People travel to the south of France for the sight of the super-yachts, super-cars and super-stars. While it is definitely fun to experience the glamour of Cote D’Azur during high-season, it is without a doubt an overpriced and over-hyped affair.
I personally prefer to visit the south of France off-season. During autumn and spring, the weather is still warm but the tourists are gone and no one will think to charge you 20 EUR for a bottle of sparkling water.
This time we went for a long weekend in mid-November and enjoyed 26 degrees, cool rose and a backdrop of cloudless skies. And not a greasy body turning like a roasting chicken in sight.
A Perfect Day Off-Season
We would start our day with a quick dash to Banette – a bakery in Beaulieu-Sur-Mer that makes the best croissants in the world.
Nearby a farmers market is bustling and across the road old men sit in a café sipping on their morning espressos.
After a few minutes inside the bakery, I walk out with two big bags filled with croissants, pains au chocolat, pissaladières and warm baguettes, already chomping at the end of one.
Lunch in Villefranche
Later in the day, we drive to Villefrache for lunch. We park the Vespa at the end of the bay and stroll the harbour, studying the menus hanging outside. Eventually, we settle down in Oursin Bleu. The tables stand lining the pavement, about half a meter from the water. Fresh sea bass and turbot are the catch of the day.
Around us, families and couples are occupying the few busy tables. A lady comes with her dog and the waiter brings them a little bowl with water. A fisherman is slowly rowing towards his fishing boat, while the waiter gallantly pours rose into our glasses. The sun is warm and I can smell the sea. No super-yachts, no revving engines, no smell of boat fuel. Just the way God intended.
Monaco To Ourselves
We spend the following day at the Monaco Yacht Club. We get there just after brunch, order a bottle of rose and lay absorbing the November sun amidst white leather and sun-kissed decking.
The afternoon stretches out. The pool area empties completely and I get the sense that we have the whole of Monaco to ourselves. Occasionally, I hear laughter and screams from the funfair down at Port Hercule. Inside, someone is playing the piano and singing opera. “What is the occasion?” I ask. “It’s a beautiful day,” I am told whimsically. On the surface of the pool, sunlight shimmers in agreement.
South of France to Italy
On Sunday, we venture out to Ventimiglia, a little coastal town just across the border of Italy, in search of pasta and pizza.
I love going to the family-run La Vecchia Napoli. They serve mouth-watering pasta (my absolute favourite is the seafood and sepia ink linguini). Their pizza dough is so perfectly thin, that the cheese drapes down deliciously as you lift a piece off the plate.
They also grill fresh seafood and offer house wine at 7 EUR for the litre. The service is friendly, if not entirely professional, but there is something homely about the familiarity.
It may not be everybody’s cup of tea. However, if you speak any Italian and feel like some real nopoletana pizza, it is a good one to try.
Anyone who says that South of France is pretentious probably has not seen it off-duty. My South of France, my sweet, sweet, South of France is more Bridget Bardot in a loose shirt and slacks than Paris Hilton in a bikini and bling. So don’t be throwing shade at my baby if you haven’t met her.
Every time I come back to the South of France, I know that I could live here. With any luck, I would have a nice house to rent out to the sheiks and oligarchs during high-season. Then, I could retreat into the sleepy villages of les Alpes-Maritimes that keep vigil over the overwhelmed coastline during the summer months.