13. June 2013 12:08
Maggie Murphy shares her tips on visiting the many must-see historical sites of Normandy in France.
Normandy, in the northwestern corner of France, is well known to some for the natural beauty of its beaches, friendly locals and delicious crêpes and Camembert. To others, Normandy represents a pivotal moment in the story of World War II. Today, I want to share some of my favorite WWII locations and monuments in Normandy.
Travel to Normandy from Paris is fairly simple on trains from St. Lazare that go directly to Caen Central Station and Bayeux. Depending on which area you are more interested in exploring, the journey takes about 2-3 hours. Alternatively, the UK also has plenty of ferry routes that go to Normandy. I travelled with a guide, but you can just as easily travel alone as there are buses that travel from Caen to almost all of these historic sites. Check the timetables when you arrive, as the buses run infrequently.
My first stop is the Caen-Normandy Memorial Centre for History and Peace. The centre is beautiful and offers in-depth background on the causes of WWII and insight into the lives of the French people during wartime. I enjoyed the first room of the museum. Set on a downward spiral ramp, it explains the lead-up to the war.
My next stop is one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited: the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. This cemetery, located on cliffs that overlook Omaha Beach, is the final resting place for more than 9,000 U.S. troops, most of whom lost their lives during the D-day landing. The white marble gravestones are striking against the background of the bright green lawn. The Garden of the Missing, a stone monument with the names of soldiers who went missing in action, is also a humbling sight. There is no way to describe the feeling that overtakes you in this place; you must go and experience it for yourself.More...
7. June 2013 10:10
Maggie Murphy shares with us her personal must-sees in the fabulous city of Paris.
Gertrude Stein once said, “America is my country, but Paris is my home town.” Having spent almost five months in the City of Lights, I understand her sentiment. Paris is the type of place that stays with you, whether you spend 10 minutes or 10 months there. In this, my first blog post, I am sharing my favorite walk through the city in the hope that it may inspire you to visit Paris. This stroll does not contain all the world-famous landmarks; instead, I think it shares a more personal view of the city … my view. I have laid out this walk in a Google map, which can be found at the bottom of this post.
Begin at the Panthéon in the 5th arrondissement. It opens at 10 a.m., but you don't even have to go inside to marvel at it. It was said that designer Jacques-Germain Soufflot had designed the "perfect" structure. However, he died in the middle of construction, so the building will forever remain unperfected. I love this area in the morning, with all of the students bustling around in front of the massive white stone structures. I usually grab a coffee from one of the numerous cafes down rue Soufflot and proceed into Luxemburg Gardens.
Luxemburg Gardens is, for me, the most beautiful park in Paris. Parisians escape from the city, lounging here with friends in green chairs underneath the park’s trees. Make your way through the park and exit to rue Bonaparte, heading to Boulevard Saint-Germain. This historic intersection hosts some of the most famous cafés and brasseries in Paris, including Café de Flore, Brasserie Lipp and Les Deux Magots just down the street. This neighborhood has always been a hub for creative people and is now a very posh part of the city. Walking straight through toward the Seine River, you will come across one my favorite places in the city: Ladurée More...
28. May 2013 14:06
There are a lot of amazing festivals out there: Steve Davey should know, he has just finished a book detailing 500 of the best cultural celebrations around the world.
You don't have to head to the far flung and dusty regions of the world to find vibrant festivals and see the faithful displaying tremendous religious fervour. In the days leading up to the 24th and 25th May the tiny seaside village of Saintes Maries de la Mer in the Camargue region fills up with caravans as Roma Gypsies gather for one of the most atmospheric festivals in Europe.
The Pélerinage des Gitans is a pilgrimage to honour the two Saint Maries who gave the village its name. Saint Marie-Jacobé and Saint Marie-Salomé were believed to have fled across the Mediterranean from the Holy Land following the crucifixion, bringing with them their maid Sara, who later became the patron saint of the Gypsies.
On the first day of the festival, great crowds flock to the massive stone fortified church for a mass. Statues of the two Saint Maries are lowered from the loft high in the roof of the church, and then processed around the town by hundreds of gypsies with an escort of the gardians: the cowboys of the Camargue who ride the famous white horses.
The lively procession is accompanied by musicians and eventually sweeps down the beach and into the sea, much to the surprise of the holidaymakers. The gardians follow them into the sea, their horses leaping around as the waves wash into their nether regions. Blessings are made before the dripping wet pilgrims carry the statues back to the church.More...
10. April 2012 17:36
Our cycling trip began with an overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo, and after this sleepy start, we began in earnest - cycling off the ferry onto French soil where we'd spend the following week pedalling past the beautiful coastline, canals and villages of north-east Britanny.
But that early morning start in St Malo took us by surprise - believing we were invincible, we suddenly realised that we had taken a wrong turning at a roundabout and were heading north rather than our intended south. So, for the remainder of our trip, we decided we More...
8. June 2010 14:37
Marseille, France’s second-most populous city, and Cassis – both situated on the Mediterranean coast – are great places to visit the calanques of southern France.
I travelled there on the TGV – which is a very comfortable and quite cheap way of transport – allowing me to make the most of the beautiful landscapes along the way.
During my short stay in Marseille – the largest port in France – I went to the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde, situated at the highest natural point in Marseille, at 162m (532ft). From there is probably one of the most beautiful skylines in France: on one side the sea, with the islands of Frioul and the Château d'If, miles of coastline and the Vieux Port (Old Harbour), and on the other side, the city of Marseille in the midst of a semicircle of mountains. More...
3. March 2010 17:05
Returning to the Auvergne: Eight years ago, I spent a year as an English language assistant in Le Puy-en-Velay, a small, historic city in the south of the volcanic Auvergne region, deep in the heart of rural France – la France profonde, as they say.
As an adult, I had never lived abroad before, and I still feel very grateful for this opportunity to experience life in what I think is one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Having never written about it at the time, I return to it now – perhaps eight years too late.
Arriving by car, you approach Le Puy from the surrounding hills and the views are breathtaking: the red roofs, the chapel-topped volcanic rocks reaching for the heavens, the sight of endless hills and valleys in the distance.
Le Puy is one of the starting points for the Way of Saint James, the famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. More...
13. October 2009 14:39
When you think Paris, you think romance. But Paris can also match with thrills in amusement parks. No, not with Disneyland Paris, but with the little-known Astérix Park.
Astérix Park is a theme park based on the stories of Astérix & Obélix by Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny. Situated at just 30km north of Paris, Astérix Park surprised me with its thrilling attractions. The park is divided into “historical” sections such as the Gaulish village, the Roman Empire, Ancient Greece and so on.
Here is the story of my sunny day at Astérix Park. We started with the biggest wooden roller coaster in Europe, “Le tonnerre de Zeus” (the Thunder of Zeus), which was the best attraction I’ve ever experienced. It lifts you up to the top of Olympus and dives you headlong into a dizzying descent of more than 30 metres, racing at over 80 kph – thrilling!
I then tried the “Goudurix” (a pun meaning to have an appetite for danger) roller coaster and its seven loops without giving you the opportunity to breathe. More...
22. May 2009 15:19
You don’t have to be training for the Tour de France to enjoy a cycling holiday in France. The Loire Valley offers gentle pedalling and spectacular villages and chateaux to stop off at, says Alison Willis from France holiday specialist, Lagrange...
Most serious cyclists probably head to the Alps or Pyrenees for their French cycling fix; spending a week recreating the mountain stages of the Tour de France. But if you’re like me and prefer your cycling with gentle slopes and meandering curves rather than steep inclines and chicanes, then the Loire Valley could be your answer.
A massive project is underway to create a cycle path spanning the breadth of Europe from Saint Nazaire on the Atlantic coast of France crossing 10 countries and over 3,650km (2,268 miles) to reach the Black Sea in Romania. The section that follows the Loire in France more or less completed, so base yourself somewhere like Azay le Rideau in the middle of the route and the Loire is your oyster. More...
20. June 2008 15:08
“It’s just a floating caravan!”
That was my wife’s first unhappy reaction to the sight of Beauregard, the French canal boat that we were about to spend the next seven days living on. In our family the holiday from hell has always been to endure the discomforts of camping or caravanning – why do people voluntarily make do with less than the comforts of home? So I could tell as we were shown around the compact layout of Beauregard by the local boat technician that my wife’s sunny vision of the next seven days was rapidly clouding over. When we got to the lesson on pumping out the miniature toilet, I confess that my enthusiasm began to More...
1. May 2002 17:42
The Pyrénées, rising to almost 3,500 metres, form a natural barrier between the Iberian peninsula and France. The heavily forested valleys and sharp rocky ridges are relatively unspoilt and are certainly under less pressure than the Alps. On either side of the chain, language and culture are distinct and it's not just French or Spanish. The Basque and Catalan languages are predominant at the western and eastern ends respectively. From a walker's point of view the Spanish side often receives the best of the sunshine and can easily be reached from More...