This story is part of a four-part series in which ScooterFile contributor Karryll Nason recounts her scooter trip through the French Riviera with touring company Edelweiss.
Days 3 and 4: Grasse to the Gorge du Verdon
Our third and most adventuresome day dawned bright and sunny, promising the heat of prior days. As we rode along the narrow, winding ancient Route of Napoleon, it actually became increasingly cooler. When we stopped for coffee in Castellane — the last village before entering the Gorge de Verdon — it began raining. Had any of us brought our raingear? A sweater? Of course not. I hastily bought a cozy sweater from a local shop, but the continuing rain made me rethink the route to come.
Hailed as the “Grand Canyon of France,” the Gorge de Verdon promised steep, narrow roads, often without guard rails. Despite experience on fairly gnarly roads in California, the idea of making an irretrievable mistake high in the mountains made me anxious. After inquiring of our guide if we would be returning to Grasse by the same route we came. We would. So I said, “Okay, you can pick me up here on the way back.”
Sadly, because I stayed behind, I can’t really describe the Gorge du Verdon. Yet the hordes of sportbikes and big sport touring motorcycles passing through Castellane were fun to watch. Seeing the sheer number of them made me glad I wasn’t competing for wet road space on a tiny red Vespa. Instead, the two of us were parked proudly in the town square moto-lot surrounded by bigger bikes.
Truth to tell, I had a really enjoyable afternoon exploring Castellane. I met a village cat who acted like he was the town mayor and enjoyed several conversations with locals and visitors alike. Before long, the rain stopped and the group returned. Braver souls than I described the Gorge as “spectacular, but very narrow and twisty on wet roads.” Reunited, we shared another round of coffee and then scooted for home. The rain, thankfully, had stopped.
Day 4: Grotto de Saint Cézare, Mons, Grasse
Our forth day was intended as a half-day of riding. We left Grasse following the Route de Napoleon to Saint Cézaire, where our guide had arranged a private tour of the Grotto de Saint Cézare. Full of impressive and still growing stalagmites and stalagtites thousands of years old, these subterranean caverns were discovered on a farm in 1890 and remain family-owned. We had as guide, a young woman who spoke charming English. It was an interesting and fun tour in a very lovely setting.
From the Grotto, we rode through the oak-forested Gorges de la Siagne on to Mons, an 11th century “perched” stone village with a parking lot overlooking the entire valley. Despite the panoramic views, Mons remains unspoiled and free from big crowds of visitors. We ate a pizza lunch at an outdoor café, on a tree-shaded plaza with an ancient fountain. After, we headed back to Grasse to meet Laurent, who would give us a tour of historic Grasse. We would then tour the Fragonard perfume factory.
Laurent led us through the narrow, twisting streets of the old town, stopping at the Cathedral, which featured works by Rubens and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. We then stopped at the Hôtel de Ville, which doubles as city hall. Our tour there included the room where marriages are performed. My personal favorite was our last top, the La Sieste Parfumée. The Parfumée is a public park installed during the summer months on a grassy square neatly fenced in with flowers and canvas sling chairs. Misters strung overhead emit a fine mist of fragrance every few minutes. Passers-by are invited to sit, rest and relax in this sublime atmosphere. Near the factory is a small but very well presented costume museum with well-preserved examples of Provençal costumes and jewelry from 1750–1850.
The tour of the Fragonard factory was perfunctory, a shameless shopping opportunity, but interesting to see nonetheless. So involved is Grasse in worldwide perfume production that on several mornings, I could walk out onto my hotel balcony to smell a sweet fragrance wafting by.