South of France
In April 2019 my partner and I set off on a road trip around South of France. It really was a brilliant trip and one of my best experiences to date.
When you don’t have the means (or perhaps courage) to quit your full-time job but have a hunger for travel it can be quite frustrating. So that was the point of this trip, yeah it was only 9 days but the idea was to see how many amazing sights we could experience during this time. And I was pleased with the end result as I have gained some memories I will never forget.
The beauty of South of France is breath taking and I genuinely mean that! It’s a beautiful place with some yummy food to top it off.
I planned the trip through research online and any attractions that caught my eye went on the list of must see. The itinerary was quite detailed so we knew where we would be heading next and this was all matched with an air bnb on route to our next destination. We stayed in a different air bnb every night, besides the last two nights when we stayed in a hotel.
So, it all began in Nice…and Monaco
When we arrived in Nice, we picked up a hire car with the plan to park up at a tram station and head to Nice centre. It took Rick some time to get used to driving on the other side of the road but eventually we safely parked and headed to Henri Sappia tram station. When we arrived in Nice town, we eventually found the number 100 bus to take us to Monaco. The reason for taking this bus was because it’s cheap and also allows a view of the scenery during the journey (however, poor weather prevented this delight for us).
When we arrived at Monaco we strolled up some impressive steps that led to a view over the state and also to the Princes palace. We decided to pay to go into the Princes Palace as well as the aquarium – both interesting in their own way and worth a visit. It was rather busy in April so I can only imagine what it’s like during the busier times of year. We also had chance to pop into Monaco cathedral which was amazing! And on route back to the bus, we strolled through the Japanese garden and took a look at the yachts.
Then onto St Paul de Vence
That evening we stayed in an air bnb with a French and Irish couple. After a pleasant stay – our next stop was Saint Paul de Vence. This was a gorgeous raised village, made up of windy streets, beautiful buildings and scenery. We spent time admiring the view, exploring the streets as well the shops where we purchased some soaps and enjoyed a crepe in a cute café! (crepes became a common theme).
Next The Loup River
On route to the Loup River we stopped in a supermarket to get some items for a picnic….with the support of google I bought some thon (tuna) and baguettes (of course). The Loup River is 30 miles long ending in the Mediterranean Sea. It was an amazing drive through Gorge du Loup up steep windy roads to Gourdon. The scenery is spectacular and the waterfalls adds an extra touch. We followed instructions to climb down the cliff to reach the river for an unforgettable picnic but unfortunately due to the wet weather the rocks were very slippery and we decided not to continue (much to my disappointment but it was the safest choice). We instead found a nice spot next to the road overlooking the river and enjoyed our picnic there.
And onto Gourdon
Gourdon is a village towards the top of the Loup River. It’s a sweet little village with nothing much around other than a few shops, café and views from a viewing platform at the edge of the village. This area is worth a visit for its sheer beauty and amazing views.
A day in Cannes
Cannes is a resort town on the French Riviera famous for its international film festival. First things first, check out the yachts. We were amazed by the range of yachts and imagining how the other half live – Cannes is flash so it’s an interesting treat if this is far from what you’re used to (like me). After yet another crepe, we spent some time on the beach and relaxed.
My personal interests are historic areas and natural beauty so I was looking forward to heading to Le Suquet – a roman settlement above Cannes. This is the oldest area in the town which shows what Cannes was like before it became populated with holiday makers. As we walked away from the main part of Cannes we could see the old town built up in the distance. The contrast to the affluence behind us was quite surreal but don’t be mistaken, it is a gorgeous sight! And my kinda appreciation.
We climbed uphill until we reached an old church and castle (Notre Dame d’esperance & Musee de la Castre) – we spent some time admiring the buildings, while also enjoying the view. Old Cannes is also known for the family run restaurants so we set out to find what we considered an authentic restaurant. We found a tiny place that appeared cosy and the general style we hoped for. We were so pleased with our choice as it was absolutely beautiful and ended the day nicely.
Our third air bnb in Pignans
Our third air bnb was in Pignans and was one of the cheapest and cutest accommodation that we experienced during the trip. I thoroughly enjoyed staying with French families or in their guest homes during our trip. We saved so much money doing it this way and deepened our experience.
It’s time to hop on a ferry
We set off early to head to the Port of Giens, near Hyeres to catch a ferry to the Porquerolles Hyeres Island. Porquerolles is the largest of three islands owned by the French state – it is a national park with the aim to maintain the natural land.
The queue gets pretty big while waiting for the ferry but fortunately they come frequent enough that it’s not a problem. The island itself is lovely with clear blue water, beautiful beaches, a windmill, fort, churches and a small town with restaurants. It’s mainly natural land where people enjoy riding bikes, walks and time to relax. It’s a lovely place but be warned there are some VERY steep hills to get to areas like the fort and windmill but if you like a challenge then it’s worth the exertion.
Let’s go for a hike
I was very excited for day five as we planned to visit Grotte Sainte Marie which is a popular pilgrimage to a grotto at the top of a steep forest, followed by 150 steps to reach the top. The hike was pleasant and we seen lots of families and people of varying ages. As we reached the steps it was amazing! We could see the cave from the bottom and the sight was so unique. And then we reached the rocky outside to enter the grotto. We were so fortunate to arrive just as a ceremony started so we sat quietly at the back as the congregation prayed and sang. The cave has the most beautiful stain glass windows and stairs that led to a lower level. Remarkable experience!
Now it’s time for Arles
Arles is a lovely city made up of some great historic buildings, such as the Amphitheatre. The city also inspired some of Vincent Van Goghs work as this is where he spent some time. We managed to do a lot during an afternoon in Arles. There are a few package options to see the historic buildings for a decent price which included the Amphitheatre, the underground Roman Ruins, The Cathedral of St. Trophime and The Alyscamps where Van Gogh spent time painting. This is a lovely place with lots to see; my only regret is not searching for more of the areas that Van Gogh painted. There are walking tours on offer which is a good way to make sure you miss nothing!
Hello Les Baux de Provence
Les Baux de Provence is a French commune amongst the Alpilles mountains. This is another small area with beautiful windy paths but at the top is a ruined castle that is pretty spectacular and incredibly windy (during my visit anyway). The area again offers some lovely small restaurants and picturesque scenery.
Next we headed off to Roussillon
Roussillon is famous for its red cliffs and ochre quarries. The cliffs are made up of red, yellow and brown shades forming a truly amazing sight. It’s one of those things you look at in amazement as it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. It gets better as there’s a path to walk around the quarries which costs a few euros. I’m glad we added this to the list as it was different to everything else we experienced during the trip.
A quick pop off to Abbaye Notre-Dame
We didn’t visit during the peak of lavender season so we weren’t lucky enough to see the lavender fields but the Abbey is worth a visit in its own right. We didn’t even go inside so I can only assume it gets better. We simply enjoyed walking around the grounds and taking photos from the outside which was an enjoyable experience in itself. We stayed the evening in Forcalquier which was very pretty and probably deserved more time to be explored.
Ending the trip at the Gorges du Verdon
This is one of Europe’s most beautiful river canyons and I can confirm that is no exaggeration. Yet another breath-taking experience! I was really excited to finish our trip here as it looked amazing with so much to do. The drive around the gorge is fantastic and should be seen from the top and bottom – a gorgeous blue gorge that never gets boring.
We started the visit with hell of a hike – Sentier de I’Imbut starting near the Hotel du Grand Canyon on the D71. The hike starts from the top of the gorge and guides you to the bottom before taking you back up again. The hike takes you along some impressive parts of the river, while walking along some paths cut into the rock. I can’t describe how striking it is!
It was a total unexpected gem but at one point became a little worrying. Through confusion I took us into part of the rocks (where the river wasn’t currently running) towards what I read, was the end of the world. This involved clambering over huge rocks – climbing and jumping. We soon realised this was a bad idea and headed back to the path off the river. We got back on track and reached the end of the hike which led us to a metal ladder to climb up to the main road. Utterly surreal and amazing!
If this is your cuppa tea then I highly recommend. But be more prepared than us!
Why not try out some pedal boats
The next day we chose to enjoy some time on the water in a pedal boat. We pedalled along part of the gorge with rocky cliffs either side of us. It was another amazing way to experience the gorge. I was pleased we experienced it via long drives, hikes and also floating on the blue water.
This area is pure bliss and needs to be seen. We also headed off to Aiguines and enjoyed yet another beautiful meal and cute area of France. We stayed in the Baudinard-sur-Verdon area during our visit which allowed even more amazing photos of the gorge from the peak.
This trip involved some experiences and sights I’ll never forget so I’m thoroughly pleased we took the time to plan and immerse ourselves in the full experience of the South of France.
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.
You may like to read more about how I improved my mindfulness practice during this trip – Don’t forget to look up