September 20th to 23rd, 2000
Can’t believe that we’re really here! Arrived yesterday late morning in Nice. The overnight flight on Lufthansa was less than memorable…. Bad food and two shrieking, giggling little girls (uncontrolled by their parents!) in the row in front of us… kept yours truly awake in spite of a headset and earplugs! Oh well… After a 2-hour wait in Frankfurt we headed for the Cote D’Azur – WOW! (The flight took us over the Alps, and what we could see through the clouds was spectacular!)
Driving through Nice was a test of nerves and patience – the Promenade D’Anglais is actually a road of bumper-to-bumper cars right along the beach. What we could see of the old city looked interesting… We may go back if time allows…. Villefranche-sur-Mer – our home base for 3 days – is absolutely wonderful! It’s a picturesque fishing village with Cap Ferrat a very classy neighbor across the harbor!
Hotel Welcome is a wonderfully restored and comfortable place right on the water. We have a balcony overlooking the harbor and many fishing boats, the promenade with charming restaurants, and the centuries-old-fort. We spent our first day just relaxing, with a quiet lunch at an outdoor café on the plaza (Paul had his traditional moules et frites and I had salade Niscoise), a needed nap (!), a long walk throughout the hilly town with spectacular views, and a really wonderful dinner at L’Oursin Bleau on the waterfront – Kir, delicate shrimp appetizers, a “starter” of wonderful light tempura vegetables, soft cheeses wrapped in smoked salmon, wonderful breads, and delicious fish soup with rouille, croutons and cheese. We ended the evening with coffee on our hotel room balcony – enjoying the lights from the harbor and Cap Ferrat, the sounds of the accordion player on the streets below, and the memories of a delightful first day in the south of France…… Jet lag caught us… We slept well with both doors open to the sea sounds…….
(9-21) Our second day on the Cote D’Azur brought more memories… We headed west on the A-8 motorway to Cannes – learned the tricks of the toll stops, and found very convenient parking at the Palais des Festivals – where we see the movie stars on TV. Walked a bit of the promenade along lovely sandy beaches (with a few topless sunbathers for Paul!) – then took a boat rode to Ile St. marguerite with wonderful views of Cannes and Antibes from the water – toured the 1712 fort – then headed east toward Antibes – but first discovered a delightful spot called Port de Juan, with the biggest marina we’ve ever seen, with some multi-million dollar yachts. We had a wonderful lunch (Paul had moules & frites again – but this time in a “basilica” sauce with cream, basil, and a “secret ingredient”, which we suspect is a touch of wine and aioli). I had a delicious salad of fresh greens, tomato, generous slices of goat cheese on croutons, and bacon. The restaurant, with tables that overlooked the marina, was named St. Pierre, so we had a bottle of slightly chilled Chateau St. Pierre Cotes de Provence wine – superb!
After a harrowing drive through neighboring Antibes, we reached the A-8 motorway and overshot our exit – ending in Monaco (tomorrow’s destination!) – and then backtracked along the coast for a beautiful drive through Beaulieu and Cap Ferrat on our return to Villefranche. As we walked from the car park back to our hotel, we met friends Phoebe and Logan, who came from Nice in hopes of meeting us! Then we heard from Bill and Lynne, who just landed in Nice…. Never a dull moment! More later…..
(9-23) Oops! I have some catching up to do! The rest of the group were too tired to go to dinner on Thursday, so Paul and I had a pleasant, but forgettable meal in Le Saint Pierre restaurant under the hotel – although they served some fantastic marinated olives as an appetizer.
Slept well Thursday night and had a relaxing morning Friday – then we all met in Villefranchehe and took the train to Monaco and Monte Carlo – clean, fast (17 minutes) and very inexpensive (18 FF = < $3!). The Phelps and Blackburns went to the boat show while Paul and I climbed the huge hill to tour the Prince’s Palais – beautiful and impressive with furniture dating from Louis XIII. We went back to the marina (a much easier walk down!) – then had a quick lunch with the gang (baguette sandwich and beer) before touring the Casino on the hill above the other side of the harbor. (Bet and lost 10 FF in the poker machine – but I can say that I gambled in the world’s most famous Casino!)
After the train ride back, we enjoyed snacks and drinks on our terrace – then the boys took Bill to Beaulieu to check into their hotel, and we regrouped for another wonderful dinner at L’Oursin Bleu (I had a “crab tartare” with artichokes & sauce followed by “Tuna Crumble” with tampenade – delicious!).
September 30 to October 2, 2000(Continued from Provence)
Got up this morning at 5:00 and left at 5:45 to take Bill and Lynne to the train station (fast train to Paris). From the Arles station, Paul and I headed east, then south, to explore some more towns on the coast. We arrived in Cassis at 7:30 – walked around the marina and harbor front, and enjoyed Cappuccino and croissants as the sun struggled to break through the clouds. It’s a neat town – and obviously a popular resort surrounded by mountains.
From Cassis, we headed east to Bandol – Judy and Bill Blackburns' favorite spot. It’s another beautiful resort with a huge marina, a casino, and a tree-lined promenade. We arrived at 9:00 to a buzz of activity on the sailboats – part of a 2-day challenge: “Arianne’s Cup – Oscar” which brought 2000 people that worked for companies supporting France’s space program to compete in sailing, golf, etc. from Thurs. – Sun., according to the lady in the tourism office. We watched the race preparations for over an hour as the sun finally broke through, then headed back to the motorway in hopes of finding a hotel within an easy drive of the Nice airport.
We explored the area between St. Tropez and Cannes (but didn’t go as far as St. Tropez due to time), drove through tiny “unspoiled” St. Aygulf, then had lunch along the water in Frejus (moules mariniere for Paul and Moules provencal for me). The owner recommended a hotel on the other side of neighboring St. Raphael – the Sol-E-Mar – right on the water in a gorgeous setting, with fresh and salt water pools, and a lovely room with a balcony to enjoy the waves cracking over the rocks. Although there is a lot to explore in this area, we decided to relax and mellow in this sunny oasis – and return another time with this part of the coast as a home base. A chilly, refreshing dip in the salt water (with rocks and a few little fish!) and a semi-snooze on the chaise lounges took the travel stress completely away…. Not it’s time for a little pre-dinner wine, a shower and change – then sunset cocktails and dinner. Tomorrow we leave early to return the car at the Nice airport and begin the long journey home…..
(10-2) Arrived home last night and woke up early, so will finish updating the last 24 hours of our trip! We enjoyed delightful sunset cocktails on the restaurant terrace of the Sol e Mar, then had a delicious dinner with a bottle of Cassis white wine. I had a salad of provencal vegetables with truffle sauce, a medley of white fish in a saffron sauce, and a fruit tart for dessert. Paul had a smoked mullet fillet with an herb tart, sea bass en croute with potatoes and vegetables, and unbelievable vanilla ice cream (NOT Breyers!). We ended a wonderful day and perfect meal with decaf and Baileys on the balcony outside our room, vowing to return someday soon.
Awoke at 6:00 Sunday AM, finished re-packing, then headed for the airport. Returned the great little rental car (a Renault Laguna) without difficulty and were at the airport terminal by 8:00 – but they wouldn’t let us check in until 8:20 (2 hours before the flight) – so we just stood there while the Lufthansa staff chatted and giggled in French and German. Went to the gate area through the check point for a much-needed cup of coffee – then realized too late that I was trapped there – just like in Italy – stuck with wandering just a few overpriced Duty-Free & souvenir shops for 1 ½ hours! Bought a few more gifts, a cookbook, and more coffee….
The flight to Frankfurt was uneventful – but the airport on arrival was a ZOO, and checking into the next flight took forever (since their computer had Paul listed as both Joseph and John Provance). The final flight home on a packed 747 was certainly more pleasant than the flight over (better food, pleasant flight attendants and less need for serious sleep) – but we arrived at Dulles to more hysterical crowds and waited an hour for our luggage – but it never arrived!! (We weren’t the only ones!) After vocal complaints and filling out forms (they promised to deliver all 3 bags tomorrow night), we headed home – arrived at 7:00 – and collapsed. We are determined to avoid Lufthansa in the future – esp. for transatlantic flights….But even the negative confusion with the airlines can’t ruin a truly wonderful vacation in a beautiful and interesting slice of France. We definitely hope to return someday and explore more of the coast and hill towns in a leisurely fashion. We’ve seen enough cities for while.
Next year the dream is to see the Greek Isles – possibly on a small cruise ship.!