Express & Star

Cote d'Azur, France - travel review

It's the playground of the rich and famous, the stunning stretch of coastline that exudes exclusivity and more than a whiff of conspicuous wealth.


The names of the town and cities which cling to the rocky coastline of the Cote d'Azur on the south eastern fringe of France evoke thoughts of Hollywood glamour and rock star royalty.

Nice, St Tropez, St Maxime, Cannes... they all trip off the tongue and are a byword for glitz.

Take a stroll along the waterfront of any of these places and marvel at the floating gin palaces of the mega-rich. Yachts as big as a mansion and shops with names like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci roll out the red carpets for the millionaires and billionaires who flock to this super well-heeled corner of France.

But here's the thing, you don't have to be on a millionaire's budget to enjoy a taste of la belle vie – we managed a week in the south of France on a family budget for not much more than you would pay for a week away at a bucket and spade hol in Britain – and without the weather woes which are part and parcel of a British 'staycation'.

We hopped on a budget flight to Nice and hired a car for a week-long stay at family holiday specialist Siblu's Le Montourey parc in the resort of Frejus, a holiday town handily positioned midway between the tourist traps of St Tropez and Nice.

Frejus itself is a little more down to earth than some of its more stellar neighbours but that's not to say it is without attractions aplenty.

We arrived for a half-term break in early June just as Le Montourey was opening up for the summer season. It is one of Siblu's smaller parcs and has a mix of holiday homes, many owner-occupied throughout the summer season and other rented out to holidaymakers from France and Britain.

Now, cards on the table here, I have to declare an interest here. We have travelled with Siblu on a number of occasions now and I must admit I'm a big fan. Every Siblu parc includes the musts for any family with children of a similar age tour ours – 10 and 12 at the time.

We stayed in a two-bedroomed mobile home complete with air conditioning, a decked terrace and all the necessary equipment you need for a self-catering holiday like this. And, importantly for parents' peace of mind – plenty of space.

The idea of being cramped into a package holiday dormitory hotel room brings me out in cold sweats, and as anyone with kids of similar ages to ours will testify, being able to put a few precious feet between yourself and the young ones is vital to any happy holiday.

But most of all, what draws people back year after year to these sites are the pool and waterslides. On any Siblu site, you are guaranteed wonderful water-borne fun.

And Le Montourey is no different. Two fantastic slides – one to race the kids down on a four-lane bumpy chute and another bendy slide that fires you into a pluge pool – keep youngsters entertained for hours. There is a paddling pool for the youngest visitors and pool where dedicated swimmers can get their fix.

There's a multi-sports pitch for football and the like as well as tennis and the opportunity to join kids' club on site. As a family, you can't go wrong.

And just a couple of minutes' drive away is one of France's biggest waterparks at Aqualand – although it's wise to check the timetables as when we stayed it was still low season in France and the waterpark was still a few weeks away from opening for the season.

Frejus is often bypassed by many heading for the better-know resorts but we found it a superb place to stay. The newer Port Frejus area around the harbour and beach have plenty of bars and restaurants but the old town, parts of which date back to Roman times, are the spot to find the more interesting places.

Not least the Roman amphitheatre. Sympathetically rebuilt from the original ruins, this classic Roman arena dates back to the end of the 1st century AD and would have hosted gladiatorial battles and wild beast hunts aplenty.

Nowadays, it comes alive in the evening when it is packed with visitors for concerts and plays. And on quieter days it is only a couple of euros for a day pass (and free for under-12s) to spend as much time as you like wandering its ancient passageways.

There are plenty of cafes around to stop off at, but in a place like the Cote d'Azur it would be a massive shame not to venture out along this celebrated coastline.

St Tropez is a must. Set off early enough and it's just half-an-hour's drive to the west. But beware the traffic – time it wrong and you could end up stuck for a couple of hours in a queue into the famous resort. The town is actually pretty small and its famous harbour is actually dwarfed by some of the superyachts moored up opposite the promenade of restaurants. But they only add to the allure.

Here you can sit with a coffee or a croissant and people watch to your heart's content.

The vast majority were here, like us, to ogle the big boats and look wide-eyed at some of the price tags in the designer boutiques spread across this chic old town.

But there remains plenty for all pockets, we ate crepes and enjoyed ice cream desserts without breaking the bank. And an hour sat on one of St Trop's famous beaches costs nothing.

When we ate out, however, it tended to be back in Frejus. There the prices for restaurants we more reasonable and the atmosphere more relaxed. We found one beach-side restaurant which served the most fantastic cuts of steaks as well as a children's menu where we were all able to fill up for not much more than about £60.

An hour in the other direction is the city of Nice. Our visit came just before the horrific events of the Promenade des Anglais which saw a lorry mow down innocent people during Bastille Day celebrations last July. It was heartbreaking to see the devastation on TV, having seen the city at first hand just weeks earlier.

Nice, when we visited, was everything we hoped it would be. Winding streets opening into stunning squares and the kind of stunning old buildings a combination of the Luftwaffe and 1960s and 70s British town planners managed to strip from our great cities at home.

The atmosphere was warm and friendly. The city welcoming, the kind of place you feel at home immediately.

We enjoyed the last day of our trip in this wonderful old city before our flight back to Birmingham Airport. Would I return now? In a heartbeat.

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By Russell Youll

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