“Uh, oh,” says Lorne. “I think I might have missed the turnoff into Villefranche-sur-Mer.” We both watch the GPS street image change,and listen for the BBC-calm tones of our impeccable onboard navigator to tell us what to do next.
“If possible, make a U-turn. Then, drive 400 metres and take the first left.”
With no signage to announce its arrival, Villefranche materializes in the afternoon haze. White yachts with sharp-boned prows gleam among quiet sailboats in the harbor.Complexes of hotels, apartments, and private villas scramble along sandstone cliffs, jockeying for position among cacti, cedar columns, and bougainvillea.
We climb up, up, still up on hairpin turned, paved goat tracks, until we see a discreet bronze address plaque on a stone wall, 171 Cactus Roc. We edge off the road and five minutes later, Virginie, our apartment’s property manager, zooms up in her Citroen.
“You have not been waiting long?” she calls, leaning through the passenger window to shake hands. “Bien! The apartemente does not have its own parking, but maybe you will be lucky and the guest space will be free. If not, you will need to park tonight on the roadside.Follow me, please.”
The security gates drift open, and we power up the approach drive and into a shaded breezeway. Virginie unfolds from her vehicle, young, tanned, tall. and takes off her Jackie O sunglasses, hanging them by one arm from the V of her low-cut white T-shirt. The three of us cram into a miniscule elevator, go up two floors, and Virginie unlocks the door to the apartment.
We look around the living room, white and sand with a lavendar couch, while Virginie points out features . We wait behind her to see the rest of the space. She opens two other doors, one beside the other, to reveal a closet-sized kitchen and a tiny bathroom.
“Et voila, that is the appartemente,” Virginie says, stepping brightly into our silence. ” A small closet is outside for your valises. The owners have left a booklet of instructions for you. Here are your linens and towels.” She hands me a bulging beachbag.”You want something else, you e-mail me.”
The door closes. We look at each other, and back at the lavendar couch, realizing that it must also be our bed. We can hardly take two steps in any direction before we’re stumbling into a piece of furniture, one of our bags, or each other.
“I think this was a mistake,” Lorne says. “I had no idea the apartment was this small when I booked it.” I remembered Lorne forwarding me the listing when he found it, and if the property’s square footage had ever been mentioned, it had escaped me as well.
I mostly unpack my stuff into the empty linens bag. We put my suitcase, one of the three kitchen chairs, and an oversized beanbag footrest into the storage closet. Lorne finds the internet connection and looks up the village centre. It is a kilometre away, back down the steep approach road. We realize we will need to drive to the village, unless we want to face the walk back up in the sultry heat. But if we drive, we might lose our parking spot.
The fatigue of the three hour drive from Caromb makes the decision for us. In the village. we join a tangle of cars searching for beachside parking, lumbering public buses,and motor scooters shooting through any gap that appears. We park near a small grocery store, buy coffee, bread, and cheese for breakfast, and flop down at the first restaurant we find. My seafood pizza is topped with canned shrimp, oysters, and calamari. I eat half and don’t ask for a doggie bag.
Back at the apartment, we find an interloper has claimed our parking spot. Lorne pulls the Peugeot in tight to the retaining wall outside the complex. We pass the pool, and hear a couple standing waist deep in a quietly vicious argument. As we make up the hide-a-bed. I don’t comment on the flimsy, three-inch thick mattress.
“We’ll get this figured out, you know?” Lorne says, as he props up his elbow on a folded-over quilt. He is asleep minutes later. I listen to the air-conditioner, and wonder if any hotels in the village might have empty rooms before I too drift away from the day’s disappointments.