I’ve just got back from a rather awesome week snowboarding in France with Ski Weeks. Ski and Snowboarding holidays have never been the cheapest recreation but it is possible to do it on a budget. Let me tell you how…
France has long been a popular tourist destination, and the south east region has a character all its own with a rich heritage, great cuisine and lush landscapes.
The south east region of France is well served by a variety of transport options. France’s rail system is one of the best in the world – reliable and affordable – and you can access any of the main cities by train from Paris, perhaps having travel over from the UK on the Eurostar. Hiring a car allows you to take your time and stop off in some of the central regions of the country in local pensiones for the night. National flights serve the airports at Lyon and Perpignan. Perpignan flights and other air services can be found and compared online, on sites such as cheapflights.co.uk.
The Alps region is a one of the most popular winter sports regions in the world. With reliable snow, a huge number of resorts and runs that suit any level of skier or snowboarder, it deserves its reputation. And the apres-ski is pretty good as well. Chamonix is one of the most popular resorts, with a range of accommodation to suit any budget and access to three large ski regions. It also has many top restaurants in which to wind down after a day on the slopes.
Annecy is a small town criss-crossed with canals – hence it’s reputation as the Venice of France. It sits in a valley among alpine hills with a large lake at its edge that, while still chilly, can be swum in during the summer. Visitors can explore the medieval architecture while Annecy is also renowned for its arts and cultural festivals held throughout the year.
If Paris has been regarded as the gastronomic capital of France for a long time, in recent years Lyon has been challenging its crown. Many top national and international chefs come to work here and the level of cuisine, from the local taverns up is of the best quality. Given that the city has a rich architectural history and has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site, the surroundings couldn’t be better for a gastronomic getaway.
Thought to be one of the oldest cities in Europe, Nice’s architecture betrays the influence of nearby Italy. It is also an artistic centre with two major museums devoted to European master painters – the Musée Matisse and the Musée Chagall.
Right in the south-eastern corner of France, further along the coast from Nice, sits the Cote d’Azur. Besides the clear waters of the Mediterranean, this area by the Italian border is renowned for its beaches, glorious weather and glamourous lifestyle. Palm trees line the waterfront in places like Toulon and Saint Tropez, where designer shops and top restaurants line the central streets. A trip to the city state of Monaco, with its casinos and grand hotels, will let you experience life like a movie star, even if just for a day.
The south east corner of France might not be top of someone’s list when they think of a holiday to France, but once discovered, its varied attractions and locations make it an ideal destination for any traveller wanting to experience the real France. More information can be found at http://www.francetourism.com/index.htm.
Most arrive to Bastia by ferry. You have to work to get here, but once you do, you discover an atmospheric old port town, not quite French, but quite Corsican. The dynamic, baroque cultural resort sprawls out across a hillside. Tenement buildings jumble into the scene, creating an atmosphere so poetic and postcard worthy, you might never want to get back on that ferry. Despite a history dating back to Roman times, Bastia came alive under the Genoese, which explains its Italian titles and influences. Once you arrive to Bastia, you will need to know all of the details, the who, what, when, where and how to appreciate all of its details
Image: Luca De Vito
Where It Begins
A trip through Bastia, Corsica most always begins at the Vieux Port. This is where many of the ferries arrive, mostly from the company Corsica Ferries. It is the number one Mediterranean port and the second French port for traffic. Ferries arrive from Marseilles, Nice, Toulon, Genoa, Livorno, Savone and La Spezia. Once you land, go explore the Vieux Port. While most of its buildings took a beating during World War II, the area creates interest for what it is, the launching point to and from Corsica.
When To Visit
Bastia has its appeals in cooler months, but in the summer, visitors have more activities at their disposal. For example, Le Manguier, a tour company utilizing a former French navy tug boat, takes visitors to the Italian islands of Elba and Capraia. Windsurfing and sailing lessons are also offered from Bastia throughout the warmer months of the year.
Where It Takes Place
Bastia’s scene takes place in the Place St. Nicolas. Opening up to the sea, the square covers in trees and cafes. It is the main focus of town life, where people come out to drink, eat and be merry. If you are into people watching as you travel, Bastia’s Place St. Nicolas is a good spot to do so.
Where to Get Lost
The old quarter of Bastia, Terra Vecchio is a good place to get lost while wandering about the major sights in the city. The oldest part of the city holds the Palais des Gouvereurs, in other words the Governor’s Palace. Looking out on a cobbled square, the Palace was built in 1530. It served as the seat of the Genoese governor of Corsica for over two centuries. Today, the Palace functions as the Musée d’Histoire de Bastia, appropriately a museum detailing the history of the city. Also in Bastia’s Terra Vecchio is the Church of St. Jean Baptiste. The twin campaniles of the church are hard to miss, right at the south end of Palace du Marché. Constructed in 1636, the church was later restored in the 18th century.
Where To Walk
Bastia’s Jardin Roumieu provides a garden space, refreshing for a port city. The gardens clutch the hillside, hanging on for dear life. Created in 1870, the gardens were intended to be a place to walk. Jardin Roumieu was also thought to provide travelers and locals with a link between the restored Citadel and the renovated Old Port.
What to Drink
While in Corsica, you must drink the town’s local drink of choice, the Cap Corse aperitif. Produced in Bastia, the fortified wine with a cinchona base can be found throughout the city, including for purchase at some of the town’s shops like Cap Corse Mattei. The shop has become one of Bastia’s institutions, open since 1872. Cap Corse hails solely from the tip of the Cap in Corsica.
Written by: Suzy Guese
We teamed up with Eurostar this month to do a little travel experiment; can you do Paris in a day?
Why travel to Paris with Eurostar?
Eurostar seemed like an obvious choice to do a day trip to Paris from London. First off, the Eurostar timetable is frequent and the journey times are reasonable when you consider that you can check in is 30 minutes before and you’ll be hurtling along at 186mph. For you eco-warriors out there is also the green aspect to consider. We discovered that you use an 11th of the CO2 emissions per passenger travelling on a return journey by Eurostar than you would if you flew to Paris. The best thing in my opinion is the location, at either ends. London St Pancras and Gare du Nord are both Zone 1 of their respective cities. At 6ft2 comfort on transport is always been my issue but I had no problem on Eurostar. The staff were also very quick to help us when we needed it so hats off to the Customer Service.
Extra Eurostar benefits
There are additional benefits to travelling with Eurostar in the form of Eurostar Plus.
Eurostar Plus Culture is a unique partnership between Eurostar and some of Europe’s most popular museums and galleries in Paris, Lille and Brussels. Travellers simply present their Eurostar ticket to take advantage of 2-for-1 entry into paying exhibitions. Paris galleries include: Musée d’Orsay les Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Le musée du quai Branly, la Cité de la musique, le Jeu de Paume, le Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris.
Eurostar Plus Shopping gives passengers a 10% discount at the Galeries Lafayette Paris and Lille stores. At the Galeries Lafayette flagship store on Paris’ chic boulevard Haussman passengers can also receive an invitation to a private fashion show.
Getting Around Paris by Metro
Paris is very easy to navigate by Metro and you’ve got several ticket options.
Single tickets are €1.70 or you can buy a Carnet of ten single tickets €12.70.
Mobilis tickets allow unlimited travel within a given zone. You can get a one day pass for Zone 1-2 for €6.40.
Paris Visite is a card that not only allows travel but also comes with partner benefits. A Zone 1-3 pass will cost you € 9.75 for the day. You can see the list of benefits here.
You’ll have to balance up your own needs. With Eurostar Plus you get discounts so you might not need a Paris Visite card and a Mobilis ticket would be more cost effective.
Paris Tourist Attractions and Nearest Metro Stops
Arc de Triomphe – Charles de Gaulle Etoile, Line 2.
Champs Elysees – Champs Elysees, Line 1 or 13.
Eiffel Tower – Bir-Hakeim, Line 6.
Galeries Lafayette – Chaussee d’Antin La Fayette, Line 7.
Louvre Museum – Palais Royal, Line 7.
Notre Dame – Cité, Line 4.
Paris Opera – Opera, Line 7.
Sacré Coeur – Anvers, Line 2.
Paris Day Trip Route
If you’re going to do a day trip to Paris, you have to be selective about what you plan to see. It’s also best to plan it out beforehand so that you don’t waste time going back and forth on the metro.
We planned a route around Paris to take in the major sites that was also a loop on the Metro.
We started off at Gare du Nord and took a short 10 minute train (Line 4 and then Line 2) to Anvers. Head out of the station and follow the line of souvenir shops up the hill and viola; Sacré Coeur! Great views of Paris from the top and a magnificent building inside and out.
Jump back on Line 2 in the same direction and 13 minutes and 9 stops later you’ll be at Charles de Gaulle Etoile. Pop out from underground and you’ll be right by the Arc de Triomphe. Careful with the roads here, it get’s a bit crazy. Want the perfect shot of the Arc? It’s more sensible than it sounds but stand in the middle of the road! Cross the road and stand by the traffic lights in the middle. You’ll get something that looks like this:
Now from here you have two options. If you’re really short on time or the weather isn’t great then you can grab Line 6 down to Bir Hakeim for the Eiffel Towel. Alternatively, walk down the Champs Elysees. It’s a picturesque spot for lunch however it’s certainly not a budget place to eat. If you want to mind the budget I would suggest heading down one of the roads leading off Champs Elysees to find a slightly cheaper restaurant.
You can walk all the way down the Champs Elysees to the Concorde or alternatively cut off and head south towards the river which is what we did. It’s a very manageable walk and walking down the river towards the Eiffel Tower is something everyone should do.
Cross over the bridge and walk under and through the Eiffel Tower. There’s a lot of green on the other side and we did spend a fair amount of time tanning on the grass. Once the sun got too much we did the short walk to École Militaire. Grab Line 8 followed by Line 7 to Palais Royal for the Musée du Louvre.
Here we watched tourists taking all sorts of bizarre pictures of themselves trying to hold the tip of the pyramid or making it look like they were leaning on it. Then I got bullied by some pigeons but still loved being here all the same.
From here it takes 10 minutes to get to Cité via Line 7 and 4 to Notre Dame.
We had ended up with some spare time so we ended up buying ice cream, sitting on a wall and watched the shadows on Notre Dame change as the sun started to set.
When we were ready to move on we jumped on Line 4 back to Gare du Nord which took all of 10 minutes. It had been a long day but it was a stress free whip through border control and we were on the train and fast asleep.
The whole day I kept commenting on how I didn’t feel like I was in Paris because it was so easy to get there by train. I normally associate going to another country with the hassle of a flight but this just felt too easy. So can Paris be done in a day? Of course not. Like any city it would take an age to see and do everything but if you wanted to see the highlights in a day it’s perfectly achievable by Eurostar. My advice would be to plan what you want to see carefully before you go.
Want to do your own day trip to Paris?
Well you’re in luck. Eurostar currently have a September sale on until the 15th September 2012 in which tickets can be used between 18th September and 19th December 2012. The sale includes thousands of seats from £59 return to either Paris or Brussels. Maybe you want an impromptu trip now while the weather is good (was 27 degrees yesterday while I was there) or perhaps a winter break to look forward to? Head to Eurostar now to pick up a bargain!
Thank you to Eurostar for providing Gap Year Escape with tickets to see what we could do with a day in Paris!
Travelling around Europe as a group, we worked out that we could actually stand to spend an extortionate amount of money on accommodation by the end of our three week trip. We’re all reasonably well-off young professionals – actually, well, ‘comfortable’ is probably a better word to describe us, and a friend of mine used a company called City Base Apartments for a weekend trip to Copenhagen a few months before we went on our trip, and said there were actually loads of apartments to choose from, so decided to look into it.
We didn’t want to spend all our money on where we were merely going to be putting our heads down – obviously, we wanted to stay somewhere clean, comfortable and convenient, but we wanted to go for a ‘no frills’ option, and this seemed to be a good bet. We decided to stay in serviced apartments in the big cities and fill in any gaps with good youth hostels.
We were excited about the prospect of having our own apartment because we knew we’d all be able to stay together, in the privacy and convenience of our own self-catered apartment, and we’d save loads of money on accommodation and had the option to cook meals at home if we couldn’t afford/didn’t want to eat out three times a day. Kind of like a youth hostel, only swankier.
So: the six of us opted to try and find ourselves some decent-looking, modestly-priced serviced apartments. How did we do?
In Paris, we stayed right across from the Champs Elysées. It. Was. Amazing. This apartment we’d just walked into was like absolutely nothing we’d imagined from something that was supposed to be saving us money – we were actually bowled over by how lovely our very first apartment was, especially seeing as though it was costing us a fraction of the price that the same standard of hotel in Paris would cost.
We were pretty much right across from The Grand Palais, Arc de Triomphe and the River Seine, which meant that we got to see everything on our list. We even managed to get a good bit of impromptu drinking and dancing in, too.
The rest of our European trip continued much in the same vein as our Paris jaunt. We did ourselves very proud: we somehow chose excellent places to stay everywhere we went, with the majority of our nights being spent in serviced apartments which, I really have to stress, saved us a lot of money over the course of three weeks.
Travelling around in a group of six and booking into these serviced, self-catered apartments also meant that we paid probably half of what we would’ve if we’d have booked into hotels, which meant that we could spend more on tours, sight-seeing and general merriment.
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