Massif de l’Esterel

All told it look us six days, from Saturday to Thursday, to make our twisted indirect journey from our flat in Twickenham to the south of France, covering 1,300 miles and stopping by Reims, Verdun, Nancy, Basel, the Alps, Lake Annecy and Turin on our whistlestop tour of Europe. The next stage of our holiday was a bit more tranquil: a week in the south of France in the Esterel mountains. A whole week without having to move again! Bliss. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved our journey down, and I wouldn’t change any of it (apart, perhaps, from stopping by one of the French war cemeteries which looked a lot less ostentatious than the American one we visited). In fact, I suspect the tiring nature of the trip made us appreciate the sedateness when we arrived.

It was a couple of days after we arrived before I even took any pictures. In fact, save for a quick trip to the supermarket for supplies, on our first day I did nothing but relax. Not just relax but relax. I don’t think I’ve felt that relaxed for a long time before or since. There was a feeling that there was no more stress about finding hotels, or making up miles. We’d arrived, and for now there was nothing to worry about.

We were staying in what I’d call a static caravan (Americans would call it a mobile home, yet another example of two countries ostensibly speaking the same language using completely opposite words to describe the same thing) in campsite. We’d been to the area before. Holly and I first visited it on our honeymoon almost exactly four years earlier (we even stayed in the same campsite), and it quickly became one of our favourite places in the world outside of Dorset. It has all we look for in a holiday destination: beaches, weather, history, interesting geography, winding roads and lovely walks. It was the latter that drew us out for some of the first photographs I took whilst we were there.

The campsite we were staying at is nestled in the Massif de l’Esterel, a volcanic mountain range on the shores of the Mediterranean. When we were last there we scaled the Cap Roux, the tallest mountain in the range. This time, we explored the walking routes in the surrounding areas with a packed lunch.

1/640sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm
1/640sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm

The national park is a twisted mass of interconnected and identical-looking paths. We parked up, took a quick look at the map, picked a direction and wandered out of the car park. Our first choice of direction led us in relatively short order to a dead end near an active quarry. We turned around and picked another, and started walking.

1/800sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm
1/800sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm

Many of the paths ran alongside what looked like dried up river beds. Most of them were so dry it seemed there’d not been any water in them for years. Other areas were markedly more damp. One area we found was essentially a lagoon.

1/800sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm
1/800sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm
1/640sec, f/4, ISO 100, 32mm
1/640sec, f/4, ISO 100, 32mm
1/50sec, f/13, ISO 100, 24mm
1/50sec, f/13, ISO 100, 24mm

Ancient or possibly current rivers had clearly informed a lot of the geography of the area.

1/400sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm
1/400sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm
1/1000sec, f/4, ISO 100, 28mm
1/1000sec, f/4, ISO 100, 28mm

In some parts of the forest, things were flatter, with the occasional small body of water hidden amongst the trees.

1/200sec, f/11, ISO 100, 24mm
1/200sec, f/11, ISO 100, 24mm

Every so often we’d come to a fork or crossroads in the path. For the first few we picked whichever looked the most interesting. After a while we started picking the ones that should, in theory, start looping us back towards the car park. At one such crossroads we found this pile of rocks and metal.

1/400sec, f/4, ISO 100, 45mm
1/400sec, f/4, ISO 100, 45mm

After a while we realised that, despite walking in what felt like a big circle, and seeing a number of bends in the path that we were certain would be the one that would return us directly to the car park, we still hadn’t gotten back to our car. We hadn’t seen many people, it was very hot, we were getting very tired, and we were very low on water. It was at this point we finally referred to Google Maps on my phone, managed to find the right car park on our map, and get it to route our journey back.

We were still over two miles from the car.

Fortunately Google Maps worked and knew most of the paths and could give us a direct route to follow by GPS. Two miles over uneven ground and narrow and sometimes strep paths was rough, and it took us a good hour. All the way we tried to conserve water since we had so little left. Making it to the car, where we could turn on the air conditioning to its lowest setting and cool off and set in comfortable seats brought a wholly different form of relaxation. At the time I’m not really sure we appreciated just how serious a situation we could have been in but it was not inconceivable that something very bad could have happened to us whilst we were lost in the wilderness.

I’ve already mentioned that the campsite we were staying at was nestled in the forest. The best thing about this was the wildlife. We saw quite a few lizards running about the place (unfortunately pretty camera shy), but the main species we saw a lot of were these birds, which I believe to be collared doves. They were clearly used to the human presence as they were often prepared to get pretty close to us as we sat out on the deck, and were regularly seen in the trees and flying about the place.

1/320sec, f/4, ISO 160, 105mm
1/320sec, f/4, ISO 160, 105mm

These are apparently quite loving creatures. On one afternoon we saw a pair of them on a branch preening each other.

1/160sec, f/4, ISO 160, 88mm
1/160sec, f/4, ISO 160, 88mm

One of the things I loved about the spot we were staying in was the light. When the sun was low in the sky the light turned beautifully golden, enhanced by the trees. This light worked really well with the doves.

1/320sec, f/4, ISO 125, 105mm
1/320sec, f/4, ISO 125, 105mm

On the flipside of the light front, some evenings we also had some great moonlit nights.

1/20sec, f/4, ISO 800, 105mm
1/20sec, f/4, ISO 800, 105mm

It wouldn’t be a holiday destination we love without a coast.

1/2500sec, f/4, ISO 100, 84mm
1/2500sec, f/4, ISO 100, 84mm

Most of our week staying in the south of France was relaxing and sedate, and I didn’t take a huge amount of pictures whilst we were there, walking, spending time on the beach, chilling out. The exception to this was a day trip we took on which I took quite a few images – those will be along when we next return to the European tour, before we start looking at the photographs of the journey back.

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