Our first introduction to France was its long, clear blue southern coastline rightfully named the Cote d'Azur. The Blue Coast is remarkable and luxurious. We drove from Italy to Monaco and then stopped in Nice (pronounced "Niece") for lunch. This was the first French food we tried and it was in a busy roadside café. We stopped to just check our GPS on the side of the road and then decided we would eat. A lucky stop it was. Steve ordered the Tartar, which is raw ground beef mixed with spices and a light sauce. Plopped onto the plate in a perfect cube, it was served with fries and a side salad. Steve had experienced it before in Germany but eating raw meat has never been a desire of mine. I tried it anyway. Delicious actually, but I could never eat a whole cube of it. I had a pizza. It was really good, of course.
After Nice we drove to Cannes and stopped at the marina to stroll around. The marina is full of fancy sailboats and yachts, each rocking lightly on the dazzling blue Mediterranean Sea. The coastline near the marina is full of swanky hotels both new and old and the beach is full of sun worshippers. Only a small section looked like the average California beach with towels laid on the sand and people scattered at random. The rest of the beach was sectioned off according to which restaurant or hotel it belonged to. Cabanas with lounge chairs and cafes and towel services lined the shore. Cute French guys brought drinks to topless guests and set up umbrellas. The wind picked up at one point sending ten or more chair cushions flying through the air. One girl who was reading and sipping on a fruity drink was whacked in the side of the head with one but barely flinched. I guess it was a good book.
We walked down the boardwalk between the beach and the main street with a small ice cream in hand. We both agreed that nearly everyone we passed looked famous. Or rather like they could easily be famous if they wanted. Fashion boutiques and small shops selling 400 Euro sandals were scattered between the large hotels along the main road. We didn't go shopping. After our stroll and a sufficient amount of people watching we went back to the van, which was roasting in the parking lot. Driving out of town I saw several large banners on lampposts advertising the Global Champions Tour horse show in Cannes that coming weekend. Sad face. I seemed to be a few days out of step with all the European horse shows. Although I would have stayed just to attend, we had a semi-schedule to keep and I didn't want to punish Steve with more horsing around. He had endured more than two months on the Florida circuit like a champ already.
Our destination that night was Saint Tropez. On the way we stopped for a skinny dip in a secluded cove that we hiked down to. The red rock cliffs were incredible and the water was freezing. It was a short dip. We arrived to St. Tropez in good time and went to a campground on the recommendation of a German couple we'd met in Italy. It had a guard at the gate and was 35 Euros a night! We said 'thank you' and that we were just looking. We were directed to a nearby site on the beach that was about 10 Euros cheaper. It was not very nice and was set up like a gypsy camp. The spaces were impossible to recognize but we were sent off to find #35. We got to our corner of the campground and found no numbers of markers. Just a woodsy expanse. We parked near the power outlet. We left early the next morning and drove into Saint Tropez. We strolled around the marina town and were reminded of Cannes. It was also luxurious and mesmerizing but with a smaller town feel. A hoard of humongous yachts sat in the harbor. Artists lined the streets. I dreamed of having the money and wall space to buy several of the works I saw. The streets are old and skinny but bursting with life and color. One thing I noticed already about the French was their affinity with flowers. Every balcony was overflowing with colors and green vines. It made the streets come alive.
That night, after driving past St. Tropez and along the coastline we paid only 7 Euros to stay at a simple parking lot for RVs. It had cold showers and two toilets (which were locked at 5) but nothing else. It was a short walk to the beach and we loved it. We spent the day on the sand and in the light blue sea. That night we went on an adventure to find a bar that was showing the Germany-Netherlands European Cup game. Other than the beach cafes and a rental house community (like Sun River but smaller) we were in the middle of nowhere. We walked a couple kilometers down the road and found a tiny pizzeria. The nice waiter told us to go along the vineyards and up the hill to a campground that apparently had a bar. We started along the vineyards near the rental community but ended up facing the woods. I saw a footpath and figured it would lead us somewhere. Well, it lead us into the woods. The path got less and less recognizable and soon we were bushwhacking. After about 20 minutes picking our way through the jungle of branches and brush we came out facing another vineyard. We realized it could have been a lot easier. We walked along the vineyards for another 15 minutes before seeing the road and the campground sign! This was a resort campground. It had a cluster of connected pools with lounge chairs and umbrellas and waterfalls and fountains. It had two bars and a fancy restaurant. We walked in like we were staying there and followed the clinking sounds of forks and knives. We were early for the game but were happy to find two large screens and an abundance of wicker, padded chairs facing them. We ordered some drinks, snacked on olives and waited for the game to start.
After the game, which Germany won, we celebrated quietly as we walked back along the vineyards and down the road to our parking lot. It was a good night.
The next morning we headed for Toulon, a large port city, where we did laundry and wandered around the mall. Steve bought some shoes and I longed after some spendy items in Zara. We spent some time in a café using the free internet and I sipped on a cappuccino. We planned the next stop (our last stop on the Cote d'Azur) in Cassis where we would discover the secluded coves and quiet beaches along the coast.
Cassis was a small town nestled into a cove with a large marina and a bustling tourist business. The cliffs west of the town are known for their secluded coves and beaches. Each cliff, of which there are about 9, stick out into the sea like fingers, creating narrow, recessed coves. The cliffs are high and frequented by rock climbers and hikers. Down below you find boats taking tourists to see the coves and kayaks paddling along the rough and rocky coastline.
Steve and I made the mistake of first paying to take a boat to the coves. We were under the impression that you could get off and stay. After finding this wasn't true, we later hiked from Cassis to the second finger and rented a kayak. Then we paddled for about 45 minutes to a secluded beach -- the beach of my dreams.
We spent a few hours reading, lounging and swimming in the freezing water. Steve, always the braver one, dove in almost right away to check out the bouldering rock climbers and go cliff jumping with some other crazy people. It took me about 40 minutes to get all the way in and then I swam to where they were jumping. My heart almost stopped getting there. It was the most beautiful and terribly cold water I'd ever been in.
Back at the campground we shared a bottle of wine and played a card game that Steve taught me. It's my least favorite game of all time because I can't keep track of all the rules. I won by chance a couple times. Meanwhile the lesbian bikers next to us were laughing their heads off all night about something very funny, I'm sure.
We slept in the next morning for obvious reasons and then started on our journey inland. We would drive through the Provence region to see the lavender and then make our way to Vallon-Pont-d'Arc for some more water adventures, but this time in the Ardeche River Gorge.