Leaving Barcelona, I was at the height of my excitement after getting to see La Sagrada Familia. I was leery about anything else living up to that moment...until we began our trip along the French Riviera. We took a train to Narbonne, France where we picked up a rental car that sadly for Rob was a manual...something he had not driven in years (and had only done it a few times even when he did). Thankfully there was an empty parking lot a few feet from where we picked up the car, which allowed him to get his bearings before we headed out on the busy street. After a little bit of practice, we ventured out, hoping for the best. There were a few stalls along the next 4 days but he did an amazing job driving considering how small and curvy the roads were.
We headed to our first stop - Marseille, France - a port town. We had, or at least thought we had, booked a hotel close to town. After doing some searching, we realized that our hotel was actually in Orange, France, which was 1.5 hours away. :/ We made the best of it and toured around Marseille for the afternoon. Stopped by a church that overlooked the city and shopped in a little market by the ports. We also found out that there are quite a lot of churches named "Notre Dame" de/la/du ______. Hunchback of Notre Dame led me to believe that it was a singular church growing up. ...freaking Disney.
We woke up early to get a start on the day and head to a place Rob had read about called the Calonques National Park. This was not your typical NP with hiking, woods, animals, camping. It was a NP of the water. About an hour walk from where you leave your car where you finally get to high cliffs surrounding an alcove-ish of crystal clear blue waters. We were amazed at how beautiful it was. We relaxed on a few rocks until we were warm enough to hop into the chilly, beautiful water. We had bought some snorkeling gear that sadly turned out to be for children. We still managed to make it work for the day. We spent much of the day swimming around the rocks looking at different fish - including some very tiny jellies! While sunbathing back on the rocks, we saw a couple of young guys climb up to the tippy top of the small yet tall rock island in front of us. We figured they were just going for the view until one of them leaped off into the water! After watching them do it a few times, Rob was intrigued and of course wanted to jump off as well. We found out it was a pretty popular jumping spot for this area so we swam over and began climbing. I only climbed halfway and let Rob go the rest of the way since I knew there was no way I would jump. Here is Rob’s take on his cliff jump:
I was pretty pumped up once I saw someone jump from the cliff. It looked high- like a good challenge- and we had been relaxing all day, it was time for a thrill. I swam over and climbed down to check out the landing area, inspect for rocks and any other hazards and it was all clear. Probably about 50 feet of depth which would be more than enough. I wasn't sure exactly how deep I'd go after the leap but this was more than enough for a comfortable splash zone. I climbed back up to the large portion of the rock and then headed for the base of the arch to ascend to the full height of the rock formation. It was a little trickier climbing up than I would have thought, but easier than other scrambles I did out west so NBD. Once I got to the top, I waited for Athena to come over as well to watch. The view was incredible from there, just over 60 feet above the sea. I had a great perspective on the bay, which we had been playing in all day. While waiting for Athena, a few other guys came over and climbed up as well. Because I was planning on recording my ice bucket challenge video, and didn't want to have to try to explain that to someone in terrible French/English I let these guys go first. I was a little bummed that they got to go before me. When they were all finished (one daredevil did a crazy back flip, that guy must have some serious experience to pull a move like that at that height) it was finally my turn. As is normally the case, it looked so much higher from the top. I blurted out my video blurb (forgot what I was going to say but it turned out alright) and then realized I couldn't delay any longer. I didn't want a video of me chickening out! It felt like I fell foreeeeverrrr on the way down, but it was an incredible rush. Once was not enough of course, so I hopped off one more time with Athena in the water with the gopro, to capture the experience from another angle. We were able to put together a sweet video, which was good enough to get concerned Facebook messages from all parentals. A pretty good indication that it was at least a little exciting. I can't really picture jumping from much higher than that in the future, but I would certainly do that jump again. A jump/thrill like that in such an otherwise relaxing paradise-like location is about as good as it gets in my book!
We decided to couchsurf for the evening somewhere a little closer to town. We ended up staying with a couple that was already hosting a couple girls from Singapore. It was really awesome of them to host two different sets of people at once. They were unbelievably nice. They cooked us all a delicious dinner and we sat around the dinner table getting to know one another for the next few hours. I think my favorite of the group was the couple’s adorable little bunny rabbit! 🙂
We spent our next day in an area called Gorges du Verdon. This was one of the most stunning lakes and river I had ever seen - amidst beautiful mountains. It is said to be the Grand Canyon of France. We drove up the mountain on the skinniest and most windy roads ever. Thank goodness we had our teeny little “turd mobile,” as we lovingly called it. We made a stop at the lake and decided to rent a sailboat for a couple of hours. I was so excited since the last time we rented a sailboat, in Pittsburgh, it was so much fun. This was a bigger boat than we had been on last time. We got out on the water and were attempting to get the hang of how to sail this cat, I thought we were doing pretty good but a man on a motorboat decided to come out and help us. His English wasn’t very good but he mostly yelled “THA JEEEEEEEEB, THA JEEEEEEEB, PULL THA JEEEEEEB.” From that point on, anytime this man thought we were going too fast or too slow or just when he was bored, he came rushing over to us yelling “THA JEEEEEB.” He did this about 10 times over the next 2 hours, completely ruining what was supposed to be a relaxing sailing experience. We really wanted to go down the river so we drove down the road a bit and found the spot where the river and lake met and figured we would at least swim in the area. Instead we found pedal boats and pedaled up and down the river for an hour. It was amazing being in water that was emerald green. It was so green that you couldn’t even see a few feet in front of you while swimming. We swam under a fantastic little waterfall; Rob climbed some rocks as per usual.
We were staying at a house on the lower part of the mountain and found a nearby town for dinner. The streets were lit a very serene golden color, beautiful old buildings, outdoor seating at every restaurant… it felt very – French. We sat down at a restaurant and ordered the most interesting thing we could find on the menu – Kangaroo. We were a little nervous about trying it but we figured there aren’t many opportunities to eat Kangaroo. It came out and it looked just like a normal steak and tasted quite similar as well. We both really liked it. The best thing we had though for that meal was the chocolate cake. It was, to date, the most delicious chocolate cake I have ever had. It was heavenly, the chocolate was thick and fudgy, the whipped cream – homemade had the perfect consistency, the chocolate covered cookie that was served upon it. Chocolate Perfection. The worst part about it was that I couldn’t get one to go.
Our last morning started with a delicious breakfast made by our host – croissants, baguette, freshly picked figs from her fig tree and homemade apricot jam (bread with a side of bread came pretty standard wherever you went). So tasty. We decided to drive back up the mountain before driving down. Rob had read about a few beautiful lookout spots and they didn’t disappoint. The drive was very scary (tiny roads lined with rocky mountains on one side and steep cliffs on the other) but absolutely beautiful. After that we drove to a town outside of Nice called Villadesumer. The beach was small but the water was beautiful along with the scene of the village that fell along side of it. After a long day at the beach we were pretty hungry and had some pasta ingredients in the car that we had bought to cook at one of the houses we were staying, but received a home cooked meal instead. We didn’t want to waste the food we bought but we also didn’t have a kitchen. I recommended that we waltz into a hostel like we are supposed to be there, use their kitchen and then leave when we are done. Rob thought it was a terrible idea until I found a hostel that allows their “sister” hostel to use their common room/kitchen since they didn’t have one of their own. This was perfect – we could just say we were staying at the other hostel and no one would think twice. The plan worked flawlessly. No one asked any questions, we were able to make ourselves a dinner, charge our phones and watch an episode of Bones. After that we made our way to the airport. We had a very early flight and didn’t want to pay for a hotel for barely a full night so we pulled into the parking lot at the rental car stop (right in the airport), drank a bottle of wine and passed out in our car until it was time to leave. We ended up spending one final day in Nice after Geneva but it was rather uneventful since we had an even earlier flight than the one, which we slept in the car for.
The coast of France was full of unexpected treasures. We found some spots that could possibly be my favorite as of yet, my only regret is that we didn’t have more time to explore the Riviera.