South of France/Spain Road Trip (Final)

Days 11-13: From Les Causses to St Tropez and….hospital.

A pleasant enough breakfast at our B&B in Le Caylar, our hostess perhaps a little hard edged plus we were feeling a bit put off given the poor meal the night before. She didn’t ask us about it and I much preferred not to get into any negative discussion either so….said our goodbyes and looked forward to the day ahead.

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First stop (very early) was a visit to La Couvertoirade, an exquisite medieval village a short drive away, with a strong Templar history. Walking through the restored little streets and wynds was like stepping back into the 16th century. It is one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France and lives up to its listing in spades. Very sleepy, hardly a soul about, a few tiny shops beginning to open up (just as we were leaving.) An interesting church, an old castle and the wonderful defensive walls themselves. The walls were shut however – we were too early. That word ‘shut’ has figured a lot in this trip! We followed a dirt track out of the village and up onto rocky pasture – land where sheep grazed; I was very taken with this bucolic yet slightly more rugged countryside; it looked to be nice walking country, off the beaten track.

A delightful stop but our destination for the rest of the day was a good 4 hours drive away in the gorgeous St Tropez area, somewhere we have spent many a happy few days and just couldn’t miss re-visiting this trip. Our accommodation was in the countryside outside the beautiful village of Grimaud, yet a mere 10 minutes drive from the more frantic coast and another, glossier world. From the excellent motorway, we took the Plaine des Maures route on the D558 to Grimaud via the village of Le Garde Freinet, through chestnut and cork oak forest , an incredibly winding and slow route. But hardly another vehicle, very empty country and given our experience with the D25 route via St Maxime, it was much preferable. We have been caught up in too many horrendous traffic jams on the latter route to the coast! Had a brief stop at Le Garde Freinet, a lovely wee place up in the Maures mountains, then swept down , down , down towards St Tropez, with the cobalt sea now sparkling ahead of us in the late-afternoon sun.

As we confidently negotiated the road to Grimaud, me twittering about soon being beside the pool at our accommodation and enjoying a glass of something fizzy, we got completely and utterly lost. Pride comes before a fall – we knew this area, didn’t we? Could we find our B&B , Les Aurochs, in the hinterland maze of tiny roads and dirt tracks? No we could not! Forty minutes of me desperately trying to read a Google map of the area on my phone, with limited signal (we never use SatNav abroad, it’s paper maps, phone and downloaded directions) up and down umpteen wrong turns, dead ends, roads we knew were going nowhere – each of us getting more and more stressed and swimming pool time fading rapidly in my mind, I called the owner in desperation. Quickly handed the phone to Chris when the chap answered, lots of quick ‘oui, oui, oui….’ and nods from Chris and in 10 minutes we finally drove up to the stunning property that would be our home for the next 2 nights.

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Les Aurochs B&B

It’s amazing how you can go in minutes from tears of frustration and starting to growl at each other, to joy as we took in the beauty of the house we had arrived at. The property was SO beautiful , sitting on a little rise with views over the hills and forest, all on its own, a haven of peacefulness and exquisite taste. Everything was pristine yet comfortable and our hosts – two youngish men – very welcoming and relaxed. The big open plan lounge they took us into initially to get passports checked was like something out of a Dream Homes magazine, a wow.

So too was our en suite room and terrace, one of the nicest B&Bs we’ve ever stayed in and we have frequented a good few. Fairly reasonably priced for this part of the world too.

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In no time we had unpacked the car and got changed into our swimming things, to cool down and relax in the pool. It was a hot day of clear blue skies and dipping in and out of the water, reading under a sunshade, enjoying a glass of fizz – it felt like being in a little slice of paradise.

A quick visit down to the big Supermarket at Cogolin later and we got a fresh supply of (predictably) Le President Emmental grated cheese, tomatoes and good Parma ham, sliced and packaged beautifully at the Deli counter; pickles , crisps, fruit (Chris goes through a netful of oranges per day),  wine and a sourdough loaf for tonight. We would go out for a big lunch tomorrow at our favourite sea – side spot hereabouts on the famous Pampelonne beach. Tonight would be a relax on the terrace and watching the sun go down over a very lovely part of the world.

Day 12:St Tropez and Pampelonne Beach

Very nice breakfast on our hosts terrace the next morning, though it was still a bit too cool for the outside table. I must admit, I enjoyed being inside that gorgeous lounge again. Yoghurts, fresh fruit salad, muesli, good bread, cold meat and cheeses, gallons of tea (coffee for Chris) – all very good quality and very filling.

GRIMAUD

Off we set, for a stroll around Grimaud village itself, before it busied up. It is VERY difficult to park here and we have fallen foul before of the draconian parking attendants, getting a nasty fine once for misunderstanding the time limit instructions on the meters, which even Einstein would have had difficulty interpreting. No amount of pleading worked about our genuine mistake and I swear the female warden had a smirk on her face as she issued the ticket. Mind you, they must be inundated with ‘excuses’ from tourists like us about ‘not understanding’ so she had seen and heard it all before.

Grimaud’s beautiful old chapel

We wandered up through the very pretty streets, car free (and knowing we had 90 minutes exactly) the stone houses bedecked with bougainvillea, wisteria, roses and geraniums. Tiny sunlit terraces outside some houses, with pastel coloured cast iron chair and table; a cat sprawled in the sunshine outside an old oak doorway. A lovely public fountain in one shady square. Church bells pealing the hour; in mainland Europe they seem to be particularly melodious and slow. No rush here.

Then up to the ruined castle which overlooks the village and the coastline and the old tiled roofs of Grimaud.

As lunchtime approached , it was time to head for the Pampelonne beach and lunch at L’Esquinade – if we could get a table that is. A nice drive it is too, very rural and most of the land covered in lush vineyards. Paid our 5 euros to access the beach (nothing comes for free here) and make for one of the rattan shaded car park areas – no tarmac, just dirt and sand.

Then a short walk through the marram grass to the beach with its sunshine yellow umbrellas and loungers.

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L’Esquinade on Pampelonne beach

Our luck was in because the restaurant was still quite quiet at 12noon and we got a good sand-side table, nicely shaded. Oh it was good to be back here! It’s a wooden beach shack, very simple but lots of character. The opposite end of the beach is where the restaurants are that the supermodels and celebrities go to; this was more our budget and style! We both had mussels in white wine with bowls of chips. Then two big ice creams for dessert   – mint chocolate chip and rum n’ ‘raisin for Chris. Excellent.

We splashed out 20 euros (a special half price deal we were told! ) for two loungers, as we only wanted them for an hour or so. In the past we have made do with lying or sitting on towels on the sand, but our older bones now protest at that treatment.A bit of sunbathing, reading, popping in and out of the cool sea, the sun hot– just lovely.

St Tropez’s is one of my favourite places in France. Yes, it’s very busy, very expensive, but oh those pastel coloured houses with their multi coloured shutters, overlooked by the mega yachts – it epitomises ‘summer’ and colour in a way few places do. It is vibrant, glittery and so pretty and I can’t imagine by-passing it no matter how many times we’ve been there.  I often wonder why I like it so much when I am happiest in the unspoilt wilds of the Scottish Highlands, clambering up a mountain, or sitting outside our tent in the middle of nowhere, or listening to curlews calling on a dazzling white Hebridean beach,  but there you are.

It’s easy to park (in May anyway) in one of the huge car parks at the edge of the port and not too expensive. We tend to follow the same route – a wander past some of the ginormous OTT cruisers, staff polishing their chrome and hovering their carpets; then a stroll round to the main waterfront with its bars and cafes and artists selling (gaudy) paintings; there was Le Senequier café, packed as usual, where Brigitte Bardot used to drink rose wine – she still lives in the area. The prettiest area is behind the main harbour, where a little coastal path leads to a quiet beach overlooked by the lemon, pink and peach coloured houses. The castle at the top of the hill is also well worth a wander with some lovely views of the sea and coast.

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A bit of window shopping along the ultra smart narrow back streets where the glossy Dolce and Gabbana and Louis Vuitton shops lurk with their gorgeous window displays. Not a chance in heck I can afford any of it – or even want it – but it’s all part of the atmosphere of St Trop.

Up to the Place de Lice where the market is on, on certain days(and a load of old rubbish I thought it was too) and the Tarte Tropezienne patisserie with its amazing looking intricate little pies and tarlets and gateaux. I must sound like a real killjoy but they look a lot better than they taste – nothing beats good old British or Irish baking. Like the classy upmarket shops, nice to look at though.

Time to head back to Les Aurochs and enjoy it while there was still some heat in the sun.It was late afternoon and rush hour out of St Tropez was already building but we escaped the worst and in 25 mins, were sitting out on our little terrace, and dotting in and out of the pool.

A quiet night , listening to the cicadas chirrup – chirrup in the darkness before we retreated inside to read and message home. We’d finished off the cheese and bits and pieces we still had – tomorrow was our last day before flying home and we were ready to do so now. Little did I know we would NOT be going home as planned!

Day 13: Cap Taillat and Gassin

Our final day (or so I thought…fate was to prove otherwise) and we headed for Cap Taillat where a beautiful easy walk round the coast took us to some lovely quiet beaches with incredibly clear water, fragrant maquis covering the hillsides.

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Cap Taillat

We walked out to a small promontory and climbed to the top up a narrow path for fine views over the coast. Had some sandwiches I’d made,  sitting on an old log on the beach and enjoying the sun and colours of the sea. Then back along the coast and a drive up to another favourite village – Gassin, one of France’s ‘Most Beautiful.’

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Gassin

It has a gorgeous, very long public terrace lined with restaurants, some bedecked with wisteria , all lit up at night and with views over the countryside to the sea. Impossibly lovely though not always the best value/quality of food unfortunately as we found out to our cost on a previous trip. It’s such a shame that places give up on food quality because they know tourists fall in love with their romantic setting. We should have both!

Many of the buildings in Gassin remind me of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Art Deco style – or perhaps that’s the wrong way round and he got inspiration from here. Asymmetric shapes, angles slightly askew, windows in odd places – it is a delightful place, pristine too, so lovely to wander around. We had coffee in one of the cafes, sitting in the shade with the mid afternoon sun feeling very hot for walking about in.
I think we had come to the end now of our capacity to explore, as we were happy just to sit and chat and look forward to going home next day. So a stop off in Cogolin again and a few things picked up in the supermarket for eating in(no fresh Foie Gras here as in Beaulieu) and a retreat to Les Aurochs for a final splash in the pool and a glass of pop to celebrate a grand trip.But things took a very different turn later on!

Hospitalised

That night, I woke up about 11.30pm, wondering why my head was spinning – I’d had one glass of wine so knew it wasn’t too much alcohol; I don’t drink very much at all. Was it lunch? Something I ate? It got worse and worse and I felt really nauseous; when I moved to go to the bathroom, I collapsed in a heap on the floor, the room spinning as if I was on a merry go round travelling at 10 times its normal speed. I tried to crawl to the toilet, but almost passed out. By the time Chris woke up and rushed round to my side of the bed, I was lying on the floor in a complete mess of my own making having now lost control of my bodily functions and barely able to speak. To cut a long and horrible story short, an ambulance was eventually called to take me to St Tropez hospital. I have never felt so ill, the slightest movement had me retching and I felt so severely dizzy, I was passing in and out of consciousness.
I vaguely remember being roughly man-handled by a group of laughing orderlies at the hospital (who probably thought I was drunk) then being put into a CAT scan as by this time (I later found out) the doctors needed to check I had not had a stroke.
The rest of that awful night I cannot remember, not even being stripped and put into a gown and a bed where a fluid drip was attached. When I woke around 7am, I had on a gigantic nappy; I was unable to stand , even with help , without retching wildly and collapsing.
It was mid afternoon that a consultant came in and announced that at their confab, the doctors had decided that I had a severe case of Vestibular Neuronitis or Labyrinthitis – an inner ear infection which causes vertigo and nausea and interferes with balance. It can be mild to severe and I knew the version I had, unfortunately!

By late afternoon, with fears of something more serious ruled out, I was released and taken out in a wheelchair by staff as I still couldn’t walk without falling over. Chris – who’d been at the hospital all night having followed the ambulance down by car – had nipped back to bring me some clean clothes. I’m sure the night stuff I’d arrived in was probably binned by the nursing staff as I never saw it again (just as well.)

I was not allowed to fly next day and told that it would be 3 days before they would sign me off as being allowed to go home. Chris had to retrieve the necessary paperwork from the hospital on the Monday – it was now Friday. A whole extra weekend in St Tropez would otherwise have been very nice but not when all I could do was lie on a bed and, with two lots of medication, wait for the worst of the vertigo and constant nausea to ease. Luckily we found new accommodation nearby, as we were turfed out of Les Aurochs who were solidly booked for the weekend. The two guys there were so good about everything but I was also mortified about the whole scenario too.

No more drama after that and on Monday we flew home from Nice, my vertigo having reduced a lot though I’m sure many people at the airport wondered at the slightly swaying figure making her way through the concourse; they probably thought I’d imbibed a bit too much pre-flight. Embarrassing! I was told it could be three months before I regained full balance and although I was back to my running again within two weeks, I definitely was aware of imbalance at certain times; a sort of light-headedness and swaying. Enough to make me doubly careful on our hill walking trips anyway, where a fall could have catastrophic results! I have to say that we have not yet been back to St Tropez since that happened – I have a slight fear of going there now, as if whatever bug it was that hit me, is still lurking there, waiting to pounce again. Daft I know, but I suppose that’s what our minds do – try to protect us through association. One day we will return; we must…I can’t imagine ever NOT seeing that lovely, glitzy, sparkling part of the world again.

South of France/Spain Road Trip (Part 1)  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)

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