Tucked away in deepest, darkest Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, one of the region’s best-kept secrets hides behind a stone wall, with only the smallest of plaques hinting at its existence. Le Palais Idéal – known in English as The Ideal Palace – is a remarkable creation, a childlike fantasy of epic proportions and, perhaps most surprisingly, the labour of love of a humble postman.
After the success of my first solo hike, I decided that another trip to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat was in order. With a string of sunny days on the forecast, I picked one, traced a new route onto my map in blue felt tip and set off for Lyon Part-Dieu. Although there were no huge peaks on the cards this time, the Massif du Pilat didn’t disappoint, for viewpoints were numerous and trails virtually devoid of hikers.
Much like Hiroshima, Nuremberg is a city that – through no fault of its own – remains intrinsically linked to the horrors of the Second World War. Gastronomic specialities such as lebkuchen (a soft gingerbready treat, somewhere between a biscuit and a cake in texture) and bratwurst reign supreme in the old town, with dozens of stalls and shops claiming to have the cream of the crop. A mere six kilometres away lie the Nazi Party Rally Grounds; once a malignant growth, today a benign tumour testifying to the unprecedented rise of fascism which began in Nuremberg over eighty years ago.
While other towns and cities across Germany were razed to the ground during World War Two, one lesser-known town in the heart of Upper Franconia escaped unscathed. Even under perpetually grey skies, Bamberg is a beauty. Labyrinthine cobbled streets were lined with original medieval buildings; wrought iron signs hung above bakeries and pubs (located, more often than not, side by side, according to tradition); flags fluttered in the breeze. With classes over and invigilating sessions few and far between, I finally had the time to take Simone up on her invitation to visit her in Bamberg.
By and large, I visit museums which fall into one (or both) of the following categories: free museums and museums related to World War Two. Beyond that, I rarely step foot in these shrines to items of cultural, historical or scientific value. This year, I made an exception. Lyon’s Carte Jeune Musée was just too good an offer to resist. At €7, it nets you entry into Lyon’s six municipal museums – so even if you only plan on visiting two museums, you’re quids – or euros – in. (If you’re older than 25, you’ll need to purchase the Carte Musée, which costs €25.) Once you’ve bought your card and attached a passport-style mugshot to it, you’re all set to visit as many of the following museums as your heart desires: Musée des Beaux-Arts; Musée d’Art Contemporain; Musées Gadagne; Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation; Musée de l’Imprimerie et de la Communication Graphique; and Musée de l’Automobile Henri Malartre. Over the past few months, I’ve visited each and every one of these museums, so here’s the lowdown on each of these cultural havens.
Just two days after my first trip to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat, I found myself back in the area again, this time to hike the first twenty-six or so kilometres of the Aqueduc du Gier. (I’m not sure which part of my brain thought that two lengthy hikes in almost as many days was a good idea, for my legs certainly weren’t of the same opinion, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I did end up horrendously sunburnt.) Once upon a time, this eighty-odd kilometre long aqueduct transported water all the way from the Vallée du Gier to Fourvière. Although much of it has crumbled away in the intervening centuries, surviving elements of it remain to be seen today.
Shortly after my family visited me, I ventured out to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat, one of six regional natural parks in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. At this time of year, the park is a vast expanse of lush green meadows, trails bordered by bright yellow gorse and fields and woodland filled with the animal kingdom’s newest arrivals. Crêt de la Perdrix, the park’s highest peak, commands stellar views of the surrounding valleys and rolling hills – and, most importantly, is entirely do-able as a day trip from Lyon.