Now onto the second leg of our holiday journey after moving from Australia to the UK – the South of France! It’s now June 2015. Harry and I had plenty of planning time in Marrakech while delayed at the airport for our flight to Nice. We came across an e-bike tour (electric / motorised bicycles) and thought that would be fun, so we booked online to lock it in. We finally arrived in Nice around midnight and were very keen to find the hotel for some shut eye! Thanks to Uber we had a very cheap and direct drive from the airport to our hotel (from memory around 10 euros). The hotel was called Hotel de Verdun and was right near Place Massena and a short walk to the beachfront. It was nothing flash (2 stars in fact) but we weren’t planning on spending too much time in the hotel.
The Real Day 1 in Nice
France adventures start today! We enjoyed a nice breakfast at the hotel to fuel up for the day and headed off towards the beachfront where our e-bike tour was starting from. After a few small detours to find sunscreen for my very white boyfriend, we came across an Italian food festival along the beachfront. Yes please! We will definitely be coming back here later to pick up supplies! Harry found a small convenience store among the festival and came back with a tube of sunscreen with ‘bronzante’ (French for bronzer). My very white boyfriend and I were now very tanned in all the sunscreen application spots.
We met the tour guide and other e-bike groupies and one family had some serious bike attire going on! Though it was a 4 hour bike tour so perhaps padded bike pants was a good idea. The tour guide who was actually English led us all to the bike shop to get us set up on our e-bikes for the big ride. There were two bikes that were a different colour to all the rest which we somehow managed to score. The difference being that they went faster and required less effort. Harry and I gave them a test run and with big smiles on our face, we secretly acknowledged to one another that we had the best bikes and this was going to be the best bike ride ever.
It really was the best bike ride. Not only were the bikes awesome fun, but the views of the French Riviera were breathtaking. We cycled up and around Mount Boron, Mont Alban, Citadel of Villefranche, Port of Nice… we even cycled past Elton John’s house! At one point in the bike tour, we stopped for a photo of us with a background of three countries – France, Monaco and Italy. And when I say cycled I mean pressed a button to change gears now and then depending on whether you were going uphill or not, and pedalling very slowly because the momentum is what powers the bike. Strangely the slower you pedal, the faster you go. It’s basically a slow motorbike without the need for a licence. I want one.
After parting from our beloved e-bikes back at the shop, we headed back to the Italian food festival for some picnic supplies. We bought a bottle of wine, some cheese and salami. We were so excited to go to the beach and eat it that we realised we didn’t have any glasses, so we went back to our wine supplier and he kindly gave us two plastic cups. Next issue – need a corkscrew. And also the cheese and salami were not cut up so we gave in to the immediate picnic idea and headed back to the hotel. I had one of my treasured holiday naps then we acquired a corkscrew from the guy at reception in the hotel, got our picnic ready and ventured off to find a more lucky picnic spot. We found our way to Castle Hill and walked the many stairs up to the top.
The view of the beach from here was very pretty! We made ourselves as comfortable as possible on a square light fixture in the garden and laid out the picnic spread. After a cup or two of grapes we were thinking about how fun our e-bike tour leader was and tried to find his contact online to see if he would be keen to meet up – stalkers! After failing to find and contact our e-bike tour leader, we made our way back towards the main part of town to find some dinner. We made an unlucky choice of restaurant as the customer service was terrible but it was too late to do a runner. At least in this spot we got to see lots of French bulldogs walk by. And there were also a bunch of Brazilian dancers that performed outside the restaurant who were very talented and entertaining! Lots of acrobats!
Harry had dessert on his mind so we wandered off to the gelato place we’d seen earlier. Place Massena was very pretty to walk through at night and has been around since the 19th century. There are seven statues of men sitting on top of tall pedestals, all different colours. The art work is called Conversation in Nice and is something to do with seven continents and the communication between different communities. There is also a water fountain with Greek god statues that we so very rudely took pictures of pretending to touch their private parts. Another immature moment – Harry made me do it! Well, back to our glorious 2 star accommodation. It really was all we needed. Though something to note is when you sit on the toilet there in the bathroom – your knees touch the wall!
Day 2 Nice to Frejus
Seeing as yesterday was adventure packed with 4 hours of very difficult bike riding (sarcasm), we thought we would spend today lazing on the beach in the beautiful sunshine. But first, breakfast. I mentioned in my Morocco blog that I had a hate relationship with bread after having so much in Morocco and France. Well the breakfasts here are bread with jam, croissant and coffee. So we were on the search for an American or English breakfast to balance out the carbohydrates with some fats. We sat down at one place but after no service for a while, we left and looked for another café. By this point I was morphing into a monster from not having eaten yet. Harry would say I was past the morphing stage – fully fledged monster! Finally we found somewhere that despite having English breakfast on their menu board out the front, had an American breakfast on the actual menu. Close enough! They brought out the mandatory breads for starters which I quite happily bypassed to have the egg and bacon components! Strangely they also had cheese slices on the plate next to the egg and bacon though this was still winning over the bread. The waiter was nice enough to attempt to make a coffee how we might like it and was very pleasant compared to our other customer service experience in Nice so far. We left him a grateful tip.
There were markets right near our café that we had our eye on during breakfast. Lots of old amazing antiques. If only we had the space in our bags and/or a home to put them in! We poked around the markets for a while and then made our way to the beach. We found a good spot and then paid an extortionate amount (55 euros) to hire a sunbed for the day. Though we really only had an hour or two to spare before we needed to go pick up our rental car and get on the road. The sun was well and truly out and regardless of our thick sunscreen layer, you could feel the heat! Harry was the first to attempt a cool down in the water. It was very entertaining to watch. It was one of those pebbly beaches so it was not pleasant to walk on. Furthermore, closer to the water’s edge there was a big dip that led down into the water. This wasn’t such a hindrance on the way in, but watching him walk back up and over the dip was good fun. Unco. To make him feel better when he reads this, lots of other people had exactly the same struggle. I hope I looked a bit more graceful when it was my turn.
We hadn’t booked our accommodation for tonight and had heard that Frejus was a nice place to be so after some research on the sunbed, we locked in a hotel for the night. It was soon time to go back to Hotel de Verdun to pick up our bags and head to the rental car company to pick up our rental car. Lucky for us, we had mobile coverage with our UK sim cards here in France. That meant google maps was allowed to be our friend for the road trip. Harry was first to drive and it was a little bit stressful! The whole driving on the right hand side thing! Lots of brain power necessary. Our e-bike tour leader had told us that Antibes was worth visiting so now that we had the car we made our way there. He was right! I wish we had more time to spend there but for the time that we did, we actually had an amazing crepe and gelato (and customer service – yay!) and strolled through one of the walled areas that had some really funky shops. What Wikipedia says about Antibes:
Antibes was founded as a 5th-century BC Greek colony settled by Phocaeans from Massilia, called Ἀντίπολις, Antípolis which literally means the “city across” as the city was situated across the sea from “Νίκαια”, the main Greek city at that time. Due to its naturally protected port, the town of Antibes has long been an important trading centre.
It was time for our parking ticket to expire so we found our way back to the car and kept on driving to Frejus. Oh the relief when we pulled into the hotel carpark! No more right hand side driving until tomorrow. The lady at reception was up for a chat and told us she’d lived in Morocco for about 5 years and her husband still worked at a hotel in Marrakech. Pretty different worlds! It was another super basic hotel but comfortable enough for us. It even had a little balcony. I’d found out on our last night in Morocco that I had a job interview on the morning of 2 June so while I was preparing for that, Harry sourced some beers for us from a local shop.
We ventured off to find dinner and found a nice looking restaurant along the port area. We had a cocktail and a three course meal. Not bad except the salmon was overcooked to the point where it was very hard around the edges. When it was time to order dessert I asked for a chocolate tart and the waitress just looked at me. So I repeated myself – ‘chocolate tart’? To which she replied – ‘tarte au chocolat’. Oops. I hope she doesn’t spit in it. Still not having the best luck with restaurants. It seemed to be very quiet around this area so we went to the casino near our hotel which we knew was open. Harry taught me how to play the roulette game and then we had a go on the pokies before admitting defeat and heading home. I have an interview in the morning!
Day 3 Frejus to Bezier
We were having no luck again trying to find breakfast – what’s wrong with this country?! Haha you can tell we love our breakfast. It is definitely my favourite meal of the day. Eventually we found a café and had the standard French bread and coffee breakfast so that at least I could function for my interview. We went back to the hotel and I got the phone call. The interview went really well. I laughed for a lot of it! The hiring manager was great fun and suddenly I got excited at the prospect of going back to work with these people. Fingers crossed.
We checked out of our hotel and drove into the main area of Frejus. It was much prettier than where we were staying! The beach was perfect (no pebbles!) and the restaurants along the shore had all the things we had been looking for. We took the opportunity to have lunch here after looking around including in the local markets. Yum! I got a call during lunch and was offered the job I’d interviewed for a few hours earlier. I accept! Wow… job sorted to start a day after I return from holidays. It’s only a 3 month contract but not sure it could have worked out any better than that!
I drove the next stretch to Saint Maxime. Our drives consisted of ‘watch out’, ‘bit too close on the right’, ‘car coming’. But we still loved each other afterwards which was nice. And we were still alive thanks to our friendly backseat driving. The beach at Saint Maxime was very pretty and we enjoyed a stroll along the water’s edge in the sunshine. We continued our drive to St Tropez and it was a bit different to Frejus and Saint Maxime beaches. There was a cool port area filled with boats and artists along the pathway. The backstreets were full of expensive shops and there were tourists everywhere. The houses were all different colours and it kind of had an Amsterdam feel to it. We celebrated our time in St Tropez and the heat with an icecream (Calippo for me!).
We had quite a bit of driving to do to get to Bezier so it wasn’t long before we were back on the road again. Google maps was our friend most of the time but was a bit slow on occasion and therefore we made a few wrong turns which added to the journey time and also our expenses. We were on a major toll road to save time by driving inland instead of along the coast. Every time you get off the road there’s a toll fare. We got off the toll road a couple of times, then realised we were supposed to stay on it. It was an expensive exercise!
Thankfully we made it to our accommodation at Bezier where we were staying for the rest of our time in France. One of the managers I used to work with in the rail industry in Melbourne, is English and has a holiday home in Bezier. This is where we were staying. It was a cute mobile home that was small but was designed so well that it had 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, 1 of which we didn’t find until later. I’m so excited to tell you about the cats. But it’s too soon! After settling in, we went to find some dinner. It was around 9pm already and luckily the bar and restaurant as part of the mobile home park was still open and serving food. In fact they had karaoke on tonight! Too bad we were exhausted. We got a pizza and a bottle of wine and retreated back to our mobile home for the evening.
Day 4 Carcassonne, Lac de la Cavayére and Moustache
Nice sleep in this morning. Well for me anyway. Harry even went and got us some grocery supplies from the local store while I was snoring away. After a bowl of cereal and a much needed instant coffee, we started our next journey off to Carcassonne. Google says:
Hilltop Carcassonne, in southern France’s Languedoc region, is a medieval citadel famous for its 53 watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. The first walls of the upper town, Le Cité, were built in Gallo-Roman times; major additions were made in the 13th and 14th centuries. Château Comtal, a 12th-century fortress within Le Cité, offers archaeological exhibits and a tour of the inner ramparts.
When we arrived we expected to pay to get into anything interesting. But you can walk straight in and enjoy the medieval town for free. There are plenty of shops and restaurants and we also found a local kitty to pat. We started to see them everywhere, sleeping in all kinds of odd spots. We found where you could buy tickets to do some further exploring and after initially being turned away because they didn’t have any audio headsets available, we managed to get them about half an hour later and enter the ramparts. It was fun, informative and hot! Looking forward to a swim later at the Lake! The view of the city from the walls was interesting to see. The cool part about the story of this place was that the architect who restored it in 1853 kept finding different areas within the fortress that had been patched up and hidden. Lots of history for him to uncover and study while maintaining its heritage. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Now that we were a sweaty mess, we made our way to Lac de la Cavayere. There were a few different spots you could go to but we chose the more scenic option. It was a white sandy cove filled with people frolicking in the water and snacking and/or sunbathing on the sand. We had our paprika Pringles ready for a mini picnic. The water was a little cool but nice once you got in. Definitely a recommended spot to visit.
It was time to drive back to our mobile home for the night and have some dinner. We had chicken and salad on our outdoor area and that’s when we met Moustache the black cat. I initially called him Gerry – our friend from the Morocco tour. But then Moustache became a much more fitting name after he went exploring under the mobile home and came out with a cobweb on his face!
We went to the bar within the mobile home park to see what entertainment was happening for the night and came across a mini cabaret session. The female singer was English but could sing in a few different languages. They sang a lot of songs from movies like Frozen and from that point on I nicknamed her Disney. After a couple of cocktails we went for a walk along the main road to see what was happening. It was pretty quiet for a Wednesday night so we scoped out where we wanted to go over the next few nights and headed home for a wine and trashy TV shows!
Day 5 Cevennes National Park and the Google Maps Nightmare
Today we trusted Google Maps to get us to Cevennes National Park. Well technically it did… but to the centre and not to the main tourist area. The centre was literally in the middle of nowhere. We were on super narrow, two-way roads that wound through villages and past farms. Even got a wave from a farmer… probably because he’s not seen a car go past in a month! Our phone reception was lacking aaaaand our fuel was running low. Crap. Where the hell are we. We followed some road signs and thankfully found a fuel stop before we ran out. We kept driving and found a tourist information centre. Turns out there are heaps of things to do at Cevennes National Park including getting close and personal with wolves. But by the time we would get there it would be closed. The other newsflash is that there is a major road between Cevennes and Bezier that only takes just over 2 hours drive instead of the 4 hours we had driven so far. Ooh well. We settled with seeing St Enimee which we had heard was a very pretty French village and started driving in that direction. Thankfully St Enimee was quite stunning.
We walked around for a bit then had a banana split. There was a swimming hole across from the café so we slapped on some sunscreen and slid into the water to cool down. There were fish in the water that liked to swim very close by! Other people were sunbaking along the edge. We initially thought it might be nice to have dinner here but we were exhausted after some stressful cliff-hugging driving and thought it would be better to drive back to Bezier while it was still light. Hadn’t actually worked out how to put the lights on in our little beast of a car called Adam as yet!
We made it back in time for dinner at our restaurant in the mobile home park and Harry celebrated the end of the day with a beer.
Day 6 Ready, Sete, Go!
I bet you thought I spelled Sete wrong. Well that’s where we headed today. It’s a local beach near Bezier. We had this dream of finding a delicious breakfast with a beach view but I don’t know how we could possibly believe this! Definitely a fully fledged monster again when it was taking us ages to find breakfast and the only option was bread. Harry bought the monster a banana and that helped a little.
Sete was another Amsterdam looking place with colourful houses, windy back streets to explore and water in the middle of the main town area filled with boats. We had a look around (purely so that the clock ticked over to midday so we could eat lunch – well breakfast – YAY!) and found a crepe place. I felt a bit more human like after snorting the crepe and we left our waitress a big thank you tip. And they think Australians are terrible at tipping! Just feed me something other than bread and I will leave you 2205048 euros.
Seeing as we hadn’t actually found the beach yet, we set off on a beach hunt. We found a beautiful white sandy beach with a boob here and there to try not to look at depending on their age and length. We claimed a spot on the beach and spent the next few hours laying in the sun and cooling down in the water. It was a shame to leave but we had arranged with our rental car company to return the car this afternoon. So off to Bezier airport we go to drop off the car.
There was no company representative there and lots of people waiting for taxis and buses. So we decided that despite the extra expense we would keep the car until our flight in a few days time. When we got back to our mobile home, we quickly got changed and headed out to the main street. Actually technically this area is called Vias la Plage. So many restaurant options for a small beach town. We decided on Pancho Villa, a Mexican restaurant with a 15 euro deal for a three course meal. Their cocktails were also insanely large, delicious and fun! Some of them came in really cool shaped glasses and others had lollies on a stick! It was packed and deservedly so. There also seemed to be a lot of biker people around and we wondered if they were all on a big group ride across Europe.
Seeing as it was Friday night, we attempted to stay out to see what the nightlife was like here. We started walking towards the bar we had spotted the night before and all of a sudden we had doves on our heads and were told to ‘baiser’ which means kiss in French while our new friend was taking our picture. All for the bargain price of 5 euros. Can’t say I expected that! We made it to the bar without attracting any more birds and after a drink it was still very quiet so we thought we would try again tomorrow night.
On the way home we heard some very loud music coming from the accommodation across from our mobile home park. Turns out there was a big Harley Davidson gathering going on! No wonder we had seen so many bikies and with different gang vests on. The band was pumping out songs like ‘Born to be Wild’ which as you could imagine was going down a treat.
Day 7 Markets, Tubing, Swimming, Tagine, Concert and Bruce!
Today’s plans were fun packed. To start with we explored the markets along the main street which really were just the shops actually being open for a change unless we totally missed the proper markets. Then we headed off to find the beach and see if we could do some fun activities. Unfortunately we couldn’t do the flying fish ride because you needed more people for weight purposes otherwise you could fly off and really hurt yourself. So we opted for tubing. Harry had never been before so I was excited (competitive streak) to stay on while watching him fly off.
Harry and I had a tube each. Big ones that usually fit atleast 3 people on them. So many handles to choose from. Harry’s strategy was to hold the handles as widely apart as possible. My strategy was to change where I was holding the handles based on which way the boat was turning. The locals operating the boat didn’t speak much English but I’m sure they knew I was having a great time by the amount of squealing I was doing. And then the moment came. I was the first one to fall off. Didn’t grab hold of the handle in time when I was changing position before the boat turned. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Back up on the tube with bikini in tact. Thumbs up. After more squealing and flying in the air, I fell off a second time. I used my words and body language to tell the boat driver and spotter that it was time for Harry to come off his tube. So they dunked him straight away. Drove the boat slightly forward and then must’ve pulled his rope or something but only he slid forward off his tube into the water and not me. Thumbs up.
It was definitely icecream time to settle down after our very fun tubing session. Then we went back to find the pool within our mobile home park grounds to see what all the fuss was about. The place was massive! Waterslides! And it was here the whole time! We went down the slides with many other children at least 10 times. Then swam around in the big pool for a while before resorting to the sunbed chairs. There was a concert scheduled on the entertainment program for later tonight near the pool so we thought we had better go and find some dinner so we could make it back in time.
We went to Le Riad to enjoy some more Moroccan food and reminisce about our Moroccan tour. It was pretty delicious and while most probably authentic, it just wasn’t the same as enjoying it in Morocco. We had another cocktail at Pancho Villa then headed back to check out the concert.
What a show! They had a Moulin Rouge backdrop and were actually quite talented. They even had a half time it was that long! We were very impressed.
On our way back to our cosy home, we met Bruce. We were actually calling for the other cat but Bruce responded and came over immediately. There were quite a few cats living at the mobile home park. Bruce followed us home and we gave him a bowl of milk which he lapped up pretty excitedly! He then joined us inside for the closest possible snuggles on the couch. We were a little bit worried about Bruce because it sounded like he couldn’t breathe properly. But luckily Bruce visits again.
Day 8 Last day in Bezier
Today we discovered a snack bar near the pool with an all day English breakfast. It’s always the way isn’t it?! There was a lot of swimming and sunbathing to be done today. More eating at the snack bar. And then while packing our bags back at the mobile home (I want to say trailer?) we had another visit from Bruce. Poor Bruce just missed out on our last bit of milk as Harry finished it when clearing out the fridge. I gave him a bowl of water but he wasn’t interested and left!
We packed up the car and left to head to the airport. Again there was no rental car company representative there for us so we dropped it off in the designated spot and found where you had to leave the keys inside the airport. It was time to fly back to London and face reality.