Visit to Chateau de l’Aiguetta

We were recently invited to a BBQ in the grounds of a partly-restored historic property in Eze. Friends were keeping an eye on the property to avoid further dereliction while the owner was back home. As you all know, I love a spot of property porn and while this particular Chateau falls well short of my standards, it’s in a great location and was worthy of further investigation.

This huge baronial, faux-Scottish castle in Eze was built by the nephew of the famed Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. He acquired the fourteen hectares of cultivated land on which stood a house, a shed and a bread oven from lawyer Etienne Bermondi. After Tennyson’s nephew sold it to pay off his gambling debts, the original building underwent a couple of transformations turning it into a fortified castle.

At the beginning of 20th century, a floor was added to the original house and the facade was transformed by the installation of molded cement slabs imitating freestone. But it was during its second expansion that the villa took on the appearance of a fortified castle when a rectangular two-storey wing was added plus round and square turrets.

The estate was sold successively in 1926, then in 1928 to the Monagesque Société des Bains de Mer, which planned to create a golf course there. The residence was however quickly abandoned and suffered much damage over time with its interiors being stripped by looters. In 1993, it was bought by the SCI du Château de l’Aiguetta. The company undertook work but the site remained under construction for several years.

In 2013, the owner of the estate, was the subject of bankruptcy proceedings, forcing it to sell this exceptional property. Initially listed at some US$ 59 milllion it was eventually sold at auction in March 2016 for just over US$10 million to a Russian oligarch who plans to turn it into a home for his family. Fortunately, he has deep enough pockets to turn this carbuncle into a fairytale castle.

It’s undeniably situated on 40 lush, prime acres, located in the village of Eze off the Grand Corniche, just five minutes drive from the Principality of Monaco. It boasts stunning views of the sea and the medieval village. The 15-bedroom castle has more than 4,000 sq m (40,000 sq ft) of interior space, making it the largest such property on the Cote d’Azur. The dramatic edifice is said to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s castle in his animated film Sleeping Beauty, following one of his stays in Eze.

 

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.

Thursday doors #76

This is my last batch of doors from a recent trip to Eze village which proved to be fertile door hunting ground.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #75

This is my penultimate batch of doors from a recent trip to Eze village which proved to be fertile door hunting ground.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #73

Finally, I’ve been out and about photographing some “new” doors. These are from Eze village which had plenty of splendid doors, enough for a few weeks’ posts.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Lazy Sunday afternoons

My beloved returned yesterday evening from a hectic week in the UK. I let him sleep in this morning as there was no pointage, just a club ride to Aspremont. Instead, we decided to ride over to Menton and tackle the Col de la Madone. However, my beloved was feeling really fatigued so rather than ride over to La Turbie, we descended to Menton and retraced our steps.

Thanks to the gloriously warm summer-like conditions, the roads were busy with holiday traffic (Monday’s a Bank holiday here). We spotted 2 Rolls Royces, 6 Ferraris, 1 Lambourghini, I Bentley and only 1 Aston Martin. Yes, we take note of the number of high value cars we see when we ride over in the direction on Monaco. We do not include Porsches, Mercedes or BMWs, far too common, though we do include Audi R8 Spyders.

With lunchtime almost over, we stopped at a small Italian roadside restaurant in Eze, where we could leave the bikes in the courtyard garden, and enjoyed a magnificent spaghetti with clams, followed by that Italian classic “Tiramisu”, which was deliciously light. Seriously fortified, we pedalled home strongly to catch the action on the Monte Zoncolan.

As anticipated the man who saved his legs yesterday, Ivan Basso, distanced everyone on that 11.9% average climb to the finish. He was followed in by (in order) Evans, Scarponi, Cunego, Vino, Sastre and Nibali. David Arroyo is still sitting pretty in pink, ahead of Ritchie Porte in white, followed by Basso, Sastre, Evans, Vino ( looking good in the red point’s jersey), Nibali and Scarponi.  I’m sure they’re all looking forward to tomorrow’s rest day, I know I am.

The Sky’s the limit

My guests have departed after a very enjoyable few days. The boys arrived Thursday evening in time for a light dinner. It was very windy that evening and I had hoped it might blow away the rain clouds. But no, we awoke to torrential rain. After a hearty breakfast we went to one of the larger bike shops for a browse and then collected my beloved from the airport.

After lunch, the weather cleared, the sun came up and started drying the roads. We walked down to my LBS for a browse and a chat, returning in time for me to prepare dinner.

Me and the boys

Saturday dawned bright and warm so we set off around 10:00am and headed towards Monte Carlo where we stopped for coffee and the boys admired the local attractions (all female). We decided to return via La Turbie which afforded them plenty of photo opportunities while waiting for me to catch up. Thereafter, it was a swift descent past Eze village to Nice and home.

After lunch the boys had a wee cat nap and then fortified themselves with some of my fruit cake. Saturday evening we dined at a local restaurant which has recently changed hands. We were delighted to find that the cuisine had further improved and the new owners were resting neither on their laurels nor on the reputation of the previous owner.  

Today’s pointage was at Valbonne and it took me longer to warm up this morning so that I was soon distanced by the rest of my clubmates on the climb out of Biot. Resigned to riding on my own, I was shortly joined by a rag bag of riders from other clubs and merrily rode with them. They expressed horror on arriving in Valbonne to discover an Antiques Fair on the spot where the pointage is normally held. I was able to direct them to the correct location on the other side of the village.

I arrived just after my club had departed the pointage so I rode back, as is my wont, with riders from another club, cutting a good 20km off the proposed route so that I could return home in time to prepare lunch for the ravening hordes, all three of them. The boys departed after lunch while my beloved went to meet a business contact in Nice. I rewarded myself with a lazy afternoon on the sofa in my fleecy track suit (what else) catching up on the sports news. Both my football teams recorded draws: Spurs 0-0 AVFC and OGCN 1 – 1 Lille. AVFC take a point from one of their closest rivals for 4th place, while OGCN steadies the ship.

First up, my heart was gladdened by the number of wins recorded by the more mature members of the peloton: Rocket Robbie (Katusha) in the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca, Nico Eeckhout (An-Post Sean Kelly) on the final stage of Etoile de Besseges and Ale-jet in GP Costa degli Etruschi. Sky romped home 8 seconds ahead of the rest in the TTT at the Tour of Qatar putting Edvald Boassen Hagan in the leader’s jersey where he’s going to be difficult to dislodge. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen is 20 seconds down after his team finished 5th. Cervelo initially finished second but were penalized when an eagle eyed Chinese judge saw Barbie Barbie Haussler push a colleague. Cervelo claimed he was just steadying him, but the commissars remained unconvinced.

On a more sombre note, I was saddened to read of the untimely death of the maestro of the Italian road racing team whom I was fortunate to meet in Varese. My condolences go to Franco Ballerini’s family and friends.

Report card: Could do better

I’ve had another of those readership spikes (263!) but this time  it’s not completely obvious which blog entry they read, though it seems likely to one of those where I was discussing cycling near Eze. Possibly people planning a week end break in the area – who knows.

Good enough to eat

I was hoping to illustrate this post with some fine photographs, taken by my beloved, of my club mates, our sponsors and a couple of pro-riders (Amael Moinard and Andrei Mizurov) enjoying the Galettes des Rois yesterday evening. Sadly, his photos were not up to scratch. This has left me in something of a quandary as I also needed a photo to illustrate my article for Nice Matin. I’m now going to have to ask my fellow club mates if any of them have photos which fit the bill. I knew I should have taken my camera too.

Mizu and ex-M le President

Many of my fellow cyclists remarked on how much they had seen of my beloved recently, noting that it’s very rare for him to be at home for this length of time. They also expressed their concerns as to how I was coping with this. I replied that I was bearing up well despite insane provocation.   

The evening went well. We had a good turnout of members and their families with everyone enjoying the selection of galettes, the mince pies, the Xmas cake and the Rocky Road. I took a couple of the remaining few slices of Xmas cake down to my LBS where it was enjoyed in record time by the owner, his assistant and a local rider.

Monday and Tuesday were cold but sunny. We rode for a couple of hours both days. But it started raining late last night and continued well into this morning. I really don’t need to ride outside in the rain. After a quick session this morning in the gym, this afternoon I cleared a few administrative matters relating to the club. The outlook for the rest of the week thankfully looks clear ahead of the defence on Sunday of our regional title at Beausoleil. M Le President will be working, so I have been entrusted to rally the troops. Woe betide anyone who turns up without their licence!