Visit to Musée national du Sport, Nice

To be honest, we’d long intended to visit this museum but, despite it being close to OGC Nice’s Allianz stadium, we never seemed to find the time to pop in. This was finally rectified last November, when we were invited by friends to attend the presentation of some new local bike races for elite and amateur athletes held at the museum. This afforded us the opportunity to wander around enjoying the exhibits pretty much on our lonesomes.

Naturally, I did my research beforehand not appreciating that it is the national sports museum. First established in Paris in 1922 by the French war minister – how appropriate! By the 1940s, the museum had fallen into disrepair and was re-established by the secretary of state for youth and sports in 1963. Architect Roger Taillibert created the galleries inside the Parc des Princes stadium in 1972. The museum was relocated to 93 Avenue de France (13th arrondissement) from 2008 to 2013, until its move to Nice on 27 June, 2014.

Today, the museum contains more than 100,000 items documenting different sports and sporting achievements from 16th century to the present day, including a fine collection on the history of the modern Olympic Games from 1896. The collections include sports equipment, paintings, sculptures, posters, drawings, stamps, advertising, books and magazines, plus interactive displays.

The museum has four permanent exhibition areas:-

1. Individual sports – where human limits have been pushed to the limit: swimming, cycling, athletics, skiing, horse riding, etc. featuring amazing and unique works such as: 1st speed record bike, outfits of great champions and examples of the first sports’ equipment (bikes, skis, kayak, etc …)

2. The one-on-one challenge – where athletes duel one another and only one can be declared the winner! This area features unique pieces such as Marcel Cerdan’s shorts and boxing gloves, equipment from great judokas, tennis players etc

3. The collective challenge – focuses on team sports and particularly showcases those years where France won the Football World Cup. There’s also a large collection of jerseys from famous athletes, not just French ones, such as Lionel Messi and Michael Jordan.

4. Finally, those challenges “Beyond Limits”   – bear witness to the most extraordinary of human exploits! Such as crossing the desert by bike, windsurfing across an ocean, or speed records in motor sports. This is where you can drive an F1 car at the Monaco Grand Prix using the on-site simulator.

Of course, there are also rotating temporary exhibitions. Coincidentally and very appropriately, at the time of our visit, the temporary exhibition was celebrating the centenary of the winner’s jersey, le maillot jaune, of the Tour de France.

The exhibition designed by the museum in collaboration with Amaury Sport Organization, organiser of the Tour de France, traced the jersey’s many adventures, including those where it was draped across the shoulders of the sports’ greatest champions and more modest riders.

The jersey’s first appearance was in 1919, the 13th edition of the Tour de France, and has long since become the Tour’s universal emblem. The exhibition reminded us that if the yellow jersey is synonymous with glory, it is also permeated with the sweat, and sometimes the tears, of a long succession of exploits, disillusions and even tragedies. From Eugène Christophe, the first to wear this badge of honour, to Eddy Merckx, absolute record holder who spent more than three months of his life in yellow.

More than 170 objects and numerous immersive and interactive devices (bicycle simulator, virtual reality headsets, holograms, family games, etc.) paid tribute to this legendary jersey which, since its creation, has made the rider stand out from the others in the peloton, weaving its magic and confering greatness.

If, like me, you’re a sports’ fan, this museum is well worth a visit! Of course, it’s best combined with a trip to watch my beloved OGC Nice.

Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins

In yesterday’s post about our recent trip to Mougins, I wrote we couldn’t recall the last time we’d visited. We frequently ride past the village, but it was only once I’d looked into the “newish” museum, the Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM), and discovered it opened in June 2011, I realised it was over 10 years since our last trip there!

MACM displays a private collection of around seven hundred two-thousand-year-old Roman, Greek and Egyptian antiquities which are shown alongside a collection of modern and contemporary art with a classical subject matter. Artists with classical works in the museum include Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Degas, Dalí, Dufy, Chagall, Derain, Lautrec, Yves Klein, Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, Antony Gormley, Arman. As you know, from some of my other posts, many of these have a strong connection with the French Riviera. This museum marked an historic first in displaying ancient antiquities alongside modern artworks affording visitors the opportunity to observe the influence of the classics in the artists’ work.

This stunning museum was established (and funded) by Christian Levett (a British hedge-fund manager and self­confessed compulsive collector) together with museum director Mark Merrony, (editor of the archaeological journal Minerva, now also owned by Levett). The contents of the museum reflect, naturally enough, the tastes of its owner, yet they are also a singularly appropriate range for the place and times. Classical and Egyptian antiquities have been one of the prime inspiration of European arts for centuries, down to Picasso and beyond.

Levett has strong connections with Mougins, where he owns two of its most famous restaurants, La Place des Mougins and L’Amandier, both under the direction of chef Denis Fétisson (previously of the Michelin two-star Le Cheval Blanc in Courchevel). No doubt too he owns some spectacular property porn close by the village.

Among its many busts and statues the MACM collection initially included the Cobham Hall Hadrian, bought at Christie’s for US$900,000 in 2008, but this was recent sold to fund further acquisitions. In addition, there are vases, glassware, jewellery and coins, and an array described as the world’s largest private collection of ancient armour.

Almost all of the collection is on show, packed into a plain medieval townhouse refurbished by the locally based architect David Price. The exhibits are lit against a dark background, and closely spaced, with ranks of busts confronting visitors as they enter. As the glass lift and stairs take up a quarter of the total floor area, they too are used as exhibition spaces. Displays are lightly themed, the Egyptian objects arranged in a tomb-like basement called the Crypt. The modern works are dotted about the ancient objects to create striking contrasts and parallels.

The interior of the museum, in contrast with the rugged stone exterior, is pristine-like. Of course, a personal collection made into a museum is a recurring theme in major western cities – the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston, the Frick in New York, the Soane and the Wallace Collection in London. This is not on the same level, nor does it pretend to be, but it still has the appeal of a private hoard made public.

The MACM is yet another addition to the the Côte d’Azur art trail, where artists’ discovery of the delights of the region has been honoured with permanent structures. Where once Parisian painters and sculptors might have happened on a place as a spot for a weekend trip, or to rent a cheap studio for a few months, now there are museums and monuments. In Cagnes sur Mer there is Renoir’s house and museum. In, Antibes there is the Picasso museum. In Vence you’ll find Matisse’s Rosaire chapel. Further afield, on the edge of Nice, are museums dedicated to Chagall and Matisse. In Mougins itself, arranged in a vertical series of rooms, is a small photography museum, centred on a series of portraits of Picasso. My favourite is probably the Fondation Maeght at Saint-Paul de Vence, with its collection of sculptures and paintings by artists including Calder, Miro, Chagall and, especially, Giacometti.

So, if like me you’re an art-lover, this is another must-see exhibition.

 

Trip to Mougins

Mougins is without doubt one of the loveliest places to visit on the French Riviera. Only 15 minutes by car from Cannes, this charming medieval village is set among pines, olives and cyprus trees, and surrounded by forests.

As soon as you arrive, the charm of Mougin’s narrow streets, bordered by colourful flowers and superb ancient houses starts to seduce you. Picturesque doorways (and doors) with each stone carefully restored, beautifully designed window-frames…… there are delightful details everywhere you look plus, until the end of September, an open air exhibition of animal scupltures by Davide Rivalta, scattered thoughtfully throughout!

Like many of the medieval villages around here, Mougins had been occupied since the pre-Roman period before being eventually absorbed into the spread of the Roman Empire. In 11th century the Count of Antibes gave the Mougins hillside to the Monks of Saint Honorat (from the nearby Îles de Lerins just off the coast of Cannes) who continued to administer the village until the French Revolution. During this period, Mougins was a fortified village surrounded by ramparts. Parts of its medieval city wall still exist as well as one of the three original ancient gate towers (Porte Sarrazine). Viewed from the air, the village resembles a snail, its inner core being the earliest dwellings which date from 11-15th centuries.

On the outskirts of the village, large luxurious properties (aka property porn) hide behind magnificent Mediterranean parks and gardens. Once we’d parked the car, we started our stroll in Place des Patriots, with a statue of Commandant Lamy, one of the village’s famous sons who gave his name to the capital of Tchad, “Fort Lamy,” now “N’djamena”. We stopped to admire the view, which spreads from the Esterel hills to the bay of Cannes and includes the Grasse countryside and the Mercantour hills.

Heading past the various art works, including two magnificent lions and a massive head of Picasso, past the newish Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins – more of which tomorrow –  we head up the hill past the Tourist Office (formerly Picasso’s studio) and the old public wash house (Lavoir) built in 1894, now an art gallery. On the ramparts, across the way, is the former municipal slaughterhouse. The square itself is constructed on what was once Sainte-Anne’s cemetery with a chapel of the same name, which has since been destroyed.

We headed towards the fountain that marks the intersection of avenues de la Victoire and du Commandant Lamy. On the left, restaurant “Au Rendez-vous de Mougins” (a former Hôtel de France) was readying itself for re-opening on 2 June. The restaurant’s first floor contains a room with vaulted ceilings which served as the 15th century court room because a 1438 charter stipulated that the village’s inhabitants would be tried in their own village. On the right, next to the restaurant “Le Bistrot” is the old post office. The building first served as a stable for the olive mill’s horses. The last olives were pressed in 1918 and the site was then converted into a house, whose most famous occupant was Christian Dior.

At the far end of the square, there’s the Town Hall, built in 1618 as the chapel of the White Penitents, it has been used for weddings and by the city council since 1954. It also houses the Espace Culturel and Gottlob Museum., which hosts exhibitions throughout the year. From there, we could easily see the facade of number 41 decorated by the talented painter and portraitist Paul Daemen, who spent his last years in Mougins.

At the corner of rue du Badier and rue des Migraniers is the former home and ceramics workshop of Maurice Gottlob, a rural policeman and well-known regional artist. We followed the wall round to the place du Lieutenant Isnard where the distilleries were once located.  We took a left turn onto the rue des Isnardons, which is flanked on its west side by the cultural centre “Le Vaste Horizon.”

This was where Picasso pitched up one fine morning in 1936 and fell in love with Mougins. Paul Eluard, Jean Cocteau, Man Ray and Rosemonde Gérard soon followed his example, and together they shaped the future of artistic expression. Allegedly, Picasso painted every wall of his room, only to face the wrath of the hotel owner who made the unknown painter cover over his work with white paint the next day. This didn’t discourage Picasso, who much later settled permanently in Mougins, next to the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Vie, where he lived out his last days.

Heading back on ourselves, we take a street incorporated into the fortifications that surround the village, admiring the many art galleries as we once more cross the place du Lieutenant Isnard and rue du Colonel Roustan. During the Middle Ages, this was the end of the route from nearby Grasse, later named after Colonel Roustan, a Mougins hero who lived in the “Santa-Lucia” villa. This villa was also home to such celebrities as Roland Petit, Zizi Jeanmaire, Yves Saint-Laurent and Paul Anka. We then wend our way upwards to place des Mûriers, walking beside the rempart’s remains and watchman’s round tower to reach yet another square.

Number 36, the house where Commandant Lamy was born. there’s an artist’s studio next door. To the right, on the rue du Moulin, is the old oil mill, which was once called the “Moulin Isnard.” It was later converted into a restaurant by the master chef Roger Vergé, latterly of Moulin des Mougins. The decorator Roger Vivier, who also designed the coronation shoes worn by Queen Elizabeth II, oversaw the restorations.

Further along, on the placette de l’Église, we found the only entrance to the village, which is still standing today, Porte Sarrazine. The adjoining house, which I’d previously visited, is now a photography museum, largely thanks to the donations of André Villers. Temporary exhibitions are shown on the first floor. On the second floor, there’s a permanent collection of antique photography equipment, as well as photographs taken of Mougins in 1900. The third floor houses a collection of photographs of Picasso taken by the great contemporary photographers J.-H. Lartigue, R. Doisneau, E. Quinn, D.D. Duncan, S. Roth, L. Clergue, Otero, Denise Colomb, and of course André Villers.

Next up is the church of Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur, the oldest part of which was probably the former lordships’ chapel of Sainte-Marie. It was built in three phases, starting in 11th century and finishing at the beginning of 19th century. The nearby narrow street once housed many artisans including, famously, the goldsmith Bernardin Bareste. In 1666, he was the only craftsman of his kind in the region and made gold coins for the abbey of Lérins.

All too soon we were back at the car after a splendid trip down memory lane. We couldn’t remember the last time we’d visited but it certainly hadn’t been so blissfully empty!

Trip to Biot

We’ve been much enjoying pottering about in our own back garden, so to speak, and taking the time to visit places we regularly cycle past but haven’t visited for a while. One such place is Biot.

Founded by Celts, invaded by Romans, taken over by pirates, ruled by medieval knights and sacked by the Black Plague: the old town of Biot has a rich history spanning over 2,000 years. Today, Biot is a charming town famous for its glassblowing, ceramics and pottery, as well as its shady cafes, jumble of medieval buildings and pretty hilltop views across the French Riviera. The village has the feel of an artist’s colony, with lots of open workshops where you can go in and watch artists create their pieces, or just stroll through cobbled streets framed by stone archways giving glimpses of the sea.

Biot is one of the Côte d’Azur’s more charming villages.  Nowere near as famous as the towns of Antibes, Cap Ferrat and Saint-Paul de Vence, this little settlement nevertheless holds its own in terms of interest, even in this very beautiful corner of France.  It’s well worth a visit to enjoy its centuries-old winding streets and rustic beauty.

Like many small towns in the region, as mentioned above, it has a long and turbulent history. Originally home to Celtic tribes, followed by Roman colonists.  The first records of Biot are Medieval when the town fell under the control of the Knights Templar between 11th and 14th centuries.

The rule of the knights ended in 1308 when the town passed into the hands of the Knights of the Order of Malta, as a direct result of the Papal order to disposess the Templars of all their wealth.  Then the plague ravaged Biot until it was all but destroyed in 1387 by soldiers hunting for the pirates and bandits taking refuge in the town.

In 1470, King René decided to repopulate Biot with 50 families from Liguria, the area of Italy which today shares a border with France.  In modern times, Biot has seen an improvement in its fortunes thanks to the wealth that tourism has brought to this area.

As well as the beauty of its cobbled streets, another reason to visit Biot is the museum dedicated to Fernand Léger, located on the outskirts of town. Designed by the architect André Svetchine, the building that houses the Fernand Léger National Museum is built on a site purchased by the artist some time before his death. Its monumental size is matched only by the value of the works displayed inside. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, ceramics: the museum’s collection invites visitors to immerse themselves in the works of Léger, to better understand the work of this  20th century avant-garde pioneer.

If that wasn’t reason enough to visit. Biot is also famous for ceramics and glass, and the main street, Rue Saint-Sebastien, is a good place to browse the individual shops selling local products.  There is a small museum dedicated to local crafts, the Musée d’Histoire et de Céramique Biotoises, on the same street, in the restored former chapel of the Confraternity of the Pénitents Blancs. While the town owns the building, an association oversees the collections on display. These include both heritage items that retrace the history of the village and precious works that bear witness to a time when the pottery industry flourished in Biot.

Also, on the approach to the town you’ll find a number of glassworks, including La Verrerie de Biot opened in 1956 by Éloi Monod, an engineer and ceramist who graduated from the École de Sèvres. He longed to rediscover the secrets of traditional glassmaking. He loved both the functional aspect and the charm of the early ceramics and glassware that he discovered in the region, most notably at the Poterie Provençale ceramics workshop run by René Augé-Laribé, a man who became his father-in-law. Colourful and filled with bubbles, his first line of everyday items, glasses, bottles and jars was a resounding success.

Since the second half of 20th century, hand-blown glass has become the village’s new raison d’être. This delicate technique is used by the greatest master glassmakers to create majestic pieces, both household objects and works of art. There are now several glassworks in Biot demonstrating the subtlety of the glass arts, each with their own unique creations reflecting their style. All are well-worth a visit. Indeed, you could happily while away a day here and enjoy either lunch or dinner or both in some of its excellent restaurants and cafes.

Trip to Eze village

We’ve recently been enjoying revisiting some of our favourite local villages. I first visited Eze, both the resort beside the sea (Eze sur Mer) and its ancient perched village, with a French girlfriend. New to the area, every Thursday, we would gird our loins and go for a hike. One sunny spring day, we decided to better investigate both Ezes using the Le Chemin de Nietzsche, which connects the two.

The route is named after the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who lived in the area in the 1880s. The environment had a profound and beneficial effect on him. He later recalled:

I slept well, I laughed a lot, and I found a marvelous vigour and patience.

He also found the inspiration for the third part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, much of which was composed in his head (so the story goes) while hiking the steep trail every day from the seaside to the medieval village. The route, once a goat path, is now known officially as Le Chemin de Nietzsche.

The start of the path down is well-marked, just below the entrance to the medieval perched village. Winding down the corniche and through a forested ravine, the trail lends itself naturally to quiet contemplation as the gravel path crunches beneath your feet. The views are spectacular. The path isn’t difficult but stout walking shoes are advisable. Despite the well-built and maintained stairs, there are also a few spots where the gravel is slippery. It took us about 40 minutes to reach the train station of Eze sur Mer and its thin strip of pebble beach which provides just enough room for a few seaside restaurants on the turquoise edge of the Mediterranean. We had a quick picnic lunch before climbing back up, which took us around an hour.

My beloved and I frequently ride past both villages but haven’t visited either for some time, particularly the medieval perched village – tricky to navigate with cleated shoes and bike! It’s perched in the hills between Nice and Monaco – closer to the latter – and like a phoenix’s nest rises 427 metres (1,401 feet) above the peninsula of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. This very mythical bird is depicted on the Eze coat of arms along with the motto:

Isis Moriendo Renascor (When dying, I am reborn).

This time we arrived by car and easily parked outside the village, where there was a small but lively Sunday market.  We set forth to see dizzying views of the Mediterranean and a town as picturesque as a Walt Disney cartoon castle. No coincidence as Disney enjoyed visiting Eze and creating sketches for his future fairy-tale castles. But, as with all these medieval villages perchées, its history goes way back.

The village owes its name to the Egyptian goddess, Isis, in whose name the ancient Phoenicians, who colonised this area, consecrated their temple. Isis is one of the greatest goddesses, an Egyptian ideal of femininity and motherhood. She was a patron of the slaves and oppressed, but also listened to the prayers of the rich and famous – a veritable universal panacea!

Eze

It’s believed man first set foot here in 19-20th centuries B.C. Later, like everywhere else it was owned by the Romans and subsequently the Moors, though the town was mainly built under the reign of the Roman emperors Augustus and Flavius.

By 1383, Eze was controlled by the Savoy dynasty which secured the town with new fortifications. During the next few centuries, Eze survived numerous invasions with ownership passing from the French to the Turks in the mid-16th century. In 1706, Louis XIV completely destroyed its fortress walls during the Spanish Wars. Finally, in 1860,  Eze officially became part of France.

The village is first mentioned in 4th century records as “ab Avisione”. Over the centuries its name took many different forms: Esa, Eza, Isia, Isie. Only once the territory was under the control of the House of Savoy, did it acquire its current name.

Eze

Before venturing into the labyrinth of Eze’s narrow streets, you pass through the double 14th century fortress gates. This is the only entrance to the old city and the only part of the fortress that was preserved after Louis XIV’s attack in the early 18th century.

These picturesque streets, a veritable cobweb, are lined with lovely handicraft shops, art galleries and perfume boutiques. They lead to the village’s highest point, where there’s another local landmark, an exotic garden built in 1949 on the ruins of an ancient castle. Its main attraction is a 13 metre (43 feet) cactus, which must weigh a ton. This giant plant overshadows the less colourful agaves and succulents but doesn’t detract from the magnificent view, a beautiful panorama of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and the coast.

The oldest building in Eze is the Genovese-styled Church of the White Penitents or the Church of the Holy Cross, built in 1306, the White Brotherhood helped the unfortunates, including lepers. Its other church is in the main square, the 18th century Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Notre Dame de l’Assomption). According to legend, this is where the Phoenicians built their Isis temple.

The ancient four hundred year old Château Eza, formerly owned by Swedish royalty, is located in the heart of the village and is now a small, boutique 5* hotel with a Michelin starred restaurant. But it’s not the village’s only star. There’s also the Château de la Chèvre d’Or that’s migrated from being a restaurant into another small 5* hotel and Michelin starred restaurant. Weve not eaten at either, something we should remedy.

It was so lovely wandering around in the warm sunshine with only a few locals for company. We’re definitely trying to make the most of this situation while it lasts.

Trip to Gourdon

Ascension Day is a French Bank Holiday and this year the weather was glorious, tempting us to take time out. We don’t usually “take” these days off but my beloved decided we should go out for a picnic. This rather caught me on the hop, some notice would’ve been appreciated. Still I managed to cobble together something acceptable, packed it in the wicker hamper and small cooler bag and we set off, destination Gourdon.

Gourdon is yet another of the many ancient perched villages that dot the Cote d’Azur hinterland. It’s a favourite destination for cyclists who often stop at one of its two cafes outside the village to slake their thirst. Adjacent to the village is a large park which is very popular with picnickers. That Thursday was no exception and there were plenty of groups taking shade under the trees who’d laid out and were enjoying their bountifull picnics.

Because of its strategic geographical situation, on a rocky peak, at an altitude of  760 metres (2,500 ft), overlooking the Vallée du Loup, the village served for many centuries as a strong-hold. Numerous traces of conquering folk bear witness to this: oppidums, Roman roads and fortifications. But despite the many invasions, Gourdon has stood the test of time and remains a most popular place to visit. Its incomparable panorama extends over 80 kilometres (50 miles) of the Côte d’Azur, from Nice to Théoule. Only ten kilometres as the crow flies from the Mediterranean, Gourdon provides a wonderful viewing platform.

The main draws in Gourdon, aside from its spectacular views, are two listed 12th century Romanesque churches. The Chapel of Saint Pons with its splendid medieval garden and the Church of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of Gourdon. But most come to see the Chateau, which dates back to 9th century, and its splendid gardens, ownership of which has changed hands frequently through the ages.

The chateau is built on the western side of the village, looking down over Gourdon. It is currently closed while undergoing extensive renovation. It has imposing dimensions with its square courtyard, three towers and a keep, the great wall providing a rampart to the north, looking towards the Pré-du-Lac – Gréolières road. The chateau is now a listed Historical Monument.

In 12th century, the counts of Provence built a new stronghold on the foundations of the original 9th century fortress while they organised the defense of their border between the county of Ventimiglia and the county of Provence. “Gordon” became “Gourdon”: fortified site on the rocky slope.

The seigneury of Gourdon belonged to the counts of Provence and from 1235 successively to the family of Grasse, Lord of the Bar, passing to Louis de Villeneuve in 1469. The castle then fell to Bourillon d’Aspremont and thereafter to Louis de Lombard in 1598 who inherited the title of Marquis de Montauroux, following his marriage in 1672. Louis de Lombard remodelled the castle whose arcades and first floor were built in 1610 in the spirit of the arcades of the Place des Vosges in Paris. The second floor was added in 1653 by Francois de Lombard.

During thehe French Revolution, John Paul I of Lombard’s liberal ideas saved his castle from devastation, though it lost one of its four towers and dungeon. John Paul II of Lombard was the last of his line, and bequeathed the castle to his nephew the Marquis of Villeneuve-Bargemon whose heirs sold the house in 1918 to an American, Miss Noris, who opened it as a museum in 1938. An American citizen, she became Lord of Gourdon until her death.

The chateau was finally opened to the public in 1950, becoming listed in 1972 after its collections were put on display. It has since changed hands a number of times and in 2015 was closed to the public while much needed renovations take place.

Its garden, which I was fortunate to visit in the past, is beautiful and shaded in summer by tall linden trees. It offers a delightful bower of foliage from which one has a stunning view of the panorama below. The main terrace was designed by Andre Le Notre, landscape gardener to Louis XIV, who designed the gardens at the château of Versailles. There’s a magnificent topiary garden in boxwood clipped into fascinating shapes  and a large Apothecary’s Garden devoted to herbal plants used both for medicinal purposes and for seasoning food.

 

One from the vaults: Postcard from Piedmont

I’m still dipping into my archives for those posts which feature trips to the Giro d’Italia. This one’s from the more recent May 2017 edition.

This past week-end, we went back to Italy to watch a couple more stages of 100th Giro d’Italia and deliver some of my brownies and vegan banana bread to a few of the teams. Storms were forecast on Friday and my beloved was keen to finish off some work before we left for stage 13’s finish in Tortona. A place we’ve often seen sign-posted on the motorway but have never visited.

My beloved is a terrible passenger seat driver (there’s no back seat in the Smart) which is why I typically allow him to drive. However he currently finds driving my car too painful, so I’m in the driving seat. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from telling me how to drive, forever startling me with shouts of “watch out he’s braking” or “get over, he’s coming out”. I’m startled because I’ve been concentrating on the job in hand. Yes, I’d spotted the red brake lights and no the lorry’s not coming out, merely signalling his intention to do so once I’ve passed. Frankly, if he doesn’t shut up he’s going to suffer the same fate as his missing crutch!

Sadly we arrived too late to get into Tortona to watch the finish. However what we could see as we drove around it and onto our B&B for the night looked promising. We were staying in a small farming community not far from the finish of Friday’s stage and the start of Saturday’s. Our studio room was a beautiful hayloft conversion and our hostess had thought of everything. It was charming. Furthermore, the bed was comfortable, the towels were where they should be – in the bathroom rather than artfully piled on the bed, a pet peeve of mine. She’d even left us aperos and nibbles which we enjoyed while watching the end of the stage. Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) picked up his fourth stage win, not bad for his maiden Grand Tour!

We decided to eat dinner in the only restaurant in town, a bustling family one which was serving an all you can eat special Giro menu. My beloved could only manage one pizza! Mind you before that he had some delicious stuffed farinata and finished with strawberries and ice cream. I blew the budget with a mixed salad and marinara pizza that I struggled to finish for Euros 7. This was an uncharacteristically cheap night!

Back at base, the WiFi was excellent but I soon drifted off to sleep. We were woken at 8 o’clock by the nearby church bells and enjoyed a copious breakfast before heading to Castellania, former home and final resting place of Italian cycling god Fausto Coppi. We were the wrong side of the village to get to the PPO without which we couldn’t get to the press parking. We ditched the car, grabbed some of the cakes and started walking the 3km to the village. This was to be my beloved’s longest walk for three months and he managed just fine.

According to the Giro road book, the buses were parking some 1500m from the start, which meant I was looking at walking another 3km. Once we reached the village, I couldn’t see any signs and asked one of the many Giro staff where the buses were parked. He told me 10km away in Tortona. I thought he was joking, he wasn’t. I was beginning to regret having lugged some of the cakes with me.

Luck was on my side. I bumped into Laura Meseguer, one of the hardest working journalists I know and certainly one of the nicest, and prettiest. She explained that the Eurosport crew were just about to head to the buses and she’d be happy to take my cakes and distribute them for me. She noted down the names of the lucky recipients, took the cakes and shot off.

The crowds were suitably large, I admired the various homages to the Coppi bros, while my beloved took photos and we lunched on delicious home-made focaccia before trekking 3km back to the car. With a stage of only 130km, we stood no chance of making the finish before the riders. We stopped en route to fill up the car, and us, and watched the last 45km on the television. The result was unexpected with the current race leader Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) getting the better of race favourite Nairo Quintana (Movistar) on a summit finish.

We drove to our next B&B, not too far from the finish, in a leafy suburb. It was yet another house where empty nesters had turned their excess space into guest accommodation.  We settled in before heading back out in search of dinner. To be honest, it didn’t looking promising. There were loads of Bars and Gelaterias, but no restaurants. Finally we spotted a hotel restaurant advertising Tex-Mex Pizzas. Concerned that this might be a fusion step too far, we nevertheless ventured inside to discover a busy, bustling family restaurant thankfully serving Pizzas and Tex Mex.

Our dinner was interrupted twice by my car alarm going off. No reason why, but I’m even more convinced this was the cause of my recent flat battery. Replete with spicy Tex-Mex, we dove back to our overnight stay and a good night’s sleep. We breakfasted early and headed to the start in nearby Valdengo. Bizarrely, the stage started close by the town’s churchyard with a number of the buses parking up in its car park. I had the rest of my cakes to deliver and wanted to catch up with Trek-Segafredo’s youngster Mads Pedersen.

Mission accomplished, the peloton headed in one direction  – and a mad dash stage won by Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) – and we pointed the car in the direction of home. As we drove towards the motorway junction, my beloved suggested we stopped for lunch. We spotted a sign-post for a restaurant off the main road. It looked fairly unprepossessing but there were a number of large expensive cars parked outside. Inside we found my default white linen tablecloths and napkins and luckily a vacant table for two. We enjoyed a magnificent seafood lunch and set off with smiles on our faces as we sped back to our home in France. We’d had an excellent week-end in Piedmont, a place we should visit more often. The countryside is charming, quieter but no less picturesque than Tuscany, plus its hotels and restaurants represent great value.

Trip to Tourrettes sur Loup

We’ve previously visited, La Colle sur Loup, Saint-Paul de Vence, Vence and our next stop is Tourrettes sur Loup, a village we regularly ride through. It has a large natural spring where we can fill our bidons (drinks bottles). Typically, in summer we’ll ride up there by taking the cooler and shadier Vallon Rouge via Pont sur Loup. In spring and autumn we’re more likely to take the longer route via Vence.

This pretty medieval perched village, about 14 km (9 miles) from the coast, situated between Nice and Cannes, is very popular with many Europeans, including the British. Like many along the coast, it has grown up on a rocky outcrop surrounded by superb lush landscapes, where prickly pears grow naturally. With its tall houses built into its ramparts, Tourrettes sur Loup seems to conquer all beneath it.

The best way to discover the village is by wandering around its pretty, narrow streets and its vaulted passage-ways, taking in the tastefully restored stone facades, and climbing some of the stepped passages, bordered with pretty flower baskets. In the “Grand’ Rue”, the heart of the historic centre of the village, there are more than 30 artists’ workshops, galleries and crafts workshops galleries, overlooked by the Chateau de Villeneuve (15th cent) and its superb small square.

Unsurprisingly, Tourrettes sur Loup has been a popular hangout for many years, it’s rich in prehistoric sites from the Middle Palaeolithic and has even yielded some Neanderthal remains. Traces of the last nomadic hunters (Epipaleolithic and Mesolithic, between 11,000 and 6,000 BC) have also been identified at nearby Courmettes – famous for its goats’ cheeses.

Like many of the villages perchés, Tourrettes has experienced turbulent times. A tribe of Celtic Ligurians settled here at the beginning of 9th century B.C.. Later in 262 B.C. the Romans came to occupy turres altea (the observation point) and stayed until 476 A.D., the start of 500 years of invasions. The village was invaded by all the barbarian tribes: Visigoths, Huns, Franks and Lombards until the Saracens fortified the place and occupied it until 972. It was only after a conflict with the House of Duras and the Count of Provence that Marie of Brittany, mother of Louis II of Provence, gave Tourrettes-lès-Vence (previously in the hands of the Grimaldis) to Guichard de Villeneuve in 1387 and thus it remained in that family until the French Revolution.

Antoine Villeneuve had the present chateau built in 1437 which encompassed the old 11th century belfry. The church of the same period (12th c.) was rebuilt in 16th century, renovated in the 19th and currently undergoing further repairs. From 1463 onwards Tourrettes suffered innumerable misfortunes: the black plague wreaked havoc for 70 years, followed by the Wars of Religion, the War between Austria and England (1744-1748), the War of the Spanish Sucession and the French Revolution during which the last of the Villeneuves fled the chateau through an underground passage only to be recognised and put to death outside Ventimiglia.

The village was called Tourrettes-lès-Vence until the French Revolution. In 1894 it was renamed Tourrettes-sur-Loup because the Loup river delineates the commune and in order for it not to be confused with Tourrettes-Levens. The derivation of the name Loup comes from the fact that this valley was previously inhabited by wolves. This also lies behind the name of the village Villeneuve-Loubet since loubet is wolf cub in provençal.

On the hills surrounding Tourrettes there are terraces where the cultivation of vines, wheat and beans used to take place as well as that of the orange trees used for the manufacture of perfumes. Now these have been replaced by aloe vera cacti, fig and pine trees. However there are still olive groves, a very important industry during 19th century, and violets – which have given Tourrettes the name of  Village of Violets.

Today Tourrettes remains a place where artists of all persuasions congregate, particularly those from the world of French film.

Trip to Musée National Henri Matisse, Nice

The Musée Matisse is part of a vast heritage complex in Cimiez that includes the Roman arenas and ruins, a garden with hundred-years old olive trees, as well as the Cimiez monastery.

Henri Matisse (1869 to 1954) is considered by many to be the most outstanding representative of Fauvism, a style which emphasises painterly qualities and strong colour over the representational values of Impressionism. Though, before this, he painted in many different styles. He was a noted friend and peer of Pablo Picasso. From 1917 until his death, except for a five-year break when he lived in nearby Vence, Matisse lived in Nice, creating his works in a studio located in the “Yellow House” in the Cours Saleya, in Nice’s Old Town.

Matisse first stayed in the building which now houses the 4* Hotel Beau Rivage, when he came to Nice to cure his bronchitis. Unfortunately, it rained for the whole month, so he painted the interior of his room over and over again. On the final day the sun came out and, when he saw the light, he was hooked. He stayed here until he died of a heart attack. He is buried with his wife in the Cimiez cemetery, near his eponymous museum.

The Musée Matisse was inaugurated in 1963 on the second floor of 17th century Villa des Arènes (formerly the Palais de Gubernatis – after the first owner), to exhibit the artist’s and his heirs’ gifts to the City of Nice. It is one of the largest collections of the French artist’s works.

In 1989, the Archeological Museum, which previously shared the same building, moved out to its own dedicated building to facilitate a remodeling of the museum. Architect Jean-François Bodin rethought the interior spaces of the old Genovese villa and designed the expansion to accommodate a vast foyer, an auditorium and a bookshop. The new building was inaugurated in 1993. An educational workshop was added in 2002, and a design office in 2003.

In 2013, the ceramic La Piscine, a gift from Claude and Barbara Duthuit (Matisse’s grand-son and wife) , was installed in a dedicated room, on the entrance level. In 2017, another renovation project rethought the way visitors interacted with the space, remodelled the entrance and installed interactive educational devices.

Matisse Museum, Nice

The museum perfectly documents the various stages of the artist’s development. Several dozen paintings; hundreds of drawings, prints, and photographs; sculptures, mostly made of bronze by Matisse himself; as well as books illustrated by the artist and numerous cut-outs, have been gathered together here. In addition, the museum houses everyday objects that belonged to Matisse.

An exhibition about the Chapel of the Rosary (Chapelle du Rosaire) located in Vence and designed by Matisse occupies its own space. The museum has, among other things, a scale model of the chapel, as well as the projects of individual works constituting the chapel’s equipment.

This is yet another of my favourite places in Nice and can easily be combined with a visit to the nearby Musée Marc Chagall.

Trip to Polygone Riviera

I’ve previously written about the Cap 3000 shopping centre in nearby Saint Laurent du Var whose total refurbishment was most likely prompted by plans to build another shopping centre in neighbouring Cagnes sur Mer located along a (formerly) semi-industrial road which links Cagnes to Vence.

This area had long been a soulless wasteland though the Casino was relocated here from Cros-de-Cagnes in 2012. Finally, after much debate and consultation, many tons of concrete were poured to create shops and plazas around the Casino. The result was a Florida-style, open air mall. It was momentarily “the biggest shopping mall in Europe” but that title has since been reclaimed by Cap 3000.

Located in the heart of the French Riviera, readily accessible from the motorway and by public transport, Polygone Riviera is France’s first lifestyle shopping centre in an indoor-outdoor setting, blending contemporary art and leisure. The shopping centre offers the usual brands but includes a signature Designer Gallery™ with a dedicated space for fashion and cultural events.

Jean Mus, a famous landscaper, and José Ignacio Galán Martinez, a renowned architect conceived this centre in the heart of five acres of parkland, divided into four thematic spaces:-

Le Quartier des Saveurs (The Flavour Zone)
This zone provides visitors with a Mediterranean and international atmosphere thanks to over 20 restaurants featuring cuisines from around the world in the “Dining Plaza” and its many terraces.

Le Quartier des Arcades (The Arcades Zone)
This part of the centre is spread out around over a large Italian style square and along an alley of sycamores where it gather together many well-known fashionable stores.

La Promenade des Palmiers (The Palm Tree Promenade)
This area is devoted to hallmark clothing brands like Zara, H&M, Mango but its largest store is Primark which opend in Spring 2016. It was the first Primark in the French Riviera and its seventh store in France.

La Promenade des Palmiers is also the zone dedicated to entertainment with a 10-screen cinema, a gym, the Casino that hosts shows all year long, and dancing fountains, a more modest version of those found in Dubai or Las Vegas.

The Designer Gallery
The landmark store in this area is Printemps, its first branch on the French Riviera, plus other designer stores, and a lounge space for cultural events, in particular contemporary art.

Polygone Riviera - piece by Jean Michel Othoniel

Artworks from 11 French and international artists are exhibited in different areas of Polygone Riviera. There is even an audio guide whereby visitors can take a contemporary art tour of the centre.

However, the most impressive artwork is Le Guetteur, a 22-metre high piece by Sacha Sosno, that stands at the entrance of the site. The same artist provided the Tête Carrée de Nice.

Polygone Riviera-Quartier des Arcades

There’s no doubt that the Polygone Riviera centre has had an impact on Cagnes sur Mer, making it a shopping destination when it wasn’t before. Obviously, it improves the shopping experience of the entire French Riviera.

Polygone Riviera-Promenade des palmiers

However, in the almost five years since it has opened, there has been a significant turnover of both shops and restaurants and there are a number of empty units. The centre, like that of Cap 3000, re-opened on 11 May though obviously certain of both centres’ facilities remain closed for now.

Polygone is owned by Unibali-Rodamco-Westfield, the premier global developer and operator of flagship destinations, and we hope that it can continue to sustain this offering.

All images courtesy of Polygone Riviera