Armchair travel: ‘Falling in love in France changed my life’

Author Melanie Cantor fell in love with a Frenchman in Juan-les-Pins — but there was no fairytale ending. As told to Nick McGrath.

I had just turned 21 and was living at home with my parents in North London and working as an assistant for a West End theatrical agent, when I took a holiday to Juan-les-Pins with my friends Julie and Ian in 1978.

At the time, Juan was the cheaper sister of Cannes, full of young people and cafes and bars, such as Pam Pam and Le Whisky à Gogo. Walking down the street, there were little boutiques full of clothes on racks that spilt on to the streets and everywhere was crowded. The tree-lined boulevard followed the private beaches with their colourful parasols until you got to the less flamboyant plage publique.

Opposite our hotel was our favourite haunt: a neon-signed, triangular-shaped cafe called Le Crystal. That was where I met Didier, a very handsome and sophisticated-looking man, with broad shoulders and a girlfriend.

Didier and his group of friends used to hang out on the same stretch of the boulevard as us and we gradually drifted into conversation with them, but it wasn’t until the penultimate night, when Didier’s girlfriend had gone home, that we started to talk properly. I think Didier was as much of an Anglophile as I was a Francophile and we hit it off. And as for his girlfriend? We didn’t mention her.

After a while, Didier and his friend, Serge, invited Julie and me to join them for a meal at his mother’s rambling house just up the coast in Cannes. We drove up there in his white Peugeot 204 convertible, which felt terribly exciting and, after he had cooked a candlelit dinner on the terrace, Didier and I disappeared.

The next day, Julie and I had to fly home. Didier kindly drove us to the airport and asked for a piece of paper so he could leave me his details. I gave him a postcard on which I had written the current exchange rates. From what he wrote, I could tell he was as smitten with me as I was with him.

We both knew that whatever was between us, it was serious; un coup de foudre, as the French would say. Didier promised he would visit London soon, but the prospect of his turning up at my house would have driven my parents nuts, so, as was typically impulsive of me, I decided to move out.

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