Let me start off by saying that this is a different type of post. Rather than try to do one post per place, this is a compilation, nigh, a cornucopia (whatever dude, it's fall and I can talk about gourds) of places and recommendations.
Some background, first. My husband, Elliott, loves to drive in foreign countries. Whether we are renting motorbikes in Vietnam, Riviera Maya or Moorea or renting a car for a quick jaunt, he loves the freedom it gives us. Never have we put a rental car at the center of our trip but this time, we decided to do just that. My typical vacation consists of me having the MOST fun planning an itinerary but leaving the days (with the exception of a hard-to-get-into restaurant) open, so I might explore and adventure. This time, I wanted to plan my husband's dream trip: a European roadtrip, with nothing set in stone. So we booked a flight into Barcelona and out of Nice and we rented a car for those exact dates. Renting a car gave us the independence to do what we wanted and the freedom to visit places that trains or planes might not get us to otherwise.
We stopped in a number of places for varying amounts of time, all of which are mentioned in this entry. The sights ranged from big cities, artistic parks, a 1000 year-old that is a UNESCO World Heritage site, beaches, wine country and yachts. In Spain, we stopped in Barcelona, Costa Brava (Begur, AguiaBlava, Tossa del Mar), Girona and Figures - in that order. In France we spent the entire time in Provence-Alpes- Cote d'Azur including: Arles, Aix- en-Provence, Marseille, Cassis, and Juan-les-Pins (Antibes)- in that order.
While we had a sense of some of the places we wanted to love to stop ahead of time (and a few cancel-able hotels booked along the way), the rest was an adventure. And the result....well, it was perhaps our favorite vacation ever.*
*We say that every time, but this one was truly magical.
Barcelona was our first stop. We had originally planned to end in Barcelona but truly it worked out perfectly this way, instead. By starting in this city we were able to start the trip off with a bang, and kick jet lag by waking up early, walking, enjoying the hustle and bustle (and it allowed us to end our trip much more mellow).
What a fantastic city. Not overly aggressive as one can feel in Paris (let's say) for the first time. Understanding and speaking Spanish helped us immensely though folks there speak both Spanish and Catalan and talk VERY fast. It takes some concentrating but we found it pretty easy to get around, navigate and have conversations with our mediocre Mexican Spanish.
We had the most fun just walking around (we got MAD steps in) and stumbling on things ourselves, but here are a few of my favorites.
Well, I guess we are moving here. Everyone keeps asking what the favorite part of our trip was and while it's hard to answer because everything we did was so different, this might be the closest to "favorite" we had. WARNING: The Costa Brava is enormous and it would take a long time to stop in every coastal village along it. But after a ton of research, we decided to stop in Tossa del Mar for lunch and Aguiablava for the night, though Cadaques (namely Roses), was a close contender and is definitely on the list for next time. We'll most certainly be back and/or move all of our shit there and live.
When drivgin out of Barcelona, you will start to see Spanish flags disappear and Catalan flags everywhere. You will also see tiny yellow ribbons tied to everything - they signify Catalan independence and apparently a law has been passed that they cannot be taken down (people were going around and ripping them down). It's a constant reminder of the struggle they are going through in self-identity in this part of Spain.
DAYYUMMM, HISTORY. This place is old and cool AF. If you like: Game of Thrones, medieval shit, and tight glutes, look no further. Girona is an old ass city in Begur (inland from the Costa Brava) full of lots of stairs, tiny streets, and makes a perfect jumping off point to drive into France.
This is where Dali grew up and was a great stop on the way over to France.
Ca--uuuuute. Provence technically is huge and Aix was our second stop and special enough to mention a couple key things.
Our stop after Aix, we went to Marseille. This town historically hasn't had that good of a reputation as it is a port city, harsh, graffiti-ridden, but it's really worth a visit (you've probably seen it in one of the more touching episodes of Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown"). We stopped to visit my French dad (not really, but kinda). I promise you, if you take the time to visit, oh the special gems you will find-having a local tour guide helps, too!
This was a stop we made between Marseille and Antibes for one thing: to hike to Calanque d'En-Vau which was a hike like no hike we'd been on before. It's long, you need water and you need time, but it's worth the sweat and sore calves the next day. Bring and/or wear a swimsuit and try to get there no later than noon so you can beat the crowds and see the Calanque in the midday light.
The perfect way to end your journey is here. A calm, small town in Antibes (just below Nice), it is a perfect place to put your feet up and relax before heading home.
We returned our car from here and headed home. Expect to pay a pretty fee for returning your car in a different country but you won't even care. This trip was once in a lifetime and I wish you all of the same fun and adventure we had.