Monday, February 22, 2016

Provençal Village Festivals

During summer people flock to the Côte d'Azur, especially during the summer holidays in July and August. Accommodation is at a premium and so is beach space. Everywhere you turn someone wants to charge you for something.
On the other hand, winter on the Côte d'Azur is a relatively chilled out affair, both literally and figuratively. Temperatures have dropped considerably but there are still plenty of sunny days to explore the hinterlands. Many of the villages in the region use this time to have their festivals. This helps to bolster the economy and entice people to participate in activities. We have been here for a month and during that time there was at least one thing on every weekend. 
At this time of the year the mimosa is in blossom so there is the mimosa festival in Biot and in Cannes/Mandelieu. The festival of St Blaise in Valbonne also uses the mimosa to decorate its tractors for the street parade.
Another big festival is the Fête du Citron in Menton. Every year they have a different theme - this year it was the cinema- and they make displays from lemons and oranges. And I don't mean just displays on fruit and vegie stands - these are giant sculptures and artworks that must take quite a while to erect. Just as well the festival goes for 2 weeks as it would seem a pity to put this much effort in for a weekend.

Each orange and lemon is attached by a large rubber band and then supported by a steel infrastructure.  Incredible. There are also plenty of lemon/orange themed merchandise to sample and buy. We certainly had our fill of citrus flavoured liqueurs and tarts. And of course there are citrus scented soaps and other paraphernalia.

Antibes didn't miss out either with their "pain, amour et chocolat" festival. This was a celebration of all things Italian including canoli, pizza, nougat, chocolate, Parmesan cheese, olives and leather.

Nice also gets into the swing of things with a two week Carnivale, including a street parade and the Bataille-Fleurs, which literally translate as the battle of the Flowers. Festivals continue in the region all the way through to Easter so you are never at a loss for something to do that doesn't need to include visiting a beach.

Winter Sun - 2016

After our rainy sojourn in the UK and  more rain in Brugge we decided to head south to the Côte d'Azur. We based ourselves in an apartment in a villa in the suburbs of Antibes. This is a great spot to explore the area as far west as St Tropez and as far east as San Remo in Italy. We could also have ventured into the mountains but we were here for the warmth and there had been snow falling north of Antibes so we decided to just explore the coastal marinas and the delightful hilltop villages in the Alpes Maritime region of Provence. 
Marina's in the south of France seem to be a magnet for the rich and famous and some of the boats moored here, while described as "yachts", would be more like a small cruise ship. 

These are just a few of the "yachts" in Cannes.
We spoke to the crew of one boat owned by Australian, Kerry Stokes.  He commented that every year it costs 20% of the purchase price just for running costs eg wages, mooring fees, fuel, maintenance. And you can only imagine the purchase price!

Despite having mega yachts moored in the marinas, it is still good to see that traditional fishing boats have a place. The first photo is the harbour at St Tropez, where you have very expensive Cafes looking out over the boats. The second is in San Remo, Italy. This has a much less ritzy feel but there are still some very large boats here.
Cap Ferrat from Villefranche sur Mer
St Jean village on Cap Ferrat had many more modest yachts, which is a little strange considering that Cap Ferrat is home to many of the movie stars who could easily afford a mega yacht but maybe they aren't in the same league as the oil and media magnates that own the likes of those we have seen in Cannes and Antibes. I have been told that it is also due to the fact that the harbours are relatively old and not as deep as some of the newer/renovated ones in Antibes and Cannes.

Antibes is still my favourite Marina, especially with the view of Fort Carré in the background in one direction and the snow capped mountains and Nice in the other, all surrounded by the Vieil Antibes, and overlooked by this sculpture  

And now for Cornwall

Cornwall has as many quaint villages as Devon and the climate is slightly milder. This does, however, mean more rain, or as a local called it "mizzle" - a mix of drizzly rain and mist. We certainly encountered our fair share of drizzly rain but that is partly to do with the fact that the house we were in is on the edge of Dartmoor and moors always conjure up images of mist, fog,etc. You only have to read novels by Daphne du Maurier or Winston Graham's Poldark series to encounter this.
The Dartmoor ponies are also famous and wander at will over the moors. There is the worry that these ponies may be injured or killed by being hit by cars so some enterprising farmers have decided to trial painting the ponies with iridescent paint!
Seaside villages abound in Cornwall because it has such a large coastline compared to its land area.
Quaint street in Mevagissey

Mevagissey would have to be one of our favourites as it has the quaint winding streets with charming pubs and shops and a picturesque harbour.
Mevagissey from the headland
We also visited Port Isaac, the site where the series "Doc Martin" is filmed and Padstow, home of Rick Stein, the TV chef. His series about barging through the south of France has inspired many people to take up barging as he depicted such an idyllic lifestyle. On the day we visited Padstow there was a gourmet food festival, so there were people everywhere and the queue for the food tent was horrendously long, so we opted for a traditional Cornish pasty instead.
Padstow Harbour
One of Rick Steins restaurants. It seems he owns half the town.

The small grey house on the hill is Doc Martin's surgery
This confectionary shop in St Issac becomes Mrs Tishell's pharmacy 

Looe and Fowey are also lovely Cornish fishing villages

We had some of the best chips here.  We bought them and decided to sit in the car while eating them. The seagulls were so used to the smell that they were actually perching on the car roof waiting for us to throw them some morsels. No chance!!
A very hungry seagull
The tide is in at Looe

Devon coastal villages - a seagoing tradition

There is nothing quite like the quintissential English coastal town to conjure up images of shipwrecks, smugglers and hidden bounty. Many of these villages were perched on the sides of the cliffs usually guarding entrances to rivers used to transport goods to major towns further inland. At the mouths of many of these rivers, garrisons were built to keep out the French and, in particular, the Spanish Armada. 
Dartmouth is a prime example with a fort on each side of the river mouth and is now home to the Naval Academy. This is a very desirous town and property prices reflect this. 
Many of the villagers were humble fishermen who eked out a living by selling the contraband they managed to forage from shipwrecks. Houses were built close together next to the water, often with a look out on the top of the building so the wife could keep a watch for her returning husband.
Brixham is a prime example of a fishing village. Even today the fishermen sell their catch direct to the consumer from the docks or the pebbly beach, as is the case in Budleigh Salterton.

The tide is out at Outer Hope

The tides are large here in England so may be responsible for many of the shipwrecks. Rocks that are visible at low tide appear to disappear at high tide. And for captains unused to a particular stretch of coast, these tides and rocks can be particularly treacherous.

England's seafaring history is renowned and in this photo of Brixham you can see the replica of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind. The legend goes that as the Spanish Armada was sighted approaching England Drake was on Plymouth Hoe playing bowls. He decided to finish his game before setting sail and defeating the Spanish.
The docks in Plymouth where the Mayflower set sail for the Americas in 1621 and also where the Tolpuddle Martyrs returned to England after being transported to Australia
Plymouth Hoe where Drake was playing bowls