Tag Archives: France

Photo Essay: The Closest I got to Mont-Blanc (France)

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix (France)

Taking the cable cars up to Aiguille du Midi is an interesting experience. I paid 35 EUR to squeeze into a cabin with 68 strangers. I fought my way in quickly, to stand close to one of the windows. On my left, a fully equipped british couple, ready to jump off piste and climb glaciers. On my right, a group of friends with massive backpacks.

Where were they all going?

Turns out, the Aiguille du Midi is not only an amazing viewpoint, but also the start of the famous Vallee Blanche off-piste ski run over the glaciers and the access route to climbing Mont Blanc.

Can you see the people at the edge of the mountain?

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix (France)

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix (France)

As I arrived at the top station, I visited several terraces that allowed to take in a 360º view of the spectacular landscape of the Swiss (Matterhorn), French (Grand Combin) and Italian Alps (Monte Rosa). 3 countries in one shot – just like that time I visited Mont Fort!).

One of the terraces was accessed by a metallic staircase – the kind in which you can look through the holes and see what’s below you – in this case, an immense vertical wall and snow. The thin air made climbing these 20 stairs feel like you’re going up 2,000 instead. From here, I could enjoy a birds-eye view of Chamonix and the surrounding valley.

birds snow

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix (France)

But I wasn’t at the highest point yet!

An elevator rose me the final 42m to the top terrace at 3,842m – only.

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix (France)

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix (France)

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Which is the highest point you’ve ever reached?

Picture This: Taking the Highest Vertical Ascent Cable Car in the World (France)

Aguille du Midi, Chamonix (France)

This time I rang in the New Year in a ski resort – surrounded by extreme snow and ice sports lovers. Just the way I like it (you know, it makes me feel a bit more sporty myself). Every day, I woke up early (much earlier than I would like to admit) to drive to the slopes, get my gear and make it through a day of ski lessons and practices with as little bruises as possible (I wasn’t always successful – but that’ll be a different story).

If you are anything like me – you need a day (or two) to bring down your level of adrenaline (and lets face it, to let your muscles and bruises have a break as well). Fortunately, Chamonix has more than just slopes (and ski shops). You see, the Aiguille du Midi (or Needle of the South) is a mountain in the Mont-Blanc Massif that can be accessed by two cable cars starting in Chamonix itself. The first one takes you up to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2,300m) and the second traverses Les Pelerins glacier before rising up the North side of the Aiguille du Midi, landing at an impressive 3.842m above sea level.

This, dear readers, is the closest I could get to Mont-Blanc (for now…).

Note: taking the cable car may seem like a walk in the park, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Its steepness and speed can be scary for some. Add strong winds at the top and be ready to hear some squeaks!

Photo Essay: Gorge du Verdon, Provence

After finishing my one month summer french course in Nice, I went on a road trip through the South of France. This was already 5 years ago. Time flies, and my french isn’t getting any better!

We spent some days along the coast side before breaking into the french countryside. It was going to be my first time in the deep Provence. Fields of lavender and villages made of stones – that’s all I could think of.

Yes, I was uneducated and naïve.

The Gorge du Verdon is known as the Grand Canyon of Europe. It runs for around 25 km, between Castellane and Moustiers-Ste-Marie and goes down to over 700 meters depth. There are plenty of viewpoints along the road but the best views can be found when standing on one edge of the gorge. One of the main ones is Les Balcons de la Mescla, on the southern wall. This natural balcony overlooks the point in which the Verdon and Artuby rivers meet.

I never expected such a landscape in Provence.

When staring down hundreds of meters, I was fascinated by the color of the water carried by the Verdon river. From the top, it shines in an inviting deep turquoise-green!

At the western edge Gorge du Verdon, the river flows into lake of Sainte-Croix. From there, we rented a canoe to paddle into the gorge. Once you get to see the river closer, you’ll realize that the water has a somewhat milky appearance. This immediately made me alert: I couldn’t really see what was swimming next to me!

I sat there, in the canoe with the sun shining in my face, watching other people jump into the water and weighting the pros and cons of taking the risk. After a couple of minutes, I putt aside my fears of being trapped by seaweed or bitten by one of those deep sea creatures (river version), and took a plunge into the milky turquoise river!

The fresh water was perfect to cool down from the hot temperature. And once inside, I completely forgot about deep river creatures and seaweed, and enjoyed the afternoon.

Photo Essay: One View, Three Countries

View of the Alps from Vevey, Vaud

Although I’m a beach person, I confess there’s something that fascinates me about mountains. They’re dramatic, uneven and somewhat mysterious. The view on the Alps and Lac Leman is the main reason for choosing the apartment I’m currently living in – I can spend hours hypnotized staring at the high peaks covered with snow during the day, and fall asleep watching the sparking lights of little french villages reflecting on the lake every night.

I’ve rarely visited the Alps. Weather had been playing against most ski and snowboard enthusiasts this winter, and, besides, it’s not an easy task to arrive there from where I live without the privileges of having a car. But last week we made an exception – skies were clear, temperatures were mild and we drove our way toward the Pennine Alps (in canton Valais).

Starting in Siviez (which belongs to Nendaz, the land of bisses), we took a chairlift and two cable cars and enjoyed watching some of the scariest ski pistes I had ever seen (not sure if they were officially “pistes”, people were probably just going off-piste).

Chairlift ride to Mont Fort


View from the Cable Car to Mont Fort

Once we reached the top of Mont Fort, with its 3,329m height, view was breathtaking – we could see some of the highest peaks in Switzerland, Italy and France!

View from the top of Mont Fort


View from the top of Mont Fort

In theory, we could have also had a glance of Mont Blanc – the highest mountain in the Alps and western Europe, rising 4,810m above sea level – but clouds were hanging below this level, hiding away the peak of the mountain.

View from the Top of Mont Fort, towards Mont Blanc

What I was most impressed about (besides for the extremely steep and uneven ski slopes) was that from one peak (Mont Fort), which does not even belong to the highest ones in Europe, I could look over to Italy, France and Switzerland. The Matterhorn is on the border between Switzerland and Italy, Grand Combin and Dent Blanche both are located in Switzerland and Mont Blanc is on the border between France and Italy.

With *only* 3,329m hight, Mont Fort already felt like the top of Europe.

In Search of The Perfect Crêpe

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Cheese & Spinach Crêpe, Crêperie La Chandeleur, Lausanne (Switzerland)

One and a half years of life in the french speaking side of Switzerland have taught me a lot of things – most of them on food, and concretely on cheese (but you already know about that). Anyone living in this country develops his / her sense for tasty food – you really can’t get around it. And what’s tasty and french, besides for cheese? Crêpes!

Back in Spain, crêpes were sweet treats that I would only order in very limited occasions. I still remember ordering a crêpe filled with dulce de leche and topped with vanilla ice cream in an argentinian lounge bar in Madrid. Three minutes walk from my faculty, free wifi, comfortable armchairs, air conditioning and those delicious crêpes with dulce de leche made this place my favorite spot for preparing group presentations.

But just when I thought that crêpes couldn’t get any better, I moved to Switzerland. Here, people don’t leave crêpes for special occasions (or in my case, stressful occasions), but include them in their healthy day-by-day. And so, I’ve discovered my love for salty crêpes.

Crêpe with cheese, ham, egg and spinach, Crêperie du Chateau, Annecy (France)

Salty crêpes in Switzerland are very thin and crunchy, and often made of wholemeal flour. I’ve seen cooks adding some light beer to the batter (you can’t really taste the beer afterwards – I wouldn’t even know about it if I hadn’t seen it). The fillings can be anything from ricotta, spinach & parsley (one of my favorites) to salmon, onions and mushrooms, which is precisely what I like most about them – their large list of possible fillings! I couldn’t choose only one favorite combination, but can assure that any thin crunchy crêpe filled with spinach and fresh cheese is already in my top list, and adding mushrooms, lard and/or fresh parsley can make it even better.

Whatever you finally decide on the filling – enjoy it with a cup of cider, the french way!

French Cider in Annecy

Which is your favorite crêpe filling? Have you tried making them at home?

Picture This: The Eiffel Tower (by a Frustrated Architect)

When I was a kind, I wanted to be an architect.

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

This career fixation started at the earliest of my memories and lasted until I turned 20. Yes, 20. I actually studied to become an architect my first two years at Uni. Even though there were many aspects I loved about it, I missed having a more social side – which led to International Business.

Admiring the Eiffel Tower, makes me wonder if I really made the right decision. I mean – I might have become the next Gustave Eiffel, right? Dreams aside – I know what made me move away from architecture and into business, and after all these years, I know that I made the right decision. I don’t regret it – specially because architecture will always remain as one of my biggest interests.

Having said this, I thought I’d share a few fun facts:

  • The Eiffel Tower helps you to find your way in Paris as its 4 pillars are aligned to the points of the compass
  • With extremely strong stormy wind, it can move 13 cm (I wouldn’t like to be up there when this happens!)
  • On a clear day, you can see up to 67 km away from the upper part of the Tower
  • During winter, the Tower shrinks 15 cm
  • During summer, the Tower leans very slightly, as one side is heated by the sun and expands up to 8cm

Do you know any interesting facts about the Eiffel Tower?

To Bise or Not To Bise?

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

You might ask yourself what these bises are and why I’m so concerned about them, anyways. In France, as well as in the Suisse Romande fair la bise is a synonym for cheek-kissing, a mainly European custom that gets very complicated when someone french is involved.

To fair la bise generally involves touching cheeks while kissing the air with an audible smack of the lips. That’s the easy part. Now the real question is: Who to kiss and who not to kiss? And then again, how many of these bises shall you give? There are no written rules – which will lead to many awkward situations. While in Paris people give 2 bises, in some suburbs it’s 4 and in other areas in France 3 (the same as in Switzerland). This can already lead to a lot of confusion – if a swiss and a Parisian meet: how much kissing would there be involved? I often see myself in this kind of complication – the last time being just a few days ago. I flew to Paris for a bank meeting with someone I had been on the phone with for months but had never met before face to face. Since I felt as if I knew him forever, I leaned up to faire la bise, and noticed his confusion, but awkwardly followed my spontaneity (probably to avoid by total embarrassment).

Commonly, women can kiss each other in almost any circumstance (it get’s tricky if you greet elderly people for the first time or if it’s a business meeting). Men, otherwise, only will kiss other men if they are related or are two best friends who haven’t seen each other in a very long time. An exception to this is New Year’s Eve – where everybody seems to get loose (probably a consequence of the all the vin).

So what do you do?

Probably the best guideline is – go for it if you feel like it. In my experience, fair la bise (and specially getting it wrong) break the ice and will more often pull out a smile than a frown.

Have you ever gotten yourself into an awkward bise situation abroad?

A Day in Annecy, France

Annecy, in the region of Savoy, is a small town of 50.000 habitants not far from Geneva. At arrival, I immediately noticed its attraction: its natural surroundings. The town is set next to Lac d’Annecy and is surrounded by mountains (Le Mont Veyrier, Le Semnoz, La Tournette and the Parmelan).

I have a weakness for villages with lakes and mountains – and Annecy is certainly no exception.

Annecy, France

Its winding cobbled streets are best to be explored with curiosity (not a map). It’s easier to navigate than Venice, where I got lost several times (with a map in my hands) – then again, I’ve already confessed my terrible sense of direction. Annecy has many passages that lead to blooming gardens, city lookouts and quiet alleys away from the more touristic centre. Keep an eye for Chemin des Remparts and L’impasse du Trippoz – two of my personal favourites.

Annecy is big enough to spend an entire day walking, eating artisan ice creams and some of the best crepes I’ve ever had (the Crepe Savoyard). A walk along the Thiou river, although usually crowded, is well worth it. For a view over Annecy, walk up the steep streets towards the Chateau. Close by, you’ll find a small path called Chemin des Remparts. Turn left into to a small lookout for a romantic view over towns’ old rooftops. The same road leads to one of the main streets in the vieux ville, Rue Perrière. Every last saturday of the month, these streets are crowded with people attracted by the vintage flea market and an art market (which mainly takes place on Vicenza Quay) going on from 8am to 5pm.

Have you been to Annecy?