The Highest Road in Europe?

In the easternmost part of Provence, near the border with Italy, lies the wild and rugged Mercantour National Park. It is famous for its natural beauty, its Bronze Age stone carvings and its growing population of grey wolves. It is also home to the Route de la Bonette, a road that claims to be the highest in all of Europe. But is it?

The Swiss, Austrians, Spaniards and others would disagree, as they all believe they possess higher roads. But the proud French claim top honors and even have official road signs proclaiming their triumph.

What’s not in dispute is that the Route de la Bonette is a high road indeed and is famous among cyclists–it’s been part of the Tour de France a number of times. My article explores the history of the road, some interesting sights to see, and a link to a short video of this beautiful part of France.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

Brilliant Roussillon

If you love color, you’ll love Roussillon.

This charming village is perched on a hilltop in Provence’s Luberon Valley, the region made famous by Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’. But Roussillon’s fame came long before Mayle, as it was once the world capital of ochre.

Ochre is a naturally occurring pigment that comes in an astonishing variety of colors, from bright shades of yellow and orange to vivid red and purple. It is embedded in certain clays and prehistoric people used it for cave paintings. The pigment can be extracted to create dyes, and ochre mining was once a big business, with Roussillon its world center.

The ochre quarries are now abandoned but they are a delightful place to visit, walking though an almost unbelievably colorful landscape. The village is also a pleasant place to wander through, with its buildings all painted in different shades of ochre.

Read all about it in My French Life!

Light and Magic in France

What do you do with a giant cavern?

That was the question that vexed the Provençal village of Les Baux-de-Provence. For centuries, giant blocks of white limestone had been extracted from a nearby mountain to build the town and its towering château. But by 1935, competition had forced the limestone quarry to close, leaving behind a massive, ghostly chamber. There it sat for decades, cold and silent, waiting for someone to restore it to glory.

That someone was Albert Plécy, a photographer and filmmaker, who arrived in 1975 with the idea of a “total image.” He installed a few giant projectors that flooded the cavern with color, projecting images that he coordinated with music. For viewers inside the cavern, it was a kind of total immersion that he called the Cathedral d’Images–the Cathedral of Images.

From this modest beginning, the program has slowly become more sophisticated and today it uses hundreds of cutting-edge projectors and complex computer control. Now called the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light), the site is run by Culturespaces, France’s leading private manager of museums and art centers. Carrières de Lumières has become one of Provence’s leading tourist attractions and has led to the creation of “siblings” in Paris, Bordeaux, and South Korea.

Read about these magical siblings in France Today!

Provence and the Greatest Power of the Ancient World

Fontvieille is a charming Provençal village in the south of France, close to Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

This quaint town has a lovely old lavoir (wash house), a shady central square, and a bustling open-air market on Monday mornings. It is a delightful place to spend a few pleasant hours and is also the perfect base for exploring three outstanding nearby sites.

First is the windmill immortalized by Alphonse Daudet in his beloved classic Letters from my Windmill. Then there is the ancient Montmajour Abbey, a favorite of Vincent Van Gogh. Finally there are the remains of the Romans’ Barbegal aqueduct and mills, part of the system that brought water to the city of Arles. They were so vast that they could mill enough grain for 12,000 people a day and have been called, “the greatest concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world.”

That is quite a lot to see! It makes for a lovely day trip.

Read all about it in The Good Life France!

The Hollywood Glamour of Monaco

Monaco is a small country with a big reputation. Surrounded by France, it sits just a few miles from Nice on the French Riviera. Monaco is famous for its Monte Carlo Casino, its annual Formula One race, and the elegance of the late Princess Grace. The principality’s stunning beauty has attracted filmmakers for decades, who have used it as the backdrop for films starring a long list of Hollywood legends.

Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and Yves Montand are just a few of the stars who have been filmed in Monaco. And let’s not forget James Bond, who seems to have a special affinity for the place, whether he’s being played by Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan.

Read all about Monaco’s Hollywood legacy and watch some film clips at Perfectly Provence!

Insider Tips for Paris in the Summertime

Summer is here! From Paris Plages to sunny sidewalk terrasses, Paris is particularly magical in the summer months, the late sunsets drawing locals to the riverbank and canal quays to revel in the ambiance.

The wonderful website Bonjour Paris asked its contributors (I’m one) for their favorite spot in Paris during the warm summer months. Want to escape to a secret island? Swim in an Art Deco pool? Enjoy a coffee in a royal garden? Then check out this article…and discover my own insider tip.

Read all about it in Bonjour Paris!

Where I Live

I was asked recently by Perfectly Provence to describe St-Rémy-de-Provence, the town where my wife Val and I live part of the year. What is there to see and do? Where is our favorite place for coffee or an apéro? How about our top picks for a romantic meal or for a casual bite to eat?

For anyone considering a visit to St-Rémy, you might find this helpful.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

Roman Provence

Provence is famous for its charming hilltop villages, brilliant sunflowers, and fragrant lavender. It is also where you can find some of the best Roman ruins in all of Europe. This is because Provence was once an important part of the Roman Empire. The Romans even gave it its name: “Provence” comes from the original Latin “Provincia Romana.”

If you like beautiful temples, magnificent amphitheaters, and stunning aqueducts as tall as an 18-story building, then Provence is the place for you. Let’s take a look at some of the best of these Roman sites.

Read all about it at The Good Life France!

Bring French Culture into Your Life…Virtually!

Oh, to be in France in the spring! My wife and I live part of the year in St-Rémy-de-Provence but, like a lot of people, have had to cancel our travel plans. Now we are sheltering-in-place and yearning for sunny days in the South of France.

But all is not lost! We are still connected to la belle France virtually and you can be, too. There are plenty of books, movies, and TV shows that can transport you to that magical land. You can whip up dinner a la français and imagine you are in a cozy Paris bistro. And if you’d like to combine tourism with murder mysteries, I’ve got just the show for you.

Check out the resources I’ve put together for you in Perfectly Provence!

A Delightful Trip to Middle-of-Nowhere France

Oh boy, I love books about France and this is one of the best.

France is full of fascinating places to visit, like Paris, Provence, the Riviera, Normandy, and more. There are so many that it’s hard to decide where to go! Well, it just got harder because Janine Marsh’s description of her tiny village in “middle-of-nowhere-France” is so delightful that you’ll want to go there, too. I know I do.

Fifteen years ago, Janine and her husband Mark bought a wreck of a house in the Seven Valleys region of northern France. They didn’t plan to buy a house; they were on a shopping trip from their home in London and stumbled into a real estate office to get out of the rain. The next thing they knew they were looking at a place that cost “less than a Hermes handbag.” They bought it as a bit of a lark, thinking it would make a nice place for vacations and the occasional weekend getaway.

But life had other plans. The little village captured their hearts and soon they packed up and moved to France. The next dozen years were spent refurbishing the house (including a septic tank explosion that earned Janine the nickname Madame Merde), collecting a vast collection of farm animals (including a demented chicken named Ken) and settling into the local community.

Janine and Mark are those rarest of birds, expats who have really become members of a French village. They drink at a local bar that looks like someone’s living room circa 1955. They play charades with their neighbors, where everyone fights to play Johnny Holliday or Edith Piaf. They chat with the bread delivery man—their village is too tiny to support a boulangerie—who occasionally has questions about English (“What means the expression, ‘It sucks?’”)

The best part of the book is the way Janine writes about of her neighbors, a friendly and occasionally eccentric crew who have welcomed Janine and Mark with great warmth. There’s Jean-Claude, who teaches them how to trim hedges and make crow pâté. And Claudette, always ready with a hot cup of coffee and a plate of something tasty. And “Miss Pepperpot,” the tiny lady who occasionally needs help getting wayward cows out of her flowerbed, and offers jars of homemade jam as thanks.

I love Janine’s writing and laughed when she described a young couple falling in love over a shared passion for mushroom hunting (“one fungi led to another…”) And her description of a strong local drink (“Calvados can blow your socks off, and after a couple of hours we were all pretty much sockless.”)

If you are stuck at home and looking for something to brighten your day, think about taking a trip to this delightful corner of France. I just loved this book and I think you will, too.

You can find My Four Seasons in France on Amazon.