The star-studded village of St Tropez on the French Riviera is really a little fishing port wrapped in flashy clothes. Its 20th century rise to fame gave it a high gloss polish, but deep inside, St Tropez remains a simple sea-loving village.
It isn't just Cannes and the film festival that's spiffed about the current French Riviera weather.
Being normally spoiled with fresh sunshine in May, we cannot believe the amount of water that's pouring down this week from our usually blue skies.
Umbrellas are on sale again, and with a price-tag vengeance. Drivers snap and wail even more than usual. And my hiking boots are full of mud.
So what's up, météo? Sun is promised for Tuesday and Wednesday this week, but it is then to go away for a few days. But sunshine is an inalienable right over here. It's in the Human Weather Rights Declaration; check it out in the fine-print below:
While our rights are being reviewed, here's where to obtain fairly good weather forecast for France: Meteo France.
Be aware that the French Riviera from Hyères to Menton varies greatly in topology and thus in weather. It may be pouring in Cannes but sunny in the hills of Fayence, or vice versa.
If it's any consolation, remember that "après la pluie, le beau temps..."
Cannes is about to go nutty!
The 66th edition of the Cannes film festival makes a splash from May 15 to 26, 2013.
The festival begins with a jazzy classic, The Great Gatsby, with Leonardo diCaprio and Carey Mulligan. The 3-D lavish film is director Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1920s novel set on the French Riviera.
But the film has already opened to mixed reviews in the US, so some of the buzz has fizzled.
The Palme d'Or
Palm d'Or contenders include "Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" with Michael Douglas as famous pianist Liberace and Matt Damon as lover Thorson. Soderbergh claims his movie was turned down by Hollywood as being "too gayish". Let the controversy begin.
Also to be screened are “Le Passé” or "The Past" by Iran’s Asghar Farhadi, “Like Father, Like Son” or "Soshite Chich Ni Naru" by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda. And finally... the lone woman director selected to compete: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, sister of former French first lady Carla Bruni, directs “Un Chateau en Italie”.
For the Un Certain Regard sideline, Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring," portrays Hollywood teenagers who obsess over celebrities and burglarize their homes.
There's always plenty of fun at the more accessible Out of Competition films. Head down to the Theatre Lumière and on the beach at the Cinéma de la Plage for those. Films include J.C. Chandor's All is Lost with Robert Reford and Hiroshima Mon Amour from Alain Resnais. Blood Ties – Guillaume Canet
As usual, expect the Cannes Film Festival to fill the city with glitz, extravagance, excitement.
Are you visiting or living around the French Riviera? Interested in a hike or a bike ride, among rows of vines in the Côte de Provence vineyards? On private property, this is usually a challenge or simply not allowed. Here's an exception.
On Sunday, May 5, 2013 the Château des Demoiselles vineyard estate in La Motte, Var, France hosts a hike, bike and photograph open day from 10AM until 5PM. Hop on a guided walk either at 11AM or at 3PM.
It's a treat after a bit of wine tasting and cellar visit.
View AzurAlive.com: Château des Demoiselles in a larger map
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Photo: by bhotchkies
Eze & the peninsula of Cap Ferrat, French Riviera, viewed from the Grande Corniche
Let's say you only have a short week to visit the French Riviera. Where should you go? What should you do? What can you simply not miss?
If you've been bottled up for months without any sun and stressed like a tightrope, you might want to stretch on warm sand until your batteries recharge.
But what if you're all charged up and ready to tour the French Riviera on wheels? What would be the best drives in the French Riviera?
Lonely Planet recently added a nifty book to their "Best Trips" series to help answer this question. Lonely Planet France's Best Trips (Travel Guide) covers 37 road trips across all of la belle France. Two of these road trips cover the French Riviera.
In Chapter 23, the Best Trips France guide recommends a drive along the trio of Corniches above Villefranche, Eze, and Monaco.
Running parallel to each other, the three sister roads are named Grande Corniche, Moyenne Corniche and Basse Corniche. They dominate the coast from Nice to Menton in varying degrees of altitude.
The eldest is the highest, the Grande Corniche. Constructed under Napoléon, it roughly follows the path of the great roman Via Iulia Augusta paved road. The Grande Corniche is probably the most famous of the three for its roman roots, but also thanks to Grace Kelly. Before she became Princess Grace of Monaco in 1956, Grace Kelly was filmed on the Grande Corniche for Hitchcocks's "To Catch a Thief" movie. Sadly, an offshoot of the Grande Corniche also claimed the princess' life in 1982, when her car plunge down a cliff after she suffered a stroke.
The Moyenne Corniche offers stunning views while the little sister, the Basse Corniche or Corniche Inférieure hugs the coastline. While we don't consider it inferior to its bigger sisters, The Corniche Inférieure does clog up in the summer. It links together the coastal towns of Villefranche, Beaulieu, Eze, Cap d'Ail, Monaco, Roquebrune Cap Martin, Menton.
Even if the French Riviera Corniches are legendary, they can be unnerving with their winding ways, their packs of bicycles emerging beyond a bend and their distractingly stunning views. Yet they remain what the French would call incontournables, or inescapable, if you are driving your way around the French Riviera.
We especially appreciate Lonely Planet's Chapter 23 for its useful tips on driving the corniches: the recommended direction for each slice of drive, stops for tasty treats along the way, best days to hop across the Italian border, carefully chosen highlights for each stop.
Photo: Fotografiert von Björn Hauffe
The Bay of Cannes, French Riviera, viewed from the coastal road by Théoule
The next chapter in Best Trips France recommends a drive along the coast from Mougins heading east all the way to Cap Ferrat.
The chapter is spot on with its recommendations for stops along the way - all the classic not-to-be-missed are there including Juan les Pins, Antibes, Biot and others.
Also included is a "Detour" we know and cherish: the coastal drive between red rocky pitons of the Estérel and the jagged coastline between Cannes and Agay. A jewel among the French Riviera scenic drives, to be driven slowly and thoroughly enjoyed!
The New York Times agrees, Cannes is great for strolling. (see NY Times article on best walks in Cannes).
The NYTimes' Top Walks in Cannes?
La Croisette, not surprisingly. The seaside promenade along the Bay of Cannes is the most photographed part of town. We enjoy it most in the late evening, when the sun sets and the city lights begin to glow.
The old town quarters of Le Suquet perched up above the port with its steep cobblestone streets (warnig: high heels nightmare!), its quaint restaurants, large and animated Forville marché and the Musée de la Castre for its incredible views.
AzurAlive's Top Walk around Cannes? :
The Island of St Honorat, a lush green jewel just beyond the Bay of Cannes. This rare and protected island is home to a monastery of the cistercian congregation. Monks live and work there in silence, cultivating plots of land, caring for the 19 acres or so of vines (Chardonnay, Clairette, Syrah, Mourvedre and recent Pinot Noir grape varieties).
Respectful visitors are welcome on the island, and it's a treat to walk along its footpaths. Set aside about 3 hours to soak in the sites of St Honorat, the scents of the sea, the pine needles, the flowers. And why not reserve a table for lunch at the main restaurant on the island, La Tonnelle.
It's a 20-mins ferry hop over from the old port of Cannes. Check out the current ferry schedule to St Honorat.
You drive on the A8 motorway in Southern France, then veer into the rolling hills of the Provence Verte region, covered with forests of oaks, olive trees and vines.
Without much fuss, after climbing up a hill beyond tiny village of Le Thoronet, you reach the abbey. A signpost indicates: Abbaye dy Thoronet. Another one soon tells you to leave your car in the parking lot under trees.
All appears quiet, peaceful, understated.
Yet opposite the parking lot, one of the finest Cistercian abbeys in Provence awaits. Built between 1160 and 1230, Le Thoronet is the oldest of the three sisters among the Cistercian abbeys of Provence, the others being Silvacane and Sénanque.
Tucked far away from civilisation, the Thoronet abbey strikes by its sober form. True to its Cistercian roots, the abbey keeps to the essentials. The complex consists of a traditional cluster: a church propped up on the highest point and facing East, an adjoining cloister squaring away a garden, a lavatory with running water spouting from the fountain in the center of the cloister, dormitory upstairs, a chapter house and walls to wrap around the grounds.There are no sculptures, no paintings, no color other than the greys and browns of barren polished rock and shades greens in the enclosed garden.
The monks at Le Thoronet were Cistercians, faithful to St Benedict's rule of "ora et labora" or "prayer and work." Termed from the town of Cistercium (modern-times Cîteaux in France), original home of the order, the Cistercians order longed to return to an original evangelical simplicity, stripped of any sign of luxury and of supperfluous.
Cistercian monks lived autonomously by the fruit of their labor, and that of the lay brothers or conversi. They cultivated the fields within the abbey grounds, pressed olives for oil and grapes for wine in the presses still visible today, kneaded dough on stone slates, baked bread. Life on the Cistercian monastery was devoted to manual work, prayer, devotion and singing.
Everything about the Thoronet abbey centers around a focus on this all-encompassing simple spiritual devotion.
The Thoronet abbey church is proportioned around the golden ratio, with center of the church forming a golden rectangle. Applied to buildings, this golden ratio conveys to the pattern-seeking human mind a sense of harmony and of balanced proportions. Even within the core of its structure, the abbey's solid harmony focuses the mind on inner prayer, keeping ornamental distractions at bay.
The Thoronet abbey's architecture influenced many renowned modern architects such as Swiss architect Le Corbusier, and English minimalist John Pawson. Pawson even wrote a now hard-to-find book Leçons du Thoronet, that looks at how the Thoronet Abbey affected his approaches to architecture.
By the 14th century the Thoronet Abbey's influence began to decline, as did the influence of the Cistercians in Western Europe.
The compounds soon fell in a state of disrepair: roofs were collapsing, doors breaking, walls greying with moss and decaying. An entire section of the abbey crumbled under a landslide. The kitchens, scriptorium and refectory did not survive to the present.
The French Revolution of 1789 mostly extinguished Cistercian life in France. The buildings were bought back by the French state in 1854 and slowly brought back to life.
Today and after some remarquable restoration work, the church, cloister, chapter house, lavatory, dormitory, and cellar are in beautiful shape.
Le Thoronet's abbey impresses on another level. The church can hold an echo and reverberate it for up to 13 seconds. And it can do so anywhere within the church. Even in modern times, these acoustics are of celestial proportions. Given the Thoronet acoustics, monks here had to carefully harness the power of their singing voices to render harmonious and pleasing chants.
Today, Gregorian chants often echo within the walls of the Thoronet church, filling the space with awe much as they must have done in the 12th and 13th century. If you have a chance, come and experience it. Or live it vicariously through our video at the bottom of the page.
Imagining the monks living here, entirely confined within the walls of the abbey grounds, you can't help but think of the role of the ever-present environment on its inhabitants. Life must have been extremely rigorous here, especially during the barren and humid winters. But the very structure of the abbey must have infused its inhabitants with a sense of balance and harmony, and helped focus and deepen their meditations. The Thoronet abbey fosters contemplation. Even in modern times, its spirit resonates.
If you visit, drop us a line and let us know how it resonates with you.
The abbey is open for guided or open visits year-round, outside of major holidays. Far more visitors come by in the summertime when schools are off and the weather warm. In the winter, you may have the place almost to yourself. Note that more concerts take place during the summer. Check out the Thoronet's official web site below for current planned events.
A singing mass is held most every sunday from noon until about 1:30PM, with Gregorian chants currently by the "Chantres du Thoronet" filling the abbey. Although you cannot freely visit the premises during or after mass, the church is open during mass to the respectful public.
Singing concerts are regularly held in the Thoronet Abbey church, especially during the summer. Check the Thoronet's official web site for the current program, or call them.
Great villages to visit in the area: Tourtour,
For other activities in the vicinity, check out our selection of articles on AzurAlive.com under the category "Provence Verte."
Les Voiles de St Tropez are back!
If you've in the French Riviera right now, or even in greater Provence, do yourself a favor: Go to St Tropez and experience the show of grand sailboats slicing through the bay of St Tropez. It's an incredible treat you are not likely to forget.
For 2012, the Voiles event takes place from September 29, 2012 to October 7, 2012.
And if you cannot see the show for yourself, live it vicariously on Flickr with this: slide show by Zoé with plenty of great shots by SNST (Societe Nautique Saint-Tropez, the organizing committee).
Voiles de St Tropez 2012 in the News:
Agay is my favorite large beach on the eastern tip of the Var, close to the Alpes Maritimes. The Var hosts many great beaches, especially towards Les Issambres, St Tropez, Gigaro, Hyères. This one is special.
First, the site. The Esterel Mountains peer over this little beach town of Agay, with gorgeous fiery red pitons and rocks overlooking the bay. The bay of Agay sparkles like a round emerald, with the beach running like a crescent around half of its rim. So there's plenty of space. And with the volcanic hills behind, you think you're on an exotic island.
A the eastern edge of beach, you can rent sea kayaks, dinghies, and large windsurfing boards for more fun in the water. On sea kayaks, you can explore the beautiful rocky coastline to the west. It's a treat! Check-up the Wind Club d'Agay for details, also the town's municipal club right next door.
Agay sports a series of decent snacks and even nice restaurants that aren't out to rip you off (see below for our tested recommendations). To wrap it up, you'll find public showers right on the beach for rinsing. The beach is not cordoned off into private paying slices so your wallet can relax with you while you soak in the sun. Beach mattresses are offered on one corner of the beach, at private Maobi Plage's restaurant and bar.
Summer is obviously the most popular time for visits to the little resort town of Agay. Even though it gets crowded, it doesn't feel overwhelmed due to the size of its long beach.
Two restaurants to recommend, one cheap but good and one pricier but very good.
La Belle Vie Café. You can't miss this restaurant at Agay' main round-about, in front of the beach. It serves hamburgers, bagels, sandwiches, large salads and has a nice relaxed feel on its terrace. Open from April to October. Affordable with a bagel lunch going for 7€ in 2012.
For something more upscale, with nice provençal menus around 25-30 €, this is a good choice: Côté Jardin. Open from April to October, closed Monday for lunch. Set behind the Belle Vie Café, off the D100 road that heads inland toward the Esterel Mountains.
The sandy beach of Agay runs all along the bay, by the Boulevard de la Plage, from the port to the west to the nautical station to the east. Further out east in the bay, there's another smaller beach carved into the bay called La Baumette.
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