FREJUS, France — There's nothing quite like leaving Boulogne in northern France on a rainy evening and waking up in Provence 10 hours later to find fields of nodding sunflowers flashing by your window, the sun shining on the red earth, red-tiled roofs and rows of immaculate vineyards.
The train had snaked its way through nighttime France and given us bunk-view glimpses of empty, silent towns and wide rivers before arriving about 7:30 a.m. at Avignon. We had croissants and coffee at the station buffet while our car was being driven off the train.
We were going to try a caravilla (an immobile house trailer) and camping holiday just inland from Frejus on the French Riviera, and this was the time for decisions. Would we take the fast motorway to the Mediterranean--and pay the tolls for it--or the little roads that meander past vineyards and cornfields, where you can hear the crickets in the grass and smell the herbs?
No problem, really. We took the country way, and it was well worth the longer journey. The small towns were alive with their Monday markets, flags fluttered across village streets and road signs offered lavender, melons and honey for sale.
We stopped to climb some steep steps to a village church and then had a cool citron presse (lemonade) in the leafy Place de la Republique. The postman was distributing the morning letters from a cafe table and a little girl in a wide sun hat danced for her grandfather.
Then on to Frejus and the Sunsite company's campsite at Holiday Green, with its giant swimming pool and a hundred and one amenities: shops, tennis courts, a bank, restaurant, ice cream parlor, games room, disco, laundry rooms and even a traveling hairdresser.
We wouldn't find a better place in the whole of Europe, said the enthusiastic Sunsite warden, or a better swimming pool on the Cote d'Azur. But, he added, as we looked rather skeptically around the frenetic site, he liked a quiet life too, and you could get in the open countryside in a few moments. That seemed unlikely, but we were to discover that he was right.
Entertainment on Site
Our caravilla was equipped for six with a shower, gas cooker and fridge and everything you'd need except bed linen, towels and tea cloths. There was so much entertainment on the site (even a visiting circus) that if you didn't want to get into your car for the whole holiday you wouldn't have to.
But that evening we decided to look for one of those quiet spots. We took the motorway through thick wooded hills and found the beautiful calm lake of St. Cassien backed by mountains and popular with windsurfers, though that evening we were almost the only ones there.
We had dinner at Fayence, a beautiful hill village, at a little open-air restaurant where even the occasional screeching motorbikes roaring past couldn't spoil a delicious and simple meal: sliced cucumber in a creamy sauce, roast chicken with herbs and pomme frites ; and for dessert, a refreshing fromage blanc . With a carafe of white wine it came to about $6 each.
Frejus is a pleasant town with a Roman arena for concerts and "spectaculars" in the summer, narrow streets, good shops, courtyard cafes and, as in most French towns, mouthwatering patisserie window displays.
It was market day, and the smell of ripe peaches pervaded the church square crowded with stalls selling giant garlic cloves, cheeses and sausages, and pale green almonds and pistachios along with other ingredients of a thriving market.
Lazy Picnic on Beach
The beaches on this part of the Mediterranean were surprisingly uncrowded for July. We found a little rocky cove at St. Aygulf and had it almost to ourselves, and parking just above it was no problem. We had a lazy morning there with a picnic lunch of pate and cheese, fresh bread, peaches and white wine we'd bought in the market that morning.
If you like watching the world go by, St. Tropez a little farther along the coast is still the place to see beautiful people who must be paying beautiful and sky-high prices for the elegant clothes in all the shop windows.
Down in the harbor we sat in a cafe (about $2 for an aperitif, $3 for an ice cream or a beer; best buy is a fruit juice or herbal tea for around $1.50) and watched a magnificent yacht sail in, the white-suited crew struggling to get a gangway into position while the owners chatted away on the upper deck, oblivious to the crowd gathered on the quay to watch them.
The tents for six at Le Colombier campsite just up the road from Holiday Green are 17 feet square, with three double bedrooms and beds with foam mattresses. In the living area there's an electric fridge and lighting, cooker and everything you need to cook with and eat from, down to can opener and corkscrew. Tables and chairs are provided, and so are a parasol and barbecue. Cooking gas and electricity is free, and so the only things you do need to bring are sleeping bags and towels.