olive grove is owned by a company that has undergone a massive change in recent years that I salute -- yes, I mean Club Med!
As a member of the backpack generation of travelers, I never felt inclined to trade beads for drinks and party with other tourists, but the Club Med village at Opio en Provence provided a peaceful, stylish base for exploration, not easy in one of France’s most touristed areas.
Above It All
As I struggled through a massive breakfast from my rooftop perch at Opio I noticed a huge mountain in the distance. A fellow early eater noted my interest and told me that he happened to be at the top of that mountain the day before. His description of a rock fortress and a small ancient village convinced me that Gourdon might make the perfect first village to explore. It was.
The stone village of Gourdon was stunning, and the view from La Place Victoria simply amazing. Far out on the horizon the blue of the Mediterranean was interspersed with cities and towns such as Cannes and the Antibes.
Hiking down the Gorge du Loup wasn’t difficult, but caution is needed as it is rocky and can be steep. It was sheer peaceful delight. Plants and natural herbs blended into a symphony of fragrance only bested by visual stimuli of a blessed panorama.
If the Vatican is the center of Catholicism, Grasse is the Mecca for perfume. Granted, in these modern times perfume is produced everywhere, but historically it is Grasse that is forever intertwined with seductive smell armor.
From what I learned in Grasse it wasn’t an easy job! To be a “nose” meant no smoking, drinking or undue pleasures. I certainly wouldn’t have been a candidate for such sacred work.
Today the old town or (“vielle ville”) is filled with 17th and 18th century buildings that are reminiscent of the village’s past days.
Mougins and Art, but First a Quick Bite
My first impressions exploring the town Mougins and its hilly streets were the breath taking views of the sun-kissed surrounding Esterel Mountains. Apparently it has been done by far better trained eyes than mine; Picasso lived and painted here.
Others like Man Ray and Catherine Deneuve have also lived in Mougins; it is a scant four and a half miles from Cannes.
A culinary icon named Roger Verge has done much to further Mougins’s international food reputation, and his world class Le Moulins de Mougins is located near town. What you might not know is that he operates another smaller place right in town called L’ Amandier.
St. Paul de Vence
You cannot expect not to run into some crowds when visiting the Cote d’ Azure in June, but St. Paul is too pretty to be missed, despite the multitudes; sometimes a traveler must share.
For me a visit to Marc Chagall’s grave was a sort of pilgrimage as he spent some time just down the street from where I live in High Falls, New York. It was moving to see rocks piled on Chagall’s tomb in the Jewish style of remembrance, even with hoards of tourists.
Today the museum is also a place that houses artists amidst a garden with sculptures by Miro. All in all, St. Paul de Vence deserved its coach busses; centuries have built it into a destination.
Club Med, a Sanctuary, Trust Me
My travel life started with a backpack and few bucks, and surprisingly the goal of Club Med after World War II was to allow war-ravaged Frenchmen on a budget to travel.
I looked forward to my return every night and my own game of boules with the scent of the Cote d’Azure as a backdrop.
Perhaps my only complaint was getting fellow travel writer Johnny Jet off of the trapeze; it was the only circus attraction available, unless it was me piling on pounds at the great buffet!
Every place in France has its own tourism board from major cities to small villages. The places visited on my trip just happen to have very good and informative ones. The sites have information on historic background and shops and restaurants that will help you plan your days.
I flew Air France out of Boston instead of the closer to home JFK. I found that the flights were far less booked even though I had to travel farther to catch them. The flight was seamless and satisfying.
Find the most affordable hostels in France.
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