Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Overview: Vacation Basics

Our vacation to the Cote d'Azur was inspired by watching the old movie To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. The scenery looked so beautiful in the movie that we decided to see for ourselves.

I want to begin by saying that the French in this region are just SO very, very warm, kind and courteous! The food was great and the scenery was spectacular! Every day that we were out and about, I felt so happy and lively with each experience.

It is so difficult to find just the right words to express just how much we loved this trip. I can try, but no words seem sufficient. We've done a lot of traveling.

Above all other vacations, this was our favorite. Perhaps it's because we kept the trip simple. We didn't "chase landmarks and museums". We were just "there" to be there and enjoy the people and places. This trip was about the experience, rather than about what we did. Our only real goal was to do some day hiking for fun and to experience the region up close. It may seem boring to some, but for us, it was just perfect!

So, I'll just keep the descriptions simple.

We began planning this trip in December 2007. The Slow Travel Forum members at Slow Travel Talk were a wonderful resource.

For our day hiking, we used AzurAlive as a resource including the purchase of the book on hiking the western Cote d'Azur.

On April 30th, we flew on American Airlines from Raleigh Durham Airport to London Heathrow. We connected to a British Airways flight to Nice, France. Having sufficient frequent flier miles for two tickets, the airfare was just the cost of the airport taxes and fees for using the airmiles. In other words, very inexpensive.

We arrived in Nice on Thursday, May 1st and took a taxi to the Hotel Suisse, our accomodations for two nights. A bus runs frequently to Nice, but we were tired enough from the overnight fligth that we paid the taxi fare.

Hotel Suisse is located right on the water with a great view of the Promenade des Anglais:

From our base in Nice, we took a bus to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat where we toured the gardens at the Villa Ephrussi, had lunch, and walked to Beaulieu where we caught a bus to Menton (it goes through Monaco if you want to hop off there).

We also enjoyed our time in Nice. It's a pleasant city and easy to navigate on foot. The train station and bus station provide convenient and inexpensive access to other villages and sites along the coast.

On Saturday, May 3rd, we left the Hotel Suisse and walked a few miles to the train station to pickup our rental car. We each had a backpack for luggage, so the walk wasn't difficult for us. We stopped along our walk to have a picnic breakfast on a bench in Place Massena.

Our car was a Fiat Bravo from AutoEurope, but at the train station, it was Europecar. Anyway, we were upgraded to a larger 4-door car w/trunk for the same price. It was diesel, which got great mileage for us. Our cost for 7 days rental was $250 USD. Quite a bargain! We dropped the car off at the Nice Airport before the office opened. We recently received a paper copy of our final receipt and there were no extra charges, no surprise. We were very pleased with the car rental experience.

By the way, the French in this region did not drive aggressively. We saw very few speeding cars and no irratic driving. There was no horn honking. In fact, we found the drivers to be quite curteous of both pedestrians and other drivers. It was a very safe experience.

When we picked up the rental car, we drove to our rental apartment, Le Club Mougins, in Mougins. The apartment was a large 1 bedroom with a kitchenette, bathroom with shower(separate WC), living area with TV, and a great covered balcony with table/chairs and a clothes drying rack. We had a view of the surrounding hills. We were less than a mile from Vieux Village Mougins (the old village at the top of the hill). What the apartment complex lacked in atmosphere, it made up for with convenience to the A8, hill villages, gourmet food, grocery, bus stop, patisserie and modern comforts.

The staff at Le Club Mougins were just wonderful! We had concierge services with maps, information, etc. While there was a restaurant at the resort, we never used it. We didn't use the swimming pool nor the gym. We had maid service, which was different from other apartment rentals that we've experienced in Europe. We were able to obtain this rental because we have a Dominican Republic timeshare that is part of Interval International. Le Club Mougins became available as a getaway, meaning that we didn't have to exchange a week at our home resort. The cost of this 7 day accomodation was around $700 USD, including travel insurance. Another bargain! I'm sure this resort charges much, much more through other arrangements.

On Saturday, May 10th, we dropped off our rental car at the Nice Airport at 5:30am. We took a British Airways flight to LHR where we connected to an American Airlines flight back to Raleigh Durham Airport.

I've organized this blog by village so that readers may select those areas of interest.


NEXT: Nice, France as a starting point