To Cannes and back – with the ‘gilet jaunes’.

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I hadn’t been to the luxury travel show in Cannes for 2 years and it has always one of the best global gatherings of the luxury travel industry if a little more corporate than it should be. Naively thinking that because I now live in France it might be easier, I obviously forgot that 780 kilometers is rather a long way on a motorbike…in December. So off I set at 7am on a dark and wet Monday morning thinking it might take me 7 or 8 hours to reach the Cote D’Azur. By 8.30 it was more or less light and I was making good progress for Toulouse when the heavens opened and I took shelter in a motorway/autoroute service station for a very expensive coffee and a quick glance at the Easyjet web site to monitor the price of a flight from Toulouse to Nice..but then the sun came out and I thought, crack on until the next stop near Carcassone. By which time the Mediterranean climate was beginning to click in and the cold wet stuff from the Pyrenees was behind me. An amazing change in the weather and the countryside really. Drier, warmer and more rocky and dusty announced that the French Riviera was now in range.

Much has been said and written about the ‘gilet jaunes’ protests that have been ongoing  since mid November and which have turned especially nasty in Paris. If you stay on the motorway you are impervious to it ….until they decide to close down the motorway which they did just south of Nimes.  Indeed the closer I got to Marseille the more dramatic the protests became and I was in a way lucky to be on my bike as had I been in a car I would have been stuck almost overnight. This is the Autoroute du Soleil which brings all the freight up from Spain and Portugal and into the rest of Europe so a motorway closure is nothing short of the mother of all embouteillages!

The motorway was chaotic. Just 2 lanes of which one was dedicated to HGVs only so not much chance for motorists in cars. Thankfully on a bike I was able to weave in and out and then gave the gilets jaunes a thankful toot on my horn as they had invaded the peage stations to ensure nobody had to pay. This I stress was the one and only upside. 2 additional hours added on to an already lengthy daft journey as I had to weave around Arles trying to find the motorway again, at least the open part. I’m sure if Vincent van Gogh was still living in Arles he would have cut his ear off in frustration but I thought that might be a bit extreme. I got to Cannes around 6.30pm – 11 hours after leaving Beaumont and was lucky enough to be staying at the splendid Esperanto Hotel. €60 a night is a bargain for Cannes along with secure parking and a larger than average room – for France. I have always stayed at the nearby Hotel Alnea so popped in to see Cedric and Noemie who also own 7 Art Hotel opposite. Both excellent choices.

Cannes is ever more gentrified. Most of the smaller shops and restaurants have fallen by the way side and replaced by big brand names and much more expensive restaurants. So I try and stick with my usual haunts. Le Bar Crillon which remains unchanged after all these years. L’Andoise for dinner. Vesuvius for pizza. And even though its December an early morning swim isn’t as bracing as you think it might be in fact its lovely.

Come back here soon for the BOLDER guide to Cannes.

I wasn’t going to attempt the return journey in one go so I was grateful to old friends in Nimes for the offer of a bed. What a stunning city with wonderfully preserved Roman ruins everywhere. In December they have a beautiful Xmas themed light show on different buildings so we were lucky enough to catch the Roman amphitheatre version that was sadly sparsely attended due to the road blockages everywhere. What a pity.

So on I continued the following day anticipating another 6 hours or so in the saddle. Fuel was scarce and queues were evident everywhere so I thought I would continue on towards Montpelier thinking it might be easier to find fuel once outside Nimes – but it wasn’t so the only solution was to sit in a long queue and then try and get as much fuel in the tank as possible although once back on the motorway all the service stations seemed to be operating as normal. Also I was grateful that my helmet is high viz yellow and my jacket has high viz yellow in it as well so I was well received by my fellow high viz wearers once I left the motorway near Agen for the final homeward leg as darkness began to fall.

Another 8 hours on the road with stoppages, fuel shortages and the many necessary coffee stops. One things for sure, next time it will be Easyjet from Toulouse to Nice but it was fascinating to witness the social unrest in France that began with protests against fuel tax and the malaise spread to a general dissatisfaction with the Macron government. Some 76% of the French population live in 6 cities leaving 15 million people spread throughout a country that is 3 times the size of Britain. This leads to large swathes of countryside being deserted, or at least it would be if the Brits didn’t have an obsession with doing up old properties. No matter the outcome of Brexit it frustrates me that the UK isn’t playing more of a hardball game as rural France would struggle without the economic input of Brits who have sold up in expensive Britain and decided to take on a hopeless project in rural France. Us for example! But maybe the French just don’t care either way and this is perhaps another factor in the current social unrest as the gargantuan tax rates in this extremely socialist country make it simply not worthwhile working overtime or going the extra mile. Better to stay shut, have a nice lunch and not pay any more tax. Perhaps they’ve got it right.

Anyway so much for the luxury travel world and the debate over whether fluffy towels and free wifi constitute luxury can wait for another day. We had a blocked sewage pipe when I got back that Jean Claude managed to unblock and I can tell you that that was indeed luxury to know that le blockage was unblocked..

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