A little F. Scott Fitzgerald

It had been years since I’d read it but with a few spare hours this week, I read Tender is the Night. Set along the Riviera, I always like to read about places I know. 

From Cannes to Nice, the book refers to the glamour of a Riviera in its heyday and has always been my favourite of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books. 
A little googling revealed a map of the places named and so perhaps something to do next time along with exploring the coast around Toulon as inevitably, time had run out. 
And, as always, the weather broke just in time for my return to London. 
It had been a busy two weeks and I was feeling exhausted but the house was as finished as we could make it and the return to work loomed on the horizon. 

Bed Restoration

A future career in the making perhaps?

I have now finished restoring (if that is the correct word) two antique French beds. Ring the village bell!

They were bought for a total of €160 and with the addition of a new mattress, a custom-made base for the wicker bed as it curves at the end (new words learned, sommier and demi-corbeille), man hours involved, the above mentioned beds are now worth thousands. And having just seen a similar wicker bed on the Internet for £995, I’m not entirely joking!

The Wicker Demi Corbeille – before
And after

Despite the frustration of trying to buy a base for the wicker bed, having to improvise on the mattress slats for the single bed as vintage beds are of course, a different size, I’m very pleased with the end results.

Poor old rusty single bed – before 
And now with shiny polished brass

Let’s hope the future guests agree!

Market Day

Despite my intentions to go hiking again, it appeared that Valbonne had other plans.

It was the weekly market in the village and the tiny streets were crammed with stalls selling very specifically white asparagus, melons, strawberries, linen clothes, bread and roast chickens.

I decided to look for cushion covers, a strangely elusive item for some reason and so I wandered up and down the cobbled streets until I discovered just what I wanted in a little shop tucked away in a rue.

Two days left and another item ticked off the list.

Salon with new cushions
View of a rue, not on market day

From Valbonne to Biot and back again

After the success of yesterday’s hike, I decided to up the ante. Typical!

And so, having sprayed the wicker bed frame (will it ever be finished?) I tied my shoes, picked up my map and decided to walk to Biot. 

According to the signpost by the Valbonne cemetery the route would take 3 hours and fifteen minutes. 

The first hour was familiar, I wound my way along La Brague, crossed over the fairy bridge and vanished into the green world beyond. 

The map was fairly vague and I took a couple of minor detours, paddling at one point to get across the river. Two and a half hours later, I eventually emerged at the top of a hill and walking down the road, found myself in Biot. 

The view was spectacular as the blue Mediterranean sparkled in the distance. I bought a well-deserved baguette and sat by the fountain to eat my lunch. Fortified I looked for a glass shop where I’d bought glass balls, glass being a speciality of Biot, but sadly it was closed. After looking around the village, I decided to start the walk home. 

My intention was to come back along a different trail but it proved elusive and as I discovered a trail from the main road, I ended up back along the river. It could have been worse, I’d been walking along the road for half an hour without a pavement, not the ideal situation! 

And so five hours of hiking later and I think about twenty two kilometers, I staggered back into the village. One small blister, some creaky joints and a pair of fairly tired feet. It had been a while since I’d hiked properly. 

I returned to the Little House Above the Boulangerie for a shower and a cup of tea. I suspect I’ll be feeling it tomorrow. 

Hiking in Alpes Maritime

Having picked up a map of local walks in the Office du Tourisme, I started the day with a little bed restoration (still painting the wicker) and then chose my route of the day. 

It was going to be Le Breguet, a 9km trail which was of average difficulty and about two and a half hours long. 
Starting at the village, I set off at 11am as the bells (loudly) chimed above. 
It was a glorious day, the sky clear and the temperature perfect. I soon found myself on familiar ground as the hike seemed to be the same as yesterday’s. I marched determinedly up the steepest part of the hill, my heart racing and my lungs actually breathing in oxygen instead of bus fumes. The novelty!

Reaching the ridge, I followed the trail around until it started to head down and with the sound of rushing water, I discovered La Brague, a pretty creek winding its way through the forest. 

It was a lovely trail, lively waterfalls and serene pools, velvet moss-covered rocks, a canopy of leaves, dappled sunlight, dancing butterflies and lilting birdsong. 

I discovered a magical stone fairy bridge as I wound my way along the path and imagined how much I would have enjoyed playing there as a child. 

It was one of the nicest hikes I’ve done in years, my ideal combination of water and shade!

An hour and forty five minutes later I popped up near the village cemetery (not yet!) and headed back to the Little House Above the Boulangerie. 
Time for a sandwich in the park with daisies, I’d earned it. 
Where to tomorrow?

Straight from the Oven

It doesn’t get much better when you can sit on the doorstep and eat crusty French bread which was baked less than six feet away. Combined with the best butter in the world, with large crystals of sea salt crunching under tooth, it’s the perfect way to enjoy a taste of France.

And having already hiked for an hour and a half this morning repeating my new mantra of “Portion size… Exercise” a well-deserved taste indeed.

The work on the house is almost done and so with five days left, it’s time to relax by going hiking every day.

Walking off the cheese, day three!

Easter Weekend

Sunday morning and we meandered around Antibes having a coffee and buying some pretty Provençal bedding for the small bedroom which is starting to look very nice.

After lunch it was time to get away from the house renovations for a while and walk up into the mountains and surrounding forest. Heading out of the village, there was a steep climb up to a ridge where on one side, a picturesque view of the tiled rooftops of the village with mountains beyond, and on the other, hills rolling down to the Mediterranean in the distance.

We walked through the forest enjoying the view. It was a side to the Cote d’Azur I hadn’t seen before and one I plan to take advantage of more often.

Walking off the cheese!

Ille sur la Sorgue

Good Friday and we set off to the Mecca of all Brocantes, Ille Sur la Sorge. Set in the heart of Provence, it was a three hour drive setting off bright and early for the biggest day of the year in French flea markets.

We stopped for coffee in Aix en Provence before heading on to the Ille, a small town set on an island in the Sorgue river.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the first or the second time we’d been but given that it was meant to be the biggest brocante of the year, it was hard to pass up.

We arrived before it was too busy and started perusing the stands. Green glass bottles (banned from buying any more), rusty wrought-iron tables and chairs, mirrors, crockery, cutlery, glasses and lots of miscellaneous crap. The unifying factor, the price. Prices in Ille sur la Sorgue were much higher than our trusty or rusty Troc en Stock.

We stopped for lunch and sat under a lovely wisteria in a picturesque garden, blossom dropping on to the table and plates.

Lunch was delicious, an entree of burrata with aioli followed by a Provençal gnocchi delicately flavored with olive and tomato and finally a rosemary-infused goat cheese with a drizzle of honey.

After lunch we discovered the largest part of the market and debated the merits of various rusty tables before stumbling across a stand full of antique soda siphons. A myriad of colour, we were captivated as we’ve searched high and low for the French glass bottles. It would appear however, not as rare as we’d thought!

We decided to cut our losses and leave before we blew the house budget. The prices were too high and we’ve had more success in our local flea markets.

Not all was lost as we stopped for tea in Salon de Provence and then decided to detour back through Toulon on our way to Ikea.

Passing through Toulon we saw part of the coast we’d like to explore, south of St Tropez, the Var coast looks less developed than the Riviera and definitely worth a look. On the list of things to do.

Several hours later we arrived home, it had been a long day and we were exhausted. Not much to show for our travels but we were making progress and the end was in sight.

50 Shades of Gris

Eight hours of painting later and I’m exhausted. I’ve painted three side tables, two lamps, three book shelves, half of the double wooden bed frame including sponging the wicker and I’ve now collapsed in a painted-covered heap.

Everything is shades of grey and ivory, very pretty, very French and perfect for the Little House Above the Boulangerie.

I’m pleased (and relieved) to say that the end is in sight. I have one lamp, half the wicker bed frame and the side of one book shelf left and then I’m hanging up my paint brush and might have to have a manicure.

DIY. Hmm.

Where there’s muck, there’s brass!

Heading off to my favourite shop, the Troc en Stock in Antibes which has the best collection of French crap we’ve come across, our fingers were crossed.

It had been forever since I’d been on one of my pilgrimages to the Troc as they’d been closed over Christmas and I haven’t been back since.

Entering the warehouse, I spotted a lovely collection of antique glass bottles with ground glass stoppers. They were gorgeous but really expensive for the Troc at €25 each. If I had a spare €100 to spend on glass (I can’t seem to get enough) those have my name on them.

We moved on to the antique beds and there, lurking behind an old armoire was the perfect bed. It was a single iron bed frame, dirty and rusty but perfect for the room formerly known as the bathroom, formerly known as the shitbox, now known as the little bedroom but soon to be the Pretty Little Provençal Bedroom.

We found a small table for the bargain price of €7 and with the bed, our grand total was €67. Troc means barter and while we knocked the proprietor down on the bed, she wasn’t coming down to €5 on the table. Still, it was worth a try.

We loaded up the Mini, this time there was room for me in front and off we went.

Arriving home we set to work. Letad painted the bed frame dark grey while I, upon discovering brass knobs, set to work cleaning and polishing.

The task seemed insurmountable except for a stroke of genius (if I say so myself), I tried spraying the knobs with oven cleaner and a hundred years of black tarnish was lifted away. Several hours of spraying and polishing and the knobs were gleaming like new.

As soon as the paint dries we’ll assemble the bed and hopefully it will look beautiful. Not bad for €60!

Hard work but worth it!