Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hiking in the French Riviera

On the trail above Eze-sur-mer
Hiking? That's not really what the French Riviera is known for, but hey, that's great! If everybody's on the beach that means fewer people will be on the trails ;)

The Alps are close by, as we have shown in a previous post. The proximity of such quality beaches and quality mountains does not cease to amaze us, but without a car it's actually easier for us now to enjoy the coastal area than the snowy slopes.

Unfortunately as C has been busy growing a baby, I've gone alone on a few expeditions in the past few weeks. Below are some of the highlights from such day trips with the hiking shoes and the day-pack!

Coastal pathway around Saint Jean Cap Ferrat (~ 5.5 mi / 9 km)

This is one of my favorite hikes or walks simply because Saint Jean Cap Ferrat is one of my favorites places. Saint Jean is insanely quiet and peaceful considering its location, right on the outskirts of Nice. It's also not just a paradise for rich folks, but also for Mediterranean bushes and trees, and more or less a marine reserve.
I like it cause it's not overbuilt, and a trail (sometimes paved) goes all around it. The rocks, vegetation, and views are surprisingly varied too, even though it's a rather tiny peninsula.

Saint Jean on its southernmost side

View over the Eastern protrusion of Saint Jean at a distance and Monaco and the Italian coast in the background

The Paloma beach - beautiful water, serene pine tree surroundings, and a gorgeous view on all the Riviera East of Saint Jean!
Luscious Mediterranean vegetation right above the trail - and that's in December!

Quick 'n easy panorama over Nice and the French Riviera (~ 3 mi / 5 km)

From downtown Nice where the harbor is located, it is possible to hike up the Mont Boron to one of two forts: Fort Mont Boron or Fort Saint Alban. Last month I chose to spend a Saturday afternoon up Mont Alban. It's not really a hike because it's paved all the way, but man, was it a lot of stairs to climb!

Fantastic reward from up there though, on either the West side overlooking Nice, the bay of Cannes, and then the Esterel mountains at a distance, or the East side overlooking Saint Jean and further to Monaco. From Mont Alban one can also get a glimpse of the Alps North of Nice.
The old Fort (mid 16th century) on the Mont Alban from up close

The fort's entrance

Sunset over Nice

Peeking over on "the other side": Villefranche, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and the Cap d'Ail (right before Monaco)

And on the North side...
Another mesmerizing sunset over the now dark blue sea!

Hike on Mont Bastide and toward Beaulieu (~ 6.3 mi / 10 km)

Now for a real hike! From Eze-sur-mer ("Eze-by-the-sea") to the picturesque perched village of Eze, all the way to the top of the nearby mount Bastide (~ 1,900 ft / 600 m), back down to sea level, and out over a pass down to Beaulieu-sur-mer. Most of the trail is actually on land that was purchased by the region to keep it away from real estate investors. It's actually the wildest area I have seen along the coast yet. Quite remarkable I could get there by train from the main station in Nice in about 15 minutes!

Enjoy the views! I found them just to be breathtaking. This is really a special place. So does Bono from U2 think as well, as you can view here and on some of the shots below ;)

Starting the hike: View of Eze-sur-mer; Saint Jean at a distance

Cliffs in between the two Eze
Seeing the bell towers and some roof tops up there!

Panorama of Eze-village and the bay of Eze-sur-mer

A t-shirt is really all that's needed to hike here at winter time!

Overlooking the bay of Eze-sur-mer - "Bono's island" is on the left side of the bay
Protruding out onto the sea, from left to right: Saint Jean, Cap de Nice, Airport!
Hiking down the "secret but rough" breach from Eze to Beaulieu-sur-mer
Panorama of Beaulieu-sur-mer and Saint-Jean

Coming up next: The red rocks of l'Esterel mountain between Cannes and Saint Raphael; I trust we can get there by train since the train line Marseille-Nice goes through it!

    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    And a special tribute to my other roots also...

    The end of the year and the winter solstice are usually a time of reflection on what came before and of regrouping for what comes next. A month ago I wrote about my roots in French Catalonia, in the village of Vinça. With the recent passing of the last of my grand parents, it seems also timely to write about my roots in Alsace, where I was born almost exactly 50 years after my grand father Fernand –or Fern, as he liked to be called.

    A rare shot with my four grand parents, dating back to 1993 (when I still had hair): Fern (2nd from left; he's probably the reason I lost my hair...) and his wife Marcelle (far right) were from Alsace; Edmond (far left) and Paulette were from Vinça
    Fern and I had always been quite close, and got even closer somehow even though I have been living abroad for 10 years. We saw each other on Skype almost every week, as Chrysa or also my former lab-mate Dave Zappulla could attest from our regular French chatter!

    Fern and I in the early 1980s
    Fern had always been somewhat of a "computer geek" and I remember we have had in our family all models of computers and computing systems, from one of the first ping-pong computer games in the 1970s, to the latest PC, through an Amiga and an MO5, among others. Fern loved to use them to make what he called "numerical art". A website with a gallery of his work can still be found online.

    Artwork by Fernand Gebhardt (1926-2012)
    Fern was my grand father on my mother's side. He was from Rosheim, but soon after I was born he and my grand mother inherited from a 15-bedroom house in the North Vosges mountains, in the village of Niederbronn-les-bains. The house had been built by the grand father of my grand mother in 1900.
    Old postcard of Rosheim

    Christmas market in downtown Niederbronn-les-bains

    Family house in Niederbronn-les-bains, November 2012 – fun fact: about 12 years ago, I planted the tree you see on the left side...
    Like his father before him, Fern was a dentist. He left his father's practice in Rosheim to his brother Jean-Paul, also a dentist, and opened his own practice in Strasbourg, where he bought the apartment in which my parents are currently living.

    My grand parents Fern and Marcelle in the 1950s, when my mom was about 2 years old

    View from Fern's apartment –which now belongs to my parents– in Strasbourg
    My mum grew up in Alsace, and that's where she tied the knot with my Catalan father who had studied at the Ecole de Chimie in Strasbourg. After I was born, Niederbronn became a regular weekend home, and I've had a bedroom in that house pretty much since that time, not always the same bedroom, but always on the top floor.

    Sandstone cathedral in Strasbourg

    Panoramic view from the top floor over the village and the Vosges mountains
    If I have always been so fond of forests and mountains, I think it is because whether I would be in Alsace or in the Pyrénées down in the South of France, that's the environment I would be surrounded by. I have always loved its quietness and peacefulness!

    I recently hiked in the area again, and I paste some of the pictures taken from that hike below.

    Niederbronn sits at the heart of the Parc Naturel Regional des Vosges du Nord
    Forest near Niederbronn - check out the soft bright green moss on the ground, isn't that just awesome? Straight out of the Shire...
    Further down the same hiking trail
    A lake ("etang de Hanau") at the end of the trail. My parents actually got hitched there back in 1975!
    As I hope these photos and previous blog posts can attest (e.g., 23 Dec., 2009 and 30 Sept, 2012), Alsace is a very picturesque area which has been drawing tourists for a long time. In my humbly biased opinion ;) it's spectacular in all seasons, much like Colorado!

    Stories I also like to tell and that you may thus have heard —in spite of Chrysa protesting with a "oh no, not again!"— are that Alsace is the home of the Statue of Liberty, and of the glass ornaments we are so used to hang on Christmas trees :)

    South of France and Alsace are as far away as Latin America and Scandinavia, in many ways: culture, mentalities, pace of life, etc. So it's been quite difficult to find my own identity. Over those years of living abroad, particularly in the US melting pot, I think I realized that I am a blend of both places! I am in particular grateful to my grand parents for having planted seeds of our traditions in me and for having watered them over the years.

    Fern passed away on November 27th. Like that of Edmond, Paulette and Marcelle before him, his spirit goes on, with me and the new generation it is now my turn to help raise. Such is my promise to them!

    A week after Vinça, another pilgrimage to a cemetery where my ancestors are buried
    Rose on my grand father's grave
    C and Q with Fern in Niederbronn in April 2010

    Monday, November 26, 2012

    Where I –Quentin– really come from (and all the 'Vicens' before me...)

    Last week I met up with my dad in our family home in the village of Vinça, in the Catalan part of France. It was a very practical trip –we cleared out a lot of old crap and I brought back baby stuff my sister had stored there- but also a very emotional trip.

    I have not gone back to this place a lot since living in the US and DK, and it is what I still refer to as 'my true home' as our family roots in the area date back to the early 1600s, when it was actually still Spanish.

    I spent a lot of time in Vinça when I was younger, and I learned a lot about life from my grand parents, whom I still miss a lot. I even went to school in the village for one trimester! Vinça is therefore loaded with history and memories for me - a place where I can connect to my lineage in a sort of unequivocal way.

    It is also a breathtaking place, right by the Mount Canigou. I hope you'll get to visit some day!
    More on that part of France here:

    What to see/visit in the area:
    View over Vinça from outside of the cemetery - the bell tower dates back to the 12th century and was restaured in the mid 1700s

    Persimmons I collected from a tree in our ~3 acre yard (dare I call it 'a park'?)
    The view from the graves of my grand parents and great grand mother in the cemetery of Vinça - not a bad place to spend eternity! The peak at a distance is mount Canigou (2,700 m = 9,000 ft)

    Our house in Vinça, which was built in the late 1800s and acquired by my family in the 1920s if I recall correctly what I've been told about our history

    The lake in Vinça - our house is on the other end of the lake, behind the patch of trees that can be seen in the center

    Cozy tea-time by the fire place which bears the initials of my grand father and my ancestors before him: 'EV' for 'Edmond Vicens' 
    My bedroom for the past 36 years!

    View from a balcony in our house - I've always sworn this was the same hill that Zorro would wave from when leaving in the sunset!
    Recycling wood 'the Catalan way' ;-)
    Sunset over a field of olive trees at the Provence border, right by the highway! Photo taken on my way back to Nice