Travel

Erasmus: places to go if you’re in france

Monaco

Fulfill you curiosity for how the rich and famous holiday with a day out to this principality- don’t even think of spending a night here unless you are prepared to break the bank! You are best advised to visit the principality of Monaco with a tourist company such as Decouverte de la Provence  (30 euro for a return ticket including a guide) as the alternative is taking a bus to Nice and then another to Monaco, and with bus times and such, things can become very complicated. Monaco is the second smallest state in the world after the Vatican City and is composed of 3 parts- Monte Carlo, Monaco-Ville and La Condamine.

What will shock you about the state is the dominance of high rise apartments. In fact their presence can be explained by the lack of land to build on in contrast to the demand for accommodation-Monaco is the second most densely populated state in the world.

Monagascans have had to build vertically rather than horizontally.  Some must sees while in the state of the stars are of course The Princes Palace, home to the royal Grimaldi family, the casinos of Hotel and Café de Paris and Princess Grace’s Gardens. Food can be expensive so a packed lunch can be a good idea. I myself grabbed a pre made baguette from a bakery for 5 euro but the bread was as hard as the diamonds sparkling in Tiffany’s across the road.

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While I will recommend a visit to Monaco to satisfy your hunger for a glimpse of how the elite live, it lacks the simple elegance of other southern French towns with its towering monsters of apartment blocks. Nearby hides a small far prettier town called Eze which is known for its perfume factories that offer free tours and discounted prices from their showrooms.

I visited Fragonard but right next door is the parfumerie of Galimard. Apparently it is someone’s job to smell perfumes.

 The profession of a perfumer requires 3 years of training and is rewarded by a very high salary. While holding such a title you are not allowed to smoke, drink alcohol or eat spicy food so as to protect your sense of smell.

 I left the factory with free samples of perfumes and smelling like a garden of roses-and lilies-and lavender-and daisies. Okay, maybe I took advantage of the testers a tad too much……

Besacon

You don’t have to confine yourself to the South of France. If the laid back attitude of Provence is getting to you, why not migrate further north for a weekend?

Besacon is a cute little town located in the centre east of France in the Franche Comte region. Be enchanted by this fairytale city-with its winding streets, history of watch making and towering Swiss inspired architecture-all enveloped within the city’s famous citadel.

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A climb to the citadel doesn’t require a second thought. The views are breathtaking.

Even though the city does hold a dreamlike quality be assured you are not hallucinating when you see lions, monkeys and buffalo roaming on the sloping fortress.

The Citadel houses a zoo, an insectariums, a reptile house and a Resistance Museum. You can easily spend a day out exploring the heights of Bescaon. 

Having returned to lower lands be sure to taste the region’s Comte cheese and tick off a visit to the house where Victor Hugo was born, if only to please the citizens of Becason, who cling proudly to the fact that the famous writer was born here (despite the fact that he spent most of his life outside of the region ).  Keep count of the streets, cafes, cinemas and shops named after the great writer!

Lyon

Lyon is France’s third largest city and second most densely populated.  The city is divided into three parts by the rivers Saone and Rhone.

The Saone flows between old Lyon and the centre where Place de Bellecoeur can be found. Old Lyon is sprinkled with an assortment of tourist shops and quaint cafes.

However, it is what towers above these winding streets that will catch your breath- the Cathedral on the summit of the Fourviere hill.

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You can reach the peak by car or metro through a tunnel but if the sun is shining down on this golden city, why not climb the steps?

 The views from the top are stunning and portray the immensity of Lyon. Make the climb worthwhile by strolling through the nearby parks and the ancient roman ruins which include an amphitheatre where, if lucky, you may happen to witness a mock gladiator battle. Central Lyon encompasses your general high street shops as well as the Hotel de Ville, theatres and restaurants.

What is much more interesting is La Croix Rousse area.  This area is marked by the silk industry which Lyon is famous for.

To make the act of carrying bags of silk up and down the steep hills less difficult, the canuts (the silk workers) avoided having to confine themselves to lugging heavy sacks around street corners by constructing secret passageways through the areas building called Traboules.

A guided tour of this area is recommended where you will be shocked to learn that the best silk comes from Brazil and not China, and that silk is not just used in clothes but in medical and even SNCF equipment! Lyon is not just famous for its silk weaving history- the Lumiere brothers, marionettes and of course food. Lyon is crowned the food capital of France.

Why not try some traditional Lyonnaise cuisine with a visit to a Bouchon restaurant that will entice you with pates, sausages and thick meaty sauces. Not a great lover of meat, I traded a trip to a Bouchon for a rendez-vous at the bakers to find out why most of the viennois of Lyon were filled with pink coloured balls. 

Thus began my love affair with Brioche aux Pralines. Pralines, coated with a sugary crispy coating and coloured a neon pink from natural beetroot extracts, are a creation of this city.  I had a special moment with a lump of warm brioche that concealed these pink pieces of heaven.

As with most French cities, Lyon has its own very “Arabian” world. Crossing the Rhone you will find yourself surrounded by shops selling kebabs, saris and Bollywood films.

If spending a night in Lyon you will be advised to stay clear of this area. Did I follow this advice? No. My hostel was smack bang in the centre of this area and I lived to tell the tale. As with all big cities, just keep your wits about you and you will be fine. Sadly,

I was not in Lyon for its annual Festival of Lights which takes place from the 5th-8th December but was informed it was a spectatular show and did the City of Light justice.