Photo Of The Day: Fortress Lérins

Photo of the day
Mark Fischer/Flickr

This Photo of the Day, titled “Fortress Lérins,” comes from Gadling Flickr pool member Mark Fischer and was captured using a Cannon Powershot S100.

Mark tells us that the image is of the fortified monastery of Abbey Lérins on Île Saint-Honorat, the second largest of the Lérins Islands, about a mile off shore from the French Riviera town of Cannes. Continuing the detailed caption, Mark adds:

“The island, known to the Romans as Lerina, was uninhabited until Saint Honoratus founded a monastery on it at some time around the year 410. According to tradition, Honoratus made his home on the island intending to live as a hermit, but found himself joined by disciples who formed a monastic community around him. The monastery has operated on the island since the 5th Century, though the monks have fled or been expelled over the years by invaders, pirates, wars, and political factors.”

Want to be featured? Upload your best shots to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. Several times a week we choose our favorite images from the pool as a Photo of the Day.

Tips for being featured: add a caption describing the image and your personal experience when capturing it, details of the photography gear used and any tips you might have for others wanting to emulate your work.

Now, you can also submit photos through Instagram; just mention @GadlingTravel and use the hashtag #gadling when posting your images.

Budget Travel In The Midst Of Luxury: Exploring Monaco In One Afternoon

“I have a crazy idea … lunch in Monaco?”

It was the end of a two-week documentary film production in France and we were spending the last night in Nice, so our director deemed it only fitting to grab lunch in the world of casinos and Formula One racing. When in Nice, drive to Monaco.

Opting for the scenic Basse Corniche route as opposed to the autoroute, we drove along the coastline through Villefranche-sur-Mer, a winding road that hugs the cliffs that drop straight into the Mediterranean. Terra cotta-colored rooftops pepper the coastline and bright white yachts sit moored in the various harbors along the way. It’s the kind of scene that feels like it was pulled directly from a postcard; it’s no surprise that many of the world’s most well off individuals choose to make this part of the globe the destination for their second, third or fourth villa.

The road is the kind that’s meant for a sports car. Two weeks of film production means two week’s of film gear though, so we were stuck in the silver Peugeot mini-van. At least it was a manual, so you could almost get the thrill of a quick down shift.

The budget traveler in me of course knows that Monaco certainly isn’t a destination I would normally seek out, but the chance to quickly cross a border and grab some lunch is quite another story.Monaco is one of those places that you know about because you hear the name often enough, but when you think about it, you realize that you actually don’t know very much about it at all. In fact my only relation to Monaco before this day was a couple of summers ago when I was in Sweden and got conned into watching the live stream of Monaco’s royal wedding; a royal wedding is always a big affair in Europe, no matter what the country.

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The Principality of Monaco is bordered by France on three sides and the Mediterranean on the fourth. It’s a constitutional monarchy and governed by Prince Albert II. With an area of only 0.76 square miles, it’s the second smallest country in the world. But its 35,000 plus inhabitants make it very densely populated.

Drive into Monaco and you’ll quickly get lost. It’s a city built into the cliffs, with roads intertwining like a complicated maze. Best solution: do another drive around the roundabout just to make sure you are taking the right exit. And when you park and a Ferrari is in front of you trying to back up, don’t move. In the face of opulent automobiles, avoid any risk of you hitting them.

Fortunately, we had a local to guide us around, and he took us to one of the many underground parking complexes and we climbed out and up onto “Le Rocher” – the Rock – the old city that sits atop a rocky promontory. This is where you’ll find the Palais Princier, and just like in any other country that boasts a constitutional monarchy, you can watch the changing of the guard.

From atop Le Rocher you also have an excellent view down both sides of the cliffs, one looking down into the old harbor, and on the other, a more modern collection of buildings and docks. Le Rocher is also where you will find the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium, an impressive structure that almost looks like it’s rising straight out of the sea.

To say that the streets and alleyways of Monaco are clean would be an understatement. This is an impeccably spotless place, almost disarmingly so. You get the feeling that the entire place simply drips of money. Which of course it does; the principality doesn’t charge its residents income tax, which attracts a whole plethora of glitterati.

But there’s also the charming side of Monaco that even the budget traveler can enjoy. A wood-fired pizza for lunch with a carafe of Chianti (thank the Italian influence for that) and a simple stroll up and down the hilly streets gives you a real sense of a place loaded with oversized yachts and casino action. It offers a picturesque setting, to say the least.

We walked through the tight alleyways, pink and yellow walls jutting up around us, a quaint but manicured setting. A pair of cyclists decked out in tight training gear rolled up to a door and walked their bikes inside. Japanese tourists bought chocolate at the local chocolatier.

Descending the steps next to the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium we overlooked the Mediterranean, a stormy mix of white caps and breaks of sunlight as a small storm rolled in. It started to drizzle. Whereas in most cities the raindrops would have cleaned the dirty streets, they instead just added to sidewalks that already seemed to glitter. “You know, just an afternoon in Monaco. No big deal,” said my friend as we looked out over the water.

It’s funny to go to a place known for so much wealth and instead just take in the surroundings. No casino. No Grand Prix. No luxury purse purchases. Just a moment to be in a place and remember that our world is full of these corners that we may never fully know.

We returned to Nice at dusk, the evening winter light hitting the French Riviera houses on the cliffs in a way that only a painter could replicate.

“A good afternoon in Monaco everyone,” said our director. Check that one off the list.

[Photo Credit: Anna Brones]

Europe By Rail

For many, taking the train is still the most wonderful way to travel. It is a romantic throwback to a long gone era, before modern jets linked the world. For some, taking the train is just too slow, but for those that enjoy it, that is one its charms. It affords travelers the opportunity to see the countryside, often from a comfortable car filled with modern amenities.

The train system in Europe is well known as being an excellent way for travelers to explore the continent. Trains run on a regular basis to nearly every region, offering a convenient, affordable, and leisurely way to get to your destination.

The TImes Online has put together a list of four great European rail journeys offering up suggestions for those who would like to experience the very best that this mode of transportation has to offer. The routes they suggest include a tour through Eastern Europe, a ride through the Alps, a journey along the French Riviera and Italy, and an adventure that will take you to Gibraltar and beyond, into Africa. Each of the routes has multiple legs, and the article gives details on the best and most insteresting of them. It also has tips on how to book your train journey, complete with ideas on how to save money in the process.

There was a time when train travel through Europe was viewed as strictly the realm of students and backpackers. But recently there have been first class and adults only cars added, opening the trains up as a viable option for other travlers as well. With airfares to Europe at bargain rates, now may be a great time to go, and with cheap trains as an option, explore the continent like never before.

France is romance at Valentine’s Day

Put your economic woes an ocean away with a trip to France on Valentine’s Day. Concorde Hotels & Resorts is offering great deals from February 13 to February 16 at its Parisian hotels, with rates starting at $172 a night. They’re sweetening it with a daily buffet breakfast for two, a 50 percent discount on the second night and a special surprise gift that they wouldn’t even reveal to me (ugh).

Or, if you prefer the French Riviera, check out the Hotel Martinez in Cannes. The property is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year and wants to bring you in on the festivities. A two-night stay on February 13 and February 14 or February 15 and February 16 starts at $271 for the first night and only $103 for the second! You’ll get a VIP welcome (which you deserve) and in-room or buffet breakfast. Also, they’re giving complimentary fitness center and sauna access … but you probably don’t want to tell your significant other to hit the treadmill on Valentine’s Day!

[Photo via Concorde Hotels & Resorts]

Brush Shoulders with the Hoi Polloi?

If the Holiday Inn near Disney World just won’t cut it this year, perhaps you can save up for a real hotel treat. The French Riviera beckons with some of the best real estate and hotel luxury in the world. The place to go is the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc.

Opened in 1870, over the years, this grand hotel near Cannes has hosted kings, presidents, and stars too numerous to mention, and even gangsters (in fact, chambermaids were troubled to follow the hotel’s dust-everything policy when it came to guests’ firearms, according to Julian Allason of the Financial Times). The sea-side swimming pool was such an attraction that it drew the likes of Charlie Chaplin and George Bernard Shaw, back in 1914. The hotel was the inspiration for the setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

Starting at a mere $600 USD a night (in the off-season, of course), you can indulge yourself in luxury. The 22-acre site has woods, two hotels, and villas situated on a small cape, sticking out into the Mediterranean. Amenities include water taxies out to your yacht, valet parking for your speedboat, magicians to entertain your children, spa treatments, and helicopter transportation to your private jet at the nearby Cannes airfield.

But you have some time to save up: the hotel opens for the season on April 6. Oh, and be sure to check out the great website to see the alphabetical list of celebrity guests.