Cannes-Le Muy-Tretts-Salon-Alboran-Frontignan-Beziers-Perpignan Dt = 14057 km
The playgrounds of the rich and famous. We fly by Monaco, Nice and Cannes in a day. The French Riviera is not really our scene. In Monaco we marvel at the hype the royal family have created for a charmless city. We are not supposed to bring bicycles so close to the Disneyland-style casino, apparently, and a swaggering young policeman confiscates our passports. We protest at the overreaction. He rings someone to record our vital statistics, and informs us that we are in a police state before finally giving back our passports. We are happy to leave Monaco, glad to return to the more civilised France.
The main attraction of Nice, the next stop on the Riviera, was a wonderful long bicycle path beside the sea. There is a general acceptance of cyclists in France, we have found. And, further down the coast, Cannes had a certain je-ne-sais-quois. Perhaps it was the air of old money...not the place to go if you are on a budget!
The French Riviera may be popular among tourists, but Provence was the real gem. Provence is like Tuscany in Italy - quite ridiculously beautiful and much less built-up than the Riviera. We were lucky with the weather too. No clouds and a little nippy. Great for cycling. Cars gave us a wide berth and drivers ceded right of way with a smile. The towns were charming. Aix-en-Provence in particular had a wide shady boulevard and a laidback elegance. People in Provence were friendly and helpful and interested in what we were doing. 'Bon courage' said an old lady giving us fresh bottles of water to replace our mangy-looking bottles. 'Bon courage' reiterated a lady in a caravan park who would accept no money for our long shower and mammoth clothes washing session.
The best part of the day was midmorning coffees in little towns, sitting out on sunlit pavements, watching the world go by with mouths full of brioche or croissant. Ahhh, the colours, the vibrancy of Provence. Not surprising that people like Van Gogh have fallen in love with the place. No one had to tell us that we had left the region. Cycling became a little more tense. Some cars (not as many as in the Balkans, to be fair) felt niggled by our presence and tooted their annoyance. A truckdriver felt the need to toot and shout at us because the road had narrowed. As if the road malfunction was our fault and we had somewhere to go to get out of his way. I then felt the need to flip him the finger, which led to him stopping his truck to indulge in some road rage. The fact that I was a girl took the wind out of his sails - he hadn't realised because it was raining and I was wearing my hood. So, instead of slowing down the minute necessary to pass us, he lost about five. There have been many friendly truckdrivers in France who have shared the road with us. It is a shame that there still exists a minority with brains the size of peas. And I know that flipping the finger is neither a dignified nor a feminine thing to do, but I think of it as a replacement horn...it is my way of tooting!
Finally, cycling into Perpignan was a nightmare. A lot of traffic going extremely fast, and the roads with very little shoulder for cyclists. Unsurprisingly, the numerous cyclists we had seen along the French Riviera and in Provence completely dried up. The most terrifying moment came when we very nearly ended up as collateral damage in a police car chase. We had reached a section of the road which had some shoulder - not much but enough for bicycles to fit. Two cars had just gone past us when a third car travelling at an insanely fast speed dog-legged in front of us onto the shoulder, almost cleaning us up in the process. The space was so narrow that the car almost blindsided the cars in front as it went past. The police were right behind, sirens blaring, but did not pull the same stunt. We had to stop so that my heart had a chance to start beating again. A few seconds earlier or slower reflexes on the part of the carjackers, and there is no way we would have survived.
So it was a relief to get to Perpignan in one piece. In Spain we will be choosing small roads as much as possible. And as far as France is concerned? We have been delighted by people's friendliness overall, thoroughly recommend Provence, and have been overindulging in cheeses. The French sure know how to whip up a fine Brie and Camembert...