GRASSE ME UP ANY TIME

I hadn’t realised that the Pre Alps are so impressive. That they tower over vast deep gorges, that they are clothed with olive trees and conifers that cling effortlessly to near vertical terrain. Houses dot the hillsides where no house should be able to cling on. And all the time, on vertiginous hills there would be a solitary cyclist crouched over handlebars powering himself with strong sometimes stringy legs pistoning furiously up or swiftly flying down these vast hills, the one I remember best had long grey hair flying out behind him.  As a non cyclist I can only imagine the muscular energy that this must take – my own muscles twitched painfully in sympathy. The Tour de France has much to answer for.

I had spent some time in Nice many years ago and had never ventured out of the town so absorbed was I with sea, sex and food. Now I am enchanted by the dramatic landscape the beauty of trees and the shadows, the clear air and the sheer wonder of such wildness. I used to be a strictly city slicker and now I am a newborn countryside enthusiast, I am bewitched and it is marvellous.

I have my friend Liz to thank for this conversion; when my she had suggested this jaunt I had nearly taken her hand off in my eagerness. I had been diagnosed with cancer in the interim and felt that this should in no way impede me. I was so right I have never experienced such joy – well not for a very long time anyway and I have never appreciated travel more. I am not sure how much connection there is between my diagnoses and my enjoyment but I suspect that it has reminded me that I am not immortal and as I no longer have to be cool I can accept unrestrained joy as a natural emotion:

We had booked into Le Cedres Village de Vacance, which I had expected to be a bed and breakfast place so I was surprised at the long corridor we traversed to our room and amazed when we went into a dining room with well over a hundred people all knife and forking it with vigour. A young woman pointed us in the right direction and we took our starters to a table nearby. I asked for wine and we were told to help ourselves which we did. I had not realised that this was a French version of a holiday camp. I looked round and reckoned that the average age of other guests was about seventy with a few children and younger people among them. We helped ourselves to the excellent food and filled our carafe with wine. I have never been to a holiday camp in Britain, but can imagine one –  encouraged by Hi – de – Hi on TV and it all seemed a lot more raucous and boozy than this civilised place. Here everybody was incredibly polite and there was no pressure to join in.

The setting is superb with rolling gardens heated outdoor pool all maintained beautifully. The staff who are all young are charming appear to be happy in their roles. I begin to sound like an advertisement and I don’t expect everybody would enjoy the company of a couple of hundred elderly people at mealtimes. But we had our own table and smiled at our neighbours in fact this entire holiday was the most smile intensive I have ever experienced our fellow guests were charming, friendly and totally incurious about us. We had a perfectly adequate room with a view of the pool and close to the lift.

The villages we drove to are remarkable and various with few tourists and one had a tea house that hung out over the precipice, it was firmly shut as it was Wednesday. Nobody took much notice of us, a bonus of being past out prime perhaps ? We didn’t take advantage of any of the trips to local sites but if we go again we intend to forgo the joys of air travel and go by train.

This trip has changed my mind about travel, now I intend to peer at the marvels of nature as well as looking at pictures and urban landscapes. We went to the chapel where Matisse produced some of his best work at an advanced age. To the Picasso museum where we saw some amazing ceramics as well as his War and Peace work. But for me it was the earth and sky; the clarity of the air and the sheer beauty of the entire area that did it for me. And the friendliness of everybody we met.

I would like to thank my friend Liz whose organisational skills and superb driving that made it all possible.

If this is part of being old, bring it on.

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