After three nights in the German Alps, it was time to get started with the beach part of our vacation. We visited the French Riviera last year and couldn’t wait to make our second visit to the Côte d’Azur. My biggest fear was that we would have to drive around Austria and stay in Germany, which would turn the nine hour drive into a 14 hour journey. We checked the www.reopen.europa.eu website to make sure we could travel through Austria and Italy on our way to the French Riviera. Since the website didn’t list any travel restrictions, we took the direct route on the way to our Mediterranean destination!
There’s something magical about driving through the Alps onward to the Mediterranean coast. It’s a trip we’ve done several times, and this trip had us no less dazzled. The Autostrada and Autoroute along the Mediterranean coast fills you with eagerness as you overlook tourist destinations such as Menton. Along the route we made a quick stop at Five Guys in Saint-Laurent-du-Var and continued on our way to our final destination, Port Grimaud.
Port Grimaud is the coastal sister village to Grimaud, France. It is a recently developed and master planned community, made by reclaimed marshy areas. Today, the village looks like a mini-Venice and boasts a long sandy beach for vacationers. It even has its own Rialto bridge. It is a 20 minute ferry ride to St. Tropez, and much more appealing because staying in the village is much cheaper than the iconic village across the bay.
While there are many apartments and hotels to choose from in Port Grimaud, Praries de la Mer is a popular location because it offers hundreds of campers and cabins along the coast. The layout gives you the cozy resort feel, and no matter where you stay, you are a quick walk to the beach. We used Booking.com to reserve a three bedroom camper through Nova Lodges, costing €1500 for seven nights in a deluxe camper.
The resort itself is amazing and perhaps the best we’ve visited while in Europe! Our camper was exactly a three minute walk to the beach. On the beach were several restaurants, a small arcade area, an ice cream shop, watercraft rentals, and much more. There was also a very well stocked grocery store on site that seemed to have everything. The grocery store was convenient, as we cooked several nights to keep the trip’s cost down.
I always say, the best way to quickly learn your way around an area is to go for a jog. That’s exactly what we did almost every morning, as we ran along the walking and biking path to get in a few miles. On our morning runs, we explored the depths of the community we otherwise would have never experienced. We jogged through residential areas, along the beach, campgrounds, and even through the busy morning market.
We made a couple trips to St. Tropez, including on our first day there. The first trip, we took a €15 Über ride and on the second we took the ferry. The ferry departs and returns hourly and is only €13 for a round trip ticket. The journey across the bay is a humbling experience as you see the yachts of the mega-rich floating around in the water. Most yachts fill your imagination with what possibly could be inside, and several of them have helicopters parked on the outside.
The ferry drops you right into the heart of St. Tropez, next to high end restaurants and parked yachts lining the coast. Opting to not pay €30 per plate, Nellie and I didn’t eat in any restaurant but we did grab ice cream at Le Glacier du Port. Our oldest also spent €20 and seating fee for a small snack at L’Opéra.
While St. Tropez is a place to see and be seen, we couldn’t help but to explore the village a bit for its main sights. We walked along the coastline to Phare de Saint-Tropez, a light tower at the village’s end that gives you a great view of the village. We also took the steep uphill hike to the Citadel of Saint-Tropez Maritime History Museum. Here, at what used to be the cornerstone of the village’s defense, we learned about the history and defense of what was still a fishing village about a century ago.
Perhaps our best experience in St. Tropez was on a Saturday morning at the Place des Lices Market, the village’s farmer’s market. The heart of the village is transformed into a market where you can buy affordable and authentic goods. The market was jam packed, so we made sure to navigate through the crowd with our masks on. Nellie bought a dress for €20, and we bought two large bowls of seafood paella for €7 each!
We couldn’t wait to revisit Verdon Gorge. During our visit last year, I told Nellie that this was my favorite thing to do in Europe, so she naturally put it back on the itinerary. The perfectly blue and green ice melt turns into the Verdon River, creating a playground for visitors in this 700 meter deep canyon. It’s a worthwhile hour and a half drive from Port Grimaud into the mountains. Frankly, some parts of the drive was tense as we navigated skinny mountain roads in our 9-passenger Volkswagon van, but worth every bit of the trip once you make it to the river.
As we did last year, we drove to Verdon Canoe and rented two kayaks, costing €50 total for a two-hour rental. We got there early afternoon so we could kayak during the heat of the day. As you enter the gorge, you’re greeted by hundreds of fellow vacationers also enjoying the river. While we were on kayaks, there were many people in canoes, pedal boats, small boats, and stand-up paddle boards in the river. A few times along the way, we took turns dipping into the refreshing water. After visit number two, Verdon Gorge is still my single-most favorite place to visit in Europe!
We wanted to see the lavender fields after our trip into the gorge, but still had a few hours to kill. We drove about ten minutes to the village Les Salles-sur-Verdon, where we had to wait until 6:30pm for any of the restaurants to open up for dinner. It’s interesting, how what seemed like a sleepy village at 5:30pm seemed to come completely to life as dinner time started. We chose to eat at Le Mille Pates, where we ate spaghetti for a very affordable price. After an hour at dinner, the sun was starting to set, so it was a perfect time to head out and see the lavender fields.Nothing is more perfect than seeing the lavender fields as the French sun is setting. Nellie did some research to find the most picturesque lavender fields. Of course, our daughters thoroughly enjoyed dressing in their favorite outfits as they took turns snapping Instagram photos for each other. I was amazed at the vastness of the lavender fields. No price of admission, you literally just drove down the road to catch miles and miles of lavender decorating the countryside.The setting felt much more dramatic with wooden cabins dotting the landscape in a distance. While there were many other people out there taking pictures, there were no crowds to battle. If you would like to visit the same four sites we visited, the Google Maps locations are listed below. You will want to visit the location in Valensole last, as it provides the most stunning view at sunset. Lavender Field 1, Lavender Field 2, Lavender Field 3, Lavender Field 4.Since we were there for our anniversary, we wanted enjoy the outdoors as we typically do for our special day. We camped for our honeymoon 16 years ago, and since then, our anniversary usually consists of doing something where we sweat. We decided to hike the Calanques National Park by driving to Cassis. The national park covers over 200 square miles, but is best known for its steep cliffs overlooking a few prominent inlets along the coast. The drive was about an hour and a half from Port Grimaud, and we parked at Parking de la Presqu’île for €8 for the day. The parking lot was a perfect starting point for what would end up being an all day adventure.When you enter the park, the sign warns you to bring a couple liters of water for each person, especially if you plan to do the long and hard trail. We made the full 7-mile hike on a couple water bottles, but I was nervous at the end that we would become heat casualties. The park is worth the visit. Just bring plenty of water!The first leg of our hike was about a mile long, beginning with a hike overlooking Calanque de Port-Miou. Since this Calanque only featured boats docked, we continued along the path to Calanque de Port Pin. This first leg of the hike wasn’t too tough, though it was a steep ascent then descent to make it to the rocky beach. It was only about 20 minutes to hike there, and while I wouldn’t recommend it for the elderly, there were plenty of people making the hike with kids. The perfectly clear water formed into a inlet, with an atmosphere so stunning that you almost could believe it was made for a movie set.The next beach at Calanque d’En-Vau wasn’t so pleasant to get to. Put it this way, it took us almost an hour to traverse a mile just to get there. To make it there we had to descend a steep rocky cliff, which we would end up having to ascend on the return trip.We noticed that all the people descending and ascending seem to be in great physical shape. It was tough not to imagine yourself plummeting from the mountain while also trying to maintain your footing. I’m probably dramatizing the experience, but it was honestly worth it once we made it to the sandy beach of Calanque d’En-Vau.We lounged there for about an hour, and then made the steep climb to the top of the cliff. It took us a couple of hours to make the 3.5 mile return trip, but I can definitely say a trip to the Calanques is worth it!I can’t go without telling you about the amazing time we had at Port Grimaud. We always find it important to program resort days into our long vacations so we don’t burn out on our “relaxing” holidays. As a beach town, Port Grimaud has plenty of water activity rentals right there on the sandy shores. In addition to wasting away hours in the sand, we especially enjoyed the relatively low cost to rent Stand-Up Paddleboards for a couple of hours. Nellie made most of our dinners in the cabin, including grilling burgers on 4th of July. Nellie and I also enjoyed a romantic anniversary dinner in the village at Pasta E Via.Praries de la Mer features many rentals to get out and enjoy the area, but we really enjoyed taking a tour in The Little Train. The Little Train is a street train that somehow navigates through the tightest spaces, and brings you up to the hilltop village of Grimaud. The train offers more information about the town than you’ll probably ever need to know, but you get an opportunity to get off and walk around the original village, dominated by an 11th Century castle. It is a relaxing way to spend a few hours and also learn about the area.We were sad to leave our seven night stay in paradise, but it’s always fun to dream about another visit. The drive back to Kaiserslautern was an easy 10-hour drive, almost completely on the Autoroute. Every time we visit the Côte d’Azur, we realize how easy the drive is, and wonder why we don’t do it more. However, I can truly say that given this was our second trip, a week was definitely enough time. Sure, we could have packed more things in, but we also wanted to have plenty of time enjoying ourselves on the resort.There is so much to see on the French Riviera, and you probably need several trips to see it. There’s Monte Carlo, Menton, Nice, Cannes, Marseille, and so much more. Of course, when seeing it all, there’s the art of balancing a relaxing beach vacation versus seeing it all. Anyways, I’m sure you’ll figure out how to do all that. I just hope we’ve inspired you to explore our favorite coast in the world. The Côté d’Azur is guaranteed to be an amazing family vacation!