South of France/Spain Road Trip (Part 1)

Coronavirus has one positive, it provides much more time for writing up past trips.This is a 2 week road trip taking in old favourites and new in early to mid-May. It’s a nice time to be around the Mediterranean, escaping the worst of the crowds. All in, we did around 1,800 miles from Monaco to the Costa Brava, Arles and Avignon, Carcassonne, Les Causses and St Tropez.Mostly it was wonderful but I did end up in hospital on our final night and we had to spend another 3 extra nights in the St Tropez area before I was able to allowed to fly home.A first and I hope, a last of that kind of experience!

To Villefranche Sur Mer, Cote D’Azur

Villefranche
Villefranche Sur Mer

Friday Day 1: Arrived  from chilly Edinburgh, at balmy Nice airport at 9pm. Picked up the hired car and headed to pretty Villefranche Sur Mer, 20 minutes drive away and another world. The palm trees lining the elegant Promenade des Anglais were being stirred by a light breeze and the moon was reflected on the surging surf to our right. We have had so many wonderful holidays on the Cote D’Azur. Yes it’s built up and busy and frenetic but the glam, the charm, the beautiful medieval villages perched high above the sea, the Belle Epoque grandeur of the coastal resorts, the glitzy cruisers and lovely climate,  just sing summer, summer, summer. I have often wondered over the years why, given we spend so much time in the world’s wilder places – crave these in fact – that such a tourist-thronged area of often ostentatious wealth (and prices) has held such appeal. But draw us back it does. Although this was a 2 week road trip to see some new sights to the west and in Spain, we just had to fit in 4 nights on the French Riviera. While it’s very easy to get around this area by bus or train,we prefer the car; knowing it so well,  driving isn’t too much of an issue and there is nothing quite like heading up onto the Grande Corniche, winding past the sumptuous, stylish villas, bright pink bougainvillea tumbling over the stone walls, the cerulean sea over a thousand feet below, glittering under a cloudless sky. It is certainly a place that makes me feel glad to be alive.

Hotel de La Darse

DSC_0858

We got parked outside Hotel de La Darse, our go-to place whenever we are here.It overlooks the lovely 17th century harbour (La Darse) of this colourful little town with its tiny cobbled streets, some dating back to the 13th century and its handsome , 400 year old Citadel dominating the west side of the town.

The Citadel

Delighted to find that our room, the one we always book on the top floor,  had been re-decorated and was looking very smart and not bad at all for around 115 euros per night, a steal in this part of the world given its lovely location.We sat out for a short time on our balcony, watching the moonlight on the water and the sweeping beam of the Lighthouse out on the edge of Cap Ferrat. Familiarity certainly hadn’t bred contempt – it was a joy to be here.

Beaulieu, St Jean Cap Ferrat and Foie Gras

Sat Day 2: A breakfast cuppa on the balcony, the air still cool with the sun low in the sky, the bobbing yachts in the Marina below; across the bay, the low wooded peninsula of elegant St Jean Cap Ferrat with its millionaire/billionaire villas amidst the Aleppo pines. Then along the fine old marbled walkway to the harbour front, where we stopped for cafe au lait and croissants on a cafe terrace at the water’s edge.

The town appears briefly in the film ‘An Affair to Remember’ when Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr get off the cruise ship, hire a car and drive up to see his grandmother who lives in one of the enormous pastel pink villas above the bay. It beings tears every time I see that scene, remembering our times here!

Today’s plan was to walk to lovely Beaulieu, visit the gorgeous Villa Kerylos then head round to the beach at St Jean on the Sentier Littorale coastal path for a relax , a read and a swim.It’s a shortish 25 min walk or so and Beaulieu itself lives up to its name.

Beaulieu
Beaulieu

Built in the early 1900s, the Villa (now a Museum) is an absolute beauty inside, modelled on an ancient Greek villa with delightful views of the sea which almost surrounds it completely. Not far away is the equally splendid Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild with much larger, more beautiful gardens. But the interior of Kerylos I find more beautiful.

Kerylos_sept 2010
Villa Kerylos

kerylos

We spent an hour or so enjoying the place (9 euros entry each) then made our way past the blue and white striped beach umbrellas of the town’s small stretch of sand, overlooked by the 5 star Royal Riviera Hotel, way WAY out of our price league but oh it looks gorgeous.

The path winds amongst the pines, so evocative of this coast, with their dusty, dry scent , past rocky coves, past David Niven’s grand and very pink one-time home too.

niven house

In 20 mins,  we were at St Jean’s small beach where we laid out our mats to soak up some sunshine, something we are often short of back home. The views of the coast here are wonderful and we could see tomorrow’s destination too – tiny Eze village, tottering on a high crag, a medieval gem of a place 1,400 feet up and with one of the world’s most beautifully located restaurants , part of the 5 star luxurious Chateau Eza and a village favoured by Paul McCartney of all people.

Chateau Eza

After a bit of swimming in the still chilly-ish water, we headed up to one of the larger cafes with a huge outdoor terrace for more coffee and a sandwich.It was all pleasantly quiet.Then back along the coastal path to Beaulieu as I wasn’t finished with it just yet. It has superb Belle Epoch architecture and some mouth watering chocolate shops and patisseries.

Belle Epoque grandeur

 

Picked up a favourite – a mango mousse dessert – which was beautifully boxed for me and a few handmade chocolates . Then on to the local Supermarche, which sells gorgeous fresh Duck Foie Gras for a fairly reasonable price. Armed with food for dinner on our balcony, we got the train (bang next door to the supermarket) back to Villefranche given we were now laden with bags of supplies and bottles of wine. Picked up a couple of baguettes from the local bakery and we were all set.

We don’t always like going out to eat so the evening was spent relaxing on the balcony , with wine, the Foie Gras and a Fig compote,  good Parma ham, tomatoes and Emmental cheese. We watched the sun going down and the big cruise ship which was anchored off shore,  slipping out of the bay, off to its next port of call.Tomorrow, ours would be Monaco and a Michelin lunch at Chateau Eza.

Other Days:South of France/Spain Road Trip(Part 2)  South of France/Spain Road Trip(Part 3)  South of France/Spain Road Trip(Part 4)  South of France/Spain Road Trip (Part 5) South of France/Spain Road Trip (Final)

 

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