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December 2007
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February 2008

The Golden Road of the French Riviera

The Mimosa in Winter Bloom, Cote d'Azur They're winter suns, drips of gold along the hillside. They're the February pride of the Massif de Tanneron, the Siagne Valley, the Estérel and the Massif des Maures on the French Riviera.

Imported from Australia in the mid-19C, the Silver Wattle tree is a species of acacia called Le Mimosa in France and by florists (Acacia dealbata). In its adoptive northern hemisphere, the mimosa blossoms in winter between December and March. This winter, Le Mimosa is going wild, shining millions of little suns on the Côte d'Azur.

Since 2003, summers have been dry, winters mild and little rain has fallen in spring and fall. Many plants, acacias included, have suffered from lack of water. This year (2008), winter temperatures have returned to normal and the mimosa is blossoming with a vengeance with yellow puffs sprouting bright like fireworks.

Harvesting the winter suns

The mimosa is not just a stunning dash of yellow, but an industry here on the Côte d'Azur. It is harvested and its stalks sold across Northern Europe, the USA and Japan in particular. Most of the harvesting is done by small family-owned businesses with savoir-faire handed down from generations. Altogether, mimosa plantations spread across approximately 200 hectares of land, with an average production of 500 tons per year. Prices vary by year according to supply and demand, but one kilo of mimosa stalks typically sells for 5 to 6 Euros. This year, mimosa production is up in the Alpes-Maritimes and in the Var thanks to weather conditions. And with volume up, prices are down some 20% from previous years.

So where to see the winter suns?

The Route du Mimosa celebrates the golden flowers across eight villages along an 130-kilometer route, from Bormes-les-Mimosas to Grasse:

130kmmimosa_2

 

  • Bormes-les-Mimosas -- Kilometer 0
    • Mimosalia : Sat 26 & Sun 27 January
    • Corso Fleuri : Sunday, February 24
  • Bormes-les-Mimosas -- Kilometer 0
    • Mimosalia : Sat 26 & Sun 27 January
    • Corso Fleuri : Sunday, February 24
  • Rayol-Canadel -- Kilometer 15
  • Ste Maxime -- Kilometer 42 
    • Corso Fleuri : Sat 2 & Sun 3 February
  • St Raphael -- Kilometer 59
    • Viva Mimosa:  February 09 to 17
    • Grand Corso Fleuri : February 10,3PM
  • Mandelieu-la-Napoule -- Kilometer 108
  • Tanneron -- Kilometer 112
  • Pégomas -- Kilometer 115
    • Corso Fleuri : Sat & Sun, January 26 &27
  • Grasse -- Kilometer 130
  • During these celebrations, floats of yellow flowers circle around town, as do clowns, jugglers, and good cheer.

    If you've missed the above celebrations, or prefer a walk away from crowds, try a hike in the Massif du Tanneron, around Pégomas or in some spots of the Estérel for yellow impressions in the hills.

    For an illustrated guidebook on great short hikes in the western French Riviera, take a look at 26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur. The book is available now online on Amazon!


    Flying to the Cote d'Azur

    5153_man_playing_around_in_a_toy_aiThe French Riviera and Provence sport three main international airports: Nice, Hyères-Toulon and Marseille.

    The Nice Côte d'Azur airport is France's second largest airport after Paris' CDG.
    How large? In 2007, 10 million travelers went through its gates. It showed pretty impressive growth over the last few years.
    What fueled this growth? The rise of low-cost flights. Seventeen low-fare companies land and take off from Nice; that accounts for one third of Nice's airway traffic.
    What is the most popular low-cost carrier to Nice? Sterling Airlines, the low-fare airline based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Sterling flies from Copenhagen, Billund, Aalborg, Oslo, Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm. Among the other sixteen low-fare carriers to Nice are EasyJet (based in London), Blu Express (based in Rome) and two new ones for 2007: Vueling and RyanAir.

    Marseille's airport isn't small either, with 7 million visitors in 2007. Because it's further west from Toulon, it caters to folks visiting the heart of Provence, especially those coming in from Europe. It sports a terminal entirely dedicated to low-fare carriers (le MP2), with Ryanair being king here among low-fare carriers. In 2007, Ryanair commanded 80% of all low-fare flights.

    Smaller, but growing, is Hyères-Toulon's airport with 650,000 visitors for 2007. If you're headed for St Tropez, the golden islands of Hyères, you might want to consider it. It's low-fare carrier choices are far more restricted than Nice's, at least for the time being. JetairFly flies to and from Brussels and  Brest; Ryanair links to London; FlyNordic offers seasonal flights to Bordeaux and Stockholm and Transavia.com (owned 60% by Air France and 40% by Dutch transavia) flies to and from Rotterdam (NL) to Toulon. The Travel Park program for long-term (1 to 16 days) parking is interesting (make sure to get your Travel Park ticket early with your travel agent, before you arrive at the parking lot as it requires proof of ticket purchase).

    So Nice remains a favorite and its top 3 destinations are:
    1/ Paris -- 3.24 million passengers
    2/ London -- 1.33 million passengers
    3/ Amsterdam --  310,000 passengers

    Once you've landed, enjoy a hike with the new guidebook:

     


    Something Fishy on a Côte d'Azur Menu

    Talking to restaurant by the beach in St Raphael a few weeks ago, we noticed that their menu had been translated into English. Bravo! Not everyone who visits St Raphael and Fréjus speaks French.

    Their English translation for the popular fish "Loup de Mer" was "Wolf of the Sea". Needless to say, this wasn't their most popular dish... Well, we had a good laugh and ended up re-writing their menu together.

    Enjoy pictures of some of the fish that hang around the Côte d'Azur, along with their French and English names:

    Interested in taking a few gently adventurous hikes on the Côte d'Azur? Read our latest hiking guidebook below.


    Hiking the Sentier du Littoral: St Raphael to Cap Dramont

    Thanks to the Loi du Littoral of 1986, much of the coast-hugging footpath can be walked from one end of the Côte d'Azur to the other.

    Of course, some stretches of the path are far more fun and pleasant to trek on than others. The Côte d'Azur is generously built. In some sections, the coastal path veers away from the coast and tromps on the street.

    Here's a video hike on one of the better slices of the Sentier du Littoral in the Var, on the Western side of the Cote d'Azur.  You'll ramble on for 8 kilometers one way, from the eastern tip of St Raphael to Cap Dramont by the town of Agay.

    For written details about this hike, check out our earlier post about it here.
    To get your hands on a thoroughly tested hiking guide to the Western Côte d'Azur (on sale on Amazon during January 2008 pre-orders!), click here.

    Bonne randonnée! Happy hiking!

    Music on the video clip is from Bruno MEUNIER, born in 1971 in Draguignan (Var, France). Bruno took his first piano classes at the age of 10 and, in 1990, entered the Faculty of Arts in Nice; In 1993, he obtained a Licence in Musicology and continued to experiment in instrumental composition. Currently, Bruno teaches the piano and computer-assisted music composition at the school Music Academy in Saint-Laurent-du-Var.


    Winter 2008 in the Var

    Tilted in the Wind, St AyguyfMeteo France warned us yesterday of a "tempête méditerranéenne d'Est devenant sévère à partir de jeudi soir". That is, to expect severe stormy conditions on the Western Cote d'Azur, from Thursday afternoon (ie. now).

    The storm began yesterday, the second day of January. We heard it coming in the night, with a whistle and a howl that has become familiar this time of year.

    Wind is not unusual in our neck of the woods during the winter. We have short and intense storms. Typically, the Mistral wind is the one to visit, coming from the north. It goes mad as it funnels and howls through the street. It shakes the masts of sailboats. It picks up newspapers from tables and sends pages flying. It slams doors, rips a few palms off of shaking palm trees and generally keeps everyone, sailors included, safely tucked inside.

    What's blowing here this early January 2008 is not the Mistral wind, but a south east wind. It's strong, currently with 120 km per hour peaks. This means it throws giant waves onshore. Well, giant waves in Mediterranean terms - we usually have a flat-as-a-pancake sea.

    Here's how tilted we looked today on the beach of St Aygulf... Happy New Year!

    Touched by the Wind, St Ayguyf


    Smoking News

    What's in the news in our corner of South Eastern France today?

    Cigarettes in France
    As of midnight yesterday, smoking is disallowed across public places including museums, bars, restaurants and discotheques in France. You can still smoke outside...

    This is the talk of the town today. Some are fuming over the decision. To them, it's "yet another loss of freedom, another loss of choice." Others clap and explain that they'll be able to spend some time in these public places and breathe clean air.

    Honestly, some cafés here were so filled with smoke, your eyes would sting. It's refreshing to see that they'll be open to everyone now.

    In any case, the ban made for an animated 2nd day of the year.

    As I left the café, I noticed more people outside than usual, despite the cold wind that blows since yesterday. All of them were smoking like chimneys in the dead of winter.

    • In 2000, each adult in France bought 1,724 cigarettes. This is according to the "Centre de Documentation et d’Information sur le Tabac. How did they define adult? Anyone over 15 years old, but unfortunately, many smokers here are under 15 y.o.
    • 64,771 tons of tobacco were sold in France in 2005.
    • 60,000 deaths are attributable to tobacco smoking every year.