As I mentioned in my article on Provence, we intended our trip in September 2015 to be Paris and Provence but in looking at the guide books which included the Cote d’Azur it seemed silly not to see this area which is about two hours from Avignon (or closer to 4 when you get lost in Avignon and then again in Frejus). I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did but I would totally go back. I would love to take my daughter and two grandsons. Obviously as a semi retired attorney and teacher I don’t fit into the Cannes and St. Tropez lifestyle of huge yachts and uber wealth but St. Raphael is fairly laid back (if you go in the fall) and there’s so much beautiful countryside within an easy driving distance.
If I ever do get back, hopefully with family, I would stay at least a week and split it between St. Raphael and perhaps a small house near Cannes. I know I just said I don’t fit into that lifestyle but as you’ll read in my journal, we met a guy from Switzerland while on the island of St. Marguerite who was staying in Cannes and learned from him that there are multiple ferries to the islands from Cannes plus a number of interesting museums and galleries.
September 8, 2015
A fun filled travel day spent mostly on the road from Avignon to St. Raphael. I asked the concierge for the best way to pick up the A7 then misread his map and went north for a half hour then had to circle back to Avignon where I ended up going the long way through Avignon south to the autoroute, almost getting hit in a traffic circle by a crazed, angry French woman.
Once on the A7, we had no problems getting to Aix and then to the A8 and the Frejus exit. We found some parking near the centro, stopped in the tourist office, then wandered to a little square where they were willing to let us share an antipasto plate plus have a glass of wine, even though they were getting ready to close.
Getting out of the parking turned out to be a challenge ‘cause there were 10 bazillion parents in the lot picking up kids from a school across the street plus I didn’t realize we had to pay first and had to back out from the exit, pay and then try again.
We headed back toward St. Raphael following the directions I’d printed out but then got in to a warren of streets that I couldn’t figure out. Luckily we ended up in the marina and the B&B owners had sent me directions from there so we found our way to du Soleil fairly easily.
Although it’s a 15-20 minute hike to the marina and center, it’s in a beautiful residential area with plenty of parking and a pretty garden/patio area. Our room is small but has a nice balcony and the owners turned out to be helpful and friendly, bringing us glasses for our wine and giving us information on where to eat and what to see. (You can read more about it in my Where to Stay post.)
Hotel du Soleil
And I loved St. Raphael. After settling in and cleaning up we walked to the marina where we ate at a little pizzeria–Francesco’s–which became our go to place every night, having dinner and watching the sun set.
September 9, 2015
Our second day we spent wandering through the residential area near du Soleil, down to the marina, then to the older part of the city, stopping first at Notre Dame then going into the centre to a market and a little archeological museum with a tower where we could see the whole city. I’ve written more in my Museums, monuments and interesting sights post but here is the gallery.
[As an aside to readers our B&B owners had tons of brochures of places to see in and around St. Raphael and you could spend days doing and seeing everything.]
We stopped along the marina on the way back at Le Dock, sharing an antipasto and a wine, then our usual routine of cleaning up, walking to Francesco’s, having a leisurely dinner, walking back and having a wine and smoke in the garden. (Think that was the night I had penne arrabiata at Francesco’s and the owner teased me all evening about being on fire.)
September 10, 2015
We decided to go to Grasse today and drove along the corniche/coastal highway to Cannes. It was spectacularly beautiful but crazy busy with cars and bikes. We planned to come back the same way but didn’t and now I wish we had ‘cause we didn’t get any pictures along the corniche.
It was fairly tricky getting into Grasse and finding parking (where once again I almost banged up the bumper) but we enjoyed the Fragonard museums and walking around the town.
(As an aside Sue almost got us arrested taking pictures of jewelry and despite my best efforts I could not get her to stop taking pictures in museums.) See more pictures in my Museums, monuments and interesting sights post.
Post trip postscript: I filled out a form at the Fragonard shops to receive ‘catalogues.’ While I didn’t receive a catalogue as such, I did receive e-mails. I was able to set up an account with Fragonard and found they have wonderful products that have made great gifts, especially for my daughter who loved their scents.
Instead of coming back along the corniche or through the esterel [as recommended by our B&B owner], I got a wild hair to drive west through a mountainous area then south into the main wine making area near the coast.
We stopped in a pretty little village of Les Arcs and after dealing with a rude woman in the tourist office found an enoteca our hotel owner recommended and had a great tasting with meats, cheeses, etc.
On the way out of town we finally found a gas station and filled up, then drove straight south to the coast just west of Frejus, stopping a couple of times for pictures.
I got us turned around a bit in Frejus but we finally made it back to the marina and the B&B. We had another lovely walk to the marina in the evening and a nice dinner @ Francesco’s.
September 11, 2015
We decided on a quiet day in St. Raphael and it was one of the best of the trip. We walked to the marina late AM and bought tickets for the afternoon boat ride to the island of Sainte Marguerite, then walked back to the old town and had an early lunch outside. [I had originally planned to do the boat ride to St. Tropez but it got mixed reviews on several sites and I’m glad we chose Île Sainte-Marguerite.]
We had a half hour to kill when we got back to the marina so went up to a park above the marina and I sat and Sue took pictures.
It took about an hour to get to the island and the views across the Mediterranean to the esterel and Cannes were absolutely spectacular.
And the island is gorgeous; dozens of trails crisscrossing the island, several interesting cemeteries including one where soldiers from the Crimean War are buried, a fort where supposedly The Man in the Iron Mask was held prisoner, and a pretty but pricey restaurant where we had 10 euro glasses of wine and talked with an odd little guy from Switzerland.
St. Marguerite Island
We were both reluctant to return and wished we could have had at least another hour there.
I think we both felt sad having our last dinner @ Francesco’s and I so wish I could bring Laura and the boys here.
The next day we drove into Nice and had a seriously difficult time finding the train station and car rental office which you can read about in my More European Driving Adventures post.