May 14, 2023

Hiking Trails in the Estérels, French Riviera

Estérels French Riviera
Located in southeastern France, the Estérel coastal mountain range straddles both the Var and Alpes-Maritimes departments. Of volcanic origins, the massif is roughly 32,000 hectares of rugged terrain awaiting exploration. Mont Vinaigre is the highest peak at 618 metres. According to the Estérel Côte d’Azur tourism office, there are 72 trails for biking (road, gravel and mountain), hiking, and walking that crisscross the range, including many within the protected Forêt domaniale de l’Estérel. We highlight here a few of the popular trails. From the coastline Sentier du littoral (previously the customs footpath) to the forested hills of the Pay de Fayence there are many hikes in the Estérels for all ability levels.
Les Gorges du Blavet ©Estérel Côte d’Azur
Sentier du littoral ©Estérel Côte d’Azur

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May 4, 2023

A Quick Visit to Constanta Romania

Romania was not at the top of Nutmeg’s bucket list, and neither was a 3-hour Ryanair flight from Marseille. The flight was a glimpse back to before Covid-19 days in its crowded boarding process and disorganized gate check. It was a mosh pit. Hopefully, no one lied on the pre-flight vaccine forms…
 
They arrived in Bucharest at midnight local time, so there was not much to see. The Hilton Airport Hotel could have been anywhere in the world and thankfully spotless. 

 
The next day G&N picked up a rental car + TomTom unit and headed to Constanta. Unfortunately, the TomTom died (no battery) about 30 minutes into what should have been a 2 1/2 hour drive but now looked like a 3-4 hour excursion due to traffic. The roads are slowly improving thanks to huge EU infrastructure funds (read debt). In the meantime, the truck and car snarls are significant. From Bucharest to Constanta, the scenery for over 200km is mostly…

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April 28, 2023

24 hours in Bucharest, Romania

Travel to Romania
When the idea of travelling to Romania initially bubbled to the surface, G&N talked about a road trip. It seemed like a decent plan, given that their car had been almost idle since 2019. In addition, they could explore some new countries (Slovenia, Hungary) along the way. Also of interest was that the route would practically trace the Orient Express. We discovered this fact quite by hazard at the Recontres d’Arles Photography show in August. However, that was probably when they both realized just how far away Constanta was from Eygalières – 2,500+ km one way.
Pre-COVID and with a more extended stay in Europe, they would have gone ahead with Plan A. However, the reality of different COVID rules in each country and thousands of potential touchpoints became clear. So instead, they decided on Plan B and booked a Ryanair flight from MRS to OTP.
The flight from Marseille to Bucharest is only about 3 hours. But of…

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April 24, 2023

Discover the Alpilles Vineyards in Provence

AOP Les Baux de Provence
Launched in 1995, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Les Baux de Provence was a bold step for a group of winemakers. They joined forces to carve out a unique identity in the ocean of, at that time, mediocre Provencal wine. Previously (since 1972) these wineries fell under the umbrella of the AOP Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. The les Baux vintners felt that their production was blurred in the vast volume produced by that large AOP. Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) Les Baux was re-established in 1995 reverting to the original appellation formed in 1956. Today ten vineyards are members of the AOP and follow the same guidelines for making wine.

The Stunning Alpilles
The landscape of the Alpilles is not exactly the land of milk and honey. Rather this is a harsh alpine climate that supports the growth of grapes, almonds, herbs de Provence, and olives. Known as the Alpilles (small Alps), this 30km band of jagged limestone cliffs and scrub…

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June 9, 2019

Clos de Montmartre a Vineyard in Paris

Nutmeg had read about a small vineyard in Paris, located in the shadows of the Sacré-Coeur spires. The last time either Ginger or Nutmeg had been to Montmartre was in the 1980s. After a crazy taxi ride complete with construction bottlenecks, pre-Christmas traffic, impossibly narrow streets and hills only fit for funiculars they arrived in the middle of a mob scene. A clear Saturday afternoon right before sunset, it was immediately obvious why there had been a 30-year gap since their last visit.

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May 26, 2019

Calisson d’Aix a Sweet Almond Candy for a Queen of Provence

Calisson is a specialty candy from Aix en Provence made with almonds. There are several versions of the story surrounding how, and when this sweet treat was first made.
The French are certain the invention was theirs. It may have been as early as 1473 in honour of the King, Roi René’s second wedding, or later on as production, trade and development expanded. The first story involves a bride who was to be queen. She appeared dour, possibly unhappy with her lot in life. The tale whether true, or not, is that she smiled when she tasted candies.
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May 12, 2019

Easy Visit to Bordeaux and the Famous Vineyards

Some time ago (number of years not to be disclosed here) Nutmeg travelled to San Sebastian, Spain via train. At that point, backpack travel was heavily influenced by “Europe on $20 a Day” and where your Eurail pass would take you. So, she and her travel companion spent a total of two hours in Biarritz and about the same in Bordeaux.
A visit to France’s southwest was long overdue.
This time G&N are not travelling on Eurail passes or sleeping in hostels. They were booked on a six-day guided walking tour through the Pays Basque. Nutmeg convinced Ginger to visit Bordeaux, its famous vineyards and venture to the Atlantic coast for a few days before the walking trip started. As their available time shrunk, so did the itinerary. In the end, they decide on two nights in Bordeaux, two in wine country and two in Biarritz. Spain would have to wait for another time.
The drive from Provence to Bordeaux is a…

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April 28, 2019

A Visit to the Tarascon Castle and the Legend of a Monster in Provence

The Heart of Darkness or Niger Focus (later Nerluc) might have been an appropriate name for the hamlet located on the shores of a murky, swampy river. The muddy, opaque waters fueled rumours cultivating the nightmares of residents who asked was the beast:
A huge serpent?
A dragon?
A fierce half-lion?
A vicious turtle?

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April 14, 2019

Pablo Picasso at Rest near Aix-en-Provence

Château de Vauvenargues is located in the village by the same name, a few kilometers from Aix-en-Provence. This castle has a lengthy history.  The present structure was built on the site of a former Roman settlement. Over the centuries, Provencal counts and then the Archbishops of Aix occupied the castle. Clearly, it pays to be the doctor of a king; in 1474 Roi René gifted the Château to his physician Pierre Robin d’Angers.

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March 31, 2019

Learn about Casanova and the Jardins d’Albertas of Bouc-Bel-Air in Provence

Whether fiction or not, Nutmeg thinks it is appropriate that Casanova the infamous Venetian writer, gambler and reputed womanizer is weaved into the history of les Jardins d’Albertas.
This garden, owned by the Albertas family, is located just a few minutes outside of Aix-en-Provence in the town of Bouc-Bel-Air, where the ancient village was built on a bouc (small hill).
The roots of the Albertas family stretch from Alba, Italy to Aix-en-Provence, where their influence on the Provençal city is notable. Henri and his son Jean-Baptiste d’Albertas, both held the high-ranking title of Président de la Cour des Comptes (Court of Auditors).
One of the most recognizable and photogenic squares in Aix is Place d’Albertas.  This sunny plaza carved out of the narrow winding streets of the old town resembles a small Italian piazza. Henri felt that the exterior of his home and his “view” were not distinguished enough. He commissioned a local architect to renew the façade of his house and…

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