Allo! I'm back, everyone!
The Irishman and I flew in last night from the amazingly beautiful and sunny Cote d'Azur and were greeted properly by a torrential downpour and a Tube strike. Of course. But despite the chilly weather and reception, I'm properly maintaining my holiday glow; reactions by my colleagues all centered around me looking "calm, rested, and relaxed" with some tan in there as well. Which is excellent because my holiday definitely was all of those things. We spent the first week in Antibes, a historic little town on the edge of the Mediterranean with a small beach, cobbled streets, and excellent markets. We rented a small studio apartment and had a routine that went something like this: wake up, pop down to the boulangerie for pain au chocolat and baguettes, eat breakfast on our balcony, wander up to the market for olives and veg and browsing, then mosey back for lunch, then I'd go to the beach while the Irishman pottered, and then he'd meet me at the beach for an hour or so before we went for a pre-dinner beer at "our" cafe overlooking the square. Then we'd shower and go for dinner and repeat. It was glorious.
We broke the routine on our last full day in Antibes to get on the train and head to Monaco. Train travel in France is ridiculously easy, though notoriously unreliable, but we were lucky and everything ran smoothly. For €12, you can get a day pass that lets you go anywhere on the Cote d'Azur line, from Cannes to Italy. We went to Monaco, and then stopped in Eze on the way to Villefranche where we met the Irishman's aunt and uncle for dinner. We found out after we booked our trip that they were also meant to be on the Cote d'Azur at the same time we were, so we decided we would all belatedly celebrate the Irishman's birthday.
The break in routine signaled an end to our beach holiday and the beginning of touring the hills of Provence. We picked up a rental car and drove up to the little village of Biot, known for a tradition of glass-blowing and crafts. We stayed at the most delightful little B&B, absolutely amazing room and delicious breakfasts and really welcoming and charming hosts. We used the B&B as a base to explore the hill country, stopping at towns like Vence, St Paul de Vence, Valbonne... it was beautiful, steep cliffside hill towns that seem to just appear on the sides of mountains. The foliage was beautiful and the flowers and the olives and vineyards and orchards... the whole place smelled delicious and looked just as nice.
Our last day, yesterday, we drove all the way to the Italian border and up into the hills to the tiny tiny medieval village of Sainte-Agnès. The ascent is windy and, frankly, terrifying, but the payoff is a magnificent view all the way out to Corsica, a decommissioned pre-WWII army fort, and a lovely restaurant that served food that wasn't quite French, wasn't quite Italian, but was definitely amazing. After stuffing ourselves, we climbed like mountain goats up to the very top of the summit where there are ruins of a castle being lovingly restored by a volunteer society. I was absolutely amazed that people chose to build something so complex at such a great height. It was mindblowing.
And then, as they all do, our holiday came to an end. We returned our rental car at Nice Airport and boarded our flight back to London and now here I am, back at my desk, trying to figure out how such sun-drenched and relaxed place can exist just a short plane ride away from Big Smoke. Even though the sky outside my window is currently blue, it doesn't compare at all to the deep sea blue of the Cote d'Azur. I will definitely be going back. Soon.