Saturday, 13th September

We had a busy itinerary today, sightseeing in Nantes before moving on to Bourges via Angers and Tours.

With much to see in Nantes before we left, we were up before the sun and the view was spectacular, the picture below was taken from the Pont de Briand. Walking through the city we came across a number of Boulangeries that were filled with incredible sweets.

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Strangely enough we didn’t have an itinerary of places to see, instead we were keen to just walk a loop around the city. The first notable structure we came across was Le Lieu Unique, accommodating the National Centre for Contemporary Arts, pretty fancy building for an old biscuit factory 🙂

We continued our walk down the Cours Saint Pierre where the September festival was taking place. Crossing the road we made our way to the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. This is a catholic cathedral which took 457 years to complete!

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After checking out the church we continued our way to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany). A fairly impressive castle with an equally impressive moat, it was once the residence of the French Monarchy and now houses the Nantes History Museum.

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We continued our walk through the city, there is a huge parkland area known as the Square Elisa Mercoeur where we found the most incredible children’s playground. This sculpture/tree house was in the likeness of a dragon with a red slide his fiery tongue.IMG_1572

Walking through what seemed like the commercial part of the city, past some markets over a bridge on the River Loire. We walked past an amazing sculpture which was an empty lot with a giant tape measure draped across neighbouring buildings.

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Our last stop before heading back to the hotel was Machines of the Isle of Nantes, like an art museum but on a huge scale. Once at the hotel we took one last quick photo of the awesome view from our window and then headed off toward Bourges.

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On the way to our first stop, Angers, we came across a few random sites in little villages – for example, the castle ruins below. No sign board, no tourist stuff, just a huge ruined castle in the middle of the village.  IMG_1640Throughout our drive around France, we have noticed many chateaus on huge estates. When we drove past the one below, we actually turned around and stopped to take a photo. The sheer size of the place was amazing, and we couldn’t even see the estate it was on! It looked and felt like a storybook French Chateau.

IMG_1643After getting excited about these random encounters we arrived at a small town called Angers. I don’t recall why this town was on our itinerary (it may have been the name) but once we found parking and walked around the corner, we saw a sight unlike anything we had seen before or since.

The Chateau d’Angers is a ridiculously huge castle in the middle of Angers overlooking the river Maine. Although we didn’t go inside, we spent an hour or so walking around the outside of it. The gardens, the moat area, and what we could see of the inside were just spectacular.

IMG_1656 IMG_1657 IMG_1666 IMG_1679 IMG_1700IMG_1688Walking around the old town, we saw amazing little homes – one in particular that was built between 1399 and 1400. The central cathedral – St Maurice Cathedral of Angers – is an outstanding example of gothic cathedrals, complete with its twin spires. Inside it had the high vaulted ceilings and incredible sculptures and stained glass.

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After having some lunch in Angers (and Keith beginning his addiction to Peach Iced Tea) we headed on to the next city – Tours. Again, it may have been the name that put this city on the itinerary. However, once there, we really enjoyed the walk through the old city streets.

The main highlight was the Cathedral of St Gatien which started being built in 1170! It has massive twin gothic spires and we were lucky enough to see a wedding taking place. We also had a look aorund some of the other attractions of the city for example the Chateau de Tours and the Pont (Bridge) Wilson over the Loire River – both pictured below.

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Friday, 12th September

We had a very long day of driving ahead of us – 5 and a half hours with our final destination being Nantes.

Another beautiful drive this time through the west side of  France. We enjoyed making many stops to look at the different villages and of course sampling many coffees and pastries at various boulangeries.

There were many interesting things to see along the way, including the roundabout decorated with giant snails 🙂 We even found a beautiful riverside park to stop and have a picnic lunch/cheese feast.

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IMG_1446 We had planned to deviate from our path to Nantes to a small town called Saint Brevin les Pins. Keith had seen an article when researching things to see in Nantes about the Le Serpent d’Ocean – a sculpture of a giant snake that changes depending on the tide.

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Thursday, 11th September

A quick five minute walk to the bus stop took us past just an everyday local house which is so typical of this area of France – understated beauty.

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The bus took us to the centre of the city in around 15 minutes. From the transport hub, we set off to explore the city, our first stop being the Notre Dame Church. The church actually seemed quite small after all of the gothic monstrosities we had seen, but was no less beautiful. We also walked along the Rue Sainte-Catherine a long smoothly paved pedestrian street for opulent shopping.

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We came across a large city plaza with an information centre where we found out about wine tastings. True to our experiences so far, we were amazed when a group of young people decided to stage a flash mob in front of us – half a dozen or so people frozen in a straight line, all with different poses. They stayed that way for about 10 minutes and then walked off as if nothing had happened!

After organising where to go for our wine tasting, we explored further finding one of the largest open plazas in Europe, the Place des Quinconces. In fact, it was so large that a circus had randomly set up in one corner and we were surprised to see camels, lions and elephants.

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After enjoying a coffee and baguette near the transport hub, we caught a bus back to our apartment. We then drove north enjoying the scenery of the Medoc region for about an hour to our destination the Chateau Dauzac. We had arranged a tour of the estate which included a wine tasting session. The vineyards of Chateau Dauzac cover 40 hectares and there have been grape vines growing there since the 12th century. It was an excellent tour, our guide was a lovely local who had excellent english and a great sense of humour. We were joined by another couple, an Aussie from Cronulla and his girlfriend from Brazil. It was nice to speak to another Aussie after so long and hear about their adventure touring France in a combi for over a month.

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On the way back to the apartment we happened across the second place named after our family – first it was Chateau Beck, and this time: Chateau Dillon. 🙂

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Wednesday, 10th September

After a relaxing evening catching up on some sleep we got up and out of the hotel early to explore Bayonne and Biarritz before making our way to Bordeaux.

Finding the perfect parking spot outside the old town of Bayonne, we were immediately drawn to the old apartment buildings. A quick glance would have you think they are old and run down but there was just something about them that was charming.
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The town was quaint with small narrow buildings and cobbled streets. Our first mission was finding somewhere to grab a coffee and something to eat. It was a mission as it was really early and nothing was open yet. Finally, we found a bakery and had a ham and cheese pastry that was incredible. (Note: Upon returning home to Australia and watching an episode of  Luke Nguyen’s France we discovered that Bayonne is famous for its basque ham! No wonder it was so good).

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One of the main attractions in Bayonne is the Bayonne Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Bayonne). Its twin gothic spires can be seen from most parts of the city, and the inside is amazing. The stain glass windows spill colour on to giant buttresses that hold the church up. Even the church grounds are surrounded by gothic archways, with the light painting pretty designs on the walls.

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After looking around Bayonne, we headed for costal Biarritz. It was a spectacular day with the cloudless blue sky framing the wonderful beaches. We were excited about two elements – the first being sandy beaches, the second a decent skate park. Suddenly it actually seemed worthwhile bringing the skateboard half way around the world 🙂

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We washed down a coffee with regrets of having to leave so soon, noting that this part of France is definitely on the return to list.

Our next destination is Bordeaux a short 2 1/2 hour drive away. It was a beautiful drive, through small French villages and as usual a short drive became longer as we stopped frequently to enjoy the sites. Eventually we were excited to drive past a sign that indicated we were in the Bordeaux region, below is our first glimpse of the famous grapes from this area.

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We have two nights to explore the region, and had organised to stay in an Airbnb property. Once we had settled in to our apartment we caught up on some washing, it had been nearly a week since leaving Rome and this was the first stay of more than one night. It was also the first opportunity we had to enjoy a home cooked meal and enjoy a couple of glasses of wine. Reviewing our shortlisted sightseeing list and familiarising ourselves with the public transport options, we had called it a night.

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Tuesday, 9th September

We had a very long drive ahead of us today, approximately six hours from Arles to Bayonne with a stopover at the much anticipated castle city Carcassonne. After a quick breakfast we were on the road before sunrise and the view was spectacular. Bec was very excited to find Chateau De Beck along the way. Once the sun came up it was clear we were in for another beautiful day.

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We arrived at Carcassonne mid morning and found a free spot to park all day. The only hitch was that we had an impressive up hill walk – it was both lovely in parts with cobbled walk ways but hard work in the heat.

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The views of the castle on the way up made the hard work worth it, the blue sky, green grass and castle vista was amazing.

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After entering the walled city we immediately came across the Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse, an incredible church with fantastic stained glass windows and very gothic in style.

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Inside the streets of Carcassonne there are a number of market style shops and places to eat, it’s very pretty and has been restored and maintained well.

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We didn’t pay to enter the main keep, however it is essentially a castle within a castle which was never penetrated by enemies at any time. It’s a huge structure, designed for the entire village to take refuge in times of war, and in times of peace it was the main residence of the King/Viscount/Ruler at the time.

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We spent the majority of the day enjoying the city, on the way down the hill heading back to the car the view of the castle was exceptional.

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Our last stop of the day was the coastal town of Bayonne, we left Carcassonne driving along the Spanish/French border. At a rest stop we came across this sculpture celebrating the Tour de France.

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We’d had a huge day arriving late we had dinner and decided on an early night. We’ll enjoy exploring Bayonne and Biarritz tomorrow.

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Monday, 8th September

We enjoyed a sleep in before making our way to Arles, loving the vineyards and random villages on the way. Unfortunately while driving we noticed a clicking sound from one of the tyres. Turned out that it was a large screw that went all the way through to the tube! We decided to go straight through to Arles (missing Marseille) to get the tyre fixed.

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We checked into the hotel, emptied the car and researched a couple of options of where we may be able to get the tyre fixed. We were very lucky, using the handy translator app on the phone we were able to communicate with the mechanic and explain what was wrong. He took a quick look and was happy to repair it straight away, would only take an hour and was cheap enough at 25 Euro. He could have charged us anything as we were just focused on getting it fixed so we were not delayed any further.

Whilst we were waiting we went for a walk to try and find somewhere for lunch. We found a typical French Boulangerie (bakery), we shared a delicious ham salad baguette and may have chosen a little pastry to have with coffee as well 🙂

(Picture may be included to make Lozz jealous haha)

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The car was ready when we returned and we wasted no time heading back towards the old city of Arles.

In 1888 Vincent Van Gogh came to live in Arles, painting the majority of his famous paintings in this area (a collection of 200 in total). We found a free parking spot and walked off to experience the walled part of the old city of Arles.IMG_0966IMG_0969 IMG_0958  IMG_0954

After walking through the narrow streets, we arrived at what looked like a colosseum where they still hold bull fighting! It was actually the L’Amphitheatre (The Ampitheatre) which was build in 90 AD! Even back then it could hold 21,000 spectators. It was also featured in one of Van Gogh’s famous paintings which is conveniently on a plaque commemorating where it was painted.

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During our travels we found a little square called Place De La Republique that had some great buildings (like the church, Saint Trophime’s which dates back to the 12th century) and a fountain.

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Our final destination in our mini Van Gogh tour of Arles ended at the cafe which he painted in 1888 in the famous painting “Cafe Terrace at Night”. We stopped at the cafe and had a drink before looking around the Place de Forum and then heading back to the hotel.

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Back at the hotel, we had dinner and then prepared for a massive storm that was brewing overhead. Being Australian, Keith decided to go for a swim in the hotel pool while looking at the apocalyptic sky above, whilst Bec sensibly had a glass of red watching the storm in comfort. However it passed quickly and we had a good night’s rest in preparation for the drive along the Spanish French border tomorrow.

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Sunday, 7th September

We decided to get an early start as we only had today to see all of Monaco. Our accommodation was literally 200m outside of Monaco, so technically last night we had stayed in France. This was not by accident, accommodation in Monaco was crazy expensive and almost impossible to find for just one night.

Our view from outside the apartment was fantastic and we were excited as we made our way down the steep steps to the bottom of the hill. It was a strange walk, as we felt we were making our way through local’s backyards, but it was kind of cool to see the houses and a few early risers were quite friendly so it wasn’t too awkward.

Half way down the hill we had a laugh as Keith was able to stand with a foot in two different countries, France and Monaco.

For such a small country Monaco is quite populated with both large high rises, dense commercial property as well as a number of high end boutiques and stores. However, despite this, Monaco doesn’t feel like a concrete jungle, the buildings are amazing and a lot of effort has been placed on creating beautiful modern architecture as well as accompanying gardens.

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Our first stop was the Princes Palace, the view on our way was breathtaking as we overlooked the Harbour. The Palace itself was not overwhelming, however its gardens, views and sculptures as a package were amazing.

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Directly behind the Palace were cobbled laneways with all sorts of shops and markets and definitely designed to accommodate the huge numbers of tourists that flock to see the Palace. Being so early we were lucky to get a great look around before the crowds.

Our next stop was the famous Monaco Cathedral (St Nicholas), where Prince Rainier married Grace Kelly. It was a gorgeous church the artwork was spectacular and it just had an air of something special.

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As we made our way down the mountain it became clear that to see all of the city was going to be impossible in one day. Built mostly on the side of a mountain there are lots of hills, so we made the decision that to see more of Monte Carlo we would pay the ridiculous cost for the hop on hop off bus. It turned out to be the best thing we could have done, as we completed the entire loop in an hour and then utilised the bus to jump off at the major sites we wanted to see.

On the bus we saw evidence of the track for the Grand Prix, the Harbour, sporting arenas, beaches, Monaco Oceanographic Museum, the Opera House, Casino and much more.

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We jumped off to have a look around Casino Square which holds not just the Casino, but the Opera House and the Hotel de Paris. An amazing site its featured in many movies including James Bond Casino Royale.

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Today was our 13th wedding anniversary so we decided to treat ourselves to a coffee and cake at the famous Cafe de Paris in Casino Square. As Keith is the cake connoisseur in this marriage I left the choice to him. Keith chose the very special French Baba au Rhum (which was a bit like a massive donut soaked in rum with whipped cream and fresh fruit), it was amazing. We knew our experience was going to be costly, Monte Carlo is incredibly expensive but could not believe our two coffees and cake cost 27 Euro or $38 AUD!!!! Wowsers 🙂

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Bec really wanted to see the changing of the guard back at the Palace, which only occurs once per day, so we made our way back. It definitely wasn’t quiet anymore! We made a spot for ourselves in the crowd and watched what could only be described as a very well rehearsed performance. 

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What a spectacular day, we really loved Monaco it was so opulent but still managed to be welcoming to a humble traveller. Another good decision was skipping making the long up hill walk back to the accommodation. We jumped in a taxi and paid 20 Euro to go 10 minutes but it was seriously worth it. After a quick shower, we packed our stuff back into the car and waved goodbye to Monaco.

Our destination today was Cannes via Nice along the Cote d’Azur and no words can describe the drive and views we experienced. In fact, we found ourselves doing many u-turns to go back and see some views twice 🙂 It was spectacular!

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So all those u-turns and gazing into the horizon did come at a cost. We had no time to spare and literally drove through Nice, only taking the time to take a couple of pictures from the car.

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We arrived in Cannes and decided to find a parking station and explore immediately, it had been a perfect day, the weather was gorgeous and the beach was still packed.

There were markets and lots of little shops, we enjoyed walking around taking it all in and eventually stopped for some dinner before heading back to the hotel.

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A super huge day we got back to the hotel feeling exhausted but still in awe of Monte Carlo and the incredible Cote d’Azur, definitely on the return list that’s for sure.

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