I have to say, our trip from Avignon to Paris was interesting. We arrived at the Avignon Train Station early to catch our HIGH SPEED, 1st CLASS BULLET TRAIN to Paris. It was rather confusing as there were two trains listed going to Paris at the same time on the same platform. Our train was listed first (yes I did check the # of the train). Of course, the announcement for the train when it arrived was in French (I mean who in the world of the brilliant and sophisticated can’t speak French). We boarded the train and found our seats and the train left the station. As we were traveling along, the steward came with another couple and asked to see our tickets. Yah, you got it right, we were on the other train. So as our HIGH SPEED, 1st CLASS BULLET TRAIN to Paris went whizzing past us we took pull down seats in the area between the cars and spent our time getting to DISNEYLAND PARIS. It was only about 50 miles from where we wanted to go and there was a taxi willing to take us to the Hotel!$$$$!!! Yea, you got that right too! The only bright spot in the whole trip was that we didn’t have to lug our backpacks and extra suitcase on the underground to our Hotel.
Scenes of Paris –
I know you have seen it all before so how do I make it more interesting, more exciting, more wonderful, more beautiful (more boring!- – – -), well we took all our scenic photos from the top of a two-decker tour bus (us old grey hairs don’t like to walk so much)!
Hey, another photo of the Arc de Triomphe! Well, no this is a photo of the front window of the tour bus and the damn arch got in the way!
So I thought that I would try again, but the Church Ste. Marie Madeleine got in the way. When I looked at the photo on the camera, I asked Jan “when did we get to Athens, Greece?” It does resemble the Parthenon, doesn’t it?
So I asked her why all these old buildings kept getting in the way of my photos. She said, “Try taking them out the side of the bus”, so I did, but I didn’t get a photo of the window. I got a photo of the River Seine.
Oh well, the window wasn’t that pretty anyway and beside I got really interested in all the gold in Paris.
As we entered the Esplanade des Invalides (I think that means, ‘Way to the Castle’) there were four pillars with gold horses (with wings?) and some gal blowing a long horn. I don’t have a clue what that was supposed represent, but it sure was impressive.
Not much further on was another gold dome on the top of the Church of St. Louis (Eglise Du Dome St. Louis) and downtown was another roof covered with copper and gold statues. Boy, the French sure do like their gold! But that wouldn’t even hold a candle to what we saw the next day.
But hey, we are still on the two-decker bus and there was another scene that caught my eye out the side of the bus.
The bus driver said this place was called the Place du Trocadero (which is the Palace called ‘Palais du Chaillot’) with a view of the Eiffel Tower across the River Seine. I thought it was a pretty neat picture especially from the top deck of a tour bus!
We got of the tour bus just at the corner just below the Eiffel Tower very close to a French Restaurant where we had lunch. Rather, I should say Jan had lunch and I had a BEER! I thought I was in Germany again!
So we started our walking tour of Paris and the first stop was at the Eiffel Tower from the ground. I have to admit it was pretty impressive!
From the Eiffel Tower to the Island of Notre Dame was a good long walk, so we decided to take the Paris Underground. Now THAT WAS REALLY IMPRESSIVE and even more confusing, but us old grey hairs finally figured it out. So we toured island with probably one of the most beautiful churches in the world.
We had really wanted to take the tour through Notre Dame, but again the lines were very long. After Rome, plus our 25th day on the road, we were not in the mood for another line. They were working on the front of the church redoing the parking and plaza in front so it definitely was not picturesque.
From Notre Dame we crossed the River Seine to the Latin Quarter and walked to the Gardens of Luxembourg. It was a refreshing spot to relax after a busy day of touring.
The castle was huge with a huge basin of water in front. The front of the castle surrounded by several acres of grounds with trees, fountains and gardens which were very lush and cool in the afternoon sun. People were everywhere lounging and relaxing in the warmth and the beauty.
We joined them!
On our way back to the Hotel, we stopped at the Oldest Continually Operated Café in Paris (1660) and had a Tanqueray and Tonic (they were very hard to find in Paris and $).
Our last day in Paris – started early with a train ride to Versailles. We had our tickets to get into the Palace already so we would miss the crowds standing in line. OH, YES! THAT REALLY WORKED! I think that line was made up by the Paris Ticket Company that sold the advance tickets!
Now you talk about the Parisians loving their gold – visit Versailles! All this gold, no wonder the French revolted!
After entering the Versailles grounds and through the first gate, there is a very large parade grounds in front of the main palace. It is probably 150 feet x 150 feet of stone paved area. In the photo above, all you can see is people in front of the gate to the castle. That is because there is a line that is snaking around in the parade grounds to pass through the security to the castle. When I described as snaking, that is what it does. From the parade ground entrance, it starts toward the golden gate and then turns before it gets to the gate and goes back to the entrance of the parade ground (150 feet each direction). The line is six times up to the gate and back before you get to the security entrance.
We arrived at the entrance gate at about 9 am and there were that many people in the line ahead of us just to get through security before we could use our prepaid tickets to get into the castle. Jan and I stood in the first line for an hour and still hadn’t made it to the next line. WE LEFT!
Back in Paris, we wanted to finish our visit of the Latin Quarter and the beautiful garden that we saw on our way to the Luxembourg Palace.
At Place du Cluny there are gardens surrounding the ancient Hotel de Cluny and the Thermes De Cluny. Would you believe in the heart of Paris are the remains of a 3rd century Roman Baths? The structure above is the Hotel De Cluny built by the Abbotts of Cluny in 1334 from the remains of the Roman baths next door.
Where but in Paris would you expect to find a scene like this?
This is Hotel de Cluny from the back and the entrance to the Museum de Cluny. In 1834, Jacques d’Amboise converted the old hotel into a museum to hold the Sommerard collection of Medieval Art. There were old tapestries, icons, wooden carvings and enamels from the 1300 to 1500 time period.
They were quite remarkable because they had been so well preserved, especially the old tapestries (photos not allowed).
As we left the old hotel/museum part of the structure, we went down a stairs to the hidden entrance to the Roman baths.
The first exhibit was some of the interesting remains from the destruction caused during the revolutionary war. All the decapitated stone bodies and the desecrated heads were from the previous Kings of France. The originals were in Notre Dame. During the revolution, the people decapitated the statues and took out their frustration on the heads. I guess the French finally got tired of all the gold on the building and none in their pockets. It was quite an interesting display!
The gallery also had the statue of Adam from the interior of Notre Dame plus some of the decoration of the original Roman baths. The only visible remains of the baths were on the far end of the building.
The final visit on our last afternoon in Paris was to the Louve. Jan really wanted to see Mona Lisa so we took our prepaid tickets and headed to castle.
Triumph Arch is at the entrance to the Louvre Palace grounds containing the famous Louvre Museum. The Louvre was originally built as a fortress in the 12th century by the then French King Phillip. In 1682, Louis XIV expanded the fortress into the present Louvre Palace. After the French Revolution, the Louvre was made into a museum to house all the history of the world.
I visited the Louvre in 1973 and was very disappointed in the condition of the artifacts in the museum. At that time the Louvre had fallen into disrepair and many of the windows and skylights were broken. Pigeons and their droppings were inside the building and on many of the displays. I left totally disgusted.
The new Louvre is now worthy of all the treasures that it holds, over 35,000 objects of history. The glass pyramids in the courtyard provides a modern feel to the entrance of the museum and the underground access to the various parts of the museum handle the Enormous Crowds about as well as can be expected. Although it still can be very confusing. We spent hours wandering around the halls of the museum trying to find the Mona Lisa without too much success. We walked through the huge stone statues of the bulls of Mesopotamia, the bowls and urns of the Chinese Ming Dynasty, the mummies of the Egyptian Pharaohs and every doorway we went through had a little with card that said Mona Lisa with an arrow pointing.
Finally we walked into a hallway loaded with people and knew we must be getting close. Sure enough at the end of the hallway was a room off to the side filled with people. The walls of the room were bare except for the far wall and in the center of it was the Mona Lisa. Jan burrowed into the crowd of about 100 people to get close enough to take a photo of the painting. I stayed toward the back, but I could see the painting. The man next to me said, “What’s the big deal. That don’t look so great!” I said, “I don’t know, but I think she is pretty!”
What a wonderful area of France! We again took the train from Nice to Marseille. Much of the route was along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea through the famous cities of Antibes, Cannes and Toulon although from the train, they weren’t that glamorous. We switched trains to travel on to Arles through the delta region of the Rhone River valley. The area was beautiful, mostly produce farms and rolling green hills of vineyards providing the world famous food of Provence.
We arrived at the train station on the north side of the old town and walked the short distance to the old Roman gates and watch towers of the ancient city walls. Our hotel was just behind the gate on the right (yellow). When we checked in the hotel, the lady at the desk ask if we came for the May Day celebration the next day. We told her that we were unaware that there was a celebration. She told us about the traditional May Day parade to the Church of Notre Dame and the blessing of animals and showed us where to go to watch it.
Our room was nice size, very comfortable and looked out over the city wall and the two gate towers from our room window
We spent the rest of the day exploring the old town of Arles which was a fascinating mix of ancient, medieval, old and new. The monument building to the right at the very entrance to the streets of Arles was a fountain built in tribute to Amedee Pichot by his son in 1868. The fountain split the two main streets entering the north end of Arles.
Since the streets are very narrow (most are chariot width!), most of the streets are closed off by metal poles, others are limited to one way traffic and very few are open to vehicles.
Those that are open to traffic are not wide enough for two together as this trucker found out!
One of the streets from the Pichot fountain led to the Place Du Forum, an open plaza set up with tables and canopies for eating. Surrounding the plaza (Place) were a variety of sidewalk restaurants that serviced the open plaza.
Other single or smaller restaurants with only one or two tables could be often found as we wandered around in the old city.
The old city was a very interesting blend of old (even ancient) and new. There would be a newer building with an ancient Roman doorway, or a very old stone wall with a new gate cut into it leading to a courtyard of a newer resident. Likewise a newer dwelling or room built into an ancient structure.
Yet there was a high levee topped by a walkway built out of stone that ran along the Rhone River to separate and protect the old town from the river flooding.
And down the streets next to the ancient amphitheater was the Church and Cloister of Saint Trophime built between the 12th and 15th centuries.
MAY DAY –
We got up early (at least for us) the next morning and decided to go directly to the Church of Notre Dame for the blessing of the animals rather than trying to meet up with the parade in the narrow streets of old town. We noticed that ropes with streamers of ribbons and cloth were hung for decoration across the streets where the parade was coming.
As we walked toward the church, we noticed an older woman dressed in a beautiful gown hurrying toward the church so we followed her. Sure enough she took us directly to the Church of Notre Dame.
The plaza area in front of the church was surrounded by a chained-link fence. People were beginning to gather behind it to watch the blessing of the animals. We quickly followed suit and found a good spot where we could see everything that was happening.
Then began the parade of elders starting with the ladies dressed in their finest (style of the late-1800’s) and the men with their black suits, white shirts and black hats. Then came the young women and the young ladies club with their banner, followed by the girls. Next in line came the young boys and girls.
When they had all entered and formed by the front of the church, the parade that had wound through the streets of the town started entering the plaza. Then the mothers with their small childen and babies followed quickly. The carriages were very old, in excellent condition and on obvious display with their babies. The people and their children were all standing and waiting as a carriage pulled by two white horses entered the plaza.
There were horses lined up as far as we could see on the streets through the buildings.
Next began the entrance of the individual horses and their riders. In most cases, it was young men and young women riding side-saddle behind their male, but occasionally in would be a young boy with a young lady behind him. They all filed in one horse at a time and took their place in lines eventually forming seven lines across the plaza which included over 200 horses and their riders. All of the horses were white and were said to be of a special breed used entirely around the area of Arles. Once the plaza was full, the local priest came through each line of the horses swinging their spray bulbs of holy water blessing all the horses and then the blessing was finished. All the women on the horses were helped down and the horses were ridden back out of the plaza. All the remaining people left the plaza to spend the day in the old town.
We also spent the rest of the day wandering through the town, enjoying the scenery and occasionally meeting some of the locals like the young family shown above with young daughter and baby and the mother and daughter dressed to the nines.
That evening we celebrated May Day, thanks to Mark and Christine, enjoying dinner at a small restaurant called ‘Jadin de Arts’. It was located in the chapel of an old church.
The church had been demolished and was now a garden beside the chapel. The dinner was delicious and the warm chocolate tart with liquid chocolate fudge leaking out the side was incredible!
ANCIENT ROMAN ARLES –
The last day that we were in Arles, we concentrated on the old Roman part of the town. We started by walking around the outside of the old town to the ‘Porte D’Aguste’, the original entrance to Roman Arles. Attached to the gate.
A stone wall extended down to the south east corner of old town where another opening in the wall occurred. Note the graffiti on the wall. Almost all of Europe seems to be covered with it too. Except that Switzerland seems to either clean it off or make the artists??, do it! Maybe they are not bothered by it because the Swiss love their country so much that they don’t want to defile it!
As we walked through Arles, there was the old Church of Saint Julien which in no longer open to visitors and is in the process of being renovated. Behind it is the Priory of Malta holding the Museum Reattu. It is a very old church that looks like it at one time burned out the inside. Now it is a modern museum holding some pieces of art from Picasso and Reattu.
On around the northern side of Arles, we came upon an old ruin called, ‘Thermes De Constantin’, the baths of Constantine. The drawing on the left was done in the 1500’s while the baths were still used and the drawing on the right is what the baths originally looked like.
The area next to the round front (shown in the upper photo) is the hot room where the fires were built to heat the water brought in from the river. The red arch in the lower corner was the original firebox. The interior rooms of the baths are ruined; however, the short walls shown in the photo is the support for the floor. The hot water filled the area below the floor and provided the steam for the baths.
In the southeastern part of the old city just inside of the old city walls were the heart of the old Roman city and most of the ruins. The entrance to the Roman Theater was a restored wall with three openings to the theater (closed iron gates). The entire area of the theater is an archeological site and in the process of restoration. Beyond the gates was a stone walkway into the theater with stone platforms along the side, which originally held statues of the Gods. The statues have disappeared into museums.
The ‘Theater Antique’ was built by Emperor Agustus in 30 BC. It could seat 10,000 spectators. The twin columns in the foreground are the remains of the stage façade across the front of the seating area.
Arles has it’s own Collosseum; however, there they called it “The Amphitheater’ or ‘Circus’ and it was designed as a smaller version of the Collosseum of Rome seating only 20,000 people. It was completed in 90 BC and was used for entertainment by the Romans including chariot racing and Gladiator fighting. It is in much better condition than the Collosseum of Rome.
In the 5th century AD after the fall of Rome, the people of Arles used it as a shelter from the waring tribes around them and during Medieval times built over 200 houses inside the structure for protection. They added four towers to the top of the structure as fighting towers during the tribal wars. I thought that the thickness of walls of the structure was very impressive and was probably a good reason that the Amphitheater was still in such good condition. The Amphitheater is still in use today and a mock bullfight was held in it on May Day while we were there. It is now generally used for bull fights, plays and concerts.
We only had three days in Arles and were on our last leg of our trip. We could have spent a week there easily and still not have seen it all. It was so much better than Rome, fewer people, very clean and friendly. If we ever got back there I would definitely stay longer. I really enjoyed spending time looking at the old ruins that the Roman’s built.
There were two sites that we were anxious to see between Arles and Avignon. One was the medieval mountain fortress called Les Baux and the other was the ancient aqueduct built by the Romans called ‘Pont du Gard’. We took the last day of our time in Arles to make a drive north out of Arles to see both of those sites.
Les Baux –
The drive was easy and beautiful through the farms and vineyards of the Provence valley. As we neared the area of Les Baux, the area became hilly and then became several larger hills bordering on small mountains. On the largest of these, the Lords of Baux built their citadel on the rocky top of the highest peak with a bird’s eye view of their land below them. In the middle ages of the 11th century, the Lords of Baux were fierce warriors and the rulers of southern France. They (meaning their slaves) literally carved the castle out of the rock peak of the mountain.
We arrived at the base of the mountain just after the gates opened at 9 am and drove the vehicle up the one lane, switchback paved road to the base of the village. The mockup of the mountain pictured above gives an idea of the layout of the village below the peak and the castle built into the stone above.
We climbed up through the streets of village which was truly of medieval character although still inhabited villagers who’s sole income is from the tourist. All of it is still functional and livable although they no longer control the farmers and farmland below them.
At the top of village is a large plateau where once wars were fought using bows and arrows, swords and catapults (photo) to hurl stones at and over the castle walls. Originally two windmills were located there used to grind the grain that was grown on the valley floor.
The castle itself was located in and on the rock outcropping at the peak of the mountain. In the photo you can still see the outline of the castle at the top and it follows along the edge of the rock face to the location of the red flag. Along that wall is a sheer drop of over 750 feet to the valley floor.
Les Baux became part of the Provence area of France in the early 1400’s. The Lords of Les Baux did not accept the incorporation of their lands into France and struggled with the French King until the King destroyed the castle in 1483. Later the people of Les Baux became Protestants and fought against the Catholics. In 1632, Cardinal Richelieu again further demolished the castle to the condition that it is in today.
The entrance to the castle area is at the base on the left of the upper photo. The drawing at the gate indicates the original stone structure although all that is left of it is a stone shell.
Just beyond the gate was the main stone road into the castle area itself. The drawing implies what it was originally and the actual photo is what it looks like now.
This room that was cut into the solid rock was part of the structure seen in the centers of the two photos above.
Further into the castle grounds was an area that indicated the magnitude of the stone work that was involved in building the castle. The drawing of the same area indicates the typical fighting that might have occurred in that area.
Just beyond in a niche of the wall a small chapel was located and again a drawing of what it might have looked like at the time of it’s use. Significant to us was the depth into the stone that the chapel was cut and the ornate carving of the stone for the entrance and the chapel’s ceiling. The door at the back opened to stairs that were blocked off.
Near the back of the mountain was again a drawing of the main castle and a photo of the remains of it after being destroyed by the French Kings.
These photos show further destruction and the remains of the main building at the peak of the mountain. The upper castle was three stories high and the bottom floor was a huge hall with a ceiling over 20 feet high. The upper two stories were the living quarters of the Lords. It was said that the Lords were ruthless and they were known to throw people that they had captured for ransom off the top of the castle to the valley below, if the ransom wasn’t paid. These photos are from our vantage at the back of the castle from as high as we wanted to climb.
The view from the top of the mountain down the main street of the upper castle is the photo on the left and the village of the people of Les Baux in the photo to the right.
All of that and we were back to the car by 2 pm. We drove on from Les Baux to our next stop at –
Pont du Gard –
This Roman aqueduct is one of the most impressive constructions that we saw on the whole trip. It is part of an aqueduct to take water from the springs at Ezes to the city of Nimes. It was built about 50 BC and was used until the 6th century AD or about 550 years before it fell into disrepair.
The actual distance between the two sites is only 10 miles. However, the Romans aqueduct was 30 miles long taking advantage of the land to allow only a 40 foot drop in the water level over the 30 miles. The aqueduct bridge over the river Gardon, ‘Pont du Gard’ was originally ~1100 feet long and about 160 feet high (only 6 feet shorter than the Collosseum in Rome) and moved over 50 million gallons of pure spring water in 27 hours to the fountains and water system of Nimes.
The arch over the river was 80 feet wide and the widest arch ever built by the Romans. The limestone stones used in the construction were approximately 6 tons each and were cut with such precision that no masonry was used to hold the blocks together. Cement masonry was used to seal the walls and the floor of the water aqueduct. It was at the very top of the structure above the small arches.
The people on the walkway on the bridge gives you an idea of the immensity of the structure. The city off in the distance through the arch is Remouline. In the great flood of 1958, the water was flooding over top of the first tier of arches where the people are standing in the photo.
The bridge withstood the force of the water as it had withstood numerous floods in the past 2063 years! Note the triangle shaped stones at the base of the pillars that help separate the flood waters to pass through the arch openings and the thickness of the bridge walls.
The next day we were on the road again to the City of the French Popes:
I haven’t normally shown photos of the places that we have stayed on the trip, but we did think this one was quite unique. The small Hotel La Colbert was locate a couple of blocks from the train station and was another of the several excellent recommendations by Rick Steve’s travel books which we used to plan portions of our trip (the great rest was through Pat Gowen at Jade Travel).
The hotel was really fun! The bedroom was very bright with very modern pictures on the walls in a very old building. It had a small closet holding a toilet and adjoining bright colored larger closet shower and sink. It was very comfortable and clean and a fun change from many of our other accommodations. The downstairs was also bright with a colorful breakfast room filled with old antiques plus a quaint small outside patio (too windy & cool to use). The owners were very nice and accommodating.
The Palace of the Popes is one of the major attractions of Avignon and we took our time exploring it. It was a huge castle/palace of 6 different Popes (the French Popes) through the 14th century. The initial move was caused by the turmoil in Rome between warring factions and the French King moved the French Pope (Clement V) to Avignon creating the ‘Palais des Papes’.
The interior courtyard of the Palace was actually quite bare with a very large central stone paved court surrounded by the buildings shown above.
The entrance to the interior of the building was the arched doorway. We entered the rest of the palace through these doors that lead upstairs to a large empty room with vaulted ceiling.
We then realized that almost the entire palace was bare with the exception of a few wall frescoes and some sculptures.
From that part of the palace we walked into another courtyard that was covered with grass and was surrounded by other buildings. Again the rooms and the building interiors were bare although they had panels that explained the purpose of the various rooms. The also had displays holding various artifacts of the time with Popes.
As we came out on one of the room onto the upper walkways, we could look up across the courtyard to see the famous Golden Virgin Mary that stands on the pillar at the left entrance to the palace.
From there we were led down to a restored room that was a library of the palace and was now the official tourist store with the typical tourist memorabilia. From there down several flights of stairs to the exit of the palace.
Outside was the left entrance and another look of the Golden Virgin Mary. Note the touring tram at the base of the left entrance. We took that tour for a look at the rest of Palace area, the Rhone river bridge and the upper end of Avignon.
Saint Benezet Bridge was originally the only method of crossing the Rhone river except by boat. It was originally 22 arches long (3000 feet) extending from the base of the Palace of the Popes to the Tower of Philip the Fair which was the beginning of France. In 1668, it was destroyed by an ice flood except for the remaining four arches. Still standing is the original toll booth and a medieval hospital for the poor between the second and third arches.
On the tour, we also stopped by the Church of St. Pierre and it adjacent ancient ruins and gardens. It was a pleasant stop because the wind that day had been very strong and it gave us a good break out of the wind to just relax and enjoy the gardens.
On the side of one of the old buildings was some ornamentation that caught our eye.
On to Paris the next day and the last of our adventures in Europe.
The trip from Rome to Milan, then on to Genoa and the border of Italy by train turned out to be a beautiful although all day trip with several train changes. Again I must say that travel by train in Europe is the way to go. It’s clean, comfortable and much less expensive, plus you get to look at all the scenery. The trip from Genoa to the border was really beautiful as most of it was just along the coast with the sea on one side and the many towns and villages on the other. In the left photo is a mountain in the upper left that is still covered with snow not far from the French Riviera.
When we got to Nice the train station was only a few blocks from the hotel so we decided to walk. However, my directions were all screwed up and after wandering around for 10 blocks trying to find the right street, we finally took a taxi to the hotel (a 5 minute drive, but worth it). The Hotel Alba was very nice and centrally located with an easy walk to Vieux (Old) Nice. It was right on the major north-south street (Jean Medecin) of the city with a modern tramline that ran from upper Nice to the Fountain of the Sun and then northwest along Vieux Nice.
The street Jean Medecin stopped at the famous Place Massena and the semi-circle plaza with the Fountain of the Sun. The statue in the center is Apollo with other Roman and Greek Gods surrounding him.
Just beyond the fountain was the entrance to Cours Saleya and the Church called ‘St. Vrancious De Paule’. The Cours Saleya Is Nice’s famous main market place since the Middle ages. The first part of the street is the Flower Market, the largest in the Riviera followed by the Plassa dou Gouvernou, the produce market and then the famous Nice restaurant sections where we enjoyed most of our evening meals.
Two blocks beyond is the famous French Riviera with it’s long boardwalk and beautiful beach.
Next morning we took a tour bus ride to see the main highlights of Nice It’s large old 5-star Hotel called the ‘Le Negresco’ starts the promenade of casinos, hotels, jewelry and department stores all along the coast line.
One of the most unusual things we saw on the tour was this office building in the shape of a man’s head called ‘Blockhead’. The square upper part was actually offices in the block!!!
The bus tour took up through the hills and low mountains surrounding the beach part of Nice where many of the more affluent people lived. Above is the Regina Palace where Queen Victoria stayed on her visits to Nice in the late 1890’s.
The next morning was cloudy and cool and after a late morning breakfast, we again went down to the Vieux Nice to visit the Castle Hill, ‘Colline due Chateau’. The Greeks originally settled in Nice 400,000 years ago and built an Acropolis on the large hill at the east end of the Nice beach.
Later, it was occupied by the Romans and then during the middle ages a huge castle and fortification was built (shown in photo). In the early 1700’s, King Louis XIV destroyed the castle and fortifications and today all that remains are several levels of patios and walkways plus the ruins of an old church.
The climb to the top was rather questionable for two old blue hairs with over 300 steps to get to the top so we managed to locate the elevator and take the easy way!!
Our first view from the top was a look back over the famous Nice beach of the French Riviera from above. From here we could see the Bay of Angles all the way around to Antibes and Cannes, the long beach and boardwalk of Nice and the Old village of Nice below us. Because of the cloudy weather, the color of the water and building were not as brilliant as normal.
The areas below the large stone patios at the top of the hill contained a pavilion with beautiful stone sculptures such as this seahorse between the arches and the walkways were all done in stones and pebbles.
All along the walkways were beautiful stone mosaics of birds and animals.
All of the variations of color and design were done with small pieces of cut stone. The mosaics were built into a retaining wall that bordered the walkway up to the upper patios.
Partway up the path to the top of the Castle Hill were the remains of a Cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary which was built in the 11th Centery and is now in the process of being restored. It was part of the original castle that was built in the middle ages.
At the top of the hill a large stone patio with walls all along the edge of the hill. On the side above the Vieux Nice we could look down on the Market Place and the wonderful restaurants of Old town.
Further on toward the back of the hill was a view of the city of Nice from above and on the top of a mountain to the west was Mont Alban Fort. It was built in the mid-1500’s to protect the Ports of Nice and Villefrance.
As we walked down toward the back of the Castle Hill we found an old cemetery of Nice and a small mustard colored church at it’s end. And Jan can’t resist visiting old cemeteries. However, we had to be discreet because a Jewish burial was being conducted in part of the cemetery.
At the back of the hill we found the stairs that lead us back down into the Old town where we had dinner,
After dinner we walking back through the Place Massena to the street of Jean Medicine and saw a beautiful sunset. It was a fitting end to our day and the end of our visits to Vieux Nice as tomorrow the last day in Nice, was a tour of the middle Corniche above Villefrance-sur-Mer with a stop at the Midieval Village of Eze then a tour of Monaco.
VILLEFRANCE-sur-MER, MIDiEVAL EZE, and MONACO
Villefrance-sur-Mer according to Rick Steves is the romantic’s choice for staying on the French Riviera! We saw it from above and it was beautiful, but we were glad we stayed in Nice. The next morning, we were picked up at our motel by a young woman driving a Mercedes SUV for a tour of ‘The Three Corniches’. The cities of Nice, Villefrance-sur-Mer and Monaco are connected by three roads along the coastal route called the Low, Middle and High Corniches. The Low Corniche travels along the coastline by the port and by the sea. The Middle Corniche is part-way up the mountain through Eze-le-Village (the ‘Citi Midievale’) and had beautiful views of the costal villages and sea below and the High Corniche is 1600 feet about the sea with breathtaking views. We took the Middle Corniche with the fantastic view of Villefrance-sur-Mer below us. The village is a Port of Call for many Cruise ships and one was in the harbor that morning. On the hill at the left edge of the left photo held one of the most expensive villas of the French Riviera although we couldn’t see much of it.
As you will see by the photos, Eze-le-Village or Mideival Eze is built just below a mountain peak which originally supported a Castle built on the very top. The original castle was built 1400 feet about the sea on a shear cliff. The castle today is a ruins, but the village itself is still a viable, beautiful monument to the middle ages and still thrives as a tourist attraction and home to the villagers.
The climb to the top from a parking lot below the village is somewhat daunting, but very beautiful and well worth the effort.
As we started through the village, we continued climbing through cobble stone streets to the old ochre church called ‘L’Eglise’ (Notre Dame de Assomption) built in 1772. It is said that the church can be seen form the see for miles and miles on a clear sunny day.
The alter inside the church contains an Egyptian Cross indicating it’s ancient past. The ceiling of the church was very beautiful and lit by both outside light from the upper windows and lighting.
Outside the church on the large patio was the cemetery cut into the mountain side and well above it was the remains of the original castle. There was a winding rock stairs cut into the sides of the rock cliff up to the castle ruins. It was very steep and long and we didn’t have time to climb it even if we had been willing.
We spent the rest of our tour time visiting the medieval village. The streets were very narrow with stone or cobble-stone paving.
Several times the path upward entered through an opening with a tunnel to another part of the village.
One of the first things that caught our attention was the variety of doorways to the various residents. Not only were they very unique in design, we all of a sudden realized that almost all the doorways were not much more than 5 feet tall! It was an indication that most medieval people were much smaller than we are today. It would have been interesting to see what the heights of the ceilings were inside the homes.
The other thing that got our attention were all the plants, flowers and trees growing out of the rock. The entire village was cut out of the rock and made out of rock. There wasn’t one building in the entire village made out of wood and all the roofs were ceramic tile.
I would assume that it was necessary due to the hazard of fire. Even the final home at the very top of the village was covered with vines and flowers.
We both would have enjoyed more time in the village, but we still had another stop to make.
A trip to Monaco is a must do when you are visiting the French Riviera. However, it sure wasn’t a highlight of the trip as far as I was concerned. It was surprising how much you can put in a small amount of area. The principality Is 2.7 x 2.5 miles (0.78 square miles) containing 36,371 people and most of the area is taken by the castle hill above. We arrived at the base of the castle hill where the Jacque Cousteau museum is located with his first deep sea submersible located out front. I was glad I didn’t have to dive in it!!!
We arrived in time for the changing of the guard at the castle which is the big event of the day. We hurried up the hill to the castle and found ourselves at the back of a very large mob. We were able to see the new guards coming out of one side house and march through the crowd into the castle and then got to see a close up of one of the guards in his little cubical.
My impression of the whole proceedings was similar to the seagull on top of the statue at the edge of the castle (notice the white color of the statues shoulders!). We didn’t get to see Princess Grace or Prince Rainer or any of their children.
Actually the castle was an unusual combination of modern (ochre) and old (greg partially visible).
We then took a vehicle tour through the city to the famous casino and the adjoining Café de Paris. The casino didn’t open until 4 pm so we didn’t get to go inside which was a disappointment.
After a brief stop at the Café de Paris, we took a drive around the rest of Monaco to see the harbor of Monaco with all the fancy yachts and boats plus the location of the Grandprix of Monaco (as seen looking down from the hill above).
We drove down onto the track where it started and then through some of it before heading back to Nice and the end of our tour.
It was actually a very fun and interesting day and especially nice have our own tour guide. The highlight to us was the Medieval Village of Ese
Next on our visit was to the French region of Provence, the gastronomical base of lower France. It is located along the Rhone River where we stayed in Arles a few wonderful days to celebrate May Day, a visit to the medieval castle of Les Baux, the magnificent Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard, then a visit to Avignon and the French Popes Palace.