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.
Knowing that Sundays in France are on par with bank holidays – in the sense that they’re hardly a hive of activity – we decided to take a little jaunt along the coast to Martigues. Nicknamed ‘The Venice of Provence’, the accolades were stacked high in Martigues’ favour and we felt an urge to see it for ourselves.
If there’s one major advantage to working in the education field, it’s the holidays – scattered throughout the year, they’re a breather from the continual chaos of term time and an ideal travel opportunity. Let’s rewind to the end of October when, after five weeks of teaching/ lecturing/ adult-sitting, I headed south to Marseille for the Vacances de la Toussaint and some unexpected sunshine.
[veuillez défiler vers le bas pour la version française] After a balmy February, gales are now blowing ferociously in Lyon and it feels like the clock’s turned back a season or two. A couple of weeks ago, I was in desperate need of some creature comforts. (I miss England. Life abroad isn’t always a piece of gâteau.) Apple crumble was a staple dessert of my childhood; its cousin apple pie made a guest appearance every now and again, but my loyalty to the trusty apple crumble never wavered. Since kitchen supplies are – ahem – limited, I decided to combine the crusty crumble topping with a classic sponge. A light sponge topped with a (hefty) sprinkle of cinnamon crumble and a couple of layers of sliced apples were all it took to transport me back to the vast dining table of my childhood, devouring spoonful after spoonful of sugary apple-y goodness.
Cycling fanatics will know the Col du Grand Colombier from the 2012 Tour de France; for the uninitiated – myself included, prior to this hike – this mountain pass in the southern Jura is a superb visual gateway to the Alps. Spectacular views from the summit await those who are prepared to hike to the summit and have achy legs for days afterwards – or if you’re not quite feeling it, you could always drive your Citroën 2CV to the summit instead.
Not so long ago, I joked to one of the secretaries – the one who I know on a first name basis – that the tail end of Lyon’s winter is akin to a British summer. On February 1st, it was a balmy 16°C; I could happily have worn shorts, but for the fact I was teaching and that probably wouldn’t have looked all that professional. (The fact I’m often mistaken for a student by administrative staff is beside the point.) Temperatures are climbing steadily upward, and at this rate I’ll be spending afternoons in the park reading my books sooner than I had anticipated.