Walk through historic Le Marais, the most "branché" neighbourhood of Paris, to the supremely elegant Place des Vosges. Victor Hugo was inspired by what he saw from his window at number six, which is now a museum to the great author. The red bricks, natural stone and grey slate mansard roofs of the perfectly proportioned square are best appreciated from its pretty park. Picnic on baguettes by the fountains and trees, while the kids play in the sandpit. But don't sit on the lawns if the "pelouse au repos" signs are out.
Maison de Victor Hugo, 6 Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris
+33 1 42 72 10 16
Google map: bit.ly/L4Ikxt
Grab a bottle of something red or even sparkling from an off-licence and head down to the Seine. In the summer you will see lots of locals just sitting and sipping along the river banks. There is nothing more relaxing than joining them, watching the world go by.
Almost anywhere along the stretch of the Seine between Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
After a summer's morning walking the streets of Paris this cafe is a real find. Part of the Mosquee de Paris, it is tucked away in a tranquil, shaded courtyard. Waiters bring trays of perfect mint tea and sweet pastries and you can while away the time admiring the ripening figs overhead. Once refreshed you can take a stroll around the nearby Jardin de Plantes, Paris's beautitful old botanical gardens.
It is a disused elevated railway line that has been turned into a very attractive park. Reach it from a set of stone steps behind the Bastille Opera House and walk along it for as far as the Peripherique if you want. It is extremely relaxing, with trees, flowers, water features, benches and a big park half way along. There are lots of places to access street level for food, drinks and toilet stops.
Paris is for walking, yet teems with cars and tour buses. Banish their omnipresent blare by taking the steps down to river level at every opportunity. For 2000 years the Seine has been Paris’ pulse. Looking up at Notre Dame from the left bank quayside instead of from the roadside, it’s easy to imagine scenes from the city’s rich historical – and fictional – past. Like de Gaulle remaining unflustered as sniper shots fired by pro-Nazi sympathisers concealed within the cathedral’s cavernous interior narrowly missed turning the1944 mass to celebrate the liberation of Paris into a massacre. Or Quasimodo sliding down his rope to rescue a praying Esmeralda about to be led to the gallows. Sight Seeker’s Delight pack phenomenal detail into their 4-hour Seine walking tour, and, on Sundays, the right bank running close to the Eiffel Tower is closed to traffic and given over to pedestrians before being transformed into Paris Plages for a month from 20 July: several kilometres of sand, seaside fun and stunning views.
Discovered this very good restaurant and winebar on the way back to Gare Du Nord. Its only 10 minutes on foot from checking in for the return Eurostar journey to London.
A godsend! Calm, pleasant environment with extremely tasty meals and wine. The serving staff were pleasant and helpful.
We will be back!
If you ever thought to yourself, publicly or privately, what's the big deal about Bob Dylan? What's all the fuss about? Then this exhibition is for you. Equally if, like me, you are already a believer then this will only serve to fuel the fire. Compiled by the Grammy Museum of Los Angeles, "Bob Dylan, Rock explosion" takes you on a journey through his influences, image changes and historical backdrop. It includes photographs by Daniel Kramer, footage from the documentary "Don't Look Back", memorabilia connected to his childhood and formative influences and (my favourite part) areas to simply sit and listen to his music and read his lyrics. You'll be rushing home afterwards to listen to your favourite Dylan record.
We had a fantastic holiday staying on a campsite in a mobile home, next to the town of Jard Sur Mer in the Vendee. The campsite was fifteen minutes walk from the picturesque harbour and beautiful beaches.
Our accommodation was spotlessly clean, well equipped, our hosts welcoming and the mobile home was in a great spot on the campsite.
A lovely little Italian place off the main drag in Chamonix which does spectacular pizzas. I had the marinara which was huge and had a beautiful tomato sauce and the dough was just perfect - thin, a bit crispy, bit squidgy. Glass of perfect temperature Barbera topped it all off nicely. The other clientele ranged from gnarly looking climber types, to families and couples. Low lighting, no fuss decor and you can eat at the heavy wooden bar if you want. In a town where eating out generally leaves you broke it's good value, unpretentious and tasty.
GR51 hiking trail is known as Balcony of the Cote d’Azur and a part of it passes through some of the highest coastal villages in France. It is possible to do the St Agnes-Gorbio hike on a day trip from Nice by taking a train to Menton followed by a bus ride to the beautiful St Agnes. The Grobio trek via the highest peak in between two villages takes up to six hours with breathtaking views of the coast, sea, Alpes Maritime and Italy. The public transport from Gorbio gets in in time for a short wander through the gorgeous Menton and a seafood dinner in many of its restaurants.
La Balagne, in northern Corsica, is criss-crossed with walking paths, ranging from the sedate to those requiring crampons.The mountains and valleys are wild, unspoilt and crowd-free; scattered with fig, olive and chestnut trees, and fragrant maquis. From timeless mountain villages such as Ville de Paraso and Speloncato, there are stunning views across the Regino valley towards the distant coast, and as the light changes in the afternoon, the jutting ridges of granite glow pink. Late spring and early summer are the best time for walking; July and August are usually too hot.
To me, the 105 mile Tour du Mont Blanc encompasses all that is great in the 'great outdoors' - from the majesty of the spiring mountains to the fresh sweet smell of the alpine ﬂora, the piercing blue still glacial lakes beneath the grandiose glaciers, the gushing torrents racing to the deafening waterfalls, the loud whistle of the invisible marmot juxtaposed with the silent grazing of the charming ibex - the ancient past that time has not forgotten. The TMB really is to reach the sublime; what isn't there to love?
This is an energetic trek taking in the best of the French, Italian and Swiss alps, crossing three high mountain passes, sleeping in a variety of remote mountain huts such as Lac Blanc, Rifugio Elisabetta and Refugio Bonatti to boutique guest-houses in the busy towns of Chamonix and Courmayeur. Be ﬂexible and organise your own trek using the cicerone guide written by Kevin Reynolds - he became a bit of a hero to us. Then to top it off, why not paraglide from the Aiguille du midi - I thoroughly recommend it.
Cicerone Guide: www.cicerone.co.uk/product/detail.cfm/book/532
Google map: bit.ly/JkliOu
A selection of the numerous mountain huts:
Information for the Aiguille du Midi:
The “Lac Blanc”, at an altitude of 2500m, is at the heart of the National Park La Vanoise and is situated near Pralognan. Leave your car at “Pont de la Pêche”. The climb to the lake takes up to 3 hours and you’ll need a further 2h30 for the return journey. While walking, enjoy the beautiful mountains around you and the colourful flora. If you’re lucky, you might see marmots, ibexes and chamois. The “Lac Blanc” is quite a sight: a deposit of minerals gives it a strange milky colour. The slopes down the lake are an ideal setting for a picnic.
A charmingly old fashioned, year-round town where the Camargue meets the sea. Watch the fishing fleet return from one of the harbour-side restaurants, past the abandoned lighthouse. Ideal for walking, the huge expanses of the Plage l'Espiguette merge into the wetlands (abounding with white horses, black bulls and flamingos) and surreal salt flats that divide Le Grau du Roi from its medieval walled neighbour at Aigues Mortes.
The village of Genêts is located in Mont Saint Michel Bay. From the Bec d’Andaine land end, we discover the magnificent scenery of the Bay area and its world famous tides. A guided cross on foot takes about three to four hours to reach Mont St Michel. During the cross, you will enjoy untouched wildness with salt marsh lambs “pré-salé”, birds (bernacles, scoter, etc) and seals.
After this day you deserve a diner at Chez Francois simple and delicious meals based on local products grilled over a wood fire in his antique chimney.
This is a sweet little café overlooking the harbour in the pretty hollyhock-lined island village of Ars-en-Ré. We sat on one of the tables on the outdoor terrace last summer and watched the world go by in a very leisurely fashion - the Île de Ré is completely flat and so is known for its cycle paths and lack of cars. Their coffee is fantastic, but if you really want to push the boat out, order a plate of the local oysters fresh from the sea just metres away from your table.
I’ll let you into a secret. A hidden corner of one of our closest neighbours where the food is exquisite, the sun shines every day, Catalan and French cultures fuse and the local rose is cheap and inoffensive.
Avoid airport tantrums and restrictive baggage allowances and instead, jump in your car, throw in the children and their paraphernalia then cross the channel and drive south until you reach the Med but don’t turn left and follow the hordes to Nice and Provence but instead head right towards the Pyrenees where, tucked between the Med and the mountains, you will find the Cote Vermeille region basking in the sun, where even in August, you can find space on a beach and a table in a restaurant.
Port Vendres is a deep sea port and marina, crammed with rows of gleaming motor boats and yachts, yet still a working harbour edged by a tangle of nets and ropes. Rows of terracotta topped town houses tumble down its hilly flanks to the palm tree lined streets where a healthy smattering of bars and seafood restaurants host a mixture of primarily French tourists and the odd crusty local sea dog. The morning’s fresh fish and seafood can be purchased from the quayside or sampled al fresco in one of the eateries.
Within an easy drive of the long sandy beaches of Argeles sur Mer or inland Larqoue des Alberes where old houses cluster about a hill topped with a small tower and a meal can be taken on the sun dappled square next to the church from Hotel Le Catalan.
Take a jaunt on the road train to picture perfect neighbour Collioure home to a fine fortress returning via a vertiginous route through the vineyards or travel along the cornice road and over the border into Spain, (you can tell you’re in Spain as the road disintegrates into a pot holed track) and down into Portbou for some tapas and dos cerveza por favor.
An authentic fish stew served with aioli - succulent pieces of fish served in a tasty broth with little pieces of crusty bread topped with a rich garlic mayonnaise - try eating at the local fisherman's cafe rather than the tourist restaurants on the quay. It's cheaper, the taste is much more authentic and the locals are friendly and talkative - the portions are huge too!
Marseille fish quay
Google map: bit.ly/JvhIQ8
Crozon is a peninsula with three prongs at the end: the northern one faces Brest, the western one the Atlantic, and the southern - well - towards the south. Rocky headlands, some with forts (from the Bronze age to the Second World War), alternate with unspoilt sandy beaches, and the fishing ports of Le Fret, Camaret and Morgat. Rather like western Pembrokeshire, but with a French ambience and different history. Ideal for family holidays away from big resorts.
It projects out into the Baie de Douarnenez, south of Brest.
Google map: bit.ly/IsOiDB
A resort south of the Loire which has a 12 km stretch of golden sand. The vast expanse of sea, sky and sand has inspired many an artist. A great place for swimming, surfing and sailing (the Vendee Globe yacht race starts and ends here). Visit the seashell museum and the museum of contemporary art and local traditions.
Buy local produce at the bustling covered market where there’s an array of attractively arranged fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables. Tour the local salt marshes, which are situated a few miles out of town, by boat.
Pays de La Loire
Google map: bit.ly/HNeFmW
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