Sunday, 15 December 2013

Living in France - A Little Look Back at the Highlight of 2013

After a bit of a wet start 2013 turned out to be a very good year at Le Moulin. We had lots of lovely visitors, made some new friends and, in a special birthday year, we decided to visit the French Riviera to see some of the places we had dreamed of visiting ever since we arrived in France to live, back in 2008. It was this trip that was without doubt the highlight of the year.

I have already talked about our trip to an extent on the post called The Cote d'Azure and the French Mediterranean. But to fill you in a little on the details, I should explain that around twenty seven years ago I went on a lone trip to the South of France. After arriving in Marseilles by train, I took a little advice from the tourist information office and caught a bus to the seaside town of Cassis. Unbeknownst to me, it was the beginning of the French national holidays, so as I was going around town looking for the best rate at the hotels, everyone else was actually booking in. End result was by the time I worked out where I wanted to stay, and could afford, everything was booked up.

Taken from just about where I slept on the floor for ten nights
The only option I had left was to head for the nearest camp site.   When I arrived and enquired after a pitch, I was asked how big my tent which I had to reply 'I haven't actually got a tent'. So to cut a long story short, I was charged 10 francs a night (about a £1.50) and took up residence on a rush mat in front of the bar. The weather was glorious and I stayed for 10 nights, made loads of friends and got an invite to Paris, on my way home, where I was offered a place to stay for a few nights.

So why am I telling you all this, other than to demonstrate how naive I was in my twenties, well it was because that was also the year that I met Angela. After telling her the story of my trip to France she said I would love to go there.  It only took 27 years but we got there in the end and the campsite was exactly as I remembered it, bar and everything. The main difference this time, with Angela along for the trip, was she insisted on a tent!

So Cassis was the starting point of our little adventure to the French Riviera and I was instantly reminded of how beautiful the French Mediterranean coastline is.

After a few nights at Cassis we headed off to Port Grimaud, a water taxi's ride from the famous St Tropez resort that has hosted so many of the rich and famous, including the infamous French siren - Bridget Bardot. We found a lovely little Italian cafe in the back streets of St Tropez, where BB had dined. An occasion the owner remembered very well, despite the fact he had seen many famous celebrities come and go, it is not hard to figure out why he remembered her so well when you are told it was around 40 years earlier.

Port Grimaud is a great place to stay for a while, even though the Port was actually only developed in recent times and is still relatively young. Most of the construction was done in three stages starting in the 1960's, then phase 2 was in the 70's and a final third stage was completed in the 90's. It has been built in a Venetian style canal system but with buildings based on the style of the housing in St Tropez, originally a fisherman's village. I know there will be people that crave the more traditional medieval buildings that abound in France, but the Port really is quite quaint and the nearby town of Grimaud can provide any medieval fix you need, including a hill top Chateau with views across the Mediterranean to St Tropez.

 Next on the agenda was a trip to Monaco. Port Grimaud is only a couple of hours from Monaco and we were staying in a mobile home at the lovely Holiday Marina resort. It is a bit English there (mainly because so many English stay there) but very well located, with a nice pool, friendly staff and a really good bar and restaurant.

But we wanted to make the most of Monaco, so we decided to book a hotel at the lovely resort of Villefranche-Sur-Mer, only about 1/2 an hour from Monaco heading back along the coast following the Corniche coastal road. That meant we could spend the whole day in Monaco sightseeing and having lunch near the casino at the Cafe de Paris.

The lunch was good, but be prepared for the snooty waiter who clearly prefers his customers not to look like a typical tourist, guess we should have gone black tie instead of St Tropez T shirt! That aside, Monaco is a fabulous place and it is worth getting the little red train from the Musée Océanographique that takes you all around Monaco. Then, when you get back, there is just a short walk to the Royal Palace and another short walk to a convenient bus station where you can get a ride back to where you parked. There are lots of car parks by the way and it is best to leave your car rather than trying to weave your way around the city using your own transport.

Once we were done with Monaco we headed off down the coast road to Villefranche Sur Mer which I have already discussed on my previous post (link at the top), but I couldn't resist sharing another photograph with you and of course recommending that if you ever do travel this coastline, make sure you are carrying your very best camera. The scenery really is spectacular, especially around Saint Jean Cap Ferrat which you can see either from Villefranche or as you approach it after leaving Monaco.

When we left Villefranche we decided to drive the Corniche coast road all the way back to Port Grimaud. This meant that we were lucky enough to lunch at Antibes and to pass through a long list of famous locations all along the French Riviera:
  • Nice
  • Cagnes-Sur-Mer
  • Antibes 
  • Cannes (Of film festival fame)
  • Saint Rapheal & Frejus
  • Sainte Maxime
Port Grimaud - a mix of Venice & St Tropez
Not the quickest way to get back to Port Grimaud but worth every extra minute. After one more night spent in Port Grimaud and a night out listening to a live band singing the Rolling Stones' best known songs it was time to think about heading back towards Languedoc Roussillon.

It was sad in some ways but not in others, because we are lucky enough to live in France and where we are is also very stunning, plus it has the added benefit that the roads are significantly quieter. 

Plus the trip wasn't over yet, there was still Arles, Nimes, Uzes and the Pont Du Gard on the agenda. So all I can say for now about our trip to the French Riviera is watch this be continued.

In the meantime if you would like to see some more photographs from the trip go and have a look at the album on the Google+ page. Don't forget to like it while you are there.

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