The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

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Notes from the Monte Carlo Rally

Posted by on in Provence-Côte d'Azur

To tie in with the Rallye Monte Carlo, which took place last weekend, today's post is written by my great friend and motorsport enthusiast, Sally Higgins. Despite living close to Monaco I'd never been to the Rally. It's not really my kind of thing but Sally, my go-to for anything motorsports, came to stay at Lou Messugo for a few days and offered to show me around and write about it for me. Amongst other things Sally has worked for Rally Australia organising events across the world and has driven around the Andes with Carlos Sainz. She's ridden an ancient Russian motorbike across the northern highlands of Vietnam and driven a solar-powered car from Darwin to Adelaide! More recently, she just got back a few days before from working on the Dakar Rally in Argentina and was in full rally-mode.  Quite the expert!

Rallye Monte Carlo header

Guest Post by Sally Higgins, motorsport enthusiast

It is more or less agreed that the Rallye Monte Carlo was the first official car rally ever to be held. This year, the 2015 Rally was the 83rd edition, which means that it started almost as soon as cars were invented. It is run by the Automobile Club of Monaco, which is celebrating its 125th year.

Rallye MC 125 ans

As the story goes, in the early editions of the rally, cars could choose to start from a number of different places including Morocco and travel to Monte Carlo. The 1911 winner travelled from Paris and was awarded the top prize not only for arriving first but also based on the elegance of his vehicle and the comfort of his passengers.

MC rally

photo credit: bestofrallylive via photopin cc

This year was set to be the battle of two French Sébastiens – Sébastien Ogier the reigning World Champion and arch rival Sébastien Loeb – recently retired World Champion, heart throb and France's darling. Sébastien Loeb was making a one-off appearance after 12 months of doing other things.  Loeb was back with his Citroen team, driving a DS3 WRC and Ogier was competing for Volkswagon Motorsport in a Polo R WRC. Technical regulations mean that some parts of these cars are actually a DS3 or a Polo but the 'WRC' bit in the name means that there are significant modifications to the vehicles. Things like gear boxes, wheels, brakes, the weight of the car and the engine, the ability to tune the engine, the power, the windows, and of course the inclusion of safety enhancements such as the roll cage make the car secretly fantastic.

Loeb rallye MC

photo credit: jfhweb via photopin cc

So why is it fun the watch a rally and where are the best places to go? There are VIP packages available and these include catering and viewing by helicopter which is the bees knees, but also quite expensive. But the good news is that for non-VIP spectators, the Monte Carlo Rally is free.  I personally quite enjoy getting out into the countryside, standing by the road and getting covered in mud and/or dust, honestly. That is how to see the cars going fast – and they do. The top drivers go breathtakingly fast. I've been lucky enough to be in the car with the likes of Tommi Makinen and Carlos Sainz, and you realise that these drivers are not like normal people. They have that absence of fear, along with the eye hand coordination that elite athletes have. Terrifying and exhilarating. Plus of course there is the noise. There is a thing called anti lag, to do with the turbo and maintaining power and it sounds like fireworks. At night time if you are standing in the right spot you can see flames coming out of the exhaust! And when they change gears it sounds as if the gear box is going to drop out onto the road. Seriously. But to the fans, this is the reassuring sound of the 'dog box' and apparently the metal on metal sound means that the gear box is much smoother, quicker and stronger. When you hear it, this actually sounds like a big lie to sell expensive gear boxes, but there it is.

Monte Carlo RallyA rally is basically a time trial. A particular section of public road is closed, and each car is timed between point A and point B. For the Monte Carlo Rally this is repeated 15 times. At the end of this the car that has recorded the shortest time wins. To condense the timing a bit, cars will start every 1 or sometimes 2 minutes, based on the assumption that if nothing bad happens they won't catch up with each other. If something bad does happen then they are likely to be going slower anyway.

Rallye Monte Carlo helicopter photo credit: bestofrallylive via photopin cc

The event is most famous for two things. One is fabulous backdrop of Monaco and more of that later, the second is the Col de Turini. I'll go out on a limb here and say that die-hard fans of the World Rally Championship, if they had a choice of seeing any part of any rally in the world, they would choose either 'El Condor' in Argentina, the famous 'yumps' of Finland or the Col de Turini, a mountain pass that at its peak reaches 1,607m and includes a long series of hairpin turns and vertical dropoffs that winds up the side of the mountain.

Col de Turini WRC

photo credit: bestofrallylive via photopin cc

Phoebe's husband JF and I made our plans. It would mean an early start on Sunday to get up there by 10.50am, when the first car was due. All this information is available on the website. We plan our route by simply putting 'Col de Turini' into Google maps, and calculate that it would take about two hours to get up there. It's going to be crowded but that's ok, we have time and can walk a bit. Did I mention that I'm from Australia? The max temperature forecast was 4 degrees, sunny but with plenty of snow underfoot. I would borrow clothes and look like the Michelin man, but that's ok. Appropriate I guess. Then we went out on Saturday night. Oops. On Sunday morning JF rang the Auberge at the Col de Turini who said that there was a lot of snow and that we would need chains to get near it. The End. We didn't go. I think that to get up there would require better planning and an overnight stay a bit closer to the Stage. It is something that I'd like to say I've done, but after brief but persuasive discussion we decided that coffees by the Port in Monte Carlo, and perhaps some ice skating as we watch the cars come in was a much better option.

Monaco skating

The only road that was closed in Monaco was la Route de la Piscine. This is where the Service Park was set up. The first cars were due at 1.30pm, we left Roquefort le Pins at about 11.45am and were parked and at the Service Area by about 12.30. We strolled through the service area to get our bearings. Access is free and the cars were so close as they came in that I almost had my feet run over by Ogier, (how good is that!).  The weather was sunny, mellow and hovering around 20 degrees (celsius). Phoebe and I had coffee at the Brasserie de Monaco while JF and their son made use of the ice rink that in summer is the swimming pool. Once the cars come in, you can watch as they are given a quick clean up before heading up to the la place du Palais Princier de Monaco for the Finish Podium. At this stage I should declare an interest and say that my partner works for the French rally team SaintEloc. So when their driver, Irishman Craig Breen came in for the service we could get to watch from the inside of the service area.

rallye Monte Carlo 3

To get to the Podium there are steps up to the Palais, or there is a leisurely stroll following a path that takes in the Musée Oceanographique de Monaco before heading up to the square. At 3pm the first car is on its way back down the Port and to the Parc Fermé where they assemble for an hour or two before they are released.  Unfortunately for him Sébastien Loeb smashed a rear wheel on Day 1, but fortunately for us he was not out of the race. He lost time because of the damage to the car and so was out of contention for the top prize.

rallye Monte Carlo 1

Lets face it, any excuse is a good excuse to visit Monaco and maybe next year I'll make it up to the Col de Turini.

Rallye Monte Carlo 4


So what do you think?  Have you been to a car rally? Sally has written for me before, about the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, so if you enjoyed this why not pop over and read all about that too. And don't forget to leave a comment, encouraging my lovely guest blogger to continue writing!


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Grow your Blog - blog hop party!

Posted by on in Blogging

Last year I participated in the biggest blog hop I've ever come across with over 400 participants and it was such a success that I'm doing it again. It's called Grow Your Blog and it's open to all genres of blog, from all over the world, simply to get to know each other, support and follow each other's blogs. Regular readers of my blog, you too may find some interesting new blogs to follow.

Lycée Masséna Nice

If you are visiting for the first time, hello and welcome. Here's a little bit about me to start you off. I live in the south of France with my husband JF and our two boys, where I run a vacation rental called "Lou Messugo" (hence the blog's name). My name is Phoebe (not Lou!) and I'm a British and Australian passport holder though I don't really « come » from anywhere in particular. I've been an expat since birth and have lived all around the world. JF is French and our children are tri-cultural and bilingual. This muticulturalism is an important and vital part of our family and naturally influences my interests and choices in life. If you'd like to know more about me click through to my About Me section here.

tarte tropézienne 2

In this blog I write about my passions – I write mainly about France, particularly the region I live in, the food and French culture in general. You'll find posts on language, holiday traditions, education and family as well as expat issues. But anyone who knows me will testify to the fact that my over-riding passion in life is travel and over the last year I have broadened out to include more writings on travel further afield in France and Europe too.


My posts are usually photo-led as this is another of my interests/hobbies. I strive to take good photos though I'm very much an amateur and always still learning. I hope I inspire you with the beauty that is around me. The photos here, selected to offer an example of the different catagories I write about, are all taken from previous posts I've written - by double clicking on them you can go through to the original.

hot pot in Iceland

Why did I start writing a blog ? There are two reasons. Firstly I saw it as a way of providing my gîte guests information about the area they were holidaying in. I didn't really think anyone else would read it. And secondly I have always thought I should write a travel book about my adventures but somehow I've never even tried. Blogging, writing short snippets, rather than the pressure of one big book has come more naturally and over the nearly 3 years I've been writing I've found I just love the whole bloggersphere-thing. I love the contact with other bloggers and the friendships I've made with readers and writers, some of whom I've now met in the flesh. There's no greater reward than someone contacting me out of the blue to thank me for a certain piece of information that they found through my blog or being nominated for an award by a fellow blogger.

hill village Collage

As for the future, I hope to continue growing this blog to an even wider readership and build on the relationships I've already made. I hope to keep finding interesting and inspiring things to write about, to entertain my readers and improve my writing skills along the way. So if any of this has piqued your interest I'd love you to subscribe, that way you won't miss out on any of my posts. (You'll find the subscription button at the top of the page). But there's no compulsion, don't worry if you don't want to, just pop by from time to time to see what's up or follow me on another form of social media (links to all of which can be found in the About Me section and by clicking on the buttons at the top of the page). I hope to hear from many new readers and absolutely love comments which I endeavour to reply to each time.

Christmas decorations Galeries Lafayette Paris

Over to you...what do you think ?


 Thanks to Vicky at 2 Bags Full for hosting this great event

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3 (unusual) things to love about Nice

Posted by on in Provence-Côte d'Azur

3 things to love about Nice

Nice is a city of contrasts, located on the beautiful Mediterranean sea hemmed in by Alps, its location is hard to beat.  Contrast the bright blue sea with the snow-capped mountains; the reds and ochres of the Italianate Old Town with the white Belle Epoque palaces in the "new town"; the super yachts on the harbour with the highrise blocks of social housing in the suburbs.  It's also a city of superlatives: it has the most sunshine of any city in France (300 days a year), it has the longest urban seafront in Europe, it is the most visited city in France after Paris, it has the most museums in France after Paris....and as far as I'm concerned it offers the best quality of living in France. But here I want to tell you about 3 unusual things that I love about Nice.

Promenade des Anglais Nice


Art in the City

Nice has a project called Art in the City which consists of public art along the tram line.  13 artists from both France and elsewhere have contributed different art installations along route 1 of the tramline.  The collection is very eclectic ranging from the enormous and very obvious Conversations by Jaume Plensa in Place Massena to light shows and even sound projections. These are perhaps the least obvious to a foreign visitor who may be surprised to hear a cutesy toddler announce the name of the stop followed by a gravelly crooner and then church bells!  The announcements change according to the time of day, time of year (summer/Christmas...), public holidays, weekend etc.  I think it's amusing and enjoy hearing a voice I haven't heard before.  

Tramway art Nice

Many of the works of art are not that obvious, being located slightly off the line, and some are badly maintained but over all I love that the city has created an unusual trail of art to entertain commuters (and visitors).  My favourites, apart from Conversations, are the name signs and little ditties written by local artist Ben (Benjamin Vautier) in each stop and the Porte Fausse (false door) in marble and gold between the old town and new.  

Ben tram Collage


Passive "air conditioning" in the Old Town

The Old Town is surprisingly cool even in the heat of summer.  This is partly to do with the clever planning and orientation of the streets taking account of the direction of sea breezes and other sources of cool air, but it is also because of the airflow system through the buildings themselves. Walking around the Old Town you might notice decorative metal grilles over doorways with no glass.  These are air inlets which together with vaulted ceilings push the air through to the staircases and corridors and out into interior courtyards, thereby creating a flow of circulating air. Air is also captured by the precisely calculated angle of the slats in typical Niçois window shutters. And get this...doors even used to have non-symmetrical hinges to make sure they wouldn't slam shut in the breeze!  I don't suppose this still exists in many places but the shutters and door grilles certainly do.  I find all this so clever, so ingenious, and such a great way to avoid having to install polluting and ugly modern air conditioning units.  (Though I have no idea how these very same buildings keep warm in winter!)

Nice air conditioning


The midday cannon

Possibly one of the quirkiest things about Nice is that every day at midday a cannon blast is heard across the city.  Well, I guess you can't hear it in the west or northern reaches of the town but around the Old Town and central streets off the Promenade des Anglais the sudden explosion makes many a visitor jump.  This cannon blast has a peculiar history relating to an English man summoning his wife home at midday to make lunch and has occurred every day since 1876 (except once when the detonator got stuck in traffic!)  Surprisingly even today when a cannon is no longer used, the noise is not automated but comes from a large firework manually set off on the Castle Hill.    For a full description of how this peculiar tradition came about check out the post I wrote about it here.

orange trees in Nice

Nice is a wonderful city, as well as my three more unknown reasons to love it, how can you not fall in love with a city that has citrus trees lining the streets, around 30 beaches, one of the world's biggest and best carnivals and is home to the world famous Salade Niçoise?  I'm totally under its spell.

Nice Old Town shutters and laundry

Have you been to Nice?  What did you love about it? Or tell me 3 things you love about your town. I'm eternally curious and love hearing from you. 

credit for first photo: Chris Wevers via photopin cc



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Silent Sunday - 18 January 2015

Posted by on in Silent Sunday

oak tree at Le Caire Tourette sur Loup






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 Living in France

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Expat in France