In this guest post, Neil Campbell shares his family holiday, driving south towards the French Riviera, finding that the inland attractions, such as the Gorges du Verdon, Roman aqueducts of Frejus and artizan parfumers of Grasse were more captivating that the crowded beaches and promenades of Nice.
Back in 2008 my wife and I were planning a holiday for the following June. We had enjoyed trips with our 3 children to campsites in northern France for a number of years, but recently had got a bit fed up with the weather (grey and cold)!
We decided that our next holiday would have to provide (so far as it’s possible to guarantee) warm weather and warm water to swim in! We decided to try the south-east coast of France, an area commonly referred to as the French Riviera. I was interested to go as I had never visited this part of France before.
We decided that we would stay in mobile homes on campsites (as we had done on many previous holidays on France) since this gives a good combination of relative comfort and facilities for the children to enjoy. The initial plan was to fly with a low-cost airline and hire a car. Unfortunately a quick check on flight prices revealed that the cost of flights in the school holidays was going to be prohibitive – not my definition of low-cost! We decided that we would drive to save some money, stopping overnight once in each direction.
Our stopovers in each direction were also in mobile homes on camp sites. This works much better for us than staying in hotels as 5 is a difficult number to accommodate in hotels; you usually need to have 2 rooms. On the outward journey we stopped at Lac de Challon in the Jura region of France. This was an area we had not been to before and we were so impressed with the lakes and scenery that we decided we should come for a proper break to the area in the future.
The journey to our campsite in the town of Frejus was uneventful, with the in-car DVD player proving invaluable in keeping the children occupied. The campsite was about a mile from the coast and had an excellent swimming pool complex.
Frejus itelf is a pleasant town (especially the older parts away from the coast), with a very interesting Roman ampitheatre to explore. Development on this stretch of the French coast is rather intrusive and (to my mind) rather spoils the natural beauty.
The best beach that we found for family use was a little way east at Agay; a pretty little horse-shoe bay backed by a few good value cafes and restaurants. Although swimming in the sea was very pleasant, the most memorable things that we did were away from the bustle of the coast.
We spent an interesting day exploring the route of the Gorge du Verdon by car. The Gorge du Verdon is a spectacular gorge up to 700m deep and 25km long. The striking turquoise water of the river (after which it is named) is a particular feature. Having young children with us meant that we decided not to do any of the hikes on offer, but we enjoyed the various viewing points along the roads that skirt the southern rim of the canyon.
We decided to pay Nice a quick visit as we wanted to see at least one of the iconic destinations in this area. To be honest I was a little disappointed with Nice. In parts it is a little bit shabby and in others glitzy, but always expensive. The beach was packed with terrace-style restaurants that spoil the view. Unless you are amazingly rich or enjoy looking in shop windows at the extortionate prices of fashion goods then I would give it a miss. We had a quick stroll on the promenade and a (very expensive!) ice cream and departed for the tranquility of a perfume garden near Grasse.
La Bastide du Parfumeur is a perfume garden located in the village of Mouans-Sartoux inland from Nice. On a warm summer’s day such as the day we visited it is a truly heavenly place. Nearby Grasse is of course the worldwide centre of the perfume industry and this garden demonstrates many of the plants that are used in famous scents. This is not a beautifully manicured formal garden but a gloriously natural celebration of perfumed plants. Children and adults alike are encouraged to pick leaves and sample the many strange and beautiful scents. There is also a small shop where various reasonably priced perfumed products can be purchased, ideal for bringing the memory of your visit back. I think that the visit to this garden was the highlight of our trip. I discovered the following review of the garden which gives more information/photos.
Our week was soon over and it was time to head home. Our journey was again uneventful, with an overnight stop in the same area of France.
Our aims for the holiday were to see this iconic region of France on a bit of a budget and we had hoped to save money by driving rather than flying. I think in this respect we were not entirely successful. Once the cost of overnight stops, diesel, and motorway tolls were added up we probably saved a bit but not much. On the other hand our overnight stops were an enjoyable part of the holiday and introduced us to another region of France (Jura) so direct comparisons are difficult. One lesson learned was that stopping for one night is not as relaxing as it could be. If we do another trip like this we would stop for two nights to completely break the journey up and have a full day to relax.
As far as the region (French Riviera) goes, my assessment might be influenced by the fact that the pound/Euro exchange rate was virtually parity; making an already expensive region even more so! It’s good to have seen some of the the coastal areas, but I would not necessarily hurry back. The inland areas around Grasse and the Gorge Verdon were far more memorable.
My thanks for this guest article to Neil Campbell who writes at DebtAdvice4Free. As often happens, the journey and the things we see along the way is often more rewarding than the destination itself.
Photo Credits: Promenade des Anglais by jimmyharris, Lakes in the Jura region by rosmary , The North Aqueduct, Fréjus by TyB ,Gorge du Verdon by Allie_Caulfield , La Bastide du Parfuneur by Smellyblog
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