Day 9 – St Tropez and packing away!

We decided to leave the south and start heading home on Monday because our money was fast running out.  I had under budgeted by a

Busy striking camp!

longway and for several reasons, the euro exchange rate being the main culprit plus the high costs of food and pitches on the Med, we now needed to head home.  We packed the kids off down to the beach and started to strike camp, taking down the pup tents and generally sorting out.  Around lunch time we stopped for an ice-cold beer at the bar and strangely enough for the first time all holiday we relaxed completely, so much so that when the kids returned they found us both chilling and relaxing in the sun enjoying the peace.

The peace didn’t last long so we set off for St Tropez using the back road to Ste Maxime and the usually horrific coast road around the bay, I say usually because for the first time in years we sailed along the coast road, through Port Grimaud, Cogolin and into St Tropez with hardly any traffic at all – strange!  We parked in the port and had a wander around the town and the harbour and then stopped for a drink.  What was i thinking?  Stopping for a drink in St Tropez is like filling your car up with liquid gold – very expensive! 4 colas and 2 coffees cost 28 euro, almost £28 at todays exchange rate.  I had quite obviously taken leave of my senses and we returned to the car before we became stranded in St Tropez with no money for diesel home. To add insult to injury the route home was as jam-packed as ever and we crawled along among the Ferraris’ and Bentleys in our little old Fugly, they were so obviously impressed with our daisy stickers!

Note to self:Take a flask or remortgage when next visiting St Tropez.

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Day 8 – Le Dramont

  Le Dramont is situated near Agay on the otherside of St Raphael from St Aygulf.  I have camped here a few times and decided today was the day we’d all go down to the beach there and spend the day snorkelling and clambering over the rocks.

Just before the Campeole campsite is a free public car park leading to the public beach.  The beach has toilets, a snack shack and life guards.  You can set up camp in the shade of the trees on the grassy bit or pitch your sun shade on the sandy strip of beach or just camp out on the pebbles and rocks.  We went first to a rocky bit of beach and later moved to the shade under the trees.  I like this beach because it’s a bit more interesting than some, there is a small island and boats are often moored up in the shelter of the cove; snorkelling is good fun around the rocks as is a spot of rockpooling.  The kids all put on their sea shoes and started clambering around the rocks and snorkelling.  Later in the day Ollie and Beta spotted a few jelly fish ad spent the next hour or so tracking them in the sea, Ollie even managed to avoid getting stung which is a first.

We spent a pleasant few hours on the beach, about Bruces limit and then returned to camp.  I wanted to go into the village but some occupants of the car were being miserable so I just took the least two miserable beings with me and dropped the others off at camp.  We then went into St Aygulf and sat at a beachside bar eating ice-cream and watching the world go by.  We had decided that we would eat out tonight as a treat so I looked at the prices in the restaurants on the way back to the car, I found one considerably cheaper on the main road between the beachside and the main village, unfortunately I’ve forgotten what it was called.

We all returned later and enjoyed a main course, drinks and wine for 6 of us for 83 euro, which wasn’t too bad a price but a little bit reckless considering our money was fast running out.  Of course no day goes by without a little bit of drama in our family and today was no exception.  As we sat eating our meal a Golden Labrador  that we had seen earlier came sniffing by.  It was obvious she had just had pups but she looked neglected, hungry and lost.  This is where the drama begins because a few members of our party wanted to take her home!! The restaurant gave us the number of the police, who were completely useless and gave me a telephone number so quickly that I hadn’t time to write it down, then they hung up.  We fed her some biscuits and cheese we had in the car and gave her some water and then I turned into the wicked witch of the north and made a decision – we couldn’t take her back to camp or home in case she was suckling puppies, she seemed to know the area and the local people and police were best placed to help her, she looked thin but not emaciated so I said we had to leave her.  I stand by my decision but may have lost a million brownie points – I hope she’s OK.

Day 7 – Gorge Du Verdon

We spent yesterday drying out, on the beach, arguing, going to the supermarket, arguing and making endless meals and snacks for the hungry herd.  Wednesday (Day 5) it rained and thundered most of the morning and drizzled all afternoon but yesterday and today it has been sunny and warm – bliss.  We decided to take the canoe and the kids up to the lake at the end of the Gorge Du Verdon, it is about 2 hour drive.

As we were driving and just about to take the twisty, undulating road along the Gorge, I noticed the fuel light come on – no matter we pulled over for a toilet stop and noticed a fuel station around the bend and this is where it all started.  Firstly the public loo’s were the hole in the ground type which I’ve never really discovered the best technique for, so I squatted and as I was going about my business the door burst open and a fit, young, male cyclist stood in the door looking at me squatting above the hole.  He apologised and swiftly moved on, I merely died at the thought of what had just happened.  The petrol station had long since closed down and was just a bare shell of its former self and so we trudged on to the next town Aguines in search of fuel.

View from a bridge on the road to Aguines

As the fuel light flashed and warned I tried coasting (burned clutch smell) and rolling out of gear (burned brakes smell) and even rocking the car to help it up the hills in order to preserve fuel.  We arrived at Aguines with the fuel indicator below the red but no petrol station.  We asked and were told 6km to Salles, I had no option but to roll all the way down to Salles whereupon we all cheered when we saw the little fuel station.  Then the Gasoile said Ferme but the lady showed us the lorry pump, then the credit card wouldn’t work but luckily debit card did (hello overdraft fees) but eventually situation reverted to normal as we found a beach by the lake in Salles.  We all sat down for a picnic beneath the shade of a tree looking out over the most tourquoise looking lake I have ever seen, truly stunning.

We enjoyed a lovely few hours splashing about on the lake, Bruce and I even went for a row in the canoe (Bruce rowed, I laid back in the sun).  We had a couple of coffees at the beach shack which we loved as it was playing some great reggae and we could chill out in the laid back chairs.  There were people around but it didn’t feel crowded or packed, perfect!  If you don’t happen to have your own canoe there are boats (manual) of all descriptions to hire from small sailing boats to Herbie pedaloes with slides.  Incredibly parking is free along the beaches in Salles, in fact I haven’t found a car park yet in France that you have to pay for.

We headed back for the coast after what had been an interesting and eventually pleasant day, I have wanted to visit the Gorges for years and never mad it, I’m glad I have now.

 

Day 4 – Lac De Saint Cassien

Canoe time!!!!! In an effort to escape the masses and try out the canoe I looked on the map and found a large inland lake – Lac De St Cassien.  With directions from George we took the “scenic” route through pine forests and up twisting roads with dramatic views and death trap corners.  Oh how we all laughed at the lack of health and safety as we rounded another corner with a sheer drop and either no or a pathetic attempt at a barrier.  We arrived at the lake and found a lay-by to park in and set off for the beach, after inflating the canoe, this time with the aid of 12v electricity from the car.

From the picture you can see that it is a beautiful lake, the sun was shining and the kids were immediately in the water with the canoe.  My first attempt at getting into the canoe without getting wet ended in disaster as I tipped the boat and fell in but with a few instructions from Oliver and stern words from Beta who simply did not want to end up in the water, I managed to clamber aboard.  After a little paddle around I asked Oliver what was the best way to get out, big mistake, he said “like this” and tipped me out!!! Although their were’nt many people dotted around the small beaches I was conscious that a fat 43-year-old could on no account look elegant or graceful whilst boarding an inflatable canoe so he probably did me a favour by tipping me out.

Bruce enjoying a coffee by the lake

Time for a coffee!  Fortunately for us there was a small shack just along the beach where Bruce enjoyed an espresso and I enjoyed an ice-cold can of beer overlooking the lake.

After our little coffee break and a picnic including the usual baguette, fromage, meat, cous cous and drinks, we decided it was time to leave and head for Cannes.  So we waved goodbye to the tranquility of the lake, the pedaloes, the beach shack and the pine clad slopes and headed for the city – idiots!

Cannes is as busy as it gets in the South of France, it’s a nightmare to get into and even more of a nightmare to get out of, especially with Fugly, hills, traffic jams and a smell of burned clutch.  Once there we headed away from the harbour with its big boats and yachts and found a small bar to enjoy a drink which they served with olives, radishes, tomatoes and peanuts.  18 euros for 6 soft drinks is a fair price in Cannes but it hurts me so much!  In fact the whole budget has completely evaporated, despite my best intentions, as the prices down here are the same or more than they are in the UK, luckily we’ve found the Lidyll in Frejus.

Day 3 – The Beach & The Campsite

Day 3 – Monday – The Beach:

After a good nights sleep we all felt a little more human.  I had a shower and checked out the facilities; there are ample shower blocks dotted around and all facilities are spotless, no matter what time of day you use them, although the loo roll runs out on occasion so best to take an emergency supply.  The kids were keen to get down to the beach which is 2 miles away down a bumpy track that Fugly had struggled with the day before.  There are alternative ways to the beach in the car but these are a lot longer and inevitably mean sitting in a traffic queue (these can’t be avoided on the coast in the height of summer and are a pain in the buttt, I don’t do queues, so much so that on the way down the one campsite in Regluss that might have had spaces I walked away from after I had stood in reception for 15 minutes in a queue).

We decided to use our bikes and pumped up tyres in readiness.  I have not been on my bike for a long time and a few things had seized up, like the rear brakes, but no matter, I was not going fast enough to use them.  The route down was bumpy but it didn’t take very long and was relatively traffic free.  There is an excellent cycle track along the coast and was so much better on my bottom when we got to it.  After the kids had been sun creamed up we left them with provisions (baguette, meat, drinks, 10 euro, sun cream) we left them to have a coffee at the beach bar, the coffee was awful as it had been stewing in the filter pot for probably the last few days.  So we mounted our cycles and rode to the village of St Aygulf where we found a sandwich bar on the road island and enjoyed coffee and a Salad De Chevre – yum yum and double yum.  Even in a touristy hot spot where they don’t really need to make an effort it seems the French have such a respect for their food that they wouldn’t dream of serving up anything that’s second-rate or unfresh.  We left the kids on the beach all day, well most of the kids, George came back to the campsite and we then went off to Lydl for more provisions, the prices were fairly comparative to home so no major shock there.  When the kids returned we had a big pot of pasta and home-made tomato sauce made in the bowl thing on the Cadac – thanks Mum and Dad for lending us the Cadac it’s a brilliant bit of kit.  We then fell asleep listening to the entertainment – a music quiz – and slept incredibly well once more.

During the day I had a chance to have a quick chat with Veronique about the floods last year.  As she was speaking she became visibly emotional and it bought it home to me how frightening it must have been, she had watched her husband and children swimming for safety and witnessed the helicopters rescuing people from roofs of mobile homes in the campsite next door, Etoile D’Argent.  The river is situated at the bottom of the site and there is launching and mooring facilities, it flows calmly down to the sea passing a few campsites as it does.  It was this river, the Argen, that rose and engulfed the campsites in June last year rendering them all useless for the 2010 season.  The owners and local tradesmen must have worked extremely hard to transform  a site that was flooded up to above head height (there are markers dotted around the site to indicate flood levels) to the pristine and well kept site that stands today.  This is the first season since the floods and obviously one of mixed emotions, I hope Veronique, her family and anyone involved in last years floods don’t have to witness anything like it again.

Kylas Coolest Camping Part 3 – The Med

This isn’t the best photo of the Med, but I am in it (the dot in the middle) and as soon as I saw it today I remembered being there this time last year, bobbing about in the warm sparkling waters of the Med with the sun beating down.  If the photo was a bit clearer you might see St Tropez in the far left of the picture, you’d also see that the blurry yachts and boats  quite obviously belong to the rich and famous and finally you would see that I am in the sea with my beloved green foam banana which has followed me around France for the last 10 years.   The Cote D’Azur has long been a playground of the rich and famous but what is perhaps less well-known, it’s also a campers paradise with campsites that cater for all tastes and some situated right on the beach cuddled up with the millionaires yachts and villas.

Port Grimaud:

Port Grimaud fulfilled the architect Francois Spoerys’ dream to build a Mediterranean village, inspired by the architecture of the area, on a former boggy wasteland.  Construction began in the mid 1960’s and the result is what we see today – Bougainvillea covered pastel coloured villas alongside canals interspersed with leafy squares and the brightly coloured sun shades of restaurants and shops.  It’s a great place to sit people watching as you sip a coffee by the canal or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, hire a little electric boat to explore the canals in.  Be warned though, the steering on the boats takes some getting used to and we’ve often passed the time, standing on a bridge, watching the electric boats weave from side to side narrowly avoiding some expensive looking yachts!

Further information can be found on this site: http://www.grimaud-provence.com/english.php

Along the beach towards Ste Maxime are 3 campsites, each with beach front pitches, where you can walk 20 paces from your pitch and be swimming in the sea.  These are great sites for a beach holiday but expensive and extremely busy in the height of summer, so I’m not going to tell you about them, instead I’m going to tell you about Camping A La Ferme which we happened upon last year when just the 2 of us got 1 week child free and headed off for France in a banger of a Renault Clio and a 3 man dome tent from Tescos’.

The site is situated just a 10 minute walk from the main coast road in Port Grimaud and the biggest campsite Praire De La Mer.  Despite this you could be a million miles away from the general chaos that is the coast road in summer; the campsite is set among the vine yards slightly inland from the coast and it is owned by a very proud and meticulous owner who keeps all facilities spotless.  The pitches aren’t massive but they all have shade and other than the ample shower/toilet facilities and a very small office, there is very little else on this small site.  It is cheaper than the big sites, especially for couples and a perfect oasis of calm at the end of an action packed day at the beach.

The owner’s name is Claude Ferrero, he doesn’t speak English so polish up your French if you want to book ahead.

Address;    Saint-Pons-Les-Mures, 83360 Grimaud.

Tel: 04 94 56 03 30

Port Grimaud is not to be confused with the town of Grimaud, the old town situated on a hillside inland.  This is well worth a visit, the photo (right) shows a lovely restaurant situated in the typical Provencal town with narrow meandering streets and alleyways and old stone houses with brightly painted shutters.  I took this photo just before the wine started having an effect, subsequent photos’ mainly showed peoples feet on the cobblestones.

Bruce (left) on the front of a friends speed boat, dodging the millionaires yachts in the Bay of St. Tropez.  Happy Days!

 

 

 

 

Agay:

Further eastwards along the Med coast, through Ste Maxime, St Aygulf and St Raphael you come to Agay on the Estoril coast.  This is where my last nomination for cooler than cool campsite is situated.  It is called Le Dramont – Campeole .

http://www.campeole.com/camping-campeole-le-dramont-var-10.html

It is a big site, right on the coast, but it has a really laid back feel about it.  I chose this because of the beach; 1 sandy beach and, my favourite, one rocky beach.  The rocky beach is excellent for rock pooling and snorkelling, or just clambering along the rocks to a small marina.  The showers and toilets are plentiful and cleaned regularly and the site is situated near a train station where you can catch a train for Nice or Cannes or just nip into St Raphael.  The red rocks of the Estoril coast are magnificent (best viewed from the sea in a boat) and if you want an adventurous drive you can follow the coast road to Cannes, which bends, twists and undulates all the way there.  I have camped in Cannes before now and disliked it with a passion – a huge road to cross to a shingle beach and all very commercialised.  Le Dramont is a million miles away from this but still within driving distance of the major towns in this part of the Med.

These 2 sites conclude my Coolest Camping list for now – I will try to add a few more at a later date however it’s now only 2 weeks to go until we leave for France and to say I’m getting excited is an understatement.  We’ve plenty to do in the next few weeks but I will try to keep the blog updated as I go.