A recreational trip to France was high on my to-do list. Living the life of a Parisian, wandering the cobbled web streets and bathing my eyes with the time-tested historical monuments was always the vacation I dreamt of.

It was almost end of August when I realized in few weeks the summer was coming to an end. With France on my mind, I booked my trip quite impromptu – 3 days in Paris and 3 days in Nice. I had less than two weeks to visit this beautiful place and I did not have any set itinerary. 15 years back I came to this city so many times (for work) that I thought I knew what to do this time around. But traveling for work did not give me the chance to truly explore this beautiful part of the world, and it was not until the last few days when I realized I need to plan my trip.

Like any netizen would do, I turned to the web. There were many web sites with titles like “20 best things to do in France” or “The Must-See Attractions in Paris”, but nothing came close to what I was looking for. Frustrated I turned to my friends, but all I got from them was the list of places I should visit.  I finally figured it out and undoubtedly had a great time.

I wrote this travelogue with a simple objective, help plan your days better whenever you decide to be in this beautiful place.  The first part of my blog is all about the South Eastern part of the France. I will write about Paris in my next one.

If you had visited France and have something to add, please leave your comments in the reply box.

South Eastern France

Visiting the south of France was one of the best decision I ever made. The pristine French Riviera, the azure of the Mediterranean Sea and breathtaking picturesque mountain view – everything appeared like a leaf out from a picture book.

The rich history of Europe was reflective in every direction your eyes could visibly see. The Greek and Roman-inspired facade, the Russian influenced Cathedral and renaissance of old times breathed from the vast architectural brilliance the place offered.

I was in Nice for three days. Not enough by any measures. With the promise to return back soon, I am writing this travelogue to provide you a round-up of what to do, where to go, and most importantly best way to reach the places.

Transportation

One thing I liked about Europe was the connectivity – The transportation was well thought out and meticulously designed. You could reach any place by train, tram or by the bus. Following were few ways I traveled around:

  •  Private Car: I took this option for a day and I had mixed feelings about it. With a fixed itinerary and a good knowledge of the place, taking a private car could be a great option. In my case, I was dependent on the driver to show me places, and it was not the best way to maximize the investment. The standard rate for a private car was about 60-70 euro an hour. You could negotiate a better rate when you hire them for a longer time. I got 8 hours for 300 euros, which is quite cheap.
  • Guided tour: If you do not want to apply your brains and enjoy a guided sight-seeing experience instead, taking a tour could be the answer. You could get many guided tour options, available in the hotels and public information places. I took one private tour – “Night by the Monaco”. I would let you know more about it in my travel experience below.
  • Point to point ride share: Uber is ubiquitously available all around France. Best way to move around for food,  points of attraction (when legs gave up on you) or to any destination of your choice. a 30 minutes ride could cost you about 18-30 Euros.
  • Use public transportation: all the towns I wanted to visit in and around Nice were well-connected by trains and buses.  It was light on the wallet and best way to commute.

Day 1

Places visited:  Antibes, Grasse, and Eze
Mode of Transportation: Private Car
Time spent:  8 Hours

Antibes

We started our journey with a trip to the mountains, to a small town called Antibes. An old Mediterranean village in the French Riviera with civilization traced back to iron age. Our first stop was at Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc. A legendary luxury hotel at the tip of Cap d’ Antibes. The hotel history dated back to 1869. It was a private mansion of  Hippolyte de Villemessant, the founder of French Newspaper Le Figaro, who built it for seeking writing inspiration. In the year 1887, it opened as a Hotel.

The view from the hotel was breathtaking. One could see the tall mountains on one side and the vast spread valleys on the other. The driver insisted us to see Antibes’s landscape from here and we do not regret it. Besides offering regular cabana, the resort also offered independent villas.  Rates were overly expensive as it was peak seasons but it could be a great location for leisure in off-season times.

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After a drink at the terrace enjoying the mild summer sun in the open canvas, we decided to head to the Antibes town. The old town was laced with people leisurely strolling around. Arrays of custom shops and restaurants covered the area. We stopped by a Lebanese Restaurant, Le Phenicia. The food was excellent and the place was in a classic Mediterranean setting with the rocky beach ocean on one side and a worn out fort on the other.

 

We wandered around, enjoyed the view, checked few shops, explored the town square, and before we realized it was time to leave Antibes.

Grasse

Grasse – the perfume capital of the world. It was about a 20 minutes scenic drive from Antibes on the mountainous road above the Mediterranean Sea. We were about 1000 meters above sea level,  and it was one of the most popular towns in the French Riviera.

After climbing the serpentine roads and passing through the gorgeous old town we reached the Galimard perfume factory. Galimard is one of the 40+ factories that the region housed. Perfume making was the main business of this small town. 70% of world’s perfume gets manufactured here. The famous brands like Chanel, Dior, Nina Ricci, all chose Grasse for making their perfumes.

Galimard was one of the many perfume factories here, but the oldest and one of the popular ones. It offered a free tour of the place – taking through the 17th Century perfume making process to the modern days’ advancement.

The bronze containers from the old days to hold the essence,  the carefully crafted fragrance extracting process, the unscripted art of making perfumes and the distillation and condensation – you could see it all on this tour.

 

The place also offered an English-speaking guide, which was very helpful. There were some great things I learned about the perfume business.  I am listing down few titbits that fascinated me.

  • the person who helps in making perfumes are called NOSES. there are only 200 noses in the world. 40 of them are French and 38 of them live in Grasse! No wonder Grasse is the perfume capital
  • The big companies work with the noses to launch their new products. They can smell hundreds of different samples and distinctly call it out. A Nose beginning fees are about 8k euro a month. Also, because of the nature of the job they only work 2 hours a day. A dream job indeed, but it is a God gifted skill that cannot be learned.
  • The flowers used to make perfume are Mimosa, Rose, Jasmine, Violet, lavender. All of them grows abundantly in Grasse. However, because of pent-up demand roses are now imported from Turkey and Bulgaria, and jasmine from India.
  • Though flowers are the traditional perfumers choice, recent times has also seen fruity and spicy flavors.
  • It takes 120 KG of rose petals to make a bottle of Essence!! Talk about volume

Towards the end of the tour, we could experience some of the future perfumes that were getting manufactured and were not on the store shelf yet.  And if you want you could shell out few euros to buy it. The pure perfume (without any alcohol mixture) costs about 60 euro for a 100 ml bottle. Kind of a neat deal.

I highly recommend a tour to Grasse. After all, perfume defines the mood and there is no better way to experience it.

Though Cannes was close by, we planned to come by the next day. The reason was simple we wanted to spend some good time on the beach and we did not have enough time today to pack it up in the Agenda. The next and the final stop for the day was Eze.

Eze

Drive to Eze from Antibes was about 40 minutes. Eze was located at the border of Monaco and close to Nice. With its history dating back to 2000 BC and a view to die for, Eze was one place in the French Riviera I couldn’t have missed.

The village of Eze was on top of a mountain. The Eze of Church is a climb up through the curved paths of the village. Throughout the walks, you could experience the arrays of boutique shops, elegant restaurants, and breathtaking turquoise view of the sea.

 

The church at Eze is a piece of archeological brilliance. The place history dated back to the 12th century. No wonder the French government has marked it as a historical site of importance.

You could appreciate the scenic view,  climb the hill-top, overhear the local dialect, buy local mementos and eat at a local restaurant – Village of Eze offered so much of wonder, amazement, and peach

How to reach:  You could take the SNCF train from Nice St. Augustin Train station to Eze, Antibes, and Grasse. Please check the train timings from the information center.

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

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