We have just returned from a glorious 10 days in the South of France – Provence Cote d’Azur. Holidaying in the Cote d’Azur splits firmly into two camps – those who are ridiculously rich and regular people.
Obviously, we fall onto the latter category but sometimes, when we are pootling along in our hire car with the kids bickering in the back, I do take a moment to imagine how the other half are experiencing that very same area.
Flying in on a private jet rather than using budget airways. Days spent lounging on a yacht that costs more than one can comprehend and is bigger than my house. Dining at exclusive beach restaurants or vineyards. Second homes that are sprawling villas overlooking the sea without the fear of their excitable yet clumsy children breaking a plate and losing the €1000 deposit.
Heck, I bet their kids aren’t even there! They’ll be off with a nanny so the adults can experience the decadence the area has to offer.
Can you even imagine!?
**Here’s where everyone goes ‘Ahhh but you wouldn’t change a thing’ – sorry, but for 48 hours I totally would**
Provence Cote d’Azur is an amazing place to visit with a young family.
The coastline is extensive and stunning. In the height of summer the main beaches are busy from 10am but, if you’ve hired a car (which I would strongly recommend) you can always find a quieter bay somewhere along the way. The weather is warm and the food is good. What’s not to love?
If you’re planning a trip to the South of France, here are my top tips!
There are an ABUNDANCE of campsites in the area. If you are one of those proper ‘at one with nature’ sorts then grab your tent and get pitched. If, like me, you’re less ‘outdoorsy’ you can get a decent, basic mobile home through places like Canvas or Eurocamp or even look to hire them privately. This year we spent the first 4 days in a mobile home, and as the great thinker Karl Pilkington once said: “I’d rather live in a cave with a view of a palace than live in a palace with a view of a cave” He would have probably appreciated the place more than we did… We have realised over the years that in high season, if you’re willing to stay a little further inland you can get a nice size house for the same price as a mobile home. It’s usually a lot more peaceful, has a lot more space and lets you live like a local.
The bus service in the area is decent, cheap and covers all of the main touristy areas you might want to see. However, the main coast road can get busy and you’ll get no where fast – the idea of that with kids in tow is not appealing so we choose to hire a car. It means we can change direction on a whim if the traffic is bad, whack up the air conditioning and pop on some tunes. It also makes the airport transfers a lot easier. You do need to take into consideration the extra expense of parking and tolls (if you use the motorway) but it’s worth remembering that in most places, parking is free from 12-2pm so if you plan your time well you can get a few hours parking for under a Euro!
Being on the Mediterranean coastline the food tends to veer toward seafood but you can still get your mouth around good French cuisine, pasta and pizza. It’s all terribly good quality. Many of the restaurants are child friendly and offer pasta, steak hache or moules as standard children’s menu. La Moules Joyeuse in Frejus is our absolute favourite place to eat. VERY well priced and lots of choice, especially if you’re a moules frites kinda person. Most restaurants in France offer a Menu du jour – a set menu of two courses and a drink – between 12-2pm. They are generally pretty well priced and offer a nice choice of items. If you have self catering accommodation you can save money by hitting the Provencal markets and supermarkets and cooking at ‘home’. I say save money, but if you’re anything like me and get unnecessarily giddy in a French supermarket it might be cheaper to eat out.
So. Much, Wine. It’s what they do and they do it well. If you eat out then get a carafe of local wine rather than a bottle from elsewhere. It’s not only cheaper but so much better. Be warned, they will probably serve your red wine chilled – IT’S OK, it totally works. Rose wine here is more like a good white rather than the sweet crap we’re used to buying. If you go to the supermarket, check out the local wines there and stock up – they’re usually under five euros a bottle and you’ve probably seen where it was made too!
If your children are willing, you can explore small, medieval villages and potter around galleries. If your children are more like mine you will find yourself at the beach and eating ice cream at least once a day. Bateaux Verts offer boat excursions and run a regular boat service from Sainte-Maxime, Les Issambres and Port Grimaud to Saint-Tropez. It’s an ideal way to visit without having to sit in traffic for ages. It also provides the perfect chance to stare slack-jawed at the yachts and wonder who the owner is and whether their bank account is based in the Cayman Islands.
Heading inland you will find vineyards, olive groves, lavender fields and pine forests. Many glorious walks are to be had in the hills, and lakes to be paddled in. Some lake areas will hire peddle boats and kayaks, others may charge you to use the facilities for half a day but will include various activities in the price. If the great outdoors becomes a bit much there are loads of water parks, fun fairs and shows to visit. Whether you like Country & Western or Hard Rock; Film or Jazz; Fireworks or food there is always something being celebrated somewhere in the region.
Things to consider
High season is the most expensive and busiest time of year to visit. If you can take your holiday before mid July or after the last weekend in August you will find better deals and the weather is still beautiful. We’ve visited in October and it’s been warm enough to spend a day at the beach. There are lots of bitey critters, if you’re tasty like me take repellent and antihistamine. If you’re hiring a car, bear in mind a lot of moped drivers ‘drive like they stole it’ (in shorts & vests FFS – think of the grazes!) be alert, they’ll come flying down the wrong lane whilst you’re mid-turn. If you’ve not seen a moped rider being dusted off by the police you’ve not even holidayed.