AUTUMN IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE (Day1 – Esterel Coast)

The South of France – one of my great loves. After the awful Covid restrictions began to ease and travel abroad opened up, we booked a (very cheap) Easyjet flight from Edinburgh to Nice and took a week to explore some much loved corners, rather than seeking out the new. It was almost as if Covid made me think how awful it would be to never see the Cote D’Azur and its hinterland of lovely medieval villages ever again. I wanted to stroll through places which hold very special memories, breathe in the scent of the Mediterranean, feel the warmth of its sun. I had watched one of my favourite films a few weeks before our trip – Hitchcock’s ‘Rebecca ‘ which starts off in the South of France  (albeit California was a stand in!) and also ‘An Affair to Remember’ which has a brief scene where pretty Villefranche – sur – Mer features; these always have me wiping away a few tears and longing to be there.

Heading out for morning coffees by the sea
Villefranche sur Mer

This was our itinerary: Nice – Esterel Coast – Moustiers St Marie – Gorges du Verdon – Entrevaux – Villefranche sur Mer – Eze – Beaulieu

An early flight at 7am so we left the house at the bleary-eyed time of 3.40am , yet surprisingly upbeat and not tired at all – no doubt due to the excitement of finally going abroad!

Flying back to Edin - Cap Ferrat peninsula below wing
Flying into Nice – Cap Ferrat peninsula and Villefranche Bay

After a super smooth flight and being ushered through Nice border control quicker than I ever remember, with barely a glance at our various QR codes and Statement of Honour, we were on our way. I had dreaded suddenly having a cough or the like as we stood in the queue; would they take me to one side, do a temperature check/put us on the next flight back?? I’m a worrier and in fact a few weeks back, I’d wanted to cancel the trip because of all the extra hassle of vaccination certificates etc. Thank heavens my husband Chris, laid back to the point of horizontal, told me to get a grip and RELAX. It would all be fine.

In no time we were driving off in our hired car (c/o Gold Car) heading west for the Esterel Coast beyond Nice, Cannes and Antibes.Clear blue skies were the order of the day and it a lovely 18C – not bad for October, given the distinct cold back home. Palm trees, pastel coloured buildings, pine clad hillsides…oh the joy of being here again!

Google suggested that it was about 90 mins drive to Antheor, near St Raphael, where we had an apartment booked for one night. It was still only 10.30am and we planned to drive slowly and enjoy it all.

The Esterel Coast Drive

Once through the smart looking houses and villas of Mandelieu – La Napoule, the Esterel’s craggy, orange/pink mountains reared ahead, the lower slopes covered by deep green umbrella pines and the land plunging steeply into turquoise coves. It all felt very different to other parts of this famous but certainly built up and busy coast. We stopped constantly, gazing down onto deserted pebbly coves lapped by crystal clear, azure seas.

Esterel coast - west of Cannes
Esterel coast

The road was so quiet too, this being off season.Oh, the scent of the Mediterranean! That spicy warm smell of pines and dry earth,  mixed with the sweeter scent of flowers. So evocative! I could have cried to be honest, I’d missed it so much. So many memories are wrapped up in scent, it’s such a powerful thing.

Esterel coast

About 12.30pm we arrived in Agay and pulled into a small supermarket complex. We didn’t get into the apartment until 1pm so this was a good chance to stock up a bit– except of course, one thing we had forgotten was that many smaller shops in this part of the world close from mid day until 5pm!

Ah well, that was me scuppered for the cup of tea I was longing for at this stage. (Chris of course had his eye on something stronger but no cafes were open either just now, in off season.)

Arriving at the Apartment

We headed back to Antheor where Google directions were spot on, taking us up a minor road to a security barrier which controlled entry to the Estate we were staying in; popped in the code, the gate opened and we drove around for a while trying to find the little semi -villa which was our apartment.

What a really lovely, upmarket development, full of palm trees and bougainvillea, super quiet. Finally, we spotted ‘our place,’ parked outside and were met very warmly by Jean who proceeded to show us his beautiful home.

Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea

I loved it right away – the photos just don’t do it justice. A large balcony looked over the garden to the Mediterranean.

Our apt in a gated community in Antheor, Esterel.

Inside, the decoration was in the traditional Provencal style with interesting art on the walls.

Our characterful apt in Antheor with mezzanine bedroom

Always lovely to be staying somewhere with lots of character. But the biggest pleasure was that balcony – it pretty much decided us then and there that we’d be eating in tonight. It was just too beautiful an outlook. I enjoy going out to eat but sometimes I think, well a restaurant is all very well but our accommodation (we always go for a balcony if possible) is even better – and quieter.

I admit I was starving by now and tea-starved. Demolished 2 Mango and Passionfruit Cornettos that our host had kindly left for us in the freezer. Never tried these before and they were excellent.

Those shops were still shut, so we decided to drive up into the Esterel mountains, hopefully to hike onto the top of Pic de Cap Roux. We do a lot of hiking here in Scotland, mostly  climbing mountains but I’m rarely attracted to doing that in southern Europe as usually when we are here – May/June or Sept –  it is just too hot for our cold Northern European blood. But in 22C temperatures with a strong breeze, it was perfect for a good walk.

A quick change into shorts, T-shirts and trail shoes and off we headed beyond Agay itself (a really nice low key resort on a sweeping sandy bay), taking the road which wound up into the mountains. It got a bit confusing which fork to take but the one which faced us after 10 mins of driving looked a bit horrendous; a very broken gravelly surface with a nasty drop down onto it from the tarmac road. We weren’t insured for driving on gravel either! Hmmm…that wasn’t ideal so we veered left and parked at an information point on the basis that checking a map always helps. The map confirmed that we should have taken that bad looking right turn. There were quite a few other cars parked and people heading off in various directions, geared up for hiking.  A bit frustrated, we decided to call it quits, and I could have kicked myself for not researching the route more thoroughly beforehand. But no point risking the car on Day 1 of our week…the Esterel wasn’t going anywhere but WE might not go much further if we damaged the sump or ended up with a mighty bill for the car! Bad planning on my part.

Le Dramont Walk

That said, the sea always draws us both. At least I  HAD researched a coastal walk at Le Dramont which wound round a pine clad, lighthouse topped peninsula at the far end of Agay. So we drove off,  eventually finding the parking area down a minor road signposted to Tiki Beach.

Cap Dramont
Coastline on Le Dramont walk

A great path from here took us across the sands then we followed a zig zag track for about 20 mins, which took us to a high viewpoint opposite the lighthouse. There were lovely views up and down the coast and to the far distant pre-Alps of the Mercantour National Park beyond Cannes and Nice.

DSC_0147.jpg
The Pre Alps beyond the coast

The colours of the rocks, the sea, the pines, were just a delight.

View over Agay from the Cap Dramont walk.

We followed the path as it descended more steeply towards the sea again on the other side of the promontory. It was busier here but still relatively quiet. Now we could see to Cap Camarat beyond St Tropez – another favourite area.

DSC_0159.jpg

We didn’t want to walk all the way into the town of St Raphael so took a fork which led us inland away from the sea. 90 mins after setting off, we arrived back at our starting point. What a smashing walk, very beautiful.

By now the shops were open, so we stocked up with some nice cured ham, olives, baguettes and butter, milk, tomatoes and grated Emmental cheese. Chocolate supplies for me too (I discovered some great wee chocolate/praline /pistachio biscuits out of a Casino store which I became addicted to) and some sparkling Saumur and Rose wine. Agay itself looked to be a lovely low key resort.

Had a couple of mugs of tea on arrival at the apartment then Chris popped open the fizz and we drank to, hopefully, a great week ahead. Day 1 had been pretty good already!

Relaxing on the balcony after the walk round the Cap
Wine O’clock

A nice spread of cold things for dinner on the balcony as the sun went down, chillier at night in October but still pleasant with a cardigan and jeans. Ultra-quiet, not a sound to be heard. I rarely sleep well in a strange bed but I managed a pretty reasonable night.I was almost sorry we didn’t have more time here but we’ll certainly be back.Pic de Cap Roux awaits!

Tomorrow, a drive inland to the Var area, coffee in handsome Lorges, lunch in gorgeous Tourtour and a night in stunning Moustiers Sainte Marie on the edge of Europe’s largest gorge.

Tourtour

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