Ever wonder why one would need to stay locked four hours in their car, caught in traffic, to drive the 14 kilometre distance between Saint-Tropez and Ste-Maxime?
No question, the French Côte d’Azur is a beautiful place to visit, but not enough to endure the aggravation.
Here is an alternate solution: Pick any given day between November and March and you will be able to explore the French Mediterranean coast peacefully. Rent a car in Aix-en-Provence and hit the road to the famous port of Saint Tropez.
On Highway A8 you will drive passed the beautiful mountain La Sainte Baume where French writer Marcel Pagnol set the plot of most of his novels. After an hour, you will exit on the road D558 which will lace up the hills and down to the sea. You will enjoy a magnificent panoramic view among large oak trees and dry-wall stone villages.
Grimaud and Port-Grimaud, the gate to your escape on Côte d’Azur
One of these villages is called Grimaud. A quaint little village with red tile roofs and stone-walled houses. Have lunch there and take a look at the roman church Saint Michel.
Admire the 16th century Renaissance style building “La maison des Templiers”, in rue des Templiers and fall in love with the mini aqueduct and paved streets. On the top of the hill you will see the ruins of the castle of Grimaud. Take time to breathe and to enjoy the landscape. You will see a big variety of trees, vibrant bougainvilleas and oleanders. As you will drive down toward the sea, you will want to stop by, Port-Grimaud, a village built on water. Park your car outside and take the small bridge by the security guard to step inside. Stroll among the colourful houses erected in 1966 on the edge of the sea by famous 20th century architect, François Spoerry. Take one of the many venetian-style bridges that cross the waterways and enjoy having a coffee in this quiet haven. No cars, no motorcycles. Port-Grimaud is accessible only on foot or by boat.
Saint-Tropez, the famous jet-set rendez-vous
Ah! How nice it is to reach the adorable village of Saint-Tropez after hardly a five-minute drive! Nested by the sea, the soft coloured walls of the port shine on the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Away from the summer crowds, you will fully enjoy Saint-Tropez, the fashion town, the muse of the French “Nouvelle- Vague” and the “rendez-vous” for all the celebrities. Shop in the many fashion boutiques downtown, wander in the small streets and admire the façades, the fountains, and the architecture of the churches. Walk by the citadel and admire the view on the Mediterranean Sea. Across the gulf is Sainte Maxime. Have a drink on the port and watch the incredible yachts from all around the world. Who knows, at that time of the year, when everything is quiet and slow in Saint-Tropez, and when it is easy to talk with locals, you may become friends with the owner or a crew member, and be invited on board one of these luxurious ships. Tempted by a sugar-white beach? Hop back in your car and drive for five minutes (when it takes a couple of hours during the summer) and reach one of these famous beaches that make Saint Tropez’s reputation.
Sainte-Maxime, experience the French dolce vitae, the way locals do
As the sun is going down in its amber light, you will reach Sainte Maxime to frolic on the empty beach with your children or to sip liquor in a trendy bar by the sea. You will notice there are barely any tourists downtown, however the atmosphere is joyful and colourful. You will find animation around with the Casino and the beach front filled with music bands, spontaneous bike or skate demonstrations, artists, games and live shows. Step into the heart of the city and walk in the charming little streets; discover unique boutiques and remains of the past. Pay a visit to the Museum of La Tour Carrée and learn about the History of Sainte Maxime through a collection of paintings, arts, clothes and artefact. Some restaurants may be closed during the season, but follow Sainte-Maxime inhabitants and you will discover interesting places where you can taste local cuisine in a warm atmosphere. Off season, people are more relaxed and they will be happy to share with you some stories about the region.