Annecy – The most beautiful town in France?

Most people, after visiting the Alpine town of Annecy in France, come away saying that Annecy is the most beautiful town in France. I visited Annecy for the first time last summer and I can see why tourists make that statement about this town that sits at the end of the lake that bears the same name.

Annecy has cobbled streets, winding canals, colourful flowers and pastel coloured houses. The Medieval Chateaux de Annecy looks out over the town and the lake and this castle was once home to the Counts of Geneva. The Alpine water in Lake Annecy is crystal clear and it is said that you can drink straight from the lake it is so clear of pollution.

We arrived on the train after a stunning scenic rail journey from Chamonix in France, on the Mont Blanc Express via Switzerland, and stayed at the Best Western International Hotel. This was a functional economical hotel, about a 10 minute walk from the station and the old town. The old town throngs with people in summer and the weather was hot whilst we were there. There are plenty of restaurants where you can eat outside overlooking the aqua blue canals. The speciality of the area is Tarte au Flet, a delicious potato, onion and ham dish. It’s a winter dish but we ordered it anyway!

What to do in Annecy?

There is lots to do in Annecy. Wander around the old town and explore canals and pretty shops. Take a long lunch and people watch! Walk to the lake and over the Pont des Amours (Lovers Bridge), hire a bike and cycle around some of the lake or go out on a pleasure cruise on Lake Annecy. After a day in the sun sit on a bench and look out over the lake before heading out to get something to eat at the many restaurants.

I would certainly go back to Annecy. Spending two nights there was not long enough to explore all the activities on offer in this stunning area of France.

Here are a few photos that I took whilst in Annecy.

Annecy old town
Chateaux de Annecy
Luxurious chateaux in Annecy

Where is Annecy?

Dancing on the Paris Plage in summer

Paris in summer is an amazing place to be. The city of romance is also the city of dance! Parisians love dancing and in August when the city opens the Paris Plage, it’s a city of colour and happiness.

For the last 3 summers I have visited Paris for a few days and it has become one of my favourite cities, close behind my favourite Venice. Take a stroll along the Paris Plage, an artificial beach created by the city along the River Seine which is created every summer and you can’t fail to be drawn into the eclectic atmosphere of music and dance. You will see everything from traditional dancing to street dance and you will be thinking that you want to join in, which of course you can!

It’s a joy to see so many people of all ages and cultural backgrounds taking part. Some are very good dancers and some are trying it for the first time, but it doesn’t matter how good you are or otherwise because that’s not the point. I stood there, mesmerised by the spectacle, asking myself should I try it too. It’s not just on the Paris Plage that you see dancing. Walking through a shopping centre looking for somewhere to eat one evening, we came across a few couples dancing inside the centre.  and this appeared to be a regular event as well.

The Paris Plage in summer is really like a  huge festival. There is street food, an artificial beach with imported sand, places to drink, deckchairs and sun loungers, play areas for children, lots of music and because it runs along the River Seine you really feel like you are beside the sea. What makes the Paris Plage special though is the people, everyone looks happy and relaxed and that is such a good thing to see.

Dancing on the Paris Plage
Dancing on the Paris Plage
Dancing in a Paris shopping centre

 

French Alps Cable Car breaks down

The French Alps cable car that broke down this week  offers amazing panoramic views of the Mont Blanc mountain range and I was there only two weeks ago.

The cable cars that broke down, stranding people overnight in sub zero conditions, connect the Aiguille du Midi peak in France, at 3,842m (12,605ft), to Pointe Helbronner in Italy, at 3,462m (11,358ft). Aguille du Midi is the highest cable car in Europe and is a must see attraction on a visit to Chamonix, which is on the French, Italian and Swiss border.

You have to ascend the main cable car of Aguille du Midi before you can board the connecting cable car into Italy. The cable car to Helbronner Point covers 5 km of glacier and you travel over crevasses that can be 70 metres deep, which is the height of a 23-storey building. Nearby you can see stunning mountain peaks that top 4000 metres including Mont Blanc itself at 4810 metres.

I took these photos of the cable car that broke down, on my recent trip to the French Alps.

Cable Car in French Alps
French Alps Cable Car
French Alps Cable Car
Aguille du Midi
View from Aiguille Du Midi
View of French Alps near to French Alps Cable car that broke down.

Global warming evidence at La Mer de Glace

If you are sceptical that global warming is not as bad as many experts make out then you will have to think again after the evidence I witnessed at La Mer de Glace in France.

I’m just back from a visit to Chamonix in France where I went on a fantastic mountain train journey to La Mer de Glace. This is the largest glacier in France and stretches for more than 11 kilometres and has a 3000m change in altitude. There are several ways to reach this amazing glacier. At one time the only way was by mule but in 1908 state approval was given for the building of a mountain railway, even though the fate of 300 guides and 200 mules was at stake, and I decided that using the mountain railway was the best option!

As you ascend the mountain you get incredible views but the best treat is when you reach the top because this is where you see the barren landscape of the huge glacier in front of you. You can see where the glacier has carved out a huge deep valley in the mountain.

Whilst the view is awesome there is a huge worrying downside to the epic landscape because the glacier has shrunk dramatically in only a few short years.30 years ago the glacier was only feet away from the terrace next to the terminus of the mountain railway. Now the glacier is hundreds of feet down and you can actually walk down 440 steps to reach the glacier and that’s after you have taken a cable car down several hundred feet. The evidence of the diminishing glacier is astonishing.

When you reach the glacier you can actually walk inside it because a huge tunnel inside the glacier has been created. The glacier is still several hundred feet deep but if the glacier continues to melt then the sight of this huge glacial ice might be lost forever.

Take a look at some photos that I took of L Mer de Glace below and for more information look at the official website.

La Mer de Glace
Visitors at La Mer de Glace
Evidence of global warming. The glacier has shrunk dramitcally since 1990.
Evidence of global warming. The glacier has shrunk dramitcally since 1990.
Steps down to La Mer de Glace
440 steps down to La Mer de Glace
Inside a glacier at La Mer de Glace
Inside a glacier at La Mer de Glace FRance
Mer de Glacen railway
Mountain railway to La Mer de Glace

Aiguille Du Midi – The highest cable car in Europe.

I have just been on the Aiguille Du Midi cable car and it is, without doubt, one of the most amazing experiences you can have. The cable car is in two parts followed by a lift built inside the rock to take you to the summit of Aiguille Du Midi at 12,602 feet. This is an article written about my experience of ascending this incredible mountain that gives you clear views of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe.

Where is Aiguille Du Midi

You can access the cable car to Aiguille Du Midi from the French town of Chamonix. Chamonix is located in a glacial valley and 10,000 years ago Chamonix was under 1,000m of ice. It was only in 1867 that the whole valley became accessible and tourists started arriving to see the wonders of the magnificent mountain scenery. The Aiguille Du Midi cable car is located in the town centre of Chamonix. Just look for the cables going up the mountain!

Aiguille Du Midi
View of Aiguille Du Midi from Les Tines in the Chamonix valley.

About the Aiguille Du Midi cable car

It was  an Italian engineer, Dino Lora Totino that came up with the idea in 1949 to build the cable car and 6 years later his vision was completed. The second section of the cable car ascends 1471m and travels at over 43km an hour at a near vertical angle. The cable car can take 600 people an hour to the top. Take warm clothing because at the top, even in summer, the temperature may only be -10C. I went to the top in a pair of shorts and in the sun I was ok but out of the sun it was freezing!

At 3842m the air is thinner than at sea level. Be aware that you will be breathless and might feel light headed at times due to the reduced oxygen at this height. I checked my oxygen saturation level at the top and it was 85%. It should normally be at least 95%.

How much does it cost on the Aiguille Du Midi cable car?

The adult price for a return trip on the Aiguille Du Midi cable car costs 58.50 Euros per person. A family package ticket for a family of 4 costs 174.50 Euros. For slightly more you can get a ticket that gets you on the amazing Train du Montenvers to the Mer de Glace. It might seem expensive but this is a once in a lifetime experience.

The train line is 5km long and has a change in altitude of 871 metres. This train takes you to the famous Mer de Glace where you can walk inside the largest glacier in Europe. You can witness for yourself how global warming has affected the glacier because the glacier has shrunk dramatically in only a few years.

The price of the ticket includes free access to step into the void, a glass room with a glass floor with 1,000 metres of air under your feet!

Tip! Check out the Aiguille Du Midi webcams to see what the weather is like at the top. If you can’t see anything at the top you might want to wait until the weather improves.

Read more about the Aiguille Du Midi on the official website here

What’s it like at the top of Aiguille Du Midi?

At this height the views are incredible. You can see down into the Chamonix valley as well as having amazing views of mountain scenery, including the highest peak in Europe, Mont Blanc. The photos I took below go a little way to giving you an idea what it’s like at the top. Not until you go to the top yourself will you fully appreciate this wonder of the world.

Top of Aiguille Du Midi
Top of Aiguille Du Midi at 3842 metres.
View from Aiguille Du Midi
View from Aiguille Du Midi

 

A Winter Wedding on the Ski Slopes of France

A guest travel article from the newly married Sylvia Kenny  

We enjoy a skiing holiday every year with family and friends.  When we were planning our informal wedding ceremony we decided a celebration on the slopes would be ideal. We could ski all day and then enjoy a celebration on the slopes with our family.  Our first task was to find a celebrant to conduct the ceremony.  Kay Evans is English and lives in Morzine in France.  She is a celebrant and can organise other aspects of the wedding for you including the ceremony itself, the venue, food, flowers, transport etc.  We contacted her via her website www.alwaysnumberone.co.uk 

 Sylvia weddingWe asked her to help us find a venue.  We wanted a location we could ski to but also somewhere accessible by road as we had our two little grandchildren in the party – Maisie aged 3 years and Tilly aged one.  We envisaged a location with stunning views where we could hold our celebration on the slopes, with a nice restaurant nearby for our wedding breakfast.  We chatted with Kay via Skype and discussed some options.  We finally settled on Le Chasse Montagne on the slopes near Les Gets.

 We arrived in Morzine on Saturday, 5 January 2013 and the wedding was planned for Tuesday.  We met with Kay at the venue on Sunday and were thrilled with the location and the stunning views.  We chose a place on the slopes to hold our ceremony but Kay had also arranged an alternative location inside if the weather was poor.  We were enjoying blue skies and sunshine and hoping they would last.

 On Tuesday we awoke to beautiful weather.  As planned, our party skied all day and met at the venue towards the end of the day whilst the sun was still shining.  We held our simple ceremony on the slopes which included poems read by some of our family.  The bottles of champagne, which had been pushed into the snow to chill during the ceremony, were opened and served and we celebrated and enjoyed the stunning views.  Eventually we went inside, took off our ski boots and enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of Le Chasse Montagne, an auberge typical of the Savoie region.  The staff were very welcoming and wanted to make sure we enjoyed ourselves.  After enjoying a delicious celebratory meal we relaxed in front of a log fire before returning to our chalet to cut the skiing wedding cake.  An amazing day!

 We thanked the staff at Le Chasse Montagne for being so friendly and welcoming and making sure we had a wonderful time.  We thanked Kay for everything she did to make our dream come true – for selecting a superb location, for helping us plan our ceremony and for calming our nerves on the day.   Her knowledge and experience were invaluable.

Monaco – not just for the rich and famous.

Located along the spectacular Côte d’Azur – named after the crystal clear azure waters of the Mediterranean – Monaco is the world’s smallest French speaking principality with a small but very friendly population of just 32,410. Just 18 kilometres east of Nice and a stone’s throw from the Italian border the principality’s two kilometre square area is small enough to squeeze in all its highlights in just one day, while big enough to provide enough activities to keep the average visitor entertained for many weeks.

With its warm, sunny climate and high temperatures reaching a glorious 26 degrees Celsius in July and August, Monaco is not the average coastal resort, with an eclectic mix of history and most importantly – glamour. It is a reputation rightly deserved, with reportedly more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world. If the number of flashy cars being driven around its streets and the impressive yachts in the harbour are anything to go by this rumour may well be true.

Tourism is Monaco’s main source of income, with an extension to the main harbour in 2001 allowing cruise ships to dock bringing plenty more visitors to its shores. A trip to Monaco is definitely not complete without a visit to Monte Carlo casino where the impressive marble and onyx decorated building has welcomed the rich and famous (and the inquisitive!) for many years. In the ornate baroque casino visitors can watch, or try their luck in the elegant European Rooms, with the ringing of slot machines in the Salle Blanche, as well as the thrill of roulette tables in the Salle Europe. But watch out if you’ve just stepped off the beach – flip flops and shorts are outlawed with a strict dress code of jacket and tie for men.

Monaco is richly steeped in history, obtaining its name from the Phocaean Greek colony of Marseille in sixth century BC and, according to ancient myth, Hercules was said to have passed through the Monaco area. Up on the Rocher de Monaco sits the impressive palace, located on the site of a fortress built by the Genoese in 1215, while the narrow streets of the old town have also retained their unique medieval character. Interconnected by a maze of charming vaulted passageways a wander through the maze-like network is a perfect way to while away an hour or two.

Monaco’s sovereignty was recognised by Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861, with the Treaty of Versailles signed in 1946, stating that Monegasque policy should be in line with French political, military and economic interests. In 1993, it became a fully fledged member of the United Nations. Sadly in 2005, monarch Prince Rainier III died after a reign of 56 years, with his son Albert II of Monaco, the son of the late actress Grace Kelly, quickly succeeding him. Interestingly, a treaty between France and the principality signed in 2002 states that if there are no future heirs to carry on the dynasty, Monaco will still remain an independent nation.

Renowned as an expensive place of luxury, Monaco is a tax haven, where chic designer boutiques and restaurants offer a million and one ways to spend any winnings from the Casino (or any holiday money left over from a small flutter!). Entertainment-wise, Monaco offers a host of cultural treats, from the Ballet de Monte-Carlo, launched by the late Princess Grace, to Monte-Carlo Opera, as well the principality’s own National Philharmonic Orchestra.

Perhaps most famous for its Grand Prix, one of the demanding tracks in the world, Monaco also offers a wealth of sporting activities. A trip to the Louis II stadium, the football ground of AS Monaco, is well worth a look as well as deep sea diving, water sports, golf, sailing and fishing trips.

Visitors to Monaco are in for a culinary treat, with food from Tex-Mex to Japanese and sublime dining in the three-star Louis XV restaurant to portside cafés. Monégasque specialties like barbiguan, a delicious mouthful of rice, spinach, leek and cheese, are often served as an appetizer.

However, with a very well-connected train line, a trip to the nearby towns of Nice, Cannes and St Tropez, is a must, particularly as the journey offers magnificent views over the Mediterranean following the curves of the coastline most of the way.

Me, 36 students and the Eiffel Tower !

Paris was very cold last week. The daytime temperature was -8C and the windchill made it a bone chilling -15c and that was during the day!

I’ve just come back from a short break in Paris with 36 travel and tourism students from Leeds City College. It was my job along with 2 other college tutors to make sure that the students had a good time, saw as many tourist sites as possible and got there and back safetly!

It was a 5am start from Leeds by coach for our drive to Dover followed by a short hop to Calais and a chance to relax on the ferry before continuing the journey to Paris. We were staying at the Explorers Hotel near to Disneyland Paris, a good 3 star hotel about 10 minutes by shuttle bus to Disneyland Paris itself. The Explorers hotel is perfect for groups and for families as rooms are spacious and sleep at least 4 people.

Disneyland Paris was very cold the next day but I managed to go on Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and the terrifying Tower of Terror. After that my brain was numb with cold so we decided to have lunch at Planet Hollywood to thaw out. That night we headed back to the Disney Village for an evening meal at the Rainforest Cafe. Mojito cocktails were 9 Euros each and a burger and fries 18 Euros so its not a cheap option but the surroundings were good and we were out of the cold!

The next day all 39 of us set off for the centre of Paris. The journey should normally take about 45 minutes but we hit the notorious Paris traffic so it took a while longer. First stop was the Eiffel Tower. We couldn’t go to the top because it was closed due to the weather but we managed to get to the 2nd floor and the views were just as spectacular. Next up was the Louvre. This, of course, is where you can see the Mona Lisa. It’s a huge shopping mall underneath the glass pyramid.

After the Louvre we took the students to the Bateux-Mouches where we spent the next hour and a half looking at many tourist sites like Notre Dame. I can really recommend the boat trip if you are in Paris. Its a relaxing way of seeing quite a lot.

After the boat trip our coach driver took us on a tour of Paris. Driving on the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe was an experience as our coach driver just seemed to go for it!. Afterwards, he said there is a method to safely getting around this iconic Paris structure but it just looked like a complete shambles to me!

The students were fascinated to see the tunnel where Princess Diana was killed and the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony as well as various other Paris landmarks before we headed back to the Explorers Hotel.

Nantes Travel Guide

If you are considering a city break in France you will probably be thinking about a city break to the capital, Paris.

However, many cities in France are often overlooked which means that you are potentially missing out on something a little different. There are several cities in France that deserve a visit apart from the obvious one of Paris.

For example, I have been to several French cities that I would love to go back to. Amongst those French cities that I have visited are Lyon, Bordeaux, St Nazaire, St Malo and Nantes. These cities often get overlooked when considering a city break in France but they all offer much to see for the holiday visitor. Nantes is on the west coast of France and is located on the River Loire and the area borders Brittany.Dubbed the ‘Venice of the West’ as a result of its numerous canals and waterways as well as being named the greenest city in France and described by Time magazine as being the most liveable city in all of Europe”.

Nantes makes the perfect getaway for a short break.Dominating the centre of the city is the stunning Gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, dating back to the 15th century, with work carrying on for more than 300 years.As with the Basillica of St Louis and the nearby Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, the cathedral highlights the fact that for centuries Nantes was the most important city of the historic province of Brittany, being both the commercial and cultural hub.

The cobbled streets of the old city centre are charmingly peaceful though the serenity soon gives way to a bustling nightlife driven by a large student population and thriving local arts scene.

Getting to Nantes

Nantes is easily accessible by train from Paris and it takes about 2 hours by TGV. There are also regular trains from Paris Charles De Gaulle airport.

British Airways, Flybe and Ryanair all fly to Nantes. By train, Nantes is just over 2 hours from Paris and the train goes via Le Mans and Angers.

If you want to drive from the UK we suggest you get the ferry to St Malo (a beautiful town well worth a visit) and then take the N137 to Rennes and the the N137 to Nantes. Its 177 km from St Malo to Nantes which will takes you about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Nantes Beaches

If you want a trip to the beach Nantes is only a short drive away from the beach resort of La Baulle. I have been to La Baulle several times. La Baulle has some excellent camp sites. La Baulle itself is a quaint little town with a fantastic beach and nice shops and cafes and is well worth a visit.

Where to Stay in Nantes

If you don’t fancy camping in nearby La Baulle there are some good hotels that we can recommend.

Kyriad Hotel, Nantes 3* – This hotel is conveniently located for all the sights and offers comfortable and spotless accommodation and friendly service. Ideally located near the North train station, the Cite des Congres, the business area, the castle, the Jardin Des Plantes and the old part of Nantes, this modern hotel offers newly renovated rooms all air conditioned and sound proofed. They are spacious and offer all necessary modern comforts. Prices from £60 per room per night.

Hotel De France, Nantes 3* – This lovely hotel is situated in a very busy shopping street in the heart of Nantes, close to the Opera house. All rooms are soundproofed and vary in size but are mainly medium. They are simply and modestly decorated for the hotel category although offering all the main facilities. Bathrooms are medium sized and a bit dated but in general good condition.