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.
Day 1: Exploring the French Riviera on a Vespa
What’s that old saw about adventure? Oh yeah, it’s “not everything about an adventure is necessarily good.” We all want the thrills of an adventure, but not the spills, actual or figurative. So it was with my week-long scooter tour of the French Riviera. The trip was organized by the Austrian company Edelweiss, which for three decades has offerered motorcycle tours all over the world. Three years ago, they began offering scooter tours in Tuscany and the French Riviera, and they are now adding more scooter tours in Normandy and Germany. While more challenging than I had anticipated, despite nine years riding on a Suzuki Burgman AN 400 in Northern California’s twisty, hilly roads; my particular adventure was well worth the trouble.
A sweet-smelling home base in Grasse
The tour was based in Grasse, about 20 miles inland to the west of Nice. Grasse is perhaps best known as the worldwide center of the perfume industry. Flying in, the approach to the Nice Airport is truly impressive, with the pilot swooping in low over the famed beaches and azure blue sea.
The Ligne d’Azur bus from Nice to Grasse was a real pleasure. Air conditioned and comfortable, with a very pleasant woman bus driver. For all its comfort, the Ligne d’Azur was also an incredible bargain. Just one Euro for a ride of more than an hour. Arriving in Grasse, I consulted my map. The hotel where the tour was headquartered was not far, and there weren’t any taxis anyway. So I decided to walk. While not far on the map, my path took me up a very steep hill on the narrow streets of Grasse. My largish handbag, carry-on tote and wheeled suitcase got heavier and heavier in the heat and humidity of French summer. I stopped twice along the way to rest on the street-side benches found conveniently on my way. There I’d sit until my heart rate slowed a bit. I finally arrived at the hotel near the top of the hill feeling quite literally like a hot mess.
An unforeseen complication and a lesson learned
Checking in, I was horrified to discover that the package containing my riding gear (which I had shipped from The States) had not yet arrived at the hotel. It was being held at Chronopost by French customs. I mention this as a warning to my fellow adventurers. Do not ship your riding gear internationally! Pack it and either pay the extra baggage fee, or carry your helmet aboard the plane.
Hot, sweaty and horrified, I didn’t know what to do. Without riding gear, I would not be permitted to ride on the tour. Enter our tour guide, a calm, unflappable German woman endowed with the ability to speak multiple languages and vast creative resources. She immediately offered to take me into the village in the tour van. There I could shop the local scooter shops for a helmet and jacket which luckily, I found—at end-of-season prices.
Our first evening was spent at the hotel. With dinner ordered in, we went over the routes and protocols while getting to know each other a bit. Due to a confluence of circumstances, there were four people on this tour but only three scooters. This seemed a not uncommon situation, as the tour scheduled for the following week would have 18 people, but only 12 scooters!
Our group was a motley crew. We had a couple from San Francisco, who were veterans of Edelweiss motorcycle tours. There was an attorney from Miami who only rides scooters on vacation. Then me, from Marin County, California, across the Golden Gate Bridge. We each had the choice of a Vespa LX125 or a Vespa GTS 300 Super. I requested the tiny red 125, as I had ridden a similar scooter in Tuscany and figured smaller was better. This turned out to be a good decision on the roads we traveled. Dubbed La Rose Rouge, she was super nimble, and given the roads we were riding, she had no problem keeping up with the bigger bikes.
Hill towns and villages, St. Paul de Vence
In order to let us get familiar with the scooters, the first day’s ride was an “easy” one, exploring the roads near Grasse. Leaving the town’s traffic behind, we stopped first in Gréolières, beneath Mt. Cheiron. It’s the oldest perched village in Provence, with a pretty town square where we stopped for coffee. The village has fewer than 500 inhabitants, but we didn’t go looking for them. There were the ruins of a stone fortress to explore.
By popular vote, we continued on to St. Paul de Vence, which is generally considered one of the prettiest of the area’s hill towns. With narrow stone streets and innumerable stair steps, the town was filled with artisans, galleries, cafes, restaurants, hordes of tourists, and sunshine. We returned to the hotel after our very full day. We changed for dinner, which was down in the vieille ville (old town) at one of the several excellent restaurants we would sampled during the week. The best part, dinners are included in tour price, as is breakfast each morning.