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The drive from Paris to Milan by way of the Cote D’Azur on the French coastline spans roughly 1600km and looks a bit like a fishing hook – its razor sharp tip pointed eastward. For your part, you had managed only a few hours sleep because of a particularly Champagne soaked Fourth of July soiree on the Saint Germain du Pres – not to mention a few gratuitous digestifs at Café Flore – and you were feeling anything but razor sharp as you slipped into the driver’s seat of your Maserati Ghibli (intuition had told you a demanding trip like this deserved an equally-as-able vehicle). Yes, in such a situation it would pay to be prepared for your drive along the French coastline. Luckily, you would be. All the pockets of your iconic No. 2 Weekender were stuffed with summer weight clothing and provisions the way Mr. Hodgson had imagined it – extra sunglasses, tanning cream, a baseball cap and a flask filled with something clear and strong (European liquor stores keep odd hours).
The day would be bright and hot and you’d have 800km to cover on your way toward the French beach in Provence. There would be Springsteen thanks to a convenient USB port in the Ghibli, the windows would be down, sunroof open, and the l’autoroute du Soleil (the Highway of the Sun) would be open for the taking. This particular stretch of the journey wouldn’t be much to speak of – lazy odometer checks, a stop for petrol (The Eagles might happen to come on the radio singing don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy and you would know exactly what they meant.)
What would be worth noting is what happens around 5:00pm local time, when you pull into the 11th century walled village of Gordes, in the middle of Avignon – flanked by green hills covered in olive trees and swathes of purple lavender fields, the latter of which you’d probably stand in for a picture, dodging zealous bees and taking in the fragrant smells as the sun dips low in the sky. Pockets full of crushed flowers, you’d proceed up the hill to the ancient village, its narrow stone pathways leading you towards the ramparts of the castle at its summit. The day would be capped with a cold drink on the terrace at the Bastides-de-Gordes underneath an envelope of stars and the twinkling orange lights in the valleys below.
No time for mid-morning slumber or to rehash highlights on day two, however. You’d pack the Maserati outside the hotel, wave goodbye to the straw hatted valets and cascade down the snakelike roads, GPS positioned towards the blue waters of the French coastline. But first, a stop at the magical Lac d’Esparron for an afternoon of swimming, sunning, and leaping off the gray rocks that sit sentry near the beach. The maître d’ in Gordes last night had mentioned the lake’s healing powers and, as you float there in the midday sunshine, you’d find it hard to argue the point with him. (That is, if your college French still held up.) Well played so far, fellow adventurer.
By the time you pull into French beach town of Saint-Rafael that evening, you’re freckled, tired, and in need of a nap. So you indulge. Pushing back your dinner reservation at La Villa Mauresque to give you a few extra minutes of shuteye. Which makes your seared pillow of sea bass taste that much better. Not to mention the moonlight swim that follows. You wake to red rocks jutting out into the ocean the next day and prepare your senses for beauty overload – the remaining stretch of A8 may be one of the finest in the world – with every revealed vista, every sweeping guardrail view seemingly superior to the last. There is noble Cannes, quaint Eze, massive Monaco and Nice, with its salmon colored homes and green water, the French coastline beaches dotted with vibrant umbrellas.
You stop for lunch at the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat for lunch served in a setting that’s no less than Paradise – perched over an edge-less pool staring across the open ocean at miles of brilliant blue. It is here, dining on rose and cheeseburgers that you hear American voices again. Hello, Oh, Hello, they say, greeting each other. The waves crash in the distance. The cheeseburger tastes salty, meaty, and perfect. It is summer, a few days after Independence Day, and you feel you’ve upheld your stately duties, even from your foreign post.