Europe 2019 Part Five: Surviving the Canicule in Style

The Heat Wave Hits

It’s all over the news—even back home. We get emails and Facebook messages about the French heatwave—the canicule. How are we getting on? Is it hot? Is it really hot?

In a word—oui. The highest temperature ever recorded in France—45 degrees Celsius—is recorded in Carpentras, about 200 kilometers due west of Seillans. Where we are in the Var, the temperature just grazes 40 degrees and in an area that is heavily treed and lush, 40 degrees is really, really, really hot. And our house has no air conditioning.

Note to self: the next time we travel to the south of France in the summer, book a place with air conditioning. When the temperatures go past 40 degrees, air conditioning is a necessity, not a luxury.

We spend the afternoon and evening of June 27—the hottest day—gasping in front of fans blowing across trays of ice with all the shutters shut tight and all the lights off. Even our plunge pool that the week before had been bracingly fresh is tepid and bug-encrusted. Cold showers help, but not much.

The tourists have all but disappeared from the village. No one is in the mood to trudge up cobbled streets to look at art.

We Give In and Decamp

On June 29, we give in and decide to leave two days early to go down to the Mediterranean to a hotel with a pool and air conditioning. Frantically, I scroll through the offerings on Booking.com. It appears that every tourist in France has had the same idea and the pickings are slim, but I persevere and two hotels on two separate nights and book them. In record time, sweat dripping into puddles as we work, we pack up our belongings, give the rented house a bit of a clean, and head back to the village to take down the exhibition. By 2 pm, we’re all packed up and ready to go. The heat pushes and prods us, fraying tempers and sapping wills.

An hour later, we drive into a massive hotel-resort complex—two pools, shops, restaurants, golf course, circus school—yes, you read that right—and a spectacular view over the achingly turquoise Mediterranean.

Our hotel–the Hotel d’Esterel* is smack in the middle of the flagship holiday village run by Pierre et Vacances, an organization that I gather is somewhat like Club Med. We are not resort-type folks so the hordes of screaming children and merry-making was something of a shock.

But the air conditioning in our room could make a polar bear shiver and the pools look very inviting. For those reasons–and the convenience of shops and restaurants–I’d recommend the Hotel d’Esterel. It’s stylish and the view can’t be beat.

After getting settled, we head for the pools, wearing, much to Gregg’s horror, plasticized wrist bands strapped on to us by the young woman at Reception. I tell Gregg he isn’t allowed to take it off to sleep. He is not amused.

We go first to the serenely empty infinity pool (see above) only to be told that Non, Madame et Monsieur—ce n’est pas la piscine pour vous. The friendly attendant points to our yellow wristbands and shakes her head dolefully. The wristbands are jaune and they should be bleu. Quel domage.

We are directed down ten flights of stairs to the lower pool—the one filled to capacity with screaming children and their youngish parents. We are definitely not in our demographic. But a pool is a pool so we edge our way in. I notice a sign at poolside informing us that the water temperature is exactly the same as the air temperature. In other words, the water is very, very warm. I convince myself that French children are trained to never pee in the pool and submerge to my neck.

Moments later, the water swells and ebbs. Sacré bleu! It’s a wave pool. Gregg gets seasick walking on a dock in calm weather, so he leaves smartly while I bob around a while longer to get my money’s worth.

Later in the evening as the sun sets over the Mediterranean and a glass of wine soothes my frazzled nerves, I decide that the place isn’t so bad. It’s certainly cheerful. And then the band on the stage just below our room and facing the restaurants starts playing bad renditions of 1970s hits. Oh well. The food in the restaurant is tasty (I have mussels in garlic), the service is excellent, and our post-dinner walk to the golf course sands down the edges of a trying day. The next morning, I spend a happy few hours at one of the cafés drinking coffee and overlooking an outdoor fitness class. Dozens of people bounce and stretch to loud music on the baking-hot concrete in 36-degree heat (the canicule is starting to ease off). I shudder as I watch a few of the ladies who are, ahem, a few baguettes over the limit, sweating red-faced, and hope the perky leader has first-aid training.

Meanwhile, I stay cool and write five pages of my Work In Progress so I’m happy.

We leave the vacation paradise, drop our luggage at another hotel in Saint Raphael, this one a short stroll from a marina full of restaurants and head for one of the private beaches where for a mere 15 euros each, we get a lounger, an umbrella and a nice young man to bring us drinks—four euros for a coke, but whatever. It’s the only way to enjoy the beach when you’re traveling and don’t have your own umbrella and lounger handy. No sitting on the beach in full sun with the hoi polloi for this girl.

We lounge, we swim, we lounge, we swim—it’s heavenly—and the water of the Mediterranean is like warm honey on my skin.

All night long with air conditioning that barely registers, the heat pulses and steams with sticky insistence. The temperature outside our room barely falls below 30 degrees even at 3 am. But by morning, a wind off the water freshens the air and the worst is over.

On July 1, we make our way west for the start of our journey from France to Spain to Portugal. These last 21 days of our trip will be spent traveling, with the longest stay just three nights on the Algarve.

Bring it on.

*This blog post contains affiliate links from booking.com to hotels we actually stayed in and recommend. If you click one of the links, I could be rewarded credit or a commission of a booking. You don’t pay any extra. Please know I have my readers’ best interests at heart and only list places I’d recommend to my best friend.