Honeymoon in France – Day 8 South of France – Les Baux, Aix en Provence and Nice

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The drive from Avignon to Nice is over 280km (if you avoid the toll roads), so it’s probably a good idea to break up the journey and visit some stunning places along the way.

Being a sucker for dreamy hilltop villages, we decide to visit Les Baux which is a good 30 minute drive south of Avignon. It’s a pretty yet commercial village, but go early enough and you avoid all the crowds. Parking costs 5€ per day no matter how long you stay. There is no parking directly in the village, so you complete the rest of the journey on foot up a steepish hill. The later you arrive to visit, the longer your walk will be as parking spaces along the road fill up pretty quickly.

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Les Baux truly is beautiful with its small alleys, cobblestones and magnificent views. There are plenty of restaurants and shops as well to keep you fed and occupied in case the scenery isn’t enough.

After a good two hours we drive off to Avignon – another wee city in the Provence I visited 16 years ago with my gran. It’s a gorgeous city and we’re lucky with the weather as well. Due to time constraints we limit our visit to the old part of town and Pavillon de Vendome which is surrounded by beautiful gardens.

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Honeymoon in France – Day 7 South of France – Tour of Chateuneuf du Pape

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I love wine. Especially reds and even more especially Chateuneuf du Pape reds. Here’s a bit of wine education for you. Chateuneuf is an AOC area within the Rhone Valley that is governed by rules and regulations set to protect the quality of the Chateuneuf wines and their name. Each winemaker wanting to sell his wine under the prestigious Chateuneuf du Pape label needs to follow a strict set of rules for the wine production and even bottling. Grenache is the main grape used in the wines, with the Syrah variety being the most popular addition. Only 13 grape varieties are allowed to be used for the production of Chateuneuf and it’s up to the winemakers expertise and knowledge to blend the different grapes into one outstanding product.

Chateuneuf is the highest quality Cotes du Rhone wine you can buy with Cotes du Rhone villages wines claiming an inferior second place. The lowest quality wines are labelled Cotes du Rhone. Generally, in the UK, only the red Chateuneuf is available, but the white exists as well. However, only 5% of the total production is white wines.

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The bottle below is a 2007 Chateuneuf special and the best wine we’ve ever tasted. At 55€ it’s definitely the most expensive one as well. We saved that for another time and decided that £100 for 6 bottles of wine is enough for a day.

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After our trip to some of the vineyards and the wine museum (which is free) we followed a local’s recommendation and went to Le Pistou for lunch. It was delicious! Brian went for a steak with peppercorn sauce and I had the beef carpaccio at a very resonable 16€ and 17€ respectively. I would happily recommend Le Pistou if you’re ever in the area. It gets really busy for lunch though, so it might be worthwhile making a reservation.

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We head back to Avignon to visit the famous half bridge of Avignon and the Papal Palace in daytime and then watch the world go by (and a fight amongst Avignon’s finest) before heading back to the hotel.

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Honeymoon in France – Day 6 South of France – Pont du Gard and Avignon

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Suffering slightly from a little too much craft beer and a lack of food from the previous evening, we leave Montpellier at around 11am and drive towards our next destination Pont du Gard.

There are parking spaces for Pont du Gard on either side of the river. We opt for the left bank, pay the 18€ fee which includes the car and up to five passengers and walk the 400m toward the stunning Roman aqueduct. There are viewpoints on top of the hills on both sides of the aqueduct and postcard picture opportunities from the banks of the river Gard.

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We spent approximately two hours at Pont du Gard and the drive towards Avignon. Out hotel, Le Colbert, is right in the city centre inside the city walls, so parking is only available at one of the big underground car parks. Be prepared to spend around 20€ per day or even if you leave your car overnight. There are slightly cheaper parking spaces available outside the city walls, but the ones we checked out look less secure, so we don’t mind paying the extra 3€ at the modern and well lit Jean Jaures car park.

We take a quick power nap in the hotel and then explore Avignon at dawn.

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With so many bakeries around and two bottles of Languedoc’s finest awaiting us, we stock up on quiche and a filled baguette and head back to the hotel room.

Honeymoon in France – Day 5 South of France – Montpellier

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We get up early to pick up breakfast from the local boulangerie and then leave Carcassonne behind without another visit to the old city and drive off to Montpellier. I finally manage to find some canelé in a bakery and what can I say, it’s delicious and so worth the five day wait. The texture is so soft and fluffy, the taste utterly butterly, it melts in your mouth. Make sure to put these little delicious pastries down as one of your must eats when in France.

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We’ve been warned that Montpellier isn’t very pretty, but we feel different about it. It’s got a gorgeous old town centre with small cobblestoned alleys, numerous bars, coffee shops and eateries. We really quite like it and love wandering around the narrow back streets. It’s very charming. We stop off for some coffee at Coffee Club and then visit Cathédrale St-Pierre, the university and Esplanade Charles de Gaulle.

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Montpellier has a large student population, so there are numerous bars and pubs that offer Happy Hours. We spend the evening in one of the more popular and busy hangouts watching the world go by.

Honeymoon in France – Day 4 South of France – Toulouse to Carcassonne

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Our trip to Paris has come to an end and we’re flying south to Toulouse from Paris Orly. Easy and cheaper to reach than CDG, we invest the money we saved on train tickets in macarons from Laduree. They’re delicious and less expensive at the airport than in the shop on Champs Elysees.

Once in Toulouse we pick up our car for thebweek. We decided to hire a car in advance to make it easier to reach our different destinations and have printed off Google Map directions before we went on our honeymoon. We’re avoiding toll roads and are driving mainly through the countryside which gives us the chance to take in the French countryside and villages all of which have at least one boulangerie and boucherie.

We arrive in Carcassonne late afternoon, do some research on local restaurants only to realize that most of them are closed on Sundays. So we just head out in search of any bistro that is open and serves cassoulet – a regional thick white bean stew with confit duck and pork sausage. We find a restaurant on the main square and at 15€ the price is fair. The cassoulet is ok, not something I’d have to eat every week of the year.

After dinner we walk across to the old city, expecting quiet and charming back alleys, picturesque and silent squares, but instead end up in a commercial hotspot for restaurants, hotels and “artisan” craft shops. Not our cup of tea, so we just take a few pictures of the less touristic spots (which are rare) and walk back to our self-catering apartment.

Carcassonne was a bit of a disappointment for us. It was meant to be one of the highlights of our trip, but has ended up being the first and hopefully only low.

The walled city of Mdina in Malta is far more impressive and I guess we were just expecting to be as awed by Carcassonne as we are by the Maltese old capital each time we visit.

Honeymoon in France – Day 3 Paris – Montmartre and Cimetière du Père Lachaise

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We’re zigzagging across the city today, so a day-ticket for the metro at 7€ each is definitely worth our while. First stop: Blanche in Montmartre.

The Blanche metro is opposite the famous Moulin Rouge which photographs extremely well. Shows at the Moulin Rouge are very expensive and start at around 130€, so we saved that for another visit.

Following the Lonely Planet’s Montmartre walking tour, we retrace the steps of some of the world’s most famous painters and writers. Breakfast was easy enough to find. There are a few cafes on Rue Lepic, but we opted for a small artisan boulangerie, stocking up on Quiche Lorraine, a tarte suisse and a flakey chocolate twist. So yummie!

Heading uphill, we pass Theo van Gogh’s former home (where his famous painter brother Vincent stayed with him from 1886 to 1888), another two moulins (mills) and the cabaret Au Lapin Agile. Directly opposite is the Clos Montmartre – a tiny vineyard that produces a mere 800 bottles of wine a year.

At the top of hill is Montmartre’s most visited tourist attraction – Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.

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For 6€ each we climbed the 300 steps up the tower and were rewarded with stunning views over Paris’ rooftops, the Eiffel tower and Montparnasse.

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Taking a different route downhill, we end up in Paris’ renowned red light district Pigalle (definitely not one for the kids as numerous sex shops and not so artistic dance establishments line the main street). A quick coffee to refuel some energy later, we walk back to Blanche to take the metro to Père Lachaise.

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The cemetery of Père Lachaise is huge. To find the graves you want to visit, a map is essential. The Lonely Planet has a half day walking tour and pretty good map. Official maps are available from the main entrance which is open Monday to Friday, but closed at weekends. There are also signposted maps at all entrances and main intersections. All main lanes are named and the cemetery is split into numbered sections which in theory makes it easier to find the graves you’re looking for.

In about three hours we managed to visit Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Frederic Chopin, the potato grave, Molière and La Fontaine, Monsieur Noir (“the guy with the crotch”), Oscar Wilde and went around the urn walls in the crematorium. You could easily spend more time wandering amongst the grand graves and get lost in this tranquil place (provided that your shoes are comfy and your belly fed).

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We headed back to our accommodation for a quick bite to eat and a bottle of wine, and then went back out to take pictures of Paris’ sights at night time. We really made the most of those day tickets.

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Honeymoon in France – Day 2 Paris – Paris on foot

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The best thing about Paris is that it’s so walkable. And that there is a boulangerie on almost every street or street corner which means you can stock op on all the carbs you need to complete the sightseeing marathon on foot.

We walked from Le Marais, to Notre Dame, to the Louvre, down the Champs Elysees all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, across to the Eiffel Tower and back along the Seine to Le Marais. I’ve not got a pedometer, but I reckon the walk was between 20 to 25km. It didn’t feel that way though. Paris is just so beautiful, you don’t realize how many steps you take as you’re too busy taking in all the picturesque buildings and sights.

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We stopped for lunch at cafe/bistro/restaurant Laduree on Champs Elysees for lunch. The cafe is renowned for its macarons which are baked to perfection. They can be purchased downstairs over a long display counter adjacent to the cafe. Intrigued by the splendid, almost royalesque, interiour we decided to get into the queue for a table. Kind of wish we hadn’t bothered. Needless to say the items on the menu were completely overpriced. A bottle of 33cl coke costs almost 9€, a bottle of still water 8€. Not wanting to break the bank on our first “treat” we went for the Croque Madame and Croque Monsieur. At 20€ and 22€ respectively, we expected the most amazing sandwich, chips and salad ever. Oh, what disappointment we had to face when the order arrived… Brian’s Croque Madame had been so “creatively” deconstructed by the chef, that it looked an overtoasted double-sided toastie from which all the filling had evaporated. Tastewise it didn’t deliver either, but reminded us of good old Smith’s Frazzles. My Croque Monsieur was more like a wrap but at least didn’t have many similarities with one of Britain’s favourite lunchtime snacks. The four chips ww got each, nicely assembled in a little Jenga tower, were lacking flavour and the salad was a couple of undressed leaves. Style over substance all the way! Service was ok, but so busy that we could have gotten away with getting paid to eat in the place as the waitress left our bank note in with the change when she returned it. We can’t comment on the macarons themselves, but they looked pretty fluffy.

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The clouds intermittently cleared up in the afternoon, so got some good shots of the Eiffel tower and us posing in front of it 🙂 It is an amazing tower. Almost as impressive as the one in Blackpool 😉 Joking apart, I didn’t think I’d be impressed by it, but I was. I could have stared at it all day and not got bored of looking at it.

Notre Dame is equally amazing, but oh so busy. We’re used to churches being serene, peaceful places, but this one isn’t. We never managed to go up the tower, because of the long queues either, but managed to get a brilliant view of the city the next day from the tower of Sacre Coeur. We didn’t go into the Louvre either. There is just too much to see to cram it into a two day visit to Paris.

Dinner consisted of more cheese and, this time, just the one bottle of wine.