My Top 5… Rural Idylls

Spending time in the countryside can be rejuvenating and an escape from the rat race. Here are my top 5 rural places to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty….

Number 1: Switzerland

Switzerland has rolling valleys of the greenest of grass, grazed by doe-eyed cows with bells round their necks, in front of snow-capped mountains. Continue reading

Cruising into Cherbourg

We glided into Cherbourg at 5.30am, my BF snoring away in bed, and me excitedly hovering on the balcony. We were on the biggest cruise ship in the world, but it was silent as it came into port. The maritime police and pilot boats which sailed alongside made far much more noise!

It was a beautiful fresh morning and the dock was lined with people who had come to see the ship in, which was lovely! I went back to bed after my rare bout of wakedness at 5am, but awoke again to a sunny morning. After a good breakfast we debarked the ship to see the sights and sounds of Cherbourg. Continue reading

Flamingos in France! (and another toilet lock-in!)

Who knew that Flamingos live in France?! I was flabbergasted when I read about it, and couldn’t wait to go and see for myself. And so for this mission I headed to the south coast of France.

Church in PalavasPalavas Les Flots is a small town on the south coast of France, about 12km south of Montpellier. This turned out to be a charming little place, and the sun-baked yellow houses gave it a Spanish feel. Continue reading

A Maze in Montpellier’s Old Town

When we arrived in Montpellier, the first thing that struck me was the demographics of the population… I couldn’t see anyone above the age of about 20. A student we met on the bus explained that it was a University town. On a Friday night the streets were full of life… students having a beer and just hanging out (but in a nice way, not in a vomit-in-the-street way).

Arc de Triomphe, MontpellierMy favourite part of Montpellier was the old town… small medieval alleys like a maze to get lost in. Every turn revealed another picture perfect courtyard, with a little church or lively cafe, coloured lights strung overhead. Continue reading

La Clusaz : drinking hot chocolate and watching snow fall

My boyfriend wanted to visit a ski resort outside Geneva, and I put a pin in a map and found La Clusaz, which is near to Annecy, France. And what a find! This is a little gem of a place; a small village with the “rustic charm” and “alpine feel” touted by holiday brochures. It really is beautiful though, with a small church and chalets all around – none of those concrete monstrosities you see in some ski resorts.

La Clusaz, FranceYou can walk through the village in about 10 minutes, however of course that is not the point – it is impossible to walk briskly through the village without stopping to look at all the shops. Continue reading

French Road Trip 3 – Enjoying the sights and sounds of Lille!

The last leg of our little road trip saw us visiting Lille. This was by far the biggest city on our holiday. We paid for expensive parking in the centre and explored the city on foot. The city centre was a lot prettier than I had expected. When I told people I was going to Lille on my holiday, the response was normally “Why?!”. Not the most promising start to any holiday 😉 But actually it was really pretty.

Lille 1Lille 2We wandered around, had some lunch, took lots of photos, and popped into a couple of shops. After a couple of hours it started to rain, and funnily enough at the same time we felt that we had seen enough. So we cut our losses on the parking meter and drove towards the Citadel, which we had spotted on the map and looked exciting. In fact we drove right up to the Citadel, until we were stopped by an armed guard. Continue reading

French Road Trip 2 – The Battlefields

Next on the agenda were the Battlefields. I was a tad apprehensive as (1) I’m not into History and (2) it’s really sad!! I had been dragged around most of the war cemeteries by my parents when I was a kid, but obviously when you’re 8 you don’t really take it in, so I wanted to go back as an adult.

The awful events that had taken place there were very evident before we even arrived at our first stop. Just driving along, every few hundred metres you pass another cemetery or monument – we passed monuments to Australian soldiers, American soldiers, German soldiers. It is difficult to take in the sheer numbers of young men who died there. I wanted to see everything but as we were on a bit of a flying visit, we headed straight for the British monument, called Theipval.

ThiepvalThe monument at Thiepval was an imposing brick structure. The sad thing was that inside the massive monument, the walls are covered with the names of the soldiers who died. Continue reading

French Road Trip 1 – bring on the cheese!

Getting the ferry from Dover to Calais was a revelation to me. It was so easy, so stress-free. I would do it any day of the week, over flying. Flying has become all about security – have I decanted my liquids into 100ml bottles? Does a lipbalm count as a liquid even though it’s actually solid? (yes) Does 100g of creme comply with the 100ml rule? (no) Do I even want to fly now that I’m so stressed about the whole thing? (no). So getting the ferry was a breeze. They have numberplate recognition so after our passports were briefly looked at at customs, we rocked up, were greeted by name, and drove straight onto the boat. It took about 5 minutes from arrival at the port to boarding the boat. No doubt part of that was luck, but still!

White cliffs of DoverThe ferry itself was nothing like what I remembered from my childhood – it was spruced up and very posh, like a cruise ship – all wood panelling, costa coffee, and duty free shops. (The ferry on the way back was a rust-bucket, but that’s another story!). Continue reading

Skiing around Grenoble (aka. How not to use a ski-lift)

From Grenoble we had a series of day-trips to ski resorts. I had been skiing once before (see my Skiing around Salzburg blog) and although I’m not going to be signing up to the Winter Olympics anytime soon, I love the scenery. So I’m always happy to go up into the mountains. We visited the Tourist Information in Grenoble, which provided us with good information about the Ski bus. Basically ski buses leave Grenoble bus station at around 6am every day, headed for most of the ski resorts in the vicinity. It was well organised, convenient (apart from the 6am start 😉 ) and good value (the bus tickets plus lift pass cost around the same as the lift pass would cost on its own). I would definitely recommend it as a day trip if you fancy trying out skiing, but don’t fancy a full ski holiday. We had three separate days out at ski resorts around Grenoble; Chamrousse, Villard de Lans, and Les Deux Alpes.

Chamrousse

Our first ski resort was Chamrousse. We found the ski rental shop and I was pleased that there was a nice gentle baby slope right in front of it, with a drag lift.

ChamrousseSoon it was time to get on the chair lift to get to the bigger slopes. No-one could have predicted what happened next. To cut to the chase, I ended up lying across a chairlift, partly on a small child. I’m not proud of this Continue reading

Grenoble : Is it rude to not touch your meal?

When I told my sister that I was going on holiday to Grenoble she said it was the armpit of France, or something similarly encouraging. I decided I didn’t care, as a holiday is a holiday, and in the worst case scenario at least I get a new “armpit” to look around, not the one I live in 😉 Plus, we were intending to use Grenoble as a base for skiing as well as seeing the city itself, so it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t exactly Paris.

However I was pleased to find Grenoble very lovely. It had a small-ish charming old centre, which I liked, and a hill to climb giving views of Grenoble with snow-capped mountains in the background. I don’t think there is enough to occupy yourself for more than a few days, but it was a pleasant few days.Grenoble 1In fact we were lucky to get there at all – we had heavy snow before we flew to Grenoble, and had an evening of panic where we looked up the flights online and watched them all turn to “cancelled” Continue reading