Like so many of my fellow road warriors, I must admit to having something of a soft spot for France if only because my heart always seems to beat differently the moment I touch down at Charles De Gaulle airport in Roissy-en-France. Perhaps the feeling can be chalked up to my recollection of the grand romances that have awaited me in the City of Lights; memorable tours of the Loire Valley, Champagne and the villages of Provence that have unfailingly left me in awe; the parties in St. Tropez at which I have twirled away the night; or those quiet sunny afternoons spent simply walking among the vines in picturesque spots like Reims during harvest.
Whatever the reason, ever since I first arrived in Nice by train as an unsophisticated, wide-eyed 18-year-old college student with outsized delusions of grandeur that were not at all belied by the massive backpack that hovered high above my head, I have felt an enduring connection to France that has been defined by culture, new adventures and monumental good times. Needless to say, when I arrived in Paris to begin my latest escapade – a seven-day road trip that would take me to Provence and Cannes and back – that gloriously familiar feeling of anticipation was immediately renewed.
Joining me on this trip was my friend and partner in crime, YouTuber Davey Wavey, who was, at least in part, the inspiration for this particular trip. Those who have followed our other excursions around Spain, across Texas and throughout the great American Southwest, will already know that Davey is the yen to my yang. If he’s Sunday morning, I’m Saturday night.
That said, we both take great joy in gently torturing each other on these outings and this time it was my turn to have a go at Davey (inasmuch as anyone could call a splashy weeklong visit to some of the most beloved destinations in France ‘having a go’). My goal for this adventure was simple and sweet – to show Davey the good life and how it could provide the perfect backdrop to romance.
Arriving in Paris on a Sunday morning, we picked up our rental car and began an 8-hour trek to Eygalières in Provence that would give new meaning to the notion of a Sunday afternoon drive. Though it was a somewhat grueling way to spend our first 8 hours in France, it was also a wonderful opportunity to ground the journey ahead. After all, in my experience, nothing forces local life into clearer focus than a road trip.
Late on that first evening, road weary and a bit bleary-eyed we arrived at the rustic farmhouse where we would spend the next couple of nights. Whenever I’m in Provence, I always find renting a villa or farmhouse preferable to staying at a hotel because I want everything around me to be as French as possible and this farmhouse abutted by an organic farm near Saint-Remy was exactly that – perhaps too much so. But when in France…
As far as the itinerary for our stay in Provence, we kept it light and flexible. However, I would be remiss were I not to acknowledge that part of the magic of Provence is the sheer exploration of the region and the little hidden treasures that you uncover along the way. In our case that meant stopping by a goat farm, milking a few goats and sampling a variety of the farm’s cheeses; meandering through the streets of Saint-Remy – popping into local shops sampling everything from olive oil to meringues and buying everything from perfume to swimwear; and settling down to meals on the outdoor patios of charming local boites likes Chez Fanny where the always reliable Steak-Frites was the star.
Bidding adieu to pastural charms of Provence, we continued on to the livelier Cannes where we checked into Le Grand Hotel Cannes, a part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World Collection (SLH). Set apart from La Croisette, the main drag in Cannes, by a striking garden and terrace, Le Grand Hotel is a titan of luxe even among the giants that border it.
With retro-glamour to spare, the Prestige rooms we checked into boasted stunning sea views, sweeping terraces and elegant touches including fresh orchids from the hotel’s very own greenhouse. It was 5-star luxury in the most boutique of settings and without a doubt the sweet spot of our trip, from my point of view. It was also the elegant home base from which we would dive into the glitz and glamour of one of France’s most notoriously enchanting destinations.
So, what does one do in Cannes when it’s not festival season? Why what one would do in any luxurious seaside locale of course. One dines, drinks, shops, hits the beach, explores and generally laps up the oodles of luxury that await at every turn. One might even do a bit of a gambling, if one is the betting sort. With no time to waste, we ticked off every box during our short stay with the exception of the gambling bit because, if there is one thing that I know to be true, it is that it is next to impossible to get Davey to go out after 11 PM for either love or money. What can I say? One has to pick and choose one’s battles n’est ce pas?
After an early solo breakfast at the Armani /Caffè on La Croisette, it was off to lunch at the clubby BFire on the private beach of Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes. Private beaches are de rigueur amenities for all the fashionable hotels in Cannes so it will come as no surprise that the one belonging to Le Majestic is among the most stunning (and most exclusive) in town. Over a lunch of fresh fish, steak tartare and salads, enjoyed a la plage on a perfectly sun-dappled and temperate fall afternoon, we relaxed into the laidback sway of life in Cannes surrounded by well-heeled families and patrons dining, frolicking on the beach and basically doing much the same as us.
From there it was off Le Vieux Port de Cannes, the marina that most notably plays hosts to the world’s super yachts and their billionaire owners during the glittering annual Cannes Film Festival. Surrounded by rare sports cars on the shore and a parade of resident yachts in the marina, we boarded a tender for an intimate private boat tour that would take us to Esterel and the Île Sainte-Marguerite.
For a brilliant few hours we sped out to sea, weaving our way around the aforementioned mega yachts, winding along the coast where some of France’s wealthiest and noteworthy citizens including the La Coste family and Pierre Cardin have built magnificent homes (homes that would in fact be impossible to see from any other vantage point), and discovering the many craggy, coves that are a hallmark of the region. It was an up close and personal view of a side of the Cote d’Azur that I had not hitherto experienced in addition to being a fabulous way to while away an afternoon on the French Riviera for those of us mere mortals not fortunate enough to own seagoing vessels of our own.
Following an afternoon stroll, we wound down the evening quietly with an elegant meal at the Michelin-starred Le Park 45 at Le Grand Hotel. Amid the splendor of the restaurant’s intimate and refined dining room, with the hum of La Croisette and sea as a backdrop, Chef Sebastian Broda’s kitchen plied us with a parade of the culinary wonders that have earned the restaurant high marks with foodies and critics alike. Never able to quite get enough of the town, after dinner I took another long turn along La Croisette, looking at store windows, peeking into casinos and generally inhaling the intoxicating life of the Cote d’Azur and its denizens. Before leaving the next morning, I would do more of the same because…um…why not?
For the final leg of our trip, having had our fill of the proverbial romance of the road trip, we ditched the rental car and took the TGV from Cannes to Paris. At this point, feeling that I had doled out lessons sufficient enough for my travel companion to take matters into his own hands, we took off in different directions upon checking into our rented apartment in the City of Lights. My first stop was Neuilly-sur-Seine, the posh Paris suburb about which I had recently read much and was curious to explore, if only because I never had. Actually, much closer to the many of Paris’ notable monuments than I had previously thought, the shops and sights of Neuilly-sur-Seine provided an amusing distraction on my first afternoon in Paris. But then again, we are talking about Paris, which for me is, in and of itself and as a whole, the most amusing of distractions.
Confirming my long-held fondness for mixing high and low, later that evening I decided to check out the American southern comfort food rage currently sweeping across Paris. I, like so many other people associate France with outstanding cuisine, but as a natural born Southerner, I wondered how authentic these new Parisien hotspots touting fried chicken and waffles and Texas-style barbecue would be. Though I had heard great things about the fried chicken at Ellsworth in the 2nd Arrondissement, my decision to chart the comfort food course was a bit last minute and I couldn’t get a reservation. So, as I was staying in the 11th Arrondissement, I opted instead to try the chicken and waffles at Gumbo Yaya, a well-regarded ‘soul kitchen’ not far from the Place de la République.
Packed into a tiny space, with a line out the door, I immediately came to the conclusion that Gumbo Yaya was indeed as popular as had been reported. Once I was finally squeezed into a corner near the kitchen, I ordered a bit of everything – fried chicken, greens, cornbread, mac n’ cheese and, of course, a waffle. My conclusion? Not bad. I don’t think my favorite comfort food restaurants across the South have anything to worry about in terms of competition or being outdone by the French, but if you happen to be in Paris and also happen to be in need of a comfort food fix, Gumbo Yaya will more than adequately meet the challenge.
My final day in Paris was one of those dreamily ideal, gray rainy days that demand to be explored rather than avoided. I walked from the Place de la République to the Louvre, turning off into various shopping arcades, before stopping for a hearty, soul-warming lunch of poulet and potatoes at a café. Later that evening, I met up with a friend from Switzerland who happened to be visiting Paris. After dinner, finally aligned with something more of a night owl as a side kick, it was off to mini-bar crawl around Le Marais during which we stumbled upon a new favorite cocktail and whiskey bar. The whimsically named Sherry Butt turned out to be a laidback, off the beaten path gem, with a menu of handcrafted cocktails that have already earned it a place in the annals of the “World’s Best Bars”. Hip, mixology-forward, yet unpretentious, Sherry Butt served up a mean Old Fashioned that would rival the best I have ever enjoyed, delivering in the process a flawless nightcap for a flawless evening.
The final morning of my Paris itinerary was reserved for a visit to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs which is currently hosting the epic Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve exhibition through January, 2018. An extraordinarily comprehensive retrospective of the House of Dior, it’s legendary founder and the illustrious couturiers who succeeded him: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and, most recently, Maria Grazia Chiuri, the exhibition is as much a celebration of France and what makes it so singular as much as it is a look back at the dazzling creations the haute couture giant has produced over the last seven decades. It’s also a great reason to check out the Musée des Arts Décoratifs if you’ve never done so before.
I could have spent the entire day at the exhibition, but alas there was a reservation and a flight waiting at Charles de Gaulle to wing me back home. As my Uber approached the airport and I began to mentally prepare for my flight, my formerly giddy heartbeat began to slow back to its natural rhythm. The bad news, as per the usual, is that I would once again leave a piece of my heart in Paris. The good news however is that I also knew full well that it would be waiting for me upon my return.
Watch Davey’s take on our adventure below:
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