We had a day to turn the house over (i.e. prepare for more guests; something I as a hostess and one whose grandmother used to run a B&B care a lot about, but some men don’t at all…) before Dani’s best friend Iain & his lovely wife Shelley arrived for New Year’s festivities. Two trips to Nice airport in two days: no problem.
We picked up Iain & Shelley early Friday afternoon and drove right to St Paul de Vence for some height-of-the-day sight-seeing.
Those pesky Saracens were at it again: St Paul de Vence is a ‘perched village’ with a fortified wall – perched like Eze, fortified like the monastery on St Honorat, all in defence of Saracen attack in the 16th century.
DK guide says of St Paul de Vence: ‘A celebrity village, it was ‘discovered’ by Bonnard, Modigliani, and other artists of the 1920s.
Since that time, many of the rich and famous literati and glitterati have flocked to St-Paul…including Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, F Scott Fitzgerald, Catherine Deneuve, Sophia Loren and the elusive Greta Garbo.’
So of course we fit right in.
In fact, St Paul is now a complete tourist trap, which I fully expected. ‘Trap’ literally, as it is behind fortified walls, with bollards one must pass before driving into the town (only a short way as most of the streets are pedestrian, though we saw a few parked cars on streets where they really didn’t seem they could have fit other than having been air-lifted there). We parked in the car-park and walked into the village.
Like Eze, it is the sort of place that is worth strolling around and taking lots of photographs. The Alps stretch out to the North and East, the sea glitters to the South, Nice winks and frolics before the coastline, and the Esterel massif hunches its back at you from the West.
We walked south and then around to the sun-drenched south-west side of the village, where we found a perched table in a perched cafe on the perched village. (Very perchy.) I drank Ricard – the most famous type of Pastis – and it glittered like gold in the sun; uncanny to drink such a thing!
We spent a few hours there like good faux-locals before ambling back to the car, driving the ‘scenic route’ (poor Iain felt very carsick) back to Les Adrets for some pasta, a roaring fire, and games of Dominoes.
The following day, New Year’s Eve Day, we decided to drive to St Tropez. It was the last major, close stop on our tour of the Cote D’Azur, and none of us had ever been. It, too, sounds like a tourist trap, and hell in summertime.
How 80,000 tourists can fit into such a small space, I can’t imagine, and never wish to experience. There were maybe 100 when we went that day, and all of them seemed congregated along the port, which for the most part was the only place open.
We had an exciting experience finding, and securing a parking space – I kept urging Dani not to hesitate or someone was going to nab the spot he was cautiously reversing into; finally, I leapt from the car to shoo a girl out of the way who was blithely trying to ‘hold’ the spot for someone behind us, despite the fact that Dani had his indicator on and was reversing. I don’t know if it was my American accent, but I had barely said, ‘I’m sorry, but we’re parking here,’ and she’d disappeared.
Parking crisis averted, we wandered around the port, along the beach, and through some small streets to a creperie, where we enjoyed sugar-and-lemon covered crepes. Heaven.
Shelley and I then ducked into a shop which was trying to clear its stock in preparation for the new season. I never would have thought I’d buy shoes in St Tropez, but I did – for €10! (Red flats, with a little flower on the front, if you’re wondering.)
More wandering along the seashore, more gawping at beautiful, pastel-coloured houses, more amazement that this place could – would – be heaving at its hinges in the high season.
Then, we drove home, stopping to snap photos of the unbelievable sunset.
Provence and the Cote D’Azur have a kind of mythical quality, with fields full of lavender, with artists and writers, pastel colours, gentle landscapes, and that famous ‘light’.
It’s the kind of calendar-and-poster beauty which has, alas, become a cliche. One is hard-pressed to believe it’s really like that.
It’s really like that.
The very sky has a bedroom quality; it stretches and rolls out above you. Caitlin was right: it is sexy. It is romantic. It is voluptuous.
Today, Saturday, I spent all morning sitting in the sunshine, drinking tea and reading Ulysses. It’s 7 January and I spent most of the day in the sun, reading. Outside.
Gunshots rang through the forest in the valley, the donkeys bawled and yodelled, the cats sneezed, bees checked out my stripy Breton sweater, and the birds laid a blanket of chorus through the shrubs, wondering when the hell I was going inside so they could get at the birdseed.
Upon returning to Les Adrets from St Tropez, we lit a roaring log fire and embarked on games of Dominoes, champagne-drinking, and general New Year’s revelry. This consisted, as the night wore on, of a sing-along on my ukulele, many phone calls and texts and skypes to friends and family, far too many renditions of ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ and a delicious dinner of raclette, melted in Verity’s raclette-warmer, with prosciutto, various cured meats, and boiled potatoes. We toasted the New Year in France, and then, an hour later, toasted it again on UK time.