Different Worlds On The Côte D’Azur
This year I’ve promised myself to take more three-day excursions to La France Profonde…to discover the world OUTSIDE Paris. There’s plenty of it within a few hours of travel time and even more worth seeing.
The TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) takes a cool six and one-half hours to reach Nice from Paris with total stress-free travel. A seven-minute “layover” in Nice connected us with the regional train that ends in Ventimiglia, the first city you arrive at in Italy. We descended at “Roquebrune Cap-Martin,” a tiny station one past Monaco, ascended the winding stairwell (wish I had counted the steps!) to Avenue Vilarem, the road, not “avenue,” where Pascal Fonquernie’s (of Paris Marais Apartments — http://www.parismarais.com) beautiful little “aerie” is perched high overlooking the blue Mediterranean Sea below. He rents it when he’s not enjoying it himself — and we had all the luck to install ourselves there for the long holiday Labor Day weekend. (To see pictures of Pascal’s Monte Carlo flat, click here: /frenchproperty/insider/rentals/pfmontecarlo.html)
The old village of Roquebrune sits above the newer enclave, accessible only by foot. Leave your car in the free public parking lot, don your most comfortable cobblestone-prepared shoes and discover the city “streets” by winding up and down the stone steps, under the archways, around the curves. Every house sits on a different level. Artisans are busy at work in their ateliers. Every eyeful is a photo-op. This is La France Profonde in chic solitude.
At the main “place,” l’Hôtel des Deux Frères , with its glass-walled dining room, overlooks the water far below. La Grotte, a bar/café/restaurant opposite is the locals’ main “cantine” — Saturday noon the bar was filled with thirsty local “petanque” players.
Other hillside towns are worth a visit…Gorbio, Sainte-Agnes, Peillon, Peille — much like Roquebrune — brightly-colored shutters on houses made of stone, with tiny doors accessible only by stone paths.
Monaco, on the other hand, is a pristine city of wedding-cake architecture which seems to thrive on its self-importance. Stunning in many respects, you might expect the people to be a bit haughty, but found them particularly friendly and pleasant.
An excursion to the Palais Princier and the old city of Monaco is parallel with an afternoon at Disneyland. The only way in is via a paid covered parking lot, up the elevators and escalators to a world sealed off from the principality below. The casino at Monte Carlo is legendary — but we opted to avoid this tourist stop reminiscent to us of Las Vegas.
The event we are all familiar with in the Principality of Monaco is the upcoming 4th Monaco Grand Prix Historic, the 15th and 16th of May — a retrospective of the golden age of car racing, that takes place on the famous track of Monaco using the roads of the Principality that haven´t changed since the first race, on 14th April 1929. We drove the same route, but in bumper-to-bumper traffic…hardly the Grand Prix! (See http://www.acm.mc/acm/index.html for more information.)
Just down the road, Nice is nice, as they say, and there in the old city of winding streets and terra-cotta colored stucco houses awash with wisteria vines and geraniums, we sipped on Kir along the water’s edge, shopped in chic boutiques, and filled our bellies with fresh seafood at a typical Niçoise restaurant we ferreted out as the best of the lot.
In just one day, we had experienced so many different worlds on the Côte d’Azur…worlds apart yet only by a few kilometers.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]
P.S. Recommended dining spots on the Côte d’Azur:
* Le Roc Martin, 42, avenue Winston Churchill, 06190 Roquebrune Cap-Martin, 04.93.35.75.56 — on the water, elegant dining, moderate prices.
* La Grotte, Place des Deux Frères, 06190 Roquebrune Village, 04.93.35.00.04 — village atmosphere in the sun, inexpensive.
* L’Embarcadère, 13, Cours Saleya, 06300 Nice, 04.93.62.30.38 — seafood platters, bouillabaisse, etc.
* L’Exocet, 3, rue Trenca, 06500 Menton, 04.93.28.80.24 — one of the best in Menton on the water.