On French & South African Whine: An Observation from Val Thorens

Val Thorens
Val Thorens

A few weeks ago, I was privileged enough to go skiing in France. The resort our friends recommended was Val Thorens, part of the Three Valleys (made up of Val Thorens, Meribel and Courcheval) in the French Alps. The nearest airport is Geneva which is approximately two and a half hours’ drive from Val Thorens. When I met my friends in Geneva, they had heard news at Charles de Gaulle airport that the road to Val Thorens was closed because an enormous boulder had fallen onto it the previous evening.

"Concerted Mobilisation to Get Road Back into Use"
“Concerted Mobilisation to Get Road Back into Use”

Soon enough, this rumour was confirmed by, Thierry, our taxi driver. He had been delayed getting to Geneva because of the road closure and as we drove, he listened to radio up-dates about the situation. Since 6am that morning, a tiny alternative route was being used. This road was so narrow it only allowed for one-way traffic and, as such, the local authorities had chosen to allow traffic down the mountain. It was a Saturday and the second last day of school holidays for the Paris school zone so it made sense to try to allow the people whose sojourns were ending that day, to exit the village.

At one stage we heard that vehicles would be allowed up the mountain at 2pm. But 2pm came and went and that wasn’t the case. By then we’d been in our mini-van for about four hours, driven alongside the magnificent Lake Annecy.

Passing Lake Annecy
Passing Lake Annecy

We’d managed to avoid a fair amount of bottle necks, thanks to our taxi drivers’ knowledge of back routes. We finally came to a halt in the village of Moutiers – at the foot of the closed road – and drank beer and espresso inside the local Carrefour’s cafe, where men still in ski gear, sat. They had made it down the mountain via the one-way road, but I overhead them saying that some had chosen to walk the last six kilometres as it was the quickest way down at that stage. The latest official information was that the (two-way) road would re-open at 6pm.

At about 4pm, our taxi driver raced into Carrefour and hustled us back to his van. He’d heard a rumour that the road might be opening. Once again, this proved untrue and instead we read our books in the van, while Thierry chatted to fellow taxi drivers and locals peered out of their windows at the curious sight of stationery cars lining their streets. By this stage of the day, there were cars lined up in every direction, up and down every nearby road.

At around 4:30pm, the authorities made way for buses to begin lining up in front of the closed off road as there were to be allowed up first. At exactly, 6:05pm, the road was opened to all traffic. Thanks to Thierry, we were well positioned towards the front of the queue.

We then began making our way up the mountain. Besides a crane and other machinery, there were no signs of any disruption.

About half way up the pass, a woman taxi driver from the region was being interviewed about the situation. Her emotions were running high and she went on and on about the local metro police, about how unreasonable she had found them and how she vehemently disagreed with the way things had been handled. Lots of anger, lots of superlatives and lots of repetition. I confess if the rant had been translated into English and given a South African accent, I would have felt completely at home – as though I was tuned in to Radio 702 and someone had called in to complain about our local metro cops policing a road closure. In short, it sounded exactly like a quintessential South African whine, but instead it was being delivered by a French taxi driver in the Alps.

I try not to seek solace for the troubles of my country by finding fault with other countries, but hearing this woman losing her marbles and lambasting the authorities, did make me smile, in spite of the latter. This takes absolutely nothing away from France – the world’s most visited country with 84 million tourists per annum. It has just given me another perspective on whining: I no longer regard it to be quite so unique to privileged South Africans.


Thierry’s response to the crisis is probably one of many reasons France has such a booming tourist industry. He fielded calls from clients and potential clients all day and was ultra professional throughout. He must have lost out on a fortune of revenue that day, but he never showed an ounce of frustration. He simply did what he could to make our experience as comfortable as possible, under the circumstances. He even went as far as to lend me Euros to buy lunch until we could get to a bank machine.

Despite the possibility that we may have been stranded in the village of Moutiers along with thousands of other tourists in the same boat, we were in our hotel having dinner by 8pm that night.

Sometimes, no matter its provenance, the glass really is half full…

Le Cr*p d’Antibes

The Princess and I had the most wonderful time with my cousin and her family outside Zurich while The Husband completed The Haute Route from Geneva to Nice.

The three of us were then re-united in Nice and made our way to Antibes for our non-cycling family holiday. We’d scoped out the area in June 2010 when we’d spent a few nights in Juan-les-Pins, just next door to Antibes. Before that trip, I knew of Juan-les-Pins only as the glamorous destination of the woman being addressed in the 1969 song “Where Do You Go To My Lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt. In the song, Juan-les-Pins is on a par with St Moritz in terms of fashionable locations frequented by the jet set. Although I am really fond of Juan-Les-Pins, in some ways it kind of feels as though it is past its prime. I suspect that today’s uber jet set, have migrated just a few kilometres onto the peninsula of Cap d’Antibes, which has mini cliff faces instead of beaches, like its neighbours on either side of the peninsula: Juan-les-Pins and Antibes. But I suspect that like Cap d’Antibes’ most famous resident, Roman Abramovich, many of the residents are not too concerned about beach access given that they have their own yachts…

We chose a hotel with a small beach located near the centre of Antibes, bordering the gorgeous Old Town of Antibes on the one side and Cap d’Antibes on the other. For my morning run, I would run alongside the ocean through Cap d’Antibes and back. My first run must have been on rubbish collection morning, because I ran past a household which had evidently run out of dustbin bags. So as not to miss collection day, their trash had been elegantly placed in an assortment of different sized Chanel shopping bags.

Such is life in Cap d’Antbes…

View from Cap d’Antibes across towards Antibes

In neighbouring Antibes, we spent our days on sun loungers on the beach. Well, to be exact, we paid our 20 euros for our sun loungers, threw our towels on them and then spent most of our time running after The Princess. Although there were those cherished mid-morning moments when The Princess would pass out in her pram for her daily nap and we’d be able to get in some reading…

Mid-morning siesta on the beach

And then she’d wake up and we’d have to mediate the fight over beach toys between Italian, Russian, British and Dutch children and The Princess, who sees no reason to share whatsoever. The Queen of our little beach was undoubtedly a feisty little 21 month old Italian girl named Flaminia. Brown as a berry, she’d strut around in her little bikini bottoms like she owned the place and in a way she kind of did. She and her parents had booked front row sun-loungers in advance and Flaminia had the coolest toys. One morning she arrived with a pink, plastic cart on wheels… I could just smell disaster… The Princess LOVES anything on wheels that she can push or drag. Sure enough, a fight ensued, during which Flaminia’s parents insisted that she share her cart with The Princess. Flaminia was not amused and let the whole beach know it. Can’t really blame her – it was a very cool cart. Around lunch-time, Flaminina and her parents would say goodbye and then her parents would return, sans Flaminia, for a leisurely afternoon of reading and sun-bathing. The Husband and I daydreamed about how they achieved this. My money was on an Italian mamma stashed away in their holiday apartment, whilst The Husband was betting on a nanny. When never did find out whether either or these theories bore any resemblance to reality…

In the evenings, we’d retire to our room to put The Princess to bed and settle in with room service and a bottle of French wine. And so, when The Husband decided that he’d treat us to lunch at Eden Roc (an uber fancy hotel in Cap d’Antibes frequented by the jet set) I decided to bust out my best frock and my gold sandals, since this was going to be my only chance. (Okay, I had worn the dress to dinner in Geneva, but since we ate dinner at 6pm with The Princess, we were literally the only people in the restaurant at the time, so that didn’t count.) The thing I didn’t bank on was that everyone else at Eden Roc had either floated away from the pool for a spot of lunch or they’d stepped off their yachts. Literally. I mean they’d stepped off their yachts into a little Eden Roc boatie thingie and been deposited on the hotel’s jetty just below the poolside restaurant. So pretty much all the other diners were in their bathing suits with matching cover-ups (those sheer, long-sleeved tunic/ kaftan things that go over swimsuits). A few girls upped the game when they paired their bathing suit ensembles with high heels. Suddenly my gold flats from Woolies weren’t looking quite as out of place. Phew.

View from Eden Roc’s poolside restaurant

Our last beach day in Antibes was unfortunately tainted by a sea water warning. The life-guard on our hotel’s beach was quietly going up to anyone entering the water and telling them that the sea was uncharacteristically dirty on that particular day and that he strongly advised against swimming. When I enquired as to what may have caused this, he ventured that a boat must have “let go something” (direct translation from the French). Reading between the lines – and looking at the white, chalky particles we could sea floating in the Mediterranean – The Husband and I deduced that one of the luxury yachts we could see from the shore, must have dumped their cr*p into the water – quite literally. After The Princess somehow picked up salmonella and ecoli in the Seychelles with its pristine beaches and sea water, I decided that our beach holiday needed to end a few hours early and we retired to our air conditioned room.

I guess even the likes of those who wear high heels with their bathing suits, still have to cr*p…