So far Road Trip Europe 2014 hadn’t given us any reason to deviate from the plan we loosely outlined. We’d barely seen any traffic and all of our accommodations lived up to (or exceeded) our expectations. What kind of trip would it be if that didn’t change at some point?
Setting out from Carcassonne we expected a 4-hour drive to Camping Olbia, our final camping destination and last stop in France before heading to Italy. A couple hours into our drive, flashing traffic signs were either telling us change to an alternate route or to avoid the alternate route. We decided to stay the course and eventually ended up at a two hour standstill. We turned off the AC to avoid overheating but with temperatures in the high 80’s and the sun beating in through the car window like a magnifying glass on my legs, I was melting. I searched for a solution in our car full of camp gear and found solace for a while by hanging a camp towel from the closed window.
For the next two hours, it was a constant trade-off between shade and rolling down the window to catch a breeze. I had it easier than the grandmother who begged a nearby camper to fill a baby bottle with water or the mom with two small kids trying to take a whiz on the side of the road. Eventually three lanes of traffic squeezed into one breakdown lane, we passed the charred remains of the truck fire (saying a prayer that the driver was ok!), and got back on our way.
Two One Night on Peninsula Giens
Camp Olbia is at the extreme west point of the Peninsula Giens, in the heart of a hundred year old pine forest. We had hoped to arrive early afternoon, but with the delays we crossed the narrow sand dunes to the peninsula just as the beaches were emptying out. My favorite Dutchman maneuvered through the obstacle course of sunburned beach-goers, bicyclists, and scooters, all while locals honked at us to speed it up and, when their patience wore out, passed us on the narrow roadway. After the stressful drive in, it was hard to imagine anything could convince us to stay less than our planned two nights.
The camp didn’t take reservations for tents, so we parked the car and hoped they had a spot. We were welcome to check out the last remaining site and come back if we wanted to stay. Let’s just say the woman at reception couldn’t have cared less if she saw us again. As we headed up the dirt road we realized the sites were on top of one another. When we reached our pitch we heard a cough start on the lower level and travel site by site, person to person, until it reached the family to our immediate our left. After trading a couple of concerned glances, we decided our desire not to get back in the car outweighed our hesitation and we headed back to the (un)friendly receptionist to fill out the paperwork.
Our troubles continued when we realized the site was far too small for our larger tent, so we set up the 2-person REI tent and took just the essentials out of the car. A trip to the toilets and a serious ant problem only added to our dismay—and I noticed my favorite Dutchman was reaching his breaking point. We agreed to stay just tonight and look for a new spot tomorrow.
It was getting dark so we snuck in a quick look at the beach and headed to the small onsite restaurant for a pizza and several beers.
Despite the gorgeous sunset, the mood was a bit tense, so I was surprised when the gentleman at the next table had the grit to ask where we were from. Who knew he’d save us from making the biggest mistake of our trip?
This professor from Canada was staying at an expensive home on the peninsula and checking out our campsite in the hope it would be a more affordable option. When we told him of our woes and plan to leave tomorrow for greener pastures, he asked us to do him one favor, “Go for a hike in the morning before you head out.” Recalling the part about our campsite being in the middle of an old forest, and the fact we were on a peninsula, we agreed.
We woke early, had a small breakfast of bread, cheese, and tea, and headed out to find a trail—where we realized our good fortune in meeting The Professor.
We spent hours walking up the trails then out to the views of the little harbour Niel. The Professor educated us on seeling out a trail down to the water for our own private slice of beach. We found an empty spot and made our way for a quick dip. The beaches are quite rocky, so bring your water shoes. It was easy to forget our inadequate lodgings when out enjoying the views, but the Dutchman was determined to move on so we headed back to camp, packed up, and set out for a better place to rest our heads.
One Night in Saint Tropez
For the first time on Road Trip Europe 2014 we didn’t have a plan. We found a wider road off the peninsula and made our way up the southern coast of France with one goal: a sandy beach with warm waters.
We originally chose Hyères over the pricier Nice and Monaco to stretch our budget over three weeks of travel. With the plan out the window we decided to at least check out the beaches in Saint Tropez. About an hour and a half later, we instinctually followed the scent of sea salt in the air and headed down Boulevard Path. We found parking for a few euros and chose a sandy spot between Club 55 and Key West Beach Club. Plans really are made to be broken.
Stretched out on a blanket, drying off from one of our many dips in the water, I decided to use the Dutchman’s phone to see what hotels cost in the area. Turned out there were plenty of places nearby with last minute vacancies at a huge discount. For €130, the fabulous La Romarine in Ramatuelle would be our luxurious home for the night.
“Located on the road of the Pampeleone beaches, 1200m from the Places de Licese of St-Tropez. This complex has been thought and design to make your holidays more lively. In a quiet and sunny park you will find the Club House with tennis courts, swimming pool, and sauna. —La Romarine”
We were a far cry from the dismal camping we left this morning. From the grounds that we had mostly to ourselves, to the full-service bar and pool with its own “sandy beach”, this was turning out to be a welcomed diversion.
Our half-price rate meant it was off-season, so were weren’t surprised the main dining room was closed for dinner. We found a local farm online, La Ferme Ladouceur, serving a four-course meal for 45€ wine included. The only catch was the menu changed daily and was chef’s choice. I’m not the world’s most adventurous eater, but the idea of not having to choose from a menu and eating local ingredients was too appealing to pass up. What were the chances the entree would be something I’ve always refused to eat on moral grounds?
I quickly justified the decision to try veal for the first time with a When in Rome attitude, and absorbed the Midsummer-Night’s-Dream-like atmosphere. All the twinkly lights, fresh garden flowers, and house wine had me giddy, and my pictures paid the price. The food was phenomenal and I was too busy enjoying it to care.
In the morning we had a lovely breakfast and dip in the pool at La Romarine before we getting back on the road for the treacherous journey from Saint Tropez to our next stop on Road Trip Europe 2014: Cinque Terre, Italy.
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