It’s time to pack again, load the car, attach the camper, take the train or go by plane. Down south, where the sun shines and the blue of blues blinds your eyes. The French Riviera. The Côte d’Azur. One of the few privileged places left on Mother Earth. In other lands, not that far away, people shoot, bomb, murder, torture, rape and curse in the name of Allah, but here only peaceful nature, calm and serenity prevail in the name of sanity. Not that the rush in July-August to get here does not take its victims. It’s a bit like that baby turtle race to the sea. Some make it, others don’t and get tragically squashed on the highway. But once you are there, heaven awaits you.
Let’s start in Nice. How privileged its citizens are: all that splendid wealth of nature handed on a plate for free. Only take your swimsuit and an inflatable pad, take the bus and you’re on the beach.
This is how the beach looks like when nobody is there.
Or like this, still early in the day or a weekday when everybody is at work.
Or like this when it’s weekend!
Granted, I would feel more comfortable on Aruba’s or Bali’s sandy beaches, but don’t worry. Travel a bit farther west to the Lavandou, and you find the most delightful sandy beaches ever and a lot less crowded than in Nice. Let’s take a look at what borders on the beach of Nice: it’s the splendid Promenade des Anglais.
The Promenade was started in the early nineteenth century when Nice was still part of a fiefdom called “Sardaigne” and wealthy European aristocrats, especially British suffering from stiff bones and arthritis during their bitter winters, sought the soft climate of the Côte d’Azur to survive. Reportedly an entrepreneurial British reverend among them, named Lewis Way, launched a fundraising effort to finance the construction of a boardwalk along the coast that started in 1821 and was completed in 1824. When in 1860 France annexed Nice, the boardwalk was baptized “Promenade des Anglais”. In subsequent years, the Promenade was extended and its many brilliant villas along it turned into exclusive hotels, such as Negresco.
Now let’s take a side trip to Menton, taking the small coastal road a few miles to the East, past Monaco and near the border with Italy.
The coastal road along the beach in Menton.
On the way, a view over Monaco with a glimpse of the Royal Palace at the very end. Just imagine having that view of the Mediterranean at your disposal every day of your life. That’s why many hills along the coast are built to the knock with villas, apartments and mansions as well.
A glimpse of the Alpes Maritimes in Menton’s hinterland, streets characteristic for the Mediterranean towns.
As in Nice, the beach in Menton is graveled as well. Seagulls are waiting for a snack. I’m sure that in the USA they would have found tons of sand to cover it all. But here, nature is left to its natural course. In fact, the gravel (called “galets” in French) is naturally supplemented by the rivers flowing into the Mediterranean.
Off we go to the Eastern side of Nice: avoiding places like Cannes, Saint-Raphael and Saint Tropez that are too crowded. Two places we really liked: Théoule-sur-Mer and above all: a little village called Cavalière in the Lavandou where you can still enjoy the Mediterranean without feeling you are besieged by hordes of tourists and loud motor cycles.
In the back you can see the snow-topped Alpes Maritimes!
In Théoule, the beaches have soft nice sand and you can enjoy a hearty grilled Dorade at its restaurant if the chef is in a friendly mood. In our case he got mad at us because we took seat at a table laid for three, and we told him in plain French *#! and walked out on our way to Cavalière, where we did have our Dorade on a friendlier terrace.
Unparalleled Côte d’Azur. You may be far away from theater or the concert hall, but what you get in return is peace of mind (if you got the money.)
Yes, Cavalière, our favorite place, about two hours from Nice (if you take the highway A8), where the mountains descend graciously into the Mediterranean, offering you splendid little private beaches where you can feel like the wealthiest person in the world without having to be one. A hidden beach where you can stay almost by yourself. Of course, French women bathe always topless, what women in Africa do because they don’t have money to pay for a bra — back to nature. Our place to stay and never to leave.
Your dream house, for grabs!
Farewell, Cavalière…..our pearl of the Riviera.
The end of a “Nice” Côte d’Azur adventure.
Many have visited the famous hilltop in Nice, which for centuries served (from the eleventh to the eighteenth century) as a fortified castle to battle those who wanted to make Nice a place of their own. A rock of about 300 yards (or 900 feet) high, it once featured a cathedral and settlements. All this was destroyed by Louis XIV in 1706 with enormous guns as part of the never ending local quarrels in Europe. Now, you can only admire the ruins (which look like all ruins.) But the stiff walk uphill is most rewarding for the spectacular views of the town and the Mediterranean, as shown below.
Halfway you find a Christian cemetery (above) and a Jewish cemetery (below), separate from each other.
The ruins on top are not very representative of what the Citadel’s cathedral once was but they indicate its ancestry.
Other worthwhile treasures are remnants of the Roman Empire (below)
And, of course, the mutual admiration of each others’ dogs.
A view of Nice’s environment makes you jealous of its many variations when you are back home with only flat boring streets.
Turning to the seaside of the hill, visitors are offered magnificent sights of the Mediterranean and the port of Nice.
Buddhist monks are among the tourists.
Nice’s War Memorial at the bottom of the Citadel.
Next time: Memory Lane of the Riviera.
Returning to the old European towns always mesmerizes me, especially after living in the USA for many years. Not that old towns in the USA do not have their charm. They do. Downtown Alexandria in Virginia where I live is a cozy, lively neighborhood, dating from centuries back. Williamsburg in Virginia and Annapolis and Gettysburg in Maryland are wonderful places to visit. So are San Francisco and parts of Boston. And these are just a few examples. But the charm of European “old towns” is unbeatable.
So I went for a long walk in Nice’s Old Town, starting relatively early, as crowds tend to blur its enchantment. You can start from the Palais de Justice or the Place Garibaldi and get lost in the many narrow streets and small squares where only locals gather, either in front of a church after attending mass or to sit down for a coffee or a glass of cool white wine. The pictures below will give you an idea. Clicking on the pictures will enlarge them for you (on most computers).
Place Garibaldi is named after the famous Garibaldi, who was born in Nice, and the man who unified Italy’s warring small states in the 19th century. Nice changed hands between France and Italy in the 19th century but was returned to France in recognition of Garibaldi’s contribution to Italy becoming the country we know now. Place Garibaldi is a favored place to have coffee and seafood. Nice has kept its many links with nearby Italy.
Garibaldi’s Statue (above) and the other side of the Square (below)
Fish stands in Old Town are loaded with all sorts of fish fresh from the Mediterranean, among others the delicious “Dorade” (see picture below), a delicacy hard to come by and a great meal when grilled. Seagulls swarm above the stands to get an easy breakfast if they get a chance.
A seagull preparing for “attack”, others standing by patiently for a “treat”.
Seven delicious Dorades ready to go!
Shop Owner Getting Ready for Business
Boys in the back playing soccer
A local climbing the street
The Jesus Church in the middle of Old Town
Peace inside the Church
Old Town at its quietest
Locals have to do a lot of climbing
The narrow streets where the shops are fill up quickly with tourists
The Palais de Justice in Old Town
One of the charming squares where you can talk from balcony to balcony
Another one of Old Town’s charming places for coffee, lunch or dinner
Next time we will show you The Citadel with its spectacular views of Nice and the Mediterranean, as well as the splendid boulevards.
Like for many of you, “blue ” is my favorite color (or colour as they spell it “correctly” in the UK), and along the Côte d’Azur the blue Mediterranean offers a spectacular variety of blues. But as often happens with the beauties of nature, it can turn into a somber grey melancholy, when the mistral blows from the north-north west over the French massif central; a dry cool wind, often during sunny weather but sometimes accompanied by grayish clouds spraying fresh snow over the Alpes maritimes. It blows mostly during the winter and spring and it did so when we were landing at Nice Côte d’Azur airport in late May. From the aircraft, patches of fresh snow on the mountains were clearly visible on our approach and the pilot had his hands full keeping the aircraft steady when touching down.
Nice is a splendid city where the Romans already settled some 145 years B.C. The remnants of the Roman Empire are still visible in Cimiez, an eastern part of the city of Nice. It is located on a hill overlooking the city where I was going to stay with friends in their villa. From their balcony, one enjoys a magnificent view of the city and the Mediterranean in all its vibrant blues that take on different shades as the day moves on. In the far distance, you notice the “Citadel”, a hill near Old Town, displaying the ruins of a cathedral built in the middle ages, and spectacular views of the sea and Old Town, on which in a later blog.
As the mistral was blowing, the Mediterranean took on its grayish hue. How different the next morning when the mistral turned more graceful and died down for a while.
At the far end, the ferry is leaving for the Island of Corsica. A five-hour trip we will make next time when we hopefully visit here.
Near the villa is a Franciscan Museum that adjoins a wonderful rose garden where parents and children dwell after leaving a nearby school.
The abundance of wonderful roses is a delight for the visitor and a peaceful remembrance of the serene beauty of Nice’s flora and fauna.
The garden also offers a wonderful view of the Mediterranean. Locals walk here as if it is a daily gift they got accustomed to, but for a newcomer the view is a divine example of the preciousness wealth of Mother Earth.
The villa is a pleasant gated building secluded from the noisy world buzzing down the Cimiez hill.
One side displays an impressive bougainville in full bloom.
The middle of the garden features a swimming pool with no takers because of the cool wind, giving an enterprising seagull an opportunity to take a bath and fly away happily refreshed.
In our next blog we will show some pictures of Nice’s medieval Old Town.