Sainte-Enimie

After my last retreat at Gardoussel in Gard, one of the group, Nico, drove me back to his home city of Toulouse, for a short visit. It was a very pretty trip, across the mountains and valleys of the Massif Central. Perhaps the highlight, was the village of Sainte-Enimie in the centre of the Gorges du Tarn. Its website boasts that it is ranked among the Most Beautiful Villages in France, It belongs to Les Plus Beaux Villages de France association. There's no shortage of steep cobbled streets, old squares, medieval buildings, boutiques and charming cafes, Uptop, a sixth century monastery (now a college) .

There's even a medieval legend to explain the town's name, told by Bertran Carbonel, a troubadour of Marseille. The short version tells how Princess Enimie wished to dedicate her life to God, while her father wanted her to get married. So, she asked God to mask her beauty. He answered her prayer and gave her leprosy. After several attempts at cures an angel told the king that she would be healedif she went swimming in Burlats near the Tarn. This she did - it was a long way away. But as soon as she left the area the illness returned. It became clear that Princess Enimie was to stay here and evangelize the region. She founded a convent (later joined by the monastery) in the process.

Albi

Next stop, Albi, It's the capital (or prefecture) of the Tarn department, on the river Tarn. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Albi and its inhabitants are called Albigensians. Wikipedia tells me that the grimly austere cathedral (which soars above us), claims to be the largest brick building in the world. It was begun after the Albigensian Crusade in 1282, but it took 200 years to complete. It doesn't feature on any of the largest brick building lists that I pull up. (To my surprise, three buildings in England do, however).

The episcopal city, around the Cathedral Sainte-Cécile, (as well as the church), was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2010, for its unique architecture. Everything here is on a colossal scale, built in Languedoc-style red brick. This includes the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, dedicated to the artist, who was born in Albi. Even the shopping streets are lined with four storey terracotta brick apartments.

Toulouse

It's another 85 kilometres south west to Toulouse. This is the fourth largest city in France, prefecture of the French department of Haute-Garonne and of the larger region of Occitanie. It's a fast growing city, apparently rated the most 'dynamic' in France. One reason, is the European aerospace industry, mostly based around the airport. From my plane out, I can see the headquarters of Airbus, and there are numerous other air and space originations here.

The University of Toulouse adds to the growth, atmosphere and prosperity of the city. The university is one of the oldest in Europe. (founded in 1229). Today there are almost 140,000 students.

Toulouse was founded by the Romans. The city was the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom in the 5th century. For a time the centre of an almost autonomous country, after the collapse of Acquitaine. Later, the capital of the province of Languedoc, before the provinces were reorganised into regions.

Toulouse - The Pink City

Toulouse straddles the River Garonne. It's built of the same coloured brick as Albi. The "foraine" brick is characterised by its large dimensions, its flat appearance and its colour, ranging from orange/pink to red. When the light catches it, it seems pinker, duskier. At other times, other sunset shades intrude. It was expensively imported from the Pyrenees, on the Garonne. Whatever, Toulouse has been dubbed La Ville Rose - The Pink City.

Exploring Toulouse

There's plenty to stroll around and see and a metro to get you easily to the outer reaches. Toulouse has a cobbled historic centre and counts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: a share in the Canal du Midi, the Basilica of St. Sernin, the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe, and the former hospital, Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Jacques. (because of their significance to the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route).

But everything starts at the Place du Capitole, the old square at the heart of the city. The grandly neoclassical Capitole Palace is illuminated at night. In addition to the Basilica of St. Sernin (a martyrred saint who was tied to a bull and dragged down the Rue du Taur (the Street of the Bull) in 250 A.D.), there are plenty of other churches to admire. The thirteenth century Cathedral of Saint-Étienne (Saint Stephen) and the Convent of the Jacobins (13th century / early 14th century) is ranked with Albi Cathedral, as the pinnacle of Southern French Gothic architecture. Like the Albi Cathedral it is huge and forbidding, relieved by an adjacent Pisa like tower. Saint Thomas Aquinas is buried here.

Unusually, there is also a range of architecture represented, from the Romanesque of the twelfth century, right through to modern day plate glass. The grand mansions date mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries (some house museums). This was a very wealthy period in the history of both Albi and Toulouse. The pastel trade (import of woad dye) was booming. And because of the students, there are plenty of reasonably priced eateries and lively watering holes too, Though, you can burn a hole in your pocket at upmarket establishments if you want.

Read more about France here.

August 2007 -
 In My Mini -With Friend Tina (Louise)

Work colleague Kate has made a bold decision and emigrated to the Gard department in France (part of the Languedoc-Roussillon region which is now subsumed into the Occitanie administrative region - phew). Tina and I are going to visit, it’s a first outing for Thelma and Louise, a practice run for Route 66, in my mini convertible. We are going to be staying in the gite that Kate owns and used to holiday in, before she made The Decision. She now has a remote farmhouse. We are aiming for the nearest village, St Andre de Valborgne, buried in the heart of the Cevennes Mountains, in the southern reaches of the Massif Central.

The GPS takes us along happily on the whole, though there is one heart stopping moment on the Paris Peripherique,  when we misinterpret directions (I’m being polite here), take the wrong slip road and somehow end up facing three lanes of traffic all heading towards us. Fortunately, the French drivers are forgiving and it isn’t very far to another slip road to get us facing the right way. We manage to avoid getting caught by the many intimidating speed cameras erected along the AutoRoute (or maybe we don’t and they can’t be bothered to track us down) and not to run out of petrol.

Goats Cheese at Clermont Ferrand

Thankfully there aren’t too many hold ups (‘Attention: bouchons’ the sign on the gantry warns) and we overnight near Clermont Ferrand. Its an area famous for its goat’s cheese and our evening menu touristique involves cheese at every course. By dessert enthusiasm has been replaced by an overwhelming feeling of nausea.

Before we head off to the mountains we take a whistle stop tour of the Parque des Volcans, home of Volvic and Evian (Perrier comes from further south in Gard itself). It’s very evocative with the mist (and some hot air balloons) hovering over the distinctive peaks.

St Andre de Valborgne

It’s a very relaxing week, resting by the river and testing the cuisine in the two restaurants in St Andre de Valborgne. Kate has a veritable menagerie, chickens, boisterous dogs (one that bites almost as much as it barks and it barks a lot), cats and llamas. The latter have been rescued and live up to their reputation for spitting. It’s also very warm and we end up struggling up hills at times, after visiting the village for shopping and a restaurant or two. (Our gite is out in the sticks too). Kate’s partner Richard zips past us on his mountain bike on more than one occasion. He’s clearly much fitter than we are.

Montpellier

It takes an hour to escape the mountains (if that’s the right word, as they are magnificent, if a little forbidding). First stop Montpellier, one of the largest cities in Occitanie and the administrative centre of the department of Hérault (we've strayed from Gard). It's one of the fastest growing cities in France, possibly because it's so close to the Mediterranean Sea (you get a good view as you swoop into the airport). Montpellier has one of the oldest universities in the world, but it was founded by the Spanish. Montpellier was part of the kingdom of Aragon. until it was sold to the French in 1349.

We're seeking out the imposing monuments. Montpellier is recognised for its culture and has apparently been nicknamed 'Gifted'. Most of the interesting mansions are centred on the Place de la Comédie, with the Opéra Comédie built in 1888. Most of these buildings have have medieval roots. But they have nearly all been modified over the centuries. The Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier has the oldest botanical garden in France, (founded in 1593). There are the remains of the old city walls, an eighteenth century aqueduct and the Peyrou promenade. This is the highest point of the 'Old Town' and boasts the Porte du Peyrou, a triumphal arch built at the end of the 17th century, and the Place Royal du Peyrou.

Nimes

Nîmes is the capital of Gard. It developed on the important Via Domitia which connected Italy with Hispania, so it's known for its well-preserved Roman monuments, such as the Arena of Nîmes. This is a double-levelled circa-70 A.D. amphitheatre still in use for concerts and bullfights. There's also the Maison Carrée, a white limestone Roman temple, dating from the late first century B.C. It is one of the best-preserved temples to be found anywhere in the former Roman Empire; it's almost totally intact. Close by the Maison is the Carree d'Art, a gallery designed by Norman Foster. It's home to a good café too.

Finding somewhere to leave the car in Nimes is a little traumatic, until we discover the chain of subterranean car parks.

Pont du Gard

Twelve miles outside Nimes is the incredible Pont du Gard. This three tiered Roman aqueduct, designed to carry water over 50 kilometres to the Roman colony of Nemausus, crosses the River Gardon here. One thousand men laboured for five years to build the titanic structure. It's the most-visited ancient monument in France.

Aigues-Mortes

My favourite town in Gard is Aigues-Mortes. It's built where the Gard meets the Mediterranean coast for a short stretch. Aigues-Mortes is not quite on the sea, but it's a medieval port on the junction of two canals. It's thought the town was founded in Roman times, though there is no evidence. Charlemagne erected a warning tower here, as the town is surrounded by salt marshes. (The name means 'dead water'.) But the town really came to prominence as a harbour, in the the late thirteenth century, when the remainder of what is now the French Mediterranean coast was owned either by Aragon, Naples or Toulouse.

It’s almost compulsory to circumnavigate the well preserved walls, for views across the town and out to the flamingo filled lagoons on the edge of the Camargue.

June 2015 Anduze and a Retreat

This time I’m flying EasyJet to Montpellier and Richard meets me and conveys me to the farmhouse. I only have one night there before embarking on a new adventure that Kate has suggested - a yoga of relationships group that is meeting for a week at a retreat near St André.

Anduze, Gard

We manage a catch up gossip and a visit to picturesque Anduze, the gateway to the mountains. It's a delightful town, overlooking the Gardon Valley. It developed on the back of the silk and wool trades, followed by pottery and coal mining. There are winding cobbled streets, a medieval Clock Tower and a 16th century castle. Numerous humming fountains, a covered market square, churches, an abbey, a monastery and botanic gardens. Not bad for a relatively isolated area.

St Andre de Valborgne Revisited

St André looks much the same. Stone houses, a turret or two, a fountain, a few small shops, the boucherie, the droguerie. The hanging baskets on the bridge are slightly differently arranged. The stereotypical French village with everyone out walking their poodles. The menagerie is still in fine voice. The new cockerel is cleverly named Gregory Peck and there is another dog, a springer spaniel, George, who only threatens to bite when the mongrel does. The llamas have gone, so at least I won’t be spat at.

The retreat location, in a quiet valley could not be bettered. The meadows are carpeted with spring flowers and there is a little beach by the gushing river. Evening camp fires and gentle sing songs are atmospheric and the sunsets complete the perfect view. The retreat is family run. The host’s mother, Frances who’s in charge of the vegetarian kitchen, lives in a yurt in the field above the main farmhouse buildings.

May 2016 Yurt Living in Gard

I’ve stayed in touch with Frances. She escapes the yurt and the gloom of the winter, when the retreat is closed, to sojourn in India, Thailand and Australia. Now I’m going to spend a few days staying with her in the yurt and with Kate in her farmhouse.

Yurt living is considerably more comfortable than it was in Kyrgyzstan, but it’s still not for me long term. It's cosy - there’s an eco-stove and its charmingly decorated with Frances’ art, but the toilet is an earth closet just outside the door. You have to top it up after you go. And the bathroom is in a log cabin up the hill. I lose my way the first time I go for a wash and end up scratched and muddy enough to need two baths. There’s a commode for night time - in the kitchen behind a screen. During the day, its de rigeur to pee outdoors, it saves toilet emptying and it fertilises the flowers. It’s quicker too.

It's blue sky sunny but windy and sitting outside is an act of fortitude. Over to Kate’s where the mad menagerie has been extended. There are now three cats, all named after soap characters: Elsie, Bet and Lola. Lola is a new arrival. There is absolutely no connection between this and the midnight attack on the chicken coop. Gregory’s comb has been sadly mistreated. He is more aggressive than ever. And very confident - he fought off the attacker, despite the damage, though not all the hens were so fortunate. If I approach their cage he runs full pelt to try and head-butt me though the netting.

St Jean du Gard

We stroll up the mountain looking for eagles (but they are elusive). So we visit the market in St Jean du Gard, one of the little villages up the valley. There’s the local speciality - boar sausage - in a variety of flavours. Kate buys pate for our lunch, but it doesn’t make it to the table. George spots in on the kitchen counter. There is much bad language.

It’s more sheltered in the garden here and I can sunbathe, visited by the animals in turn. Elsie creeps up and head butts me too.

Read more about France here.

The words French Riviera (or Côte d'Azur) are synonymous with fabulous sun soaked (as the Daily Mail would say), relaxing holidays, combined with the glamorous high life. The movies tell us so. There are lists of them on Wikipedia – And God Created Woman, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Not to mention Monte Carlo or Bust (which they don't). And the Cannes Film Festival is, of course,based here.

No-one is quite sure exactly where The French Riviera is, however. It was, vaguely, the Mediterranean coast of south-eastern France. Entirely within the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. The mirror image of the Italian Riviera, from which it derives its name. (Cote d’Azur because of the gloriously blue sea and sky.) St Tropez to Menton and the Italian border, maybe. In her 1955 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith describes the Riviera as including all of the coast between Toulon and the Italian border. Though I’m not sure how she is qualified as a geographical authority. Today, the term is often applied to the whole of the French south coast.

How Did the French Riviera Become a Tourist Hot Spot?

The Côte d'Azur was once a remote and impoverished region, known mostly for fishing, olive groves and the production of flowers for perfume (manufactured in Grasse). In the late eighteenth century, due to the consistently warm climate (310 to 330 days of sunshine per year) and gorgeous Provencal scenery, it emerged as a fashionable health resort for the British upper classes.

The arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, established the area as vacation hot spot. Royalty, the rich and famous made it their playground. And then artists and writers arrived: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Francis Bacon, Edith Wharton, Somerset Maugham, Friedrich Nietzsche, Frank Harris, Anton Chekov and Aldous Huxley to name a few. The French Riviera coast today, includes jet set resorts like Saint-Tropez and Cannes, and the enclave that is the independent microstate of Monaco. Each year, these Riviera ports host 50 percent of the world's superyacht fleet, with 90 percent of all superyachts visiting the region's coast at least once in their lifetime.

Like those who journeyed before me I first discovered the French Riviera on trips to and from Italy and beyond. It's a great place to stop over and unwind after a trek to the outer reaches of Europe. But I've also taken very enjoyable short breaks, in Nice and Hyeres.

Nice, the Hub of the French Riviera

 The fashion for visiting the French Riviera began in Nice. The trend was begun by the novelist Tobias Smollett, who visited Nice in 1763 and wrote about it in the prosaically titled Travels through France and Italy. Doctors at that time began prescribing climate therapy. As a result, Nice was filled with "a colony of pale and listless English women and listless sons of nobility near death" (according to historian Paul Gonnet). Victoria and Edward VII came and Henry Cavendish, who discovered hydrogen, was born here. the main esplanade is even named the 'Promenade des Anglais'.

But Nice's appeal didn't extend only to the English. other aristocracy and royalty, especially the Russians, flocked here too. They still do. Nice attracts 4 million visitors a year. 'Because of its historical importance as a winter resort town for the European aristocracy and the resulting mix of cultures found in the city', UNESCO proclaimed Nice a World Heritage Site in 2021.

Nice is a very ancient settlement. There's an archaeological site, Terra Amata, an archaeological site, here, which shows very early use of fire 380,000 years ago. Its name derives from the Greek town founded here in the fourth century BC- Nikaia, after Nike, the goddess of victory. Because of its strategic location Nice has changed hands many times over the years. It has been aprt of Savoy and also, in the nineteenth century, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. the legal predecessor of the Kingdom of Italy. It was re-annexed by France in 1860.

Exploring Nice

I've flown into Nice - the airport is the third largest in France. And Nice is nice! The city is nicknamed Nice la Belle, which is also the title of the unofficial anthem of Nice, written by Menica Rondelly in 1912. But you’re definitely one of the hordes of (English) tourists here. The main joy of Nice is just wandering. Along aforesaid Promenade des Anglais., with everyone else. The must see here is the red domed Hotel Negresco. It's named after Henri Negresco who built it in 1912. It's (supposedly) the epitome of luxury and the go to place for celebrities. (Elton John featured it in his I'm Still Standing video). The fifth floor is for VVIPs only. You might also stop and admire the Russian Orthodox church.

The Promenade des Anglais runs along the Baie des Anges ("Bay of the Angels"). The beach here is just grey shingle. (It's the climate that's important, I'm told). If you want a decent sandy beach, you can take the coastal train out to the suburbs of Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer’s Plage des Marinières.

There's a great view of the red roofs of the city from 92 metre Castle Hill, more or less in the centre of the town's coastline. To the east, the port, and to the west, the Old Town of Nice. This is also a lovely place to stroll. Mansions, squares, plenty of dinky shops and souvenirs, cafes and restaurants.

And when you're in the mood for culture, there are the galleries and museums. As I've mentioned, painters in particular were attracted here, drawn to the clear air and soft light. Marc Chagall and Matisse have dedicated museums and many other significant works are on display in the Musée des Beaux-Arts (some good views from in here too). You definitely need your walking shoes for Nice.

Up and Down the French Riviera - Cannes and Monaco

Nice is also really close to a host of other interesting destinations and it's easy to get around on the coastal train. To the east- Monaco - only 8 miles. (Read about Monaco on a different post - it's a separate country.)

Cannes was made famous by yet another Brit, nobleman and politician Henry Peter Brougham. He made an unplanned stop there on his way to Italy with an ailing daughter. He enjoyed it so much he bought land, built a villa, and spent all his winters there. Others followed. Then came the film festival and Cannes was made. Lovely beaches, designer boutiques and palatial hotels. This is definitely a place for the wealthy, Or the day-tripper who brings their own sandwiches.

If you can tear yourself away from the people watching on the palm lined Promenade de la Croisette you can visit Le Suquet, the old town, up the hill. There's a fortified tower and the Musée des Explorations du monde, housed in the Chapelle Sainte-Anne.

Hyeres

Robert Louis Stevenson was yet another nineteenth century British visitor who came to the French Riviera for his health. But he chose Hyeres, where he rented a villa called La Solitude and wrote much of A Child's Garden of Verses. "Happy (said I); I was only happy once; that was at Hyeres". It might historically have been beloved of the British (and Americans like Edith Wharton) but 70% of today's tourists are French.

According to Wikipedia, Hyeres is the oldest resort on the French Riviera (as defined by Highsmith). As opposed to town I assume. The first reference to the town Hyeres dates from 963. The area is ideal for the cultivation of palm trees. About 100,000 trees are exported from here each year.

I visited Hyeres by train, change at Paris, (taxi across the city) and then south, through Toulon. This time to stay with friend Irene who owned a bijou flat close to the waterfront. And I mean bijou. The bed folded up against the wall during the day. But who can complain when there’s so much to see and do on the doorstep?

Exploring Hyeres

The hillside old town is two and a half miles inland. It features the remains of a medieval castle, Saint Bernard, and three different rings of centuries old town walls. There’s also the modernist arts centre, Villa Noailles, set in a 1920s building with gardens. It tells the story of the family, who were big patrons of the many local artists. Lower down, the imposing Knights Templar Tower, It is the only remnant of the Knights Templar castle Originally it housed a chapel - now the restored building acts as an exhibition hall.

As so often, the main attraction in Hyeres, is wandering the narrow streets, popping in and out of the artisan shops (this is Provence after all) and imbibing at one of the 17 wineries. Market day is known for featuring local cut flowers.

Between the old town and the sea lies the pine-covered hill of Costebelle, which overlooks the peninsula of Giens. Salt marshes here are home to flocks of waterbirds. There’s the marina area – more eateries and then, just offshore, the Golden Isles. The three islands of the Îles d'Hyères (Porquerolles, Port-Cros, and the Île du Levant) are just offshore. This is the place to go if you want a lovely beach, but you have to catch the ferry. And if you’re bored after all of that, there are the four parks - The Remarkable Gardens.

The Verdon Gorge

I don't suppose the Verdon Gorge counts as being part of the French Riviera, even if we use the loosest definition. but it is in glorious Provence. And I discovered it, meandering through purple lavender fields, on the way back home from Italy. This river gorge, the French answer to the Grand Canyon, is over 15 miles long and has cliffs 700 metres high, carved by the Verdon River. It may be the largest canyon in Europe, depending on which source you choose to believe. I'm willing to accept it is the most beautiful. It empties into an artificial lake and is a magnet for thrill seekers, with its white water rapids. It took a day to drive around the rim and take in all the panoramas, the turquoise ribbon far below, the shrieking rafters, from the various vantage points.

(Read more about France here.)

Martinique

A day trip to Martinique from St Lucia, on a ferry; it’s a very choppy stretch of water. The Caribbean is far from being a tranquil holiday paradise at times.

Martinique, the Island of Flowers - in a Nutshell

  • Martinique was occupied first by Arawaks, then by Caribs, before it was charted by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Spain had other fish to fry and Martinique was claimed by some French settlers, after they had been driven out of St Kitts by the British. In 1946 the French National Assembly voted unanimously to transform the colony into an Overseas Département of France.
  • As a département of France, Martinique is a constituent part of the French Republic and the euro is used as currency.
  • French Guiana is a département of France, so its official national flag is the tricolore of France. This is its official government flag.
  • Virtually the entire population speaks both French (the sole official language) and Martinican Creole.
  • This is a volcanic island. There are several emerald clad pitons (volcanoes). The eruption of the tallest, Mont Pelee in the north, killed 30,000 people in 1902 and the volcano is still active.
  • Like much of the Caribbean, Martinique is known for its gorgeous beaches, nestling in turquoise bays. white sand in the south, grey volcanic ash in the north.
  • Martinique is known, for obvious reasons as 'The Island of Flowers' but, also occasionally as the 'Island of Returns'.

Fort de France

But today, there isn’t time to explore beyond the capital - Fort de France. It is just like being parachuted into a ville on the French mainland.  It’s all little narrow streets, lined with cafes, boulangeries, patisseries and boucheries. Most of the streets are steep -  it's good exercise exploring and the hills extend across the island, a sprawl of bright wooden houses. The West Indies meets Europe.

In town, the larger houses and civic buildings are stone shuttered. It’s atmospheric, but there is little of note. A brown church with a tall steeple, the St Louis Cathedral, dominates the harbour. The main tourist must see seems to be a statue of Josephine de Beauharnais, first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. who was born on one of Martinique’s islands. It’s in the garden of La Savane. Despite it being a tiny island, four queens who have ruled France, Holland and Turkey, have all been born in Martinique

Paris

Paris (Gay Paree), the capital of France, with its two million inhabitants, is synonymous with romance in the minds of many and commonly known as the "City of Love". It also promotes the nickname  the "City of Light “or "La Ville-Lumiere".  A global centre for finance, art, science, fashion, gastronomy, culture and new ideas, but also because Paris began lighting the Champs-Elysees with gas lamps, the first city in Europe to do so.

Paris, divided by the River Seine, is home to nearly a fifth of the French population, who pay for the privilege. The Paris Region has the highest GDP in Europe and Paris has the ninth-highest cost of living in the world.

A Brief History of Paris

Paris derives its name from the Parisii, a sub-tribe of the Celtic Senones. They inhabited the Paris area from around the middle of the 3rd century BC. The settlement grew up on one major north–south trade routes, crossing the Seine on the Ile de la Cité. The Romans conquered the Paris Basin in 52 BC and began their settlement on Paris's Left Bank. The Roman town. Lutetia Parisiorum, "Lutetia of the Parisii", eventually became known as Parisius, later Paris. After being designated capital for a short time in Frankish times it regained the title of capital of the kingdom of France in the twelfth century.

Various renovations took place over the ages. During the 17th century, Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister of Louis XIII, was determined to make Paris the most beautiful city in Europe. He built five new bridges, a new chapel for the College of Sorbonne, and a palace for himself, the Palais-Cardinal. After Richelieu's death, it was used by the monarchy and renamed the Palais-Royal.

Because of the Parisian uprisings during the Fronde Civil War, Louis XIV moved his court to a new palace, Versailles, in 1682. To demonstrate that the city was not under any threat, the king had the city walls demolished and replaced with tree-lined streets. He also added a bounty of landmarks such as Les Invalides.

Napoleon Bonaparte erected monuments, but these related to relating to military glory. The most iconic is the Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon III, directed the newly appointed prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, in a gigantic public works project. This included widening the boulevards, a new opera house, and parks, including the Bois de Boulogne.

Paris Landmarks

Paris is a total cliché, a beautiful city, easy to wander around. Or you can hop on the metro (the Paris Métro serves 5.23 million passengers daily and is the second-busiest metro system in Europe after the Moscow Metro) and admire all the art deco signage. The river is romantic, the buildings gorgeous. The historical district along the Seine in the city centre has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. Popular landmarks there include the 12th-century, Gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral (The Bells, the Bells) on the Île de la Cité. That's now closed for renovation after the 15 April 2019 fire.

Other tourist sites include the Gothic royal chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, also on the Île de la Cité, the Eiffel Tower, constructed for the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889, the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, built for the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900, the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Élysées and the hill of Montmartre with its artistic history and its Basilica of Sacré-Coeur.

The Eiffel Tower is excellent from a distance. (I've read that the Parisians hated it when it was first erected.) I don’t enjoy the glass lift or the open sided top deck. There's an equally good (if not better view as you can see the Eiffel Tower too) from the less vertigo inducing Montparnasse Observation Deck.

Fashionable Le Marais, the former Jewish quarter is elegant, filled with arcades, hip boutiques and gay bars. The Place des Vosges here is the oldest planned square in Paris (1612). It has fancy lawns and is lined with trees and red brick houses. There's also the Musée Victor Hugo, where the writer lived.

Art Galleries

The galleries of Paris are replete with famous works. For me, the Musee d 'Orsay with its impressionist and post impressionist art, rather than the bustling Louvre with its glass pyramid. (The Louvre Palace was originally a fortress). The Musée Marmottan Monet and Musée de l'Orangerie are also noted for their collections of French Impressionist art. And I mustn't forget the Musée Rodin and the Musée Picasso. Amongst others.

But my favourite Parisian building (both inside and out) is the high-tech inside-out Richard Rogers designed Pompidou Centre Musée National d'Art Moderne. It houses the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe.

Montmartre

The first time I went to Paris we stayed on the edge of Montmartre, on the Boulevard de Clichy, near the famous Moulin Rouge Cabaret. My mother had her purse stolen on the metro. So, we were bundled into a police van, siren blaring, pin-pon, across cobbled streets, to get back to the correct arrondissement to report the loss. The officer concerned affected not to understand my school girl French, so I conversed with him in German. On the way back we witnessed a knife fight on the platform at Pigalle Station.

It took my mother the rest of the day to get over the shocks. But we admired the Sacre Coeur, had our portraits drawn in the square on the top of Montmartre Hill and ate in fast food restaurants. My father said the proper restaurants were too expensive. He might have been right. I’ve struggled every time I’ve been to find decent food in the capital. Much of it is very ‘tourist menu’.

Shopping in Paris

Paris is famous for its café culture and designer shopping along the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The Left Bank is good for glamorous boutiques. The glazed partly subterranean malls at Les Halles succeed a city market place that dates from 1137. Even the department stores are sophisticated. Stained glass and proper balconied galleries. (In Galeries Lafayette - where you can get free views across Paris from the roof top café). I still have the red laced velvet boots, which I saw displayed on a cushion in my size at the top of an escalator. What else could I do?

See also: France in a Nutshell

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