Eurostar launches new services to southern France

Eurostar is launching a new direct service from London and Avignon to three popular holiday dEurostar-250x167estinations in the South of France – Lyon, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence.

The new weekly spring service, which complements Eurostar’s existing Avignon services, is perfect for travellers looking to secure an early summer getaway.

The service will be offered for a trial period during May and June 2013 and tickets will go on sale on the December 11th 2012 alongside tickets for Eurostar’s existing weekly summer services to Avignon.

Passengers who choose the new Lyon – Provence service for travel from May 4th to the June 29th 2013 will enjoy a direct journey from London St Pancras International or Ashford International to Lyon, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, travelling non-stop through the magnificent French countryside.

On the return leg, they will disembark in Lille Europe to complete the necessary security and passport checks required for transit through the Channel Tunnel before re-boarding a dedicated Eurostar service to the UK.

Nick Mercer, commercial director for Eurostar commented: “Our direct Avignon summer services grow in popularity year on year and our customers tell us they’d like to see it extended to offer even more choice of holiday destinations.

“We are committed to listening to their feedback, which is why we’re testing this new service to Lyon, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, three of the most popular destinations in the South of France.

“By trialling this new service for future years, and by opening sales to our existing annual summer Avignon services earlier than usual, we are giving customers even more flexibility and choice when planning their trips to the south of France next year.

“Journeys with Eurostar avoid the summer scramble at the airports and we encourage passengers to book early to avoid disappointment.”

Source:  Breaking Travel News

I Go, You Go, Oui-go !

Provence & Côte d’Azur: The notoriously pricy TGV introduces Ouigo – a low cost alternative to compete with low-cost airlines

French railway giant SNCF has entered the budget travel market, promising high speed travel between Provence and Paris for as little as 10 euros. The all-new TGV Ouigo mimics that of most no-frills services – bag limits, no refunds and no meal options.

A trip on the famously fast TGV could now cost as little as 10 euros

“This new offer is for the four million French people who live outside Paris and who are more inclined to take their car rather than the train,” said the president of the SNCF, Guillaume Pepy, while presenting the TGV Ouigo service in Marne la Vallée in east Paris.

The first budget trains will depart from Marne on 2nd April, before reaching Marseille and Montpellier via Lyon Saint Exupéry. A total of three round-trip journeys will take place each weekday and five journeys will be available on weekends. By cutting the option of first class travel, each train will have the capacity to carry 1,268 passengers per week – 20 per cent more than an ordinary TGV train.

And class division is not the only luxury to be sacrificed for efficiency. No buffet service will be available and passengers will not be allowed to lug unlimited amounts of baggage aboard the train. They will be entitled to one free suitcase and one piece of hand luggage, but any extra will cost five euros. Clients in need of a powerpoint will also have to cough up two euros. But the general director of SNCF Voyages, Barbara Dalibard, explains that the money has to come from somewhere. “We have to diminish our production costs by 30 per cent,” she said to the AFP.

There is also no room for disorganisation on the TGV Ouigo – passengers will have to make their bookings at least four hours before travel. “To speed up boarding and guarantee comfort,” they must also arrive at the station at least 30 minutes early. For the association of railway passengers AVUC, these issues are not being addressed by the company. “The SNCF only seems to be communicating the price of travel, but it eludes the subject of inconvenience. For example, it will be impossible to get a refund, even for good reasons,” explained an anonymous spokesperson to the AFP.

But for frequent travellers and families on a budget, the benefits appear to outweigh the costs. Tariffs for children are fixed at a meagre 10 euros, while a 20 euro ‘mini-group’ fare is available for four to eight passengers travelling together.

The general price of a TGV Ouigo train ticket will cost between 10 and 85 euros – while ordinary TGV fares from the south of France to Paris often exceed 100 euros. With Air France and easyJet offering budget airfares, SNCF have been forced to crank down its costs.

The federation of transport users (FNAUT) is hoping that the offer will ultimately expand to provide a similar service with intercity trains. Ouigo passengers headed to Paris will have to take a bus or train from Marne in the eastern part of the city to reach their final destination, while Marseille is the only Azurean city to welcome the service.

But despite its limitations, the TVG Ouigo is a breakthrough in railway transport. “Accessible high speed trains correspond to a new SNCF committment to provide travel for all,” said the SNCF president. The first 400,000 tickets on sale each year will cost 10 euros, while the next million will cost 25 euros.

TGV Ouigo website.

Credit: Isabelle Younane in The Riviera Times

Winter Festivals on the Côte d’Azur

A citrus escargot on parade at the Fête du Citron in Menton

Winter Festivals on the Côte d'Azur

“As if sunny days, mild temperatures and blossoming mimosa weren’t enough, February also brings three fun festivals to the Côte d’Azur. For the first time this year, the three cities—Nice, Menton and Mandelieu-La Napoule—have coordinated the dates of their festivals so that visitors can take advantage of all the parades, floats, activities and exhibits during the festival weeks from February 15 through March 6.

Winter Festivals on the Côte d'Azur
A château made of citrus fruit at the Fête du Citron in Menton
Winter Festivals on the Côte d'Azur
The Eiffel Tower in citrus fruit at the Jardin Biovès in Menton
Winter Festivals on the Côte d'Azur
A float at the Nice Carnival

Parades, flower-decorated floats and revelers fill the streets of Nice as the city celebrates its traditional Mardi Gras Carnival. Highlights are the corsos, or parades of colorful floats, led by the King and Queen of the Carnival and showered by tons of rainbow-hued confetti; the Grosses Têtes, giant figures that accompany the floats; and the Batailles des Fleurs, floats decorated with thousands of the gorgeous flowers that grow on the Côte d’Azur: roses, mimosa, carnations, gladiolus, daisies and other blossoms. Musicians and dancers from all over the world add to the fun. February 15 through March 6. www.nicecarnaval.com

Menton’s annual Lemon Festival sparkles with day and night parades, floats decorated with more than 100 tons of citrus fruit and giant citrus “sculptures” in parks and gardens. This year’s festival is the 80th Fête du Citron in this lovely town on the Italian border. The city’s many gardens celebrate citrus fruit with guided tours, and the fruit can also be enjoyed in citrus-themed dishes in local restaurants, artisanal marmalades and confitures, and cocktails. February 16 through March 6. www.feteducitron.comwww.tourisme-menton.fr

The Mimosa Festival in Mandelieu-La Napoule focuses on the brilliant yellow flower native to Australia that flourished so well on the Côte d’Azur that a profession called mimosiste appeared—specialists in the cultivation and forcing of mimosa. The flower, exported from La Napoule to the north of France and to foreign countries, became an important part of the local economy, and the first Mimosa Festival honored the blossom in 1931. Today, twelve tons of local mimosa blooms adorn the festival’s floats and other decorations; there are daytime parades and illuminated night parades; a Mimosa Queen is elected, and there’s even a Route du Mimosa, an 80-mile itinerary from Bormes-les-Mimosas to Grasse, that winds through the region’s perfumed, mimosa-covered hills. February 15-24. www.ot-mandelieu.fr”

Personal Note:  I highly recommend seeing the Lemon Festival in Menton, which is amazingly done.  I have also seen portions of the Carnaval in Nice, which is a memorable, fun experience, as well.

(Source: France Today by Vivian Thomas)

(Photo source: Office de Tourisme de menton- N.Sartore/www.tourisme-menton.fr)

Château Hotel Restaurant – Unique & Unbelievable Beauty

I recently discovered a “hidden gem”:  an amazing five-carat luxury hotel restaurant in a medieval village, with magnificent views to match.  If that’s not enough, the building dates from the 13th century and exudes history and art, keeping its heritage evident amidst the upscale decor.

I wanted to know more about this beauty and recently interviewed the General Manager, Frida, a friendly Swedish woman who first came to Nice at age 19 and was “taken with France.”  With a background in the hotel and restaurant business, in both Sweden and Nice, in an events business in the U.K., and having an International Business degree from the U.K., Frida is well equipped to run this luxury hotel and restaurant, “Château Le Cagnard.”  Now fully renovated to a high standard, the reputable hotel re-opened in October, 2012.

24/7:   Obviously history and art have a major influence on the hotel – how has this aspect been preserved during the renovation?

LC:  The hotel has been updated and refreshed to maintain its romance and charm, as well as to enhance the artistic aspects, such as the “Salle des Gardes” – the dining area where knights once dined – with its unique elephant frescoes painted in 1928 by Emile Wéry that I restored.  Instead of room numbers, our 26 suites and rooms are now named after a local artist, to add a touch of personal artistic romance with a trompe l’oeil, not to mention the 200 hand-painted roof panels in the restaurant with the ceiling that opens up to the Mediterranean sky.

24/7:   What in particular attracts your clientele to your hotel in this small, medieval village?

LC:  I think it’s the hotel’s uniqueness, attention to details,  and its charm, with an overall concept of being a great get-away, but yet centrally located to Nice.  We also have a lot of activities at the hotel: language courses, wine and champagne tastings, cooking school (all by request, for the moment) to provide guests with a chance to experience France in one location.  We are open seven days a week, all year round too.

24/7:  What nationalities have you welcomed into your hotel?

LC:  Our clientele, due to our hotel’s long established reputation, are multi-national, coming from Mexico, Canada, Japan, Germany, U.S., and the U.K.  Since there is a large Scandinavian sector who live in the village, they generally frequent the restaurant.

24/7:  How do you decide on special promotions and publicity campaigns?

LC:  I collaborate with the chef, Stéphane, for what would attract foreigners because we are selling a unique experience and feel for our clients, in keeping our high standards of excellence.  Yes, the three-night stay for the price of two, and market shopping with the chef with the meal then served on the terrace, has proved to be popular promotional package and is a perfect gift idea too.

24/7:  Do you distribute guest surveys?

LC:  Yes, we provide a paper format and have a reception area guest book, as well as social media sites for guests to provide comments.

###

Frida then gave me a personal tour, showing me a couple rooms and suites – the overall beauty of the antique decor juxtaposing the modern amenities, with each room having a French-style trompe l’oeil wall painting left me virtually speechless (good that this part took place after the interview!)  — self explanatory when you see the below photos.

(All photos provided by Le Cagnard, except for the first four)

Winter Driving: A Guest Blog

With snow on the mountains, this guest blog is timely.Pyrenees

A big MERCI to my guest blogger, Eve Walsh, who has kindly written the following article about winter weather driving for my blog. She is a freelance writer with a keen interest in travel writing as well as a dear love of France and French culture. It is her dream to retire to Brittany and immerse herself in French life fully.

Driving to a French Ski Resort – Safely Does It

France offers some of the best skiing in Europe and over the next few months millions of people will be taking advantage of this for their winter vacation. While a lot of people will fly in to one of the nearby airports and rely on a transfer by coach to their chosen ski resort, many more will get to the French Alps or Pyrenees under their own steam – either using their own car or hiring one. This doesn’t pose too much of a problem for those used to driving on snow – indeed many French families make the trip to the Alps each year and have become accustomed to winter driving – but for people who don’t have this experience, driving in the Alps or Pyrenees over winter can be hazardous. Although it is no substitute for experience, taking the necessary precautions before a journey on snow covered roads in France can reduce the chance of you coming into difficulties or having an accident.

Extra grip

While winter tyres aren’t mandatory when driving in France, it is still worth considering their use. The material used in their manufacture and their tread pattern means that they perform better in colder conditions, so they provide better grip when driving on snow, reducing the likelihood of your car skidding. Do check that when using winter tyres that their tread depth is at least 3mm to ensure that they work effectively. Although they are no guarantee that you won’t have an accident, if you are unlucky enough to be involved in one, using them will work in your favour; not doing so could shift the blame for the accident on to you. However, many French roads at higher altitudes indicate that snow chains must be used; though on some signs they advise that winter tyres are a permissible alternative. Snow chains provide traction on compacted snow and have the advantage that they are a lot cheaper than buying alternative tyres, though they can be tricky to fit the first few times that you try to do so.

Extra provisions

In case the worst should happen and you breakdown or have an accident, ensure that you have all that you need to keep you safe and warm till help can arrive. A well charged mobile phone will be vital should you need to raise the alarm. It is compulsory to carry a warning triangle in France for use when you need to warn other drivers that your car is stationary, as is a first aid kit, which you may need to use before help can reach you. Carry extra clothing and a blanket in the car along with a hot flask and some high calorie snacks – a bar of chocolate is ideal. You never know whether it might be day or night when you get into difficulty, so always keep a torch in the car.

Ensure visibility

Before you even think about driving away, ensure that your windscreens, windows, mirrors and lights are free from snow and ice to ensure that you can see others and that they can see you; your licence plate should also be clear. It is advisable to clear any snow from the roof of your car before you set off, as when you drive this can easily fall on to your windscreen or fly off on to another car, potentially impeding visibility. If it is snowing heavily during your journey, consider stopping when it is safe to do so to remove further snow.

Driving on snow

Many people forget that stopping distances can be up to 10 times higher, so drive at a slower speed on snow. This also means that you will have to reduce your speed in plenty of time should you need to stop. The road conditions mean that harsh braking is out of the question, so instead use your gears to slow your car by moving down into a low gear before gently applying the brakes.

Stuck in snow

If you come back to your car and you find that when you try to drive off you have become stuck, don’t be tempted to rev the engine, as this will actually make the rut worse. The best approach is to gently move your car backwards and forwards using the highest gear you are able to. Should this fail, having a shovel in the car will allow you to remove the snow surrounding the wheels and help you get on your way. However, if you need help to push your car out, there are usually plenty of friendly people around in ski resorts who are more than happy to help you. Becoming stuck in a snow drift is a more serious situation, so call for breakdown assistance or the emergency services. While you wait for them in your car, don’t be tempted to run the engine, as if the exhaust is blocked with snow carbon monoxide could enter the vehicle, which could be fatal.

This forward planning will hopefully see you safely on your way to problem free driving on your ski trip. However, if you are in any doubt of your driving ability in snow, consider alternative means of transport.

17th “Salon de la Gastronomie” in Monaco

Website photo

Calling all gourmets, gourmands, and foodies!

November 23-26, 2012 will mark this year’s gastronomy exposition in Monaco, showcasing wines, champagnes, caviar, chocolate, truffles, seafood, and other authentic specialties and exotic tastes from the regions of France and from Europe, as well as table settings and original gift ideas. Just in time for the holiday season!

Location:

Espace Fontvieille
5, avenue des Ligures
98000 Monaco
Tel: +377 92 05 26 00
Email: h.neu@montecarlofestivals.com

Link to a similar festival “foire”

Driving in France?

“Know the latest rules for drivers before you go to Europe:

This year there are several legal changes that affect you if you’re driving in France.

Breathalysers

On 1 March 2012 the French government confirmed that from 1 July 2012 drivers of all motor vehicles and motorcycles (excluding mopeds) must carry a breathalyser.

The regulation will be enforced from 1 November 2012 (just recently changed to March 1, 2013) and anyone stopped after that date who fails to produce a breathalyser when requested will receive an on the spot fine of €11.

The official announcement states that one unused, certified breathalyser must be produced showing the French certification mark NF. Carrying two single-use breathalysers will ensure that if one is used or damaged, you will still have a spare to produce.

The breathalyser produced has to be in date – single-use breathalysers normally have a validity of twelve months.

Satnav and speed camera alerts

Since 3 January 2012 French laws have prohibited drivers from carrying any device capable of detecting speed cameras. This includes products or devices able to warn or inform of the location of speed cameras e.g. satnav or gps systems capable of showing speed camera sites as Points of Interest.

The law is primarily aimed at speed camera detectors and sat-navs. It is unlikely that the French police will turn their attention to atlases but there is no guarantee this would be the case.

As well as the ban on warning devices, the French government is installing around 400 new, unsigned, fixed speed cameras as well as taking down signs indicating the location of existing camera sites.

If you have a satnav capable of displaying French camera locations in France then you must at least disable camera alerts. Contact the manufacturer for advice too as a software or database update is likely to be available that will remove camera data for France from the device.

If you have a satnav system built into your car then contact the vehicle manufacturer in the first instance.

Reflective clothing for motorcyclists

Early warning for next winter. From 1 January 2013 all drivers and passengers of a motorcycle over 125cc or a motor tricycle over 15 KW/h must wear reflective clothing when riding their vehicles and in the event of an emergency stop/breakdown.

Clothing must have a minimum reflective surface of 150cm2 (approx. 23 sq inches) in total, either in one piece or in several pieces, and must be worn between the neck and waist.”

Source: http://www.theaa.com

Brasserie near the Negresco

I had lunch recently right around the corner at “Brasserie des Chauffeurs,” a family-run restaurant situated on Rue de France near Rue de Rivoli  (behind the Negresco Hotel and diagonally across from behind the Musée Massena).  The owners and their two sons work together to make sure everyone is taken care of efficiently, giving great service in a friendly, neighborly atmosphere.

It was a hot, summer day, so I ordered  “une pression” (beer on tap) and “une omelette au fromage” with fries.  I really like their hot mustand – it’s enough to blow your head off, if not your socks 🙂   Generally speaking, the French here like to dip their fries in mustard, and the Belgians prefer mayonnaise, although ketchup is available here too.

The ‘pièce de resistance’ was the cappucino – in my opinion, it’s the best I’ve tasted in Nice – lots of foam sprinkled with chocolate, creamy coffee and not too strong – a delicious way to end the meal!

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Cheaper fares to fill the trains

Société nationale des chemins de fer français (Wikipedia photo)

France’s public train transportationsystem is comprehensive, on time (generally), relatively inexpensive and easy to use. I have always wondered why the U.S. hasn’t yet gotten on-board (pardon the pun) to offer the public an efficient, expansive rail alternative to driving.

As reported recently in The Connexion newspaper  “Cheaper fares, better discount cards and low-cost TGV tickets are part of a new SNCF campaign to get more people to take the train.
The state-owned rail firm will also hire 40,000 new staff before 2017, with 10,000 of them this year.

Rail travellers have long complained about high SNCF fares and the company has reacted with new offers, including a million under-€25 tickets each year on the Paris-Lyon-Marseille-Montpellier route.

And the company has taken a page out of Ryanair’s book by launching low-cost TGV services – labelled TGV éco – which use basic no-frills, single-class trains serving out-of-the way stations. Just as Ryanair uses Charleroi for Brussels, SNCF has Marne-La-Vallée for Paris as the costs for using the station are less than for Gare de l’Est or similar in the capital.

Today SNCF also launches a new range of young people’s discount cards, targeting the 12-17 and 18-27 age groups. The old 18-25 card has been dumped and the new ones offer similar reductions, ranging from 25% to 60% discount. The card costs €50 for a year.

People who buy in advance will also benefit from the cheapest tickets but the 18-27 card will also give access to cheap last-minute tickets – with 10,000 available each month.

Families get help, too, with the €75 Enfant+ card giving reductions of between 25% and 50% for a child of up to 12 and four others in the party.

The over-60s can get a €65 Senior+ card that gives a 40% reduction in first class, against today’s 25%. It is valid on all trains at all times, said Voyages SNCF director-general Barbara Dalibard.

Company president Guillaume Pépy said it would hire 500 non-qualified young people under the government’s “jobs for the future” scheme before the end of the year. They would be employed in customer service, track maintenance and cleaning, tourist welcome and digital technology.

The company will also take on 40,000 new staff up to 2017, in part to compensate for retirements but also to cope with new passengers switching from car travel.” ###

 Montons à bord!