The Oxford Dictionary definition of a riviera reads that it is “a coastal region with a subtropical climate and vegetation”. My definition? Paradise.
By the time we made it to the Riviera in France, our honeymoon was half complete. We had already been overtired in Edinburgh, extremely unlucky in London, and had almost never made it to Paris. Despite all of our mishaps, we had experienced a whirlwind of the most amazing memories. One thing was missing throughout all of these experiences though: warm weather!
The Rivieras of both France and Italy made up for time lost in the sun. Our four days were filled with blue skies and sunshine. Even with the abundance of sun (and sometimes because of it), things still went wrong. But hey! We finally had that sun we had been hoping to see on so many gloomy and rainy days.
Truthful Travel Lesson #23
Always wear sunscreen
We started out our Riviera hopping in a small town called Cassis. A bit exhausted from the crowds and the driving of the previous day in the Loire Valley (read about our adventures here), we were excited to hop on a boat, relax and set sail. It was warm, there was sun, and we were on a small boat touring a very special place called “Les Calanques”.
These unique cliffs rise up from the crystal clear sea, and are only accessible by boat or strenuous hiking. We set out early for a day of snorkeling and beautiful views. The water was frigid (so cold we had to wear wet suits) and the spray from the boat was cooling as we moved from one location to the next. In all the relaxation and excitement of being out on the water I forgot to apply sunscreen.
Not to worry! We made it back to shore after exploring caves and one of us cliff jumping (not me!) and I was sunburn free. As we drove on to our next destination I fell asleep in the passenger seat. I woke up in extreme pain, wondering why one side of my body was burning, and looked up to see an open sunroof aligned perfectly with my lobster red skin.
Not sunburn free, after all. I spent the better part of my afternoon holding an icecream sundae against my burn, and applying my (20 Euro!!!) aloe cream too many times to count. My dinner that night in Monaco was extremely uncomfortable, with me trying to inconspicuously adjust my dress to not rub against my burn. I did not enjoy Monaco too much, and I fear this was a huge factor in why.
Apply sunscreen, always. Especially if you have red hair and pale skin. Especially if it is your first day in the hot sun. Even if all you’re going to be doing is driving around in a car. The sun is sneaky, and boy oh boy can its wrath hurt.
Truthful Travel Lesson #24
Unexpected breakfasts are the best kind
The next morning started in a small village in the hills about the Riviera. At the recommendation of our Airbnb host, we decided to trek further up the hill in search of breakfast in Old Town Roquebrune. Still recovering from my gnarly burn, I trudged uphill to the sound of cicadas, watching donkeys grazing. It was humid, it was sticky, and it was not even 10 AM.
We arrived in the town and it was the cutest place I had seen thus far on our trip. Streets that were barely big enough for car traffic, no people in sight, and the most amazing view of the coast and Monaco in the distance. The long trek had made up especially hungry and it was soon became clear we were in trouble. All the restaurants in the little town only opened for lunch and dinner. We had climbed all this way for nothing!
As defeat set in my husband had a great idea. We had passed a small shop on our way into the main square-maybe they had food? We were greeted by the shopkeeper who showed us a variety of fresh meats and cheeses, and even took us into the back of the store to find fresh juice and visit his wine cellar. Armed with a picnic, we went back to the overlook and had our breakfast with a view.
If plans don’t go your way, don’t worry. There may be something even better ahead. We had many breakfasts in Europe- some amazing, some rushed, and some not so wonderful. My favorite was the simple ad-hoc breakfast in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. A delightfully unexpected end to our time in France.
Truthful Travel Lesson #25
Always double check your bookings
Getting to Italy was next on our to-do list. After narrowly making it onto our train, we were off to San Remo to pick up another car. We made it to the rental place, two blocks from the train station, after being losing 10 Euros in exchange for a taxi ride. Not off to a great start.
Panic set in almost immediately as we gave the employee our name and she could not find us in the system. We checked and rechecked our confirmation email. We had one, so why could this rental place not seem to be able to pull it up on their computer? After a lot of back and forth arguing, the employee figured out the problem. Very bluntly the employee told us that both the pick up and the drop off in the same place: Florence. A city 388 km away. They informed us that there were no other available cars from that company, and that basically there was nothing we could do. It is very unlike me to remain calm in these situations, but at this point we had 24 lessons behind our belts. I knew there had to be a solution.
In the end, after arguments, long distance phone calls and a whole lot of stress we were able to book one of their other cars provided by a totally different company. We fixed the problem, but could have avoided the stress entirely. Earlier on in our trip we learned that you have to remember to book your transportation in order for it to happen, and in San Remo we learned that it is not only crucial to book it, but to book it in the right place. I wish I could say that this is where our transportation woes ended, but stay tuned for Rome where we make yet another transportation related mistake!
Finally in Italy, we immediately tried lots of gelato and authentic calzones (which were bigger than my head!), and soon forgot our mistake.
Truthful Travel Lesson #26
Italy gets HOT
That night we stayed in a small town in the middle of nowhere, with a family who gave us homemade wine and shared lots of stories.
When we woke up the next morning it was clear it was going to be a hot day. This was the day I had been anxiously waiting for: the day I would finally visit Cinque Terre. The train station to the five towns was filled with people, and it was a hot and sweaty ride there. By the time we got to our first stop, Monterosso Al Mare, I was ready to jump into the water. The cool off was nice, but from there it just became more crowded and increasingly hot.
We decided to eat lunch early solely to get out of the heat. I was feeling extremely nauseous at this point. Even with my cool Adidas hat. Even though I was constantly dunking it in into the water to cool down my head. And even though I had been swimming twice. I wish I could say that I enjoyed my adventures in Cinque Terre more than I did.
It is an absolutely beautiful place, but it was a shock to my body. My favorite parts of it were strolling through the cobblestone streets and alleyways, in the shade. I am happy to say that as we continued to venture through Italy my body adjusted. It got hotter, but it also got more bearable. If in Italy in the Summer, give yourself a day to acclimate before spending 12 hours in the beating sun. Your body will thank you, and your memories will thank you even more!
There is no denying the Riviera is a beautiful place to be in the Summer. The water is refreshing, the towns are charming, and there are endless things to do. I welcomed the sun after so many rainy days cycling through the same three pairs of pants we brought with us on our summer honeymoon. But even the beauty and the sun cannot create a perfect experience- because it is almost impossible to do so. You book cars in the wrong location, sunburns happen, and heat takes away from the experience. It’s finding the beauty despite all of the bad things that is the key to enjoying travel, because they WILL happen.
Until next time,
A Truthful Traveler