Provence, the Alps and the Cote d'Azur
07.05.2012 23 °C
We returned to France from sunny Spain and our brains are struggling to switch gear back into 'bonjour' and 'merci'. Not sure if the French think we're Spanish or just very confused. We stopped off at the stunning walled town of Avingnon, the scene of so much drama and the reality was a living fairytale movie set complete with castle, misty river and medieval bridges.
We followed the Rhone river north to Lyon and the culinary capital of France. A traditional dinner of local recommendations with a regional red didn't disappoint. We discovered ancient Lyon overflowing with late night eats and funky bars. Daytime Lyon was dominated by the food for us. We started with a wander through the riverside market, taking some breakfast treats and marvelling at the quality and variety of the produce. We walked this off at the cathedral and roman ruins before a storm set so we settled into the posh market in the town's north. This undercover fair was more like a very French David Jones food hall with amazing produce and bar tops to sit and eat. We took our time and absorbed as much as possible, including a wonderful lunch and take away treats for the car.
Completely satiated, we tracked into the Alps and to Annecy. This little alpine town made us realise the range you can experience in Europe, from the heat and bustle of Barcelona one day to the crisp air and serenity of mountains the next. Well, fondue was the only option for us here and we loved it. Over breakfast we realized how close Geneva was so decided impromptu to jump across the Swiss border for a hot chocolate which we enjoyed by the lake. A quick by pass the UN and back down the mountain to Provence.
For a change of pace, we found a picnic spot at the foot of the mountains to enjoy the wonderful treats that we had accumulated; Spanish ham, Swiss cheese, French bread, local mustard and a cheeky red. A light breeze and snow capped mountains in the distance were the perfect accompaniment.
Further south we stopped in Cannes for the local specialty, bouillabaisse. Now done properly, a fresh garlic clove is rubbed on a bit of crusty bread then smeared with a Rouille sauce and dipped into this tangy fish stew . . . Amazing! We stayed at a great boutique hotel near the beach in Nice to complete our alpine to sand day.
A side note: we're listening to an engaging reading of the Count of Monte Cristo in the car. For those familiar with the story, it seems appropriate to be walking in the shoes of Dantes as we explore this region.
The morning gave us a look at the colors of sea and sky that the renaissance artists attributed to this coastline and hence the name azur. The drive from Nice to Monte Carlo was without doubt the most picturesque and spectacular either of us have experienced. The shimmering sea flashing here and there as we wind through cliff passes, in and out of mountains and precariously perched hill top villages all seems like a James bond film. Lucky Shirley Bassey was playing on the radio to compete the scene as we descended into Monaco (seriously!).
Now to an unexpected and wonderful surprise. Monaco Grand Prix is in 3 weeks and we won't be there but we did one better. While they are setting up the track, there is a small window where you can actually drive the circuit as the barriers are being arranged. No planning and all luck had us driving the Monaco F1 circuit, from the main straight, up the hill to casino, down to the grand hotel hairpin, through the tunnel, across the waterfront, around le rascasse and back to the start. This will mean nothing to most, but as a big fan I was as giddy as a school boy.
Now into Italy, lunch at Portofino, dinner in the cinque terra region and staying in the quiet hills above Levanto. What an incredible entree to our Italian tour. Mindblowing and almost numbing beauty.
More from Italy in the days to come but first signs are good.