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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Brown

From Sospel to Nice: A Motorcycle Memoir from the South of France

Updated: Jan 23

The sun, still drunk on the day's adventures, kissed the horizon a rosy goodbye as we rumbled out of Sospel. Leaving the fairytale town felt like parting ways with a newfound confidante, a bittersweet ache twisting in the pit of my stomach. With a final farewell to our cafe home and the sea of steel steeds, we roared forth, the road narrowing like a shy smile as we idled out of town.

Three vintage Porsches, their throaty purrs echoing off the cobblestone streets, downshifted and whipped around a corner, tachometers dancing as they tiptoed through the town. Soon, the world squeezed in. The road, no longer content with hugging the river, climbed skyward, a twine against the fading glaucous tapestry of the mountains. Our bikes, heavy with anticipation, rumbled up the steep embankment, headlights stabbing at the fading light. The road, a capricious dancer, swayed left and right, demanding constant attention. My left foot became a tireless tango partner, dipping and soaring, shifting down to conquer hairpins, then back up for the climb.

Finally, the road unfurled like a velvet banner, revealing a breathtaking vista. Clouds, draped like a celestial tablecloth, hid the valley below, obscuring Sospel from view. Yet, within that cotton candy blanket, lay a thousand possibilities. Each mountain peak pierced the sky, a promise of new paths and uncharted horizons. In that moment, a small, virescent valley unfolded before us, cradling a solitary lodge, seemingly slumbering for winter's embrace. The sun, a mischievous bard, filtered through the fir trees, dappling our faces with warmth. The air, perfumed with pine needles and mountain orchards, filled my lungs with an intoxicating elixir.

The sky, now freed from its cloudy cloak, stretched above us, an azure canvas. The road ahead, a coiled serpent, descended into a deep valley, its sides sculpted by pale jade color trees and stoic rock walls. With each turn, the valley tightened its grip, the space between curves shrinking until the final one, a tight U-bend, spat us out onto a sun-drenched valley floor. The river, an azure sash, danced over smooth stones, its melody echoing stoney crags.

The road, a loyal companion, followed the river's song, dipping and twirling, each bend a thrilling surprise. Sometimes, it would press close to the riverbed, only to shy away again under the shadow of a towering mountain. It was a symphony of curves, each one demanding respect, each one rewarding us with breathtaking vistas.

Tiny mountain villages, carved into the cliff faces, clung to the valley walls. Some nestled into the folds of the mountains, others teetered precariously above the abyss. The road, in these villages, relinquished its grandeur, shrinking to a single lane, barely wide enough for one car. Life pulsed through these miniature worlds, a kaleidoscope of bustling markets and serene squares. Where the rock refused to yield, tunnels swallowed us whole, spitting us out into a world reborn, with gentler slopes and larger villages.

The road, no longer clinging to the precipice, unfurled into wide curves, embracing roundabouts with open arms. Just past Col de Nice, the last village whispered a final goodbye. The road, in a final flourish, coiled upwards one last time, each corner a French kiss, a "mwah!" whispered on the breeze. Then, normalcy descended, the thrill dissipating like morning mist.

But in this tapestry of words, I dare to relive it all. The French Alps, with their winding trails and heart-stopping drops, refused to disappoint. From the shores of Monaco to the pizza paradise of Ventimiglia, A chorus of Ciaos and laughter, punctuated by clinking spoons Cafe di Gasolina, it all felt like a dream, even these scribbled words failing to do it justice. This is a journey to be breathed, lived, consumed. There's only one way to experience it.

As those final hairpins vanished in our mirrors, my soul yearned to turn back, to chase that thrill into the pending night air, to return to the cafe in Sospel and hope every mile would be even better than the first. But exhaustion, the setting sun, and the weight of reality tethered me to Nice, to a seaside apartment, chilled rosé, and the realization that even that wasn't too shabby.

As the fairytale dreamscape faded and the pink-orange sky surrendered to the dusky purple embrace of night, Nice unveiled a mesmerizing spectacle of lights. It seemed every occasion - not just this city's inherent charm - had adorned Nice in its finest. The sky throbbed with beams of purple, green, and blue, mirroring the vibrant energy surging through the streets. Even from our apartment blocks away, the thrum of life reached us; bustling crowds surged through squares, music spilled from every alleyway, and laughter danced upon the gentle hum of conversation. Large fountains sent plumes of water skyward, their spray catching the city's radiant glow, while in the distance, the rhythmic pulse of the great sea provided a steady baseline to the beating heart of Nice.

Exhaustion from the day's ride, tinged with bittersweet reflection, melted away in the face of this vibrant heartbeat. The night air, alive with the energy of people and the thrumming soul of Nice itself, entranced me. Rolling back the throttle and pulling up my mask, I surrendered to the city's tapestry of sights, sounds, and smells. Weaving through the streets felt like navigating a living mural, each corner bursting with sensory overload. Parking beckoned like a siren song, but every red light felt like an unwelcome pause in our urban odyssey.

The heavy gate groaned as we roared up, its chain and motor straining as if burdened by our impatience. The moment it begrudgingly offered a sliver of passage, I shot through, drawn by the magnetic pull of the festivities. Even blocks away, in the shadow of the old city, the streets teemed. We shed our helmets and popped the chilled rosé, a fitting tribute to our mountain passage. Stepping out onto the thronged street, I inquired about the revelry. A simple music festival, mostly free with a few ticketed areas - all we needed to know. The crowd became our compass as we flowed toward the heart of the old town, embracing the cacophony with our senses.

Without the helmet's muffling barrier, the streets exploded with music, laughter, and a kaleidoscope of languages. This was joy in its contrasting forms: the tranquil serenity of the mountains exchanged for the electric, overwhelming buzz of humanity. Yet, it was a different kind of relaxation, one found in a street-side cafe watching the human tide ebb and flow, a babble of British English intermingling with the rapid-fire French. Food aromas swirled on the air, and the promise of refreshment glinted in the 750ml antique green bottles of wine.

The dreamy intoxication of the day gave way to a different kind of buzz, fueled by the pulsating heart of Nice, the warm sea air, and the warm globes of strings of lights overhead. While the day's ride remained a constant thread in our conversations, our voices grew more excited as we retraced our mental journey, Sospel spoken of with the fondness of an old friend. Though our time in the South of France was nearing its end, the immediate future held promise. Tomorrow, our trusty Royal Enfield's would become our chariots once more, carrying us the short distance to the train station and on to the grand city of Marseille. From there, the island of Malta beckoned, the storybook city of Valletta waiting to be explored with fresh eyes. Where we hope to to carry on adventures of the Titans, and clash with more revelry of sun bleached earth upon two wheels. Home to great silvery Hollywood Blockbusters like Troy, and Gladiator the Count of Monte Cristo.

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