A Week in Pralognan-la-Vanoise

It’s hard to believe we are already half-way through our 6-month journey.

Our time in Europe has been truly amazing so far and packed with quality time with friends and relatives and lots of traveling in between and we feel it’s time to re-centre and get back to a quieter routine, unpack the suitcases and have some family time, just the three of us.

We have obviously spent lots of time with the in-laws so far and even a little more than anticipated, with Hervé’s torn meniscus and related surgery. We have visited Ardèche and the Italian Riviera. We have spent some time with our friends near Albertville and a full week in Val d’Anniviers, Switzerland.

 

Every day feels a bit like Christmas as everywhere we go we get to enjoy feasts and celebrations (along with the odd heartburn and overhang it brings), lots of time outdoors, a big share of adaptation and improvisation, of packing and unpacking, of searching through our bags and trying to keep some sort of order and tidiness and attempts to maintain a healthy routine for our 4-year old daughter.

 

After doing some research on the web for affordable accommodation in small family-oriented ski resorts, we settle on Pralognan-la-Vanoise. Around mid-January, we are outside of the busy school holiday periods and other major events that could disturb our peace and quiet AND our tight budget.

 

Our choice isn’t completely random, however. Pralognan, although I only have a vague memory of the village itself, is reminiscent of very sweet memories for Hervé and I. It was the starting point of my first ever overnight ski tour, some fifteen years ago. I remember the jagged peaks and impressive glaciers of la Vanoise range as well as the bright blue skies and the spring weather. I remember the warmth of the hut, how good the evening meal tasted after a day of skiing and the good times we shared with our companions.

 

I also remember and laugh at how much of a beginner skier I was, the tears I shed skiing back down to the valley and the huge blisters on my feet from the way-too-small ski boots I had borrowed. I remember the pride I felt and the endless admiration I had for my man who taught me everything about the mountains.

 

Since we have also climbed few classic routes in the Parc National de la Vanoise, one of France’s largest and most diverse mountain ecosystem protected through the National Park designation, but we have never really spent time in Pralognan.

 

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It keeps dumping!

 

I know that the ambiance of the village is exactly what we are looking for this time for our family stay: a pedestrian village, outdoor activities for kids and adults alike including some great options for backcountry skiing, a small kid-friendly ski hill with an affordable ski pass, some genuine mountain culture and a small alpine village feel and of course, SNOW!

 

Well, a few days in I can say that all our expectations were exceeded. More than that, I think am officially in love with this place.

 

Anne-Marie, the owner of the little flat we rented on AirBnB is just adorable and so thoughtful. Her place is sparkling clean and just right for the 3 of us and equipped with all we need, including a washing machine, thank goodness! The price for the week was more than fair and most of all, we have a little nest on a quiet street where we can settle in and most importantly feel at home. Upon our arrival, we find a hand-written greeting note, a bottle of local pear juice and a jar of local honey. God does Savoie ever produces good food!

 

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The lovely view from our balcony with fresh snow piling up on the railing

 

During our first day here, the snow started falling and it hasn’t really stopped since. Over a metre of snow has fallen upon Pralognan in 5 days.

 

On the second day, the whole ski resort was shut down because of the wind and heavy snowfalls.

 

On the third day, it was still snowing and we got to enjoy this one-in-a-season amazing day. We had the brilliant idea upon our arrival to sign our daughter up for some ski lessons and to the local “kids club” for afternoon child care, which she was ecstatic about. Hence, Hervé and I had the day to ourselves to ski fresh powder snow and explore the resort.

 

Pralognan in January has many pros one of them being that the very few vacationists around are mainly retirees and family with young children, most of them with limited skiing abilities if I may say so without any disrespect. For us, that meant that the competition for fresh tracks was non-existent and so were the lift lines. Pure bliss!

 

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the joy of skiing in knee-deep powder! Feels like BC…

 

The scene is quite a bit different in the spring when spandex-dressed ski mountaineers and herds of French Alpine Club adepts rush to the nearby peaks early in the morning and stop in for a beer and a tartiflette en masse after their tour and wander through the streets in their high tech gear and colourful clothing.

 

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Skiing right down to our doorstep

 

In very high avalanche risks conditions all week, we are staying very conservative and sticking to low angle off-piste itineraries well within the ski area. Hervé is also taking every opportunity he has to chat with local ski patrollers and mountain guides to learn about the conditions. Everyone is very friendly and generous with information. The current conditions are quite unusual and haven’t been observed by the locals for at least 20 years. All around us, roads are closed and mountain hamlets are being evacuated. We feel blessed that Pralognan is a relatively safe haven.

 

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Out on a tour with my love

 

Meanwhile, our daughter who is now entering her third ski season is taking her first ski lessons: 2 times 2 1/2 hours of skiing with other little French kids. Even though her ability to manage her speed with snowploughs and turns is improving highly when skiing with us, we feel that some lessons are going to help improve her autonomy and her ease in the transitions like putting her skis on, riding the t-bar on her own, going up small hills, walking around, getting back up after a fall, etc.

 

She is so proud of getting her “ourson” medal. She can now ski at the level of a bear cub, whatever this means!

In the French culture, everything is very standardized and there seems to be tests, levels and categories in every sport as I have learned over the years.

The ski instructors in their very French way don’t put on white gloves to tell your kid that he or she isn’t doing things the right way. If at first, it makes my teeth cringe as a firm believer in positive reinforcement, I acknowledge that life isn’t always easy and that my child will have to face her share of frustrations and failures… might as well start now.

At the end of our ski day we like to meander in the village to check out the lovely storefronts, have a drink and some appetizers or buy our loaf of bread or a bottle of wine to go with dinner before retreating to our cozy nest, tucked away at the dead end of a quiet street.

 

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Farmer’s market day

 

In my suitcase, although space is very limited, I will be bringing back a few bottles of locally made génépi and verveine liqueur, a piece of Beaufort, one of my favourite cheeses in the world and perhaps a picture to hang on the wall of our apartment in Kimberley and dream of this unique adventure we’re currently living. The village has no shortage of cute little artisan stores, bakeries and sports shops that we try to stay away from…

 

On the weekend we have our friends Fabrice and Magali and their three kids Zian, Liv and baby Dolma come over for the day to try out the Nordic trails. By the end of the day it’s snowing so hard they can barely make it back home to Albertville. Meteo France, the French weather office, has issued a special warning for heavy snowfalls in our area and urges travellers to stay home or plan alternative accommodation in case the roads close.

 

During our time here, we are also experiencing all the many amenities the village has to offer. It’s impressive to see a place of 700 souls residing year round with an indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, skating rink, indoor climbing wall and even a spa!

 

Savoie – Mont Blanc is definitely a wealthy district and the fact that Pralognan is located nearby the infamous resorts of the “3 Vallées” is certainly contributing to the wealth.

 

Skiers staying in Pralognan for the week can purchase a 6-day ski pass for a mere 170 euros and have a free entry to the pool, the skating rink, unlimited access to the Nordic loop and the ability to ski in La Plagne or Courchevel for a day with a free shuttle!!

 

For that amount, a skier in BC barely gets a 2-day ski pass at one resort like Fernie or Revelstoke. Now you get why Canada isn’t a competitive destination on the world scheme of ski holidays…but this is a story I save for later on how to ski for cheap in Europe. Stay tuned!

 

As the sun goes down on our last day in Pralognan, I know for certain that we will return to enjoy more of the high alpine, the magnificent meadows and the peaceful atmosphere of Pralognan.

 

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The Bouquetin or Ibex: Pralognan’s icon

 

We are now packing our winter gear and clothing away for a two-week hiatus as we take off for Tenerife and the Canary Islands on Tuesday to meet up with my mom.

 

We hope all this fresh snow settles a bit for when we return and pursue new adventures in the Southern Alps…

À bientôt Pralognan!

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Ardèche in December: Castles, Cobbles & Chestnuts

La Coste: A Place with a Soul

The air is brisk and the almost full moon lights up the pebbled path to our cozy little apartment, a vacation rental or gite rural located on the floor above la mielerie – where the honey is extracted and stored.

 

Deep down in the valley, I can see the lights from the small settlements along la Volane, all the way to Vals-les-Bains and Aubenas, the nearest cities. I take a deep breath of pure mountain air and pause for a moment before making carrying on my way to bed.

 

We had arrived in La Coste a few hours earlier. This tiny hamlet part of the municipality of Genestelle is home to our dear friends Seb and Christine Martinez and their two boys,  Juneau (4) and Milo (2).

 

We have known the couple for as long as we have lived in Kimberley. From epic climbing adventures to family camping trips, a shared love for France, and several Christmas Eves spent together, we have woven a deep friendship.

 

After living in BC for over fifteen years, Seb, an Ardèche native, and his wife Christine,  a Saskatchewan girl, have made the decision to come home to take over the family apiary. Sad to see them leave our home-base but so excited for their new endeavour, we made the promise to come visit them here often.

 

This promise wasn’t hard to make for the ones acquainted with La Coste and its surroundings.

 

The location in itself is just stunning: a perfect steep south-facing slope perched at 650m of elevation, fertile soil and a mild and pleasant climate. Seb’s parents Didier and Sibylle have fallen for the place – remote, cheap land with a spring of fresh water. That’s not all however as the place also has a special feel to it – which they found out when scoping out the perfect spot to build their dream during the hippie era.

 

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The hamlet in the morning fog

 

Out of the ruins – piles of old stones reminiscent of a small settlement from the early 17th century – they created a home for their family, a roof for their apiary, and a massive garden -stone by stone.

 

Years later, they restored the adjacent ruins to their home into a few apartments, every one of them worthy of a feature in architectural and design magazine that the couple turned into vacation rentals.

 

Visitors to La Coste have been loyal over the years and mostly book their stays a year out. I sense that Didier and Sibylle’s passion for their area and warm sense of hospitality is just as important as the stunning location and unique accommodation units.

 

Completely sold out from June to October, the apartments can still be rented in April, May and from mid-October into November.

 

Vacationists in search of an authentic rural France experience and a large dose of peace and quiet, nature and sunshine won’t be disappointed. The breeze and spectacular swimming pool are sure to keep the visitors afraid of heat cool and happy. The fruit trees around the estate along with the fragrant and delicate-tasting honey to will keep their craving for sugar fulfilled.

La Coste in the fall
La Coste in the Fall. Photo by Seb Martinez

 

La Coste is the ideal base camp to explore Ardèche, a mostly rural département and so rich and diverse in its landscape and attractions. In the north, one will find a rugged hill and plateau landscape, harsh climate and the highest peaks around, le Gerbier-de-Jonc and Mont Mezenc; mountains made out of granite and volcanic stone. This is also home to la Loire river headwaters.

 

 In the middle, the volcanic hills of Centre Ardèche are softer and the climate milder. Snow seldom falls in this area, which makes it perfect to visit anytime and any season. Chestnut, oak and acacia trees are plentiful and on the adret the south-facing slope one won’t be surprised to find orchards of apricot, peach and kiwi trees. Quaint villages are all walking distance from each other and have the most interesting stories to tell and characters to meet. The area is home to some of the country’s most beautiful rivers that attract paddlers and canyoneers from all over the world.

 

In the south, lies a more open landscape, limestone cliffs, karst structures and massive caves – pre-historic sites of importance. The south has more of a well, southern or Provencal feel to it and farmers find the perfect soil and climate to grow grapes and fragrant lavender. Herds of Dutch tourists have made the area their destination of choice for its rivers, beaches, warm sunshine and the infamous canoe route of les Gorges de l’Ardèche. The heat there in the summer is suffocating and so is the crowd…which is why La Coste and the Centre Ardèche are so attractive in many ways.

 

To find out more about le gîte rural de La Coste and to make a reservation for your next vacation, click here.

Castles, medieval villages and Roman paths

 

From La Coste, a myriad of scenic hiking trails lead the visitors to the many nearby hamlets and viewpoints. One of my favourite paths is the one going to Antraigues, a medieval village among the most picturesque in the country. This village was made famous by Jean Ferrat, an iconic poet, songwriter and singer who made this place home.

 

This is the first outing we take our little crew on – a mere 2.7 km walk one way mostly downhill, to a well-deserved reward of hot chocolate and madeleines. On this ancient cobbled donkey path, we enjoy picking a few remaining chestnuts, walking in knee-deep beds of leaves and taking in the stunning views.

 

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In Antraigues, the townsite is quiet on this early December Monday. The kids can freely explore the cobbled streets and safely play on the Plaza. At this time of year, we’re happy to find out that a few restaurants, the bakery and a small grocery store remain open. We’re in France after all and there are real people living real lives in rural areas, no matter how small or remote they are.

 

It would take a lifetime to explore all the villages and stories that Ardèche boasts. I recall Seb telling us that he had himself only visited about sixty. I bet that now that he and his family have returned home, they will have plenty of inspiration for weekend outings and the boys will surely take great pleasure in adding a few to their papa’s list.

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Ardèche just like the Kootenays also boasts its share of illegal dwellings

Ardèche limestone: let’s climb some rock!

 

The region is known among climbers as a serious climbing destination. Many sites can be found in every corner of Ardèche with a large variety of rock types and routes. Le Cirque de Gens near Chauzon is definitely the most famous of all. Climbers beware however that the popular nature of the site combined to this type of limestone makes the routes in the lower grades (to 5.11) VERY polished and challenging.

 

We take the children to Balazuc for a quick afternoon session. In December, the periods of daylight are very short and temperature colder; Balazuc’s south-facing limestone towers offer a rapid and easy hike in and short routes that are ideal to set up a few easy top ropes.

 

While early spring and fall are the prime seasons for rock climbing in Ardèche, one can find locations throughout the winter in the spots sheltered from the wind. Some campgrounds remain opens and climbers can benefit from very low off-season deals on vacation rentals everywhere in Ardèche. If climbing isn’t our main purpose on this trip, it is still nice to touch some rock and enjoy a few hours of warmth.

Guidebook and more info on climbing here.

Fêtes de Village: Let’s meet the locals

 

In this land where tourism and agriculture are the main economic drivers, the locals literally work day in and day out from April to November. We are fortunate to be here at a time where Seb and Christine have a little downtime and are available to show us around and enjoy some quality time with friends. The boys normally in daycare and school are doing l’école buissonière – skipping school for a few days to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

Late fall and winter are the time of year where the local social life picks up again and the many celebrations take place. Every village has a fête of some kind: fête de la Chataigne, fête de la Pomme, pre-holiday celebrations and craft fairs of all kinds. In those remote valleys, newcomers and young families are surprisingly quite numerous and they fear not going the extra mile to enhance the local social life.

 

Upon hearing that a nearby village is having a Fête de la Soupe, we make plans to spend our Saturday.

 

After a car dropoff, our little crew sets off by foot for the little village of Bise, which in French means “breeze” or “kiss”, whichever you prefer! Jérôme, Kelly and their two teenage girls Nea and Riley- a Swiss- American couple living in BC are joining us for the weekend and also take part in the fun outing that day.

 

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Our happy little crew
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Scenic trails, leaves and chestnuts

 

It has snowed last night and the day is sunny but chilly and windy. On the trail leading from Conchis to Bise, we meet several hunters in search of chestnut-fatted wild boars. In this country, it isn’t unusual for hikers and hunters to share the same trails and vigilance is key, as no one wants to end up with a bullet in the calf or a frightened boar running at them. Seb’s informs the hunters of our route and we carry along.

 

It feels strange to descend from the mountain and to arrive in the middle of the celebration. From a distance, we can smell the boiling soup and woodfire smoke and we can hear the laughter.

 

The Fête is well attended and the soups and crêpes are delicious. There is a bar -off course- and a craft fair, games for the kids and soup contest. After lunch, Christine and Hervé drive the children home for the nap and the rest of us head back to where we came from, on a different trail.

 

We hike to the valley’s end where we encounter a 93-year old sheepherding lady who’s eager to chat. Her strength and vitality are impressive.  She has sure lived a long healthy life although certainly not always pleasant and easy in this remote valley.

 

We take the scenic way home and follow the ridgeline for a long time so we can admire the unique landscape – hills spreading as far as the eye can see covered in scotch broom and dried fern with the odd stone hamlet and winding mountain road leading to it. In this faint winter light, everything looks still although on the ridge top the wind is quite strong.

 

Several hours later, we come home and all gather in Seb and Christine’s home. On the table we lay another delicious feast in which the chestnuts picked along our hikes were sautéed or roasted. The meal is obviously paired with local wines and liquor and some early Christmas treats. The conversation is lively, the belly full and the spirit’s high.

 

The following day we awaken to more snow on the ground – enough for the children to make snowmen. From climbing rock in a t-shirt to hiking with the goose down jacket on to making a snowball fight, winter time in Ardèche is definitely just as diverse as the region itself.

 

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snowball fight & snowmen…it’s beginning to look a lot like winter

 

Ardèche is full of surprises and delights that ought to be discovered in the offseason… and with good friends.

 

We are thankful to the Martinez family for their warm hospitality and pleasant company. One thing is sure, we will be back in Ardèche very soon!

 

For more trip-planning information about Ardèche click here.

The Best Cheese Fondue Recipe

…and it’s Backcountry-Friendly!

 

At least five different people have asked me for my cheese fondue recipe this past month. Last winter alone, we must have hosted at least 5 or 6 fondue dinners at the request of our friends who have all wanted to reproduce the feast at home…Each time I have happily explained the recipe how-to verbally, or in a text message, or scribbled the instructions on a post-it…until I reminded myself: “eh, don’t you have a blog about skiing, climbing, adventure travel AND food?!”

 

So, I have decided to share my recipe for this traditional alpine dish we all love so much, but also, to tell you a bit about how and why it became so special to us, in addition to being so darn rich, smooth and delicious.

 

Those of you who have read my first food-related blog will recall that I have a pretty special relationship with cheese.

 

Maybe my deep interest for everything cheese has something to do with why I became so close with my dear friend Rachel Martin from La Grave, Hautes-Alpes, France.

 

Rachel owns the most incredible cheese shop right in the Village. She is one of the first individuals I met when we moved to La Grave in 2004, but also the one who has been so kind and caring to me that she became like my second mom.

 

Not only does she hold this very special place in my heart, she also taught me how to make real cheese fondue.

 

In Rachel’s shop, you find the finest looking display of cheeses and charcuteries one can find in the whole Alps. From Gruyère to Abondance, Comté, and Beaufort, from Tomme de Savoie, truffle cheese to Jura’s very own Mont-d’Or and the best goat cheese around, from boar saucisson and speck ham that melts in your mouth, there is more than one’s eyes and belly can take in.

 

If you happen to spend some time in La Grave one day, which should obviously be on every skier’s or mountaineer’s wish-list, La Fromagerie de Montagne must not be missed.

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Rachel’s Fromagerie de Montagne under one of the most majestic mountains on Earth, La Meije (3983m). Photo courtesy of Ben de La Grave, our dear friend and Rachel’s son http://www.bendlg.com

 

At Rachel’s I would pop by for tea every second day if not every day during the six years we lived there. She would send me home with a bag full of most amazing cheeses each time, which is worth a little fortune by-the-way. At the time, being a dirtbag student with not much to put on our table, Rachel’s cheeses and cured meats made us feel like millionaires.

 

She also throws the best dinner parties out there. I recall squeezing in her great big living room with 20 or 25 other fine folks for voluptuous meals, usually a cheese specialty of some kind, and eating and drinking and listening to the latest indie music hits (Rachel also has amazing musical tastes) until late at night…

 

You will now have guessed that I hold my cheese fondue recipe from her. I obviously had to find an adaptation somehow, to Kimberley’s ingredients supply (between Crème Cheese Shop and Overwaitea you can actually find all you need at a fairly decent price).

 

I am pretty satisfied with the result and I hope you will too. Once you try, I promise you will never go back to packaged fondue ever again. Here we go…

 

For The Best Cheese Fondue, you will need:

200 grams of cheese per adult. 3 types of cheese minimum. Grated.
Gruyère, Emmenthal or Comté, and the local touch, some Kootenay Meadow Alpindon
1/2 bottle of dry white wine (the best is Vin de Savoie but it’s hard to find around here so Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio will do. For the record, I have tried it with Champagne once when we were out of wine and it tastes great too!)
4 cloves of garlic
fresh ground pepper, to taste
a pinch of ground nutmeg
a pinch of baking soda

 

For the bread:
1 large loaf of white or whole wheat sourdough (a day old is best)

 

Instructions:

Cut the bread into 2″ cubes ahead of time and set aside for an hour or two so it’s a bit dry. Alternatively, you can also place it in the over on a baking sheet at low temp for a few minutes.

Cut one of a garlic clove in half and rub the pot with it.
Add 250ml of white wine and turn the stove on a medium-low temperature.
Add half of the grated cheese and stir gently while it melts.
Alternate between wine and cheese so the texture is liquidy enough.
Add the rest of the garlic (chopped), the freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, and baking soda.
Keep stirring until the texture is a smooth as possible.

 

Transfer to the burner. Dip a chunk of bread and savour!

 

I like to serve my fondue with some small Mailles pickles (cornichons extra-fins) and a bit salad with slices of apple, walnuts, and a Dijon-based vinaigrette.

 

For the backcountry lovers, cheese fondue is a fun dish to serve on a hut trip. You can just grate the cheese ahead and store it in Ziploc bags, the pepper, the nutmeg and baking soda already mixed in another bag and garlic on the side. Bring wine in a tetra pack box and heat it over a camping stove. It is such a comforting and high-calorie dish, it will fuel you up for the next day for sure. It is, of course, great for sharing too.

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A backcountry fondue shared with family on a snowy autumn hike to the Jumbo Pass Hut for my daughter’s second birthday

 

I hope you will enjoy this fondue as much as my family and friends do. Every time we have it we create more great memories and still recall with so much joy the amazing time we’ve had and we will still have over fondue, here in the Kootenays or at Rachel’s house.

 

Cheese it up!

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Cheese fondue is the ideal party dish on a cold winter night

From 2 to 82: 3 Generations on a Trip to Cassis, France

Last November, like every year, we went to France to visit my in-laws. Since they are well into their 80’s and no longer really keen to go on vacations on their own, we thought it would be great to go with them on a trip. We were committed to do all the travel arrangements and the driving, so what would be left for them to do would be to enjoy the ride and spend quality time with their grand-kid, away from their daily routine and chores.

There were a few reasons why we set our choice of destination on Cassis and the Calanques:

  • It was a fairly short drive from where they live (a mere 3 hours), which would suit elderly parents just as fine as our two-year old daughter.
  • Having been there as a young couple before kid, we had found Cassis very quaint and charming, which is contrasting with other major resort towns on the Riviera.
  • Cassis is located by the sea in the Provence region; it benefits from a pleasant Mediterranean climate which was important to consider given the time of year we would be traveling.
  • The Calanques offer plenty of scenic sightseeing and walking options that are well suited to children and seniors alike.
  • Most importantly (and a little selfishly too), it’s a fantastic climbing destination. Although I must admit that being a multi-generational trip my husband and I didn’t have much expectations as far as rock climbing goes)

With the rental car all packed up, the five of us set off on a beautiful Sunday morning for Cassis.

I had arranged accommodation in advance and had opted for a 2-bedroom condo located on the heights of Cassis, that I booked for the full extent of our stay. The condo happened to be the best option for us as it provided a quieter option to hotels downtown. We also wanted the convenience of a full kitchen, a large dining room, a nice patio and yard and a swimming pool (that we contemplated lots but really never used!).

Cassis is a VERY busy town 4-6 months of the year and can also be VERY pricey, but fortunately, traveling in November opened up more affordable lodging options. The full week rental plus cleaning fees was about 500 euros, which can quickly turn into 1100 euros during peak season. The owner was personable as “jail’s door” as my dear husband would say, and therefore our interactions with him were limited, but he had a cute bunny in a cage that my daughter made friend with…until he bit her hard.

The kitchen being separated from the dining/living area by 3 steps was, in a way, sort of ideal, and it set a different tone to our family time from the get go…My mother-in-law having reduced mobility, the kitchen by default became my kingdom, which allowed my in-laws to relax and let themselves be pampered and served. I know by day 2 they were both bored stiff to not be able to do anything in the kitchen, but overall, I think they quite enjoyed spending more time with their grand-daughter and being fed different food.

We also discovered that multi-generational travel (love the term!) brings a different pace then what we were used to; but you know what, we also realized that 80-year-olds and two-year olds are in fact on a similar schedule! Our daughter’s most active times of day are early morning and late afternoon, and this seemed to suit my in-laws quite well.

A little beach time, although the temperature barely climbs over 20 degrees
A little beach time, although the temperature barely climbs over 20 degrees

Between breakfast and lunch taken at the condo, and between the afternoon nap and dinner is when we did our exploration of Cassis and the Calanques, and it was awesome! Here’s what we have enjoyed the most:

  1. Walking around the port and chillin’ at the Café:

Cassis is such a picturesque town, everyone has to at least spend a few hours wandering around, peeking into the over-priced stores, and sitting at a patio to enjoy a cup of espresso or un demi (glass of beer). Multiple celebrities own properties in Cassis, so who knows, perhaps you will recognize one of them…

The only downside to the downtown is that there is very little parking nearby which is less than convenient when traveling with a young child and seniors, but being November, we still had some luck finding spots not too far…just be ready to leave a whole whack of change…

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Multigenerational travel or when the little ones get all the attention

2. Shopping at the Marché

Le marché is an institution no matter where you are in France, and even more so in the South. This is where people socialize, get some fresh gossips, buy their produce, a fresh loaf of bread, and of course a little piece of Provence such as lavender-scented olive oil soap, some Santons or a traditional tablecloth.

Note: there is even less parking spots available downtown on market day…

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Embracing the French life on this rainy market day

 

3. Taking a drive to explore La Calanque de Sormiou

If the drive through Marseille and its dodgy neighborhoods is a bit daunting to many people, a visit to the Calanque de Sormiou makes it well worth the adventure. Just outside the city limits, a drive on a narrow windy road up a small pass in the mountains and down on the other side takes you to this beautiful fjord. Once there, you feel you are on an isolated island in the middle of the sea.

Busy with the tenants from the many little “cabanons” in the summer, mostly recreationists and fishermen, and groups of youth part-taking in sailing camps at the UCPA,  it is a ghost village in November. The breeze from the sea, full of iodine is very invigorating and the view truly breathtaking. The walk to the end of the “cabanons” is only a kilometre, which was perfect for the young and the young at heart.

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La Calanque de Sormiou in rest mode after the busy summer season

 

4.Walking to la Calanque de Port-Miou

This Mediterranean Fjord is the closest to Cassis and can be access by a short easy walk. The biggest challenge once again is to find a parking spot nearby. Port-Miou in Provencal dialect means “Better Port” as it offers a nice anchoring locations for boats, sheltered from the wind.

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La Calanque de Port-Miou is the closest to town and offer an easy walking access

 

5. Taking a drive to the top of Cap Canaille via la Route des Crêtes

La  Route de Crêtes is closed several months of the year and mostly during the summer months, the main reason being forest fire hazards as we found out when we were there. Fortunately, it had reopened a few days into our weekly stay after an episode of strong wind and we were able to take the impressive drive and stop at the top to take photos. Note: children would be best kept on a leash is what we learned in a very scary way as our daughter ran for the edge and was caught just on time. Be cautious up there, parents; toddlers are unpredictable.

We also welcomed the opportunity to check out the anchor stations of famous climbs that top up right where tourists take their photos.

The view from there is stunning and on bluebird days you can really appreciate the uniqueness of the Calanques and the vastness ( and blueness (?)of the Med.

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Photo spot at the top of the Cap Canaille. Watch your kids as there’s a 200m drop right there!

 

6.Checking out the waterfront play area at La Ciotat

One fine day we went on a mission to shop for food (we actually did that everyday, several times a day) we ended up in La Ciotat looking for a larger grocery store than what Cassis offers, which is very limited and quite expensive. We decided to check out the port area, which from our memories was industrial and ugly. To our biggest surprise the whole waterfront “promenade” had been recently revamped and beautified and hosted the most amazing playground ever. This really made everyone’s afternoon as our daughter played and made friends, we socialized with some parents and my in-laws quietly sat on a bench, enjoyed the sea view and the sight of their grand-daughter playing and having a blast. That night we also brought some amazing seafood from the grocery store and had a feast back at the condo.

 

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Having a good time with her new friend at La Ciotat’s seafront playground

7. Climbing a multi-pitch route (yes, we finally did that!)

Towards the end of our trip, my husband’s best friend came to visit us, which opened up some climbing possibilities. We were also joined by our dear friend from Marseille, Elie, who at 76 years old still rocks his 5.10 on lead. One morning I took off with my two partners in crime, left husband, toddler and in-laws behind and went back to the Cap Canaille to climb the route “2 Vauriens 3 Canailles” (6 pitches, TD-, 6a+, 150m). After a spooky pendulum rappel down from the photo spot at the top, we let Elie lead the way on this pumpy, juggy, beautiful climb with a bouldery start that has left us a bit shaken. If the climbs in the Calanques can be polished and crowded, the Cap Canaille was a good surprise…but to this regards, locals say that Cap Canaille is NOT in the Calanques…

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Elie as keen and happy as ever, rocking this multi-pitch like a champ in his own backyard
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Un vaurien ou une canaille?
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Raph focused on the steep, pumpy 4th pitch

It was a great adventure with the 2 boys, just like in the old days, that we finished with a beer at a Café in the port and another seafood feast at night back at the condo. Don’t feel sorry for my husband who stayed behind since he went back with his buddy to climb the same route the next day and was also pretty stoked about it. We also checked out one sport climbing crag that wasn’t anything worth bragging about but still offered a fun afternoon outside with our toddler girl and some deserved rest at the condo for my in-laws for whom sometimes, being around a 2-year old 24/7 can be a little overwhelming…fact duely accepted and understood 🙂

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Checking out a local crag on la Route des Crêtes

 

All things considered, this first multigenerational trip was awesome. We had lots of quality family time and hubby and I were even able to escape for a romantic trail-run together. We had a little beach time and ate lots of excellent food. We dined-in most of the week as it was more convenient for our family and kept the costs reasonable. We were able to purchase good seafood locally or at larger grocery store of communities nearby. We also indulged in some good fine pastries and enjoyed our daily croissants and pains au chocolat and coffee at the port. The fair weather has also contributed to make our stay in Cassis the most pleasant, as we were able to spend most of our time outside…Had it rained all week, we certainly would have found the condo a little small…espceially with an energetic 2-year old.

Most importantly, I think our trip was a success because were able to manage everyone’s expectations, individual pace and interests so everyone from 2 to 82 could have a fantastic time.