Monday, 27 June 2011

The Cote d'Azur and its sunshine!

Over a week since we made it to the Cote d’Azur region of southern France and it feels like much longer – it really is the stuff dreams are made of! Mind you we had a stroke of luck when we left the last camp. The night before we had decided that the one we were booked into was far too far north and the wrong side of the mountain for access to the coast. The whole point of heading east! So we cancelled and choose another from the list we use all the time. Always be wary of descriptions, either printed or on the internet. I will not name the camp but after two hours plus on the motorway we faced up to a twenty minute ‘bump’ down a long, even longer, and when will we get there unmade up track, with the poor little Smart bouncing along behind. And it wasn’t worth the drive – it was a scruffy hillside with a long trek up to the reception and bar shack, the few caravans looked as if they had been stuck there for ever and I’ll be the trees were infested with insects! We did not hang around to find out. Having spoken with Madam (very sweet) about the difficulties of getting our heavy van up inclines, we pretended to take a look around and then legged it! Back down the track!

We then drove on to our second choice, happily less than 30 minutes down the main road (one of those Provencal main roads that resembles a switchback ride!) and as their electronic gate opened to let our vehicles in, we knew we had struck gold. A tiny site called Le Tuquette, run by a lovely middle aged French couple. Far smaller and compact than we are used to – no massive views here – but really good facilities, a warm atmosphere and friendly people. Our van is right by the bar (Victor cannot believe his luck), the pool is equally as lovely as the last one, and we are only fifteen minute drive from the most delightful French hillside town – Fayence – which we discovered on Day 2 here. It has everything including magnificent views across countryside, several great restaurants and bars, fun shops and sunshine all the way! So, in view of all this, and because of the wealth of sightseeing to do in the region, we have decided to completely alter our itinerary and stay here for a total of seventeen nights, leaving on Wednesday next week. Radical I know – but that is the joy of having our own motorhome – flexibility is the name of the game!

And so it was that last Wednesday 22nd June, we found ourselves driving to Grasse, the centre of the French Perfume industry. An attractive and historic hilltop town, Grasse offered us a simple French lunch at an open air restaurant near a fountain, browsing around Perfume shops where they distil their own fragrances, a tour around the old town in the little tourist train with headphones giving us a commentary, and a visit to the showroom and museum of the House of Fragonard, the original parfumerie in the town. Victor owed me a birthday present, so I chose a lovely light floral scent called ‘Belle de Nuit’ with notes of geranium, rose, plum and musk. As long as it had ‘Grasse’ printed on the bottle I was happy! It was less than an hour to Grasse, which made for a stress free day out in an iconic spot in Provence.

And then this Saturday was the big one – well, the first of the big ones – I drove to Cannes! Not without certain stresses I will admit, but we did have this deal that Victor will drive the van if I drive the daytrips in the Smart. But the roads around here – I know I have said it before but it is not Norfolk! But I managed and it was with a certain thrill that I drove us along the coast road and into this very special place! I don’t know what I expected from it, apart from sea and sand, but it surpassed expectations and you could smell the money! The sea and the sky really are as blue as when we swoon over George Clooney getting off a launch at the Cannes Film Festival, the restaurants on the beach really do twinkle with the crystal and the bottles of spirits, the girls really are beautiful (although not topless anymore it seems!), and the price tags really are as staggering as you might imagine! Oh, and the boats in the marina and moored offshore are as fabulous as those on any James Bond movie. And more so!

We spent some time taking photos of the boats before walking up the steep hill to the castle to get the panoramic view everyone wants in their photo album. Every few moments there was something else to gaze at, laugh at, admire, envy, lust after etc etc. There are black and white photos of film stars, old and new, in every bar, we found the handprints of several including Paul McCartney in the pavingstones outside the Tourist information and we found a little restaurant offering a three course meal (it included deep fried courgette flowers – yum!) that did not break the bank. Our post lunch stroll along the beach road (Boulevard de la Croisette) in bright white sunshine offered many memorable images, including the contrast between the small piece of public (and free) beach with multi-coloured towels and assorted umbrellas, with the strips of beach owned by the five star hotels, with their matching sunbeds, cushions and sunshades. Out to sea the huge yachts sit in the twinkling water, while helicopters buzz overhead, presumably bringing their wealthy clients in to the hotels or the vessels. There were people water ski-ing or paragliding, and others were simply enjoying a long leisurely and boozy lunch in the glass fronted restaurants that served as gateways to the private beaches with their tanned ‘beautiful people’. I was much taken with the four poster beds (honestly) that were available to hire on one particular stretch of beach, and we were blown away by the preparations being taken for a wedding reception that evening – a whole beach area had been taken over and changed into a big party space with a huge white leather high back sofa for the happy couple, pink and purple streamers covering a huge gantry with full disco lighting rig, round tables with pink cloths and crystal wine glasses and a fully stocked bar. Lucky girl!

As for weddings, at least four took place at the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) that afternoon. We know that because the tradition seemed to be that the couple come racing down the coast road in some fabulous ribbon strewn car, with their friends and relations in convoy, hooting and screaming and waving at all the passers - by! On our walk back to the car in the late afternoon, we could not resist the temptation to take off our shoes and walk onto the public sand (surprisingly crisp underfoot with all the broken seashells!), followed by a quick paddle in the Med! I think this amused the sunbathers! Typical English on holiday! At least Victor wasn’t wearing socks with his sandals! It had been a terrific experience and we were so fortunate to see it in such perfect weather. It was a long hot drive home with just as much anxiety as the outward journey but we got back in one piece and after two days relaxing in camp and up at Fayance, we plan a further trip to Monte Carlo tomorrow – and Victor has offered to drive! Monte is probably more like two hours away on the motorway – they are having a Royal Wedding at the weekend so we expect to see evidence of grand preparations! I will let you know! Enjoy the sun while it lasts!

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