A September 1994 trip
to Cote d'Azur by shaunandtrish
Quote: At last, I have found the time to right a retrospective journal of my favorite place of all. This area has the best 'everything' that I need. The title says it all ...
- The Roman Theatres at Arles and Orange
- The spectacular Pont Du Gard
- Pony Trekking in the Camargue, I saw an otter!
- The charm of Valvigneres and St Thome, found by accident
- The food
- The wine
- The sun
- Driving for 4 hours from the north, through rain, without a break, then stopping for toilet on the edge of Provence and smelling the warm air heavy with the scent of lavender
What can I say? This is my favourite place on earth.
Second tip, carry a good road map, like a Michelin. Once you are off the main autoroutes, many of these smaller places are just not shown on larger scale maps of France.
You get some cracking thunderstorms, whilst these are mostly at night, a light water-proof is always a good idea.
Hotel | "La Tour Casse, Valvigneres"
We had planned to spend 17 days in France following the eastern border from Strasbourg to Nice, through the Alps. After three days of torrential rain in the Vosges area we sat watching the Meteo as we ate our evening meal and it predicted nothing but heavy rain across the whole east side the next three days at least. We were ready to turn round and come home, but we changed our itinerary instead. We would get up early and go south for some sun. I consulted my Les Routiers Guide to France and found a guest house in Viviers sur Rhone, just south of Montelimar - we'd head there - it was as far as I dared drive in a single day, over 400 miles down the autoroute A7 commonly known as the "route du soleil"
Anyway, we drove for 400 miles, the rain stopped, the sun came out and things were looking up for a while. We got to the guesthouse and it was shut due to fire. Never mind, it was only 6pm, we'd find somewhere, we'd drive around for a while and stumble upon something. We did this for a long time. Each time we took a turn it seemed to take us in a direction less likely to have a hotel at the end of it. Eventually we arrived at this "restaurant avec chambres" in this little village Valvigneres - not really a hotel but it would have to do. I now know that if we'd followed the D107 out of Viviers for a couple of miles, then turned left onto the D210 for another couple of miles we'd have got there a lot more quickly.
This was about the lowest point that we had been on any holiday - four days in and it had been pure misery and on top of that we were shattered.
The restaurant only had about three rooms and each had only shared bathroom facilities. The rooms themselves had a basin and bidet. However our room was clean, the people were friendly and the room was only 120 Francs. It would do for the night. Things, however, were about to take a dramatic turn for the better.
We showered and changed and went downstairs for something to eat. We were the only ones there, but the proprietors had opened the patio doors and moved a table so we could look out onto the vineyards to the rear, they had placed candles on our table and we were about to be treated like royalty for a couple of hours.
These people had miraculously found a way to wipe away four days of misery and frustration in an instant. In the morning we opened the shutters of our room, the sunlight streamed in, and we looked out onto the beautiful vineyards to the rear. The village was quiet, ancient and beautiful. We decided to stay.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 31, 2004
La Tour Casse
Cote d Azur, France
(04) 7552 -6256
To say the menu is French would be inaccurate. French cuisine has very distinct regional divisions. The menu here is fairly and squarely provencale. The restaurant concentrates on delivering a small but very high calibre menu, making the most of the local wine, tomatoes, olives, garlic and so on. Your meal will be accompanied by the excellent wine produced in the village, and the friendly and helpful staff are only too keen on helping you make the right choice.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is serene. Intimate, friendly and relaxing. Beautifully set tables, lighted candles, but not formal in any way. I find it really hard to put into words how fond I am of this place.
Prices are not cheap, but they are very fair. This is not a place where you get a huge plate as big as a bin-lid occupied by some pretentious, vertical cluster of food, dead centre, surrounded by a spartan drizzling of "jus". This is provencale country cooking at its best. Made and presented by provencale people in the country.
Oh, and the wine that you drink with your meal can be bought from the co-operative where it is made, just 100 meters from the restaurant. What could be better than that?
La Tour Casse, Valvigneres
Cote d Azur, France
04 75 52 45 32
Attraction | "Les Gorges de l'Ardeche and around"
The natural arch on this stretch, the Pont d'Arc (see photos), is a great place to picnic, sunbathe, splash about in the water or even canoe, and the "villages tres jolies" that surround the gorges mean that you won't need to worry about whether or not you can make the visit stretch to a day.
In addition to Valvigneres (which I think I've probably gushed about quite enough in the Tour Casse journals), you've also got wonderful little hill-top villages like St Thome - just a mile or 2 from Valvigneres. Any fans of Jean de Florette will find this place a real joy. Also you have the most beautifully rugged and fragrant herb covered hills and bubbling little streams in between.
This is not the type of journal where I can say the Eiffel Tower is here, the Louvre is there. With the exception of the Gorges formations themselves, the attraction of the area is the area itself. Everyone will find their own, personal, favourite spot. The only thing I can say is that by roaming around this relatively small area, especially outside of the busier July/August periods, weather permitting, you can not fail to fall in love with it.
Gorges du Verdon (Verdon Gorge)
0494 70 21 64
The car parks are a very short and pleasant walk from the bridge itself. Come on a nice day, bring some food along and have a picnic! You can walk across the first tier of the bridge, over the river. Stay away from the edge if you are prone to vertigo as even tier one is quite high. The approaches on both sides give some excellent photo opportunities. Check out the photos I've posted to get a feel for the sight. I can honestly say I've not seen anything quite like it.
The Pont du Gard is easy to reach: follow the A9 from Orange towards Nimes, then after 10 miles or so take a right onto the N100 towards Roumoulins. The Pont du Gard is unsurprisingly well sign posted from there.
With good planning, a trip to the Pont du Gard also enables photo-stops at the impressive Roman Sites in Orange and Arles (which we did - see its own journal), and Nimes (which we didn't - we went down to the Camargue instead). This has got to be the best region in the world for the highest and most impressive concentration of Roman remains in such a small area.
Pont du Gard
Crossing the Gardon River
Near Remoulins, France
Anyway, that day was mainly a roman day. Following the A7 towards Orange at first, where we took in the Triumphal Arch and the Roman Theatre, before taking the A9 out of Orange towards the Pont du Gard (has its own journal).
Next stop Arles is a short drive south east from the Pont du Gard, we stopped briefly here to get some external shots of the Roman Theatre, before we followed the road south west of Arles towards Saintes Maries de la Mer, taking time on the way for an hour's Pony Trek in the Camargue. Arles itself is literally on the edge of the Camargue.
Going back to Orange, I'd say this is in many ways underrated, as I find it tends to get overshadowed by Arles and Nimes. In addition to the impressive arch and semi-circular theatre (Emperor Augustas taking center stage mounted within the main wall), the town itself has style and charm, most obviously in and around its main square in the center of town with its pavement cafes and shops surrounding it. Well worth a couple of hours - especially if the sun shines.
I'd recommend this itinerary for anybody, but the best advice I could give would be to give it three days, not one. Take more time than we did and do the sights and the towns more justice. Take in Avignon and Nimes too. These were definitely opportunities missed. If my memory serves me correctly, I think I chickened out of visiting these towns because they are bigger than Arles and Orange and I couldn't be bothered with the traffic problems that generally go with driving in big towns.
Attraction | "St Tropez & Cannes - hype & high prices"
We decided to visit St Tropez on an early evening which turned out to be an excellent choice. This poor little place was once a lovely little fishing village until Brigit Bardot made it famous in "And God Created Woman". No blame on BB for that, but it has caused St Tropez problems, I think.
These days its small harbour area is crammed with over-sized ostentatious yachts, security-guarded gang-planks, more traffic than it can cope with and inflated prices. Any real charm it had disappeared a while ago, although there is a residual painted-on charm, that's a bit too contrived to take in. Do as we did and get your photos of the sunset over the harbour in the evening and miss the daytime traffic and parking problems. It’s nice certainly, but, in my view at least, more than a bit overdone, over-hyped, over-visited and pretentious. Maybe one day the money-folk will find other things to do and let the little place recover some dignity.
Cannes is different. It is true that in order to enjoy its pleasures you need the cash, with its exclusive hotels and guarded private beaches, but at least it is designed to cope with, and cater for, the traffic it gets. Again we visited early evening to avoid the traffic, parked up in a central multi-story and walked to seafront. Cannes is clearly proud of its association with the movie industry and there are lots of little exhibitions, posters, handprints in the pavement, etc., that remind you of that. The seafront is grand, lined with exclusive hotels and their private beaches adjacent. We did a two-hour whistle-stop there and it did not leave me wanting more. I do feel that Cannes, like St Tropez, courts the rich tourist, not an urchin like me, and to enjoy the resort you need to spend. Get your photos early evening and spend your money elsewhere, the prices become much more reasonable if you are prepared to drive ten miles north or west.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 8, 2004
St Tropez & Cannes
Cote d Azur, France
Durham, United Kingdom