3 Days in Southern France with Motorbike Trip Rental by Jim Pruner
I’ve been a motorcycle fanatic for over 30 years. I’ve logged many miles here at home in Canada and in the United States over all kinds of different highways, roads and trails.
I’d never been to Europe until recently when I finally booked a 6 day vacation around the St Raphael area with my wife and two friends from Norway. As the time for this holiday drew closer I realized just how much I would hate to visit the famous Cote d'Azur without spending any time there on two wheels. I felt strongly the need to rectify that and made my move.
A quick Google search directed me to the MotorBike Trip website. Without hesitation I sent an email to set up some time with one of their brand new 2019 Ducati Multistrada 1260 bikes! This would be another first for me as I’d somehow always missed the chance to experience life on a Ducati. I was glad to hear motorcycle jackets and helmets were also available to rent, thus I didn’t need to bring any with me all the way across the Atlantic. Two good quality Scott jackets along with two HJC C90 helmets were added to the order. The rest of our gear we brought along from home easily.
The staff at the Nice location all spoke English well which made things easier on my wife and I. They suggested three different tour routes tailored to our limited timeline and interests. They took the time to install a BMW GPS system on the Ducati (sacrilege?) to handle navigation in lieu of using Google maps or other similar apps on my cell phone. That was especially helpful of them. Without that GPS unit I’d probably still be trying to navigate a back road somewhere in Provence or totally lost and halfway to Mongolia!
Vincent, Thierry and Laurent made things happen so easily that before I knew it, we were flying down the made for motorcycle local roads with smiles on our faces I’m certain will never go away.
I had promised my wife not to spend the majority of our vacation on a motorcycle (as I’m apt to do if left unsupervised) but she accepted the idea of three full days not interfering too much with her plans. We managed to log over 700kms total and not one of them wasted or boring. Just the opposite is true. I’ve never found roads anywhere in North America that were more enjoyable technically speaking and these ones had the added bonus of exotic Mediterannean scenery to boot.
We didn’t manage to finish any of the routes Thierry outlined, which might sound negative but in reality reflects our instant romance with the French countryside, food and people.
Trip 1: Saint Raphael to Moustiers Sainte Marie via Castellane
The suggested course was to go from Nice to Castellane then on to Moustiers Sainte Anne with a visit to the Gorges Verdon (canyon) and Lac de Sainte-Croix (a lake). The intended route back to loop around the north side of the lake before heading southeast and back home.
This mountain and canyon themed route matches any I’ve ever ridden to date when it comes to narrow, twisty sections amid natural beauty. I had purposely set the GPS to avoid major highways like the A8 and the resultant path from St Raphael to Castellane was so much fun! I found beautiful agricultural neighbourhoods, small villages and abandoned towns in great abundance. The photo ops were so plentiful I found myself wanting to stop every 15 minutes, but couldn’t safely due to the lack of a shoulder on any of the roads. I basically had to wait until a pull out or town appeared in order to do so. As a result the best views are only saved in my mind’s eye as opposed to my FaceBook profile sadly.
Castellane, the Gorges of Verdon and Moustiers of Sainte Marie were like out of a fairy tale or Disney film. Absolutely surreal. I look at the photos now that I’m home in breathtaking awe. We stopped for excellent food and/or to explore for at least an hour or two in each location loving every second of it. It ruined our chances of making the whole route, but no one cared about that. It was time well wasted with just the correct amount of steel horse saddle mixed in to satisfy my motorcycle addiction.
Trip 2: Saint Raphael to Îles d'Hyères
Our next route was mostly coastal heading southwest from St Raphael and built to include the famous St Tropez and a ferry ride out to the island of Hyères.
Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it we slept in and got a late start to the day. The coastal views were perfect along the way! The water and crashing surf completely enchanting despite some fairly heavy traffic in St Tropez. We decided to carry on instead of stopping for a visit because of the traffic and late start.
The roads after Tropez were like a roller coaster! Changes in elevation and direction were non stop. It left the coast for a while and we found ourselves on the windiest mountain roads we’d ever seen. The Ducati was built for this kind of terrain and we attacked it with great gusto. What was most surprising here came in the form of large trucks and buses running along the same path! Several times the rear tires on the trucks or buses left the asphalt partially because there wasn’t any shoulder to travel on. Watching the tires hang dangerously in the air over a steep drop was terrifying and exhilarating to witness all at once. Full credit to the drivers’ skill from me as I can’t imagine piloting a huge vehicle on that road.
We arrived late in the afternoon at the port where the ferries dock, but decided to skip going to the island in favour of exploring the Hyères beachfront area and having delicious seafood before returning via an equally curvy road back to St Raphael.
The Tour de Fondue is an impressive looking fort on the rocky outcrop located at the end of the Hyères.
We would love to return someday to see the beauty of the island, but it will have to wait for now.
Trip 3: St Raphael to Grasse then Cannes
Our final day with the Ducati was equally memorable. The plan was to ride along the coast again since we enjoyed the views south so much then head north to Grasse for the day. Cannes would be our final destination where sadly the Ducati would be returned to the rental location there instead of Nice where we picked it up because it was closed on Saturday.
The coastal ride northeast was elevated as opposed to the southwest route from the day before. Stunning rusty, reddish-brown rocks came into view and we stopped to enjoy the overlook and explore a bit. I loved riding this route as several towns passed by with their picturesque look.
Grasse was a treat for the eyes and all senses! Gelato and charcuterie were in order as were the many perfume shops. History rich and incredibly photogenic, Grasse didn’t disappoint one bit.
Metropolitan Cannes was really the only place I didn’t enjoy riding the Ducati due to traffic volume and somewhat confusing streets. It may have just been I was getting tired from all the exploring we did that day and others when we weren’t riding. The city itself was enjoyable to experience on foot and there’s no denying the beauty and culture evident there.
The MotorBike Trip staff member at Cannes was equally skilled in speaking English and as planned we there bid a reluctant adieu to the Multistrada which had carried us without any hiccups over so many miles of French roads. I’m really very impressed with it and put it on my list of top ten motorcycles I’ve ridden to this point. The combination of power, comfort and performance don’t play second fiddle to many other bikes on the road today.
My only regret this whole trip was that we hadn’t done it sooner and that it had to end. I’m perfectly satisfied with the service received from MotorBike Trip and highly recommend them to anyone looking to rent a motorcycle in Europe. I plan to do this again as soon as possible, perhaps in Italy, Spain or on their Corsica routes. I would like to perhaps take a BMW R1250GS next time to compare to the Ducati as well.
Thank you again Vincent and company! This was a truly memorable experience made better by your contribution.