Category Archives: France

Travelogue French Riviera 5: Nice

NICE
19-22 June 2019
Deciding upfront that we’d get all our roadtripping done and then homebase the final stage of the journey from Nice gave us the freedom to stay in the Old Town which with it’s windy narrow cobbled streets would be a nightmare to navigate in and out of.
A very wise call.
Strategically, we’d committed to return Noddy Car to the rental place (at Nice Airport) later in the afternoon in order to give us time to check in at our apartment and drop off our suitcase en route. It was quite a harrowing journey, getting the one ways sussed and breathing in to squeeze through the skinny alleys with the odd tourist darting into a doorway or plastering themselves to a wall to avoid our wing mirrors.
We only found out when we arrived that our host doesn’t live in Nice, so we had an hour and a half to kill before collecting our keys and, worried that we wouldn’t get the return journey to the airport done in this slot, put it to good use with a 3 course lunch!
Our apartment was ideally placed, half a block in from a busy piazza with restaurants spilling into the square to provide a sea of checkered tablecloths and umbrellas offering shade and fabulous food to scores of people.
We found a table right on the edge, sat next to each other and people-watched as the waiter brought us plates of delicious local Niçoise specialities. The duck in creamy mushroom sauce stole the show for me!
Our apartment was tiny (by home standards) but immaculate, clearly recently renovated and light and airy with the massive old school shuttered windows that looked down into the cobbled streets below and the Irish Bar across the street.
We didn’t have much time to revel in it though, with our car return deadline looming. Fortunately though, the Nice Airport is close to town and we were there around 15 minutes later, including the nail-biting exit from Old Town and a pretty scenic drive.
It was easy enough to catch a train back and alighting at the central station gave us a chance to see another portion of Nice.
In stark contract to the cobbled charm of the Old Town, new Nice is grand! Beautiful old and elegant buildings line a long, wide shopping high street with all the designer labels you can imagine lining the ground floor of the street fronts and the two or three storeys above them bearing tall, elegant windows, filigree balconies and finely decorated cornices.
At the far end, a massive stage was in process of being set up on the square and the stage was already busy with a collection of musicians doing soundcheck – and entertaining passing shoppers in the process. As we drew closer, we saw this was the annual Fete de la Musique celebration plan, with a free concert scheduled for the night of the 21st June. Looked like it was going to be huge!
Our walk took us back through our old town whose high street counterpart was filled with chairs and tables from restaurants displaying menu boards, seafood showcases or using live music to lure you in.
We resisted for the time being in order to pass through to the promenade to see the beach. A heavenly crescent that looked like the Copa Cabana except without the stripey pavements and with grey smooth pebbles instead of golden beach sand.
6pm but with the sun still holding its place in the sky, the beach was still occupied with sunbathers and the pavements busy with joggers, family strollers and tourists.
The perfect time for a sundowner, so we hit the high street and found ourselves a comfortable spot with live music and crazy happy hour specials that run from 5 to 9!
Having saturated with culture at our extended lunch, we took the opportunity to squeeze in a curry dinner. Consulting The Fork app (that we’d discovered and loved on a previous trip to Italy), we chose a curry den called Bombay Palace around the corner in the Old Port and since it shared its name with our local curry den at home, we figured it kismet and definitely worth the research.
Quite different presentation (and portions!) compared to what we’re used to. And definitely a different view, overlooking the multi-storey yachts moored on the other side of the road as opposed to the parking lot at our All Saints Shopping Centre!
THURSDAY
We’d pre-booked a free walking tour meeting at the square where we’d seen the stage set up.
We had no trouble finding our way back (amazing how much more you take in when you’ve walked a route as opposed to driving it!) and no trouble finding our guide, marked with the red umbrella and surrounded by the easily 50 other tour group members.
We were introduced to our guide, Isabella from Argentina, and thankfully spared the chore of introductions to each and every group member.
Isabella started the tour with some of the vital statistics: Nice is a city of 350000 inhabitants (5th biggest in France) and enjoys more than 5 million tourists (making it the second biggest after Paris) and more than 300 days of sunshine per year which, along with the high concentration of museums, is why it gets so many tourists.
Nice had quite a patchwork history between the major empires. It was founded in 350 BC by Greeks en route home from Marseilles, and originally named after Nike (the Greek word for Victory). It was a thriving port town until a neighbouring city, Saminello, burned to the ground and all the people moved to Nice so it became quite a big city quite quickly.
Nice was part of the Savoy Empire – with its capital in Turin – until the 19th century. It was bounced back and forth between Savoy and France for 500 years until Italy became a country in 1860 and a referendum was held in Nice to see if the people wanted to be French or Italian. They decided to be French. It was a bit of subterfuge though because it was actually already predetermined as an exchange between Italy and Napoleon III who supported Italy against Austrian invasion.
In the middle of our tour we heard a loud bang. Isabella calmed us and recounted the story of one Sir Thomas Coventry, who came to Nice in 1860, travelling with his wife who was a terrible timekeeper. Since this was affecting the serving of his noontime meal, he asked the city’s permission to set off the canon at midday, as was customary in his home town. The city allowed it – and liked the idea so much that they made it law to let off the midday canon each day. It is now a firework rather than a canon, and has been set off by the same chap for the past 27 years. He’s looking to retire now, so possible job vacancy for someone who is punctual, reliable and never leaves the city.
We emerged on the beachfront, where Isabella explained that it’s a pebble beach, apparently, because of the stones that are washed through from the Paillon River. She also revealed that the Promenade des Anglais is so called because the English paid for the construction of the walk for the comfort of the hordes of Brits that flocked to Nice in winter to seek sunshine and wanted a nice place to walk along the seaside.
Just like we were doing.
We walked to the end of the Promenade but instead of rounding the cape to take us down to the port where we’d been the previous night, we were taken up to the citadel where we had the most spectacular views of the long beautiful stretch of beach, the magnificent azure sea and the infinity of blue sky and sunshine that has made this coastal town so famous for so long.
Isabella also pointed out on the other side, while we were overlooking the port, what lay beyond and how easy it was to get there… Which is when we hatched a plot to go and see the neighbouring village and its sandy beach.
We departed the tour group and made our way back down the hill to the port where we had no trouble finding the bus stop, and no more than a minute or two wait before handing over our €1.50 fare and moving on to Villefranche-sur-Mer.
On arrival we were delighted – and very surprised – to find an OPEN tourist office. The chap at the desk was very helpful, providing us with a one pager easy simple map and circling the things we needed to do and see. He was emphatic that the citadel was the way to start, so that’s what we did.
Villefranche-sur-Mer was founded in 1295 by Charles II of Anjou, Count of Provence. It fell into the hands of the Duke of Savoy for 5 centuries and was returned to France in 1860. It has an impressive stone fortress ordered by Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy in 1557 to defend the old town which is open and free to visit, and which houses a number of exhibits and displays telling the story of the citadel, the town and its people.
Obediently following our map, we wound down the hill through the Old Town. It’s built into a hill so the town is a network of staircases with some quite ingenious uses of the space.
After an easy amble we were deposited at the beachfront. Short on real estate and big on appeal, the beach was crammed, so we retired to a cafe across the road and had a lovely cold beer while we rested our weary selves.
Refreshed, we trotted back up the hill to the station to grab a train back to Nice and our homebase, now old hat to us with all our comings and goings, was a doddle to navigate so we were soon back in our ‘Hood.
I had been angling for a rotisserie chicken for days after seeing them served all over the place so we picked one up from the local butchery on the way home and savaged it with lovely fresh baguettes by way of an early supper while we prepared to head out for the evening.
The Nice lifestyle so suits us when we can get the day’s action out of the way, have dinner early and then still have a couple of hours to sundowner after we’ve been fed. We put the sunlight to best use, visiting a few of the pubs in the market strip, enjoying their live entertainment.
As it so happened, it was the FIFA Women’s World Cup being hosted in France over the period we were there and there was much excitement in the Old Town over a few key games that were being played that evening. Big screens were front and centre, and some of the live acts on bricks temporarily while the focus shifted.
We shifted to Paddy’s Pub (in the same road as our apartment, so very much on the way home) to watch the second half of the USA vs Sweden match that was getting a lot of attention.
The pub was lively with American supporters, we logged our Guinness Index and from our vantage point at the bar we kept an eye on the Irish folk dancing troupe that continued business-as-usual in the back room, twisting and twiddling along to the accordion playing their traditional songs.
FRIDAY
We had pre-booked our tour to Monaco for Friday, which left gave us a deadline for getting up and out. So far from what we’d experienced, mornings were a leisurely start on the Cote d’Azur, so getting up and out at 9.30 felt like quite some pressure all considering.
It had been a long time since the rotisserie feast the night before though, which helped with motivation to get fed before a strenuous few hours of walking tour.
See: Travelogue French Riviera 4: Monaco.
We had been watching the set-up of the concert on the Place Massena (the main town square) with eager anticipation as the days had gone by and tonight was the night! … So on our return from Monaco, we went past the Place to see what was going on.
By now fencing had been put up around the entire area to restrict access and implement strict security controls – and there was a bit of a frenzy with people arriving and streaming into the gates.
Quite relaxed about the whole affair, we took the ticket that the poor promotions chap was madly tearing out of his book and that we needed to present to the security heavy to get into the gate, but ended up not going in, thinking a shower and change into flip-flops would make for a far better start to the evening.
We went home, showered and changed, headed to the market and got absorbed into trying some yummy local dishes, with no rush to get to the concert because there were La Fete de la Musique things going on everywhere already.
Good thing too because when we finally headed over – at maybe 9 or 9.30 – things were only then really starting to get going.
It was superbly organised and we had no trouble flashing our tickets to get in, the security was super efficient and there were no queues at either the bars or the portaloos, even though there were easily 20,000 people there (our tickets were numbers 16125 and 16126).
We didn’t recognise any of the artists, but they must have been big names in France because everyone around us knew the words, the moves and sang heartily and danced merrily along to the hip hop chap and his band of neon-tracksuited dancers, the songstrel that belted out her radio tune, the aging rocker who growled his song at us, the McDreamy crooner in his leather jackets, the works!
We didn’t stay until anywhere near the end and were delighted to be able to had our tickets over to 2 very optimistic faces in the sea of optimistic faces at the gates hoping for exactly such an opportunity.
Getting closer to home, Old Town was a chaotic wash of activity. There were serving stations set up outside of pubs and bands set up in the street. We even accidentally collided with a street carnivals drumming squad as we swam upstream of their procession! It was great fun and we saw a lot of great acts (and of course, quite a few less good ones).
By the time we circled around to our road, we feared we’d never get any sleep because there bands were packing up for the night, DJs were setting up. And one such street party was right under our kitchen window! All in the name of a good time though and, kudos to the French, they seem to be far more restrained than most nations. Despite all the festivities, there were very few drunkards ruining anyone else’s experience. Just lots of energy and celebration. A wonderful thing to be a part of.
We’d had such a great (and long) day that even with the party going on right outside our window, when we eventually went home, shut the double glazeds and retired, both of us were asleep before heads hit the pillows.
And again, kudos to the French, when we got up and headed out for our last breakfast the next morning, everything was already cleaned up. Besides the odd bit of bunting still strung between street poles, you’d never tell that the city had hosted a bash at all – let alone of that magnitude – the night before.
What a hero of a town. And what a memorable night. Totally worth planning a repeat visit around.

Travelogue French Riviera 4: Monaco

MONACO

21 June 2019
Hopping across from Nice to Monaco is very simple with buses and trains that run regularly and inexpensively, but since we were short on time (only having allocated a day for the flit across the border), we opted for a guided walking tour to make the most of the experience.
We booked online, paid our 20 Euro (that included the return train ticket) and met our guide outside the Nice train station at 10.20 as instructed. We were allocated to Lily, an exchange intern from Slovakia, who was delighted that we were a small group of only 10 people.
It was soon easy to see why as shoulder season leading into summer, the trains were already packed on the obviously popular route. We managed to cluster ourselves in the open area by the doorway and a little up the stairs (it was a double-decker train) so it must be a proper mission with a big group to try and keep everyone together.
Lily used the time to acquaint with the group – parents and 2 teenage boys from Germany, a couple from Italy, a couple from Guam and us.
Alighting in Monaco, the opulence hits you even as you walk to the escalators to the exit; a massive glass window that overlooks a harbour of glimmering yachts. With not a soul among them, it was quite stark contrast to our sardine-can transfer!
In outlining our route for the day, Lily described to us how small the little principality of Monaco is. It is the 2nd smallest country in the world (behind the Vatican) at 2 square kilometres, has 38000 people and a third of their population are millionaires (largely because it’s a tax haven). The people and language are known as Monagasque but, seeing as the locals make up only around 20% of the total population, French is also widely spoken and, being part of the Eurozone, the Euro is the currency.
Our walking tour started with a trundle down through Monte Carlo down to the world famous casino.
In the 1860s Charles III hatched a plan to open a casino to save Monaco from bankruptcy. His original casino failed because it was in an awkward location that had no feeder roads, no support facilities and no marketing. But a new casino – the one that is now so famous – was built in a better location, had the most luxurious hotel and cafe to support it and investment was made into both marketing it and establishing easy transport options to make transferring to and from the casino effortless from key European destinations. Finally, the area was renamed from The Caves de Monte Carlo (Mountain of Charles) to be suitably grand and – voila! – the rest as they say is history.
The iconic building and setting seem so familiar, having seen them in movies like James Bond Golden Eye and in the scenic shots during the Monaco Grand Prix, which has been an event synonymous with Monaco since its inception in 1929.
Winding in and around Monaco, the GP sees the drivers negotiate the 3km circuit 78 times, through narrow city roads, a tunnel and a hair-raising hairpin bend. Many experienced drivers have become croppers on the gruelling course and a couple have ended up skidding off the road and into the water!
By now we’d walked away from the casino and we’re making our way along the harbour as Lily told the story. It was quite an experience to be IN the story, walking and talking among the iconic landmarks and decadent setting.
We stopped at The Church of Sainte Devote, probably most famous for being the first corner of the Monaco GP track, but also tribute to the patron saint of Monaco, who was a young Corsican woman martyred in the 300s for her devotion to Catholicism. Her body was ordered to be burnt but was saved by some Christians who sent it off on a boat headed for Africa such that it could be fittingly buried. The boat hit a massive storm in the Mediterranean and apparently a white dove flew from within her corpse body and guided the boat to safety on the Monaco shore. The white dove was assumed to be her spirit and confirmation that she was a saint.
So, the fisherman that found her built a church in which to bury her, which was has been maintained and enhanced by various benefactors over the centuries and which was restored and renovated after being damaged by bombings in the Second World War. She also gets a celebration day on 27 January, which is a massive deal for the Monagasque and involves the Prince setting a boat alight in the harbour in commemoration.
Sounds like a tall story. And like travelling with a white dove might be a good back up plan if you don’t have medical insurance.
Lily deposited us at the local market with information on local delicacies and which stalls were best for what. Armed with that knowledge, we entered the market and bee-lined for the Barbagiuans. Little pastry pockets with finely chopped chard, rice, egg, cheese and ham. Very nice, but only tickled the appetite so we followed with socca, which is a sort of crepe made from chickpea. Nice enough, but a bit boring. So we rounded off with a massive tuna baguette to share, to ensure we had enough sustenance to see us through the afternoon.
The tour then took us up to the palace, where the flag was up indicating the Royals were in town. This palace has been the Grimaldi homestead since Francesco Grimaldi seized it in the 13th century after he led a sneaky mission to infiltrate the previous owners by having himself and his band of merry men dress as monks, knowing that the deeply Catholic residents would open up and welcome them in. They were given food, shelter and ultimately the keys to the kingdom, when they slayed the previous owners and declared it Grimaldi Palace. Not quite the romanticism of a white dove, but effective nonetheless.
Also possibly why most of the stories focus on the more recent Royals. The fairytale story of Rainier and the aptly-named Grace, his Hollywood Princess, and her tragic untimely death after a car accident with her daughter, Stephanie.
And Albert and his African bride, who he met at the Olympics and with whom he has twins, providing an heir prince to take over the throne after him. Although, with Prince Rainier having reigned for 56 years, perhaps little Jacques has quite a ways to go before that becomes a thing for him to have to do.
We got the most wonderful panoramic pictures from the palace, as a perfect vantage point. Being such a small country, it’s possible to see France in both directions and even Italy in the distance because it’s so close to the border.
Our tour concluded at the Oceanological Museum. Since our train tickets were open, we didn’t need to return with the group, and we were motivated to see all there was to see. Lily was kind enough to get a city map out to help us to plan the rest of our afternoon’s solo adventuring.
We decided to walk back to the beach, which we figured must be perfect seeing as it was constructed as part of a land reclamation project.
We took an alternate route to the one we’d walked up, right down along the water at the harbour. Those yachts are even more impressive up close. And so few occupied. It’s unfathomable how it makes sense to spend so much buying and maintaining these boats, let alone docking them in Monaco, which must cost a fortune.
The path also took us through the Japanese Gardens; a very Zen and lush little enclave, with beautifully manicured beds and a pond with bridges on which tourists were posing.
Not far beyond was the beach. We bought our way into a private section, investing in a small granita (glorified Slush Puppy) in return for the lounger and shade, which was welcomed after spending all day in the sun.
Ready to return, we walked up through the shopping district, which meant we had seen most of Monaco in our day trip!
While Monaco is very opulent and impressive, its limited size and positioning within the bowl of mountain make it feel more like Hong Kong than France. Nice for a day, but nicer to be returning to Nice.

Travelogue French Riviera 3: Antibes

ANTIBES
19 June 2019
Where we were staying, Juan Les Pins, was essentially the beach suburb of one of the famous towns on the Cote d’Azur, Antibes.
We’d left our city tour of Antibes until the last day since it was up the coast toward Nice so we figured it would be the first hop of the next stage in our roadtrip which was to take us in that direction.
Since in real-life Antibes was less than 2km away and we were so close to the station, it now made more sense to take the one stop on the train rather than battle (and pay through the nose) for parking in Antibes.
We navigated the train service easily – even managing to grab a curry poulet baguette at the legendary Juan Les Pins train station coffee shop in the process – and were soon (really really soon) stepping into the Antibes sunshine and making our way down to the Place Charles De Gaulle for the walking tour we’d booked.
Our guide, Cederic, was already there along with 2 other tourists, a Mom and daughter combo from Norwich. Minutes later we were joined by a student from Colombia and a woman from Las Vegas who was already flustered from leaving her sunglasses in her Uber. With her dramatic entrance and so very American accent, if this was an Agatha Christie murder mystery character intro, you just know Hercule Poirot would discount her immediately for falling short on the requirements for strategic villainy.
Cederic was born and raised in Antibes and it was clear that his love for his home town ran deeply and sincerely. He shared enthusiastically the long history of the own from its formation in 5C BC – then called Antipolis the Greek for “facing the town” – and its historical significance in production of wine, ceramics and oil.
Nice was in the neighbouring Kingdom of Savoy and Antibes was the door to France and the military town protecting her border. Until 1860 when the border moved up to Menton, which gave relief to Antibes and allowed removal of the landside walls so that the now-cramped city could expand, including the addition of the seaside suburb of Juan Les Pins.
Cederic delighted in sharing with us the old-world mysticism and magic. First at the Chapelle Saint Bernardin with its unusual fully painted ceilings and walls, gallery, and massive wooden door that inexplicably wasn’t damaged in a fire that burns most of the church to the ground.
We wound through the old town and he marvelled at the regeneration of old town, the creation of pedestrian-only areas, commitment to artisanal shops and refusal of chain stores of any sort and the recreation of the town’s old bandstand that would serve as the social meeting point it had in day’s gone by.
His favourite part of the tour was an Absinthe store which had a vintage display in the window that he used to explain how the locals used to drink wine almost exclusively because of so much bacteria in the water. And then, when a bad crop made wine too expensive, they turned to absinthe!
Absinthe, when prepared in the traditional manner, is served as 2cl in bottom of tumbler, with a slotted teaspoon over the top of the glass through which cold water is dropped until all the sugar is melted; the perfect ratio being about 5:1.
We sampled and it was indeed really refreshing – and not as manic as some of the crazy absinthe we’ve sampled elsewhere in Europe. Van Gogh was notoriously a big fan of the stuff… but he mixed using cognac instead of water, so it’s no wonder he went crackers. And he and his Bohemian friends ruined the fun for everyone, since absinthe got banned based on reputation, in the early 1900s.
Left with some ‘free time’ to wander around the fruit and veg Marché, we sampled with reckless abandon, appreciating the French’s ability to cure meat and mature cheese, wondering why there wasn’t representation of wine ‘degustation’ from a nation that had visibly displayed no need for planes to fly overhead for daily indulgences to be partaken.
Apparently the Marché is all edibles in the morning and then arts and crafts in the afternoon, blending in live music as the sun goes down. It all sounds quite lively, as Cederic described it – and ultimately culminated as the best evening experience in Antibes, the piano lounge under the Absinthe place we’d been at earlier. Only open on weekends, the lounge is allegedly unmissable.
It was impossible to miss the artistic influence in Antibes. Picasso moved to Antibes, bought the Grimaldi Chateau as his residence and workshop and produced countless works of art there and it remains today a museum dedicated to the legendary artist.
Understandably. The setting is picture perfect, as we moved from quaint narrow and winding ancient roads, adorned with draping grapevines and curtains of Bougainvillea, onto the seafront with the stark contrast of green to blue, from the natural tones of yesteryear to modern shiny yachts. All inspirational in their own way.
We walked along the seafront to the marina and then parted ways with the group, us finding our way back up the hill to the train station to head back to Juan Les Pins to claim our car and conclude our roadtrip.

Travelogue French Riviera 2: Cannes

CANNES

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.
TUESDAY
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!

Travelogue French Riviera 1: St Tropez

SAINT TROPEZ

14-17 June 2019
It’s always lovely to attend to one’s bucketlist and this trip was (for me, at least) right at the top! I’d been wanting to visit the French Riviera for decades and our annual Winter Break seemed as good a time as any to strike it off the list.
It was only when we started researching the itinerary that we realised how close together all our must-see spots are, which sealed the deal and motivated us to rent a car for what then became our Riviera Roadtrip.
We’d again timed it perfectly, leaving for our holiday exactly as the first major cold snap set in at home – especially brutal to the unaccustomed after our long summer and only a mild flirtation with autumn.
Landing in Nice, we were greeted with a cloudy sky, a feisty breeze and a warm blanket of humidity. Sort of like arriving in Durban.
There was quite a long queue at the car rental place, but within the hour we were packed into our zippy-nippy Fiat 500, which from all appearances looked brand new and had all the creature comforts, including leather seats and a panoramic sunroof. Fortunately we’d only brought a single shared suitcase because that took up the whole boot, to the point that there wasn’t even space for our little onboard backpack!
Soon we were off, whizzing along with the highway on the road to our seaside adventure, with the longest leg of our roadtrip – a mere 104km – ahead of us.
Our pace slowed considerably as we exited the highway at Saint Maxime, our first experience of the beach towns on the coastal road. Teeming with holidaymakers, the traffic flow was inching along. Still, we had full view of the sea on our left and Saint Tropez on the opposite shore of the bay we were circling, so not so bad for us, as experienced as we are in the world of gridlock.
We had booked to stay in Cogolin, the adjacent town to Saint Tropez, based on the massive difference in price and the close proximity and ease of commute between them. While the town itself was a bit inland, the Port was (obviously) on the coast with enough accommodation options available on online bookings engines to hint that we were not the only ones to make this call.
There was a big shopping centre servicing the area, so we stopped and for a bite (it felt like a LONG time since the lunch on the aeroplane!) and a local SIM card en route to our digs.
We arrived at the Marina Beach Resort, which had sounded a bit like an Avontura Resort on the website, but proved to be so much better with little blocks of rooms strategically laid out for privacy. We were on the end row, so our double (dare I call them) French doors opened onto our veranda, the gravel path, the tennis courts and beyond that (oui oui) the actual-factual marina with all its fancy-pantsy yachts!
Keen to get out after the (semi-) frustrating traffic had delayed our arrival, we dumped bags, donned flip-flops, flip-flopped out of the resort and took a left to the marina, as our concierge had directed.
No more than a couple of hundred metres down, we were walking alongside jetties housing who-knows-how-many millions of Euros in yachts and boats of all shapes and sizes.
We stuck with what we knew and pulled up a dockside table at Le Wine to have sundowners, which the Cote d’Azur had been kind enough to hang onto for us even though it was easily after 7pm already. A couple of hours merriment was a worthy welcome party after our long journey!
SATURDAY
It was bliss having had a full night’s horizontal rest and no responsibilities to attend to so we made no effort to get up early on Saturday morning.
And as it turned out, there was no need to anyway.
We breakfasted on filled baguettes at the local boulangerie (2 minutes down the road) and then headed off in the other direction to the first stop on our day’s sightseeing plan.
Eight minutes later we were at that stop, Ramatuelle, a medieval village in typical Provencal style perched atop a hill with spectacular views of the vineyards below and beautiful sea beyond.
The town is tiny so it was fortunate we found the tourist office and got a walking tour map otherwise it would have been a quick 2000-step lap of the concentric buildings and we’d have been back on the road before you can say voila!
However, the map had snippets of information on over 20 points of interest in the concentrated area, which guided our attentions and provided a good hour’s entertainment taking us back in time to where crests adorned doorways and portcullises kept the baddies out.
Soberingly, our tour concluded with the World War II memorial commemorating the lost lives of the brave secret service members who served in the Resistance to bring the country to liberation, but saw their end being shot, beheaded or tortured in concentration camps. It’s an unsettlingly long list for such a small town.
Our route was to take us up the coast, away from St Tropez, which was the plan of action for Sunday.
We stopped in at La Croix Valmer, another pretty little town but by now, being Saturday afternoon, all the shops were shut so there wasn’t much to see and do so we did a whirl around the centre ville and then jumped back in the car.
Our last hop took us to our farthest destination, Cavalaire Sur Mer, the epitome of a seaside holiday town with a long promenade lined with shops and restaurants.
We walked along the shoreline – surprised at how the Med wasn’t as warm as we thought it would be – until we got to the (inevitable) marina with more yachts and flashy boats, where there was a spirited afternoon petanque tournament in session on the permanent gravel pit on the promenade. We sat and watched for a while, enjoying the Frenchness of it all.
On our return walk to the car, the afternoon’s revelry had begun on a section of the promenade hosting a rodeo! There was also a line-dancing demonstration in motion on a raised stage and stalls selling a generous selection of Americana. So odd to see all these ‘cowboys’ parlez-vousing the old Francais in their cowboy hats and pointy-toed embroidered boots.
We routed our drive home through Saint Tropez to get an idea of what the next day was to hold. It’s warned to be a busy town and the online references referred to crazy traffic and limited parking so a reccie would give insight on whether we’d be best driving, walking, bussing or boating ourselves around the next day.
While not terribly enlightening, the taste did serve to add excitement to the following day’s visit. How awesome to be flitting around in the playground of the rich and famous!
Arriving home, we showered and prepared for our evening activity – a walk to the adjacent town’s marina for dinner.
No more than 2km down the road, Port Grimaud is quite different to our Port Cogolin. Much fancier and bigger, Port Grimaud is big gated community that looks like a slice of Venice with Tuscan architecture and quaint townhouses built on a grid of canals, with residents mooring at their doorsteps and boating around the ‘burbs.
Bordered with wide roads lined with palmtrees and based on the calibre of cars we saw (including a Rolls, generous selection of German luxury cars and more than a handful of Italian sportscars), this was definitely the more affluent area.
We took the bridge (named the Rialto, no less) into one section of the marina where there was a town square surrounded by restaurants, and where we enjoyed pizza and pasta while watching locals chuck boules on the gravel on the square.
Done with dinner and the sun still in the sky, we walked down to the beach and were lucky to get a waterside table at the big pub on the beachfront to spend a couple of hours watching the sun go down and plotting our plans for the next day.
SUNDAY
After all consideration of the many options for transport for our Sunday trail, we settled on taking our Noddy car. This would give us more freedom to add to our agenda if new ideas occurred and while the parking fees in St Tropez were going to be extortionate, it was all part and parcel, and using our own transport would save us time, which is the one thing money can’t buy.
But first, breakfast needed to be attended to so we took a drive to the town of Cogolin, sure that there would be a boulangerie with our name on it.
We were wrong.
While (another) pretty little town, we were disappointed to find a selection of bakeries selling bread and butcheries selling deli items but not a one having put the lot together to sell a packaged sandwich. And while you might immediately think that it would just be a case of procuring each at the specialist store and combining, it’s not that simple without any cutlery. The baguettes are crispy, crunchy and very long so would be a very messy to split; and a thick layer of butter is an essential part of the formula.
We masked our disappointment admirably with an obligatory whip around the centre ville to say we’d seen what there was to see, and were soon back on the road to St Tropez to seek fame, fortune and a feeding.
We parked the car and had barely emerged from the underground parking when we spotted a cluster of sandwich stalls in a small market. One was a kebab stall, which sealed the deal and we were soon munching happily on a bench, shaded by the tall trees in the Place de Lice, watching the locals battle the boules, obviously.
Taking a walk through the town, Saint Tropez has more character than I expected; the full complement of designer stores and glitzy lables, but in a charming setting of cobbled streets, terracotta roof tiles and painted window shutters instead of the usual chrome and glass city storefronts. An obscene amount of premium motor cars and an ostentation of yachts, but still somehow warm and charming.
We climbed the hill to the citadel and maritime museum which gave context to the town’s rich history and a wonderful panoramic view across the town, the crammed marina and across the bay to the places we’d passed through on our way in.
Returning down the hill, we wound through La Ponche (the old fishing village) and were deposited on the marina where we spied an Irish pub called Kelly’s La Grotto that was perfectly timed to earn itself the #6 spot on our Guinness Index!
And, coincidentally, while we were there our friend Kelleigh called us to say she’d be in Cannes for the week so hopefully we could meet up! We made arrangements for Tuesday; a very exciting prospect!
Very pleased with our new plan, we were newly motivated to follow through with the last phase of our current plan – to drive to Bonne Terasse beach to walk a trail around Cap Camarot to see the lighthouse. 2.5km each way would keep us out of trouble for a couple of hours.
Late afternoon was the perfect time to do it and thankfully the trek around the cape allowed for interspersing the sticky, sweaty hiking with dips in the ocean – which was, as per the name, deeply and brightly azure, and was so clear in places that we could see the pebble beds and seaweed on the ocean floor even from up on the cliffs where we were climbing.
We ended off the adventure with a good soak in the water before getting back into Noddy and heading home to shower in anticipation of the dinner we’d earned through all the activity.
We opted to return to Port Cogolin for our last supper and were spoilt with a 3 course menu special at Le Gallon, lured in by the host at the door. We feasted on salmon terrine, tempura prawns, mussel pot, tuna steak and – the coup de gras – lemon meringue, for only a couple of Euro more than the dinner the night before. We had ordered a bottle of white wine and a bottle of sparkling water, thinking it pennywise to spritzer, but the restaurant foxed us with a) the smallest glasses in the world, b) serving us rosé (which looking around, everyone had, so maybe that’s what you got no matter what you ordered) and c) when the bill came we found out the bottle of water was €8.50 (!!) so hardly worth the effort of diluting.
Still it was a very pleasant evening and the setting, food and company were perfect so all in all, all smiles.

Travelogue: Champagne

Travelogue Champagne
22-25 August 2015

The plan to visit Champagne was hatched when Lixi’s milestone birthday reared its very lovely head on the horizon. It was clear that a plan needed to be made; and the plan needed to be epic. There would have to be Bubbly. LOTS of Bubbly. So what better place to celebrate than the home of Bubbly itself?

After deftly overcoming the usual obstacles (leave, flights, budgets, itinerary) in a matter of days, the plan was made and we were set for Epernay.

Our first validation that our decision had been a wise one was when we were upgraded to Business Class on the Dubai – Paris second half of the outbound leg of the journey. Having both achieved Silver status on Emirates, Christian and I had taken advantage of the free Business Lounge access to pass the time between flights. It makes the world of difference to the 3 hour stop-over to have an abundance of comfortable armchairs, extensive buffet and open bar at our disposal!

The lounge also has its own boarding gate, which is where we were told by the lady checking boarding cards that we’d be travelling on a brand new A380 and she’d taken the liberty of upgrading us. What a pleasure!

It was a tough job balancing enjoying all the extras that come with the premium service and getting some shut-eye. Just a couple of glasses of Champagne (to fit the theme of the trip, of course) and a few episodes on the big-screen telly, before transforming the seat into a flat bed for a perfect sleep… until a delicious eggs benedict breakfast with crispy light croissant, Bucks Fizz and an assortment of other accompaniments.

Our excitement at landing at Charles de Gaulle was dampened by an hour-long wait for our luggage. Clearly the downside to travelling on such an enormous aircraft. When we finally had our bags, there were still loads of people waiting for theirs and we thought that the (real) Business Class and Emirates Skywards Gold members (who had their own carousel) couldn’t have been very impressed having paid all that tom and then having to wait around forever to get their stuff.

While our wait at the carousel didn’t feel like time best spent, we still had just enough tome to catch the RER to Gare du Nord and connect with a Metro to get to Gare L’Est in time for our midday meeting.

It was, as always, awesome to meet up with our friends and, as usual, our communal holiday began with excited chattering about the journey, news from home and impressions on what lay ahead on our shared adventure.

The others had already bought train tickets for all of us, so all that remained was to make our way to the platform for our 12h36 train to Epernay.

We’d picked a perfect day to arrive and emerged from the station into a warm and clear day in the town that was to be our home base for the next 3 nights.

First stop was to pick up our rental car. Easily done since the agent office was conveniently located behind the town’s church – a landmark impossible to miss. Soon we were in our electric blue hatchback and headed off on the wrong side of the road (well, right side for France, but wrong side for us) to try and find our house.

A few wrong turns – which we wrote off as “sightseeing” – and we found our house. It had been another Airbnb booking and proved to be a gem.

The house was triple storey, with living area (lounge, dining room, kitchen and guest loo) on the ground floor, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom on the middle level and the main loft-style en suite bedroom and a big sewing room on the top floor. The coup de gras was a lovely back garden, where we enjoyed a celebratory bottle of chilled champagne to welcome our arrival. Our host had left the bottle for us as a gift for Lixi’s birthday, indicating that it was from her father-in-law’s vineyard and that there were more bottles from his range in the fridge, should we so wish to purchase them. We rated this Goulard Brut a 5.5, but appreciated the gesture and could envisage ourselves dipping into the stocks should the need arise.

Tastebuds piqued, it was time to do some real tasting! Epernay is famous for Avenue de Champagne, so that made a logical first port of call on our mission. We trooped down our road, past the church and into town. We did a loop through the centre, round the traffic circle and into Avenue de Champagne, facing up the street, with its wide cream pavements and grand buildings lining either side, with regal black metal palisade fencing and gold lettering spelling out names famous and aloofedly unfamiliar, but all classy and French. The first door on the left was a Tourist Office, so we stopped in and got a map and advice on Epernay and the popular Route de Champagne (in anticipation of a roadtrip).

Map in hand and plans in the making, our first tasting was at a Champagne bar called Comme, which Lix had already pencilled in our preparatory research phase. It was a good call and we bullishly started our tasting with a bottle of Pinot Meunier (6.5) and Rosé de Saigner (4), beautifully paired with a pork and mushroom ribelette, portion of ham and a cheese board, served with a basket of toast and French loaf. Obviously.

The summer sun is deceptive so even though we only left Comme in the evening, it still felt like daytime… so we stopped for sundowners en route home, where we had a very lovely time people-watching (well, mostly people’s plates-watching) and soaking in the Frenchness of it all.

Exercising our own Frenchness, dinner supplies were sourced from the Carrefour and consisted of paté, chicken, ham, cheeses, breads, chianti and 1664 (beer). It was a divine night for a walk home and a lingering evening around the diningroom table.

Christian and I were in the top floor loft room, so the early sunshine through the uncovered sky lights ensured we were awake and ready to make the most of Sunday morning. Feeling ambitious, we kitted up and took a jog around the town.

This proved to be a marvellous plan because we not only got a better lay of the land (which revealed that our house was super conveniently located), but also managed to catch the town market. While this was little more than a flower stall, a green grocer stall and a lady selling rotisserie chickens and roast potatoes (that very nearly had us doing Sunday roast for breakfast!), the market did lure us to what must – without any exaggeration – be the most heavenly store in the world! A deli that had so many delicious things that there are too many to even begin describing! We exercised enormous self-control and just nabbed a couple of crêpes stuffed with cheese, ham and bechamel sauce and considered ourselves blessed to have been exposed to such a sacred place.

Returning to the nest with our spoils, we regrouped and hatched the day’s plan: Catch a train to Reims, where some of the bigger houses are open on Sundays. This would be easy enough to do as the trains between Epernay and Reims are regular and (relatively) inexpensive (assuming you’re not travelling on the Rand).

We decided on the midday train, giving us enough time to go via Avenue de Champagne for a quick sneaky tasting en route to the station. We picked Collard Picard – for no reason other than it was the first gate that was open – and sampled their Brut (6.4) in a very civilised fashion at one of the table and chair set-ups neatly arranged in their perfect white pebble garden.

A good starter to the day’s main event; we nipped down to the station and were soon on the train to Reims.

The tourist office is right outside the station, so it was a simple task to review the big map to decide where we were going and to get a take-away map to get us there.

The destination of choice was Taittenger; the route set to take us past the other big attraction in town, the Cathedral.

Sadly, the weather had taken a turn and it had started to drizzle but, fortunately, it wasn’t cold and we were on a mission, so it didn’t dampen our spirits.

Luck was on our side and we arrived, by complete serendipity with not a stitch of pre-planning, with 5 minutes to go until the next tour, which started with a video presentation on the usual history of the estate and an introduction to Champagne and its terminology, preceding a guided cellar tour and concluding with a tasting.

We were taken 12m underground, where it is a chilly 12 degrees, and shown the vaults where the 4km of chalk-walled tunnels house 2 million bottles of arguably the world’s finest Champagne. These bottles are stored for years and turned by hand (alternating a quarter revolution one way and an eighth revolution the other way bi-weekly) to ensure the perfect fermentation and meticulous sediment extraction, so that anywhere from 7 years upward, perfect Champagne can be distributed all over the world.

The tour was also interesting since the tunnels themselves are so steeped in history, having housed clergymen escaping persecution hundreds of years ago and creating an entire underground village for locals during the World Wars. The chalk walls are soft enough that many people have carved messages and drawings and it was fascinating to see how these have transcended time, while the Champagne sits waiting to be ready.

Best part of the tour though was of course the tasting… and it was well worth the wait. Our group rated the Brut a solid 8.1 and the Vintage 2008 (meaning all the grapes from that bottle were from the 2008 harvest) a respectable 6.3.

We hadn’t eaten since the morning crêpes and it was by now well into the mid-afternoon, so lunch was most certainly the next order of the day.

We easily retraced our footsteps to the main avenue that led up from the station, that was lined with cafés and restaurants.

We sat at the first that appealed… only to be told that the kitchen was closed until dinnertime. It made the next best choice somewhat easier though, since there was only one place clearly open. Fortunately, it proved itself to be both quick and amazing, which were the exact two qualities we were looking for and soon I was happily munching on a 300g “French mincemeat”, which is sort of a flat meatball or a burger without the bun, and very good crispy pomme frîtes.

The boys managed to wolf their food down so as to pop into the English pub across the Avenue – lured in equal parts by the big screen football and an enormous neon Guinness sign – to gullet a stout before we had to get back to the station.

We got back to Epernay just after 5, leaving an hour to do some more tasting. De Castellane was an obvious choice since it was near the station and had a big imposing branded tower above the building that implied it must be something special. We sampled the Grand Cru, which only earned a very average 6.3 on our (now known to be tough) scale.

Up the hill and back onto Avenue de Champagne, we chose A. Bergère because it was still busy with patrons – usually a good sign. We tasted the Brut (5.2) and the Grand Cru (6.2), while reviewing all we’d seen and done on our afternoon in Reims.

Needing a palate cleanser, we stopped off in a brasserie en route home for a pint, enjoying the evening sunshine after the damp afternoon.

Dinner was then a very French affair with baguettes and paté and cheese and chianti… and 2 bottles of our host’s Goulard Brut (which earned a much higher rating on this second time round and seemed more fairly priced – at 15 Euros a bottle – after having a better idea on the going rates).

Monday morning was not sunny, but much brighter than the previous, no doubt thanks to the previous day’s exhuberance. The plan was to roadtrip the region and find a nice chateau for lunch.

We hit the road and headed for Verzy… only to find a ghost town. NOTHING is open on a Monday! Not even the lighthouse… so we’ll never know why in the world they even need a lighthouse!

The drive was still nice (for everyone but Lix, who was tasked with winding around the narrow streets on the wrong side of the road) and it became clear that it would have been a mean feat to taste all the Champagne houses in Champagne in a lifetime, let alone our long weekend! The one little village had its own mini tour route laid out from the town square, with 31 houses in walking distance.

Our ultimate destination was Chalons en Champagne, where we knew we were bound to find something open. And we did.

A delightful bistro that had a perfect set menu offering duck paté, bavette (steak) with shallots and frîtes and a scrumptious crème caramel to finish off.

Returning to Epernay, we went straight to drop the car off so we could resume our mission: complete Avenue de Champagne.

The plan was to walk the full length and do Mercier at the top, but when we got there and found out that we had to do a tour in order to do a tasting, we passed. We’d had the tour the day before and figured there was unlikely to have been any major breakthroughs in Champagne-making overnight, especially since the region doesn’t seem to operate at all on a Monday.

So we went to Michel Gonet instead – a beautiful old house, which has apparently previously housed the British Embassy – and did a leisurely sampling of the Blanc de Blanc (7), Vintage (6.2), Chardonnay (5.2) and Rosé (5.3).

With little time to go before the 6pm closing, the last option available to us on the Avenue was, conveniently, 2 vineyards exhibiting their wares (for free) in the Tourist Office. There we were given background and samples of the Lorint Brut and Rosé (both 5) and the Alain Mercier Chardonnay (5) and Meunier (7.5). We liked the Meunier so much that we asked to buy a bottle. No such luck, the exhibitor loudly told us that he couldn’t sell from the Tourist Office… then whispered his address and told us to meet him in 20 minutes.

Fortunately there was a brasserie next door, so we waited out the time until our “deal” with a pint. We learned a little lesson about experimentation: for me having ordered a Panache (a shandy of sorts, more unusual than unpleasant) and for Robby who had what might very well be The Worst Beer In The World.

Chalking it up to experience, we headed back up the road to meet our Mercier man. True to form, he was waiting in the parking in front of his (gorgeous) boutique hotel, with the back of his van open and ready to effect our transaction. We bought four bottles to reward his efforts.

On our way home, we stopped at L’Univers pub outside the Church and enjoyed our last evening in the company of what is clearly Epernay’s version of Gathering of the Clans. The pub cleverly has a little Tabac in the entrance – a kiosk selling basic supplies – and we marvelled at the simple genius of the one-stop shopping (and how many of our “married with children” friends would offer to pop out for bread or milk to get a quick pint in).

We had planned our supplies perfectly and made a slap-up picnic dinner with the last of the bread, paté, chicken, cheese and garnishes we had leftover from previous meals. Enjoying our last night together at our trusty diningroom table.

Tuesday was the big day. The day it was all about. Lixi’s birthday. We got up, dressed and packed and made our way downstairs to do presents and have a lingering Champagne (literally) breakfast. Lixi seemed pleased with her haul: a set of engraved Champagne glasses from us and a very lush spa day from Faye. How awesome that was as old friends – as in going way back, not being old ourselves,  obviously – get to spend such auspicious occasions together!

We’d opted to catch the earlier train to Paris so as to have less rush on the other side to get to the airport, so our evac from our wonderful holiday house was set for 10, to get us to the station by 10.30 and in to Paris just before 12.

We surfaced from L’Est onto the streets of Paris and made our way toward Gare du Nord, where Lix had earmarked Terminus Nord as our destination. A surreal restaurant with classic decor and antique pieces that looked like it had been frozen in time; like Hemingway or Picasso could have sat at our table in their day.

The service was exceptional and the food exquisite. Those that did, got the escargots they’d been after all holiday – served in the shell with a light parsleyed garlic butter – and we all had steaks of some persuasion for mains, with melt-in-mouth crunchy frîtes. Add a bottle of white and a bottle of red and the bill was gasp-worthy… but you only live once, right?

Travelogue Iberia 2: San Sebastian

SAN SEBASTIAN
9-12 September 2013

We picked up “Negrita”, our black Seat Ibiza, at the Europcar without complication – and I was worried with how casually the date change had been handled sans paperwork – and took the first motions into our road trip experience. 

It wasn’t the easiest of asks, having Christian execute his first left hand drive experience in amidst the bustle of Estacio de Barcelona-Sants, with me having to navigate using a city map (why oh why didn’t we bring Lixi and her mad maps skills?!)… that didn’t show the one ways!! Fortunately though, more by dumb luck than design, the station is toward the edge of town so there wasn’t too much to endure to get onto the highw
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