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It’s time to party… it’s carnival !

March 1, 2011

Carnival season is already well underway around the world and for those of us that love a party and a parade, it’s a great time to visit…

So you have heard of carnival in Rio and in Venice, but did you know that Nice has its very own version too dating back hundreds of years? This year the theme is based around the Mediterranean Sea and even tips a wink at the famous underseas frenchman Jacques Cousteau who gets his very own float devoted to him (mais bien sur!)

King of the Mediterranean



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aside from the main parade there is a tribute to the local flower industry called the “Battle of the Flowers”

Watch this “Nice morning” video on the bataille des fleurs to get a feel for the atmosphere.

 

From an ecological point of view, businesses providers have all been chosen for their qualifications or labeling. 80% of the flowers used are produced locally. The parade even includes a float at the back devoted to sweeping up the confetti-producing floats at the head of the procession.

There are float names to get your imagination racing like The Flying Scorpion Fish or The 4 o’clock Wave and most of all there is lots of music and dancing going on late into the night…

For those who liked my Gotta go to REHAB post, the Nice carnival has more imaginative rubbish/trash art!!! Corinne Reinsch, a recycling specialist artist (of the Association ARTSENS)  has created an inter-active fresco representing her vision of paradise on earth with rosebuds, carnations and daisies all made of recycled materials. Fun workshops are also available for visitors to make masks and other creations.

There are celebrations daily then on Mardi Gras itself (Tuesday March 8th) festivities start winding down with a ceremonial burning of the poor King of the Mediterranean (at 8pm) followed by fireworks.


***** If Carnival processions are just your thing, then don’t miss out on the “Lemon Party” (Fete du Citron) happening over the same period just down the road at Menton near the Italian border.

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Families love it !!!

February 22, 2011

It is no small coincidence that the Salon d’Agriculture is timed for the school holidays as it is simply a great day out for all the family!

Held at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre on the southern edge of Paris, it is one of the few shows that takes over the entire complex, such is its vast size. It felt like I whizzed around the 7 pavilions and yet it I was there for over 4 hours yesterday (and had a great time incidentally!)

As I did, many make a beeline for the animals first. Lots and lots of them in every direction!! As soon as you enter the giant Hall 1, the smell hits you – rows and rows of sheep, then pigs then cows amongst lots of golden straw, not forgetting the small caged birds and giant lop-eared rabbits. (horses and donkeys are in another building) Despite the signs of “no touching” every child in sight has his or her fingers through the railings giving a little stroke or two or offering a few stalks of hay. I have to admit to patting a few heads myself…

With almost alarming simplicity you find the animals alongside their related products, what a contrast to sterile supermarket conditions: pigs next to stalls slicing hams; sheep mixed with stalls of woolly booties and jackets; cows next to their cheese. There’s no mistaking the proud origins of these products. There are good quality stamps everywhere and those people tucking into the food look very content.

Even in the buildings with no animals to pet, children are well catered for – every few metres someone is organising a game, a quiz or showing a little boy how to use a fishing rod. Dressed as ladybirds or other creatures their target audience is obvious!

2011 being UN Year of the Forest there are many stands consecrated to this theme with lots of information, most of it unfortunately only in French. There are some fun stands on bio-fuel too: beetroot power anyone?

The last Hall has a section for each French region: the food smells waft around irresistibly as you go between alpine fondues, mountain saucisson, oyster bars and the wonderfully flavoursome creations from France Outre-Mer (overseas départements such as Guadeloupe or Guyana). To wash it all down have a glass or two of champagne or red burgundy, one of the few products definitely not designed for the kids but rather for their happy parents…

The French are famous for their farmers (although often due to their blockades or other such political protests it must be said!) as well as the idealised view of their rural way of life. This is not actually so true these days as many farmers have had to give up or turn to supplemental incomes in order to keep going, despite their famous subventions (grants). Phenomenon such as globalisation, have contributed to this collapse. Luckily for us as tourists, one way to combat this downturn and which has really taken off, is that of rural tourism driven by those wanting to relive childhood visits to grandparents farms or indeed the whole green movement and its obvious affinity with farmers in terms of organic farming (agriculture biologique) or return to nature and traditional ways. Institutions such as Bienvenue à la Ferme (a network of farmhouse B&Bs www.bienvenue-a-la-ferme.com) are well represented and each region has takeaway pamphlets on where to stay & what to do when you get there. Such claims as “France’s no.1 organic department” are made (by the Drome in the Rhone-Alpes region incidentally) and reveal what every farmer hopes, that they can replace their traditional livelihoods by encouraging those townies amongst us to visit and support their green way of life.

 

So if your kids are driving you crazy during half term, how about a late trip over on Eurostar? The show runs until 27th February 2011, there is still time to come and mingle with the animals and plan those summer holidays. (cost 12 Euros for adults, 6 Euros for kids)

So what is responsible tourism and do the French care anyway???

February 15, 2011

Eco Gites

This week has been branded responsible tourism week and as such it is worth looking at what exactly does that mean as there is so much jargon around…

Responsible tourism is the application of the concept of Sustainable Development to the Tourism Industry. It fundamentally engenders a respect for local communities and destinations, a respect for the local people, their livelihoods & local economic development not forgetting the need to be environmentally friendly. More meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues are key in the process.

It is all too easy to knock cities like Paris for the lack of apparent welcome, all too apparent presence of dogs on the pavements, often offhand “service” in cafes and restaurants, not to mention the profusion of luxury brands which seem to ooze excess and seeming lack of awareness of conserving our planet’s future.

However, for sheer natural beauty and cultural heritage then France is in the premier league of worldwide tourist destinations. There is really so much to see and do that they cannot help but ensure the preservation of their future touristic potential. Every region has something worthwhile experiencing and each year there are legions of happy people keen to lap up the richness on offer whether it be getting out in the fresh air of  the mountains, chilling in the country, being cultural in the cities or eating and drinking just about everywhere…

To support of all of this, the government  has defined a national Environmental strategy “Le Grenelle de l’Environnement”, so the infrastructure is there!

Paris is also where UNESCO is head-quartered: There are 35 World Heritage Sites in France (31 cultural, 4 natural) the last 2 being added in 2010.
France has the 4th country rank in number of sites. See this video for a tour of them, not forgetting the overseas territories. Well worth waiting to see the Pitons on Reunion island – wow!

Growing numbers of hoteliers and tour operators are “getting” the message and taking steps in the right direction. Today over 750 individual, and mostly independent, accommodations of all types have obtained a recognised,  environmental label (see my earlier post on one of these). Associations grouping tour operators passionate to promote such tourism at home and abroad exist such as ATR (= Act for Responsible Tourism) or ATES (=Association for Solidarity and Fairtrade in Tourism). These associations generally also support social & economic projects as well as environmental ones.

 

 

 

So can tourism really have a positive impact on people’s lives AND on the planet?

More and more, environmental and humanitarian projects are learning how to harness tourism dollars to make a difference. Dignified livelihoods are being created in the field of tourism. In some places, ecosystems are better protected and researched. Traditional ways of life are being promoted at least in an educational way.

What do you think??

Be my Valentine ….alternative ideas for your romantic stay in Paris

February 7, 2011

Valentine’s Day conjures up the image of Paris with red roses, chocolates and wine. But once you get here what do you do? Where do you go to? How to keep it original and avoid the cliché?……Try out these ways to celebrate February 14th with that special person in your life.

Keep with a Parisian tradition and attach a padlock to the bridge “Pont des Arts”. Write your names on first of course and then lock it and throw the key into the Seine…meant to bring lots of luck to star crossed lovers. I was amused to see a controversial comment on this practice recently – follow this link to see another point of view. http://blog.upbeat.fr/post/444209612/visual-pollution-on-pont-des-arts

Fed up of Bateaux Mouche along the Seine? Well then, try the boats that run between the Musée d’Orsay and Parc de la Villette – they pass along the Canal St Martin after passing underground around Bastille. Generally it is Parisians themselves who frequent this shady stroll, reminiscent of Amsterdam in several ways: there tend to be fewer tourists who make it here…Even better on Sundays when the traffic is banned and the cyclists come out to play, whilst runners and pedestrians alike share the empty roads. Make time to dine at one of the trendy restaurants strewn along its banks.

The biggest of all hearts in Paris is the Sacré Cœur. Not only is it two steps from the centre of Montmartre, but it is also spectacular and you get one of the best free views across Paris from its steps.

Views over Paris from steps of Sacre Coeur

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Association “Paris Par Rues Méconnues” is offering discounts on their unusual walks around Paris for the month of February as part of ‘Paris Romantique’ Check out their website at: http://www.paris-prm.com. They are an organisation firmly rooted in the principles of sustainable development providing opportunities to the underprivileged, the handicapped, working with local artists & shopkeepers plus giving tourists an insider view on life in Paris.

So anyway back to red roses, chocolates and wine for those hopeless romantics amongst you….

For Red roses I suggest you wander through the daily flower market on the Ile de la Cité where you can find all sorts of beautiful things. On Sundays there is also a bird market here.

Chocolate, ah chocolate.. (Well, I’m a girl so it’s completely normal I have a deep and lasting relationship with chocolate!) There are so many good places to find great chocolate in Paris, but for a really great experience go to Puerto Cacao which is a shop & bar where you can indulge in hot chocolate or even have a brunch with chocolate included. This is a social-based enterprise selling Fair Trade chocolate. There are two locations, one in the 12th Arrondissement near Bastille @2 rue Théophile Roussel and the other in the 17th Arrondissement near @53 rue de Tocqueville.

Wine? Well not just any wine, it has to be champagne for a special celebration…Try a glass of champagne or even a champagne cocktail at Point Bulles. Their Champagnes by Philippe Gonet are produced by a “culture raisonnée” a way of respecting natural production methods, reducing use of fertilisers etc. 7 Rue Clément, 75006 Paris

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all !!

“Solar” power in Paris

January 31, 2011

A winner of the 2010 Responsable Tourism Awards (Trophées du Tourisme Responsable), Solar Hotel is a little gem of a budget hotel hidden in the 14th district of Paris near Denfert Rochereau (just around the corner from the Catacombs of Paris and 10 minutes from Montparnasse)

In fact it is possibly THE cheapest hotel in the whole intra-muros city area at only 59 euros (yes really!) a night per room INCLUDING breakfast… but only if you opt for the organic version. You guessed it, the owner Franck LAVAL is someone who likes to make his point!

We met him to discuss his outlook on life and how he has converted his small budget hotel (previously known as Hôtel des Voyageurs) into a model eco-establishment. He is very active on environmental and social issues, doing interviews with journalists and giving advice and support to other hoteliers interested in following his lead. His credentials in the green movement go back many years and at the entrance to the hotel can be found photos of many of the movers and shakers in today’s french political circles as they attend events at this “ecological, economical and militant” hotel.

There are already signs of the underlying ethics before you even go inside: solar panels over the entrance  power the outside lighting and signag; plus there is a big water collector on the pavement collecting rainwater from the drainpipes – used to water the garden in the very pleasant back garden.

The owner Franck LAVAL

Incidentally these were all installed cheekily without going through the normal bureaucratic approvals, but what civil servant is going to risk creating a fuss about such environmental steps? He has also installed a composting system in the garden where they put all their own organic waste and, in a neighbourly way, do the same for the restaurant next door too. All around the hotel are little signs giving hints and tips. The aim is to recycle 90% of all waste and reduce energy usage to the max. Not surprisingly the hotel is holder of the Clef Verte (Green Key) Environmental standard or eco-label. There are other nice little touches too such as bikes for use, encouraging  the use of public transport, wifi access in the lobby and free computers in some of the rooms.

The big catch on this hotel is that they are almost always fully booked, so get in early if you want to reserve a room there. The rooms are basic in terms of facilities, but clean and not to repeat myself too much, CHEAP! They do have an annexe a few minutes away if their rooms on site are already taken. The inside tip would be to book at least WELL in advance to be sure, and hence the reason for the timing of this post so early in the season. Booking is easy online – see site address below. Just a note to also expect to make payment when you arrive rather than when you leave, a small price to pay for such a great deal.

Solar Hôtel
22 rue Boulard
75014 Paris
www.solarhotel.fr
english version of site available – just click on the right flag

Tel. : 01 43 21 08 20

Nerest Metro/RER: Denfert-Rochereau

Alpine Icing on the Cake

January 21, 2011

Well there wont necessarily be cake, but there will be lots of fancy icing…

Some of the most amazing sculptures you will see in France this month wont last very long. Failing serious climactic cooling, in a few weeks time they will be mere memories of their former selves.
…these sculptures are ephemeral art made of ice and snow.

Down in the French Alps the ski station of Valloire-Galibier is the location of the 20th annual snow & ice sculpture contest this coming week. 17 teams from around the world take part (artists can join in even if they have never seen snow before) and the public gets a chance to vote too!

The ice contest takes place on the Verney’s Plateau about 2km from Valloire. The teams have 72 hours to work their magic starting on Thursday night. Prizegiving is on Sunday around midday. Then a week later it’s the turn of the snow sculptors.

Obviously these beauties wont be going anywhere fast so even if you pass by in the next few weeks you should still be able to see them. Enjoy them while they last!!

21-23 & 25-28 January 2011

Office de Tourisme Valloire Tel : 04 79 59 03 96

Gotta go to REHAB !!

January 17, 2011
recycling art

a walk in the forest

Take a look at this piece of 3D art. It’s a forest scene right? Have a closer look…. in fact it’s all made of cardboard. So this is a creative alternative to recycling…

The REHAB exhibition at the EDF Foundation has just been extended to March 6th. There are several artists exhibiting who are all seeking to promote the use for what we would otherwise call RUBBISH (or TRASH) in a very creative way. Now I wouldn’t say that all of it impressed me, but what do I know about modern art? But there were several pieces that were really excellent – this rubber tyre palm tree for instance…a chicken or egg situation in a funny sort of way.

Also on the way into the Expo I came across what seemed to be a various piles of rubbish in no particular order…BOF I said to myself in a very french way, but the nice man in the basement explained it to me. In fact it was quite surprising too if only you knew what to look at. There is a live camera stream on the various piles and the trick is that the 3D items are projected onto a 2D screen which reveals a “living picture” (much better and not at all like the piles in front of it) which you could lean over and put your hand into if the guards are willing, else they will show you themselves.

The EDF* Foundation “Diversiterre” hosts various exhibitions all in the vein of the environment or social responsibility/ health and culture

FREE ENTRY!

6 Rue Récamier , Paris 75007

Metro Sèvres-Babylone or St Sulpice

http://foundation.edf.com/the-edf-offers/edf-foundation-106700.html

* EDF = Electricité de France