Review: Honfleur to Cap d'Antibes by Classic Car
Specialist Holiday - Non-escorted tour
Honfleur to Cap d'Antibes in a 1966 'Classic' Jaguar car
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Our recommended route to the Cote d’Azur is based upon decades of driving down to the Cote d’Azur from Salcombe in South Devon, which incorporates within a reasonable time scale, a multitude of truly awe inspiring and exciting places of historic interest, wonderful places at which to stay or eat along the way that do not require lengthy and time consuming detours and above all the most scenic routes where ever possible. For those wishing to follow the route we have portrayed it is essential to invest in the large scale spiral bound Michelin Road Map 1: 200.000 rather than purchase a host of regional Michelin road maps. You should also invest in a current copy of the Red Michelin hotel and restaurant guide which is essential together with copies of the Green Guides for the regions through which our route passes. You will find that this minimal reference library will provide enormously to the pleasure of travelling through France. In addition be sure to furnish yourselves with a good quality spiral bound notebook in which to record your trip each evening before dinner whilst your memories are still fresh in your mind. Lastly, but crucially important, take a Red and a Yellow Staedtler Textsurfer Classic felt ‘Highlighter’ for pre-marking your Road Route in Yellow and marking the Cities, Towns and Villages of importance to you throughout the route from Honfleur to Cap d’Antibes. Combine the afore mentioned essential aides with a Satellite navigation system on your car with a facility for Western Europe that includes France, will make all the difference to the enjoyment of driving what is widely accepted as one of the Greatest Drives in the World.
Picnic Hamper requirements
Lastly, be sure to take a good quality cool bay together with plastic plates, drinking tumblers, plastic self sealing food storage boxes, a cotton table cloth, cotton knapkins, paper towel roll, knives and forks, a couple of cerated chopping knives for bread and salads, a chopping board and above all a bottle opener/cock screw. Plenty of wipes and super market plastic bags for refuse disposal. Try to do as much of your picnic shopping as you can in local markets along the way which rejoice in offering all manner of glorious regional fare. Once you have had the pleasure and fun of shopping for your picnic provisions, be sure to select a quiet, tranquil spot with a view, or by a river or other area of natural beauty at which to enjoy an unhurried, leisurely picnic.
Maintaining a high regard for the law of the land in France
Words of warning: Be careful how much wine or beer you drink with your picnic, as the French Traffic Gendamerie are renowned as being most unforgiving. Apart from which you do not want to end up drowsy or even worse asleep at the wheel on demanding French roads that always require the utmost attention at all times, with speed limits being most rigorously enforced, that can result in huge fines and even immediate disqualification from driving in France for six months or more depending on the level of the offence. Remember French Traffic is generally travelling much faster than in England and does not make allowances for foreigners…Therefore be particularly vigilant at all times when driving, or navigating for the driver.
Planning your preferred Route & Allowing time to enjoy it.
Plan your route to suit yourselves most carefully in advance, having studied maps and distances whilst also having decided which places of interest and which places and venues at which you wish to stay en route and book your room reservations in advance. Be sure to allow adequate driving time to enable you to reach your chosen overnight venue with plenty of time to relax before enjoying a good dinner.
The Jaguar car we were driving is unique in that this car was uniquely created as a customised car specifically for driving from Salcombe in Devonshire to the legendary Hotel du Cap/Eden Roc on Cap d’Antibes under the personal auspices of the late Sir William ‘Bill’ Lyons, founder of Jaguar Motor Cars Ltd and chief executive at the time the car was built in 1966 by the Competition Department at Browns Lane, Coventry, Warwickshire, England. It is believed that the car is the only such car built by Jaguar Motor Cars Ltd. for a private client since the 1930’s as a bespoke vehicle for grand touring road use, designed for exceptionally fast motoring and Alpine driving. The car was built for Angela Halsey (nee Angela Trevor-Parker).
See:www.phoenixmediaworks.com for illustrations of this automobile and profile of Angela Halsey within the multi – media property entitled ’ London’s Night Club King’.
The vehicle was entirely dismantled and totally re-built specifically for a major project that features this car as a link to locations from Salcombe to the Hotel du Cap/ Eden Roc, Cap d’Antibes that also incorporates ‘1000 years of History of the Principality of Monaco’.
We crossed The English Channel with Brittany Ferries Portsmouth – Le Havre service, on an early morning departure brought us to Le Havre in the afternoon, having enjoyed an excellent lunch aboard and relaxed on the promenade deck in he sun, watching the coast of Normandy becoming more and more prominent as we approached Le Rade du Seine. The chalk cliffs above Le Havre and Dieppe glistening like marble in the sun.
Pont du Normandie
Following a speedy dis-embarkation we were swiftly through the docks and on the A31 towards Rouen, turning off for Honfleur and seemingly climbing into the sky over one of the most beautiful suspension bridges in the world, Le Pont du Normandie over the River Seine with fabulous elevated panoramic views to both Le Havre and Honfleur on opposite banks of the Seine.
Within thirty minutes of leaving the ferry port at Le Havre we were entering the most painted place in France outside Paris other than the awesome abbey of Mont St. Michel and St. Paul de Vence. Honfleur is arguably one of the most beautiful and romantic ancient ports in Western Europe, from whence the Romans set sail for England and sailed up what is now known as Chichester Harbour at the time of the Roman Occupation 2000 years ago. Later, Honfleur was an important port of supply during the medieval 100 Years War between England and France. Later still a great Port of Departure for the great French colony of Canada.
Motoring past the enchanting 16th century La Lieutenance, once occupied by the Lieutenant Governor of Honfleur of the Kings of France dating from the 1500’s we made our way over the granite pave between the Vieux Bassin and the Avant Port where fishing vessels were disgorging their catch of the day. A quayside stall offered freshly landed prawns and shrimps netted in the Rade de Seine a short distance away. Turning left up the hill into the Vieux Ville onto Rue de Puits, we passed the great wooden church of St. Catherine built by the Axe Masters and shipwrights of Honfleur to celebrate the end of the 100 Years War with France that terminated in a peace treaty being signed between England and France following the English having orchestrated the Burning at the Stake of the Maid of Orleans, Joanne of Arc at Rouen on the 30th May 1431.
Opposite Eglise St. Catherine s the Clocher de St. Catherine, the medieval timbered bell ringer’s bell tower and abode that later was ornamented with a clock, dominates the square . We stayed at La Cour St. Catherine Tel 02 31 89 42 40, within the walls of a hitherto 17th century convent which has five rooms and no restaurant but serves an excellent petite – dejeuner within an ancient cider pressing house. Parking our car opposite Eglise St. Catherine we took a delightful tour of Honfleur ‘au pied’ whilst pausing here and there to purchase various good Normandy delights. Whilst also relaxing with a drink on the quayside above La Vieux Bassin in which there were a number of well maintained classic French sailing vessels that dominated the port and were the centre of attention to a sprinkling of multi-national artists seated on their stools infront of their easles painting harbour scenes in oils and water colours,whilst others sketched and the world a large took endless photographs including ourselves.
Honfleur is particularly famous as having been the Port of Departure for Canada for a large group of some 3,000 soldiers and some 3,000 ‘Daughter of the King’ that Colbert the great minister to Louis XIV ‘Le Roi de Soliel’ persuaded Louis must be raised and shipped without delay to save the colonists of Canada from being destroyed by powerful tribes of hostile indians who had been decimating the colonists. All the soldiers were compelled to choose a wife from amongst the ‘Daughters of the King’ within a month of disembarking in Canada.
Monet who was discovered as a street artist in Le Havre as a teenager, was brought to Honfleur as an assistant to Eugene Boudin a leading artist who specialised in coastal and country scenes in oils, which he taught Monet how to use. Monet lived courtesy of Boudin at La Ferme St. Simeon, now a charming hotel just outside Honfleur, a manor farm where Boudin had lodgings.
Dined at ‘Au Petit Mareyeur’ Tel 02 31 89 99 22 on freshly caught local seafood is always a sheer delight here and to be greatly looked forward to. As usual we were not disappointed, feasted on fish, followed by apple tart and cream, washed down with chilled Muscadet – sur – Lie, followed by Calvados as a digestif with wonderful coffee, before making our way back to La Cour St. Catherine with the lights of the harbour bistros and cafes twinkling below and the great church and bell tower of St. Catherine floodlit in all it’s glory.
The next day we ate an early breakfast and set off briskly for Fontainebleau, with our Classic Jaguar 3.8 Mkii ‘Continental’ Sports Saloon stainless steel twin exhausts burbling over the granite pave as we made our way quietly out of Honfleur on a bright sunny warm May morning en route for the Cote d’Azur shores of the Mediterranean some 700 miles southward that would include a wide variety of demanding and testing roads that constitute one of the greatest drives in the world.
Our Classic Jaguar was modelled upon what was at the time the car was built in 1966, the then fastest production sports saloon in the world, that held this accolade for some 10 years. Whilst continuously winning a multitude of international competitions on race tracks throughout the world. It is sufficient to say that this car returns in excess of 100 mph in third gear with immense acceleration and enjoys a top speed of in the region of 140 mph in sixth gear whilst including a host of unique features to the car that enable the vehicle to be driven at extra-ordinary high cruising speeds for lengthy periods that includes a ‘Full Race Cooling System’ with ‘Full Flow Radiator’ and an immense thermostatically controlled cooling fan in front of the radiator. The gear box was matched for sustained exceptionally high speed cruising and for fast Alpine motoring on demanding roads over the highest routes in Western Europe in the Hautes des Alpes and Alpes Maritimes.
Day 1. Honfleur – Vernon ( Foundation Jardin Monet )
Once clear of Honfleur we took the Autoroute du Normandie towards Paris, turning of at Vernon to make a very brief visit to the ‘Jardin Monet’ where we enjoyed a simple picnic of French Bread, Riellette de Porc, cheese and fresh fruit, accompanied by a little Biere de Alsace and plenty of Perrier Water. Re-joining the autoroute we sped up towards Paris turning southwards through Versailles where we momentarily paused to enjoy the magnificent main entrance to the Palace de Versailles, then joined the famous A6 Autoroute du Soliel as far as the exit for Fontainebleau. Here we had a walk before dinner, in the Royal Park of the Palace of Fontainebleau. As usual we stayed at Le Napoleon right opposite the Palace de Fontainebleau www.naposite.com Tel 01 64 22 20 87 and dined here looking out at the magnificent Rennaissance Palace de Fontainebleau. The humble and industrious bee, the emblem of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is a noticeable feature of the Palace de Fontainebleau.
Day 2. Fontainebleau – Saulieu
Once again gaining an early start, we took a walk in the glorious Royal Park of the Rennaissance Palace of Fontainebleau built by the foremost Rennaissance monarch, Francios Ist . A brilliant and accomplished contemporary of Henry VIII of England, and enjoyed a tour of the magnificent State Apartments. We then motored out through the glorious erstwhile Royal Forest of Fontainebleau. rejoined the Autoroute de Soliel and drove fast down to Auxerre where we took a detour through the wonderful vineyards of Chablis to Tonnerre and on the Le Chateau de Tanlay, a magnificent example of a Rennaissance chateau within a defensive moat. We then drove down to wonderful Cistercian Abbaye de Fontenay founded in 1118 by St. Bernard (1091-1153) then aged only twenty-seven. By the time of his death at the Abbey of Clairvaux, he had founded one hundred and sixty two abbeys and was instrumental in founding the illustrious and legendary Order of the Knights Templars. In the 19th century Fontenay was bought by the wealthy Montgolfier Brothers, who had made their fortune in paper manufacture with which they developed the first and astonishingly effective hot air balloons which became a wonder of their time.
Avallon & Vezelay ‘Medieval jewels of Burgundian Architecture’
We then drove across country through stunning unspoilt heavily wooded and lush countryside to Avallon, one of the greatest medieval walled fortified towns of France, known as ‘One of the Keys of Burgundy’. Thence, across country to Vezelay where St. Bernard preached The Second Crusade to Richard the Lionheart and King Louis of France from the heights above the valley below the great Basilique de Vezelay to the assembled royal hosts below, who immediately agreed to support a new crusade to the Holy Land.
Following the ancient route south to the Mediterranean down the N6 we enjoyed a beautiful run rural quiet down through lovely Burgundy countryside to Saulieu. One of the most famous cross roads in France, where travellers in centuries past turned South East for Switzerland and the Italian States such a Piedmont, Turin and Milan.
Since early times, great personages spent a short sojourns at Saulieu to rest from exhausting coach or riding horse journeys en route at outstanding ‘Relais’ designed for travelling aristocrats and merchants, as the mass of people could not of course travel until modern times. Madame de Sevigne over indulged herself with fine food and wine here in the 18th century , whilst travelling down to her estates in Provence and was forced to stay here a few days to recover her strength sufficiently to continue. The Great and the Good ate vast meals in those days by comparison to today.
‘Relais Bernard Loiseau’ at Saulieu. Madame Dominique Loiseau ‘une grand patron’
The internationally legendary ’ Le Relais Bernard Loiseau ’ une hostellerie sans pariel
Staying at the world famous Le Relais Bernard Loiseau, run highly successfully by his beautiful and enchanting widow Dominque Loiseau and her family is an experience never to be forgotten. The 3 Michelin Star restaurant, one of five restaurants owned by the Loiseau Family, is one of the greatest pleasures of travelling this route, as it has been for many years. www.bernard-loiseau.com Tel 03 80 90 53 53. This is simply the last word in classic ‘Burgundian Cuisine’ within an atmosphere of calm tranquility and prepared / served with great style with impeccable attention to every detail. All the staff take enormous pride in being part of what might best be described as collateral members of the Loiseaux family, hence nothing is too much trouble. Resulting in a constant stream of Le Style Loiseaux ’ enthusiasts beating a path to the door of this unique relais. We had a charming and spacious suite overlooking the gardens with views across rural Burgundy.
Day 3. Saulieu – Vienne
After a wonderful petit dejeuner in the garden bathed in sunlight, we bid Dominique ’ ‘Une bonne adieu’ and made a detour to see Alise Ste. Reine to see the remarkable fortified hill top encampment created by the last great leader of the Gauls Vercinjetorix on Mount Auxios that was destroyed by Julius Caesar in 52BC Vercinjetorix surrendered himself to Caesar and was taken to Rome and treated as a guest of the emperor until after three years in Rome, he was executed by professional strangulation. All his followers at Alise Ste. Reine had either been slaughtered by the Roman army or sold into slavery, as was the Roman custom for the vanquished.
Semur-en-Auxios, Beaune and the vineyards of Corton Charlemagne
Re-joining the Autoroute du Soliel near the ancient medieval walled town of Semur-en-Auxios built on a pink granite spur above the beautiful Valley of River Armancon, we sped down the motorway southwards through Burgundy past the greatest vineyards in the centre of Burgundy that surround the erstwhile Roman settlement that is now Beaune which is famous for the awesome Hospice de Beaune medieval hospital that is still financed today together with a state of the art modern hospitable by the vineyards with which it was endowed originally. (We spent the night here upon our return journey and explored the great vineyards of Corton Charlemagne first planted by the Emperor Charlemagne, bottles of which always accompanied the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte on his various campaigns.)
Tournus & ‘Restaurant Le Greuze’. Macon, Villefranche -sur-Saone & Lyons.
We took the Exit 27 for the short drive into Tournus to eat at the legendary Restaurant Le Greuze now presided over by Yohann Chapuis who carries on the great tradition of superlative Burgundian specialities that originally made Jean Ducloux famous throughout France. Having enjoyed a memorable ‘Volaille de Bresse poche-rotie avec legumes de primeurs aux saison’ we rejoined the Autoroute du Soliel and drove down through the great Vineyards of the Maconnais, and southwards through Villefranche – sur – Saone and straight through the centre of Lyons through the legendary road tunnel and then re-joined the Autoroute du Soliel for Vienne, our last stop before driving through the high alpine passes and down to the Mediterranean along the legendary Route Napoleon.
VIenne & ‘Restaurant La Pyramide’.
Arriving exhausted and hungry from our dash down the Saone and Rhone Valleys amidst heavy traffic, we were both relieved and delighted to have arrived safely at this superb restaurant with rooms, in the knowledge that we knew that we could enjoy a leisurely dinner with glorious wine from the nearby Cotie Rotie vineyards followed by a comfortable night in a luxurious suite. Following in the footsteps of Mrs. Simpson during her flight across France to take refuge with her friends at Cap d’ Antibes, during the year of the Abdication of the uncrowned Edward VIII who gave up his throne for the love of this internationally infamous American ‘femme fatale’ divorcee. During our dinner we re-visited the scenario by ay of conversation that had deprived an ancient nation of it’s rightful king emperor of the British Empire, who forsook his crown for love.
Valence, Valley of the Drome, ‘Clairette de Die’. Vercors ( A centre of World War II French Resistance) Col de Cabre & Hannibal’s Alpine Route
Following yet another a superb ‘petit dejeuner’ we drove our Jaguar some thirty miles southwards to Valence, where we took the D 538 rural route for Crest beside the mountain snow melt aquamarine coloured waters of the turbulent River Drome. Valence prior to the effects of 20th Century ‘Climate Change’ , the northernmost region in which olives would ripen and could be harvested, along with oranges and lemons and other Mediterranean delights. It is also the first region when travelling south into Provence that large Roman style ‘Pan Tiled’ terracotta roofs are seen in abundence, signalling that one has at last entered a Mediterranean climate that is clearly reflected in the general landscape and architecture of the Drome. A superb wine was first introduced here by the Romans, that is a naturally sparkling sweet white wine that closely resembles champagne and is made in the ‘methode champagnoise’ now known as Clairette de Die after an ancient town in the Valley of the Drome.
Die ’ A Gateway to the Vercors’ The Vassieux Massacre. Musee de le Resistance.
Die is also the sourthern gateway to the mountainous and remote Vercors region from which the first large scale French Resistance came into being which led to a terrible ‘denouement’ by way of a vast scale of reprisals mounted by ‘crack’ German Alpine Troops who were parachuted into the Vercors at Vassieux where the Germans murdered a large group of French Resistance fighters that they had captured. The Germans also discovered the ‘mountain cave’ hospital staffed largely by nurses and doctors from Grenoble, Whereupon the machine gunned the male medical staff to death and shipped the nurses across Europe to die in various Nazi Concentration Camps during July 1944. Prior to the Mediterranean Invasion of France along the French Riviera by the Americans and Free French Forces on August 14th, 1944
Having bought a picnic comprising of locally made pate, cheeses and fresh fruit, which we enjoyed early by the banks of the River Drome between Crest and Die. We then took a detour through the Vercors to see the magnificent Combe Laval and to Vassieux where we visited the ‘Musee de le Resistance’ housed on a mountainside above Vassieux. Motoring through vertiginous mountains along demanding roads, we rejoined the D93 near Chatillon-en-Dios.
Hannibal of Carthage ambushed near Chatillonen-Dios 218 BC
Hannibal was ambushed here in the wild and precipitous Gorges des Gats by Alpine Tribesmen who rolled boulders down from the heights of this gorge upon the unsuspecting Carthaginians below. Fortunately Hannibal had deployed a small force of his men on the heights either side of this gorge which served to mitigate what might otherwise have been a disaster for the Carthaginians. All those tribesmen who were captured, were hurled to their deaths from the top of the gorge at the point of a lances and swords, as a warning to others in the mountains. Sufficient to say Hannibal was not attacked by any other Alpine tribesmen as he made his way through the Alpine Passes towards Rome.
Motoring ever upwards through seemingly endless lacets (hairpin bends, we made our way through the great mountain pass surmounted by the awesome Col de Cabre. Where the Romans once controlled this pass with a fort at the summit beside a small natural lake fed by mountain streams. The River Drome has cut a spectacular ravine through the mountain here and then rushes headlong down through a series of torrents and waterfalls into the Valley of the Drome. One of the most scenic location in the Drome.
Col de Cabre to Serres D 93
Arguably one of the most beautiful roads through High Alpine plateaus in the French Alps where groves of almonds thrive in crisp, clean mountain air in the brightest of sunshine year round. Here mountain cattle and sheep graze in lush mountain meadows along with goats from which the most delicious cheeses are made. Lavender and mountain thyme thrive and are enjoyed by the multitude of bee hives that occupy this high mountain landscape from which wonderful honey is produced.
Serres ‘Hotel Fifi Moulin’
Motoring fast through this glorious plateau land which is most exhilarating, eventually brought us to the ancient mountain town of Serres that straddles the Route Napoleon Route N 75. Here we stayed at the charmingly named ‘Hotel Fifi Moulin’ which although relatively spartan by way of accommodation boasts a superb and honest table designed around local wonderful local produce that centres around Alpine Lamb that has grazed upon wild thyme and other herbs, blue mountain trout and superlative ‘legumes et fruits du saison’, almond gateaux and other mouth watering local specialities. We have stayed here on many occasions over the years and always look forward to doing so again, as we have never been disappointed. All this at extra-ordinarily reasonable cost, allied to exemplary good service within an atmosphere of good humour and general contentment. After such dining, after good coffee and a glass or two of Marc, bed becomes a blessing even if not in the manner of ‘une relais aux chateaux’ and at a fraction of the cost of our previous night at La Pyramide, where the bill was simply stratospheric, although entirely worth it!
Day 5. Sisteron & Chateau-Arnoux-St.-Aubin. Digne and Castellane
After breakfasting early, feasting on freshly baked pastries accompanied by fabulous local butter and homemade apricot jam and lavender honey, we bought the basis of a good picnic in the local market and some fresh bread and then set off down the Route Napoleon to Sisteron which was badly bombed by the Allies during the Second World War in the misbelief that the town was occupied by German troops which it was not. The town was badly damaged and sadly a number of citizens lost their lives.
‘La Bonne Etape’ Une hostellerie exceptional en une jolie jardin avec une Alpine vue.
We often have stayed just south of Sisteron at Chateau-Arnout-St-Aubin at superlative ‘La Bonne Etappe’ owned by the legendary Glietz family. Who own their own flock of Sisteron sheep and cattle, to whom haute cusine is a religion. We stay here on occasion on our return route northwards from the Cote d’ Azur when time permits and always enjoy an exceptional sojourn at the charming venue.
Leaving the Valley of the River Durance following ‘The Route Napoleon’ N. 85
Driving ever southward towards the Mediterranean, we passed the famous centre of the French Lavender Industry and of Archeologoy at Digne . Here the vast areas of mountain lavender harvested between Sisteron and Nyons every summer, are processed into all manner of lavender concentrates, oils, essences and products which are sourced from Digne by other major ‘parfumers’ throughout France and internationally. Digne is sadly, rather a charmless modern industrial town, that has eclipsed what might once have been an attractive Alpine town in days long gone by.
Hence we drove on through Barreme a famous time stage stop of the legendary Monte Carlo Rally and fast through Alpine pine forests and high Alpine meadows until we came to the giant staircase of lacets that climb down the mountainside above Castellane. We paused here for our picnic lunch whilst enjoying the panorama that stretched out before us of snow covered mountain peeks, precipitious valleys and Alpine meadows scattered with small stone built farmsteads and ancient ‘bergeries’ (shepherds huts).
At Castellane we took a detour southwest along the remarkable D 952 through the awesome Canyon du Verdon to the vast Lac de St. Croix mountain lake and the world famous ancient centre of superlative pottery, thrown here since medieval times at Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. A monk from Italy, fled her and took refuge amongst the potters of this remarkable town during the Rennaissance bringing with him the secrets of the great Italian Majolica pottery manufacture, that totally transformed the fortunes of the ancient potteries at this town which led to the town becoming world famous for the excellence of the pottery made here, that served to attract leading potters from all over Europe to live and work here. The potters of this remarkable centre of pottery still enjoy an international reputation to this day and justly so.
Canyon du Verdon
An awe inspiring canyon that is the greatest canyon in Europe which features astonishing rock formations, perpendicular cliffs 2,000 ft above the River Verdon with Alpine peaks towering thousands of feet into the sky on the northern aspect of the canyon. There were no roads around this canyon until the 20th century and the road on the south side was only built during the Post Second World War years through a series of remarkable rock tunnels and over a suspension bridge. The Couloir de Samson which can be viewed from the Pointe Sublime D952 is simply spellbinding, where a lane descends to a further vantage point with a car park from which steps lead down to the River Verdon. At this point there is access to the remarkable footpath that runs along the riverside through tunnels, up and down ladders, across footbridges until the path emerges below the famous Chalet de Martel below the famous Routes des Cretes legendary but not for the feint hearted scenic canyon road that is often barred to traffic during the snow season. Only experienced mountain drivers should use this D23 route that runs from La Palud sur Verdon following the top of the canyon walls and along the side of the canyon walls in places, often without any barriers between the road and the edge of the canyon rim, be warned! Naturally, as we have often driven this road, we enjoyed driving this route yet again, whilst pausing to watch eagles soaring above the canyon thermals and to photograph them with a video camera as they flew above and below us, a magical moment.
Here we stayed the night at the lovely 17th century Bastide de Moustiers which is simply one of the most enchanting venues at which to stay in the whole of Provence. The food is divine and the rooms delightful, all set in as glorious parkland garden above Lac de Sainte Croix just below Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. If you feel this venue is cripplingly expensive, then stay at the delightful La Bonne Auberge, www.bonne-auberge-moustiers.com in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie where the food is excellent and the ambience charming, allied to the warmest welcome and comfortable Provencal style bedrooms with amusing murals of the region.
Day 6. Aiguinnes & Southern Aspect of Canyon du Verdon
In the morning we wandered around Moustiers-Sainte-Marie exploring the various pottery shops, where we bought one or two modest items to add to previous purchases we have made here over the years. Having purchased some good things for a picnic, we set off down the hill following the D957 over the bridge spanning the River Verdon where it emerges from the Canyon du Verdon, having first we stopped to take photographs from a viewing platform below Moustiers. A short distance further down the road, we turned left up the mountainside along the D19 through Aiguinnes, past the beautiful Provencal Chateau de l’ Auguinnes and followed the famous Corniche Sublime road along the southern side of the Canyon du Verdon, through the famous Falaise de Cavaliers rock tunnels and over the magnificent Pont de l"Artuby suspension bridge. We then paused for our picnic at Les Balcons de la Mescla grom where we enjoyed an awesome panorama over the Canyon du Verdon and the River Verdon some 2,000ft. below whilst at the same time looking up at the Routes des Cretes road that we had driven the previous day. We were really overwhelmed by this remarkable landscape and loathe to leave our vantage point but the Route Napoleon called us back and we still had far to go to our ultimate destination. Joining the D71 we drove to Comps-sur-Artuby and joined the very fast mountain Route D21 to Logis du Pin where joined the Route Napoleon once again.
Le Realis de l’Artudy A modest yet excellent venue.
We then drove a short distance for ten minutes, then stopped to spend the night at Le Relais de l’ Artudy which is a scrupulously clean restaurant with rooms and wonderful mountain country fare to eat. One of the very few places on the Route Napoleon of this nature to be found along this wonderful mountain route and extra-ordinarily good value. We normally only eat here but on this occasion chose to pause here for the night to better the enjoy the spectacle of motoring unhurriedly down to the Mediterranean and Cap d’ Antibes the following day.
Day 7. Foret de Seranon, Col de Valferriere, Escragnolles, Montagne de Thiey .
After an excellent petit dejeuner, we borrowed the use of a hosepipe to wash off all the dust and grime that we had picked up along the way, which we had regularly been doing when necessary at previous overnight venues. Once we had washed down the bodywork and wire wheels, run a chamois cloth over the car, we set off fast down the Route Napoleon through the Foret de Seranon in bright Alp du Sud sunshine with snow glistening on the high cols, for this was May and the hot summer temperatures were yet to drive the snow from the high Southern Alpine Peaks of Provence. Climbing the Col de Valferiere, we then motored through Escragnolles and parked on the crest of the mounain overlooking the magnificent source and Gorge de la Siagne, to admire the wonderful views. A section of the original Route Napoleon by way of a rough stone track runs down the side of the mountain on the eastern aspect of the gorge which features a beautiful much painted and photographed little pan tile roofed rough stone chapel half a mile down ancient this track.
Motoring on down the mountainside below the spectacular forbidding steep heights of the Montagne de Thiey 1553 metres high, we then pulled off the Route Napoleon (Designated as the D 6085 for the section from Le Logis du Pin down to Grasse.) to take photographs and admire the views across the Gorge de Siagne off the original Route Napoleon on the opposite side of the gorge, a world famous view. Driving along the mountainside above the Vallon de Nans amidst spectacularly beautiful Alpes Maritimes scenery, we then climbed the long haul up to the famous Pas de la Faye 981 Metres. At the summit, there is a glorious view of the Mediterranean away to the South and the magnificent vast wilderness of L’Esterel Massif mountain range that run west of Cannes to Frejus. The first view of the Mediterranean having driven some 650 miles down from Honfleur during a week of endlessly spectacular roads and fabulous venues along the way.
Motoring quickly down the southern aspect of the Pas de la Faye, through St. Vallier-de-Thiey (another famous Monte Carlo Rally staging post) the soon road brought us down to the ancient erstwhile wealthy city state of Grasse, who in Medieval times and through the 16th/17th century traded fine leathers, scented gloves and rare perfumes for armour and weapons from Piedmont and Genoa. Grasse is a city famous for culture and is the birthplace of one of the greatest artists that France has ever produced, who enjoyed the admiration of KIng Louis XIV of France and his court from whom Jean-Honore Fragonard born in Grasse on April 5th 1732 and died in Paris on 22nd. August 1806 who was an intimate friend of Jacques-Lous David, the most famous of French artists during the French Revolution in 1793 who painted the astonishing painting ’ The Flight into Egypt ’ which depicts the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt with the model for the beggar being one of the richest man in Europe at that time, Baron James de Rothschild. One of the legendary Five Brothers Rothschild, sons of Amschel de Rothschild, whose patron was the Landgrave of Hesse. The richest man in the world at that time, with an incalculable fortune derived from providing superlatively trained and equipped superior mercenary troops to other powers such as the England, a major client of the Landgrave.
There are of a number of major ‘parfumeries’ in and around Grasse of which the most famous and illustrious is Parfumerie Fragonard, 20 Boulvevarde Fragonard, Grasse.
The building is simply amazing and once the 18th century/19th century/20th century parfumerie itself, now a truly glorious and utterly wonderful museum with a spellbinding parfumerie shop where one always wants to buy all that one can afford, as we always do. In particular heir incomparable natural soaps, of which we always buy ‘Monsieur’, Madame, ‘Miel’ and ‘Olive’ together with their incomparable ‘Verveine’ eau de toilette. It is worth noting the L’Occitane make a number of similar wonderful Provencal ‘parfumerie’ products which you can order on line or purchase at leading stores in England. However, it is worth noting that you can also order ‘parfumerie’ from Fragonard direct from Grasse, in France on line and the delivery charges are more than worth the added the expense in our personal opinion. In any event we swiftly parked, ran in and out and bought out usual ’Bonne choisis ’ from Fragonard. Le Chef de Parking very generously guarding our car at the main entrance, whilst we visited Fragonard..
Taking the main D2085 Route east out of Grasse past the famous villa once owned by Queen Victoria, which is highly visible right on the main road on the right hand side, now turned into apartments but with a vast ‘cartouche de bonne mots’ in memory of HRH Queen Victoria. Nearby on the opposite side of the highway is the magnificent villa and extensive surrounding gardens of the same period owned and occupied by one of the de Rothschilds, a friend of Victoria who admonished the Queen on one occasion for treading on her flowers whilst walking around this ‘de Rothschild’ garden.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
For serious lovers’ of gardens, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat is the greatest garden on the entire French Riviera/Cote d’ Azur and always has been since it was first created during the 19th century. Be absolutely certain to visit this earthly paradise, if ever on the Cote d’ Azur.
Restuarant ‘Au Vieux Four’ Tel: 04 93 09 68 60
A ‘Saracen’ medieval fortified ‘Village Perche’ that sits like an eagle’s nest above the awesome 2,000 foot deep Gorges du Loup between Grasse and Vence, which is simply utterly unique. We drove up the demanding twisting and turning mountainside D3 Route from Pre-du-Lac to Gourdon. Stopping just below the village to photograph the privately owned fortified Chateau du Gourdon, the main part of which is open to the public and well worth visiting. Parking the car in the large car park below the village and the mountainside, we walked up to the village through narrow alleys designed for mules and pack horses originally. We then enjoyed a late, yet unhurried, excellent lunch of wonderful Provencal regional fare at ‘Au Vieux Four’ at Rue Basse with spellbinding panoramic views across the foothills of the Alpes Maritimes below to Cap d’ Antibes, the Iles des Lerins and the Mediterranean.
Gorges du Loup La Verrerie de Biot
Leaving Gourdon on the D3 Route along the western aspect of this magnificent and beautiful gorge, we descended to the River Loup and turned onto the D6 that leads down this awesome gorge through a series of fantastic tunnels and past a huge waterfall to emerge at Pont du Loup where we took the D3 to Valbonne and the D4 down through the most lovely country to the ancient pre- Christian Greek settlement of Biot, famous for glass and pottery for well in excess of 2,200 years. Where simply stunningly wonderful glass is still hand blown by master glass blowers to this day, who you can making glass at very close quarters at La Verrerie de Biot. In particular this glass works produces some of the loveliest ‘Storm Glasses’ in the word which also serve as magnificent flower vases, of which we now have a number bought from Biot over the years which are constantly all full of flowers throughout our house, all year round.
Antibes & Cap d’ Antibes
Following the D4 Route down to the Mediterranean under a mile distant, we drove under through the road tunnel onto the D6098 and turned right for Antibes. Driving past the famous Fort Carre whose garrison was once commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte, who resided here with his mother and sisters whilst in post. He was so badly and seldom paid that his sisters werer forced to steal vegetables and fruit from nearby gardens.
Antibes. Fort Carre. Port Vauban Marina . Ramparts by Vauban
Directly below the Fort Carre is to be found the largest tonnage of luxury yachts at anchor in the Port du Vauban Marina, to be seen anywhere in the world. Driving around the marina, we entered Vieux Antibes through the ancient fortified walls and took the route along the Vieux Ramparts built for Louis XIV by Vauban his master of military architecture, arguably the greatest the world has seen since the 17th. century.
Scott Fitzgerald – The novel ‘Tender is the night’. Great villas of Cap d’ Antibes
Passing by Antibes Cathedral amd the Musee Picasso, we took the D 2559 out along the eastern aspect of Cap d’ Antibes past endless fabulous villas, including a property owned by the HRH Prince Karim Aga Khan. Passing the legendary Plage Garoupe made famous by Scott Fitzgerald in his iconic novel, ‘Tender is the Night’ which is largely set on the Cote d’ Azur, we drove past the vast domaine of Chateau de la Garoupe and the Chateau de la Croe, once the home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and now owned by Roman Ambromovich who is engaged upon a truly unbelievable scale of works that have now been going on continually for some years next door to the enchanting Villa Eilleen Rock that regularly features in films shot on the Cote d’ Azur, which features a glorious bathing lido which can be reached by the coastal footpath that serves Cap d’ Antibes and is well worth the walk from the western end of the path.
Barry Dierks & Colonel Eric Sawyer
After passing a number of simply vast and historically famous magnificent 20th century villas, most all of which were largely designed by the brilliant American architect from Pittsburgh between the First and Second World Wars with stunning gardens designed and landscaped by his partner of many decades, the English socialite and erstwhile banker, Colonel Eric Sawyer both of whom I knew well as a child when spending summers on the Cote d’ Azur with my family at Cap d’ Antibes and visiting many of these villas socially. Sadly, that world has long gone, never to return.
The Classic Jaguar Mkii Sports Saloon built for Angela Halsey specifically for driving to the Hotel du Cap/ Eden Roc under the personal auspisces of the late Sir William Bill Lyons founder of Jaguar Motor Cars Ltd, subsequently entirely dismantled and re-built by for John Hayden Halsey, her only son, returns to Cap d’ Antibes again.
A wonderfully inspired, unique and beautiful car has returned to Cap d’ Antibes. the The splendid, exquisite Jaguar Mkii 3.8 Sports Saloon that was specially built for driving to the fabulous Hotel du Cap/Eden Roc set in sixteen acres of gardens and parkland upon the western aspect of Cap d’ Antibes above the red basalt cliffs of this magnificent venue.A venue that is still considered by may of the ‘cogniscenti’ as being amongst, if not the finest hotel by the sea in the world and utterly without peer. Be that as it may, we were totally swept away to be met with the wonderful reception that we received from both staff and management as always, as we checked into the Eden Roc lido complex and were shown to our favourit suite overlooking the Iles des Lerins, Cannes and L’ Esterel Massif on the skyline beyond the the Baie de La Napoule. We celebrated with a bottle of champagne overlooking this glorious panorama with the sound of the sea breaking on the basalt cliffside below which were glowing as if on fire in the evening sunlight above the azure blue Mediterranean stretching out to the horizon towards Africa, as the sun set over the L’Esterel Massif.
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