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Riviera Blues

I’ve got the blues…the blue coasts of France, that is. West of Marseille there is La Côte Bleue and east of Marseille, the other blue coast, La Côte d’Azur, stretches all the way to Menton, the last town in France before crossing the Italian border.

A vacation out of Paris wasn’t preconceived, but the two coasts laid themselves at my feet and seducingly said, “stick your feet in my sand, smell my salty air, bask in my warm sun, partake of my heavenly nourishment and become acquainted with my character. And so I did.

These two coasts were called to me by three friends who have rental apartments happy to share them. Co-coordinator of the Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group, Marie-Elisabeth Crochard, drove us both down in her packed-to-the-gills car, then after unloading the hatchback (including a huge terra-cotta pot filled with soil which broke into a million pieces on my toes as we hoisted it out), opened the Click-Clack sofabed for me in her one-bedroom garden apartment in the coastal village of Carry-le-Rouet. Here is where she is investing and planning for her retirement.

When she’s not enjoying the pleasant views from the terrace herself, she rents it to vacationers. What she loves best, however, is to show off this little corner of France to easily seduced disciples such as myself…the port towns of Carry-le-Rouet, Sausset-les-Pins, Carro and the oth

ers, including the old port and city of Marseille.

We spent two days touring through the coastal towns. At Carro, seeking the fisherman with their fresh catches for the day, instead we were surprised to find tigers, monkeys, elephants, llamas and camels, poised against a background of blue Mediterranean sea, awaiting their performance that evening at the Cirque d’Europe. At Marseille we ate Bouillabaisse at a restaurant at the old port, a traditional Provençal fish stew having originated there.

The Riviera coast between Toulon and Menton has always been an important vacation and retirement spot for those who can afford its luxurious and casual lifestyle, but now the areas adjacent to Marseille, so previously undiscovered, have gained new importance and impressive real estate price tags. Marseille used to be like the train tracks that divide those that have from those that don’t have. This is certainly not true anymore as Marseille and its adjacent seaside villages are blossoming very quickly, gaining in class consciousness and ‘chicdom.’ Marseille itself is bustling and lively, spirited and unruly, like a delinquent child come of age. With the TGV only three hours from Paris, the whole region becomes more accessible, the signs of which are clearly apparent.

The train headed for Nice was standing-room-only from Marseille Thursday evening, where past client-turned-friend Ray Ruiz offers up an apartment for short-term vacation rental. Ray and his partner, Kim, have a Bed and Breakfast in New Orleans, a condo in Sante Fe, an apartment in Paris and this latest addition as a rental property, a one-bedroom spacious accommodation in Nice near the Vieux Port, just a few minutes walk to Old Nice and the Riquier train station.

The apartment quickly became home away from home, equipped with everything one might need, including high speed Internet, free VOIP phone (Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol) enabling mixing a little work with all this pleasure. The neighborhood is ‘real’ — where the real Nicois live and work, filled with the usual amenities…markets, cafés, bars, etc. It’s been easy to settle in and feel at home. I write this from the balcony with the sun on my back and before me are old Nicois buildings in ochres and tangerine colors with green shutters. It’s delightful. (See http://ladauphine.com/ for all Ray has to offer for your next stay in any of these wonderful cities!)

Pascal Fonquernie of Parismarais.com, friend and colleague who rents his “Florentin” and “Medieval” apartments in the same building on rue Charlot as “Le Provençal,” is a serious lover of the Riviera and comes here often. We met up that first evening for a dinner of Aïoli, the “butter” of Provence, a sauce and a celebration meal, at “Chez Freddy” on the famous “Cours Saleya”…the heart of Old Nice where everyone comes after a ‘hard’ day at the beach, all bronze and beautifully dressed, to see and be seen.

Pascal arranged for tickets to see the Princess Grace of Monaco exhibit at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco the next day, open until September 23rd. For the first time, Monaco hosts this international-scale exhibition in homage to the undeniably beautiful, charming and alluring actress, Grace Patricia Kelly, who warmed the hearts of Prince Rainier, all of Monaco and the world. Organized in close collaboration with the Prince’s Palace, which has made available items never previously displayed, the overwhelming and mind-bogglingly complete and creative exhibition retraces all the periods and facets of her life, from Hollywood star, to Princess of Monaco and mother, and provides a glimpse at the Principality that adopted and loved her from the moment she set foot on its rock in 1956. If you weren’t already in love with Princess Grace, you surely will be. If you don’t know what a “Kelly Bag” is, you surely will. And if you have ever dreamed of a life of ultimate luxury, this is it, personified. Wouldn’t we all want to be Grace Kelly? (For more information, visit http://www.grimaldiforum.mc/)

The beach in Monaco was under-crowded thanks to the partly-cloudy weather, but the casino in Monaco was awash with tourists out front having their pictures taken. Old friends from Bonn, Germany, met us there in their rental car to have a weekend of fun in the sun. We have a long history of meeting at various beaches in the world, having first met in Mikonos in 1979 on “Super Paradise” well known for nude sunbathing and an easy place to make friends (when we were much younger and freer!). Off we all went to drive through the wealthy resort towns of Villefranche, Eze, Roquebrune, Cap d’Ail and Menton, heading for Ventimiglia, the first town after crossing the border into Italy.

Before wandering through the Friday afternoon market of clothing, knickknacks and food stuff, we took a brief walking tour of “Ventimiglia Alta” — twisting, crumbling medieval alleys and dark streets, falling apart but alive, having once belonged to the Benedictine Monks of The Isle of Lerin (just off Antibes) who had connections to Seborga, of Templar fame. The Cathedral, which has a crypt dating from the 7th-century, is being fitted with a new organ (we heard them tuning it) and is said to be built on the site of a pagan temple from the inscription inside to Juno (Hera), wife of Jupiter (Zeus). The “trompe l’oeil” on the ancient buildings throughout the tiny town are astonishing, juxtaposed by adjacent hangings of the daily wash.

Down at the market below, we took advantage of the beautiful and inexpensive leather goods, kitsch souvenirs and aged Parmesan cheeses at bargain prices. The merchants all speak Italian, French and some English, sometimes all at once! Before returning to France, we drove a bit further to San Remo, for real Italian pasta at a ‘Ristorante’ overlooking the sea.

Saturday and Sunday were designated beach days, opting to test out the very civilized and the very “sauvage.” Pascal was staying in a vacation rental apartment offered by an American friend, Shelley Benton, in one of the chicest spots on the Riviera — Villefranche.

Villefranche as much like Italy by the sea than any Italian town…a

fruit bowl of Mediterranean colors, charming old buildings, narrow cobblestoned pathways, tiny restaurants and lovely boutiques. The apartment Pascal had rented had been beautifully renovated and decorated and was like an aerie perched high with lovely views of the red-tiled roofs, the town church and the sea.

It was there that we rented “chaise longues,” ordered up cold rosé wine by the glass, and basked in the sun until sundown. American voices perked up our ears, only to discover Shelley herself just standing before us, with her American family visiting, all enjoying the gorgeous Summer weather on the tiny pebbles of Villefranche. (To learn more about how to reserve your stay in Villefranche, visit http://www.rivieraexperience.com/ )

The next day we drove a little further to Eze sur Mer, where there is a long steep step path down to a quiet little cove with no amenities, fewer people and cleaner, clearer water. From the shore, you can see an enormous villa perched over the rocks with several swimming pools, guest houses and a funicular to transport you from one abode to the other. Over the next ridge, taking another steep and narrow path over the rocks, well hidden, is a haven for gay nude sun bathers — the men basking themselves on the edges of the rocks at the edge of the sea. A glimpse was all I needed to know I wasn’t welcome!

In the evenings we wandered the streets of Old Nice, perused the stalls of local handicrafts, dined on seafood and washed it down with cool rosé wines. Pascal and I each dreamed of owning our own little pied-à-terre in Nice, arguing over which location would suit us best and how delightful it would be to balance our lives in Paris with a Riviera lifestyle.

This afternoon I’ll board the TGV in Nice Ville and by tonight the palm trees will have given way to the street lamps of Le Marais. Hopefully the Riviera tan won’t fade too quickly, nor will the sunny memories of the two blue coasts of France.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. My petit studio, “Le Provençal,” is as close as one can get for a stay in Paris with the ambience of Provence. Book now before it’s too late for the busy fall season in Paris. See /parlerparis/apartments/rentals/provencal.html for more information.

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