6 June Left the relative luxury (and interesting use of swimming pool) of Sanary behind and caught a train via Toulon to Nice. Went to pick up hire car and then spent 30 minutes walking around a multi-storey car park looking for car after "straightforward" directions at car hire. When I found it there were a number of scratches despite the "no damage" on the form - given previous comments about attitudes to cars in Southern Europe it was a joke that the words "no damage" appeared at all. I went back to the office and got the changes made and I accused them of fraud or some sort of crime. - got a Gallic shrug in response.
Watch out for this when you rent a car abroad. There are numerous tales (look online) of people being ripped off having picked up a car which shows on paper no or minimal damage only to then get a bill 6 months after you get home (and can't even remember renting a car) for a total write off (I exaggerate to make the point).
On way to our home for the next two weeks (Carros - about a 20 minute drive northwest of Nice) we reacquainted ourselves with the incredible range of fresh produce in French Supermarkets. The one we went to had more fresh fish than I have seen at Most UK fish markets- incredible. Stocked up on essentials for self catering - beer, wine, steak, fish (me); toilet rolls, washing up liquid, rubber gloves and more toilet rolls (Mo)
Arrived at Respelido (www.respelido.com) in Carros and met by Sabrina the owner. This was not booked through AirBnB so we have great hopes and we are not disappointed. Everything matches the pictures and the description on the website. It's a beautiful place. 6 bungalows in landscaped gardens which her and her Hubble bought 13 years ago as a bare site and they now have a stunning place. There is also a pool and jacuzzi and strangely (given that it's 33 degrees plus on most days) a sauna. The burst of scents wherever you walk around the grounds from the jasmine, honeysuckle, mimosas (I think) and the herbs is magical. There is also a sort of mint that smells like sausages which is strangely addictive - know idea what it is.
We have two large bedrooms plus sofa bed, two bathrooms, kitchen, lounge and terrace with gardens and (my favourite) a built in bbq in the garden - which gets plenty of use.
Sabrina gave us lots of useful tips and also told us about a local market on Sunday (next day) in a hilltop village called St Jeannet and we resolved to get up early enough the next day to go there.
For the first few days we go out in the morning and then crash (me by the pool and Mo in the wardrobe) - it gets too hot to do anything else but I'm not complaining - it is so relaxing.
7 June - drive to St Jeannet. Apart from my infrequent references to Mos loathing of temperatures above 34 degrees Fahrenheit, I should also mention that she hates heights, particular those presented on the way up to what the Frence call "village perché" - you don't need to understand French to get what this means. Anyway the narrow lanes and innumerable hairpins on the way to St Jeannet were an opportunity for Mo to confirm that she has not overcome this particular character trait - she swore a lot.
St Jeannet itself was delightful - lots of tiny streets and great views down to the Med. The market is small but charming and is specifically for producers from a 5 km radius - we bought some of their fresh fruit and tapenade.
The drive back was just as eventful and just as full of swear words - quite offensive to my delicate ears. BBQ Dinner
8 June we drove to the coast to have a look around Villefranche sur Mer, Beaulieu Sur Mer and Cap St Jean Ferrat. The first two are over developed and not much to look at. St Jean is very pretty but manicured - it's one of the many millionaires playgrounds in this area. However the views from here along the coast towards Monte Carlo and Menton are worth the visit. BBQ dinner
9 June we got up very early to get to Menton before the peak temperature hit and Mo has to retreat to a wardrobe in full Burkha (feature of this stay is: starts at about 24 degrees at 8 am and then just steadily rises to 33 or more but then we get a bit of a thunderstorm at about 5 pm though there is no dip in Temperature)
We hadn't been here since New Year 2008 when we were in Nice for my 50th so it was good to have a wander around again. It's a very serene place - cobbled streets, great beaches and orange and lemon trees everywhere.
10 June up early again to get into Nice before wardrobe/Burkha cut off time. Wandered around the old town and over to the old port and had lunch on Cours Saleya in the middle of the wonderful market. It reminded us how much we really love Nice - we would come back again and again.
11 June - same routine then drove to Cannes as I wanted to check out potential boat trips for when our two visitors are with us. Not really a fan of Cannes - it's over developed and "plastic" and full of traffic. The one small redeeming feature is the tiny old town on the hill - it really is a world away from the flash cars and gin palaces and women with faces that are melting following extensive cosmetic surgery. BBQ dinner cooked during thunderstorm - quite a novel experience
12 June. Chris, meet Chris!
We pick up Chris Milton from the airport ( he is visiting us for 4 days) and after about 100 metres in the car the yeti (our Sat Nav for those who have forgotten) starts his conversation with the guy who clearly recorded all of the noises the yeti makes. At times it's difficult to know if it's the yeti giving me completely incomprehensible directions or if it's Chris clearing his throat but they clearly understand each other - it gets a bit spooky when they are sharing some private joke that we can't understand.
We go and buy the biggest steaks in the world for BBQ later and then drive up to Carros old town for a delightful lunch (great pizza) at Lou Poumpouille. Chris and I then laze by the pool for the rest of the afternoon until we get the forklift truck out to lift the steaks onto the BBQ. We have a great dinner - tapenade, olives, Wheat beer, wine and those steaks. It's great to catch up with Chris.
13 June we drive over to Cannes again. Chris visited lots of the Cote Dazure with his wife Rena many years ago so we thought it would be nice for him to revisit some of the places. We had a spot of lunch in the old town which at the time appeared ok but we suspect there was something not quite right with it as Chris and I (who ate the same dish) both had adverse reactions later on - both of us spending a lot of time sitting staring at bathroom doors (from the inside). The measure of how bad this was came when Mo told me to wear my trolleys to bed and Chris said the next morning that he had slept with a towel under him just in case. The towel belonged to Respelido so I don't know how I would have explained it if the worst had happened. In fact and with some relief we both had "clean" sleeps - " too much information !!!!"
In the evening the three of us go to the only restaurant within walking distance of where we are staying (Les Selves). It's a great "locals" restaurant and they serve up some tasty dishes and a couple of decent bottles of wine
14 June we take Chris into Nice and just wander aimlessly - it's the perfect place for this. We were going to go up onto Mont Boron from where the views along the whole Baie des Anges are fantastic. On arrival Chris had told us some tale about having a problem with his knee which meant walking up hill was a struggle (nothing to do with him being a fat bastard). Luckily the French have prepared for just such an excuse by installing a lift to take you to the top. Alas, it was out of order and when I suggest walking up, whatever he said to me ended in "off"
Back to chill by the pool.
Another good mate Richard Annis due to arrive that evening (staying for 4 days) but when I check his flight status it's showing long delay so I eventually pick him up at around 23:30. Great to see Richard (who I have also missed) but he is understandably very tired after such a long journey from North Norfolk
15 June we get to Cannes early to get the boat over the Ile St Marguerite. It's a glorious sunny day - "too feckin hot - Mo".
It's only about a 15 minute boat ride but it could not be more different than Cannes. There are no hotels just a couple of restaurants, an old Napoleonic fort and forests. We wander for about an hour around the coast and through the forest and find the most perfectly situated restaurant (La Guerite). The restaurant is right by the water and the views are stunning. We have loads of good food including a giant Seabass between us and a few bottles of a cheeky rose. The restaurant also provides entertainment for the male clientele in the form a very shapely bird parading around in a bikini in a bid to get the goggled-eyed men to part with lots of Euros to buy one for the wife (I didn't). I agreed with Mo that it was all very tacky and demeaning (yeah right).
After lunch we walk the rest of the coastal path (about two hours). The sea is a bit wilder on the south side of the island which makes for more interesting scenery. Near the end of the walk I decide I want to swim in the lovely clear Med and Chris decides to do the same. I have come prepared with my budgie smugglers, Chris strips down to his undercrackers and goes in. Richard and Mo stay on dry land. I thought Richards remark about sighting of a great white off the island was a bit harsh - then I realised he was talking about Chris as I have lost some weight, grown some whiskers and resemble a walrus rather than a great white.
There then followed a scene which should have been accompanied by Benny Hill music as Chris attempted to get out of his soaking wet trolleys on a beach where his feet were burning, behind a T shirt acting as a towel held by Richard whilst a party of young school kids on a field trip to the island were spending more time than was necessary wondering what species had emerged from the water wearing what appeared to be a wet handerkerchief. It was a moment to remember. We managed to get the return ferry without being branded perverts. I think they just thought "English"
16 June we drove to Menton. Richard had never been and Chris was here with us in 2008 and liked it. We had a lovely lunch by the beach and then Richard and I hiked up the steep streets to the cemetary on the hill where William Webb Ellis is buried. Paid our respects to the man who invented the game we both love. Chris and mo stayed down in the town - they both did the pilgrimage in 2008 and Chris was apparently having problems with that knee of his.
Drove Chris to the airport for his return flight. It was great that he could visit, we loved seeing him (as always he provided entertaining moments) and it all past far too quickly.
17 June drove to Antibes. This is probably our favourite place on the Cote Dazure. It's got a lovely old town, great beaches but it's also a working town not just a holiday resort so it feels like it has some substance. We then drive up to one the "perched villages" - Gourdon. For Mo the drive is apparently worse than the one to St Jeannet - there was less swearing but as I glanced at her whilst negotiating one of the many hairpins she had turned a funny colour and appeared unable to speak at all.
The journey was worth it. It's a bit touristy there but there are excellent views from the village over Baie des Anges - though there are a lot of sheer drops. We had a lovely lunch at which Mo unusually quaffed a fair bit of wine. This was in fact Dutch courage so that she could actually enjoy the views when we walked around afterwards.
18 June Richard returns to the UK. We drop him off at the airport. Again we have loved seeing him, he's great, relaxing company and it all past too quickly.
Mo and I return to chill at the bungalow/pool. We have both really enjoyed seeing our friends and are grateful that they took the time to visit us on this trip of ours.
19 June. This is the day before we leave so according to Mo its packing day. I start packing at 9 am and finish at 9:05 and spend the rest of the day by the pool. Mo appears about 4 hours later sweating and swearing about the amount of stuff she had to pack - as if the mysterious suitcase fairy has appeared whilst she wasn't looking and added 30 kilos of extra luggage.
We go back to the pizza restaurant in Carros old town for dinner - it's full of locals and there is a great atmosphere. Mo befriends one of the local mutts (she has to have a canine fix every day since we lost our old dog, Ben). This particular one is really taken with her and follows us around the town and back to the car afterwards. She then frets about where it lives, will it fall off a cliff, who feeds it to the point where I am concerned she is going to steal it. I bundle her into the car and reassure her that she is the latest in a long list of visitors to be taken in by this very clever dog.
20 June. Leave Carros, return the car to Nice Station and get the train (long, long journey) to Genoa via a sh*thole called Ventimiglia - I will pick up the story in my next blog
Reflections on the fortnight on the Riviera. We have visited most of the regions of France over the years and love them all for different reasons but time and again the Cote Dazure always appears at the top of the list. Yes it can be busy and the traffic can be annoying at times but it still has charming towns and villages, great food and perfect weather for most of the year not to forget a quality of light which you seldom find anywhere else. We have thoroughly enjoyed it - the times when there were just the two of us and when Chris and Richard came. NOUS REVIENDRONS