Monday, 6 September 2010

InteRailing for Glampackers

September 1st to Nimes

St. Pancras was impressive. Like a grand old lady who’d suddenly rediscovered her youth, she was all decked out in her modern finery but still held a timeless veneer. There was even a splattering of quality merchants to get us in a continental mood. It’s funny, but we’re so conditioned to a lifetime of airport security, that turning up just 40 minutes before we were due to leave is something of a novelty.
The 8.05 Eurostar to Paris whisked us silently away across the channel and by late morning we were in Paris.

Paris has style, elegance and beauty. For us though, it was lunch. A stone’s throw from the Gard de Lyon where our next train awaited, itself a few stops on the Metro from Eurostar’s terminus at the Gard du Nord, we found a small brasserie just opening for the lunchtime crowd. Light food washed down with a glass of wine, of course.

By 4pm we were on the TGV using our interail pass and well and truly deep into France. It only takes just under three hours to get from Paris in the north to Nimes in the south, but there is a world of difference.

The Gard region of Languedoc is a delight and at its centre, Nimes with it’s curious homage to Spain’s bullfighting, sangria and flamenco is pretty special. And there are Roman remains. Not just any old remains mind, but only the best preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world. The gladiators may have long gone, but today, over 20,000 people still go there to watch spectacular events like bullfights or concerts. Lit up at night, the place takes on an almost mystical feel, and I swear, right there, you can almost jump thousands of years into the past Talking of the past, just a half hour drive away is the stunning Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct built in 20 BC standing some 160 feet high and over 900 feet long.
Also nearby, the magical Petit Camargue, a marshy world with its free to roam birds, white horses and bulls and the ancient walled city of Ainge Morte and down by the coast, the charming seaside resort of Roi

We had three delightful days here, enjoying the sights and sounds of a region so wonderfully French but curiously Spanish too.

The Royal Hotel
Pont du Gard,

September 4th to San Remo, Italy.

What a day. Traversing the width of the amazing French southern coast from east to west to begin our Italian leg. A quick stop in Avignon to sing the song at the Pont, and a peek at the Papal Palace and then back on the train through Marseilles, Monaco, Cannes, Nice, and finally into Italy at Ventemillia and our overnight stop at San Remo.
The glorious Royal San Remo hotel looks down on the town and the wide blue Med from its lofty perch way up on the cliff, a well deserved rest for weary travellers. Unbridled luxury amid a lovely old town.
Food highlight here, dinner at the wonderfully quirky Taverna a local restaurant run by Natale and Margarhita. Everything fresh, and everything top quality. We ended up drinking together once everybody had left, discussing politics and food, and watching his waiter’s magic tricks. A magical evening then all around.