Exactly a year ago, we were in the middle of an 11-day road trip around the South of France. It was an absolutely massive undertaking to plan, inspired by cheap flights from Madrid to Toulouse and Lonely Planet's France's Best Trips book. I pieced together many of the different road trip itineraries in the book and added in some additional stops based on blogs and sites I'd read online. The final plan was very ambitious and had us covering quite a bit of southern France, but the end result was...fabulous (if I do say so myself). Now, when I think about going anywhere in Europe on vacation, a few places come to mind, and the South of France is without a doubt at the top of that list.
On the last day of our French road trip, we made two stops on our way back to Toulouse, where it all began almost two weeks earlier, and where we flew back to Madrid late that evening. We drove from our Airbnb to Nîmes, now a good-sized city of about 150,000 people, but thousands of years ago, it was one of the most important cities in Roman Gaul, and today it still has the monuments to prove it.
With just 24 hours left in France to go, we checked out the three-tiered aqueduct and UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985, the Pont du Gard. The mighty bridge and aqueduct was built by the Romans in 19BC to carry water 50km from Uzés to Nîmes (we only saw a small portion of that, obviously), and it did so until the 6th century. In the Middle Ages it became a tollgate, and later on a road was added along a lower tier so that it could act as a road bridge as well. Now it welcomes more visitors than any other ancient monument in France, and many consider it the most impressive aqueduct in the world as it stands 50m high and 275m stretches long.
Did you know that for a while during the 14th century, the Catholic church picked up everything and relocated its seat of power from Rome to Avignon? It was all because of politics (some things never change!), and for 70-something years the popes took up residence in France instead of Italy. Obviously, it was a pretty short-lived stint in the history of the church, but it left behind the grand Palais des Papes as well as a pretty impressive claim to fame for Avignon.
Aix-en-Provence...town of a thousand fountains, which sit in pretty squares, are tucked in lush gardens, make up traffic roundabouts, and along pedestrianized streets...this is truly France at its finest. Shady streets, an unusual green and gold organ in the town's cathedral, hip restaurants and shops making their home in the first floor of ancient, tall, shuttered buildings (shuttered, as in, having shutters, not being shut down) all combine to make up a town that's good for walking and just enjoying.
While planning our trip around southern France, a few sources advised that we skip Cannes altogether. They suggested that Cannes has become nothing but a glamorous and exclusive playground for the rich and famous with fancy boutiques, expensive restaurants, and fashionable hotels. Perhaps I saw this as a challenge to find something good about Cannes, and to at least give it a shot at since it wasn't far from Nice and was pretty much not out of our way at all as we finished up on the southern coast of France and started to head inland again.
Èze was our fourth stop as we took the train along the French coast from town to town all day. The train station is located near the coast, but the town itself sits high up on a hill, and is best reached by car or by bus (some kind of wheeled transport), or for the hearty, by foot. I don't know if we're necessarily hearty, but we are frugal, so we took the Nietzche path all the way to the top, and I believe it took us around an hour.
When I was deciding which towns to visit along the French coast on the day that we planned to make a loop from Nice to Menton and back (and stopping in lots of places along the way), it didn't even cross my mind to go to Italy. I guess if I had really thought about it, I knew that Italy was nearby, and we could theoretically go, but I don't think I realized we were really that close, so when I read some blogs suggesting that visitors go just to say they'd been (if they never had before) or to stop by just for the pasta, my interest was slightly piqued, if only just for the second reason (carbs - they always get me).