Nice to Aix-en-Provence via Grand Canyon du Verdon

Published: May 11th 2015
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We are moving on again today so this morning we took our last showers in the world's smallest shower recess. The Nice Garden Hotel has been a lovely oasis in the city of Nice, but the teensy weensy shower recess has been just a little bit annoying. I think it was tiled with 10cm x 10cm tiles so, by my reckoning, the shower recess was about 45cm square. Add in a tap assembly that pokes out from the wall 10-15cm and a shower curtain and you have the recipe for a rather uncomfortable shower. Still, it was hot and wet and did the job so I'm not really complaining ... just making an observation. Otherwise the Nice Garden Hotel was, well, very nice!!

There are no trains to Nice Airport and, having seen how crowded the busses are, we didn't even think about trying to get to the car hire depot at the airport on the bus - we organised a taxi. When asked 'where to' we nominated Terminal 1 for our drop off point. We figured we would be dropped off at Departures and we would simply find our way downstairs to Arrivals and there would be all the car hire counters. Ha, ha, continuing with the theme from the last two days, of course we didn't go to the right place first off!

Downstairs at 'Terminal 1 - Arrivals' there was a Europcar hire car counter, but with no staff, just a sign saying that we should take the blue shuttle bus from Gate 0 to Terminal 2. It wasn't difficult to make our way to Terminal 2, but the false start did mean that time was getting away from us a bit.

When we reached the Europcar counter the staff member assisting us advised that we could take a Peugeot 308 or, for just €12.00/day extra we could upgrade to a brand new automatic Mercedes A Class sedan with Sat-Nav fitted. Bernie was a little bit worried about changing gears with his right hand instead of his left - he's never driven a manual on the 'wrong' side of the road - so decided to go with the upgrade.

The young lady assisting us wanted to explain the electronic handbrake to us - she wanted to say that the button for the handbrake is on the left under the steering wheel, but didn't know the English for steering wheel. She consulted with her colleague who didn't know either but mimed steering a car and we got is straight away. Some things can be mimed very easily!

Once we were in the car the first thing to do was make sure that the Sat-Nav was speaking English. Thank goodness this proved much easier to do than the last time we hired a car in France. It was equal parts nerve-wracking and exciting getting into the hire car to enjoy the freedom that a car will give us to explore the south of France. Just getting it out of the multi-storey car park was our first challenge. Oops, managed that with just a little bump to the right front wheel due to a very narrow exit to the boom gate!

With our destination set for Grasse, we headed off on a glorious blue sky day to explore the Grand Canyon du Verdon on our way to Aix-en-Provence (pronounced, not as I thought, but Ex-on-Provonce). We reached Grasse without any trouble and re-set our destination to Castellane via the Route Napoléon. Would you believe it, we missed the very first turn that we should have taken?! At that point we should have made a U-turn and tried again to take the correct turn, but we blithely thought that we could just make the Sat-Nav recalculate the route for us which she did, but had Bernie negotiating streets of ever increasing steepness and ever decreasing width to get her own back!

Phew, we made it through the back streets of Grasse and onto the Route Napoléon and arrived in the picture postcard village of Castellane at about lunch time. After exploring yet another street market in the village square we had our lunch and then took some photos - my camera still playing up despite Bernie's efforts to clean the lens contacts - before setting our destination to la Palud-sue-Verdon and continuing on our way into the Grand Canyon du Verdon.

The scenery had already been pretty awesome as we drove along the Route Napoléon, but turned really spectacular as we ventured into the canyon. The River Verdon has carved an incredible cleft into the landscape and flows along the bottom of the canyon in the most incredible shade of aquamarine. We could not have had a more beautiful day to explore this extremely picturesque part of Provence. All we could have hoped for was more time as we really didn't allow ourselves enough time to do the area justice.

With the afternoon getting away from us and our hosts at Le Moulin des Pinchinats expecting us by 7.00pm (at the latest) we had to set our destination for Aix-en-Provence. With a good old fashioned road map to hand, just to help us see the Sat-Nav route in context, we expected to be taken along Route 952 until we were almost in Aix-en-Provence and then onto the A51 Tollway for our final approach. Unfortunately this went a bit pear-shaped at about Baptistère when, once again, we were taken along some ridiculous roads that just got skinnier and skinnier and skinnier until ... s - c - r - a - p - e ... the awful, awful sound of a car panel coming into contact with the wall of a house.

After saying a very bad word and getting out to inspect the damage, Bernie was surprisingly philosophical about it and decided that at least paying for extra insurance for just such an eventuality would prove worth it on this occasion. I mean how many times do you pay for it and not need it? I guess we've earned a payout for all the times that we've never made a claim. Besides we can't undo the nasty scrape on the right rear door so we'll just have to pay for it when we drop the car off in Calais and then put a claim in with our travel insurer. At least we didn't have to be picked up by a tray truck! We saw a couple - and their dog - by the side of the road in the canyon who were just having their car put onto a tray truck because they had hit something that had taken out their front right wheel.

After driving through hectares and hectares of farmland on 'D' roads we were finally guided onto the A51 Tollway at Manosque at a junction that was a bit further north than we expected. At the start of the tollway we had to take a ticket. When we exited the tollway on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence we had to put the ticket into the ticket slot for our fare to be calculated. Then we tried to pay using a credit card, but it wouldn't accept it so we had to put notes in instead. Luckily we had the credit card, coins and notes to hand and didn't hold up traffic too much. Aaargh, an eTag sure is easier for paying tolls!!

We finally reached our accommodation for the night with about nine minutes to spare seeing as we were asked to check-in between 5.00pm and 7.00pm. Phew, just slightly frazzled after our first day on the road, but we made it. Le Moulin des Pinchinats is absolutely gorgeous and we are looking forward to a lovely quiet night in the country ... well, the outskirts of Aix anyway. Also excited about the shower which is AMAZING - a walk-in rain shower to die for.

It's a 20 minute walk into town so Bernie bravely got behind the wheel again and drove us into Aix to find some dinner. Unfortunately we left the list of recommended restaurants behind, so just took pot luck with choosing a place to eat. That turned out OK with Bernie enjoying a seafood tagliatelle and me savouring a meal of lamb that had been slow-cooked in a tagine.

Steps for the day 10,089 (6.87 km)

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


12th May 2015

You scratched the MERC!!!!!!
12th May 2015

'fraid so!
Yes, unfortunately the Merc has been scratched. 😢 T
12th May 2015
Looking down to the River Verdon

Great route!
Lovely photos of the Grand Canyon du Verdon, and I give you two credit for driving on the "wrong" side of the road on those narrow streets. I tried driving in Ireland and quickly gave up, letting my brave friend do it. Great you had that until-now, unused insurance. Pretty scary! Enjoy Aix!

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