We generally enjoy our ‘big’ holiday for the year in October, when tourist destinations tend to be a bit quieter, and temperatures are more suited to our far north constitutions. Last year, we went on a mammoth French/Belgian roadtip, visiting Paris, Disneyland and Bruges (amongst other places) and this year, we continued in the French vein with our first visit to the beautiful Cote D’Azur. We had only a few vague ideas about what we wanted to see there – most notably Monaco (for my Formula One-loving menfolk) and pretty, pastel coloured towns and villages (for the lover of all things pretty and pastel coloured – me).
In the end, we found all this and more, in a region that manages to combine glitz and glamour with old world charm and sophistication. The Cote D’Azur has something for everyone, it seems – it just depends on where you choose to look.
BIOT AND ANTIBES
First on my Cote D’Azur highlights reel is Biot, a medieval town situated between Nice and Cannes, and not far away from Antibes. Handily for us it also happened to be only a couple of miles away from where we were staying, and served as our introduction to the various towns and villages we would visit throughout the week.
And what an introduction – I can honestly say it was one of my favourite stops of the whole holiday. And if you enjoy wandering around cobbled streets lined with pretty houses and overhanging flowers, I think you’d like it too. There were cats and dogs a-plenty, and a couple of bustling cafes framed in beautiful stone archways. In the backstreets, we roamed peacefully amongst fairy lights and window-drying laundry, and as far as I could see, there was nothing ‘touristy’ about the place at all.
As much as I’d have liked to wander the streets of Biot forever, though, the lure of the sea was calling. So it was off to the glitzier setting of Antibes, where the kids enjoyed a seafront helping of whipped cream, nutella and waffles (even if in my pigeon French, I thought I’d ordered crepes). After a paddle in the Med, we headed straight for the old town (if you haven’t guessed it by now, my tip is to ALWAYS head for the old town). There, we wandered around the pretty streets and markets – welcome relief from the livelier promenade, which, for me at least, didn’t have quite the same authenticity and charm.
Next up on our tour of the Cote D’Azur was a trip to Eze, a stunningly beautiful village perched on a hillside approximately 1400 feet above sea level. The cobbled streets of the medieval stronghold climb to the ‘Jardin Botanique’ where you can enjoy panoramic views of the Mediterranean sea, and wander through displays of cacti and succulent plants. There was a charge of about 6 Euros for adults to enter the gardens (thankfully, our entry was covered in our parking/shuttle bus fee from the village outskirts). The views, I have to say, were worth it – as was the climb to the top in the hottest part of the afternoon. The village itself was a slight disappointment, though – despite its undeniable medieval beauty. I was expecting something rustic and authentic, but the proliferation of curated shops and art galleries made it feel like a bit of a tourist trap instead. Around the restaurants and cafes I could hear only voices of other non-French people (which might explain why Eze is sometimes dubbed a ‘museum village,’ in that few of the residents are actually of local origin.) As much as I loved Eze itself, I found myself wanting to see where the locals lived, and to speak French badly in cafes bustling with Francophones. And so, with the afternoon waning, we headed to nearby Monaco to channel our inner James Bond and Lewis Hamilton.
Because nothing says authenticity like that bastion of Mediterranean glamour, right?
Now, with all this wittering on about authentic travel experiences, you might think Monaco would fall short in my estimation of what constitutes a Cote D’Azur highlight. You’d be wrong, actually – because I loved it (and I have about 4005 photos which provide further confirmation of this fact.) There was something magical about the place – perhaps it was the excitement of my travelling companions, who spent the trip marvelling at the Formula One circuit – and insisting on doing at least three laps of the route in our hire car. Or perhaps it was the time at which we visited – there was a wonderful ambience about early evening wanders along the laid-back Monte Carlo streets. Or perhaps it was the knowledge that we were possibly the only family ever in history to visit Monaco and spend the sum total of 6 Euros (parking fee). Whatever it was, Monaco definitely had that ‘je ne sais quoi’ factor. (And I was in need of some of that on returning to our villa that evening when I met a family of wild boar scampering down the street towards me in the darkness. I kid you not. I have never moved so fast).
ST PAUL DE VENCE
After the combined excitement of Eze, Monaco and wild boar encounters, we were ready for a quiet excursion, and limited our next day out to one location, St Paul de Vence, another medieval village perched atop a hillside (definitely a recurring theme in this area). Like Eze, the village is one of winding cobbled streets peppered with art galleries, shops and pretty fountains. Unlike Eze, though, it does not have immediate access to the sea. This makes it a quieter choice for visitors – although still with the aura of a favoured tourist destination. (Albeit tourists with a bit of cash to spend. My youngest enquired about the price of a Goofy figurine he saw in a shop window, only to discover it was an original piece of artwork coming in at 2,900 Euros. He had 12 Euros spending money. I’ll leave you to do the maths).
But 12 Euros is always enough for ice cream, and soon we (*well, I at least) would stumble upon our own piece of French heaven in a little place called Claviers.
But if you want to hear about that, you’ll have to come back for Part Two, with Claviers, the Verdon Gorge, Cannes, Saint Tropez and a day trip to Italy.
Expect lots more cobbled streets and pretty pastels.
And thankfully, absolutely no wild boar.
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