French Coast

So remember my oldest friend, the one who left us for Londontown and an awesome Irishman? Well, she and said Irishman tied the knot up in a chateau on the hills overlooking Cassis, France. And so Alan and I took a little road trip from Italy to France to see it happen!

Driving from Italy to France was an experience in its own right. The first road we needed to take out of Vernazza was closed due to the floods (three years ago), so we enlisted the help of a friendly Italian man to help us reroute. While his advice sounded on point, we soon found ourselves going up and down the cliffsides and taking narrow, winding roads through what was seemingly the least direct way out of Cinque Terre. At least it was stunningly beautiful. Once we finally found those autostrades, we were welcomed by some of the most insane tolls I have ever heard of. I had flashbacks to my shock at the tolls in New York, and I suddenly felt incredibly embarrassed to have ever complained about those. Europeans, you have it so bad when it comes to driving. We had one toll that was €26! That’s nearly $35! And in France there was one stretch where we had to stop (on the same highway) every 15 minutes to pay an exact change toll ranging from €2 to €14! Who knew we’d need to figure in hundreds of dollars extra for gas (it’s basically the equivalent of $9 a gallon) and tolls when we chose the rental car over the trains!

Alas, we perhaps made up for the budget hit by our seemingly impossible feat of visiting the country of Monaco and paying for NOTHING. The view of the country as you drive in is quite impressive. The huge yachts and the shining buildings stand in stark contrast to the stunning mountains behind. Down in the thick of it, we parked near the Casino, which was unfortunately closed when we arrived. What’s up with that by the way? Always thought casinos were 24 hours. So we took the obligatory Monte Carlo selfie and basically bounced. Though we first walked quickly through town to ogle the fancy stores, fancier cars, and even fancier yachts, and of course the ladies walking with their noses held high. So, if all the tolls we paid are going to France’s revenue and not Monaco’s, then Monaco wins the award of cheapest country we’ve ever visited! 😉

After a beautiful drive near the coast of the French Riviera we finally made it to our destination. The main town of Cassis is super cute, with a harbor full of boats and cafes full of people sipping rosé. We stayed at a hotel just a few minutes walk from this area, with a lovely view of a small beach just across the street. I’m embarrassed to say that I never even went in the ocean, but in my defense, we did not much luck out with the weather and it was exceptionally choppy. (Some on and off epic thunderstorms, which thankfully held off during the welcome party and the actual wedding, all outdoors! Though it did mean that the water was too rough for the boat cruise to go out, and I’m partially blaming that for the fact that we went to Cassis and never saw the Calanques! So embarrassing, but we place the rest of the blame on the rosé and champagne).

The wedding was held in a beautiful old chateau up the hill overlooking the town of Cassis. Not a bad view, eh? The bride was also stunning (shocker, I know), and it’s hard to say which was more beautiful. We had a great time dancing and clinking our champagne glasses and reuniting with friends and Kait’s family (since I practically lived at her house while I was in middle school!), and by 3:30 am I found myself in the pool (in my dress) alongside my newly married friend. Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. C!

Of the restaurants and attractions in Cassis, we can’t opine much since (as alluded to above) we spent much of our time at wedding related festivities or recovering from them. Most of our meals were taken at the panini shop next door to our hotel (and by our last day, the guy kind of knew us and maybe took a liking to us despite my very rusty French!?). The trois fromages panini was budget friendly and tasty with that Roquefort cheese! We had a few meals in the downtown area, but I would be hard pressed to remember the names. But do beware if you come to Cassis that many locals do not speak English and it is not always easy to communicate (even with my nearly ten years of studying the French language. Quel dommage)!

By the end of our visit to the French Riviera we were not operating at 100%, or as the groom would put it, we were paid a visit by the “bogeyman.” So it should not come as a surprise to Jaimie or Kait that we have now made a tradition of getting some post-wedding McNuggets, or, in this case, Le McNuggets. All your stories inspired us Matt & Jaim!

P.S. we’re not much good at photography when busy celebrating our friends’ weddings, so apologies for the few (and mostly low-quality iPhone) photos in this post!

Practical Info 

Cassis is a small town in the south of France, east of Marseilles in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. It is famous for the Calanques, which are steep-walled inlets on the Mediterranean. And also for rosé and white wine.

Transportation: We drove from Vernazza (Cinque Terre) and stopped in Monaco on the way. In Monaco, we parked at the public lot at the Casino de Monte-Carlo (first hour is free) and walked around a little. In Cassis, we parked at the hotel for €15/day. Right next door was a public lot offering hourly rates and charging more for 24 hour parking. It was a 5-10 minute walk from our hotel into town. Getting around on foot seemed pretty easy, especially if you take a boat tour (from the harbor) of the Calanques vs. walking to see them. Some friends either took a taxi or train to Cassis from Marseilles and did not have a car. We departed by car for Bellagio (Lake Como), opting for the inland route (through Briancon, Turin, Milan, etc.) since we had taken the coastal route from Cinque Terre. The inland route may be slightly longer (and more hilly and windy), but it was different and there is some great mountain scenery.

Accommodation: We stayed at Hotel de la Plage Mahogany, across the street from a small rocky beach and a 5-10 minute walk into the town/harbor. Our room was not that big but perfectly fine, and it had a balcony and gorgeous view of the ocean and cliffs across the way. Our friends stayed at Les Roches Blanches, which is a tad further from town but on the ocean with a cliffside infinity pool.

Food and Drinks: There are tons of restaurants lining the harbor. Seafood features prominently, and bouillabaisse is a specialty of the region. Closer to our hotel there was a panini stand we frequented, and the bacon cheeseburger with fries at Same Same Beach was hearty if quite pricy at €20. Local white wine and rosé are abundant.

Activities: We were in wedding mode, which combined with spotty weather meant minimal tourist activities. Aside from relaxing with walks around town or at the beach, I think the most popular activity must be visiting the Calanques. There are walking routes from the west side of town, or you can take a boat cruise departing from the town harbor. There are other scenic drives/walks in the area, and there are wineries that I assume one may visit.

We didn’t do much in Monaco as we had a long drive, but a few things that sounded interesting are visiting the Casino de Monte-Carlo (check dress code), Musée Océanographique, the Jardin Exotique district and the Palais Princier.

September 16-20, 2014 (Tuesday-Saturday)

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