It was October 2006 and the Cote d'Azur on French Mediterranean was the ideal location for a week long road trip. I had been keen to see this part of southern France for a while and although the European summer was over, there was still enough sun to make it a worthy trip.
One of the great things about living in London is that cheap flights to the rest Europe are always in abundance, making the choice of destination the hard part. We chose Montpelier as a starting point and would return here in a week's time. Upon arriving in Montpelier, our first requirement was to commandeer a vessel that would take us on our journey. I had a few ideas, but the woman at the Avis check-in counter encouragingly recommended a brand new Opel Corsa as it had a “lively 59kw engine”. I was a bit hesitant initially as it was not really what I had in mind, but as it was new and available, so we took it. Within a few minutes we were in the car park and next to the car which Mary thought we should name.
The registration plate was '135 BAN
60', so from then on the car was known as "Ban-Go", which to me sounded more like a name you would give to your dog.
Ban-Go was as eager to leave the confines of the car park as was I, so with little time wasted we were on our way. It took me a few minutes to adjust to driving on the right hand side of the road, but I soon got us away from the airport and onto the French highways. Within an hour we were checking into the first hotel and had moved outside to the pool area to catch the afternoon sun. It was also the perfect time to sample the local French beers, after all it would have been rude not to.
This cosmopolitan, sunny city boasts a brilliant history, reflected in its exceptionally rich architecture. You only have to walk around for a few minutes before you'll see an example of this, like the University Of Montpellier, which is actually one of the oldest in the world and the St-Clément Aqueduct, which spans the city and still remains in amazing condition. We spent two days covering a lot of ground on foot,
which was the best way to get around as it allowed us to see all of the detail.
Next was Arles, originally a Greek city which we explored on our way to Marseille. The Romans soon took control of this ancient city and built some magnificent structures like the Amphitheatre, which made Arles a thriving city only slightly shadowed by the much larger city, Marseille.
To be honest, I wasn't overly impressed with Marseille as it is somewhat confronting and a bit dirty. I guess it is the third largest city in France and with that brings crime and poverty, which was clearly everywhere, even right outside our hotel door. Besides that we had two days and nights there which we spent sampling the fresh seafood and exploring the small winding streets. That’s the thing about European cities; it’s the street level and the maze like winding roads that make them so interesting to explore.
St Raphael, probably my favourite place on the trip, boasts a bustling tree-lined promenade, good beaches and some spectacular coastline. We took a drive down the coast road after lunch one day and ended up in Cannes. It's the kind of coast
road that makes you want to keep going just to see what's around the next corner, and when another magnificent view presents itself, you can’t help but continue. We did this for a good hour or so until we reached Cannes, then found a small beach side cafe complete with couches on the sand, to sit and watch the sun disappear. This time it was not beer, but French ice-cream that topped off the day.
The city of Nice is located on the French Riviera in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. It combines the perfect location, temperate climate, beaches and ambiance all for relaxing in and soaking up the sun. We spent two nights here and explored a lot in the time we had. On one of the days, we actually jumped on a very touristy open top bus that took us into the hills, providing unspoilt views and some interesting, but cheesy commentary along the way. At night the place comes alive with nightclubs, bars and restaurants all along the promenade. We tried the Paele, which is traditionally a Spanish dish, but to have it here with seafood was too good to pass up. Just have a look at my face
before and after. My eyes were a lot bigger than my stomach, but that's what it's all about.
I was so full after dinner I had no choice but to pass on our daily ritual of French ice cream. This should have taught me a lesson, but didn’t.
I will try not to ramble on for too much longer as I know you are probably skimming towards the end, so I will quickly tell you about the last town we visited. At this stage we had ended our eastern trip and were heading back to Montpellier with a quick stopover for a day in Nimes.
With thousands of years of history, Nimes stands out as one of the best kept Roman cities in France. The amphitheatre is utterly amazing in both architectural construction and sheer presence. It seats 23,000 and was mainly used for gladiator combat, of which some of the original gear is still on display. It is in remarkable condition throughout, partly due to a renovation effort in the 19th century and today is used for bullfighting and displays. We walked around inside for an hour just trying to imagine what it would have
been like in it’s day, not just from the crowds perspective, but from the terrifying gladiators reluctant position too.
The next day we headed back to the airport and said goodbye to Ban-Go, who had been a flawless companion who never complained and had always encouraged us to go that extra mile. We heard someone say that Monaco was just around the corner, and if we followed the next road and took the first major exit we’d be there in an hour or so, but there always a place to explore…somewhere.
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