From here to Hyères, and pretty much everywhere across France, the hottest summer topic has to be … heat. With the temperature gauge regularly ramping up to 38C (100.4F) or beyond—and with most houses lacking aircon throughout, including ours—thoughts tend to veer toward how to escape the toasty temps, how to beat them, and eventually, how to embrace them.
Opting for the escape approach first, recently Ralph and I spent a week on the Presqu’île de Giens (Giens Penninsula) east of Toulon in the hopes of basking in cool Med breezes. And spotting birdlife—the skinny peninsula composed of two ribbons of land with marshes in between is a magnet for birds, especially flamingos. As a base, we chose a commune outside of Hyères proper called Les Salins, conveniently located next to a saltpan-filled nature park, Les Salins d’Hyères. Though the enclave is teeny-tiny, it boasts several seafood restaurants, a leisure boat port, and an expansive beach—a short stroll from our rental.
To make the most of our time away, en route to our destination, we stopped to explore the seaside resort of Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer and the Plage des Lecques. And on our return, we popped into the postcard-perfect village of La-Cardière-d’Azur, where we enjoyed a coffee break with delightful Canadian author ML Longworth of Murder in Provence fame. (The TV series, based on some of her mysteries, is now out on ITV.)
During the week in between, we searched for birds, walked the sandy shores and rocky coastal paths, splashed through the gentle Mediterranean waves, cycled on our foldable bikes, and made a valiant attempt at eating our weight in fresh grilled fish. We roamed around beautiful Bormes-les-Mimosas and also toured Hyères, following the tips listed in one of my favorite design/travel magazines, Côté Sud.
On our first full day, we gave ourselves an overview of the peninsula by driving the length to the picturesque village of Giens situated at the most southerly point. The views were magnificent as were the flocks of flamingos feeding in the marshes (albeit at a distance) and the kite surfers zipping across the zone especially designated for them on the west side of the peninsula.
But far and away, the highlight of the week was—thanks to our wonderful next door neighbor who knew the area from his childhood—the incredible beach called L’Estagnol and the seafood déjeuner at Restaurant L’Estagnol, (run by welcoming Patrick and Geneviève Cruché), located above the graceful arc-of-a-plage. Both beach and lunch were incroyable! Definitely worth a detour for a special outing, but beware, reservations are a must, particularly in high season. Parking is paid upon entry—11 euros—but the expansive lot is filled with tall shade trees and WCs with outdoor showers are available.
Few remarkable birds flew our way during the week though we circled the nature park multiple times and scoured the coast. Some Stilts with their flashy long red legs, and elegant Little Egrets sporting their yellow feet made brief appearances but, alas, only a single, lanky Grey Heron showed up. At least the prehistoric-looking oiseau posed close to us and remained still—two rare bird behaviors that were much appreciated.
Back in Saint-Rémy, after our beach escape, we entered the heat-coping phase. So while we manage the volets (shutters)—making sure they are open in the early hours, but just a crack during the day—we listen to the chanting cicadas, pause to appreciate the golden fields of sunflowers and inhale the intoxicating lavender aroma that permeates the weekly market. We enjoy special summer events like the rousing 14 July Fête Nationale concert en ville and greedily consume gobs of rosy, ripe apricots, courtesy of a generous neighbor who left a flat of the fruit by our door. Blended with foraged blackberries, they make quite the healthy and colorful smoothy.*
I sip the vibrant concoction from a frosty tumbler, while relaxing on a chaise longue on our elevated terrace, in the shade of a big umbrella, with a summer read at the ready. Oh wait, could it be that without realizing it, I’m inching toward the embrace-the-heat stage? Well, honestly, I doubt I’m ready to announce, “Vive l’été!” when that means melting for many hours a day. But, appreciating the perks of summer is a step in a promising direction, n’est ce pas?
Before I sign off, some words of deep gratitude for the courageous and brave pompiers here in France battling wildfires near Bordeaux and to all firefighters around the ever-warming globe who are facing unprecedented challenges of increasing numbers and intensity of fires. We hail their heroism every day.
And to you, dear readers, above all, stay safe and well, and as comfortable as possible–whichever hemisphere you’re in at the moment.
On our trip, I met with spirited journalist Tuula Rampont of Belle Provence Travels who writes for International Living Magazine. She suggested an enticing idea—that together we tape a video about how Passion for Provence and The Birdwatcher’s Wife came to be and our expat life in France. We’re planning on that—you guessed it—when it’s a tad cooler.
*I had the where-with-all to wash, pit, and freeze the bushel of fresh apricots, so I’ll be set for smoothy material for some time and won’t even need ice cubes!