We already had a campsite booked near St Tropez so Marseille seemed like a good stop in between from Lanuejols. The only problem was, French holiday season had literally started this weekend so I was warned it would be difficult to find anywhere. One of the first places that popped up on my Internet search was a Facebook page called ‘Yes We Camp!’ in the L’estaque area of the Marseille coast. It called itself an ‘experimental’ campsite. It had been set up since April 2013 and would run until October 2013. It was a community project aimed at developing a space that was eco-friendly (dry toilets and sun-warmed showers) that was open to people from all over the world to come and share and help build and develop the space. There was also a programme of workshops, music and artists. It was also 7 Euros a night including breakfast! I sent an email. I got a reply saying their booking system says they are full but they will make an exception for Bear Cub and I. I was a little apprehensive at staying at what sounded like a cross between a music festival and a hippy commune so I also sent off an email to a ‘conventional’ campsite that was also cheap. They came back to me saying they were full so Yes We Camp it was!
It took ages to get there. In miles it was not so far but coming down the constantly winding mountains in a car that can only cope with 30 mph on any incline made for a slow and tiring journey. Once we got to the coast we stopped for lunch in Montpelier in the old part of the city and it was actually really lovely. A very characterful and elegant city.
When we finally arrived in Marseille, all I knew was that it was in the L’estaque part of the city. Amazingly I found some signs and stumbled across the campsite. My first impression was ‘where have I brought my child to?’. All though very ‘cool’ looking it looked very ‘unfinished’. It was built on a disused patch of concrete land in the port of L’estaque and basically consisted of some scaffolding structures that housed various caravans, old boats and pods an cabins that had been made into makeshift accommodation for campers. There were also a few astro-turf ‘platforms’ just a few inches of the ground to accommodate campers who brought their own tents. I’d been informed by email that there was no room but an exception would be made for us. What this meant was that we had to erect our tent on the actual ground next to one of the platforms on the first night and could move to a platform for the second night. However, this was easier said than done as it turned out underneath the gravel on the ground was concrete!!! We ended up putting up the tent using stones to hold the ropes out and tying the front to one of the platforms. It was very flimsy but remembering our first night of camping I felt the tent would survive one night and so would we. We had a quick look around the camp at the ‘dry toilets’ (gag) and sun-warmed showers – I wondered if we could do 2 nights!
We were tired and hungry and I am ashamed to say we resorted to evil MacDonalds!! I NEVER eat MacDonalds yet on this trip we have done twice! Mainly because I have found it to be one of the only places with strong, free Wifi! They also always have a park outside so I can get to work booking our schedule while Ru has some kid time and plays. I was kind of dreading going back to the campsite but we reluctantly did so only to find the whole place buzzing with a great vibe. Music was playing and the bar had opened and people were beginning to mill about. It was not a very big campsite so was not too crowded. Yes We Camp has it’s own currency – Gastons – and you have to go to the Gaston van to buy them before you can get any drink or food. It gave a real feel that this was indeed it’s own little experimental world. Bear cub found a little boy of 5 dancing his heart out on his own in front of the DJ and promptly went and joined him while I headed to purchase some Gastons. This was where I met the ‘French Toy Boy’.
‘French Toy Boy’ was a cheeky chap with a friendly open face, good looking (and knew it)and with a quick tongue. He must have said something about me in French to his companion as when I didn’t respond he said ‘You don’t speak French then?’ His English was very good. He had in fact lived where I work in London and he’d done everything from working in Hostels to being an unofficial social worker to an Au Pair. We got chatting . He started flirting. It was then I realised he didn’t realise I was on ‘old lady’ so I hit him with the line that usually gets them running ‘Yes I’m here travelling with my 4 year old son’. ‘Damn!’ he exclaimed before he could stop himself and then ‘How old are you then?’ The French, I’ve found, are very direct. ‘Guess?’ I said – my favourite game. ‘Well I would have said 26 but now I know you have a kid then maybe you are 30 or 31?’ It always amazes me that people think if you have kids you must be old when my mum had my sister and I at 19! Anyway it was a lot of fun to see his face as I continued to say ‘older’ as he worked his way up the 30’s! By time I said ‘yep’ at 37 his eyebrows were almost touching his hairline! So I thought that would be it – I’d successfully scared him off and given my ego a massage in the process 🙂
However, I then kept running into him – lastly in the communal showers!!! (He did have a great body, though a little short for me). He continued to flirt. I told him I was probably old enough to be his mother and asked his age to which I was shocked to find the answer was 23!! A baby! He was however, great company and we had some fun and at 37 I was taught how to properly French-kiss for the first time! In my head it was meant to help me get over the guy I was here to get over – let’s call him ‘The Artist’ (I know, I need to date a maths lecturer or computer engineer in future – all artists and musicians are trouble and hereby banned!) but it didn’t I just felt guilty for some reason and missed him even more! Still progress to do on this one.
Being at ‘Yes We Camp’ did turn out to be a really fun couple of days though and certainly added to our ‘experience’ of travelling. We also got a boat to the main town, which Bear Cub loved, and had some amazing Crepes at a Creperie in the centre of Marseille.
I don’t know what it is about Marseille but I have never been in a place where I got so many compliments from young men. In one day I was called ‘beautiful’ and ‘a model’ by 3 different men! So if ever I feel low in the self esteem area I know I just need to take a trip to Marseille! 🙂
Bear Cub enjoyed the freedom of ‘Yes We Camp’ where he could stay up late and go wherever he wanted really but we were both also looking forward to getting some beach time again.
I had thought the journey to our next campsite – Les Eucalyptus – would be the most straight forward as it was just up the coast from Marseille and less than 2 hours away. It actually turned out to be one of the most stressful! Suddenly, when we were only 40 minutes away, the Sat Nav told me to turn off the motorway. I thought it a bit strange but it had been pretty good so far so I did and continued. After around 20 minutes it suddenly went crazy and then simply said ‘no route found’. Whatever destination I typed in it said the same. I knew I couldn’t be far so continued for maybe another 10/20 minutes before I realised I was actually heading back where I came from! I was so annoyed! I turned around and headed back for the big motorway. It added 40 minutes to our journey but as soon as I rejoined the motorway, we should never have left in the first place, the Sat Nav randomly started working again. Hungry and stressed (again) we stopped for lunch by the beach and bought a bucket and spade and Bear Cub had a ride on the merry-go-round and both felt a little better.
Again, I had a bit of trouble finding our campsite but it was exactly between a lovely little village n a hill called Ramatuelle and the bustling, vibe of St Tropez. The beach was literally through a gate of our campsite and 100 metres away! We got the tent up and then headed out for dinner and thought we’d check out St Tropez.
I have never seen anything like St Tropez! Firstly the sheer amount of traffic in one tiny town was incredible. We circled for half an hour trying to find a space to no avail. While circulating I felt like I was in some weird special episode where ‘The only way is Essex’ meets ‘Made in Chelsea’. I have never seen so many fake body parts and pretentious looking people in my life! In the end we had to drive to Ramatuelle which was the same distance the other side of our campsite. It was still tough to find a parking space here but we eventually did and the lovely little village was a welcome surprise. We went to the first restaurant we saw and ordered quickly. However, the service was slow. Painfully slow! Bear Cub was bordering on a meltdown and we were both close to being too tired to eat when it finally arrived. In fact we even left before the dessert that was included in the meal. To make matters worse there was a police diversion the way we came so I had to somehow find my way back in the dark along country roads to our campsite!
Les Eucalytpus was a small site in a great location close to the beach as I said. It was literally just a campsite with a toilet and shower block but was very well kept and clean. Most of the campsites I booked for our French leg were via ‘Cool Camping’ which I highly reccommend, however, Les Eucalyptus did have one completely scathing review. It was so in-depth and long and bad it did make me think twice about booking it and I did meet a family in Lanuejols who said they didn’t book there because of it. However, I always feel things are sometimes a matter of perspective and depend on what a person’s expectations and desires of a place are. We actually enjoyed the campsite. The only part of the review I could agree with, which was a bit annoying, was that is was very close to a private resort on the beach that played very loud ‘party’ music until quite late at night. However, we’d just come from the campsite in Marseille which was a bit like a music festival and there had been quite a storm on the last night and Bear Cub had slept through all of it oblivious, so I wasn’t too worried. (In fact after our Yes We Camp experience it has made me determined to take Bear Cub to an actual music festival next year – something I would never have been brave enough to do before this!) Apart from the loud music, for a beach holiday it was perfect. Also at 8am every morning the ‘bread man’ would drive in and toot his horn and you could buy fresh bread, croissants and other pastries for very cheap.
It was nice to be on the beach and Bear Cub had a great time playing in the sea and with the sand. We also continued our daily reading of ‘Life of Pi’ together. Bear Cub was absolutely riveted. I kept expecting him to get bored but he insisted I read more and more of it to him just occassionally asking what certain words meant. I’m sure it looked like I was a pushy mother forcing her 4-year-old to read modern literature instead of nursery rhymes!
On a motherhood note, and to prove it has not all been fun and plain sailing, Bear Cub suffered from really bad constipation while we were here (sorry for TMI factor but that’s parenting!) probably due to all the bread and pasta we were eating. So much so that we had to go to the chemist to get some immediate relief. And when they say ‘immediate’ boy do they mean it!!! It is so glamorous being a mum He then proceeded to go the other way for a few days which believe me, was worse!
We had 3 nights at Les Eucalyptus to slow down our pace and had some good beach time and it was much needed after our busy schedule.
Our next stop was just an hour away along the coast line in the seaside port town of Frejus. we were staying at a Youth Hostel that had been recommended to me. We couldn’t check in until after 5.30pm so we headed for the port and arrived to find a vibrant food market along the sea front. They were selling some delicious hot cooked food as well as fruit and vegetables. We bought some fresh cooked ham, sausages and chicken which ended up providing lunch and dinner for two days.
Annoyingly we could not find the hostel for a while but then some young guys actually drove us there (we followed them) and it turned out we’d been a stones throw from it but missed the turning as it was quite hidden. The Frejus Youth Hostel was a great location. The hostel itself was very old but it was set within its own Wood and you could choice where to put your tent anywhere you liked. They also had kitchen facilities so we could cook rather than eat out (our little gas stove had run out of gas just the day before! It had been a good excuse to dine out for our one posh meal of the trip so far and I had an amazing seafood risotto!) Again it was all very basic but was in beautiful surroundings with a supermarket close by and a 5 minute drive to both Frejus and the other little port town St Raphael. The only problem for me was the amount of mosquitos. After the first night I woke and Bear Cub and I counted 20 bites on my body!! I’m slightly allergic to them too so they swell up and throb as well as itch so not fun 😦
I think the tiredness had been catching up with BearCub again and also the fact that we’d had so much intense time together as his behaviour had got increasingly difficult over these next days so I was pleased we would soon be reaching Italy where he could sleep in a proper bed – though he seemed to sleep just fine in the tent – just needed less late nights!
For our second day at Frejus we went to St Raphael and visited the beach and Bear Cub played in the water while I read. Back at the campsite we made our dinner and at the kitchen area found ourselves surrounded by 7 French men of varying ages where only 2 spoke very little English. However, they seemed to be very sweet with Ru who jabbered on to them anyway. After Ru was asleep in the tent I went to use the Wifi at the hostel and on my way back from the showers one of the French guys asked me if I would join them for a drink. I was going to say no but then thought I’d have just one so sat down for a glass of wine. The guy who had invited me spoke really very little English so the conversation dried up pretty quickly. He then started tapping away on his phone. He kept fidgeting about nervously and then finally showed me the screen where his ‘translator’ had written ‘You are a very beautiful woman!’. ‘Merci Beaucoup’ I replied thinking him very sweet. It was only when a little later he showed me the screen again which said ‘I don’t want to offend, but do you want to spend the night with me?’, that I wasn’t quite so impressed! Around the same time one of the other guys casually pulled out a gun to show the others. It was real, it was loaded! It was time for me to go to bed!!! ‘French phone guy’ walked me back to the tent and in pretty clear English this time said very abruptly, ‘Give me a kiss!’ to which I simply replied ‘Non!’ He got the message and sulked off! Never a dull moment eh?!
We were up early the next day as I wanted to get the tent down before breakfast so we could leave for the 1 hour drive to Nice to drop the rental car off as soon as we’d eaten. I felt a little sad, very proud and mostly pleased to pack up the tent for the last time. This city girl was definitely converted to a camping adventure queen!
France has been wonderful: Beautiful, freeing and expansive for me inwardly as well as outwardly.
I wonder what adventures Italy will hold….