Hunter S Thompson once said: ‘Love is the feeling you get when you love something as much as your motorcycle.’ One sunny morning, while on the French Riviera, I found that out for real.
She was standing on the roadside outside a little café, black paint and chrome glinting in the sunlight. I smiled, and I’m sure if motorcycles were capable of facial expression she would have smiled back.
The lady in question is a 500cc Royal Enfield from the 1950s and, best of all, she was all mine for the day. The rental agent, a rather large man named Bernard, had given me a brief overview of the dos and don’ts of riding in France, which, being in French, I naturally did not understand. Nevertheless, I assured him in my best French that I would rouler lentement, and not go tearing along the twisting coastal roads.
All other thoughts of conversation were drowned out when I started the bike, the single cylinder thumping away happily as I kicked her down into first, eased out the clutch and slid out onto the open road.
It’s a wonderful sensation cruising along the Promenade de Anglais, zipping between the traffic and enjoying the quizzical looks of the passers-by. As a red light halts my progress, an idea flirts with me – one full day with this beauty and the entire French coastline at my disposal. The possibilities were endless. She was not called a café racer for nothing, and to ignore this heritage would be a blatant slap in the face.
The light turned green and I accelerated away sharply, buoyed by the plan that was formulating. I was so taken with my thoughts that I nearly missed the turning to Antibes – yes, it would be Antibes, a breakfast stop in Juan-les-Pins and then onwards along those beautiful twisting roads to St Tropez and Le Sube, the best little café in the Côte d’Azur.
Never mind that St Tropez was a good 150 kilometres away and I only had a vague idea of how to get there; it was on the coast, I was on a coastal road, surely I would end up there … eventually.
With that settled, I focused on the bike and the road ahead. What a road, what a bike! The ribbon of tarmac ran on, hugging itself to the curves of the coast, mountains to my right and the ocean – blue and perfect – rushing past on my left. The Enfield came into its own on those stretches, leaning willingly with me into the corners and then straightening up and accelerating out into the sunshine and the bliss that lay beyond. She was flirting with me, winking at me and hinting at the love affair that lay ahead. I was falling more and more for her with each passing kilometre.
It’s nearing eleven o’clock by the time we reach Juan-les-Pins. The streets and cafés are jammed with locals and holidaymakers alike. I weave through the crowds and find a parking spot in the shade outside a small bakery. The smell of fresh bread and roasting coffee trigger my hunger pangs and I quickly head inside for a buttery croissant and a rocket-fuel espresso. I mention St Tropez and Le Sube to the waiter, who replies with a shake of the head; I must be crazy, all that way on a bike just to go to a bar? I was not crazy; I was simply in love and nothing was going to stop me.
The scenery is changing now as the road climbs away from the coast. I crest one
particularly steep hill and am greeted with the most beautiful sight: St Tropez in all her glory lying in the valley below.
The scene when I cruise into town is one of relaxed opulence: exquisite classic schooners and sloops line the port, while playboys and trophy wives crowd into the chic bars and cafés on either side of the port. Standing head and shoulders above all others, however, is Le Sube. Built in the 14th century, the hotel was originally a stagecoach relay before it became the mansion of the Marquis Alban Martin Roquebrune. In 1986, Jean-Louis Carré, a passionate maritime lawyer, bought the hotel and transformed it into the exquisite residence that it is today. I, however, am not here for the hotel. I’m here for the bar.
An ancient staircase leads me to Reception, from where I am ushered through to the princely lounge. The bar, with its deep leather couches, mahogany countertop and scale model boats recalling the bygone era of the prestigious Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez yacht race, reminds me more of a private gentleman’s club. Then again I would expect nothing less from Le Sube. Beer in hand, I take a seat on the balcony and enjoy watching the cool of the evening roll in over the bay, it’s the perfect end to a rather perfect day. Thinking back on it now, perhaps I was a little crazy – all that way from Nice to St Tropez, just for a beer in a bar? But that’s the thing. When you are in love you tend to do crazy things.