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Reader Reviews 2008 Literary Award



ReaderViewsAward-100px Our publisher gave us the news today: AzurAlive's first in a series of hiking guides to Southern France has made the Finalist list for the 2008 Reader Reviews Literary Awards. Pretty cool.

Here's what the book reviewer had to say about it: “26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d’Azur” will be of great help to any traveler wishing to do hiking in the area. With detailed descriptions of 26 hikes of different difficulty, which range in time from an hour to four hours, the choices are really various.

Each of the hikes is described in detail, from the distance and the time needed to complete it to elevations and difficulty. A very useful feature is “Getting there,” which provides useful tips on what mode of transportation to take or where to park. Maps and elevation diagrams provide useful visual aides and the photographs in the book should really tempt you to do some exploring. The detailed directions in each chapter should make hiking relaxed and worry-free.

In addition to the information directly related to each hike, the author also provides insights on the flora, fauna, geology and history of the area as well as useful contacts for the area, which are oftentimes tourist offices, but also include wine-growing estate, a cork museum, a chocolate confectioner and more. Those sections include telephone numbers, website addresses and hours of operation.

Florence Chatzigianis’ writing is fluid and engaging. Her descriptions of the hiking trails and the wonders to be discovered while wandering on them made me want to be on Cap Taillat as I write this. Who knows, this just might inspire another trip to France…

I would recommend “26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d’Azur” to globetrotters and armchair travelers alike – for both it should provide a pleasant change of pace"



Nice goes wild: It's Carnival 2009


Le Carnaval de Nice 2009




It's back again, wild, irreverent, fun, and all over the Place Masséna, the Promenade des Anglais, the Jardin Albert 1er in the French Riviera city of Nice.

                                                                               

The Nice Carnival 2009: 

runs from Friday, February 13 to Sunday, March 1.

                                                                               

For 2009, Le Carnaval de Nice turns to children. One thousand Niçois kids circle around his majesty the King of the Mascarades. New for 2009, the Queen also makes her appearance at the Nice Carnival.

Expect some 20 themed chars to show off their bright colors along the prom, 180 «grosses têtes» or big heads to bop over the streets. Some half of these giant-sized heads are made with paper derivatives in papier-maché.

Flowers will fly overhead during the flower battles or batailles de fleurs (Wednesdays and Saturdays). 

And all along, music mixed with laughter and drums.

For details on the full program of the Nice Carnaval, click here to download the 14 PDF pages on the festivities. Or visit the official Nice Carnaval Web Site. This site includes a version in Engligh.

Interested in viewing a slide show and explanation of last year's Nice Carnival?
Take a look at our blog on Amazon. Scroll down to the blog entry entitled "Nice Carnival"



Stars and tripes: The Michelin Guide

MichelinRouge2009 Famous and often times controversial, the Michelin "Guide Rouge" offers reviews of generous list of restaurants, hotels and bed & breakfasts in France and across the world.

In France in particular, the Michelin Guide instills fear and respect in the establishments it covers. Why? The book sells like des petits pains (half a million sold each year) and stars equate to prestige and plenty of customers. In France, for 2008, 26 restaurants saw their names glorified with 3 Michelin stars, 68 restaurants with two stars and 435 restaurants with a single shining speckle of light.

Generally, stars also equate with celestial prices, but not always. Lunch is always lighter on the porte-monnaie than dinner and often very comparable in menus. Nevertheless, a Michelin-starred restaurant cannot afford to be inexpensive.

How did our region of South Eastern France do for 2008, culinary-wise?

In Monaco, Le Louis XV by chef Alain Ducasse saw 3 stars
In Monaco, Joël Robuchon in the Hotel Métropole in Monte-Carlo saw 2 stars
In Mougins, the Moulin de Mougins saw 2 stars.
In Cannes, La Palme d'Or saw 2 stars
In Mandelieu, L'Oasis saw 2 stars
In Eze, Le Chateau de la Chèvre d'Or saw 2 stars
In La Turbie, Hostellerie Jérôme saw 2 stars
In Beaulieu-sur-mer, La Réserve de Beaulieu saw 2 stars
Our West at Les Baux de Provence, L' Oustaù de Baumanière saw 2 stars
Further West in Bonnieux, La Bastide de Capelongue saw 2 stars
Further West, Le Petit Nice is Marseille’s one and only three Michelin star restaurant.

OK, so the last three aren't strictly on the French Riviera. Still, 8 restaurants with 2 and 3 stars isn't bad considering we're talking top of the line cuisine, presentation as well as athmosphere.

How do you think we'll do for 2009?

The 2009 edition of Michelin red guide to France is expected on March 2, 2009. Rumors have it that highly tasty the Faventia restaurant with chef Philippe Jourdin in Tourrettes (Var) will reach its second star. It currently holds one prestigious star. Let's see in March. If you, go let us know how you liked it!


Hiking on the French Riviera: GR51 by Roquebune-sur-Argens

Hiking the GR51 by Roquebrune-sur-Argens The weather turned decidedly wet this winter. If you're interested in weather statistics, our previous post talks about inches (millimeters, actually) of rainfall.

However the French Riviera is anything but routine. Even in the wettest of winters, it sneaks in a few days of sunshine. On those bright days, our hiking group swells in numbers. Everyone longs to exit the house or office and soak in the sun rays!

So it's a mere 47 hikers that we accompanied yesterday along the GR51 path by Roquebrune-sur-Argens. Big challenge. As many French heads of state have said, we the French are a lovable group but entirely unmanageable!  We paced like shepherds from head to tail of our long line of hikers and back again, to keep everyone more or less on the same footpath and safely back.
Note to reader: Signing up for a guided hike anywhere? Make sure that they're heading out with fewer than 25 ramblers!

A word about the GR51 footpath, also called the Balcony of the Mediterranean. This "chemin de Grande Randonnée" or long-distance footpath crosses the French Riviera East-West, settling its tracks on hill crests with tasty views. It goes on from Menton to Marseille. In the Maures Mountains, you'll find it at Roquebrune-sur-Argens, over the Flûte mountain trail as trail Le Vernet, down by Plan de la Tour, Grimaud, Bormes-les-Mimosas.

For our afternoon hike, we settled for a 5.5 km round-trip loop.

Chemin NeufHiking Details:

Round-trip Distance: 5.5 km
Round-Trip Time: Approx. 2 hours with time to enjoy the views
Terrain: Initial trail on dirt road (be aware that 4x4's occasionally drive on the initial section of the trail), then mostly sandy path. See photo below.
Required: Hiking boots or shoes. Water. Despite the neighboring water reserve (Le Castellar), you're in nature here and you'll find no water fountain or shop.

Start Point: The below Google map gives the starting point, off the D7 road that goes from Roquebrune-sur-Argens to St Aygulf. Take the dirt road that leads to the Les Claux campground or gîte, 100 meters on the right from the Total gas station when heading toward St Aygulf. It's not far from Roquebrune. You'll notice a green panel with "Moulin à Huile - Clos St Martin" opposite this dirt road.


Click to enlarge map



Parking: Head up 50 meters on the little road and turn right into the F7 Chemin Neuf road. Park on the side of the road, away from traffic.

Hiking Trail:

Walk up the rough road to your left. It heads up and zigzags among a few cork oak trees to a Y intersection.

Take the path on the left (the path that continues up ahead leads to a fence marked "Réserve du Castellar" - this is a water reserve where public access is forbidden). 

Treetop The sandy path heads up gently and opens up views of the St Raphael bay and of Les Petites Maures mountains ahead. You'll notice a string of wooden treetop hides. Hunters use these to track larger game such as wild boar (sangliers) or deer during hunting season and on authorized hunting days.

Continue on the main path for about 2 km until you reach a sign that indicates F8 Le Vernet. This is the GR51 which changes its name from Chemin Neuf to Le Vernet.

We'll exit the GR51 here. Make a right and take the path that goes up along a narrower and somewhat rocky path.

After 250 meters, make a right into a narrow path that heads into low-lying bushes. There's a mimosa tree (was at least in 2009) at the intersection here. This wild path makes a sharp turn left after 10 minutes or so and crosses a small forest of mimosa trees. Lovely in February when they blossom in bright yellows.

LaFlute_Mimosas

Path reaches at T. Make a right here. The path now heads down and you spot the Rocher de Roquebrune reddish rock that stands behind the town of Roquebrune-sur-Argens to your left. 

At the first Y intersection, continue straight.

50 meters later, at the next Y intersection, make a right. You're heading back down toward the F7 Chemin Neuf which you reach after a manageable downhill - stay on the main path on this downhill.

When you reach the main F7 Chemin Neuf, go left. This is the hiking trail you took at the beginning of the hike.

When hiking in the Maures or in the Esterel Mountains, I always recommend you come prepared with a IGN TOP 25 map. IGN stands for the Institut Geographique National that produces these excellent hiking maps.Top stands for Topographical which gives you a good idea of terrain topology. 25 stands for the map's scale: 1 cm of map = 250 meters of real terrain.

For this hike, the map needed is the 3544 ET IGN map. These maps don't come cheap, but shop around. I find that prices vary from single to double. They're available at this reputable Elstead Maps web site, or from the IGN site directly at about 8 euros.

Interested in more half-day hikes on the French Riviera? Check out our highly-acclaimed hiking guide below on Amazon.co.uk (and a few copies left on Amazon.com too!)

 


Drought behind us on the French Riviera

Pluie By all accounts, winter 2008-2009 has been one of the wettest on record. In all of 2008, Nice registered some 1030 millimeters of rain, while the norm falls around 800mm for an average year. In the Côte d'Azur town of Menton, 2008 saw 165mm of rain for November and 142 for December. While the wettest months have been October, November and December, all of these months also experienced a number of days of pure sunshine. This past Sunday, we hiked under blue skies and warming sun. And this coming Sunday, February 15 2009, Météo France tells me that we're in for "beau temps ensoleillé" sunshine. Yet we're not entirely out of the woods for the Winter. Weather predictions call for a few more days of rain and wind over the French Riviera.

Not great news for visitors who have only a handful of days to experience the region, but we're lucky that the rains haven't wrecked havoc on the region. Yes, some of the coastal paths need mending and we've seen a number of boats damaged during the worst of the windy period (see our article here). But most of the fix-up is either well under way or already taken care of. When compared to other hard-hit regions such as the South-Western region of France (see AFP article here), we're sheltered. And after a long bout of dry weather (since 2003, the French Riviera had experienced a drought), the water that soaks gardens, forests and replenishes reservoirs comes as bienvenue!

Now if we could just have a few sunny days to enjoy the Nice Carnival. It begins this Friday, February 13 2009 and goes on until March 1. What our site a live report late next week.


Menton's Lemon Festival

Lemon Menton has lemons, and a yearly lemon festival called the Fête du Citron with lemon floats that rise up to 10 meters in the sky, light and sound shows that brighten he town's Jardin Biovès gardens, but also world music such as Mariachis for a Fiesta Mexicana, a Japanese marching band, Pradun Brass Band & Dancers and others.

This year (2009) marks the 76th Fête du Citron at Menton, and it will brighten up the town from Friday February 13 to Wednesday, March 4, 2009.

On Thursdays, February 16 and 25 the Corsos of lemons, oranges squeeze around the Jardin Biovès, Fridays (February 13, 20, 27) the night comes alive with light shows around the yellow theme, Saturdays its evening concerts.

But the festival is also a chance to discover or re-discover the magical and exotic botanical gardens that dot this bright city:

  • During the festival, each Tuesday and Friday at 3PM, the Serre de la Madone runs guided visits
  • On Tuesdays at 3PM, it's the Villa Maria Serena
  • Mondays and Fridays at 10AM, Fontana Rosa
  • Mondays at 3PM, Val Rahmeh

If you're going:

LemonFestival

  • Reserve your spot in advance for the guided visits (5 to 8 euros per person) as well as for better spots for viewing the parades. They cost between 5 and 8 euros per person. Call the Menton Tourism Office to reserve at 04.92.41.76.76 or click HERE for online reservations.
  • Take public transportation to get there; leave either early or late and expect lots of company especially if the weather cooperates.


Mimosa Blooms on the French Riviera

                                                                                                                                                  

It's February, and although this means winter here in France, the mimosa or acacia plant still thinks it's summer as it used it be in its ancestor's lands of the southern hemisphere. And so it blooms in full winter.

Walking along the Tanneron hills, the residential areas by St Raphael such as Boulouris, the Estérel Mountains and dotting gardens here and there, the mimosa splashes the scenery with fluorescent yellow puffs.

Where?

The hills of Tanneron behind Cannes are not only covered with mimosas, but harvested for its fragrant flowers for florists and for the perfume industry. You'll also find dashes of yellow paint the Esterel Mountains by Agay and St Raphael, by the St Tropez peninsula and decorating the flowery village of Bormes-les-Mimosas.

When?

Varies by a week or two depending on French Riviera temperatures, but generally from early February to early March. 

How to visit?

The best way is to jump in on one of the festivities organized by the Tourism Offices around the Mimosa Festival. Each year in February, tourism offices and local towns team up to organize a Mimosa Trail. The trail runs from Grasse, Mandelieu, Tanneron, Pégomas, St Raphael, Ste Maxime, all the way to Bormes-les-Mimosas (130 kms). Over the course of a few days, the towns along the trail whip up guided walks, talks, tours and coach excursions around the mimosa tree. The guided walks with forestry officers (ONF) and the mimosa farm visits are interesting if you're comfortable enough in French. Otherwise, lots of yellow & fun with a Mimosa Corso flower parade to crown the event.

Mimosa corso's for 2009 include:

  • Pégomas corso on January 25
  • Ste Maxime & Tanneron corso on February 1
  • St Raphaël mimosa corso on 15th to wrap up a full week of mimosa activities.See the St Raphael Tourism Office Site here.
  • Mandelieu has a special mimosa festival from Feb 13 to 22th February with a corso flower floats on the 22nd. They host some of the more interesting visits to mimosa farms, to Grasse, to the Massif de Tanneron. See their tourism office info here.
  • Bormes les Mimosas: Carnival of Flowers with a corso Feb 23 and 24. See details on the Bormes web site.