Côte d'Azur - the south of France in October

Our October break might have been very different. We decided on the south of France as our destination only the night before we went. Twenty-four hours earlier we'd planned, and packed clothes, for a week in Scotland.

The long-range weather forecast showed sun and temperatures up to 24°C in the Côte d'Azur and so rather than embrace autumn with a cold and damp break near Loch Ness, we decided to cling on to summer a week longer.

Little research went into booking camping La Vieille Ferme on the coast between Nice and Cannes. There's not a great choice of sites still open after September. Photos and reviews of the campsite seemed promising and we didn't have time to do any further groundwork.

After spending Friday night on an aire two hours south of Calais, another eight hours on the road saw us pull in to La Vieille Ferme at 6pm on Saturday. We'd paid only a deposit and, unusually, weren't asked for the balance upon checking in. Instead they kept Tony's passport, I assume, to ensure we paid prior to departure.

We were shown to our pitch, which was spacious and on hardstanding, and our electric hookup was adjusted to the 10 amp we'd paid for, the other options being 2 or 6 amp.

We're not big fans of campsites that have purposely-planted privacy hedges, they all seem so impersonal and artificial. La Vieille Ferme falls into this category. The showers were great, with more than enough room, and lovely, adjustable, hot water. A covered swimming pool was open until 5pm each day and the bar open each evening.


Again, a pool and bar are not features we look for in a campsite, but we've become used to them being part and parcel of what a French campsite tends to be. As it turned out we used both the bar and pool.

At the bar a half-litre carafe of wine was reasonably priced at 6€. Unfortunately there's no view from the bar. We used the pool to pass the time one day when we'd come back home earlier than was a reasonable time to open a beer.

La Vieille Ferme's website says it is situated between the coast and the mountains. Unfortunately there aren't views of either. It goes on to say it's just 1km from the beach. It's actually only 300 metres from the beach, but only for a crow; two roads and a railway prevent crossing over to it unless you walk to the nearest train station, a kilometre to the east or west. The campsite website also mentions the peaceful surroundings. If you can ignore planes landing at Nice airport and the sounds of emergency vehicle sirens, then yes, it's peaceful.

The warm weather was a very welcome highlight. The UK had been cold and grey for a couple of weeks and I thought I'd worn shorts for the last time this year, so venturing out for the first time, even at 7pm, in shorts and t-shirt was fabulous.

We walked to the station at Villeneuve-Loubet, just outside Cagnes-sur-Mer, to see the pebbly beach. We returned via the nearby Intermarche supermarket before settling down outside Cleopatra, our campervan, for the evening with some beers.

The next morning we started our six days of sightseeing. Our bikes took us to Antibes, just a ten-minute ride away and a really beautiful and characterful little town. We walked around star-shaped Fort Carré and came to Port Vauban, the largest yachting harbour in Europe.

Back on our bikes, another five minute ride brought us to the old town, bordered by 16th-century ramparts.

There are many statues and sculptures on this coast but none caught my attention so much as Nomade at the end of the harbour wall. From a distance it looks ghostly - a transparent white head. You have to get quite close until you see it is made up of a latticework of white steel letters, and it depicts a man squatting with his knees close to his chest, facing out to sea. We captured a few photographs, but it was just our luck that the sculpture was being cleaned by maintenance workers!

Moving on, now on foot, we ambled around Antibes narrow streets, looking in windows of bakers, art shops and gift shops. A plethora of cafes and bars were busy with tables along the streets and spilling out into the occasional squares.

Satisfied we'd seen enough of this quaint town we returned to our bikes to continue around the peninsula. This was a huge mistake as the coastal path comprises countless steps and we ended up having to carry the bikes on our shoulders. Always thinking there was less now in front than behind we continued our ill-advised 'bike ride' for quite some time before it rejoined roads.

The views on this peninsula are stunning and the walk is rewarding, but more so if you're not carrying a bike. Six days later I still have bruises on my shoulder.

Cycling on roads again we soon happened upon Juan-les-Pins, a tourist resort with views across to Cannes. We ordered kebabs from a street food vendor and ate them sitting on the sea wall. The beaches were quite busy with families and there were swimmers in the sea, even at the end of October.

I'd actually thought we'd cover the Antibes peninsula in an hour or so and then continue cycling along the coast to Cannes. But it turned into a full-day, relaxed cycling and walking exploration and is one of the holiday highlights.

The other big highlight was the day we walked to Saint Paul de Vence in the mountains. Although I'd pictured the two-hour walk a little differently (it was suburbs all the way, not a nature walk), reaching our destination we discovered a beautiful medieval fortified village perched on a hill. We bought mulled wine from a market in a small square and briefly explored the narrow, cobbled streets. We spent just an hour there, worried it would become dark, and resolved to work out the public transport in order to come back for a longer visit later in the week.

Our route back to the coast and our campsite took us past the Polygone Riviera outdoor shopping mall. High end shops and restaurants sit alongside Primark and McDonald's, and, bizarrely, many animated dinosaurs.

As we walked through Cagnes-sur-Mer, unknown to us, we were followed into a small supermarket by two plain-clothed policemen. While discussing what to cook for our dinner we were asked to leave the shop and, outside on the pavement they asked to see in our bags, Tony was patted down and we were quizzed about where we came from and why we were there. Satisfied that we'd not entered the shop to blow it up, they walked off down the street. It was all a little bit scary, not least being shown their guns as a means to identify themselves as policemen. Tony exploited the situation, getting me to agree to the purchase of meat at more than twice the price I'd have been willing to pay had I not been so shaken up.

It served to demonstrate that there was even more to the security measures than the already plentiful number of police and army patrolling the streets and I often wondered, during the remainder of the week, if a man sitting on his own was plain-clothed police.

Cannes was a considerable letdown and we almost paid twice for the privilege of getting there. We decided to go by train, buying tickets from the self-service machine before discovering the next train wasn't for 50 minutes. We spent some of that time walking back to the bus stop to see if buses were more frequent. They were - every 15 minutes - but the six mile journey to Cannes would take an hour and a half. So we went back to wait for the train.

The end result of the journey to Cannes wasn't worth the bother. It's famous for its film festival but there's little else of note to make it worth a visit. There are some huge yachts in the harbour, but what attracts the rich and famous will remain a mystery.

Nice was the perfect antidote to Cannes with its alleyways, promenades, street markets, shops and boutiques. The twenty-minute train journey was €4 each.

From the station we headed for the Promenade des Anglais, the seven kilometre walkway named after the English aristocracy who paid for its construction in 1820. The walk along the promenade was lovely. I'd purposely not researched where the Bastille Day terrorist attack had taken place, but when I looked it up to write this I see, sadly and as I suspected, this is where it had happened.

We walked as far as where steps take you up Castle Hill. There's no castle there anymore since King Louis XIV had it dismantled in 1706. Instead several viewing points at the top allow wonderful views across the terracotta rooftops of the old town on one side and the harbour on the other.


We had lunch at the Leopard Chinese buffet restaurant. At 13.80€ per head it was on the pricier side, but a bottle of water was delivered to our table and without the need to order drinks on top, it was reasonably priced. The food was top quality with plenty of choice, but unfortunately the flavors and spices had been muted to suit the bland French palate.

After lunch we explored the harbour, markets and shops before getting the return train back to base.

Our final two days were gloriously sunny. We decided we'd combine a few hours on the beach with another mooch around Antibes. The small beach between the harbour and old town is lovely and sheltered. It's sandy but gives way to single at the water's edge. I joined the people brave enough to swim, but Tony stayed firmly attached to his beach mat.

Friday, our final full day saw us return to St Paul de Vence which we'd totally fallen in love with several days before. To give us longer there we caught an Uber which turned out a little more expensive than the app's estimate due to slow moving traffic through Cagnes-su-Mer. We had coffee in a sunny square and a leisurely mooch around the streets, finding alleyways along which we'd not ventured the first time. We left the hilltop town each armed with a warm quiche to eat on the walk back.

Plodding back down the hill we spied a castle on another hill and changed course. The medieval village of Haut-de-Cagnes looks out over the new town below and the Mediterranean beyond. As well as the lovely views we met a gorgeous little cat sitting on the seat of a motorbike. Hoping to get a picture before we scared him away I approached slowly and crouched down, camera poised. He jumped down off the bike and straight up onto my knee.

We packed much into six days on the Côte d'Azur. I'd recommend a day in Nice and another day split between Antibes and Saint Paul de Vence. The rest I'd have to say is overrated. The weather was fabulous though. I'd hoped for blue skies but I never expected to swim in the sea!

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