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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TOP 3 beaches for children on the Côte d'Azur

Posted by on in Children/Family

The Côte d'Azur is famous for its beaches and bright blue sea (it's not called the Azure Coast for nothing) but many people are surprised when they arrive to discover that plenty of the beaches are in fact pebbles, not sand.  Once you get over your surprise you'll find there are loads of things to love about stoney beaches which I've written about here.  Right now I'm going to tell you about some of our family's favourite beaches to take kids, toddlers and babies to in the region - and they're all sandy. The beach season spans roughly April till October, depending on the weather. Out of high season you'll find less people and more space though the water in spring can feel a little chilly.  We find the best time of year to swim as well as play on the sand is late summer/autumn as the crowds have gone, and the midday sun isn't too hot, but the water is warm, staying about the same as the air temperature well into October.  Here are our family's top 3 favourite beaches on the Riviera with little ones in tow.

Plage du Port Gallice, Juan les Pins

gallice beach Juan les Pins French Riviera

Tucked away between the Cap d'Antibes and Juan les Pins, this is a beach that locals know but not so many visitors are aware of...perhaps I shouldn't be writing about it here!  The little sailing port has a car park that is big enough to have never failed to find a space in even in the height of summer, but if you go early and are lucky you may find free street parking on Boulevard Baudoin. The beach is backed by a lovely stone wall, from one of the elegant properties behind, which absorbs the sun's warmth and protects from wind.  Gallice is always very sheltered and calm making it an ideal choice for toddlers and babies. The sand is fine and pale and the water shallow, though there are rocks at either end for climbing on and exploring.  The view looks out to yachts moored off Juan les Pins and over to the Estérel hills, and if you swim out a little you can gaze back on the fabulous luxury villas that line the beach.  With its small café and convenient toilets, it's really a great family choice.

plage gallice

 

Plage Passable, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

passable beach plage passable St Jean Cap Ferrat near Nice

This beach is located on the exclusive Cap Ferrat peninsula and like Gallice, is overlooked by a fabulous villa (once the summer house of the King of Belgium).  Once again, the villa's wall provides protection and warmth though this beach is more open than Gallice.  It looks across the beautiful Bay of Villefranche which is one of the deepest natural harbours in the Mediterranean and a regular port of call for cruise ships.  The beach is fine gravel which doesn't get into your sandwiches as much as sand and is easier on sensitive feet than pebbles.  It has a concrete jetty and rocks on either side perfect for jumping and diving off, making this a great choice for older children.  Parking can be a problem here though if you arrive by 10 am in summer and a bit later out of season you're likely to find a place.  The trick is to drive right past the beach to the end of the dead-end street which becomes a small metered carpark.  There is a restaurant and some rather basic toilets.

klaent passable

 

Plage de la Gravette, Antibes

Plage Gravette Antibes Côte dAzur

This beach is located conveniently close to the old town of Antibes, just nestled under the ramparts. Once again it is calm and protected by the old walls.  The water is quite shallow for a fair way out making it easy for adults to stand while helping toddlers swim.  It's sandy, though not as fine as at Gallice, and frustratingly has stones all along the water's edge making it harder to get in and out for those oldies with sensitive feet.  This never seems to be a problem for children though!  There is a snack van and basic loos but what we love about it is that you can pop over to the market to get delicious local produce for lunch.  Antibes market is open every morning until 1 pm and it's just bursting with olives, fresh seasonal fruit and veg, tapenades, saucisson, cheese and best of all socca.  Parking is usually OK in the new underground carpark by the ramparts but if it's full you should find somewhere to park in the marina if you look hard enough and the earlier the better, as usual.  Once you've finished on the beach you can wander around the boutiques of old Antibes or marvel at the super-yachts moored on the "quai des milliardaires" as it's known locally (billionaires' quay).

beach fun

Have you been to the French Riviera?  Do you have a favourite beach on the Côte d'Azur or elsewhere?  

You might like to read about other favourite beaches in the area in this series "A Beach a Week" and for my top recommendations check out 12 favourite beaches on the French Riviera

 

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BEST BEACHES for children on French Riviera

 

Gravette beach picture courtesy of Aimelaime on WikiMediaCommons

 

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Bright, bright sun-shining day

Posted by on in Provence-Côte d'Azur

ID-10041895When I had the idea to write about the amount of sunshine we get in the Côte d'Azur and compare it to other places I've lived I thought it would be pretty easy.  I figured a few questions to Google would give me the answers I was looking for and post done!  But it turns out it's surprisingly hard to find out "How many days of sunshine does _____________ have a year?" For the blank I filled in Sofia, Reykjavik, Delhi, Brussels, Paris, Prague, London, Hanoi and Sydney. I managed to get easy answers for 2 and after some tricky maths a couple more. But what was interesting was how many places didn't mention the sun at all. For Reykjavik it was all about the annual rainfall! (213 wet days a year, ouch).

The Côte d'Azur prides itself on having 300 sunny days a year.  This turns out to be the same as Sydney, about 5 times as many as London, Paris and Brussels and one and a half times as many as Prague. Sunlight is good for you!  These days we hear so much about the negative effects the sun can have on our skin that it's easy to forget the benefits.

Sunlight increases the production of serotonin and endorphins in the brain which has a mood enhancing effect.  Getting sufficient amounts of sunlight during the day can also help you sleep better at night as melatonin, a natural hormone made by our bodies, increases at night after exposure to the sun.  Melatonin enhances sleep and is believed to slow down the aging process. Recent research at Edinburgh University suggests that UV rays release a compound that lowers blood pressure, cutting heart attack and stroke risk and even prolonging life. But perhaps the most commonly known benefit of sunshine is that it is the primary source of vitamin D necessary for our bodies to absorb calcium.  Calcium is, of course, essential to build strong bones particularly in childhood. Interestingly, in Australia, in the last few years there has been a rise in the number of cases of rickets, a disease that had pratically been wiped out in the developed world.  This has been put down to the current obsession with completly covering children's skin in anti UV products, proving that we need a certain amount of sunlight to stay healthy. 

  Sunbaker maxdupain nga76.54

OK, so we've touched on the science, but I think it's obvious to say that sunshine simply makes us happy. I know that this year with the lousy spring after a long hard winter in Europe everyone I knew was desperate for sun.  We don't need scientists and doctors to tell us that and I, for one, am delighted to live in a sunny land.  The photo above is one of my favourite images ever, an Australian classic, Sunbaker by Max Dupain, taken in 1937.  The heat just radiates off it and I can feel the sunshine; in the words of Johnny Nash  "It's gonna be a bright, bright sun-shining day".

 

 

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 panorama mimosa

Driving around anywhere on the Côte d'Azur at the moment you'll see a riot of yellow flowering trees everywhere; surprisingly one of the most spectacular places is along the motorway between Cannes and Mandelieu.  This beautiful bright golden flower is Mimosa, or Wattle as it's known as in its native country, and this year it's late, it should be over by now.  It's usually the first flower to bloom, glorious little balls of yellow fluff resembling miniature suns, heralding the end of winter, mid to late January.  Infact ours has always been out in time for Australia Day on January 26th but this year it didn't bloom till the second half of February.  I probably couldn't tell you when most of our plants flower but of this I'm sure.  Why? Because there's some Aussie in me and Mimosa comes from down under - Wattle is Australia's national flower.

       mimosa1

Mimosa was originally brought back from Australia in the mid 19th century by aristocratic English travellers who spent their winters on the Riviera.  They thought the climate would suit it and they were right; those first few specimens have now spread to become the largest Mimosa forest in Europe just outside Mandelieu in the Massif de Tanneron.  The delicate golden orbs that make up the flower have a lovely light perfume which contributed greatly to the development of the cosmetic industry in nearby Grasse.  Nowadays Mimosa is still very much used in the production of perfume and also for the cut flower industry.  It is exported all around the world from France and one third comes from the Mandelieu area.  It's the staple income for many villages nearby and to celebrate this vital contributor to the local economy Mandelieu has a Mimosa Festival every year in February.

       mimosa tanneron

To really get a feel of the enormity of the Mimosa forest and to envelop yourself in its beauty you need to walk on one of the many signed paths in the Massif or take a scenic drive from Mandelieu-La Napoule. Head out of the town on the D92, enjoying the gorgeous panoramic view of the coast, across Cannes to the Lérins islands and over to the mountain peaks.  The road then penetrates through the heart of the forest to the village of Tanneron passing many of the hiking trails (recognisable by their wooden signs, click here for detail).  Leave Tanneron on the sinuous D38 that winds down to St Cassien Lake offering lovely views over the Siagne valley and the forest.  From Lac St Cassien follow signs back to the A8 to return along the motorway, itself bordered by the magnificent trees.

       mimosa damage

Every year we go for a walk in the Mimosa forest,  last year we went just after a heavy snowfall which created a huge amount of damage.  There were broken branches and collapsed trees everywhere. This year it's surprising that we're still able to do it mid-March; that the flowers are still out and it's great to see their recovery from last year. I guess it's one of the only positive things about the late arrival of spring! Walking along a ridge looking over the trees the views are superb: patches of yellow in the green or acres of solid yellow are unlike any forest view I've ever seen, truly unique.  In photos it can be hard to see the difference from autumnal images of leaves turning yellow but in reality it's totally different, unbelievably pretty, and much more impressive than my photos suggest. 

       boys in Tanneron forest

       mimosa 1

Have you seen a Mimosa forest?  Do you know your country's national flower? I'd love to hear from you.

 

Lou Messugo
 
 
 
 
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The Alpes-Maritimes department is bursting with a multitude of pretty hill villages, called "villages perchés" in French, built during the middle ages in strategic spots on mountain tops and hill sides. There are at least 15 within half an hour's drive of Lou Messugo, all with their own charm and more or less renovated/developed for tourists or left in an authentic untouched state.

Châteauneuf Grasse VillageBut there is one so close and yet so hidden that many people visiting the area wouldn't even realise it exists. (I'd be prepared to bet a significant amount of local residents don't realise there's a medieval "perched" bit either). I'm talking about the village of Châteauneuf de Grasse on the outskirts of its famous neighbour, Grasse.

Chateauneuf de Grasse perched village

Viewing it from the south it looks obvious but it's easy to miss the old centre as you drive through the modern strip of shops and cafés along the main road from Nice to Grasse. It just seems like a nothing kind of place, but tucked away on a hill side facing the coast and completely hidden from the road is one of the loveliest hill villages around. It's only tiny, but it has a real charm; it's like stepping back in time to a simpler era. It is almost totally devoid of shops, there are no commercial buildings of any sort, no cafés, nothing except a couple of municipal buildings - the Mairie and Mediathèque (in old buildings of course) - and well kept houses in empty alleyways. The views over the plain to the bay of Cannes and the Estérel mountains are just gorgeous, especially at sunset. You can wander around the village for half an hour and not bump into anyone at all.

chateauneuf

I first discovered Châteauneuf a few years ago when the primary school organised an "Olympiad" sports competition to coincide with the 2008 Olympic games. My elder son was the right age at the right time to be picked for the Roquefort team so we spent three very hot days cheering him on. The sports fields were off the main road up the hill in the old part of town, an unlikely a setting as you can imagine. With a dozen nearby schools taking part, the parking was hell; you really had to be able to squeeze into the smallest of spaces on a 30% angled slope, not one of my specialities! So that was the beginning of my interest our nearest hill village, and our nearest Châteauneuf.

Châteauneuf de Grasse Alpes Maritimes

The name Châteauneuf means "new castle" and is a popular name for a town. There are 32 in total in France, spread all over the country from Brittany in the west to Provence in the south. Dating back a thousand years, all these "new" castles are built in strategic sites noted for their defensive features: by the sea, high in the mountains, next to rivers, on promontories etc. They were nearly always the seat of a noble family bringing great wealth and leaving an interesting historical legacy. This particular Châteauneuf was founded in the 12th century by the Lords of Opio and has been fought over, burnt down and rebuilt over the centuries. Nowadays the castle (really a large house but called a castle owing to the fact that it was built on the site of an iron age fort) belongs to the Marquis du Rouret (didn't the French abolish their aristocracy in the Revolution?) The King of Belgium, Albert II, also owns property there.  He bought a village house as a holiday home before becoming King but once he was crowned he had to buy the houses on either side for security and staff, so you could say he has three houses in the village.  Pretty modest stuff for a royal family even so.

Châteauneuf de Grasse

In keeping with the bygone feel of the place, the last time I went for a wander around Châteauneuf I came across two people dressed in ranger uniforms, one with a leather sleeve over his arm.  They were whistling and searching the sky above them so out of curiosity I asked what they were doing.  It turned out they were calling their falcon which they were using to get rid of pigeons.  They were employees of the Châteauneuf town hall, "fonctionnaires", fully paid up to stand around while one bird of prey circled the roofs scaring off the odd pigeon. It struck me as a wonderfully old-fashioned method of pest control but monumentally inefficient!  At least it was ecological I guess.

chateauneuf grasse near cannes

Chateauneuf de Grasse Alpes Maritimes France

Châteauneuf de Grasse Côte dAzur

chateauneuf street

Chateauneuf shutters

ChdG

First photo credit and last photo credit (both from Wikimedia Creative Commons)

You may be interested to read tips on how to make visiting hill villages with children fun, which I have also written about.  Have you been to any perched villages?  Do you have a favourite?  I'd love to hear from you. 

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Chateauneuf de Grasse perched hill village Côte dAzur France

 

 

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