The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Le Tour de Doug Part 5: The Côte d’Azur and Monaco



The final leg of my trip was the Côte d’Azur, known to many as the French Riviera. I have to say that I was surprised at how much I loved this area (given my general proclivity to visit more exotic and less inhabited areas of the world). On the coast—with its grand hotels facing crowded beaches—you feel like you’ve just walked into a movie. The blue waters of the Mediterranean and cool breezes temper the bright Provencal sun. Yet only a few miles up into the countryside you find yourself in ancient hill towns where time seems to have stopped centuries ago. And then there is the enclave of Monaco, where still-vivid memories of Princess Grace create a modern fairy tale.


My trip began as I headed down to the coast at Cassis, a charming, flower-filled village on the Mediterranean. From here a road called the Route des Crêtes (Crest Road) takes you over the highest cliffs in Europe for spectacular views over the stunningly blue Mediterranean Sea (as always, click any photo for a larger and full-color view):





Later I drove through Saint-Tropez in time to watch the sun set over this famous resort and tanning namesake:


I arrived in Nice, which would be my “home base” for the rest of the trip, after dark. I awoke the next morning to find a terrific view over old Nice and the Mediterranean from my terrace:


By the light of day I drove back as far as Cannes because, well, it’s Cannes! Here’s the famous Intercontinental Hotel:


One of the really amazing things about the Côte d’Azur is the variety. As you drive along the coast through towns like Nice and Cannes and Antibes, you find the French Riviera you expect: grand hotels, expensive cars, and private beaches. And it’s all really great fun. But you only need drive a few miles (fine, kilometers) up into the mountains to find bastides, ancient fortified towns that cling to the hilltops and seem to have been untouched by time. One of these is St. Paul de Vence:



One of this particular town’s claims to fame is that it became a magnet for artists in the 20th Century (in fact, it is still most a town of art galleries). La Colombe d’Or is a famous inn because artists such as Miró, Picasso, and Klee paid their tabs with paintings which now cover the walls, giving it perhaps the most valuable decor of any inn in the world:



Arriving back at my hotel a little earlier, I was able to watch the moon rise over Nice:




The next day I explored points east. First stop was the ancient hill town of Eze, which offers outstanding views from its high perch over the Mediterranean:



I continued on to Monaco, which of course is technically its own nation but is small enough to spit across. I didn’t test it out, but apparently the average person can walk across it in 56 minutes. Here’s the nondescript border:


You quite literally have the choice of entering Monaco on the high road or the low road. I took the high road (for once) because it offers you terrific views over this small, tax-free principality:




In the photo above, Monte Carlo—one of Monaco’s three administrative areas which includes the famous casino and opera house—is to the left, on the harbor. The outcrop on the right is the Rock of Monaco (called Le Rocher or “The Rock”), the base of the old city called Monaco-Ville. This is where Francesco Grimaldi founded modern Monaco in 1297; the Grimaldi family still rules the country from a palace on this little promontory. Of course, since I love me the royals, this would be my next stop. The Royal Palace is rather nondescript:




Rooms not currently in use are open to tourists, guided on audio by current ruler HSH (His Serene Highness) Prince Albert II (who sent my late Grandma Hirsch a lovely autographed photo on her 100th birthday—click HERE to see it!). Photos were not allowed inside. You dedicated DougBloggers know that, for me, “no photography allowed” translates to “put away the big camera and break out the pocket one so you can sneak illegal photos”:




That last shot is the Palace Throne Room (in case you couldn’t tell from the throne in the room), which is also where the late Grace Kelly and Price Rainier III were married in 1956. For this reason the room also contains the official portrait of Princess Grace and her family, which was painted about a year before her untimely death and contains some vary natural poses:


The tiny palace grounds offered great views back over Monaco:



If there is one thing I love more than royals, it’s dead people...so I headed to nearby St. Nicholas Cathedral to pay my respects to Princess Grace:


This Cathedral is where many Grimaldis have been married and buried. The religious ceremony for Princess Grace and Prince Rainier took place here in 1956 the day after their civil ceremony in the palace:



Needless to say, the crowds pretty much ignore the tombs of like likes of Honoré IV and Florestan I as they flock to visit Princess Grace. She put Monaco on the map and was beloved by her people, and her ghost really does seem to hover over this tiny piece of land:


The simple inscription means “Grace Patricia, wife of Prince Rainier III, died 1982 AD”:


Here Prince Rainier III is in the foreground, with his wife behind him:



On my final day I kept things close to home, sitting on the beach and exploring the city of Nice itself. The Boulevard des Anglais is the main drag along the waterfront, like a high-class boardwalk. The red dome belongs to the famed Hotel Negresco:


The beaches are surprisingly narrow and rocky. Many sections are privately owned by the hotels, which often truck in their own sand; the rest is covered by small rocks that are not terribly comfortable:




The old section of Nice is charming and colorful:











My hotel was located on the Jardin Albert 1er, across from the Monument du Centenaire. This column was erected in 1893 to celebrate the centennial of Nice’s return to France from Italy, and was rededicated in 1960 to again celebrate another centennial of a return of Nice to France from Italy (this area has changed hands a lot...):


At the top is the Greek goddess Nike, after whom the city (and the shoe company) is named:


The figures at the base represent France embracing Nice...and also gave me another opportunity for black-and-white statue photography!:



As I packed that evening, I was struck by how crisp and clear the night was—as well as the fullness of the moon:



And the next day, I was on my way home:


So all in all it was an outstanding trip. I’ve always wanted to see more of France beyond the cities, and I certainly did. It was quite a sampling of very different regions and I met some great French people. Vive la France!



BEFORE WE GO…A FEW PARTING SHOTS!

Even the Hertz guy was impressed by how much mileage I put on my car in just two weeks—nearly 2,000!:


What’s France without a bizarre fashion show:


This sign in Nice translates as follows: “This space has been set aside for your enjoyment, it is not destined to receive canine excretions”:


For you children of the 70s who also can’t think of St. Tropez without thinking about Bain de Soleil, here’s a blast from the past:




Au revoir!

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