Guide books, websites, blog posts, travel brochures and everything in between have been brilliant sources of inspiration when it comes to unearthing new destinations – but good old fashioned word of mouth has a part to play.
It was a friend of a friend of a friend who first pointed us in the direction of the French town of St Maxime and taking advantage of that little slice of luck has brought us a feast of memories in return.
The South of France may be best known for the glitz and glamour of Monaco, Cannes and St Tropez but there is another, more normal, side to a region that’s not short of natural charm and beauty.
St Maxime has both of those in spades, a small market town nestling just across the bay from St Tropez but quite comfortable in its shadow. With a neat promenade, small marina and bijou beach it has the Cote d’Azur pre-requisites in miniature but there’s also a lovely relaxed feel and a historic centre with a lovely mix of cafes, restaurants, shops and (of course) patisseries.
We enjoyed our first trip so much we returned for a second, both times opting for self-catering. The first was an out of town gite with a distinctly rustic flavour, surrounded by vineyards and well away from the madding crowds, the second closer to the hustle and bustle on a golf complex overlooking the town.
Both very different, both just as enjoyable. It does pay to book early though – accommodation in the region is far harder to come by than in the likes of Spain and Portugal (more expensive too) and if you leave it late there’s a real risk of missing out completely.
While we’re on words of warning, there is another – traffic. Think French Riviera and it is all blue skies and wind in the hair drives along sweeping coastal routes. The reality, particularly in peak summer periods, is very different. The roads which snake their way along the shore aren’t built for the volumes of tourist traffic drawn south and progress can be slow.
Again, a car is essential to get the best from a part of the world packed full of interesting places to see. Sticking to the theme of less lauded destinations, venture a short skip from St Maxime and you’ll find St Raphael and Frejus – neighbouring resorts popular with the French in particular. A touch more touristy than St Maxime, they’re great for day trips and for a change of scenery.
On the same note, Marineland, near Antibes, is a good option for a fun-filled outing. With the Kids Island play area part of the complex, there’s plenty to keep all ages occupied and we were lucky to visit when it wasn’t too hectic.
For more traditional seaside pursuits, the beaches in the hot spots are great, if busy. There are many others peppered along the Riviera that are far quieter – our own favourites are around Hyeres, golden sands and warm waters perfect for a paddle and sand castle building. It isn’t all mansions and champagne!
Of course, it would be rude to shun the bright lights of the Cote d’Azur. We took time out from reality to sample Monte Carlo, Nice, Cannes and St Tropez – more great memories with a different twist and a post for another day!