Day 16 – through the French Riviera to Nice and Avignon

Milano – Ventimiglia – Nice – Avignon

After yesterday’s adventures, it was soon apparent that getting back on track was going to be a two-day process. On the other hand it gave the opportunity to do the Mediterranean coast and tick off another tiny country, though without actually setting foot on it.

It was good to revisit the route from Milan to Genoa. On the first trip I’d done this in the reverse direction but not seen any of it as I was on a train completely wrapped in advertisements. The scenery is lovely, though frustratingly I was in a middle seat so didn’t get any photos. One day I’ll see it properly!

Our train reversed at Genova Centrale, meaning that we were going backwards from here. I snapped just one glimpse of the Med, which came out in very odd colours, presumably because I was some distance from the window, but I quite liked the effect.

Borghetto Santo Spirito
Borghetto Santo Spirito, through the train window

At Ventimiglia, the last station before the French border, I swapped trains. This time I was on a local service and was happy to find an upstairs window seat in an almost empty carriage. The views through this section are pretty much exactly what I expect of the Med coast in France.

I was quite looking forward to passing through Monaco, so it was a real disappointment to discover that you do the whole thing underground. The station is extremely dimly lit and my attempt to get a photo of a sign that said Monte Carlo was a miserable failure.

The only photo I took in Monte Carlo!
The only photo I took in Monte Carlo!

Our previously very quiet train suddenly was packed with those on their way home from a day trip to this famous little place. I got chatting to a couple who were visiting from Northern Ireland, and having the best time. Almost everyone stayed on until the terminus at Nice.

I had an hour and a half between trains, which was more than enough to take a whirlwind trip into a town I’ve not seen before. Like so many places, there is nowhere to leave luggage so I dragged it all the way down to the beach and back. This trip may have a lot of sitting down, but it has it’s fair share of carrying heavy weights long distances!

On a very brief look, it seems to be a lovely city. Predictably all the big brands were on the main avenue, but there were lots of lovely buildings and the place has a real charm.

Another one for the “proper” visit list, but for now it was back to the station. A very friendly member of the station team helped me through the barriers when my mobile pass didn’t want to open the gates, and showed me to my carriage. I can’t say enough about how lovely everyone in the south of France has been. I have a long-standing resistance to spending time in northern France, where people seem such hard work, but down here it could not be more different.

As with all TGVs, a reservation is required, generally costing £12 or thereabouts, but they are comfortable and barring German ICE are the only trains I’ve encountered with reliable wi-fi (good for writing this diary!) For all it is a TGV, it basically dawdled along the south coast. There were more typically lovely views of the Med as famous town names passed by, Antibes, Cannes, Toulon and more. We then turned inland and after seemingly endless vineyards arrived in Marseille just before dark.

From here, the TGV proper begins, foot to the floor and 320km/h across the French countryside. I’ve done a few of them now and the novelty isn’t wearing off. We arrived in Avigon TGV right on time, and I hopped onto the local connecting service for the 5 minute journey into the town.

Having not planned to visit Avignon until the day before, I wasn’t really prepared for what to expect. “Le Pont” is something I vaguely recall from the childhood rhyme – though I’d no recollection of why it was famous, or what else was here. The impressive entrance to the city after stepping off the train should have told me that this was no ordinary town.

There was also the lovely warm welcome in the hotel I’d booked only an hour earlier – definitely the best room of the trip so far. It was 9:30pm so not too late for a wander and a chance to find something to eat. The concierge suggested which direction I should head in.

It immediately felt like stepping into a French film set, everything looked exactly how it should, people sat outside bars (it was a pleasantly warm evening,) run down but gorgeous buildings in all directions, and of course the famous bridge, which is attached to a rather impressive city wall and former castle.

As I wandered the streets I was amused by numerous statues that were lit in a way that immediately had me thinking of the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who!

The cafés were by now closing for the evening but I found an Indian street food bar which served the most incredible take on a chicken biryani that I’ve ever tried. Pretty much dry but utterly delicious.

After eating, I wandered down to the river, to the bridge and around the city walls. I love how they have burrowed through them in different ways, be it new roadways, or simply removing a few stones to create a pedestrian access.

I’m utterly enchanted by this place.

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1 Comment

  1. Celia Lyon

    Avignon looks delightful.

    I’m considering a trip to the area, I want to see Carcassone, Perpignan and try to get to see the Millau viaduct. I have friends in Lyon who are hoping to retire down to somewhere near the French/Spanish border, so I wanted to get there too. It’s looking like I’ll need to include Avignon in this trip.

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