Have you heard of the butterfly effect? I’ll spare you the details, but the theory basically says that the smallest event (like the flap of the wings of a butterfly) can set in motion a chain of events causing a huge change at a later stage.
For the sake of telling you about my holiday in the South of France I will borrow the analogy, but It would be more accurate to call it “The cockroach effect”.
Cockroaches. We are repulsed by them for all the right reasons, and what a nightmare it is to find the Airbnb you so carefully selected in the most central location of old town Nice is infested with them.
And so we are, two girls armed with flip-flops and running shoes, alert for the sneaky sounds of roaches, afraid to touch the walls or get into the shower. Not the best start for a 4 days girls-trip.
Little did we know that the decision to escape the cockroach invasion (gladly supported by a very ashamed Airbnb host that proceeded to refund us the entire cost of our stay) would lead to one of the most amazing trips of our lives.
With two carry-ons, a rented VW Polo and nowhere to stay, we threw out of the window our (in hindsight, very boring) plan to make Nice our base and venture out here and there, in favour of a “see where the day takes us” attitude.
The plan was very simple: choose a destination, get in the car, arrive at said destination in a more or less straight forward way (great co-pilot skills don’t always come naturally) , stroll around, do cultural stuff or shop (mostly shop) and then book a hotel in whatever village is on the way to your next destination. All you need is a car, a charged phone (not always easy when you travel with snapchat addicts :-)) and a booking.com app.
In a total of 4 full days (1 of which spent fighting cockroaches in Nice and rewarding ourselves with some well deserved retail therapy and delicious food at Les Sense) we visited Nice, Saint Paul de Vence, Gourdon, Bar sur Lup, Cannes, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, Eze and Antibes… not bad eh?
The itinerary is absolutely doable by even the most anxiety prone and no-sense of direction traveler, the longest distance by car was 1 hour and 30 minutes, and offers plenty of absolutely stunning panoramas, and amazing sights.
Moving closer to Les Alpes Maritimes and gaining some elevation, you should make Saint Paul de Vence your first stop. The place is absolutely stunning, with old buildings of exposed bricks and a plethora of art galleries and quaint little shops to suit every taste. We reached the village at sunset, best time for some photos, and grabbed a delicious dinner (with one of the best bellini I ever drank) at Le Tilleul, before heading back to our cockroach-free hotel Les Messugues, a few minutes drive. Besides the no-roach situation, the hotel was absolutely amazing, with a very traditional feel and few rooms overlooking a vineyard. The fact they could not find our booking and upgraded us to a better room to excuse themselves made it all the better.
Our next stop was Grasse, the city of Perfume, but before we get there, let me tell you about Bar Sur Lup and Gourdon. Nested on vertigo-inducing cliffs, these two villages are certainly worth a stop. They both offer amazing views of the surrounding valley and a sea of colourful Bounganvilles and cute little doors and windows everywhere. When you are there, buy some dry lavender or scented soap, or buy a baguette and chase locals around as we did, whatever suits you best.
By the time we reached Grasse I could barely contain my excitement at the chance of visiting the Fragonard perfume factory . It might not seem like much, but if like me you are easily excitable, once there, park close to the old town and head straight down Fragonard Boulevard, at the end of which you will find the entrance to the museum and factory. You can join a free, short and very informative tour in French or English and learn more about how perfume is made. The education part doesn’t last very long and you’ll soon be redirected to the boutique, AKA perfume heaven, for all your unnecessary but oh-so-satisfying shopping.
Smelling and sniffing done, we drove down to spend the night in Mougins in a hotel we booked 2 hours before while eating an ice cream, and took the chance to grab a fancy dinner in Cannes. Let’s just say that with the festival going on we felt slightly underdressed despite rocking the best frock our small luggage could allow, but this did not dim our enthusiasm. Between one snap and the next we stumbled upon Baoli beach, and had a great dinner of sushi and grilled octopus literally by the beach.
The last full day of our itinerary was probably the most intense. We woke up bright and early and drove down to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat to visit The Villa et Jardin Ephrussi de Rotschield, a 20th century master piece built by an incredibly interesting woman, Beatrice de Rotschield (let me just say that she organised a 100 strong wedding party for her poodle). The villa itself is certainly worth of notice for its historical value, but the gardens is what draws millions of tourists here every year. The villa is surrounded by 9 themed gardens, including one of the most beautiful rose gardens I have ever seen in my life. The visit takes a little over one hour, depending on how much time you want to spend getting lost in the green and blue maze, and it is totally worth your time and 20 euros.
Exhausted by all this culture and photo shooting, the rest of our trip was spent lazying around on the beach, first in Eze, at papaya beach, and later on in Antibes, at Royale beach club. Antibes is a great last stop when flying from Nice, being only a 20 minutes drive from the airport. If you decide to stop there on your trip, choose a hotel facing the sea and take the time to stroll towards the old town walking alongside the old walls at sunset. We stayed at Josse Hotel, which had a great location, with a plus of the room looking like a mermaid lair.
Having had time to digest all of these experiences, I can say I learned several things from this trip:
Number 1, sometimes even the closest of friendship can be put to the test on a “stressfull” holidays. When you find someone you love traveling with, and with whom you are in full sync, make the most out of it and go on adventures together (a special thanks to the best travel companion ever, Christina Laastad!)
Number 2, sometimes unexpected and very unpleasant things are the push we need to go out of our comfort zone, and they can lead us somewhere great
Number 3, day by day travel is a great way to stay flexible and stumble upon hidden gems, especially when done somewhere like the French Riviera, offering plenty of options for accommodation
And just when I though I could not surprise myself any longer, I learned that there are very special circumstances when one should be grateful to share a room with cockroaches