant garden, the Jardin des Plantes on the Left Bank is the main botanical garden in France. It has over 10,000 plant species, elegant glasshouses, rose, winter and Alpine gardens and even a small maze and a mini-zoo. 

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

Once an execution place for criminals and public waste ground, Buttes Chaumont was transformed into a romantic park by Baron Haussmann in 1867. Located in the 19th arrondissement, Buttes Chaumont boasts spectacular views of Paris, three miles of walking paths, a lake with a waterfall, grotto and large meadows where you can have a picnic.

Bois de Boulogne

This large public park was Paris’s answer the London’s Hyde Park. Covering over 2000 acres, the park includes woodland, English landscape gardens, a large lake with swans and ducks, two racecourses, restaurants and sports clubs. The Jardin de Bagatelle in the park is famous for its romantic Nymph Pond with water lilies and the prize-winning rose garden with 1,200 stunning varieties.  

Parc Monceau
Parc Monceau

Situated in the 8th arrondissement this public garden covers 20 acres. It was landscaped in the 18th century and later re-styled to look like an English garden with a pond, lovely shaded paths and beautiful statues. Parc Monceau is a great place to have a glimpse into Parisian life as it is popular with local residents.

Jardin des Tuileries
Jardin des Tuileries

This 17th century formal Garden of the Tuileries is the largest and oldest in Paris. It can get crowded in summer months but the views of the Place de la Concorde and Arc de Triomphe from here are unbeatable.

Photos via Flickr by: Tom Hilton, Guillaume Baviere, Steve Shupe, Norio Nakayama.

What to see in the Loire Valley

The land of romantic castles and excellent wine, the Loire Valley is one of the most visited destinations in France. Although, the majority of tourists go to the Loire to see the majestic chateaux, there are many more things to do and see in the region. Here are just a few highlights to consider when you are planning your visit.

Chateau de Chambord
Historic chateaux

With more than 100 historic castles open to the public, you can spend days admiring their splendour. The Renaissance Chambord, the largest chateaux in the region; Cheverny where the descendants of the noble family the Hurault de Vibrayes still live,  Chenonceau  spanning the river Cher, - apart from opulent interiors, they all have something unique to offer. 

Chartres Cathedral
Abbeys and cathedrals

Some of France’s most spectacular cathedrals are found in the Loire Valley. Chartres cathedral with its 12th century stained glass windows, Bourges cathedral often described as a masterpiece of Gothic art, the elegant cathedral in Tours. Make sure to visit the splendid 12th century Fontevraud Abbey where Henry II king of England and his son King Richard the Lionheart are buried.

Charming towns and villages 

Visiting towns and villages in the Loire Valley is like travelling back in time. Narrow cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, splendid palaces and charming village cafes will steel your heart. Montrésor, Chinon, Le Grand Pressigny, Sancerre and many others are worth stopping for a day or two to soak up the atmosphere of joie de vivre.

Fine vineyards

The Loire Valley might not be as famous as those of Bordeaux or Burgundy but it produces some fine wines such as Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Muscadet appreciated by connoisseurs across the globe. Many family-run vineyards around Nantes, Tours, Angers and Saumur are open to the public for tastings and cellar tours. 

Photos via Flickr by: Thomas Conté, Tim Rawle, Daniel Jolivet.