Travel Journal

Week One

In June 2002 our friends, Chris and Carmen Grant joined us for a trip through Italy and France.

The schedule would provide two weeks in France and one week in Italy. Chris and Carmen stayed for the first eleven days and then returned to Vancouver. We continued for another week and a half to travel through Italy.

St. Paul de Vence

There is no better way to start your day than to walk down to the café and enjoy a really great coffee and then head out to see the sights of the area.

St Paul de Vence

The vacation started with a flight to Nice and staying in Saint Paul de Vence - a small hilltop town, located about 20 minutes from Nice. St Paul-de-Vence is a great looking place and we have never heard a negative comment from the countless people we have suggested they use St. Paul-de-Vence as their base for the area. On the contrary, it is always the statement "we will have to go back".

It is a relatively small town, the town proper has a populationof about 3,000 with some 300 people living in the old village centre.

The 16th-century ramparts are still very much in tact. The town is made up of a number of narrow pedestrian streets, as shown on the left, all located within the intact wall. the town was rediscovered by painters Paul Signac, Pierre Bonnard, Chagall band others during the 1920s. The art remains, there are studios, galleries and plenty of exhibitions. The Auberge de la Colombe d'Or has an art collection that makes the restaurant a museum in its own right. Many an artist paid for their meals by a piece of their work.

St Paul de Vence

The style of the town sets it apart from others in Provence. Go early in the morning before the tour buses arrive!

Due to last minute booking rooms were booked at Le Hameau (Marcus) located a few minutes from the town center and the quaint Hotel Remparts (Grant) located in the center of the old town.

Le Hameau, the a short of the pool is shown on the left, is an outstanding hotel and more is said about that in the Great Places To Stay segment of the travel site. The Hotel Remparts is a good little hotel right in the centre of the old walled city. Chris and Carmen enjoyed it and since that trip we have referred others to the hotel and all found it to be a good place to stay. St. Paul is one of those towns with lots of narrow streets to walk. Galleries are everywhere. Even a shop where Chris and Carmen are becoming quite regular customers.

Béziers and Area

On the second day we spend the morning in the town of Saint Paul de Vence and then took on the major drive (447 kilometers) to the small town of Marcorignan, just west of Béziers, where we had rented a house at the Domaine de la Motte.

Driving east along the coast we reach the Languedoc-Roussillon Region of France. This region is the "Land of the Cathar" - that is the region in France where the reign of the cathars took place. The Cathars held the belief that good resided only in the spiritual world. The material work and man were intrinsically evil. They rejected the sacraments of Catholicism and raised a clergy of both men and women who were known as the "Perfects". So it was them against the church. The movement was condemned by the Pope and it thrived mainly in the Languedoc Region under the protection of the Counts of Toulouse. It ended in 1229 when the Count of Toulouse capitulated to the French Crown.


Domaine de la Motte

Well, we thought we rented a house. As it turned out, it was more of an apartment or townhouse. The Domaine de la Motte is an old château or manor house. The owners have renovated a long building that is attached to the main house and created ten apartments or townhouses.

Yes one can find numerous places on the Internet, and when you arrive, you will see truth in the statements you read on the web page! Domaine de la Motte was not what we expected, in part because the previous year we have a great farmhouse villa in Tuscany, but also because it was just not what we expected. The outside grounds were bery lush. The gates, as shown, built up great expectations but those expectations were dashed as we went inside our house..

The apartments lacked charm in their decor. The silence when we walked into the house was deafening and said it all. At one point we thought we would just leave but we stayed and in the end the place turned out to be OK for what we were needing. Definitely not the type of place found last year in Tuscany.

Chris Grant cooking in France

Chris, pictured to the left, and Glenn both enjoy cooking so a really good kitchen is a key part of a great place to stay. It was a little dissapointing to find a two element electric stove in the kitchen. Well that does not actually fit the bill but we made the best of it and turned out some great meals.

There are only very small villages nearby so this is a case of planning some shopping trips while you are out and about each day.

Again, a suggestion is to plan your food shopping. Most rentals work on a Saturday to Saturday basis, with an afternoon check-in after the rooms have been cleaned. Depending on the location you can find that you have arrived, but in the country, don't expect any stores to be open on Sunday to buy your provisions. Shop in the morning on the way!

Domaine de La MotteThe pool and grounds at La Motte were great. and made staying there quite enjoyable.

The grounds were great, the pool very convenient - no complaints here.

But despite a rather limited kitchen Chris took on the challenge and became the Chef-de-maison and he turned out some very tasty meals. Do you really need more than one heat level with an oven? Anything more than two stove elements only means more cleaning! Perhaps one knife can be used for everything! If only the inside of the townhouse was at the same level as the grounds. The pool was very relaxing the the grounds made you feel you were in a park.


CarcassonneThe first tour day after we arrived was to Carcassonne.

This is the largest medieval city in Europe. A double curtain wall completely circles the town.

On previous trips we have found that the most stunning views of the city are from a distance approaching the town from the west We have stayed once in the town but find that a day tour is enough to get a good feel for the place. .

This morning, we drove up from the east, the are parking lots in just below the town.

It was a very cold morning and even thought we were huddled together for warmth at times, it was an enjoyable morning. In medieval times Carcassonne grew in importance due to its location. It was on the main communication route between the Mediterranean and Toulouse. Karen and Glenn had been to Carcassonne before and this is an example of sometimes finding a place better on the second visit.

The town is impressive. The double curtain wall, the 14 towers on the outer ramparts and another 24 towers on the inner ramparts -- there is a look to the place.

CarcassonneWe took a tour of the 12th Century Château Comtal. It was originally the palace of the viscounts. The tour was interesting but only reinforced a basic problem with large group tours.

It just takes too long to shuffle a group of people from room to room in a château. The tour was interesting, we could have listened to the pleasant voice and Spanish accent of our guide for some time. We learned that boiling oil was not really thrown off the walls during attacks (only in the movies) --- we should be so skilled to speak the four languages she rolled off with no problem!



Abbaye de Fontfroide

On the way back from Carcassonne we stopped by the Abbaye de Fontfroide - a Cistercian abbey hidden away in a valley in the Corbières..

The yellow ochre and pink sandstone of the buildings give the place a great look. High ranking officials of the Catholic church had stayed at various times here. This is a tranquil place and you can kind of understand the attraction of the whole solitude thing.

Cloisters at Abbaye de FontfroideDating back to 1093 there was, at one time, over 200 monks living here. The majority of the buildings are from 12th and 13th centuries.

During the Albigensian Crusade the abbey took the side of the Pope against the Cathar heretics. Good call, as the Pope repaid this loyalty handsomely.

The abbey prospered for centuries, but in 1791 was abandoned. A family from Béziers purchased the property in 1908, to ward off the sale of its cloisters, and has tastefully restored the place

The private ownership has proven very helpful in keeping the condition of the Abbaye as it is today. The cloisters are out standing. This was very evident when we visited the next Abbaye - the Abbaye La Grasse. (We have been so taken with cloisters that we have established a web site to document the various cloisters we have visited.)


Lagrasse, France

The final tour for the day was the Abbaye at Lagrasse. This small town is located about 10 km from Narbonne.

This was not in the state as Fontfroide. The town is interesting and we enjoyed a drink and learned the errors in our pronunciation of Euros with a waiter who we are sure to this day is still shaking his head. He wasn't giving us the soccer score when he said "dix zero" (or so we thought), he was actually telling us the bill for our drinks was 10 Euros (oh well, live and learn)

More so than the Abbaye, Legrasse is known from the humpback bridge, built in 1038, that crosses the river from the town to the Abbaye. The Abbaye was founded by Charlemagne, and the building tool place from the 10th to the 18th century. The Abbaye is now maintained by a Byzantine Catholic community which is continuing its work to restore the building.


Grotte des DemoisellesWe have toured many a grotto or cave in Italy and France and we rank the Grotte des Demoiselle right up there at the top.

There is a hair-raising drive up a hairpin road -- we did not want to miss the last tour of the morning -- to arrive at the main entrance.

Then there is a short ride in a funicular to travel up in the mountain to reach the entrance to the cave because unlike most caves it has a vertical entrance from way above where we were.

More information is available on the Grotto's web site: - the caves were discovered in 1770.



Grotte des Demoiselles

The tour involves a walk along a series of corridors until arriving at the main chamber. This area is over 394 feet long, 262 feet high and 164 feet wide. It is massive. You do feel like you are in another world when walking through the cave and viewing the unique rock formations.

We were fortunate that a woman from Canada who was working at the University of Montpellier as a translator was on our tour. She provided the group with an English translation and this really added to the visit.

Within the cathedral there are massive columns, they all seem to be supporting the roof but in fact they are all formed by water dripping down from the roof of the cave.

In the centre is a rock formation that resembles a Virgin and Child - all in white calcite.

 There are a number of great viewpoints and the corridors and stairs take you around the sides and then down into the centre of the larger








Cirque NavacettesFinally the day ended with a drive through the country side to view the Cirque Navacelles - or the natural amphitheatre of Navacelles.

Here the River has retreated from its original course of many thousands of years ago leaving a unique formation of a land island standing where the river used to be. The rather stark village of Navacelles still remains. There are walking routes in the area. We drove through and stopped in the town of Navacelles with its small hamlet and waterfall.


NarbonneNarbonne has interesting Roman ruins such as the Horreum a Roman warehouse that has been excavated under there streets of Narbonne. In Roman times it was actually a very busy port. But with silting, it is now a few kilometres from the sea.

The cathedral and accompanying Palais Des Archevêques -- the Archbishop's Palace -- are very interesting. It is open daily, except for Mondays, and closed from mid-October to May. Tours of the Archbishop's Apartments are available when the Palais is open.

The Cathedral St-Just dates from the 12th Century. The height of the interior is only exceed by the cathedrals of Amiens and Beauvais. The choir was built between 1272 and 1310 following the Gothic tradition more typical of northern France. The church, however, was never actually finished.

Archbishops Palace, NarbonneThe cloisters date to the 14th and 15th century. And yes, we found these to be moving and have included them in our Cloister Site.

So there is lots of history here. Narbonne was the capital of the largest Roman colony in Gaul. It was in the 15th century that the harbour silted up and the River Aude changed its course.



BeziersBéziers is located about 67 kilometers from Montpellier. It was originally founded as a Roman colony. Sitting high on the edge of a plkateay overlooking the river Orb it held a good position.

Yes, the photo at the left says it all. This is the scenic French country-side: the river, the lush greenery, the small towns along the banks.

Established by the Romans in 35/36 BC, the town located on the banks of the Orb River has always held an important role for the area.

During the Albigensian Crusade, in 1209, the Roman Catholics were given the chance to leave the town before a major battle would commence. How thoughtful of those Cathars. The Béziers refused and the entire town was pillaged and all killed. Nice history!

 On the way to Béziers we stopped at Coursan and had one of the best lunches of the trip. At the restaurant L'Os à Moelle, on route de Salles D'Aude, in Coursan (Telephone: we had one of the grand french lunches. Our starters included such dishes as three types of salmon (smoked, fresh and pate) or pate with cream frais, or pate with fig. Oh yes... treat yourself!


Glenn buying a pen in BarcelonaOne of the great things about the Languedo Roussillon Region is its location - easy for a day trip to Spain.

So one day we headed off to Barcelona.

Glenn was determined to visit the highly acclaimed Central Estilographica - the best pen store in Barcelona.(See Great Pen Stores). Not only does Central Estigographica have great pens, but a little store down the street, Papirum, at baixada de la libreteria 2 has a very good selection of pen cases.

While Glenn shopped, and Karen watched in horror, Chris and Carmen traveled around the city touring the main sites. We have been to Barcelona on other trips so we knew we would be able to some of the main sights again, as soon as the crucial shopping was over.

Sagrada Familia, BarcelonaNoone can go to Barcelon without seeing the Sagrada Familia - the famous cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi and never finished. But having been to Barcelona a number of times, the re-construction of the Sagrada Familia was a bit unsettling. I remember the calm and desolate feeling of see it some ten years ago The stones left on the ground when the construction just stopped. Yes there was the elevator one could take to the top but you could just feel the tragedy of the unfinished masterpiece.

Now the site was full of construction cranes and work to finish the church, based on the original drawings is underway.


Pezenas, France






This town dates back hundreds of years, but it was in the 17th century that it was alive with mansions and a court life. It was back in the 1200's when the town became part of the royal estate. By the 1400's it became the Versailles of the Languedoc as the town became the residence of the Governors of the Languedoc and the royal court was established in the town.

There are many antique shops in the town -- everything was just too big for the car!

We all met at 12:30 and enjoyed a very pleasant lunch at the restaurant La Petite Nice.



Streets in St. Paul de Vence

Small walkways through the town of St. Paul de Vence.