A Travellerspoint blog

Back to the Med! Languedoc inward bound: Carcassonne

After gorging our eyes and stomachs at the amazing Sète market, we still had a couple of stops to make on the way to Carcassonne. First up was Béziers, where I executed a parallel parking maneuver with the Iceberg so magnificent that I had to record it for posterity.

We climbed a steep hill in the old town to reach Cathédrale Saint Nazaire, where there were great views of the countryside on the other side of the river Orb.

We walked back across town to the wide boulevard Allées Paul Riquet, where we encountered a shellfish vendor, an ice cream cafe, and a carousel.

At the end of the boulevard was a beautiful park called Plateau Des Poètes. The kids were able to get their playground fix and there was a pond with birds to feed.

I regretfully abandoned my amazing parking spot and we drove on to Narbonne. My main motivation in visiting here was to get a look at the Canal du Midi. Before I began researching this trip, I never knew it was possible to travel from the Atlantic coast of France all the way to the Mediterranean thanks to this amazing feat of 17th century engineering. I had originally wanted to take a half day boat trip on the canal, but abandoned that plan as I added more cities to our itinerary. Narbonne is actually on the Canal de la Robine, a branch of the main waterway built in the 18th century. We had a very enjoyable walk along the bank, admiring the glassy surface of the water and the flat houseboats reminiscent of Regent's Canal in London. Set back slightly from the canal were tall plane trees and elegant Parisian-style town homes.

We walked back to the old town and hung out just long enough to see the outside of the Palais des Archevêques and the Narbonne Cathedral. I got a reasonable picture of the palace but I think it's impossible to photograph the cathedral from the ground without special lenses. There's a great photo of the beautiful and unique cathedral here

The obvious choice for dinner in Narbonne was Les Grands Buffets, which purportedly had a great selection of regional specialties and was universally lauded in guidebooks and review sites. We found the restaurant with some difficulty and unloaded everyone only to find out at the door that they were completely booked for the night. I had automatically assumed that a large capacity buffet restaurant wouldn't be a problem on a Wednesday night, but international travel is always full of surprises. We dejectedly returned to the Iceberg and had to scramble for a new dinner choice. Fortunately our replacement, L'Ecailler Gourmet, was quite a good seafood restaurant although the menu was a little too unimaginative to qualify for a place in our top ten. The presentation was great though.

It was quite late once we left the restaurant so even though Carcassonne was a straight shot on the main highway from Narbonne it was after ten when we arrived at La Ville Basse, the residential part of the city. There was no parking close by so we had the usual routine of unloading everything into the Airbnb followed by my lonely search for a legal parking spot. Our host had warned us about the downstairs neighbor so I took off my shoes to walk in the kitchen. I made the mistake of pushing a chair back from the dining table to sit down and was immediately greeted by a series of pounding thumps emanating from underneath the floorboards. Apparently the neighbor keeps her broom close at hand to welcome the Airbnb guests.

Thursday was a market day in Carcassonne, but the main square of La Ville Basse was strangely deserted. I resorted to Google again and discovered that it was Ascension Day, another national holiday that I had never even heard of. Hopefully this would be the last trip where I would be unaware of any of the national holidays of the country I was traveling in. The covered market was a ghost town as well, so we went directly to La Cité, the famous medieval citadel that everyone thinks of when they hear the name of Carcassonne. I had anticipated this stop even more eagerly than I had Aix and Èze, and just like those towns La Cité was unable to live up to those high expectations. The walled city looks like a fairytale castle from a distance, but up close it is an overdeveloped tourist attraction with endless cheap outlets for souvenirs and fluorescent frozen drinks. We did our best to find the few quiet corners that weren't commercialized but we were bored after an hour and left.

Posted by zzlangerhans 07:45 Archived in France Tagged carcassonne narbonne beziers Comments (0)

Back to the Med! Languedoc inward bound: Montpellier

We experienced another brutal landing in Montpellier. We found our Airbnb fairly easily, but it was a fourth floor walk-up and rather dilapidated and unclean. The coup de grace was the missing toilet seat, reminiscent of Midnight Express. I went alone to park the Iceberg and immediately made a wrong turn into the heart of the pedestrian zone. I had to reverse out of a few blind ends before eventually concluding the only escape was to return exactly the way I had entered. One thing that always amazes me, no matter what country I'm in, is how people will constantly walk behind a reversing van as though they have a cloak of invulnerability. I didn't even have a rear view camera on the Iceberg, so every time I backed up I was only able to move a foot before checking the mirrors to see if someone else was about to stroll behind me. I eventually got to the main road and then made two long passes entirely around the old town looking for the garage our host had instructed me to use and finding no such location. Eventually I pulled off and Googled the garage, only to find out it had permanently closed two years previously. How could our host not know the garage had closed so long ago? Didn't any of the people he had directed there previously fill him in? Bizarre. I found another garage a couple of blocks further away. The good part was that I could tell we had arrived in a beautiful, energetic city during the walk back to the apartment.

Finding a quality restaurant open on a Monday required numerous phone calls, but eventually I was able to reserve a table. Once we arrived at the restaurant, it was clear we were in for a difficult time as we had one of those tall tables with bar stools instead of seats. The restaurant was packed tight and there was no room for strollers, so we left Spenser on the floor in his car seat and spent most of dinner trying to keep the kids from slipping off their stools. I don't remember the food being particularly good or bad, but I'm fairly sure I hardly tasted it because I was so focused on keeping the kids off the ground. This was one instance in which the reservation strategy failed us. To add insult to injury, we saw plenty of open restaurants with good family seating options on the way back from dinner. I resolved to be less hasty to make a reservation and instead scope out the restaurant scene in the future.

The next morning, we started out our Montpellier walk in the beautiful, spacious Place de la Comedie. The elegant buildings and vibrant atmosphere reminded me of Orléans, another of my favorite French cities.

We took a one hour playground break in the lush and expansive Jardins de l’Esplanade adjacent to the square, then meandered back through the pleasant and bustling old town to the Promenade du Peyrou. This 17th century park atop a hill just west of the old town contains interesting statues and monuments and has views over the surrounding Hérault region.

The covered market was a rather wimpy affair compared to Toulouse and Avignon. Nearby, we found the tiny restaurant Le Petit Bistrot where the young chef Nicolas prepares a small menu every day, cooks, and waits all the tables. It was a classic French cuisine experience, down to the duck fat which seemingly permeated every dish.

Just like that, we were finished with Montpellier after only eighteen hours. We drove a few miles to the coastal resort Palavas-les-Flots, where there was supposed to be some kind of festival going on, but we found no festival and nothing else of interest. From there, we proceeded down the coastal road to the port town of Sète. We stopped at the tourist office to inquire about tours of oyster farms but there was nothing available. Instead we walked down Quai Général Durand in search of the fish market, but were unable to find anything. However, we did find ourselves in a beautiful part of the town crisscrossed by canals and bridges, which made for a pleasant walk despite the lack of markets.

We moved on down the coast to Agde, where we checked into our Airbnb. It was early for dinner, so we spent an hour walking around the small Agde old town. The most memorable sight was a trompe-l'oeil, or optical illusion, created by painting artificial windows and storefronts on the flat faces of buildings. Due to the angle of the sun my pictures didn't come out very well, so I added a professional photo for comparison.

The best restaurant open on a Tuesday night appeared to be in Cap D'Agde, a resort town about ten minutes away. Unfortunately once we arrived we found that the restaurant was closed despite information to the contrary on their website. The other restaurants in the harbor area looked rather low end. I was ready to drive back to Agde but Mei Ling suggested I take another look so I reluctantly strolled back down the length of the promenade. Sure enough I encountered another Tripadvisor top pick, La Table de Marthe. They had a table which was perfect for us and we had an excellent meal with delicious desserts, another top ten entry for the trip. Once again, Mei Ling's instincts had saved the day.

Wednesday morning we headed back to Sète to see if we would have better luck finding a fish market in the early morning. We noticed immediately that there seemed to be a lot more activity in the neighborhood we had visited the previous day. Once we turned inward from the canal the reason quickly became apparent. There was an absolutely huge market in progress with stall after stall of produce and prepared food that seemed to go on forever. At the center of it all was the town's covered market, which was a maelstrom of activity. We bought oysters and sea snails in the covered market and ate them at a table with sausages and stewed land snails we had bought on the street. After all the work we had put into researching the premier markets, we found the absolute best purely by random chance.

Posted by zzlangerhans 15:20 Archived in France Tagged sete montpellier agde cap_d'agde Comments (0)

Back to the Med! Marseille

We were hoping to make it to the 13th century Monastère de la Verne before its 5pm closing time, but the winding mountainous roads of the Haut Var got the best of us and we just missed the last entry. All was not lost, however, as we got some great views of the monastery from the access road. I included a short clip to illustrate what it feels like driving in the area.


We used the time we saved missing the monastery to visit the town of Collobrières, which is famous for chestnuts. We made the obligatory stop at the local chestnut showroom, where we tried unsuccessfully to understand why some chestnuts were called châtaignes and others marrons. The kids got chestnut ice cream and we resisted the urge to buy chestnut liqueur. It was still too early for dinner, so we got pizza for the kids at an incongruous food truck and explored the town for about half an hour. It was a very quiet and pretty place, with plane trees lining a shallow canal and peaceful little squares and lanes.

Fortunately we were able to get to the main coastal highway before darkness, and we had a boring and uneventful drive to Marseille. Our arrival in Marseille was complicated by the fact that there was absolutely no way to stop in front of our Airbnb without blocking the road. We had to proceed to a garage a block away and schlep the sleepy kids and suitcases all the way back. Then we had dinner to attend to, and it was already close to 10 PM. Luckily I found a Tunisian restaurant called Saf Saf not far away that turned out to be quite good, even though we were the only customers. The owner and his family were very helpful and friendly.

I had chosen the Arab quarter of Noailles in Marseille due to its central location and proximity to one of the largest city markets. The next morning the market was open but a little threadbare, which I ascribed to the fact that it was Sunday and quite chilly. However, there was a decent selection of meat, seafood, and fruits and the submersion in Franco-Arab culture was quite interesting.

We walked a few blocks more down to Quai des Belges at the Vieux Port to see the fish market, but there was no seafood in sight. We asked around and got pointed in a few different directions, but there was no sign of a fish market.

We eventually walked all the way to the end of the port on the northern side, where we were greeted by a vicious mistral that put the one we had experienced in Stes. Marie to shame. Fortunately the kids were protected by their strollers, but Mei Ling and I had to lower our heads and plow up the Quai de la Tourette through the freezing wind to the Cathédrale la Major. Here we finally found an escape from the cold, an entrance into the old Bohemian neighborhood of Le Panier. With a combination of leverage and lifting we managed to hoist the strollers all the way to the top of the hill the neighborhood is set on, while taking in the colorful cafes and graffiti along the narrow lanes.

Back at the port, we made a strong attempt to identify the best of the seafood restaurants we had walked past by examining their menus and clienteles and checking online reviews. Despite these efforts, we struck out miserably and had a completely inedible meal. Around this time I suddenly realized why there was no fish market and only a rudimentary market at Noailles. It was May 1, May Day, one of the biggest national holidays in France. It was ridiculous for me to have forgotten about May Day, considering that we had been screwed by the same holiday a year earlier in Versailles, but there you have it. Given that so much would be closed and the freezing weather, we decided to return to our apartment. That ended up being a fortunate decision, because despite having not touched the horrible lunch I was seized with a nasty stomach bug that afternoon which rendered me completely useless for the rest of the evening. Mei Ling was a good sport about eating in, but I felt badly we had lost one of our two chances to have dinner in Marseille.

Monday morning was a vast improvement in every way. It was sunny and so much warmer that we didn't need to wear our jackets at all, and everything was open. We decided we'd spend most of the afternoon in Marseille to make up for the previous day, and skip a planned stop in the neighboring fishing town of Cassis. First we got to see the Noailles market in full effect, with outdoor stalls as well as storefronts.

There was still no fish market to be found near the port, probably because no one had gone fishing on May Day, so we doubled back and ate at a seafood restaurant called Toinou Les Fruits de Mer. I hadn't planned on going because the online reviews were very mixed, but Mei Ling liked the way it looked and as usual she turned out to be right. The restaurant had an unusual set up with a self-service line for some seafood and drinks and then the option to order other seafood with the cashier. The restaurant had a seafood market outside and everything in the market was fair game to be ordered in the restaurant, which is always a good sign. We ended up with a whole platter of shellfish topped with a whole spider crab full of roe, which we washed down with white wine. It was another entry for our list of the ten best meals of the trip.

After lunch we began to walk the streets of Marseille in earnest. After exploring the wide pedestrian boulevards of the Opera district, we found our way to the Quai de Rive Neuve on the south side of the port where we had great views of the old city fortifications from below..

About fifteen minutes later we arrived at the entrance to Jardin du Pharo, which contains a pleasant park and playground at the top of a hill along with the Napoleonic Palais du Pharo. There were great views from the top of the hill of the city walls and port area.

We piled into a taxi for our last stop in Marseille, the Cathedral de la Major. The enormous zebra-striped Byzantine structure seemed more in line with a church one might see in Russia than in France. Sadly, the two southern towers were being restored and were draped in scaffolding and canvas. We sat in a cafe just by the Cathedral and stocked the kids with ice cream before the drive to Montpellier.

Here's a great travel article about Marseille.

Posted by zzlangerhans 07:24 Archived in France Tagged marseille collobrieres Comments (0)

Back to the Med! Cannes and St. Tropez

It was well into the afternoon when we arrived at our first stop of the day, Biot. This small commune is famous for glassblowing, and we stopped at one of the larger studios so the kids could see the process. Touring the showroom afterwards with the kids wanting to touch all the brightly colored bottles and flowers was nerve-wracking, but I was able to let go of them long enough to snap a couple of pictures.

We had to rush through our next stop, Antibes, because we had to meet our host in Cannes soon. We were able to take a quick spin along the seaside Promenade Amiral de Grasse and the narrow lanes of the old town before jumping back in the van and speeding off to Cannes.

Cannes proved to be another parking nightmare. We wedged the van into a highly illegal space in the old town and raced to unload the luggage and kids up into our third floor apartment. I left everyone there and began an exhausting search for a garage that would accommodate the Iceberg. Fortunately I'd learned the van's height from Toulouse so I knew to avoid the 1.8 meter limits, but the garage owners seemed to take great pleasure in printing the height limits in minuscule type that was completely unreadable from the garage entrances. That forced me to park the car in front of the garage, get out and run to the sign, and then run back to the van and drive off when the limit turned out to be 1.8. I went through this process and circled the old town about three times before eventually finding a garage I could use. I thought I'd be two miles from the apartment once I finally parked, but it turned out the wide circle I'd taken had actually brought me back fairly close to home. It was still over an hour since I'd embarked on my quest, so the first order of business was to find some dinner. We strolled down Rue Félix Faure which had a line of attractive looking canopied restaurants and eventually ended up at Astoux et Brun, where we had a very good seafood dinner.

The next morning we headed directly to Cannes' famous covered market Marché Forville, where we got fruit and sausages for the kids and Mei Ling found some delicious-looking dried morel mushrooms.

We walked down to the port to look at the yachts and then took a look at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, the main site of the Cannes Film Festival. Mei Ling was a little taken aback at how plain the front of the building looked with no red carpet, limos, or celebrities in sight.

There was a beautiful carousel on the Promenade just inland from the beach, so we let the kids have a couple of rides before heading to the beach itself. The public part of la Croisette beach was a little forlorn, but the kids loved it so we stuck around for a couple of hours.

After the beach, we got ice cream for the kids and then walked around Cannes for a couple more hours until it was time for dinner. We selected a higher end restaurant for dinner, which worked out OK because they had an outside table for us. The food was nicely presented but not as good as our previous night's meal.

We had a lot of stops planned on the way to St. Tropez, so the next morning we just took a quick pass through Marché Forville on the way to the parking garage. First was a beautiful town a few miles inland from Cannes called Mougins. From the parking lot at the base of town, an elevator took us up to a platform close to the old town from which we had amazing views of the countryside below.

It was still too early for lunch but we inspected the menus and reserved a table at the most promising candidate. For the next hour we meandered through the narrow alleys of the old down, which were filled with foliage and sculpture. Like St. Paul de Vence, Mougins was full of art galleries and other high end businesses that catered to wealthy tourists from the Riviera. Perhaps because of the early hour, it was far less congested with tourists and we found it to be one of the more enjoyable towns we had visited.

The coup de grace for our visit was lunch at Le Gaudinade, an awesome selection of classic French delicacies including frogs' legs, duck breast with flavorful morels, and plump snails. It was easily one of the best meals of the trip, and the owner and staff were unusually pleasant and friendly.

Glowing from a quintessential Provence lunch, we drove to the next town over, Mouans-Sartoux. Here we toured Les Jardins du MIP, lovely gardens of flowers and shrubs set against a backdrop of lush green hills. In this annex of the International Perfume Museum we had visited in Grasse, one can see and smell the plants that form the bases of the region's perfumes.

We still had a little time to spare before St. Tropez, so we made a quick stop in Fréjus. Fréjus doesn't attract many tourists compared to other towns on the Rivera, but it has an impressive cathedral and quiet winding lanes in the old town.

The rest of our day was a series of logistical nightmares. First, we got stuck in the parking lot in Frejus when the unmanned exit gate refused to accept any of my credit cards. It took half an hour to explain our problem to the disembodied voice on the other end of the intercom and understand what they wanted us to do about it. Once we arrived at the outskirts of St. Tropez, traffic on the one lane road slowed to a crawl and then stopped completely. Meanwhile, a steadily growing river of motorcycles passed the line of stationary cars on either side. It quickly became apparent that there was a motorcycle convention in town that weekend and the motorcyclists were largely preventing the cars from moving in any direction. Our GPS didn't recognize the street that our Airbnb was on, so I was using Google Maps which eventually guided us to the completely wrong location. We called and texted our hosts, but they were rather unhelpful in explaining how to find their exact location and the cellular signal was spotty at best. For the next two hours we crept back and forth along the coastal road, fruitlessly attempting to find side roads that would take us around the grueling traffic jam. After wasting most of the early evening, we finally found our Airbnb just as darkness was falling. We quickly dumped the bags and raced to Port Cogolin where we managed to find an undistinguished dinner. Interestingly, a day which had begun with one of our best mornings ended with our worst evening of the trip.

It was no coincidence that we were in St. Tropez on Saturday, the day of the weekly market. There was a surprising amount of prepared food at the market, with the highlight being open-faced sandwiches of sliced black truffle and olive oil. Between the sandwiches and some roasted quail, there was more than enough food to tide us over to a late lunch.

St. Tropez was a fun town to explore, despite the enormous crowds of bikers that clogged the market and the streets around the old port. From the northern edge of the old town we could see all the way across the Golfe de Saint-Tropez to the opposite shoreline.

We walked back through the old town until we came to the Montée de la Citadelle, which gently ascends the hillside to the hulking Citadelle de St. Tropez. It wasn't the tallest hill or the greatest castle, but it was a nice escape from all the revving Harleys below us.

The market food was wearing off so we drove across the peninsula to the beachy side of St. Tropez, where we had a light lunch at La Plage des Jumeaux. The kids played for a bit on the restaurant's private beach, but it was too cold and windy to really enjoy ourselves.

Our last stop on the St. Tropez peninsula was the walled hilltop village of Ramatuelle, which we explored for about an hour before deciding that we had best get on the road to Marseille before it got too late. More hilltop villages such as Grimaud and Gassin were tantalizingly close, but it was clear that if we dawdled too long we wouldn't make it to dinner in Marseille.

Posted by zzlangerhans 04:49 Archived in France Tagged antibes cannes st._tropez biot mougins mouans-sartoux frejus ramatuelle Comments (0)

Back to the Med! Nice and Monaco

I had visited the famous perfumeries of Grasse as a child with my parents, and I thought it might be a fun stop for Mei Ling and Cleo. I had vague memories of seeing the actual process of manufacturing perfumes, but when we arrived at Molinard it was clear the emphasis was on retail. There was a display of various pieces of copper equipment, but it was more like a museum than a functioning factory. Mei Ling considered making some gift purchases until I did some online research and showed her the prices in the showroom were double those on Amazon.

We also checked out the International Perfume Museum in Grasse, which the kids enjoyed due to some of the interactive displays. Overall, however, the design of the exhibits seemed slipshod and a lot of things just didn't work. After about an hour and a half we'd had enough and dragged the kids back out. The old town in Grasse was small with a pretty central square, but lost its charm about a block away from the square in any direction. We headed back to the van, regretting that we hadn't spent the rest of the morning returning to Châteaudouble.

Our last stop before Nice was St. Paul-de-Vence, a fortified hilltop village filled with art galleries and other high end shops catering to wealthy tourists on day trips from the Côte d'Azur. The older kids were sleeping so we had to bring the gondola, which limited us to a certain extent in the routes we could take. It was an immaculately clean, pretty village with loads of ivy and other greenery that had a warm aesthetic effect against the white masonry buildings. There were beautiful views over the rocky countryside as well. As in Aix-en-Provence, the legions of visitors and numerous shops and cafes projected the aura of a theme park that made me nostalgic for lovely but quiet villages like Venasque and Tourtour. I didn't get a good shot of St. Paul-de-Vence from the road so I threw in a picture I ripped from this article.

It was early evening by the time we rolled into Nice. This was our first big city since Toulouse and the crush of traffic on the Promenade des Anglais came as a shock after the quiet hamlets of the Luberon and Haut Var. I had picked an Airbnb slightly north of the Vieille Ville and we were rewarded with a parking place big enough for the Iceberg just a few yards from the apartment. We checked in, thankful for a working elevator, and then went to meet some friends of Mei Ling from her Chinese blog network. I wasn't thrilled about eating in a pizzeria the night we arrived in one of the more famous seafood cities in France, but the kids ate well and it was nice to socialize with other people for a change.

Tuesday morning we walked to the Vieille Ville to check out the markets. The fish market was surprisingly small and the produce market on Cours Saleya didn't stand up well against the huge farmers markets we had become used to. I was disappointed, since I'd spent a month in Nice in the 90's and remembered a much more vibrant market scene. Perhaps things had changed, or perhaps my memory was playing tricks on me.

We had a huge day planned with several stops on the way to Monaco so we settled for sandwiches and croissants on the way back to the van. Our first stop was Villefranche-sur-Mer, a coastal village with a citadel just outside of Nice. The lanes running north south were all staircases while narrow streets ran east west between faded pastel houses. Close to the water we encountered the covered, lantern-lit Rue Obscure. At the water's edge were numerous cafes with views of the Bay of Villefranche.

Southwest of the old town was the Citadelle Saint-Elme. It was a steep climb but we were rewarded with beautiful gardens and views of the bay and surrounding hillside.

My GPS guided us up a narrow serpentine road to the Moyenne Corniche, the middle of the three famous roads that follow the French coastline between Nice and Monaco. Our goal was the famous medieval town of Èze, but getting there was half the fun as we pulled over to take in the famous views of the Mediterranean.

Once we reached Èze, we had the unusual problem of being completely unable to find a place to park. There was a decent-sized parking lot at the entrance to the town which was full, with numerous cars circling around fruitlessly as no one was leaving. We drove up and down the main road a couple of times and saw nothing that didn't seem like it would lead to a towing or a boot. The only turn-off inside the town was a road leading uphill marked Col d'Èze, which didn't look very promising in terms of finding parking within walking distance of the old town. When I looked it up later, I discovered that this would actually have been a good choice as the road led to a parking lot with a free shuttle down to the village and free admission to the Jardin Exotique at the top of the village. At the time we had no idea, so eventually we decided to head onward to Monaco and try Èze again on the way home.

Monaco had its own Jardin Exotique which I'd heard good things about, so we found the closest parking garage and descended about eight levels into the mountainside without finding a parking spot. Just as we concluded we had been Èze'd, we found the one empty spot in the entire structure and wrangled the Iceberg into it. The Jardin was well worth the effort of parking, a magnificent and sprawling collection of cacti and other greenery with an intricate collection of walkways with amazing views over Monaco and the Mediterranean.

From the Jardin we took a city bus along a winding route through Monaco, eventually ending up in its walled old town Le Rocher, improbably perched on the plateau of a rocky peninsula and surrounded by cliffs. It didn't take long to explore the tiny neighborhood, as all roads led to Le Palais Princier. The open square in front of the royal palace was ringed with beautiful, classical buildings and there were great views over the harbor.

We walked down the Rampe de la Major to a quiet neighborhood near the port, where we encountered an incongruous sculpture of a Lion Man having relations with a Snake Woman in the middle of a park. It seemed to be a favorite for kids to climb on.

The walk to Monte Carlo was more arduous than it appeared on the map and we stopped for a snack at La Marée, an extraordinarily expensive seafood restaurant with great views of the port. I was able to put together a meal that didn't completely obliterate my checking account as we Googled the various yachts below. The champion turned out to be the current eighth largest in the world.

The casino was off limits because of the kids, and we weren't dressed well enough to go inside anyway. Instead we admired the architecture of the casino and the adjacent Hotel de Paris, and enjoyed the pristine Sky Sculpture within the well-manicured Place du Casino.

Getting back to the car was something of a struggle as it took a long time to locate the bus stop, an even longer time for a bus to arrive, and an eternity to reach the garage as we inadvertently took the bus going back to Le Rocher. By the time we'd maneuvered the Iceberg out of the eight level garage we were eager to get back to Èze for dinner. Fortunately, there was no problem parking in the late evening and we disembarked in search of a restaurant in the old town. Èze was one of the steepest of the coastal villages, and practically every step was either uphill or downhill. Unfortunately we'd decided to bring Spenser's stroller which magnified the annoyance of the constant staircases.

We were never able to find an appropriate restaurant in the old town. The one place that was open and had an available table turned out to be a Michelin two star when we arrived. Even we aren't crazy enough to bring three babies into that kind of restaurant. We ended up in a small restaurant on the main road that had average food and way below average service, so it was after 10 by the time we finally escaped. We made a beeline back to Nice and crashed.

We hadn't spent much time in Nice itself so the next day we decided not to rush out of town after checking out of our Airbnb. We walked a few blocks up Boulevard Jean Jaurès for a closer look at La Tête Carrée library, which I had noticed while driving the previous day. From the street this looks like a massive avant garde sculpture of a man's head mostly encased in a cube, but in fact it's a functional seven story office building and library. What appears to be a flat metal surface of the cube is actually an aluminum mesh which permits full visibility from the inside.

We crossed the boulevard and ambled around the narrow lanes and pretty squares of the old town, then found the elevator to the top of Castle Hill just off the Quai des États-Unis. Castle Hill is the highest point in Nice and the former site of the Château de Nice, now in ruins. There were amazing views of Nice and the Baie des Anges, and a great playground for Cleo with a pirate ship theme.

We spent some time in the park hunting for a 19th century artificial waterfall whose exact location no one seemed to know. Even after we heard its sound it took another fifteen minutes to find it at the bottom of a narrow staircase behind the cafe. It was a no go for strollers and Cleo was sleeping so I went down alone to be sure we weren't missing anything, and it really wasn't anything special.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the old town that looked much better than it actually was. On the way back to the van we encountered another beautiful playground on the narrow strip between Avenue Félix Faure and Boulevard Jean Jaurès. This one had a sea creatures theme and was full of creative and fun structures for the kids to climb. Cleo and Ian were both awake at this point so we let them clamber on the wooden turtles and whales to their heart's content.

Eventually the kids tired themselves out and we bid a late afternoon departure to Nice. We had to be in Cannes by the early evening and there were still a couple of stops to make.

Posted by zzlangerhans 14:57 Archived in France Tagged nice monaco eze villefranche-sur-mer grasse Comments (0)

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