The French Riviera can be no secret, because of the annual Festival de Cannes, to iconic films from famous brands Godard and Hitchcock, and much more recently, swarms of travel-blogging Instagrammers flocking to Europe each summer.
But where I’m heading lies to the west of the much-hyped Cote d’Azur, and can soon lead to an enduring obsession with le Midi – the South of France.
We’re taking on residence in the Mediterranean fishing village of Gruissan, a commune hosting a population around 5000, of per month for the higher part.
Lonely Planet has named Languedoc-Roussillon, where Gruissan sits, among the top 10 regions to go to in 2018. Much to my relief, though, its quiet charm seems to lie untouched by rabid tourists.
We settle in easily. Mornings are for walking to the neighborhood boulangerie and breakfasting on pain and croissants au chocolats; the bakery tells you the precise times they’ll emerge from the oven throughout the day, to help you devour them hot. Afternoons are for the beach.
Fine, gold sand and clear, azure waters, without the crowds you’d find in the Riviera, get this to a rare find. Summer sun could be harsh during the midday, however.
A far more shaded option is really a self-guided tour through the old village centre.
Boasting Tiffany-blue-windowed little houses draped in lush bougainvillea and overlooked by the medieval Barberousse Tower, the village is delightful.
A week thrice, it holds an open-air market; the paella, created before your eyes and piled with large langoustine prawns, clams and squid, may be the unrivalled highlight. In the evenings, we stroll through the harbour front.
We surrender to the temptation of Chantilly cream-topped crêlavender and pes ice cream; we make frequent trips to the Patisserie for madeleines, religieuses (stacked chocolate cream puffs) and the ganache-rich Opera cake.
Reading Johanna Spyri’s Heidi as a kid, I wondered the way the young heroine could survive on a straightforward fare of cheese and bread.
Here, I commence to see how. A baguette rustique in conjunction with creamy chunks of camembert or brie cheese will do to send someone to raptures.
Our favourite excursion originates from a stroke of luck: unsure of where you can go next, we point randomly at an unknown name on the decide and map to operate a vehicle to it.
As it works out, the tiny village of Venasque, made up of about 50 houses, is one of the recognized brand of “Beaux plus les Villages de France” – the most amazing villages of France.
Sitting atop a steep cliff precariously, it presents astonishing views of the encompassing countryside.
What do these places have in common? Why is the long journey here from Paris – a permanent fixture on anyone’s Europe bucket list – worthwhile?
The point that the spot miraculously is, unplumbed by the masses largely. Encompassing brilliantly-hued lavender fields, unpeopled beaches and the world’s largest vineyard, it has, up till now, were able to escape notice.
You will not find any long lines, or packed tour-buses and hiked-up prices. Put simply, it’s the best of France, minus the worst.