Our Barge, Odysseus

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Much Less Than a Year in Provence - Sept 3-8

We had a medium-long list of boat chores to attend to before we headed back to Ventura but that journey didn't start until the 15th so we decided we had time for a little adventure not involving barges or canals.
Thursday morning in the pouring rain we jumped into our rental car and headed south for Provence taking the long way around through the French alps. We were headed in the general direction of Grenoble and Albertville, site of the winter Olympics years ago. Because of the weather, most of the mountaintops were covered in a cloud blanket but the weather cleared somewhat as we approached our first stop in Annecy. We parked the car in the lot at the train station and started walking toward the tourist office to find a room but stumbled on a decent, affordable hotel on the way and checked into the Hotel du Nord for the night.
What a beautiful town! Situated on the shores of the appropriately named Lac d'Annecy, the Canal du Thiou runs through town and provides several picture-taking opportunities as well as a great setting for waterside dining. Appropriately we had fondue for dinner.

We set out the next morning, heading into the mountains. The weather hadn't completely cleared but by afternoon we were up in the Alps, luckily too early for snow. We did cross the Col Galibier at about 7,500 feet with the temperature about 45 fahrenheit.

A look back down the road.

Friday night we spent in Digne-les-Baines, the chief town of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region; at least we were in a department with "Provence" in the name and the scenery was beginning to look more like Southern California, but with castles.

We didn't note the name of this village but the castle caught our eye.

Our last night in this general area was Aups; a good place to stay if you want to see the Gorges du Verdon.
Most people when they hear "France," think Paris, big cities and closely placed villages of Provence and the west. They don't usually picture something similar to the Grand Canyon.

The two lane road clings to the side of the canyon, following the Verdon River for a pretty good distance. At one point, the road curves away to cross a side canyon over a very tall bridge. We couldn't figure out why they had one lane blocked off with all kinds of activity until we saw the guy jump off attached by a bungie!

The ultimate destination for our trip was the Cote d'Azur, specifically St. Tropez. I've never seen the Mediterranean Sea, where Cathy Jo spent a good portion of her formative years, and that area seemed like a good place for an initiation.
We decided to try to find a room in the village of La Garde Freinet; it's close enough to the coast (about 15 minutes) but far enough away that we could afford to stay for a couple of days. We found a room at one of the local hotel/restaurants and set off for some exploration.

Our room was the one on the top floor with the shutters open.

The village was very beautiful, typical Provence tile roofs and pastel colors, and has apparently become very popular with British expatriates. We heard alot of "English" english being spoken and two of the local property seller offices had names like "Witworth" and "Sterling."
The guide books had warned us of horrific traffic jams and hordes of people at the coast but, maybe because it's September, we found it not as crowded as Malibu on a sunny weekend. We wandered the marina waterfront and got a good look at St. Tropez across the water.

After our picnic lunch we hiked up to the old chateau that overlooks the harbor.

The next day we planned to have lunch in Cannes ... why not? ... but first we stopped to check out the village of Grimaud. It was just too much quaint.

The traffic was pretty bad on the road right along the coast so we didn't make it all the way to Cannes, stopping in the town of Antheor for a huge lunch of paella. After that there was nothing to do but find a nice piece of beach for a swim and a little relaxation before the drive back to La Garde. I had my baptism in the Med!

Tuesday morning it was time to hit the road back to the boat. What had taken us four days to accomplish on the back roads we traveled in about 6 hours on the "A" roads, although it did cost us about 35 euros in tolls!

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