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Back to the Med! Cannes and St. Tropez

It was well into the afternoon when we arrived at our first stop of the day, Biot. This small commune is famous for glassblowing, and we stopped at one of the larger studios so the kids could see the process. Touring the showroom afterwards with the kids wanting to touch all the brightly colored bottles and flowers was nerve-wracking, but I was able to let go of them long enough to snap a couple of pictures.
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We had to rush through our next stop, Antibes, because we had to meet our host in Cannes soon. We were able to take a quick spin along the seaside Promenade Amiral de Grasse and the narrow lanes of the old town before jumping back in the van and speeding off to Cannes.
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Cannes proved to be another parking nightmare. We wedged the van into a highly illegal space in the old town and raced to unload the luggage and kids up into our third floor apartment. I left everyone there and began an exhausting search for a garage that would accommodate the Iceberg. Fortunately I'd learned the van's height from Toulouse so I knew to avoid the 1.8 meter limits, but the garage owners seemed to take great pleasure in printing the height limits in minuscule type that was completely unreadable from the garage entrances. That forced me to park the car in front of the garage, get out and run to the sign, and then run back to the van and drive off when the limit turned out to be 1.8. I went through this process and circled the old town about three times before eventually finding a garage I could use. I thought I'd be two miles from the apartment once I finally parked, but it turned out the wide circle I'd taken had actually brought me back fairly close to home. It was still over an hour since I'd embarked on my quest, so the first order of business was to find some dinner. We strolled down Rue Félix Faure which had a line of attractive looking canopied restaurants and eventually ended up at Astoux et Brun, where we had a very good seafood dinner.

The next morning we headed directly to Cannes' famous covered market Marché Forville, where we got fruit and sausages for the kids and Mei Ling found some delicious-looking dried morel mushrooms.
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We walked down to the port to look at the yachts and then took a look at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, the main site of the Cannes Film Festival. Mei Ling was a little taken aback at how plain the front of the building looked with no red carpet, limos, or celebrities in sight.
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There was a beautiful carousel on the Promenade just inland from the beach, so we let the kids have a couple of rides before heading to the beach itself. The public part of la Croisette beach was a little forlorn, but the kids loved it so we stuck around for a couple of hours.
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After the beach, we got ice cream for the kids and then walked around Cannes for a couple more hours until it was time for dinner. We selected a higher end restaurant for dinner, which worked out OK because they had an outside table for us. The food was nicely presented but not as good as our previous night's meal.
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We had a lot of stops planned on the way to St. Tropez, so the next morning we just took a quick pass through Marché Forville on the way to the parking garage. First was a beautiful town a few miles inland from Cannes called Mougins. From the parking lot at the base of town, an elevator took us up to a platform close to the old town from which we had amazing views of the countryside below.
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It was still too early for lunch but we inspected the menus and reserved a table at the most promising candidate. For the next hour we meandered through the narrow alleys of the old down, which were filled with foliage and sculpture. Like St. Paul de Vence, Mougins was full of art galleries and other high end businesses that catered to wealthy tourists from the Riviera. Perhaps because of the early hour, it was far less congested with tourists and we found it to be one of the more enjoyable towns we had visited.
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The coup de grace for our visit was lunch at Le Gaudinade, an awesome selection of classic French delicacies including frogs' legs, duck breast with flavorful morels, and plump snails. It was easily one of the best meals of the trip, and the owner and staff were unusually pleasant and friendly.
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Glowing from a quintessential Provence lunch, we drove to the next town over, Mouans-Sartoux. Here we toured Les Jardins du MIP, lovely gardens of flowers and shrubs set against a backdrop of lush green hills. In this annex of the International Perfume Museum we had visited in Grasse, one can see and smell the plants that form the bases of the region's perfumes.
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We still had a little time to spare before St. Tropez, so we made a quick stop in Fréjus. Fréjus doesn't attract many tourists compared to other towns on the Rivera, but it has an impressive cathedral and quiet winding lanes in the old town.
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The rest of our day was a series of logistical nightmares. First, we got stuck in the parking lot in Frejus when the unmanned exit gate refused to accept any of my credit cards. It took half an hour to explain our problem to the disembodied voice on the other end of the intercom and understand what they wanted us to do about it. Once we arrived at the outskirts of St. Tropez, traffic on the one lane road slowed to a crawl and then stopped completely. Meanwhile, a steadily growing river of motorcycles passed the line of stationary cars on either side. It quickly became apparent that there was a motorcycle convention in town that weekend and the motorcyclists were largely preventing the cars from moving in any direction. Our GPS didn't recognize the street that our Airbnb was on, so I was using Google Maps which eventually guided us to the completely wrong location. We called and texted our hosts, but they were rather unhelpful in explaining how to find their exact location and the cellular signal was spotty at best. For the next two hours we crept back and forth along the coastal road, fruitlessly attempting to find side roads that would take us around the grueling traffic jam. After wasting most of the early evening, we finally found our Airbnb just as darkness was falling. We quickly dumped the bags and raced to Port Cogolin where we managed to find an undistinguished dinner. Interestingly, a day which had begun with one of our best mornings ended with our worst evening of the trip.

It was no coincidence that we were in St. Tropez on Saturday, the day of the weekly market. There was a surprising amount of prepared food at the market, with the highlight being open-faced sandwiches of sliced black truffle and olive oil. Between the sandwiches and some roasted quail, there was more than enough food to tide us over to a late lunch.
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St. Tropez was a fun town to explore, despite the enormous crowds of bikers that clogged the market and the streets around the old port. From the northern edge of the old town we could see all the way across the Golfe de Saint-Tropez to the opposite shoreline.
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We walked back through the old town until we came to the Montée de la Citadelle, which gently ascends the hillside to the hulking Citadelle de St. Tropez. It wasn't the tallest hill or the greatest castle, but it was a nice escape from all the revving Harleys below us.
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The market food was wearing off so we drove across the peninsula to the beachy side of St. Tropez, where we had a light lunch at La Plage des Jumeaux. The kids played for a bit on the restaurant's private beach, but it was too cold and windy to really enjoy ourselves.
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Our last stop on the St. Tropez peninsula was the walled hilltop village of Ramatuelle, which we explored for about an hour before deciding that we had best get on the road to Marseille before it got too late. More hilltop villages such as Grimaud and Gassin were tantalizingly close, but it was clear that if we dawdled too long we wouldn't make it to dinner in Marseille.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 04:49 Archived in France Tagged antibes cannes st._tropez biot mougins mouans-sartoux frejus ramatuelle

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