A Week in Provence

We enjoy not making any decision as to where we may be traveling until the last minute, something easy to do out of Nice. This is especially so in the spring and fall when the weather can be hit and miss. So we don’t make  reservations, (usually not a problem at this time of the year), but wait until a day or two before to see what the weather is like in a few different places, miles apart from one another. We were considering Beaujolais for the wine festival, Cinq Terre to explore an area of Italy we hadn’t seen yet, or the area around Marseille. Marseille won out. Looked very cold with a lot of snow north of Lyon, with some people without electricity because of the snow. And in Italy it was raining.

Marseille was cold but no rain, and we had mostly cloudy/sunny days. We began with two days at a gites in La Redonne east of Marseille. Wonderful, out of the way place that right on the coast, just 50 meters from the water and lovely view looking back at Marseille. It was a full apartment with two bedrooms and cost us under $100 euros.

We explored the coastline along the “sentier” coast trail, but the going was tough at times. A lot of stairs, difficult to find the trail at parts, and as it was a little windy with waves, some places were difficult to get past. Certainly not like what you’d find along the Cote d’Azur. But what we saw was quite spectacular and worthwhile. By car we visited the towns of Carry and Carro and enjoyed very much the coastal drive between the two with many summer homes and smaller villages. We went a little north and visited Martigues and although interesting, it is overshadowed by the industrial park next door and a freeway. We preferred the coast between Carro and Carry.

We spent a couple of days in Marseille, with the highlight being the new Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. Along with 30,000 m2 of ultra modern and very impressive exhibits, it also includes the Fort Saint-Jean, a historic monument overlooking the Vieux-Port dating back to the 12th century. The two buildings are linked by a footbridge. A definite DO if in Marseille. Our hotel was La Residence, situated right inside the port. Wonderful hotel, highly recommended. Great beds, super service, wonderful views of the port, and centrally located. Don’t think we could’ve done much better for the price.

We enjoyed lunch at L’Entrecote on the port and a great couscous at Kahena just off of the port for dinner. Otherwise we enjoyed just walking around the many pedestrian streets and  a climb up to Notre Dame for amazing views. The detail in the church are simply amazing and well worth taking in.

Next stop was to the village of La Cadier D’Azur above the town of Bandol to stay at the  hotel and Michelin Star restaurant Hostelerie Berard. This boutique hotel has 40 rooms that are located in different buildings situated around the main hotel building. There’s a pool, spa and two restaurants, one of which is a one-star Michelin. Very good service, well kept and spotless and comfy rooms and beds. We never tried out the spa, nor the pool as it was 10 degrees out and it was not heated.

On Monday we woke to beautiful blue skies and crisp, fresh air. After a wonderful breakfast at the hotel we headed south to tour the coastline. The first town we visited was Bandol. A seaside town with a very large marina in front, it was enjoyable but we knew we could find better. The next town over, heading back towards Marseille, was La Ciotat. This was an improvement, a very cute seaside village with old classic fishing boats moored in front, unfortunately part of the beauty is taken away by a mega-yacht marine service area next to it with huge cranes looming over the village. We enjoyed our visit but continued on for better yet. Leaving Ciotat we took the Route des Cretes, which is an amazing drive up into the hills that separate Ciotat and Cassis. On a spectacular day (which we had) you can see all the way down the coastlines looking both east and west. There are numerous stops with panoramic views. But do be careful of the cliffs; they are straight down in some places and no protection railings with are dangerous with the frequent fierce winds. But the views are worth it.

And so was the journey to the next town of Cassiz, which proved to be the best yet. A very well kept small fishing village that is lined with restaurants along the port. We had lunch at Le Restaurant  (Salade Chèvre de Chaud and Salade de figues avec chèvre de chaud et jambon parme), and it was wonderful. Wonderful setting, beautiful day, and great food. We walked all the streets and then started back to La Cadier. Along the way we stopped at a number of wine caves and chateaux for tasting, finally arriving back at our hotel with three cases of Bandol rouge and rosé. A simply superb day.

We finished off with dinner at our hotel, not at their Michelin restaurant but the bistro “Jef”. Food was wonderful. We shared a foccaccia bread with caramelized onions, pumpkin and goat cheese to start (superb) and then I had the entrecôte while Flo had the duck. Both plates were very good, and we finished up with a cheese plate. Our wine recommendation was a Languedoc, which we enjoyed, although we should have had Bandol being in that area. However, we had enough in the car to last us for awhile back home.

The next day we woke up early, had a café (no breakfast, we were still full from the night before) and started back. The sky was overcast and a bit of rain was falling. However, the closer we got to Nice the better the weather got. So good that we dropped off our suitcases and continued on the road east to La Turbie, a place we had been meaning to visit for some time. It sits above Monaco which majestic views of Cap Ferrat below it. A very cute and well-kept Medieval village with amazing Roman ruins on the hilltop. On the east side of the village you overlook Monaco. We had a delightful lunch at a restaurant right in front of the parking lot in town (forgot the name), washed down with a pichet of rouge. After lunch we decided to go over into Italy, following the coast, to pick up some aged parmesan and whatever else we found enticing. They are some amazing food stores in Ventimiglia. After that we were tired, so we took the A8 back to Nice and both had long hot showers to relax.

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