The past 7 days I took my family to the south of France for a relaxed holiday in a villa in St. Paul de Vence. I had the idea a few weeks ago while I was working late at night in Shanghai and immediately searched for (and booked) a nice place not far from the Mediterranean coast. The house was quite big (4 bed rooms & 4 bath rooms), so that next to my wife and kids I was also able to bring my parents along and even my sister flew in for a couple of days.
St. Paul de Vence is a medieval fortified village, built on a hill overlooking the countryside and the coast. The beautiful place is quite touristic, but I guess that’s not unusual in the middle of the high tourist season. Even some Chinese tour groups have now included a visit to the place in their Europe-in-one-week itineraries – but most won’t meet them, because they only arrive at 8 AM when the average Western tourist is still sound asleep.
Because of the kids we could not make long tours, but we normally spent the morning sightseeing and relaxed in the afternoon when the kids had their afternoon naps. At night we sometimes prepared our own dinner and other days we went out for dinner in Nice, Cannes or one of the other places in the area.
The south of France is a great area, both in summer and in winter. From St. Paul de Vence you can be on the beach in 15 minutes in summer and on the ski slopes in 40 minutes in winter (the big resorts like Isola 2000 are about 1 hour further away). The climate is quite good as well, with lots of sunny days and warm (but not too hot) temperatures in summer.
We flew to Nice-Cote d’Azur airport, which is the 2nd busiest airport in France, and was also just 15 minutes from St. Paul de Vence. There we rented a car – a Opel Zafira, the only minivan that was still available and that fitted my family and luggage. Not the best car and with a relatively light engine, but okay for a couple of days. However, a convertible is definitively better suited for the southern French climate!
Among others we visited Monaco with the kids. The city state was only a 45 minute drive from our house, so you could theoretically drive there just for lunch. I always love Monaco, it’s one of the very few cities in the world where it’s normal to have a traffic jam in which at least half the cars are valued over USD 200,000. The boats are even better, especially the super yachts moored with their backsides to J.F. Kennedy Avenue (the road along the harbor front, famous for its chicanes during the Formula One races). I love to watch them, although I don’t think I would want to have one of them, even if I would be able to afford one. But if you happen to have a mega yacht you can show it off to the public for a mooring fee of less than USD 1000 per night (Monace is relatively ‘cheap’ in this regard), without tips of course – and without taking into account the cost of all the staff to take care of the boat…
Cannes and Nice are also nice places, but I prefer Monaco myself. We went to Nice twice with the kids and once to Cannes. I like both cities, but Cannes has the advantage of sandy beaches. I can’t understand how people can lay on the pebbles on the beaches in Nice for hours on just a thin towel… Although the high prices of beach chairs (EUR 20) and umbrellas (EUR 10) along the Boulevard des Anglais may explain some of this of course.
My favorite place during the trip was Tourettes-sur-Loup, another medieval village, a bit higher in the mountains. Despite being just a 10 minute drive from St. Paul de Vence there was hardly anybody there. I was very surprised that we had the walled city almost to ourselves. I guess that’s partly what made me like it so much, it was an unexpected gem that seemed (still) to be off the off the tourist track.
When we were not sightseeing we spent time at the pool, in the garden or on one of the terraces. The kids loved the pool, on most days the first thing they wanted to do in the morning was to jump into the it! They swim a lot in China too, but here they liked it a lot more it seemed.
I read a few books and magazines, but not as many as I hoped. I also talked a lot with my parents and enjoyed many good bottles of wine with my dad. It seems the local wines taste so much better there than at home. And the wines are much cheaper: you can get very decent wines for EUR 6-7 per bottle – in China I would not even dare to buy a bottle at that price. But because it was a holiday I mainly bought better wines, the assortment at the local wine dealer was excellent and we were able to try a lot of new wines.
I would not have mind to stay a bit longer, so maybe I’ll come back again in the near future. I realize I really like the Mediterranean coast in France – the nature, the beaches, the climate and the food. A good place to spend some more time reading and writing. I am sure it’s not the first time I say this about an area on my blog, I guess there are just too many great places on this planet.
I put a set of my holiday pictures on Flickr, you can find my Cote d’Azur trip pictures here.