Pinky Trippin’ the French Riviera
When people think of the French Rivera, they think of lush hotels, beautiful people, beaches, ostentatious cars and boats and five-star dining. And they’re right. However, four penny-pinching girls set out to prove one can do the Rivera without much money (at all) and one can visit these exclusive areas in a painted Pinky and the Brain van and set up camp illegally on these beaches while sipping on French wine (1€ from Carrefour). We found out one can enjoy the lifestyle wealthy people do, minus the glamour, hygiene and pretty much everything we couldn’t afford.
We hired a badass Wicked Campers van in Barcelona and set off to Munich to work at Stoke Travel’s Springfest camp. Our van that’s suitable for two was packed with food, bags, boxes of merchandise and hundreds of flyers. Our Pinky squad consisted of a kidnapped Asian, two big-busted blonde twins and me.
Our first stop was Montpellier, where we got lost, circled prostitutes sitting on the side of the road in broad daylight and called into a hotel for directions, only to be greeted by a lady who explained that she couldn’t speak English in perfect English. What she really meant was, “Welcome to France, motherfuckers.”
Eventually we found the beach where we would set up for the night and called into Carrefour to stock up on chocolate and wine, as it was the Easter weekend. This particular visit sparked my first run-in with the European supermarket chain. I was unjustly deprived of a Milka chocolate Easter bunny due to a lack of shoe on my part and was kicked out. Thanks a lot, Jesus.
The beachside town of Latte had a canal running through that docked colourful little fishing boats. Tourists strolled passed souvenir shops and seafood restaurants on either side. The potent, fishy smell and buildings looking like cheap, summer apartments gave Latte an authentic, local, seaside feel.
I woke to a faint, orange light shining into our sunroof at sunrise as I lay squished between two others and leaned over to check on one of the twins, who had contorted herself in the front seat on a shitty, thin mattress that sporadically beeped the horn throughout the night.
After soaking up rays on the sand and diving into crystal clear Mediterranean waters to bath, we ventured into Montpellier centre to explore. It was beautiful and quant with historic French buildings and balconies decorated with flowerpots and lacey curtains. Sun shone down on the courtyards and old churches and people rode bikes through little alleyways to meet friends for coffee and pastries.
On route Marseille later that day, we picked up a French hitchhiker named Paul who had come from Toulouse. He sang along to our classic roadie tunes and popped his head out of our sunroof to wave to passes by, ecstatic that we had pulled over and he scored a ride in Pinky.
The drive along Marseille’s coast was spectacular and we stopped off to watch the sunset over the Med with a bottle of wine and that delightful feeling of freedom that comes from being on the road.
But the night went downhill from here on. After driving around the centre of the city trying to find a park for the night for over an hour, it had become late and cold. We eventually settled on a dodgy street where we illegally parked right beside a main highway. After hearing tapping on our window late at night, we pulled the curtains across, locked ourselves in and held on to our bladders all evening, too frightened for squats on a pitch-black street.
Montpellier centre was dark and grungy, built around a marina with fishing boats and a giant, luminescent ferris wheel. It seemed to be an insider’s city where the best places to check out are hard to find.
In saying that, the road leading in and out of the big smoke along the coastline had spectacular views of the light blue water, with nearby islands one side and extravagant chateaus built on steep coastal hills on the other.
En route to St. Tropez the next day we passed picturesque French countryside and villages, intricate iron gates to ancient chateaus down windy roads and barren mountains overlooking the sea. We called into a local boulangerie and had the best chocolate croissant and quiche Lorene I’ve ever had the pleasure of treating my taste buds to.
Pinky was set up at a campsite on the beach outside of St. Tropez, as we desperately needed to splurge on showers and a washing machine. The beach had giant cabanas, all glammed up with white décor and day beds on the roofs. We made sausages on our BBQ and mash out of a box.
Come morning, we took Pinky into town and it was gorgeous. A classic little village on the sea, so stylish that Chanel is considered mainstream. A port runs along the main street and docks super yachts belonging to the rich and famous. Designer stores line the windy little cobblestone streets and French door apartments open onto the pastel-coloured alleys. Drivers in suits waited outside fancy restaurants below lavender-vined archways for their passengers, and Vespas were parked around charming plazas with fountains in the middle. Even the children dressed head to toe in Ralph Lauren looked exquisitely pretentious.
On our way to Nice the next morning, again driving past the breathtaking coastline that never ceased to amaze me, we needed to stock up on food, so called into my enemy store – Carrefour. We were caught not-so-sneakily weighing our fruit and veg wrong and were interrogated for stealing for an hour while they looked through one of the girl’s handbags and found a broken foundation bottle, an avocado, a kiwi fruit and some other not-paid-for goodies. From that moment, we were eternally banned from the Carrefour outside of Nice (#sorrynotsorry).
On our way into the centre, we pulled up on a pebbly beach called Antipodes. The sun was setting over the baby blue water and it felt good to be alive. We searched the beach for scattered driftwood and built a fire that blazed through the night as we chatted and fell asleep in our sleeping bags under the stars.
The sun shone through the windows and we woke to clear skies and bathed in the aqua sea after cooking up a mean bacon and egg breaky. Nice’s centre was pretty, built up with typical French colonial architecture, glamorous hotels and many cafes and bars. A popular boardwalk lined with palm trees ran along the pebbly beach and every man and his dog was out and about in the sunshine.
Driving through Monaco that afternoon, we passed Monte Carlo casinos dripping in wealth and stuck our heads out the sunroof to wave at the tourists taking photos of Porsches and Bentleys from our eccentric van, only to hit up the town twenty minutes passed and set up camp in a seedy parking lot with spray painted gates reading “ghetto city”. All night, chavvy cars would drive around and dodgy yoginis in baggy pants and backwards caps would make deals outside our windows. I decided we needed to start finding safer overnight stays.
We headed inland from Monaco on our way to Torino to pick up more boxes of Merchandise for Springfest from a broken-down Stoke van in some seedy garage.
We had to pack up the van up so much that we were forced to lie on boxes and bags in the back and switch turns for the front, sitting up to see out the windows at the sharp, white peaks of the alps and dolomites that rolled passed. I drove the first leg to Germany and chose the hottest part of the day, sweating in dark velvet pants. So, awkwardly on a four-lane highway, I managed to wriggle out of my shirt and drive topless, as taking my pants off while driving would probably prove an extremely difficult task.
Twin number two was next to me and in charge of directions, except she was as high as a kite. So here we are, four grubs in a Pinky and the Brain van, making our way to Germany with a suspicious amount of cardboard boxes, two girls lying down passed out in the back, a pothead on directions and me driving the madness through the middle of Italy, topless and hanging for an ice-cold stein.