3 uneatable oranges
2 thousand kilometres
1 speeding ticket
0 hot showers
-1 pair of shoes
I was never an Erasmus student but I definitely lived like one during my Masters program in Orleans, France. The best part about going abroad are the people you meet, the memories and experiences you acquire and the places that you want to visit again and again.
I started my program in September, and Cristi started his in January. In April we had one week off school, so we decided to do a road trip. Cote d’Azur seemed like a good choice, so five of us, a Czech, German, Moldavian and two Romanians rented a car(I have to mention I was the only girl), and with plenty of free time and a limited budget we left for the French Riviera. We would camp in the wild and cook our own food, rather than pay accommodation and restaurants.
Day 1: The road to the French Riviera: going to Die and camping in an olive grove.
We left in the morning from Orleans, packed with camping gear and a sense of adventure. We had bought a map of France previously, which shows, among others, scenic routes, so more often than not we were taking these ones in order to discover the beauty of France (having to pay for some of the highways had nothing to do with this choice). Most of the day was spent on the road, stopping only for gas and lunch. On our way we passed Die – hence the “going to Die”. We didn’t stop in the town, but the name itself was enough to become a lasting joke, being more easy to remember. We had the coordinates of a wild camping spot from a site for wild camping spots in France. We arrived quite late and at the coordinates received there was nothing that would indicate a place to put our tents up. It was already dark so we took a dirt road off the main one and decided to camp in an olive grove near Orange. I have to mention here that this Cote d’Azur road trip was the second time I ever camped (first one being one month earlier), so, naturally, I was a bit scared. Probably it was due to watched horror movies, but I was listening and paying attention to every sound outside our tent, trying to figure out if there is something outside. It is safe to say that I did not get too much sleep the first night.
Day 2: Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Lac de Sainte-Croix and Gorges du Verdon
Our breakfast (this morning and the ones that followed) was limited to tea, coffee and scrambled eggs cooked on a camping stove along with bread, jam and Nutella. Next stop was Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. There was something extremely calming about this village. Based at the bottom of a cliff with narrow, cobbled streets and with a monastery, Notre-Dame de Beauvoir on top of the cliff, the village was gorgeous. We decided to climb to the monastery and then hike around the back of it. From the top you could see the artificial Lac de Sainte-Croix in the distance. Since the decision was spontaneous we only had one Red Bull with us and our cameras. After a few hours we returned to the car and headed out to the lake. As soon as you see the azure water you realize why it’s called Cote d’Azur. The views were breath-taking. As soon as you reach the lake from the north side there is a bridge over Verdon, a river with azure waters and cliffs on both sides, the beginning of Gorges du Verdon, a river canyon that is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful. Unfortunately everything was closed and so we could not rent a boat or kayak to enjoy these azure waters up-close. We stopped on the pontoon and the boys decided to throw some stones and see who could throw further (boys!!!). This game took more than an hour. Afterwards we went around the lake to look for a camping place. We chose a nice place on the south shore of the north-eastern tip of Lac de Ste Croix. As we were heading to the camping place we passed a family camping there, family which turns out was Romanian as well, living in Cote d’Azur. They gave us some tips about what to visit, more specifically a waterfall south of the lake called Sillans la Cascade. Somehow this night I went to sleep without trying to listen to outside noises.
Day 3: Sillans-La-Cascade, St Tropez
The day before, when we reached Lac de Sainte Croix there was a strong wind blowing, so although the azure water seemed welcoming for a bath, the weather outside was not that forgiving. The boys were not held back this morning though. In the cold weather and even colder water, they took a bath – rather short one though. Since the Romanian family recommended the Sillans waterfall, we decided to give it a chance. The village with the same name was rather small with the houses and cobbled streets we were already accustomed to. There is a short hike to the stream and the viewpoint for the waterfall. Needless to say, the water had the same bright blue colour as the lake the day before, the kind of colour that you see all over Cote d’Azur. Although the path to get close to the waterfall was fenced off, Ion our Moldavian friend found a way to get close to the base of the waterfall. It wasn’t a straightforward path, having to climb over a rock and crawl under a fence, but in the end it was worth it. At the base of the waterfall the water formed a pool, surrounded by cliffs and trees. The atmosphere was serene. When we visit the French Riviera again (hopefully sooner rather than later), Sillans la Cascade is one of the places that we absolutely must visit again. After several hours spent at this awesome location we headed down south, towards St Tropez. We followed one of these scenic routes towards the south coast as well, without disappointment. As soon as we reached the coast, we were left in awe. Extraordinary scenery – the road was winding down the side of the hill towards the sea. You could already feel the breeze. After taking several (read as a lot) photos, we continued to Saint Tropez. We arrived some time after noon and found a beach where we could camp for the night. We parked there and walked on the beach all the way to the town centre and St Tropez port. On one of the cobbled alleys an orange tree was hanging across the fence. Ion decided to climb the fence and get some oranges (literally the low hanging fruit). It was decided to eat the oranges back at the camp. It was already dark by the time we got there. We set up the tents and had our baked beans and sausage dinner on the pontoon overlooking St Tropez and Sainte-Maxime across the golf. As dessert we tried the oranges – I am saying tried because it turns out they were either not the edible kind or not ripe enough. It was really calming to fall asleep in the tent with the sounds of waves crushing against the rocks.
Day 4: Marseille – Sete
The morning after, on the Saint-Tropez beach we were woken up by a nearby car which was playing the main theme of Pirates of the Caribbean at full volume. Now, I know that nobody likes to be woken up early in the morning but having a great tune made it quite an awesome way to be woken up. We drove into Marseille with short stops wherever the scenery was great (almost every 5 minutes) for a few extra photos. After visiting the port and surroundings we decided to continue. We passed through Montpellier and then Sète. After Sète we found a long beach which we had just for ourselves so we camped there.
Day 5: Climbing – Massif de la Clape
Before leaving from Orleans, we borrowed some climbing equipment from our climbing teacher and decided that we will have half a day of climbing. One of the places recommended by our teacher was Massif de la Clape so we decided to go there. The weather was perfect for climbing and the best thing was that from up top you had great views towards the sea, making it so much more rewarding. After a good few hours on the rock we decide to start packing. That is when our Czech friend Michal realized he had lost his shoes. We tried to think of where this could have happened. Turns out he left them under the car when we camped on the beach near Sète. We decided to try our luck and drive back to the beach. Our luck (or more specifically, his luck) seemed to be missing that day since the shoes where not there anymore.
Our next and last stop on this trip was Viaduct du Millau, one of the world’s tallest bridges. Unfortunately by the time we arrived there it was already dark so we didn’t get an opportunity for great photos. We stopped in a parking lot that had some park tables with benches and cooked some Bolognese pasta for our last meal. We decided to drive a bit more that evening. On one of the highways our photo was taken, and it was not by any of us – speeding camera caught us doing 5 km/h more than the current limit. Worse thing is we still didn’t get a hold of the picture.
Day 6: The end – or the beginning – and the cost
Since we were tired we decided to sleep in a parking lot for a few hours before finishing the journey back home to Orleans. After unpacking, having a shower (yeah, the no hot showers was not a joke) and sleeping a bit, we met later that night. We calculated our expenses: although I don’t have the exact numbers with me, in total with car, gas and food we spent less than 100 euros per person for 6 days. Extremely cheap for the experiences and adventures we had on our French Riviera road trip.
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Beautiful photos! I like the before and after pictures at the top. 🙂
Informative article, just what I wanted to find.