Côte d’Azur – Where the rich and beautiful live!

Monaco | Port Hercule
Monaco | Port Hercule

A journey of contrasts: from the remoteness of a ravine to the hectic hustle and bustle of a small big city.

Älgbert Elgson

On this adventure we went on unknown paths, as normally we are always drawn to the north. We could have taken the wrong turn somewhere, because we ended up in a beautiful area in the other direction – more precisely in the south of France!
On our trip we immersed ourselves in the world of fragrances, hiked in the mountains of Andorra, visited the palace of Prince Albert II in Monaco, discovered the cities along the Côte d’Azur and tasted the culinary highlights of Provence.
But everything from the beginning: Here comes our travel report from our adventure in the south of France. You will probably notice that some parts of the text have a different color. Here we have included links with useful information if you want to explore these places yourself.

Autumn

What’s the best way to spend the first day in autumn? You get up at 3:30 a.m., get in the car and go on vacation!
But not like many others to Italy or Croatia to the beach. No! We drive further away, of course, because everything under 1,000 km away from our homebase is almost like a short trip for us. This time we went to the south for once – more precisely to the south of France on the Côte d’Azur to the rich and beautiful. The plan was that we would make our first stop in Remoulins in the Gard department in the Occitania region. But this also meant a typical journey of just over 1,200 km on the first day. Start time of the trip at 4:00 a.m. – arrival at 6:30 p.m. After some quick math this gives an approximate driving time of 14 hours and 30 minutes. That’s a long time you have to endure together in a closed room! On the way to the first waypoint we made a short stop in Sochaux, a small town in the Doubs department near the Swiss border. What makes this place special is the largest Peugeot automobile plant and the associated factory museum, Musée de l’Aventure Peugeot.

Our interest was piqued and the museum was definitely on the „I want to see it“ list! At the classic car meeting and parts market held there that day, another point had to be added to the to-do list: Next time come with a trailer!

A Monday in Avignon

When we arrived in Avignon, one thing caught our eye immediately. All shops were closed and the gastronomy was not really getting going either. Amazed, we looked at our clocks to see if we hadn’t arrived here at 6:00 a.m. instead of 9:00 a.m. The reason for this is actually quite simple: It’s Monday!

Avignon
Avignon

It could be customary in France that some trades do not work on Mondays. Well, we didn’t know and learned something new again. Nonetheless, we started our tour of discovery through the old town. Because, as is well known, no business needs to be open for walking through the city. However, it turned our plan quite a bit.

  • Halles d’Avignon: closed
  • Fort Saint-André: not opened for public
  • all of the restaurants: also closed

So we made our way to see the most famous sight of Avignon -> The Papal Palace.
In the 14th century, one of the popes got the idea not to move to Rome at all. The fact that he himself was French and previously Archbishop of Bordeaux also contributed to his decision. Thus Avignon became the seat of the Pope from 1309 to 1377.

Fort Saint-André is just across from Avignon. Unfortunately, as already written above, closed due to Monday. However, from there you have a wonderful view of the Papal Palace and the gardens in front of it.

  • Avignon: Papstpalast | Papal Palace
  • Avignon
  • Kathedrale von Avignon | Cathedral of Avignon
  • Fort Saint-André
  • Fort Saint-André

Since Avignon was unfortunately ticked off our travel list pretty quickly due to Monday, we needed an alternative program. We found this at the Pont Du Gard, which is a famous sight in this region. The Pont Du Gard is actually „just“ a water pipe. The special thing about it is that it is almost 2,000 years old and crosses the Gardon River at a height of 49 meters and a length of 275 meters. In the associated museum you can learn a lot about the history of the Pont Du Gard and the Roman era in the region. At first we weren’t sure whether a museum could inspire us about a water pipe, but it left a very positive impression and definitely made us forget the „Monday disappointments“.

Pont du Gard
Pont du Gard

Nîmes – The French Roman City

The day in Nîmes began with the search for a parking space. We drove what felt like a thousand times through the narrow streets, till we finally found a free parking space in the fourth parking garage.

The first point of the day was the visit to the amphitheater of Nîmes, which was built on the model of the Roman Colosseum. The amphitheater seated around 24,000 people (around 13,000 today) and the view from the upper tiers is breathtaking. Today it is very difficult to imagine what gruesome games were held here, even if no less gruesome bullfights take place here in the arena still in the 21st century.

The city goes back to a Gallic village called Nemausus. This is not to be confused with the Gallic village of Asterix and Obelix, because Nemausus joined the Roman Empire (almost) voluntarily and also fought alongside them. This also favored the development of Nîmes, as it became the model city of the Gallo-Roman provinces. Even today you can still see Roman buildings in many places and many boulevard streets follow the course of the former Roman city wall.

Lavender in Provence

We had decided to leave a little earlier this day in order to make better use of the limited time we have and of course we overslept gloriously … We drove to Gordes at 10:00 o’clock …
This little place gets a lot of prominence in all the travel guides. Well, everyone mentions the lavender bloom in July, which we were definitely late for at the end of September, but we couldn’t quite understand the hype. It is a beautiful medieval city, but it has seen better days. The church is only held together by good faith and some houses need steel cables so that they do not fall off the slope.
But parking was plentiful. 😊

Then we went on to the Sénanque Monastery, which is also known for the beautiful scenery of the lavender blossoms. At the end of September, of course, there was nothing left to see. But even without the flowers, the old walls have their charm. Even if the overall moment did not deliver the hoped-for photo motifs due to the lack of purple flowers, we would still recommend a visit in September.

The landscape of the Luberon Natural Park, in which the Abbey de Sénanque and Gordes are located, is known for the sand formations that impress even without lavender. Millions of years ago the primeval sea created a small island full of red deposits in a loamy environment, which in earlier days was abundantly mined for color pigments. The bizarre landscape of ocher rocks shines in colors from yellow to orange, depending on the sunlight, and therefore makes the sight unforgettable.

To fill the day completely, the lavender museum in Cabriêres-d‘Avignon was explored on the way back to the accommodation. That was definitely one of the best decisions of the day. Most of the time, it is always the things discovered by chance that ultimately deliver the best experience. This is a privately run museum in which the production of lavender oil, from cultivation to distillation, is brought closer to the visitor. The old devices, the regional historical background and above all the scent make it a recommendable point on our trip.

  • Le Sentier des Ocres
  • Le Sentier des Ocres
  • Lavender Museum
  • Lavender Museum

Flamingos in the Camargue as far as the eye can see

A must-see place in the Camargue are the salt basins of Salin de Giraud. In these, sea water is passed from one basin to the other and the salt content is increased further and further with the help of the sun, wind and evaporation, until at the end so strongly concentrated salt water is left that can be further processed into road salt in the industrial salt crystallizer. At first it sounds more like an industrial plant and not necessarily a place that you should definitely visit on your vacation in Southern France, but the salt basins have due to the salts and minerals contained in the sea water, as well as due to the red algae, which can multiply better with increased salt content , different colors. This play of colors in the sun can be clearly seen from the observation platform and the salt mountain is also considerably large. The hundreds of flamingos that live in this bay are an even more beautiful natural spectacle. It really doesn’t take long to see a flock of these pink birds.

After a leisurely lunch, we continued to the Château des Baux de Provence. The medieval city is beautifully prepared and it is a pleasure to stroll through the alleys. The castle ruins are still impressive not only because of the sheer size, but also because of the way the buildings are constructed. These were carved directly from the stone by the people in the Middle Ages and thus fit seamlessly into the mountain. During the castle’s heyday it must have been an impressive sight for residents and visitors alike to walk through the castle gate.

The day ended with a (short) visit to the Glanum, an archaeological site of a Gallic village that was conquered by the Romans. Unfortunately, we were unable to read each sign twice as our arrival date was very close to the museum’s closing time. 😉 So this time there was only an unusual quick march. Even shortly before the end, the staff remained friendly and pardoned us several times when we, although asked about the time, got stuck on a sign again or took one or the other photo.

  • Château des Baux
  • Château des Baux
  • Château des Baux
  • Glanum
  • Glanum

Small villages in the Cevennes National Park

Somehow the clocks seem to run differently in France than in Austria. Even if you leave after 9 a.m., it still looks as we would have left at just before 6 a.m. All shops are still closed, or the owners or employees are slowly clearing the shelves for the day ahead. The French innkeepers also have their own rhythm at lunchtime. The kitchen is cold by 2:30 p.m. at the latest and remains cold until at least 6:00 p.m. This always caused astonished looks when we asked for something to eat at the restaurants according to our schedule. Due to our trip it happens now and then that we only get through to a place with an inn again after 2:00 p.m.
To make matters worse, we definitely no longer travel in the main season. The small medieval village „La Couvertoirade“ is actually a really beautiful and worth visiting place, but now in the off-season it also seems deserted. The small town, which has just under 200 inhabitants, impresses with its numerous well-preserved buildings from the 12th century. Unfortunately, (almost) all restaurants and shops have already been closed … What a pity!

La Couvertoirade
La Couvertoirade


Hence our move to “Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert” to get something nourishing in the stomach. We had to add a bit of variety to our diet, as our on-board kitchen in our travelmobile has only served pasta or ratatouille for the last few days.
Like “La Couvertoirade”, the place is included in the list of the most beautiful villages in France and is also a popular stop for pilgrims who want to travel to Santiago de Compostela. Hence our train of thought: there must be something to eat!
Unfortunately, far from it, as our extended journey through the Cevennes National Park meant that the arrival time fell after 2:30 p.m. So unfortunately there was nothing left to get …
The place itself is definitely nice to look at. However, we find the beautiful natural landscape in which this place is embedded much more impressive. Here you can see again impressively, no matter how beautiful people can build, nature can do it by far better.

On our way to Spain

The French and driving – a love-hate relationship. When you are on the streets of France, you inevitably see several types of drivers, like everywhere else. The older generation, mainly to be found in French makes of older year of construction, drives leisurely at 70 km / h where 130 km / h would actually be allowed. Then the younger generation, often to be found in German cars, drive 130 km / h where actually only 70 km / h would be allowed. Actually, you only drive from roundabout to roundabout anyway. These drivers love the thrill between the traffic circles, in order to drive into one of them before the stupid tourist and thus to stand in front of a vehicle at the next traffic light. And then there is the golden mean. The drivers who think along while driving. It often happens when you want to overtake a truck in the right-most lane that the Frenchman overtaking changes from the middle to the left-most lane to make room. But just when you want to praise and emphasize the foresighted driving style, an elderly driver with its old wagon takes your right of way …

  • Esel in Pézenas | Donkeys in Pézenas
  • Die Gassen von Pézenas | The alleys of Pézenas
  • Wochenmarkt in Pézenas | Weekly market in Pézenas
  • Wochenmarkt in Pézenas | Weekly market in Pézenas
  • Wochenmarkt in Pézenas | Weekly market in Pézenas
  • Auf diesem Bild sind die Türme der Kathedrale Saint-Nazaire von Béziers zu sehen. | This picture shows the towers of the cathedral Saint-Nazaire of Béziers.
  • Auf diesem Bild sind Springbrunnen vor der Statue Riquet in Béziers zu sehen. | This picture shows fountains in front of the statue of Riquet in Béziers.
  • Béziers



There was also a change of location and we moved to our new accommodation in Saint-Cyprien near the French-Spanish border. Our new base camp was right on the ocean, had a 24-hour bar and a heated swimming pool. What more do you want?
The sea was conquered immediately and despite our travel time at the end of September the temperatures were still acceptable.

  • Plage de Saint-Cyprien
  • Blick auf die Lagune in Saint-Cyprien | View of the lagoon in Saint-Cyprien
  • Blick auf die Lagune in Saint-Cyprien | View of the lagoon in Saint-Cyprien

Explore Andorra

How can a country „survive“ for over 700 years without being swallowed up by the two surrounding great powers of Europe? One answer could be one thing – accessibility. We are talking about Andorra, the largest European miniature state. Andorra was founded on September 8, 1278 and is located between France and Spain, embedded in the Pyrenees. The country is not a member of the EU, but still has the euro as its national currency.

It is actually „only“ 200 km from our accommodation, but even with a brisk driving style, a travel time of 3.5 hours cannot be undercut. Andorra is at about 1,500 meters above sea level and our accommodation is at sea level. Therefore, it goes without saying that the journey must be mastered via a large number of serpentines and mountain passes.

  • Roadtrip nach Andorra | Road Trip to Andorra
  • Roadtrip nach Andorra | Road Trip to Andorra
  • Cerdanya
  • Cerdanya

Once in Andorra, visitors coming from the Spanish border are greeted by a sadness of concrete buildings and petrol stations. The country is popular mainly because of its tax policy – with wealthy foreigners for the tax-friendly storage of their accumulated assets, as well as thrifty day tourists who come to the country for cheap cigarettes and alcohol. You notice that on the first few meters, one concrete bunker follows the next. Andorra la Vella, the capital, has not become an architectural masterpiece either. Sightseeing a la Paris or Madrid can be skipped. But if you drive out of the city into the various valleys, you get a different picture of the country. Andorra is also famous for something else, namely winter sports and beautiful hiking areas and that’s actually what you come to this small country for. So it happens that only a few kilometers outside of the city there is a true mountain paradise that residents and tourists alike like to use as a local recreation area.

  • Die Straße nach Pas de la Casa im Abendschein. - The road to Pas de la Casa in the evening light.
  • Blick auf die Hauptstadt Andorras - Andorra la Vella
  • Älgbert macht eine kurze Pause am Ufer des Lac d'Engolasters in Andorra - Älgbert takes a short break on the shores of Lac d'Engolasters in Andorra
  • Einkaufsstraße in Andorra la Vella
  • Die Bundesstraße CG-2 in Andorra im Abendlicht. - The federal highway CG-2 in Andorra in the evening light.


Unfortunately, this also has its downsides – tourism is the country’s most important economic factor. Many mountain slopes are furrowed by ski slopes and some places actually only consist of hotel complexes. Nevertheless, the country is worth a trip, because the nature of the Pyrenees is (still) breathtaking and the old houses that can still be found here and there in the valleys, framed in the mountain idyll, offer a lasting memory and a great photo opportunity.
So we drove back to our accommodation for 3.5 hours with the trunk full of cheap alcohol, a full tank of diesel for less than 1 € / L and many beautiful impressions and memories and fell asleep happily in the hotel bed at 01:00.

Collioure – a picturesque town on the Mediterranean

The original plan that day was to go to Barcelona. Due to the late return the day before, this project was quickly discarded, as it would again mean a car journey of several hours. So nothing for us for this day. We slept a little longer and spontaneously “plan” a visit to Collioure. The port city turns out to be a real hit. The place is still lively even at the end of September, shops are still open and architecturally it also has a lot to offer. It is not for nothing that the place is also considered a painting town. Anyone who could somehow hold a brush or pencil felt moved to put parts of the city on paper or canvas. Admittedly, the location offers quite a few motifs – also for us and our camera.

Collioure | Église Notre-Dame-des-Anges
Collioure | Église Notre-Dame-des-Anges

So far, this adventure has been very different from what we were used to. There was almost something like vacation stress. This is absolutely not in our sense and so we wanted to go back to our original way of traveling, as we got to know it in Scandinavia and to slow down in nature to cook something on our small gas stove. After a quick Google Maps search, the choice fell on Cap de Biarra (Cap Béar) and the associated lighthouse. In the past, the cape was probably used for military purposes, because around the lighthouse you can find destroyed bunkers from bygone times. Our cooking utensil was set up under a ledge and beans and bacon were prepared. This amused not only the local seagulls, but also the hikers who visited the lighthouse. With our backs to the (rock) wall and the blue sea in front of us, all of the stress of the year suddenly fell away from us within a few minutes.

The day was actually used very well. We had explored a beautiful city and a beautiful site. We also found a wonderful place for our lunch, and yet we felt a certain uneasiness about what we could do with the afternoon. We were looking for decelerating activities and wanted to look for a cozy bar for a cocktail. Quite by accident we discovered a strange name on the virtual map. Have you ever heard of a beaverage called “BYRRH”? Because neither do we. That’s why we immediately went to investigate the urgent question: Is there something to drink?

The whole day has actually been more of a drift, a haphazard drive around and exploring to free your thoughts and just be in the moment. That’s why we had absolutely no expectations of this factory that produces this mysterious „BYRRH“. However, we were quickly informed during the tour that you should definitely know the drink. At least according to the likeable young student who showed us through the halls. The beverage maker was the first in France to really care about its employees, even before the socialist government in France in the 1930s. In addition, the factory can come up with a superlative, because here is the world’s largest wooden tub for the production of beverages with a capacity of just over 1,000,000 liters. The total volume of the warehouse is also enormous. During the subsequent tasting, we are also told what “BYRRH” is all about. It is an alcoholic drink made from wine mixed with all kinds of spices. The taste is pleasing and we decide to import a bottle home for our own use.

Caves Byrrh
Caves Byrrh

Impressive fortress in Carcassonne

Carcassonne is one of the main destinations of our trip this year – but not only we want to see this unique fortress. This is one of the most popular attractions in France and is visited by around 4 million tourists every year. We benefit from the fact that it is already October and the rush of visitors is therefore less than during the main travel season. The facility is really impressive. The fortress was founded in Roman times and some towers of the fortress wall are still preserved as silent witnesses from this time. It was once a border fortress between France and Spain and was upgraded accordingly. In the course of history the city lost this importance and it deteriorated noticeably. Parts of the fortifications were even used as a quarry to get building materials for other houses. Until the entire complex was restored over a period of 50 years in the 19th century. This was a unique undertaking on this scale and one of the reasons why we can marvel at the walls in their old splendor today.

  • Carcassonne
  • Carcassonne
  • Carcassonne
  • Carcassonne

There is a lot on offer for visitors in summer. There are showmen, markets and knight tournaments to see. In the off-season, of course, the offer is not quite as extensive. We happened to be attending a concert in Carcassone Cathedral and the atmosphere that this vocal performance exuded gave us goosebumps.

Freedom for Catalonia

This day we went to the Empuriabrava Butterfly Park and looked at birds. No, that’s not a typo. We were really in an establishment marked as a butterfly park and fed birds with nectar. Of course there are also butterflies, but the many parrots are the real attraction. In the Butterfly Park Empuriabrava in Castelló d’Empúries Spain, small cups of nectar can be purchased with a small fee of € 0.50, with which the small and large feathered animals can be attracted. It doesn’t take long until a small army of birds sits around you and wants to taste the sweet nectar. Some of the feathered cronies don’t even stop to pull on their clothes and see how they taste. But that’s not the only reason why having spare clothes with you is very advisable. The birds drop something every now and then that you would rather not have stuck to your clothes. We must have been lucky because we were never hit.

Catalonia has always been a contested area. Be it from the Romans, Moors, Goths, Franks or, from the earliest past, supporters of National Socialism. The Catalan people have always had a very high desire for freedom and you can see that today on many signs or rock paintings next to the streets with the inscription „Freedom for Catalonia“ and the like. When General Franco wanted to overthrow the young Spanish Republic again in 1936 and instigated a military coup, it was the northern part of Spain, i.e. mainly Catalonia, that vehemently opposed it to an exceptional degree. In the MUME, the Museu Memorial de l’Exili, this difficult time for Spain is brought closer to the visitor in an emphatically apolitical way. Unfortunately most of the interviews with the Spanish and Catalan contemporary witnesses are not available in English or German. The brochure with the English translation provided is still sufficient to be able to follow the information on the signs and exhibits. On the way back after this visit we drove over the border pass „Coll dels Belitres“ by car, where in 1939 most of the Republican Army and a many civilians fled to France from the Franco army. Many of these Spaniards never returned to their homeland and from then on had to live in exile.

  • Ein Blick auf die Schautafeln mit Fotografien aus dem Februar 1939. - A look at the display boards with photographs from February 1939.
  • Das alte Grenzhaus am Gebirgspass Coll dels Belitres zwischen Spanien und Frankreich. - The old border house at the Coll dels Belitres mountain pass between Spain and France.
  • Der Grenzübergang nach Spanien auf dem Gebirgspass Coll dels Belitres. - The border crossing into Spain on the Coll dels Belitres mountain pass.
  • MUME | Haupteingang - Main entrance
  • MUME | Austellung individueller Schicksale - Exhibition of individual fate

Continue to Grasse

Change of location. Off to Grasse!

Today we were much too early at the new accommodation and so we decided to go to Grasse and explore the local area. First stop: „Parfumerie Fragonard„. It goes without saying that real perfumes are often sold over the counter for considerable sums of money for so little liquid, when you consider the effort involved in making them. 120 ml can cost around 100 €. Nevertheless, tourists come from all over the world and buy in the shop as if the stuff only cost 1 € a liter. At the cash desk, huge sums of money change hands.

  • Parfümerie Fragonard | Perfumery Fragonard
  • Parfümerie Fragonard | Perfumery Fragonard
  • Parfümerie Fragonard | Perfumery Fragonard

We will soon find out for ourselves what is in the fragrant liquids, because we will try our hand at a perfume workshop where we can create our own fragrance.

Grasse – the city of perfumes

Today was all about scents. No wonder, we have also set up camp in the perfume capital. There are several large and famous perfume manufacturers here in Grasse. Some even offer perfume workshops where you can create your own perfume. We booked in advance through a well-known internet provider and arrived at the perfume manufacturer „Galimard“ on time.
The workshop started with theoretical content to explain the passion behind the fragrances. We were told that every perfume consists of a base, a heart and a top note. The top note is the part of the perfume that immediately rises in the nose. It should arouse curiosity without being intrusive. The heart note is the actual “supporting” part of the perfume. It can be playful and lovely or courageously masculine. It is the part that stays longer and should convey a pleasant olfactory feeling. The base note is what is left in the next morning, when the rest of the perfume has already evaporated. This usually consists of earthy notes, which are supposed to be a nice reminder of what has flown by. Said and done! With the newly acquired half-knowledge, of course, with ample support from the friendly and knowledgeable employees, we set about mixing our own creation. We had a large number of essences available to us, which were first “tasted” one after the other and perceived as good or not good, or maybe not put on the mixed list. The existing bottles are only a small excerpt from what is available to a professional perfume manufacturer, called “nose” or “nez” in French. In our self-experiment there are 127 different bottles, the professional has around 3500 different smells available for his creation. Some perfumes can also consist of over 200 different essences, which also explains why master noses sometimes need a year to create a new fragrance. We “only” had about 2 hours.
So if you always wanted to know how Älgs would like to smell, you can order the women’s fragrance „Älgprincess“ with the number „144 327“ and the men’s fragrance „Eau d’Älg“ with the number „144 328“ on the homepage of the Perfumery Galimard.

Auf diesem Bild ist Älgbert Elgson mit seinen zwei selbstgemachten Parfüms zu sehen. Diese sind bei einem Workshop in der Parfümerie Galimard entstanden. | This picture shows Älgbert Elgson with his two selfmade perfumes. These were created during a workshop at the Galimard perfumery.
Parfumerie Galimard | Selbst kreierte Düfte | Self created fragrances

However, the city of Grasse has not always been the capital of fragrances. But one thing inevitably led to the other. In the pre-perfume era, Grasse was famous for its high quality leather goods, especially leather gloves. But these gave off an unpleasant tannic odor that was not well received by the well-heeled clientele of that time. So the Grasse tanners came up with something – they simply perfumed their wares before they were sold. Perfume has always been very expensive and so the tanner “Malinard” was the first to start making these fragrances himself. The actual sideline soon became their main occupation and brought considerable prosperity to the city and the former tanners. Many buildings still bear witness to this heyday of perfumery. Some more, some less … If a visit to Grasse is perhaps not just for the eye, it is definitely for the nose.

  • Grasse
  • Grasse
  • Grasse
  • Grasse

From Cannes to the Îles de Lérins

The journey now went to the first city why our adventure bears its name: Cannes.
But everything started very differently for this city, because it was a small and rather insignificant fishing village from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century, until the British Lord Chancellor Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux, bought a holiday home there in 1834 and other aristocrats and nobles from all over the world settled there. In the years that followed, the city developed into what it is today: A city of the rich and famous. Every luxury brand in the world must of course have a luxury shop there, and every upscale hotel chain a luxury hotel. But the city can also surprise. Tourism is the most important economic factor, but satellites for space travel are also manufactured there, and the football idol Zinedine Zidane started his professional career there. Regular events such as the world-famous Cannes International Film Festival, the world’s largest trade fair and business relocation fair or the annual fireworks competition ‚Le Festival d`Art Pyrotechnique‘ take place there.
The buildings in Cannes are built in a turn-of-the-century architectural style and the entire ensemble offers some photo-worthy views. But if you take a look at the shops and their displays, you will quickly notice that the selection is probably not intended for ordinary people. One luxury boutique follows the next on the boulevard de la Croisette. We are definitely not the target audience.

Cannes
Cannes

In stark contrast to this, one finds almost a sign of complete calm on the Île Saint-Honorat with its monastery. In our opinion, most of the tourists who come to the island take far too little time to escape from the hectic everyday life and concentrate on the essentials again. We see families picnicking, but also young women who are only careful to take the best selfie for their Insta story in the newly acquired designer fumble, only to do so after a photo in front of the abbey get back on the ferry as soon as possible. We take our time and slowly walk around the island, going inside and watching the birds, insects and lizards that can be seen everywhere. We also take time to explore the island’s fortress closely. A really remarkable building that the monks built in 1073 to protect themselves against attacks.
Today about 30 monks live on the island. In addition to their prayers, they are busy cultivating the island’s vineyards, which take up about half of the total area, and using the grapes to make wines and the liqueur „Lerina“, which can also be bought in the monastery and in the restaurant run by the monastery.

The small principality of Monaco

When you think of the Côte d’Azur, you inevitably think of Monaco, the second smallest state in Europe (the smallest state would be the Vatican). With just over 200 hectares (growing steadily), the state is a lot smaller than Linz Airport in Upper Austria (around 383 hectares) – and this regional airport is not that big.
Monaco became independent from France in 1489 and has existed as an independent state ever since. The Grimaldi family has been closely associated with the principality for 700 years and still rules it today. The city-state is particularly famous among the really rich, because of the tax policy on private individuals – there are simply none. Therefore, in the course of time, a group of people has settled in which there are as many places before the decimal point as there are at most in our account after the decimal point. We have made it a habit to check the house prices at the local banks and real estate agents on our travels and see if we could afford a small holiday home. A small 40 square meter apartment in Monaco costs just € 800,000 – and the trend is rising. Before brokers and taxes, of course. So probably nothing for us …

  • Das Casino Monte-Carlo ist eines der bekanntesten der Welt und befindet sich in Monte-Carlo, einem Stadtteil von Monaco. - The Monte-Carlo Casino is one of the most famous in the world and is located in Monte-Carlo, a district of Monaco.
  • Die legendäre Kurve des Formel-1-Grand-Prix "Fairmont Hairpin" in Monaco. - The legendary curve of the Formula 1 Grand Prix "Fairmont Hairpin" in Monaco.
  • Monaco | Place du Palais
  • Ausblick von Monaco-Ville nach Fontvieille und dem dazugehörigen Hafen "Port de Fontvieille". - View from Monaco-Ville to Fontvieille and the associated harbour "Port de Fontvieille".
  • Ein kleines Kreuzfahrtschiff neben einer handelsüblichen Yacht im Hafen von Monaco. - A small cruise ship next to a commercial yacht in the port of Monaco.
  • Das Denkmal für den britisch-französischen Automobilrennfahrer William Grover-Williams, der den ersten großen Preis von Monaco 1929 gewann und nach seiner Rennkarriere wegen seiner Tätigkeit als SOE-Spion im KZ-Sachsenhausen hingerichtet wurde. - The monument to the British-French motor racing driver William Grover-Williams, who won the first Monaco Grand Prix in 1929 and was executed in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp after his racing career for his activities as an SOE spy.

But Monaco can surprise elsewhere. In contrast to Cannes, the prices in the bars are really affordable here. The pricing, for example, in a bar in the pedestrian zone near the finish area of the Formula 1 track could just as easily be in normal small town. Of course, the super-rich don’t dine there, but we’re not one of them anyway. They tend to dine in the “Hotel de Paris” right next to the Monaco casino where Lamborghinis, Ferraris, McLarens and other very expensive cars are lined up close together. The background noise at this moment – a dream for engine enthusiasts. Probably not for the residents …
For car enthusiasts, in addition to the annual Grand Prix in May and the rallies in and around Monaco, there is also the opportunity to visit Prince Albert II’s very personal garage. Here you can see his collection of old racing cars as well as cars that his family used. Including the vehicles of Princess Gracia Patricia von Monaco – the mother of Prince Albert II, which are in excellent condition. She was born as Gracia Patricia Kelly in the USA and was a successful actress in the 1950s. The style icon gave Monaco after her marriage to Prince Rainier III. from Monaco new splendor. Many streets, buildings and squares in the principality are named in her honor.

  • Blick auf den beleuchteten Fürstenpalast (Le Palais Princier) im Stadtteil Monaco-Ville. - View of the illuminated Prince's Palace (Le Palais Princier) in the Monaco-Ville district.
  • Der Fürstenpalast (Le Palais Princier) in Monaco wird bei einsetzender Dämmerung beleuchtet. - The Prince's Palace (Le Palais Princier) in Monaco is illuminated as dusk falls.
  • Notre-Dame-Immaculée Cathedral is the main church of the Principality of Monaco, the burial place of the Grimaldi family and the seat of the Archbishop of Monaco.
  • Collection de Voitures Anciennes de S.A.S. | Renault Floride & Fiat 600 Jolly from Princess Grace

In contrast to Cannes, however, in Monaco it seems as if people really live here. Chic designer boutiques line up seamlessly with residential buildings. Across from the Prince’s Palace in “Monaco Ville”, the actual old town, quite normal people live here- at least according to the car on the doorstep, we suspect that. This is certainly due to the housing policy of the small principality. Every native of Monegasque has a legal right to public housing. Cannes, on the other hand, seems really sterile and empty in the „better“ area. But the two cities definitely have one thing in common. You always have the feeling of being surrounded by thousands of millionaires.

A little break in the Verdon Gorge

After the hectic hustle and bustle in the small city of Monaco, we all needed a program to contrast with the past two days. The small principality has the highest population density in the world and that is why we longed for empty places again. The best way to do this is to hike in the Verdon Gorge.
The drive there alone was beautiful. From our accommodation near Grasse the road went in countless serpentines from about 100 m above sea level to over 1000 m above sea level within a few kilometers. We drove the ravines deep down and up the mountains again for almost 100 km to our destination, with the camera always firmly at the ready. Even if the locals showed off their daring driving style again, we got a feeling similar to that we got to know in Norway. Just slow down and enjoy the passing landscape.

Verdonschlucht | Verdon Canyon
Verdonschlucht | Verdon Canyon

Arrived at the destination, rucksack and hiking boots ready, after the obligatory storage of water and biscuits, we set off into the gorge. After the first few meters, we realized that this was exactly what we needed now. Nature.
Our hike took us along the Verdon River through two tunnels carved into the rock. At the beginning of the 1920s, attempts were made to divert the river through a kind of water pipe and use it to generate electricity. However, this plan was abandoned after only four years. Today you can see a few remains of this gigantic construction project, such as the tracks for the mine hunt, which were used to remove the excavated material from the tunnels. These were previously transported to their destination with donkeys, with great effort and exertion.
After only 6 km, our hike was over again. The trail became too difficult for our equipment and so we decided to turn back. We underestimated the terrain, but we definitely want to come back and explore the remaining kilometers as well. We continued on the beautiful, curved pass road to Lac de Sainte-Croix – the second largest reservoir in France. This was completed in 1974 and now also covers the former village of Les Salles-sur-Verdon. The residents of that time resisted the damming up to the last, even when the water was not just literally up to their necks. So that the villagers had a roof over their heads again, a new village was set up 400 m further on. Apart from their own belongings, they could only take away from the old one the church clock, the village bell and the old village fountain. At the lake we cooked our food with relish on our small gas stove and pondered the past few days.

  • Verdonschlucht | Verdon Canyon
  • Verdonschlucht | Verdon Canyon
  • Verdonschlucht | Verdon Canyon
  • Der Lac de Sainte-Croix ist ein Stausee an der Verdonschlucht und ist bekannt wegen seines türkisblauen Wassers. - Lac de Sainte-Croix is a reservoir on the Verdon Gorge and is famous for its turquoise waters.

The most unspectacular waterfall of all time

Here there is probably a different view of what a sight, attraction or nature experience should be. At least differently than we would understand. We had to find out several times during this vacation that the advertised experience was different from what was previously described. So also on this day … After we had spent the beginning of the morning with breakfast and looking for a new place to stay for the next three days, we left just before noon to have a look at the waterfall of Saut du Loup. On the website (yes, in France waterfalls have websites) there is talk of several beautiful waterfalls that are just waiting to be explored by us not far from our accommodation.
Unfortunately, it then turned out that the place described did not at all correspond to our idea of a hiking experience of several waterfalls. Next to a café and a still there was a small turnstile. Well, it was also described in such a way that you have to feed the turnstile-monster with a € 1 coin to gain access to the waterfalls. However, the path that followed was completely different than expected …
After about ten steps and a 15 m concrete path you can get to a viewing platform where you can see THE waterfall. That’s it. Nothing more …
We were all noticeably disappointed. The mood was in danger of tipping over. So an alternative program was announced. Due to the exhausting and exciting past few days, we decided to get a pizza and spend the rest of the day in our accommodation by the pool and play some tennis. Vacation can also go like this.

  • Wasserfall von Saut du Loup | Waterfall of Saut du Loup
  • Angenehme Badetemperaturen in dem Pool unserer Unterkunft. - Pleasant bathing temperatures in the pool of our accommodation.
  • Den Urlaubstag am Pool unserer Unterkunft ausklingen lassen. - End the day at the pool of our accommodation.
  • Ein gemütlicher Urlaubstag mit gutem Essen in Grasse. - A pleasant holiday with good food in Grasse.

Rainy clouds over Switzerland

Actually, our vacation would have been over by this point. The days on the Côte d’Azur were numbered for us and we had to go home again. But somehow we wanted to enjoy this adventure even further. The trip seemed far too short to us and we really wanted to extend it a little longer. So we looked for new accommodation and stayed in Alsace for two more days.
The trip to the new accommodation should also be an experience. The map was studied and an exciting route was found. The route should lead via Italy to Switzerland.
The plan was well thought out and just had to be carried out. There is only one thing we did not take into account: the weather. Actually, we wanted to unpack our cooker again at the border crossing point at San Gran Bernardo and at this point have our meal, which was previously prepared at the highest point. But unfortunately nothing came of it … The only variable unknown to us did our whole plan to failure. It was windy, it was rainy and it was completely foggy …
At least we tried…

  • Nebelbedeckte Straße zum Pass Col du Grand Saint-Bernard. - Foggy road to the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard pass.
  • Ausblick auf die nebelbedeckte Landschaft vom Col du Grand Saint-Bernard in Richtung Italien. - View of the mist-covered landscape from the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard towards Italy.
  • Die Grenze zwischen Italien und der Schweiz auf dem Col du Grand Saint-Bernard. - The border between Italy and Switzerland on the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard.
  • Ausblick auf die wunderschönen Alpen in der Schweiz. - View of the beautiful Alps in Switzerland.
  • Ausblick auf die wunderschönen Alpen in der Schweiz. - View of the beautiful Alps in Switzerland.
  • Fahrt auf der Autobahn entlang dem Genfersee. - Drive on the motorway along Lake Geneva.

So we drove through in one piece to Eguisheim. This city is particularly among the special cities, because it is laid out around a market square.
We have already been here a few years ago and had taken far too little time for this place and its surroundings. We’ll try to do better this time.

  • Blumengeschmückte Fachwerkhäuser entlang den Ringgassen in der Altstadt von Eguisheim. - Flower-decorated half-timbered houses along the ring roads in the old town of Eguisheim.
  • Der Stadtkern von Eguisheim mit der Burg und der Kapelle St. Leo IX. - The town centre of Eguisheim with the castle and the chapel of St. Leo IX.
  • Blumengeschmückte Fachwerkhäuser entlang der Ringgasse in der Altstadt von Eguisheim. - Flower-decorated half-timbered houses along the Ringgasse in the old town of Eguisheim.
  • Blumengeschmückte Fachwerkhäuser entlang der Ringgasse in der Altstadt von Eguisheim. - Flower-decorated half-timbered houses along the Ringgasse in the old town of Eguisheim.

Automobile nostalgia in Sochaux

Expect the unexpected, then you cannot be surprised. Actually it should have been somehow clear to us that if it rained yesterday, it is very likely that it would have to rain on this day as well. That was also the case …
It poured like that all morning. So we simply swapped primary and secondary goals. On the very first day, i.e. the day we arrived, we stopped in Sochaux and briefly watched the goings-on at the Peugeot Museum. Today the time had come that we also explored the inside of the museum. The expectations and anticipation were high – at least for almost all of the fellow travelers.
So we went to the ticket office with full vigor and beaming from one ear to the other and bought two tickets. Radiant is perhaps a bit exaggerated, but the female part of the Älg travel group also went in and didn’t stay at the shopping center. The museum is logically structured and the entrance area in particular is convincing in the Art Nouveau style. The paths and “compartments” are kept in the style of the respective epoch and everything that the Peugeot company has ever built is on display. And that’s a lot! Name it – they built it! Starting with mills (coffee, pepper, salt, …) to knives, chopping, hammers, pliers, measuring instruments, corsets, drills, angle grinders, radios, refrigerators, washing machines, bicycles, carriages, hunting rifles, sewing machines, hand grenades, vacuum cleaners, bombs, air pumps , Mixers, aircraft & boat engines and of course motor vehicles. The exhibition begins with the early years (logical, it would be strange to start differently) and works its way forward on the time scale. Unique exhibits can be seen as well as technical solutions that were far ahead of their time. First car with a completely automatically retractable metal roof (Peugeot 601 Eclipse – 1934), first large-scale production car with diesel engine (Peugeot 403 – 1959 -> YES, Mercedes built the first diesel into a car as early as 1937, but that was not yet a large-scale production) or even that first Popemobile that was based on a pickup, to name just a few examples.

We – some of us at least – would have liked to have stayed longer to study the beautiful shapes of the old car bodies, but we were encouraged to get to the next point on our travel list. So we drove back to the base and explored the beautiful Eguisheim. We made our first stop at the “Wolfberger” wine shop and tasted one or two fine wines. The selection seemed endless and if you really tried everything, you would definitely end up with more than just a little tipsy. After the fifth or sixth round it was also clear which bottles would be imported to Austria for personal use. With the new bottles in our luggage we set off to explore the small town. Here we noticed immediately after leaving the sales room that we had probably not really thought through something again. After five or six rounds of wine, whiskey, and liquor tastings, the world gradually began to spin and move around us. Such a world movement can of course make urban exploration of this kind more difficult. But not with us! The world turned to the left, so we turned to the right and immersed ourselves in the medieval streets of Eguisheim. Every step forward gave us further perspectives on the unique architecture of the Alsatian houses. Goods were offered for sale and it was almost as if it was a market day in times long past. Either this or it was the aftereffects of the fermented grape juice.

  • Weine der Winzergenossenschaft Wolfberger im Weinkeller Eguisheim. - Wines of the Wolfberger winegrowers' cooperative in the Eguisheim wine cellar.
  • Erzeugnisse der Winzergenossenschaft Wolfberger im Weinkeller Eguisheim. - Products of the Wolfberger winegrowers' cooperative in the Eguisheim wine cellar.
  • Der Stadtkern von Eguisheim mit der Burg und der Kapelle St. Leo IX. in der Nacht. - The town centre of Eguisheim with the castle and the chapel of St. Leo IX at night.

Castles and monkeys in Alsace

So today it has come: definitely the last day of our trip to France. So what should we do on this last day? There would be innumerable possibilities. As always, in the end there is far too little time left to see everything we have planned. The decision is unanimous and rather spontaneous. Today we conquer a castle and the nearby residents. But one after anonther…
You readers of our lines have probably noticed that a little hairy companion follows us everywhere. This is Älgbert, our little travel companion. On a previous Scandinavian expedition, his small eyes looked at us expectantly and he really wanted to be going with us. The Älg dealer in Rovaniemi, Finland, gave us our new companion for a small fee. Since then he has accompanied us on our travels and also helps us to discover new things. But be careful, Älgbert is not just any Älg. No! He is King Älgbert, first of his name, King of Joulu, Aelgia and Småland av IKEA!
That is why he always has his own cloak and crown with him to visit new castles and, if possible, add to his kingdom. That day he tried the Hohkönigsburg in Orschwiller.
The old walls have an impressive story to tell. The castle was first mentioned in a document in 1147. In the middle of the 15th century it was taken by robber barons and used as a base to ease the wallet of traveling merchants on the way to Strasbourg. In order to drive them out, it was besieged in 1462 and destroyed in the process. The Swiss noble family of the Counts of Thierstein rebuilt it, but in the Thirty Years War it was completely destroyed again after the siege of the Swedes. In 1899 the ruins were donated to the then German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had them built into a museum castle. So it came about that from 1901 the castle was completely rebuilt as it must have looked in the 15th century.
Just like in Carcassonne, you now have the opportunity to see this castle in its old glory. The architect and his workers did a really good job. They managed to authentically rebuild the medieval building without falling too deeply into the romanticization of the Middle Ages at the turn of the century.

  • Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg | Blick auf den Rhein - view of the Rhine
  • Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg | Teile der Waffensammlung - part of the weapon collection
  • Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg | Kaisersaal - imperial hall
  • Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg | Blick Richtung Baseler Alpen - view towards the Basel Alps

After the successful tour of the castle (unfortunately there was no throne that Älgbert could have taken) we visited the residents who were within sight of the castle. They have a migration background and a lot of hair. They come from North Africa and are here for a specific reason, because their habitat is threatened and so there are fewer and fewer of their kind. Therefore, two friends bought a large piece of forest in 1969 and settled a group of them there to observe and study their behavior and to secure their existence. There are now four establishements of this type in Europe and 600 have already left France and were relocated to the mountainous regions of Morocco. It really is a show to watch the Barbary macaques that are more or less wild and feed them with popcorn.

La Montagne des Singes
La Montagne des Singes

Review

We drove about 6,230 km by car on this trip, covered about 200 km on foot, and took about 3,500 photos. We still have to work on the portion that we covered on foot …

The trip left us with a lot of impressions. We got to know new places and also met nice people.

As always, the time was far too short to really explore all the beautiful corners and to be able to make a statement about where we liked it best. It was only possible for us to see a small fragment, but this one was very impressive. The mountains of the Pyrenees, the lavender of the Provance, the Roman remains or the luxury shown on the Côte d’Azur – each of the places is worth a trip in itself. Although our preferred travel direction is to the north, we are considering returning to some of the areas and continuing our exploration – but then much more slowly.

Plage de Saint-Cyprien
Plage de Saint-Cyprien
Weihnachten in Schönbrunn | Christmas in Schönbrunn

Schönbrunn Christmas market

The Christmas market in front of Schönbrunn Palace has been in existence for more than 25 years. So it was more than just time for us to visit it. Traditional but also surprising moments awaited us at the largest Christmas market in Vienna.
Here you can learn more about what we have experienced here.

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