Easter weekend heralded not only the end of teaching, but also the arrival of ma chère famille, who flew out to Lyon to spend a few days exploring the gastronomic capital of France and its environs. Needless to say, it was absolutely lovely to see them all and show them round the city that I’ve called home for the past eight months. After some rescheduling on Flybe’s part, their flight landed late at night, so after meeting them at the tram stop we walked over to their hotel. (Over the course of their visit we became all too familiar with the wee-drenched odour of La Part Dieu’s underpass.) Upon arrival, we whiled away an hour or so in the hotel bar, catching up and giggling over the English translations of pour les petits creux (“munchies temptations”) and pour les grandes faims (“starving solutions”) on the ibis menu. As midnight approached, Vicki and I headed over to my flat, having arranged to meet Mum and Dad early the following morning to go on a croissant hunt.
After a hectic week marking three hundred odd copies, I had a strong desire to prendre l’air and escape the city for a few hours. I didn’t fancy travelling far and after debating the various merits of a few nearby towns I settled on Vienne, which many moons ago was a hub of the Roman Empire under Julius Caesar. The lively town centre is filled with winding streets, squares bordered with cafés and traces of the Roman era.
As things turned out, I found myself back in the UK rather sooner than expected – for an assessment centre, the part of recruitment processes that us millennials all love to hate. (As far as these things go it was an enjoyable day, though I did feel rather brain-drained afterwards!) Since I had to reschedule things in order to attend, I found myself with a day in London to fill beforehand and promptly arranged to meet up with my mum (during the day) and Laurence (once he’d finished work).
Ambérieu-en-Bugey is a sleepy commune some fifty kilometres north-east of Lyon. Bound by the Rhône to the south and the Jura to the north, the Bugey is a region steeped in history – and the castles perched on the hilltops around Ambérieu-en-Bugey are no exception. In late November, Olivier spontaneously suggested a walk in the Bugey to see some of the region’s castles and the autumnal colours (which, for the most part, had unfortunately been and gone) and I was only too happy to swap the city for the countryside for a day!
All too soon, our time in Marseille was drawing to a close and it was time to bid farewell to the merveilles of Marseille. (How is it that time always speeds up when you’re on holiday?) After packing up our belongings and making the obligatory stop at a nearby boulangerie to pick up breakfast essentials (and some extra supplies for Laurence’s flight), we set off on foot to explore Marseille’s street art scene.
On All Saint’s Day – known in France as La Toussaint – we ventured out of Marseille once again, this time to Aix-en-Provence. It’s the epitome of classy, understated chic: leafy boulevards studded with fountains, sunshine-hued buildings with wrought iron balconies and an undeniable Belle Époque aura.
More often than not, the mention of the French Riviera conjures up images of the famous faces of yesteryear sunning themselves in Saint Tropez, the world-renowned Festival de Cannes (Cannes Film Festival) and Mr Moneybags’ playground, Monaco. Glitzy goings-on aside, the Mediterranean coast is home to a wealth of impressive natural landscapes. Stretching from Marseille, France’s second city, to Cassis, a scenic fishing port, the Parc National des Calanques is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline I have ever set eyes on.