Sunday, April 18, 2004


Note: This blog entry was originally written by hand, about as far away from an internet connection as is possible in a civilised country...

I'm currently in Maurion, a tiny village in the Alps outside of Nice in the south of France. It's three kilometres to the nearest main road, and I'm surrounded by mountains.

It's *gorgeous*.

Unfortunately, my time here is drawing to an end, and I've got to be up at 4am tomorrow morning so we can drive the hour and a half to the airport in Nice, check in and catch our plane at 8am.

It's been a lovely week away from all things haute-technologie, though I have used some of it to take a few dozen digital photos. It's been a week of exploration and discovery. I've never been to this part of France before, and I have to confess that I'm in love with the mountains.

We've travelled quite a lot around the area, especially on the Côte d'Azur, and I've enjoyed it a lot. At the start of the week we went to Menton, which is probably the best kept secret on the Côte d'Azur. Villefranche-sur-mer, Nice and Monaco might get all the press, but Menton is really lovely - nicer than Nice, if you can get your head around that tautology.

We've had several walks in the mountains, including one on the side of Mount Bego, where it was so high up it snowed. Midweek Fleur and I had an expedition with Fleur's parents around Fontan and Berghe in the Roya valley. I do mean an expedition - we looked it up on the map later, and it turned out to be around SEVENTEEN KILOMETRES, all of which was spent walking up and down hills, to the tune of about 1000m. Some of the climbs were absolutely brutal; the one near Berghe was about 400m in the space of about 20 minutes, but it was worth all the hard work for the view.

The terrain here is absolutely spectacular - nothing in Britain even comes close - and it's so remote here that it's like walking onto the set of Lord Of The Rings. Fleur's Dad certainly sets a walking pace like Aragorn, at any rate. The Roya Valley in particular is extraordinary.

Fleur's parents have been coming to this "gîte" (holiday home) for about five years now, and are good friends with one of the (very few!) neighbours, Luc. He's a really nice guy; a local craftsman and hunter, who even brought us some wild boar for us to try. He'd shot it himself, naturally! It was delicious; you could almost *taste* that it had been running around the mountains a few days previously! He also let us try a local speciality - a lemon spirit his wife makes - almost a home-made lemon Cointreau... wonderful stuff.

We also went to Nice for a day to see the coast and pay a visit to a wonderful modern art museum, which was showing a fantastic exhibition of works by a guy who clads all his sculptures in the carcasses of beetles. Otherwise, Nice, regrettably, isn't that nice. In fact, it's a driver's nightmare. The city is full of tower blocks so you can't see where you need to head to, and the roads are really badly signed too. I think the town only grew so large because people couldn't find l'Autoroute...

On the way back from Nice, we paid a visit to Monaco. It was a real pilgrimage for me, as I know the Grand Prix circuit so well. We parked at Massanet, aka Casino Square (being, as it is, infront of the Grand Casino), and we had a wander down to Saint Devote, taking a few pictures of the harbour as we went. I hope the pictures will make my brother Rob very VERY jealous. Someone had parked a black Ferrari Enzo infront of the Grand Casino in Massanet, which was attracting a lot of attention, seeing as only 500 have ever been built. I wonder whom it belonged to...

I bored Fleur and her Dad mightily, pointing out corners on the Grand Prix circuit, but I don't think that they minded *too much*. My Dad will love the pictures of the boats I took in the harbour too. There was one boat that wasn't so much a yatch as a CRUISE LINER. A *privately owned* cruise liner. Man, they're some serious money in that place.

Today (last Friday, actually - Temporal Ed) we went to Saorge, which is the French equivalent of Minas Tirith - it's literally a town built onto the side of a mountain. The views are wonderful, and it has the most incredible shop devoted to honey - La Miellerie - which sells the most extraordinary organic honey and home-made nougat. I spent the last on my Euros on some to bring home, so we can keep the holiday going just that little bit longer...

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