The Frioul Islands

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The Frioul archipelago is a group of islands off the coast of Marseille. It includes the island of If, which is where the Chateau d’If of The Count of Monte Cristo fame is located. Ferries to the islands leave from Marseille‘s Vieux Port at regular intervals. Attracted by a sign in the ferry ticket office warning hikers not to disrupt the unique Frioul ecosystem, my sister and I dropped our planned calanque tour and bought ferry tickets instead. It was a good move; as we found out later that day, the Frioul islands don’t lack for calanques and beaches.

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Our first stop was the Chateau d’If, where the fictional Edmond Dantes and some real-life political and religious detainees were held captive. The castle was a bit smaller than I expected from watching the movie, and in the bright sunlight of the courtyard it looked peaceful. Once we entered the prison, however, it was another matter altogether. Some cells had windows looking out to the sea and the coast of Marseille, and I could just imagine what a torture it must have been for the prisoners to see the outside world, so near yet so completely unreachable. Then again, I suppose it would be much, much worse to be incarcerated in a windowless chamber. Poor Edmond Dantes.

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Then it was back to the courtyard, and the sun immediately warmed the mood once again. We watched the blue green sea while we waited for the ferry, and I pocketed a few red and gray rocks from the island (“A rock from Chateau d’If!”). We chatted with a lady from Taiwan, who said we were fortunate to have traveled so far, and we couldn’t agree more.

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The boat took us to the rest of the Frioul archipelago. The island of Ratonneau was my favorite. The limestone cliffs, the resilient green shrubs, the wild flowers, the pebbly beach, the chilly Mediterranean sea, the cool wind and the afternoon sunshine — it was the perfect place for a picnic. We had no food, except for a box of raspberry-filled chocolate biscuits, so we contented ourselves with a dip in the Calanque de Morgiret and a hike along the path to Saint-Esteve. The walk was so lovely, we went farther than we expected, and we had to run back to the pier when we spotted the ferry approaching from If, laughing all the way.

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That Frioul trip was one of the most beautiful moments of our vacation, but it was also bittersweet. Our grandfather was in the ICU at that time, back in our home in Cebu, and we knew in our hearts he wouldn’t make it. Sometimes I wonder if he, in some way, chose to be sick at the time of our trip — if it was somehow his way of saying that he wanted us to be happy, not sad.

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There are so many reasons why I want to go back to France. I want to explore Paris a bit more; I want to see Avignon and Arles and Cannes and Antibes. I want to stay at a chateau and visit a vineyard, walk in lavender fields and gaze up at a starry night sky. But the one thing my heart truly aches for is to go back to the Frioul islands. We’ll bring some bread and wine and cheese next time, and make a toast to Lolo. And I’ll sit on those limestone cliffs again, and look out to the sea, and enjoy the sunshine and the wind…this time without the sadness.

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