After two nights in the top corner room of the Hotel Welcome in Villefranche-sur-Mer with a balcony on each side and a view on the water, we trekked our suitcases down the seafront road to the very end of the ancient village to an apartment just next to the beach appropriately named “Beachfront Bliss.”
It’s one of Seattle-raised Shelley Dobyns Benton’s Villefranche-sur-Mer luxury apartments I’d been wanting to experience for a long time. Shelley has acquired six properties in the tiny resort town just a few kilometers east of Nice offered for vacation rental under the name of “Riviera Experience,” this one being her latest and perhaps in the best location with a view on the ocean that will put you in the right mood from the dawn to dusk.
Shelley is to be admired — an American woman building her little real estate “empire” on her own in a small, but important domain, taking extreme care to furnish and equip each apartment to as high a standard as possible, all the while ensuring her guests have everything they could need or desire, including recommendations on where to eat and what to see.
After showing us around the apartment, Shelley sent us off on an excursion to neighboring sites that kept us fully absorbed till evening. First we headed east to Beaulieu-sur-Mer to visit a French Riviera seaside Palazzo named “Kerylos,” meaning “kingfisher” — a luxurious re-creation of an Ancient Greek Villa by an aficionado of Greece from Frankfurt, Théodore Reinach, completed in 1908. An audio guided tour takes you through the sumptuous rooms decorated in authentic Greek style using mosaic tiles, lemon wood furniture, silk fabrics and marble bas relief.
The Greek Villa is not far from our next stop at Rothschild’s famous Villa Ephrussi on the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula. (In fact, Madame Reinach was a cousin of Baron Maurice Ephrussi.) We toured the house and it’s nine wonderful gardens, most impressive of which is the “Jardin Exotique,” or cactus garden.
In coordination with symphonies by Strauss and Beethoven played over loudspeakers throughout the grounds, the water fountains danced and the sun shown brightly on the stunning mansion designed and appointed by Baroness Ephrussi de Rothschild — her principal residence until her death in 1934 at the age of 75. At the Salon de Thé overlooking the sea, we lunched and basked in the sunlight of the Riviera.
From the sea we then headed to the hills to see the tiny villages perched high on the rocky hillsides. The Old Village of Eze is seductive as the tiny red-bricked paths lead you to the top through the stone houses, while you shop in the many little artisans’ boutiques.
And not far along a winding road is La Turbie (“turbia,” Latin for “trophy”), famous in Roman times for the huge monument that Augustus made to celebrate his victory over the Ligurian tribes of the area. Parts of it still stand looming over the stunning little village.
Collapsing after a full day in Provence, we took in a simple meal at a seaside restaurant in Villefranche to begin again Monday, this time heading further east all the way into Italy. The first stop there was in Ventimiglia (French: Vintimille) in Liguria.
When you cross the border from France into Italy, the difference is acute. No longer are the roads pristinely perfect, the houses so well kept and manicured and even the way the land is terraced is completely different. We switched our tongues to Italian and relished in the fact that we had so easily moved into another country, another culture, all in a matter of minutes.
The open air food market there is famous and vast, but only held on Fridays, so long gone on a Monday morning. Instead, we ventured up to Alta Ventimiglia, the ancient town at the height of the city, overlooking the seaside below. Winding our way up we got lost on roads no wider than the car that ended at nothing with the sea directly below us, until we could find a way to turn around and wind our way back down…slowly. At a seaside “trattoria” we ate pasta and “caprese” salad.
For a final evening we chose to take in a bit more of Nice, where the city is preparing for the annual Carnival beginning this Friday, February 13th running through March 1st. “La Petite Maison” in Vieux Nice is the celebrity restaurant where Nicolas Sarkozy likes to dine — and where we had a memorable meal with Fréderic Latty, the Director of the Institut de Français. I noticed an apartment for sale over its dark green awning and dreamed of taking in its aromas from above!
Another less-touristed spot in Old Nice worth a detour (a small one as it’s dead center!) is La Merenda, more “Nicois” than Nice itself — seating barely 20 on stools with a menu of only a few items, different each day at one-fifth the price of La Petite Maison. (You’ll find it 4 rue Raoul Bosio, formerly rue Terrasse, only open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner — no credit cards accepted and there’s no phone, so don’t bother calling!)
The high winds on Tuesday morning closed the Paris airports till late in the morning, but Air France was able to follow through, landing just in time for yesterday’s Parler Paris Après Midi. Read all about who was there and what we talked about at Parler Paris Apres Midi.
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. I hope to see you Saturday at Parler Parlor for our Valentine’s Day Party…east sweets and attend free! (Visit http://www.ParlerParlor.com for more information.) Then, Saturday night, take your Valentine to hear our American friends sing at the Swan Bar! (Visit /parlerparis/calendar.html for more information). And on Sunday night, go hear author of “A Year in the Merde,” Stephen Clarke, at Paris Soirées! (Visit http://www.parissoirees.com/aboutsoirees.html for more information.)