Sometimes, choosing a holiday destination can be a bit of a pickle. Especially when you’re not a big fan of crowds, it can be challenging. On the one hand, you want to see what everyone’s talking about. You want to see the beautiful tiny villages, the aw-inspiring coastline, the magnificent sunset. On the other hand, you don’t want to be confronted with thousands of other – because yes, you’re one too – tourists, walking around with their screamy-colored clothes, their far-too-advanced-for-their-skill-level cameras and their cheeks slathered in a bit too much sunscreen. In other words, you want to have all that beauty too yourself.
One of the regions in Europe where that dilemma’s most present is the Côte d’Azur. The southern coast of France, dipping its toes in the Mediterranean, is definitely one of the most beautiful of the continent. Or at least was, until recently. The rugged rocks and tree-covered hills got taken over little by little by impersonal secondary homes, popping out of the ground more rapidly than mushrooms out of a rotten piece of wood. And we get why. The view from almost every single one of these houses must be spectacular: the azure blue sea, the deep green umbrella pines, the slightly reddish rocks… They sure make for one hell of a skyline.
Yet, what most of those who (partially) inhabit those coastal villas are forgetting, is that there’s also the view from the other side. When looking at the hills behind the coastline while standing on the beach or anywhere else, it’s not the azure blue sea you’re looking at. Nor the umbrella pines. Nor the rocks. You’re looking at a strange mismatch of houses, all seemingly aiming to stand out from the crowd either by shape or by color. And behind those, the image of what once was a wild yet sweet-to-be-at coast quickly starts to fade.
I’m aware that’s a dark picture I just painted there. Yet, even though it might be slightly too pessimist, that’s about the gist of it. Nature has to make room for a more than questionable sense of ‘cultivation’ by humans, genuine bits of coastline are getting all the more rare at the Côte d’Azur. Whether it’s appropriate for us, humankind, to just shove nature aside, is a question which I’ll leave up to you. But one thing’s for sure: if you want to catch a glimpse of what the French Riviera once was, you have to be quick about it. And you have to choose your timing wisely. I visited the area around Saint-Tropez and Sainte-Maxime and will share my favorites with you.
First of all, it’s important to really think about when you want to visit the Côte d’Azur. If you want to stay clear from the crowds, July and August are a definite no-go. Winter may be your best guess actually but then again, we get that you want to enjoy some of the coastline’s summery sweetness. Therefore, try to plan your visit during May, June or September. There are no major holidays during these months so that’s that but if you can, try to avoid any bank holidays and weekends in general. During the week, you’ll have the best chance for some quiet.
Once you’ve settled on your dates, it’s time to book your accommodation. If you want a quiet stay but you don’t want to spend two months’ worth of salary, this can be quite tricky. A lot of the cheaper hotels are located at the seafront, which might seem like a good idea but which actually means you’ll get woken by all-too-fancy cars speeding towards God knows where. Ideally, you want to find a place located on the hillside with a nice view over the sea and with just a few rooms. Challenging, to say the least, yet we’ve found the place you’re looking for.
At the Chambre d’Hôtes Vue Mer in Sainte-Maxime, Thérèse and Jean-Jacques welcome you in one of their three small-yet-functional rooms. We did appreciate the comfortable shower and the tasty homemade breakfast – including jam from their own lemon and orange trees. Yet it’s really all about the breathtaking view over the Mediterranean. Perfect during breakfast, even better while drinking a nightcap before diving into your bed. And the warm welcome is what makes it all complete. Sure, it’s not located in the center of Sainte-Maxime so you’ll either have to eat at one of the local restaurants or take a ride to somewhere else but then again, no crowds to be seen over here. And that’s what it’s all about, right?
Let’s be honest, there’s no better way to escape from the daily hustle and bustle than to take a walk through nature. Sometimes, however, even nature gets crowded. That’s why l’Escalet is such a good find. At the start of your hike, you’ll see some people tanning on the local beach, located right next to the parking lot. However, once you start walking, you’ll see less and less people. Even though I visited the place on a bank holiday – against my own advice, I know, l’Escalet was still peaceful and the perfect place to empty your head. You’ll walk through endless flower fields and sometimes, the rocky road even gets a little challenging. But the beauty of it all is that once you get overheated, you just take a plunge in one of the many little creeks. Cristal-clear water assured, so don’t forget your snorkelling gear.
Of course, a trip to France can’t be complete without some cultural intake. At the Côte d’Azur itself, however, this can be a bit challenging, especially if you don’t want thing to get over-crowded. Try to drive a bit more land inwards instead. Even though the little villages over there might be very touristy during the summer months, they’re actually quite pleasant during the calmer seasons, especially before noon. Some of the nicest authentic villages in the area are Ramatuelle (where you can actually still overlook the sea), Grimaud (with a beautifully romantic ruin at the top) and Roquebrune-sur-Argens, where you shouldn’t hesitate to stop by La petite glace’rit for a refreshing ice cream. Because no one likes to do sightseeing with an empty stomach. And for those who’d like to take home a souvenir, there’s no place like the Jas de Robert flea market in Grimaud on Sunday morning.