We are now slowly driving to Italy across the South of France. There is a scenic road which hugs the coast all the way, so this is the road we’re taking as opposed to the toll road. This area is obviously where France keeps all its money; all of France is beautiful, but this is on another level. Just as we thought it couldn’t get any more scenic, the next village has more to offer.
It is as though the sea has been dyed with the deepest turquoise blues. The beaches are long and golden, and inviting to the point it was getting impossible to drive because we just wanted to look at them, so on occasions we did just that, we would pull over and soak up the sights and make a cup of tea.
|The nicest beaches we have ever seen|
|These two were happy enough|
After a swim in the sea - a short one for me, it wasn’t warm - we finished our lunch and made our way to the aire, which just happened to be next to the beach, happy days.
The next day we made our way to St Tropez. We managed to find a parking spot and went for a short walk around. The local market was just closing down so we quickly made our way around this and down to the quay. All along the quay (apart from the big yachts) were artists selling paintings. These ranged from post-card size to twice the size of flip chart paper, from dark moody stormy pictures to brightly coloured almost cartoon style pictures. The quay was bustling with people, walking round, doing shopping, painting, or sitting down for lunch on tables in the streets; it had a great feel to it.
We left the crowds and bought our lunch from a patisserie and found a quiet spot at the edge of the quay to eat it. Sitting there, watching the clear blue sea, a purple squid swam up to us to say hello, how weird was that?!
|This is where we saw the squid|
That night we tried two different aires from our book but neither turned out to be any good (one was full, the other we didn’t like the look of). By this time it was getting late so we decided to venture inland a bit to an aire up a mountain in the village of Bagnol en Foret. It was a great little spot in a farmer’s field, an absolute bargain for €5. The owner couldn’t do enough for us and even brought out table tennis.
The field was high up on a hill and we had a full view over the village below. We enjoyed it here so much we decided to stay another night. Another happy accident that we wouldn’t have found had the other aires been ok.
The next day we rode our bikes up a mountain path for some exercise, it was a great ride but Beth nearly fainted when we reached the top. The big girl!
|The view after our cycle ride|
|Tom checking Beths heart rate after the cycle ride|
After a couple of days in the mountains we headed to Cannes. We had lunch in a park and coffee on the beach front. Unfortunately, as we had laundry that needed doing, Beth spent the afternoon in the ‘lavanderie’ washing our pants!
|Doing their best to look cool|
The next day, after an overnight in an aire next to to a very major roundabout, we headed out for Monte Carlo via Nice. After the sat nav had taken us on a tour of Nice city centre (great fun) we followed the coastal road upwards and found a place to stop and have lunch overlooking the sea.
|The view over Nice|
As we pulled up, we saw a man we assumed to be a tramp sitting in the sunshine. After we had been there a few minutes, we saw that he was in fact some kind of artist; he had set up an ancient-looking radio, from which was playing some lovely old French music and despite the fact that we were overlooking one of the most spectacular views we have seen on this trip so far, he had set up a bottle and an old telephone receiver to paint.
|What we thought was a tramp turned out to be an artist - or both|
After lunch, we followed the coast once more and soon arrived in Monte Carlo. On doing a couple of laps around the one way system which doubled up as the Grand Prix race track, and several U-turns upsetting too many people in McLarens, it was obvious we weren’t going to find a place to park, so we made our way to the next aire. After 40 minutes up a mountain, tackling winding roads looking out over the cliff edge (which had no barriers on) we finally made it. Beth has had to buy some medication for these roads (no joke). The aire is in another mountain village, this one called ‘Sospel’. We parked up and went for our explore of the place. This time Beth came but Alfie wanted some time on his own in the van. It was another village stuck in time, similar to ‘La Grasse’. Very quirky and quaint and very beautiful. The local council are wanting to turn it into a tourist spot. Currently it’s in the Lonely Planet books, but in a few years, I dare say it will be in all the mainstream books too.
|Sospel - Another beautiful village stuck in time|
After Sospel we drove back down the mountain to a place called ‘Menton’ and caught the train to Monte Carlo from there. It was a double decker train, Tom was well chuffed. Monte Carlo is dripping with money. We found a shop advertising yachts that cost €22,000,000. To hire one for a week would set you back a cool €150,000, or out of season, €95,000. Maybe not on our budget then. We even found a watch for €35,000. I’ll have two thanks.
|Alf wanted to swap the van for one of these!|
|No matter how hard we tried to fit in, we still felt like aliens|
We found a great spot for our picnic in a park, unfortunately there were signs saying no picnicking, no sitting on the grass - you couldn’t even take photos??? By this time the boys were getting grumpy because they were hungry so we sat down anyway as inconspicuously as we could and ate our pic-nic stealth style.
I thought I would try my luck in the casino and managed to get five steps inside before being thrown out for wearing shorts. Never mind, I will have to make my fortune on the next visit.
|Being evicted from the casino, a little role reversal for me|
We walked around the town and across the quay which was all very impressive, but I must say I was starting feel a bit nauseous after a while. There are only so many Rolls Royces, Ferraris, Jaguars and McLarens mixed with dozens of yachts all worth millions that one can stomach in a day. We bought our fridge magnet, post cards and ice cream, and made our way back to the train station. We walked past some chap called Eddie Jordan celebrating a birthday on a very large yacht, who Beth informs me is quite famous in the formula one world.
|View of Monte Carlo from the train station|
That night we made our way over the border and spent our first night in Italy.
At one point during route discussion, we had planned to take a ferry from Barcelona to Rome to save ourselves some time. We eventually ruled this out as we have lots of time, but less money and are so glad that we did because we would have missed out this whole section of coast which we have loved.
We could have done the journey from the Spanish border to Italy on the toll roads in about four and a half hours. Instead, by following the coast, it took us nine days. Even that felt rushed.