Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Seven Days on the Cote d’Azur, Part 3: The Inland Riviera from Madone d'Utelle to Grasse (Tues, 7/28)

Day 5 of the trip had us heading north of Nice to the little known spot called Madone d'Utelle. Rick let me down on this one (no mention!), so we relied on our copy of Frommer's France's Best-Loved Driving Tours to get us there. Let me start by saying that the Madone d'Utelle is not in a village, nor is it anywhere near anything even remotely resembling a cluster of habitations. The guide makes no mention of this. Nor does it mention that most of the way up to the Madone d'Utelle is spent on near constant hairpin turns on a one-lane road that serves for two lanes of traffic with no guard rails or pull-off spots in existence. We were merely intrigued by the mention of a "remote hilltop." Lesson learned.

A "lacet" is a hairpin turn (I learned this on the trip).
Does that picture look like a hairpin turn?
Plus, the warning that 5 are approaching-- scary!!!

While the drive up was one of the most harrowing I've ever been on (Jon and his driving skills earned a whole new level of respect in my book), the view from the top was worth it. From the observation table, we had a view from the sea to Italy. We were 1100 meters up and could see a peak, Mt. Argentera, that was 3200 meters high. It was stunning:

Aside from the observation table, the only other thing on the top of the mountain is a church dedicated to Mary that was built in 1806 to replace various other structures occupying the site since the 9th century! Apparently, three Spanish brothers were shipwrecked off the coast in the late 800s, and all survived. The Virigin Mary appeared to them above this peak in the distant mountains, so the three hiked up here and built a shrine to her in thanksgiving for their salvation. The spot has been a site of an annual pilgrimage ever since. We didn't see any true pilgrims while we were there, just a few other day-trippers like us. This, I am sure, helped to contribute to the absolute silence within the little church. I have never been inside anything like it. It was beautiful and moving- just being in the quiet. I understand why people would hike all the way up there to experience it.

View from the inside of the chapel, looking out.

On the way down from the Madone, we stopped at a little place called Le Bellevue for lunch. It certainly did have a good view, and the food was nice too:

From there, we hit the road again, stopping every so often to pull over and take pictures or just enjoy the scenery. We made a special stop in the Gorges du Loup to visit the waterfalls, Les Cascades du Saut du Loup. Rick Steves suggested this as we might find ourselves thinking we were in Hawaii. We of course couldn't resist. What do you think?

I also bought some eau de cologne here from the little shop that distilled its own lavender water and essential oil. It smells really nice, especially as I am a lavender junkie!

The silver bucket is lavender water and the copper is oil.

After the cascades lost their charm, we left for our last sight-seeing stop of the day-- the village of Gourdon. This little town was closed to street traffic and had amazing views of the valley below it. It reminded me a lot of Les Baux in Provence, only minus the giant trebuchets. We bought a quilt from a linen shop and snapped this shot of "The Eagle's Nest" restaurant, which Rick Steves referred to as "the most appropriately named restaurant in France." I couldn't agree more:

We made one more stop on the way back to Nice-- in Grasse for gas (hehe). We rented a little Opel Diesel that got AMAZING gas mileage. We drove hundredS of kilometers on this trip and only had to fill up once. It was enough to make us want to abandon the SUVs when we get home.

Tomorrow: The last installment of the trip!

In Other News... Happy Birthday to my GREAT friend, Suz!!!!! I miss her tons, but as she is a loyal reader, I know she'll get the message.

Kate and Suz in 2007 at her "retirement" bash.

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