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Guide To Greoux-les-Bains

June 21, 2018 · Filed Under See France Destination Guides · Comment 

Greoux-les-Bains is a town in Provence that is perhaps best known as being a centre for high quality thermal waters. Its reputation is a long one, going back as far as 2000 years ago when the Romans controlled the region. The town itself is fairly typical for Provence and has three distinct parts. First there is the castle that sits above Greoux-les-Bainshill, second is the town centre filled with cafes and shops and finally there are of course the famous thermal baths.

Exploring Gréoux-les-Bains

Greoux-les-Bains is not exactly a major tourist destination unless you are someone who likes taking thermal baths, however if you are visiting Provence and are nearby you will have a pleasant experience. If you want a taste of history visit the Chateau des Hospitaliers de Saint-Jean which is a templar castle built during the 12th century and are now stands in ruins overlooking the town. The castle itself is in bad condition and there is not much to do when you get there, but it is a lovely spot for a picnic and there are some scenic views of the town below.

Town centre and spa

The town centre is wonderful and you will really enjoy exploring it, stopping of at any one of the numerous cafes throughout the day if it gets really hot. There are some narrow winding medieval streets you can wander around where you will find treasures such as a traditional lavoir or a babbling fountain. If you have time make sure you visit the Church of Notre Dame les Ormeaux. If you want a bit of pampering head to the spa which is one of the leading centres in France. The town baths offer a wide range of treatments, plus there is a restaurant and accommodation. You can end your tour with a walk along the banks of the River Verdon which flows below Greoux-les-Bains. It’s a pretty scenic stroll set against the backdrop of cliffs and trees.

Local highlights

The town of Greoux-les-Bains sits in some very attractive countryside filled with lavender fields. There is a lake nearby which is well worth visiting because there are some lovely walks to be had and you can hire a boat or take a cruise. If you still need more head to the town of Lac de Sainte-Croix where there are plenty of leisure activities you can participate in and of course, there is the unmissable Gorges du Verdon which is very nearby.

Greoux les bains by ADT 04, on Flickr

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The Sweet Scent Of Grasse

June 14, 2018 · Filed Under See France Destination Guides · Comment 

Grasse is located less than half an hour’s drive just North of Cannes. The town earned its reputation as a centre for leather tanneries, however this reputation evolved as it became a centre for perfume production, something Grasse to this day remains famous for. Rather unsurprisingly there is an International Museum of Perfume and there are four major manufacturers still based in the town. Despite all that there is still much more to Grasse than simply its perfume.

Exploring Grasse

Grasse is rather pleasant to wander around and when you do that you will realise it is not a small place. A good place to begin your tour is in the old town which will very much be the highlight of your visit. There are a number of very old buildings that possess plenty of character and despite being extremely popular with tourists the old itself remains very traditional and is one of the most extensive in the region. You will see lots of tall narrow houses that have been painted in pastel orange which serves to brighten up the narrow streets. As you explore you will discover an assortment of open squares, shops, cafes and restaurants.

Grasse Perfume

Aside from the Museum of Perfume, there are a number of other museums also worth visiting including one dedicate to art in Provence, another celebrating marine activities plus you can also visit the Fragonard perfume company. Grasse’s perfume industry began towards the end of the 18th century and is now often referred to as being the perfume capital of the world. The town produces more than two-thirds of France’s natural fragrances and earns over 600 million Euros a year.

Visit the perfumeries

The reason for all this success is the part of Provence Grasse is located in has a particular microclimate that encourages flower farming. It is warm and is also far away from the sea to be sheltered from the salty air. There is also plenty of water in the area. Jasmine, which serves as the main ingredient for most fragrances was first brought to the South of France by the Moors during the 16th century. Since then production has grown to about 27 tonnes every year. If you have a chance make sure you visit at least one of the perfumeries in Grasse that are open to the public.

Grasse, Provence by David Fisher, on Flickr

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Get To Gourdon

June 7, 2018 · Filed Under See France Destination Guides · Comment 

Gourdon is another village in Provence that is part of the most beautiful villages of France list. As you approach the village you will find yourself climbing increasingly higher through the rocky forested valley. As you do this it is impossible to be anything but impressed by your first look at Gourdon. The village sits high on a rocky outcrop and has some spectacular views across the valley of the Loup river all the way up to the Mediterranean.

Exploring Gourdon

As we just mentioned the main attraction on any visit to Gourdan is its stunning views which is more than enough compensation for having to jostle with the tourist crowds for a few hours. The best vantage point to take in the view is at the end of the village at a spot known as the ‘Eagle’s Nest’. The village is in it of itself an attraction because it has been beautifully restored and its medieval streets are lined with artisanal shops and some lovely old houses.

The museums

Gourdon’s main historic attraction is the Chateau de Gourdon which was first built during the 9th century and subsequently rebuilt in the 16th century. The chateau serves as home to the Museum of Decorative Arts and a Medieval Museum. It is surrounded by a beautiful set of gardens designed by the world-renowned landscape artist Andre le Notre.

A little bit artificial

When you visit Gourdon you may get the sense that you are paying a visit to a tourist attraction rather than a real village. You will probably suspect that Gourdan has very few permanent residents living in the village, so unfortunately Gourdan does lack the lived-in charm that many other villages in Provence have. Do not let this deter you from visiting, in fact we highly recommend it, even if it is just to enjoy the approach to the village and the castle and take in the views, just make sure Gourdan is not the final destination.

Make sure you visit other destinations

There are plenty of other villages in Provence with equally spectacular views and have a much more authentic lived-in feel to them. Though we most say none of them look anywhere near as amazing as Gourdon does from across the valley. One of the many interesting places in the region around Gourdon that we recommend you pay a visit to is Valbonne. This is because it gets far less attention than it deserves and if you are trekking out do Gourdon you may as well make time to visit Valbonne as well.

Gourdon by Christophe Delaere, on Flickr

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Your Guide To The Gorges du Verdon

May 28, 2018 · Filed Under See France Destination Guides · Comment 

Many people like to refer to the Gorges of the River Verdon as the Grand Canyon of Europe and its not hard to see why, it is extraordinarily beautiful. Like its North American counterpart, the River Verdon carved out the canyon and there is a stunning turquoise river that flows at the base of some very high limestone cliffs. Because of its extraordinary beauty it is part of the official list of Grand Sites of France.

Exploring the Gorges du Verdon

The canyon is very popular with both tourists who choose to explore it in their vehicles or those who prefer to kayak, raft or walk along the banks of the river. Other popular activities are of course rock climbing and fishing. The canyon itself measures 700 metres at its deepest and at its widest about 1500 metres. It is estimated that the canyon developed over 2 million years and in 1997 the Natural Regional Park was created to ensure its unique environment remains protected.

Driving the Gorges du Verdon

You can choose to do a 130-kilometre drive along the top of the Gorges but be aware that the routes are slow which is an advantage because it does give you time to take in the stunning views. The main route is a drive between Aiguines and Moustiers-Saint-Marie in the West or if you are in the East you can choose to drive between Trigance and Castellane. There are plenty of rest spots along the routes where you can stop and enjoy the scenery. Occasionally you will perhaps want to stay a while at one of these spots so make sure you allocate lots of time for the drive.

Hiking the Gorges du Verdon

If you are more of the active kind of person you can take a 15-kilometre hike along a path known as the Sentier Martel that will take you through the canyon. If you are not perturbed by heights, this is a fabulous hike to do but make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots and enough water to get you through the walk. If you don’t want to trek all the way back then you can choose to take a taxi or minibus back to your car after you have completed your hike.

Canoeing and rafting

There are plenty of spots where you can enjoy the pleasures of kayaking and rafting but they do depend on how experienced you are in these activities and also upon the season. If you like to canoe and are experienced, then the best place to visit is the section of the upper gorges between Saint Andre and Allos but make sure you visit between late Spring and early Summer. If you don’t have a lot of experience kayaking then head to the pre-gorges which is open for most of the year with the exception of Winter. Most tourists are casual and prefer to rent pedalos and canoes next to the Pont de Galetas and if you decide this is doe you will see plenty of other boats in the water because it is a great way to end your tour if you have spent most of the day sitting in your car.

Lac du Saint Croix and Gorge du Verdon by Mike Sloan, on Flickr

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Gorgeous Gordes

May 21, 2018 · Filed Under See France Destination Guides · Comment 

Gordes is part of the official list of France’s most beautiful villages and is about a 40-minute drive East of Avignon. The village sits on the slopes of a large rock in Provence’s Luberon area. When you visit Gordes you will not question its inclusion in the list. It is a beautiful Provencal village complete with narrow cobbled streets that wind their way up past the large antique houses, a church and finally to the castle that stands overlooking the village. When you get to the top you get some spectacular views of the Luberon mountains.

Explore Gordes

If you visit Gordes you will need to park your vehicle on the Northern side of the village which means your visit will begin in the upper part of Gordes. So you will start with the castle and the church at the top of the hill and then descend down the hill to explore the rest of the village. The castle is easily the most important historical attraction in Gordes and was originally built in 1031 and subsequently rebuilt in 1521 and since then has been carefully restored. It is an imposing structure featuring high stone walls and round towers and one could easily describe it as being a combination of medieval and Renaissance architecture.

The castle

Within the castle you will find the village Tourist Office and the castle often serves as the venue for temporary art exhibitions. When you get to the tourist office you should request a map because without it, you will not be able to find the hidden gems dotted throughout the alleys of the village. Right next to the castle you will see a square fountain and whilst at first glance it may seem rather unremarkable, you will be surprised to learn that this fountain was the only source of drinking water for village residents right until 1956.

Take a stroll

You should walk down the small lane at the bottom of Place GentyPantaly if you want to get to the Church of Saint-Firmin. Right next door to the church you will find the entrance to the Chaplaincy of Saint-Jaques, but beyond a wooden door set in a stone doorway there is nothing else to see. There is an arch located adjacent to the chaplaincy which used to serve as one of the original entrances into Gordes through its defensive ramparts.

Experience the views

You should also take a trip to the Theatre des Terrasses which has some beautiful views of the South. After doing that wander back up the hill and back into the centre of the village. If you still have energy you can even take a longer route the descends down the hill from the vantage point and then turns into the lower part of the village where there are plenty of stone houses and gardens. If you do decide to visit Provence you should put Gordes on your itinerary. It is very popular and you won’t be surprised by the fact that it is considered one of the country’s most beautiful villages.

Gordes by shadowgate, on Flickr

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Glorious Gorbio

May 14, 2018 · Filed Under See France Destination Guides · Comment 

You can find the village of Gorbio sitting on the side of a hill just a short distance inland from the Coted’Azur in the South-Eastern part of Provence. Here you will find that you are extremely close to the French border with Italy. As with other villages perched on the side of a hill in this part of Provence, Gorbio is in a stunning location which is a major reason why you should visit. It sits high up in the steep slopes of the Gorbio valley and is covered by trees and olives that rise up around the village.

Exploring Gorbio

Given its location, you will not be surprised that the views from around the village are stunning. Not only do you get great views of the village but there are some amazing views across the Mediterranean. You should begin your visit to Gorbio in the village main square. There is an unusual feature of the village in the square that comes in the form of a splendid elm tree that residents are extremely proud of. The tree is believed to be around 300 years old and is officially listed as one of the most remarkable trees in France. There is also a wonderful fountain in the square that dates back to the 19th century and used to serve as an important source of water for Gorbio.

Pleasant to wander around

The streets of Gorbio are cobbled and narrow and lined with ancient houses built mainly between the 14th and 16th centuries. They wind through the village and this makes exploring Gorbio an extremely pleasant experience. There are some charming covered passageways as well as a tiny open square that you will probably stumble upon as you wander around. Be sure to pay a visit to the Church of Saint-Barthélemy which was built in the 17th century as well as the 12th century Chapel of Saint-Lazare. If you make your way to the edge of the village you will find a large structure that overlooks the valley which is known as the Comtes de Malaussene which is a castle also built during the 17th century.

Try and visit in June

There is also the Chateau de Lascaris which in its heyday from the 12th century was far more substantial, however all that remains is a tower known as the Tour Lascaris. Oddly enough there is also a small museum dedicated to native American art that you can also pay a visit to and hosts the Raza-Montgillat collection. If you do intend to visit, try and time your visit for June when there is an annual procession of penitents lit by small lights made from snail shells. Despite how close Gorbio is to the busy French Riviera the great thing about it, its it is not inundated with tourists which is good because the village facilities are fairly limited.

Gorbio France by Daniel70mi Falciola, on Flickr

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Graceful Gassin

May 7, 2018 · Filed Under See France Destination Guides · Comment 

The only way to describe Gassin is lovely. This village sits high up on rocky land that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and is consistently rated as one of France’s most beautiful villages. If you visit, you should start at the orientation table which is located close by the highest parking area. This is where you will get the most spectacular views of the Bay of Sant-Tropez and the surrounding hills. You can continue to explore by strolling along the medieval terrace known as the Promenade Dei Barri. Eventually you will reach a destination which has some splendid views and some fantastic restaurants with tables set up so you can take in the panorama.

Very pleasant to wander around

The historic village itself is quite small, its main square for example is not even wider than a road but wandering around the village is quite the treat. Make sure you check out the old well which is very interesting. Wherever you go in Gassin you will notice the delicious scent of jasmine that hangs in the air which makes the wandering around the village so pleasant. There is a garden towards the South of Gassin that is well worth visiting and features many plants that Provence is associated with.

A couple of historical monuments

The village of Gassin does not contain many historic monuments but there are one or two, which include the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption. This is actually a church that was built during the 16th century in Roman style with a typical square bell tower. You can also visit another chapel named the Notre-Dame-de-la-Consolation which was constructed in the 11th century and is located in a small park just below Gassin. A new village just below the original medieval village has been constructed and was awarded the top prize for best new town in all of Europe. It was designed by renowned planner Francois Spoerry and is designed using a style based on but not replicating the original village above.

Attractions nearby

Gassin has a sister village called Ramatuelle both of which were originally created to enable locals to escape the numerous pirates patrolling in the Mediterranean. There are also a number of beaches that are quite close by to Gassin which beach goers will love. You should visit the famous beach at Pampelonne as well as other parts of the coast which have now become protected region. If you are looking at a spot of rest and relaxation then make sure you visit the close by Port Grimaud and Saint-Tropez.

Gassin by Monica Arelleno-Ongpin, on Flickr

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Frivolous Frejus

April 28, 2018 · Filed Under See France Destination Guides · Comment 

Frejus is a town in Provence located quite close to the Cote d’Azur. The town itself has long and illustrious history and can trace its origins to well before the arrival of the Romans. 2000 years ago, Frejus was alreadyan important commercial hub and port. The sea has since receded from those days so the main port is now located at Saint Raphael.

Exploring Frejus

The centre of Frejus is a calm place and is also very pretty making it a pleasure to visit. The medieval centre revolves around the Place Formage and on either side of the square you will find the Cathedral of Saint-Leonce on one side and on the other the town hall. The latter previously used to serve as the bishop’s palace, it is painted in a pale orange colour and is certainly a sight to behold. From the square you can take a wander along the side streets where you will find many more pastel-painted houses and shops.

Frejus Cathedral

The main attraction of any visit to Frejus is without a doubt the Cathedral of Saint-Leonce. It is small and attractive and built in a very simple style. The main building was constructed during the 12th century and you will notice the decorative carvings surrounding the entrance to the building. Wait till you get inside the cathedral though, because this is where you will find its true treasure, a baptistry and 12th century cloisters. Frejuswas one of the first French centres of Christianity and as a result the baptistry has a history going back to the 5th century.

You can enter the baptistry through a doorway that was made deliberately low in order to force people to bend over when they enter and then leave fully upright following their baptism. The building is in the shape of an octagon complete with arches and columns around its edges.

Elsewhere in Frejus

You can also pay a visit to the Church of Saint-Maximum which is an attractive building constructed during the 15th century. Throughout the rest of Frejus there are numerous scattered Roman remains including what is left of an aqueduct. There is an amphitheatre and theatre that to this day continue to be used for events during the summer. If you prefer something quirky head to the Chinese pagoda or visit the Sudanese mosque. There is also a memorial to the war in Indochina. There is no real reason why these attractions are in Frejus, nevertheless they are interesting to visit.

Frejus Port and Beach

Inevitably every visitor to Frejus eventually ends up at the port or the beach! That is not surprising, the port is both modern and a pleasure to wander around. Whilst there are few clues regarding its long and storied history left remaining, it is pleasant to take a stroll along the water front promenade. You also have your choice of beaches to visit. Most are sandy and during the summer some of them are supervised, so make sure you choose the best one for you.

Frejus harbour by Steve Slater, on Flickr

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A Tourist’s Guide To Forcalquier

April 21, 2018 · Filed Under See France Destination Guides · Comment 

Forcalquier is a small town in Provence set against a landscape filled with lavender and olives. The town can trace its origins back to the Roman empire when it acted as a stop-over on a trade route connecting Spain with Italy. The town that you see today developed below a citadel that stood at the top of a steep hill overlooking the village between the 10th to 16th centuries. Forcalquier was extremely prosperous during the start of the Middle Ages when it was considered the capital of the Haute Provence region.

Exploring Forcalquier

If you are driving then you will need to park to the North of the town which is quite close to the town’s main square which is known as Place du Bourguet. The main square is easily the best place to begin a visit since there are several attractions of interest located there including the Forcalquier tourist office. The town itself is extremely attractive and it is also a quiet town as well increasing its attraction. There are a number of highlights within the town centre including the cathedral which dominates the main square and was constructed during the 12th century but was completely renovated in the 17th century.

Climb the hill

From the square head into the old town located behind the cathedral where there is plenty to see including some houses with their idiosyncratic wrought iron balconies, fountains, chapels and houses. As you wander along the town’s narrow streets and cobbled path above Forcalquier, you will eventually arrive at the citadel and the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Provence which stand at the top of the hill. Make sure you do travel to the hill top because not only is it the highest point in town but there are some spectacular views across the town’s rooftops and surrounding countryside. In fact, the view itself is more of a reason to make the trek than the citadel itself.

Check out the market

After you have completed your journey to the top of the hill, head back into the town centre and visit the Convent of the Cordeliers. This convent was constructed during the 13th century and has cloisters which can be visited free of charge. They are well maintained and feature a contemporary fountain. Between the convent and the town square there is a synagogue, though no real evidence exists that it was actually used as a place of worship. If you do visit, make sure it is on Monday which is also market day because Forcalquier has one of Provence’s largest and liveliest markets and is very popular with tourists.

forcalquier by Patrck Gaudin, on Flickr

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Visit Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

April 14, 2018 · Filed Under See France Destination Guides · Comment 

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is a village in Provence that is famous for being the source of the River Sorgue. It initially developed as a Roman settlement before turning into a traditional French village, but even before then, the area has had human inhabitants since prehistoric times. The population of the village today stands at roughly 600, however this dramatically increases during the summer. This attractive medieval village is set against a backdrop of the stunning Vaucluse cliffs which when combined with the emerald green river explains why so many tourists visit Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.

Exploring Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

Due to lack of space, you will have to park either on the South or East of the village on the main roads that lead into the centre. From there you can stroll into Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and start your tour at the main square known as the Place de la Colonne. There is a column at the centre of the square that was constructed in 1804 to celebrate the birth of the 14th century Italian poet Petrarch some 500 years earlier and who lived in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse for many years.

Head to the castle

You should cross the bridge and stop of at the village tourist office and ask for a map. From there you can follow a path that will take you to a castle built during the 13th century that overlooks the village. Even if you decide not to walk all the way to castle a short stroll along the path will lead you to some lovely gardens and a very attractive stretch of the river which is the perfect spot for a picnic.

The Source of the Sorgue river

The most obvious tourist attraction is the source of the River Sorgue. It is located just a few hundred metres away from the village and sits in a lovely setting complete with towering cliffs. The green colour of the water is remarkable and the stroll is truly beautiful and must not be missed if you do visit Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. On your way to the source you will find plenty of cafes and stalls selling everything from gifts to ice-cream. It is a bit too busy to begin with. but after a while, as you travel further along the riverside, it becomes more tranquil. The river itself originates form a pool that generates enormous amounts of water.

The paper mill

As you make your way to the source you will pass by a large water mill and make sure you also visit the paper mill which offers a demonstration of how paper was produced during the Middle Ages. Entry to the paper mill is free of cost and you will also have the opportunity to purchase sheets of handmade paper which will be great if you have upcoming nuptials and need to send out posh invites!

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse by Sergio, on Flickr

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