Well, we’ve had more than a few rainy days here in Provence and looking at the photos from this post has definitely lifted my spirits. Between you and me, there’s nothing I’d love more than to dip my toes in those sandy beaches…the countdown to spring has officially started chez nous.
This week we have another great article from author Jane Dunning, in which she regales us with tales of her adventures in the south, along with practical travel tips for getting the most out of your Provençal holiday. Call it part vicarious-escape, part perfect DIY-vacation… but whatever you take away from this dreamy post, this was certainly one French holiday to remember.
When I decided to write this piece for Tuula at Belle Provence Travels, I immediately knew which holiday I would write about. The year was 2007 and I had just finished work after more than thirty-five years. It was the first time that I could go away for more than two weeks.
After some meticulous planning, the day finally arrived and we flew into Nice Airport, collected a rather battered hire car and headed for Menton, the first of four destinations. If you read my last article, you’ll know that I warned against having a room overlooking the main road and the Mediterranean in Menton. Well, this time we followed our own advice and had a room facing the mountains. However, I now know that I’d put up with road noise to have a wonderful sea view any time! We spent a day or so exploring the town and met up with some friends on one of the evenings. The old town is lovely, there’s a long promenade for strolling along and a breakwater from which it’s possible to take fabulous photos of the old buildings and church, tumbling down the hillside towards the sea.
I have to confess that our next destination is not in Provence, or even France – it’s in Italy, Liguria to be precise. It was the tiny, hill-top village of Apricale, less than an hour’s drive from Menton, in the hills behind the coastal town of Ventimiglia. Here, we had rented an apartment with a small balcony in the heart of the village overlooking the verdant hills. From here, we explored tiny Dolceaqua, Ventimiglia, for its famous market, and San Remo, which is somewhere we had stayed before – a largish town with a happy mix of tourism and local life. We really liked Apricale – it is well-known for its St Valentine day celebrations. There are a few restaurants and holiday rentals available. This is where we stayed (includes photos of Apricale).
From Apricale we returned to France, via Hanbury Botanic Gardens, a wonderful 18 hectare estate near Ventimiglia, operated by the University of Genoa. It boasts a gorgeous villa, fabulous trees and plants and, I’ve just learnt, is available for weddings. You can see it on the Gardens in Italy website:
We drove back along the coast to Antibes, through Monaco and Nice and on to a place with two faces – Villeneuve-Loubet. On the coast is Villeneuve-Loubet Plage and slightly inland is the village of Villeneuve-Loubet. They are like chalk and cheese – the plage … beach … area built-up and frenetic and the village more typically Provençal. It is probably most famous for being Auguste Escoffier, the famous chef’s birth place, and the Baie des Anges apartments and marina – huge apartment buildings surrounding a marina and gardens which must have caused enormous controversy when they were built. After walking around the area, I found them quite interesting but am not sure they should have been built! You can see a picture of them here.
Much more picturesque were Antibes and Juan-les-Pins, just along the coast road. Antibes has a pretty, bustling old town immediately adjacent to the marina where the most enormous yachts are berthed. There is a marina with normal sized boats and, further on, there is the Quai Grande Plaisance, a secondary marina with the largest yachts I’ve ever seen. It’s possible to stroll along the port-side and have a jolly good look at them. We enjoyed spending an hour or so doing just that. On reaching the Cap d’Antibes, the beaches become beautifully sandy and in the next town, Juan-les-Pins, it’s all about the beach and the views.
Our fourth and final destination was my favourite, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, a small town nestling beside Cap Ferrat, between Nice and Monaco. Here we rented an apartment with wonderful views of the Mediterranean and Cap Ferrat, with the added bonus of numerous super-yachts as they came and went. This is a great area for walking as it’s possible to walk all around the Cap, to pretty Villefranche-sur-Mer and, of course, around Beaulieu itself. A favourite was to walk along the water’s edge Promenade Maurice Rouvier to the Cap’s only town, St Jean where there are numerous cafés and restaurants. Pastel-coloured Villefranche-sur-Mer is just on the other side of the Cap and walking there includes a kilometre or so along the beach road with Villefranche, in all its colourful glory, in the distance. Visits to Monaco were also easy as was Nice but we tended to prefer the less chaotic charms of our coastal idyll.
We were in Provence and Liguria for four weeks with two nights in Menton, seven in Apricale and Villeneuve-Loubet and twelve in Beaulieu-sur-Mer. What I thought was great about it was that we were able to really concentrate on each place we stayed in rather than have to travel miles to see a particular place of interest.
If you’re planning a trip to Provence, I feel it’s best to concentrate on one vicinity at a time perhaps starting with the Nice area, possibly staying in Villefranche-sur-Mer or Antibes/Juan-les-Pins – it’s easy to visit Cannes from here. Another option would be to visit the Var – a wonderful département generally less built-up … perhaps staying in St Tropez or renting somewhere inland. There’s great walking here, plus, to the east, the towns of St Raphael, Fréjus and Ste Maxime and, to the north, many interesting, typically Provençal towns and villages such as La Garde Freinet and Cotignac. For a lower-key option, to the west there are towns such as Cavalaire and Le Lavandou and, further on, lovely Sanary-sur-Mer, Bandol and Cassis. For a completely different landscape, the Vaucluse would make a fabulous destination for a week or fortnight with the famous cities of Avignon, Orange and nearby Aix-en-Provence to visit along with the gorgeous villages and vineyards of the Luberon.
I’d like to extend a big merci to Jane for this lovely article series, and you can follow more of her adventures in the following spots…
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’.
Jane also has a free house-sitting service, find out more about her services on: Mind My House.