Published: June 6th 2013June 6th 2013
We arrived in the fishing village of Cassis mid afternoon, to find that every French person for miles around was there too. It was Sunday after all. After driving around the Mardi parking lot a couple of times, a spot freed up and we had enough cash to park for a couple of hours. Every restaurant and bar on the quay was packed and after a few enquiries managed to find a room at the Laurent - from the front balcony we had a view of the port and from the bathroom window, a great view of the "the Castle". Our car was parked 10 mins away and as there was no parking at the hotel, we put our essentials into a day pack and left the rest of our stuff in the car.
Dinner was a treat - a baguette filled with deep fried chicken and French fries - not the healthiest of foods but really delicious.
A big attraction of Cassis are the Calanques or limestone fjords that are short distance around the coast. We had planned to rent kayaks and paddle to them but it was still rather windy when we got
up so we decided to hike to them. Took us a while to find the closest parking lot and then we just followed a group of serious looking European hikers with their hiking poles and hiking boots. Must admit, their footwear was probably a better choice that sport sandals as parts of the limestone trails were rocky and/or slippery. The trail gave great views of Calanque d'en Vau, Calenque de Port-Vin and Calanque de Port Miou - the latter had very many small boats tied stern to shore.
Moving on, we next headed for the seaside town of Bandol, thinking it would be another small village where we could stay the night - wrong again. The long bay was lined with restaurants and small shops, but not a hotel to be seen. So we reprogrammed Fifi to get us to St Tropez and set off a long the coast road.
Renting a car in France has good points and bad points. Bad would include exorbitant parking costs and pricey toll charges on the big highways. But the good means you get to have car adventures.
1. Driving through ridiculously narrow streets
and having the car proximity sensor screeching whenever any part of the car came within 8 inches of a solid object - which was most of the time.
2. Not having enough cash to pay the toll on the highway and having to go to all the drivers lined up behind you and hope that one of them could change a 5 euro bill into coins
3. Getting stuck in an underground parking garage in deepest darkest Toulon. Now Fifi didn't seem to be completely updated as she kept trying to send us down one way streets (the wrong way) but we had got used to her. The difference between "turn left" and "bear left" never made a lot of sense though . So there we were driving through rush hour in Toulon and her directions were to " bear left at the fork". One lane went straight ahead, one veered to the right and one to the left - straight into an parking garage. It was easy enough to find the exit, but when Kelly put the ticket in and tried to pay by credit card ( the only method of payment) his card wasn't accepted an
the parking ticket stayed in the machine. The "help" button wasn't any help either as the human at the other end didn't speak English. Reversing, we tried another exit but without our entrance ticket we were trapped. Luckily, after we parked and walked back to our original attempted point of exit, there was our ticket lying on the ground. Then we noticed a "Pre pay" ticket machine which accepted the credit card - phew we were saved.
Arriving in Saint Tropez, I was surprised that it was a nice little fishing village - with lots of expensive stores on the back streets and mega yachts tied up in the harbour.
After having a beer, we couldn't afford to eat - seriously- so started the hunt for somewhere relatively affordable to stay. Another thing about having a car is that it allows you to get out of the centre of town and we got a great room at the Bella Vista about 1 km out in the countryside. After settling in we headed back into town for an evening promenade and to drool over the mega yachts. - try googling "Casino Royale" , "Slipstream" or
"Diamonds are Forever".
Next day - Tuesday - was market day in the Place de Lices - lots and lots of stall selling produce, cheese, sausages, olives, prepared foods like paella ( lunch for us that day) as well as clothing and tourist stuff.
Finally it was time to say goodbye to this very pleasant town and head to Nice. Fifi took us right where we needed to be - at the Nice Train station but we could"t figure out where to return the car so we found a spot in the nearest parking garage and walked back to the station. We still had a couple of hours before we actually had to return the car so used the time to find a hotel. We figured it would make more sense to get somewhere close to the train station so we wouldn't have far to walk when we left in for days time. Two star hotels were somewhat questionable and three stars were way out of our price range - until we found the Hotel Durante and got a room in the garden area.
Returning the car was a breeze ( car adventure #4 - driving up 6 levels of a spiral car ramp with the proximity sensors screaming once again)