The Rich Beauty, Food, and History of Corsica, France

Europe, France, Travel

12138535_10206773645193095_2438211435809105446_o

This mountainous isle is a land of many contrasts. Corsica is full of natural beauty and incredible food, but it comes with quite a turbulent history. It’s home to Napoleon Bonaparte and (arguably) Christopher Columbus, two dominant figures whose widespread influence is still being felt around the world today. Despite this, present-day Corsica is a fairly sleepy island packed with fascinating historical attractions and driven by an independent spirit. Here, I’ll be featuring some of the beauty of this island in pictures, and best yet watch The Big and Small Travel Corsica Video below:

In the video above, we showcase the Citadel, beaches, historic sites, food, L’Île-Rousse, and even yoga from Handstand Steph. This is a wonderful way to enjoy the intimacy and splendor of the isle of fierce beauty.

IMG_9474

J-Crew overlooking the Ligurian Sea in Calvi.

The first thing we noticed on our trip to Corsica was the ubiquitous presence of the Corsican flag. The flag is bold and striking, and revealing in its black-and-white simplicity. Against a white backdrop, it depicts a Moor’s head in black with a white bandana above his eyes—a symbol of liberation, even though Corsica has mostly been under Italian or French rule.

DSC01492

The Wild Boar of Corsica & the striking Corsican Flag.

This flag was everywhere, reminding us constantly of Corsica‘s strong independent spirit, which can be traced back through an interesting and significant history that includes connections to both Napoleon and Columbus. When in Calvi, I recommend exploring the citadel, which is open to the public and free to roam. It is filled with lots of small passageways, breathtaking lookouts, and interesting architecture. You’ll also notice a monument to Columbus, as well as churches and historical points that refer to the island’s existence under Genoese rule.

DSC01527

Calvi Citadel – Palace of the Genovese, and reputed birthplace of Columbus. Hmm …

We present many visuals to document the citadel in Calvi, as well as the beauty and attractions at L’Île-Rousse (Red Island), named because of the color of the rocky islet that serves as a natural harbor.

You can get to L’Île-Rousse by train (which offers incredible views of the coast along the way). We recommend hiking up to the top of this part of L’Île-Rousse (just behind the train station) for great views of the Genoese tower and the vivid hills of Balagne in the background. This hike is short but intense and full of nooks and crannies that allow for great photo opps of the sea and beyond.

DSC01604

Handstand Steph caught on camera at the red rocks of L’Ile-Rouse.

Overall, the food (especially the cheese and wild boar), wine, and striking landscapes are enough to make anyone swoon. But what most struck me most about Corsica was the relaxed sense of efficiency and an overall dedication to self-sufficiency. Corsica seemed to be running on its own watch, despite being part of France.  This made it feel like its own special little paradise.

DSC01587

La Pietra Lighthouse in L’Ile Rouse, Corsica.

DSC01445

Plage La Pinede (Calvi Beach) in Corsica.

 

Advertisements

48 Hours in Lyon, France

Europe, France

Rich Food, Playful Puppets, River Walks & Hidden Passageways

Chilling by the Saone River after a filling, deliciously fatty lunch.

Chilling by the Saone River after a filling, deliciously fatty lunch.

The third largest city in France, Lyon is constantly in the shadows of big sister Paris, 300 miles to the northwest. In recent years, however, its gained notable attention as the “gastronomic capital of the world,” home to a number of Michelin star establishments. The city seems to throb to the pulse of the pig (or the duck), the main source material for its rich, fatty cuisine. While Lyon is modern in its hectic traffic and its hefty prices (which rival Paris, at least for food), it also feels a bit stuck in time, resolute in keeping the proud traditions of the French—which seem to revolve almost exclusively around food—completely unchanged and continually revered.

We spent about 48 hours in Lyon and packed quite a bit in. We stayed near Place Saint Vincent in the 1st arrondissement, an ideal spot, in my opinion. It’s a neighborhood of AirBnBs and local residents that is also a quick walk to the touristy Vieux Lyon (the old town). Here are some highlights from our quick trip, from belly-filling delights (and disappointments) to numerous ways to walk them all off… oh, and a puppet show!

EAT YOUR HEART OUT: Bouchons, Boulangeries, and a Biocoop

Duck salad at Cafe de la Place & Chocolate-Making from Guillaume Daix

Duck salad at Cafe de la Place & chocolate-making by Guillaume Daix

Admittedly, traditional French food is not my favorite cuisine. I cannot deny, however, that the ingredients and quality are unmatched. I had not had one bad meal in my two weeks in France—that is, until we sought out one of Lyon’s famed bouchons. This type of restaurant serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine in all of its carnivorous glory (there’s even calf’s head for the more adventurous bellies).

There are some 20 “officially certified” bouchons in the city, denoted by a Les Bouchons Lyonnais symbol, and they are determined by such key factors as “products, dishes, décor, architecture, ambiance, customer welcome, etc.” We found one of these stamped-with-approval establishments in Vieux Lyon, called Le Laurencin, where the prices were incredibly reasonable (about 15 euros for entrée, main plate, and dessert)—and we soon discovered why. The salad greens withered in a bath of watery dressing. The main plates were filled with a mound of potatoes, and a pile of animal parts of your choosing. The praline tart (another Lyon specialty) was the best part, if not just because the sweetness danced nicely on the tongue after all the flesh and intestines.

La Fresque des Lyonnais (Fresco of the People of Lyon)

La Fresque des Lyonnais (Fresco of the People of Lyon)

That said, Lyon is packed with top-notch charcuteries, patisseries, fromageries, and poissoneries. The first day, we stumbled across Les Halles de Lyon Market – Paul Bocuse, near the Part Dieu train station, a must-stop for any aspiring foodie. Rue Merciere is another hot spot, lined with numerous restaurants, as well as Place Sathonay, where I enjoyed a salad topped with duck (the parts of which I’m not entirely sure of!) at Café de la Place. Our favorite boulangerie, Saint Vincent, was right around the corner from our AirBnB, in perfect view of the cool Lyon frescoes.

We also found the excellent chocolate shop, Guillaume Daix, on the edge of the old town, where we came across chocolates flavored with such ingredients as dill, rosemary, and sweet pepper. Our choice was the dark chocolate pieces generously dusted in hibiscus. For the organically minded, head to the natural-food store Biocoop near Place Bellecour—one of the few refuges for vegans and vegetarians.

WALK IT ALL OFF: Riverfront Paths, Traboules, and a Hill Climb 

Handstand on the Pedi Bridge to Vieux Lyon

Handstand on the Pedi Bridge to Vieux Lyon

Lyon is a fairly walkable city, which is great news after all of that… sustenance. Two rivers, the Saône and Rhône, divide the city into three segments, and converge at the southern tip. There are pedestrian bridges that connect the city, as well as great walking and running paths along both rivers.

Lyon, along the Saone River

Lyon, along the Saone River

Another great way to get some mileage around the city is to do a traboule hunt. Traboules are covered passageways throughout the city. They were used to transport products, particularly silk and textiles, throughout the city. You’ll find most of them in the old town, but there are a few in the La Croix-Rousse area as well. Pick up a map from the tourist office, which marks where each traboule is located. Most of them are actually closed, and are used as apartment entrances. We did find an open one on the southern edge of the old town—I won’t tell you where; that’s the fun!

Theatres Romains, built around 15 BC by the Romans

Theatres Romains, built around 15 BC by the Romans

For a true calorie-burner, though, I highly recommend bypassing the funicular ride up Fourvière hill to climb the stairs from St-Paul station to the top. It’s a great workout, and you’ll pass the Tour métallique de Fourvière, a TV tower that attempts to be a mini Eiffel Tower, before reaching the 19th century Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere and getting an incredible panoramic view of Lyon. From there, you can easily reach the grand Theatres Romains, built around 15 BC by the Romans, before circling back to the windy, narrow streets of the old town.

TAKE IN A PUPPET SHOW: GUIGNOL!

Once you reach the old town, the walk is best capped off with a puppet show! Guignol is the witty main character of this Lyon tradition; he represents the workers in the silk industry. Though the shows are all in French, and the audience is dominated by giddy kids, it’s a treat to see. We arrived late to the show, but were allowed to take the last two seats in the back for free. Check out this quick snippet we caught:

While Lyon is a fairly big city, it’s totally doable to see the highlights in just 48 hours. Be prepared to stuff yourself and get in a good hill climb or two, too. And do catch a Guignol show, no matter what age you are (and what language you speak)! Bon voyage!

48 Hours in Dijon and Burgundy – France

Europe, France
The Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon.

The Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon.

Arriving in the Gothic town of Dijon by train, we were happy to be away from the hustle and grandiosity of the City of Lights. We had about 48 hours to explore this city and its surrounding Burgundy region. We packed a lot in with little time and light wallets. Watch Dijon Videos by Big and Small Travel, and our other Travel Videos.

Dijon cuts the mustard.

Dijon cuts the mustard.

Most people will automatically think of mustard when they hear the name Dijon (including us). But there’s much more to the city than just an abundant amount of the delicious condiment. As the capital city of the revered Burgundy region, it’s the perfect pit-stop for wine lovers, as well as history and architecture buffs. The town dates back about 1,000 years, to around 1015, when Robert I decided to settle the capital of his duchy here. Since, it’s seen both tremendous times of power and wealth, and devastating moments under the siege of various armies.

The Liberation Square and the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy

Liberation Square (Place de la Libération) and the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy

THE OWL’S GUIDE

Today, Dijon feels like a hidden nugget in France, in the shadow of bigger cities like Paris and Lyon. You can see magnificent architecture and ornate cathedrals, and get hearty French cuisine for a fair price. To start, we recommend heading to the tourist office and buying “The Owl’s Guide,” which maps out various walking trails throughout the city. You’ll grow to love this little owl as it diligently guides you along through historical Dijon, via gold plaques embedded into the sidewalks.

The famed and good luck Owl of Dijon.

Dijon’s good luck owl

So, why an owl?! We learned that its significance comes from an owl-shaped statue found on the original construction of Dijon’s Church of Notre-Dame Cathedral. It’s considered to be a good luck symbol, especially if you rub it. The actual owl looks a little disfigured (maybe from all of the rubbing!), but a sign claimed that it is now protected day and night after it had been vandalized in 2001.

Saint-Benigne Cathedral.

Saint-Benigne Cathedral

The Owl’s Guide gives just enough information to give you get an idea of the medieval importance and little quirks of Dijon. Some of our favorite spots along the way included the expansive and panoramic Place de la Liberation and the decadent Saint-Benigne Cathedral. See a video of Handstand Steph at Place De La Liberation from our YouTube page.

There’s the main owl trail, as well as a few extra loops (we highly recommend doing those as well—it really gives you a good sense of the city). One of these loops ends at a plaza named after the author Emile Zola. We realized we had walked this very trail on the day of his death … kind of a cool coincidence! Though Place Zola was a little underwhelming, it did house some decent restaurants.

 THE FOOD: FROM MUSTARD TO ESCARGOT

Eating escargot in Dijon.

Eating escargot in Dijon

 

After walking with the owl, you’ll likely be quite famished. Fortunately, food in Dijon is reasonably priced for France. There are several places for more traditional French food, as well as plenty of boulangeries (good for cheap baguette sandwiches) and patisseries, along with cheap spots for wraps, kebabs, and crepes.

Don’t forget to stop at the many mustard-tasting shops, like the famous Maille, to sample the delights for free. Bread sticks are provided alongside a vast array of mustard flavors—our favorite was blackcurrant. There are several boutique shops and corner stores that sell mustard, too, where you can get compact jars of various flavors for just 1 Euro. Also, give escargot a shot. This French specialty actually comes from the Burgundy region, and you can find some good deals here, as cheap as under 5 Euros.

Patriarche Wine Cellar in Beaune.

Patriarche Wine Cellar in Beaune

EXPLORING BURGUNDY: A DAY TRIP TO BEAUNE

A great and economical day trip from Dijon involves heading to the Burgundy wine town of Beaune, about 50 KM from the city center. We took the bus there for just 1.50 Euros per ticket, with total travel time at about one hour and 20 minutes. The ride is a beautiful one, as the bus snakes through small Burgundy towns and vineyards. Once we got to Beaune, we found some French fare and coffee and then headed to the tourist office, where we got tickets for 15 Euros each to the oldest and biggest wine cellar in Burgundy, called Patriarche, located right in the center of Beaune.

Wine tasting at your own pace without moderation. Wine is life.

Wine tasting at your own pace… without moderation. Wine is life.

There, we sampled over 15 wines and got an informative, unique, and personalized walk through the cellar, which winds its way through tunnels and passageways underneath the streets of Beaune. Along the way you pass by (literally) millions of bottles of wine. Best of all, you could pour and sample as much wine as you like—which meant we definitely felt a bit tipsy by the end of the tour. (Pro tip: bring water!) There are “sommeliers” available, though we only came across one and she only knew limited English. Overall, though this was a wonderful and worthwhile wine experience.

Place François Rude in the historical center of Dijon, France.

Place François Rude in the historical center of Dijon, France

 A WORTHWHILE TRIP

In just 48 hours you can have great wine, lip-smacking mustard, and a wonderful historical walking experience with the help of an adorable owl. What more could you want?! We highly recommend making the trip to Burgundy and Dijon. Bon voyage!