My favourite friendships are the ones where when you see one another after a while, nothing has changed in the friendship and you just hang out exactly like you used to. It feels warm, familiar and relaxed. That’s how these past few days have felt with Viri, our old housemate- only with sun, sea, sand and delicious food to boot! I can’t believe it’s been almost 3 years since we’ve seen her.
After our frantic rush to the airport, we hop on the motorway and take the fastest route over to Sainte-Maxime initially. It is our first long drive without the newborn liner in the car seat so we are hopeful but at the same time unsure how it will go and don’t want to push our luck too much. Turns out Zaza is better than before but still doesn’t like being in the car for more than about an hour at a time, and not really more than twice in a day.
The journey is going well though, so we come off the motorway, I immediately get us lost and we find ourselves on dirt tracks through vineyards- very pretty though- for a while until we stumble upon (er I mean, until I expertly direct us to) the road we were aiming for. This turns out to be a narrow, twisty road around mountains and hills with sharp drop offs immediately to the side of the road. It is pretty hair raising for me, but when feeling brave enough, the views down into the valley below are gorgeous. Imagine tall, green hills and mountains with a deep valley below, deep orange coloured rocks peering through the trees and rising up at the side of the road at times.
This road leads us right into the commercial and industrial outskirts of Sainte-Maxime- quite a contrast with big concrete buildings half way through construction and large out-of-town supermarkets and hardware stores. We hurry on through, with a quick pit-stop at a bakery to pick up a dessert for lunch.
Then comes the great sat nav fail of 2017- it gets us down to the seafront – great I think, the house is only a 5 minute walk from the sea so we’re doing well. It then leads us up and up and up on windy roads and then down again in a circle, landing us back on the seafront just outside the town….with no flag in sight it then directs us to exactly the same circular route again. By this point Marie has lost all patience and points out, irritated, that I do have a mobile so could turn data on and use Google maps. Luckily the phone’s GPS is willing to work without it and Google gets us there- to a slightly confused Viri as 30 minutes earlier we’d told her we were on the outskirts of the town and should be arriving in 5 minutes or so.
We’re warmly welcomed by Viri and her mum Pierrette, and offered an aperitif before lunch. We’re treated to a feast- three different aperitif snacks including a delicious artichoke and basil tapenade followed by a chicken and couscous main. All delicious and accompanied by the nicest rose wine I’ve ever had and all whilst sat outside in the sun filled garden. What I’m most taken by though is a delicious pumpkin and carrot puree which turns out to be something that can be bought ready made in the frozen section of the supermarket! This is followed by salad and cheese and we decide that the tart we’ve brought can wait until dinner as we’re all full already.
In the afternoon we have a bit of a wander around Sainte-Maxime. We wander along the seafront, enjoying the blue of the sea and varied beaches- pebble, coarse sand and super soft sand- I of course come off the path to walk barefoot through the sand as is tradition. Then it’s through the town and past the people playing boules- the ‘national’ sport of the South of France- visible at all times in every town and village. We leave Viri who has an appointment and head back to the beach, deciding (as Zaza needs shade) to treat ourselves to a drink in the bar on the beach. This is the best of both worlds- comfy seat, bench in the shade for Zaza to have a nap and our toes in the sand. This is also where we give Zaza her first experience of sand- she’s fairly blazee about the whole thing.
Sometime later, after having a catch up with Viri about work, love and life, we depart on a slow wander back through the sand and pebble beaches. Viri and Marie look out of suitable ‘skimming’ pebbles all the way and by the time we reach the pebble beach, Zaza has decided it’s time for another nap so Viri and Marie head down to skim some stones while I enjoy the view from a bench on the promenade, a sleeping Zaza in my arms.
This sleeping baby draws the attention of passers by as we walk back to the house; people look confused and a bit worried at my carrying of an inanimate baby, I’m meanwhile puzzled by their reaction. It’s an early night for us as we’re knackered from our day, after a tasty dinner of pasta and salad.
The next day we’re heading over to the famous Saint Tropez, which is visible just across the gulf from Sainte-Maxime, for their weekly market and to have a wander around. We awake to a delicious breakfast spread that includes hot pain au chocolat and are given a lift down to the port by Viri’s Mum to give us as long as possible in Saint Tropez.
The boat is quite a fun way to get there and also misses all the traffic around the town. However we make a rookie mistake, heading up to the seats on the roof of the boat as these have the best views. This doesn’t turn out to be Zaza’s favourite part of the day. First she jumps a mile in Viri’s arms at the sound of the departure horn, then is shivering in the wind at the top, meaning we spend the journey huddled around her forming a human shield against the wind. I also have a bit of an incident with my sun hat- it whipping off in the wind and landing about 10 metres away on a part of the boat closed to the public. Viri to the rescue though as she asks one of the staff to retrieve it. Embarrassed, I keep it off for the rest of the journey, fearing the same thing may happen again.
The approach to Saint Tropez is pretty though, with the glistening sea, the old part of the town seeming to drop right off into the sea with a tumble of peach coloured buildings right up to the seafront. We arrive in the harbour surrounded by some of the biggest, fanciest yachts I’ve ever seen and immediately set off for the market. We pass Louis Vuitton’s famous house with a gorgeous wisteria hanging over the garden wall, through narrow streets with many a designer boutique. These open out onto the market, which is already pretty busy. There’s a whole range of stalls, mostly for locals but with a few more touristy ones dotted through. Viri has her favourites which gives us a nice sense of purpose and direction as we wander through- first to a food stand to get pissaladiere, a local specialty of slow cooked onion tart. I’m also attracted to the tomato tatin, which looks a bit like an upside down cake with juicy baked tomatoes on top of a crispy pastry base. Viri gets both for later and we move on in search of tapenade. We don’t find her favourite stand, but enjoy tasters of some dips on our way and manage to find ourselves some sunglasses (yes mum, they are proper sun protection ones, don’t worry!).
We’re on a bit of a tight schedule as we have Eliza’s 16 week jabs at 2 pm back in Sainte Maxime, so we leave the market in favour of a wander around the old town, which is pretty, along the old harbour, which gives me a chance to get my feet in the water, and back round to the main harbour.
Viri offers to treat us to a drink in the famous Senequier bar, which she tells us is the most famous bar/ restaurant in Saint Tropez. We also learn Saint Tropez was a small, sleepy fishing village until some French actors and actresses brought the town to fame by holidaying there in the 60s/ 70s. It’s a great people watching spot, right opposite the grandest of the yachts in the harbour and the busiest pedestrian street. We see all sorts of people, but the range include women in designer outfits with tiny little dogs and older men who are at least dressed as though they own one of the yachts in the harbour. Marie meanwhile nips to the pharmacy to get Zaza’s vaccines for later and I take Zaza for a change on probably the fanciest changing table I’ve ever seen- encased in solid wood.
As we leave, Viri mentions that they have a patisserie inside the restaurant so we nip in to have a look. We get a miniature each- I get a Tropezienne tart – the local specialty that I’d had a disappointing try at our last market destination in Provence- and Marie and Viri choose chocolatey options. After this we head back onto the boat, this time taking a shaded and wind-shielded spot on the bottom, giving us a great view and Zaza some much needed shelter. The journey back is great and our patisserie treats are enjoyed on the way.
Back in Saint Maxime and we have half an hour spare before the GP appointment, so head to Havana, the beach bar from yesterday. We couldn’t find the sling this morning so think we’ve left it behind and Viri suggests I should go in and ask. We spend the walk there teaching me the extra vocabulary I need for this task and I bravely approach ready with my sentence. However, I’m pretty slow with getting the words out which causes the waiter to try to ‘help’ by guessing the ending to my sentence a few times, I don’t understand so just persist with my practiced sentence but Marie and Viri end up jumping in as it’s not really working. They haven’t found it, so take down our number in case it turns up.
After this we realise we have about 20 minutes- not long enough to go somewhere for lunch, so decide to have the onion tarts from the market on a bench by the beach. Viri disappears to get some napkins from Havana and appears back with a large bottle of water from there for us all to share- she’s such a sweetie! Oh my, these sweet, moist tarts are so delicious! They melt in your mouth and I savour every mouthful.
All too soon it’s time for Eliza’s jabs, all day we’ve been feeling sorry for her while she’s blissfully unaware of what’s to come. Viri has arranged the appointment with her GP, who is completely lovely. She gives her a full check over, prodding her stomach and hips, checking her walking reflexes and we weigh and measure her (75th centile for weight and head circumference, 50th for length) before the dreaded jabs. She’s been working on her vocal abilities with these hateful car journeys and it shows compared to the previous jabs, but a couple of minutes later she’s calmed right down and is attached to my boob- all hail the boobs! We have a relax in the waiting room while she finishes her drink and then head back to Viri’s to get our things for the beach. On our way back we keep spotting selections of science fiction books that somebody has placed on walls around the town and along the promenade for people to pick up for free. Marie picks one with the most ridiculous 80s style front cover to read on the beach.
We gather our costumes and I practise my French, inviting Viri’s mum to join us. She agrees, saying that ‘as I was asked so beautifully in French, I cannot possibly refuse’. We head down to the sand, Marie and I are optimistically straight in the sea which is colder than expected so we only make it in as far as our waists. Zaza has lots of fun in the shade, playing with Viri and us, alternating so Marie gets to read some of the book she picked up and I get an explore of the rocks. I also take Zaza for a walk along the beach and into a rocky outcrop with little fish swimming around my toes, though I don’t dare go too far through risk of falling, so head back alone later on.
Eliza’s doing pretty well initially after her jabs, but is getting increasingly fussy and feels a bit warm so we decide to head back to the house to give her some Calpol (GP advised to give if needed). By the time we arrive she’s sound asleep- meaning I attract the same strange looks as the day before, and she sleeps well through the evening. This gives us a relaxed meal of BBQ’d mackerel, green beans and the tomato tatin from the market (which is as delicious as it looked) and the apricot tart we arrived with for dessert. For some reason Viri keeps apologising for the mackerel, but it’s delicious! It feels strange to be eating without Zaza in the room and we’ve laid her down in the centre of our double bed, so there’s a few anxious checks during the meal, she’s of course completely fine. She does wake up warm and discontented in the night though so the Calpol does get used eventually… Poor little sausage.