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Featured Languedoc-Roussillon Regions Towns and Cities

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.

Interior of the Cafe des Templiers, Collioure
Some of the original paintings displayed in the Cafe des Templiers, Collioure

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 beach and defensive chateau at Collllioure
Vauban’s defensive chateau dominates one side of the harbour

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.

Original paintings on the wall of the Cafe des Templier
Original art on the walls of the Cafe des Templier which legend has it was used as 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.

Information boards show where the artists painted their most famous scenes in Collioure
Helpful signs mark the places where the artists set up their easels

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.

Artists paintings on the harbour wall in Collioure
Collioure still attracts artists today

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.

Collioure harbour with colourful lateen boats tied up beside the quay
The harbour with colourful lateen boats in Collioure

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, a citadel and bougainvillaea bedecked lanes and courtyards.

I may not be a painter but I consider myself an artist with a camera as my tool of choice. I was continually framing and composing, pressing the shutter and taking photographs. Collioure is just so inspiring.

Boats tied up alongside the quay in Collioure harbour
Collioure harbour
Windmill, Collioure
Windmill on the hill overlooking Collioure

The Lure of Collioure is still alive and well among artists and photographers… and not a few tourists too. Certainly, the Lure of Collioure has called me back on more than one occasion and I will no doubt be returning again.

Do you have a special place in France that you like to return to again and again? Do tell us about it in the comments below.


Categories
Featured Lyon Rhone-Alpes Towns and Cities

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.

The Fourviere Basilica
The Fourviere Basilica

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.

Lyon
Lyon’s Gallo-Roman amphitheatre

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.

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The Traboules of Lyon

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 to take a guided tour.

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Mur des Canut

4. Croix Rousse

Between the River Saone and the River Rhone is an area known as the Presqu’île. Croix Rousse is an area in the northern part of the Presqu’île and was where the silk weavers moved to from Vieux Lyon. Croix Rousse has it’s own unique atmosphere and often feels like a village rather than part of a grand metropolis. It is much sought after neighbourhood and has a bohemian ambience.

Croix Rousse is best explored on foot. Steep passageways and steps take you through small parks and shady squares, gardens and along well kept boulevards. A good place to start is the Place de Sathonay, a shady neighbourhood square were the locals play pétanque. A good place to end is the Murs de Canuts – the silk workers mural.

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One of Lyon’s many murals

5. Murals of Lyon

La Mur des Canuts is the largest of the Lyon’s murals. It’s very deceptive being painted in the trompe l’oeil style; and difficult to see where reality begins and ends. The mural is a study of Croix-Rousse itself and includes characteristics of the district such as the long flights of steps on the slopes of the hills on which it is built. Each time it is repainted it is also updated with the same characters growing older.

From here you can tour the many other murals of Lyon. A leaflet from the tourist office has all the information on each mural and a suggested route. See also Murals of Lyon 1 and Murals of Lyon 2) on this blog’s sister site www.travelunpacked.co.uk.

lyon
This was designed by the same artist who designed the Statue of Liberty

6. Place des Terreaux

The most striking feature of this square is the great fountain of a female charioteer and wildly straining horses. This magnificent statue was rejected by Bordeaux before Lyon gladly accepted it. Its creator, Bartholdi, went on to create the Statue of Liberty.

Opposite the statue is the Museum of Fine Arts with several pieces by the sculptor Rodin. Some of his statues are displayed in the shady courtyard of the museum which is a great place to rest and cool off.

Lyon
Place Bellecour

7. Place Bellecour

Place Bellecour is the largest square in Europe. In the centre of the square is a large statue of Louis XIV on horse back. The south of the square is filled with gardens, cafes and a children’s play area and is a great place to relax and people watch while taking a break from sightseeing or some retail therapy. The view across the square to the Fouvière Basilica is one of the classic views of Lyon.

Lyon
Confluence, a place of cutting edge architecture

8. Confluence

Where the Saone and Rhone meet is the appropriately name Confluence district. This was the city’s docklands full of warehouses, wharfs and an SNCF shunting yard. Now, like many docklands areas in other European cities, it is being redeveloped. There is a large shopping complex, apartments and offices, marinas and other leisure facilities. There is some cutting edge architecture here too which includes a museum and a bright orange cube, has been christened by the Lyonnais “La Emmental” because it’s facade was designed with so many “holes” it resembles Swiss cheese.

The Musee des Confluences has become one of the most popular sites in Lyon. This Uber modern building sits on the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone and tells the story of our world. It presents a journey through time and across the globe to introduce the visitor to the world around them. There are also a continual rotation of temporary exhibitions too.

The old sugar warehouse, La Sucrière, is the main venue for the modern art Biennale de Lyon but serves as a space for art exhibitions at other times.

Parc de la Tête d'Or
Parc de la Tête d’Or

9. Parc de la Tête d’Or

Beyond the Rhone is the 19th and 20th century Lyon. Follow the river north and you reach the Parc de la Tête d’Or. At 117 hectares this is the largest urban park in France.

It is home to the Botanical Gardens with large glasshouses and four rose gardens. The botanical gardens are one of the largest in France and entry is free on weekdays.

The park also houses a zoo which in 2006 created an extensive Plaine Africaine where 130 species of native African animals roam free and together. The zoo is home to the rare Barbary lion; an animal extinct in the wild.

Lyon
Another of Lyon’s murals

10. Tony Garnier Urban Museum

Tony Garnier was Lyon’s best known urban architect and created a housing project in the city for industrial workers in the 1920s. The museum that bears his name is in the district he helped create either side of the Boulevard des États-Unis. The museum is fairly small and shows much of his ideas in the exhibits including a reconstruction of a 1930s room.

However, his work is best seen in the urban landscape he created. Wander round or take a tour and you will see the murals on the ends of the apartment blocks of his ideas for an urban landscape. See the post Murals of Lyon (2) for more details.

The top ten list ends here but there will be some readers who will wonder why I have not included Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. I plan on following up this post with the top 10, in my view, places to enjoy the gastronomy of Lyon. For those who still think it should be included in the top ten places to see in the city I have included a brief note below.

Lyon
Lyon is not called the Gastronomic Capital of France for nothing

Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse

If you love your food you will love Lyon. If you love Lyon you will love Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. This is Lyon’s gourmet covered market where all the Michelin chefs do their shopping; it is even named after the most influential of them all Paul Bocuse. Not only can you buy local ingredients but also products made locally such as cheeses, macaroons, quinelles and desserts that are works of art.

Have you visited Lyon? Are any of your favourite places to visit missing from this list? Do share with us your top Lyon spots in the comments below.

This article first appeared on www.travelunpacked.co.uk, the sister blog of www.franceunpacked.co.uk. Several of the links will take you to the Travel Unpacked website


Categories
Featured Lyon Regions Rhone-Alpes Towns and Cities

Lyon between the Rivers Saone and Rhone

Lyon is a city I passed through several times either on the A6 Autoroute heading south or on a train heading towards the Mediterranean coast. I have used its airport as well when heading to other parts of Rhone-Alpes. Such contact with Lyon gave the false impression it was a city of dreariness and heavy industry. It was time therefore to have more than a fleeting glimpse of the city.

The River Saone, one of Lyon's two rivers
The River Saone, one of Lyon’s two rivers

I have already explored Vieux Lyon on the west bank of the Saone in a previous post on France Unpacked’s sister website Travel Unpacked. In this post I will explore that part of Lyon between it’s two great rivers the Saone and the Rhone; an area known as the Presqu’île. It is quite a compact area and is where the Lyonnais come to shop, eat and be entertained. Most of it can be explored on foot. However, all the city’s transport systems pass through or terminate in the Presqu’île so it is easy to get around.

Rejected by Bordeaux accepted by Lyon.
Rejected by Bordeaux accepted by Lyon.

The Place des Terreaux is a good place to start as it is the de facto transport hub both above and below ground. The most striking feature of this square is, for me, the great fountain of a female charioteer and wildly straining horses. Rejected by Bordeaux this fountain was eagerly accepted by Lyon. Its creator, Batholdi, later went on to create the Statue of Liberty.

The fountain faces the Museum of Fine Arts which is housed in the Palais St Pierre. The courtyard is a cool secluded place where sculptures are displayed, some of which are by the sculptor Rodin. The Hôtel de Ville with its elegant 17th century facade also overlooks the square and its many cafes.

The Opera
The Opera

The Opera on Place de la Comédie behind Hôtel de Ville was built in 1826 but was completely redesigned in the 1990s. Externally the facades were left pretty much intact but a glass vaulted roof was added giving it, in my opinion, the appearance of a London mainline railway station. Contemporary sculptures and fountains fill the squares around it.

Contemporary reflecting the Old
Contemporary reflecting the Old

Lyon is twinned with Birmingham and the two cities share a contemporary and controversially designed department store. In Birmingham the store is covered with silver discs and in Lyon it is reflective glass. Both modern structures are surrounded by older buildings but in Lyon at least these are reflected in the facade.

La Bistro de Lyon
Le Bistro de Lyon

Rue Mercière is the only significant Renaissance remains in the Presqu’île. There are a few traboules or secret passageways here connecting it to the bank of the River Saone. Restaurants, bistros and cafes line the street. Le Bistrot de Lyon serves great food and is worth stopping at for the breathtaking interior. At the end of  Rue Mercière is Place Jacobin with its newly renovated fountain depicting four Lyonnais artists: painter Hippolyte Flandrin, engraver Gérard Audran, sculptor Guillaume Coustou and architect Philibert Delorme.

Place Bellcour
Place Bellecour

Place Bellecour is the largest square in Europe. In the centre of the square is a large statue of Louis XIV on horse back. The view across the square to the Fouvière Basilica is one of the classic views of Lyon. The south of the square is filled with gardens, cafes and a children’s play area. In one corner is a bell tower, all that remains of the Hôpital de la Charité which was demolished in 1932.

Croix Rousse is the area in the north of the peninsula. This was where the silk weavers moved to from Vieux Lyon. Some of the features such as the traboules they brought with them. The houses they built had rooms with high ceilings that could accommodate the new weaving machines. Croix Rousse has it’s own unique ambience and often feels like a village than part of a bustling metropolis.

Mur de Canuts
Murs de Canuts

Being built on a hill means you get a good view of the layout of the city of Lyon. Although Croix Rousse can be reached by metro it is better to explore the steep passageways and steps that take you through small parks and shady squares on foot. A good place to start is the Place de Sathonay, a shady neighbourhood square were the locals play pétanque. A good place to end is the Murs de Canuts – the silk workers mural. This is the largest of Lyon’s famous murals. It’s very deceptive being painted in the trompe l’oeil style; and difficult to see where reality begins and ends.

The Swiss Cheese building
The Swiss Cheese building

Where the Saone and Rhone meet is the appropriately name Confluence district. This was Lyon’s docklands full of warehouses, wharfs and SNCF work yards. Now, like many docklands areas, it is being redeveloped with large shopping malls, apartments and offices, marinas and other leisure facilities. One of the more recent buildings, a bright orange cube, has been christened by the Lyonnais “La Emmental” because it’s facade was designed with so many “holes” it resembles Swiss cheese.

The old sugar warehouse, La Sucrière, is the main venue for Lyon’s modern art Biennale de Lyon but serves as a space for art exhibitions during time when the Biennale is not in residence. The Confluence area is still under development and is the best place to go to see some of Lyon’s modern, cutting edge architecture.

Lyon's elegance reflected in its architecture
Lyon’s elegance reflected in its architecture

Lyon’s two rivers have shaped its history and development as a city. The natural barriers of the river mean much of the elegance of Lyon is contained in a very walkable area. My visit to Lyon changed my perception of a city from one of heavy industry to one of grace and beauty.

Have you visited Lyon? What did you think of the city? Let us know in the comments below.

Lyon Tourist Office and Convention Bureau

Declaration: I visited Lyon as guest of the Lyon Tourist Office and Convention Bureau. However, as always I maintain full editorial control over the content and my opinions, positive or negative are my own.

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Categories
Adventure Canoeing Languedoc-Roussillon Lozere Regions Wildlife

Beavers, bats and art

The sun was heading towards the western horizon. It was late in the afternoon and shadows were lengthening and we were preparing for a canoe trip down the river. Being issued with head torches was a little unnerving as it meant we would be canoeing after dark; a completely new experience for most of the group. There would be rapids to negotiate and rocks and shallows to avoid; difficult enough in daylight.

A group of us were heading out on a beaver safari along the River Tarn downstream from the village of St Enimie The beavers are most active when the sun is low enough for no direct sunlight to reach the foot of the gorge. That an early evening start.

After a brief but comprehensive safety talk and some details about what to expect and how to best observe the beavers we launched the canoes.

beaver trip
Just drifting along quietly waiting for the beavers to show up

Before we saw any beavers we encountered our first rapids. The word rapids conjures up a maelstrom of water and foam but these “rapids” were little more than an increase in water flow as the current was forced through a narrow section of the gorge. Nevertheless care had to be taken to avoid the very real dangers of submerged rocks and no one wanted to capsize this early on.

beaver
Eurasian (or European) Beaver – Castor fiber
© Photo Nature – source: www.flickr.com

Although we spotted no beavers along this first part of the river as yet but we learned a great deal about them and how the European beaver (Castor fiber) differs from its North American cousin (Castor canadensis). They don’t build dams for a start. Along the banks there were plenty of signs of beaver activity. Stripped twigs and a few chewed branches showed where they had been eating.

beaver watching
Scanning the bank with binoculars for any sign of beavers

After paddling for a couple of kilometres and still no sign of the beavers we pulled onto a pebble beach. Grass grew from between rocks and the place was littered with the detritus of the seasonal floods.

Beavers are shy creatures and will quickly disappear at the first sign of danger. Canoes and their occupants could conceivably be considered as danger so we spent a short while on the beach quietly watching the water down which we had just paddled.

beaver
A Eurasian Beaver on the river bank
© Per Harald Olsen

Our patience was rewarded as one and then another beaver put in an appearance along the distant bank. Armed with binoculars we could see two large rat like creatures in the water. I was, at this point, slightly disappointed as I had expected closer encounters than this.

Our canoes pulled up on a beach while we explored the cave
Our canoes pulled up on a beach while we explored the cave

We were soon back in the canoes and negotiating a series of rapids. These were a little more exciting and required our full attention if we were not to end up in the water. Where the river widened and the water was calmer we pulled the canoes up onto a small sandy beach. Climbing up a steep path our guide led us in to a large cave. A few metres in and our guide suggested we switch our head torches on.

What we saw was not the beavers we were looking for but cave paintings. It was almost like we had just discovered them. The cave was only accessible from the river; no other path led to the cave. No visitor centre or interpretive notices; no entry ticket; no souvenir kiosks; and no barriers between us and the paintings.

Cave art
Forgery or academic exercise? Still an exciting find

The paintings showed animals and men pursuing each other across the cave walls. It was obviously a hunting scene. I wondered how long these paintings had survived. The floodwaters obviously did not reach this high. Paintings like these were usually discovered by shepherd boys or goatherds looking for their lost animals not canoe guides. This was quite a find and must rank with Lacavaux Caves I thought.

Just as we were getting excited about these off the beaten track cave paintings our guide told us they were less than 20 years old. Apparently a university professor had produced them using the tools and paints that would have been used four thousand years ago as an experiment. Even though they were an academic exercise very few people know of these paintings so it is still something special and worth stopping off for.

Back on the river dusk was closing in. The canoe up front spotted a beaver only metres from the canoe. As the beaver realised the proximity of the canoe it slapped its tail and disappeared.

We continued in silence often just drifting with the current. We began switching the lead canoe to give everyone a chance to see a beaver up close and personal.

swimming beaver
Beaver swimming
© Rudo Jurecek – source: www.flickr.com

After another set of rapids a beaver swam alongside our canoe. Less than two metres separated canoe and beaver. I just allowed the canoe to drift with the paddle across the gunwales. Being in the shadow of the gorge meant the canoe itself was not casting a shadow and, as far as the beaver was concerned, presented no danger.

This was the experience I had hoped for; a close encounter with a beaver.

Just as the canoe began to pick up speed prior to entering another small rapid the beaver headed off to the riverbank and the roots that hid the burrow that was its home. Darkness was rapidly approaching but the next fifteen minutes was like paddling down Beaver Alley. There were a dozen or more. Some encounters were close others further away. We just drifted along while beavers, sometimes in pairs, swam alongside the flotilla of canoes. Even our guide became excited as he confided that he had never seen so many on a single trip. What a bonus.

beaver canoes
Gorge du Tarn – looking back upstream as darkness falls

While there was still light we stopped for an evening snack. From the small promontory we could see the beavers swimming in the calmer water upstream and in the fading light could make out one or two foraging on the banks.

Being evening and close to water the mosquitoes were out in force. Attracted by our head lamps they were soon buzzing irritatingly around our heads. Back on the river the onslaught continued unabated. Then like a squadron of stealth fighters bats flew up the river feasting on inflight meals of fresh mosquitoes and moths, attracted by our lights, for dessert. How they avoided us, each other and low branches while pinpointing their meal with accuracy that would be the envy any Top Gun fighter pilot was amazing. It was all done by echolocation not sight.

Next came the ultimate paddling test of the evening. Darkness came suddenly in the foot of the gorge. The lead canoe’s lights some distance in front started bobbing erratically. There were rapids ahead.

“Keep to the middle,” our guide called, “and keep paddling”

This was easier said than done. In the light of the headlamp I could see the looming shape of the bank and a tangle of tree roots. Close to the bank light reflected off the maelstrom of water and foam. That could only mean an obstruction, probably rocks. The canoe slithered past, the side scraping on the stones, we fended off the bank and paddled like crazy as the canoe bucked and turned in it’s effort to dump us in the water.

Then just as suddenly we floated along in calmer, deeper water. Moments later we pulling the canoes up on the bank.

It had been a great evening. Excitement and adventure with beavers and bats with rock art, even if it was a facsimile, thrown in as an extra. Have you experienced a wildlife excursion? Tell us about it here.

Didier Azema, our naturalist and guide, leads many adventure excursions. The beaver excursion is just one of them. He can be reached on +33 4 66 44 25 10 or mobile +33 6 72 10 41 71. Canoes can be hired from ISPA Canoe for departures from St Chely du Tarn which is where we started our trip. They return you to your point of embarkation at the end of the trip. Suggested accommodation: Gites de Pougnadoires – three award winning gites on the banks of the river not far from St Enimie.

Declaration: I travelled as a guest of the Lozere Tourisme and SunFrance (Languedoc-Roussillon Tourisme). All my opinions are my own as I always maintain complete editorial control.



Categories
Food and Drink Regions Rhone-Alpes water

Pairing Food and Rhone-Alpes waters

Water is the new wine” and the Rhone-Alpes region has plenty of it. Apart from snow and ice, numerous lakes and innumerable streams and rivers the region has over 30 sources of mineral water both still and sparkling.

If you thought water had no taste then think again. I spent time discovering some of the sources and was introduced to the water tasting in St Galmier, home of Badoit mineral water. To read more about it visit France Unpacked’s sister website www.travelunpacked.co.uk

I discovered that in Rhone-Alpes alone there is such a variety of tastes; from the salty, slightly bitter Badoit though the meadowy sweet Thonon to the almost neutral Evian.

Water 002

The following is a brief summary of the tastes and aromas of some of the better known and more readily available mineral waters of the Rhone-Alpes.

The still waters:
Thonon: Slightly lemony with a fresh meadowy scent; sweet taste
Evian: Light marine aroma; a neutral balance between salty and acidic taste
Aix: Dry earthy scent: no dominant taste, well balanced
The sparkling waters:
Badoit (verte): Little discernible aroma; salty, sweet and bitter, well balanced taste between the three
Badoit (rouge); A hint of woodiness; taste is salty and slightly bitter
Vals: Little discernible smell; salty and bitter in taste
Saint Alban: Lightly metallic scent; sweet and salty, well balanced
Cesar: aromatic notes of almonds and lemon; an acidic and bitter taste
Vernet: Slightly metallic aroma with an earthy note; an acidic and salty taste
Parot: Complex scent, flowery, vanilla with a note of leather; a dominant salty taste

If you think it is beginning to sound a lot like the terminology used by wine tasters you would be right. Much of the vocabulary and the classification of taste and feel is borrowed from wine-tasting. Water, just like wine, can be paired with different foods. Of course it is all down to personal taste but the characteristics of the different mineral waters pair well with certain meals or courses.

Mineral water from Aix-les-Bains is great for an aperitif
Mineral water from Aix-les-Bains is great for an aperitif

The light but aromatic Aix is ideal as an aperitif as its slightly woody scent would be lost during the meal.

The more intense scent of wood and almonds and the slightly lemony bitter taste of Cesar would go well with a salad particularly one with a vinegar based dressing.

Arcens has a lively effervescence with an acidic salty taste and pairs well with more exotic spicy dishes. However its high sodium content (290mg/l) makes it unsuitable for people on a salt-free diet.

For any fish dish the slightly salty Parot with a nose reminiscent of the sea is ideal. It has a smooth silky texture and fine effervescence. This water is popular with the Lyonnais restaurateurs.

Cheeses
Badoit (verte) and Evian pair well with cheese
© RA Tourisme/P. Fournier

Evian, with its astringent flavour, is best paired with any dish in sauce. It helps to balance the the fattiness of many sauces. It also goes well with cheese.

Badoit (verte) with its sharp astringent character and its balance of saltiness, sweetness and a hint of bitterness also goes well with cheese.

Thonon is lightly mineralised and is the sweetest mineral water due in part to its low sodium content. It has a fresh, light feel with a vegetal meadowy nose. As such it goes well with desserts and, because of its sweetness, is enjoyed by children.

Fruit dessert
For fruit based deserts St Alban pairs well
© RA Tourisme/M. Kirchgessner

Saint Alban with a note of sweetness and a hint of saltiness is better for desserts that are fruit based.

Badoit (rouge), a newcomer to the market, has a stronger effervescence and a real freshness. Its astringent properties clean the mouth and “wake you up” after the meal. It is marketed at the younger fun loving diners.

Vernet is a popular water to drink throughout the meal as it has a well balanced taste.

Water is ideal for alfresco meals too. Evian goes well with the grilled meat of a barbecue. Aix is best paired with a fondue or raclette and Vals is ideal for summer picnics.

My own voyage of discovery through some of the 30 plus waters of the Rhone-Alpes was a real education. I find it impossible to have a meal with a glass of water when I am eating out without analysing whether it is the right choice or not. For me a selection of French cheeses with a glass of Badoit verte remains my favourite. What is your favourite pairing?

Links: Rhone-Alpes Tourisme

Categories
Picardy Regions Towns and Cities

Amiens unplanned

It had not been our intention to visit Amiens in Picardy but, due to a minor mix up with accommodation, we found ourselves with a hotel in the shadow of its impressive cathedral and several hours of exploring time. Not being the kind of people to sit and kill time we decided to explore as much as we could.

Amiens Cathedral
Amiens Cathedral

You cannot visit Amiens without visiting the cathedral. Similar to Notre Dame in Paris it is almost twice the size and is the largest cathedral by volume in France. It is also considered to be the finest and purest example of Gothic architecture. There is certainly harmony in its architecture.

The intricate carvings on the facade of Amiens cathedral
The intricate carvings on the facade of Amiens cathedral

The cathedral is renown for the quality of the sculptures and intricate tracery covering the west facade. Inside the nave reaches a height of 42m making it the highest complete cathedral in France. The incomplete Beauvais cathedral has a taller nave.

A couple of gruesome statues commemorate the original reason for building the cathedral; to house the head of John the Baptist. This relic was part of the loot from the Fourth Crusade that ended up in Amiens.

Such is the importance of Amiens cathedral architecturally that it has been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

There are enough things to see and do to occupy at least two days but we only had a few hours. Should we visit the house of Jules Verne or the Picardy Museum? The floating gardens or “hortillonages” of the marshlands of the Somme were another option. In the end we decided to wander serendipitously through one of the several “quartiers” that make up Amiens.

Medieval St Leu with its riverside cafes and restaurants
Medieval St Leu with its riverside cafes and restaurants

Medieval St-Leu has many older wooden and brick houses built along its many drainage canals. It is popular with Amien’s young population and is full of cafes and restaurants. Many of them are along Quai Belu and have great views of the cathedral but it is also worth wandering the other streets of the “quartier” seeking out the Puppet Theatre.

We stopped for a lunch here of Picardy potatoes smothered in chicken, cheese and sauce looking over the canal towards the Cathedral. After lunch we wandered back through the town, discovering as we did that Amiens is also a town of flowers. There are colourful beds and baskets of blooms everywhere, even in September when we were there.

Amiens is certainly a place to enjoy flowers
Amiens is certainly a place to enjoy flowers

We were reluctant to leave having discovered that Amiens is more than a few exits on the A16 autoroute from Paris to Calais and are already planning a longer stopover on our next visit to France.

Have you been to Amiens? Is there anywhere I should see on my next visit? If there is I’d love to hear from you.

Getting there: Amiens is approximately 1.5hrs from Calais which is served by . It is roughly the same distance from Paris with excellent road and rail links. For flights to Paris visit www.skyscanner.net

Amiens Tourismwww.visit-amiens.com (in English)

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Categories
Food and Drink Regions Rhone-Alpes Towns and Cities water

Evian and water

The word naive comes to us, via French, from the Latin nativus meaning native or natural. When spelt backwards naive becomes evian a name we associate with natural mineral water. Coincidence? Probably.

There was settlement during town Celtic and Roman times which was later named Aviano, then Yvian and finally Evian. This was long before the curative properties of the mineral springs were discovered and the town was given the name Evian.  The “les-Bains” part of the name was added later to promote the town as a spa resort.I arrived in the spa town Evian-les-Bains at the end of a visit to the Rhone-Alpes investigating some of the 32 mineral waters of the region. You cannot write about the mineral waters of the Rhone-Alpes without mentioning Evian. The famous baby blue and pink label of the water bottled here is recognisable the world over. Water, in and out of bottles, is ubiquitous in Evain-les-Bains.

Evian-les-Bains is on the shores of Europe’s largest lake; Lac Leman. It was not until 1789 that the mineral water was discovered by Marquis de Lessert. Drinking regularly from St Catherine’s Spring in the garden of Monsieur Cachat apparently cured him of kidney stones. Word spread, the entrepreneurs and investors moved in and, during the Belle Epoque, a resort was developed.

Cachat Spring, the original Evian water
Cachat Spring, the original Evian water

Four springs now provide Evian-les-Bains with its raison d’etre and feed the local economy. The rain and snow that fall on the Alps above the town take 15 years to filter down through the strata gathering minerals on its way. This is the water we drink today as Evian.

The original spring, known as the Cachat Spring, is still there; the fountain now surrounded by a classical portico. The water here is free to all comers and residents are allowed to fill bottles to take home. I am sure it tastes better gushing out of the ground than in a plastic bottle.

Immediately below the fountain is the Art Nouveau Evian Buvette Thermale which houses an exhibition on Evian water, a shop where you can purchase Evian products, including their cosmetics, and a collection of Evian bottles including their much sought after limited editions.

Le Palais Lumiere
Le Palais Lumiere, Evian-les-Bains
© Georges Menager – source: www.flickr.com Le Palais Lumiere

Le Palais Lumiere, a rather grand edifice overlooking the lake, is a fine example of Belle Epoque era architecture. Until 1984 it was Evian-les-Bains thermal baths. Now it is a conference and exhibition centre with an art gallery. The entrance hall is the magnificent pump room and is free to enter. Spas and “baths” were very popular and some very grand hotels were built . Many of these remain today along with some more modern ones. Evian-les-Bains is still very much a spa resort.

Bottles of Evian
Bottles of Evian
© Michael Summers – source: www.flickr.com

The vast Evian bottling plant at Amphion just outside Evian-les-Bains is open to visitors. A visit begins with a short film explaining the fifteen year journey rain and melt water take through alpine rock strata to the Evian bottling plant. The visit shows the process from the manufacture of the plastic bottles through, filling and distribution. Photography is not allowed but you can look down on the production lines from behind glass panels. The numbers are staggering; bottles are made, filled with water, sealed and labelled in a matter of seconds before being packaged and sent to the waiting trains and trucks. The plant has it’s own railway yard where up to eight trains can be loaded at any one time.

The Evian Babies roller skated onto our screens and into our hearts in an advertising campaign designed to remind us that Evian water is great for kids. Evian, because of its balance of minerals, is ideal for infants and children. Indeed this was one of the first major selling points when the corporate colours of powder blue and baby pink were chosen and used to reinforce the message. These colours are still the corporate colours today despite the fact that Evian is owned by the food giant Danone.

Useful links:
Ville d’Evian [English]
Evian Tourism
Hotels in Evian from www.LateRooms.com (£)
Voyages SNCF – for trains to Evian (£)
The nearest airport to Evian is Geneva

Declaration: I travelled to Evian as a guest of Tourisme Rhone-Alpes and Evian Tourisme. However I maintain editorial control at all times. There are affiliate links in the text. These are indicated with (£). All other links are NOT affiliate links but are included for my readers to get information.