Moscow on the Med: The Russian Cathedral of Nice

There are so many fun things to do in Nice—you can walk along the Promenade des Anglais, enjoy the view from one of those famous blue chairs, and dig into a salad niçoise  in the Old Town. Now here’s one to add to your list: visit the most Russian spot in France, the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral.

This magnificent structure was built in 1912 in memory of Nicholas Alexandrovich, the one-time heir to the Russian throne who died in Nice of meningitis. It was designed in the classic Old Russian style, with five beautiful onion domes. Seeing the cathedral you think you’ve somehow stumbled into Moscow. Today the cathedral is a National Monument of France and one of the most visited sites of the French Riviera.

Read all about this unique site in Perfectly Provence!

Carrières de Lumières—Only in Provence

Imagine walking into a massive cavern inside a mountain. The walls shoot straight up and the ceiling is high above your head. Here and there are side chambers, and rough-hewn benches are carved into the walls. The whole place looks drab in the dim light—you wonder why your friends keep saying “You can’t miss it!”

Even after having looked at the photos and having viewed the promotional video, the actual experience of the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light) is almost impossible to describe. But once the lights go out and the magic starts, you just know you have to tell your friends, “You can’t miss it!”

Read all about this unique Provencal spot in My French Life. It’s part of my “Only in Provence” series and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Hilltop Villages of the Côte d’Azur

When most people think of the Côte d’Azur, they think of glamorous spots like Cannes, Antibes, and Nice—beautiful cities, all of them. But this glorious corner of France is also home to charming inland villages that are well worth a visit.

There’s high Gourdon, the Eagle’s Nest. And Saint-Martin-Vésubie in the so-called  Little Switzerland of Provence. And let’s not forget the “Tibetan village” of Saorge.

You can see a garden designed by the same architect who designed the famous gardens of Versailles, a monastery famous for its ancient sundials, and visit a park where wolves roam free. It’s a fascinating region of France.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

The Surprising History of Jewish Provence

People are often surprised to learn that France has the third-largest Jewish population in the world, after Israel and the United States.

And they are even more surprised to learn that for centuries the center of Jewish life in France wasn’t Paris, it was Provence… thanks to the Pope!

How did this happen?

Jews have long been subject to persecution in France, as in many places.

In the Middle Ages, French Jews were the victims of murders, riots, and outright expulsions. There were few places where they were allowed to live, even fewer jobs they were allowed to hold, and many were forced to wear a yellow star.

Life was intolerable… but hope beckoned in the south.

Learn all about the surprising history of Jewish Provence in My French Life!

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!

10 Great Movies Set in Paris

Paris has long attracted filmmakers and why not? The beauty of Paris makes any movie better! And when you add in glamorous movie stars like Audrey Hepburn and Alain Delon back in the 1960s or Tom Cruise and Audrey Tautou today, what you get is visually stunning. Paris is one of the stars, and so beautiful you can’t look away from it.

An American in Paris? The Da Vinci Code? Mission Impossible? The list of movies set in Paris is long. Let’s take a look at 10 favorites, plus a longer list for you to browse.

Read all about it 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!