Collioure and the artist
May04

Collioure and the artist

Collioure has attracted artists since the beginning of the 20th century when it was “discovered” by a group known as the Fauve artists. They were attracted not only by the subject matter but by the quality of the light. Henri Matisse and Andre Derain established their base in Collioure and were soon followed by the likes of Dufy and Picasso. Until tourism had an impact, Collioure was a small fishing village on the Mediterranean coast close to the Spanish border. Like many quaint fishing villages, it grew once tourists began arriving in large numbers. Thankfully though it still retains much of its charm. Collioure was not always French but was ruled over by the Kings of Mallorca until it eventually became French in 1659. The quaint little harbour is dominated by the Chateau Royale de Collioure, built by Vauban as a defensive measure against Spanish expansionism. The artists, attracted by the clarity of the light and the ample subject matter, needed a place to stay. The Hotel des Templiers became their base and meeting place. A heady mix of fact and myth in local storytelling tells us that the poverty-stricken artists had little money to pay for their lodgings so they offered their paintings instead as a means of payment. Whatever the truth behind this story there are original paintings and sketches by artists well known and unheard of adorning the walls of the cafe and bar. Until they were stolen there were even original sketches by Picasso hanging on the wall, now only copies are there. According to the granddaughter of the owner at the time the paintings were gifts from the artists who became firm friends with the owner. Perhaps some were payment, but as she points out the business would not have survived if all the artists paid in paintings. Whatever the truth it is a wonderfully atmospheric place to enjoy a coffee. A wander around Collioure’s steep and narrow streets away from the tourist crowds reveals a plethora of artist studios. It seems Collioure still attracts artists. Many of these artists paint the same scenes the Fauve artists chose to put on canvas. The local tourist office has put up helpful signs at the locations where the artists set up their easels. These include a copy of the painting and a frame. The later is more for photographers wishing to convert the scene to several million pixels rather than brush strokes. Wandering the harbour front, the streets and the three small bays you can see why the artists loved Collioure. It is so picturesque with colourful lateen boats bobbing in the harbour, a lighthouse converted into a church,...

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Top 10 reasons for visiting Lyon
Jan02

Top 10 reasons for visiting Lyon

Flybe, Europe’s largest regional airline, fly daily from my home city of Southampton to Lyon in France. Lyon is a city I have come to love and the fact that it is now connected by air without having to go through London and Paris means I will probably visit more often. Eurostar now have a service to Lyon from London without the need to change trains thus making Lyon more convenient to get to. They say Paris is the heart of France and Lyon is the stomach. Lyon is awash with restaurants with many holding Michelin stars. Certainly Lyon is the gastro-capital of France. However, there is more to Lyon than food as you will see from the list below. They are not ranked but rather listed according to approximate geographical location. 1. The Fourviere Basilica The Fourviere Basilica, perched high above the city on Fourviere Hill is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of Lyon. It is fortress on the outside and palatial place of worship on the inside. The large terraced area around it makes a great viewpoint for looking across the city of Lyon and getting your bearings. Directly below is Vieux Lyon with its narrow cobbled streets and old houses. Beyond and between the Rivers Saone and Rhone is Renaissance Lyon with long boulevards and large open squares. Beyond the two rivers is 19th and 20th century Lyon. 2. Gallo-Roman Archaeological Park To the south and out of sight from the Fourviere Basilica is theGallo-Roman Archaeological park. This contains a large Roman theatre built around 15 BC that seated 11,000 spectators and a smaller second century odeon which was used mainly for music and recitations. Between the two and above the theatre is a well preserved Roman road lined with the ruins of shops and other buildings. Today both amphitheatres are used for performances during “Les Nuits de Fourviere”, a summer festival. 3. The Traboules of Vieux Lyon In Vieux Lyon, which itself is worth exploring (see Five in the Fifth), are the traboules. Traboule comes from the latin words trans ambulare meaning “to cross”. The geography of the land meant the streets were constructed parallel to the river Saone. The traboules are passageways through houses connecting one street with another and were constructed intitially for people to fetch water and goods from the river. As the silk trade grew, the traboules were used to move goods around the city more easily. Traboules run through the houses which gives you the feeling of entering a private, almost secretive world. Not all are open to the public and even those that are are difficult to find. The best way to visit them is...

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Kit review: Arpenaz 26 cool bag
Aug24

Kit review: Arpenaz 26 cool bag

Keeping the picnic cool I like nothing better than picnic on a hot summers day in France; along a river bank, beside a lake or the sea or enjoying a mountain vista. Generally speaking the south of France is hotter than the UK and it is more of a challenge to keep the picnic cool. Enter the Arpenaz 26, a cooler bag developed by Quechua for the French company Decathlon. I was recently sent one to test and review. When the package containing the Arpenaz 26 arrived I was more than a little sceptical. How could anything that small contain a picnic for a family let alone keep it cool for any appreciable length of time? OK, I knew from the information sent out that it was expandable so it would undoubtedly be bigger than it first appeared. However, cool boxes or bags are bulky due to the insulating materials and the Arpenaz 26 gave the appearance of not having enough bulk to do the job properly. Unpacking the Arpenaz 26 The first thing I noticed was the weight; or rather the lack of it. At less than 1kg it and no more than 30cm x 40cm x 12cm when deflated it could easily be stored without taking up too much space. This is especially advantageous if I stay, as I often do, in mobil homes or small apartments. An elasticated strap, fixed at one end so you don’t lose it, keeps the cooler compact. One of the innovations of the Arpenaz 26 is the self-inflating technology. The strap is removed before inflating and the air valves opened. There are two valves, one on the lid and one on the front of the cooler. I followed the instructions and left the cooler to inflate itself. It took almost four minutes to inflate, enough time to brew a coffee. However it was not quite fully inflated and, as suggested in the instructions, needed to be inflated manually. All it took was one long puff through the front valve. The valves are then closed and the cooler is ready for use. The science behind the Arpenaz 26 Now for the technical bit; non-techies can skip this bit. Apparently the material on the inside, the silver lining, is designed to keep the cold in. The material used on the outside deflects solar radiation and reduces the impact of heat. Between the two the Arpenaz 26 makes use of the wonderful insulating properties of air. Although the technologies used in the materials are advanced the principle of keeping cold in and heat out is simplicity itself and in various forms what most coolers use....

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The Rivers of France – Quiz
Aug14

The Rivers of France – Quiz

France is blessed with a plethora of rivers that, over the millennia, have shaped its landscape. They have carved out gorges, laid down flood plains and provided wetlands and marshes for  a variety of wildlife. Rivers were used as trade routes even during times of pre history and as such towns and cities grew up on their banks. Some of the cities in the estuaries of the major rivers still operate as ports. Less trade is done along the river routes now as goods are moved by road and rail much more efficiently. Today the rivers satisfy the demand for leisure and adventure. Fishing, cruising and watersports form the bulk of what is sometimes referred to “tourisme fluvial” How well do you know your French rivers? Can you name the any of the major rivers in France? Which cities are on which river? The following is a quiz to test your knowledge of the rivers of France. How did you do? Did you have to refer to a map or Wikipedia? Photographs that were not taken by me are from www.commons.wikimedia.org; www.dreamtime.com; www.depositphotos.com all used with the appropriate...

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France by Train
Jun03

France by Train

On 1st May this year Eurostar launched a direct no-train-change service to Lyon, Avignon and Marseille from London. France will become even more accessible by high speed trains with out the changes at Lille or Paris. Even without the new service France was already very accessible by train using both the TGV and more regional SNCF trains. The mountains, the coasts, the chateaux, the wine producing areas, the WW1 battlefields and the cities are all connected by train. In this post I look at six cities served by trains that I have visited. There are of course more and over the time I will cover more cities easily reached by train. We’ll start with my top French city. Lyon They say that if Paris is the heart of France then Lyon is its stomach. It certainly is a gastronomic destination and you cannot visit Lyon without sampling some of its many restaurants from the simple fayre served good in the bouchons to the Michelin starred restaurants. Wandering around Old Lyon exploring the hidden passages or traboules is a great way to spend an afternoon. There are numerous murals right across Lyon and searching them out is a great way to explore the city. Lyon surprises; it has plenty of wide open squares and parkland and a thriving cultural scene, both classic and contemporary. It is a destination in its own right and not just a stop on the route south. Heading south from Lyon on the TGV and we eventually reach the Cote d’Azur Nice Swanky classic hotels to stay in, the Promenade des Anglais to wander and be seen and great places to eat are all part of the stereotypical image of Nice. Always popular with artists Nice has museums devoted to Matisse, Marc Chagall and modern and contemporary art. For those wanting to explore a little more Vieux Nice is the place to wander. Wandering up to the chateau, and area of parkland and ruins noted for its extensive views, takes you through narrow cobbled streets with great little cafes, boutiques and shops and restaurants serving and selling the olives that bear the city’s name. The Flower Market is one of the best known in France and is best visited early in the morning when the flowers are at their best and most numerous. Still on the eastern side of France is… Strasbourg Strasbourg is well-known for being the headquarters of a number of European institutions, most notably the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights. It is also famous for its historic centre on the Grande Île with the half timbered houses typical of Alsace region of France and its towering cathedral. The...

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