Notes from France

France expert, Suzanne Allswang, on the road

We love traveling in France, especially when can we enjoy time with our kids and grandkids. After landing at Nice airport, we visited Juan-les-Pins, a charming small tourist town on the Mediterranean, right next to Antibes. We stayed at the Grand Pavois hotel, an easy walk to the center of town and the beach.

After a couple of days gathering the rest of the family, who were flying in from one place and another, we drove to Salernes, a small village in the hills above Toulon. We settled into our lovely rented house, with a big yard and heated pool, isolated in a small valley. Every morning, as usual, my husband and I went out early for bread, croissants, pain de chocolat (for the children), etc. for breakfast, supplemented by great cheese and fruit from the local market.

Salernes, like most towns and villages, has a weekly market featuring local food and crafts, plus, in many cases, clothing, housewares, baskets, etc. We visited several markets, eating on site and bringing lots of stuff back to the house. Great fun.

Then we happened to visit Draguinan, only to find that all the roads were blocked because the Tour de France was to come through that day. We drove around side roads, followed advice (some good and some terrible), and managed to park within walking distance of the town. It was exciting, with very large, enthusiastic crowds.

Before the cyclists arrive, there is always a “caravan”—cars and trucks of various sponsors and companies of one kind or another, all of them throwing cheap souvenirs, which viewers wrestle to get hold of (our grandchildren got very good at this). When the bikers finally passed through, it was a brief but exciting experience.

Every day, after visiting another town or village, we ended up back at our house, where the kids could swim and the adults relax. Then we would cook dinner with great stuff from the market or go out to a local restaurant. 

Quickly, the week ended, half the kids went off to Switzerland, the others to Prague, and my husband and I drove north to Moustiers-Ste Marie, a beautiful hillside town and the entrance to the Gorges du Verdon (also called the Grand Canyon of Verdon), a magnificent canyon with the Verdon River at its bottom. We spent a couple of days visiting the village and driving along the canyon, and stayed at a lovely little hotel called La Ferme Rose. As usual in France, we ate very well.

The weather was getting very hot, and continued that way for the next two weeks; it slowed us down somewhat, but since we had planned for a leisurely trip, it was not a real problem. We drove on to Nimes, a city with the oldest standing Roman amphitheater in France, and other ancient structures that are well worth seeing.  We stayed at the Novotel, right in the city center, with a great view of the amphitheater, very striking at night. Nearby is the Pont du Gard, a still-standing Roman aqueduct, and also Uzes, a charming and historically important town, very popular with tourists.

After two days in Nimes, we drove along the coast, to Narbonne, a lovely town of about 50,000, close to the Canal du Midi; then on to Collioure, a delightful beach town near the Spanish border, and then to Perpignan, where we saw wonderful Bastille Day fireworks. Each of these cities/towns has features of great interest, from Roman and medieval times, and modern ones as well. Much to see and do, and to eat, and to shop—my great love.

Our rule for ourselves: “never stay anywhere for less than two nights,” so that you have at least one full day to explore; the more nights the better. We covered relatively few miles on this trip, making the driving easy and side trips possible. With a cell phone, we could change course at will, and call ahead to find accommodations.

From Perpignan we took an easy train ride to Paris on the TGV, and stayed once again at the lovely Hotel Lutetia on the left bank. We have been to Paris many times, and never run out of things to see and do; it is our favorite city in the world. We met with friends, found a previously unseen museum (Musée de l’Immigration), wandered, and shopped. We plan to travel there again this year.

Suzanne Allswang