Sunday, 26 October 2008

18th October - Collobrieres / Beaulieu sur Mer

Saturday and our last day in Collobrieres. It's been a great week and we managed to cram in a lot of sightseeing. But for today it was a chance to take some pictures of the village itself and the apartment as a reminder of our stay.

Just a bit of geography before I begin, Collobrieres is a village approximately 1 and a half hours drive south-west of Nice. It's in the heart of rural Provence albeit in the mountains of Les Maures. Nearest major town is Toulouse on the south coast. On reflection we would have preferred to have been a bit closer to Nice but with a bit of organising and pre-planning we managed to use Collobrieres as our base and have day trips to the more popular areas of Nice, Monaco, Cannes etc. Looking back the effort for staying outwith the main area of Nice was rewarded by having the ability to sample and enjoy local, rural France. We were lucky to have found a village as friendly and welcoming as Collobrieres. If we had wanted to we could have found everything we wanted in the village - great local produce, fabulous eateries and restaurants, Post Office and some gift shops.

The village is centred round a main street with many narrow, tall side streets off it. This is typical of the streets around the apartments. Many buildings I think it fair to say would benefit from a little upgrading but in some parts of the village buildings have been renovated and are of a high standard.

The apartment itself was advertised as a one bedroom apartment above an artists studio. Inside it was very clean and comfortable and furnished with very traditional French furniture. The kitchen was spacious with room to eat in it and a lovely painted mural on the wall above the cooking area.

As is typical of a lot of small French properties the bathroom is off the kitchen!!! A bit unusual from what we are used to in the UK but hey it worked fine. Just so long as you remembered to shut the door before you did your business.

The living and dining area was semi open plan. Judging by the archways it looks like it may have been two separate rooms in the past.

One of the key features of the apartment was the tall windows with shutters leading out onto shallow balconies. It overlooked the main street of Collobrieres. That I thought was a lovely feature of the apartment, very French. It was lovely to open up the windows and shutters in the morning a let the light and sounds stream in. You can see the windows and shutters in the middle picture above.

The one bedroom was a fair size and the built in wardrobes were spacious and partly shelved. However unlike our traditional sliding doors they had ceiling to floor drapes which you pulled apart using long wooden rods. Strange but I assume typical of these types of apartments.

We also had a long window and shutters in our bedroom.

The first impression of the apartment is a bit daunting to say the least. The apartment is on the second floor and you get to it by climbing up a large spiral, terracotta tiles stairway. A bit tricky with luggage!!! And certainly not worth attempting after a night out on the town!!!

This is a view of the apartment from the front. It's the second floor and spans 3 of the windows. There is considerable privacy afforded by the large chestnut tree in front. The art gallery/studio is on the ground floor.

Another view of the main street in Collobrieres.

Having packed up the car with our luggage we were set for our last trip to Nice, to the airport to begin our journey home to Scotland. We stopped off for lunch on way taking in some nice little towns of Villefranche, Cap de Ferrat and Beaulieu sur Mer. We stopped off at the last place for lunch, in a little bay area. It was quite an unexpected find.

Looking up from the bay were large expensive looking villas built precariously close to the cliff edge.

But the gem of a place was a delightful white painted house close to the beach area itself. One of my favourites from our entire trip. You can see it centre right of the picture below, just above the beach.

and here is a close up of the house itself. I could imagine myself sitting on the terrace there reading a book with an ipod on. Oh yes.

Amber enjoyed our last lunch spot too. Here she is admiring the sea, again with my lovely house in the background.

And from here we waved goodbye to the south of France. It is fair to say a fantastic week and not so much a goodbye rather than "until next time."

Hope you enjoyed our blog of our holiday.

Andrew, Angela and Amber

17th October - Grimaud / Port Minera

Our last full day of our holiday so it was up to us to chose a final place to return to. Ideally we didn't want to travel too far since we'd clocked up about 1000 miles so far that week!!! Grimaud was chosen, not too far away and we could swing by some of the southern coastline on our way. And yes you guessed our SatNav did us proud again and opted for another fantastic mountainous route!!! thanks for the views!!!! thanks for the shattered nerves again.

We pulled over at one of the few stop off places in the mountains and managed a nice picture of our lovely SKODA. It's served us well alas up to that point on our holiday so I truly cannot condemn it too much.

Les Massif Maures mountain range are apparently reknowned for their forest fires during the hot weather. There have been some pretty horrendous fires reported over the years. A statue had been put up in memory of firefighters who had died in the line of duty.

Another 8km and we were back on lower ground......... phew! And back in Grimaud, a village we'd visited earlier in the week and one that we really liked. Hence the return trip. We went exploring more of the narrow streets in the village and came across the local church which had escaped us on our last adventure. Again a very simple looking place on the outside........

but quite grand in the inside. It was a silent church as well......... a notice which I only spotted as we exited the church.......ooops.......... sorry God!!

The stained glass windows were very unusual and quite different from the traditional stained glass you see. It was very thick and more rustic the way it was made. Looked like molten glass with chunks of melted glass placed on it to make the picture and colours. Very effective, very unusual.

More walking through the narrow streets of Grimaud.

before stopping off for lunch at a little cafe in Grimaud called La Patisserie du Chateau. Amber needed some liquid refreshment.

The terrace where we had our lunch - some tasty spinach pastries, a local pizza speciality of layers of onions with anchovies latticed on top. And being a pattiserie the most amazing sponge and cream cake whilst Andrew opted for a very rich and gorgeous chocolate cake. Amber was back on the meringue trail.

Now I don't claim to be an expert on trees but we saw a lot of them seemed to be quite hollow inside. I thought it might be a sign of drought as they were growing??? But the hollow gaps were posing a danger if there were any high winds so many of the trees had strong metal bands around them, holding them together. The bigger trees had metal pins inside them!!!

This was the little art gallery we were in earlier on in the week. Tiny little shop but over 4 floors with some great works. Here is the link if you want a little look - Galerie Philippe Paschos My favourites were the Tristan Ra pieces.

and another photo opportunity presented itself to Amber.

We then headed towards the nearest south coast to the apartment. We stopped at a place called Port Minera. A small town with a long straight road leading to the harbour front. Some parts of the harbour had been regenerated - new decking, modern bridges and the harbour itself appeared to have been recently dredged and a rock causeway built.

alas some buildings have so far escaped the regeneration. Here was one "doer upper" that Andrew spotted.

The harbour was a working leisure harbour with sailing lessons carried out for children. They went out in the own basic mini yachts and were taught some sailing skills then the teacher would hook them all up at the end of the lesson and you had this charming colourful parade of them returning after their sailing lesson.

View from the rock causeway where we sat and watched the sailing lesson unfold.

Looking back inland from the end of the causeway....... you can tell it was quite a long causeway.

The heat was too much for Andrew who decided to roll up his chinos and pose for this great shot. He looks like an Austrian in lederhosen!!!!!

Not wanting to be out-done Amber followed suit with her capri pants rolled up and a similar pose.

This was the end of the long stretch leading to the harbour. The road markings make this picture looking rather peculiar!!!

Back to the car and another photo opportunity for Andrew's precious SKODA.

We had packing to do so we headed back to the apartment but not before a few more pictures of the village of Collobrieres. This is the main street below the apartment.

Narrow side streets just up from the apartment.

One of the main town squares - close by the grocers shop and one of the boulangeries.

Talk of the was one of Andrew's favourite boulangeries.

And if that one was closed there was always another one!!!

I found what became one of my favourite little shops in Collobrieres. Not least because it was an interior design shop. Some fabulous stuff in it. I bought a lovely linen throw and some small scented cushions. All beautifully made.

We headed up to another restaurant in the village called Le Petit Fontaine. We had one of our best meals in here. The food was all locally sourced and traditionally prepared which was a nice treat for us. For starters we had jambon cruz, tarte provencale and maison terrine. All yummy. Our main courses were lasagne [Amber] poulet provencale [Ange] and lapin chaussure [Andrew]. In case your French is a bit rusty, lapin is rabbit!!! A plate of local cheese, mostly goats cheese then arrived. All lovely, a couple maybe a bit too potent!!! Desserts consisted of tarte aux peche, tarte auz poire and lemon sorbet. Ending the meal with some coffee and a large bottle of a rather dodgy looking licquer. We ended the meal with a walk around Collobrieres and back to our apartment which only left packing the suitcases for me, ready for our return back to Scotland the next day.

16th October - Monaco

Thursday it was and the week seemed to be flying in. Monaco was on the cards today so after breakfast we headed off in the car. No stops on the way today; we wanted to arrive in good time to see things. Monaco had the best idea for dealing with those small, scary mountain roads; it basically didn't bother trying!! Instead they had a series of tunnels blasted into the mountains. I felt more reassured driving through them rather on narrow bending mountain roads which you drove on constantly feeling you were inches from death.

I was excited about visiting Monaco. Home of the Grimaldis whose history seemed to be tainted by misfortunes. There was of course the famous marriage of Prince Rainier to Grace Kelly in 1956. Sadly she lost her life in a car accident in 1982. She was the inspiration though for a lot of the glamour brought to Monaco. The Grimaldi curse continued though when Princess Caroline lost her husband Stefano Casiraghi who died in 1990 when he was competing in the World Offshore Boat Race. And the least said about Princess Stephanies ill fated liaisons with the bodyguard and chap from the circus the better.

We parked up in the centre of Monaco and headed to one of the sights on our list - Princess Grace Rose Garden. Built in her memory after she died in the car accident, the garden is near the centre of Monaco. Close to the entrance is a large bronze statue of a donkey and cart. The donkey represents sorrow I think, either that or she really liked donkeys!!!!

Looking up we also spotted an apartment block with it's own rooftop garden!!! How queer is that?

But back to the rose garden. The garden is set out with little paths that lead you through a huge range of roses, all carefully labelled. Smells and colours were lovely. A very fitting memory to Grace Kelly.

In the centre of the garden is a bronze statue with a pretty verse engraved in stone.

What is so special about a rose that it seems far more than a flower?
Perhaps it is the mystery it has gathered through the ages.
Perhaps it is the joy that it continues to give.

Monaco does not cover a huge area and the apartment blocks appear to have been stuck into every available bit of the hillside. Quite dense. Must have been a planners nightmare sorting that lot out.

You can see just how dense the building are; almost cluttered!! This is the view from the main marina.

There is a large hilly outcrop out into the sea and on top of that is Prince Rainier's palace and apartments. Nice views over the harbout. The palace is sprawling; it's like a town in itself.

Walking through Monaco you can see just how much time and care is taken by the local authority/councils to keep the place looking good. Grand flower beds with the odd wacky fish statue!!

And if they have to build a tunnel from the elevators that lead you out of the shopping centre they make sure it's as attractive as possible!! Fancy lighting leads you along this tunnel.

I'd mentioned in Monaco they don't shy away from blasting a hole in a mountain if they want a road to go somewhere. This picture gives you an idea of just how they do it!!! Who put that mountain in the way?

This next picture seems to sum up just how clean and organised the city was. Wonderful roundabouts planted out with no expense spared. I like the casual pose of the policeman too, obviously quite chilled and laid back by his tasks that day. Incidently Monaco has 1 policeman for every 100 of the population. No wonder its a safe place to stay.

It's a town that likes to show off its sculptures too. Not your typical soldiers or king statues though; strange statues placed in strange and unexpected places. After all these telephone kiosks did look a bit plain; they needed cheering up.

And just to advertise the wealth that clearly exists in Monaco, bronze is replaced by gold in some statues.

This is another view of the Prince's palace from the main marina.

And some more lovely apartments close by some rather tasty little boutiques!!!

How the rich live, an apartment with a parking space for your car and your boat.

The buildings were so grand and oppulent. This is the Monaco Opera house. I'd have happily stood and admired this even without the prospect of a ticket to see the opera itself!!!

It was a long and uphill walk for us at this stage but eventually we reached Monte Carlo. And what do people go to Monte Carlo for? The casino!!!! Imagine a chocolate box piece of architecture [Charles Garnier was the architect built in 1879] covered in pastel colours, gilt, cherubs and elaborate rococo trimmings and you've got Monaco's Casino.

It has a colourful history too with the ultra glamourous gambler Mata Hari. Not a lady to mess with when a fellow gambler put his arm round her waist and she clearly objected. Now most normal people would just have them told but not Ms Mata Hari who chose to pull out a gun and shoot him in the chest!!! Another great story was the story of the man who broke the bank in Monte Carlo - Charles Deville Wells. Despite being a crook he apparently legitimately played the casino for 3 days solid netting himself a cool 4 million francs! Nice work when you can get it. Post investigations showed no evidence of cheating despite his shady past. Hence his claim to fame as being the man who broke the bank in Monte Carlo.

Enough of the ramblings though....... here is the grand entrance to the casino.

And naturally the roundabout in front of it needs some eccentric metal and water sculpture.

Between the fantastic sights and buildings ..... and the rather tiring hike up the hill, we'd built up quite an appetite. And when you are in Monaco where better to eat than the Cafe de Paris. Une table pour trois s'il vous plait?

Lovely meal with Andrew opting for a more traditional selection of calves liver and bacon. Fish for Amber and raviolli with ricotta and spinach for me. Some truly great desserts to follow and a bill that would make a dent in your wallet!! Despite being the cafe to be seen and fairly up market it wasn't the least bit stuck up. The waitress that served us was one of the nicest, friendliest people you could ever meet.

Back on our feet and back down the hill we went, with some elegant window shopping on the way.

and more views of the main marina/harbour.

Andrew spotted this rather charming little apartment with a circular balcony. Thought it might do as a little des res for me!!! You can just see it on the left of the picture, about half way up.

Monte Carlo of course is famous for its racing too. That following weekend, the marina was due to be transformed into a racing track for the major Monte Carlo Go Karting race. Amber was really taken by it and if she had her way she'd have been on the starting line in one of those little karts. Judging by the noise though I suspect those innocent looking little karts could fairly travel at some speed!!!

A closer picture of the Palais du Prince. I must confess it's not as grand as I thought it would be. Personally I'd rather have made my palace in the Casino!!!!

I couldn't resist a spot of shopping and we stumbled across my favourite......... a great designer kitchen shop!!! Came out with a lovely tall Alessi Pepper Mill. Note another scuplture outside the shop!!!

and another scuplture handing from a lampost!!!

Sadly we had to wave good bye to Monaco and head back to the apartment. We swung by another wealthy hilltop village called Eze. Although it was getting dark you can imagine just how wonderful the views would have been.

Another full and exhausting day - our beds were a welcome sight!!!