We awoke early, and as we packed up we chatted to our Slovenian neighbour, the late arrival and aire comedian. After a few morning laughs we were soon retracing the coast road around and through Toulon. After several wrong turns and a couple of sudden sharp exits to avoid various tunnels under the city, we crawled our way east. The coast road was similar to some in Costa Brava, with beautiful, steep rocky cliffs, private coves and sheltered bays, overhung with gnarled trees with thick foliage. Black-trunked trees twisted out of the dense undergrowth, giving definition and shadow. Wide and tall umbrella trees, casting dark circles of shade, were scattered throughout. Huge, deep hedges of bougainvillea, glowing magenta in the sun, defined the edges. We spotted many white beaches dotted at short intervals, each lapped by the shimmering azure ocean and busy with people actively doing nothing.
It was a difficult undulating road complicated and slowed by its many cyclists, but slowly-does-it was the best way to experience it. We were heading for a large commercial aire right on the sea at Pampallone beach, set a short way south of our main destination – Saint-Tropez. It was a huge aire, one of the biggest we have ever stayed in, with hundreds of vans scattered around different areas of the land. We settled in to the accompaniment of loud birdsong and cicadas, with a worrying backdrop of bulldozer. After a walk to examine the extent of the aire, we unloaded our bikes and set off on our cycle to Saint-Tropez. Our chosen way began with a rough gravel off-road track, before becoming an easy rolling route on the side of the not too busy main road. We reached the marina in 25 minutes.
Our first impressions were as expected – Luxury yachts, polished glamour, a timeless old-school feel, dripping with money. We locked our bikes to a convenient post and walked all around the marina and through the old town streets, enjoying each vista in turn. We had expected to be disappointed, predicting that reputation would overstate the reality, but instead we found the town, despite its obvious new-found commercialism, utterly charming. We walked around a circular tower to another small beach and beyond to a jetty where several others were sun-bathing. Although we had no towels or suits with us, we were unable to resist and we both stripped for a wonderfully cooling swim in the bay, recapturing the memory and spirit of Bardot and Hepburn. We were a small part of it all, now,
Refreshed, we climbed to the castle to view the town from above, then returned to the marina for a walk full of dreams of buying a yacht. The Universe clearly thought we’d had too much of a good day and was ready to even it up. Cycling home, my front wheel slid off a deep drop on the side of the tarmac and, unable to right myself, I was thrown to my left back into the road. I landed on my side, slid a few painful metres and lost skin from my ankle, calf, knee, thigh, hip, elbow, tricep and shoulder; quite the bloody mess. At least the car behind me on the road stopped sharply rather than bumping straight over me, so it was not half as bad as it could have been. After a few choice words I picked myself up and rolled back home, marking my route with thick drips of blood.
Once back, I cleaned up my cuts, sanitising them and removing lumps of stubborn gravel. Deciding it might be of help we hobbled to the busy sandy beach for a swim. The salt water stung and itched my wounds, but that probably meant it was doing good. At least I was staying cool, even if I looked like an extra from ‘The Mummy’ when resting on my towel. With my hydro-therapy complete we returned to the shade of our awning, re-patched everything and decided I needed special vineyard medicine. As night fell the site echoed with the incredible croaking from breeding toads, drowning out our attempted conversation and television watching. We were meant to move on, but decided another day of gentle recuperation wouldn’t go amiss, so we decided to rest up another night.
We spent a second day supine on the beach, with only occasional jaunts back to Benny or into the sea disturbing our laziness. We enjoyed a sunset evening walk to a more local beach, where few other people ventured. This was a curved bay of rounded stones, the shore lined thick with smooth bleached driftwood on one end . The water was calm and clear, framed with pink skies. This was to be our final stop on the Mediterranean, on this trip. In the morning we took the coast road north, passing busy Saint-Tropez and crawling through Saint-Maxime. We passed busy beaches, none motorhome friendly judging by the barriers, but all very pretty. We were heading inland, and soon reached an ACSI campsite in Roquebrune-sur-Argens. We snuggled into a cosy corner plot surrounded with pink flowers. At our disposal was a 25m lap swimming pool, adjacent Jacuzzi area, sauna and adult-only spa pool.
We had come to the area to kayak on the Argens river, and were delighted to discover that this campsite offered free kayaking to guests, another welcome bargain. We happily accepted and were garnished with paddles and life-vests. Minutes later we were gently floating down the river, full of smiles. The flow was slow from lack of rain and the surface held a lot of debris, so the river not as beautiful as perhaps it could be. But this made for more engagement with the living nature rather than the subjective beauty. There were thousands of tiny blue and yellow dragonflies dancing on the still water surface, stuck together in breeding pairs. Patches of lime-coloured waterlilies hosted hordes of black-winged butterflies and shy frogs who hopped underwater every time we neared. The surface was alive with playing, surface-skimming insects and we could clearly see the bottom through the pristine water.
Some fishermen were fly-fishing off a sandy bank, casting across most of the width of the river, so we paddled by close to the opposite bank to offer them a wide berth. Beyond them, we had the river to ourselves. Feeling hot, I stripped off for a cooling swim on an empty stretch of river, loving the soft water on skin as I sizzled myself cool. By slowly breast-stroking I could approach busy insects even closer, increasing my connection to nature. I did not have the most dignified re-entry back into our canoe but I made it and we floated back slowly as I sun-dried myself, before a rushed redressing when other kayakers were approaching. We passed our evening reading at their pools, trying their Jacuzzi and spa, quietly enjoying the relative coolness of the evening night air filled with the scent of blossom.