The Cote d’Azur, famous as one of the first major tourist destinations for the super rich and elite at the beginning of the last century. A favourite of Queen Victoria, it still maintains its old wealth and charm.
On arrival to Nice the warm Mediterranean air rose up to greet us. It had been a while since we had seen the heat come in waves off the tarmac – the UK summer had been late. After a transit into town by bus, we walked the long wide promenade. Preparations were underway for Ironman France on the weekend, two large trucks began unloading hoardings, timing stations and advertising.
We found the Cours Saleya and the Marché aux Fleurs where we were going to meet our host. Some of the arrangements were lost in translation. Here we were, trying to drop off our bags at a restaurant, while our host was waiting for us opposite, ready to take us down to the underground car park. After a while, with some broken French and English in a French accent, we took the clammy elevator down to the car park – full of dust covered Citroens. With our early check in out of the way, we returned to the market above. Over the days we were here, the market changed daily, today it was a farmers market with massive beefsteak tomatoes, the next an antiques market and finally a flea market. Mitch looked at buying a cycling print, but at 700 euro. We were amazed at the cost and how these “expensive works” were kept – in a stack.
We oriented ourselves by taking the local blue bikes, a bit of an antiquated system compared to the Boris Bikes in London. A lot more pain in translating the payment too.
Our accommodation was only a few streets back at the base of Castle Hill. The apartment itself was on the third story, with the stairs build onto the steep surrounds. Carrying luggage up the fight of stairs was a struggle as in some places it felt like you were leaning backwards.
Taking a swim in the cool azure coloured water you had to navigate your way down a bed of stones and over a few leather handbags claiming prime seaside real estate. Really good to get a swim in as opportunities in the UK come very rarely.
Mitch’s Mum succumbed to the French boulangeries and patisseries. They were too much for her gluten free diet – lucky she didn’t have any allergic reactions, but reintroducing so much rich foods and bread takes its toll…
The French train system offers a few good tickets to get you up and down the coast, all the way from Saint Tropez to the Italian Riviera.
For the first night we travelled to Monaco, the small city-state, steeped in grandeur: Casinos, yachts, fast cars luxury goods and all other kinds of things the super wealthy spend their hard tax-avoided money on. We ambled around the harbour, weaved our way amongst the race tracks and did a spot of people watching – I am sure they were watching back.
With dress codes and door charges to get into some of the more prominent establishments, we looked for a few more common options, finding a pokies parlour. It was a bit sad watching so many people in their best dress, fixed on spinning wheels, chasing the instant dream. Back out front we saw one driver pull up in his Ferrari, but after stalling and struggled to get it back in gear –he sat in the middle of the main street with his hazard lights on and an embarrassed girlfriend.
Taking the train back we talked to a Dutch man who comes to Monaco every year. He has a spot at the main roundabout where he stalks the flash cars, day in day out. He is a frequent to the Monaco Grand Prix too. Although at 500 Euro a seat during the event, he prefers to go a week early to watch the warm up drivers. Much cheaper.
Returning to Nice we found a large Summer Solstice festival in the form of an open street dance party, with DJ’s and live acts up the street. This kicked on late into the wee hours of the morning where we overheard heated French arguments in the alleyway below our apartment.
The following day was another train to Cannes, famous for hosting movie stars who think they are artists. The beaches here had a lot more sand and there were a lot more tourists, sizing their hand prints up against some famous A-listers and some more lesser known stars. We took a hike up the hill to see the Castle, which was closed, then back.
The Cannes market was another antiques fair, with one guy in the corner singing along to his gramophone the old French classics. A few patrons who knew the words chimed in and a family of dogs even barked along.
Antibes was on the track back. This place has the largest marina and is a favourite of Brit holidaymakers. It was probably our favourite too. The large square full of locals playing petanque and boules helped us appreciate the fundamentals of the sport. Only after watching for a few minutes you could pick out the characters, the village rivalries and the battles between old and young.
Back in Nice, Mitch and Tam took to some hill repeats training up and down the stairs to the Ancien’ Colline Chateau. Three times up dodging other runners, leaf blowers and small dogs. There was also an elevator up the middle to the top. A yoga festival was taking place on the lawn – hundreds of people in loose fitting white clothes. Following, another beach swim became a bit of a struggle as bigger waves started to pick up and dump a few hapless bathers. There is skill in timing your exit and awkwardly making your way up the stones on all fours.
Dinner at a small local French restaurant was a nice way to experience some of the finer French cuisine. Aubergine and braised lamb and a mozzarella salad. Jan tried to share some of hers with Fred, but unfortunately dropped it into her water. In order not to make a scene, Mitch quickly hid all evidence, downing the water and the slushy food inside.
On the final day we opted for a bit more of a tour through Nice, taking a hop-on hop-off bus to the unvisited areas in the north and east. We saw some of the more eccentric houses and locations (built mainly by British). Queen Victoria’s residence up the valley was a large hotel built during the Belle Epoque Phase, elegant and fit for the monarch of the Commonwealth Empire at its peak. Following the Battle of Waterloo and Napoleons defeat, there was a resurgence of foreign interest in France and its culture and art flourished lasting through the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods before WWII. Following the Crimean War, the Russians who were, at the time, denied a naval port on the Black Sea, rented the harbour for their naval presence in the Mediterranean, so there was a large Russian influence on the city. We probably would have remembered a bit more of the tour, but the heat of the day set in and being exposed on the top of the bus was the last place we wanted to be.
Stopping at a small French cafe we ordered a cheeky plate of escargot, or snails, drowned in garlic, butter and parsley. Not too bad as the taste is overpowered. We can’t say the same about the texture.
We said our farewells as Mitch’s parents flew on to Barcelona, then on for a tour of Eastern Europe, taking in the sights of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Budapest, Poland, Berlin and Prague. We were headed back to London, in time for the Glastonbury festival. We really enjoyed having them over and expect them back in Europe again soon.