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Falling in Love with France

falling in love with france

The Summer of Love, 1967, was a special time to be young and in Europe. Canadian author Patricia Sands looks back at the time when she knew she was falling in love with France…

Backed by an endless soundtrack of psychedelic music and rock from the Beatles, the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and the Doors, to name just a few, and fuelled by the writing of Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation, hordes of young people began to travel the world. Affordable airfare from North America and Europe on $5.00 a day made it all possible for many of us. My best friend and I backpacked through Europe, tattered Eurail passes guaranteeing our transportation: a rite of passage for many Canadians in those days. After spending a few months in England, we crossed the channel to Amsterdam by ferry. Meeting up with friends, we set off in our rented Volkswagen van to explore our way through France to the Costa Del Sol in Spain.

It seems to me that the moment we crossed the border, a major event entering every single country in those days, I fell in love with everything about France. I was 21 years old.

If anything, I’m even more enamored today. Although I’ve been fortunate to visit many other countries through the last (gulp) four and a half decades, and experience the excitement of their history, culture, cuisine and photo ops (I’m an incurable shutterbug) France holds the key to my heart.

A few of our experiences have included: tracking down my uncle’s WW2 burial place in Normandy; wandering the streets of Paris; joining in the Vendanges during a 2-month home exchange in the middle of a private vineyard in the Var; hiking through the Luberon; skiing in Chamonix; exploring the Provence-Alpes-Côte D’Azur. Nothing has been a disappointment.

There is still so much of this diversely beautiful country for us to discover. However, no matter what new region we visit, we always make time for the Côte D’Azur. It’s difficult to adequately put into words the allure this coastal area and the villages that dot the hillsides beyond hold for us.

In 2011, my husband and I planned an extended stay in Antibes, a once fortified medieval town that had attracted us like a magnet in visits to the coast. Halfway between Nice and Cannes, it was first settled in 5 BC.

falling in love with france

We made the discovery when we rented a home near Biot for three months, a few years earlier, and we realized Antibes answered all the criteria for our “perfect spot”. We wanted to be on the sea in a picturesque, historic area, in or near la vieille ville, and close to the train station. Whenever we had spent time in Antibes, we had a sense that the old town was still very much alive and not simply a gallery of boutiques for tourists.

Although we have enjoyed seven highly successful home exchanges through the years, finding one for five months would be almost impossible so we looked for a rental online and got lucky. Very lucky.

On the edge of the old town, we were just down the street from the train station. A wraparound view over the harbor included the remaining 15th Century ramparts, past the 500-year-old Fort Carré and across Baie Des Anges to Nice and the hills and mountains beyond. It was more than we had hoped for. May through September, Antibes became our home. It felt natural to slip into the rhythm of our surroundings. Everything was within easy access by foot. If we wanted to go along the coast we simply took the train. From time to time we rented a car to go further afield.

Working on my now recently-published novel, which is partially set in Antibes, my routine was soon established. I would write from 6:30 to 8 a.m., inspired by the sunrise over the magnificent Med. Then, with camera, dictionary and notebook in my panier, I would wander the cobbled lanes, enjoying the sights and sounds of the village coming to life. My camera shutter worked overtime. After lingering in the market to choose our daily rations, I would pop into my favorite tabac to collect the Nice-Matin. My husband knew to find me at 10:30, dictionary in hand, sipping a thé au citron at a small café off Place Nationale, reading the paper and watching the village activities. Joie!

This year we spent a month in Nice to have a more urban experience, and to allow me to research my next novel. We also loved every minute in that lively town. It was easy to slip over to Antibes on the train, which we did often, including one lovely evening when Heidi Lee, owner of the English Bookshop in Antibes, organized a book-signing “fête” for my novel, The Promise of Provence. It was a wonderful opportunity to see old friends and greet new. Magic Antibes will always feel like home to me.

falling in love with franceTruly, I could wax on about this atmospheric town but the word count is building for this article. Here are a few of my favorite spots that may not be as well known as the daily Provençal market, the cathedral and the Musée Picasso:

La Chapelle de Saint-Bernardin – As are many other buildings here, this 16th Century chapel is built on Roman ruins. The doors breathed history to me as I often pressed my fingertips to the rich wood. The year 1581 is carved into them. After suffering a terrible plague, the survivors had these doors carved to give thanks to God for its end.

Place du Sanfranier – In the heart of the old town is the small free commune that keeps ancient fêtes and traditions alive. Here, Nikos Kazantzakis wrote Zorba the Greek (he lived at no. 8 rue du Bas-Castellet), and this quiet spot is dedicated to him.

Plage La Gravette – Nestled in the ramparts, overlooked by the castle where Picasso briefly lived and worked, this intimate cove tends to attract locals rather than tourists.

patricia sandsPatricia Sands lives in Toronto, Canada, when she isn’t somewhere else. An admitted travel fanatic, she can pack a bag in a flash and be ready to go anywhere … particularly the south of France. Her award-winning debut novel The Bridge Club was published in 2010 and her second novel, The Promise of Provence was an Amazon Hot New Release in April 2013. Find Patricia at her Facebook Author Page or her blog.

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