Hilltop villages and breathtaking roads

During our time in Opio, we discovered that it was a wonderful base to explore the region. Most of the sights to see were within an hour’s drive and we made the most of our opportunity to see places we had heard of but never been to. When we cruised the Mediterranean, about 7 years ago, from our Monaco stop we were to visit Grasse, St Paul de Vence and Eze – but bad weather and heavy seas meant this stop was cancelled and I never got to see them. Now, we were within easy reach of all of these places, so we took the opportunity to visit.

Grasse, we visited on an early rainy day of our time here; this was probably not the best idea as we didn’t know the area and all we knew was that there was a perfume factory here. If it hadn’t been so wet, I would have liked to explore the old town more, but after wandering through the Fragonard facility and smelling the scents, we headed back to the security of “home” and unfortunately never made it back to explore Grasse itself. The Fragonard perfume factory and museum was a great start – they offer free guided tours throughout the day and show you different aspects of perfume making today, as well as some of the history of this process. The air around the factory smells divine, and as we drove around the region, we were often aware of the waste disposal of the factories. Because they use natural ingredients it seems that draining excess by-products into canals is acceptable and adds to the ambience of the area.

We also ventured to St Paul de Vence one rainy day that promised to clear but didn’t! We wandered the narrow streets avoiding a tour group that was probably off one of the cruise ships, stepped into a little cafe for lunch and promised ourselves we would return when it was a nice day. When we did return, there were even more tourists clogging the narrow streets. It is interesting to see how different nationalities take their photos.  One particular group take a long time to pose and hold fingers just so, heads cocked to the side so it seems that the photos are more about them than the place they are in. The views within and beyond this little hilltop village are lovely. It is amazing to think that this ancient town has survived so well; there is a lot of new growth around it, almost swallowing it up.

As we drove around from place to place, it struck me how different it is to what I’m used to driving on in urban and even rural areas. The streets here are narrow – often no more than one car width but locals whizz along without a caution it seems. Most of the streets and lanes around our housesit are tree-lined and there seems to be no set layout, the roads probably follow ancient boundaries and wind their way along water courses and stony fence lines. I still can’t picture in my head exactly where I am in relation to where we are going. But the steep switchback roads to get from the highways to the coast are something else.

One day we planned to visit Monaco and it was suggested we catch the train in rather than trying to negotiate the heavy traffic and parking nightmares of Monte Carlo. We thought we would drive to Menton and then catch a train through… good plans but thwarted by the ongoing train strikes. Instead we wandered the streets of Menton (in Menton, I looved the smell of orange blossom, and orange tree lined streets) and then headed for Eze, between Monte Carlo and Nice. Again, the roads were steep and windy, and after a short detour up and down the motorway due to an incorrect interpretation of the map from me, we were finally headed in the right direction. We are thankful for the ease of parking in these small villages – they seem to have parking lots ready for the hordes of tourists and, being a weekday, we found a park fairly easily. Eze is again on top of a hill, this area seems to be riddled with hilltop towns – there are so many hills to choose from! Once again we wandered the narrow cobbled streets and took in the views of the Mediterranean beyond. There was a lovely garden area right at the top of the village from whence we could admire the village below and the metropolis beyond.


Chris had been introduced to Gourdon on a cycle ride with the group, and said it would be worth a return visit. We wound our way up the roads he has enjoyed cycling on and stopped at the “top” to wander around Gourdon. These little villages seem to have themes and this one had beautiful glassware on show. St Paul de Vence was full of art galleries. The views from Gourdon down into the valley below and beyond were breathtaking. We watched parapenters gliding across the valley, and then drove higher again for more views. One day when Chris was cycling in this area, he heard rustling in the bushes above the road. Looking up he saw 3 wild boars crashing their way through the undergrowth. We had been warned that the boars are particularly dangerous, so he was a little perturbed, especially as on came down to road level and raced across in front of him. Thankfully it disappeared over the bank, and none of the others followed. Chris relished the bike rides and explored roads that Carolyn would never drive on. The area was abuzz with cyclists of all shapes and sizes, but lots of serious bikers train on these hills.

We enjoyed our time here in the south of France, settling into the European way of life and adjusting to narrow roadways and driving on the right. More adventures await….


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