Potted history of Monaco

While researching my previous posts on the Casino and Hotel Hermitage, I realised that I didn’t know enough about Monaco’s history. It’s the world’s second smallest country, preceded by only the Vatican. Ruled by the (in)famous Grimaldi family. As a harbour town, Monaco has enjoyed a colourful past, but in more recent years has settled as a secure tax-haven for the rich and famous. Let’s have a closer look at its provenance.

The Rock of Monaco was a shelter for primitive populations. Traces of their occupation were discovered in a cave in the Saint-Martin Gardens. The first sedentary inhabitants of the region, the Ligures, are described as a mountain people, accustomed to hard work and an exemplary frugality. The coast and the port of Monaco most probably provided sea access for the interior Ligurian population, the Oratelli of Peille.

The origin of the nameMonaco has been subject to several hypotheses. For some, the name comes from the Ligurian tribe, the Monoïkos, who inhabited the Rock in 6th century B.C. For others, it’s Greek in origin. Indeed, the port of Monaco was allegedly named after Herakles (Hercules).

Initially inhabited by the Greeks in 6 BC, who named it Monoikos, Hercules allegedly visited and a temple was built in his honour. At the end of 12th century B.C., the Romans occupied the region and Monaco became part of the Province of the Maritime Alps. During their occupation, the Romans erected the Trophy of Augustus at La Turbie which celebrates the triumph of their military campaigns.

During this same period, Phoenecian and Carthaginian sailors brought prosperity to the region. After the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century A.D.), the region was regularly sacked by different barbarian populations. It was only at the end of the 10th century, after the expulsion of the Sarrasins by the Count of Provence, that the coast slowly became repopulated. In 1191, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI granted sovereignty over the area to the city of Genoa, the native home of the Ligurians.

On 10 June 1215, a detachment of Genoese Ghibellines led by Fulco del Cassello began the construction of a fortress atop the Rock of Monaco. As the Ghibellines intended their fortress to be a strategic military stronghold and centre of control for the area, they set about creating a settlement around the base of the Rock to support the garrison; in an attempt to lure residents from Genoa and the surrounding cities, they offered land grants and tax exemption to new settlers.

Monaco then became the object of the ongoing struggle between the two parties disputing power in the Republic of Genoa, the Ghibellines, partisans of the Emperor and the Guelfs, faithful followers of the Pope. In 1269 The Guelfs and their allies, the Grimaldis, were expelled from Genoa.

The Grimaldis, descended from Otto Canella and taking their name from his son Grimaldo, were an ancient and prominent Genoese family. Disguised as a franciscan monk, Francesco Grimaldi seized the Rock of Monaco in 1297, starting the Grimaldi dynasty, under the sovereignty of the Republic of Genoa.

The Grimaldis acquired Menton in 1346 and Roquebrune in 1355, thereby enlarging their possessions. In 1338 Monegasque ships under the command of Carlo Grimaldi participated, along with those of France and Genoa, in the English Channel naval campaign. Plunder from the sack of Southampton was brought back to Monaco, contributing to the principality’s prosperity.

Honoré II, Prince of Monaco secured recognition of his independent sovereignty from Spain in 1633, and then from Louis XIII of France by the Treaty of Péronne (1641). Since then the area has remained under the control of the Grimaldi family to the present day, except when under French control during the French revolution from 1793 to May 1814, as part of the département of Alpes-Maritimes.

The principality was re-established in 1814, only to be designated a protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Monaco remained in this position until 1860, when by the Treaty of Turin, Sardinia ceded to France the surrounding county of Nice.

With the protectorate, that lasted nearly half a century, Italian was the official language of Monaco. The Monégasque dialect, like that of the Niçois, is closer to Italian than French, but influenced by both.

During this time there was unrest in the towns of Menton and Roquebrune, which declared independence, hoping for annexation by Sardinia and participation in the Italian Risorgimento. The unrest continued until the ruling prince gave up his claim to the two towns (some 95% of the country), and they were ceded to France in return for four million francs which helped to fund Monaco’s regeneration. This transfer and Monaco’s sovereignty was recognised by the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861.

The Prince of Monaco was an absolute ruler until the Monegasque Revolution of 1910 forced him to proclaim a constitution in 1911.

In July 1918, a treaty was signed providing for limited French protection over Monaco. The treaty, written into the Treaty of Versailles, established that Monegasque policy would be aligned with French political, military, and economic interests. One of the motivations for the treaty was the upcoming Monaco Succession Crisis of 1918.

While Prince Louis II’s sympathies were strongly pro-French, he tried to keep Monaco neutral during World War II but supported the Vichy French government of his old army colleague, Marshal Philippe Pétain.

Nonetheless, his tiny principality was tormented by domestic conflict partly as a result of Louis’s indecisiveness, and also because the majority of the population was of Italian descent; many of them supported the fascist regime of Italy’s Benito Mussolini.

In November 1942, the Italian Army invaded and occupied Monaco. Soon after in September 1943, following Mussolini’s fall in Italy, the German Army occupied Monaco and began the deportation of the Jewish population.

Under Prince Louis’s secret orders, the Monaco police, often at great risk to themselves, warned in advance those people whom the Gestapo planned to arrest. The country was liberated, as German troops retreated, on 3 September 1944.

The revised Constitution of Monaco, proclaimed in 1962, abolished capital punishment, provided for female suffrage, established a Supreme Court to guarantee fundamental liberties and made it well nigh impossible for a French national to transfer his or her residence there.

In 2002, a new treaty between France and Monaco clarified that if there were no heirs to carry on the dynasty, the Principality would remain an independent nation, rather than be annexed by France. Monaco’s military defense, however, is still the responsibility of France.

The current ruler, Prince Albert II, succeeded his father Prince Rainier III in 2005. Prince Rainier, in turn, had acceded to the throne following the death of his grandfather, Prince Louis II, in 1949. But, let’s leave the Grimaldi’s for another post.

A trip to the Casino de Monte Carlo

Before we start, I should add that I have never stepped foot inside the Casino in Monte Carlo, (cameras are strictly forbidden inside the casino’s gilded rooms). I’m not a woman who gambles, I leave that to my two younger sisters. No, my visit was purely to admire the building’s glorious exterior, albeit somewhat hampered as there are some more renovations currently taking place.

The Casino is owned and operated by the Société des bains de mer de Monaco (SBM), a public company largely owned by the Monaco government and the ruling royal family. This company also owns the principal hotels, sports clubs, restaurants and nightclubs in the Principality.

In most people’s minds this building, the world’s grandest and most famous Casino, is closely associated with James Bond. Its Beaux Arts architecture supposedly inspired novelist Ian Fleming’s casino in his first Bond novel, “Casino Royale” and it features in the Bond films “Never Say Never Again” and “GoldenEye.” Without a doubt, it is the most iconic building in the principality.

Immediately to the left of the Casino complex is the Café de Paris, a popular spot for a drink and people-watching. To the right is the recently refurbished Hôtel de Paris, an ornate hotel that opened around the same time as the Casino, and is considered to be one of Monaco’s finest. But it’s the Casino that’s the place to see and be seen. Once it opens its doors at 2 pm, valets can be seen zipping in and out of all manner of impossibly expensive cars.

Inaugurated in 1863, Prince Florestan constructed this Belle Epoque–era paradise to save the House of Grimaldi from bankruptcy. It was an effort to address his nation’s debt, an effort to entice the English elite (and their wealth) to Monaco. The principality raised money for its development – including the construction of the casino –  by selling 80% of its area to France, including the then villages of Roquebrune and Menton for four million francs plus the promise that France would build a road and rail-line from Nice to Monaco.

After a bit of a rocky start, businessman François Blanc who’d successfully run a casino in Germany (since closed) took over the Casino and it went from strength to strength, particularly once the steam train arrived in 1868. The following year, the Casino welcomed some 170,000 visitors, including Alexandre Dumas, Baron de Rothschild, Baron Haussmann, Jacques Offenbach and Prince Napoleon. As a consequence of the profits rolling in from the Casino, the prince abolished the taxes paid by his subjects.

By 1873, the Casino was the only one operating in Europe. In order to preserve its air of exclusion and luxury, the Casino was renovated in 1878 by Charles Garnier, he of Paris Opera fame, and architect Dutrou. The Casino was subsequently further expanded with the addition of more gaming rooms, gardens, restaurants, bars and a theatre for opera and ballet. These have been renovated on a regular basis to maintain their munificence, including the harmonisation of its expanded façade.

Here’s a sneak peek at its splendid interior. By far the safest best way to enjoy it!

 

 

 

 

Trip to the Hôtel Hermitage, Monte Carlo

My beloved and I are dedicated brunchers and we were keen to again try out brunch at the Hôtel Hermitage which we’d firstly enjoyed just before Christmas. That one had been consumed in the hotel’s splendid Belle-Epoque ballroom whereas this time we were housed in the delightful Winter Garden. I’m pleased to report that the brunch was simply splendid and, once again, the staff were generous with the unlimited champagne.

Aside from a family with a young child, we probably lowered the average age of its brunch clientele. The young French family were mortified when their little girl started to grizzle rather loudly. My skills as a child whisperer were swiftly deployed and in no time at all the little poppet was sound asleep in her pushchair much to the amazement of her grateful parents. I could see they were weighing up making me a job offer but wisely decided I might not be available, at any price.

My beloved and I were much enjoying our splendid surroundings and I resolved to look into the hotel’s provenance, convinced the stained glass cupola above out heads was most likely the work of Gustav Eiffel.

While everyone knows of the Hôtel de Paris Monte Carlo, situated on the Place du Casino and the historic jewel in the crown of the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM). A few metres away, somewhat sheltered from the bustling heart of Monaco, another palatial hotel has enchanted its guests for 120 years: the Hôtel Hermitage Monte Carlo. I would argue that the Hermitage is the most charming and intimate of the Principality’s deluxe hotels.

Overlooking the Port d’Hercule, the hotel is renowned for its Belle-Epoque palatial design including a stunning facade with Italian style loggia and frescoes. I learned that it started life as a small inn and then a restaurant in the late 1800s surrounded by olive and orange trees growing in the shadows of the Hôtel de Paris. It was only in 1900 that the modest establishment was turned into a luxury hotel.

Bought in 1898 by an Englishman Vincent Benoist, then manager of the Princes restaurant in London, the property was totally rebuilt by Monégasque architect Nicolas Marquet whose brief was to create a luxurious residence. In 1928 the hotel became part of the SBM stable.

The facade of the hotel was inspired by the Prince of Monaco’s Palace. France’s finest architects and designers were commissioned to create the hotel’s stunning neo-classical design including the Belle-Epoque room, designed by Gabriel Ferrier, winner of the Rome prize and gold medallist at the 1889 Exposition Universelle, and Gustav Eiffel’s stained-glass cupola in the Winter Garden. The Princes’ Gallery which links the restaurant to the hotel was a 1906 addition.

Of all the renovations carried out by SBM, the most extensive remains that undertaken in the 1970s. This included renovation of the hotel’s signature trompe-l’oeil effects, the blue and gold shades, the woodwork, the frescoes, all of which was undertaken in order to preserve the hotel’s romantic ambience.

The Vistamar restaurant which opened in 1999, flows out onto a beautiful terrace overlooking Monte Carlo. The banqueting hall/Ballroom, the Belle-Epoque was re-designed by André Levasseur. Its ambience is now reminiscent of the Grand Trianon in Louis XIV’s Versailles with a ceiling adorned with frescoes complimented by columns of pink marble and crystal chandeliers.  The sumptuous Winter Garden, where we enjoyed brunch, features soft pastel tones, impressive lighting, a fountain and a large central carpet specially commissioned for the hotel.

Following that renovation the hotel was classified as a listed building and awarded the Renaissance trophy for the most elegant decor by the Gaullt & Millau Guide, whose committee included among its stellar cast the Duchess of Bedford, Paloma Picasso, Karl Lagerfeld, Helmut Newton, Baroness Edmund de Rothschild and Ruggiero Raimondo. It’s safe to say that the hotel is one of the jewels in the SBM crown.

You don’t have to take my word for it, have a look around for yourself.

While the Hermitage is proud of its status as a historic monument, it didn’t prevent the hotel from making additional renovations in the beginning of the 21st century, increasing its bedroom and meeting room capacity.

As far as we’re concerned, it’s a very welcome addition to the brunch scene.

Postcard from Portugal (not): Part I

As you know, we were planning to spend Christmas and New Year in Southern Portugal. The choice of destination had been made by my beloved who’d booked the flights to Faro, booked the car hire and chosen the hotel (with my blessing).

While we were enjoying Thanksgiving on Long Island, he started to question the wisdom of his choice. When we got back from the States, I ascertained we could cancel the hotel and hire car up to two days before our planned departure.

After much dithering, my beloved announced he didn’t want to go. I cancelled the bookings. Having organised meals and drinks with friends prior to our intended departure, this left a bit of a hole in our diaries. Plus, I’d pretty much emptied the fridge, the freezer and store cupboard!

We decided to fall back on our home from home just over an hour up the road in Italy. I booked us in for three nights from 23 December. Meanwhile, we pottered about locally in the warm sunshine and, on the Sunday before our trip, I decided to try out the brunch at the Hermitage in Monte Carlo. We’ve been looking for a replacement for the one at the Grand Hotel Cap Ferret which, after a change of chef, has sadly ceased holding its winter Sunday brunches.

Fear not, the Hermitage with its unlimited champagne offering happily fills the bill. It was also rather enjoyable strolling around Monte Carlo in the winter sunshine, admiring the yachts in the harbour and the flash cars parked outside both the Hotel de Paris and the Hermitage. After a simply delicious brunch in rather splendid surroundings, we window shopped, admired the Xmas market and then drove home.

The following day we were up reasonably early for our drive to Alassio. We ate lunch in one of our regular haunts before enjoying several hours relaxing in the hotel’s Spa. After that delicious seafood lunch we happily settled for an Aperol and nibbles in one of our favourite bars in lieu of dinner.

Unlike last year when it was decidedly chilly, this year the sun shone and we lapped it up sitting on our balcony. We had a very relaxing time, quite different to that which we’d planned for Portugal. We ate out at some of our favourite restaurants and checked out the Aperol offerings at some of the newer bars. We even did a spot of shopping as Alassio has an outlet Vilebrequin, home of my beloved’s favourite swim shorts. I’ve lost count of how many pairs he has but we’re well into double figures.

One of the antiques shops which had a couple of globes in the window was open but after much debate my beloved has decided he wants a modern globe and we’ve now identified a firm which makes them to order. I’m hoping this will be a less expensive option but I suspect not.

We even walked into nearby Laigueglia (where I first holidayed in Italy aged eight) on Christmas Day to work up an appetite for our Christmas Dinner that evening. We returned home the following day, well rested after our three-day break, loaded down with Italian goodies, feeling decidedly mellow after that heady mix of sunshine and spa time.

The weather between our return and New Year was unseasonably warm and sunny allowing us to spend plenty of time out on our bikes. In addition, we were able to lunch with some business contacts who’d unexpectedly popped over to Nice from UK for a few days. We might not have spent our holidays as we intended but it turned out to be a thoroughly acceptable substitute.

12 days of Christmas: day 11

Having showcased the decorations from New York, I thought it only fair to show you some splendid ones from nearby Monte Carlo. Peer closefully at the photo below and you’ll see the famous Monte Carlo Casino reflected in the mirror of these decorations which are outside the Hotel de Paris. As are those in the header. Meanwhile, the beautifully decorated Christmas tree is from the foyer of the Hotel Hermitage where we recently ate Sunday brunch.

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Lazy Sundays

When doing a sportif I haven’t done before I like to be as well prepared as possible. Ahead of todays’ L’Etape du Tour du Haut Var, my beloved and I visited Montauroux yesterday afternoon to pick up our numbers and check out some of the parcours. I’m reasonably familiar with the roads around there but I wanted to revisit the first few kilometres to check the gradient. If it was as steep as I remembered, I would need to warm up beforehand.

According to the event brochure, we could collect our numbers from the Salle des Fetes between 14:00 and 18:00. We arrived around 15:00 and our first problem was actually locating the afore-mentioned Salle des Fetes. It’s a bit off the beaten track, not in the centre of the village. I commented to my beloved that the organisers should have helpfully sign-posted the route. We do it for the Kivilev despite my club mates assertions that everyone knows the way.

Disturbingly, there seemed to be absolutely no preparations whatsoever underway for the following day’s race: nothing, nada. We finally located the Salle des Fetes. It was closed without so much as a notice on the door to indicate why it was not a veritable hive of activity. In the absence of anything to confirm our suspicions, we realized that something was not quite right. On reaching home, I checked the website and the race had been cancelled because  the organisers had not obtained the relevant approvals to effect necessary road closures!

All very tiresome  and while this may well have been known only at the last moment, you’d have thought the organisers would have emailed participants advising them of this sad state of affairs. I wonder how many turned up this morning to start the race?

This meant we could ride with the club this morning to the pointage in Beausoleil, just above Monaco. It wasn’t “beau soleil” when we set off. It was humid and overcast but I had every confidence that the sun would burn through the layer of cloud. My confidence was not misplaced and by 11 o’clock it had turned into a gorgeously sunny day. I love riding this route in the winter months. The lack of leaves on the trees ensures uninterrupted views across the bays.

En route there was the usual meet and greet with riders from other clubs as they either overtook us or passed by us on the opposite side of the road. As they merrily greet me by name, my beloved always asks who they are. To be honest I know hardly any of them by name but they all know me, and my cakes. I think that makes me infamous, rather than famous.

After the pointage we decided to make our regular pilgrimage into Italy for a cup of coffee. However, the roads were closed in Menton on account of its Citrus Festival so, rather than navigate our way over the border on unfamiliar roads,  we settled for a coffee on the sea front before heading back home. We had another stop en route to refuel with a coke as I was rapidly running low on energy.

Once home, I quickly prepared lunch before settling back on the sofa (yes, in my jimjams) for a veritable smorgasbord of sporting action: football, cycling, rugby. What more could a girl ask for?

Monday Postascript: A letter arrived today in the post from the organiser of the cancelled sportif, returning our cheque. Insufficient participants was cited as the cause of the “postponement”. This rings much truer than lack of authorisation but whatever excuse they’re using, they should be consistent.

The French are hugely price sensitive as we learned to our cost last year at the Kivilev when we charged the same price as the earlier sportif, La Charly Berard. The main difference was that we were giving away a cheap T-shirt while the organisers of the Charly Berard had sufficient sponsorship for a cycling shirt! We’ve halved our price this year and done away with the t-shirt.

Happily back home again for a few days

Bereft of the internet and L’Equipe for a few days at my parents’, I feel seriously out of the loop. It’s as if the pillars of my daily existence have gone walk about, leaving me floundering. That, combined with the work involved pre-and- post Kivilev, means I’ve not had enough time to watch, let alone ponder or comment on, recent sporting events.

The third week of the Giro passed without me seeing too much of the action. It’s only now that I appreciate what a master coup Contador (and Riis) delivered atop Mount Etna, and on subsequent days, to bludgeon the competition into submission. At the start of the second week, there were enough riders still within sniffing distance of the pink jersey willing to chance their arms and those of their team mates, saving the arms and, more importantly, the legs of Alberto’s team mates. Having taken his maiden Giro stage, Alberto was happy to forge useful alliances by ceding wins to other Spanish speakers. It never pays to be too greedy. We’re now all waiting to see whether he will ride the Tour. Frankly, it won’t be the same without  him sublimely dancing away on the pedals.

The Premiership football season finished with my beloved boys in claret and blue in 9th place thanks to Mr Houllier who, due to ill health, will not be with us next season. Neither will Ashley Young who benefited greatly from Houllier’s guidance and is most probably going to be playing for Manchester United. OGCN diced with danger all season only avoiding the drop thanks to the misfortune of our closest neighbours, Monaco, who we’ll not be playing next season which is pity as I always enjoy a trip to their magnificent stadium. More importantly, funding has been secured for our new stadium, where we will be hosting games at Euro 2016. Additional funding has also been found to strengthen the squad.

In Paris, Li Na became the first Chinese tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament ensuring her immortality in Chinese sporting history. In the men’s finals, Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to take his Borg-equalling 6th title. He was no doubt grateful that Roger had beaten  Novak Djokavic in the semis. So who’s going to lift the Wimbledon crown? I suspect the same four players in the French semis will also be contesting the ones at Wimbledon. Although I’m sure the great British public will be hoping for a different outcome. Don’t bet on it.

Today I finally watched the highlights of last week end’s GP Aperol de Catalunya held at Europe’s most modern race track in Montmelo, 20km north of Barcelona. I’m determined to go and watch some live MotoGP action next year and this is the closest racetrack to us. Yes, it’s a mere 5 hours away by car. Second closest is Mugello in Tuscany but that’s held during The Tour, so it’s a no no.

The usual suspects featured in all three classes where there were plenty of spills but, more importantly, no injuries, except to their pride. In 125cc, Nico Terol took his 4th win in 5 races and 14th consecutive podium appearance. However, if Johann Zarco had not been adjudged to have illegally overtaken him in the home straight, and gotten a 20 second penalty, the result would have been oh, so different. Not unnaturally the French were up in arms, but it was the right decision. Le Mans winner Maverick Vinales, the Paris Hilton sponsored rider, led briefly only to finish 2nd with Jonas Folger completing the podium. Terol is romping away with the championship.

In Moto2, Stefan Bradl used his 5th consecutive pole to register his 3rd win of the season ahead of Le Mans winner Marc Marquez and, local boy, Aleix Espargaro, making his maiden podium appearance. Bradl leads the championship ahead of Simone Corsi and Andrea Iannone.

Despite his pole position, Marco Simoncelli finished back in 6th place while Casey Stoner cruised into first place on the first lap and stayed there. The two boys from Yamaha took 2nd (Jorge Lorenzo) and 3rd (Ben Spies). This was Spies’s first podium of the season and the Texan’s just extended his contract with Yamaha. The Air Asia British GP from Silverstone starts tomorrow but with our trip to Lugano, I might well have to settle for the highlights again.

The Criterium du Dauphine is one of my favourite races, more intimate and immediate than the Tour. In previous years, I’ve gone to watch the final week end’s stages but not this year. Sadly, I missed Alex seizing yellow though today I did see the highlights of him losing it to Bradley Wiggins. However, it’s the Germans who are the talking point at this year’s race with Tony Martin winning yesterday’s time-trial and John Degenkolb winning on Tuesday and again today.  Admittedly most of the sprinters, but not all, are going to ride the Tour de Suisse. The Tour favourites, with the exception of Basso, look to be in fine form ahead of the Tour and, not unnaturally, were unwilling to risk all in yesterday’s rain soaked stage when they’ve bigger fish to fry in July.  I’ll probably have to settle for watching the concluding highlights of this race.

My beloved is due back on this evening’s late, late flight from Frankfurt which is inevitably delayed. Happily, I don’t have to either collect him or wait up. He’s got his own wheels and his keys. I’m planning on profiting from the good weather with a ride tomorrow morning ahead of our departure for Lugano. However, the weather forecast there is not looking at all good while we’re forecast to have plenty of sunshine here. We may have to make yet another executive decision tomorrow morning. That way, I’ll at least get to watch all the action live on the television.

Pretty much perfect week end

Yesterday morning the sun was shining as we set off for a gentle ride prior to today’s l’Antiboise. We basically rode the last circuit of Saturday’s stage of Paris-Nice 2011. On our way back, my beloved tried to lure me up the steep ascent to Chateauneuf. I tried but frankly 13%, even in bottom bottom, on the 53 x 39 was just too much for me. As we climbed the Col de Testanier today, I felt that effort in my legs. Back home we toyed with the idea of a trip to Stade du Ray to watch the local derby, OGCN v Monaco, but felt far too lethargic to watch what we were sure would be yet another bore draw. Well, how wrong were we? Five goals, with OGCN running out the winners. Five goals at Stade du Ray, when did that happen last? My beloved boys in claret and blue also won 2-1 away to West Ham, moving them sharply up the table.

I did however find time in my busy day to check on the individual time trial in the Vuelta Ciclista Castille y Leon. Alberto Contador, the 3-time defending champion, had been taken out of the running by a couple of mechanicals on Friday’s queen stage. Not wishing to leave the race empty handed, he was a shoe in for a win in the 11km time trial which he took in imperious fashion ahead of team mate Ritchee Portee (French announcer’s pronunciation). We might have been treated to more of the racing had it not been for a 3-setter ladies Fed Cup match.

When the alarm went off this morning at 6am, I did not want to get up. Largely because I had spent most of the night listening to my beloved snore. It’s a family trait and due to yet another genetic default (can I get a refund?). He’s recently started snoring while he’s still awake although he denies it vehemently as he can’t hear himself. Add selective hearing loss to his list of defects. After an extra precious 15 minutes, we got up dressed, breakfasted and set off for the start in Antibes.

I told my beloved he could ride at his own pace, no need to wait for me. He was gone in a trice. I set off with a bunch of riders from a neighbouring club, but following wheels that wander all over the place is not my idea of fun. I left them behind. I know the route well and although the forthcoming Easter vacation has heralded an influx of holidaymakers, and additional traffic, the roads weren’t too busy. I sailed along enjoying the peace and quiet, taking in the glorious  surroundings. From time to time, small groups of riders would zoom past me, calling out greetings as they did so. It was the perfect day for a longish ride. In view of the early hour, I had donned my arm warmers and gilet which were much appreciated on the final descent. I’ve yet to discard my 3/4 bib shorts.

On the ascent of the Col, most unusually, I started overtaking riders and arrived at the mid-way point, and feed zone, with a number of others. I was gasping for a coke. Initially, I was advised they were out of coke, but someone found a bottle (thank goodness). I needed that sugar hit. The club which organises this ride is renowned for the paucity of their offerings. All that was left was some dried out cake and a piece of chocolate brioche. I quickly ate the latter. One of the other riders commented that the fare on offer simply didn’t bear comparison with my own cakes. The guy driving the broom wagon enquired whether I would be riding the longer course. I told him that I had learnt my lesson from last year and would be sticking to the shorter route. He looked immensely relieved.

It’s pretty much all downhill from hereon in on winding, wide roads in excellent condition. I wasn’t too tired and it wasn’t too windy for me to ape Sammy Sanchez. In no time at all I was back in Mandelieu and on the home stretch. I rang my beloved to advise him that I would be home soon. I had taken the precaution of leaving his lunch, which just needed re-heating, in the fridge. By the time I reached home, he’d showered, changed and eaten lunch. I could take a relaxing shower, slip into something slinky and settle on the sofa ready to view the  Amstel Gold Race. Unfortunately, I dropped off to sleep and missed most of the action, including Frank Schleck taking out fabulous Fabian, in a Leopard Trek pile up. Now there’s a wheel to avoid. My beloved woke me just as Schleck the younger soloed off on a suicide mission. Phil Gil was exhorting the chasing pack but, as we were to discover on the Cauberg, they didn’t have the legs to chase. Phil did. He crossed the line well ahead of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Simon Gerrans (Sky) for his second consecutive win. Someone, presumably his wife, handed him his baby son Alan, the spitting image of his Dad,  who was greatly enjoying proceedings. Get used to it Alan, it’s going to happen a lot.

Unwanted gift

Fortunately, things went according to plan on Friday and we arrived home to find the coast bathed in sunshine. It was still cold, but nowhere as cold as either the US or UK. Having missed a day, I spent the remainder of Friday rushing around like a mad thing. Later that evening, when I finally collapsed on the sofa, I found that I couldn’t swallow. As the evening wore on, I began to feel worse. My head was pounding and I felt feverish. Fearing I had picked up a cold, I made myself a hot toddy (whisky, hot water, lemon and honey). It doesn’t cure colds, just makes them more bearable.

Unfortunately, I had a disturbed night’s sleep thanks to my beloved’s snoring. I didn’t feel well enough to get out of bed but, if I wasn’t going to ride in the Telethon, I needed to deliver my cakes for the post-ride feast. I dressed warmly and drove down to the feed zone where I dropped off my baked goodies, excusing myself from kissing everyone as I didn’t want to pass on my germs. I drove home and hopped back into bed.

My beloved was very concerned. With me hors combat, who was going to feed him? Despite feeling at death’s door, I had driven home via the supermarket to pick up essential supplies so that he wouldn’t starve. He would however have to prepare his own meals. I felt no better on Sunday morning and hoped that the club wouldn’t lose the departmental championship by a 5 point margin which would have been my own small contribution.

After some home made soup for lunch, I’m starting to feel much improved and have moved from the bedroom to the sofa to watch Serbia v France in the Davis Cup Final in Belgrade. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a passionate, partisan crowd. Sadly, the singles matches were all one-way traffic with only yesterday’s doubles match providing any real drama. The French might have made it more of a match if Tsonga had been available to play. Nonetheless, hats off to the Serbs whose tennis budget is less than 1/10th of Great Britain’s.

Had I been feeling fine, we would probably have gone to watch last night’s water polo match, Nice v Montpelier. My beloved was a keen water polo player and, from time to time, we go and watch Nice (ONN) play. Any excuse to watch fit young guys in skimpy outfits! According to Nice Matin, it was a close game, with Nice shading it 8-7. Similarly, we would have gone to watch today’s local derby Nice v Marseille where OGCN staged a smash and grab (Fae) in the 92nd minute to beat OM 1-0. Looking at the game’s statistics, Ospina (goalkeeper) was probably our MOM. OM had 53% of the possession and 16 shots on goal to our 8. But it’s the final score that counts. After last week’s 1-1 draw away at Monaco, we’re back up to 14th spot and holding our own. Cause for cheer.

Early morning energizer

My beloved was delayed 3 hours. I picked him up at the airport and dropped him off home before going down to the club. The Treasurer had done a great job in my absence however she had been assisted by M le President who, sadly, didn’t follow the system I had put in place to track all the licence renewals. Men – plus ca change!

I now need to get stuck into finishing off the club’s year end accounts ready for the “auditor” on Saturday morning. Hopefully, this will not take as long as the interim check as I’ll want to fit in a ride before settling down to enjoy the Tour of Lombardy.

I’m still not quite on French time as I woke up again at 4 o’clock. Not wishing to disturb my beloved, who was snoring loudly enough to wake the entire block, I decamped to the office to finish preparing everything for the company’s accountants for the 3rd quarter. Of course, I could do a lot more of this stuff myself, but frankly the accountant does a great job for a very reasonable price, so why bother?

I’ve prepared my beloved a little treat for breakfast after which we’ll be going for a ride. I’ve made him cinnamon porridge with caramalised apples, not only delicious but low in calories and high in fibre. I make the caramel with dates rather than sugar. I find porridge at breakfast (made with water not milk) keeps me going all morning and, if necessary, well into the afternoon.

I should be running and not riding today, but I have so missed riding my bike over the past couple of weeks that I’m keen to profit from the great weather. If I’ve time, I might fit in a run tomorrow along with a trip to the gym. In fact, I may persist with the getting up really early, it’s amazing what I can achieve while my beloved’s asleep.

A girlfriend of mine is in Monaco this week end and she suggested getting together. Sunday’s ride takes us through Monaco so I proposed we meet for coffee. But it appears that she’s there on a hen-do and the alternative is a ride in a Ferrari. I quite understood. Coffee with me or a ride in a Testarossa – no competition.

Lady in red