Tag: France

Five great reasons why Montpellier is the best city break this summer

I’ve got form with Montpellier, where I spent an early summer visit on assignment for a couple of publications.

I remembered it from student days as my favourite French city, but then had a mixed experience on a more recent visit.

I was back in early July on a group press trip with tourism officials for the opening of the city’s new contemporary art museum, MOCO.

The city has certainly grown, expanding into new districts towards the beach and bustling with language-exchange students.

I still love the Old Town with its cobblestone backstreets and labyrinthine passageways. But I was less grabbed by some of the modernist architecture of somewhat soulless outer districts.

Here’s a taster of my story:

The opening of the art museum, Montpellier Contemporary (MOCO) is the latest development in a city embracing art. There was always a flirtation with street art and a regular summer arts festival but MOCO has really put the city on the map as a hub for all things conceptual.

I finally feel like I’ve got a better sense of what makes Montpellier tick.

Just in time to recommend some places to visit, such as the new Marché du Lez [pictured above], to my daughter, who is due to visit on a school exchange next Easter.

Read my Rough Guide feature.

Read the Independent Travel article.

How To Make The Most Of A Weekend In Troyes

A return trip to France before Easter, then, with an assignment in the Champagne-Ardenees region.

I was in Troyes [pictured above] for France Magazine, exploring the medieval city on foot to uncover the hidden courtyards, historic buildings and lesser-known church cloisters.

That and sampling some of the local bubbles, of course.

Here’s a flavour of the article:

Troyes gets a lower billing in the Champagne region these days with Reims and Epernay better know as homes to the global-brand champagne houses. But it was Troyes that dominated the region during the Middle Ages with wealthy local landowners, the Counts of Champagne, putting the city on the map as a centre of commerce. The medieval fairs from the 11-13th century brought Troyes wealth and status as a crossroads for trade.

Read the full story in the July issue of France Magazine.

Making The Most Of The Amazing Light Festival In Lyon

We live in dark times.

As if the political climate wasn’t bad enough, changing the clocks to winter mode casts an even longer shadow.

But not so in Lyon, a city I hadn’t visited in over ten years.

The city hosts the world’s biggest light festival each December and I was back in Lyon, or Lugdunum as it was founded by the Romans in 43AD, for a preview of this year’s event.

With the gloom of winter setting in, it brightened up my week no end.

Light relief

“Lyon is the mother of all light festivals,” said Jean-Francois Zurawik.

I was having lunch with the Event Director of Lyon’s Fete des Lumierés in one of the low-key bistros France’s capital of gastronomy does so well — see the mural of Lyon’s most famous chef, Paul Bocuse, above.

“Light is universal. The battle between light and darkness is fundamental to the human condition,” he added.

This year’s event runs December 6-9 with 75 light and laser installations at 45 locations across the city, many focused on the historic buildings of Old Lyon.

The festival has its origins in the Middle Ages and took its inspiration from a 1852 celebration to mark the blessing of the Virgin Mary by placing candles in the windows of houses across the city.

It will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2019 and has grown to a spectacle attracting some 2m people to the city, spawning spin-off festivals in places as diverse as Ghent, Hong Kong and Durham.

Come together 

For Jean-Francois, however, it’s less about the size of the spectacle and more about bringing people together.

“My job is to find light artists to create a poetic moment. It’s about emotion, not technology,” he told me, finishing his petit café before heading out to another last-minute planning meeting.

And let’s face it: when we live in dark times like these, anything that can bring people together is something to cherish.

Vive la lumiére!

More: Fete des Lumières Lyon

How a nostalgic return to Paris made my summer special

It looks like an innocuous apartment building.

It is in many ways but, to me, that faded-green front door represents far more.

Welcome to 60 Rue Letellier [pictured above], located near Place Cambronne in Paris.

This was my home from September 1992 for one year as part of my study-abroad placement via Leeds University.

It was a year in which I really learnt to speak French, discovered the joie-de-vivre of Les Inrockuptibles and embarked upon a lifelong quest for the perfect Couscous Royale.

And no 60 was the epicentre of all the madness — a tiny, second-floor apartment just a few minutes from the green Metro line to Montparnasse.

Prodigal return

I stood outside that green front door again this summer.

It was 25 years since my last visit and I was back in Paris on a Monet assignment for France magazine. I’d stopped off for a nostalgia trip en route from seeing the Water Lilies at L’Orangerie.

There were so many memories forged in that flat, accompanied by a soundtrack of Screamadelica and a diet of Pelforth Brune.

But one of the most memorable was the bar opposite, where Salar and Messaoud ran a ramshackle café-bar on an Algerian motif.

It was the place to start every big night out and to put the world to rights with a mix of English-abroad innocence and undergraduate change-the-world confidence befitting our formative ages.

It was as much of my Paris experience as the Eiffel Tower and Musée Rodin.

The bar had long since gone, of course but, I stop there, a waiter in the now pizza restaurant told me he still remembered Messaoud.

“It didn’t end well,” he frowned. “People say he ended up living in the Metro.”

Moving on

A lot has changed in those 25 intervening years. But standing back on Rue Letelier brought me a sense of peace.

Afterwards I headed to Place Cambronne and had lunch at a pavement cafe, sitting alone with a plat du jour and a glass of rosé in the sunshine. The square was as lively as ever.

It was the defining moment of my summer.

Older but maybe also wiser. I may not the same person who lived in that little apartment. But I’m not that different either.

I’ve still got that Screamadelica CD and still love a good Couscous Royale.

And, by going back, I’m all the more ready to move forward.