Cote d’Azur, France

Written by on September 3, 2012 in Europe, General with 1 Comment

I may have gotten a little carried away with extra pictures on this one, but we did so many cool things, I felt like I couldn’t leave any of them out.

Anyway…even with a 3 hour layover, my willpower was enough to withstand buying anything in duty free in the Vienna airport before catching my connecting flight to Nice. I landed a few minutes early and took the bus to Cannes, where I met my friends Catherine, Micki and Micki’s Aunt Janet at a café for a glass of rose near the bus station.  We made a quick stop in Cannes to let Janet take a cute picture on the red carpet and get a glimpse at the Le Croisette,

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the expansive beachfront in Cannes, before heading to the villa in Seillans, a small hill-top village near Provence.  Catherine’s mother Shirley had retired there 20+ years ago and their entire family was there to visit her for a few weeks.  My friend Alisa and her husband had rented a nearby villa and Cat, Micki and Alisa were kind enough to invite me to join for a week of tennis and enjoying the Cote d’Azur.  In total, I think there were 10 of us between the 2 houses, 4 of us tennis players.  That first night we had tickets to see a local big band doing a tribute to Glen Miller in a small Roman amphitheater in another cute hilltop village a few kilometers away called Fayence.  The music was great, but I was exhausted and fell asleep at the concert.  I guess all the late nights in Corfu and Bulgaria finally caught up with me.

A lazy day at the villa was just what the doctor ordered as I was still tired and needed some time to make some travel plans, sit in the pool, play some tennis, and just relax.  The villa was beautiful, with lavender growing around the pool area, and a fantastic view over to Seillans.

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Great place to just chill and hang out with friends! That night we had dinner at Shirley’s place, where I met Catherine’s sister and her family, where we watched the men’s final round of diving on the Olympics.  How nice to finally be watching on the BBC with English commentators!The next morning, Tom, Alisa and I drove up a windy, somewhat scary road to another hilltop town called Mons.  It is very touristy and we had trouble finding parking, but once we did, it was a charming little village with only a couple streets in each direction.  All of the houses had brightly painted shutters and gorgeous flowers in the doorway or in window boxes.  Super-cute!

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Apparently Fayence is one of the best places in Europe for gliding…something about the thermals being really good there.  Cat had called to make reservations for us as we’d been seeing the gliders overhead for the days we’d been there and I’d always wanted to try it.  At first when she called, they were booked for over a week, but luckily they called back 10 minutes later and had two spots just open up that afternoon!  We didn’t have much time to get ready and head over there.  We arrived at the runway where they had a small table set up under a tarp shade with a cute VW bus out front.

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Tom went first, and then it was my turn.  So excited!

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I’m not sure what I expected…perhaps a little more of a thrill? I’d compare it more to a parasail “thrill” than a paraglide or hangliding “thrill”.  I guess I never really felt like I was going to get hurt.  Lol.  I guess that’s a good thing, right?!?  It was a neat experience to be pulled into the air by another plane and that get the birds eye view tour of Fayence, the golf course, a couple vineyards, and then to do a fly-by over Seillans.  It reminded me that I really need to follow through on my promise to myself that for my 40th I need to go up in a jet fighter.  If any of you know a place I can do this, let me know.  I’ve heard there are some options near Monterrey ?
Anyway, we all played doubles that afternoon and after getting cleaned up, we walked down to the tennis club where they were having a potluck party to celebrate a tournament they’d just finished.  It was cute.  They had a band that was made up of the tennis pro, and a couple other guys around the club, and they brought up a girl was probably 14 and visiting from the UK to help them on a few numbers.  They weren’t bad, if your expectations weren’t high, and it was really nice to be part of such a “locals” experience.  We had been talking about watching a movie later and when the girl sang an Abba song we knew we had to scour the house for a Mamma Mia DVD. Low and behold, our hosts had a DVD collection of about 50 movies and we could not believe it when one of them actually was Mamma Mia.  So we made some popcorn and settled into the couch and had a blast re-watching it, with Cat singing along to all the songs.  I think even Tom enjoyed it.

The next day, Alisa, Tom and I set out early to drive the coastal road from Nice, stopping in Cap d’Ferrat at the Ephruzzi Villa and gardens of Beatrice Rothschild and the Greek villa of Kerylos. Beatrice had separated from her banker husband in 1904 and when her father died in 1905, she inherited a large fortune and decided to commission the building of this villa and the surrounding gardens on THE prime spot on Cap d’Ferrat.  This was the real pink palace!

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Flanked by views of Ville Franche on one side, and down towards Monaco and Italy on the other, it was the type of place you want to take a picture every time you take a few steps.

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Beatrice definitely used a feminine touch in her decorative choices…a lot of pink, a lot of hearts and a lot of roses, her favorite.  The rose garden was unbelievably gorgeous…

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The Villa of Kerylos was completely the opposite – lots of marble and very masculine. There were some amazing mosaics inside…a lot of them.  I liked the one in this bathroom, in particular.

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We spent a few hours between the two villas and then drove up to Eze, but couldn’t did parking, so continued further up the hill to a town called La Turbie, which had been highlighted in one my travel magazines to check out to avoid Eze crowds. Even though it was after 3, we talked a restaurant owner into serving us food as we were all starving and growing a little edgy, knowing we still had a few stops to make.  La Turbie’s claim to fame is the Augustus trophie…a large roman ruin from 2000 yrs ago.

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All the gates to get up to the trophie were closed, so we jumped back in the car and headed down the hill to Monaco to check out the Casino, waterfront and walk around a little bit.

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I was surprised they were letting everyone into the casino as last time I came here you had to be dressed up.  We went in and walked around, but the only table games going were roulette and something called “Perfect Pairs”, which I had no idea how to play.  I would’ve at least like to lay down a black or red bet on the roulette table, but there were 4 people deep at the table.  Oh well.  Money saved, probably.  We took a bunch of pictures, especially with some of the hot Bentley’s out front, and decided to head back.

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Got caught in horrific traffic trying to get a look at Cap d’Antibes and didn’t make it back til 9p. No tennis tonight. Long day!  Luckily Cat and Micki had picked up pizzas for us, so we were able to call it a fairly early night.
Good thing it was an early night, as me, Cat and Tom, as well as Cat’s sister & family all had to be up and in the car early to meet our rafting guide in a town called Castellone by 930, which was an hour and a half away.  The scenery through this region is stunning at every turn.
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We were in the Maritime Alps, headed towards the Gorges du Verdon.  Our “white water rafting” trip was beautiful, but a rated G version with no white water. Well…maybe a little 🙂

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It was fun, though, and the scenery was breathtaking.  I was glad to have brought my waterproof, shockproof camera for the ride. We made a stop at a small cliff which was fun to jump off of into the cool water.  Our 2.5 hour “paddle” was over before we knew it.  At some point between taking off my wetsuit, lifevest and helmet and handing them in, I’d put my camera down someplace, but now it was noplace to be found.  Some French asshole swiped my camera!  I could not believe it!!  I could care less about the camera, but the pictures from today were some of the best scenery of the trip.  I was so bummed.  And so ANGRY!  This would never happen in the US.  If you were on a rafting trip, or even in a ski lodge, or doing anything remotely touristy and athletic around other tourists doing the same sort of thing, someone would have turned it in or made an announcement or something.  I think one of the guides took it, as they were no help in trying to find it or ask around.  Apparently theft is very common in France.  So, I’m now down an iphone, a wallet and a camera…and about 100 amazing and irreplaceable photos.  Grrr!

Luckily I wipe the memory card every night to upload pics, so I only lost the rafting photos. And, luckily we talked everyone into driving further into the Gorge to a few lookout points so I could try to capture some shots with my good camera.  It definitely is not the same shooting from above as it is when you’re right on the water.  Once again, lesson learned for not trusting anyone anywhere.  The Gorge was beautiful.

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We stopped at an aptly named lookout point called Le Point Sublime.  Awesome scenery.  In every direction.

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We also pulled over at several other vista points to hop out for more photos.  Such highs and lows today.  Will have to replace camera when I’m in back in the US next week where it’s cheaper.

On day 6, Alisa, Tom and I decided to go check out Vence, another hilltop town that was home to a chapel that Henri Matisse helped design and contributed several art works to.  We arrived around noon and noticed the sign said the chapel was closed between 11:30-2pm.  Bummer.  So we decided to go to nearby Saint Paul du Vence, a charming, quaint and very touristy walled town.  It reminded me of Dubrovnik a little bit, except of course without the water surrounding it.  And it wasn’t quite as big, so would make it more like Budva.  Every little street and alleyway was filled with cute little shops or art galleries or cafes.  The French are very good at making everything seem cute and quaint (and French!)…from the flowers in the doorways, to the fonts used on their signage, to the bright colored shutters.  I loved it…there is a reason it’s so touristy as I’m sure everyone else does to!

We were passing a gallery that caught my eye and as Tom was taking pictures I wandered inside.  All of the paintings were oil based abstracts done with extra bright colors, using subjects mainly from the Cote d’Azur.  I couldn’t afford any of the actual paintings, but they were surprisingly selling a few posters of a couple that I really liked.  I haven’t bought any souvenirs on the trip yet, and since I’m headed home for a quick turn in a couple weeks, figured why not and bought four.  They will fill up my blank living room wall when I finally go home next year.  In the meantime, they rolled up quite nicely into a cylinder that conveniently fits perfectly in my suitcase.  It was a nice surprise when after my purchase, the salesperson asked if I wanted to meet the artist, who was painting upstairs.  So, Alisa and I went upstairs and met Jean-Paul Tron and chatted for awhile before bothering him for some photos with us.
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He had just started a new painting and it was interesting to see his technique.  He used a flat piece of metal to drag the oil across the canvas. This was his tray of paints.
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We asked him how he was able to know which one was which.  Was a very cool experience, and gives me a better story if someone ever asks me about the pictures once they are up in my home.  We grabbed a quick sandwich and headed back over to Vence just in time for the chapel to open, but were informed that today was a random national holiday and that the chapel was closed for the day.  Doh!  Bummer as we’d come along way to see it.  Oh well…will have to check it out time.  We made it back in time to play some doubles, which was fun, but called it an early night afterwards as we had an early wake up call.

The alarm went off way too early on Friday morning as Tom, Micki and I had to leave at 7am to meet our guide for the Via Ferrata about 2 hours from the villa.  I knew the day involved some climbing and that we needed to wear a harness, but had no idea what was in store for me.  Apparently there are several “via ferrata’s” in the Alps, with the first used by the Italian army in WWII to climb over/through the Dolomites.  Basically, someone has put steel ladders and foot-pegs as well as high wires and zip lines in to create a permanent course up, over or across certain rock faces.  The one we did was called Les Demoiselles Du Castagnet.  We hiked for about 15 minutes until we reached the first face, where we used our harness to clamp in every 10-15 feet while we climbed 180 meters pretty much straight up.

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Still reeling after losing my U/W camera, I didn’t want to miss out on picture opps.  But, I was definitely not dressed for this, nor carrying a backpack, so I made due by tying my camera to the right strap of my sports bra and then tucking my camera inside!  It worked out really well as I took the lead and could take pics of Micki and Tom below me, and then Tom brought up the rear and was able to take shots of Micki and I.

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So worth it, as it would otherwise be difficult to describe exactly what we were doing. Anyway, the first face was ~180m up, or down…depending on your viewpoint.

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Then we had to clip into two wires that were about shoulder height and walk one foot at a time for about 80m across another steel wire, with a gorge below us.  No problem – here’s both Micki and Tom walking on the wire.

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A few in the group were afraid of heights and had some issues doing this, but not us.  I thought it was awesome and actually joked that I could add a little adrenaline rush by falling off the wire on purpose.  Just kidding Mom!

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Well, I think that would have been a bad idea as I’m sure it would have been really hard to get back on the wire and not very comfortable to be dangling from that height.  We all managed to get across and move on to the next face…about another 100m up on more ladders and footpegs. Once we reached the top, we had another rope bridge to cross, but this time we had to clip into 2 wires that were about head high, and then shimmy across the wire below sideways.  The wire was a bit more wobbly this time, and it was harder as if you looked down, then you’d go off balance.  So, I just had to trust my feet and feel my way across.  This one was a bit scarier, especially as the wire seemed to be burrowing through my thin-soled shoes that had no business being worn on a day like today.  But, I didn’t have any hiking boots, so they had to do.  I was happy and relieved to make it across, as were the others.

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We then just had a little hill to work our way over to wait our turn for our guide to set us up to zip line across the final ravine.  Fun!  Wheeeee!

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Much better than the tight rope walking!  The hike down was actually a killer on my knees and feet, but looking back I only remember the thrill and rush and then eventual accomplishment of completing such a cool activity.  I will look for other via ferratas as I want to do another one.  So fun!  And, so happy my hosts signed me up for it.  Next time I’m in the area, I’ll have to sign up for canyoning well in advance as they were completely booked for the week we were here and it is supposed to be one of the best places in the world to do it because of all the natural slides created by the limestone in the gorge.What a day!  We were exhausted when we got back and the pool and beers felt so good.  We had an easy night of cleaning, packing and talking about how great a visit it was over dinner.  Everyone were such amazing hosts and I’m so glad I discovered my new favorite area of France.  I had never gone beyond the coastal cities and beaches and it was really nice to have a more outdoorsy trip, mixed in with some gorgeous and quaint little towns I’d never even heard of.  A big thanks to Alisa and Tom, Cat and Micki, and Shirley’s Mom for hosting all of us.  I said goodbye to them at the aiport as they headed back to the Bay Area and I was off to Madrid.

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