Chasing the Sun South

The A10 is the main Italian road that follows the Mediterranean coast heading west from Savona, if you’re not crossing a bridge you’re probably in a tunnel. At the French border it becomes the A8 and continues through spectacular, sun-drenched scenery.

Our destination is Nice where we’ve booked a room in a hotel at one end of the Promenade des Anglais. This long road hugs the coastline and links the airport to the old town with the beach sandwiched between it and the sea. The wide path is marked out for cyclists and pedestrians. The affordable hire bikes whizz up and down along side roller skaters while the walkers share their space with joggers. Health and fitness seems important to the residents of Nice.

Walking the length of the promenade in the hot sun is no problem because when you reach the old town you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants hiding in the shady streets, here you’ll be able to rest and rehydrate.

An hour’s bus ride from Nice is the motor racing Mecca of Monaco. The route follows the coast and is prone to traffic jams due to the narrow road. You know when you’ve arrived because you can smell the filthy lucre. As you start to stroll around, it doesn’t take long before you recognize famous sections of the race circuit. We find Loews then follow it down to Mirabeau, into the famous tunnel then out into the sunshine of the harbour and round passed the swimming pool.

We grab an ice cream as we walk along the harbour and watch the crews of the huge yachts lovingly cleaning and buffing their employer’s magnificent crafts. I can do that.

The Camargue, France.

The Camargue, France.

A couple of hundred kilometers (150 miles) further west is Arles that sits on the edge of the Camargue region famous for its white horses and pink flamingoes. It’s very flat here and the sky dominates the landscape. We’re staying at an auberge in the middle of nowhere that proves to have a pretty good restaurant which is lucky as there’s not another for miles.

Roman amphitheatre, Arles, France.

Roman amphitheatre, Arles, France.

The town of Arles is jam-packed with history – roman amphitheatre the lot – and we spend the day wandering from historical monument to historical monument. The highlight is the amphitheatre that is still used today for bull racing. We take a break and sit beside the arena and watch gladiators teaching a class of school children how to fight.

Next stop is Montpellier but before we check-in we check out the nearby beach resort of Carnon – good move! The beach has lovely soft sand, the water is not too cold and, yes, we remembered our cozies! A quick change behind a towel then hold our breathe and ease ourselves into the Med. It’s taken four months but we’ve finally got to swim in the sea.

Auberges des Plaines, Arles, France.

Auberges des Plaines, Arles, France.

Twenty minutes on the tram will get us to the centre of Montpellier. It’s a nice city with both new and old quarters that are easy to navigate. The streets are clean, neat and tidy and are alive with buskers that entertain the passers-by and those sitting at café tables – a clown tries to buy Carole from me for only one sweet!

Our last stopover on our route to Spain is Perpignan and we have a self-catering apartment booked. It’s the egg chasing world cup but England have already been dumped out so we adopt France as our team for tonight’s big game against the All Blacks. We’d previously discovered a bar with plenty of rugby paraphernalia and decided it would be a good location to watch the game but it was shut so we head into town.

We’re nice and early so claim seats in front of the large screen. The bar starts to slowly fill with locals and the landlord turns off the music to turn on the pre-match punditry. I return from the bar to find we’ve gained an All Black. Deborah had heard our English accents and asked to join us at our table. She seems to know her stuff and is nervous as France is a bit of a bogey team for New Zealand she claims.

A group of French girls bag the remaining seats at our table as the game kicks off. As a contest it is soon over but the friendly banter between Deborah and various corners of the room continues, by the end the French have been humiliated. We spend the rest of the evening chatting to Deborah and some of the locals. Before she leaves she asks if we’d like to join her tomorrow night – she’s having dinner with a Belgian but it’s not a date.

Eddy, from Brussels, leads us to a restaurant that he fancies trying and we take our seats at a table for four. He’s a retired teacher who’s just completed a fourteen-day cycle ride following a route his grandfather had taken at the start of the war.

We spend a pleasant evening helping Deborah with career advice and finding out more about Eddy – turns out he worked at the Anderlecht Football Academy and taught Science to Romelu Lukaku amongst others.

Perpignan is a busy city with plenty to see. We visit castles, city gates and other tourist attractions and take the bus to nearby Carnet beach for the day.