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Published: August 14th 2009
French Riviera…also referred to as the Cote d’Azur in French, has everything one can dream of when it comes to sea, sun, culture & art. From the mythical village of St Tropez to Menton, the lemon capital located at the Franco Italian border, this trip with my two great friends from Shanghai, Jessica & Elena, simply could not have been better! Great memories and precious friendship!
St Tropez: jet set destination, cultural heritage and shopping…
First day on the coast, Amandine, Jessica friend comes pick us up with her convertible, hats & sunglasses on, time to drive to St Trop’ to explore its old town and famous harbor. The harbor is already fully packed with oversized yachts along a maze of painting stalls & here and there a touch of bright metallic red or yellow coming from some luxury sport cars. Quick late lunch along the blue azure sea and time to head to the more quiet part of the town…
Saint Tropez in itself is a small village, full of boutiques & cafes along tiny alleys with a swirl of Provence wherever you look
, might it be the colorful facades, the smell of the flowers
or the lilting accent of the locals. Shopping wise, most of the big brands along local ones are represented, hard to resist, especially when four girlfriends are together! Ok, ended up doing most of the shopping at DVF but cannot help it, just love this designer and the tax rebate plus the sales made everything seem really cheap (especially coming from Asia). A few more shopping bags and some local homemade ice creams later, time to head back to St Raphael!
St Raphael/ Frejus: on the water’s edge…
One of our favorite places during the entire trip: less “people/ jet set”, great food, breathtaking sunset (ok maybe we got lucky…), lovely city center
with plenty of historic sites, sandy beach & azure color Mediterranean sea.
As a matter of fact, way too many things to do and explore in St Raphael and surroundings so we kept it to a few things and fully enjoyed those! Among the most memorable ones: the day we spent at one of the private beach
, getting tanned while enjoying great raspberry/champagne cocktail & chatting between girls (we are expert at this…), some more good shopping
(no Sophie, I might not use
this handbag in Africa…), evening picnic along the sea at the sunset
(strawberries, cherries, apricot, smoked salmon and rose wine), walking around the old town checking the real estate agent & historical sites and the list goes on…
Grasse: at the heart of the French perfume industry…
The village of Grasse is located inland
, about an hour driving from St Raphael and obviously perfumes were the main reason that brought us there! Grasse is world renowned in this industry and produces over two-thirds of France's natural aromas
. Old ‘parfumeries’ are plentiful and one can visit the production unit, tailor made a perfume or go for some of their most famous fragrance.
We opted for the Fragonard ‘parfumerie’, one of the oldest and the most famous one in the area. An English speaking guide took us around and offered us an overview of the production process of perfume, eau de toilette et eau de cologne while their ‘noses’ were busy on the other side of the window creating and assembling fragrances. The visit ended with a stop by their boutique. All in all, learned a few things but was slightly disappointed by the duration of the guided
visit, could have learned so much more but seems that their priority is to guide tourist the fattest possible to the boutique…Next stop, the International Museum of Perfumery
, hopefully will learn a few more things!
The museum has been created in a 19th century perfumery and covers every aspect of the history of fragrances. From the historical origin of fragrances (back to the Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia) to its evolution in the society and cultural meaning, the fabrication process, but as well all the precious objects hosting the fragrances, the museum offers an eclectic journey in the world of perfumes
. The fragrances room where one is seated in a square room surrounded by projection screens while different scents matching the video projected are diffused in the room, was an interesting touch and a great way to start the visit.
Some more efforts have been made as well to create interactive activities, unfortunately for us, although the museum reopened last year, most of those activities are still not working properly…
The village of Grasse in itself is worth to be explored on foot. Its numerous tiny alleys going up and down lined up with colorful houses, gives a true
feel of the Provence special flair. Intense, positively positive, full of life, it represents a certain lifestyle and for a few hours we simply didn’t look at our watch and keep exploring the town, taking one alley after the other only guided by our curiosity.
Antibes Juan les Pins “Dream in Blue”
The mistral finally decided to give us a short break, time to join Georges who nicely invited the three of us for an afternoon on his boat, so Juan les Pins here we come!
Juan les Pins is as vibrant as I had pictured it
…the terraces of the cafes were absolutely packed, music here and there, feels like a great place to go out! The vaulted ramparts
which date from Vauban, offer a breathtaking panoramic view over the Mediterranean sea and the port while somehow keeping this ‘jewel’ protected. No wonder that so many painters & writers had spent lot of time or even moved to Juan les Pins (Picasso, Guy de Maupassant, Nicolas de Stael, Nikos Kazantzakis…)!
Time to release the mooring and leave the port of Juan les Pins for an amazing tour of the area & a bit of
swimming! Georges knows extremely well the area, and within minutes we were already “rediscovering” some of the towns we had visited the previous days but this time viewed from the sea, same same but different! Hided creeks, billionaire villas and yacht, silky secluded beach
, and here and there turquoise-blue patch of sea alternating with the now usual azure blue color. Absolutely stunning!
Georges had kept the best for the end, heading to the Lerins Islands
, one of his favorite in the area, he started to awake again our curiosity! On one side, Sainte-Marguerite with its Fort Royal where the Man in the Iron Mask
was imprisoned and on the opposite side Saint Honorat Islands, property of monks who grow lavender, oranges and vines, in between the two: paradise!
Hadn’t seen water of this color in France since the time I was in Corsica, magic! Even the 18 degrees of the water, didn’t dissuade me to jump from the boat and go for a swim! (ok, it was really cold but so worth it!)
Heading back to the port, Georges showed us how to navigate, can’t wait to get my boat permit, just love it! As we were
leaving the port, a short visit to one of his friend on his boat ended up in a lovely pre-dinner drink, champagne time before heading for a great dinner by the port with Georges and his wife; truly starting to fall in love with this part of France! Next
: Nice, Menton and Monaco...
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