Trip to Cannes and Le Suquet

Mention Cannes and one automatically thinks of the star-studded Film Festival, the fabulous Croisette, designer shops, five star hotels and all manner of glamour. However, it’s not always been that way! Like many a resort on the Cote d’Azur, Cannes has humble beginnings. It was once a fishing village, but go even further back and its history is rather more colourful than you might expect!

Ancient times

The town dates back to almost 1,000BC. Archeologists found evidence of human life in the Neolithic and Iron ages. Its first recorded settlers were probably a Ligurian tribe who inhabited Le Suquet (Cannes Old Town). An archeological dig revealed an early settlement that dated back to 6th Century BC – an acropolis, a true urban settlement with public buildings. The Romans  – those boys got everywhere! – occupied Cannes and its nearby islands for almost five centuries during the Republican period when the islands served as a large Naval Base. The period after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the so-called “Dark Era,” was characterised by attacks from all sorts including the Visigoths, Lombards and Saracens.

What then followed was a period of re-building, largely to protect the existing settlement, including Le Suquet’s castle, from the threat of Barbarian pirates. To reward the feudal lords who’d helped to expel the Saracens, the Count of Provence gave Rodoard, the head of a powerful local family, the rights to Cannes. In 1030 Rodoard’s son became a monk on the Lerins islands and subsequently, with the Pope’s blessing, donated Cannes to its Abbey.

The name “Cannes” first appeared in this deed of donation with the mention of “De Portu Canue”. The word Canue is derived from a Ligurian word meaning ’height’ or ‘peak’ – a perched settlement.

Between 13th and 16th centuries, Cannes was disrupted by the plague, and in 1520, an epidemic broke out killing over half of its population. Ownership also changed hands frequently during this period going from the monks to Catalan counts, then the Angevins, who were both Counts of Provence and Kings of Naples, the House of Savoy and finally France.

The British in Cannes

The Lord Chancellor of England, Lord Brougham came to Cannes in 1834. He was on his way to Italy via Nice but due to a recent cholera epidemic in Nice he made an unscheduled stop at the tiny fishing village of Cannes. Lord Brougham was delighted by what he found and decided to build a holiday villa there. In one of his letters back home he wrote:

….enjoying the delightful climate….the deep blue of the Mediterranean glimmers before us. The orange groves perfume the air, while the forests behind, ending in the Alps, protect us from the North winds.

In his honour the council erected a bronze statue of him which is next to the town hall in Cannes old Town. Unsurprisingly, Lord Brougham opened the flood gates for large numbers of British aristocrats and Royals to have residences in Cannes. Possibly, the first wave of Brits to have European holiday homes.

Belle Epoque

After the British came the Russians – the most famous being the incredibly wealthy Alexandra Fedorovna Tripet Skrivistkin. This established Cannes as a resort for wealthy Europeans, Russians and Indian viceroys who came in the wake of Lord Brougham and built beautiful ornate residences. Cannes was a favourite haunt of Guy de Maupassant and Stephen Liegeard who first coined the region’s French name the “Côte d’Azur”.

Further examples of ornate residences are the wonderful ‘Belle Epoque’ hotels: The Carlton, The Martinez and The Majestic  – all now popular places for brunching – which were built in order to accommodate Cannes’ growing popularity amongst the wealthy European aristocrats. Cannes’ port was built in 1838, followed by its train station in 1863 thereby dramatically shortening the journey between Paris and Cannes to 22 hours and 20 minutes. The village soon became a city and expanded westwards towards La Bocca. Its population rose dramatically from 3,000 inhabitants in 1814 to 30,000 in 1914 though WWI halted this growth and many of the hotels were converted into hospitals for the sick and wounded.

WWII and beyond

The inaugural Cannes Film Festival was scheduled for 1939 but was cancelled due to the outbreak of WWII, during which Cannes was occupied firstly by the Italians and then the Germans. In August 1944 it experienced its final attack from the sea during which an American actor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, the captain of a US Naval ship helped Cannes defeat its enemies. The Film Festival was reinstated and the town’s popularity increased beyond its wildest expectations.

We regularly visit the town either riding through it on our bikes, for Sunday brunch or just for a pleasant stroll around its streets, shops, markets and to admire its architecture. I particularly like the views afforded from the Old Town of Le Suquet. What do you like best about Cannes?

Trip to La Colle sur Loup

When we first looked at properties to buy on the Cote d’Azur we quickly found a charming house in La Colle sur Loup, a pretty village just down the road from Saint Paul de Vence, which seemed to fit the bill. We pondered long and hard but eventually decided against it as it was a corner property, without a view, on what has become a much busier road. However it’s one of our neighbouring villages, home to one of our favourite restaurants, we enjoy visiting its Jazz evenings during the summer and its other festivals throughout the year.

I few months back I’d spotted it was having a Franco-German festival which we decided to visit. The festival – someone selling vin chaud and bretzels- was a decided let down, but it was fun to reaquaint ourselves with this tranquil and charming place, enjoy coffee and cake in one of its many cafes, plus purchase fruit and vegetables from its Saturday market stall.

A former medieval community, La Colle sur Loup was home to a feudal lord in the 16th century. Consequently, there are plenty of buildings of historical significance such as a 12th century Canadel priory now converted into a restaurant (L’Abbaye) which still has a fortified gateway, corner towers, cloisters and a listed Romanesque chapel. Plus, at the entrance to the village, you’ll find its 17th century Eglise de Saint Jacques Le Majeur which has wonderful stained glass windows and a square bell tower. The place also boasts 16th century Chateau de Montfort and Le Gaudelet, a hunting lodge with a Renaissance facade from the same era.

I like to wander through the village’s historic centre, with its narrow alleyways and lively shopping streets, which has shady little squares with fountains and honey-coloured stone buildings with wonderful carved doors. Formerly renowned for its production of rose perfume – celebrated annually with its Fetes des Roses –  today it’s better known for its antique dealers and decorators, and also for its fine restaurants. In addition, the village has always attracted artists and artisans, such as Yves Klein, the founder of the New Realists, who is buried here, Jacques Ferrandez the well-known cartoon strip artist, the architect Yves Bayard and Raoul Giodan, another cartoon strip artist.

Lying on the river Loup, the village’s surrounding forest is one of its greatest attractions, providing an oasis of cool and peace in the summer months. Activities abound, it’s a mecca for outdoor ones. You can ride horses, cycle, kayak, canoe, hike or fish for trout- or just spend the day with a picnic – you know how the French love to picnic – in one of its two public parks. There’s also a children’s amusement park and a local sports ground.  It’s well worth a visit, perhaps combined with a trip to neighbouring Saint Paul de Vence.

Trip to Rivarolo Canavese

When my beloved told me we were visiting the home town of one of his new clients, Rivarolo Canavese, I thought it sounded like a full-bodied red wine. But no, it’s a wonderfully historic town just 30 minutes north-east of Turin.

We drove there on a glorious Friday morning when all along the motorway the trees were just starting to show off their new lime-green finery and pale-blossoms. The crops in the farmers’ fields were showing early emerald shoots, lambs were gambolling and cows were lazily chewing the grassy green cud. This was all set against a backdrop of mountains still dusted with snow. Spring had most definitely sprung.

A bit of research revealed Riverolo’s ancient name of “Riparolium” means “place on the bank of the stream.” You can clearly see the “stream” in the map of the town below. In December 1862, shortly after the Unification of Italy, it was renamed Rivarolo Canavese to distinguish it from other similarly named towns in neighbouring Lombardy and Liguria.

Riparolium is first mentionned in an old document dating back to 1000 AD. From 1200 it belonged to the families of the Counts of Valperga and San Martino. The town’s  original early medieval core was enlarged in 13th century with a comb-like urban layout and walls. In 1358 the Counts of Savoy granted partial autonomy to the town in respect of the management of its ovens and mills. Mid-18th century the town’s medieval fabric was remodelled in a Baroque style. In 1863 Rivarolo achieved city status thanks to its socio-economic growth  and the construction of a rail link to Turin.

Nowadays Rivarolo sits at the centre of an efficient road and rail network linking it with Turin, its airport and the rest of the Canavese region. The town’s former activities in textiles and leather production have downsized but become more upscale with the presence of numerous artisan businesses.

The city’s main axis is a wide road (Corso Indipendenza) featuring a number of interesting 19th century buildings, such as Casa Pistono, Casa Maspes, Villa Recrosio and Villa Vallero which houses exhibitions, cultural events and educational activities and is surrounded by a public park. On week days there’s a small food market, largely fruit and vegetables, which morphs into a footwear and textiles one on Saturday mornings.

Given its interesting history, there’s plenty to see, particularly in its Old Town which spreads around the arcaded via Ivrea and features a number of former palaces: Palazzo Palma di Borgofranco, Palazzo Farina, Palazzo Toesca and Palazzo Lomellini, now the Town Hall. There’s also some really beautiful old shop fronts, many of which are still used for their original purpose.

Along this same street, there are also three churches the most spectacular of which is the octagonal, brick-built Baroque church of San Michele Arcangelo which dates back to 11th century, with 18th century additions.  Practically, opposite one another you’ll find the Church of the Confraternity of Jesus which has an elegant painted façade with a large wooden door and the Church of San Rocco and San Carlo which was built by the community after it had been devastated by the plague in 1630.

The town also has its own castle which I spied in the distance. Malgra Castle was built by the Counts of San Martino in 1333. It was renovated, at the end of 19th century by the architect Alfredo D’Andrade. In the inner courtyard there is a crenellated tower and a small portico with 14th century frescoes. Owned by the municipality since 1982, you can only visit it on Sunday afternoons from May to October.

After pounding the cobbled pavements in the town, I checked out its splendid coffee and cake shops, all in the interests of research you understand. Later when my beloved had finished work for the day we were able to sample the town’s offering of our favourite pre-dinner tipple, an Aperol Spritz, before a delicious dinner with his client.

Days out: Fabre Museum, Montpellier

Having spent the morning strolling around Montpellier in the warm sunshine, I was happy to retreat indoors in the afternoon to explore some more of the city’s hidden gems. But first my beloved and I dined in the museum’s restaurant which came highly recommended. We were not disappointed!

Modern work from Chinese artist

Entering the Fabre Museum, a step or two away from Place de la Comédie, means plunging into a wonderful world that is both far away and close at hand. Because this superb museum, opened in the early 19th century, featuring the collections of François-Xavier Fabre, contains major works from the history of art and the best productions from the past 300 years by artists with special links to Montpellier and the region.

A painting by Corot

Vien, Raoux, Bourdon, Fabre, Cabanel, Bazille, as well as Claude Viallat and Vincent Bioulès, are displayed side by side with Bruegel, Rubens, Veronese, Poussin, Ingres, Corot, Monet, Utrillo, Van Dongen and de Staël. Not forgetting a handful of portraits by David and Delacroix.

Grand scale
Look at the lovely mosaic floor
Fabulous frieze

Through the museum’s three levels, you advance through time, from Flemish and Dutch painting and the Italian Renaissance to the centuries of classicism and flamboyance. I walked through the Columns Gallery, where the large-scale paintings from the 18th century fill the walls, to more intimate rooms, featuring NeoClassicism and Romanticism, Classicism and modern art.

More supersized art

I wandered on through into the contemporary section, its two exposed concrete rooms were specially designed for works by Pierre Soulages, a keen visitor to the Museum.

Plenty of spectacular artworks

The Fabre Museum has one of the most important fine art collections in France. It’s a fascinating and comprehensive collection of artworks spanning the ages and well worth a visit. Surprisingly, I had the place almost to myself!

Trip to Montpellier

I first visited this charming city in 2009 when it provided the parcours for stage 4 (a team time-trial) in that year’s Tour de France. The Tour had kicked off in Monaco, where I’d worked as a volunteer, then my beloved and I had followed the subsequent stages to Montpellier. By chance we stayed overnight in the same hotel as the Astana cycling team which had both Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador in its Tour squad. The pair did not get on and you could cut the atmosphere in the hotel with a spoon – no knife required!

I’ve subsequently visited Montpellier a number of times but always in connection with the Tour de France. The last visit was back in 2016. It’s a city I’m happy to revisit so when my beloved said he had a business meeting with someone at the University, quick as a flash, I said “count me in.”

Montpellier is the second largest city in the Occitanie region, capital of Hérault, just 12km (7 miles) from the Mediterranean. But its initial attraction is its medieval heart, the Old Town. Here you’ll find a captivating tangle of lanes and passageways, lined with buildings of mellow, honey-coloured stone, many containing superbly stylish, small boutiques. Its 16 leafy little squares are abuzz with café life. But Montpellier, which was developed in late 10th century, is an upstart by comparison with nearby Nîmes, Béziers and Narbonne, all of which date back to Roman times or even earlier.

Set on the River Lez, giving easy access to the sea, Montpellier rapidly grew into a major trading centre, and continued to prosper. Fast-forward to 16th century and Montpellier became a Huguenot stronghold, and consequently suffered in the onslaught of France’s religious wars. Its destruction resulted in a swathe of rebuilding, and the city acquired some seriously splendid architecture in 17th and 18th centuries.

Montpellier’s a lovely city to stroll around and where better to start than the Place de la Comédie, Montpellier’s iconic heart. Sometimes called Place de l’Oeuf (Egg Square) because of its oval shape, it’s one of the largest pedestrian precincts in Europe and is dominated by the imposing Opéra Comédie in front of which is the Three Graces’ fountain built in 1773.

Montpellier’s Arc leads to the Promenade du Peyrou which affords a panoramic view of the city, including the ancient arches of Les Arceaux, a Roman aqueduct, and its Botanical Gardens, the oldest in France. Peyrou was completed in 1774, the year of Louis XVI’s accession to the throne, by architect Jean Giral and features a statue of him on horseback and a classical style water tower.

Also worth a visit is the city’s 14th-century Gothic cathedral, Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier which has been heavily restored. Behind its fortress-like façade, within its vast interior with high vaulted ceilings and grand stone archways, is a collection of biblical artworks, a striking-looking 18th century organ and many artworks.

The weather has always been delightfully warm whenever I’ve visited and, after pounding its cobbled walkways,  I’ve enjoyed sitting outside, lapping up the sunshine, at one of Montpellier’s many cafés, just watching the world stroll past.

Days out: Chagall exhibition

We were recently able to combine a trip to one of our favourite towns, Aix-en-Provence, with a visit to a Chagall exhibition at the Hôtel de Caumont (pictured above), lunch at a nearby hotel (Hotel Le Pigonnet) with a gorgeous garden and watching our first live cycle race of the season (stage 4 of the Tour de la Provence) in which a number of our friends were riding. I call that a definite result!

It was a pleasant 90 minute drive in glorious sunshine from home to Aix. The scenery was magnificent: from the rusty-red rocks of Roquebrune to the stern grey of the Sainte Victoire, the mimosa provided flashes of gold among the dark evergreens while the vines were just starting to emerge from their winter pruning.

We left the car in the hotel car park after availing ourselves of the hotel’s facilities and enjoying a coffee ourdoors in its garden. We wandered into town and purchased some goodies from its Sunday market before returning to the hotel for a leisurely and delicious lunch, after which we visited the Hotel du Caumont to see its Chagall exhibition.

I’ve visited the museum in nearby [to Nice] Cimiez devoted to his works several times but am always keen to learn more about someone whom I  consider a local artist. A Franco-Russian by birth, he moved to Vence in 1949 and then, like many of his contemporories, settled in Saint Paul de Vence until his death aged 98 in 1985 – a good innings!

This is an interesting exhibition that sheds light on an unexplored dimension of Marc Chagall’s work. He was celebrated as a master of colour by the artists and critics of his day but this exhibition, which is devoted to the latter part of his career, highlights his change of style in the period from 1948 until his death.

Over 100 works (paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, engravings, washes, gouaches, and collages) reflect Chagall’s artistic exploration of monochrome (black and white) and his mastery of particularly luminous, intense, and profound tints. After spending the WWII years in exile in USA, he adopted a bolder artistic approach, in which the study of volume led him to explore the world of light, shade, materials, and the transparency of black and white. The study of the chromatic and luminous subtleties of black and white resulted in the use of intense and bright colours that gave his pictorial oeuvre a completely new dimension. It was an illuminating exhibition in a gorgeous location.

 

Trip to Sanremo

The first of this year’s Monuments (five oldest one day bike races), La Primavera goes from Milan to Sanremo. A parcours of almost 300km and, aside from the Turchino, all the hills are in the last 60km. I should add these are not difficult climbs, I’ve ascended them with ease having wisely eshewed the first 230km of the race route.

We always enjoy our day trips to Sanremo, particularly when the weather’s as fine as it was yesterday. We drive over early, park and head to the shops to buy all manner of Italian goodies. There are some great shops adjacent to the Palafiori which acts as race HQ for the day. We then enjoy a stroll, coffee and some harmless window shopping in the sunshine before lunch, the main event of the day.

I often choose a restaurant near the port where there are a veritable gaggle of good ones. This time I picked what is allegedly Sanremo’s finest just past the race finish. We were not disappointed and particularly enjoyed having the restaurant to ourselves. Mum and son run front of house while Dad cooks using local produce, largely fish, with the fruit and vegetables coming from his market garden. We chose the menu of the day which needed only a slight tweak to accommodate my dietary requirements.

Replete we headed back to race HQ to watch events unfold along the coast road. The views from the race helicopter were a fabulous advertisement for the Italian Riviera.

We first visited Sanremo in 2006 when it featured in the final stage of the long gone Tour of the Med. We watched the race from a pinch point on the Cipressa. The following month we stood on the finish line of Milano Sanremo, listened to the commentary, and saw Pippo Pozzato win. This was in the days before the organisers erected those lovely big screens at the finish.

I’ve been in Sanremo every year since to watch the race aside from 2011 (friend’s 60th birthday party) and 2017 (beloved’s broken leg). Generally, the weather’s been fine, aside from 2014 when it was cold, wet and snowy. Once again, it’s great fun watching the professional peloton riding on roads we have ridden on and know well. I can almost feel myself pedalling along with them – I wish!

There was a full house in the press room but we’d saved our seats early on. It wasn’t quite but almost beach towels on sunbeds! There’s always much discussion as to who’s going to win and the room seemed to be equally split between Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and the defending champion, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). I really don’t mind who wins as long as it’s an exciting race.

The race winds up as it reaches the final two climbs, the Cipressa and Poggio. Riders stop casually chatting and everyone’s on high alert, favourites to the fore, keen not to miss what might be the winning break. The traditional early break comprised of riders from ProConti teams gets reeled in, riders launch attacks and counter-attacks, everyone looks around nervously, the crowds of spectators along the route grow thicker and deeper, some are even waving flares.

The bunch starts to thin out as soon as the peloton drives up the Cipressa. All back together with 25km to go, Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli) was last man standing from the bunch of early escapees. Just 5km later and Niccolo Bonifazio (Direct Energie) sucks the wheel of a motorbike on the descent of the Cipressa and builds a slim advantage but he’s back in the pack well back before the climb of the Poggio. Now we’re into the last 10km and the peloton is flying.

The royal blue clad Quick Step team set the pace for the charge up the Poggio but their sprinter is well back so their efforts must be for Alaphilippe who recently won Strade Bianche. The Quick-Steppers are thinning out the bunch on the  Poggio, now it’s an EF-Drapac Cannondale rider, probably Simon Clarke, launching himself from the pack. Alaphilippe counters with 6km to go and goes straight past Clarke. Could this be the decisive move?

A whole host of favourites follow Alaphilippe’s wheel. The winner will come from this group. An Italian rider takes a flyer. Are we going to have another Italian winner after Nibali? Now they’re all eyeing one another as they hit the finishing straight on Via Roma. Some riders launch their sprints too early, but Alaphilippe times his burst for the line perfectly ahead of  Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) and former winner (2017) Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky). Alaphilippe falls into the arms of his soigneur, Yanky Germano, and we have tears of joy, tears of relief, and prosecco sprayed everywhere from the podium.

We had rather a long wait for the still-emotional winner who arrived at his press conference after a lengthy session in doping control, where he confirmed:

I came with the goal of winning this race. I’m just as proud of my win as I am of the work of my team today. What they’ve done for me is absolutely exceptional. I rode for the victory at the end bearing their dedication in mind. I recovered in the downhill after I sped up on the Poggio but I still thought it would be complicated to win considering the quality of the riders I was away with. I made a little effort to close the gap on Matteo Trentin as I knew he was very fast. Then I stayed calm and remained next to Peter Sagan. When Matej Mohoric launched the sprint, I knew I had to take his wheel straight away. Had he taken 20 metres, it would have been game over. I capped it off the nicest way I could. It’s pure joy.

Indeed, it was pure joy! We’d had a fantastic day out and topped it off at home with a small yet lavish supper with some of our Italian goodies. We’ll be doing it all again next week-end when we’re off to Turin.

 

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.