Tour De France – McGlynn/Harwood Edition

Going to the South of France has been a dream of mine ever since Joe has been taking his annual trip to Cannes for work. He would come back gloating about the amazing seafood, bottles of magnum rosé that flowed like water, and the pristine beaches. Sounds pretty much like heaven, right? So when we found out that our friends Marc & Sam were on the same page, we knew that planning a trip was on the top of our Summer travel list.

There are soooo many incredible places to see along the French Riviera. It was pretty hard for us to choose just a few towns, but with three full days to take advantage of, we picked a route along the coast that hit all our top spots.

Our first stop would be a very small village called Cassis. About a 40 minute drive from Marseille, this town is apparently one of the best kept secrets of the area. It’s less touristy & glamorous compared to many of the other cities in the South of France, but what it lacks in over-priced cocktails, it makes up for in beauty.

On our way we stopped for dinner in a very tiny inlet at a restaurant called L’Auberge du Corsaire Chez Paul. This restaurant was super local, everyone was speaking French, and luckily the table behind us heard us struggling to communicate with our waiter, and stepped in to help us interpret the menu. We ended up with a seriously DELICIOUS meal of grilled octopus salad, fried calamari, spaghetti vongole, fresh caught local daurade, and a pizza! With happy bellies, we got back on our journey to Cassis. It was super late when we arrived to our hotel, Royal Cottage. We had some comical air conditioning issues, but once we realized we were doomed to sleeping in the heat, we finally called it quits knowing we had an early morning ahead of us.

So if you Google Cassis, you will quickly learn that their claim to fame is the calanques.  We read so much about The Calanques National Park and how beautiful the beaches and views were. Calanques are very step & narrow inlets which house some pretty desolate and majestic beaches – certain are only reachable by kayak! The cliffs are strewn with every type of flora & fauna imaginable and are set against the incredible turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. The four of us were pretty clueless about what we were getting into. The first reason being that there is almost zero signage telling you where to go, and second, the signs that they do have are so confusing. There are no actual words just coloured paths, so you can imagine how that turned out…

We did the first hike, about an hour, to the first beach. It was so stunning! It was tucked away and secluded, and almost looked fake. There were a good amount of people hiking, sun-bathing, and even swimming! Based on how easy the hike was, we decided we definitely wanted to see the further beach. Apparently this was the nicest one, and although we did read that the path was rockier and a bit more strenuous than the last, we did not know what we were in for.

We started out cruising right along the edge of the cliffs, catching amazing views of boats coming in an and out of the cove, but as we got further along, we started noticing many hardcore hikers. I’m talking groups of 20+ with serious footwear and hiking polls. We chalked it up as them being ‘old’ and carried on. Fast forward about two hours later, and we’re about to lose our minds. We keep following what we think is the right path to this damn beach, but it keeps taking us further inland. We assume it’s right because all of the jutting cliffs make it seem like you have to go in before you can come back out.  Although we all kind of wanted to die, the longer we walked, the more stunning our surroundings became. We finally get to a point where we see more people all headed in the same direction. Must be it. But when we get to the edge of the path, it’s almost a straight angle down. Like literally you have to hang on to rocks and trees and kind of slide but kind of hike. At least when you’re not professionals,  sliding is definitely an option. We certainly struggled for a bit, and if one more person told us we weren’t wearing the right shoes…. I was going to scream. But we came this far, we had to do it…

And we did! Once we finally got to the flat path, we were speed walking. We were hot, sweaty, thirsty, hungry, tired, cranky… all of that. But when we finally stepped foot on that beach, it was all worth it. This could quite possibly be one of the coolest, most magical places we have ever been in Europe. I’ve never seen a beach like this! Again, it looked like it was out of the movie. It was in between the most narrow inlet and the water could not have been more blue, green, clear, and sparkling. It reminded me of the mermaid scene in Peter Pan (don’t make fun…). Pictures really do not do this place justice. We were about ready to collapse at this point, so we took our time to relax here; we had a nap, the boys went for a dip, and Sam and I did our fair share of picture taking. Although none of us wanted to admit it, we knew the walk back was haunting us. Keep in mind we were completely unprepared for a 10 mile hike that lasted 5+ hours. We had no water & no food. The boys desperately tried to bargain with a kayaker to take us back, but no luck. I’ll spare the details, but we eventually made it to the entrance and were kicking ourselves along the way…. apparently we took the long scenic route on the way there. Our hike back only took about an hour. Lesson learned: get a map and pack snacks.

We were understandably starving at this point, so we made one pit stop for some food before journeying to our next stop. What does one deserve after an extra long, hot day in the sun? Ice cream of course. If I recall correctly, I think Joe even got two….

We arrived in Saint Tropez just as the sun was going down. It looked too beautiful to miss, and after about 1.5 hours in the car, we pulled in to a random beach to catch it in person. Our hotel happened to be right across the street, which worked out perfect. We stayed at the super cute Hotel Mouillage. We were all exhausted, so after some quick naps & showers, we were off to dinner. We headed to Places des Lices, which is Saint Tropez’s infamous central square that is lined with the most charming restaurants and shops. I personally expected the area buzzing with people, but we were met with pure desolation. Like literally, I don’t even think we saw any people other than employees. We went for dinner at Brasserie Des Arts, which apparently turns in to a happening place after 11pm. We told ourselves we were just early and it would start to get busy later on. Ummm nope. It’s actually funny thinking about it now, I feel like we ate our dinner in dead silence, haha! Regardless, the food was super tasty. We shared tuna ceviche and I had a totally decadent chicken stuffed with cheese & truffle. Sami had really good truffle gnocchi. It was truffle overload. And although we had high hopes of going out that night, I think we were all a bit relieved we were able to go home and go to bed after our grueling day of unexpected physical activity.

We woke up the next day and decided to just head out on a walk. We went back through the Place des Lices (even nicer in daylight!), and strolled through the main area of Saint Tropez. We also walked up to the Hotel Byblos, a super posh hotel that seriously defines the Côte d’Azur: super luxe and very colourful. We went inside and had a coffee at their restaurant right on the pool. It was so peaceful, I didn’t want to leave! But Joe gently reminded me that the only thing we could afford there is a coffee, and it was time for us to carry on. We stumbled into the older, historic part of the town with winding cobble stone streets, blossoming bougainvillea, and the most charming and rustic shop fronts. It was literally my picture perfect image of the South of France.
 We eventually made it down to the harbor which was surprisingly lively. Where were all these people the night before??? We had a very French breakfast at Senequier, a nice cafe right on the water, excellent for people and yacht watching. After multiple coffees and croissants, we took a lovely stroll around the port to get a bit more up close and personal with all of the boats.
 The weather that day was perfect. It was about mid 60’s and totally sunny. Instead of spending time driving in the car, we wanted to make the most of the glorious weather and headed to Plage de Tahiti. This is a gorgeous large & sandy beach that was a very popular celeb hang-out in the 70’s, when the South of France was gaining steam with high profile clientele. We were greeted by obnoxious orange umbrellas, and although they made me cringe slightly, I couldn’t help but love how they also momentarily took me back to those super retro and hard partying days of the rich and famous.  Marc got the party going by ordering us all €5 glasses of rosé (seriously as much as a bottle of water!) and we spent a few hours lounging and dipping our feet in the cool water. It was sooo hard to pull ourselves away from such a perfect set-up, but Cannes was calling our names…
 About an hour and a half later, we arrived to bumper to bumper traffic along the main road through Cannes. What could possibly be going on??? 15 minutes and one Google search later, we realized it was the Cannes Film Festival. Literally Cannes’s most notorious event was taking place that day, and we decided to show up thinking it would be just as peaceful & pleasant as our last two stops… not quite!
We finally agreed that just parking the car and walking would be our best bet. It really was the best plan, because we got to walk along La Croisette, the palm lined promenade adjacent to the beach in Cannes which is home to a multitude of luxury five star hotels, endless couture shops, and gorgeous seafront restaurants. Cannes was seriously bumping – the boys did their yacht stalking, trying to get on every single one, we got caught up in some sort of parade of old cars and costumed dancers, and we literally had to fight through crowds of people who were lining up to see the stars on the red carpet of the Palais.
As mentioned earlier, Joe is pretty much a Cannes regular, so he was determined to take us to his favourite place to grab a bite, The Carlton. They have a terrace right on the street, directly across from the water that is certainly a place to “be seen” in Cannes. It was loud, crowded, and brimming with people who were definitely important. We managed to snag a table and had a feast of the BEST chicken fingers I have ever had in my life and multiple bottles of rosé (it was a stressful hour or so navigating these insanely packed streets!). We seriously had so much fun hanging outside in the sun, sipping our wine, and doing some excellent people watching. Joe in particular excelled at that last point as he ran into Tilda Swinton AND Jake Gyllenhaal on line for the bathroom. The ONE time I didn’t have to pee………. UGH!
 We were now ready to take the journey to our final destination, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. We all agreed this is where we want to spend majority of our trip, so we planned to spend our final two days & nights of the trip here.
The drive along the coast was beautiful, and about an hour and a half later, we arrived at our hotel, Hotel Delcloy, right at the very beginning of Cap Ferrat. The first thing we did after dropping off our things was take the car and go for a drive to see this beautiful place. It was seriously amazing – magnificent harbors with yachts the size of small homes, gorgeoues hotels oozing with luxury, and when we took at turn into some of these neighbourhoods off the main road – OMG the mansions were incredible. It was also the perfect time of year to come because all of the flowers were just starting to bloom, so everywhere you turned you were smacked with a burst of pink or red florals growing over the walls that surround these billion dollar homes. As the day was coming to an end we decided that the best way to celebrate our first day was to catch the sunset from THE tip of Cap Ferrat. We picked up a couple of bottles of rosé and headed down the winding streets as far as we could go before parking the car and hopping out for a bit of a trek. We climbed down a path along the rocks that stretched all the way out to the tip and got there just as the sun was going down. The sunset was the most vivid fiery red-orange colour, made even more magical by the illuminated boats sparkling in the harbour in front of us. It was truly one of the most memorable moments of our trip.
We finally worked up an appetite and headed down to the Port De Beaulieu for some dinner. We figured that now that it was Friday night, maybe there would be a bit more people out… but that was not really the case. We ate at The African Queen, and had some delicious fish & salads. After multiple glasses of wine, we were all exhausted and decided to call it a night. We needed a good night’s rest as we had quite the adventure planned the next day.
 We woke up bright and early the following morning and headed to a small town next door called Villefranche-sur-Mer. Literally, the most colourful, charming, and picturesque fishing village that you only see in movies and on Instagram. It was seriously soooo cute with all of the flowers and boats and cafes. While I was busy running in circles trying to take as many pictures as possible, the boys were busy securing our boat for the day! We picked up some snacks and bevs and were ready to hit the water, with Captain Harwood leading the way. It was sooooo fun out on the ocean, and although super windy and choppy, we had such a great time cruising around.  We went all the way around the tip of Cap Ferrat and got to see so many cool views of the coastline. We saw sooo many more insane mansions and yachts – pretty mesmerizing but at the same time depressing, haha! We anchored for a bit and spent some time having lunch and swimming. It was a perfect day on the water!
Afterwards we took a drive to Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, pretty much the nicest and most most luxurious hotel in Cap Ferrat (and probably that I have ever been to!). We walked through their gorgeous lobby and down through the gardens. Across the street is then another large garden and a winding staircase leading down to their pool area. The pool is situated right on edge of the cliff, overlooking the ocean – a seriously stunning set up. Unfortunately when we sat down to have lunch and saw that the cheapest thing was around €30, we got right back up. This was after they told us we couldn’t use the pool until we purchased a sunbed for €150 per person…. ha! Clearly this wasn’t the place for us. On our way out we took the hotel’s own funicular, definitely a first in my book!
We wouldn’t let one hotel defeat us, so we headed to another that was recommended by a friend, for attempt #2 at a poolside lunch session. This was the beautiful, Hotel Royal Riviera, where we had a super delicious lunch and yet again, multiple bottles of rosé. The pool was tucked away in their gardens and was the most relaxing way to end our afternoon.
 We went down to the main port in Cap Ferrat to have dinner and drinks that night. It was just about twilight when we got there so walking around the boats with the sun starting to go down made for the prettiest lighting. We had dinner al fresco at La Goelette and then headed for one last drink at La Voile d’Or – a Cap Ferrat institution and over the top hotel overlooking the port. It was totally old school French with velvet armchairs and gilded wallpaper. We totally stuck out but it was worth it just for the pictures.
The next day we woke up early and headed to Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa & Gardens, the most gorgeous pink seaside villa and elaborate gardens built by the wealthy Rothschild family in the early 1900’s. We didn’t spend much time inside the mansion, but outside in the nine themed gardens, our favourite being the Rose and Florentine sections. This place seriously captures the luxurious lifestyle of the French Riviera, and no matter who you are, you’re bound to be impressed by this out of this world estate.
At this point we had to say goodbye to the Harwood’s as it was time for them to catch their plane back to the States.  Joe and I had a few more hours to kill, so we journeyed over to Paloma Beach for a leisurely afternoon of swimming and sunbathing. We ate super fresh salads & sipped on lemon juice while seriously laying in a lounge chair with the most amazing views.  It was a pretty perfect ending to our trip.
The Côte d’Azur is an awesome place with so many cool towns and beautiful beaches. We only got to put a small dent in it, but have already made a pact with Marc & Sam that we would definitely do a reunion trip in the future to check out some more locations. These four days along the southern French coast certainly gave us all a little bit of extra joie de vivre that only an amazing holiday can do!
Cassis
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