Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sud du France

This is the part where I tell you about the Route Napoléon.

I have this not so secret desire to live in France one day. I want a 600-something year old chateau with crumbling yellow walls and white Rococo molding around the windows. I want a massive rustic kitchen with solid beams of oak in the ceiling and a heartland classic stove with a warming drawer and six burners. And I want our curly-haired cafe au lait babies to ramble around grounds covered in pines and lavender. I mean, we are all entitled to dream, right?

Well there would be no more perfect place for such a home than in the South of France. And Justin and I were about to explore it via the Route Napoléon.

This fantastic road stretches for miles, springing from the azure waters of the French Riveria and meandering inland through the foothills of the French Alps. It is the route taken by Napoléon after returning from his exile on Elba and ends at Waterloo. It is rich with a dynamic tapestry of landscapes varying from mountains of wildflowers to deep craggy gorges.  

Armed with google navigation maps, some cocoa covered almonds, and a full tank of petrol Justin and I hit the road.

As we drove along narrow mountain rounds and through the cobblestoned streets of tiny villages we dashed in and out of storm clouds thick with rain. The tops of mountains were barely visible, hedged in by a breathe of ash colored fog. Small towns sat nestled in the shadows of cliffs and perfumeries littered the countryside. Stone houses sat beneath the boughs of pines looking fit for fairy tale characters.

We stopped in Castellane for lunch, sharing a pizza in small medieval alleyway and purchasing a chocolate tarte for the road. Hushed voices chattered in French, bouncing between the tight town walls and our server took turns doing tricks on a skateboard with a group of local children. It was quiet, remote, and perfect.

Along the Route Napoléon sits the Gorges du Verdon, a river canyon filled with water tinted a shade of eye-searing turquoise. It was wild to drive along this tightly cornered road, catching glimpses of the river a jaw-dropping distance below us. We were far from Nice at this point, but the call of lavender fields on the nearby plains of Valensole called to us. It so happened that we were two weeks from blooming season but the endless expanse of perfectly aligned plots was mesmerizing.

Our hearts were full of the beauty of southern France when we returned, road-weary, that evening in Nice. We filled our bellies with pub food in a smokey tavern on the warf and returned to Villa la Mouline smelling deeply of cigarettes and seaside.

The next morning we awoke to the gray haze of an early dawn. The air was chilly and fog hugged the coastline. It was going to be a busy day. We planned to drive along the Riveria to see the beautiful and medieval village of Èze and pop into Monaco on our way to Italy.

Èze is a fabulous little town, set high on a mountain with incredible panoramic views of the French Riveria. We had arrived early enough that the grounds were very quiet; sounds hushed by the fog and dew dripping from the myriad of climbing vines and flowers that adorned the stone walls. At the very top of the village was the Jardin botanique d'Èze, which housed a maze of cacti, succulents, and carved marble statues that stood like sentries above the epic vistas that awaited us.

 As we were leaving Èze we ran into the sight of 10-15 gorgeous vintage cars. They had lined up along the curvy hillside and were in the process of being parked by attendants. Everything from chrome-edged Ferraris to shiny Porsche Speedsters gleamed in the sunshine breaking through the clouds. Justin inquired to the occasion and learned that a local company had gifted their employees with a road trip along the South of France in vintage rentals. Not a bad job perk, eh?

Feeling abashed and homely in our little Yaris we set off from Èze for the quick 15 minute drive into Monaco.

Oh, Monaco! Home to princes, princesses, castles, casinos, and more millionaires and billionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world. Close to 50,000 people commute to Monaco each day from France and Italy for work because it is also home to the most expensive real estate in the world. And if perfect Mediterranean weather, incredible scenery, and an abundance of luxurious homes aren't enough, it is also the site of the Monaco Grand Prix of Formula One racing. This prestigious race had taken place just the weekend prior to our arrival to France and the grandstands, signs, and roadblocks were still in place. In fact, Justin and I sat eating lunch in the grandstand seats that looked directly upon the start/finish line. A week ago, we wouldn't have even been allowed to buy tickets for such a view because these seats are the kind that are gifted, not bought.

It was a little overwhelming to be in Monaco, if I can be honest. After Nice, the plains of Valensole, and the charming sights of Èze, it was like I had seen too much of something amazing. While Justin and I sat sharing sandwiches in Monaco he remarked that he felt like he needed to sit in a room with blank white walls so that he could just absorb all he'd experienced. 

But now it was time for Italy.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all your beautiful photos, this place really is breathtaking, particularly the River canyon.