French Riviera: Must See Places

Most of us can only dream about where we’d like to visit next however I would encourage you to do more than just dream. Plan and prepare for when we can all travel again. I’m conscious that many of you only have a few days to spare for my part of the world, so where would I encourage first-time visitors to the French Riviera to go?

These places are in no particular order and can all be easily reached using public transport – train, tram bus.

Nice

Obviously I would have to say start with Nice, an all year round destination, about which I have already written one or two (slight understatement) posts. It overlooks the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. Start with a climb up (or take the small train) to La Colline du Château (Castle Hill) to see what I’m talking about. Once you get to the top, you’ll have panoramic views of the Baie des Anges, the Old Town, Promenade des Anglais and the city’s varied and vibrant architecture. And while a few crumbling walls are all that remain of the namesake castle on the hill, there is a verdant park that’s perfect for an al fresco picnic lunch.

Any sightseeing should include a trip to Nice’s colorful Vieille Ville, or Old Town, which is a delightful maze of narrow streets full of lively restaurants, galleries and shops. There are cafés dotted all around the Old Town’s many squares, so take the opportunity to sit down, coffee (or rosé) in hand, and people-watch the day away. For a more active visit, spend some time strolling along the Promenade du Paillon, the city’s public park and botanical garden that links the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art with the Promenade des Anglais.

Menton

The town of Menton has all the beauty of the better-known coastal villages, but a fraction of the crowds. Its half-dozen beaches are all but empty in the off-season, and boutique-filled alleyways are relatively tourist-free. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, exceptional gardens, and quality Italian cuisine due to its position on the Franco-Italian border, it’s an ideal spot for a day trip. (For an unparalleled Provençal gastronomic experience, however, head to Mirazur, chef Mauro Colagreco’s triple Michelin-starred spot that earned the number one title in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2019.) In February, the town holds a magnificent Lemon Festival, a celebration of spring and a throwback to the town’s past, when it survived principally on citrus production.

Antibes-Juan les Pins

Beyond the megayacht boat porn and picture-perfect beaches, Antibes is a draw for its literary and artistic history. It was at the Villa Saint Louis (now the popular Hotel Belles-Rives) in Juan-les-Pins that F. Scott Fitzgerald took up summer residence with wife Zelda and his daughter Scottie in 1926 and began his work on Tender is the Night. The enclosed mansions and dramatic villas lining the shore that once fascinated Fitzgerald are still very much a part of the landscape, but there’s local charm to be found, too. Stroll around old Antibes, through the Cours Masséna, a Provençal food market, and up to the Musée Picasso, the first museum dedicated to the artist. Formerly the Château Grimaldi, the stronghold was Picasso’s home and workshop in 1946 and remains one of the commanding cultural draws of the resort town.

Cannes

Long before it was synonymous with the International Film Festival and earned its reputation as a playground for the world’s dizzyingly well-heeled, Cannes was a shimmering, seaside destination made for resting and people-watching  – something that still remains true. But it also offers extraordinary views and culture. Climb the winding staircases and pass the pastel-coated homes in Le Suquet, the city’s old quarter, and you’ll end up at the Musée de la Castre, a home for ethnographic art in a medieval fortress overlooking the marina and the Croisette. For restorative beaches and landscapes free of crowds, take a 15-minute ferry ride to two of the Lérins islands off the coast: Ile St. Honorat, known for its working monastery and forest groves, and Ile Ste-Marguerite, the spot for hidden coves and beaches.

Eze

Nestled into craggy cliffs high above the sea, the medieval village of Eze is a delightful step back in time. The well-preserved stone buildings, winding alleyways, 14th-century chapels and dramatic Mediterranean backdrop make this tiny village seem like a movie set. The dramatic views are best earned by taking one of the many hiking trails, like the famous Nietzsche path, that connect the the town and the summit, which sits over 150 metres (1,400 feet) above sea level. At the top, is the town’s medieval fortress, which you may recognize from Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, surrounded by the Jardin Exotique, a desert garden brimming with succulents and exotic florals.

Grasse

Grasse (visit write-up coming soon) is a quiet, pretty medieval village that also holds the distinction of being the world’s perfume capital. While famous perfumeries like Fragonard offer free tours of their factories, the real reason to come here is to take in the near-endless fields of flowers that dominate the area’s hilly landscape. Come August, the town plays host to the Jasmine Festival, a three-day celebration of jasmine, one of the two flowers to have dominated local perfume production (the other is Damascus rose). Grasse is conveniently located between Cannes and Nice, so a quick stop here is worth your while, if only to smell the flowers.

Monaco

Bordered by France on three sides, the petite principality of Monaco is a bastion of glitz and glamour. While it’s typically known as a playground for the ultra rich, those short on cash can still enjoy themselves. Its easy enough to walk around to view stately sights like the Prince’s Palace, Fort Antoine and Monaco Cathedral. Don’t forget to take some time to observe the luxurious yachts in the harbour (or, even better, make friends with someone who owns one), and wrap up your trip with a spin at the Monte Carlo casino.

I hope I’ve provided you with some inspiration for your next trip to my part of the world.

Sculpture Saturday #16

Overlooking Antibes’ Port, this 18 metre high sculpture celebrated its 10th birthday in May and is probably the most photographed site in the town. The Nomad (2007) by Jaume Pensa started life as a temporary installation on Antibes’ ramparts as it had already been sold to a collector in Miami but he made a duplicate which has been in situ now for just over 10 years.

If you want to join in this challenge hosted by the Mind over Memory blogger:-

  • Share a photo of a sculpture
  • Link to the Mind over Memory’s post for Saturday Sculpture

Go on, give it a go, you know you want to!

Trip to Antibes: Part II

In Part I of my trip to Antibes, I mentioned Monsieur Picasso. We’ve visited the Picasso museum in Paris, seen an exhibition of his blue and rose periods at the Musee d’Orsay, I’ve visited his ceramics museum in nearby Vallauris but until recently had never visited his museum in Antibes, housed in the former Grimaldi Chateau.

The chateau is on the ramparts of Antibes’ Old Town and was built on the former Greek Acropolis of Antipolis, which was then a Roman castrum and finally a Medieval bishopric. The castle was owned until 1608 by the Grimaldi family (of Monaco), hence its name. You may recall there’s also a Chateau Grimaldi in Le Hauts de Cagnes.

In 1925 the chateau was acquired by the City of Antibes. In 1946, Picasso, who was living nearby in Golfe-Juan with Françoise Gilot, accepted an offer from curator Dor de la Souchère’s to set up his studio in the Castle. Picasso worked from mid-September through mid-November of 1946, creating many works, sketches and paintings, including Les Clés d’Antibes (The Keys of Antibes), covering an entire wall surface. When the artist decided to move back to Paris, he left 23 paintings and 44 sketches in the Chateau’s custody.

Subsequently, apart from the 78 ceramic works created between 1947 and 1948 at the Madoura de Vallauris’ workshop, various donations and purchases spanning from 1952 until the present day, as well as the custody pieces conferred by Jacqueline Picasso en 1991, have significantly enriched the Picasso collection of the Museum.

But it’s not just about Picasso, Nicolas de Staël’s works presented at the Museum bear testimony to the artist’s stay in Antibes from September 1954 to March 1955. On 27 December 1966, the Grimaldi Chateau was turned into the « Picasso Museum ». The Modern Art collection, begun in 1951 by Dor de la Souchère, had grown thanks to exceptional gifts from artists whose works had been exhibited at the Museum and to equally exceptional acquisitions made over the years by the City of Antibes.

In 2001, a donation by the Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman Foundation provided for the opening of two new galleries on the ground floor of the museum. A permanent exhibition allows one to retrace the creative periods of each of these artists over several decades.

In addition, the terrace of the Picasso Museum is home to a permanent collection of remarkable sculptures by Germaine Richier. Other artists represented are: Joan Miró, Bernard Pagès, Anne and Patrick Poirier. It’s well worth a visit and I’m only sorry it took us so long!

Trip to Antibes: Part I

While I’d fondly imagined our trip to Portugal would provide me with fodder for plenty of New Year posts, I’m having to go local. Luckily, I live in a simply splendid part of the world and there’s never any shortage of lovely spots to visit.

I’m particularly fond of Antibes which is literally just up the road from where I live. It has an excellent Old Town and daily market, plus plenty of interesting shops, including several bookshops. The whole area is property porn heaven and don’t even get me started on the trillions of pounds just bobbing up and down in its harbour.

Antibes - Ladies travel poster

Beaches, Mediterranean climate, crystal clear waters, narrow cobbled streets and history. You can find all this and more in Antibes. It’s also well known for several of its annual festivals, such as Jazz at nearby Juan-les-Pins and the sailing regattas called Voiles d’Antibes. This pretty town is also packed with history, ancient buildings and, like many of the towns around here, it has an interesting provenance going back several millennia to its foundation in 5th century BC by the Greeks, when it became an important trading post.

Initially called ‘Antipolis’, the town became part of the Roman Empire in 2nd century BC which led to significant improvements in infrastructure including the building of roads and aqueducts. After the collapse of the Roman empire, Antibes suffered centuries of unrest and almost constant invasions by various barbarian hoards. It wasn’t until 15th century when Antibes came under French rule that the town settled down.

Around 1850, wealthy nobles became attracted to the natural beauty of Antibes and started building villas and large holiday residences. After the construction of its first luxury hotel in 1870, many of the world’s jet set, elite and rich continued to flock here and still today it remains an international destination for the wealthy.

Pablo Picasso came to the town in 1946 to visit his friend and fellow painter Gerald Murphy. During his six-month stay at Chateau Grimaldi, Picasso painted and drew as well as crafting ceramics and tapestries. When he departed Picasso left a number of his works to the municipality. The castle has since become the Picasso Museum.

Two-day trip to Paris

Yes, it’s finally time for my beloved to get back to work full-time. He has mastered the crutches and can even walk without them for about 20 metres, so it was time to venture forth and meet one of our long-term clients, based in Paris. We opted to travel by train, less stressful, and I agreed to accompany him. He’s not yet ready to fly solo.

The train journey passes along the coast before heading inland. It’s delightful scenery even though it rained for most of the trip. The countryside at this time of year is verdant and lush. New bright green leaves contrast with bursts of bright yellow, pale pink, dark pink and purple blossoms against a backdrop of dark green evergreens, and lush soil every shade of ombre and ochre. April’s mix of sunshine and showers has made everything grow in abundance, from foliage to crops to vines.

There still isn’t a fast route from the Niçois coast to Paris, Marseilles has already bagged it. We’ll get one eventually, most probably via Grenoble. The train slowly winds its way along the coast until it turns inland after Marseilles and heads to Avignon – a place I keep meaning to visit – where it really picks up velocity. In no time at all we’re in Paris, a place that is irredeemably romantic. Just saying the name conjours up the Seine winding its way past Haussmanian buildings under stone bridges with majestic wrought iron lighting catching glimpses of famous sights and monuments.

IMG_6097

There’s something very restful about train journeys in Europe. The trains are invariably on time, you know exactly where to wait on the platform for your carriage. Trains are not overbooked, all tickets get a reserved seat. That’s right, there’s NO standing. The cost is very reasonable, particularly if you book in advance. We generally travel first-class and enjoy a late lunch in le Train Bleu restaurant at the Gare de Lyon. I just love all than fin de siecle splendour and the food’s pretty good too.

This time we were arriving late afternoon, far too late for even a late lunch. We had decided to stay in a hotel close to the station, within walking distance of Le Marais, and a short taxi ride to my beloved’s client. It was a charming bijou hotel, ideal for an overnight stop after feasting on oysters, lobster and champagne, always our favourite Parisian treat. And fitting, given it was the evening before my beloved’s birthday.

The following morning, after breakfast in a nearby brasserie, my beloved set off for his appointment, which was bound to include lunch, leaving me with a few precious hours to wander around Paris on my own – sheer bliss.

It was cold and damp to start with and I needed to walk briskly just to keep warm. I was wearing a layer too few. At one point I thought it was going to start raining but the moment passed and, thankfully, the sun came out. I just love wandering around Paris, so many independent specialist shops, many dating back hundreds of years. Of course, I particularly love all the food shops.

As I wander the streets, there’s always something to look at be it a wrought iron balcony, a beautiful street lamp, colourful  window boxes crammed with flowering plants, secret alleyways leading who knows where and wrought iron gates protecting someone’s heritage.

I also spotted some recent graffiti!

I didn’t indulge in as much window shopping as I usually do, probably because I had a destination in mind. I wanted to check out the summer collection of a German brand that I generally have to buy over the internet because it has limited availability in France and no outlets closer to me than Lyon. While its website is excellent it’s sometimes difficult to exactly discern the colour. Is is grey, beige or greige? Of course, I love all three but there were a couple of trouser styles, jackets and tops I wanted to check out.

On my early stroll I had spotted that rare beast in France, a vegan restaurant, which I wanted to try for lunch. It was excellent and I’ve made a note of its location, along with a couple of other restaurants, for us to try on our September anniversary trip. Of course, we’ll also be revisiting the site of our oyster fest.

After my enjoyable few hours, I met up with my be loved in Le Train Bleu bar where we took full advantage of the free WiFi, facilities and excellent tea. In no time at all, it was all abord for the return trip and a gentle snooze as the train purred all the way to Antibes. I have that fortunate knack of being able to power-nap anywhere at anytime.

The sun shone brighter as the train reached the south, stopping in Marseille after three or so hours before resuming its snail’s pace progression along the Med. Christophe, our uberfriendly and uberreliable local taxi driver, picked us up and whisked us back home. It had been a lovely trip, now I had to get everything ready for our maiden trip to Sardinia and 100th

Happy Easter

As my beloved has become more mobile we’ve been out and about for short walks over the Easter long week-end, enjoying the warm sunny weather and wonderful scenery. April, with its heady mix of sunshine and showers, encourages the place to spring into vibrant colour. The trees are every shade of green, the bushes are blossoming, the birds are canoodling, summer can’t be too far away.

On one of our walks, we were admiring the floating palaces in Antibes, the largest concentration of man caves in the Mediterranean. Most seemingly lie idle, the only sounds of activity are from workmen readying them for the start of the chartering season, the Cannes Film Festival.

 

Today we strolled alongside  the beach in Cros de Cagnes, a former fishing village, where the boats are rather more utilitarian than the shiny beauties we saw yesterday. It was good to feel the sunshine on our faces.

I hope you’re having an enjoyable holiday week-end too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down but not out

Clearly, I had bitten off more than I could chew! I blew out on Sunday in the l’Antiboise. I had set off at 07:30am feeling in fine form with my beloved for company. The weather was ideal, I’d had a good breakfast and plenty of food in my back pockets (didn’t want a repeat of the Ste Agnes bonk). I rode well, and within myself, to the first feed zone. There it became evident I was the only female attempting the longer course. This should have rung warning bells but, no, I blithely carried on.

At the feed zone, I’d been looking forward to a coke sugar rush. Sadly, the club organising the randonnee was providing only a cheap, own brand coke – this should be outlawed by UFOLEP. I shall be making representations to the Chairman. 

After refuelling we set off  under heavy skies in the direction of Lac St Cassien. I must be honest, I really don’t like cycling around here. In theory, it should be the perfect spot but, in practice, the road’s too narrow and there’s too much traffic, none of whom are willing to crawl along behind a bunch of cyclists.

The climb up to Montauroux was an unpleasant surprise – far steeper than I’d anticipated. The legs were beginning to ache. A novel experience as it’s usually the lungs which give out first. I gratefully refilled my bidon at the fountain in the square, had a quick breather and we set off again. We were evidently the lanterne rouges of the longer parcours but we knew there were  a few riders just up ahead. There followed a long descent (never good news as I knew we’d just have to climb back up again) on rather gravelly, twisting roads which did little to boost my average speed or my mood. On the climb back up to St Cezaire sur Siagne, I promised myself a cold coke if I got to the top. This promise kept  me going but unbelievably we took a sharp left just before the village and set off up the Col de la Leque towards St Vallier. Only 9km uphill  but it was the straw which finally broke the camel’s back. My legs stopped functioning after 109km.

My beloved rode the final couple of kilometers to the next feed zone to alert the broom wagon which kindly returned to pick me up. At the feed zone I gratefully gulped down several glasses of the dreaded cheap coke – better than nothing. I was truly spent, a somewhat discouraging experience. I proceeded to the finish in the broom wagon while my beloved rode back. Once home, we showered, changed and drove to Alassio stopping en route for a much needed, belated lunch.

We decided not to take the bikes with us. A wise decision, as we both have leaden bodies, never mind leaden legs. After a good night’s sleep, I feel more sanguine and more determined that next year I’ll achieve my objective. The weather’s fantastic here and I’ve enjoyed pottering around Alassio which is emerging from hibernation. The beach is a hive of activity with hoteliers erecting their beach huts and levelling the sand outside their hotels ready for the invading hordes. As expected, at this time of year, the clientele is largely retired and wrinkly.

I’ve sent an email to my cycling coach, admitting that he was correct and I should have attempted to do a better time on the shorter course. As a consequence, I may well opt for the shorter parcours on the next two randonnees. Never let it be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes.

Postscript: It appears that we were the only two from the club to attempt the longer parcours.

Week end musings

My beloved returned from Germany suffering from a cold and feeling very sorry for himself. A ride on Saturday morning soon restored his good humour which was further boosted by our boys in claret and blue who struck two goals to win away from home at Fulham. The chase for the 4th spot in the Premiership is heating up with Liverpool, Man City, Spurs and AVFC all in hot and heavy pursuit.

Sadly, OGCN lost 3-2 away at Monaco. After a couple of contentious refereeing decisions, which arguably cost the Aiglons the match, their fans, despite a heavy police presence, angrily stormed onto the pitch. The penalty is likely to be either a heavy fine or a match played behind closed doors, just what a cash-strapped club needs. Nice haven’t won for two months and are slipping ominously into the relegation zone. While we await the return of most of the first team from the African Cup, rumours abound that our one good striker could be leaving before the transfer window closes.

This morning we set out for a ride with the club. It was very cold, the sky looked ominous all along the coast but back in the hills the sun was sparkling off the snowy hill tops. On the outskirts of Antibes, the sleet started to fall and two-thirds of the peloton turned tail and headed home into a fierce headwind. Why get wet when you can always ride tomorrow?

After a warming coffee at our local watering hole, pouring over the Sunday newspapers, we headed back home. Perversely, by mid-day the sun was out in full-force and the weather was truly glorious. I was sorely tempted to get back on the bike and go out again however I was having the windows and terrace cleaned this afternoon. With friends coming for dinner on Monday evening, and guests arriving next week end, this was a task I couldn’t postpone.

Instead, I checked out what had happened overnight. Was Andy Murray going to be the first Brit for many a long year to lift a Grand Slam singles title? No, razor sharp Roger Federer disposed of him in 3 straight sets to win his 16th Grand Slam title. Later I checked on the results of French cycling season opener, GP La Marseillaise. This was won by Jonathon Hivert of newly-promoted Pro-Continental team Saur Sojasun, Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil was 2nd and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis was 3rd. 

On a final note, I’d like to wish Christophe Le Mevel a speedy recovery. The other day he attempted to make running repairs to his TT bike while in the saddle but merely succeeded in almost severing his little finger. Christophe, if your bike needs fixing, please take it to your’s and my LBS: Stars’n’Bikes.

Postscript: Loic Remy is (thankfully) remaining at OGCN.

Thank heavens, I’m back

It feels like I’ve been away for weeks, not four days. I’ll never moan about the weather here ever again. Coming in to land at Gatwick, I found myself looking out on a bleak wintery landscape swirling with snow. I bought myself a salad lunch at M&S to eat on the Gatwick Express. It was the same price as a 2-course “menu” with coffee here. At Victoria I bought a Zone 1 tube ticket – £4 for 4 stops. It had only been £1.60 the last time I’d been in town – talk about rampant inflation. Or should that be daylight robbery?

En route to Birmingham New Street I kept thinking that I wanted to go home – now. I finally arrived at my parents late that afternoon ready to catch up with their news before settling down to watch the 2nd leg of that all-important League Cup semi-final, Villa v Bolton. It was a 10-goal thriller! Yes, when was the last time you saw 10 goals in a football match? It started with Villa going down two goals, putting Bolton in the lead on aggregate, fortunately only briefly. Villa levelled the score with a penalty and Bolton were reduced to 10  men. Thereafter, the goals came thick and fast. Finally, after a 10 year absence, Villa were on their way back to Wembley.

Thursday, I had offered to look after my Mum to give my Dad a break. It’s tough being a carer 24/7. I honestly don’t know how he does it. I decided that Mum and I should do something together. As she’s got a bit of a sweet tooth and enjoys a coffee and cake most days, I thought we would make a couple of cakes together.

Mum and I had never cooked together when I lived at home. I didn’t start cooking until I went to university. It’s always a bit of a nightmare cooking in someone else’s kitchen. They never have the same tools as you or use the same ingredients. My sister had kindly provided the baking tins, raisins, butter and baking powder. The rest was in the cupboards. My Mum had an old set of scales but it was in pounds and ounces so I reverted to an old tried and tested recipe: use the same weight in eggs, sugar, flour and butter. We made a Victoria sponge, sandwiched together with cream and apricot jam, and a raisin and apple loaf which we sliced and put in the freezer.

She seemed to enjoy the activity though it’s sometimes hard to tell. From time to time she says something that makes you wonder but most of the times it’s complete gibberish. I just try to look as if I understand, nod and say something affirmative.

Friday, we took a taxi into Birmingham to have lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant. It was intended to be a treat for my Dad but they both enjoyed the meal and the trip out. It rained all day Friday. I had forgotten just how damp it can be in the Midlands and I was soon coughing – break out the Benylin.

We left Saturday lunchtime. It had been lovely catching up with my parents but, after four days off the bike and having spent so much time indoors, watching tv, I was desperate to get home.  We got back late evening and headed straight to a local restaurant for dinner. Fortification for today’s pointage in Antibes, by way of Roquefort les Pins to pick up a ticket (more points).

Postscript: AVFC’s opponents in the League Cup final will be Manchester United who today (31 Jan) demolished Arsenal. The boys are going to have to pull out all the stops and more if they’re to defeat the red devils.

Pipped at the post

Another sunny day which I kicked off with a ride. I hadn’t gone far when I met up with two club mates and so I rode with them. I hadn’t seen either of them for a while. One was just recovering from a nasty dose of man flu while the other has been kept busy by his 12 grand-children.

We passed a number of club mates, going in the opposite direction, who had been out on that morning’s earlier club ride. Like me these two see no reason to ride when it’s really cold, preferring to leave an hour or so later. They also like to stop for a coffee and a chat on the way back: much more companiable.

Mind you I’d no sooner gotten back home, showered, changed and had lunch than I was off down to the club for our monthly meeting on the forthcoming Brevet Kivilev. Who knew that there were so many small details that needed to be taken care of – not me. For example, as the routes criss-cross 16 communes that’s 16 letters that have to be written to 16 mayors advising them of our plans. We’re also short of around 20 volunteers and while we’ve not yet resorted to press-ganging members and their families, or even strong arming them, don’t put it past us.

Nor have we started to solicit donations for the all-important tombola, the key prize of which is usually a bike frame. I’m donating one of those string vests (wouldn’t be seen dead in it), a Mellow Johnny’s T-shirt and a couple of cycling books. We’re hoping to drum up a few pieces of kit from the locally resident pros and anything else we can lay our hands on. M le President has done an excellent job on the tombola for the last couple of years. After all, if you had a local business, you’d want to keep on the right side of the head honcho down at the fire station – wouldn’t you?

The meeting ran into the regular monthly club meeting for which there was a particularly good attendance. All the better to hear that we had retained our regional championship, 2nd division on account of the number of members. Not only that but we’d come 2nd overall, beating off two larger clubs from nearby Antibes. I think this gives M le President bragging rights at the next UFOLEP meeting.   

Got back home (again) just in time to watch the highlights of today’s first stage in Adelaide of the Tour down Under which was won by Andrei Greipel (HTC-Columbia) who narrowly beat Gert Steegmans (Radio Shack) whom we’ve not seen competitively on a bike for a while – welcome back Gert. I last saw him in the tribune watching the team presentation at last year’s Tour de France in Monaco, where he resides.