17-19 June 2019
Setting off from our resort in Port Cogolin, we were surprised at the amount of traffic for a Monday mid-morning. While the online resources we’d read had warned of it and we’d had firsthand taste of it on our arrival on Friday afternoon, the pinch of salt we’d taken it with proved to be unfounded.
With 116km roadtripping ahead of us for the day, first on the agenda, as usual, was breakfast, which we intended to take in Saint Maxime, 9km down the coast.
The one bright side about the traffic was the opportunity to really soak in the view on the drive, which since we were fringing the coastline was nothing short of spectacular. While there isn’t as much beach as I’d expected to see, everything is really lush and green, the houses are comforting peaches and beiges (and even the hotels are only double storey) and of course the rippling, glinting azure waters and visions of the yachts and St Tropez in the distance tickle the soul.
The stars were aligned for our rendezvous with Saint Maxime. Although the beach was bustling, we had no trouble finding a parking. And right outside the Tourist Office too!
The tourist map guided us directly across the street to the Old Town, where we found a boulangerie on the very first corner that sold us magnificent rotisserie chicken mayo baguettes and a melt-in-the-mouth Tarte Tropezienne (a cream donut with crunchy sugar on top) for afters. Easily the best €10 we’ve spent this holiday so far – and enjoyed at leisure perched on the fountain in the middle of the old town square.
With renewed joie de vivre we tootled up and down the handful of pretty streets lined with pretty cafes and pretty shops selling pretty things until we emerged at the beach which was, well, also very pretty. With wide golden sands, magnificently blue sea and far less people, we noted this was actually better (for us) than St Tropez should we see ourselves visiting this part of the world again.
Heading inland, we stopped in Frejus, a town that had been established in BC times by Julius Caesar. We hit Frejus during siesta – very strictly 12 until 2 – so didn’t get a tourist map and couldn’t find one online, so I’m sure we missed a lot in this obviously historic village with its ancient walls still intact, in use and clearly visible in several places. But we did see the cemetary, cathedral and the town square where pretty much everyone who was awake was lunching.
Of course, in true Murphy’s Law fashion, we were ready to leave town at 13h55, just before the tourist office was due to re-open and we could have had some wisdom to our wanderings… But we hit the road and continued to what turned out to be the day’s sleeper hit, Tourrettes.
We’d only added the village to our list thinking it would be funny to go there bearing in mind the name. What we found was a charming artists’ enclave of medieval village with narrow cobbled streets adorned with framed paintings and artworks hither and thither like the streets were a collector’s hallways.
Obviously the Tourist Information office was closed (only opening Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays between 14h30 and 17h30; applying for the role immediately on return home!) so we relied on instinct to guide us through the dormant town.
We finished off the afternoon’s touring with a stop in at Grasse, world renowned for its perfume industry. We found the home of Molinard and fortuitously arrived as the English tour started!
Perfume is quite a process to produce – and Molinard doesn’t make it any easier on themselves, blending hundreds of scents where most houses work in handfuls. We listened, sniffed, snuffed, spritzed and counted ourselves lucky at the extended education.
We wafted back to the car for the final hop of our journey and were soon squeezing our car into the tiny (but free) parking bay our hotel concierge had reserved for us, right in front of our hotel in Juan Les Pins. No mean feat in the narrow roads so close to the beach, where even the expensive pay parking was hard to come by.
Our host was a delight and was quick to help us get settled and to recommend restaurants that she liked.
Being around about that time, her recommendations were appreciated but ultimately ignored as a quick purvey of the promenade revealed an almost endless choice of places to eat and drink – not least of which the series of swanky places opening onto their section of private beach.
We ended up at a lovely little Italian place where Christian enjoyed a spaghetti vongolé (clams) and I a creamy and crispy lasagne.
We were rudely awoken to what sounded like the binmen rattling up and down the road, but that turned out to be construction. Right. Next. Door.
Nonetheless, we fought the urge to get up early and lazed about until we headed out for a jog at around 9.
Our mission was to run to the neighbouring Old Town Juan Les Pins Port, about 3km around the cove. We could see it from our base and it looked like promenade all the way so not too ambitious an outing.
Lacing up, we headed out into the sunshine and took an easy pace. With the wide paths and few pedestrians, we were soon at our destination.
Happening upon a Tourist Office, we got a map and did a quick walking tour of the handful of sights to be seen in the old Town, mostly odes to Napoleon so presumably this was part of his stomping ground in his heyday.
We got some strange looks from the elegant customers at the sophisticated sidewalk cafes as we stomped on past, jogging our way back to Juan Les Pins, but we didn’t miss a step.
It was a joyous event to complete our morning run with a splash in the sea. The Mediterranean isn’t as warm as you’d think, but the bracing first steps in soon become welcoming waters and it’s wonderful to be engulfed in the azure.
It was also lovely to have a warm shower and get dressed and ready for our Cannes adventure.
Having been not entirely sure how we would get to Cannes, it was a relief to find that the train station was no more than a couple of hundred metres up the road from our hotel.
We got there with half an hour to spare, which is, serendipitously, exactly the right amount of time to have a massive jambon sandwich and an Orangina!
Catching the 13h57 train deposited us in Cannes just after 2pm. The town was buzzing with ad industry people, with the Cannes Lion Ads Awards opening. It was so much more cosmopolitan than we’d been used to, with barely any French among the British, American, Italian and all sorts we heard.
We veered up to the old town to see what culture we could absorb at the Notre Dames clock tower. Avoiding the museum – since it was such a blue skies sunny afternoon – we did a bit of medieval marvelling but mostly panoramic viewpointing before making our way back down the hill to town town.
Needing to do the needing-to-be-done, we walked the length of the Croisette promenade, which had been completely engulfed by the ad awards. Iconic brands gated by burly bouncers kept back anyone not bearing the embossed name badges of ad indo’s that had registered for the event.
The beach was a sea of branded umbrellas and a wave of competing music. Quite alienating to regular tourists like us.
We grabbed a shaded bench and a granita (an expensive Slush Puppy) and people-watched for a good half hour before heading back to the shore front, where we found a Happy Hour special that happiered our hour.
Positioning right on the edge of the pavement cafe’s pavement, we had perfect vantage point to see up and down the port, soaking up everything Cannes could while plotting our next steps.
It seemed an obvious to add to our Guinness Index and our Google search guided us to Morrison’s Irish Pub.
Finding their Happy Hour (Irishly from 5-8pm), on top of a warm pub, welcoming bar staff and lively playlist provided a fun time for all for the next couple of hours.
Way too soon it was time to head back. We accidentally jumped on the wrong train and ended up in Nice! Fortunately, we’d taken the second last train home, so there was the last one still lined up to take us back where we needed to be!