The Mediterranean port of Saint Tropez, photo by Mukti Mitchell
Low Carbon to the Mediterranean
In July I attended a friend’s wedding in the South of France – a fantastic opportunity to see how minimal I could make my holiday footprint. I found that, whilst requiring a little homework to set up, the end result was a unique and highly enjoyable experience.
Devon to the French Riviera
I took an evening train from Devon to London and stayed near Kings Cross station to make it easy to catch the 6am Eurostar to Paris. Despite a 1,000-person queue stretching the entire length of the station, check in was fantastically well organised, taking only 15 minutes to get through passport control. The Eurostar was smooth and relaxed as always.
My first words of French after many months were at the metro station ticket counter where I made my request in French but the response came in English. I had a relaxing 1.5 hours before my next train left from Gare de Lyon heading to the Mediterranean coast. I enjoyed speeding through the ‘Massif Centrale’ dotted with hilltop villages, just like in the film Chocolat. Passing Marseille it looked hot outside but inside the train was air conditioned and cool. From Saint Raphael I continued by bus to Saint Tropez.
Saint Tropez was hot, beautiful and efficient. The local mini supermarket held a fantastic array of organic food. I stepped into a posh hotel to ask where the taxi rank was, when my paper bag of groceries broke and spilled all over the floor. The unphased hoteliers gave me a beautiful cloth bag and ordered a taxi for me to reach my rustic lodgings.
Electric around Saint Tropez
I had pre-booked an electric Vespa and it was a delight. Silent and smooth with a cooling 30 mph breeze. The old town is a delightful mosaic of stone pavings, dark green jasmine bushes and terracotta. The sea laps at the town walls with little beaches where I could swim and cool off between exploring. Then I went on to my friends’ beach party and a beautiful wedding in the hills the next day.
Saint Tropez to Antibes and Venice
After a day’s rest I caught the one hour ferry to Saint Raphael and then train to Antibes where I stayed on a small yacht, the Tagore, booked on Airbnb at a fraction of the price of a normal apartment. Also on Airbnb I found an afternoon sailing trip to Cap de Antibes, complete with snorkelling. The next day I was back on the train to the nearby Italian border.
Milan to Venice
The French don’t require masks but the Italians do so I was caught out on the Venice train with no mask. My limited Italian was sufficient to know that the conductor was very annoyed and I apologised profusely but raised my hands in question as to what I was to do given that we were speeding past the nearby shops at 280 km/hour. He gestured at the other passengers, one of whom gave me a mask and calm was restored. There was a breathtaking glimpse of Lake Garda with little white specs of yacht sails across the dark blue water, framed by vertically steep dark green mountains. The approach to Venice is a three-mile bridge over the lagoon, and the train deposited me on the steps of Santa Lucia station. I promptly bought an infamous Venetian ice cream and sat by the Grand Canal. Water taxis, gondolas and ferries effortlessly intertwined paths whilst hundreds of visitors looked on from stone walkways and bridges. Despite the low notes of the boat engines, the complete absence of cars gives this city a serenity that allows it to retain its long standing title of “La Serenissima” – the most serene.
A low carbon city
Because Venice has no powered land vehicles whatsoever, it is likely to have an unusually low carbon footprint for transport. People walk everywhere or use occasional ferries. Whilst the main canals can get busy, the smaller canals criss-crossing the city are tranquil. My back street studio flat was utterly silent at night and I slept with my window wide open. I would sit in the stone plazas simply soaking up the beautiful atmosphere, and I found myself sighing quite often as my whole nervous system relaxed. You could hear voices drifting around the corners of quiet tow paths, the chink of glases and a musical instrument the far side of a large plaza.
Venice is one of the world’s most popular cities for many reasons – its opulent and beautiful architecture, waterways instead of streets, a vibrant art and craft culture, and generally clement weather. But I also think that people love partly because it feels so good to be in a city with no cars. Pedestrians feel important, the city is theirs, and it is simply more pleasant. Other cities could take a leaf from Venice’s book and pedestrianise their city centres. For me, this was a glimpse into how tomorrow’s cities with electric cars and more public transport will increase our happiness and wellbeing.
The return trip was pretty smooth. Catching the noon train from Venice I had a picnic in Milan at 2.30 and caught the 4pm to Paris. I was thrilled at the vast scale of the Alps as we crossed into France, seeing tiny towns perched on the edges of mountains thousands of metres high. On arrival in London I was surprised to find it as hot as Venice! I took my second ride on a ‘lime’ electric scooter but next time I will try an electric bike as these are able to go on cycle lanes and through parks. I sampled the new Elizabeth line which was very civilised and the air-conditioning appreciated in the heat. It is good to see London investing in ever-better public transport. The afternoon was spent homeward bound to the Westcountry.
Invited to a wedding, I wanted to make the best of the trip to the Mediterranean. I feel sure that had I travelled in planes and cars, the holiday would have been a contrasting mix of intense and stressful journeys dominated by concrete, plastic and tarmac, with trying to relax and enjoy the tranquil parts. Going by train, with the cooling breeze of electric scooters, and a couple of ferries thrown in, made the whole holiday enjoyable from start to finish. Venice is a great example of the things I love, crafted with the values of quality, beauty and durability, and made for walking and enjoying, it has much to teach us about quality of life.
Here’s a table of the CO2 emissions for the trip:
Train travel advice for anywhere in the world: www.seat61.com
European train tickets: www.raileurope.com
European bus tickets: www.rome2rio.com
Airbnb accommodation and experiences: www.airbnb.com
Easy hotel bookings: www.booking.com