I think I had the inkling that I would fall in love with France from the first glimpse of the French Riviera through the train window. This was despite the fact that our initial train from Ventimiglia was cancelled, delaying us an hour to meet our apartment owner in Cannes.
Fortunately when we arrived she was very forgiving, and showed us all the ins and outs of what would be one of the top accommodation picks of the trip – and only confirmed two days prior. It was close to the beach and main street, and came with balcony, comfy living space, great bed, two bathrooms, washing machine and fully equipped kitchen – right down to a Nespresso machine. Not to mention the wireless sound system for playing music from our numerous Apple devices. We were set.
I managed to pick up a cold in Rome which seemed to hit its peak once the pace slowed in Cannes. With a little time up our sleeves, we took a couple of days at the apartment to catch up on some admin (multiple loads of washing and research) and get healthy again. Unfortunately those sorts of days take you away from potential exploring. We made ourselves familiar with the nearby supermarket and did some (I have to say) awesome home cooked dinners. Not very French, but burgers made on baguette were damn tasty and took us right back home for the night. Another home cooked highlight came after a visit to the excellent Cannes produce market. From that we made a wicked ratatouille from great fresh veges costing a mere €3. I thought it was pretty up there with the French restaurant version.
It was a really nice time to be in Cannes. The temperature was comfortable and all of the holiday-makers had departed. We didn’t see another ‘tourist’ all week. We had an introduction to the French patisserie at a specialist maccaron shop, followed by the discovery of the locally famous Tarte Tropezienne (yum). There were some awesome shops – especially the cute kids clothes – but all at a very cute price. A bit of time was taken up tracking down an English speaking doctor to get a typhoid vaccination pre-Burma. An expensive short appointment and three pharmacies later, it turned out there had been a nationwide recall of the vaccine. Shame Doc didn’t know that before he charged us €100…
The sunny afternoon that we took our books to the beach wasn’t timed well. After watching dozens of kite surfers in the fairly strong winds, the dark clouds started to roll over. When it started to spit we were lucky we made a move, as within minutes it was absolutely bucketing down. We were a good walk from home, so we took shelter in a small cafe which was not far from shutting up shop. That was when the rain became really hard and possibly the loudest thunder we have ever heard started. Even the locals were staring outside in wonder, telling us ‘this never happens’. When we’d pushed our time at the cafe to its limit the bartender offered to call us a cab when we told him we had a long walk. The water in some streets was up to the underside of the cars, the drains clearly not prepared for such a deluge. We spent the night a little concerned at the lightening flashing through both sides of the apartment and the small flood building on the balcony.
While there is a hint of wealthy retirement in the palm trees and apartment buildings, you can’t really deny that Cannes has a certain charm to it, and things like the promenade which makes the most of the seafront and the multitude of great beach spots are pretty appealing. It’s obvious that its position is helped by the constant stream of conventions, trade shows and the famous festival, but even that adds to it in a way. Even in the first days that we were there a convention for the TV industry was on, so we were keeping our eyes out for Kevin Spacey. The show Mum/Jan had told us about being filmed in Queenstown was being promoted there by Jane Campion as well. Unfortunately all the hubbub meant we couldn’t get our photos on the famous Palais des Festivals steps but you could certainly imagine it at its best. Whilst it would be a totally different vibe (and crazy expensive at that time), I’d love to be there for Film Festival week.
Cannes was a great base for day trips around the area, our first one being to Nice. We could feel a difference to Cannes straight away – a little more rugged and busy. We topped up on Nespresso capsules (and enjoyed a free coffee in the shop), then wandered around the old town lanes. There was a mixture of shops, which were not too touristy, and some good butcheries where I tested my French to buy the following night’s dinner. We spent some time on the beach – compared to the Cannes sand, this was really pebbly and had quite a steep drop to the water making it hard to test the temperature without ending up going swimming. There were a few brave souls and it wasn’t the warmest of days.
Our first meal out in France was up one of the old town lanes at a place which had local offerings. Alex had red snapper with ratatouille and I had stuffed zucchini flowers. A little pricey but very fresh and tasty.
We ticked off two spots on our next day trip. In the morning we headed on the train to Monaco. Kind of a weird place, semi France but semi just its own odd little moneyed existence. We were a little baffled by the casino with its small line up of cars with large price tags and people milling around like they hadn’t seen a Porsche before. One of the best things was the awesome looking aquarium built into the rock beside the sea. It was a shame we didn’t have time to visit it as it looked like it would be worth it. That area and around the palace was a bit overrun by cruise ship tourists. Monaco was pretty, but limited in enjoyment by its sheer cliffs and marina versus the beaches and promenades of other towns.
Heading back in the direction of Cannes, we got off at Villefranche sur Mer. This was a really nice bay tucked down from the train with a lovely but small beach. It was a sunny afternoon, so there were plenty of people making the most of the rays (some without clothing) and the nice clear water. It must get packed out in summer as there isn’t much of the coveted space to go around. There were lots of restaurants and market shops but we didn’t wander very far. After a jug of sangria we headed home.
The last of of Cote d’Azure adventures was hiring a car after we finished our week at the apartment. There was a Hertz just along the road, and after enquiring about a silly-expensive Mini hire (fitting in bags would have been interesting), we spent quarter of the price and picked up another box on wheels (Chevrolet Orlando – very European). The coastal drive to St Tropez must be one of the best anywhere; it was absolutely stunning. Driving from town to town would be highly recommended.
St Tropez had a very cool centre of lanes and all of the really top fashion names (beyond the more popular names to the boutique exclusive ones) seemed to have a store there. There was of course the main marina area of crewed boats being worked on, and quite a few more people milling around than in Cannes – they seemed to have come from tour buses. We had an excellent dinner at a cool restaurant called La Table du Marche to top it off.
All in all we loved our time on the coast. I guess it seemed more ‘accessible’ than the parts of the Italian coast which we saw, in that there were more beaches and promenades making the most of the sea, compared with rocky cliff faces and train tracks getting the best spots in Italy. Both were beautiful and unique and it’s great to have seen it all. I would definitely be keen to explore more of the towns that we missed or only touched on.