Love Underlined: Our trip to the French Riviera

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One does not dream of the French Riviera in October, unless it is already October. Suddenly you’re desperate for a holiday; whether clinging onto the final remnants of summer, wanting to utilise half term, or you just need to “get away from it all,” whatever “it” may be. In any case, I actually had a different reason for going. Philippa, my better half, adores Antibes in particular, having been many times before with her father. This was an ideal incident for bringing us closer together.

The only issue, for me anyway, was that we would fly out a few hours after the last in a run of night shifts. This didn’t seem like such a big deal when we booked the flights, but as the night finally approached I began to anticipate (and dread) how tired I would be. Never have I been more jealous of leaving my bed, knowing Philippa would get a full night’s kip and I would just have to power through. But amazingly, despite only getting three hours kip, I had fully recovered by the time we arrived at Gatwick. It was certainly one way of getting me back to a normal sleeping pattern: just FORCE myself into it!

I can only put my alertness down to adrenaline from the excitement of the holiday, which heightened throughout the flight until we arrived at Nice. Once we were at our hotel, we spent the rest of our first day exploring the streets of Antibes. This was equally exciting for both of us, me taking in all the sights and Philippa becoming reacquainted with her favourite haunts. Cruising through the harbour,was particularly entertaining, ogling the bombastic yachts that were almost formidable in their over the top splendour; I suppose you have to find humour in a situation so depressing with its intimidating wealth.

We began the morning of Day 2 with a brief tour of the town’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, marveling at its awe-inspiring architecture, before heading up to the Picasso Museum. The renowned artist lived in Antibes for quite a while, and there’s an extensive collection of his work available, interspersed with facts about his life. The old fort that houses his work was small, but it was paced well over several floors, with an ideally placed terrace offering stunning views of the western Riviera coastline; it wasn’t difficult to see why Picasso found the place so inspiring.

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Eager to experience as many of the key locations in the region, we spent the afternoon wandering through Cannes, eating crepes on the back streets and fitting our palms into the various movie star hands along the red carpet at the Palais. When you only have an afternoon to get to know a city, to feel like you truly understand it, knowing where to start can be as frustrating as it is daunting. We found it best to choose one stand-out attraction and wind our way towards it; sure, you want some kind of direction, but a holiday is meant to be relaxing!

Day 3 began in one of Philippa’s favourite breakfasting hideaways: a garden café, with a gorgeous outdoor area full of plants and oddball figurines. The tranquil setting was just we needed before our trip to Monte Carlo, across the border in Monoco. It’s allure lies in its ambition; almost smelling of money, it bustles with a brisk pace that would make London proud. With that in mind, we simply had to pay a visit to its renowned casino. Before our holiday, I had no prior interest in the venue, but who doesn’t want to feel like James Bond for a day?

I felt it was cheeky that you had to pay ten euros to get into the main gaming rooms (along with showing your passport, as they don’t actually allow the locals in!), seeing as it’s not exactly a place that’s a bit short of the money front, but gazing over the games it was still easy to embrace the elegance of it all. We went in the middle of the afternoon, so it was clearly a more relaxed slot, with no strict dress code being enforced (one guy sat at the most popular roulette table was in a hoodie and jeans) but it still offers a window into a different kind of living. If you don’t find it repulsive, then it’s worth looking in.

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With the prospect of our evening flight looming over our final day, we opted for a relaxing ramble around the coastline of Antibes to Juan Les Pins, making the most of the best weather we’d had all week to take in the Riviera at a leisurely pace. We had intended to drop into a five star hotel and bask in the glory of its glitz and glamour with a drink or two, but sadly it was closed for off season! This was the latest in a series of fruitless ventures thwarting us for being so late in the year. Still, we got some lovely purchases from Antibes market, and if anything it gave us a reason to return in the summer.

On the food front, the best meal of the trip was on the second night at a kooky intimate venue down one of the town’s many backstreets. I’d love to pretend we stumbled across it, and sing praise to Sir Spontaneity and Lady Luck, but in actual fact we found it on TripAdvisor. Not so much taking a chance as going in with high expectations! I had the most delicious sole with a goats cheese and white wine sauce, but what was also intriguing was the use of edible flowers; not just for decoration, our host went as far as explaining what each one was and why it had been chosen.

It wasn’t just the feeling of peace and tranquility that stood out to me while we were on the French Riviera; it was also its sense of optimism, that something better was worth yearning for because it could be achieved. As Autumn sets in at home and the weather becomes moody at best and downright depressing at worst, that feeling of elation that envelops you from all across the area can be just the right tipple. Antibes, a beautiful town bursting with culture, is a superb spot to start.

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Lost in the Lake District, or “why you should switch off your mobile phone on your next holiday”

Looking down towards Windermere

Looking down towards Windermere. This photo doesn’t do justice as to how windy it was.

Nowhere in the UK has more of an established identity than the Lake District. Sure, it might not be as boisterous as Yorkshire, but the breath-taking landscapes fill you with a different kind of energy; an enthusiasm that feeds off your sense of wonder. Tucked away in a corner of the North West, it seems to comfortably exist within its own idyllic framework and away from the usual hubbub of day to day life, reacting nonchalantly to events in the rest of England. Even though it’s just off the M6, it seems quite isolated; and while that may be daunting and unfavorable for some, for me it creates the perfect environment for a good holiday.

My parents rented a cottage overlooking the village of Coniston last year, and as they were so enamored with the area and had so much still left to explore, they decided to return this summer. As I’d only gone for a weekend visit due to being on an internship at the time, this year was it for me- a proper rural retreat, the first chance in a long while to have nothing of importance to do. When you’re always busy, you forget the importance of just doing nothing, and switching off for a bit.

It’s fair to say the area is overflowing with pride for its local heritage, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s the Lake District. Even those who haven’t been there still go into a mesmeric trance as they ponder the peace and tranquility that makes the place seem so separated from the rest of the country. Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s countryside retreat, was a highlight for me- cosy and quaint but bursting with character, and I loved the fact that she used it as a setting for several of her stories. It’s a tiny cottage, but given the number of tourists who were trying to peak in, you’d think it was a palace.

Looking down to Grasmere

Looking down to Lake Grasmere; the village that shares its name is hidden from view

We also decided to venture out to Cockermouth to take in William Wordsworth’s childhood home. Only the most naive and idealistic visitors would not be slightly skeptical about how much the house influenced Wordsworth’s work, but it still provided an intriguing insight into life in the 1770’s and a thorough dissecting of Wordsworth’s forming years. As a writer I could only envy the literature Potter and Wordsworth created, and a small part of me harbors an ambition to be renowned enough so that one day, my house is left to the National Trust. One can dream anyway.

But you can’t go to the Lake District without spending most of your time walking; it’s the best way to take in the scenery, one slow step at a time. It never fails to leave an impact, and even though you get used to it after a few days, you can’t help but marvel at it, even when you’re gawp at sheep standing in precariously perilous positions. Although the best views are to be found at the top, it was a gentle stroll along the banks of the Great Langdale valley that proved to be a highlight for me; it was so far removed from anything else that all forms of connection on my phone failed completely.

As our obsession for social media continues to thrive, it can feel like you are never truly immersed in what you are doing if you are constantly checking what everyone else is doing. Sure, you may want to share whatever you are doing with someone else, but can it really be THAT good if you’re able to tear your eyes away from it to add a filter? It’s amazing to consider it, but as my last bar of phone signal cut out and 3G seemed like a distant memory, I did not feel alone or out of touch in any way; if anything, I felt more relaxed, almost free of a burden. I mean imagine it, a life without a mobile phone? It doesn’t sound possible in this day and age.

Wordsworth House

I’m not the only one it seems. The acclaimed band Foals recently played a balloted show at Shoreditch’s Village Underground to showcase their new album “What Went Down,” where there was a strict “no mobile phone” policy; if you bring one along, you have to surrender it on the door. The few who ignored this and tried to grab a few snaps soon realized how seriously the band were taking this measure, as bouncers swooped throughout the set. It’s not so much as a way of encouraging fans to focus on the moment at hand, as laying down a new law and making their feelings on the matter clear.

But dare I say it, this could be a fantastic solution. Recently I watched a stream of a Disclosure set in Ibiza and considering how much emphasis dance music places on movement (not to mention the island’s reputation), the crowd was practically rigid. The drop came, and it barely registered. Really, why should phones be allowed? You wouldn’t send a Snapchat of a cinema trip or a West End show. Why should the standards be different for live music?

I’m not being some kind of culture snob either. I love sharing photos on Instagram and summarizing my weekend in 140 characters as much as the next social media addict. I just think you need to judge if the moment allows you the time to take a picture. After all, some of those who treasure the Lake District as a hill walker’s paradise will also love it for being perfect selfie fodder. But never underestimate the sense of freedom when you switch off. Sometimes, when the older generation say they don’t understand it, they don’t mean it simply from a technological point of view.

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