Travel: Technicolour dream Cote

That Summer: in the first of a series recalling seminal journeys, Fi Glover remembers a fortnight in the South of France with a blond, a camper van and a hostess dressed in Chanel

Ten years on, that summer feels like a dream. Alex had natural rhythm. She could just get up on stage and dance. My dancing on the other hand made me appear to be having some kind of fit. But Alex persuaded 17-year-old me that it was a stunningly good idea to enter the Go Go Club's dance competition, held every Saturday at Juan Les Pins' finest nightspot. You had to get on stage and gyrate to Rick Astley for about two minutes. The person who made the crowd clap loudest won 50 francs, a sickly cocktail and the undying admiration of all the cocky French boys who wore their trousers too high and had packets of Dunhill wedged in their pockets. I am eternally grateful to the small contingent who applauded me in a desultory style out of sheer pity. I think Alex won the competition. I know that I came last.

lt was the summer of 1987 and I had just finished my A-levels. I didn't really know Alex but we came from the same town in Hampshire and I had got bored with the people I was meant to be staying with in the South of France so I phoned her and, with the arrogance of that age, asked if I could come and stay at her infinitely plusher villa perched high on the hills above Cap d'Antibes.

A day later, I pitched up, as did two other Winchester stragglers. Jamie was tall and blond and sexy, and his friend was darker, duller but nevertheless appealing. He was called Jim or Tim or maybe even Dim. They had a VW combi which they had strapped together with bits of hope and spluttered down from Calais. I nearly wilted, I thought they were so cool. So me, Alex and her friend Kathy and Jamie and Dim spent two weeks haring round the corniche in a shabby van that smelt of boys and fags and booze. I thought life couldn't get any better.

I didn't realise that people actually lived in villas like Alex's, with manicured front gardens and pedicured back gardens overflowing bougainvillaea and the essential crystal-clear pool. Alex said that Ozzy Osborne had the villa next door, and we spent a lot of time peering over the incredibly high walls trying to catch of glimpse of a real rock star or at least a rock star's entourage. When we finally did see the occupants, they looked more like the kind of couple who came from a small town in Germany and went to swingers' parties at the weekends. But that didn't dull the allure of the Cote d'Azur. Ever since Coco Chanel turned the Cap d'Antibes into the melanoma Mecca of the Western World in the Thirties, it has attracted the kind of people who wear linen suits that don't crease and have skins to match their Louis Vuitton luggage.

Juan Les Pins sits in the bosom of the Cote, midway between Antibes and St Tropez. It's like a trashy white stiletto on an otherwise well turned out French woman. It's famous for two things: the jazz festival held there in May, and the fact that it's mentioned in the song "Where do you go my lovely?". It's a pretty town that is now slightly dwarfed by the big blocks of flats on the seafront. The population is small in winter but swells to unbearable proportions every summer when Europe's moneyed elite descend and sit around the cafes on the promenade making sure they look as rich as everyone else. With Cannes, Nice and the Principality of Monaco all within shouting distance it's a magnet for the kind of ladies who always have their bikini lines waxed. Their blokes are invariably older and have white gin palaces that they moor in the tiny harbour at Juan. The villas up on Cap d'Antibes once hosted parties for the likes of the Fitzgeralds and then for Brigitte Bardot. Now Joan Collins and George Michael have taken over.

Nobody seems to do very much apart from tan and chat in Juan Les Pins. But for those two weeks 10 years ago it didn't matter. We didn't have many plans anyway apart from working out which direction to send our hopping hormones in - so we just cruised around and sniggered at the smart people on the pay beaches. The boys had ridiculously small trunks on and seemed genuinely concerned about tanning their buttocks to the max ... and the girls had the kind of upwardly nubile boobs that even after childbirth probably won't look like two fried eggs sliding out of opposite sides of a frying pan.

I was amazed at the fact that people paid to go on beaches just because some poor geezer came along and raked the sand in front of their loungers every hour on the hour. We spent most of our days on the public beaches which are far more suited to the kind of throwing and kicking games that you always end up playing when you see some sand.

Most of all, though, I was awed into silence by Alex's mum who was the epitome of elegance. She wore about seven outfits during the course of the day. She had a swimming outfit, a lunch outfit and when she drove into Juan to buy dinner in the afternoon she changed into a Chanel suit. Her kind of shopping seemed to consist of buying two baguettes, a fat bunch of parsley and some French beans. With this minimal load she'd go into the kitchen and turn it all into a salade Nicoise for the five new house guests that had suddenly descended on her calm. I'd never met anyone like her. She used to tell Alex which clothes went with which hairstyle, a conversation that my mother had never felt the need to have with me. She put up with us spluttering home in the combi at ungodly hours hours of the morning, and skinny dipping and doing nonsense things just because it was the middle of the night - and when we ran out of tabs she kindly allowed us to bum long, thin Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes off her.

My eyes hurt by the end of our trip because I'd stared at people so much. I think I promised myself that one day I'd be that elegant and have lots of outfits and do things with parsley and beans. In fact my sister and I made a drunken pact one night after I got back from the Cote d'Azur experience. We said that when we were 60 we'd live in a big villa on Cap d'Antibes and wear lopsided bouffant wigs and dodgy full make-up and tan ourselves to the point of leather. Thankfully neither of us still hold that ambition close to our hearts.

The last I heard of Alex she was doing something dangerously close to lap dancing in a nightclub - perhaps she was inspired by her win at the Go Go club. I bumped into Jamie once a couple of years ago: he was flogging photocopiers in Fulham Broadway. I don't know what happened to Jim, or Tim or Dim. The combi van collapsed on its way back to Britain and is probably still in a lay-by off the autoroute.

I went back to Juan Les Pins last week as part of a new job. I'd forgotten about the dreadful dancing competition - until I turned on the radio while we were speeding east up the corniche late at night. An Americanised DJ came on the dial playing one of those self congratulatory jingles that are meant to make you think that you're listening to the station that has interviewed all the stars. "Hi! I'm George Michael", "Hi! I'm Barry White", "Hi! I'm Rick Astley". I think I had the grace to blush in the car.

Flying to the Cote d'Azur has become tougher since both Air France and Air UK dropped their services from London to Nice. The lowest fares are EasyJet's (01582 445566) from Luton, pounds 105.70-pounds 165.70 return including tax. British Midland (0345 554554) and British Airways (0345 222111) each flies from Heathrow. Eurostar (0345 303030) has a pounds 109 return to Nice, plus Montpellier, Nimes, Toulon and Avignon. From London Waterloo via Lille or Paris takes around 11 hours to Nice. French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AL (0891 244123).

Fi Glover returns to the Cote d'Azur for BBC2's `Travel Show', when its new series begins on Monday at 8.30pm.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Sport
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
News
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss