Visit anywhere in France from mid-March onwards and you’ll see signs all over the place advertising local ‘Vide Grenier’. Literally translated as ‘Empty Attic’, these markets are usually held on Sundays, last all day and sell everything from seedlings to huge antique knife grinders, gorgeous 19th century bed linen to Lego, books, baskets and even car parts. Stalls are hired by the metre and it’s a bit of a free-for-all. But you can turn up some real finds if you look hard enough. If you’re thinking it sounds just like a French Car Boot Sale, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Vide Greniers are family events, everything stops for lunch at the Buvette, no one’s really expecting to make a fortune in sales – apart from a few omnipresent dealers. And Vide Grenier are part of an ancient European tradition that makes Car Boot Sales look like the callow newbies they really are.
Because there isn’t a town or city or village or hamlet in France that doesn’t have some kind of market at least once a week. From Nord Pas de Calais to the Côte d’Azur, getting out on the street and selling stuff is as big a part of French culture as déjeuner and indiscriminate overtaking. And if you want to see local life and the idiosyncratic differences that define France’s Régions and Départements, just visit a market, wander about and all will be revealed. Continue reading
Once upon a time, the Formula One calendar wasn’t the world tour it is today. It was dominated by the Grand Prix circuits of Europe, the continent which pioneered the sport. There are now eight European destinations in 2014′s Formula One line-up, but today I’m highlighting five of them. Not only because of their appeal for quality Grand Prix racing, but also because they are found in parts of the world well worth visiting.
Rio may represent in South America and New Orleans has the know-how in North America, but Europe is arguably the home of Mardi Gras carnivals and festivals with continent wide colourful celebrations, fancy festive dress and enough sparkle to outdo a disco ball. While some of us may be happy with a couple of soggy pancakes soaked in sugar and lemon juice on Shrove Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras, these five cities know precisely how to shake ‘em down and mark the beginning of lent. And this is after we’ve already featured two of the best – Barcelona and Venice – in recent blog posts.
Venice Carnival. By cuellar.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
It’s with good reason that the capital city of Tenerife is twinned with Rio de Janeiro. We’re also convinced it means many shared agreements and discussions about sequins, feathers and brightly coloured satin as the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife considers itself a worthy competitor to its Brazilian twin. Carnival begins with a gala for the election of the Carnival Queen in the first week of February and 2013′s celebrations don’t stop until the 17th February with the ceremonial burial of the sardine. The main event – the parade – is a slickly organised affair with elaborate floats, over the top group fancy dress, fireworks and flashing lights filling Plaza de España with merriment, music and much to gawk at. The good news is that in Tenerife unlike the rest of Europe you’re most likely to have warm temperatures to match the warm spirits. Our top tip to you is to stick around after you think the party has ended on Ash Wednesday as the weekend of the piñata follows shortly after, complete with more carnival-like partying in the Plaza del Principe and surrounding streets.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife. By pano_philou.
Similar to the Carnival of Venice, Cologne officially began its celebrations last year, however, it’s the events leading up to and on Weiberfastnacht (the night of Shrove Tuesday) that Cologne has become famous for. With pubs and bars legally allowed to abandon the usual licensing laws, there is no doubt that this is the beer lover’s carnival as the drinking establishments of Cologne pull out all the beer tap stops to quench thirsts and maintain party spirits. The main parade takes place the day before Shrove Tuesday, known as Rosenmontag and the floats, marching bands and the traditionally dressed Corps troops snake along 6 kilometres from the south of the city to the famous Cathedral. Crowds are usually calm, allowing children to get to the front to see the parade and be sure to join in by shouting “Kamelle!” which is a call for those in the parade to throw sweets into the crowd, which will indeed happen. In fact, it’s estimated over 140,000 tonnes of sweets and chocolates will be dished out to parade spectators on Rosenmontag!
Hooray! By *** Harold R ***.
Flying the flag for France is the southern city of Nice and we make no judgments about relaxed Mediterranean ways when we say that the Nicoise are a little late for Mardi Gras, with their carnival taking place from 15th February until 6th March. The carnival adopts a different theme each year and 2013 is the year for the “King of Five Continents” so expect an international flavour from the musicians and dancers that entertain the crowds lining the famous Promenade des Anglais. By the time the floats shimmy into Place Masséna, spectators should have noticed that flowers are the parade participants weapon of choice with the “floral battles” seeing float creators try to outdo each other with crazily creative floral arrangements. You will also find that flowers are often thrown into the crowds too. So please don’t confuse this with the advice just given for Cologne. Do not eat the flowers.
Carnaval de Nice. By Pirotek.
Basel Fasnacht is a three day event held the week after Ash Wednesday and is centred around two processions, a number of music concerts and a special exhibition of beautifully illustrated lanterns to be found in front of the Cathedral in Münsterplatz lighting up the Swiss city’s sky. Full-face Venetian style ceramic masks are worn by those wearing traditional historic dress during the parades on Monday and Wednesday afternoons and you can expect drums and high pitched piccolos to be making enjoyable music. Locals love this festival of theirs, and the Guggenmusik is a definite festival highlight. In a nutshell, it involves musicians dressing up in rather unattractive ogre-like costumes to play their chosen instruments in a surprisingly un-Swiss, disorganised manner before parading in groups across the city on Tuesday night. The party continues with ogre masks off in Basel’s pubs and bars…
Basel Fasnacht. By jrodmanjr.
This Croatian town nestled along the north of the stunning Dalmatian coast is one of Croatia’s best kept secrets, especially in February when it offers locals and in-the-know visitors a lively, family-friendly carnival complete with children’s parade, snowboard competitions and a crazy car rally. Not wanting to waste time, this festival is already in full swing and as would be seen in Cologne and Basel, Rijeka‘s parade performers will be donning “ugly masks”, a custom that dates back many, many years and is believed to help in warding off bad spirits before lent begins. Korzo Street is where most of the action takes place, but don’t forget to look up and around at your surroundings too as Rijeka is also a beautiful city full of Baroque architecture, Roman ruins and winding medieval streets.
Rijeka Carnival. By Andre Pinho.
Featured image of Tenerife by pano_philou.
We love Paris, obviously. But we’ve worn our heart on our sleeve long enough now. It’s time to take the torch and see what some other great French cities are up to. Think of it like ‘City Sorbet’; perfect to refresh your palate before you get back to being crazy in love with the capital again.
Keeping to the sorbet theme for a minute, Marseille has got to be citron vert; sharp, tart and surprising, takes a second or two on your tongue before you realise it’s exactly what you were craving all along.
Marseille © by Ophelia photos
Marseille is the second largest city in France and the country’s biggest port, so it’s busy. It’s also a European Cultural Capital 2013. Weirdly, this is all good news even if you feel about tourists the way a Marseille Sailor feels about etiquette. Because for every MoMEC and Le Silo, there’s somewhere else determined to hold on to pure Marseille and that’s what we like.
Marseille Old Port © marcovdz
Close to the Old Port, Le Panier is Marseille’s original working class district. But, unlike most cities, Marseille has resolutely refused to gentrify and Le Panier is what happens when they let the artists loose instead of the bankers. Forget the designer shops on Rue Saint Ferrol, the real designers are living and working in Le Panier alongside couturiers, artists, ceramicists, amazing cooks, musicians, most of their mums and dads and ‘pop-up’ just about everything.
Le Panier © marcovdz
For the best view in the city you’ll have to join the tourists. But if you’re prepared to walk (okay, hike) you can make it to Notre-Dame de la Garde on foot, nice and early and miss the crowds. The panoramic view of Marseille from 162 metres up is worth the effort. The Basilica itself is pretty grand too. And the way back to the Old Port is about as Marseille as it gets; tiny atmospheric streets and alleys, locals in sun chairs having a good gossip, pastel paintwork, wooden shutters and some of the strangest street names you’ll ever see.
View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Garde © hugovk
This is the South of France so expect sun in Marseille even in January. For city sand try La Plage Catalans. Sunsets have to be the Old Port. And take your cool drinks and strong coffee in cafés away from the sea – you’ll still find a view you just won’t have waiters that hover and a heart attack when you get l’addition.
Plage des Catalans © marcovdz
Nice might share the same coastline as Marseille, but the capital of the Côte d’Azur couldn’t be more different. Smart, elegant and just on the right side of decadent, Nice is never going to do edgy. And that’s fine by Nice, because along with all its other very attractive qualities this is a city that almost defines self-confidence.
Promenade des Anglais © bousinka
In Nice you must stroll, at least once, along the Promenade des Anglais past the Hôtel Negresco then stand and gaze moodily over the Baie des Anges. After you’ve ticked that F. Scott Fitzgerald box you can head for the Old Town, grab yourself a copy of ‘Nice Matin’ and look like a local over some dangerously strong espresso.
Baie des Anges © Rodrigo_Soldon
‘People watching’ is a favourite Niçoise pastime and it never gets tired. Pick a café in Cours Salayo on a sunny day – and there are plenty of sunny days – then just sit back and observe. But be warned; Niçoise ladies of a certain age do still wear fur and the sight of a little dog in a handbag is not entirely rare.
Nice Old Town is very pretty. It’s all ‘ice cream’ colours, pristine stonework, charming markets, tiny shops that sell things you probably didn’t even know existed and restaurants where it seems almost rude to eat anything but the Plat du jour. But if you want a slightly rough and ready sense of the city, take a walk to the Port.
Image © Teriyaki Matz’[S5 <3]
Okay, we admit it. The Port isn’t rough and ready at all. It’s just as glamorous and seductive as the rest of Nice, but that’s no bad thing. This is where you’ll find the Marche aux Puces from Tuesday to Saturday, seriously good seafood restaurants and literally (a word we don’t use lightly) hundreds of antique shops.
Antique market in Old Town © cking
It may seem strange that we haven’t mentioned how to avoid the tourists, but Nice is a law unto itself when it comes to this. It’s a city to see and be seen, promenade till you drop. Almost everything is al-fresco. And life is lived in its own particular Niçoise fashion. So our advice is, just join in and avoid nothing.
“Cure Gourmande” – confectionery in Nice Old Town © sokole oko
If Nice gives you a taste for singular French cities, then you should definitely add Bordeaux to your ‘must see’ list. Especially now that it’s firmly shaken off the ‘poor relation to Paris’ tag and reinvented itself as one of the world’s greats – and not just for wine lovers.
Carte postale de Bordeaux © camil tulcan
Overcome with a sense of déjà-vu when you first see Bordeaux? Don’t be surprised. There won’t be an iconic style magazine that hasn’t published an image of the city over the past decade. And with new designers, architects, artists, musicians, museums, galleries, studios and shops appearing all the time, it looks like the city’s days of smiling and looking pretty for the camera are far from over.
Bordeaux has an astonishing 320 listed ‘Monuments Historique’, topped only by Paris with 433. That’s a lot to get round so it’s probably best to start by finding a really nice café, ordering up a creamy Grand Crème and having a think. Like the monuments, there are plenty of cafés to choose from, we recommend you try La Rue Notre-Dame for a bohemian mix of places to sit, ateliers to visit, shops to browse and people to watch.
Monument aux Girondins © Rufino Lasaosa
If ‘doing’ the sights isn’t your thing, then Bordeaux is perfect for bringing the best to you. You can’t miss the River Garonne wherever you go, so it’s only natural to cross the many arched Pont de Pierre (there you go, one down without even trying). The Place de la Bourse is immense and comes with its own Water Mirror. But remember, prancing about in the Water Mirror is almost as bad as leaping in front of the Eiffel Tower. So take a look, dip a toe if you must, admire the reflection of the Place de la Bourse and coolly continue on your way. Don’t miss the Port de la Lune. Even if you hate shopping, you’ve got to at least set foot on the Rue St. Catherine, at 1.2 km it’s the longest, pedestrianized shopping street in France. And you have to promenade on the Waterfront as the sun goes down, if it’s good enough for the Bordelais.
Water mirror © Michael Yat Kit Chung
Historic as it is, Bordeaux is pretty committed to technology too. Take a sleek tram when your feet get tired. There’s free Wi-Fi in most public squares and parks. And thousands of QR codes all over the city give smartphone access to instant visitor information.
So that’s three great French cities that aren’t Paris to start you off. Will you ever look back?
Cover image of Paris © ChrisGoldNY
Bonjour Nice with your Mediterranean sunshine, blue seas and skies! How we love combining you with some sunglasses and an oversized sunhat to automatically blend in with your glamourati. If you readers follow our list of six glamorous things to do for free in Nice, you will feel part of the rich and famous of the Cote d’Azur, without being rich or famous.
Pose at the best viewpoint in town on Castle Hill
So getting there may not be the most glamorous of excursions (ladies, leave the heels at home) but the view is worth the climb to where Nice’s castle used to stand. Consider packing a picnic or a bottle of wine and making the climb at dusk because the experience of watching the changing colours of the sunset bounce off the sea will be a rich one.
Castle Hill, Nice, Côte d’Azur – Image © Simon
Image © Simon
Image © Simon
Hang out with some (expensive) fine art
Both the Musée des Beaux Arts and the Matisse Museum are free admission and the latter should be visited just to see the stunning 17th century building it is set in, which will give you an idea of how the glamorous of years-gone-by liked to live. Step inside to find out more about the man behind the million dollar paintings. Nice’s art galleries are free too with Gallerie Renoir on Rue de la Loge being worth a visit thanks to its focus on showcasing young artists whose work is directly inspired by Nice and the surrounding region.
Image © Karen
Pick out your favourite yacht
A stroll around the marina at Port de Nice takes window-shopping to another level, as you have the chance to gaze longingly at some of the most luxurious super yachts that have sailed the seas. With some featuring swimming pools, Jacuzzis and helipads; allow your imagination to go wild and pick your favourite or see if you can spot the super rich or famous who own them.
Image © Eric Page
Image © Ecololo
Image © Zemistor
People watch at Place Masséna
Exhausted by all the yacht watching, perch up in Place Masséna, Nice’s elegant main town square. With black and white marble mosaic floor, dramatic fountains and Italian-style red terraced houses and arches running along the outside, this is the main hub of the city. It’s often used as a meeting point thanks to its access to the beach, the old town and the main shopping street (Avenue Jean-Medicin) and is where many locals stop for a while to watch the world go by; so why not join them?
Image © Luca Nebuloni
Image © Sylvain Gamel
Image © Marco Assini
Spy on the real rich and famous along la promenade des Anglais
For years and years famous figures have been coming to the beach at Nice to soak up the sun and dip their toes in the Mediterranean, and to accommodate this, many of the beachfront hotels maintain exclusive-looking sections of the beach for their glamorous hotel guests. The only problem is that the walkway that lines the seafront, la Promenade des Anglais, effectively makes the beach one long fish bowl for you to spy on. This is your chance to literally look down upon the real rich and famous as you walk along enjoying Nice’s stylish seafront.
Image © Gareth
Image © Rafael Garcia-Suarez
Try some local food at Cours Saleya market
Depending on your appetite, this market could be the infamous free lunch that apparently doesn’t exist, if you don’t mind grazing on the different testers and tasters that this farmers market have to offer that is. With local produce on sale next to beautiful flowers and provençal soaps and oils, this is a market that will satisfy all senses. If you’re looking for ingredients to cook with, get here early in the morning, but if free-loading food and atmosphere is your game then forget to set the alarm and be fashionably, no glamorously late.
Image © Dimitris Kilymis
Image © Karen
Image © Tran’s World Productions