Trip to the Louvre, Abu Dhabi

The second stop on our recent brief trip to Abu Dhabi was the Louvre which was inaugurated in November 2017 by French President Emmanuel Macron and UAE Vice President Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi,  Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The museum is part of a 30 year licence agreement between the city of Abu Dhabi and the French government.

Designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, it’s the largest art museum in the Arabian peninsula and cost in excess of US$750 million. In addition, Abu Dhabi paid US$525 million for the licence agreement for the name, plus a further US$750 million for art loans, special exhibitions and management advice. Artworks from around the world are showcased at the museum, with particular focus placed upon bridging the gap between Eastern and Western Art.

Quite a collection of antiquities

The museum is part of a US$27 billion tourist and cultural development which includes the building of three further museums, including the largest Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim, the Norman Foster designed Zayed National Museum, a performing arts centre designed by Zaha Hadid, a maritime museum and a number of art’s pavilions.

No(u)vel roof construction

The Louvre is a series of concrete buildings pulled together by a metallic ceiling designed to provide shade and reflect light into the museum like a natural palm frond. The tidal pools within the galleries create the illusion of a “museum in the sea” while protecting artwork, artefacts and visitors from the exterior and corrosive marine environment.

Some of the exhibits are outside the halls
Looking towards Abu Dhabi from the Louvre

We spent over two hours here but it wasn’t long enough to enjoy all the museum had to offer and I would suggest spending an entire day here to fully appreciate everything. The main exhibition showed the intertwining and influence of different civilisations, establishing a dialogue between the four corners of the earth. Plus it showcases works from multiple French museums.

An early Monet with not a water lily in sight!

The space is impressive and even though there were plenty of visitors it didn’t feel crowded. We didn’t avail ourselves of the catering facilities as we were too busy enjoying the exhibits though we did use the restrooms. The museum’s forthcoming exhibition Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age will display 95 works by the renowned fijnschilders (fine painters) of the Netherlands.

Trip to The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Our most recent vacation to Dubai started in some style. Friends told us to visit Abu Dhabi to see the Blue Mosque and the Louvre. We followed their advice and I booked a small guided trip to both. The journey from downtown Dubai takes about 90 minutes by coach along a straight road which has largely scrubby desert on either side, including the horse and camel racing tracks and, as we neared our destination, Ferrari and Warner World.

We visited ahead of the Pope who was making his maiden visit to the Middle East. You could say we were the advance party!

The mosque is absolutely spectacular and well worth the trip though I’m sure my photos don’t do it justice. We entered, all suitably clad, by way of an underground, air-conditioned tunnel with plenty of washrooms. The tour company lends the ladies traditional dress while gents have to wear trousers and shirts. Fortunately we get to keep our shoes and consequently our passage through the mosque is limited to certain areas.

Built in homage, The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest one in the UAE and is a key place of worship. During Ramadan it may be visited by more than 40,000 people daily all of whom get royally fed for free at sundown. Designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky, it was constructed between 1996 and 2007 and allegedly cost in excess of US$1 billion.

The complex covers an area of more than 12 hectares, excluding exterior landscaping and vehicle parking. The main axis of the building is rotated about 11° south of true west, aligning it in the direction of Mecca.

The project was launched by the late president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan whose tomb lies adjacent to the Mosque. He wanted to build a structure that would unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world with the historical and modern values of architecture and art. The project was completed by his son.

The Mosque is understandably popular with visitors
Incredible workmanship everywhere
One of the minarets
Laser carved marble

The Mosque’s design was modelled on earlier Islamic structures particularly the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore which inspired its dome layout and floorplan. Its archways are quintessentially Moorish while its minarets are classically Arabic.

Now that’s what I call a mosaic!
The mosaic is inlaid with semi-precious stones
Flowers on the pillars too
What’s the time?

More than 30,000 workers took part in its construction from largely natural materials including marble, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics. Its courtyard depicts one of the world’s largest mosaics.

Serious bling
Can you have too much of a good thing?

The eye-wateringly, colourful wool carpet in the central hall, which we could only admire from afar, was made in Iran and designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliq. Above the carpet are seven German chandeliers which incorporate millions of Swarovski crystals and are suitably bling-bling. The hall’s 96 columns are clad in marble and inlaid with mother of pearl. The pools of water along the external arcades keep the Mosque cool through a heat-exchange system and, when lit up at night, reflect the phases of the moon.

Part of a sophisticated cooling system
The Mosque is surrounded by pools of water

It’s a magnificent piece of architecture and well worth a visit though you have to resist the security guards exhorting you to move along before you can take in everything. Our guide was particularly well-connected and we left by the VIP entrance which saved us a soaking getting back to the coach.

VIPs only

 

Trip to Villeneuve Loubet

One of our nearby villages hosts numerous fetes and markets throughout the year and, luckily for us, it’s only a short stroll away from the back of our property. At the convergence of the rivers Loup and Mardaric, the old village of Villeneuve-Loubet perches on a hill, while the new town and its buildings stretch down to the Mediterranenan and along the coast for several kilometres.

However, this post is about its charming old village with its steeply sloping streets bordered by colourful stone facades and balconies decorated with flowers. At the top of the village, there’s a large church with a square belltower which was built at the end of the 15th century by the Lascaris family. Behind which, hidden by its high walls, is the chateau surrounded by 10 hectares of grounds full of Mediterranean and exotic tree species. The owner, the Marquis of Panisse-Passis, whose family inherited the chateau in 1741, regularly opens its doors and grounds to visitors.

The chateau was built in the 13th century by Romee de Villeneuve, and consists of four buildings grouped around a trapezoidal inner courtyard. The earlier 9th century 33 metre high keep is surrounded by two rings of defensive walls with crenellations and arrow slits, presumably to help keep enemies at bay.

The village is the birth place of the renowned chef, restaurateur and writer Auguste Escoffier who, while working at the Savoy Hotel in London, created a number of classic dishes. For example, in 1893 he invented the pêche Melba in honour of the Australian singer Nellie Melba, and in 1897, Melba toast. Other Escoffier creations, famous in the day, were the bombe Néro (a flaming ice), fraises à la Sarah Bernhardt, (strawberries with pineapple and Curaçao sorbet), baisers de Vierge (meringue with vanilla cream and crystallized white rose and violet petals).

The house where he was born is now the Musée de l’Art Culinaire, run by the Foundation Auguste Escoffier, and the nearby culinary school is one of France’s centres of excellence for the hospitality trade. Consequently, the village hosts many culinary and foodie events where you can go and watch Michelin starred chefs recreating their dishes and, if you’re lucky, taste them too.

Aside from visiting the village’s many events, we often just walk over to the cafe in the main square for a coffee or a glass of cilled rosé. Sadly it doesn’t offer Aperol Spritzs. It’s also a popular pit stop for local cyclists. The village has a number of shops, a twice weekly market and a handful of restaurants. It’s a lovely spot to while away a couple of hours. If you’ve time, also visit the small Musée d’Histoire and d’Art (ex-musée militaire) and the nearby late 16th century Palladian style Chateau du Vaugrenier.

Yet another trip to Alassio

The rationale for our most recent trip was a few relaxing days away so my beloved could use the hotel’s Thalassotherapy facilities to sooth his hip which is becoming ever more painful. Of course, I too enjoy the jets in the salt-water therapy pool and found the warm herbal baths soothed my current chesty cold. We also attempted to be digital free for the trip. I succeeded but my beloved and his iPhone are rarely separated, only when he misplaces it.
I always enjoy the splendid views on the drive over to Italy particularly when the weather is still warm and sunny. So sunny in fact that after our arrival we sat out on the beach on the hotel’s loungers enjoying the warm sunshine. We’ve stayed at the hotel many times but sitting on the beach is a first for us. I did have a quick paddle in the sea but frankly preferred just listening to the waves lap the shore. I find that really relaxing.
Obviously at this time of year, the place is blissfully quiet. There’s a few holiday makers, but it’s mostly residents. All of which means it’s easy to get tables in our favourite restaurants. However, because my beloved can’t easily walk far, we confined ourselves to those closest to the hotel – no hardship.
We first saw this particular hotel back in 2009 during its renovation, while we were staying in Alassio on the cycling club’s annual trip. We stayed in a nondescript hotel at the far (noisy) end of Alassio which was favoured by OAP coach parties. Someone on the committee had organised the trip and I assumed had chosen this particular hotel so as to remain within our budget. However, I later found a number of much nicer hotels, with better facilities, including car parking, for the same price.
The presence of so many OAPs in the hotel meant that if we didn’t go in for breakfast and dinner promptly they’d picked the buffet clean, just like a bunch of locusts. Not that the food was anything to write home about. The hotel also made us unforgettable packed lunches to eat while we were out riding around the area. After three trips with the club where neither the accommodation nor the food lived up to its billing, we decided to call it a day. Instead, we decided we’d go on our own, staying and eating when and where we wanted.
We took my parents to Alassio the following October, my mother’s last trip abroad, to show them the hotel where we’d stayed when I was eight, in neighbouring Laigueglia. We ate however in the restaurant just down from this hotel which was still undergoing renovation. My father was much intrigued by the works and we promised to take him there once it had been completed. A promise we sadly never got to keep.
Lunch was an enjoyable affair as the restaurant has a conservatory over the sea which affords diners lovely views. We had one of the prized corner tables which I’d pre-booked. My mother had the fried fish which she insisted on eating with her fingers. My father was always concerned that her behaviour (she had Alzheimers) would attract undue attention but no one batted and eyelid and the staff were very solicitous. Eating at that restaurant always brings back warm memories of that luncheon.
We’ve spent time in the area most years either because of cycling events such as Trofeo Laigueglia and the Giro d’Italia, it’s a useful mid-way meeting point for clients from Milan and Turin or as a lovely place to enjoy a few days of fare niente. It’s a change from where we live, even though it’s only just over the hour up the motorway and, because of its sandy beach, the place has a real seaside vibe.
When we were last there in April, we noted with some dismay that our favourite place for Aperol Spritz and nibbles had changed hands. We rapidly found somewhere else to enjoy our evening drink and nibbles. There’s not exactly a shortage of great bars. This time we needed to find one closer to the hotel and chanced upon one near the main station. This bar’s Aperol Spritzs were excellent, as good as my beloved’s, and the nibbles plentiful, all for a bargain Euros 5,00 per head! This has now superceded the excellent and longstanding Bar Roma, where Ernest Hemingway used to drink – that man drank everywhere!
During our brief trip, we took full advantage of the thalassotherapy facilities and I enjoyed a bracing walk around town on my own, ostensibly to get some food to take back with us though I did, of course, indulge in a spot of harmless window shopping. We may try to fit in another trip, post my beloved’s hip-replacement op, as you can never have too much of a good thing!
Please note that in order to maintain my digital detox, all the photographs were taken on previous trips

Trip to Port of Nice

We’re currently rather limited as to how we spend our free time thanks to my husband’s ailing hip. He really can’t walk any distance. Typically if the weather’s as great as it was last week-end, we’d have been out for a long cycle. However, as that’s not possible, we decided to go into Nice for lunch.

Being creatures of habit, we’ve tended to eat at the same handful of restaurants but we’ve recently decided to branch out. Two of my crack team of cake tasters have an apartment overlooking the Port of Nice. This was a shrewd choice of location as the area will soon have its own tram connection into central Nice and, more importantly, the airport. We were there recently and it reminded us that there’s a couple of great restaurants, plus Cafe du Cycliste nearby.

My beloved dropped me off in Nice to run a few errands while he parked in the Port and bagged a table with a great view and an Aperol Spritz. I pitched  up later, chores done in a bit of a sweat glowing gently from the heat. I’d probably walked around 4km. As I walked around the Port I couldn’t fail to notice this massive boat parked – or should that be moored? – to one side. Unlike say Antibes, the Port of Nice, aside from the ferries, tends to be full of smaller boats and only a handful of million pounders.

This one seriously tipped the scales and, while I’m no expert, would probably set you back around two hundred million dollars. It probably belongs to one of the many Russian billionaires. Neither my beloved or I are boat people though we did once go round the Monaco Boat Show with one of his ex-bosses who had a yacht so I have a healthy appreciation of purchase prices, running costs and weekly chartering fees – way outa my league.

Charles Emmanuel III, Duke of Savoy, ordered the construction of the port back in 1749 for commercial purposes. Nowadays pleasure rather supercedes those interests. The harbour is surrounded by colourful facades, dominated on the west side by the Colline du Chateau which overlooks the port and Old Town. At the end of the port is the Notre-Dame du Port church. The west wharf of the port of Nice consists of Quai Lunel (which extends the Rauba Capeu wharf), the Quai des Douanes and Quai Papacino. The Rauba Capeu wharf is located at the eastern end of the Quai des Etats-Unis, itself an extension of the Promenade des Anglais. Rauba Capeu is a reference in Nissart to the wind which blows across the port and is strong enough to blow off your hat.

Boats aside, I love the colours of the buildings around the Port, they’re typical Niçois though it’s currently difficult to fully appreciate its beauty while it’s still largely a building site for the tramway.  I gratefully joined my beloved and slaked my thirst  with water before enjoying an Aperol Spritz.

Les Pecheurs is a longstanding, family run fish restaurant which has plenty of menu options for me. My beloved opted for a spin on a traditional Salade Niçoise and a side order of chips! I usually pinch one or two but they disappeared before I had a chance. I was torn between pointing the digit of doom at a lobster in the tank, the octopus or the dish of the day. I chose the last one, a seafood linguine where the pasta was perfectly cooked as was the seafood. There’s nothing worse than overcooked shellfish.

To finish, my beloved enjoyed a successfully deconstructed tarte tatin and I had some sorbet. It had been a delightfully relaxed lunch, in soothing surroundings, where I’d had a clear view of the open kitchen. I love watching the chefs work.

After a potter around Cafe du Cycliste admiring their extensive range of cycling wear, we headed back to the car and home to watch the final exciting kilometres of Il Lombardia. We really should do this more often maybe at least once a month, particularly once we’ve resumed cycling.

 

Missing Il Lombardia

Yesterday, was the race of the falling leaves, one of the five Monuments (major Classics races) of the cycling season. We should’ve been there enjoying the live racing, drinking Aperol Spritzs in some of our favourite cafes and appreciating the wonderful scenery. We weren’t there for two reasons: my beloved’s hip and the parcours.

We prefer to stay in Como rather than Bergamo to watch the race. We’ve done Bergamo, it’s a perfectly lovely town but it’s much further away from us by car than Como. We like it when the race starts in Como, as it did in 2016. Last year’s race started in Bergamo and, thanks to traffic problems, we had a nightmare of a journey to collect our accreditation. Naturally we were expecting this year’s race to start once more in Como. It didn’t. It started in Bergamo, again.

Consequently we were more than happy to watch the race on the big screen. The main action at the pointy end of the race involved last year’s winner who lives nearby in Lugano, Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), initially going mano-a-mano with the winner of this week’s Milano-Torino, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). The latter dropped the former and prevailed to win his first monument and become the first Frenchman to win the race since Laurent Jalabert in 1997.

Despite missing out on a trip to Como, it’s not all doom and gloom. We rather enjoy a bit of la dolce vita at this time of year, the cycling is merely an excuse or rather our reason to visit. Instead, mindful of my beloved’s soon-to-be-replaced hip, we’ve decided to spend a couple of days in Alassio at one of our favourite hotels which has a Thalassotherapy treatment centre. My beloved will be able to soak his cares away during the day and we’ll be able to enjoy nibbles and Aperol spritzs galore in the evening. We’ll be strolling along the shore rather than the lake – a result all round!

In order to have a complete break, we’ll be leaving the mobile phones, iPads and Macs at home. It’ll be a three-day digital detox. I wonder how we’ll fare?

(Two images from the race courtesy of RCS and La Presse – D’Alberto / Ferrari)

Trip to Ventimiglia

After the previous week-end’s aborted trip to Italy for some la dolce vita, we decided to head there again last Saturday. Tucked between southern France to the west and Tuscany to the east, the crescent-shaped coast of Liguria in northwest Italy shares our azure waves and the incredible heights of the Alps soaring above its medieval cities.

The Italian Riviera is divided into two sections though many holidaymakers spend their time on the shores of the Riviera delle Palme (Riviera of Palms) – the eastern half that encompasses well-known destinations such as the Cinque Terra – the less trafficked Riviera dei Fiori (Riviera of Flowers) to the west also enjoys remarkable landscapes but with smaller crowds.

Our destination on Saturday was the ancient beachside town of Ventimiglia which marks the beginning of the Riviera dei FioriWhile its most prominent feature is a train station connecting the two countries (France and Italy) – which is where we always park – the understated city is a living history book. You’ll find traces of human evolution ranging from the prehistoric age through the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages and beyond. The city has seen thousands of years of bloody battles over territory as evidenced by the Roman ruins and crumbling Gothic architecture.

For locals, being surrounded by so much natural beauty and history is part of everyday life and this nonchalant attitude is part of the city’s charm. Unlike more well-known towns and cities nearby, Ventimiglia has a sort of undiscovered feel, as if the ancient buildings and shops run by generations of families have escaped the passage of time and the glare of notoriety. People are just doing what they have always done – and they are doing it exceptionally well.

Medieval Old Town of Ventimiglia

Perched on steep cliffs overlooking the sea, the medieval old town served as the fortified city centre through the 1800s. What remains today is an incredibly beautiful and architecturally unusual historical site. There are four churches in the steep, winding streets – one of which, the Church of San Michele, just off of the main road via Garibaldi, is more than 1,000 years old. The granite columns that support the church’s crypt are said to be built from ancient Roman milestones.

Modern Ventimiglia

Below the old city, Ventimiglia has a charming, beachy feel although it’s rocky rather than sandy. On Fridays, tourists flock to the cheap leather goods and cookware on sale at the weekly, open-air market that stretches along the coast road. Year-round, the streets are lined with buzzing cafes, casual restaurants, family-run bakeries and shops selling all manner of Italian goodies. Not forgetting its Mercado Coperto (covered market) located for more than 40 years on Via de la Republica.


Here the many stalls are packed from sunrise to 2pm with fresh, fragrant fruit and vegetables – mostly grown in the surrounding terraced hillsides – plus all manner of Italian meats and cheeses, piles of fresh pasta with homemade sauces and lots of homemade biscuits. It’s here that I enjoy selecting and buying fruit and vegetables from local producers  – so much cheaper than over the border in France – to turn into chutneys, pickles and jams. I also visited the nearby butcher and traiteur to stock up on goodies for my beloved before we chose the all-important restaurant for lunch.

We tend to dine at the family-run La Trattoria to the rear of the market whose set lunch will set you back €12,00 per head, exclusive of wine, coffee and water. It’s all freshly home-made and includes plenty of crowd pleasers. It’s always full so we tend to pop in early to reserve a table inside. We needed a good lunch so that we had enough strength to stagger back to the car with all our purchases.

Of course, Ventimiglia has long been discovered  by those of us who live close by and the prominent language is often French, rather than Italian, which is spoken by all the stall holders, shops keepers and restaurant staff. I insist on talking Italian and I think they appreciate the effort!

Beyond Ventimiglia

dolceacqua-claude-monet-

With the Cote d’Azur as our home base, much of the rest of the region is at our fingertips. The mountain town of Dolceacqua is 7km north of Ventimiglia past terraced olive groves and hillside vineyards that produce the distinctive regional Rossese wine. Dolceacqua is dominated by the striking 12 th century Doria Castle and stone bridge which was immortalised in a series of paintings by Claude Monet including one titled The Castle At Dolceacqua, completed in 1884 and which I’ve seen in The Clark Institute.

Six kilometres east of Ventimiglia, the seaside resort town of Bordighera, has a few trendy cafes and organic produce markets, a long ocean promenade lined with beach bars and glass-walled restaurants, plus a wide rocky shoreline for sunbathing and swimming.

About 16km east of Ventimiglia, Sanremo is the most well-known city in the Riviera dei Fiori and marks the western boundary of the region. With its grand casino, fabulous year round weather and famous music festival, which inspired the Eurovision Song Contest. In the 1950s and 1960s Sanremo rivalled Cannes as a glamorous beach destination. Now it’s more better known as the finish town for the first Monument of the cycling season – Milan – Sanremo.

Trip to La Turbie

We decided to pop over into Italy on Saturday for a spot of food shopping and lunch. We left  later than we intended and just after the St Isidore exit we ground to a halt. There had been a major incident on the motorway  – a car had burst into flames. We didn’t move for over an hour. We then crawled along for a bit as the traffic was down to a single lane. As soon as we got moving again, we took an executive decision to annul our trip to Italy, we’d go next weekend.

This is the first time we’ve been caught up in this type of incident and our thoughts went out to those who may have been injured in the incident. I then had a lightbulb moment. We weren’t too far from a restaurant which I have adjudged to be the perfect neighbourhood restaurant.

Sadly, it’s not nearby, it’s in La Turbie, a charming historic village overlooking the Principality of Monaco, which stands on a remarkable natural site offering one of the most splendid panoramas on the French Riviera. Though not yesterday when there was low-lying cloud.

We got to know the village many years ago as it’s a favourite with cyclists. There’s a water fountain on the main road on the way back from rides to Monaco/Menton and just down the road from Eze. We found the restaurant, which is next to the fountain, while we were cycling back from a particularly arduous ride where my tank was empty. The restaurant was offering a very keenly priced set lunch which included lobster salad as a starter. Sold to the female cyclist!


It’s a restaurant where you need either to have booked or arrive as soon as service starts. It’s owned by the chef from the nearby Michelin starred Hostellerie Jerome, which is in a 13th century former Cistercian monastery. The restaurant looks unprepossessing, no starched white linen tablecloths but the food is excellent – menu short and seasonal – and the small selection of wines is keenly priced. On Saturday we snagged the only remaining table for two!

I had wild mushrooms to start followed by salmon with ratatouille. Sadly, there was no room for the home-made fig sorbet and figs. My beloved had home-made ravioli followed by a tip-top steak and chips with béarnaise sauce. Replete, we had a quick wander round the town picking up some bread from the excellent bakery and patisserie a couple of doors down, before driving back over Col d’Eze.

La Turbie has an interesting history, largely on account of its geographical position. The ancient Romans built a monumental Trophy there to honour the conquests of the Emperor Augustus which originally consisted of a round tower, surrounded by Doric columns, built on a square platform bearing the names of the 44 people subdued in the Ligurian campaign. It stood 49 metres high and was topped by a giant statue of the Emperor.


It was used as a fortress in the 12th century, dismantled by Louis XIV, and was then transformed into a … stone quarry. It was subsequently restored by a generous American donor called Edward Tuck. Today all that remains is a fraction of the tower with its columns and niches which housed the statues. That said, it’s still worth a visit, as is the village itself with its charming houses, meandering walkways and spectacular views back down to the coast.

Trip to Cros de Cagnes

One of my favourite markets is held every Tuesday and Thursday at the nearby fishing port of Cros de Cagnes which has narrow streets, colourful fisherman’s houses, bars and restaurants spread around the distinctive yellow Clock Tower, part of the church of Saint Pierre.  The market is arranged up and down its main shopping street, avenue des Oliviers, which also has a number of fantastic shops, including a fromagerie, a quincaillerie (hardware store) and a fishmonger.

The area was first populated by Italian fisherman back in the early 19th century, around 1813, when most of the area was still under Italian rule. The first boat builders settled here around 1860. The marine community adopted Saint-Pierre as their patron saint and built the chapel Saint-Pierre in 1866. Around 1920-30, the fishing port was extremely active with 200 or so fishermen making their living there. The sheltered port was built in 1939 but today hosts only a few remaining fishermen. Cros de Cagnes is home to the oldest coastguard station of the SNSM Alpes-Maritimes.

Unsurprisingly, Cros de Cagnes is home to some excellent fish restaurants such as the family-run Charlot 1er.  Also, there’s our favourite local Italian restaurant Gusto, just a few metres further on. Both restaurants do a mean spaghetti with lobster! There’s also a good seafood restaurant in avenue des Oliviers but it doesn’t benefit from a seafront location like these two. Equally important, the seafront is home to my local bike shop.

And, talking about the seafront, there’s nothing better than a stroll along it whatever the weather!

A visit to Les Invalides, Paris

On our most recent trip to Paris, my beloved noted there was an exhibition exploring Napoleon’s Strategy at Les Invalides and expressed a desire to go and see it. I’d visited years ago but my beloved had never been. It’s well worth a visit, whether or not you’re a history buff. We started at the top of the main building and worked our way through some but not all of the exhibitions, so, we’ve unfinished business.

Introduction

Le Musée de L’Armée was created in 1905 when the collections from the Artillery and Army’s History museums merged to create one of the largest museums of military art and history. It contains some of the world’s most prestigious collections, including those of old weapons and armour, plus some unique collections such as those of small artillery models and 19th-century items relating to Napoleon I and the marshals of the French Empire. Obviously, the collection’s location within a military monument such the Hôtel National des Invalides lends it even greater character. There are few military museums that offer such a large collection of works and cover such a wide range of historical eras.

Its seven main spaces are divided into themed or chronological departments, as follows:-

  • Main Courtyard and its artillery collection.
  • Old department: armour and weapons from the 13 – 17th centuries.
  • Modern department: Louis XIV to Napoleon III, 1643 – 1870.
  • Special Rooms, such as those containing the relief maps and toy soldiers.
  • Dôme des Invalides: tomb of Napoleon I.
  • Contemporary department: 1871 – 1945.
  • Charles de Gaulle Monument.
  • Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides.

Special Rooms

Scale Models

On the top floor, in fact in the attic, you’ll find scale models of fortified sites which were constructed from 1668 onwards on the initiative of Louvois, Louis XIV’s Minister of War. These strategic tools provided an accurate representation of towns and surrounding countryside within artillery range. They were thus used to plan changes to military fortifications or to simulate sieges. I can just see the King’s ministers moving around the model armies found on a lower floor.

The collection comprises 100 relief maps on a 1/600 scale, covering key fortifications overlooking the Channel, Atlantic Coast, Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. It’s a fascinating collection and they’re all beautifully made and maintained.

Historical Figurines

The 5000 or so pieces on display represents all the different types of historical figurines, and the diversity of the Army Museum’s collection, which is made up of around 140,000 pieces in total. The displays, arranged in parade formations, comprise:

  • 18th century card figurines made by and for adults using stiff cardboard
  • Tinplate figurines produced during the second half of the 19th century
  • Lead figurines produced as children’s toys
  • 20th century plastic soldiers

 Artillery models

The one thousand piece collection of scale artillery models is one of the largest in the world. The exhibition starts with royal and princely pieces and continues with models bearing private coats of arms which, for the most part, were given as honorific gifts. It also features models of weaponry designs that were never actually adopted but were developed with a view to improving the specific technical elements of artillery pieces.  Some of the models are all that remain of artillery pieces that have otherwise disappeared. There’s also a display of scale models of 18th and 19th century French artillery.

The Modern Collection

The collection aims to bring history to life by showing the military, political, social and industrial history of France through the ages in a number of themed spaces. Using interactive media – my favourite bit – relive the great battles, learn about soldiers’ lives, follow developments in technologies and tactics, and get to know the figures who shaped this period.

The collection is both large and diverse with uniforms, weapons, equipment from various French and foreign regiments, arms, horse harnesses, orders and decorations, emblems, historical figurines and musical instruments are displayed alongside the personal effects of illustrious figures, such as Napoleon Bonaparte and his marshals. Plus, there’s a large collection of paintings recording key events during the period.

Temporary Exhibition – Napoleon: The Strategist

The exhibition celebrates Napoleon’s skill as a military strategist. There’s more than 200 works from French and European collections which are used to paint a fascinating picture of his meteoric rise from humble soldier. Again, I particularly liked the immersive interactive aspects where you could analyse and recreate his most famous battles.

Over the lunch-period there was a re-enactment, I’m not sure of what, in the Cour d’Honneur which included a band where inability to play a musical instrument clearly didn’t prevent you from joining in!

Footnote

We popped into the Cathedral and tried out the catering facilities, provided by Angelina’s, of hot chocolate fame, where they made me a delicious vegan sandwich. We only spent half a day there and it merits at least a day, if not more. But, if you’re a history buff, it’s well worth it!