Tag Archives: summer

Distractions

13Horacio Cruz would be beaming with pride if he were here to see all of this. His daughter – once but a small – time overachieving girl in a third world public school, now an independent woman discovering the splendors of Europe. I bet even those rich, corpulent sponsors I had at Lions Club couldn’t have come up with this. Me and my friends are heading off to Cap d’Ail to complete our gallivanting across the French Riviera. The weather is perfect as expected, with the sun glimmering over cyan waters and the Riviera’s trademark coastline necklaced by stunning beaches.12From Nice, Cap d’Ail is approximately a 30 minute journey if you aboard Bus 100. Its surrounding large glass windows provide a great yet brief view of the fantastic scenery. Like that binocular toy I had as a child, only every slide in the reel was nice and I didn’t have to aim it towards anything bright. I personally enjoyed the short ride while of course taking occasional pictures of cliffside ocean views whenever the bus stopped on a red light. The sun kept flooding over me on and off as we veered through ribbons of concrete – and it felt good beyond words. Needless to say, staying in Europe has given me a newfound love and appreciation for direct exposure to sunlight. This 25 degree weather is a warm welcome compared to London’s gloomy skies and cold drafts.

We arrived on schedule and the first thing I notice is the small roadside tourist office. This commune in South France is far from flashy but I could tell it was a great secret escape compared to the usual French Riviera destinations overrun by yapping tourists. Quiet and verdant with copious amounts of fresh air with hints of ocean – I needed this. I looked back at my high school friend Ricky who was just coming out from the tiny office as he waved for us to come along. I flashed a smile and half ran towards him.2016-03-9--01-00-32

During my last visit here, I did not have the time to see Cap d’Ail. Last year, I merely thrived on sightseeing because arriving in February made it too cold for a dip. But not this time. August was perfect swimming weather and the sun loomed over all things with such fury I could almost imagine it making sizzling sounds.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the correct pronunciation was Kap Dai– quite easy on the tongue and rather fun to say out loud. The two known beaches in the area are both open to public: Marquet and Mala Plage; the latter unanimously known to locals as better than the former. However, our limited stay meant having only time for the best, so we headed straight for Mala Plage with a silent pledge to see Marquet Beach the following year.

But my thoughts of once again splaying under the sun was interrupted by a not so pleasant surprise: the beach access involved a descent of literally a hundred steps. It was not impossible for us but if you have heart failure you just might die halfway or on your way back up. But you know – silver linings. The place itself was nothing short of magnificent, as Mala Plage was tucked in a bay at the foot of rocky slopes. Every downwards turn led to a promising view which excited the traveler in me thirsty for some sand and sea. The leg pain was worth it.2016-03-9--00-56-15Armed with a white and pink striped beach towel and a lotion that promised ultimate sun protection, I embraced the ambiance and scouted for a square foot of sand nobody wanted. The sun was still baking everything it can reach and I felt its vengeance as I sat on the sand. The cool ocean breeze was a welcome relief and it was so soothing I had to close my eyes for a moment. When I did open them I noticed I was facing towards the rocky slopes that looked very much like the limestone formations in Palawan. Not as beautiful but just as good to the eyes.2016-30-8--19-10-55Ocean waves playfully crashed on the mountain side, making calm swishing sounds. Nearby, children were trying to make sand castles while some women were perfecting their tan by going topless. Freedom to all bosoms, budding and pendulous alike. It’s funny how the same thing considered a norm in this part of the world elicits condemnation where I come from. Everything is relative – even normal changes from place to place.

The water felt great as I went in for a few laps and the waves were gentle, rolling one after the other. I like how the water wraps around my head while I swim. For those brief moments, the outside world is out of earshot and it’s as if the water is lulling me away. At least for as long as I can hold my breath.2016-03-9--00-58-11Floating over the waters of Cap d’Ail, I imagine my stress stir away with every stroke from my arms, wishing I could let go of my tragedies just as easily. The seawater was making trickling sounds against my ears and as I gaze upon the blue sky I was blessed with today, one thing was on my mind. If heaven is real I hope you are seeing this right now Pa, because at least I can find comfort in the fact that in a way, you are with me. Perfection has been out of my reach since you’ve left and all I know is that these damn pictures would look so much better if I had them with you.

I stirred into motion and shot myself upright for a mouthful of air. Distant chatter once again, merry laughter and happy squeals nearby. To my right a train was making noise as it passed over by Mala Plage. The spell is broken and reality has unwillingly restored itself. I wave towards my friends who are already back ashore, gathering around for another round of Monopoly. I muster another smile and make my way back. Already feeling ready for more.

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Why Sanremo Should Be Your Next Italian Destination

2016-15-8--16-55-47It is almost unfair how Italy contains a great number of breathtaking cities to explore and discover. Indeed, it is a region of the world known for leading travelers back due to its extensive list of beautiful places unlike some travel destinations where only the big cities are worth raving about. From a traveler’s point of view, Italy has so much beauty to offer not only in its capital but even up to the smallest and most remote regions. In a sense this is what makes it such a pleasurable destination especially for those who really want to get a whiff of authentic local vibe.

In my previous travels to Italy, I have seen and explored the eternal city of Rome, scenic Firenze and enjoyed the relaxed vibe of Pisa. Standing before the Colosseum and the majestic Trevi Fountain was nothing short of surreal. The cobbled streets, ancient landmarks, art and architecture of these cities made my visit special and meaningful.

This year, I was fortunate enough to visit another face of Italy through the lovely town of Sanremo. Far from the rustic and ancient ambiance of Rome and Tuscany, Sanremo had a fresh, easy holiday ambiance with its small-town charm mixed with the lashings of sandy beaches and villas.2016-15-8--17-20-23Nestled in the province of Liguria between Genoa and the French border, this Italian Riviera offers more than casinos and manicured lawns. Whether Sanremo is your main destination, a day trip from your travel itinerary or you’re merely looking for your next Italian city to conquer, here are reasons to bump it on top of your list of places to see.

1. Lazy Afternoons with Italian Coffee

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Classic Cappuccino

In a country where coffee is basically a culture, it might be borderline evil not to get a caffeine fix. Italian Coffee is world renowned and a must try whenever in Italy, whether it’s to kickstart your day or to complete a relaxing afternoon in the plaza. Locals take pride in the quality of their signature blend of coffee that no Starbucks can be found in this part of the world. So go ahead and indulge in a cup or two of what could be the finest cup of coffee you ever will find.

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The Nutellino – Italians are generally not fans of mucking around with the taste of coffee, but this little gem is decadent indeed! It’s an espresso with a teaspoon of Nutella, topped with frothy milk and finished off with cocoa powder. This is your next dessert coffee goal!
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Caffe Gelato – I have never heard of this coffee version before and apparently, neither had the lady serving us that day. But with some clarifications she was able to serve us this unique drink: Italian coffee with a tiny scoop of vaniglia gelato happily sitting in the middle. The flavors were amazing and the contrast in temperature made it surprisingly better. I am tempted to make this one at home but I know it just would not taste the same.

Viajera Travel Tip: In Italy, the default coffee is actually an espresso. If you would rather have a long coffee, you can either order an americano or a caffe latte. Cappuccino is considered a breakfast drink but Italians consume coffee in small steady amounts all day long. Frappuccinos simply do not exist and messing up a coffee’s flavor by mixing it with flavors like mint is frowned upon. (Take that, Starbucks)

2. Your Dose of Sun and Sand – Italian Riviera Style

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Sanremo Beach

One of the good things about Sanremo is the fact that you can get that French Riviera vibe without leaving Italian territory. One can gaze upon absorbing views of the coast or hang out by the beach to achieve that golden summer glow while keeping easy access to tasty Italian cooking. The beaches here are mostly lined with creamy sand, unlike des plages in Nice where you are likely to find smooth stone. There are also restaurants conveniently located on the beach facade and bars overlooking fantastic scenery.

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This roof deck bar was perfect!
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Cheers to beach life!

3. Go on an Italian Food Trip

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Italian Food lovin’! Clockwise from top left: Trofie Pasta and Courgette with Simple Olive Oil based Sauce, Seafood Pizza, Spaghetti Vongole and Fettuccine with Porcini Mushrooms. Everything was divine!

I am a self-confessed fan of good quality Italian food, and as evidenced by the domination of restaurants specializing in the cuisine – so is the rest of the world. So when in Sanremo, embark on a foodie adventure, fill up on genuine Italian cooking and trust me on this one -you WILL taste the difference. There is more to al dente pasta and savoury sauces to this type of gourmet, because based on my experience the core of hearty Italian cooking roots from the use of locally grown fresh ingredients. Their cheese comes in barrels and chunks, not in cardboard boxes as seen in supermarkets; their tomatoes come in endless varieties, plump from the nourishment of Italian soil. This is mainly why their food tastes like nowhere else on Earth no matter how many restaurants offer you “authentic” pasta.

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Pasta Fresca – fresh pasta that is cooked within a minute or two. Best consumed within the day of purchase.
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Truffles! Have you ever seen such a big bunch of these?

Let’s face it, a trip to Italy is not complete without a gelato binge! Get them on cups or cones, the goodness is just the same in all forms. Remember you have the option of having two to three flavors in one order so go ahead and choose wisely. So many flavors, so little time!

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I love all flavors but my favorite is still Pistachio. Weirdest flavor I’ve tried so far: Cactus.

4. Pause and smell the flowers (No kidding)

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All shapes and sizes to set you in a joyous mood for travel.

Sanremo is also called Riviera dei Fiori or region of flowers due to its marvelous floral display and cultivation. Setting afoot in the town center, one can easily notice the cascade of flowers in different colors and sizes, adding a sort of festive ambiance. Likewise, the Sanremo Flowers Parade is held every end of January to showcase their dedication to the art of floral display.

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Afternoon walks made better by these florals in Sanremo.

5. Test your Luck with a Little Game of Chance

I did not try this out myself but should you find yourself in the mood for a game of chance then read on. Within the realms of Sanremo is a casino to put out a few of those hard earned Euros for a chance to hit it big. No need to go to nearby Monaco for a little gambling thrill! If you are like me and would rather spend money on booze and gelato than play a game of risks, you can still check out the casino’s lush visage and quite impressive architecture. The grand looming facade and red carpet of Casino di Sanremo is impossible to ignore for those on the lookout for a picture perfect moment.

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Casino Municipale

If you have not heard of Sanremo before then now is the time to mark your calendars and prepare for it on your next getaway. I assure you, the laid back atmosphere is exactly what every city dweller needs to start anew. It may be the Riviera – like beach that sparked your wanderlust, the promised impeccable food or the idea of cocktails by the sea. I don’t know about you but I was sold with the fact that they drank coffee all day long.  Haha. Either way, from one traveler to another, have a happy summer wherever you are. Saluti!

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A To Do List in The World’s Most Beautiful Island

2016-12-7--17-38-05It’s hard to believe that despite being hailed as the world’s most beautiful island two years in a row, Palawan is still relatively an underrated and underappreciated travel destination. Its low profile may not remain for very long, but Palawan had always deserved this recognition even before travel magazines have directed the spotlight to these islands. For Filipinos like me, it’s a paradise of sheer perfection – the only difference is that now the entire world knows the secret.

Palawan is amongst the 7,107 islands of the Philippines – the count itself curiously depending on the tides. It’s one of those places where words are particularly useless because of its outstanding natural wonders. Aside from the pellucid waters and immaculate seascapes, travelers can expect to see mantels of forests and mangroves, abundant flora and fauna, stunning coral reefs and limestone cliffs. Animal lovers will rave with the presence of indigenous species like the mouse deer and the surprisingly cute Pangolin. Palawan is nothing short of breathtaking, more so now that it has been declared home to one of the modern World’s Seven Wonders.2016-12-7--19-33-26As with the rest of the world, my heart has long been captivated by Palawan. Still by far the best travel escapade of my life, my last vacation was hard to forget and I am but left with memory snippets to last me until my much anticipated return. From one wanderer to another, here is a short to- do list for you in case you are traveling to this beautiful island destination. Whether you are just planning your next trip or already in the middle of that spontaneously booked flight, be sure to add some of these to your itinerary and the only regret you will have is needing to leave at the end of it all.

Frolic on White Sand Beaches

9With Palawan’s pristine beaches, how can one resist just lying on the sand to get that perfect tan while enjoying a spectacular beachfront view? The white sand beaches and the crystal clear waters that define this place has truly led it to stand out from the rest of the world. So go ahead and make sure you have enough downtime at the beach.

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Island hopping

2016-12-7--21-39-21There are neighboring islands with virgin beaches to see and beach bars that need to be explored so do not miss out on this one. From Puerto Princesa City, island hopping tours are everywhere and there are several packages to choose from. Every island is unique and having a local travel guide helps you appreciate certain details and tailor the trip to your liking. Riding the boats in between destinations is a great way to see the vast ocean and scout the towering limestone cliffs scattered all over the region.

Accomplish a Gastronomical Feat

2016-12-7--18-08-31Seafood could not be any fresher in this part of the world. Needless to say, I particularly binged on seafood and fruits for the entire duration of my stay that I always had a food baby going on – and I’d gladly do it all over again. Palawan is home to seriously fresh and delicious food so make it a mission to try the best dishes of the island. From the exciting array of grilled seafood to the simple joys of cucumber salad – the only real question would be what to best pair that cold bottle of beer with.

See One of the World’s Seven Wonders

10On top of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park has also recently been celebrated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The Underground River is mesmerizing and gives you a chance to see parts of the world you have never seen before. The rock formations inside are astonishing and every shape and form I saw attested to the amazing power of nature.

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A few of the rock formations inside the Underground River. The image on the upper left is often called the fish due to its shape and the location of its “eye”. The left lower image brings The Nativity to mind – truly amazing!

Viajera Travel Tip: There is not much light inside the cave, so if you want pictures of the rock formations you need to bring a decent camera. My camera phone was rendered useless but luckily, my bridge camera was there to the rescue!

Get Busy Snorkeling and Explore the Ocean Floor

2016-12-7--22-54-08Palawan is a diver’s paradise for obvious reasons and the ocean floor here is truly one of a kind. I am not trained in proper deep sea diving but luckily the oceans here are so blessed with marine life that you can see colorful fish even from only a couple of feet off the shore. All you need are a snorkel and diving shoes to protect yourself from sharp stones or corals and you’re all set. I also bought small pieces of bread to lure the fish and get to fed them by hand. You can easily spend hours enjoying the ocean so be sure to top up on that sunblock!

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Fish feeding frenzy.

Viajera Travel Tip: Ask the locals where the best spots are for snorkeling and viewing coral reefs. You can hire a motorised banca to bring you there and you can explore the ocean floor as much as you want. There are overwhelmingly gigantic coral reef formations that you can only see if you go out a little bit into the ocean.

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Kayak

There are lagoons in Palawan best explored while kayaking so be ready for some paddle action. The kayak boats are available as rentals and from there you can roam around the lagoons and explore hidden corners. As it was my first time to kayak, controlling it was a challenge and eventually lead to arguments with the person I was paddling with. But when you get the hang of it, it is quite a serene water activity. The quiet motion of slicing across teal waters, the exceptional blue sky and the sounds of nature humming in the background all lead to a sense of tranquil. There was even a man floating around in a small boat selling ice cream so I could not have been any happier.

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Jump Off a Cliff

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Certified Ugong Rock Zipline survivor.

Adrenaline junkies rejoice because aside from all the water adventures, you can actually jump off a cliff here – while attached to a zipline of course. There are a number of places to do this, but one point of interest would be Ugong Rock Adventures, named after their rock boulders that reverberate upon percussion. Aside from their zipline, you also get to challenge upper body strength with spelunking.

Make New Friends

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Random encounters

Traveling brings about the imminence of meeting people from all walks of life. Incredibly, they also come with stories that would enrich these moments even more. Knowing someone new is one of travel’s best rewards whether or not you get to see them again. Chances are, you will keep something with you from those simple conversations. One of my treasured moments in Palawan was hiring a car with six Europeans on the way to El Nido. They did not speak much English but when they hooked their iPod to the car’s stereo, there was just an unspoken sense of understanding and we ended up singing to their playlist. To this day, I am following David Gray on Spotify because of them.

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Spur-of-the-moment beach buddy. Don’t limit yourself to human friends – they don’t call dogs man’s best friend for nothing.

So about that trip you were planning to the world’s best island, I can tell you that there is really nothing to wait for. This life is wasted on those who keep waiting for the “right” time – so book that flight already. And to those like me, who cannot wait to be in the middle of their next getaway, may your waiting time be short and your travel days as long as ever. In the truest and sincerest sense of the word, bon voyage. And someday if the universe permits, I hope to see you in Palawan.16

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Five Stunning Towns to See On Your Day Trips from Nice

nice5The most awaited season of the year has arrived – British Summer Time! Although not totally safe from the clutches of harsh English weather, at the very least we can now wear happy summer outfits on levels in which the weather allows and bare legs without worry. Admittedly it is a fantastic time to travel across Europe to get a year’s dose of that much needed sunlight.

When speaking of summer destinations, Nice, France is a perfect choice for any traveler hungry for some sun and sea. The French Riviera gravitates tourists from all over the world with its infamous beaches and seaside promenades – myself included. My last adventure to Cote d’ Azur ended with a promise of returning the following year – and yes, my tickets are already booked! I am not exaggerating when I say that Nice has the bluest waters and skies I have laid my eyes upon and it is something I would gladly come back to.

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Promenade du Paillon

However, there is more to Nice than sunbathing, gelato frenzy and lazy afternoons riddled with mojitos. It is a good starting point for day trips to fill up on art, culture and history. Why not widen your horizons and discover the charming neighboring towns of South France? Here are a couple of day trip ideas from Nice that I have personally done during my last visit to Cote d’ Azur. Getting to these towns are not complicated and most of all won’t hurt the bank. If you’re in Nice, you definitely have to drop by at least one of them – life is too short to pass on these stunning places!

Menton2Menton
Travel time: 4o minutes
Getting there: Bus 100, Bus 110 (Express). Alternatively, you can take the a train from Nice Ville to Menton
Travel Cost: €1.50 for the bus and €3.90 for the train

If there is a place in Cote d’ Azure that best showcases its beauty before the place got engineered into greatness, it would be Menton. Some call it the hidden pearl of the French Riviera because it has not basked in fame like other communes in Southern France. Well, not yet at least. This seaside town is nothing short of beautiful from the relaxed vibe, the array of dulcet homes, old docking port to the pastel hues of Old Town Menton.

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Pretty corners of Menton. Every February, a Lemon Festival is held in town so be sure to join the party if you’re around this time of year.

My first memory of the place was seeing a man and his dog briefly stopping by the communal drinking fountain for a drink. My friend later on explained that there are numerous drinking fountains across the towns of South France, most of which were built from the time of the Romans – although some are more decorative than functional. Just keep an eye for the “eau potable” sign.

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Viajera Travel Tip: Cross the borders and head off to Italy! Menton is the last city before crossing over to Italian borders. Why not go straight to Ventimiglia for some extra sightseeing and get yourself some authentic Parmigiano Reggiano.

Vence 1Vence
Travel time: 60 minutes
Getting there: Bus 400 (Vence) / Bus 94 (Halte Routière de l’Ara)
Travel Cost: €1.50

A medieval town over the hilltops surrounded by rivers and springs, Vence is the best place to appreciate nature while contemplating history and art at the same time. Come and adore pillars and vestiges dating back to the Roman era, including the Cathedral Notre Dame de la Nativité which was built from the 4th century. The stone walls and alleyways are silent witnesses to the changing times; of ideas that sprung from creative minds through the years.

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Cathedral Notre Dame de la Nativite
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La fontaine. Vence is often called the City of water because it is surrounded with rivers and springs. This is one of the town’s fountains.

Viajera Tip: Meet a Michelin – Star Chef! Satisfy your hunger for good food and art at Les Bacchanales. Situated at 247 avenue de Provence, Vence this day trip is almost incomplete without a taste of Chef Christophe Dufau’s cooking. His menu changes every week and as an advocate of locally sourced ingredients, his dishes clearly reflect the best seasonal products in this part of the world. His passion is contagious, perhaps a personification of the inspiring beauty of Vence.

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Saint Paul de Vence 1Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Travel time: 60 minutes
Getting there: Bus 400 (Vence)
Travel Cost: €1.50

Saint-Paul-de-Vence is an exceptional village in Provence with its strategic location seemingly built to create inspiration among artists and poets. Walk among its cobbled streets and you will understand how the place became a hub for artists, poets and writers. Maybe it’s the way the sun strikes the village or probably the breathtaking views all too abundant to the place, but Saint-Paul-de-Vence cradled artists into greatness like no other place on Earth. Artistic presence is so strong that you can feel it being celebrated in the open – air galleries, museums and even to the quaint shops around the village.

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The undeniable charm of Saint-Paul-de-Vence.

BSR1Briel Sur Roya
Travel time: 60 minutes
Getting there: Board a train from Nice Pont Michel to Breil – sur – Roya
Travel Cost: €7- €8

This town will entice nature lovers with the heavily forested Roya Valley and sparkling lake formed by a hydro – electric dam. It is a quick getaway for being one with nature and maybe a picnic while enjoying the lakeside view. The narrow streets and restored ancient houses add to the town’s charm and there is a church from the 17th century still standing up to this day.

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grasse 4Grasse
Travel time: 60 – 90 minutes
Getting there: Take Bus 500 from Nice Albert 1er going to Grasse – Gare Routière. Alternatively, you can take a train from Nice Ville to Grasse.
Travel Cost: €1.50 for the bus, €8 – €12 via train

When one talks about going to Grasse, France, topics about perfumes and perfumeries inevitably ensue. The world’s perfume capital lives up to its name with perfumeries like Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard offering free guided tours for a closer look on how perfume is made from raw materials. It’s a fantastic chance to put your olfactory skills to the test and maybe hoard perfume straight from the manufacturers.

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Viajera Travel Tip: Fill out the visitor’s form in Fragonard and receive their brochure via post for free. Not only will you get fantastic gift ideas at factory price, they also send out free samples!

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My Fragonard freebies! Merci Fragonard!

Continue reading Five Stunning Towns to See On Your Day Trips from Nice