A visit to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have chosen to visit a cemetery but in this case, I’d have missed a gem! Ostensibly heading to the Marais – totally in the opposite direction –  from lunch in 11th, my beloved made it sound as if this impromtu visit was his intention all along!

The cemetery takes its name from King Louis XIV’s confessor, Father François d’Aix de La Chaise. It’s the most prestigious and most visited necropolis in Paris. Situated in the 20th arrondissement, it extends to 44 hectares (110 acres) and contains 70,000 burial plots. It was the first garden cemetery, as well as the first municipal one in Paris. It is also the site of three WWI memorials.

The cemetery is a mix between an English park and a shrine. All funerary art styles are represented: Gothic graves, Haussmanian burial chambers, ancient mausoleums, a columbarium and crematorium etc. etc. A number of famous people are buried here but I confess to not spotting the graves of Honoré de Balzac, Guillaume Apollinaire, Frédéric Chopin, Colette, Jean-François Champollion, Jean de La Fontaine, Molière, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Jim Morrison, Alfred de Musset, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro or Oscar Wilde, to name just a few.

Père Lachaise is still accepting new burials however it’s not an easy place to secure a plot. I overheard a guide explaining to a group of tourists that you can only be buried there if you die in the French capital or if you lived there. Allegedly few plots are available but I spotted one or two. The grave sites range from a simple, unadorned headstone to towering monuments and even elaborate mini family chapels about the size and shape of a telephone booth, with just enough space for a mourner to step inside, kneel to say a prayer, and leave some flowers.

The cemetery manages to squeeze an increasing number of bodies into a finite and already crowded space. It does this by combining the remains of multiple family members in the same grave. At Père Lachaise, it is not uncommon to reopen a grave and inter another coffin. Some family mausoleums or multi-family tombs contain dozens of bodies, often in several separate but contiguous graves. Shelves are usually installed to accommodate their remains.

During relatively recent times, the cemetary has adopted the standard practice of issuing 30-year leases on grave sites, so that if a lease is not renewed by a family, the remains can be removed, space made for a new one, and the overall deterioration of the cemetery minimised. Abandoned remains are boxed, tagged and moved to Aux Morts Ossuary, in the cemetery.

Although some sources incorrectly estimate the number interred at around 300,000 in Père Lachaise, according to the official website of the city of Paris, over one million people have been buried there. Along with the stored remains in the Aux Morts Ossuary, the number of human remains exceeds 2–3 million – that’s a lot of bones! In addition, there are many more in the Columbarium, which holds the remains of those who opted for cremation.

We only strolled around a very small part of the cemetery but it was surprisingly peaceful and rather serene. I’d happily return for a more expansive tour. Who knows I might even find the resting place of one of those famous names above!

Trip to Le Haut de Cagnes

I’ve by no means finished with my posts on Australia but I thought you might appreciate a bit of a change. So I’m heading much closer to home for this post.

It’s right on our doorstep but we’ve not visited Cagnes’ medieval old town, Le Haut-de-Cagnes, for several years. We’d previously dined its main hotel and restaurant Le Cagnard on a number of occasions, sitting out on its restaurant terrace with a painted retractable wooden roof and admiring the splendid views back down to the coast.

The name Cagnes is of Ligurian origin and means inhabited place on a rounded hill. Haut de Cagnes is a rocky outcrop, 91m above sea level, which offered our ancestors a lookout, somewhere easy to defend, near to good agricultural land and water. First occupied by the Celto-Liguries and then by the Gallo-Romans, in 1388 the river Var became the natural border between Provence and Nice, of which the latter was under the control of the Counts of Savoy.

Cagnes, which had about 1,200 to 1,500 inhabitants, became a border town on the Var river. When Provence became part of France in 1483, Cagnes was on the only road leading to France from the Savoy States. From the 16th century, this border zone featured in the cycle of great European wars and was often looted and sacked.

Cagnes enjoyed a glorious period in the reign of Louis XIII, when its castle was transformed by Jean-Henri Grimaldi in 1620 into a sumptuous seigneuriale residence and one of the busiest of the region, whose descendants today reign over the Principality of Monaco. Consequently, there’s a special link between the “Rock” and the town of Cagnes. HRH Prince Albert II of Monaco regularly honours Cagnes-sur-Mer with his presence at major events.

Sadly, the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV saw even more wars and more multiple invasions in the area  – and I don’t mean tourists! At the time of the French Revolution, in 1790, Cagnes still had only 1,388 inhabitants, mostly peasants who cultivated olives, hemp, citrus fruits and vegetables.

Thanks to an influx of artists, at the beginning of 20th century, Cagnes was known as “The Montmartre of the Côte d’Azur”! By that time, Cagnes had grown to around 3,000 inhabitants and, following in Renoir’s footsteps, many other painters and entertainers fell in love with the Mediterranean light and settled in this picturesque village which offers great views and a magnificent panorama of both the sea and the surrounding hills.

Today only around 650 live in this ancient hilltop town which was classified a historical site in 1948 and provides a delightful setting for several museums and and a church (St Pierre) with a beautiful Baroque ceiling. In 1960, the famous cabaret singer, Suzy Solidor (1900-1985) set up her cabaret-restaurant and café (now an antique shop), in one of the houses at the corner of the chateau square. The cabaret is now L’Espace Solidor which houses contemporary jewellery exhibitions. As a consequence, Cagnes sur Mer was awarded the label of “Villes et Metiers d’Art” (town of arts and crafts).

Trip to Nice: Gare du Sud

One Friday evening we drove into Nice to see the recently reopened Gare du Sud, a former railway station located in the Libération quarter.

The station closed in December 1991 when it was replaced by the smaller Gare de Nice and remained derelict until 2013, when the station building was renovated and converted into a library.

Inaugurated in 1892 and designed by architect Prosper Bobin, the station building, set back from the Avenue Malausséna, was designed in an elegant neoclassical style. It has a monumental and imposing facade with a central high section flanked by two side pavilions, decorated with ceramic tiles, painted designs and picturesque stonework.

Behind the station building is a tall metal train shed with a glass roof to cover the platforms which was designed by Gustave Eiffel – yes, the bloke that did the Eiffel Tower – for the Russian and Austro-Hungarian pavilion at the Paris Exposition Universelle (1889) and added to the station in 1891.

Ownership of the old station was transferred to the city of Nice in 2000 and initially there were plans to demolish it but, after a public outcry, the Culture Minister blocked the plan. Furthermore, the facade of the old station building was listed as a historic monument in 2002 and the train shed was listed in 2005.

Although the station had been saved, its future remained uncertain. Finally, architect Pierre-Louis Faloci was asked to create a new design which would preserve the building as well as the metal train shed. The first phase of his design, the internal and external renovation of the station building, took place in 2013 and the new Raoul Mille library, incorporated into the station’s former waiting room was opened in 2014. The building also houses multimedia rooms, meeting rooms and a climate-controlled storage basement.

The second phase of the project involved the restoration of the train shed site within plans for a shopping centre, cinema, sports facilities, housing and underground car park. Much of this was completed last year though the project won the Pyramide d’or, the highest award of the Fédération des Promoters Immobilisers in 2016.

The main hall finally reopened at the beginning of May 2019 its destiny largely determined by the head of Nice’s department for Urban Renewal who wanted to create a large contemporary market, inspired by those in other major cities such as London and New York, where everyone could gather to eat, drink and listen to music.

It’s fair to say, looking at the crowds there on Friday evening, that the objective has easily been achieved. 

Trip to Cannes and Le Suquet

Mention Cannes and one automatically thinks of the star-studded Film Festival, the fabulous Croisette, designer shops, five star hotels and all manner of glamour. However, it’s not always been that way! Like many a resort on the Cote d’Azur, Cannes has humble beginnings. It was once a fishing village, but go even further back and its history is rather more colourful than you might expect!

Ancient times

The town dates back to almost 1,000BC. Archeologists found evidence of human life in the Neolithic and Iron ages. Its first recorded settlers were probably a Ligurian tribe who inhabited Le Suquet (Cannes Old Town). An archeological dig revealed an early settlement that dated back to 6th Century BC – an acropolis, a true urban settlement with public buildings. The Romans  – those boys got everywhere! – occupied Cannes and its nearby islands for almost five centuries during the Republican period when the islands served as a large Naval Base. The period after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the so-called “Dark Era,” was characterised by attacks from all sorts including the Visigoths, Lombards and Saracens.

What then followed was a period of re-building, largely to protect the existing settlement, including Le Suquet’s castle, from the threat of Barbarian pirates. To reward the feudal lords who’d helped to expel the Saracens, the Count of Provence gave Rodoard, the head of a powerful local family, the rights to Cannes. In 1030 Rodoard’s son became a monk on the Lerins islands and subsequently, with the Pope’s blessing, donated Cannes to its Abbey.

The name “Cannes” first appeared in this deed of donation with the mention of “De Portu Canue”. The word Canue is derived from a Ligurian word meaning ’height’ or ‘peak’ – a perched settlement.

Between 13th and 16th centuries, Cannes was disrupted by the plague, and in 1520, an epidemic broke out killing over half of its population. Ownership also changed hands frequently during this period going from the monks to Catalan counts, then the Angevins, who were both Counts of Provence and Kings of Naples, the House of Savoy and finally France.

The British in Cannes

The Lord Chancellor of England, Lord Brougham came to Cannes in 1834. He was on his way to Italy via Nice but due to a recent cholera epidemic in Nice he made an unscheduled stop at the tiny fishing village of Cannes. Lord Brougham was delighted by what he found and decided to build a holiday villa there. In one of his letters back home he wrote:

….enjoying the delightful climate….the deep blue of the Mediterranean glimmers before us. The orange groves perfume the air, while the forests behind, ending in the Alps, protect us from the North winds.

In his honour the council erected a bronze statue of him which is next to the town hall in Cannes old Town. Unsurprisingly, Lord Brougham opened the flood gates for large numbers of British aristocrats and Royals to have residences in Cannes. Possibly, the first wave of Brits to have European holiday homes.

Belle Epoque

After the British came the Russians – the most famous being the incredibly wealthy Alexandra Fedorovna Tripet Skrivistkin. This established Cannes as a resort for wealthy Europeans, Russians and Indian viceroys who came in the wake of Lord Brougham and built beautiful ornate residences. Cannes was a favourite haunt of Guy de Maupassant and Stephen Liegeard who first coined the region’s French name the “Côte d’Azur”.

Further examples of ornate residences are the wonderful ‘Belle Epoque’ hotels: The Carlton, The Martinez and The Majestic  – all now popular places for brunching – which were built in order to accommodate Cannes’ growing popularity amongst the wealthy European aristocrats. Cannes’ port was built in 1838, followed by its train station in 1863 thereby dramatically shortening the journey between Paris and Cannes to 22 hours and 20 minutes. The village soon became a city and expanded westwards towards La Bocca. Its population rose dramatically from 3,000 inhabitants in 1814 to 30,000 in 1914 though WWI halted this growth and many of the hotels were converted into hospitals for the sick and wounded.

WWII and beyond

The inaugural Cannes Film Festival was scheduled for 1939 but was cancelled due to the outbreak of WWII, during which Cannes was occupied firstly by the Italians and then the Germans. In August 1944 it experienced its final attack from the sea during which an American actor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, the captain of a US Naval ship helped Cannes defeat its enemies. The Film Festival was reinstated and the town’s popularity increased beyond its wildest expectations.

We regularly visit the town either riding through it on our bikes, for Sunday brunch or just for a pleasant stroll around its streets, shops, markets and to admire its architecture. I particularly like the views afforded from the Old Town of Le Suquet. What do you like best about Cannes?

Trip to La Colle sur Loup

When we first looked at properties to buy on the Cote d’Azur we quickly found a charming house in La Colle sur Loup, a pretty village just down the road from Saint Paul de Vence, which seemed to fit the bill. We pondered long and hard but eventually decided against it as it was a corner property, without a view, on what has become a much busier road. However it’s one of our neighbouring villages, home to one of our favourite restaurants, we enjoy visiting its Jazz evenings during the summer and its other festivals throughout the year.

I few months back I’d spotted it was having a Franco-German festival which we decided to visit. The festival – someone selling vin chaud and bretzels- was a decided let down, but it was fun to reaquaint ourselves with this tranquil and charming place, enjoy coffee and cake in one of its many cafes, plus purchase fruit and vegetables from its Saturday market stall.

A former medieval community, La Colle sur Loup was home to a feudal lord in the 16th century. Consequently, there are plenty of buildings of historical significance such as a 12th century Canadel priory now converted into a restaurant (L’Abbaye) which still has a fortified gateway, corner towers, cloisters and a listed Romanesque chapel. Plus, at the entrance to the village, you’ll find its 17th century Eglise de Saint Jacques Le Majeur which has wonderful stained glass windows and a square bell tower. The place also boasts 16th century Chateau de Montfort and Le Gaudelet, a hunting lodge with a Renaissance facade from the same era.

I like to wander through the village’s historic centre, with its narrow alleyways and lively shopping streets, which has shady little squares with fountains and honey-coloured stone buildings with wonderful carved doors. Formerly renowned for its production of rose perfume – celebrated annually with its Fetes des Roses –  today it’s better known for its antique dealers and decorators, and also for its fine restaurants. In addition, the village has always attracted artists and artisans, such as Yves Klein, the founder of the New Realists, who is buried here, Jacques Ferrandez the well-known cartoon strip artist, the architect Yves Bayard and Raoul Giodan, another cartoon strip artist.

Lying on the river Loup, the village’s surrounding forest is one of its greatest attractions, providing an oasis of cool and peace in the summer months. Activities abound, it’s a mecca for outdoor ones. You can ride horses, cycle, kayak, canoe, hike or fish for trout- or just spend the day with a picnic – you know how the French love to picnic – in one of its two public parks. There’s also a children’s amusement park and a local sports ground.  It’s well worth a visit, perhaps combined with a trip to neighbouring Saint Paul de Vence.

Trip to Rivarolo Canavese

When my beloved told me we were visiting the home town of one of his new clients, Rivarolo Canavese, I thought it sounded like a full-bodied red wine. But no, it’s a wonderfully historic town just 30 minutes north-east of Turin.

We drove there on a glorious Friday morning when all along the motorway the trees were just starting to show off their new lime-green finery and pale-blossoms. The crops in the farmers’ fields were showing early emerald shoots, lambs were gambolling and cows were lazily chewing the grassy green cud. This was all set against a backdrop of mountains still dusted with snow. Spring had most definitely sprung.

A bit of research revealed Riverolo’s ancient name of “Riparolium” means “place on the bank of the stream.” You can clearly see the “stream” in the map of the town below. In December 1862, shortly after the Unification of Italy, it was renamed Rivarolo Canavese to distinguish it from other similarly named towns in neighbouring Lombardy and Liguria.

Riparolium is first mentionned in an old document dating back to 1000 AD. From 1200 it belonged to the families of the Counts of Valperga and San Martino. The town’s  original early medieval core was enlarged in 13th century with a comb-like urban layout and walls. In 1358 the Counts of Savoy granted partial autonomy to the town in respect of the management of its ovens and mills. Mid-18th century the town’s medieval fabric was remodelled in a Baroque style. In 1863 Rivarolo achieved city status thanks to its socio-economic growth  and the construction of a rail link to Turin.

Nowadays Rivarolo sits at the centre of an efficient road and rail network linking it with Turin, its airport and the rest of the Canavese region. The town’s former activities in textiles and leather production have downsized but become more upscale with the presence of numerous artisan businesses.

The city’s main axis is a wide road (Corso Indipendenza) featuring a number of interesting 19th century buildings, such as Casa Pistono, Casa Maspes, Villa Recrosio and Villa Vallero which houses exhibitions, cultural events and educational activities and is surrounded by a public park. On week days there’s a small food market, largely fruit and vegetables, which morphs into a footwear and textiles one on Saturday mornings.

Given its interesting history, there’s plenty to see, particularly in its Old Town which spreads around the arcaded via Ivrea and features a number of former palaces: Palazzo Palma di Borgofranco, Palazzo Farina, Palazzo Toesca and Palazzo Lomellini, now the Town Hall. There’s also some really beautiful old shop fronts, many of which are still used for their original purpose.

Along this same street, there are also three churches the most spectacular of which is the octagonal, brick-built Baroque church of San Michele Arcangelo which dates back to 11th century, with 18th century additions.  Practically, opposite one another you’ll find the Church of the Confraternity of Jesus which has an elegant painted façade with a large wooden door and the Church of San Rocco and San Carlo which was built by the community after it had been devastated by the plague in 1630.

The town also has its own castle which I spied in the distance. Malgra Castle was built by the Counts of San Martino in 1333. It was renovated, at the end of 19th century by the architect Alfredo D’Andrade. In the inner courtyard there is a crenellated tower and a small portico with 14th century frescoes. Owned by the municipality since 1982, you can only visit it on Sunday afternoons from May to October.

After pounding the cobbled pavements in the town, I checked out its splendid coffee and cake shops, all in the interests of research you understand. Later when my beloved had finished work for the day we were able to sample the town’s offering of our favourite pre-dinner tipple, an Aperol Spritz, before a delicious dinner with his client.

Days out: Fabre Museum, Montpellier

Having spent the morning strolling around Montpellier in the warm sunshine, I was happy to retreat indoors in the afternoon to explore some more of the city’s hidden gems. But first my beloved and I dined in the museum’s restaurant which came highly recommended. We were not disappointed!

Modern work from Chinese artist

Entering the Fabre Museum, a step or two away from Place de la Comédie, means plunging into a wonderful world that is both far away and close at hand. Because this superb museum, opened in the early 19th century, featuring the collections of François-Xavier Fabre, contains major works from the history of art and the best productions from the past 300 years by artists with special links to Montpellier and the region.

A painting by Corot

Vien, Raoux, Bourdon, Fabre, Cabanel, Bazille, as well as Claude Viallat and Vincent Bioulès, are displayed side by side with Bruegel, Rubens, Veronese, Poussin, Ingres, Corot, Monet, Utrillo, Van Dongen and de Staël. Not forgetting a handful of portraits by David and Delacroix.

Grand scale
Look at the lovely mosaic floor
Fabulous frieze

Through the museum’s three levels, you advance through time, from Flemish and Dutch painting and the Italian Renaissance to the centuries of classicism and flamboyance. I walked through the Columns Gallery, where the large-scale paintings from the 18th century fill the walls, to more intimate rooms, featuring NeoClassicism and Romanticism, Classicism and modern art.

More supersized art

I wandered on through into the contemporary section, its two exposed concrete rooms were specially designed for works by Pierre Soulages, a keen visitor to the Museum.

Plenty of spectacular artworks

The Fabre Museum has one of the most important fine art collections in France. It’s a fascinating and comprehensive collection of artworks spanning the ages and well worth a visit. Surprisingly, I had the place almost to myself!

Trip to Montpellier

I first visited this charming city in 2009 when it provided the parcours for stage 4 (a team time-trial) in that year’s Tour de France. The Tour had kicked off in Monaco, where I’d worked as a volunteer, then my beloved and I had followed the subsequent stages to Montpellier. By chance we stayed overnight in the same hotel as the Astana cycling team which had both Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador in its Tour squad. The pair did not get on and you could cut the atmosphere in the hotel with a spoon – no knife required!

I’ve subsequently visited Montpellier a number of times but always in connection with the Tour de France. The last visit was back in 2016. It’s a city I’m happy to revisit so when my beloved said he had a business meeting with someone at the University, quick as a flash, I said “count me in.”

Montpellier is the second largest city in the Occitanie region, capital of Hérault, just 12km (7 miles) from the Mediterranean. But its initial attraction is its medieval heart, the Old Town. Here you’ll find a captivating tangle of lanes and passageways, lined with buildings of mellow, honey-coloured stone, many containing superbly stylish, small boutiques. Its 16 leafy little squares are abuzz with café life. But Montpellier, which was developed in late 10th century, is an upstart by comparison with nearby Nîmes, Béziers and Narbonne, all of which date back to Roman times or even earlier.

Set on the River Lez, giving easy access to the sea, Montpellier rapidly grew into a major trading centre, and continued to prosper. Fast-forward to 16th century and Montpellier became a Huguenot stronghold, and consequently suffered in the onslaught of France’s religious wars. Its destruction resulted in a swathe of rebuilding, and the city acquired some seriously splendid architecture in 17th and 18th centuries.

Montpellier’s a lovely city to stroll around and where better to start than the Place de la Comédie, Montpellier’s iconic heart. Sometimes called Place de l’Oeuf (Egg Square) because of its oval shape, it’s one of the largest pedestrian precincts in Europe and is dominated by the imposing Opéra Comédie in front of which is the Three Graces’ fountain built in 1773.

Montpellier’s Arc leads to the Promenade du Peyrou which affords a panoramic view of the city, including the ancient arches of Les Arceaux, a Roman aqueduct, and its Botanical Gardens, the oldest in France. Peyrou was completed in 1774, the year of Louis XVI’s accession to the throne, by architect Jean Giral and features a statue of him on horseback and a classical style water tower.

Also worth a visit is the city’s 14th-century Gothic cathedral, Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier which has been heavily restored. Behind its fortress-like façade, within its vast interior with high vaulted ceilings and grand stone archways, is a collection of biblical artworks, a striking-looking 18th century organ and many artworks.

The weather has always been delightfully warm whenever I’ve visited and, after pounding its cobbled walkways,  I’ve enjoyed sitting outside, lapping up the sunshine, at one of Montpellier’s many cafés, just watching the world stroll past.

Days out: Chagall exhibition

We were recently able to combine a trip to one of our favourite towns, Aix-en-Provence, with a visit to a Chagall exhibition at the Hôtel de Caumont (pictured above), lunch at a nearby hotel (Hotel Le Pigonnet) with a gorgeous garden and watching our first live cycle race of the season (stage 4 of the Tour de la Provence) in which a number of our friends were riding. I call that a definite result!

It was a pleasant 90 minute drive in glorious sunshine from home to Aix. The scenery was magnificent: from the rusty-red rocks of Roquebrune to the stern grey of the Sainte Victoire, the mimosa provided flashes of gold among the dark evergreens while the vines were just starting to emerge from their winter pruning.

We left the car in the hotel car park after availing ourselves of the hotel’s facilities and enjoying a coffee ourdoors in its garden. We wandered into town and purchased some goodies from its Sunday market before returning to the hotel for a leisurely and delicious lunch, after which we visited the Hotel du Caumont to see its Chagall exhibition.

I’ve visited the museum in nearby [to Nice] Cimiez devoted to his works several times but am always keen to learn more about someone whom I  consider a local artist. A Franco-Russian by birth, he moved to Vence in 1949 and then, like many of his contemporories, settled in Saint Paul de Vence until his death aged 98 in 1985 – a good innings!

This is an interesting exhibition that sheds light on an unexplored dimension of Marc Chagall’s work. He was celebrated as a master of colour by the artists and critics of his day but this exhibition, which is devoted to the latter part of his career, highlights his change of style in the period from 1948 until his death.

Over 100 works (paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, engravings, washes, gouaches, and collages) reflect Chagall’s artistic exploration of monochrome (black and white) and his mastery of particularly luminous, intense, and profound tints. After spending the WWII years in exile in USA, he adopted a bolder artistic approach, in which the study of volume led him to explore the world of light, shade, materials, and the transparency of black and white. The study of the chromatic and luminous subtleties of black and white resulted in the use of intense and bright colours that gave his pictorial oeuvre a completely new dimension. It was an illuminating exhibition in a gorgeous location.


Trip to Sanremo

The first of this year’s Monuments (five oldest one day bike races), La Primavera goes from Milan to Sanremo. A parcours of almost 300km and, aside from the Turchino, all the hills are in the last 60km. I should add these are not difficult climbs, I’ve ascended them with ease having wisely eshewed the first 230km of the race route.

We always enjoy our day trips to Sanremo, particularly when the weather’s as fine as it was yesterday. We drive over early, park and head to the shops to buy all manner of Italian goodies. There are some great shops adjacent to the Palafiori which acts as race HQ for the day. We then enjoy a stroll, coffee and some harmless window shopping in the sunshine before lunch, the main event of the day.

I often choose a restaurant near the port where there are a veritable gaggle of good ones. This time I picked what is allegedly Sanremo’s finest just past the race finish. We were not disappointed and particularly enjoyed having the restaurant to ourselves. Mum and son run front of house while Dad cooks using local produce, largely fish, with the fruit and vegetables coming from his market garden. We chose the menu of the day which needed only a slight tweak to accommodate my dietary requirements.

Replete we headed back to race HQ to watch events unfold along the coast road. The views from the race helicopter were a fabulous advertisement for the Italian Riviera.

We first visited Sanremo in 2006 when it featured in the final stage of the long gone Tour of the Med. We watched the race from a pinch point on the Cipressa. The following month we stood on the finish line of Milano Sanremo, listened to the commentary, and saw Pippo Pozzato win. This was in the days before the organisers erected those lovely big screens at the finish.

I’ve been in Sanremo every year since to watch the race aside from 2011 (friend’s 60th birthday party) and 2017 (beloved’s broken leg). Generally, the weather’s been fine, aside from 2014 when it was cold, wet and snowy. Once again, it’s great fun watching the professional peloton riding on roads we have ridden on and know well. I can almost feel myself pedalling along with them – I wish!

There was a full house in the press room but we’d saved our seats early on. It wasn’t quite but almost beach towels on sunbeds! There’s always much discussion as to who’s going to win and the room seemed to be equally split between Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and the defending champion, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). I really don’t mind who wins as long as it’s an exciting race.

The race winds up as it reaches the final two climbs, the Cipressa and Poggio. Riders stop casually chatting and everyone’s on high alert, favourites to the fore, keen not to miss what might be the winning break. The traditional early break comprised of riders from ProConti teams gets reeled in, riders launch attacks and counter-attacks, everyone looks around nervously, the crowds of spectators along the route grow thicker and deeper, some are even waving flares.

The bunch starts to thin out as soon as the peloton drives up the Cipressa. All back together with 25km to go, Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli) was last man standing from the bunch of early escapees. Just 5km later and Niccolo Bonifazio (Direct Energie) sucks the wheel of a motorbike on the descent of the Cipressa and builds a slim advantage but he’s back in the pack well back before the climb of the Poggio. Now we’re into the last 10km and the peloton is flying.

The royal blue clad Quick Step team set the pace for the charge up the Poggio but their sprinter is well back so their efforts must be for Alaphilippe who recently won Strade Bianche. The Quick-Steppers are thinning out the bunch on the  Poggio, now it’s an EF-Drapac Cannondale rider, probably Simon Clarke, launching himself from the pack. Alaphilippe counters with 6km to go and goes straight past Clarke. Could this be the decisive move?

A whole host of favourites follow Alaphilippe’s wheel. The winner will come from this group. An Italian rider takes a flyer. Are we going to have another Italian winner after Nibali? Now they’re all eyeing one another as they hit the finishing straight on Via Roma. Some riders launch their sprints too early, but Alaphilippe times his burst for the line perfectly ahead of  Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) and former winner (2017) Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky). Alaphilippe falls into the arms of his soigneur, Yanky Germano, and we have tears of joy, tears of relief, and prosecco sprayed everywhere from the podium.

We had rather a long wait for the still-emotional winner who arrived at his press conference after a lengthy session in doping control, where he confirmed:

I came with the goal of winning this race. I’m just as proud of my win as I am of the work of my team today. What they’ve done for me is absolutely exceptional. I rode for the victory at the end bearing their dedication in mind. I recovered in the downhill after I sped up on the Poggio but I still thought it would be complicated to win considering the quality of the riders I was away with. I made a little effort to close the gap on Matteo Trentin as I knew he was very fast. Then I stayed calm and remained next to Peter Sagan. When Matej Mohoric launched the sprint, I knew I had to take his wheel straight away. Had he taken 20 metres, it would have been game over. I capped it off the nicest way I could. It’s pure joy.

Indeed, it was pure joy! We’d had a fantastic day out and topped it off at home with a small yet lavish supper with some of our Italian goodies. We’ll be doing it all again next week-end when we’re off to Turin.