France looks on course to reach its ambitious target of 100 million visitors per year by 2020 after figures released by the UN show that a record 89 million tourists visited these shores in 2017 – an increase of six million on 2016.
Visitor numbers had suffered in recent years follow in a series of terror attacks in Paris and elsewhere across France in 2015 and 2016, but holidaymakers are now returning in their droves. The report from the UN’s World Tourism Organisation shows that global tourism jumped 7% last year with France well ahead of second-placed Spain. With 82.3 million tourists in 2017, Spain overtook the USA as the world’s second most popular destination, despite terror attacks of its own and independence demonstrations in Catalonia. In 2016, America welcomed 75.6 million visitors – 300,000 more than Spain. Currently, tourism generates 7% of France’s GDP although the government hopes to increase that figure to 10%.
In further good news, British magazine The Economist has voted France as its “country of the year” for 2017. The centre-left leaning political magazine gave particular praise to France for the voting in of Macron and his party La République en marche. They judged that the president, despite coming from a “party full of political novices”, had “crushed the old guard”, “swept aside the ancien régime” and “transformed the national political debate”.
According to The Economist’s website: “Rogue nations are not eligible, no matter how much they frighten people. (Sorry, North Korea). Nor do we plump for the places that exert the most influence through sheer size or economic muscle – otherwise China and America would be hard to beat. Rather, we look for a country, of any size, that has changed notably for the better in the past 12 months, or made the world brighter.” ■
Source/Credit: Justin Postlethwaite for FRANCE TODAY
The French Riviera is a garden-lover’s paradise, a sun-soaked horticultural heaven lined on its southern edge by the twinkling Mediterranean. From Antibes to Cagnes-sur-Mer, Gourdon to Grasse and Nice to Beaulieu there are some 80 gardens and parks open to the public, with enough diversity in styles and floral content to satisfy the most exacting nature-lover.
Many gardens are inextricably linked to their location’s heritage – and put them on the map in some cases – or showcase certain species, such as mimosas in Mandelieu and sun-sapping succulents in Èze’s vertiginous, cliff-top botanical garden. Others, such as the jaw-droppingly beautiful Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild go one step further and present an array of garden styles in one dazzling location. Wander around this Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat marvel, and one minute you’ll be immersed in Provençal lavender fields, the next achieving Zen-like calm in the Japanese garden. There are nine unique gardens here, each of them authentic in form, all immaculately planned and tended. Especially enchanting is the rose garden at the upper tip of the grounds – a feast for all the senses provided by 100 varieties of scented blooms. And the views out onto the yacht-dotted bay are simply stunning.
Plenty of the Côte d’Azur’s gardens provide the chance to explore adjoining historic private houses. Ephrussi is an obvious one, while other unmissables include Renoir’s former home and studio in Cagnes-sur-Mer – the painter fell under the spell of the olive trees of the Domaine des Collettes and moved there in 1907 – and the garden of Château de la Napoule, an often unheralded gem that clings to the shore in Mandelieu. Bought in 1918 by the American Henry Clews, its garden alternates English and French styles, with a soupçon of Venetian, Roman and even Moorish influence thrown in for good measure.
Villages in Bloom
Other places, meanwhile, can lead you nicely up the garden path to a fully rounded village visit, such as in Gourdon, perched 500m above the Gorges du Loup a few miles from Grasse. It was André Le Nôtre, Louis XIV’s gardener, who prepared the imposing château’s initial jardin designs, before the lord of the castle, wealthy Grasse lawyer Louis Le Lombard, oversaw further aesthetic flourishes. Spot box and ancient limes plus Judas trees adorning the main terrace, set off beautifully by pools, before strolling around the medicinal garden and Italian terrace to complete the noblesse experience. (Eagle-eyed film fans may recognise the perched village from afar – early in Hitchcock’s 1955 classic To Catch a Thief, the police are seen heading towards it before Cary Grant’s John Robie gives them the slip.)
In and around Menton, the characterful coastal town reputed for its flowered-up outlook (there are bloom-bedecked edifices everywhere, plus an annual lemon homage that sees the streets come alive with all manner of citrus-centric wonders), there is an array of great private gardens to see, including Val Rahmeh. This tiered, exotic botanical beauty was created by Lord Percy Radcliffe, former Governor of Malta in 1905, and now under the care of the French Museum of Natural History. It features 700 species of plants and trees, including kiwi and banana trees, Japanese and South American varieties – and you might also spy the rare sacred tree of Easter Island, Sophora Toromiro…
Perhaps more mesmerising, however, is the Serre de la Madone, a ‘greenhouse garden’ created around an extended farmhouse in the Gorbio Valley by Paris-born American plantsman Lawrence Johnston. He boasted serious form – he also designed the garden at Hidcote Manor in England, where he lived as a naturalised Briton with his mother – before spending the 30 years until 1954 acclimatising exotic plants to the Riviera climate. The shaded, maze-like trail around the garden follows the contour of the landscape and is organized in themed terraces punctuated with statues and fountains. On a sweltering Riviera day, the cool trickles punctuate the still silence to tranquil effect.
Finally, while it’s not strictly just a home but also a place of calling (monks have been here since 1645), the Gardens of the Monastery of Cimiez in Nice are a treat for a spiritual saunter. Restored to their former monastic glory in the 1920s by Auguste-Louis Giuglaris and sited near the ever-popular Matisse Museum, there’s a wide path dividing a broad esplanade, bordered by a bower of rambling roses.
The Art of Gardening
Some of the region’s many prestigious museums offer a handy excuse to enjoy a lovely garden experience, like a bonus cultural aside. The garden at Fernand Léger Museum in Biot was designed and laid out by Henri Fish, in close collaboration with the architect André Svetchine. Set in an expansive, rolling meadow, it’s sprinkled with cypress trees and framed by olive trees, providing ample viewpoints from which to admire the multi-coloured mosaics adorning the building’s façades.
Art, garden and building (the latter being the work of Spanish architect Josep Lluís Sert) have been combined equally harmoniously at Fondation Maeght, set high on Colline des Gardettes in the celebrated artist magnet of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Ponder the contemporary sculptures dotted around the green hideaway by the likes of Barbara Hepworth and Fabrice Hybert, as well as a remarkable garden-labyrinth with ceramics and sculptures by Joan Miró.
Finally, for a museum garden with specifications given by the very artist whose name is above the door, head back to the elegant suburb of Cimiez in Nice. It was Fish again who heeded Marc Chagall’s creative input to fashion a fine outdoor space. Visitors on 7 July, the artist’s birthday, are guaranteed flowering agapanthuses, while picnic fans can take their place any day on the lawn and admire the pool that reflects one of artist’s vibrant mosaics.
It’s not just private gardens that will appeal to plant lovers on the Côte d’Azur. Local authorities take immense pride in their public spaces and treat their parks as havens for residents and visitors alike. In Nice, for example, the 12-hectare breathing space Promenade du Paillon, conceived by Michel Péna and inaugurated in 2013, has brought both beauty and function to the former site of the aesthetically challenging bus station. Among the 128 jet fountains and adeptly created beds, locals can enjoy a picnic or snooze at lunchtime or, as the name implies, promenade with friends and family away from the bustle of nearby Vieux Nice or Place Masséna.
Elsewhere, in Menton, a gentle stroll around town with tour guide and plant expert Christophe Canlers reveals some wonderful sights, notably the splendid banana trees framing the entrance to the mairie (do pop in to see the Cocteau Salle des Mariages). They perfectly complement the palm trees – so prominent and joy-giving all over the region – in the square in front. “Everything grows in Menton” says Christophe joyfully as he gleefully points out an aloe vera plant here or cactus plants there. There’s also a ‘killer plant’ that destroys all around it – be afraid!
There are countless other Riviera strolls in public places that offer horticultural rewards with a unique ambience. Hugging the lapping shore of Théoule-sur-Mer (on the westernmost side of the Côte d’Azur, where the Corniche d’Or begins), Promenade Pradayrol is a botanic discovery walk that snakes for 750 metres. As well as the 39 species on show, it also happens to be the only way to get to the Plage d’Aiguille, a stunning secluded beach with a brilliant little restaurant nestling nearby.
A Fest of the Best
The good news for visitors to the region in 2017 is that the inaugural Côte d’Azur Gardens Festival begins – and it also invites a cross-border sojourn to Italy. Taking place throughout April, Jardival is being led by the Alpes-Maritimes department and aims to create “high-profile initiatives designed to improve tourist facilities, boost innovation and protect the environment in an illustration of the deep, long-standing ties that exist between France and Italy”.
Villa Rothschild in Cannes, Menton’s Villa Maria Serena, Grasse’s Jardin des Plantes, as well as San Remo’s Villa Ormond and the very grandly titled Province of Imperia’s Villa Grock, have all undergone renovation and improvements in time for the festival.
Among the highlights will be ten pop-up gardens 20m2 in size (with a prestigious ‘best in show’ prize on offer) and five photo-ready locations – Antibes, Cannes, Grasse, Menton and Nice – getting involved with flower arranging workshops, gardening technique advice, tasting sessions, culinary events, professional stands and plant markets. In Nice, the Promenade de Paillon will be transformed by the addition of a new 1,400m2 garden.
It’s about time the region’s magnificent gardening heritage was celebrated in such public fashion. If you love flowers and plants, and you’re keen for a hit of spring sunshine, there’s nowhere like it.
We’ve all been there… deciding what we fancy for dinner and opening the fridge door only to find that one crucial ingredient is missing. The concept of the 24-hour supermarket has yet to reach these shores and French trading laws mean that not much is open on a Sunday, so there is often very little we can do. Technology is often the answer to these first world problems, and hot on the heels of the 24/7 baguette dispenser comes the automatic egg vending machine. Those with concerns for animal welfare should not worry, the hens are not stuffed in the back and forced to lay on request. Rather, the eggs in the vending machines around Gevrey-Chambertin, near Dijon, come from free-range hens on a local farm. The machines, which have been installed in five nearby communes, sell two boxes of six eggs for just €2.50, and are coin operate meaning that locals can drive or walk up to them at any time of the day or night, put in their change, and take away fresh eggs. The machines
are reloaded every two days meaning no more frustration if you fancy a last-minute Yorkshire pudding with your Sunday roast!
The innovative idea is supported by the mayor of the nearby commune of SaintPhilibert, who was frustrated by the loss of local shops. “In our commune of just over 500 people, we lost our last shop seven years ago. We had been hoping to find someone to take it over, but that has not been the case.” The mayor hopes that schemes such as these will bring back some life to small rural villages.
Source/Credit: The Bugle Dordogne / Photo: Facebook
La Dordogne: an ancient realm where dark rivers sweep under limestone cliffs and medieval hilltop villages emerge from lush dense forest; where a cornucopia of local produce has created a rich and abundant gastronomic heritage; where the extraordinary legacy of prehistoric cave art contrasts with the sublime architecture of grand Renaissance châteaux; where today’s traveller can stay for a week, a month, a season and never grow jaded. Guy Hibbert explores…
The Périgord, to use the old name for the modern French department number 24, the Dordogne, is a multi-faceted jewel of a region in South-West France, where the sun is high enough to make for warm humid summers, sunny dry autumns, short sharp winters and lush verdant springtimes.
Many people claim to know the Dordogne but when you challenge them on their knowledge, it turns out they know their favourite patch well, but have only been to one or two towns and villages beyond – in other words, they have formed their opinion too early. To discover all that this grand region has to offer requires time and imagination, to venture away from the tourist hot-spots, to meander a little off the beaten track, to allow time to linger and create your own memorable experiences.
The British have a long association with the Dordogne, and fought over it often during the Hundred Years’ War in the 14th and 15th centuries. By contrast, today’s Brits are more likely to be seen fighting over an old property for sale, enjoying the sensual delights of a summer market or canoeing down a river. So popular has the region proved with expats that national newspaper journalists in the UK enjoy referring to ‘Dordogneshire’ and if your only experience is passing through Bergerac airport or visiting the pretty town of Eymet then you might think that this reputation has been well earned.
It’s no surprise the British love the area – it reminds them of the more picturesque parts of England, say the Cotswolds, but with less crowds and better weather. But it would be a great mistake to label the Dordogne in this clichéd manner. Nostalgia for pastoral idylls is a powerful draw for many travellers, not just the British, and this is a corner of France that can deliver a heady antidote to the stress of busy lives, giving a taste of what has often been lost in more densely populated parts of the world. Like an actor who happens to be excellent at a certain role, there is always a danger of typecasting – but the reality is that la Dordogne is a star with a diverse portfolio ready to be revealed, if you know how and where to look.
Take a moment to consider the Dordogne ‘by numbers’ and you will begin to appreciate its scale and diversity. It’s actually the third largest département in France and can easily take two and a half hours to cross by road from one border to another. And no wonder its river-based activities are legendary because it has over 500 kilometres of navigable waterways, including the mighty Dordogne, the Vézère, Isle and Dronne. All this space is beautifully green: of the 557 communes, 497 are rural. The tourism office is rightly proud of the fact that they have 190 different sites and monuments open to visitors, including 70 or so museums, no fewer than 10 of France’s listed villages, 15 UNESCO World Heritage prehistoric sites, over 250 hotels, a similar number of campsites and literally thousands of gîtes and country properties for rental. No wonder three million tourists come to the Dordogne every year.
And yet there is space for them all. Because, aside from its supremacy in numbers, the Dordogne is big enough to offer a charming diversity of landscapes, attractions and activities to cater for most tastes and to allow people to join in the action or be an escapist, as the mood dictates.
The Four Colours of Périgord
Some years ago the tourist authorities hit upon a distinct way of naming some of the territories within thedépartement – the so called four Périgords, the Noir,Pourpre, Blanc and Vert (black, purple, white and green). Unlike some more fanciful labels these labels are actually quite handy to get your bearings and they allow the visitor to get a sense of what lies beyond the hotspot destinations. Having lived and travelled in the Dordogne I can vouch for the aptness of the names.
Périgord Noir lies in the southeast and contains that most quintessential of Dordogne towns, Sarlat, where golden and ochre medieval buildings cast deep cooling shadows over immensely picturesque cobbled streets lined with souvenir shops and restaurants serving an endless array of local gastronomic specialities – avoiding duck on the menu is simply not an option. Visit Sarlat in the evening to appreciate the romantic lighting and special ambience. Périgord Noir is also home to the Vézère valley with its magnificent networks of underground caves and grottoes, and the Dordogne valley with its magnificent châteaux on their pinnacles overlooking the broad, shining river below. This is the heart of the Dordogne that many tourists know and love and return to summer after summer.
To the west lies Périgord Pourpre, so named from the colour of the grape, as this is home to the lovely city of Bergerac (of Cyrano fame), surrounded by vineyards producing the much-appreciated Bergerac Blancs and Rouges, with the sweet wines of Monbazillac grown to the south of the city and less well-known reds such as AOC Pécharmant to the east. Périgord Pourpre also encompasses the numerous fascinating 13th-century bastide towns such as Monpazier and Beaumont-du-Périgord with their unique grid layout and fortifications which tell terrible tales of the battles of the Hundred Years’ War.
The central Dordogne, to the north of Bergerac, is named the Périgord Blanc, because of thecalcaire, the bright limestone that underlies the gentle rolling hills and valleys of open farmland and supplies the characteristic white stone for many buildings, including many striking Romanesque churches. The capital of the Dordogne, Périgueux, with its spectacular Romanesque cathedral and quaint vieille ville (great for shopping), is situated in this department, as is the country town of Ribérac, where a very popular market takes place every Friday.
To the northeast of the department lies the Périgord Vert, bordering on the Limousin, where green chestnut and oak forests are interspersed with cattle-grazing pastures. Visitors here head for the picturesque town of Brantôme, with its medieval abbey in white limestone, and the lovely village of Bourdeilles, with its château to visit and where a picnic by the gentle Dronne river is one of my favourite days out.
Now you’ve got your bearings, the question is, in which direction to head first? Of course this all depends on your priorities. But for starters almost everyone can find inspiration in the ‘Vallée de la Préhistoire’, an unrivalled location for caves, caverns and underground treasures. With 147 sites, 15 of which are UNESCO World Heritage listed, there’s scope for everyone, but atop the many archaeological wonders sits the ‘Sistine Chapel of Prehistory’, the wonderful Lascaux cave network with its extraordinary cave paintings, first discovered by four teenagers back in 1940. The year 2016 brings exciting developments for Lascaux, with the opening of The Centre International d’Art Pariétal Montignac-Lascaux (or Lascaux 4), a grand scheme blending contemporary architecture and design which will offer a full reproduction of the Lascaux cave thanks to new virtual reality and image technology.
Beyond Lascaux there are plenty of other underground attractions including the original cave paintings at Font-de-Gaumes, Les Eyzies, the unusually beautiful geological formations at the Gouffre de Proumeyssac and Maxange caves or the chance to go pot-holing at the Grotte de Beaussac.
Châteaux and Villages
Above ground, more traditional but equally uplifting architecture awaits, because the Dordogne has more than its fair share of châteaux to visit. From early fortified castles such as the cave fortress at Reignac and the imperious heights of Beynac and Castelnaud to the Renaissance masterpieces of Jumilhac and Milandes, which was built by the Lord of Caumont for his wife in 1489 but became much more famous in the last century as the home of chanteuse Josephine Baker and her children.
On a much more modest scale, but no less appealing, are the typical golden-stoned blue-shuttered villages of the Dordogne. The greatest claims to fame lies in the fact that no less than ten of the plus beaux villages de France are scattered throughout the department. In fact, the Dordogne is home to the largest number of listed villages in France. Situated 20km from Sarlat, Saint-Amand-de-Coly nestles between two wooded valleys and is famous for its 12th-century abbey. In the Périgord Vert, Saint-Jean-de-Côle’s history is linked with that of the Château de la Marthonie, which dominates its main square, while the typical village of Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère between Montignac and Les Eyzies boasts no fewer than three castles. Other villages include Limeuil (overlooking the confluence of the Dordogne and Vézère), Monpazier, La Roque-Gageac, Belvès, Domme, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle and Beynac-et-Cazenac.
Summertime Fun – for Children of all Ages
The summer season delivers maximum value for family holidaymakers with over a hundred events and activities focused on the younger tourists. Under the seductive heat of the Périgord sun there are plenty of activities to entertain the kids. After they have exhausted the pleasures of family canoeing why not give them a little education about ancient history at the Prehistory Labyrinth, opening in 2016, where they become explorers for a day. Or visit the Isle river near Jumilhac for a spot of gold-panning. For a theme park with a gentle French country vibe try Le Bournat. And don’t forget that many châteaux stage activities and displays with falconry, jousting and medieval street fairs to enjoy.
Anyone looking for more active pastimes is well catered for – the département offers numerous canoeing, kayaking, cycling and hiking trails for all standards, some, such as the Cro-Magnon Footpath, follow in the footsteps of prehistoric man. Organise your own ad hoc expedition or join in one of the many organised events. There truly is something for everybody – vintage costume and bicycle fans, for example, should not miss the retro cycle rally leaving from Monbazillac in August.
More Unexpected Pleasures to be Discovered
But often the charm of the Dordogne lies in the unexpected. You are driving or cycling and en route you take a wrong turn and find yourself in a little village which wasn’t recommended and hasn’t won any accolades. But as you look around your mystery village there’s an irresistible ambience – you have stumbled into a haven where time appears to have stood still for centuries. So you stop for a leisurelydéjeuner in a sleepy café and admire the sun filtering through the canopy of an ancient plane tree in the square. You exchange some friendly words with the waiter and watch a couple of old gents sitting and chatting on a bench near the fountain. On a crumbling ochre wall you notice the faded blue and white painted lettering advertising a long forgotten liqueur while at the foot of the wall a cat stretches lazily in the spring sunshine. In other words, you slow down, and you let the Dordogne, this rich and magically diverse region, fold its warming arms around you.
Blessed with fertile soils, enough rain to irrigate and plenty of warm sun to ripen its produce, the Dordogne offers an extravagant palate of local produce to tempt you.
Dordogne strawberries are hard to beat (buy them from any market and be sure to eat them the same day!) Sweet and fragrant, with many varieties to choose from – they even have their own website.
Walnuts are a Dordogne speciality, with Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status. You’ll enjoy them on a classic Périgordine salad – or even better, take back some walnut oil to dress your salads at home.
Black truffles are a local speciality highly prized by chefs for their delicate, aromatic, yet ear thy flavour. The truffles are harvested from December to February and sold in markets at very high prices.
Foie gras can divide opinion but there’s no getting away from its status in the Dordogne, where the duck and goose varieties are served in nearly all restaurants as an appetiser or cooked as part of a gastronomic main course.
Duck features in many shapes and forms within Périgordine cuisine, served as rillettes (a kind of pâté) on toast as a starter or cooked as magrets (grilled breast with a sauce) or confits (preserved in fat, served crispy).
SOURCE/CREDIT: France Today By Guy Hibbert – September 21, 2016