Great Drives: The Col de Braus

Recently I took advantage of a beautiful fall day and drove to the col de braus in the eastern backcountry, a spot that has been on my to-drive list for some time.

My route began on the D2204 just outside La Trinite, the industrial suburb north of Nice.

Admittedly, there is not much to see in La Trinite, but patience has its rewards. 

As I cruised into the hills, past the clutter of Cantaron, grunge gave way to green countryside.

Here the road meanders comfortably back and forth, the occasional straightaway appearing at just the right time beneath perfectly aligned rows of plane trees.

In twenty minutes I felt properly tucked away in the backcountry as I dropped down into L’Escarene, a pretty town built in the eleventh century at the confluence of the Redebraus and Paillon streams. The ancient bridge over the Paillon took me northeast toward Touet-de-L’Escarene, roughly 3 kilometers away. 

The road narrowed into a single lane as it cut through the center of Touet-de-L’Escarene, and as I crept along, I could almost touch the crumbling facades of the old houses that line the street.

Up to this point the climb had been mostly gradual, an easy lark on a weekend morning, but now, outside Touet-de-L’Escarene, the mountains rose up steep, jagged and breathtakingly beautiful.

IMG_0223 (1)

Soon I entered a series of switchbacks cut into the mountainside above a deep ravine. The sheer drop-off at the edge of the pavement was, at times, vertigo-inducing. The final set of “lacets”, eight hell-raising twists up a steep slope, made a fitting finale for a great drive. Continue reading


The Sunbeam Alpine Roadster, Sex, and Celluloid

To Catch A Thief is a sexy film, though not in the way we view sexuality today.

It is oblique, subtle, suggestive.

There is an allusion to sex that leaves the viewer wanting more.

Grace Kelly, icy cool and devastatingly beautiful, gliding across the room in a perfectly fitted evening gown. Cary Grant, confident, swaggering, and always ready with a clever line.

Even the car driven by Kelly exudes an elegant sexuality.

The powder blue Sunbeam Alpine Roadster is seductive, sophisticated, unattainable…until now.

I recently received an email from Tom Holland, a California man who is parting ways with the ultimate To Catch A Thief souvenir. His Sunbeam Alpine Roadster, an exact replica of the car driven in the movie, is for sale.

It is completely restored and in mint condition. The exterior and interior colors perfectly match the car featured in the film (as do the front and back license plates). The Roadster even has its own agent in Los Angeles and was recently showcased in an InStyle Magazine article featuring Drew Barrymore. Continue reading

Locations in the New Citroen Car Commercial

Many thanks to everyone who commented and Emailed their suggestions regarding the locations used in the new Citroen DS5 commercial.

The correct locations are:

0:01 – The D3 leading up to the village of Gourdon (Gourdon can be seen in the background).
0:04 – The D2 driving east toward the village of Greolieres.  This section of road is extremely popular and has been featured in numerous car commercials, movies (Ronin – beginning at 0:31 to 0:59 and Goldeneye – beginning at 2:14 (Greolieres in the background) to 3:16. to name just two), and on countless car review sites.
0:20 – On the Promenade des Anglais in Nice near the old town.
The Hotel Suisse and Hotel La Perouse can be seen in the background.


Need more proof that the best driving roads are in the south of France?

French car-manufacturer Citroen recently held a contest so that five lucky folks could preview the new DS5 while spending a luxurious weekend enjoying the sights and sounds of the French Riviera.

Their new video highlights a few spectacular locations featured on Le Stuff’s Mini Cooper Tour.

Think you know the south of France?

Correctly identify (just leave a comment) the locations in the video at 0:01, 0:04, and 0:20, and I’ll be impressed.

I’ll post the correct answers in a few days.


A top-notch European road-trip requires less effort than you might think.

A sense of adventure and an open mind certainly help, as does a willingness to try new foods, wines, sights, and smells.  It should not, contrary to what most folks believe, require a tremendous amount of money.

With a little advance planning you too can be tooling around Europe, your next adventure just around the corner.

Airline Tickets:
The first rule of thumb is to try to be as flexible as possible when it comes to your travel dates.  Off-season travel will always be cheaper than in high season.

When booking flights I always start with Kayak.


Because Kayak displays sample pricing for the entire month, not just a single day.  This allows the savvy traveler to pinpoint the cheapest days of travel for any given month.  Don’t think that’s helpful?  Just try finding the cheapest travel days in the month on your own.  My guess is it will take you, oh…. about 30 to 31 separate searches.

This is as easy as it gets but most people just can’t seem to pack lightly.

What does “packing lightly” mean exactly?

Well, I checked with corporate headquarters on this one and according to the Le Stuff International Guidelines For Light Packing Continue reading

The French Riviera: Driving Heaven?

Click here for information on the French Riviera Mini Cooper Driving Adventure!

From the celebrated corniche roads to the beautiful back country, the south of France offers intrepid drivers endless opportunities for motorized fun.

The crew at BBC’s Top Gear already knows this.
They began their search for the “World’s Best Driving Road” near Monaco on the renowned col de Turini.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s glamorous 1953 film, To Catch A Thief, driving plays a pivotal role during chase scenes through the beautiful villages of the back country and on the dramatic moyenne corniche (with Grace Kelly behind the wheel no less).

“Ronin”, starring Robert DeNiro and “GoldenEye”, starring Pierce Brosnan also feature Continue reading

Top Gear In The South Of France: The World’s Best Driving Road?

Click here for information on Le Stuff’s French Riviera Mini Cooper Driving Adventure!

To tell you that I know my way around an automobile engine would be like telling you Michael Jackson had all the skills needed to become a champion prize fighter.

In other words, I’d be lying.

My scope of mechanical expertise ends with my crackerjack ability to discern, within seconds mind you, whether the vehicle I’m piloting has a gas or diesel engine.

The point I’m trying to illustrate here is that you don’t have to be a gear head, love cars and driving, or even have a driver’s license, to enjoy what may possibly be the finest television show ever made.

BBC’s Top Gear begins its 15th season this year.

Ostensibly about cars, driving and speed, TG is really about the interaction between the show’s three hosts, Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond.

A few of my favorite episodes? Continue reading

The French Riviera: Best Drives

Click here for information on Le Stuff’s French Riviera Mini Cooper Driving Adventure!

Into The Back Country

I recently posted tips for driving the celebrated, and often congested, corniche roads.  I would now like to offer a few suggestions for those wishing to break free from the constraints of traffic by heading north into the vast arriere pays (back country).

Begin your journey in the tiny hamlet of Pont du Loup and head west on D2210 in the direction of Le Bar sur Loup.  Bar is a beautiful and uncrowded working class village that sits on the side of a hill overlooking the Loup Valley.
Consider having lunch at the recently renovated
L’Hostellerie du Chateau (the food is sublime) located in the town’s main square.  You may also want to stop by the tourist office (just steps away from the Chateau) and make arrangements for a guided village walking tour.

Le Bar sur Loup

Trip Notes:
Auberge des Gorges du Loup

Pleasant, affordable accommodations and a good restaurant in the tiny town of Pont du Loup.

L’Hostellerie du Chateau
Beautifully renovated 14th century chateau in the the main square of Le Bar sur Loup.  Exquisite restaurant and 6 tastefully decorated rooms.

Continue east from Bar on D2210 in the direction of Pre du Lac.  As you enter Pre du Lac take a sharp right onto D3 and begin twisting your way up to one of the most beautiful villages in France Continue reading

The French Riviera: Best Drives

Click here for information on the French Riviera Mini Cooper Driving Adventure!

The south of France has everything for those of us who feel the need to add a little speed to our lives.  Think twisting mountain switchbacks, sun-drenched coastal roadways, a populace that enjoys and appreciates fast driving, and some of the best scenery on the planet.

The Corniche Road System
There are actually three corniche roads, the lower (basse), middle (moyenne), and upper (Grande), that run from Nice to Menton (the last French town before the Italian border).  In order to get the best bang for your buck from each of them you need to have a little advance knowledge.

Let’s begin with The Lower Corniche.
Timing is everything.  Really.
Don’t even consider hopping on the lower corniche during holidays, the summer season, Friday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, or at any time that could be even slightly construed as rush hour.  In fact, if you have just an inkling that there may be traffic on the road, forget it.
Properly timed, though, and a drive along the lower corniche can be exceptionally rewarding. Continue reading

Driving in France: 6 Quick Tips

Click here for information on the French Riviera Mini Cooper Driving Adventure!

1) Residents of the United States need only a valid passport and a valid state driver’s license to drive legally in France.  An international driver’s license is not necessary.

2) French police can impose an on the spot fine for driving violations and payments must be made in cash.

3) When pulling into a roundabout always Continue reading

Car Rental Insurance: To Pay or Not To Pay?

Isn’t car rental insurance grossly overpriced, and can’t money be saved by booking with a credit card that provides insurance on vehicles rented with that card?

Yes and yes.

Sort of.

Car rental companies do make substantial profits by charging elevated rates for insurance, and it is possible to waive the insurance coverage when picking up your car (though some companies have stopped this practice), but I only recommend doing it in certain circumstances.

Vehicles rented in the United States should fall under your personal insurance policy.  Check with your insurance carrier before booking, and if you’re covered, then by all means decline the insurance offered by the rental car firm.  If you don’t you’ll simply be wasting money on useless coverage.

Many credit cards also offer primary insurance (if the card is used to book the vehicle) on cars rented in the United States.  Call your card company for details.

The rules change when you go to Europe. Continue reading

European Car Rental: The Bad News

It seems the recession is affecting everyone, even car rental companies.
A recent
BBC article reports that travelers are paying substantially higher fees for vehicles or, even worse, finding themselves with no car at all due to overbooking by the rental company.


Rental firms anticipated fewer travelers this year as a result of the recession and did not update their fleets (or could not update their fleets due to tighter financing restrictions).

The result?

During heavy travel periods demand is simply exceeding supply.
The countries hardest hit are
Spain, France, and Italy.  Prices are up 70% in some popular destinations.

My advice to avoid possible headaches?

As always, book early and do your homework.  Give yourself enough time to shop around and find the best deal. Also, it may be cheaper to book a larger vehicle instead of an economy car.  Smaller cars are much more in demand because everyone thinks they’ll be cheaper, so you may get a better deal if you upsize.

Shifting Gears


Something to remember when booking your rental car

A good friend of mine was kind enough to travel to the south of France a couple of years ago to witness the wondrous moment when my wife and I told each other “I do”.
All of the arrangements for his rental car had been made well ahead of time and he was, understandably, quite pleased at the reasonable rate he received.
On the day of his arrival I met him at the airport in Nice.

Let’s pick up the action as we walk out of the terminal toward the rental car lot:

Scene 1:
The morning is sunny and warm and there is a slight hint of lavender in the air.  Well dressed, attractive mothers push cute babies in stylish strollers.  In the distance, visible over the skyline of Nice, snow glistens on jagged alpine peaks.

Me: So you got a really good deal on your car didn’t you?
Friend: Yeah, I was kind of surprised I got such a good price.
Me: Excellent.
Booked economy?
Friend: Yep.

(short pause)

Friend: Hey, do any of these economy cars ever come with manual transmissions?
Me: Uh…. well, yeah, they all pretty much do.  Why?
Friend: Gosh, I hadn’t thought about it until now, but the last time I drove a stick shift was about twenty five years ago.

(long pause)

Friend: You don’t think that will be a problem do you?

(even longer pause)

Me: So how was your flight?

Scene 2:
The paper work is complete.  Friend and I chat amiably as the car is pulled around front.  I barely notice that Friend has been edging subtly toward the only tree, and shade, on the lot.  Small beads of sweat begin to appear on his forehead.
The car is delivered and Friend throws his custom-machine-crafted Sears luggage into the trunk and slides behind the wheel with admirable aplomb.  Only then do I notice that his shirt is inside-out.  I choose not to mention it.

Friend: Are you gonna stand there and watch me while I start the car?
Me: Well, yeah that was my plan.

(uncomfortable silence)

Friend: So am I supposed to push the clutch in before I turn the key?
Me: That’s probably a good idea, assuming of course, you want it to start.

Anything else you can think of that I might have forgotten?
Me: You mean in the twenty five years since you’ve driven a manual transmission?  Hmmm, other than actually how to drive it, I can’t think of anything you’ve missed.
Friend: Well, why don’t you go on and pull your car around and I’ll follow you to the hotel?
Me: Just for kicks I think I’ll stick around another minute or two.

15 increasingly uncomfortable minutes pass.  The car remains in the same location.  Not the same general location, but the same
exact location.

Scene 3:
You want me to hop in and move this baby real quick so the line of cars behind you can get out of the lot?
Friend: Nope, I got it now.  Just took me a second to get a good feel for this high strung little lady.
Me: Right….It’s a Toyota Yaris.
Friend: I think once I get her out on the open road I’ll feel a lot more comfortable with the shifter.
Me: That’s the hand brake.

Ten excruciatingly painful minutes pass.  It feels like a time frame within which Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” could easily be translated into Farsi …. by a German who doesn’t speak Farsi.

Friend now sits comfortably behind the wheel of a shiny BMW.

Scene 3:
So how do you like the Beemer?
Friend: Not bad.  I was actually kind of surprised they didn’t gouge me more than they did for the upgrade.
Me: You gonna be able to handle that automatic?
Friend: I think so…. you’re not gonna tell anybody about this are you?
Me: Not a chance.  Hey did I mention I was thinking about starting a blog?

French Riviera Road Trip: Essential tunes for navigating the upper corniche

Click here for information on the French Riviera Mini Cooper Driving Adventure!

1) Artist:
The Rolling Stones
Exile on Main Street
“Exile on Main Street” was actually cut at four different studios, one of which was in the basement of Keith Richard’s rental house, Villa Nellcote, in the south of France.  Recorded during the blistering summer of 1971 in Villefranche-sur-Mer, “Exile” is classic, down and dirty Stones.  Just listen to “Ventilator Blues” or “Casino Boogie” and you can practically feel the sweat dripping off the walls.  Today fans can find Villa Nellcote easily enough, but will have to settle for a photo by the front gate.  It’s not possible to enter the grounds.

2) Artist:
Take your pick
Bono, lead singer of the mega-super-group U2, has quite a connection to the south of France.  He owns a house on a small strip of beach Continue reading