La Caravelle bar is on the first floor of Hotel Belle Vue, and is probably the best place to enjoy a drink in Marseille. Not only does it have a wonderful atmosphere, but your drinks come with free tapas. From within the eclectically-decorated bar or from the beautiful terrace you have amazing views of the Vieux Port and the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde.
34 quai du Port; tel: 04 91 90 36 64
Here's a photo I took of the outside:
Like Bouillabaisse, Marseilles is a city of sinews and bone, uncompromising and greedy. Traditionally centred round the fish market, this is where hard faced dealers are found in the early morning buying crates of lobsters, cod, langoustines, sea bass and hake.
The harsh overhead fluorescents wash the colour from everything except the dark lobsters that struggle against their destiny to be boiled alive. The produce is so fresh there is no smell of fish, only the overpowering cloying stench of Gauloises, the pungent aroma of stale sweat and the ever-present odour of garlic.
By mid–morning the market has been emptied and hosed down. Only the raucous gulls argue and bicker on the quayside having gorged earlier on the huge pile of entrails emptied into the harbour.
Salt cod is one of the staples of the Mediterranean. It’s one of those dishes, no matter how many times it’s been tried, still seems to be bony and not worth the trouble. It’s everywhere in every Mediterranean port but it only seems to be the locals who buy it.
If any dish can be said to be typical of Provence, it has to be Bouillabaisse - and especially so of Marseilles. No two people will agree on what makes good Bouillabaisse, as fish vary so much along the coast. Ideally it is based on the bony rock fish, rascasse, along with whatever else is available.
Everything is cooked whole and simmered in a gigantic pot with potatoes until tender. The liquor is strained and served as a first course and the remaining chunks of fish and vegetables served as a stew. Now while our refined tastes might balk at eating heads, entrails, skin etc, be assured this is one of the top ten dishes in the world for taste.
You do not need any season tickets for the buses on the Cote d'Azur. They are already absurdly cheap to us folk living in rip-off Britain. It costs just 1 euro 30 cents to take the 2 hour bus journey from Nice to Cannes, with lots of wonderful stops en route (including Graham Greene's Antibes). For 90 pence you cannot go much further than 5 stops in Britain, but for the same 90 pence you can go from Nice all the way through Monte Carlo (the bus stops just yards from the harbour with all the millionaires' yachts) and on to Menton just a mile short of the Italian border.
A gently sloping sandy beach south of the hill village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, surrounded by vineyards and overlooking the French presidential summer residence, Fort de Brégançon. Great for families.
South of the hill village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, off the N98 between Hyeres and Le Lavandou.
The small mountain that Cezanne endlessly painted is worth viewing from either a painterly distance or more closely, and is surrounded by beautiful countryside. The colour of the stone is said to change with the light, which is perhaps why it fascinated Cezanne so much.
East of Aix near the village of Tholonet.
A very pretty cathedral that nestles among the narrow streets. It has a very ancient looking gothic-style carved door, a beautiful cloistered area and is built over a baptism pool from the 4th century.
Rue Gaston de Saporta
A guesthouse in the midi-Pyrenees and the base for Jonathan's tours - walking holidays in the beautiful Ariege region of France. The village manor house has been restored with sympathy and flair. The garden - where Jonathan grows organic fruit and veg - a hidden oasis of terraces and lawns, provides a delightful lunch setting for Myriam's wonderful meals - all food is sourced locally and where possible, is organic. Jonathan is passionate about the area and an enthusiastic guide. When not based at home he's running similar walking tours in Crete.
If this sounds like an advertisement, well I'll come clean - I run creative writing holidays at Le Clos Enchante - also painting holidays, but we first met Jonathan and Myriam in Crete and have the greatest respect for his style of guiding - always taking his clients to meet local people, putting money into the local economy wherever possible (meals taken with shepherds) - both in France and in Crete.
And to save on those polluting airmiles why not travel to Le Clos Enchante by train on the excellent French rail service - as we did last year when our camper van broke down. After a B&B in Toulouse, we took an early morning train - changed in Bordeaux and Paris and got to Roscoff in plenty of time for our overnight crossing to Plymouth.
Apart from in the main station area, there are very few internet cafes in Nice, and this is the only place in the Old Town.
Serving food with fresh ingredients from the market, drinks and snacks, it's a very friendly cafe run by a young Englishman who has lived in Nice for 15 years. There are seven terminals in a separate room, printers and so forth, and ethernet and power sockets by each table in the cafe itself. Also has wi-fi and cable TV for main sporting events.
Happy hour for drinks from 5pm, and English breakfast is on the menu too.
8 rue St Vincent (corner of rue Pontin), 06300 Nice;
04 93 62 68 86;
Open 9am to 7-ish. Closed Sundays
This Italian restaurant serves fantastic pizzas and great entrecote steaks. Friendly service, with a family/local atmosphere.
Menus in English available.
5 av Prado, 13006 - Just by Place de Castellane;
I know ... why go to an Irish bar when on holiday in the South of France? But, to be honest, there are not too many Irish people about, and not much Irish music either! A good mixture of music, from chart music to 1980s French rock, its a great place to spend your Saturday night/Sunday morning.
Vieux Port - 17, Quai de Rive Neuve;
Metro: Vieux Port
I have just spent two glorious nights at the Jardins Secrets. I have visited Nîmes on a number of occasions and this has to be the best hotel in the city.
Entrance is through a discreet gate, which you are given a code for, into a well-tended beautiful garden. There is a small pool, which is surrounded by candle-lit lanterns in the evening.
The weather wasn’t great on our visit but this would be a fantastic place to have a drink in the summer.
The building itself is equally beautiful. On the ground floor there are a series of rooms. You can choose to have breakfast in any of the rooms, which are lavishly furnished. There are beautiful bowls of roses and candelabra everywhere adding to the romantic ambience.
This used to be the main family house of the owners so there are nice personal touches everywhere.
The bedroom we had, of which there are only four, was incredible, very stylish with an amazing ensuite bathroom.
Attention to detail in this place is incredible. We arrived back from shopping to find chocolate cake and fresh strawberries waiting for us and they even provided us with English newspapers at breakfast.
Annabelle, her husband and Stephanie couldn’t have been more welcoming and helpful without being overbearing.
Breakfast is extra and is typically French. They don’t have a restaurant as such but you can have either fruits-de-mere or a cheese plate, both with wine and desert. We opted for the cheese plate on the last night and were presented with a fantastic assortment of cheeses and a great bottle of wine.
I could go on. I would highly recommend this place to anyone who wants to be in the middle of the city but wants the feeling of a romantic country hideaway.
3 rue Gaston Maruejols 30000 Nîmes;
tell : 04 66 84 82 64
The Shambhala is a tea room, but with an oriental/Indian feel. The entrance is a little shop, but go through to the back to get to the tea room (after you have taken off your shoes!). You sit on cushions at low down tables, and drink flavoured teas from all over the world - and no Coca Cola!
Very chilled and relaxed. There is also a restaurant upstairs.
40, Rue des 3 frères Barthélémy, 13006;
Tel: 04 91 47 68 03;
Metro: Notre Dame du Mont (Cours Julien)
Free, cheerful help to find accommodation within your budget. The multilingual staff will ring likely places for you to make sure there is a vacancy and are especially good at finding cheap rooms in the old city.
Next to the railway station
This very friendly gay/lesbian bar has a wide selection of wines and other drinks. Generous portions of freshly-prepared snacks are also available.
Also worth a visit for the super murals on the wall, and it offers a showcase for local artists working in various media.
Clientele is mainly, but not exclusively, lesbian and gay.
5 rue Halévy, 06000 Nice
Tel +33 04 93 87 07 04
Visit the Roman arena in Cimiez in spring and see the wild orchids growing among the remains of a villa.
Take the "train des merveilles" to Tende passing across perilous viaducts and through helicoidal tunnels, and visit this very unspoilt village way up in the mountains near the Italian border.
Avoid going to Nice before 2008 - all the main street (Avenue Jean Medecin) and the Place Masséna are in chaos - works for the future tramway - with dust everywhere, traffic problems, uneven footpaths etc.
A real gem of a hotel with diamond staff too. Beautifully finished rooms offer an inviting and intimate experience. It's incredible value: a boutique hotel yet budget price.
15 rue le grimaldi, nice
Blue is the colour. But, relax, this is nothing to do with unlovable football millionaires, Chelsea. Although, it would not be a surprise to see Roman Abramovich’s yacht bobbing around smugly in nearby Monte Carlo marina.
No, blue is the colour of the sea at Nice. The Côte d’Azur could not be more fittingly named. Park yourself on one of the many benches along the Promenade des Anglais and just gaze out at the ocean. It is seriously blue and in a stunning variety of shades: azure, lapis lazuli, turquoise, indigo…(pause while writer surreptitiously consults Dulux colour chart)…Deep Ultramarine, Paradise Blue, Sea Blue [Sea Blue? Nah!].
Anyway – you get the picture. As, indeed, did Matisse. It is little wonder that the great painter – born in damp, grey, Picardy in the north – responded to his move to the Riviera by unleashing on the world his wild, splashy yellows, reds, lavenders and, yes, above all, blues. (Visit the Matisse Museum which stands in the Cimiez park a little way out of the city centre).
And, surveying the vista from your woody vantage point, you may be moved to something in the poetic line yourself. “It’s bluer than Paul Newman’s eyes!”, the star-struck may sigh. “It’s bluer than a Bernard Manning gag”, the vulgar may retort. “It’s bluer than Billie Holliday singing a, um, sad song about something, er, sad”, the game but analogically-challenged might utter.
A possible drawback of the Promenade des Anglais for some may be the number of roller-skaters/bladers. In scenes oddly reminiscent of an English suburban street on Christmas morning an (un)steady stream of knee- and elbow-padded kids trundle by – often accompanied, wobbling alarmingly, by those old enough to know better.
But, if you can bear your bench’s status as a miniature traffic island, there is the potential pleasure of seeing some middle-aged bloke, all wealth and wraparound shades, tan and teeth, come a Bambi-esque cropper.
What’s the French for schadenfreude?
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