Very recently a friend and I decided to take a comprehensive trip visiting the Mediterranean coastline of Spain, France, and Italy.So,I’m going to talk exclusively about our trip through the south of France in this post because, full disclosure, I always anticipated that France was going to be unbearably bourgeois/pretentious, and I’m the least classy person ever. So, I entered the country feeling a little unnerved and guarded. I do partially believe that this misconception lies purely in the “Parisian” experience of France and most part we were welcomed with open arms and we learned that perhaps after all “southern hospitality” really is ubiquitous phenomenon anywhere you go.
1. Aix en Provence
The first place we landed in France was a university town about 30 minutes north of Marseille in the Provence region called Aix en Provence. It had this charming college town vibe and was bursting with energy but unfortunately at this point during our trip we had hit a wall. We had just finished a week in Spain with friends and avoided planning our next moves and suddenly realized with 2 1/2 more weeks of travel we had better get our shit together. We arrived at an AirBnb that positively wreaked of college student desperation to make some $$ because to our dismay there wasn’t a shred of toilet paper, a hand or body towel for either of us, or normal pillows. After 5 hours on a train ALL we had wanted was to shower… and we couldn’t. We decided to leave the next morning after a grueling night of mapping out France, rented a car, and hit the road. For the record, renting a car is the best thing we could have done. I think that for 4 days it ended up costing up $300 total which we split. The freedom of a car was a necessary and my recommended vector for seeing off-the-beaten-path spots!
Ah, with the wind on our backs we decided to first drive and visit Cassis. No, it’s not pronounced “Kah-sees” but more like “Kah-See”, and of course we didn’t know this until we were well out of France and in Italy. Typical. Cassis was a great stop in southern France and I *highly* recommend you make the trip there and enjoy the broad range of activities from beautiful pebble beaches with crystal clear water, an assortment of mom & pop restaurants featuring pre-set menus for cheap, well curated shopping at the pier, and probably our favorite, hiking to the Calanque d’en Vau. Hiking the Calanque is not to be missed! It’s hard, and a bit steep, but with enough coffee and determination you will make it and be thrilled you did so. Also there is parking from the hiking spot, a local tip we learned from the boarding house we stayed at.
3. Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur
After leaving Cassis we really didn’t know where to head other than east toward Italy. We found this next gem of a place through AirBnb. We were ultimately looking for an authentic experience with the opportunity to meet some French locals, and we were not disappointed. We found a small guest house on a family owned ranch with goats, chickens, dogs, cats, and pool. There was even an option for us to pay 20 euros to have dinner with the family. We exuberantly swigged our wine and enjoyed our fromage with the family despite the very strong language barrier and the adorable Grand-mère even washed our laundry for us, and hung our underwear to dry out on the line. Pure. Love. If you have the opportunity to do something like this I would highly recommend doing so!
Menton was our next destination, which was ultimately a bit backwards as it’s not far from the Italian border, but it made more sense for us to drive here and double back to fly out of Nice. We stayed at an AirBnb tucked away in stunning green mountains! Just a fair warning: The roads in Menton are very winding and narrow and the locals tend to zoom by at 45 mph like it’s no big deal. Meanwhile, we are crawling up this mountain at 25 mph in a manual car the size of a FIAT. Phew. Although rather touristy at the time we went Menton won my heart with its architectural beauty and is allegedly one of the oldest cities in southern France.
Our last stop in France was the city of Nice nestled right in the middle of Southern France. We had a very limited amount of time here but we were still able to enjoy everything we saw. We walked through the local markets/vendors which carried locally grown herbal teas and some slightly bizarre items that reminded me of my grandmothers house when I was a child like dolls made out of panty hose hot glued to a wooden sign that says “home is where the heart is” and those strange little velveteen plastic teddy bears… ANYWAY it was still nice. We dropped out car at the airport and bailed off to our next destination: Rome!
So… get your butts out there and enjoy!