Be charmed by Provence and Monaco
SOUTHERN France is a sacred place for those who long for romance and remoteness. It attracts numerous visitors from around the world every year, because of its picturesque scenery, fragrant lavender, good wine and hospitality.
In just one week, you can experience the leisurely lifestyle of Provence and its delicious cuisine.
While in Avignon, you mustn't miss the Unesco World Heritage Site and historic centre: the Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge.
The Papal Palace, an austere-looking mediaeval Gothic fortress, was the seat of Western Christianity in the 14th century. The papal residence witnessed six papal conclaves.
The Avignon Bridge, built in the 12th century, is famous from the French children's song On The Bridge Of Avignon.
The bridge has been rebuilt several times, due to frequent collapses during floods. Only four arches out of the original 22 remain.
After a day's tour of the old town, it is best to leave Avignon and visit nearby Provence towns such as Arles and Valensole, and other scenic spots. You can rent a car, or make a one-day trip with a local tour agency.
A well-known bridge is the Pont du Gard in nearby Nimes. With about 2,000 years of history, it stands nearly 50m high, with three tiers of arches. The bridge, a significant ancient artistic masterpiece, is represented on the 5-euro (S$8.50) bill.
The best way to enjoy the tranquillity of Provence towns is to stroll along the streets to see the architecture, cultural heritage and small shops.
Les Baux de Provence, located on a rocky plateau in the Alpilles, offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the Camargue region. You can visit a mediaeval castle, the Renaissance Saint Vincent's Church and museums that explain the local history and culture.
If you are driving between the picturesque towns, you will see large lavender fields on both sides of the road. You can stop for a while to take photos, but be wary of the cars whizzing by.
Summer is the best time to view the plant in Provence because it is in full bloom. Other popular places to see lavender are Sault village and Senanque Abbey. In front of the abbey are fields of lavender planted by monks.
It takes about three hours to get from Avignon to Nice via the TGV, France's high-speed rail system.
Located along the country's south-eastern coast and by the Mediterranean Sea, Nice is the second-biggest city in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, after Marseille. It is popular with the French during summer.
It's the best place to get away from the hustle and bustle, and to relax a bit. Enjoy the clear sky, blue sea and the sunshine, and views of luxury cars and yachts.
Nice is a haven for shopaholics too, thanks to its shopping centres, which include Galeries Lafayette. Depending on the day, there are antiques, flowers, fruit and seafood available at the old Cours Saleya Market.
It's convenient to take a bus or train for a one-day trip to surrounding cities such as Antibes, Cannes and Grasse, or the principality of Monaco.
Monaco is the second-smallest country in the world, after Vatican City. Take a sightseeing train to see scenic spots such as the Formula One circuit, the Monte Carlo Casino, the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco and the vintage-car collection of the Prince of Monaco.
Provence and the Cote d'Azur are places that you'd never get tired of, and I look forward to making a second visit there.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK