Nice, Cannes and Monaco - Its nice to be riding by the seaside

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Thursday 17 July 2014

Nice, Cannes and Monaco - Its nice to be riding by the seaside

Well, what a difference sixty miles, a national border and a few toll roads can make after not enjoying Diano Marina very much. Heading west into France from the Italian Riviera on Monday, we were aiming to reach a small aire about 7 miles past Nice in a place called St Laurent du Var. Although our eventual plan was to turn north from here into the mountains, we didn't feel like driving too far in one day either so thought we'd check the aire out. If it was nice we'd stay, if not we'd move into the mountains straight away. Well it's now Friday morning and we are still here.

The journey into France was a little stressful as the rain came down hard on the twisting road, punctuated by tunnels connecting open sections with some panoramic views over mountains and coastline just visible through the mist. We'd decided to pay the toll and take the Italian motorway into France, making the journey to St Laurent du Var just over and hour long instead of 3 ½! The Italian toll was as expected but we did get stung by 2 more tolls in France, including one irritating one just before our exit (we now know to be a little more careful with our route planning next time). However, we soon reached our destination as the sun was returning and found a pleasant little aire a few kilometres from the sea with 5 other motorhomes already in residence. We always feel a little edgy arriving at a new place, but the 2 French couples we said hello to seemed relaxed so we parked up.

Taking an afternoon bike ride down to the nearby coast to get some air, we were both mesmerised and surprised by the sight before us. Having left the hustle and bustle of the crowded Italian coastline just hours earlier, the contrast was stark. Gone were the clutter of loungers, burger bars on the sand and cafes practically spilling onto the beach. Instead the beach was open, clutter free and bordered by a wide, pleasant boulevard with the occasional cafe dotted along. We got a completely different feeling from this section of the Cote d'Azur, watching the bright blue sea lapping the shore, immediately more relaxing and how we'd imagined the Riviera to be.

We discovered a wide, 2 lane cycle path heading both east and west from St Laurent du Var right alongside the beach, so we picked west and spent an hour riding slowly in the sunshine round the curving coastline to the town of Antibes. Looking back from where we had started, we got our first clear view of the French Alps rising up, jagged behind the calm of the water.

Later, back in St Laurent du Var, as the sun began to set we found ourselves amongst the early stages of Bastille Day celebrations. Dashing back to the motorhome to grab some food and a fleece (just in case, although it didn't get cold), and we made it back to the coast just as the band started to play an eclectic playlist from Wham to Rod Stewart hits! We wandered along the nocturnal local market, waiting for the centrepiece of the evening – fireworks time. At last the time came, and sitting on the beach we watched as the sky was lit up for 15 minutes or so with an impressive display set to music, also seeing other towns setting off their own around the curving coastline. After the light show we took our time, listening to the band (they were really quite good) and enjoying the festive, family atmosphere. Even though it was past 11 kids still played on the beach and old couples walked together. Very friendly and not at all threatening. We decided we should stay here a while.

The next day we were back on our bikes, this time heading east towards Nice and beyond towards Monaco. The sun was really shining strong today and even though we set off by 10am the temperature soon passed 30°C (it peaked at 34°C that day). Stopping a short while in Nice to admire the beautiful beach and stroll through the old town and markets, we continued on around the rolling coastline. 

We sweated uphill and cruised downhill enjoying the breeze, pushing on towards Monaco. The cycle path had ended soon after Nice and we had no idea if the roads were passable by bike, but fortune was on our side and the coast road was mostly quite pleasant, with most traffic on the higher motorway we could hear above in the hills.

Reaching Monaco by 2pm, we stopped for lunch overlooking an impressive harbour full of very big yachts and a cruise ship, before taking a walk through the town to Monte Carlo, tracking part of the Grand Prix circuit and visiting the Casino (just to look!). 

We were especially impressed by Monaco's old town, sitting on top of the cliff side with the busy harbour below, with its small traditional streets and cafes. We visited the Palace and the Cathedral where the royal family are buried, including the most famous royal, Princess Grace with a gravestone covered in flowers.

As the heat of the day started to ease we made our way back to our motorhome, tired but exhilarated by the beauty of the coastline we'd enjoyed, stopping only to wash and swim in the sea, which was a cool 21°C.

Wednesday was a more peaceful day as we rested through the afternoon, reading and sitting outside under the awning at the temperature again soared above 30°C, before taking another early evening ride to Nice to cool down a little. 

Nice in the evening was a lovely place to stroll, particularly the narrow streets of the old town hemmed in by towering colourful buildings and cafes on each side. It felt good just to take in the atmosphere, before sitting on the seafront watching the last of the hardy swimmers still splashing around as the sun set.

Still in no rush to move on yet from our peaceful, free aire we decided to try another longer ride along the
coast today, this time aiming for the famous Cannes which lies around 20 miles riding west of St Laurent du Var. Retracing our route from Monday evening to Antibes, we continued on around a stunning headland full of beautiful coves and places to swim from, before curving back inland to Juan les Pins. From here onwards the route did get a little hairy with more traffic on narrower roads and with temperatures back in the mid-30s we suffered in the heat. We had to stop to give Esther a couple of cold showers on the beach, fully clothed, so that she'd cool off and could carry on riding in the sun.

We did manage to reach Cannes by mid-afternoon, but perhaps because of the heat and the busier roads we felt a little shell shocked to take it in. There was certainly a lot of wealth on display with hundreds more beautiful yachts moored in the harbours and many brand name stores dotted amongst famous and impressive-looking hotels. The famous film festival venue we'd wanted to see was closed and had scaffold around it, which was disappointing. Struggling in the heat and busy bustle, we didn't stay too long before starting the sticky ride home.

Unfortunately we also got a bit lost having tried to take a short cut and ended up in a massive, hot traffic jam instead of the pretty headland. However, we made it safely back to the motorhome to have a very nice shower, food and a refreshing juice (using the inverter we bought the day).

Which brings me to this evening, on the eve of my 32nd Birthday. We feel very fortunate to have found this little stretch of idyllic coastline where we can stay for free. Soon it will be time to move on again into the mountains as planned and get our hiking boots back out of the cupboard, but until then we'll just have to make do with the sun and this peaceful stretch of coastline. 

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