14 June 2017

The South of France

Whenever possible, I enlist the help and advice of friends or family, when planning a vacation. I do a lot of research on my own, whether it is through travel blogs, travel magazines, Instagram or books, but the best advice I always receive is from people who have been to the place and experienced it themselves.

So this trip was no different. I had been to the Cote d'Azur many years ago in college, but those were very different days. I was really starting from scratch with my planning. I contacted a friend from Albuquerque who is French and I knew traveled there often with his young daughter. I respected his opinion and knew his point of view would jive well with our (and our friends') wishes. 

He shared a website for booking a vacation rental called Maison Azur. The woman we were in touch with was helpful in answering questions about room configurations and outdoor space, as well as favorite restaurants and activities in the area. We decided on a villa that would accommodate our group of 6 adults and 4 children.

Booking accommodations tends to be the task that requires the most thought and planning and research. I find it the most stressful part of trip planning (I've been responsible for some doozies). Especially with small children, your home base is your mecca. It is a place to retreat to after a long day out and about. Evenings will likely be spent here while your children snooze and you finally get time for uninterrupted rosé sipping. You'll be cooking meals in the kitchen (we cooked every breakfast and dinner in our kitchen this trip). And the beds and bathrooms will hopefully make all guests comfortable.

We found a lovely place to park-it for the week. It suited all of our needs and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a place to stay in the Nice, France, area.

After finding accommodations, the next step we took as a group was to write down our individual wish lists - things we would love to see or do while we were there. We knew we would never do everything, but we felt like traveling with a group our size needed a little structure. We were lucky enough to have one of Dan's work colleagues, who lived in this region of France for a number of years, share his favorite beaches, day trips and ideas. His recommendations were all spot on and I look forward to returning some day to complete the list!

From our villa, we took day trips. We ate a hearty breakfast, the kids ran around in the yard and usually begged to stay and swim in the pool. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth getting out the door, but finally we crammed into our two Euro SUV's and hit the road. The roads as narrow and curvy. The round-a-bouts are BRILLIANT and I loved watching the joy on Dan's face driving a diesel manual transmission. Someone sat shotgun, listening to Siri pronounce the French street names (what did we do before Google maps?) and we found our way around the region.

How does one put a week's worth of memories into one readable post? I don't think I will ever be able to do it justice - the joy I feel traveling, the thrill of adventure, being out of my element but brought back to days when I lived in Europe for a semester. And at the same time, feeling this peace about just being. Being away from the daily grinds and demands of life and having meaningful conversations in the evenings, under the stars, over bottles (:o) of wine and reminiscing about the day just spent. There is something so romantic about traveling and really living in the moment.

Our moments were rich and wonderful. They were simple, but grand. And I think each of us really took time to appreciate each day we were there.

Our first day found us soaking up the grounds, the flowers, the paths and the pool. It was Sunday so the boys set out to grocery shop at E.Leclerc - a supermarche full of goodies. Afternoon rolled around and what else is there to do on a Sunday before a holiday in France? Go to the beach! We quickly learned how challenging parking can be...thank goodness for valet...and promptly parked our derrières on the beach. The kids played in the sand (Warren ate the sand), we ordered pizzas (why not?) and sipped rosé as the sun made it's way over the Cote d'Azur. You better believe we ended the day with gelato.

We chose a close jaunt for our second day. The night was rough for some - 3am wake-ups due to jet lag - and we wanted to ease into things. Of course there was swimming in the pool! But our excursion found us heading up the hill to Saint Paul de Vence. The quaint cobblestone pathways, fountains, art galleries and vistas won us over. That evening we dined on Niçoise salad on our massive outdoor table.

Day three found us on winding road to Grasse. The parfumeries here send scents of flowers out their doors. If you have time, they even have classes where you can craft your own perfumes. The smell of tuberose and jasmine and lavender are impressive. Most days, we ended our outing with food and drink. It makes everyone happy - young and old. We enlisted the help of Yelp! and found two tables outside to eat meals laden in gooey cheese.

Day four started on a high note for me (I am a baker by heart, after all) with freshly baked pastries. There were croissants, tarts, brioche... I tried them all. And then we went to the beach - yikes. This day, we chose a stone beach in Cagnes-sur-Mer. We paid for lounge chairs and soaked up some sun as the kids stacked rocks and played in the water.

Day five was probably the highlight of the trip for everyone. We hopped on the freeway and drove east to Eze. Almost every guide book will tell you it is a "must see" and I think we would all agree. This old town is perched on the high cliffs overlooking the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea. Our destination was "Le Jardin exotique" found by navigating tiny passageways by way of small signs. The garden was dreamy. Overlooking the sea and filled with larger-than-life succulents and taller-than-man cacti, the beauty was overwhelming. The children loved it, the parents loved it. The views were exactly what I imagined them to be.

Day six brought us back to St Paul de Vence. We split up the group today - it was our last day and we all had different things on our minds. Some shopped for art and some visited the sculpture garden. We all convened for the 3 hour meal that included escargot, shrimps, risotto with truffles and other local delicacies. I am not quite sure how the children made it through this, but they were as impressed by their meals as we were with ours.

That evening was our last... We never came close to crossing everything off of our to-do list (maybe on purpose? It leaves reason to return!). The older kids begged to return to the beach, so some of us headed back to a sandy beach near Antibes on a Friday evening to play in the waters. Watching the girls frolic in the water as the sun danced off of the waves was surreal. It was a moment I will remember forever. Our family with the 11-month-old decided that seeing "Old Nice" was better and they enjoyed the beautiful architecture, sculptures and sights along the promenade.

We all met up back at home to pack our bags and prepare for a 3am wake-up.

I think we are all still dreaming of unpasteurized cheeses, attempting conversations in French, days when our biggest decision was what city to visit and what wine to drink with dinner. Grateful for friend who wish to share the craziness with us. Ready to plan the next adventure! Who is in?