Road Trip in Mainland Greece

Mainland Greece

In order to celebrate Carlos’s and my birthday, we decided to book some holidays and go on a road trip adventure in mainland Greece. We went with no expectations, but these places really surprised us a lot and this ended up being one of my favorites trips ever in Europe!

 

Meteora

Interesting facts about the city:

The rock pillars where the monasteries were built were formed approximately 60 million years ago by earthquakes and weathering.

Out of the original 24 monastery, only 6 remain. All six are in use; however many monks have left the site.

During World War II the site was frequently bombed. And, when the bombs were not being dropped, the monasteries were being raided for priceless works of art, which were stolen – never to be seen again.

The site is featured in the James Bond movie, ‘For Your Eyes Only’. It all takes place at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.

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Carlos, Jane, Alejandro and I decided to do a road trip across Greece to celebrate our birthdays. The four of us lived together in Malta for over a year, but this was the first time we traveled together.

We landed in Athens and rented a car with Sixt for 5 days for 133€. As for accommodation, we stayed in a house called Kastraki Σπίτι με θέα and paid a total of 225€ for four nights. I totally recommend this place! We had a big house with a large outdoor space and a nice view to the Meteora mountains. Two friendly cats that live there were also a bonus!

Meteora (which literally means ‘suspended in the air’), a UNESCO World Heritage-listed place, is an eroded rock which monks have built their monasteries on so they could be closer to God. Twenty-four of these almost inaccessible monasteries were built during the 15th century despite incredible difficulties.

The rock masses were formed some 60 million years ago, their distinctive and varied shapes sculpted over time by earthquakes, rain, and wind. The sandstone megaliths on which the monasteries were built average 300 meters in height, with several reaching 550 meters.

Although 24 monasteries were built, each containing a church or two, monks’ cells, and a refectory, only 6 remain – Great Meteoron, Varlaám, Roussanou, St. Nikolas, Holy Trinity, and St. Stephen.

Great Meteoron is the highest, largest and oldest of the six monasteries of the Meteora. However, it was the only one of two we couldn’t visit inside, as it was closed.

Varlaam is the second largest monastery in the complex. It was built in 1541 and embellished in 1548. There is a church dedicated to All Saints, in the Athonite type (cross-in-square with dome and choirs), with spacious exonarthex which is surrounded by a dome. 

Roussanou was founded in the middle of the 16th century and decorated in 1560. It occupies a lower rock than the others of the Meteora. St. Nikolas is another monastery, notable for its unique construction.

St. Stephen’s was founded around 1400. It has a small church built in the 16th century and decorated in 1545. This monastery rests on the plain rather than on a cliff. It was shelled by the Nazis during World War II who believed it was harboring insurgents and was abandoned. Nuns took it over and reconstructed it.

Last but not least, Holy Trinity. This monastery is very difficult to reach. You need to cross the valley and continue high up through the rock before arriving outside the entrance. The church is in the cross-in-square type with the dome based in two columns, built in 1475-76 and decorated in 1741.

There are a lot of well-preserved frescoes inside all of these monasteries. We paid 3 euros to enter each monastery, which is a very reasonable price. Before you enter, if you are a girl, shoulders must be covered and long skirts (provided at the entrance) need to be worn as a sign of respect, even if you were already wearing jeans.

The UNESCO has characterized the Meteora as a “monument of Humanity that has to be maintained“. They don’t belong only to Greece but also to the entire world and they are a unique harmonious matching of Byzantine architecture and natural beauty.

Meteora is a place where monks spend their days in prayer for the good of others. And they do this in one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. This is a place that seems to be created for peace and tranquility – the perfect haven for those looking to escape from the world.

From sunrise to sunset, the valley at Meteora shifts and changes. For Carlos’s birthday, we decided to go to the top of a mountain and watch the sunset from there, with some blankets, nice music and a bottle of wine. It was truly magical! We were listening to ‘Over the Rainbow’ by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, just enjoying that amazing moment!

We stayed there till night, and then watched the stars and constellations, which was equally incredible. The moon and the stars cast a glow over the valley. There are no lights here, other than those in the sky, and you can not hope to count the number of stars your eyes can see.

To celebrate Carlos’s birthday we ate at this place called Meteoron Panorama. This girl that works there (Monica) was super friendly and the food was amazing! The oven-baked beef with four kinds of cheese was one of the best main dishes that I’ve ever eaten.

I can’t stress enough how nice people were to us all the time. If the economy wasn’t so bad, I would definitely move to Greece just because everyone is so nice! The best example of this was the lady from the bakery we went to every morning to buy bread and sweets for breakfast and the guy from the coffee place where we went to every morning to have coffee who let us eat there the sweets we bought outside. He was super friendly and was always taking our trash away and serving more water, etc. Amazing service! Usually, I don’t tip, but on this trip, I was tipping everyone!

I couldn’t find the name of the bakery nor the coffee place, but the latter is located in this house below and the bakery was right across the street.


 

Ioanninna

Interesting facts about the city:

Ioanninna is one of the most beautiful cities in Greece. The island of Pamvotida Lake is the sole inhabited lake island in Europe. Only about 100 people live in that island!

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For my birthday, since we had already visited Meteora and pretty much seen all the monasteries the day before, we decided to do something different and visit a cute town called Ioannina.

This charming city lies in the north-western part of Greece. Even though it barely makes it into the travel guides, it has a lot to offer. We had no expectations whatsoever and it really surprised us! Its narrow centric streets with bars and cozy coffee places, the castle walls and, mainly, the island in the middle of the lake!

Ioannina’s castle, with the famous southeastern citadel of Its Kale, and the stories of the colorful Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha (1740-1822) who ruled the city for 34 years before being executed by the Ottoman central government, help define the city’s unique atmosphere.

However, the main attraction of Ioannina for me was indeed Lake Pamvotida, an ideal place for long strolls along its banks. From the lake, you can see the Aslan Pasha Mosque building, which will make you feel like you’re in Turkey.

We took a small boat for 2euros to visit the island within the lake, which is home to beautiful monasteries and a few restaurants. This is the only inhabited lake island in Europe. There are not a lot of people living there, but, again, everyone was super friendly to us!

We bought a very good alcoholic drink from an old lady – which she produces with lots of honey and cinnamon, supposedly good as a digestive – and had some wine in a restaurant in the central square of the island, where the lady gave us some food for free to go with the wine. Amazing service!

After coming back from the island, we had my birthday dinner at Balsamico. Again, it was an excellent choice! I ate what’s in the picture – with chicken and cheese inside – and it was divine!


 

Pozar & Edessa

Interesting facts about the city:

Edessa is famous for its beautiful waterfalls. The falls are a natural phenomenon that arose after a strong earthquake that struck the surrounding area in the 14th century.

In Ancient times, there was a temple of a water-deity near Edessa waterfalls, which can be seen on some older paintings.

The most unique thing about Pozar Thermal Baths is the cold stream and waterfall located right next to the hot springs.

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On our last full day in Greece, we headed to visit Pozar Thermal Baths. For couples and for groups of friends like us, the baths are a popular and wholesome alternative to a nightcap; the indoor private baths operate 24h a day and can remain full almost throughout the night, especially on weekends. A year-round destination, it attracts a mainly younger crowd on day trips in the cooler months. In the summer, older patrons often come for stays of a week or two.

There were three, two of them natural. It felt so nice being in that hot steamy water in winter when it was cold outside! And it’s very cheap – at just 2 euros each, enjoying both pools is an affordable indulgence. Pozar, which means “beneath the fire” in Slavic, is nature at its most luxurious, combining rugged beauty with pure sensual pleasure.

After being in the pools for a while, we explored its rugged side, hiking through the forested gorge for a bit. There are trails to suit every ability level, starting with a flat paved path following the Thermopotamos River.

Before leaving, we had dinner at Taverna Τo Χωριάτικο. After eating, we headed to Edessa to see the waterfall. The Waterfall Park in Edessa is nearly a must-see when in the region. Edessa itself lies on top of a rock-hill, and its famous waterfalls running down from the height of ca 70 meters to the valley below.

There is a well-arranged park with promenade-paths all around the area with 2 bigger waterfalls, one named Karanos, and the other a Double-one, and some smaller cascades of water and pools. It is possible to come behind the biggest waterfall and see waters fall down right in front of you, an imaginative picture on a sunny day – even though unfortunately we went there after sunset when it was already dark.


 

Delphi

Interesting facts about the city:

Delphi was an important ancient Greek religious sanctuary sacred to the god Apollo.

Located on Mt. Parnassus, the sanctuary was home to the famous oracle of Apollo which gave cryptic predictions and guidance to both city-states and individuals. In addition, Delphi was also home to the panhellenic Pythian Games.

Delphi was also considered the centre of the world, as Zeus released two eagles, one to the east and another to the west, and Delphi was the point at which they met after encircling the world. This fact was represented by the omphalos (or navel), a dome-shaped stone which stood outside Apollo’s temple and which also marked the spot where Apollo killed the Python.

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On our last day, before going back to Athens to catch our flight back to Malta, we made one last stop in Delphi. The name ‘Delphi’ was coined from ‘Dolphin’ because it is widely believed that Apollo first visited the region in the shape of a Dolphin. The city is well known as the seat of the high priestess of Apollo called Pythia. It was the city where guidance and predictions were given to humans in ancient times.

Since it was free of charge and still open after 3pm, we visited the Delphi Tholos, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a circular design and stands about 13.5m in height in the middle of the Athena Pronaia temple. Metopes were constructed on these buildings to depict different events.

There were a lot of other ancient monuments that we didn’t have the chance to visit, such as the Delphi Theatre, which was built in the same hill as the Temple of Apollo. The theatre was constructed with limestone in the 4th century. It has over 35 rows that can accommodate an audience of about 5000. Many events are still hosted here to date. The Treasury of Athens is another example. It was constructed in Delphi to accommodate offerings and dedications made to Apollo by Athenians.

After visiting the city, we ate at Υδρία Δελφοί, with an amazing view to watch the sunset over the sea and the mountains.

After spending 5 amazing days in Greece, it was time to go back home. As I mentioned before, even though we had no big expectations, this trip and the places we visited surprised me a lot and I had an amazing time! I definitely recommend everyone to not just visit the Greek islands but also the mainland.

 

 

The Glamorous Côte d’Azur

The Glamorous Côte d'Azur

Alejandro and I went on a road trip adventure with two friends across the French Riviera. Explore the glamorous Côte D’Azure region with us and find out more about cities like Nice, Monte Carlo, Cannes or Avignon.

Nice

Interesting facts about the city:

Nice has only been part of France since 1860, when Italy reluctantly gave the city up to repay France for helping defend itself from the Austrians.

Nice’s beaches are unusual – they are not sandy, they are filled with smooth stones that come from the mouth of the Var and Paillon rivers.

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For this trip, we decided to do a road trip in the south of France. We landed in Nice and rented a car at the airport with Sixt. We paid €245 for 7 days, including basic insurance. Everything went well, but at some point, we saw that the windshield had a small scratch but, fortunately, they never noticed it and our deposit was fully returned.

Nice is incredibly beautiful! From the whole trip, it was one of my favorite cities. Nice is the capital of the Cote D’Azur, and thousands of tourists from across the globe travel to this charming, historic and beautiful french city. Many world-famous celebrities have chosen the city as the location for a holiday home, including Elton John, Tina Turner, Keith Richards, and Bono, just to name a few

We arrived at night and booked two nights at the Villa Calliste, paying €285 for two rooms. The place was amazing! It was this big house with big balconies and a backyard with nice trees, a trampoline, a table, and a big BBQ. The owner was a friendly French guy who helped us a lot with everything we needed.

The next morning we went to Menton and Monaco (will talk about it below), and when we got back, we decided to take advantage of the backyard of our Villa and did a barbecue there. It was super nice! The food was amazing and we had music, drinks… it was fun!

On our second day, before heading up to Montpellier, the owner of the Villa had some bicycles there and let us use them for free. It nice riding a bike again, I surely missed it 🙂 We drove all the way to the closest beach and stopped there to go for a quick swim. This beach was not one of the most famous ones in Nice, but we loved it!

After our bike ride, we visited the thriving Promenade des Anglais, which hugs 7 km of the gorgeous coastline in the South of France. It takes its name from the English tourists who would promenade along the sea. Among the celebrated Brits that fancied Nice were Queen Victoria or Winston Churchill.

The historic Old Town is very nice as well. We walked around the old town, and one of my favourite sites was a fountain called Fountain of the Sun,  which was surrounded by a nice square – Place Masséna – and a nice garden – Jardin Albert I.

The Iron Man world championship competition was taking place there on that day. There were thousands of people from all over the world watching and/or competing. Connected to this fountain is the Avenue Jean Médecin, the main commercial street of the city. We went there as well to do some shopping.

We only had time to go for a swim in the Plage des Ponchettes on one of our last days, before catching the plane back to Malta. The beaches of Nice are rocky, which, among tourists is considered both positive and negative. Some people hate it and others love it. You don’t get sand between your toes, however, laying on the beach is very hard. I personally hated it! The waves were huge and the stones made it more difficult to enter or leave the water, and laying down was too uncomfortable.

Before leaving Nice we went close to the ‘I Love Nice’ sign to take some pics. There were a lot of asian tourists there, queuing for their alone-time with the sign, so it was quite difficult for us to do it.


 

Menton

Interesting facts about the city:

Menton, located at the Italian border, is nicknamed “The Pearl of France“.

The lemon became the symbol of the city, since it is the only region in France where, thanks to a unique microclimate, lemon trees grow. Also, since sixty-five years, the lemon festival takes place in the city.

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As I mentioned before, on our first full day in France we went to Menton. This city is situated on the French Riviera along the Franco-Italian border, 30km from Nice and 170km from Genoa (Italy).

A general view of the historic part of Menton from the seafront gives the appearance of a perched village. The narrow streets of the old town are bordered with the ochre façades of tall houses and are often dark, winding and vaulted. They are linked by covered passages (such as Traverse Saint-Miche) or reach cool little squares.

The campanile of St. Michel Church proudly soars above the steep narrow lanes and pastel-shaded façades of the historic old town, squeezed between two bays. From the seafront, a succession of majestic flight of steps leads up to the cobbled parvis of the church. It was a quick stop due to the small size of the city, but definetely worth it!


 

Monaco

Interesting facts about the city:

Almost 30% of the population of Monaco was a millionaire in 2014, similar to Zurich or Geneva. Monaco doesn’t allow its own citizens to enter casinos in the country.

Monaco was never a part of France despite its long history and geographical intimacy with France.

Three of James Bond Films have been shot here in Monte-Carlo Casino. The casino was opened in Monaco 153 years ago, in 1863.

Monaco Grand Prix is one of the main events that the country hosts every year. If you are curious about the winner of the event, note that “Ayrton Senna” has won the Grand Prix 6 times, more than any other race car driver.

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After Menton, we headed back to Nice but, before that, we made a quick stop in Monaco. Monaco, officially the Principality of Monaco, is a sovereign city-state, country, and microstate on the French Riviera. The principality stretches for only 2 square kilometers but, what it may lack in size, it certainly makes up for in style! This is one of the most affluent spots in the world as well as being blessed with an abundance of nature.

The old part of Monaco sits on a high rock called Le Rocher. We climbed all the way up and visited the Palais du Prince, where the prince lives. The views are really nice from there!

Close to the palace was the Monaco Cathedral. However, I couldn’t enter because of my clothes, as they didn’t offer anything to put on and cover your shoulders. Next to the Cathedral were Les Jardins Saint-Martin. These gardens are known for a memorial statue of Prince Albert I. The gardens skirt along the coast and take you along the Le Rocher coastline.

Of course, we couldn’t miss the main spot – the worldwide famous Casino de Monte Carlo. We saw a lot of fancy cars outside, for sure there were a lot of rich people there. We went inside and actually spent like 5 euros each, playing slot machines, just to get the experience. Needless to say, we all lost our money! Next to the casino was another impressive building, the Opera de Monte Carlo.

It was very nice to see the luxury of this tiny country. Even the tunnels where we drove looked like they had diamonds on the floor! We left Monaco feeling poor, but definetely amazed.


Montpellier

Interesting facts about the city:

The University of Montpellier is one of the world’s oldest universities, established in 1289 by William VII.

Montpellier is the 8th largest City in France. It is now the fastest growing city in France over the last half-century – as well as one of the most multicultural – more than doubling in size from 119,000 in 1962.

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On our third day we drove all the way to Montpellier. From Nice to Montpellier it was a 3h30 drive, quite a lot – specially for people who are now used to drive in the small Maltese islands! We arrived at night and stayed at my sister’s place.

It was so nice to see my sister Isabel again, after 6 or 7 years without seeing each other! I can’t believe we spent that much time apart, time just flies! I haven’t seen any of my siblings since I moved to Malta, almost 3 years ago, which is a shame.

My sister looks very nice! She’s 50 something years old but she looks younger now than the last time I saw her. It’s nice to see that she built a nice career path for herself. She’s now the owner of a real state agency chain, and travels a lot to check on what her employees are doing.

She lives in Dijon, like most of my siblings. However, she just bought a house in Montpellier and, luckily, she was still in Montpellier to finish decorating the place by the time we got there – which, by the way, was amazing – in order to rent it out to some students. My nephew (her son) lives next door so I also got to see him and his kids, which was cool!

The next day we explored the city. We started at Promenade du Peyrou. This is the part of the city that goes from the elegant Arc de Triomphe to the magnificent Château d’eau. It is the work of Etienne Giral and his son Jean-Antoine, although the castle-like building with Corinthian pillars that stands on top of the romantic pond was designed by Henri Pitot in 1768.

Behind it visitors will be able to observe one of Montpellier’s Roman aqueducts, a wonderful work of art that is beautifully preserved to this day. In this Promenade there was a flea market and we had some fun seeing the old stuff that people were selling.

We visited Place de la Comédie, this big central square. The imposing building at one end of the square is the city’s Opera, and there are also many cute French cafes and cinemas lining the sides. At another end there is a shopping mall with some exciting French stores, and in front lies the Esplanade, a beautiful green area where there is a relaxing pond.

We also saw the Cathedrale St Pierre. The city’s cathedral is spectacular. It was founded in 1364 although it was only declared a cathedral in the 16th century.

After visiting the city, we headed back to say goodbye to my sister and then continued our road trip, heading to the city of Nîmes.


Nîmes

Interesting facts about the city:

Nimes is sometimes called the ‘French Rome’. It was founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago. It has several well-known roman monument: the Arena, the Maison Carree and the Pont-du-Gard Aquaduc.

It is one of the few places in France where corridas are organized. It has also a very famous festival every summer for one month called ‘La Feria’.

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This city was nicknamed the ‘Emperor Augustus’ daughter’. This old Roman colony was built in 30 BC and has a wealth of sites considered as the best preserved in Europe.

In the city centre is the impressive Les Arènes, the Imperial oval-shaped Amphitheatre that the Romans built to hold their games. Twice a year, the arena pulses to the rhythm of Nimes revered tradition: bullfights. Close to the arena there’s a statue representing these bullfights.

Right next to the arena, is the Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle, a handsome open space, trimmed with plane trees hackberries, and decorated with the marble Fontaine Pradier, which was added in 1851.

Another monument left by the Romans was La Maison Carrée, which we also visited. This temple was designed after the Apollo Temple in Rome.

We went to the Nîmes Cathedral as well. There has been a religious building right here since the Roman temple of Augustus, and the northwest tower and a few arches on the facade were constructed in the 1100s. They are all that survived the French Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, so the rest of the building has a 19th century neo-gothic design, while the interior also got a neo-byzantine overhaul.

We finished our small tour around Nîmes with a visit to Les Jardins de la Fontaine. The gardens sit at the foot of the Nemausus fountain, that gave its name to Nîmes.  These gardens date back to the 18th century. Some Roman ruins were uncovered — a sanctuary, Roman baths, an antique theatre and a temple of Diana. Truly beautiful!

After visiting Nîmes, we decided to make a quick stop at Pont du Gard. The magnificent aqueduct traverses the Gardon River.

Pont du Gard is the most astonishing section of the aqueduct, standing at almost 50 metres, with three tiers of arches.


 

Avignon

Interesting facts about the city:

During the Middle Ages, the city was the seat of the popes, from 1309 to 1377. The Palais des Papes is still the largest Gothic palace in the world.

The Avignon Bridge is perhaps best-known as the subject of a children’s rhyme, “Sur le Pont D’Avignon.” The bridge, which was built during the 12th century, is fallen into ruins. Today, less than half of the original bridge remains, extending only halfway through the Rhone River.

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Our next stop was Avignon, the city of Popes. Located in the lush vineyards of the Rhone Valley, the ancient walled city and university town of Avignon is rich in history, artistic brilliance, and Provencal life.

When the popes moved from Rome in the Middle Ages, the city of Avignon became the capital of Christendom. This is illustrated in the churches, chapels, convents, and ornately decorated buildings and monuments all around Avignon.

We arrived at night and stayed at 23 Rue Carreterie and paid €132 for an apartment for one night. At night the city looked a bit dangerous. In fact, I stayed alone in the car while the rest tried to look for the hotel, and while I was alone, two young guys tried to enter the car! It was a bit scary but thankfully the car was locked and nothing happened.

The next morning we went to explore the city. First and main stop – the Palais de Popes. This is the grandest and most opulent of the religious attractions from the Middle Ages. Built in the 14th century, the Palace of Popes sits at the highest point in Avignon, a white granite majesty that rivals St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Originally built between 1350 and 1370, Avignon’s ramparts, or protective walls, give the city its defining architectural aesthetic. Within the walls there’s a wealth of museums, 17th and 18th-century mansions, and botanical gardens.

We also visited Saint-Benezet Bridge, the famous Pont d’Avignon. Sur le Pont d’ Avignon is a famous 15th century French nursery-rhyme song that commemorates Avignon’s Saint-Benezet Bridge.

This bridge was built between 1177 and 1185. It was abandoned in the mid-17th century as the arches tended to collapse each time the Rhône flooded making it very expensive to maintain. Four arches and the gatehouse at the Avignon end of the bridge have survived. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas sits on the second pier of the bridge.

After Avignon, we drove to Marseille, a city that Alejandro and I had already visited together two years ago.


 

Marseille

Interesting facts about the city:

Marseille is the second-largest city in France after Paris and the centre of the third-largest metropolitan area in France after Paris and Lyon.

One of the funniest fact about Marseille is that it was founded in 600 B.C. by Greeks from Focea, which is actually Turkey. Maybe this is why the city looks a bit Turkish.

It has the biggest commercial port in France. The port is one of the most important ones in the Mediterranean.

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It was my second time in the city but it was nice going back to the main places and trying to collect the memories from the previous visit.

We started off by visiting the Old Port, with the nice boats. The real industry has long moved to the modern docks in the north, and most of the boats in the old port are just for the views. Then, we walked all the way from the Old Port to the Cathédrale La Major.

Before leaving Marseille, we also visited the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. This is a 19th-century neo-Byzantine church 150 metres above the water, with a large golden statue of the Virgin and Child at the top of its tower to watch over Marseille’s maritime communities. The views from up here is jaw-dropping!

After a full day of sightseeing, we finished off the day in Aix-en-Provence.


 

Aix-en-Provence

Interesting facts about the city:

Aix-en-Provence is famous for being home to Cézanne, French artist and Post-Impressionist painter.

Provence has been producing wines for over 2,000 years – specially rose wine. This region is known for its fantastic wine productions!

To some, there’s nothing that epitomises the appeal of Provence more than the purple rows of lavender that pepper the landscape every summer in the famous lavender fields.

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We arrived to Aix-en-Provence at night and stayed at Hôtel Le Mozart. We paid €181 for two rooms for one night. Thankfully we decided to visit the city that night, because the following day it started to rain a lot and we couldn’t visit anything at all!

We started our visit in Cours Mirabeau. This avenue has a wide walkway shaded by rows of lush plane trees, and is replete with mansions and restaurants that were the haunts of French cultural icons like Camus, Cézanne and Zola.

On the western limit is La Rotonde, possibly the most beautiful of Aix’ fountains, while the strangest,  La Fontaine d’Eau Chaude is fed by a host spring, is covered with moss and creates a delicate mist on cold winter days.

Then we wandered along the charming narrow streets of Old Aix. These streets have gorgeous architecture, charming markets, unexpected historical flourishes and the constant feeling that you’re walking in the shoes of great artists and writers.

It’s a heady concoction, so you could use the city’s famous fountains as the basis for your tour. Many of these are Roman springs and have been hydrating Aix for thousands of years, even if their design has changed.

In the middle of Old Aix, we found the Aix Cathedral. Arriving at this monument you’ll see right away how Aix Cathedral blends different styles and eras. To the left is the gothic portal with beautiful sculpture and the Virgin with Child in the centre. But next door to this is the romanesque entrance from the 1100s, which joins onto a much older Roman wall, believed to have belonged to a temple to Apollo.

I fell in love with this city from the very first moment we arrived! After visiting the city centre, we stopped at a bar to drink some cocktails and I felt at home. I heard some University students doing games and drinking, and it reminded me of the ‘praxe’ and my time as a student in Porto.

The next day we were supposed to visit the rest of the city and then go to St. Tropez afterwards. However, since the heavy rain didn’t stop for a minute, we decided to stop at Ikea and Primark in a city called Toulon and do some shopping indoors. Then, we carefully drove back to Cannes.


 

Cannes

Interesting facts about the city:

The mysterious and iconic Man in the Iron Mask spent 11 years of his isolated life on the island belonging to the commune of Cannes, Just a 15-minute ferry ride from the main city.

The Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 classic “To Catch a Thief” shows a Riviera cat burglar in the Carlton Hotel. It was during the film shoot that Hollywood star Grace Kelly actually met Prince Rainier, ruler of Monaco, who then became her husband.

The famous Cannes International Film Festival takes place in the city every year. It was founded in 1939, but it had to be stopped by the war and it only returned in 1946.

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When we arrived in Cannes that night, the rain stopped and it didn’t rain again until the end of our trip. We were lucky! In Cannes we stayed at Zenitude Hotel-Residences Le Cannet. We booked two rooms for two nights and paid €342 in total.

At night we didn’t know where to go for dinner so we ended up going to a supermarket and buying lots of finger food and tapas and a bottle of wine, and made an amazing candle-light improvised dinner outside in our balcony. It was cheaper and much nicer than going out to a fancy restaurant for sure!

The next day we explored the city for a bit, before going to the beach. We started the visit in Marche Forville. Every day of the week, except on Monday, you can visit this colourful food market. After the market, we explored the narrow pitouresque streets of the city centre.

Then we visited the La Croisette, where you can find Palais des Festivals, the location of the world-renowned Cannes International Film Festival.

La Croisette is exactly like the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it is one of the most iconic streets in France and it certainly dominates Cannes. This is where you’ll find all the smartest hotels, many of which have their own private beaches.

After visiting the city, we stopped in one of the public beaches – Plage du Midi – and went for a relaxing swim. The temperature of the water was ok and the color of the water was super clear and beautiful! After this, we went again to Nice and swam there as well, but to be honest this beach in Cannes was much nicer than the one in Nice, as this one was sandy, not rocky.


 

Antibes

Interesting facts about the city:

Antibes was originally a Greek trading post known as Antipolis and it became heavily fortified over the centuries.

Musée Picasso is the first museum in the world dedicated to the artist Pablo PicassoPicasso has done much for Antibes’ reputation, and he was not the only famous painter that lived in Antibes: Claude Monet is another good example.

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After an entire day exploring beaches in Cannes and Nice, we finished off the day in Antibes. This stop was not in our initial plans, but we were looking for a special place to go for dinner and this place seemed super nice (and not that far).

We visited the city centre a bit. We saw the Château Grimaldi, the site of the Musée Picasso, was home to Picasso for six months in 1946. He himself donated a number of paintings to the museum, and the rest were given by his wife after Picasso’s death. Visitors today can see 254 works by Picasso, as well as enjoy the beautiful building and setting on the Cap itself.

In a beautiful location on the Baie des Anges, the Old Town is an inviting place to wander at a leisurely pace. The narrow, winding cobblestone streets are filled with little boutiques, gourmet food shops, cafés, and restaurants. With its seaside views, stone buildings, elegant fountains, and bougainvillea-draped alleyways, Vieil Antibes has the typical character of an old Mediterranean city.

We had dinner in an outdoor market square, in a nice restaurant where we ate lots and lots of mussels and drank very good wine. Totally worth it!


St. Paul de Vence

Interesting facts about the city:

The 1950s and ’60s were the village’s Golden Age. Saint-Paul became an amazing film set, hosting French and foreign movie stars drawn to the French Riviera.

For over a century now, Saint-Paul de Vence has been forging its identity as a hub of the arts and culture.

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On our last day in France we went to visit St. Paul de Vence before going to the airport to fly back to Malta. This was without a doubt my favorite city on the whole trip!

What this village lacks in size, it makes up for it with beauty! The walls that raise the village on its roost are from the mid-15th century, and have not been changed since they were built. Above them, Saint-Paul-de-Vence isn’t much more than one street, Rue Grande, with enticing crevasse-like alleys and stairways branching off it.

The art connection remains strong, and you’ll pass restaurants, galleries and cute shops selling materials for budding artists.

On the southernmost edge is a terrace with stirring views of a trademark Provence landscape: Look north and you’ll make out the limestone bulk of the Baou de Saint-Jeannet . Directly beneath you here is the cemetery where Marc Chagall is buried.

There are no major monuments to highlight here, the whole village is a monument, because of the pitouresque little streets full of live! I just loved it.

Then, it was time to fly back to Malta and go back to our daily routine. It was an amazing week and it was the break I just needed after a crazy week. It was nice travelling with some friends for a change as well – thanks Gabi and Ruben for the company! Hopefully we can do it again next year!