My advice for visiting the castles of the Loire

My advice for visiting the castles of the Loire

Visit the castles of the Loire, it is one of the great classics of travel in France. I had been there several times as a child and a young adult, but not for a long time … After returning from a long trip to Japan and before flying to Guadeloupe, I wanted to rediscover this beautiful region of France, with an incredible historical and cultural heritage. I drove away with my father, without planning too much in advance, to make room for discovery. Here are some tips that I can give you to prepare for such a trip to discover the castles of the Loire.

This is the most delicate part! There are dozens and dozens (if we count only the main ones), located essentially from Blois to Tours. Better to avoid wanting to see too much because otherwise we no longer enjoy visits. The ideal I find is to see two castles a day, or even three at most. Do not forget that visiting the gardens often takes as much time as visiting the castles themselves, finally when the weather is nice of course. This is certainly my top 6 castles not to be missed.

The most beautiful: Chenonceau

If there was only one to see, for me it would be the castle of Chenonceau. Nicknamed the “ladies’ castle” because of the women who built and inhabited it, like Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici, it is just sublime with its arch that spans the Cher River. Special mention also for gardens, and when you cross the other side, you can walk in the forest or on the banks of the Cher.

The largest: Chambord

The castle of Chambord, built at the request of François 1st, is the accumulation of all superlatives. With a total of 426 rooms, it is the largest of the castles of the Loire. Its huge park which is a hunting reserve is also the largest closed forest park in Europe, with an area similar to the city of Paris. Its facade with its hundreds of richly carved chimneys and capitals is spectacular. In addition, there are horse shows and raptors.

The most «architecture»: Blois

To visit the royal castle of Blois is to discover in one place a vast panorama of the history of French architecture, from medieval style to classical style, passing through Gothic and Renaissance. The kings who have successively lived left their mark, with the most famous François 1st, the famous spiral staircase in an open tower. This is a visit where you have to take the time to read all the explanatory panels.

The most beautiful interior: Cheverny

Architecture less spectacular than its neighbors, the castle of Cheverny is the one with the most beautiful interior and the most beautiful furniture. The most unusual: Hergé was inspired to create the castle of Moulinsart in the famous comics Tintin. You can also visit an exhibition devoted to comics.

The most beautiful gardens: Chaumont-sur-Loire

The castle of Chaumont-sur-Loire is worth the detour, not for the castle itself, but for its gardens. Every year, they host the International Garden Festival, from April to November. Far from the “French garden” style of the other castles, it is an exhibition that shows the contemporary landscape artistic creation. Really amazing and surprising to discover!

The most beautiful waterfalls to see in Iceland

The most beautiful waterfalls to see in Iceland

Iceland is one of the most beautiful destinations to see waterfalls. Difficult to find a country with a higher concentration of waterfalls, all as spectacular as each other. With a territory over 11% covered by glaciers, melting ice is an inexhaustible reservoir to supply all these waterfalls. Here is a small inventory among the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland … A good red thread to discover the country through its most spectacular sites. Warning! It’s wet! Better to have a good rain poncho to get close to the risk of being completely soaked!

Gullfoss

Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. Its name means “fall of gold”, because of the rainbow that one can often see there when the weather is nice. The power of the cascade releases a large volume of water vapor that gives iridescent colors to the sky. Located near Geysir, Gullfoss gave its name to the ”  Golden Circle  “: these three major sites in the vicinity of Reykjavik with Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss. It is also the main stumbling block of this waterfall: with such a reputation, it is one of the most visited places in Iceland. Suffice to say that in summer, there is a crowd on the paths that line the waterfall! But with its different levels, which tumble through a canyon over 2km, the show is still at the rendezvous

Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall located in the south of Iceland, along the road n ° 1. This is not the most exceptional at first sight, but its main interest is that it is the only one in Iceland where you can pass behind the waterfall. There is a small path dug into the cliff, which we see well in this photo. It’s pretty slippery and better to plan a good k-way but it’s very impressive to go behind the curtain of water.

Special mention for the small camping Seljalandsfoss where you can pitch your tent overlooking the waterfall located next door. It’s a good place to stop for the night. It is also not very far from the pier to go by boat to the Vestmann Islands (15 / 20km). That’s where I hitchhiked to take the boat

Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s most majestic waterfalls. It is located in the south of the country, along the circular road No. 1 150km from Reykjavik. It is powered by the melting of the glacier Eyjafjallajökull , whose volcano had paralyzed the European sky in the spring of 2010. This is one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland, so there are people! Better to come early in the morning or at the end of the day, otherwise it is the parade of buses all day long.

I advise to hike that starts at the top of the fall. We pass in front of twenty waterfalls. For good walkers, you can go to Fimmvörduhals, the pass that separates the two glaciers (about 8h A / R). Otherwise on two days of walking (or a day for the rapids), it is possible to go to Þórsmörk . Skógafoss is the point of arrival of the famous 5/6 day hike from the Landmannalaugar.

As in Seljalandsfoss, the campsite is located right at the foot of the waterfall. On the other hand, it is better not to pitch your tent too close, unless you want to see the inside look like Niagara Falls … Anyway, it’s nice to fall asleep with the dull roar of the fall of water in the distance.

Discover a traditional Japan with 5 places to visit in Okayama

Discover a traditional Japan with 5 places to visit in Okayama

Visiting the Okayama region of Japan is a real off the beaten track experience. Few foreign tourists stop there, while it is a prefecture easy to access, halfway between Osaka and Hiroshima and one hour by plane from Tokyo. A thousand miles from major modern cities, you can discover a traditional Japan, which perpetuates the ancestral arts such as ceramics for the tea ceremony or the manufacture of samurai swords … There are surely more than five places to visit in the Okayama region, but those are the ones I had the opportunity to discover.

1 / Korakuen Garden in Okayama

The Okayama Korakuen Garden is not very well known by foreign tourists, but is visited by Japanese tourists since it is considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. For my part I discovered it in summer, but it is also a sublime place in autumn and spring with cherry blossoms. It was built 300 years ago by the feudal lord of the region. With a surface of 13 hectares, you have to take your time to visit it, and stroll among the ponds, lawns, and tea houses. There is even a rice field, a tea plantation and a small theater where there are occasional performances.

To take a break during the visit, you have to go and drink a traditional Japanese green tea, matcha, in a tea house. Some people do not like the bitter taste of the drink, but I love it. In the height of summer, as it was 35 degrees, we could also drink it fresh with an ice cube, but I’m not sure that it respects the very serious protocol that normally frames this tradition.

2 / The black castle of Okayama

Right in front of the Korakuen Garden, Okayama Castle has the particularity of being black, which is infrequent for Japanese castles. The visit of the interior is especially interesting for the magnificent view that one has at the top of the castle, both on the garden and the city of Okayama. The golden gargoyles in the shape of fish that line the roofs of the castle are quite unusual.

3 / The traditional district of Bikan in Kurashiki

Located 10 minutes by train from Okayama, Kurashiki was my real favorite in the area. The main interest of the city is the traditional Bikan district. Located along a canal lined with weeping willows, it has a lot of charm and cachet. Historically, Kurashiki specialized in the rice trade and there are still plenty of rice fields in the surrounding countryside. The merchants used the canal to transport the goods. Today, the old warehouses where rice was stored have been transformed into museums, art galleries and souvenir shops.

There is also a fairly well-known art museum in Japan at Kurashiki: the Ohara Art Museum. Japanese tourists come to see the collection of European art collected by the rich textile merchant Ohara Magosaburo, including Picasso, Monet, Matisse or Cezanne … But for a European tourist, the most interesting part of the museum it’s the one devoted to Japanese art. There is a whole section devoted to contemporary Japanese art and it is the one that I found the most remarkable.

There is also a beautiful Shinto shrine to discover, provided you have the courage to climb the steps that lead to it: the Achi Shrine. 1700 years old, it is located at the top of Mount Tsurugata, from where we also have a beautiful view of Kurashiki. It’s really something that I love in Japan: for a moment, it feels as though it’s cut off from the world and the sounds of the street when you find yourself in a temple.

5 good reasons to spend a weekend in Basel

5 good reasons to spend a weekend in Basel

The discovery of Basel was a real surprise for me. Located on the banks of the Rhine at the crossroads of the three borders Switzerland, France and Germany, it is a real gem. The third largest city in Switzerland, behind Zurich and Geneva, is not very well known at the tourist level, which is very surprising. It is true that when we think of a trip to Switzerland, we first imagine its mountains and natural landscapes rather than cities. Yet Basel is definitely worth the detour! It has the charm of a village while having the cultural assets of a great metropolis, with in addition the splendid natural setting of the banks of the Rhine in which one can even bathe! It’s really an ideal destination to discover on a weekend, or more if you have the time,

1 / The cultural capital of Switzerland

With a total of 40 museums, Basel has the highest density of museums in Switzerland. Every year, in mid-June, it becomes the world capital of contemporary art with the holding of Art Basel, the largest living room of modern and contemporary art in the world.

One of the most famous museums is the Fondation Beyeler , which presents a collection of 200 works of art including Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, Warhol … The building was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and presents a beautiful harmony between Art, architecture and nature with the garden and the surrounding fields.

Until 1 October 2017, the temporary exhibition is dedicated to photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. Then, it will be the abstract painter Paul Klee until January 21, 2018. Prices and practical information .

Plus: Lunch at the restaurant in the Foundation Park, Berower Park Restaurant. When the weather is nice, you can eat in the garden overlooking the sculptures of Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly. Fine cuisine with seasonal products (around CHF 30 for lunch).

The other museum I really liked was the one dedicated to Jean Tinguely, one of the most original Swiss artists of the 20th century with his mobile mechanical sculptures. We know him well in Paris because he made the Stravinsky fountain near Beaubourg, in collaboration with his wife, Niki de Saint Phalle. Like the Fondation Beyeler, the Tinguely Museum was also created by one of the world’s leading architects, the Swiss Mario Botta. Again, it fits very well with the surrounding garden, where you can see sculptures like that of Niki de Saint Phalle.

The most impressive piece of the museum Tinguely is the work “Utopia”, its real name “Big Meta-Maxi-Maxi-Utopia”. With 140 m2 of floor space, it is a sculpture-machine over 4 meters high, which can be climbed by stairs and mechanical walkways. There is an incredible system of wooden wheels and pieces of metal that move when you operate the mechanism. A great visit for children, as for adults elsewhere …

In addition to visiting the museum, or if you do not have time to go, you should at least visit the Tinguely fountain, close to the old town.

The idea a little crazy: we can return to the Tinguely Museum to swim, diving into the Rhine … But that I talk about it further!

Some ideas to discover Tokyo differently

Some ideas to discover Tokyo differently

Tokyo is not just a city, it’s a universe. More than anywhere else in the world, the contrasts are striking. One has the impression of entering into a kind of parallel dimension where everything becomes possible. At first we are surprised at every street corner, and then the extraordinary becomes normal. The weird melts into the environment.

It is a city that is not obvious to discover. Whether we stay there for three days, three weeks or three months, we will always have a feeling of frustration at not having seen enough. We must accept that we can never have done the trick. I wanted to write an article with all the essentials to see or do in Tokyo, but the list seems so interminable that I feel discouraged … So I start with these ideas of places or things to do that ‘ have rained, but are not necessarily part of the usual Top 10 or Top 20 of the Japanese capital. So of course you have to go to Shibuya, Akihabara or Shinjuku, but not only!

1 / A museum dedicated to the master of Japanese prints

This is one of the most famous images of Japan in the world: this huge wave that pretends to engulf Mount Fuji. This print is the work of one of the greatest Japanese artists, Katsushika Hokusai, and a brand new museum has just been dedicated to him in Tokyo. The Sumida Hokusai Museumopened in November 2016. There is much to learn about the life of this artist, who lived from 1760 to 1849. His most famous prints are the famous Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, including “The Great Wave off Kanagawa “. The museum is also very successful architecturally. Directed by the Japanese architect Sejima Kazuvo, it impresses with its facade with geometric shapes and aluminum panels that reflect the light. A very successful contrast between a traditional artist and a modern architecture.

To see more. The Sumida Hokusai Museum is right next to the Edo Museum dedicated to the history of Tokyo City. It is also a great museum, with life-size reconstructions of ancient Tokyo. It’s like a real journey back in time and you can see the extent of the cataclysms the city has had to deal with, such as the 1923 earthquake or the Second World War. It’s a good idea to chain both visits.

2 / A cruise to discover Tokyo seen from the river

Most of the time to move to Tokyo, we use the subway. The city is so huge that on foot you are quickly discouraged. An alternative to discover the Japanese capital differently is to cruise on the Sumida River that crosses the eastern part of Tokyo. There are several companies that offer this, but an original way is to do it with the boat Hotaluna. Imagined by the Mangaka Leiji Matsumoto, it is a boat with a very futuristic design. The departure takes place from the traditional district of Asakusa, just in front of the headquarters of the Asahi Japanese beer with the golden flame designed by the French designer Philippe Starck. On the first part of the route you can see the landscape through the windows and the metal hoops and on the second part, you can go outside on the roof of the boat. The arrival takes place in the district of Odaiba, one of the most modern of Tokyo.