Ahh the Wonderful Sounth of France.
Blue and red parasols, sailing ships, a light breeze and a cloudless blue sky - the Cote d'Azure, or Azure Coast as it is literally translated, lives up to its name.
It is a good idea to plan your trip to the South of France for early September to avoid the madness of the Cannes film festival in May, and the sweltering heat and the crowded coastal highways that besiege vacationers in July and August.
As the high season ends, the hoards clear out and you can truly appreciate the charm of these classy seaside resorts.
The Provence has a heavy Mediterranean influence so be sure to dine heartily in the early afternoon as most restaurants are closed from around three until seven.
The local Nicois cooking is Italianate in flavor and features delights like aioli, a yellow garlicky sauce served over everything from raw vegetables to fish, and ratatouille, a combination of fresh tomatoes, eggplant and squash stewed together with green peppers, garlic and various herbs. Also, don't miss the bouillabaisse, a magnificent fish stew.
In Cannes, make time for some world class window shopping and to engage in a favorite pastime in this glittering bastion of wealth, people watching along the Blvd. de la Croisette, probably the classiest seaside promenade in the world.
If that's not enough excitement for you, drive along the precipitous and tortuous coastal highways that Grace Kelly raced over in Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief to reach the small nation of Monaco. Here, visit the famed Monte Carlo Casino (think James Bond). This gambling resort is no Las Vegas. Ringed by Ferrari's and Rolls Royce's, it features a Private Salon into which only the properly clad (no shorts; jacket and tie required for men) may enter. Also, if the shopping in Cannes didn't exhaust you, Monaco's pricey haute couture will make you drop (at least that's the effect it had on my husband ):O
For those not enthralled by world class beaches, monstrous yachts, and movie stars, you can visit the charming region of the Haute Provence, an area featured in the literary classic The Three Musketeers. Envision moonlight, lavender fields, old abbeys and intimate villages, red wine, and fresh baguettes.
One thing worth doing while driving around the South of France, is stopping to try some fresh french bread accompanied by chevre or goat's cheese (one of the hundreds of delicious fresh cheeses to be found in France).
The Verdon Gorge, in the heart of Provence, is known as the Grand Canyon of Europe. It's 3000 ft. walls of chalky white limestone offer some of the best opportunities for rock climbing and other adventure sports anywhere in the world. While the kayaks bob and weave down the torrents far below, the tourists creep on all fours to the canyon edge to take in the awesome view and watch climbers ascend the sheer cliffs. Like Yosemite Valley, the Verdon Gorge offers experienced rock climbers a big wall experience, but without having to haul loads of gear as you can climb in shorts and rock shoes with a minimum of equipment.
The captivating Haute Provence, with it's blend of white limestone hills, rough stony pastures, and charming villages proved to be the highlight - but sadly also marked the end - of our trip.
The next day, as the plane banked away from the coastline with its piercing light, deep blue waters, and diamond like white caps, we realized that we had only experienced a small taste of the rich landscapes and peoples you will find in the South of France.