Traveling Through Beaujolais

Spending a week along the Rhône in France. Traveling up the river from Marseille, through historic Avignon, Arles, the Roman city of Vienne and ending up in Lyon, France’s culinary heart. This trip included time visiting the Beaujolais wine region and a number of quaint Provençal villages.

Located north of Lyon in eastern France, Beaujolais overlaps Burgundy in the north and Rhône in the south. The Beaujolais vineyards are located along the Saône River, where French winemakers have crafted delicious, fruity wines since the times of the Ancient Romans. It is said that the Romans taught the French tribes how to make wine but the French perfected the process.

In the the village of Beaujeu
The village of Beaujeu

Today the region is known world wide for its long tradition of winemaking, and more recently for the popular Beaujolais nouveau. The village of Beaujeu is the heart of the region and where Beaujolais gets its name. The French tradition is to name a region after a central town. This region is famous for its growing conditions with lots of sunshine and its granite-based soils lending a unique character to their wines. The Gamay grape is used to make all Beaujolais wines with the exception of white Beaujolais, or Beaujolais blanc, which is made of Chardonnay grapes.

Most of the harvesting is made manually in the Beaujolais region. Handpicking means entire bunches are vatted to allow a specific kind of maceration. This winemaking is unique to the Beaujolais region.

Vineyards of the Beaujolais

The signature Beaujolais nouveau is a red wine is produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November. This ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Day’ is recognized everywhere, with races to get the first bottles to different markets around the globe.

Chateau de Varennes
Chateau de Varennes nestled amongst the vineyards

Traveling through the hilly Beaujolais we were struck by the shear number of acres devoted to vineyards. From whole hillsides down to small backyard vineyards, grapes are growing everywhere and most everything seems to involve wine. We visited the Chateau de Varennes (facebook HERE) for a wine tasting. It’s an estate that is listed as a “VMF Historic Heritage” site and has been in the same family since 1809 with some buildings dating back to the 11th Century. The Château itself is a beautiful period castle from the 16th century, in the heart of vineyards and overlooking the Samson valley. It’s a beautiful location with panoramic terrace views and an impressive Renaissance entry court.

Chateau de Varennes
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Seeing Paris From The Seine

Cruising On The River Seine

Cruising through Paris on the river is one of the most enchanting ways to experience this incredible city with its historic architecture, famous monuments and remarkable beauty.Most visitors to Paris want to add a cruise on the River Seine to their plans. Seeing this city from the river there is a wide assortment of excursions to select from. Either day or night this is an experience not to be missed.

  • There are a number of options to consider:
  • One to two plus hour sightseeing cruises starting at about $15
  • Lunch cruises from $45 (with live music from $60)
  • Dinner cruise from $80 (see the city lights while gliding along the river)
  • A Champagne Tasting Seine River Cruise from $60.00
  • Paris Hop-On Hop-Off Combo: Bus and cruise from $55.00
  • Additional gourmet, dancing and luxury trips are also available with a wide range of pricing.

If you are on a budget our choice for value, is the Hop-On Hop-Off Batobus.  It features nine stops from Notre-Dame to the Eiffel Tower that also includes stops at the Louvre, Place de Concord, Champs-Elysees and more. A 24 hour pass (metered from the time of purchase) cost about $20 with 48 hours under $24. These boats run from morning to about 9:00 pm about every fifteen to twenty minutes and are a great way to jump from one destination to another throughout the day.

A short video from Batobus on the Seine

Little Pieces of Paris #1

Statue of Sainte-Geneviève by Landowski

A Short Story

Located just upstream from Notre-Dame there is a bridge made notable by a tall, elegant statue at its’ southern end. Examining a map, the bridge is identified as the Pont de la Tournelle and it is just another example of the shear number of remarkable sites in this incredible city. The Pont de la Tournelle links the Ile St-Louis (the next upstream island from Notre-Dame De Paris), to the Quai de la Tournelle on the Rive Gauche. The Rue des Deux Ponts links the island’s two bridges in a straight line with the Pont Marie on the north bank.

In 1928, the City of Paris commissioned sculptor Paul Landowski to carve a statue of Sainte-Geneviève for the bridge. Paul Maximilien Landowski (1 June 1875 – 31 March 1961) was a French monument sculptor of Polish descent. He is best-known for his work Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Landoswki’s creation represents Sainte-Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris as a young woman protecting a child holding a vessel, the symbol of Paris. He sculpted the sixteen foot high statue directly from a single piece of stone. Mounted on a pedestal of equal height, the statue faces westward to symbolically protect the city from danger approaching from upstream. It needed to be tall to be seen from great distances. It is located on the spot where Saint Geneviève’s shrine stood in the year 885 before it was moved to its’ current home in Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church.

A Note: At the time I took the photograph I had no idea what the bridge statue was about. I was simply drawn to the cormorant drying its wings high above the river. Only later did I research the statue and its sculptor –  Paris is an amazing city…

Port of Call Villefranche-sur-Mer

The Beach in the distance
Villefranche Beach

Villefranche-sur-Mer or just Villefranche is a picturesque town on the French Riviera featured on many cruise itineraries. The town itself is between Monte Carlo and Nice with Cannes only a little farther (19 miles) away. The quant waterfront is lined with cafes and restaurants and stretches from the marina, where the tenders tie up, around a natural harbor past a number of beautiful beaches. Its nearness to Monte Carlo and Nice is probably one of its biggest attractions for the cruise lines as it affords them a number of tour opportunities. But even if you book a tour don’t pass up spending some time at a cafe or restaurant on this remarkable waterfront.

Where Your Ship Docks

The waterfront

While Villefranche has one of the best protected harbors on the Riviera it has no major docking facilities and cannot accommodate cruise ships. This is a tender port where you land at the visitors center right in town. The visitor center offers maps, good advice on getting around and has good public facilities.

Transportation

Villefranche is an easy town to walk around in with plenty of shopping opportunities and good restaurants, but the streets do climb steeply up from the waterfront. Less than a half mile around the waterfront is the train station where you can catch frequent trains to Monte Carlo, Nice or Cannes. They run about every twenty minutes and a trip to Monte Carlo takes only fifteen minutes and costs usually under €7.00. So before you sign up for that expensive tour consider some exploring on your own.

A cafe across from the visitors center

Currency

The French currency is the Euro and you should not expect them to accept Dollars or Pounds in Villefranche. Credit cards are widely accepted and there are ATM machines available as well.

Citadelle Saint-Elme and Fort du Mont Alban
Citadelle Saint-Elme with Fort du Mont Alban in the distance

Attractions

The biggest attraction is the Riviera itself. Famous beaches, casinos, yachts at anchor and of course French cuisine. With Cannes and Nice to the west and Monaco only seven miles to the east a train trip is a fast and inexpensive way to see the glamour of the Riviera up close.

There are also a number of reasons to simply stay in Villefranche:

Citadelle Saint-Elme on the waterfront
Citadelle Saint-Elme

Just as you exit the visitor center to the left is Citadelle Saint-Elme a thirteenth century fortification which also now houses art exhibits

Chapelle de Saint-Pierre des Pecheurs – Beautiful chapel right on the harbour with an interior decorated by Jean Cocteau.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild – A villa, museum and fantastic gardens located on the opposite side of the harbor. Admission is about €15 but well worth it.

Fort du Mont Alban – If you are into hiking, a walk up Mt Alban toward Nice is worth it as it stands over 600 feet above the harbor and the views are well worth the climp. The fort itself built in the 16th century is not open to the public but is still impressive from the outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normandy: A Place for Reflection

Above: Cliff Tops at Pointe du Hoc

The Beaches of Normandy, France
D-Day Execution June 6th 1944
Memorial in the Surf at Omaha Beach
German Gun Defenses at Pointe du Hoc

We visited Normandy for a day as a stop on an eastbound trans-Atlantic cruise in the spring. If you find yourself on a similar cruise you will be offered a number of tours including Paris and Normandy. Our choice was partly based on a desire to see the landing beaches but also thinking that a one-day trip to Paris would be just too short. After that day we now firmly believe that if you want to see Paris – spend several days at a minimum but do not pass up any opportunity to see Normandy.

If you are visiting Paris for several days, you should seriously consider a day trip out to the D-Day beaches. There are a number of tours available from Paris to Normandy and many can be booked through hotels. Another option is to rent a car and spend a couple of days in the area on your own. The countryside is beautiful and the people welcoming.

The Seaside Town of Arromanches

Your day should include a visit to the Caen Memorial Museum, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer, a tour of Pointe du Hoc, as many beaches (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword) as you can fit in, Arromanches-les-Bains and the Pegasus bridge. There are also a number of other cemeteries in the area honoring those that gave their lives from the British Commonwealth and many other countries.

Shell Craters at Pointe du Hoc

Generally, on past visits to France, we have found the French less then accommodating, but, throughout our day, we discovered the people friendly, talkative and still wanting to express gratitude for the American sacrifice on D-Day. While at Pointe du Hoc we saw a number of French school tours visiting and there seemed to be a serious effort to keep that moment in history alive for successive French generations.

Normandy American Cemetery

Even today, visiting the quiet beaches and the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, the enormity of that event in 1944 still has an emotional impact. It is overwhelming to walk thru the Normandy American Cemetery with the 9,387 head stones standing in row after row, like the fallen soldiers they mark. Walking in the cemetery it is hard to process the number of lives lost in so short a time. The land beneath the cemetery is U.S. soil and the cemetery is maintained and operated by American personnel.

90 Foot Cliffs at Pointe du Hoc

At Pointe du Hoc the tops of the cliffs are spotted with the immense concrete German bunkers and the ground is still gouged with the craters made by the Allied naval gun barrages. The most impressive thing, however, is to look down those ninety-foot cliffs and realize that 225 American Rangers climbed them while under attack from German gunfire and bad weather.

In addition to the D-Day experience is a drive through the beautiful French countryside. There are farms and villages spotted with yellow canola fields and bordered by oak trees thick with clusters of mistletoe. All-in-all an unforgettable experience.

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