Family Travel, Italy, Travel

Sandcastles to Stalagmites – A Family Holiday Guide to Sardinia

Family holiday guide to Sardinia. What to do with kids in Sardinia

It was a last minute decision to visit Sardinia. We were faced with an ominous gap in our schedule and were at a crossroads. Return to the home we’d abandoned when we moved to Provence earlier in the year, or travel somewhere new. Perhaps it’s no surprise that travel won this round. And Sardinia promised to have everything we were looking for. A relaxed vibe, affordable accommodation, fantastic weather, and great beaches to boot. It was decided that Sardinia was the perfect spot for a family getaway.

Sardinia with Kids

While Sardinians take care to distance themselves from their Mediterranean neighbours, they share one thing in common with the Italians – their love of Bambini. Children are affectionately regarded on the island, bestowed with warm smiles, hair ruffling and pinched cheeks wherever they go.

It’s no wonder then, that kid-friendly activities abound. And restaurants and hotels are all too happy to cater for younger visitors. Add in a healthy dose of sunshine and an easy-going island attitude and you’ve got the recipe just right for a holiday with kids.

What to do in Sardinia with kids

How to get to Sardinia

While you can fly to Sardinia fairly easily from many major airports in Europe, taking the ferry from France or Italy has many benefits. Firstly, it’s full of novelty factor for kids! Our 4-year-old was just as excited about “sleeping on a boat” as he was about the holiday itself. Between our cosy cabin and the multitude of play areas, there’s plenty to keep little ones occupied on the way over. Although you can take ‘fast’ ferries during the day, I’d recommend choosing the slower, overnight option to maximise your vacation time on the island.

How to get to Sardinia. Overnight ferry to Sardinia.

Ferries are also a more cost-effective option than flying. We paid €272 return for two adults and a child, plus a large station wagon. This also included two nights’ accommodation in a cabin (one night each way). When you add in the benefit of having your own car to explore once you get there, and the extra convenience of being able to pack as much as you like – well, it seemed like a no-brainer to us… You can even take your dogs onboard if you please!

Ferry to Sardinia. How to get to Sardinia.

What to do in Sardinia

Whether you want to relax on the beach all week, or head to the mountains for an inland adventure – the choice is yours in Sardinia. While little ones are more than content making sandcastles and splashing in the shallow shores, older kids are also catered for with everything from water parks to treetop adventure courses and even flyboarding!

Things to do with kids in Sardinia

We normally like to mix a little bit of downtime with plenty of adventure, but this holiday was more about relaxing. We loved the change of pace that came with just allowing the day to unfold before us – without a packed agenda. And when we did venture further than our own little slice of paradise, we discovered an island with such diverse beauty. From the wild and rugged terrain in the mountains, to the colourful coastal villages.

What to do in Sardinia with kids. Things to do in Sardinia.

We explored the North-East coastline of Sardinia, from Puntaldia down to Cala Gonone. In the north, we were hoping to spot the pink flamingos that are known to congregate in the San Teodoro lagoon. But apart from seeing what may have been a few idle flamingos in the distance, we had no luck. In the south we visited the popular beach town of Cala Gonone with its beachfront eateries and boats jetting off for excursions at sea.

Grotta di Ispinigoli

Further inland, but not far from Cala Gonone is the Grotta di Ispinigoli. If I had to recommend just one thing to see while in Sardinia, these impressive caves would be it. Tours run every hour from 9am – 5pm, but break for lunch with no tours at 1 or 2pm. They take you inside the inside the innocuous looking mountain through a gated entrance where you’ll descend stairs 60m into the first well. The interior of the cave is incredibly intricate, with stalagmites rising up towards the ceiling like organs in a grand cathedral. In fact, Grotta di Ispinigoli is home to the world’s second largest stalagmite. At around 37m high, it joins a 1m long stalactite dripping from the ceiling – making the total length of the gnarly formation 38m!

Grotta di Ispinigoli in Sardinia. Things to do with kids in Sardinia.

Our son was the only child on the tour, and he really enjoyed exploring this underground world. He was fascinated by the rock formations that surrounded us as we descended deeper into the cave.

Unfortunately photos are banned inside the grotto. It was discovered that the light from camera flashes was negatively affecting the living organisms within the cave.

Where to stay

When travelling as a family, we normally prefer to live locally for a more authentic experience. A quick search of our usual booking site – Airbnb – revealed a multitude of accommodation options, from cheap and cheerful lodgings, to luxury seaside mansions. It didn’t take us long to find our ideal beachfront bach. Located on one of Sardinia’s best beaches (Cala Liberotto), it sported two large bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fully stocked kitchen, modest dining room and a cosy lounge. And came in at a very reasonable €80/night!

Where to stay in Sardinia. Family accommodation in Sardinia

If you want to take the easy route and stay at a kid-friendly resort, you will be well catered for. Head to the ever popular Forte Village for a luxury family getaway, or to Cruccuris Resort for family fun that’s a little easier on the wallet.

Cala Liberotto, Sardina. Where to stay in Sardinia

At the other end of the accommodation spectrum you’ll find camping grounds with plenty of on-site activities to entertain children. Camping Sa Prama is ideally located near Cala Liberotto, and has something to offer for every budget.



Booking.com

Where to eat and drink

The rustic food typically served in Sardinia is a hit with children. Which kids don’t love wood-fired pizzas and homemade pasta? Even the local flatbread (pane carasau) that accompanies each drink or meal will keep the little ones munching happily. Head away from the touristic areas to find authentic food that’s easier on the wallet. Just look for where the locals eat! We ate out about half the time we were in Sardinia. Meals were generous and usually cost us around €30-40 for a family of three.

But eating out for every meal can soon add up. So to save money I’d recommend booking accommodation with a kitchen. I love browsing foreign food stores and the market isles in Sardinia were no exception! We stocked up on locally made gnocchi, pane carasau, loads of fruit & veggies and a few guilty treats (vegan cornettos are amazing!) at a small supermarket in Orosei and ate very well for the week we were there. To mix things up, try alternating meals. If you eat out for lunch, cook dinner at home – or vice versa.

When to visit

We visited Sardinia in late May and the weather couldn’t have been better! Hot days (but not too hot!) followed by warm evenings and nights that were cool enough to sleep. We also found the island to be very quiet – sometimes we’d be sharing the beach with just one other family!

Visiting Sardinia during the shoulder season months of May, June and September means less crowds to compete with. Meaning accommodation prices are much more reasonable. You’ll also find transport costs to/from Sardinia to be cheaper during these months.

When to visit Sardinia.

The low season (October – April) will be even quieter and cheaper still. And there’s still plenty to do if the weather doesn’t play ball. Many festivals take place during the year including Autunno in Barbagia which takes place from September- December, Festa di Sant’Efisio in May, and Carnival in February.

Final thoughts on visiting Sardinia with Kids

Sardinia absolutely won us over with its rugged beauty, genuine hospitality and agreeable climate. The accessibility and affordability of this Mediterranean island also made it an excellent choice for a holiday with kids. We came in search of a relaxed getaway, but soon discovered there is much more to Sardinia than we imagined. And more than one family can cover in a week! We’ll most certainly be visiting Sardinia again to sample what the rest of the island has to offer…

Looking for a family travel destination that doesn't break the budget? Discover why Sardinia ticks all the right boxes for a family holiday. Read about how to get there, what to do and where to stay in Sardinia.*This post contains affiliate links. For every booking made using one of these links I can earn a little commission. It costs you no extra & helps support the running of this blog. Thanks for your support!

Family Travel, France, Provence-Alpes-Côte D'azur

The Calanques of Cassis – A Family Friendly Hike in Provence

The Calanques de Cassis, a family friendly hike in Provence, France

Towering above the Mediterranean coast of France are the Calanques de Cassis. These three calanques are the deepest, and arguably the most impressive of the Massif des Calanques. And yet access is surprisingly easy, even with kids in tow! Walking the Cassis Calanques can take as little as a morning, or as long as a full day if you stop to refresh in the azure waters that weave through the limestone cliffs.

Three Calanques of Cassis

In case you’re not already familiar, a calanque is a natural inlet surrounded by steep rocky promontories jutting out into the sea. Created by natural events and shaped by the wind, sea and rain over the last 120 million years, the calanques of cassis are an incredible work of art.

View from Calanque d'en Vau near Cassis in Provence, France

The famous three; Calanque de Port Miou, Calanque de Port Pin and Calanque d’En-Vau, can be accessed from Cassis, and are beloved by locals and visitors alike. Port Miou is the most accessible – you can drive right up to this natural marina. Port Pin is a short walk away. You need to be steady on your feet to access this calanque with its beautiful cove beach, as the path is jagged and uneven. Calanque d’En-Vau is the most stunning, but also the hardest to reach. An uphill climb will reward you with breathtaking views over the valley, and a downhill descent will see you arriving at the pebbled beach below.

Total walking time (with kids) = approx 3 hours without the descent to Calanque d’En-Vau. Distance approx 7kms.

Hiking the Calanques de Cassis with Kids

Hiking the calanques with kids. Walking trails near Cassis, France.

To walk the three calanques you can either park in Cassis and enjoy the port before heading to the start of the track, or park right near the first calanque at Port Miou. With young kids I’d suggest the latter, as you want to save their energy for the main hike! The car park is at the end of the Avenue Notre Dame and costs €8 for the day. Do a couple of laps around the neighbouring streets first and you may be able to find yourself a free roadside car park – especially in the less busy months.

Calanque de Port Miou

From the Avenue Notre Dame you’ll find a small walkway leading down towards the Calanque. It’s not signposted, but fairly easy to spot. This walkway provides a shortcut, but if you have very young children, perhaps consider walking along the road instead, as the path is a little tricky to navigate with short legs. There are long uneven steps and rocks to climb over en route. Not impossible with a little help from Mum & Dad though! At the end of the walkway you’ll meet the Avenue des Calanques that comes to an end at Port Miou. This is the start of the three calanques walk.

Calanque de Port Miou. The three calanques walk in Provence, France

Port Miou is lined with hundreds of boats moored to its banks. Tightly wedged in beside one another, the boats have little room to manoeuvre in the tranquil turquoise waters. I’m not sure if it’s because of this developed state, but Port Miou was underwhelming as a calanque. Beautiful yes, and definitely worth seeing if that’s as far as you can make it, but the real calanque experience lies over the hills with Calanque de Port Pin and Calanque d’En-Vau.

Calanque de Port Pin

The route to Port Pin is clearly marked from Port Miou. Walking alongside the marina, the wide dusty path gradually narrows to a stony trail the further along you get. The first stretch is fairly easy, despite the hill, and offers amazing views over the sun-soaked coast. It’s not until you get closer to the second calanque that the path becomes rocky, uneven, and in some places quite narrow. Regardless, our son Arthur (4) took it all in his stride and thought it was a great adventure!

Calanque de Port Pin near Cassis, in Provence, France

Arriving in Port Pin, the sight of the petite cove at the end of the calanque is a welcome one. This is where you really start to experience the magic of the area. Stop to catch your breath and enjoy the atmosphere. Due to its ease of access, this is one of the more popular calanques and the beach was a hive of activity when we visited on a hot day in May. People (and dogs) swimming, friends sunbathing, families picnicking and kayakers resting on the jagged rocks.

Calanque de Port Pin near Cassis, in Provence, France. Hiking the three calanques de cassis with kids.

Calanque d’En-Vau

The most direct route From Port Pin to Calanque d’En-Vau is straight up! Follow the red and white track up through the bush. This is where the going can get tough for kids, but still very doable. Although Arthur decided half way up that he’d rather hitch a ride on his dad’s back, we saw plenty of other children deftly scaling the hill. When you reach the plateau near the top the track splits in two. Take the blue path on the left to reach the panorama point and see the calanque in all of its glory!

Hiking the Calanques de Cassis, Provence, France

The views are just amazing. Allow yourself time to soak it all up, and be sure to wander around a little, as the vista changes with every step.

View of the calanque d'en vau, Cassis, France.

 

If hiking with young kids, you’ll probably want to stop here for a rest before heading back to Port-Miou. Alternatively, you can follow the red path to descend to the beach. Be warned though, it’s not easy-going and kids will tire easily on the way back up. If we’d reached the calanque earlier in the day, we probably would have tackled it – knowing that Arthur would need assistance on the way.

Back to Port Miou via La Fontasse

From Calanque d’En-Vau you have several options. Walk back to Port Pin via the scenic blue route (which you’ll be on already if taking in the view of the calanque). Return to the red & white track and go back down the way you came up. Or the third option – which is the longest but the easiest – is to follow the red & white path through la Fontasse forest. This track is wide and flat, making it a good option for kids who have had enough climbing by now! The vistas are nice, but not breathtaking on this stretch.

Hiking the Cassis Calanques with kids.

Turn right when you see the sign indicating Cassis and Port Miou. From here you’ll have a fantastic view of les falaises Soubeyranes. The track descends gradually at first, before zigzagging back down to your starting point.

Final Tips for Hiking the Three Calanques with Kids

Take plenty of water and snacks. With no facilities in sight, you’ll need to take everything you need with you on your walk. And all that walking will make for hungry and thirsty kids!

Start the walk early to allow yourself time to enjoy the calanques. You’ll also increase your chances of finding a free car park, and won’t have to battle the crowds (as much).

Sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat will keep sun at bay. Most of the track is unsheltered, and you don’t want sunburn ruining your experience.

Kids and adults alike should wear appropriate footwear. Although we did pass a few flip-flop wearing wayfarers, it’s best to avoid accidents caused by an ill choice in footwear.

The tracks are closed during the hotter months of July & August due to the risk of forest fires.

Take a camera to capture the magic of the area. It’s a great spot for a family portrait too!

The trails are fairly easy to follow. The various tracks are marked with painted lines on trees and stones, to indicate you’re on the right path.

Hiking the three calanques trail, near Cassis, France

Alternative ways to visit the three Calanques of Cassis

If you’re keen to see the calanques up close, but can’t due to accessibility issues, time restrictions, or visiting during the summer months, your only option is by sea. Several companies operate cruises to the calanques – I’ve linked up some popular choices below.


Hiking the calanques of Cassis is an incredible experience that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Visit in a morning, or take the entire day to explore & swim in the teal waters… Whichever way you choose to experience the calanques, you’ll be left with incredible memories of this special area of France.

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Planning on visiting the Calanques de Cassis in Provence, France? Find out everything you need to know about hiking to the incredible Calanque de Port Miou, Calanque de Port Pin and Calanque d’en Vau - with kids!

Planning on visiting the Calanques de Cassis in Provence, France? Find out everything you need to know about hiking to the incredible Calanque de Port Miou, Calanque de Port Pin and Calanque d’en Vau in France.

*This post contains affiliate links. It costs you no extra & helps support the running of this blog. Thanks for your support!

Corsica, Family Travel, France, Reviews

Cruising to Corsica’s Calanques de Piana with Corse Emotion

Cruising with Corse Emotion in Corsica - A review.

A boat trip in the sparkling blue Mediterranean was at the top of our wish list while we were in Corsica recently. But with only three full days to explore the island, a tightly packed schedule, and an unpredictable weather pattern, there was uncertainty if we would realise such a wish on this trip. Our first plan – to take a boat to the secluded shores of Saleccia and Loto – was foiled by high seas. And with the mistral still whipping the water into a frenzy the following day, our chances were looking uncertain. Luckily for us, Corse Emotion came to the rescue!

It was with a sense of relief that we found out Corse Emotion had one boat braving the wet and windy weather on our final day in Corsica. But our relief was quickly replaced by a sense of urgency as we realised we had 2 hours to traverse the mountainous landscape between us and Porto – where our boat cruise would take us to the majestic Calanques de Piana.

Choosing Northern Corsica

A large majority of visitors to Corsica flock to its southern shores – around the glitzy coastlines of Porto-Vecchio, Bonaficio and Ajaccio. But we chose to camp out in the mountainous landscape of the inner Haute-Corse. Tucked between towering mountains, our renovated roulotte was located in a sleepy hamlet where the majority of passersby were of the hoofed variety. A trip to the sea meant driving up and over a landscape that was breathtaking in its diversity.

Northern Corsica landscapes. Boat Cruise with Corse Emotion

One minute we’d be driving through thick pine forest while floppy eared pigs trotted through the undergrowth next to us. The next I’d be gripping my seat as the car teetered on the edge of the hillside – the road falling away to reveal a deep ravine below.

Calanques of Piana

The jagged red volcanic rock that rises up to 400m over the Mediterranean Sea is one of the most impressive sights in all of Corsica. And I don’t say that lightly. In a land nicknamed (very appropriately) the Île de Beauté, impressive sights are readily available!

Calanche di Piana, Boat tour in Corsica with Corse Emotion

The Corsican Calanche de Piana are similar in a lot of ways to the calanques found on the Mediterranean coast of France. But the one striking difference is in the colour. Where the Calanques of Cassis are ash white and grey, the Calanques of Piana have undertones of molten lava. And not by chance either – the calanques are the direct result of volcanic activity in the area. Their current shape has come about through years of being pummelled by the sea, washed in rainfall, and lashed by strong winds.

Cruising the Calanche di Piana with Corse Emotion. Boat trip in Corsica.

An important heritage area, the calanques were officially named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983. A title that has added to their allure and made them a popular attraction in the area. In order to see the calanques in all their glory, the best options are to walk through granite walking trails (although you can’t access the water this way), or to take to the seas on a boat excursion.

Cruising with Corse Emotion

Arriving in Porto with only minutes to spare, we hastily bought the last three tickets and followed our tour guide through cobbled lanes to the harbour. Despite the weather, which had eased up but was still sodden, the boat was at full capacity – all 12 seats occupied by people as foolhardy as us. We eagerly climbed aboard, straddled our padded jockey seats and clasped the handrail. With a brief word of safety, and a warning about the bumpy ride, we were off and out into the white-capped sea. A speedy and delightfully dry 15-minute ride later, we slowed to a steady crawl, ready to explore the calanques.

Corse Emotion boat tour in Corsica. Corse Emotion Review.

Our first stop was what our tour guide jokingly referred to as the “communal pool” because of how many boats park here in the summer months. On this day, we had the basin entirely to ourselves, although it was easy to see why it’d be a popular spot to swim on warmer days. The rocky cliffs surrounded us on three sides creating shelter from the wind, and the sea was so calm – and so crystal clear! I was almost tempted to dip a toe in myself, if only to check the temperature…

Cruising with Corse Emotion. Boat trip to the Calanques di Piana in Corsica.As we proceeded to weave our way through watery canyons and into caves, it was hard to know where to focus your attention. Below, where the clear water revealed colourful shells and sea urchins on the sea bed. Up above, where birds of prey and cormorants circled overhead. Or all around us at the rich colours of the volcanic rock and jagged cliffs that created a multi-faceted landscape from our unique vantage point.

Boat tour in Corsica. Corse Emotion boat trip in CorsicaEven with the veil of thick white fog that shrouded the tops of the cliffs, the scenery was outstanding. But on a good day – with the blue sky reflecting on the sea and the suns rays warming the orange tones in the earth – it must be all the more enchanting.

Cruising with Corse Emotion. Boat tour in Corsica to the Calanques of Piana.

After roughly an hour of cruising it was time to head back to Porto. With a rev of the engine we sped back the 10 minutes to shore, our guide giving us a thrill with a few tight-turns on the way!

Things to know before you go

Corse Emotion offer three different options to explore this unique area of Corsica. Boat tours start from €29 and include:

  • Calanche de Piana, 1.5 hours
  • Scandola Reserve & Gulf of Girolata, 2.5 hours
  • Scandola, Girolata, Piana & Capo Rosso, 4 hours

 

Best boat tour in Corsica, Corse Emotion

Tours are subject to weather conditions, so it’s best to call before you go if unsure. It’s also important to dress appropriately in bad weather to avoid the cold ruining your trip! Even when it’s not raining, a good jacket will keep you dry if the sea is turbulent. Likewise in summer, bringing a hat (hold on tightly when going fast!), sunglasses, and layering on the sunscreen before you go will save you from sunburn.

Check availability and prices here!

Cruising with Kids

I wasn’t sure if my 4-year-old was going to love the cruise, or hate it… Luckily, it was a total hit! With the fast ride out, the wind was battling our eyes and ears, but with my hand sheltering his eyes, he was actually giggling from the thrill of it all. He was mesmerised by the caves, and loved being out on the water.

Corsica with Kids. Boat trip with Corse Emotion.

Little ones can travel on the same jockey seat as you, so that you can keep a firm grip on them. Just be sure to place a hand on the rail in front to prevent any nasty knocks in case of bumps along the way. Once you’re near the calanques, the cruise slows right down, so you can get out of your seat and freely explore.


Cruising around the Calanques de Piana was one of the highlights of our trip to Corsica. Even with limited time on the island, a boat trip gives you the chance to see Corsica’s beauty from another angle. And what better way to explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site than by boat? Next time I’m in Corsica I hope to join Corse Emotion for a cruise to the Scandola Reserve & Gulf of Girolata!

P.S If you’re looking for other unique things to do in Corsica, be sure to read our experience with Saleccia Off-Road.

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Looking for the best things to do in Corsica, France? A boat trip to the Calanques de Piana should be high on your list! Read on to find out about this amazing boat tour in Corsica with Corse Emotion.

*This post contains affiliate links. It costs you no extra & helps support the running of this blog. Thanks for your support!

Looking for the best things to do in Corsica, France? A boat trip to the Calanques de Piana should be high on your list! Read on to find out about this amazing cruise in Corsica with Corse Emotion.
France, Île-de-France

One Day in Paris – A Walking Tour of the City of Lights (With Map!)

One day in Paris. Walking Tour of Paris.

There’s nothing better than taking the time to stroll around a beautiful city and delight in its ambience. And there’s no better city to indulge in such a pastime than Paris. After all, this is the birthplace of flâneur – the word the French use to describe the act of strolling idly; sauntering, while observing the goings-on around you.

Usually my time in Paris is limited to rushed stopovers. But recently I got to spend an afternoon getting reacquainted with “la Ville Lumière”. And it was while practising the art of flânerie that I was able to rediscover the highlights of Paris organically, without an agenda. What unfolded was a beautiful walking tour weaving through the streets of Paris and taking in some of the city’s most pleasurable sights.

Paris Walking Tour

If you want to maximise your time in Paris, getting the train is a great alternative to flying. Forget check-in times, collecting baggage and having to schlep into central Paris on the metro or bus. The TGV or Eurostar will drop you right near the heart of Paris. Both the Gare de Lyon or Gare du Nord train stations are a fantastic place to start a walking tour of Paris.

The walking tour mapped out below starts from the Gare de Lyon and could take as little as an afternoon (if you don’t linger too long at any one stop) or the entire day if you take time to appreciate each site. Walking is a great way to explore the city and get your bearings – and it’s so much more fun than taking the metro!

Total walk = 12km / 2.3 hours 

Bastille

A swift 10-minute walk from Paris’s Gare de Lyon station will have you outside the Place de la Bastille. Once the site of a prison, it was stormed on what is now known as “Bastille Day” and destroyed during the French Revolution. While you can still see the outline of the prison marked on the ground, now all that stands here is the 52m high Colonne de Juillet – a tribute to the 504 lives lost during another revolution in 1830. From the Place de la Bastille you can take a short detour along the Bassin de l’Arsenal to see the colourful houseboats moored at its banks.

Paris in one day - a walking tour of Paris

The Bassin de l’Arsenal and the Colonne de Juillet in Bastille

Le Marais

If you had to choose just one district of Paris to explore, my advice would be to park yourself in Le Marais. With oodles of old-world charm wrapped in a layer of style and luxury, Le Marais offers the quintessential Paris experience. Browse the boutiques, soak up the sun in a leafy park, or station yourself in a cafe to watch the passersby. Whatever you do in Le Marais, you’ll be sure to have experienced Paris at its finest.

Le Marais in Paris. Walking tour in Paris.

Place de Vosges, Le Marais

Hotel de Ville and the Circular Pavilion

The Hotel de Ville is a city hall on a grande scale. Its intricate exterior is only surpassed in beauty by the artwork on display inside the impressive building. Located on the banks of the Seine, the square that houses the Hotel de Ville makes the perfect resting spot and regularly holds concerts and seasonal events throughout the year.

Hearing the name “Circular Pavilion” might have you imagining an entirely different building. Deceivingly, the angular construction completely defies its name. Instead, ‘circular’ comes from the idea of recycling and up-cycling. A message reflected by the use of recycled materials used in its construction.  The sight of the recycled door façade against the flamboyant nature of the Hotel de Ville makes a startling contrast!

Hotel de Ville & the Circular Pavilion in Paris.

Hotel de Ville & the Circular Pavilion in Paris.

Notre Dame

The Cathedral of Notre Dame is one of Paris’s most famous landmarks. Situated on the Île de la Cité – a natural island in the river Seineit’s just a short walk from the Hotel de Ville over the Pont d’Arcole. Stop here to admire the building’s amazingly detailed sculpture work, gothic style, and grandiose structure that took over 170 years to build. It’s worth venturing inside (entrance is free) if only to appreciate the stunning effect of the stained glass windows.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Things to do in Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral

Pont Neuf

At the opposite end of the Île de la Cité you’ll discover Pont Neuf – the oldest bridge in Paris. Although it’s perhaps preferable to admire it from afar – in order to take in the 12 arches that support the structure – walking over the Pont Neuf is an experience also. As I heard one passerby explain, “the Pont Neuf used to be the Eiffel Tower of Paris”. Meaning, before Paris’s iconic landmark was around, the Pont Neuf was the city’s most famous attraction.

These days it has taken over as the prime spot for placing ‘love locks’ – padlocks adorned with lovers names before being affixed to the bridge. An honour that used to belong to the nearby Pont des Arts until they were removed due to safety concerns.

Pont Neuf in Paris. Walking tour of Paris

Love locks on Pont Neuf, and the statue of Henry IV

Louvre Palace & Pyramid

If you’ve got limited time in Paris, you probably won’t have the chance to appreciate the works on display inside the world’s largest museum – the Louvre. But you’ll still be able to admire the architecture of the Louvre from the outside! Napoleon Courtyard, framed by the Louvre Palace, is an amazing place to sit and soak up the atmosphere. Often you’ll be accompanied by the melodic harmony of a busker or two, and always by the sounds of several dialects being spoken around you.

The Louvre Pyramid, which is actually the biggest of five pyramids onsite, serves as the entrance to the museum. Designed by Ieoh Ming Pei, the architect behind the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, it was constructed to the same proportions as the Pyramid of Giza. It consists of 673 glass panels in the shape of diamonds and triangles – giving the effect of sparkling jewels as it reflects the light.

Louvre Museum in Paris. Visiting the Louvre Palace & Pyramid on a Paris walking tour

The Louvre palace and pyramid.

Tuileries Garden

A short jaunt across the road from the Louvre Museum will have you crossing the Carousel Gardens and entering the Tuileries Garden. This formal French garden in the centre of Paris is accentuated with ponds, fountains and statues. Pull one of the iconic green metal chairs to the water’s edge and settle in for the afternoon with a good book, or to watch Paris’s younger residents sailing model boats. In the hottest months, seek shade in one of the benches tucked under rows of leafy green tress.

Tuileries Garden in Paris. Paris walking tour.

Carousel and Tuileries Gardens.

Place de la Concorde

The Place de la Concorde lies in between the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs-Élysées. Even though it’s called a ‘square’, Place de la Concorde takes on the form of an Octagon. At the eight points surrounding the square is a monument representing a French city; Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes, Brest, Rouen, Lille and Strasbourg. And it’s in the middle of the square you’ll find the oldest monument in Paris – the Luxor Obelisk. At over 3,300 years old, this Egyptian obelisk was transferred to Paris in 1833 – taking a ginormous effort in those times. On either side of the obelisk you can see the Fontaine des Mers and the Fontaine des Fleuves. Despite so much to see in the area, it’s not the most serene area to go for a stroll – with multiple lanes of traffic heaving through the square with every green light.

Place de la Concorde in Paris. Walking tour of Paris

Fountain in Place de la Concorde

Champs-Élysées

While the Jardins des Champs-Elysées at the lower end of the avenue are very much worthy of a Sunday stroll, it’s been said that the Champs-Élysées has had its heyday. Now it’s a hub for the fashion stores and cafés which line either side of the almost 2km long avenue. In any case, tourists still flock here in droves and it does still hold charm of yesteryear – most noticeably when you look up! In the middle of the road (take care when crossing!) you’ll be met with an outstanding view of the avenue and the Arc de Triomph in the distance.

Champs-Élysées in Paris. On day in Paris itinerary.

Champs-Élysées Avenue in Paris.

Arc de Triomphe

At the upper end of the Champs-Elysées lies the Arc de Triomphe. The Arch, which is the biggest in the world, was commissioned by Napoleon and completed in 1836. It’s difficult to judge from afar just how mammoth a structure it is, until you stand underneath it. At just shy of 50m, the Arc de Triomphe towers over the Place Charles de Gaulle, making people and cars look miniature at its foot. The Arc is a full-scale attraction, with a museum, tours and viewing platform – plan some time to visit if you can. The viewing platform offers the one the best views over Paris (including a great perspective of the Eiffel Tower) and the Champs-Elysées.

Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Paris walking tour.

The towering Arc de Triomphe.

Jardins du Trocadéro

From the terrace of the Palais de Chaillot you’ll have a fantastic view over the Jardins du Trocadéro, and of course, the Eiffel Tower which looks almost surreal as it appears in front of you. Try not to get too sidetracked from the gardens though, as they offer an incredible experience in their own right. The Fountain of Warsaw is the main feature of the gardens – a large mirror-like basin in which multiple fountains shoot water up to 12m in the air. In summer, the garden creates a spectacle as lights illuminate the fountains from below. If visiting Paris with kids, there is a playground right next-door and a carousel to delight the little ones.

Trocadero gardens and Eiffel tower, Paris, France. Things to do in France.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Jardins du Trocadéro.

Eiffel Tower

The last stop on your walking tour of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, is the most iconic landmark in the city of lights! You can see it rising up above the slate grey rooftops around the city, but seeing it up close is another experience entirely. While taking the elevator to the summit offers a breathtaking birds eye view of the city, the best way to view the tower itself is to make yourself comfortable in the park below. The Champ de Mars park extends out in front of the tower and is the prefect place for a picnic, impromptu game of boules, or simply enjoying the convivial atmosphere.

Eiffel Tower on a Paris walking tour.

Eiffel Tower.


And there you have it, your walking tour of Paris has come to an end! If you have the time, I’d recommend hanging out at the last stop until sunset so you can experience the magic of the Eiffel Tower at night. And then once you’re ready to rest your weary feet, there are a few metro stops close by. The Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel is the closest, followed by Bir-Hakeim and Ecole Militaire.

Essentials for your Walking Tour of Paris

For a full days walking and sightseeing, there are a few things you’ll need to take with you to make the most of your time in Paris:

  • A quality, lightweight camera – I recommend the Sony A6000
  • A phone to use Google Maps, or you can print out the map (above) ahead of time. Keep a map of the metro lines handy too.
  • A reusable water bottle – you can fill it up at drinking fountains en route.
  • A few euros. Don’t rely on cards, as some places won’t accept them for small items. Also, you’ll need coins for the public toilets in popular spots.
  • Keep cool and look the part with a lightweight linen dress, sandals and sunnies. And don’t forget a tote for carrying the items above!

 

Your Paris Style Essentials

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A walking tour of Paris, France, is the perfect way to see the sights when you're short on time! Our one-day Paris itinerary has you covered. Self-guided walk in Paris with a free map.

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A walking tour of Paris, France, is the perfect way to see the sights when you're short on time! Our one-day Paris itinerary has you covered. Self-guided walk in Paris with a free map.
France, Provence-Alpes-Côte D'azur

The Provence Palette – Finding Lavender and Ochre Mines in Rustrel

Rustrel, Provence - Home to lush lavender fields and the Colorado Provencal.

It’s early July in Provence, France, and the lavender fields of the Luberon are at last in full bloom. The usual earthy tones of the Provençal landscape are interrupted by patches of purple, while the violet flowers fill the air with their heavenly scent. With my mother visiting from New Zealand, I was keen to show her the iconic flowering lavender fields of Provence. We drove inland, through beautiful hillside villages (including two of France’s most beautiful), orchards bursting with stone fruits, and olive groves heavy with next season’s harvest. The destination? Rustrel – a petite village tucked into the northern reaches of the Luberon Natural Regional Park.

But purple isn’t the only colour that dominates the undulating earth surrounding Rustrel. Lush green vegetation defies the dry weather and blankets the hillside. And at one point it slides away to reveal the rich earthy tones known as the Colorado Provençal – a former ochre mine turned nature walk through a fiery landscape more akin to the desert of its western American namesake.

Discovering Rustrel

Arriving in the village of Rustrel, my first impression was how quiet it is. Unlike nearby Roussillon with its large (paid) car parks and tour buses queuing in the streets, Rustrel seems untouched by tourism on this sleepy Tuesday morning.

Where to eat in Rustrel, Provence.

Our usual rushed morning to get Arthur (4) off to school meant that I’d skipped breakfast, so we stopped by Brasserie des Ocres in the village centre. Filling up on salty pissaladière and steaming cups of thé vert, the sun warmed our shoulders as we sat and watched the passersby. The village was just waking up from its slumber, supplies being offloaded into the restaurant next door and dogs being walked before the day gets too hot.

Where to eat in Rustrel, Provence, France

Mum enjoying the sun in Rustrel.

With renewed energy, we set off through the village towards the Colorado Provençal. Pretty houses framed with colourful foliage and ancient stonework kept stealing our attention as we walked through the crooked lanes. But we soon reached the edge of the village as the last few houses blended into the countryside.

The Colorado Provençal

Having already visited the nearby Ochre Trail in Roussillon, the Colorado Provençal wasn’t high on my Provence wish list. But the sight of the flame red and burnt orange cliffs peeking out between the leafy green hills caught my attention as soon as we entered Rustrel. The entrance to the site is just a short 15-minute walk from the village centre and saves you paying for parking at the attraction (€5 for cars).

The Colorado Provencal in Rustrel, Provence.

The route is well signposted and the entrance is obvious from the main road. We walked past the queue waiting to enter the car park and followed other walkers down a dusty path into the forest. The feel is much more rustic than the Ochre Trail, and the route more of a suggestion than a requirement. A sign indicated we’d soon reach an aqueduct and I had visions of the grand structures I’d seen in this part of France, but the reality was somewhat more humble…

The Colorado Provencal in the Luberon, Provence.

After the mini aqueduct, the ground started to turn a warmer shade, suggesting we were on the right track. And sure enough, a few turns later we were greeted with towering cliffs the colour of caramel.

The Colorado Provençal in the Luberon, Provence, France. Walking the former ochre mine.

We wandered around the track marvelling at the range of colours and the unique shapes that have been etched into the earth over time, pausing occasionally to seek shade under an orange tinged tree.

Walking the Colorado Provencal near Rustrel, France

Eventually, the sun got the better of us. And with the mercury rising above 35°C we retreated back to the shady streets for a respite while we returned to the village.

Walking in Rustrel, Provence, France

Lavender Fields of Rustrel

Taking another route back to the village, down quiet country lanes, had us walking by old stone farm houses. Their pastel coloured shutters firmly closed to keep the heat at bay. Ducks happily bathed under leafy trees while butterflies floated past on a warm breeze.

Where to find lavender in Provence, France

It wasn’t long until the telltale sight of a field of purple flowers stopped us in our tracks. Walking carefully between the neatly plotted rows, bees happily buzzed around our ankles as they flew from one beautiful bud to another.

Lavender fields of the Luberon. Finding lavender in Provence, France.

It was like stepping into a photograph, an impression enhanced as a powder-blue Citroën 2cv drove past – the low hum of its engine lingering as I gaped open-mouthed at the perfectness of the scene before me.

We passed two more open fields of lavender on our walk back. Stopping each time to take in the scent and sight – and feeling inadequate as I’d try desperately to capture the beauty on my camera.

Where to find lavender in Provence. Exploring the lavender fields around Rustrel in the Luberon.

I’ve mapped our walk as a bucolic loop back from the Colorado Provençal to Rustrel village, where you’re sure to spot a lavender field or three. The patches of purple we passed are at points D, E and F below.

From point F you can actually follow a path back to the village without having to walk the main road (as demonstrated by Mum below), but Google Maps wouldn’t allow me to draw that ‘unofficial’ route!

Lavender fields around Rustrel, France


Rustrel was the perfect day trip from Aix-en-Provence. I got to show my mother the essence of Provence, complete with archetypal villages, fields bursting with fragrant lavender, and the very source of the warm tones that colour this part of France – the ochre mines.

If you’re spending time in the Luberon this summer – do not miss a trip to Rustrel!

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Looking for the archetypal Provence experience? Visit Rustrel, a petite village tucked into the heart of the Luberon Natural Park in Provence, France. You'll find fields bursting with lavender, and the legendary Ochre mines that played a huge part in the history of this area of France.

 

France, LIFE

5 Surprises About Buying a House in France (vs New Zealand)

5 Surprises about buying a house in France vs New Zealand

It’s been a hot minute since we first set out to buy a house in France. Our search was centred around the bucolic town of Saintes where we eventually found our very own “place in the sun” complete with requisite pool and ancient garden well. Fast forward a year and we’re doing it all over again – this time in picturesque Provence! We moved near Aix-en-Provence in February (2017) for a short-term work contract, and we’ve been seduced by the area’s charm, fantastic weather and amazing landscapes.

Despite our love of watching other expats find their dream home in France (thank you UK tv!), the real-life version is somewhat more tedious. Did you know that buying a house was recently revealed to be one of life’s most unpleasant experiences? I don’t know why this surprised me, given the number of new grey hairs, sleepless nights and frantic phone calls I’ve had to endure over the last few weeks as we embark on house purchase number 5. Yes, we’ve ridden this roller coaster five times. Three houses in New Zealand, and (almost) two in France later, you think we’d just do what normal people do when they like to move a lot. Rent, that is.

Buying a Home in France vs Buying a Home in New Zealand

Despite our nomadic ways, we enjoy having a home base. So we continue to move, but we learn as we go. Our latest lesson? How buying a house in France is full of surprises – and very different to what we’ve experienced in New Zealand!

Buying a house in France vs buying a house in New Zealand.

Our second home in rural New Zealand.

1. Secret squirrels

One of the biggest frustrations we’ve had with buying a house in France is the secrecy surrounding locations. Listings will give you the village, and may offer a clue such as “centre-ville”, but more often than not you’re left guessing… Instead, you must call the agent to organise a viewing. They’ll then meet you at their office or a mutually arranged spot and you’ll follow them to the house. This is fine until you realise that some properties can easily be ruled out on location alone (it’s called “Location, Location, Location” for a reason!). You could end up wasting the agents time, your own time, and the owners time.

In New Zealand, there is normally (unless it’s an exclusive high-end property) transparency around the location. The address is listed in ads and online, and it’s not unusual to check out the house & area before deciding whether it’s worth viewing or not. Open homes are on 1-2 times a week for around an hour. This is when you can see the house without an appointment. You can also normally arrange a private viewing if you can’t make the open home times.

Buying a house in France vs buying a house in New Zealand

I figure the reason for the French not giving away the address is that they’re worried you’ll undercut them and go to the owners directly. This may be a valid concern, however frustrating it is for buyers! In New Zealand, agents get around this by making you sign a waiver that you cannot sell your house privately (or with another agent) for a set amount of time.

2. Presentation

Flicking through images of dreamy countryside châteaux on the Sotheby’s website probably wasn’t the best introduction to the reality of French real estate. When we did start looking at houses in our price range, it became glaringly obvious that presenting a house for sale is somewhat *ahem* different here… I mean, would you be wooed to drop over €300k on a house by this photo?

Buying a house in France

Despite dubious first impressions, we went on to buy this property…

Adverts on real estate search engines display one solitary photo at worst, and up to 8 at best. They sustain the sole purpose of giving you a rough idea of the qualities of the house, but most certainly don’t serve to “sell” the house in any way. And viewing day presentation is met with the same nonchalant attitude.

In New Zealand, it’s common to get the cleaners in, de-clutter with vigour and hire professional photographers to present your home for sale. Hell, we even re-grassed the entire lawn in one property, and hired a guy with a drone to take aerial shots for another! We figure that what you put into presenting your house you’ll more than recoup when you sell well as a result.

Buying a house in Nz vs Buying a house in France

Our home in Hamilton, New Zealand, presented for sale.

Sellers in NZ commonly pay for ads in local papers, and online listings sport around 10-20 carefully curated photos. Open homes are no exception either. The house will be spotless, sporting fresh flowers and perfectly preened gardens on the day of viewings.

3. A garden isn’t a given

French villages have oodles of charm and character. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a pretty stone village house complete with Juliette balcony, flower boxes and fittingly distressed shutters? I know this was my dream when we arrived in France! But there’s one hitch. Outside space is at a premium. Most houses near the centre of the village have none at worst, and an elevated courtyard at best. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a ground level terrace – which is most often paved.

Differences between buying a house in NZ & France

Left: The houses in Roussillon are charming, if somewhat impractical. Right: Our backyard near Hamilton, New Zealand

This isn’t a problem for many people, but if you have dogs or small children you may find the arrangement lacking. Outside of villages or towns you will find decent-sized yards, but you can kiss goodbye to the dream of owning a character-filled property. This becomes less of a problem as your budget increases though! Old country farmhouses or the ProvençalMas” have the best of both worlds – space, bucket loads of charm, and a large garden to boot…

Meanwhile, many New Zealanders grew up with what is now referred to as the “quarter acre dream” – a modest 3/4 bedroom property on a large fenced section in the suburbs. Although this is getting harder to come by in the larger cities of New Zealand (and almost impossible in Auckland!), the need for a garden is still ingrained in Kiwi culture. Families especially want enough space to have the impromptu game of backyard cricket, and trampolines are a common site in backyards country-wide.

4. The price isn’t really the price

See a French house within your budget? Awesome! Except is it still within budget when you add in the 8% (approx) Notaire’s fee? Yep, you read that right. A lofty percentage of the purchase price is added back on top of the listing price. Although it’s called a Notaire’s fee – the majority of this fee is tax payable to the state, with only a fraction going to the Notaire.  Suddenly that bargain property doesn’t look like such a steal!

When buying property in New Zealand, you can expect to pay around NZD$1k for your lawyer to process the sale, but that’s it. The price you see is the price you’ll pay (unless of course, you manage to negotiate it down!).

– But at least you know the price!

While there are hidden fees to take into account when buying French property, one major benefit is knowing the price to begin with! Most properties have a price tag in France. But in New Zealand, auctions and negotiations are commonplace, so you’re often left to your own assumptions.

Buying a home in France.

After negotiating heavily, we finally landed our dream home in France.

5. Good things take time

So you’ve found your perfect French house, agreed on the price and got your finances in order… Fantastic! Now all you have to do is wait. And then wait some more. The settlement date is a fluid notion that’s subject to the local Mayor’s office efficiency, the Notaire’s workload, and often a good dose of luck (good or bad!). The average time from agreement to settlement in France is about 3 months. In our experience, this can be shortened by making a few phone calls and pleading your case with a compelling argument. Either way, you’ll be left guessing for the better part of 2 months.

In New Zealand, the settlement date is part of the purchase agreement. That is, both the seller & buyer have to agree on the date before the purchase goes through. This can be as short as 2-3 weeks, or as long as 2-3 months (with exceptions). But the best part of this is being able to plan movers, organise utility connections, and circle a date in your diary!

When we sold our home in Hamilton, we had a 3-week settlement – just enough time to pack up for our move to France!


While house-hunting in France isn’t a walk in the park, there’s no doubt that it’s one of the most charming places to do it! Driving through Provence’s postcard perfect villages and visiting houses brimming with history and character makes the journey worth the bumpy ride. And while we haven’t yet found our perfect Provençal pad, I’m hopeful that our dream house is just around the corner… Watch this space!

Tell me – have you even bought a property in a foreign country? What surprises did you come across?

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Thinking about buying a home in France? As fun as it can be to search for a home in France, there are a few speedbumps along the way! Read 5 surprises about buying a home in France vs buying a house in New Zealand!