Having spent some time in the playground of the rich and famous it became apparent that, whilst money can afford the rich the kind of toys the rest of us only dream of, it doesn’t necessarily mean Ferrari and Lamborghini. There are some people out there with money and a more, shall we say, interesting taste. Here are the cars of the Cote d’Azur…
“The idea of my life as a fairy tale is itself a fairy tale” as famously once said by the most fashionable woman in Hollywood.
I’m waking up in the most comfortable bed surrounded by loads of crisp white cushions, the bright sun is peeking through the heavy gold curtain, slowly filling out our huge suite revealing the stunning views of the richest shining yachts at the port and beautiful town in the background sitting on the lushest green hills complementing the famous azure blue of the French Riviera.
This IS a fairytale. And in that moment I do feel like Grace Kelly. Well, minus all the gorgeous dresses in my hotel wardrobe. I’m not letting this to ruin my mood, and we indulge in the biggest hotel breakfast (we ate all the pastries, I’m sure Grace wouldn’t do that!).
I want to do everything! You know like; shop like Grace Kelly, look stylish like Grace Kelly, marry a Prince on the hill like Grace Kelly… Instead, I need to settle for driving on the famous Formula One track… ok if I really need to 😉
I love Monaco. I Really do. It screams money but it’s not pretentious, it’s picturesque but not cheesy, it’s quiet but not boring, and it’s clean but not sterile. And I do suddenly love all the fast cars. I don’t know anything about the cars. Like nothing.
We spend the whole day just walking around, enjoying the city and taking all the views possible.
Finally, after crying for about an hour we know, this is REALLY time to move on to our next destination and hit the scary Autostrade Del Fiori. We stick to the coast and drive up the hill to discover a glorious little gem (well, a huge massive hotel with infinity pool on the highest point of the Monaco hills) OMG the view. Is it even possible to get a view better than we already seen?We start chatting to an Australian businessman who’s just enjoy his cocktail on the roof balcony in his Gucci loafers as he travels with his mum. I’m jealous that this is his view every day here. He tells us that he is jealous of us travelling the world. He wished he could take a bit more time off from his busy work in earlier years and not focusing so much only on earning lots of money.
And I do remind myself that my life is a fairy tale as I take in this view for the last time.
The blissful coastal road ends in chaos as we enter a Nice in the midst of what can only be described as an extreme makeover. Arguments with the satnav ensue as she repeatedly tells me to go down roads that are either shut or one-way in the opposite direction. If I’m honest, the satnav was lucky to remain in the car with us. Anyway, we eventually make our way into the neighbourhood of our hotel. Did I say neighbourhood?? Scratch that, read ghetto! Gangs are hanging out on corners as we approach the hotel and I’m relieved that we can park the car immediately outside the hotel tonight.
We arrive at the train station in the morning to find that there is a strike. In France? So, we head to a café for un croissant et un café à l’américaine. I’ve never been to a coffee shop that had a VIP area before. Seriously.
Eventually we get the Train des Merveilles to Breil Sur Roya, a small town in the French Alps. It’s as much about the breathtaking train journey as it is visiting the sleepy town as we head over valleys, arched bridges, and through mountain tunnels. If you have a few hours to spare, it’s a beautiful little trip.
Mussels and escargot on the menu. It HAS to be done, right? And Mira’s face as I ask her to sample France’s most popular signature dish suggest that it’s going to be me sampling the more exotic culinary delights on the trip – cricket curry, anyone?
We say adieu to Central Nice and head across the coast and through the port of old town Nice. This place and the road is stunningly beautiful. Crystal waters with yachts reflecting the city lights that emphasis the centuries old architecture and provide ambience for the hundreds of French taking evening jogs along the promenade – and why wouldn’t you in a place as incredible as this. Speechless and in awe, we soak it all in on the way to Monaco…
Okay, so you’ve probably guessed by this point that we did actually survive our visit/ordeal to Armagnac. The whole thing had its charm and these trips are all character building, right?
Hit the road… Trucks, trucks, trucks, and a text message from Chris: “glad you guys are having a great time”… Well, at least we can count on the British forces to ensure our safety in time, Chris!
Anyway, we make it safely to St Tropez, after stopping by the Chateau des Bertrand vineyard on the way – and THAT is a the vineyard I was waiting for!
Now, we were both told about the road to Monaco by friends before the trip, but what about the road to St Tropez? This thing is incredible! A tight, winding road with some of the best views of hills and valleys as it takes you up and down through a nature reserve (Reserve Naturelle Nationale de la Plaine des Maures). This a must see if you’re in the south of France (Road D558).
When we arrive I’m blown away and finally starting to realise what the whole South of France fuss is all about. A beautiful port filled with super rich yachts sparkling on the deep turquoise-blue water of the famous Cote D’Azur. What a huge change compared to Armagnac, Annie Wilkes, and south west France; miles of never ending scary cornfields. South East is clearly the place to be for moi.
We stroll by the port as if we own this place and admiring all the yachts which took part in the famous Les Voiles of St Tropez Regatta 2014. Yes, I definitely want to stay here. Unfortunately we are not, but I’m super excited about our next stop, which is the world famous Cannes. If I’m really honest though, if you are in this part of the world and you are trying to plan your trip, from all the other incredible places on the south east coast, you actually could skip Cannes out (I can’t believe I’m sayng that). It is a cute town, famous for the prestigious film festival but, as we’re soon to discover, Cannes is only the beginning of our growing love for the famous French Riviera.
However you MUST, and I’m gonna say this again, you MUST stick to the coast for as long as you can and ignore the annoying Sat Nav telling you to go the shortest route – and that’s what we are doing on our way to Nice…
…Cut to trucks. Lots of trucks! Fricking loads and loads of enormous trucks on all lanes of a motorway narrower than a pair of skinhead’s drainpipes. Bienvenue dans le sud de France!
We’re already missing Gran Sol, and our little host at Arotzenea, but it’s cool, we’ll just try and stay alive long enough to get to Armagnac…
Death roads (I’m using artistic licence of course) give way to flat lands of vineyards and cornfields. Ahhhh Armagnac! We’ve arrived. But… there is no one here, no one except Annie Wilkes and her enormous Lurch-like son watching us from a garden as we try a three-point turn on the emptiest road in Europe. There is a sinister air to this place and if you ever plan to make a horror film this is the area for it: Eerie cornfields – think opening scene to Switchblade Romance – and ghost towns for miles.
Cornfields, cornfields, cornfields! And Very VERY weird people. We arrive at our hotel in… surprise surprise, a ghost town, to discover that not only is it actually just some English woman’s home, but she’s just picked her strange parents up from the airport. Oh Joy! A night with the (“Addams”) family! A brief handshake with her father’s gigantic, monstrous hand as he stares at me probably wondering which sauce to marinade us in, no wifi, and the realisation that there is no lock on our bedroom door, are enough to convince me to text our exact location to my battle-hardened Afghan-war vet brother. If something happens he’ll save/avenge us.
We make it to (snigger) Condom, where d’Artagnan is from, apparently, and manage to sample some fantastic local Armagnac from Chateau le Correjot. At least something is right.
Mira is so so SO ready to move to the glamorous yacht-filled marina, and billionaire playground of St Tropez. Not sure why
After a few chaotic days (which felt like a week) we book a last minute country hotel, which is a bit of a gamble. But as we approach a picturesque Barrio Arkoll we know we’re for a big treat. At the end of another quite ‘fun’ serpentine drive, this time at night, up a steep forested hill, we discover a beautiful Spanish Casa and its cute owner waiting for us. I’m pretty sure I screamed a bit with excitement.
Our new Spanish best-friend suggested to visit a small old town famous for the Basque Gastronomy – the picturesque coastal village, Hondarribia, where we spent our evening. And if you’re ever around this area, YOU MUST visit Gran Sol, an award winning pintxos bar – famous for the best tapas, most probably in the whole Spain (try a sushi one, an anchovies with garlic and local dry wine …..) At that point I’m full, tipsy and happy 😉
Now, as we’re getting ready for our next 4h drive to Armagnac, a region in South West France famous for its great brandy, and saying goodbye to this beautiful part of Spain, I’m sitting here with my very strong coffee, admiring this gorgeous view thinking I can’t believe its only have been three days into our Euro road trip…
So… After witnessing the pitch black atlantic night on the ferry to Bilbao we land to face serpentine motorways and 2 near crashes with drivers clearly on very important missions.
The motorway to San Sebastián turns out to be breathtaking. The roads are beautifully smooth and the view of the oncoming Pyrenees with its pine covered hillsides is incredible. Day one and the standard has been set!
Jump forward an hour and its nighttime in San Sebastián. The Pyrenean vistas have gone, Mira is sat in the car in an underground car park, and I’m running frantically up and down San Martin (road) trying to find our Pensión. Finally, after asking half the population of San Sebastián for their help using a screen grab on my phone and “por favor?” we check in and I almost take Mira’s head off with a champagne cork. No matter, the contents of the bottle cure the stress.
San Sebastián is stunning, and day two brings a climb of the Napoleon Battlements up to the Rio-esque Jesus statue over looking the city where, quite simply we don’t want to come down from. Some tasty gelato softens the blow, and we’re ready to go…
So… It’s my turn!
“Because you are terrified! … and still, I want to get into that boat with you.”
Persistence, and stress has paid off, I finally got Mira on the boat! After months of negotiation and blatant harassment on my part!
How does it feel to now be spending EVERY second together? Terrifying!
… And amazing, liberating and exhilarating! Tonight is incredible and I can’t wait for tomorrow!
Well, we have certainly travelled with the bare essentials, and with any luck we might be able to get the roof of the car down if we move 6 of the bags (Mira’s shoes 😉 ) onto the back seat.
Having had the typical last minute panics – 2 trips to the Vauxhall dealer – we finally made it to my grandparents last night and were extremely well fuelled before heading to Portsmouth this morning.
So this afternoon I’ve been getting to grips with my new toy… SONY a6000… and absolutely loving it! Lots of manual options though so if anyone has any tips they’d be hugely appreciated!
Now that we’ve waved goodbye to England and welcomed the French Atlantic Coast on our way to Bilbao, it’s time for a stiff drink!
First posts are weird. You are thinking for days what words to use to express exactly what you are trying to say. I started with ‘We are going to China!’, and then I thought, maybe it’s a bit too…. well, short.
I don’t want to bore you with all the heavy life stories and emotional words about finding ourselves through far away travels and self-discovery or quotes from ‘Eat Pray Love’.
But what I would say, is this: everything that happened in our lives recently got us to this exact moment. It feels oddly natural, at this precise moment in our lives, to give up our homes (well…still stunned I’m actually homeless in few days), take time off from our careers and get rid of all the junk which we’ve accumulated, and see what life really is about.
It’s taken us several weeks to get everything planned (SOO much planning!), get all the visas organised (oh, the stress!) BUT the excitement is now building fast that: ‘WE ARE GOING TO CHINA! (Well few more places too but that in the next post).
For now, thanks to our friends and families for all the support and help. I hope you won’t hate us for all the incredible pictures, and glossy videos (yep- we’ve got GoPros!) of us biking through beautiful rice fields of Guilin, or trekking Zhangjiajie Mountains (Avatar movie inspiration), or of our smug faces from the Great Wall of China. But we’ll do our best (and thanks to the super clever designing people from GoPro) to make you feel like you’re “over there” with us, touching the Terracotta Army yourself 🙂
So I guess, wish us luck! 5 days to go… (*Insert panicking/ screaming/ pulling hair out face here)!
And time to make the final tough decisions… how many pairs of stilettos should I take? Hold on, I’ve got only one backpack?? (*Insert completely devastated face here)!
See you for now xx