Côte d’Azur Captured My Heart

I first stepped into the Mediterranean Sea on July 28th during my stay in Málaga. I stayed on the beach all day and enjoyed going into the water to cool off from the hot temperatures. I had rented a lounge chair and umbrella for the day for €4, a price that would become a unicorn in my upcoming travels. I then traveled to Ibiza and discovered treasured coves protected by rocks, with beautiful greenish-blue water and soft sand. Throughout Spain’s coast, the sea was an integral part of my adventures. Gazing out into the crystal waters as I traversed by ferry from Ibiza and then a train along the coast to Alicante. Seeking out lazy beaches amongst the chaos of cities like Valencia and Barcelona. Then spending four days on the beaches of Costa Brava in L’Armentera and Cadaqués. Each place in Spain, the rocks a slightly different color, the beaches a mix of sand, pebbles and rocks, the water a bit darker blue as I traveled north.

While in Valencia, I visited the science museum, the Museu de les Ciències located in the City of Arts and Sciences complex and walked through an exhibit on the history of the Mediterranean Sea. It was fascinating to learn about the biodiversity of the sea, the history when the sea was nearly a desert and the way the exhibit depicted the relationship with humans and the impact we are having on the sea. It provided not only knowledge about the Mediterranean but an instant connection with its importance to the people near its coastlines.

I then traveled up the Mediterranean Sea into France, and was lucky enough to visit the Gorges du Verdon. While the gorges are technically fed by a river, the land surrounding the gorges in Provence were at one time flooded by the sea. The limestone cliffs broke off and formed the jagged cliffs around the canyon today. The water in the canyon is a mesmerizing shade of turquoise that when you see pictures of it, you’d think that every photo has used a filter. Swimming and paddle boating down the gorge was one of my favorite parts of the time in Provence.

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Gorges du Verdon, France

I then experienced the “Blue Coast” for the first time as we made our way to Saint-Tropez. In English we refer to this area has the French Riviera. The term Côte d’Azur was first used in 1887 in a book written by Stéphen Liégeard. It’s quite obvious why this term has had the staying power it does, the blues are rich, intense and the water clear and inviting. The sand in Saint-Tropez was the whitest I’ve seen during my travels. The elegance and luxury that Saint-Tropez evokes was clearly evident everywhere you turned. Not to mention the €31 cost for our cushion on the ground and umbrella. It didn’t lessen the experience in the least bit.

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Saint-Tropez, France

The next excursion in the Mediterranean took us to the island of Porquerolles, in the Îles d’Hyères region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. We ferried to the island, where no cars are allowed and rented bicycles. The first stop was a beach on the northeastern side of the island called Plage de Notre Dame. It had a narrow beach and was fully surrounded by lush trees and a prominent rocky peak on the northern side. There were sailboats anchored in the bay and the water was so shallow you could nearly walk out to the boats. The water was clear blue with darker areas where rocks hugged the coast. I then went to a beach also on the northern side but on the far west end of the island, called Plage d’Argent. It was a smaller cove with a wider beach that butted right against rocks. The water was the same beautiful hue with soft white sand.

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Plage de Notre Dame, Porquerolles, France

After departing our retreat in Provence, I was back on my own and decided to stay a bit longer in Côte d’Azur and picked a quiet town just south of Cannes, Mandelieu-La Napoule to call home for a week. From here I had excursions to beaches in Mandelieu, Nice, Villefranche-sur-mer, Monaco and Antibes. For each of these trips, I took the train from Mandelieu which runs directly along the coast and never tired of the views of the sea. The color of the water, the cliffs along the shore, the yachts lining the coves and ports, the colorful houses and buildings lining the streets, the Provençal markets, fresh seafood, and the ancient remnants of rock walls that protected these coastal cities in ancient times. It’s no wonder that great artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall, Renoir, Cezanne to name a few, lived in this area and drew upon its beauty in their works. Many times, as I came over a hill, or out of the trees during a train ride, the picturesque view was like looking at a work of art – but it was real, and it captivated my heart.

While I may be done with my visit to the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France for now, I will most certainly be returning here. There are far too many beautiful coves, bays and beaches that I haven’t yet discovered. Many streets to roam and get lost in. Many cafes in which to sit, sip wine and watch the world meander by.