My first VW memories date back to the 1970’s. My mother used to own a little white Beetle. She drove it from France to Algeria with me in the back, by way of a ferry ride Marseille-Algiers across the Mediterranean sea. I was 4 years old. In Algeria, I vaguely remember being stacked with school friends in the trunk of the car for the school run (forget about seat belts). I also remember my parents driving it all the way to Tamanrasset, in the Sahara desert where we slept in campsites with the touaregs, our sweet Beetle next to us. I have never owned a VW myself (and the recent news that VW is stopping the production of the Beetle breaks my heart) but I had been longing to take the children road tripping with a vintage one forever. In a spur of the moment, I did it this summer. Not only did I survive (came home exhausted but survived!) but we all loved it. Just me and two of the children for an epic little adventure.
Turns out, there are plenty of places in France where one can rent rent a combi VW. I found Estée near the city of Grasse. For she has a first name, you see. And she looks pretty good, having just turned 50. Born in 1968, she spent all her life with one owner, near the Champs Elysées in Paris – très chic – until she moved to Nice a few years ago. Estée got a new lease of life as a camper van for tourists when her owners could no longer look after her. We bumped into a few of her cousins during our road trip, high fiving with a smile and a honk.
This was our itinerary for 3 nights / 4 days and a few of our favorite things:
– The person who rented us Estée suggested that we head to the Gorges du Verdon via Comps-sur-Artuby for the panoramic views. Little did I know how deep the canyons would be, and how curvy the road would be! And I suffer from vertigo, but I guess he didn’t know that. The Gorges du Verdon aka the French Grand Canyon, has some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe. We arrived into our campsite at dawn, by way of the D71 road. That night, after settling in, making the beds, charging the batteries, brushing teeth, I felt the adrenaline come down and wondered if I should laugh out loud or simply cry.It’s not that Estée was tricky to drive, because I am used to manual shift even though hers were rather stiff. It’s more that at every turn, I imagined the brakes letting me down and us falling straight into the ravine. Have you ever tried practising deep breathing while driving and shouting s t a y q u i e t mommy is concentrating. We all laughed that night, I was officially a supermom.
– We based ourselves at the small and friendly campsite Camping de l’Aigle just outside the village of Aiguines. We initially asked for a spot for one night (Eur35 with a view to die for!) and ended up sleeping there the whole time. Now, I don’t know if you have much experience staying in campsites and if you do, you’ll certainly laugh at me, but it was my (our) first and found everything so exciting and easy and charming. Plugging in the camper van, washing the dishes in the communal sinks, going back and forth to the toilets at night with torch and flip flops…
– One day, we drove 2h west to Quison to visit the excellent Museum of Prehistory, designed by the architect Norman Foster. It’s such an interesting museum for young children and adults, the restaurant and the shop are worth a stop too.
– On Tuesday morning, we picked up some lunch at the small weekly market in Aiguines and had a picnic by Lake Sainte Croix: baguette, corn on the cob and French ham. We took refreshing swims in the turquoise waters and filled our pockets with heavy pebbles.
– We always made sure to park Estée in the shade, and we took great care of her, as you would with an older lady. We closed her doors gently, opened the curtains delicately, played music not too loud while driving. It was as if an old aunt had invited us on vacation, took us around and we felt grateful of her energy and patience.
– Once, we lost the cap of the gas tank on the road somewhere. And we only noticed after a few cars passed us honking and gesturing that gas was leaking out of our tank! That was an adventure in itself. Try finding the cap of a gas tank on the side of a road under the noon August sun in Provence. With two children in the back of the van. Good luck to me. In the end, I gave up, found a DIY solution, and hit the road again. Tripping.
– One afternoon, we headed 2 hours west to visit an angora rabbit place. Amalya and Lior loved every minute there, petting the cutest, fluffiest and sweetest little rabbits they had ever seen. They did a workshop with Sandrine, the owner, making all sorts of things with felt wool in her studio. She is an artist and a child educator with infinite patience, and she lives off her passion in a tiny village in the heart of Provence. I was quite in awe myself at her dedication.
– I was adamant to visit Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, known as one of the prettiest villages in France. After some delays on the road (don’t ask!), we arrived on time for dinner, struggled to find a spot to park the beast (yes, I sometimes called her that way when she huffed and puffed too much). Moustiers is so packed with tourists in the summer months that we barely found a place to eat, and I stressed the whole dinner about how we’d make the trip back to the campsite on the tiny curvy roads, in the dark.
– When time came to part ways with Estée, we took her for one last stop in Tourtour, another gem of a little village perched on a plateau near Draguignan. The children marvelled at the most improbable shop, filled with all things from prehistoric times: shark teeth fossilised, stones from million years ago.
And then it was time to head back home with a smile, lots of photos and a huge sense of accomplishment.