June 15, 2013

The Cote d'Azur

“Take only memories, leave only footprints.”  Chief Seattle

Beautiful and welcome balmy, sunny days followed us as we left the Italian Riviera and headed to the French side.  It was easy for us to understand why the French Riviera has drawn countless visitors over the millennia of man’s presence there. It is flat-out gorgeous all along the coast, and the Mediterranean Sea is an indescribable lovely azure blue—the Cote d’Azur. 

 We welcomed the warm, low-humidity days after experiencing a cold and rainy spring during our earlier more northerly travels.

European campgrounds can be pretty deluxe for a relatively low price, and that was the case at our last stop along the Italian Riviera in Finale Ligure.  Here we had the luxury of our first campground swimming pool—and what a beauty it was—surrounded by a lovely restaurant and modern stucco vacation apartments.  Now I was starting to feel spoiled by this campground life…

We followed advice we had read and decided to use Antibes as our base for exploring the tiny principality of Monaco, in addition to Nice, France’s 5th largest city.  It was very easy to make day trips on the regional trains out of Antibes that go to each of these destinations, so that became the plan.  Antibes itself proved to be an interesting city to explore.  Old town Antibes was a maze of narrow streets and red-tiled roofs rising above the magnificent azure-blue Mediterranean Sea.  The color, light and ambience of Antibes have made it a longtime refuge of the rich and famous.  It has fascinated many famous entertainers, artists and authors, such as Picasso, Monet, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway.  Many past and present movie stars have wined and dined in its luxurious hotels.  Not surprisingly, many artists have experienced their most productive years in Antibes. 

 The physical beauty of Antibes was remarkable. 

We had a picture-perfect sunny day to wander the harbor area and gawk at the yachts of the ultra-rich docked in Europe’s biggest pleasure-boat harbor.

 On one of our days in Antibes, we took a terrific hike on a trail that went right along the Mediterranean Sea and around the tip of Cap d’Antibes.  The area along this coastal walk was peppered with dozens of exclusive mansions, most of them expertly hidden from view behind stone walls topped with lovely landscaped bushes, various varieties of cacti, and palm trees.



Our visit to Monaco was an easy hour’s ride by regional train from Antibes.

Rick Steves has written that Monaco is a “Rivera must,” so we set out in our very best “camping finery” to see for ourselves.  Our train that day was delayed due to an accident on the track, so we arrived in Monaco more than ready for lunch.  Always ready to experiment with local cuisine, Al ordered the specialty of the day—carpaccio de boeuf—which our waitress described as thinly sliced beef accompanied by a nice helping of French fries, with dessert and a small coffee drink included.  I stuck with ole dependable pizza with mozzarella cheese and mushrooms, and was I glad I did.  Our chins fell to the table when Al’s specialty of the day was proudly placed in front of him by our server.  We had neglected to ask if the beef was cooked—it wasn’t—and Al began what I can only describe as a ‘meal-challenge from Hell,’ similar to what you see on the “Amazing Race.”  Never wanting to waste food, Al somehow forced down about half of the uncooked beef.  I felt so sorry for him I shared half of my pizza.  This whole sorry incident was so reminiscent of the time on a previous trip to Paris when I decided to experiment and ordered steak tartare, which I can only describe as similar to uncooked hamburger meat.  Even after pleading and sending that meal back to the kitchen for a “little extra cooking,” I found it disgusting.  No more ordering beef of any kind in French restaurants! 

Now refreshed from our lunch in Monaco…

Monaco is a tiny principality of 0.75 square miles and is under the leadership of the House of Grimaldi, which is now ruled by Prince Albert II, successor to Prince Rainier, who was married to the American movie star Grace Kelly.  Oh my goodness, Monaco dripped of incredible beauty, wealth, and privilege!  Today, Monaco has the distinction of having the highest per-capita income in the world. 


 I was thrilled to be able to take an hour self-guided tour of the Prince’s Palace, where Prince Albert and his wife live today.  At the end of the palace tour we saw a rather extensive Napoleon collection of items that are part of the prince’s private collection.  For me, the biggest thrill was seeing Napoleon’s actual bicorn hat.


We made a brief stop in the Cathedral of Monaco, where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier were married.  Both are buried in the cathedral, along with centuries of other Grimaldi ancestors.  I was touched by the inscription Prince Rainier had placed on his beloved wife’s gravestone—“Gratia Patricia.”

No visit to Monte Carlo would be complete without a stop in front of Europe’s most famous casino.  We didn’t have proper formal attire that was required to go inside, but the view from the outside was sufficient for me.  Besides, my baccarat skills are a bit lacking, and I find it totally ridiculous to pay an entrance fee to lose money.


 Instead, we tried a few slots in the adjacent unimpressive “commoner’s casino” and came away after half an hour with a profit of about 40 cents! It was strange to see many of the very same slot machines we are accustomed to playing in the U.S.

Our second day trip from Antibes was to the city of Nice.  We started our walking tour in the grand square called Place Massena,

 then headed through the Cour Saleya market, a large commotion of lovely spices, foods, and tourist trinkets.


We made our way to the famous Promenade des Anglais, a 4-mile strip that Rick Steves calls the “seafront circus.”  Maybe it was the time of day or the rare cloudy day, thus resulting in fewer beachgoers, but neither Al nor I was overly impressed and thus didn’t walk very far on this so-called famous promenade.

Around the corner was a well-preserved house that painter Henri Matisse lived in for 17 years.

 Our walking tour concluded with a visit to the Palais Lascaris (c. 1647), most notable for its Baroque Italian architecture and an interesting collection of antique musical instruments.


As we left Antibes and followed the coastline, we drove through Cannes, location of the just-completed annual Cannes Film Festival.  True to form, I rarely get good pictures out of the window of a moving vehicle so, sadly, we have no photos of Cannes, but both of us were impressed by its wealthy ambience, luxurious modern made-to-look-old hotels, and its immense playground yachting harbor.  Cannes looked exactly like what I would expect from a preferred destination for many of the world’s wealthiest film stars.

So…we are heading into the Provence area of France and are now camped for a few days outside tiny Lambesc, about an hour north of the Riviera.  I have been struck by a nasty summer head cold which is accompanied by a relentless hacking cough.  It has been a true test of the marriage vows to sleep together in a 23-ft RV when one of us is hacking away through the night.  However, I have started to turn the corner toward recovery with the help of some unfamiliar French cold medications, along with the hot mistral breezes and a tincture of swimming pool.

“Travel teaches toleration.”  Benjamin Disraeli




1 comment:

  1. Well, I was hungry then I saw the picture of your beef dinner...not hungry anymore. Hahaha. But the fries looked good.