Wednesday, January 28, 2015

L'effervescente Marseille

View of the Port & the "Bonne Mère"

There’s so much to say about Marseille, second city of France, that it’s even hard to find a starting point! After a two-hour train ride from Hyères where we were last week, you’ll arrive in the big Marseille-Saint-Charles train station from where you’ll exit using the impressive staircase and its 104 steps from 1927. Marseille can have quite a bad reputation from Northern France. Many people say it’s a dirty and dangerous city. But Marseille, with its vivid diversity, tends to offer to its visitors a wide range of opportunities.
For the last few years, the city has started a reconversion, especially since 2013 when Marseille was the European Capital of Culture. Masilia (as known in the Antiquity) is nowadays the biggest French port. Form the top of Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille’s iconic figure that watches over sailors and fishermen, take a deep breath of the city before heading down to the Vieux-Port, the historical heart of the city. While you’re in the Old-Port, stop by some local restaurants and try the famous bouillabaisse, a fish stew originally from Marseille. Then, start your walk through the Canebière, the kilometer-long historic high street of the city where you’ll find landmarks.
It’s now time to pack some tapenade (a purée of olives, capers, anchovies, and olive oil) and bread in your backpack for a trip to the Château d’If and the Calanques, away from the busy city center. Ordered by King François I, the Château d’If used to be a fortress and a prison. It is now well known because of the Count of Monte-Christo by Dumas. Along a coast line of 20km, the Calanques are magnificent white cliffs that rise vertically from the sea. This rugged area interspersed with small fjord-like inlets is totally breathtaking! When you'll feel like it, find a quiet spot in the Calanques, spread some tapenade on a slice of bread, close your eyes, take another deep breath and re-open your eyes: welcome to paradise!

Les calanques de Marseille

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hyères, ses Iles d'Or et ses palmiers

Péninsule de Giens

Jewel of the southern French coast with its tremendous sandy beaches, its history and architecture, and its breathtaking Golden Isles; the town of Hyères offers uncommon opportunities to spend dreamy vacation in the summer! 
Hyères is the oldest sea resort in the French Rivera and is protected by the Château Saint-Bernard. The pine covered hill of Costebelle overlooks the peninsula of Giens and the wilderness of Giens is the place to be to take amazing photos. 
If this is your first time in Hyères, you’ll obviously boat to one of the three Golden Islands. Each of them even offer different sights and attractions from white-sand beaches to hikes and bike tours. 
However, allow yourself some time to discover the village where few visitors go and inhale pure essence of Provence while walking in the warm and narrow streets dominated by the ruins of the castle. 
Margaret who spent a year there shares that Hyères is a gem, a tiny town on a hill full of winding cobblestone streets. It's close to the sea, close to the Iles d'or, a short bus ride to Toulon, Marseille, or Nice. 
All the towns in that area are ideal for bike riding. The remarkable Villa Nouailles was built in the 1920’s and still looks brand new! Hyères is also a walk through history, with ruins as old as the 4th century B.C. 
Eventually, discover the gorgeous gardens of the town and travel around the world while admiring all the different species gathered in one place. With 300 days of sunshine a year, Hyères has everything nature, sport, and culture lovers may look for!

The village of Hyères

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Nice, capitale de la Côte d'Azur

View of Vieux-Nice, the old town neighborhood 

After Paris, Nice is probably one of the most well-known French cities around the world. With its deep blue sea, its rocky beaches and its famous Promenade des Anglais where you can admire the sunset from those typical blue chairs, the city is a great destination if you’re looking for a mix between urban life and seaside atmosphere. While you’re in Nice, fifth most populated city of France, it’d be inconceivable to not savor a tasty salade niçoise, a ratatouille or a pan-bagnat (a circled whole wheat bread sandwich filled with raw vegetables, hard boiled eggs, fish and olive oil). During your visit of Nice, take some time to escape the crowded Promenade and walk toward the Vieux-Nice to admire the tall and pastel-colored houses. Visit the city’s museums to discover some of the best collections of Chagall and Matisse work in the world. On your way back to the Promenade des Anglais, don’t miss the Hôtel Negresco, a five-star-palace where you can admire some of the most famous portraits of Kings Louis XIV (the two others are in Le Louvre and Versailles!), Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Napoleon III. 

View of the shoreline and the Promenade des Anglais

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Chamonix, capitale de l'alpinisme

View of the Aiguille du Midi in the summer

Before heading to the very south of France, let’s take some time to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the French Alps. And what a better place to do so than stopping by Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, the French capital of alpinism? Very well known in the mountain sports milieu, Chamonix became more and more famous after holding the first ever Winter Olympic Games in 1924. The town of Chamonix is located right at the foot of Mont-Blanc, the highest summit in Europe (15,780 ft.) and offers a breathtaking view from the valley. In 1786, Jacques Balmat, from Chamonix, completed the first ascent of Mont-Blanc. Chamonix is one of the best mountain resorts in the world and there are so many things to do year round! Warning though, if you are afraid of height, close your eyes or pass around! Whenever you are ready (mostly to wait in line for hours), step in the cable car that will bring you 12,605 ft. above the ground in just a few minutes at the Aiguille du Midi. The view at the top is unbelievable! You feel so close to Mont-Blanc that you could almost touch it and the town of Chamonix deep in the valley looks ridiculously tiny. Stand by and get in the funicular to access the Mer de Glace. The trip itself is very typical and you feel like time traveling in the good old days of Savoy. The bravest ones should do the hike to get there, a bit longer (couple hours) and way more rewarding (you'll get to see wild life like never before). Since it’s the winter and if you are lucky enough, you should ski there and admire a view that you will never forget! 

View of Chamonix in the valley, and Mont-Blanc mountain range in the winter

Friday, January 2, 2015


At the December conference of the Western Association of Independent Camps (WAIC) we were fortunate to hear Steve Baskin speak about the crucial role that camps play in helping prepare children for personal and professional success.  Steve is a Texas camp owner, American Camping Association board officer, and an honor graduate from Davidson College and the Harvard Business School, so he has good credentials to discuss how to create experiences for children that will lead to their success in life.

He is an advocate of the findings of The Partnership for 21st Century Skills led by representatives from education and business, including Apple, Ford, Crayola and Legos.  Their website states: “Learning and innovation skills increasingly are being recognized as the skills that separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century, and those who are not.”  These skills include creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.  “College and high school graduates are entering the workforce with a deficit of skills”, said Baskin.  “I can think of (no other place) that is more immersive and intentional for creating these skills (than camps).”  He said that, if these skills were strong in graduates, “3.5 million jobs could be filled immediately.”  But these skills take practice, and interpersonal skills are not found via technology. Indeed, among the skills that The Partnership for 21st Century Skills feel are important for success, technology skills are not in the top 10.

With the average teenager spending 53 hours a week “enveloped in their own cocoons of technology” (11 of these hours texting), Baskin said there is little time for them to practice interpersonal face-to-face skills such as empathy and the ability to read others’ body language. “That is what we do (at camp). We unplug and are with other people,” he said.
Camps are ideally positioned to help children practice collaboration, communication and creative problem solving through facilitated free play. They give children safe ways to independently challenge themselves physically and mentally, and to learn the joys of succeeding and the equally important lesson about learning from their own failures. Campers have positive, caring adult role models to interact with and learn from. Camps can help instill curiosity and a love of learning as well as the interpersonal virtues of kindness, gratitude, and the capacity to love.

Perhaps most importantly camps are a perfect setting for children to learn how to develop strong and lasting friendships that can strengthen and enhance their entire lives. We hope you will share with other families the reasons why you send your children to camp and the benefits they have received – not the archery or French lessons, but the ability to become confident and successful human beings. We encourage you to check out Steve Baskin’s TED talk and The Partnership for 21st Century Skills website for more information.