The next stage of our week in Provence was to spend 3 nights in Nice. On the way we visited a small town called Grasse, which apparently is considered the home of perfume. Well you know what that means – yes, we must buy perfume. It just so happens that I (Paige) had run out of my favourite French fragrance so this was a very fortunate stop. Grasse is another town situated high on a hill, so there were fabulous views to go with the perfume museums. Most of these museums seemed to be owned by the one company, and most seemed to do nothing but sell the perfume, but we did see a group of people starting a tour to see the making of the perfume in one place but it was getting a bit late in the day for us to do a tour. After enjoying the view and stocking up on the scent, it was on to Nice.
Nice turned out to be quite easy to navigate into so it wasn’t long before we had the car parked in a very central location & were off in search of our mini apartment. We were in another fantastic location, in the pedestrianised “old” section of town and a very short walk to the famous Promenade des Anglais and the main open square, or Place de Messina. We also happened to be in town at the same time as the famous Carnival du Nice, but we weren’t to know how big this was until later. We had a nice wander around town on the first night, found somewhere cosy for dinner and had a relatively early night.
The next day we drove the short distance to Monaco and the port of Monte Carlo. Wow, what a different world we found in Monte Carlo. I haven’t seen so many expensive machines, both the land variety and the sea variety, in one place before. It was a beautiful sunny day, lovely & warm so we took the opportunity to shed our coats & jumpers and have a wander around the port. After checking out the boats in the marina (and picking out our “I want that one” boats) we found ourselves up the hill at the famous Casino. Lined up out the front were a lovely selection of cars… oh you mean I can’t have that one? Bugger!
Also at this end of town was a shopping plaza full of diamonds and very expensive clothes and champagnes. We had to remind ourselves that we were still “normal” people and not the paupers this place was making us feel. It was all a bit over the top, apparently there is a bar/restaurant here where you can’t get table service until you buy at least one bottle of their 300Euro house wine. Err… no thanks, we headed back down to the cafes by the waterfront for a much more normal lunch.
What we are loving about France in general is the relaxed attitude to having a wine or beer. It is so nice to walk up to any of the tiny cafes or bars in picturesque spots & be able to have a wine or beer with your lunch or even just a drink on its own. It makes a lovely change to the nanny state we have become use to back in Australia. So it was short sleeves and a chance to thoroughly enjoy the sun & scenery over a casual relaxed lunch.
Arriving back in Nice in the late afternoon we started to realise just how many people were flocking into town for the carnival. Streets were being closed off and parking places were at a premium. In retrospect, we should have had a clue from the queues of people at the multiple ticket booths around town earlier in the day. There were lots of families and people of all ages in town and the craze for the night seemed to be to spray each other with crazy “string” from a can. We managed to sneak a peak and a few photos between the barriers and it certainly was very colourful.
We had decided to splurge a little in Nice and stay in a B&B that was described as a “suite”, complete with its own lounge area and outdoor terrace. It also had a lovely restored old bath virtually in the bedroom, a lovely spot for an indulgent scented bubble bath. It was worth it too, as the gorgeous warm weather meant we could enjoy breakfast on the terrace and its always nice to have a bit more space (and luxury).
Saturday we decided to have a relaxing day leisurely exploring Nice. One of the first things we stumbled across was the weekly market which was predominantly a gorgeous, colourful flower market, along with a book & poster market around the corner. There were more carnival parades planned so the atmosphere was great with so many people in town enjoying the weekend. There was also plenty of good shopping.
Sunday saw us leaving Nice for Marseille, just for the one night on our way back to St Chinian. On the way we stopped for lunch in Antibes, a really lovely little village on the coast. To our delight their market was in full swing as we arrived so we wandered through and indulged ourselves in some exotic herbs & spices and some other very yummy produce. Lunch was enjoyed at an outdoor restaurant and we discovered how the French do fondue (here is your raw meat, cook it in your fondue pot full of hot oil on the table). Well, that was the particular type of fondue we ordered, we have come to the slow realisation that in most places in France, what you see written on the menu is exactly what you get. If it says meat cooked in oil…. yes, that’s it.
We also stopped in Cannes for a quick look on the way through. We thought Cannes was a strange sort of place. Being a beautiful sunny Sunday, none of the shops were open so we glanced in windows, and then spent a short time checking out the beach & people watching on the promenade. Wow. That was very entertaining. There were a LOT of people just enjoying walks along the beach… and we saw all kinds of people, ages, fashions… absolutely fascinating. There seemed to be a lot of older people there and people who, it seemed, wanted to really dress up & look wealthy. Interesting. We didn’t stay too long.
Marseille was a little further to drive than we anticipated so we arrived after dark and had completely forgotten it was also Sunday. Sunday in France means very little is open. No shops and not many restaurants. Our friendly hotel concierge told us that the only “good” restaurants that were open were already fully booked, so we went to find what we could. What do you do in Marseille? Of course we had to tick one thing from our list – have a boulliabaise in the old port.
We had our boulliabaise which was very fishy, but unfortunately we found ourselves in a typical “tourist” restaurant and the experience was not great. We have since seen a much nicer looking version courtesy of Raymond Blanc’s current tv show on the BBC, (A Very Hungry Frenchman) what a shame we didn’t get to see that until after we were there. Oh well, time for an early night as we had a lot of driving the next day: one stop at the Camargue to see some wildlife then home.
The Camargue is a wetland area on the coast of the Mediterranean. We wanted to see the famous pink flamingos here, so we packed some sandwiches & salads from the supermarket for a picnic lunch and hit the road again. We definitely saw plenty of pink flamingos and they were beautiful – and very pink. I was quite amazed at their candy pink beaks and legs and delighted by the burst of bright orange-pink and black under their wings. We got to wander through the small lakes at the ornithological centre where it was so lovely, despite the cold wind, to sit on benches at the waters edge and just watch the birds. As we walked around to the end of one lake, a large flock that we were watching decided to all squark and run towards us en mass… fortunately for us they realised we weren’t part of their flock & stopped themselves a few metres away from us. Great photo opportunity for us though.
We also managed to glimpse some wild horses in the region and after our lovely nature stop, it was back in the car and back home to our little stone house in St Chinian.
Next adventure: Barcelona in one week.
Au revoir, à bientot, Paige xo