With the New Year off to a rather soggy start here in the UK, I thought I'd share an overview of my spectacular trip in the South of France last November with Norwegian Cruise Lines.
The Norwegian Epic dropped anchor near Cannes and tender boats shuttled everyone to this ravishing city on the Riviera. It's a popular stop on many Mediterranean cruises, so you may be considering a similar excursion yourself if you've explored Cannes before.
Grasse is the perfume capital of the world and Saint Paul-de-Vence is a medieval hilltop town in the stunning Alpes-Maritimes region, so there's plenty to see and do in the four and a half hours this tour typically lasts for.
On arrival into the port of Cannes we were greeted by the excursion team and given an audio device with earphones. The device is so you can hear the tour guide (who spoke English) while on the tour.Our tour guide Pascal grew up in this region and gave us some fantastic insight. She also had a great sense of humour and made this trip even more enjoyable.
After driving through Cannes and away from the coast for around thirty minutes we passed Picasso's villa (now owned by his Granddaughter) and arrived at Fragonard perfumery in Grasse.
We also discovered on the journey north that Grasse is where Coco Chanel came in the 1920s to create Chanel No. 5 using the rose flowers that bloomed here.
The Fragonard perfumery first opened in 1926 (and this particular factory in the 1980s). The short tour demonstrated all processes of perfume and soap making.
It takes one tonne of flowers to make one litre of essences and there can be around two hundred different ingredients and essences in perfume, including spices.
During my tour I noticed a strong scent of lavender which grows abundantly in this region, along with violets.
It was interesting to see the crushed bits of lavender pass through a machine to form a long bar that is chopped, heated and pressed into the soap shape we are familiar with. The factory is able to produce around two thousand bars a day.
Following this we explored the range of products in the factories own store and had the chance to smell some of the perfumes produced here.One popular scent was the feminine 'Belle du Nuit', created using flowers that only open in the night. Gentlemen are not forgotten at Fragonard either, there's ten fragrances for men and ten for women.
If you want to sample some of the products of Fragonard, it's sold only in M&S stores in the UK. The company made it clear that they don't want to over-commercialise and value quality over quantity.
Boarding the coach we headed north again into the lower Alps region. The steep rugged hills were a spectacular sight to see against the crystal clear sky.
We followed the Loup river winding further up into the valley passing a former residence of Queen Victoria. Pascal told us the Queen came to Grasse in her later years because the higher, clearer air was said to be good for illness.
The coach paused for a moment so we could take in the breath-taking landscape overlooking Tourrettes-Sur-Loup. Even in November the hills here remained a vibrant green and appeared to undulate into infinity.
The time between Grasse and Saint Paul-de-Vence was just over thirty minutes, but with views like these it was a really wonderful journey.
The coach park is just outside of the village and requires a short stroll up the hills to the fort entrance.
Saint Paul-de-Vence is surrounded by a thick stone wall that was constructed in the 1500s. It remains one of the best preserved medieval villages in the South of France.
You have the choice of following the tour guide around the village or exploring the area yourself.
Opting to sightsee at my leisure, I was soon distracted by 'Le Deli Gourmet du Chalet' selling a variety of flavoured macaroons near the village entrance.
I noticed on a wander up through the narrow, meandering streets that Saint Paul-de-Vence is laced with art galleries and cafés. Famous artists like Matisse and Picasso used to visit here, so art has become a popular attraction for tourists.
It's easy to see why artists would feel comfortable or inspired by this village, walking through the fortress walls is like stepping into a painting.
At the top of the hill is the impressive bell tower and chapel along with a quirky café called 'The Artiste'.
Here you can sit back on deck chairs (labelled with famous film stars like Charlie Chaplin and Audrey Hepburn) in the cosy confines of an arched tunnel.The theme throughout the restaurant is the art of cinema with retro film posters even printed on the table.
Other interesting things to see and do include The Maeght Foundation just outside of the walls. It's a stylish ultra-modern building that houses one of the biggest 20th century art collections in Europe.
As mentioned the tour typically lasts around four and a half hours meaning you return to Cannes mid-afternoon.
As a film school graduate I love the city's ties to the cinema with the annual film festival taking place in Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. Although not the most attractive of buildings, it's fun to spot celebrity hand prints in the surrounding square.
Between the rolling green hills, vibrant lavender fields, blue skies and even bluer seas, I can see why this area was (and continues to be) a haven for artists. They loved 'the light' here and I witnessed just how spectacular the light can be during my evening sail away. Amazing!
For more information of this cruise excursion with Norwegian Cruise Lines click here.
Norwegian Cruise Lines have also provided a short video summarising the tour which you can view below...
Cruising to Barcelona? Take a look at my Torres Winery excursion with TripAshore by clicking here.
This was an expenses paid trip with Norwegian Cruise Lines. All opinions are my own.