For most of us, the Cote d’Azur evokes images of pure, unadulterated decadence, a place where the beautiful, multilingual, and staggeringly rich live the good life. We imagine scenes right out of Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous, with endlessly flowing champagne and a nonstop array of rock stars and topless beauties, their perfect bodies glistening in the Mediterranean sun. In some areas along the coast that fantasy may still exist, but travel a few miles inland and you’ll discover a charming, affordable region with beautiful medieval villages, friendly people and world class cuisine. The next time you find yourself with a long weekend in the south of France, let the tourists have their rocky beaches and crowded motor ways, the real fun is due north, just beyond the French Riviera.
Tourrettes sur Loup, located a few miles west of the town of Vence, and only thirty minutes from the Nice airport, is the perfect place to call home base. Literally hanging off the side of a cliff, this stunning village is known for its arts and crafts, and for producing more violets than anywhere else in France. Check into one of the six splendid rooms at the newly renovated Auberge de Tourettes at the edge of town. The tastefully decorated hotel is simple and comfortable with large, modern bathrooms and spectacular views. Steps away, the town center is brimming with shops, restaurants, and cafes. A good place to start your tour of the old village is the Grand Rue, a narrow, cobble stoned street that begins at the rear of the main square. Stroll along the rue as it winds its way through the lower part of town, meandering beneath ancient stone archways and past picturesque, medieval buildings. Later, sip a cold beer and mingle with the locals at La Pergola on the main drag, just make sure you take time to pet one of the exceptionally well behaved dogs sharing bar space with you.
Tourrettes sur Loup
For dinner, choose from the more than twelve restaurants scattered around Tourrettes. You may want to end your first day with an evening cocktail on the patio of the Auberge. Oh, and the stars twinkling in the distance over the Mediterranean are included in the price.
Uncrowded and off the beaten path, St. Jeannet sits propped on a ledge just below the massive Baou (cliff) de St. Jeannet. Park your car in the free lot below the village and wander the streets of this charming town, long reputed to be a center of witchcraft. If something about St. Jeannet looks familiar, you may remember it as the backdrop for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1953 thriller, “To Catch A Thief” starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Grant’s character, former jewel thief John Robie, lives in a villa overlooking St. Jeannet. Have lunch in a small cafe and ponder how strikingly similar you and your companion are to Grant and Kelly, then if you’re feeling up to it, take the steps to the top of the Baou, no ropes required. The view is well worth the effort. As you leave St Jeannet, see if you can spot Robie’s villa just outside of town, but don’t miss the left turn onto the route des sausses. This is France after all, and that means wine! The Vignoble de St Jeannet is a small, privately owned winery that just may be the area’s best kept secret. Owner George Rasse lives with his family on the property and will happily guide you through his process of producing and tasting fine wine. He doesn’t speak English, but that won’t stop him from giving you detailed descriptions of each vintage, even if you can’t utter a word of French. Feel free to walk the peaceful grounds as you decide which of his exceptional, reasonably priced wines to purchase. For a nominal fee your little treasures can even be packed for the flight home.
Drive five miles west of Tourrettes sur Loup, and you’ll find yourself staring straight up into the dramatic Gorges du Loup. The most accessible of the myriad gorges that run from the southern Alps to the coast, the Gorges du Loup seems a world away from the beaches and night clubs of the Riviera. In warm weather stop for a swim in the Loup River, or watch with awe as mountaineers rappel through the 130 foot waterfall known as the Cascade de Courmes. Later follow the signs to the tiny, pedestrian only village of Gourdon. Seemingly perched on top of the world, Gourdon has one of the best views in the South of France. Have lunch at the aptly named Le Nid D’Aigle (The Eagles Nest), or the more comfortable, and affordable, Auberge de Gourdon. Plan to spend at least an hour relaxing in the impressive gardens of the Chateau de Gourdon. Located at the western edge of the village, the gardens provide a welcome respite from the outside world.
You won’t be disappointed.
As the sun begins its descent into the sea and you make your way, content and relaxed, back to Tourrettes, reflect on the fact that you’ve just spent three days on the French Riviera sans sunburns, starlets, and crowds. Impossible? Not at all mes Amis. In fact, it’s the only way to go.
The gardens at the Chateau de Gourdon
Auberge de Tourrettes
06140 Tourrettes sur Loup, France
tel. 33 4 93 59 30 05 (call for reservations)
The Auberge de Tourrettes is a wonderful hotel in a great location. Rooms start at 120 euros for two. Splurge for the newly renovated suite sureau and you’ll have your own private balcony.
Le Vignoble de St Jeannet
(Owner – George Rasse)
800 route des Sausses
06640 Saint Jeannettel. 04 93 24 96 01
Le Nid D’Aigle
tel. 04 93 77 52 02
fax. 04 93 77 52 02
Dramatically perched on the side of a cliff, the view alone is worth the price.
Auberge De Gourdon
Route de Caussols
tel. 04 93 09 69 69
fax. 04 93 77 55 92
Comfortable and affordable, this restaurant/bar/tabac at the bottom of the hill leading up to the village has a friendly atmosphere and a lively clientele. In warm weather try to get a table outside.
Chateau de Gourdon
tel. 04 93 09 68 02
fax. 04 93 09 68 97
Open every day from June 1st to September 30th from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
From the 1st of October to May 31st – open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Not open on Tuesday