I’m pleased to present a lovely guest post from Jane Dunning, author of ‘Thirty-five minutes from St Tropez‘. We first got to know Jane through her interview on the My Provence series where she shared some of her favorite places to visit in the south and also some helpful travel tips. Today she shares with us her first experience visiting Provence… and like many of us, it definitely left a lasting impression.
It was 1990. My first holiday in France had been in 1978 – it took a long time for a return trip but I’d been to Corsica a couple of times – the poor man’s Riviera, perhaps. The 1980s was my ‘Greek’ era – inexpensive, laid-back holidays in the sun.
After the long drive from the north coast of France, we arrived at Claviers, a small village in the Haut-Var, where we’d rented a bergerie. Although it was a former shepherd’s hillside refuge, it had been nicely renovated with a swimming pool overlooking the thickly forested valley. Obviously pre-Internet, we booked it via Bowhills’ Holidays – I can remember waiting impatiently for their brochure, featuring rental homes in France, to arrive each year.
Even though Claviers was tiny, it had a shop, boulangerie, restaurant and the regular arrival of the butcher and fishmonger’s vans meant we didn’t have to go far for provisions. We were surprised the house didn’t have a barbecue so we made one Fred Flintstone style with rocks and a shelf from the oven! We wouldn’t do it now, of course, especially as we learnt afterwards that barbecues were forbidden because of the very real fire risk. I recall the skinny sausages and prawns we cooked as being delicious …
You can see photos and find out about Claviers at Provence Beyond (a useful website for anyone visiting Provence):
Eventually though, we felt the need to leave our idyllic retreat and drive to the coast about 1 hour 30 minutes away – we were headed for St Tropez! It was slightly out of season, so pleasantly busy. We didn’t like the prices of drinks at the quayside bars and cafes so wandered through the backstreets until we came to the Place des Lices where the cost of a beer or coffee were about the same as other holiday places in France. It was a lovely place to sit, overlooking the wonderful, old plane trees and the square where the elderly residents of St Tropez like to play boules in the afternoon. I’ve been to St Tropez quite a few times since then and it truly hasn’t changed that much although a visit out of season is a must. A special memory from that day-trip to St Tropez was seeing a sign to the village of ‘Le Plan de la Tour’. I thought it was a great name for a place! It took another sixteen years before I finally visited!
The weather was fabulous so we spent a lot of time lazing around and messing about in the pool. It was the first time any of us had use of a fully private pool. We explored the local villages of Bargemon, Callas and Seillans, usually finding a good restaurant or two in each village.
After a while, we felt the need for some bright lights so we set off on an overnight trip to Monaco. We decided we couldn’t afford to stay in Monaco although I can’t recall looking at any prices – I think we just thought we couldn’t afford it so we decided to stay a little further along the coast in Menton, a small town with a vieux ville … old town … with a wonderful ancient church and pastel coloured houses.
We had dinner at the Café de Paris, (still there and always reasonably affordable) opposite the Hotel de Paris and adjacent to the Casino and then tried our luck in the Casino. My friend was lucky on the slot machines (yes, there are slot machines) – that was dinner paid for. It was wonderful to see the place that the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix took place and to see where Princess Grace of Monaco had lived. The Belle Epoque buildings and tall apartment blocks sat fairly well together, probably helped by the back-drop of the rocky cliff-sides behind and the deep blue Mediterranean fronting the Principality.
We returned to Menton and settled down for the night. No sleep for us – we hadn’t realised that many of the hotel and bar staff reside in Italy meaning that hundreds of scooters and motorcycles zoomed past our window throughout the night as the late-night workers returned home! Be warned if you ever stay in Menton …
Our holiday eventually came to an end but it left with me a passion for Provence that has led me back there on numerous occasions.
I was lucky enough to spend four months within a few miles of Le Plan de la Tour and my time there was the inspiration for my Kindle novel ‘Thirty-five minutes from St Tropez’, the story of an extended family who live in Provence and Monaco.
You can find Jane’s Kindle novel ‘Thirty-five minutes from St Tropez’ available on Amazon Kindle (EUR 2,68 or £1.54 or $2.29). If you don’t have a Kindle, it is still possible to download it to your laptop or tablet.
On Jane’s Facebook page you’ll also find information about her book together with numerous photos and ‘shares’, mostly featuring Provence.
Should you be interested in finding out more about her free house-sitting service, she has a page on the house-sitting website, Mind My House.