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Côte d'Azur: Nailing the Clouds

Windy on the French Cote d'AzurStatistics tell us that October and November attract the most rainfall on  sunny French Côte d'Azur. The driest month is July.

But weather in this Mediterranean region, as elsewhere, loves to bend the rules. We might find ourselves like today, in late May, with a drizzle overhead.

How to you best predict the weather before making those trip reservations or your weekend hiking plans?

You make the most educated guess.

Weather web sites abound. Based on poking our noses outside and comparing with predictions, they do a decent job for anything under a week. Keep in mind that the region enjoys micro-climates due in part to its many low-lying mountains, the Alps, the gulf of Genoa.So while the Mistral wind may visit Toulon or St Tropez, Cannes could well enjoy calm waters.

1/ Meteo France
    In French, but easy to follow the cloud/sun/rain symbols and temperatures (in Celsius). You can access a predicted satellite picture for the following day and a 2-3 day forecast. From casual observations, I find this site to be pretty accurate.

2/ The Weather Channel
    You can get a 6-10 day forecast on this channel as well.

3/ CNN.com's Weather channel. In English, includes 1-week forecast and a static satellite pic.   

4/ Weather Underground. In English, includes 5-day forecast. Not as detailed as above.
   
Local French Riviera papers have a great view: VarMatin.com and NiceMatin.com. To check them out online, go to Services drop-down menu -> Select "Meteo". Or for a week's forecast, take a look at their printed copy, weather being printed next to last page.

The French Côte d'Azur enjoys an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. So chances are on your side for warm sunny summers, mild winters and pleasant in-betweens. Hope for clear skies, but plan for changes in the weather just in case.

Sunshine


French Riviera Wet Weather Wonders

Sunset It's raining on the Côte d'Azur... Bonjour Tristesse!

What do you do when drops fall from the sky on the French Riviera?

After all, you didn't visit to stay "Entre les Murs" (translation = behind walls, but film title "The Class") during your vacation, even if the movie of the same title won the 2008 Palme d'Or today at the 2008 Cannes Film Fest.

So what to do while swim suits await in bottom of suitcase? Try these ideas:

1. Pick up a good book and find a nook in a café. Our list of favorite English-language bookshops between Cannes and Nice?

  1. Cat's Whiskers in Nice -- 04 93 80 02 66
  2. Scruples in Monaco -- 377 93 50 43 52
  3. The English Book Centre in Valbonne -- 04 93 12 21 42
  4. Cannes English Bookshop in Cannes -- 04 93 99 40 08
  5. Castle Bookshop in Fayence -- 04 94 84 72 00

2. Visit a grand villa or a museum. You may not be alone with that idea, but you'll have many to pick from. Just a few great ones:

  1. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, on St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
  2. Fondation Maeght, in ever so popular St-Paul-de-Vence
  3. Musee Picasso, Antibes (it reopens Summer 2008)
  4. Chapelle du Rosaire, Vence
  5. Villa Kerylos, Beaulieu-sur-Mer
  6. Archaeological Museum, Cimiez area of Nice

3. Go to a concert. Where do you learn about them? The local papers Nice-Matin or Var-Matin... have them in French, or check out the tourism boards' web sites.

4. Drop by the Musee de l'Art Culinaire, in Villeneuve-Loubet. Then try your hand at a sunny Provençal recipe.

5. Visit the Tropics. Click here to take a look at Parc Phoenix by Nice and its giant glass house that stands 25 meters high and homes an intricate array of tropical plants.

Soon, the weather will return to its Mediterranean warmth and you'll be headed for the beach!

Cote d'Azur Almanarre


Cap Martin: When a Cabin is a Castle

AzurAlive: Cap Martin

When you walk around Cap Martin, that exclusive stretch of land that pokes into the Mediterranean Sea between Monaco and Menton, you'll notice the village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin high above, the wide-angle views of the Mediterranean Sea below, the elegant villas that dot the cape behind tall fences, the private gardens that brim with the rubbery leaves of century plants, with lemon trees, with olive groves and swimming pools.

What you might not notice is "le cabanon". After all, the "cabanon" cabin is a mere 3.66 square-meter cube tucked under the cape's footpath.

The little house sits behind a carob tree. Dark brown pine logs cover its outside walls and give it the appearance of a mountain shed. Don't let its diminutive looks trick you. This cabin is a castle.

AzurAlive: Cap Martin, Le Corbusier Cabanon

"I have a chateau on the Côte d'Azur, It's for my wife. It's extravagant in comfort and gentleness." -Le Corbusier

The cabin was architect Le Corbusier's holiday hideaway on the Côte d'Azur. The Swiss-born architect, possibly the best-known modern architect of the 20th century, loved the Mediterranean region. He often visited the French Riviera. For a while, he would stay in Eileen Gray's E1027 house on Cap Martin, enjoying the taste of fresh sea urchins at the nearby "Etoile de Mer" restaurant.

"I drew the plans in 45 minutes. They were final. Nothing much changed afterwards." -Le Corbusier

In 1951, on the side of the restaurant's table, Le Corbusier scribbled the plans for a beach-side cottage. They were rough plans, but Le Corbusier liked to say that the core of the cabin's design never changed much from those initial sketches.

“Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.” - Le Corbusier

Behind the chestnut wood door runs a narrow hallway. It leads to a room that to feels large in comparison. All is laid out functionally within the open room: two beds arranged in a T, a hidden toilet, a large closet, storage space tucked in the ceiling, a table made of walnut wood, shiny and checkered like a chess board. A simple pillar separates the main room from the bathroom. Behind the pillar, a sink and a mirror. Three windows open up to three primal materials. Through the back window, set low to the ground, you see the cliff and its rusty rocks. Through the central window, a postcard view of the Mediterranean Sea and of  Monaco comes alive. By the bathroom sink, the carob tree hangs its branches in front of the third window.

"The home should be the treasure chest of living." - Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier was also a painter, in addition to architect and urban planner. The cottage's entrance walls and window shutters are painted with rounded human shapes in yellow, red and blue in a style reminiscent of Picasso's and Miro's. A coat of yellow paint covers the floor planks. The Etoile de Mer restaurant, with which the cottage shares a common wall, sports a painted mural signed by Le Corbusier with his hand and foot prints, set alongside those of restaurant owner and friend, Robert Rébutato.

AzurAlive: Cap Martin, Le Corbusier Mural

"A house is a machine for living in." -Le Corbusier

The architect enjoyed taking his showers outside the little cabin, under the carob tree. He worked on the slick checkered table or under the shade of the tree. He ate with his wife next door at the Etoile de Mer. He walked the cape. He swam off the Cabbé and Buze beaches below.

"Our own epoch is determining, day by day, its own style. Our eyes, unhappily, are unable yet to discern it." - Le Corbusier

In all of its simplicity, the cottage encompasses most of Corbu's core design principles, his five points of modern architecture:

1. a construction supported by reinforced stilts
2. a façade of non-supporting walls that gave architects more design freedom
3. an open interior floor plan
4. windows that pull the exterior into the living space
5. a roof garden, although this principle wasn't applied in the cabanon given given the lush scenery that surrounds the site

AzurAlive: Cap Martin, Le Corbusier Tomb"I feel so fine here... this is likely where I will breathe my last breath." -Le Corbusier

On August 27, 1965 Le Corbusier swam off the coast of Roquebrune as he so enjoyed doing. He was found lifeless later that morning on the beach, likely a victim of a heart attack. He is buried alongside his wife in the village of Roquebrune, in a tomb he designed himself after the death of his wife.

Visiting:

Le Corbusier's Cabanon at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin can only be visited through organized groups visits through the Cap Moderne association. Reservations must be made ahead of time. Contact Cap Moderne by email at contact@capmoderne.com.

See the Roquebrune Cap Marting Tourism Office web site for latest information on Le Corbusier's Cabanon.

Latest News:

In January 2008, a collection of 23 of Le Corbusier's architectural and urban works spanning 7 countries were presented to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for nomination as a World Heritage Site.
Le Corbusier's Cabanon at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin figures among the 23 works presented as a group for consideration.

Learning more:

Le Corbusier, "Toward an Architecture"
introduction by Jean-Louis Cohen, translated by John Goodman,
Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, 2007, 350 pages.
ISBN 978-0-89236-899-0

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin Tourism Office: (Web site in French, English and Italian)
http://www.roquebrune-cap-martin.com/

La Fondation Le Corbusier (Web site in French and in English):
www.fondationlecorbusier.fr 


Discover the best short hikes on the western French Riviera


Cannes Film Festival: How to Escape

Cannes film festival 2008 61th Edition of the Festival de Cannes
Cannes Film Festival 2008

Brace yourselves.

The Cannes Film Festival (locally "le FIF") is about to begin.   

From May 14-25, Cannes will be packed, sections of the city blocked off to traffic, and crowds will descend on the Croisette for a close-up encounter with a star or two. They might catch a glimpse at Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Catherine Deneuve, Clint Eastwood among many. They may even brush up with Sean Penn who heads the FIF jury this year as movies fight for the prestigious Palme d'Or awards.

The festival opens on May 14th with Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles' movie, Blindness.

Yes, it is exciting, glamorous, fun!

For those who live close to Cannes, it's complete madness for 11 days. Thankfully, we can always head for the hills and take a walk to escape the frenzy.

Looking for a reprieve from the buzz of the Cannes Film Festival? Consider the following local escapes:

  • Hike the Esterel Mountains, a short drive/bus/train ride west of Cannes.  See our web site index on the Esterel Mountains for hiking suggestions, or consult our hiking guide.
  • Catch a ferry to the Lérins Islands, a 10-minute boat ride away from Cannes' western port. The island of Sainte-Marguerite homes the intriguing Masque de Fer prison and lets you hike around its footpaths for the afternoon. The island of St Honorat is smaller, planted with vineyards and cultivations for local consumption with a gorgeous monastery (in activity) that produces excellent wines and fine lemon liqueurs.
  • Hop up north of Vence toward St-Jeannet for walks around the best-loved baou of the Côte d'Azur. Or reach around the Col de Vence for more fantastic country hikes on the French Riviera. This time of year, those spots seem to stand still. A breath of fresh air after much wild festival buzzing in Cannes.

Interested in more gorgeous walks in the Western Côte d'Azur? Check out our latest hiking guides.


Biot: The Bridges of La Brague

Bridges of the Parc Departemental de La Brague, Biot Hiking from Biot to Valbonne: Les Ponts de La Brague

May is a lovely month on the Côte d'Azur. Not only is it often sunny as it points the way to summer, but it has lots of jours féries often extended with ponts that bridge a day off work with another day off into order to reach a weekend or possibly another day off. Gently and without  straining, the single day off stretches into a short week off. It's a brilliant touch on an already wonderful month, sort of like a stained glass window over an arched doorway.

So Antoine and I decided to celebrate the ponts of May by hopping on a few stone bridges in the Parc Departemental de La Brague, west of Biot and east of Valbonne.

This wooded La Brague park is huge: 1500 acres (633 hectares). It shoulders the sprawling Silicon Valley center of the French Côte d'Azur, the Parc Technologique de Sophia-Antipolis. What's more, Parc de La Brague links the villages of Biot and Valbonne so you can hike from one village to another.

We trekked the 18 kilometers (round-trip) along the La Brague river banks. The round-trip walk takes about 6 hours at a very leisurely pace.

The entire walk takes place alongside the river, under the umbrage of European Alders (les Aulnes) and their rounded leaves, the Ash trees (Les Frênes), linden or lime trees (Les Tilleuls), by the wide fronds of moisture-loving ferns. The small cascades make the river gurgle. All we could hear was water splashing and a few birds singing spring. No cars except for one fleeting road intersection at Le Bruguet.

The trees rule at La Brague. In fact, they speak. Don't believe me?  Next time you visit,  take a look at their roots. And  see what this tree did to the "No Hunting" sign?

Tree Trunk Gets Mad

If you leave Biot before 10AM, you can reach Valbonne for lunch, stroll around town (you might think you're elsewhere - English is widely spoken in the little streets of international Valbonne) and return to Biot on time for dinner. We had to be back by 7PM so we ended up running part of the return leg. The terrain is rocky part of the way, with jumble of roots  over the footpath - I don't recommend running it with a recovering sprained ankle... 

Still, I love les ponts de May.La Brague Strolling

Interested in more gorgeous walks in the French Côte d'Azur? Check out our latest hiking guides.

      
                         
     What:         Parc de La Brague, Biot and Valbonne,
                       Cote d'Azur, France

     Where:       Between Biot and Valbonne

     More Info:    www.biot.fr
                        

Esterel: Hiking for St Honorat

Esterel Mountains, St Honorat Hike Pilgrims Hike to the Esterel Mountains

Hundreds of hikers walked from the town of St Raphael (and a few all the way from the Basque Country...) to the Ste Baume grotto in the Esterel Mountains for the yearly St Honorat (St Honoratus) pilgrimage. 

OK, it wasn't exactly a strenuous trek. In fact, we hiked about 5km under blue skies with a gentle breeze to cool us off. From the Maison Forestiere du Gratadis to the Ste Baume grotto area, two ONF foresters lead the way on horseback while  jolly Provençal musicians played three-holed flutes or galoubets and drums or tambourins to cheer us on.

After this light hike, mass was given in Provençal language in the Esplanade Santo Baoumo (Sainte Baume) by Don Bruno Attuyt. To close the ceremony, Bruno Attuyt chose the Coupo Santo cup of wine hymn, which earned him the title of "curé très sympa". We then feasted on aioli, danced a bit and enjoyed a little sieste before heading back along the footpath.

Esterel_stebaumepelerinage1

Interested in participating in this yearly event? The festive "pilgrimage" takes place the first Sunday in May. Check out the Saint-Raphael's Tourism Board's web site

Tucked between the towns of Cannes and Saint-Raphael in the French Cote d'Azur (French Riviera), the Estérel Mountains strike their visitors with their red rocks and their jagged crest lines and pitons over the Mediterranean Sea. The Esterel Mountains were born (250 Million years ago) from a few active volcanoes that centered around the current Mont Vinaigre and the Dramont.

The Esterel sports an intricate network of hiking trails. Find out more about them with the acclaimed hiking guide to the French Riviera: "26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur".

      
                
    
Getting to one of the Esterel entances
:    
   
By car -- N98 coastal road from Saint-Raphael (going east) or from Cannes (going west).

At the main roundabout in Agay, turn inland on the D100, heading toward Valescure.

After less than 2km, turn right into a small road with a sign that indicates "Massif de l'Esterel."

Continue straight, pass the vineyard on your left, the cement ford and reach the Maison Forestière de Gratadis.

Antibes Marineland: Show or Tell?

Antibes Marineland OrcaMarineland, Antibes, Cote d'Azur, France:

Not everyone had the day off on this May 1st (Fête du Travail) on the French Côte d'Azur.

Orcas or Killer Whales dashed under water, shot their 5,000 pound shiny bodies out of the water and splashed everyone watching around the "splash-zone" in the pool. "Such a Shame" music by Brian Ferry pounded from speakers around the stadium. It was business as usual, if not busier than usual, at Marineland in Antibes, France.

The orcas (Orcinus orca) are likely the most popular animals at Marineland in Antibes. Crowds love to watch them perform. The animals are huge, majestic. They move like torpedoes under water (up to 30 MPH). There's more than a tinge of danger to their show. After all, orcas are the largest predators of warm-blooded marine mammals. In the wild, they feast on seals, sea lions, otters, in addition to plain fish

Antibes Marineland Orca Yet, as you watch these large predators slide out of their water tanks to give their trainer a kiss, audience applauding, you can't help but think of them out in the wild. Many of the Marineland orcas come from the waters off Iceland. You picture them surfaced in family pods of three or four, spraying mist from their blow hole above the cold waters, with the wide expanse of water around them.

Orcas live in many oceans and seas around the world. They live in the Arctic, the Antarctic, along the coast of Washington, Oregon, California, Baja California. Rumors have it that they have been spotted in rivers as well, traveling up from river mouthes to follow their preys.

By most accounts, the animals are treated with great care at Marineland Antibes. Some of the orcas were born in captivity rather than hauled out of oceans. We've probably learned something about them from keeping them here. And Marineland has likely sparked a lifelong passion for oceanography in a few kids. Few of us could ever watch these animals in the wild.

Yet personally, I would prefer a Marineland more focused on education rather than show. Tell us about these animals in the wild: where, how do they live? To meet the orca's and otters up close with more detailed information about them, you need to pay an additional fee.

 Antibes marineland Dolphin What are the endangered marine mammals in the Mediterranean? What is Marineland doing to help? It supports the banning of fish nets where dolphins end up tangled up and injured or killed. That's good. Why is this not explained at the park?

I would prefer a facility where local injured sea animals are nursed back to health with the help of school kids, a facility that sponsors scientific research and protection, a facility we could feel entirely good about supporting.

With 1 Million annual visitors, I'm a minority with this view. Share this viewpoint? Drop them a constructive note. Unfortunately, the issue is so polarized that it often fills with nothing but anger, shutting ears on both sides of the debate.

Antibes marineland Dolphin

Also in Antibes and far less controversial: Heidi's Antibes Books. They carry a huge assortment of English-language books.

You'll find  our latest hiking guide there: "26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur".

Also available at all of the international Amazon.com sites (US, UK, Germany, France, Japan).