Thursday: Truffy our motorhome was all prepped and ready to hit the road. We pointed him south to the coast and the Côte d’Azur, which was looking especially glitzy as it happened to be hosting once again this week the Cannes Film Festival.
A stop en-route at an Asian grocery store recommended by our local hosts enabled a massive stock up on all the ingredients Catherine likes to use in her cooking, and we know from previous experience here they are not easy to source in the French and Italian supermarkets. We miss our spicy dishes here when eating out so create our own.
We decided on a whim to stay at a campsite we spotted in the first town we reached, Mandelieu-la-Napoule. It looked very scenic on a small canal, so we were shortly tucking into the fresh produce we had picked up on the way down. Ah the joy of France to get such quality veg everywhere you shop.
The e-bikes were quickly unloaded and we set off without much of a plan as to where we were going to explore. We found ourselves wandering along the coast towards Cannes, and realised we could actually ride all the way in.
So we decided to check out what was happening around the Film Festival. It was heaving of course, with all the beautiful people parading around their floating gin palaces.
It was really quite entertaining for us to hear so many languages and accents, see people so dressed up. Something we miss in Australia. And we even got to see the (empty) famous red carpet ready for the premier of the Elton John story, Rocketman (see news story and resultant images here). Amusing to see some hopeful young ladies all dressed up in skimpy outfits with signs saying “ticket wanted”. I wonder how their evening will go!
Would have hated to be driving though the traffic chaos, but our e-bikes make it so easy to really cover some ground and weave in and out. We are so pleased we lashed out for these little beauties. Ideal for this type of outing.
It was a great day out, capped off by a veggie Pad Thai courtesy of Mrs A. An episode of Peaky Blinders and the day was ended perfectly.
We have now ten days to wander into Italy and down to Florence, where Catherine will then fly home for a quick hospital visit leaving me to take care of Truffy. Italy here we come!
Location: Bagnols-en-Forêt, Saint-Paul de Vence, Fayence & Tourettes, France
Tuesday: Curious about the joys of riding an e-bike, we took our friends out for a cycle along some of the forest paths where we were staying…we can safely say they approve!
It was just a short ride in the morning before we headed back to wind our way by car across the mountain villages, past Fayaence, Tourettes and Grasse across to the small walled town of Saint-Paul de Vence.
Saint-Paul de Vence is a perched village located about 12km north east of Nice. It was originally settled in about 400 bcd and then was renamed in the year 120 when the Romans called it Castrum Sancti Pauli (interpreted as St Paul’s Fortress). In the late 1800s and 1900s the village was discovered by impressionist artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Marc Chagall (who is buried in the little cemetery there). The poor artists enjoyed the clean light and spectacular views – to the coast in one direction and the snow capped Alps in the other.
The Colombe d’Or restaurant and inn started life in the village in the 1920s and had a great reputation for good food and dancing on its terraces. It became a popular place amongst the artists, who often exchanged a painting or two in return for food or accomodation.
Today the whole village remains full of artists and galleries selling everything from today’s modern art to older Chagall and Picasso paintings and prints.
Lunch was our first port of call, having forgone breakfast for a ride. We found a little terraced cafe with a fabulous view. It was a little tourist trap really with overpriced average food and wine from a sack, but the views made up for it!
We continued our exploration of the village, visiting Marc Chagall’s grave, covered in stones in the Jewish tradition and admired the views down to Nice and across the mountains. We wandered around the little lanes, admiring paintings with high price tags (€65,000 for an original Picasso artist’s print thank you very much – that’s around AU$106,000 /£57,000 /US$73,000 for our international readers).
An Apéro Spritz on the terrace concluded our afternoon before returning back to Colin’s feast of fish and prawn gumbo – delicious!
Wednesday: Our final day with our friends in France – it was time to give Colin and Di back their peace, serenity and healthy livers and Chris, Karen, Jenny and David were to be off back to Australia. The weather greeted us with appropriate sadness with a fine rain falling, and the morning was spent sharing stories, photos and doing the final packing and washing.
Di then took us up to the little village of Fayence, which had overlooked us on our Monday night farm meal. Mark and I visited here with Diane three years ago – then it had been sundress weather and the streets were bustling with the Saturday market. This time, it was jacket weather and other than the odd cat, the streets were largely abandoned.
We walked across to the next village of Tourettes, enjoying the unique doorways and artworks on the walls, and admiring the views down across the valley towards the coast.
The evening saw us get suited and booted for our final meal together.
Dinner was held at Moulin de la Camandoule an old olive mill with a history that dates back to Roman times.￼
It was a delicious meal and a fitting end to our time together in Provence. Many thanks to Di and Colin for putting us up for the past few days and being such fabulous hosts.
Location: Bagnols-en-Forêt, Provence-Alps-Côte, France
Our wonderful hosts have lived within the community of Bagnols-en-Forêt for about four years now. It’s tucked up on the hinterland behind the sparkling Mediterranean, on land which traditionally has been used to grow olives and grapes, but these days is more profitable being subdivided to house terracotta tiled villas with swimming pools.
Sunday: We joined them for a walk around the neighbourhood with Genie, their little poodle-cross rescue dog, and got a good feel for the area. Many of the houses are on half acre plots with lovely gardens. Just 100 metres from the back of Diane and Colin’s property the forest stretches on for miles with views out to the foothills of the Alps.
Later, we drove on down to the village for a lazy Sunday lunch, enjoying salads and a glass or two of local Rosé.
Colin and I awaiting our lunch
Towards the end of the afternoon a rental car arrived bringing Jenny, David, Chris and Karen to the house, here to enjoy their final four days in Europe before flying back to Australia. Colin cooked us all up a delicious feast and we had a good catch up.
Monday: We awoke to a beautiful morning and so Mr A and I decided to jump on our bikes and see a little more of the area. We rode up into the area behind Colin and Di’s house and explored some of the tracks leading into the forest. It’s great fun riding our little e-bikes and we were grateful for them on the steep uphills back out of the valley.
The area is stunning, and as we rode through the area full of wildflowers we marvelled at how parklike the area was. We reached a clearing along the road and with views that took our breath away – looking south towards the Mediterranean, Saint-Raphael gleaming in the distance, and north up into the beginning of an alpine environment.
We clocked up 20km and returned to get ready to head out with the group. We piled into two cars and headed south towards the coast. Our first stop was the little town of Fréjus.
The town is on the site of an ancient naval base founded by Julius Caesar in about 50 bce and known originally as Forum Julii. Its Roman ruins include a late 1st-century amphitheatre, an aqueduct, and ancient fortifications.
As we arrived in town we saw a parade starting – it turned out it was the saint day for saint François de Paule, the Italian monk who arrived on the day the plague ended in the town – and henceforth was praised for being the town’s saviour.
We ambled through the little streets, checking out the architecture, arriving at the main square and the cathedral.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame et Saint-Étienne (13th century) has a 5th-century baptistery, gradually being excavated.￼ ￼￼
After lunch in the square we drove a short way along the coast to Saint-Raphaël. A €4 ferris wheel ride gave us the perfect opportunity to enjoy views along the coast and get our bearings in this resort town.
We explored the streets before ice creams and returning back for the evening. Di and Colin had booked us a unique experience, a private dinner prepared and served at a local farmhouse, La ferme Constantin in nearby Fayance.
It was a fabulous rustic setting, as we enjoyed wine and appetisers outside overlooking the fields, before heading in for food as the sun set.
Our private dining room
It was a great experience, one we will never forget.
Location: Beaune, Mirmande and Bagnols-en-Forêt, France
We had three days to travel just under a 1,000km through the centre of France in order to reach our next get together with friends in Provence. That meant the freeways – expensive, boring and fast would be my summary. We spent around €100 on tolls, but arrived early enough at our stopovers to at least see something of the country.
Thursday: The first night we returned to the town of Beaune, the wine capital of Burgandy. We had been here a few years ago and loved it, staying at a great free parking spot within walking distance of the town centre.
It rained on and off but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for ogling the amazing selection of food and wine shops that cram into the tiny centre. A very classy place is Beaune. We escaped with our wallets intact, only giving way to our desires with a round of washed rind sheep’s cheese, a type of cheese Catherine can tolerate small amounts of with her dairy intolerance.
Friday: We were up and off in the morning and hitting the freeways again. We managed to get to Mirmande, our stop over, early enough to have a good explore on the bikes.
Around 4km from our delightful little campsite (La Poche camping) was a village a friend had recommended as it is in the category of “one of the most beautiful in France” – along with hundreds of others I think, as there seems so many. In fact I looked it up, there’s 156 that an association formed in the early 80’s recognises as “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France“. There’s some criteria they need to meet and a branding they can use. All very noble.
Our trusty little e-bikes powered us up right to the 12th century church at the top of the village, with outstanding in views right down to the Rhone river.
After snapping away for a while I dragged Mrs A away and we headed down to the Rhône through some lovely countryside.
The climb back up to our camp was 4km straight up – thankyou Mr Bosch we love your pedal assist technology!
Saturday: The final day of the drive into Provence was completed without incident. There was no tailgating, or middle lane hogs, drivers are almost all respectful to others on the road. A pleasure to experience, coming from Australia and New Zealand. So we finally reached our destination at our friends’ place just outside a small village called Bagnols-en-Forêt in the hills behind Cannes and St Tropez. And what a place it is! They have created this private oasis of a garden, and a house of eclectic, exquisite taste. Colin is an awesome master of his domain, the kitchen, and dinner a sumptuous affair. The rest of the mob arrive tomorrow, so we enjoy the time to ourselves catching up with these guys.
It’s fascinating to get their perspective on French life, as Australians who moved out here 8 years ago. I think the best phrase I heard them use was that the French life in a “bubble”, where the world in some ways doesn’t seem to touch them too deeply. Traditions are maintained, micro-agriculture common, family life still central to their lives it seems. The finer and often simpler moments in life are still treasured. A long lunch with friends (where mobiles seems less prevalent than at home), a walk through the woods, choosing the weekly shop undertaken with such care at the local market. These are the things we observe and love about France.