The Côte d’Azur… what a gorgeous place. V’s sister and I had a glorious few days exploring the French Riviera: Cannes, Nice, Monaco, and the surrounding area. It’s always sunny, the hilly seaside towns give everyone a view of the sparkling Mediterranean, and the food is fresh and delicious. Its landscape and architecture reminded me of mid-coast California – picture Santa Barbara or the Bay Area outside of the cities. It’s also insanely expensive and the traffic is terrible, so if you weren’t born there or you’re not independently wealthy, good luck. (I guess it has more in common with California than just appearances.)
We started our trip with a visit to the hills high above the coast, to the parfumerie Fragonard and its museum in the town of Grasse. It was an interesting look at the history of perfume making and of course the museum ended in a large gift shop. The surrounding neighborhood with its narrow streets and alleys was filled with cute shops and cafes. We visited in early October, and it was still quite warm along the coast, so the cooler air of the hills was a welcome change.
The winding hill roads took us back down to the coast, for a visit with V’s aunt Mimi. Mimi and her husband Gilles own Nounou, located directly on the water. The dining room sits on stilts above the sand. The inside is an elegant, upscale restaurant while outside are beach chairs and colorful umbrellas.
It’s the nicest restaurant I’ve been to where the waiter is barefoot. We had a delicious lunch and nice conversation.
I’m so sad to report that Nounou, in existence for almost 90 years, is likely to close soon. The local government decided that businesses could no longer be located directly on the beach and are forcing Mimi and Gilles, along with the proprietors of two neighboring restaurants, to close their doors and destroy the building. These restaurants are part of the fabric and landscape of the community and it’s truly a sad event.
Alors… After lunch, Mimi was kind enough to take us on a walking tour of Cannes. The beachfront is lined with palm trees and luxury boutiques.
We strolled the narrow streets and I found a cheese shop I’d like to move into.
The next day we drove to Monaco. I’m always tickled by the way you can cross borders in Europe without fanfare.
Monaco is a tiny country without natural resources of its own (unless you count beautiful Mediterranean views), but it has tax laws very favorable to the very rich. Accordingly it’s densely populated with the fabulously wealthy.
My rental car felt very inferior driving alongside all the Mercedes and Range Rovers and the occasional Maserati. The streets aren’t paved with gold, but they seem clean enough to eat from.
We reserved only a morning to explore Monaco, so we saw the oceanographic institute from the outside.
In keeping with its history as a tiny principality that had to fend off invading forces over the centuries, parts of Monaco have a fortress feel to them.
Each day at noon, the royal guard stage an elaborate changing of the guard ceremony at the Palais Princier. As the members of the palace guard can only be native Monegasque, and the country has a population of only 6,000 natives, it struck me that a little boy in Monaco could have the quite realistic dream of playing the trumpet in the royal guard. (It seems that the guard hasn’t yet been integrated by gender so apparently a little girl couldn’t have that same dream.)
If I return to Monaco someday, I’ll make sure pack a fancy dress in my suitcase and pretend to be a Bond girl at the Monte Carlo casino.
I’m glad I visited Monaco, but I wouldn’t make a special trip to visit. Both Cannes and Monaco exhibited ostentatious displays of wealth but didn’t have much else to offer. I fear that the Disney-fication of the Riviera will spread as the local government shutters such establishments as Chez Nounou. While also wealthy areas, I much preferred my time in Vallauris, Nice, and Antibes which seemed more down to earth. More on these locations later in the week.