A Month in the Country

July slips by, days of bookish lunches (what a shock to discover we had a Leaver amongst our number), bridge, supper with local friends and Pims and Croquet one Saturday afternoon at Middlezoy.  Actually, forget the Croquet, or any garden game for that matter; it was an excuse to quaff some good drinks and eat some excellent barbecue food.

We have a long-standing agreement to receive Nick’s cousins at St Vaast towards the end of the month.  Nick goes back to play host for a couple of days leaving me to spend another week in England before making the crossing myself.  In that week there is a supper party at Canterton House where Paul, Viv, Maddy, Andrew, Lis, my sister Liz and I eat some of Viv’s delicious vegetarian food.  I cannot believe it when they tell me they may be on the move.  They have put in so much work on their house and the extensive hillside garden but they have always had itchy feet and another project awaits them on the other side of the valley.  We take a post-supper walk round the garden and admire the variety of hydrangeas that they have in flower.  My niece Lis takes a team photo.

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That night I am staying with Liz who lives on the east margin of Devon.  The next couple of days will be taken up with a visit to Reskadinnick to visit my dear friend Stella Maris.  She is very elderly now and is a fading star.  I find her comfortable in her life-long home, cared for by Rose and local support services.  I sit and read to her for a couple of hours whilst Rose is taken out for a break and to do shopping.  The book has been lent to me by Liz and is called ‘A Sting in the Tale’ by Dave Goulson and describes his ‘Adventures with Bumblebees’.  I find the low rhythm of my own voice very calming, the whole experience quietens the body.

I leave the Camborne area not long after 4p.m. and drive to Clifford Bridge where I have friends with whom I have stayed before, when breaking the journey between my Dorset village and Cornwall.  It is initially good to see them but since the Referendum things have changed, and when the conversation turns to how we all voted there is a divergence which is not easy to overcome.  I am keen to ditch the payneful discussion as soon as possible and would not want to return to the subject with them.

Leaving the next day I am planning to call in and see my mother before heading for Winterborne K.  I drive past the lovely farm shop at Morcombelake and notice that they have a display of willow contrivances on their forecourt. billandben I buy some of their snails, a couple of butterflies and a large flower thing that reminds me of ‘Weeeed’ from Bill and Ben.

 

Outdoor Lights

Five days after returning from France there is a treat in store.  Fortuitously the family finds itself in the same country with a weekend to spare.  Not always easy to engineer with the diversity of activities in which we, and particularly the youngest generation, are becoming involved.  Climbing, singing, music gigs…… we pack our lives.

Happily Barns and Lukie live in a cottage on a farming estate in Oxfordshire, an easy destination at which all of us can converge.  The cottage is small and we are fifteen souls.  Because Barns is involved in the Scouting movement, our weekend will be focused on the great outdoors.  When we arrive a fire is already alight, fuelled by logs from the adjacent woodland, wherein rootle the pigs from which source comes the giant joint of meet pot-roasting in an extra large saucepan.  The fireplace is neatly constructed from bricks, a few courses forming a horse-shoe into whose opening logs are steadily fed as the fire burns.

Before we can eat this meat there is lunch; a cauldron of sweet corn soup is followed by cheese and pate with a fruit platter to finish.  Our afternoon passes very amiably, the children range around………… rehearsing and filming dramatic antics,  scampering around the environs of the cottage, dancing.  The adults catch up with each other and amongst diverse topics the conversation reverts time and again to the unending pantomime of events that the Brexit vote engendered.  At one point Lola comes up to me and says that as well as young people having the vote, she hopes I won’t be offended if she suggests that old people should be stripped of theirs; presumably at the point at which their selfish desires override the best interests of the population at large!

When we eat the evening meal it is a triumph of deliciousness.  The slow-cooked pork is tasty and succulent, the large pan of dauphinoise potatoes cooked on the open fire yummy, and for good measure Lukie has made a spinach and mushroom niceness cooked in filo pastry.  With crunchy bar ice-cream and berries for afters.  We had hoped to have an outdoor viewing of The Martian before bed but suddenly it is all very late.  A quorum of us have a hasty game of Perudo before people melt away to their beds under canvas, leaving Nick and I the luxury of a real bed and some of the others squeezed into bunk beds in the cottage.

Sunday brings a lovely surprise when, just as we are about to eat our brunch cooked on the open fire, whose embers were successfully rekindled by Joel, Barney’s schoolfriend Andy Doran arrives with Paul Cutler.  Andy is over from Berkeley for the purposes of a conference but has used the opportunity to tarry a while in Europe.  Andy holds a special place in Nick’s and my affections: he masterminded and helped to execute the Hanging Gardens of Peperharow Road back in the 90s. For which we will be ever grateful.  After our hearty brunch comes riverside time, kayaks are retrieved from the barn and transported to the bank of the Thames by Shillingford Bridge.  There the young paddle up and down a stretch of water, and Nick has his first shot at paddling his own canoe for real.  Back at the cottage there is another round of feasting before we come to a parting of the ways……… until the next time.

As a nice little goody bag, Lukie hands me a plastic carrier full of their homegrown spinach and coriander.  I make a delicious pesto with the latter the following day: to the cups of coriander I add garlic, walnuts, olive oil and a little salt.  Over successive days we eat it with steamed carrots, tomato and courgette tart, fish pie.  It is a delicious alternative to the more conventional basil pesto and the little jars of it will be great to pull out of the freezer from time to time.  I must try and grow my own coriander next year.

 

Our Winterborne Wildness

After a very short interval in St Vaast after our French Riviera sojourn, I hotfooted it back to Winterborne K.  My sister is going to be staying with me for a few weeks whilst her knee heals after surgery for a replacement.  And my dear mother is now installed in her new residential home and after a month’s absence I am keen to find out how she is and whether she is settling in.  When I came to book my return journey to Dorset I nearly failed to get a ferry crossing on my chosen travel date because our neck of the woods in Normandy has been the focus for the Tour de France and many Brits have chosen to make long weekend of it.  Fortunately I can cross to Portsmouth and Liz picks me up on Monday evening.  My sisters are in residence.

Liz offered to mow it for me before I get back but I suggested she leave it for me to sort out.  .elty and a treat.  On my first night back we three go to our separate beds, sharing a house on our own for the first time for goodness knows when.  Maybe ever!   My home is ideal for convalescence – Chris can function on one floor level with her bedroom and adjacent bathroom.  In the end she will stay with me for another two weeks.

Liz has already warned me that our lawn is overdue for a mowing.  Arriving at the house I glance out of the kitchen glass doors and such a surprise greets the eye.  In our four week absence a transformation has taken place and I have a wild flower meadow consisting of yarrow, white clover, black medick, Medicago lupulina and self heal, Prunella vulgaris.  There is a certain amount of zoning of these plants which creates a patchwork of the low-growing, creeping species – the yellow and purple of the black medick and purple self heal, and the more upright flower stems of yarrow, together with the white clover carpet creating a third medium.  Overall I could not have planned a better planting arrangement.  Nature has given my garden a makeover.  When Nick returns he mows a small wavy diagonal path across making it all look very proper .    blogIMG_6145 (2)

After my return I am very keen to visit Mum in her new home.  When I arrive she is sitting comfortably in the lounge with the large picture window.  She is in good spirits and manages to accompany me, using her zimmer, to look at her room which has been beautifully organised.  My visit is a pleasure for us both and how much nicer her living environment is now.

It is going to be Open Gardens weekend in our village in a couple of days.  The front gravels are looking very untidy and uncared for with scattered weeds across the open area and a greening around the edges.  I have to get down on my hands and knees and attack the worst offenders.  After some hours and satisfied that the gravels look reasonably presentable, I go to Homebase and buy some plants to dress the porch to my study and freshen up the large glazed pots.  Because we will be away at the weekend I ask Chris to stick the chicken wire mouse fork into a pot on Sunday and I then feel that our frontage will present a respectable face to visiting passers-by.

Sixteen Posts Later

My seventeenth Frejus post sees Nick and I packing up our last few belongings to prepare for our train journey north to Paris and northwest to Valognes.  We have mixed feelings about returning which centre around the Leave vote in the EU referendum and sense of disengagement with what has been going on at home in England.  It has turned me into a more political animal than I was before.   And we really want to see our young families and the first weekend in July will be that occasion, when we have a chance to reconnect with them.off

So three weeks of posting myself into my letterbox draws near as we wait for Patrick to come to the marina to pick us up for a lift to the rail station.  I have managed a swim off the beach at Frejus after which I took a shower and ate a bacon omelette.  Once at the station fond farewells were made.  We had plenty of time to buy some healthy snacks for the journey.  Nick is a lone figure as he stands on the platform waiting for the train to arrive. blogIMG_4630 (2)

We find our seats on the upper deck of the TGV and settle down.  We have a four-hour ride ahead during which the train will reach amazing speeds.  At one point Nick places his mobile to the window and records a speed of 188mph.  I pass the journey reading and playing BridgeBaron.  Occasionally I look up and see how the landscape is changing.  There is a progressive greening as we have moved from semi-parched vegetation of the sound, around Marseille, northwards across the middle of France towards Paris.

In Paris we need to change mainline stations, from Gare de Lyon to Gare St. Lazare.  This is less fraught on the homeward journey because firstly we are retracing steaps and we do not have the anxiety of wondering whether we will be able to board a later train because our schedule train has been cancelled for strike reasons, as it was back at the beginning of June.

We arrive at Gare St. Lazare in plenty of time to sit on the gallery backing the main concourse and have a coffee and sandwich.  Once settled into our seats on the Valognes train we wait for departure, which turns out to be twenty minutes late.  We can relax in the knowledge that our friend Alain will be waiting at the other end to give us a lift.  On the drive back he suddenly asks if we have food at home.  Well we do have stuff in the freezer, but his offer of an impromptu meal at Le Vast is hard to refuse.  Martine is very gracious about our descending on her and cooks up some pasta.  We stay fairly late as Nick becomes engrossed in a Euro football match and when we get home I quizz the internet and learn that Boris has ruled himself out as a future PM, having been stabbed in the back by the deadly Gove 🙂  We don’t know it then but the ghastly Gove will get his come-uppance too.

Fishing off St Tropez: Oblade, Sar et Saupe

So………. to use common parlance, we arrive back at Frejus.  We have had a three and a half hour sail to the straits between Les Iles Lerins where we swam and ate bavettes before making a run for our home port.  We have a drink at La Terrasse before eating a light supper around avocadoes and a handful of prawns.  Before I go to bed I surf the internet and find various articles and commentaries amongst which is this piece in the Guardian regarding Boris Johnson and whether he has been outmanoeuvred:  if he runs for Tory leadership and fails to trigger Article 50 he is finished, if he does not run and abandons the field then he is finished, if he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will be over.  Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession, broken trade agreements.  Then he is also finished…………..  In actual fact things play out rather differently over the immediately succeeding days which just goes to prove that in politics you cannot predict anything.  And as I and others are prompted to say several times as events unfold in a way beyond the most fanciful of fiction “You couldn’t make it up…..”

On the morrow we have arrived at the penultimate day of our holiday with the Tailles.  Nick and I plan to take them out to lunch in one of the nicer restaurants in the marina.  After lunch we have some quiet time on the boat then Olivier turns up to help Francois and Nick install the new batteries.  Finally.  We give Olivier a thank you apero at La Terrasse before returning to the boat for supper.  I log on to read my messages and download thirty including one from Liz with a photo of Mum and the legend “She’s been all smiles since she got here!”  I know what this means 🙂

Next day we take the boat along to St Tropez.  Asked where I would like to go I make this suggestion which does not immediately find favour but this is because our hosts think I want to land and explore.  No thanks, I am happy if we anchor offshore and chill out.  As we are leaving the marina someone asks where Rachel is.  ??!!!  Well she is certainly not on the boat so we motor back to the pontoon and spend about twenty minutes searching for the errant cat who has hidden herself behind the console on a neighbouring boat.

Once anchored off St Trop in the Baie de Canebiers Francois and Nick try a bit of fishing both before and after lunch (Christine Street’s chicken curry) and are successful in landing enough for supper.  They catch three species: oblade, sar and saupe which are all bream-like fish which fillet nicely and give us a delicious supper.   Then there is the Joy of Packing.

Beating a Retreat

Some time before 9 a.m. we loose off our mooring ropes and head for the open sea.  We have a long passage ahead; our aim is to tie up at Villefranche-sur-mer by 5 p.m.

This time we decide not to risk cutting the engine whilst at sea for lunch.  In any event the sea is not inviting us to swim and it is overcast.  Fefe and I sit at the little tables in the cockpit as the men monitor the boat’s progress on autopilot.

Passing Monaco some time around lunch time we have a bread, butter and ham moment.  Occasionally speed boats race past us much to quickly throwing up a bow wave which causes ‘Till’ to lurch violently.  The Tailles do not have a Derrick-style procedure for readying the vessel for sea by battening down hatches and securing or stowing loose items in the galley so stuff clatters around.

The journey passes for me with a combination of audio-book, paperback and BridgeBaron.  Without an internet connection I can only wonder what is unfolding after the Leave vote.

Once at Villefranche Nick and I go to the cobbly beach nearby for a swim.  Then, connected to the Marina WiFi we check our mail, Facebook and look at the BBC news.  Francois has gone up to the shopping centre to get some supplies and when we meet up with Fefe she tells us Francois is angry. ??!!!  Actually she means hungry and it is proposed to eat at the little restaurant in the marina.  A good move as I am able to order beignets of calamari – a real comfort food.

The following day I am still brooding over the Referendum results.  Nick and I take a swim at the cobbly beach, followed by a good shower in the Marina’s facilities.  Afterwards the men make another victualing sortie and Fefe invites me to join her for a little walk into town to look at the Chapelle Saint-Pierre Villefranche-sur-mer which is tucked down near the quay frontage where all the little bars and restaurants are.

The chapel was probably built not long after Villefranche was founded, in 1295.  It is famous now for its association with Jean Cocteau who took part in a renovation project which started on June 5th 1956.  Inside the walls are decorated with frescoes, two series of panels depicting some episodes from the life of St Peter and the whole vault represents a homage to the fishermen of Villefranche.

Cocteau made the drawings and these were projected onto the walls and vault with transmitted light.  Cocteau decided on the design and his assistants fixed the lines with paints and colour.  The overall effect is monochrome embellished with washed-out dawn-like colours.  Cocteau wanted no vulgarity in his colour scheme.  I really loved this little chapel and took Nick back to see it later on in the afternoon.

In the evening we are delighted to meet up with Nick’s long-standing friend, John, who is a resident in Monaco.  John drives over in his vintage Aston Martin and he is a welcome contribution to our hitherto somewhat cloistered life on ‘Till’.  We meet at the little restaurant in the marina, Le Cockpit, and the mealtime chat takes us beyond the immediate aspects of shared living on a small boat.  It is characteristic of John that he does not immediately plunge into a discussion of the EU vote and the fall-out.  But we turn to it half way through the evening.  He can be fairly detached from it, as a Brit without a vote, but I wonder if he has a sense of how it might affect his two children.

Fefe is animated by the evening but on several occasions I catch Francois looking somewhat reserved when Nick and John chat to each other in English.  But it is really good to catch up with John and when the evening comes to an end Nick and I walk him back to his car to view his wheels and Nick earns himself a short spin back to the marina and I walk the little path back and enjoy the stillness of the calm night and the view across the bay.

 

 

A Very Black Day

Sleeping fitfully I wake and check my iPad.  By about 4 a.m. it is clear to me that things have gone badly and we will end up with a vote to leave the EU.  When the last votes are in there is something north of 1 million votes in it.  It feels like a catastrophe and a very deep sadness for so much that could be lost.  I monitor Facebook, I post and I comment.  It allows me to share my feelings and deep regret.

The day must be got on with.  The Tailles go into Loano with shopping bags.  They bring back some prawns which Francois tosses into a pan with garlic and oil, then we cook hard-boiled eggs and make a salad.  Sleep-deprived I am falling asleep over my coffee so I retreat to my bunk and, bathed in sweat, I sleep for three and a half hours.  Waking, the heat is still intense and I wonder why we sailed all those miles to suffer………… for Fefe does not enjoy this heat either.  But then, today I am feeling very negative.

A drink in the Capitainerie is proposed and this is a good move.  There is air-conditioning – why we were not alerted before?!  There we have an Aperol Spritz and, as is the custom here, a plate of canapes is included in the price.  After we walk into Loano and make a little circuit of the town closest to the marina.  I spent a minute or two in a round church whose opulence is distasteful to me and the small Oratorio is even more vulgar in its ornate, heavily gilded decorations and artefacts.  My jaded mood seems to colour everything.  I am aware that I am bad company but am so preoccupied with the shock and pessimism that have followed the vote to Leave.

We find ourselves at Vittorino’s again and order our supper.  Back at the boat Fefe and I sit down with her book and pen and she writes up her vocabulary and idioms from recent days.   And then to bed.

A Passage to Loano

It is EU referendum day and ‘Till’ is going to make a long passage east into Italian waters.    I am unsure whether I will have an internet connection so I email the kids and ask them to text me key bits of information as the results come through, some time after midnight.

After a provisioning dash ashore we set sail.  Once ‘au large’ the sea presents its beautiful ‘oily’ surface and the heat will build up during the day. blogIMG_4585 (2) blogIMG_4587 (2) We are sailing parallel to the Alpes Maritimes coast and it is not long before we reach Monaco.  blogIMG_4576 (2)Called by some ‘the most luxurious prison in the world’ it is 150Ha (≡ Hyde Park) of large apartment blocks, tunnels and underground parking, little squares with 3 or 4 olive trees, a stadium, an impressive Oceanographic Museum, a heliport on the coast and the Palace on the Hill.  Called also Little Manhattan because the dominating apartment blocks resemble skyscrapers, this whole nestles between the two ports of Fontvieille and Cap d’Ail.  There are beaches protected by netting to keep the jellyfish out.

After being underway for the morning our thoughts turn to lunch.  blogIMG_4592 (2)We will need to stop the engine and drift gently.  We do this off the coast of Menton.  Cue a swim – which is wonderfully refreshing and after we have a second go of my spaghetti Bolognese to stoke our own engines.  Unfortunately when we flick the switch to start the boat’s engine nothing happens 😦  There follows ten anxious minutes whilst the captain and his crew stare into the boat’s bowels.  They cannot find anything wrong so they replace the deck and try again.  The engine sparks into life and I stop wondering which nation’s coastguard will be summoned to our rescue!

We are now looking landwards to a change in the urbanscape.  It is Ligurian and the buildings are plainer and there are complexes of greenhouses amidst the coastal settlements.  I imagine tomatoes.  Beyond San Remo which is a bit like Cannes to my eyes, we pass a beautiful city on a hill, Imperia.  It is early evening when we tip up at the marina in Loano.  The marina complex is lavish and Fefe says she is sure it was built with Mafia money.  However funded the facilities are excellent and I take a very welcome shower before we go ashore to eat.

We fetch up at Vittorino’s, a restaurant Francois and Fefe remember from previous visits.  We eat a delicious meal then wander back to the boat.  I turn on my iPad as the polls will shortly be closing in the UK.  I stay up long enough to be rattled by the first results from Newcastle and Sunderland.  The ghastliness of it all will unfold overnight.

Le Parfum de la Ville

It is clear when I wake up the next day that it is going to be a hot one.  After a couple of Ryvita and a super shower I have been kick-started for the day.  We need to do a quick shopping foray for ship’s stores.  It is swelteringly hot as we set off from the boat and have to toil uphill to the shopping area which is set above the restaurants and the tourist area.  Walking downhill I am knocked back by swathes of Morning Glory cloaking people’s frontage walls and railings as Fefe and I walk past.

Much later, after a light supper, Francois encourages Nick and I to go back into the town to explore its hinterland, la Vieille Ville.  We climb up flights of stone steps and reach the church with the lovely clocktower and the Magnolia grandiflora in the adjacent courtyard.  The cool stillness of the church interior is striking and so restful.  We linger a while, each in our own reflection, then come out and track east towards the old town.  We walk along dark, vaulted lanes, alleys, impasses.  Deserted and hushed – there is little sign of life.  Looking up I see the occasional open-ended pipe projecting fromt he floor of an overhanging wooden privy.  Probably not in use these days!!  Some of the heavy arched wooden doors are perforated by a circle of holes at eye level.  Well that is tempting 😉  The couple that I peer through give into what looks like a fairly basis kitchen.blogIMG_4545 (2)

We come to the end of one of these ‘ruelles voutees’ and stumble on some small bistrots which straddle the narrow stairways that lead down to the area which is dominated by restaurants, cafes and bars.  As we meander past the various establishments we can see that several are showing football matches on the big screens: Sweden v. Belgium, Italy v. Ireland.  We settle at a table and order a drink as our payment for a ‘ticket’.  Belgium and Ireland are the victors.

We walk back along the Cliffside passage and notice the large moon across the harbour.  I try to photograph it but moons are fickle when cooperating with a mobile phone camera.  In fact any but the most sophisticated cameras in my limited experience.  Earlier I did manage a photo of a horizon sporting lovely pink and mauve stripes running along where the sky meets the sea.  Francois says this phenomenon gives rise to ‘Cote d’Azur’.

 

A Change of Scene

It is not until 20th June, twelve days into our three-week sojourn with Francois and Fefe, that we are able to set off with a new battery charger fitted and some confidence that we can depend on ‘Till’.  We are going to head east as far as the Italian coast and our first stage will be Iles Lerins, one of Fefe’s haunts.  It is well into the afternoon when we pick up mooring ropes and leave Frejus marina.  The sea conditions are rather choppy so I settle down to listen to my current read on Audible and also play a few hands of BridgeBaron.

As we enter the strait between the two islands we phone Catamaran Pizza to order our supper.  The pizzas are large so Nick and I share a smoked salmon, spinach and crème fraiche one.  The young man who delivers our pizza is full of charm and effuses over our vintage wooden vessel.  It is true that when I look around at the other boats that have chosen this spot to moor for the night there are few such characterful boats as our own.  With our pizzas we also eat some of the succulent white asparagus that Fefe buys at the market and prepares for steaming.  With cheese and the gorgeous plump cherries that Francois loves so much we really have eaten well.

The next morning, before we head eastwards Francois and Nick plan a run ashore in the inflatable to dump our dechets.  They attach the outboard to the tender and pull the starter cord.  It starts but clearly is going nowhere under power.  blogIMG_4490 (3)They drift down tide and have to row back to investigate the problem.  The propeller is broken so Francois carries out a running repair with a split pin.  Back in the water they try again but the engine is having none of it.  Francois investigates its bowels with a screwdriver, probing underneath and “merde, alors” he manages to break a spark plug.  So, OK, the rubbish will travel with us to Villefranche-sur-mer.

I enquire and am told that our motor to Villefranche will take four hours.  We are going to sail past a string of nice resorts with popular and attractive beaches although we will be too far offshore to appreciate the topography of the various bays, promontories and small headlands.  Fefe has given me the book she keeps onboard which is full of colour photographs of the beaches of the Alpes-Maritimes and Var.  Entitled ‘Plages vues du ciel’ the book opens with a photo of Menton in the east and you page forwards (but are travelling back westwards) to Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer.  I keep getting muddled with this counter-intuitive layout!

Leaving Lesrins we look across to Cannes and we are sailing into the realm of the defaced Red Ensigns.  Such flags are sported by British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies: Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man.  Cue tax shenanigans.  And the boats which show these flags are flashy vessels and as they ply these waters they often pass us at stupid speeds whose wakes our stalwart little boat must ride.  It makes Francois furious.

Beyond Cannes we will go past Golfe Juan, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes and a long coastal sprawl emanating from Nice.   Stark and highly visible to us at some distance offshore is a complex of hugely ugly (to my mind) apartment blocks, the Marina-Baie des Anges.  Constructed between 1969 and 1993 it consists of a marina with the four blocks named Amiral, Barronet, Commodore and Ducal.  The style of architecture is meant to suggest waves.  Pressing on I notice aircraft flying in from the west and seeming to land on the beach.  Nice Airport is indeed very close to the coast and is a busy airport and in passing I see at least twenty aircraft landing, following each other at varying intervals from two to ten minutes.  I watch nearly as many take off, gain height and fly east or southeast, their silhouettes passing briefly over the dark flanks of the snow-capped Alps.

We are booked into the marina at Villefranche for five o’clock and slightly ahead of ourselves so we motor a bit further and drop anchor in the adjacent cove at Cap Ferrat.  It is tranquil with only one other boat there and so it is a treat to have a swim in the clear water.  As I lower myself into the water off the ladder I notice that my body is getting used to the first encounter with the water and within a minute I feel at one with the element and, particularly when the sun is shining on my face or back, it is joyful.

After a swim like that it is particularly good to have a warm meal, even on a hot sunny day, so the bavettes that Francois cooks for us go down a treat.  There is just time for a little rest before we lift the anchor and motor round a small headland and into Villefranche marina.  We have been allotted a numbered space on the pontoon which is just inside the entrance and could not be further from the Capitainerie.  Nick does his bit with a boathook and muscle power in fending off contact with the adjacent vessels but Francois’ feat of parking his boat is an amazing bit of manoeuvring.  The helm of a boat is slow to react to steering and I know from the few occasions I have taken over ‘Verity’ in Croatia that it is so easy to over-compensate.  Granted Francois has had his boat for twenty years but Fefe says she knows it is not an easy handle and when you are trying to squeeze into a place with very little wriggle-room fore and aft it is all the more amazing to watch. blogIMG_4521 (2)blogIMG_4523 (2)

Villefranche is very beautiful to my eyes, its buildings clinging to the steep sides of the hill and cliffs that descend to the harbour.  There are some very prestigious-looking residences and the houses go right to the top.  It reminds me a bit of the Amalfi coast.  Fefe has talked of finding a restaurant where she remembers they serve good tapas.  She has warned us several times that is is “tres cher”.

So we walk into town along the Cliffside path of worn limestone cobbles with the sea and a narrow rocky foreshore to our right.  It is a pleasant stretch with some vegetation types including an ancient cactus that has initials and hearts scored into its ‘trunk’.  blogIMG_4527 (2) We find the tapas place that Fefe remembers but when we are show the tapas options on the menu the meat and fish choices are very lack-lustre so we end up ordering a ‘plat’.   blogIMG_4528 (2)I choose steamed cod with a lovely selection of vegetables, mussels, whelks and a hard-boiled egg.  What makes the dish fab is the lovely pot of aioli that goes with it.  It is very pleasant sitting right on the quay where there is an arc of tables with each restaurant having its allotted harbour frontage to colonise.

I take in the ambiance and enjoy.  We are going to spend two nights here.