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A Road trip through the French Riviera
By Christopher Measom

(RICK ARCHER'S NOTE: Mr. Christopher Meason wrote this wonderful story about driving the daring roads of the Riviera. I would like to share it with you. )

A car journey along the French Riviera is captivating, to say the least. But it is by no means a road trip in the American sense of vast distances and devil-may-care parking. No, it's definitely a Euro experience where credit cards pay tolls, parking is always an issue, and instead of barking into a Wendy's drive-through I speak my best French into a speaker at the gates of a medieval village so the garbled voice at the other end can lower the barricade and let me in--wherein I barely avoid scraping up against the excruciatingly narrow 13th-century ramparts and almost tumble down the marble steps into the cemetery as I back up in a desperate attempt to turn a sharp corner.

That said, Marc Chagall is in the cemetery at the edge of the town of St-Paul-de-Vence, and a wild game of pétanque (Provence's answer to the Italian boccie) is in progress as my shaky legs take me to the Café de la Place for a much-needed beer.

I had been invited to Monte Carlo by the legendary Swedish car manufacturer Saab to test-drive the groovy lime yellow 9-3 convertible with its snappy guidance system--"prepare to make a slight left"--and over-the-top rain-sensing windshield wipers. Of course, I was, like, Wow--Monte Carlo! Casinos, James Bond, talking cars, Cary Grant, Princess Grace...uh, did they say I'd be driving on twisty roads? Yup. And as my companion, Kevin, Smith a former race-car driver turned Saab PR maven, whipped around the umpteenth hairpin turn on the edge of the Palisades cliffs far, far above the Mediterranean, the little Mario Cantone in my head blurted out, "I wonder what Princess Grace would have thought about these cliffs?" Thus began my tour of the Riviera. The Saab-smooth but white-knuckle drive high above the crashing sea was actually lots of fun (think Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief) and not nearly as scary as the coming-out I did (will it never end?). This time I told a group of automotive journalists that on my new car, no matter where I looked or which secret buttons I pushed, I could not figure out how to open the hood. Where was Bond when I needed him? They were very supportive and even told me that my car has front-wheel drive. Who knew?

But it was after my weekend of convertibles and hairpin curves when I slowed down to smell the mimosas--so to speak--that I got to explore the area and found that there are actually two Rivieras. There is the well-known Riviera, running along the coast, like Monaco, all sunglasses and Hermès beach towels; and just to the north between the sea and the foothills of the Alps is the lesser-known Arrière Pays ("back country"), a mixture of picturesque "perched villages" and local industry. The walled villages are literally perched atop hills, and the industry is of the fun variety, like perfume and pottery. And because the amazing light and mild climate attracted practically every well-known artist of the 20th century, the Riviera is dripping in art. Even better, the legacy of creativity thrives today in the local culture. It is not only everywhere to appreciate and to buy, but to create.

Despite my complete lack of auto expertise, the drive was glorious. And without a car I would have missed both the view from the road above Villefranche, a town of terra-cotta buildings and turquoise shutters stuck to a hillside overlooking the sea, and the fish soup at the restaurant Charlot 1er Roi des Coquillages in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, where the flaming soufflé Grand Marnier made even the locals (and the poodles seated next to them) stop and stare.

As for navigation, the signposts worked well, and if the name of the town I was looking for disappeared at one traffic circle, it normally reappeared at the next. If not, I'd stop for lunch--always a two-hour affair, which worked out perfectly because (surprise) everything closes from noon to 2 p.m. Everything. I caught on to the schedule thing quickly, though: Restaurants typically close on Monday, museums on Tuesday, and holidays in France are, well, random.

I went no farther that 25 miles in all--creating a Nike-logo-shaped path starting at the border of Italy, moving west along the coast, then curving north and east into the back country. And although that distance could be covered in an hour with a 9-3 convertible and well-tied kerchief, a long weekend is better. Even if you only wanted to drive, eat, swim, and stop at the odd casino, the pace is slower here. Enjoy it.

Monte Carlo is the only city in the principality of Monaco (after the Vatican, it is the second smallest sovereign state, with 30,000 people residing in 0.7 square miles). And yes, it's as rich and glamorous as in the movies. Even getting there from the regional airport at Nice is spectacular, since most people fly by helicopter (faster and cheaper than a cab). Ten euros and a passport get you into the lovely but painfully quiet Casino de Monte-Carlo, where roulette wheels spin and intense croupiers preside in every imaginable language. But unless you are 007, you will not be invited into the Salon Super Privé. Instead, park yourself outside at the Café de Paris (directly on the Place du Casino), order a Kir Royale and critique--I mean, watch--the passersby. Be sure also to duck into the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, where Princess Grace had her fairy-tale wedding and where she is now buried. It's in the old town near the prince's palace.

To start your road trip from Monte Carlo, first drive east to Menton (on the Italian border) to see the museum that the prolific artist-filmmaker-writer (and gay boy) Jean Cocteau created from a 17th-century fortress. From there I suggest driving back through Monaco along the road they call the Basse Corniche (N98), keeping the Mediterranean on your left, just to revel in the sublime Riviera. In Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, tour the Villa Kérylos, a detailed reproduction of an ancient Greek home. The Villa Ephrussi-de-Rothschild in nearby St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat houses a 5,000-piece art collection; the gardens alone merit a stop. Villefranche-Sur-Mer is the ultimate Riviera town where some of the sexiest angels in Christendom reside in the St. Pierre Chapel, Cocteau's homoerotic homage to the patron saint of fishermen. And although there is a dearth of organized gay life along the Riviera, the Lounge Beach restaurant at the end of Villefranche, on a sandyish beach, sports a rainbow flag. Farther along the coast in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, Renoir's house and studio are open to the public.

After my drive along the Riviera, passing by its gay-popular beaches of Eze, Coco, and Castel, then through Nice, I went inland. Here you can explore the medieval towns, shop, and see even more incredible 20th-century art. In Vallauris, the "town of potters," the Romanesque chapel in the ch?teau is adorned with Picasso's work, while the Magnelli Museum-Ceramics Museum is devoted to contemporary ceramics from art nouveau to '50s deco. Grasse is the perfume capital of the world and the International Perfumery Museum has an excellent collection of bottles, including fanciful Schiaparellis. Make an appointment to create your own fragrance. At La Verrerie de Biot you can watch them making their unique bubbled glass, then buy it. Matisse's Rosary Chapel, designed brilliantly from the hanging oil lamp to the confessional, is in the village of Vence. The attached museum displays his colorful vestments--a unique look at Matisse as fashion designer.

"My trip ended in one of the most charming villages of the back country, St. Paul, also know as St-Paul-de-Vence, clearly touristy but charming. Ask for the Artistes-Artisans-Galeries brochure from the tourist office and tell them you want to meet a local artist. Do not miss the Maeght Foundation, a storehouse of modern art set in a garden of masterpieces. And at the end of the day, with your car parked safely outside the village away from those medieval walls, sit at the Café de la Place, have yourself a glass of wine and a plate of olives, and start planning your return: next time to paint, to make glassware, or to create a perfume. Oh la la!

Joie de Vivre on the French Riviera

(RICK ARCHER'S NOTE: Rick Steves is a prolific writer on everything related to travel.)

I'm in hilly Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera. It's twilight and I'm eating at Mere Germaine (Momma Germaine), a restaurant that got its start feeding hungry GIs in WWII. Germaine's grandson runs the place today and he's at my table — artfully filleting six different fish before lovingly ladling on the broth.

He explains the Riviera's most famous dish to me as if I plan to cook it back at my hotel: "It's a spicy fish stew based on recipes handed down from sailors in nearby Marseille. A true bouillabaisse must contain at least four types of fresh fish — though we include six. It never has shellfish. We cook the fish in a tomato-based stock...flavor with saffron and white wine." He finishes the lesson sprinkling in croutons and capping everything with a dollop of garlicky rouille sauce.

Savoring perhaps the most expensive dish I've ever eaten in Europe ($60), I'm engulfed in the Riviera good life. I'm so close to the harbor I can toss my olive pits into the sea.

Several mega-yachts sit off shore. One's named Lady Maura (I'm told Maura is an ex-wife of the Saudi King Fahd). You never know whose stern line you might be catching around here. A skipper looking formal in his casual wear is shuttled ashore by his tidy mate in a tiny dinghy...just picking up his statuesque date for the evening. Germaine's grandson gives me a knowing wink.

Pondering my lavish meal along with the day’s sightseeing, I'm reminded of the heritage of hedonism unique to this stretch of Mediterranean beach.

Some of the Riviera's priciest real estate stretches from where I sit, in Villefranche, to nearby Monaco. Just beyond the Lady Maura, Cap Ferrat, an extremely exclusive, largely residential community, fills a peaceful park-like peninsula. While you'll never get past any gates, I spent a delightful day here just strolling — and this isn't your average jogging trail. Following its well-groomed path, I got a glimpse of David Niven's home, wandered the ritsy port of St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat, toured the ultimate Riviera mansion and gardens — the Rothschild Ephrussi Villa, and stumbled upon a hidden little beach. Not very welcoming, it felt like the private domain of aristocratic nymphs and satyrs.

In towns all along the Riviera, graceful buildings from the turn-of-the-last-century line the harborfront — reminders of the belle époque. It was literally the "beautiful age," when the world seemed to revolve around the upper class and indulgence with abandon was a lifestyle.

A prime example of belle époque luxury is the majestic Hôtel Negresco, overlooking the grand Mediterranean promenade of Nice. The hotel offers some of the city's most expensive beds and the chance to step back into that age of extreme refinement. Its exquisite Royal Salon combines belle époque grace with engineering by the great French architect Gustav Eiffel. The chandelier is made of 16,000 pieces of crystal. It was built in France for the Russian czar's Moscow palace...but, because of the Bolshevik Revolution, he couldn't take delivery.

Just beyond Nice is the town of Antibes. "Discovered" after WWI, it enjoyed a particularly roaring '20s — with the help of party animals such as Rudolf Valentino and the rowdy-yet-very-silent Charlie Chaplin. They say fun-seekers even invented water skiing there in the 1920s.

Picasso enjoyed the good life in Antibes. In 1946, 65-year-old Pablo Picasso was reborn. World War II was over, and Picasso could finally escape the gray skies and gray uniforms of Nazi-occupied Paris. Enjoying worldwide fame and the love of 23-year-old Françoise Gilot, he moved to Antibes. He painted like a madman, spent mornings swimming in the Mediterranean, evenings partying with friends, and late nights painting again.

Ever-restless, Picasso had finally found his Garden of Eden...his joy of life. In Antibes' Picasso Museum, his Joie de Vivre shows the painter's flower-child — Françoise. She kicks up her heels and dances across a Riviera beach. Flute-playing satyrs, centaurs, and fauns announce the newfound freedom of a newly-liberated France and a newly-liberated Picasso.

After decades in the city, Picasso rediscovered the joys of village life. Shopping at the Antibes market, he'd return home and turn groceries into masterpieces. With his distinct Cubist style, he captured sunbathers...and munching locals. He was fascinated with the simple life of fishermen. Here on the Riviera, like so many others, Picasso found a pagan paradise, where civilized people could let their hair down and indulge in simple, animal pleasures.

Travel, like a bouillabaisse, is the happy result of good things coming together. For the French Riviera, take a variety of beach towns, spice with modern art, toss in a pinch of history, sprinkle in some market fun, and let simmer under the Mediterranean sun.

By Otto Luck

(RICK ARCHER'S NOTE:  I think this marvelous story by Otto Luck is a fun read for anyone traveling to the Riviera. For a change, he writes a travel story without any intention of selling anything.  As a result, his copy is very entertaining.)


Nice, our first stop along the French Riviera, is a splendid and majestic place that easily lives up to its reputation of being near to heaven on Earth. One might oversimplify it as being sort of a cross between Paris and Miami Beach. It is far more laid-back, however, than the former and far less tacky than the latter.

Nice’s ancient buildings are well-preserved and its seaside atmosphere is coolly seductive with some of the most pristine turquoise waters your eyes will ever behold. It’s a fashionable place where the people are friendly, the streets are bustling, and the women are exquisite. Even the elderly women are beautiful here, in a Grand Madame sort of way. How could all this elegance have come about? The same way the Riviera sky became so blue, I suppose (i.e., I dunno).

We stayed in two hotels while in Nice. The first was old enough to include the now obsolete French fixture called the bidét. (If you’re not familiar with this item, it’s pretty much a cross between a sink and a toilet bowl, used for the purpose of cleansing one’s rear end. Needless to say, we opted for the shower, a modern appliance that actually cleanses the entire body.)

The second hotel, in which we stayed, was my favorite during our stay on the Riviera (Hôtel Flots D’Azur, 101 Promenade Des Anglais). It sits directly on the Côte d’Azur (the Blue Coast), is moderately priced, includes parking, and is run by some of the most gracious hosts you’ll find on this side of the Mediterranean.

One last note, to experience some of the best cafés or get a taste of the local blues and rock bands, head to Vieux Nice, the oldest and perhaps most culturally vibrant section of the city. C’est Cool, as they might say in these parts.

Monaco/Monte Carlo

Our next stop on the map was Monaco. Put simply, this place is just not my cup of thé. My wife (the illustrious Pumpkin Luck) says this is because I lost at the tables. Be this as it may, Monaco still appears to be a stiff autocratic province whose main attractions include parading you past Princess Grace’s grave, draining you of your money at the Monte Carlo casinos (see above), and showing you a 35-minute clip of the country’s barbaric history at 38 francs a pop.

The area is swarming with cops. Rumor has it that surveillance cameras sit in every crevice and cubbyhole recording your every move. Monaco, in fact, appears to be all about well-protected wealth and little else. Sadly, you’ll find the same profile of visitor in the gaming rooms as you would in the environs of Atlantic City (not the spirits of James Bond, Cary Grant and Marlene Deitrich and company).

The country is still ruled by a monarchy, a similar lot to those who were overthrown eons ago in the French Revolution. The best thing I can say about Monaco is that the ride to it from Nice is nothing short of outstanding, with gorgeous mountain views and clear shots of the aqua-blue water at every breathtaking curve of the winding coastal road. Unfortunately, what follows upon arrival is a bit of a let down, if your taste is anywhere in line with mine.


Drove in from the coast, after a couple of days, to the hillside village of Vence. Honestly, I don’t know if I have the imagination or skill to describe the beauty of this place. It’s as if one of the most idyllic portraits of the French countryside has somehow sprung to life and we’ve had the good fortune to magically step into it. Here in Vence it appears as if a simpler, more enchanting era has been frozen in time.

Small stone buildings predate the existence of anything called America. They dot the mountainside, with their terra cotta roofs and shuttered windows, masterfully built into the sloping terrain. Down below, narrow streets wind through the village in no meaningful direction but somehow lead to one remarkable and historic place after another.

Woke up in the morning with the sun beating through the casement window of our hotel room, and the sounds of French children playing in the street. The village bell was striking nine. It was like a scene from the Twilight Zone, the one where the careworn city dweller blinks his eyes and somehow finds himself in the most pastoral setting imaginable.

Concerning the hotel, our host was somewhat short on manners (and somewhat short on towels) so, I can’t, in good conscious, recommend the accommodations. Vence, itself, however, is as magnificent as they come.


On the last leg of our journey we traveled to the cities of Cannes and Saint-Tropez. I suppose the optimal phrase to describe these places is Jet Set. Ancient buildings house elegant shops that sell top-of-line clothing and jewelry: Hermés, Cartier, Dior, et al.

The people, too, are elegant -- as one would expect. The men appear to be the sophisticated European types relaxing between jaunts to the two or three Mediterranean islands they own. The women are slender, fashionable things whose clothing appears to be painted on as flawlessly as their makeup.

A funny thing about the beaches at Cannes, though, they were inhabited with an older population, one in which I would guess the average age to be somewhere around 127, give or take a year. At night, however, the restaurants attract a younger, more vibrant crowd. The small alley of St. Antoine, in particular, houses a fashionable group who wine and dine through all hours of the evening.

The Beach at Saint-Tropez

Saint-Tropez, also lives up to its reputation as haunt for globe-trotters. Our visit was cursory, at best, so I can only supply limited information. I will say that the Saint-Tropez beaches are far more private and chic than those we experienced at Cannes. They are a bit tougher to access, however, being a few kilometers from the town’s center, but this probably accounts for the fact that they remain so beautiful and exclusive, so the extra effort to reach them is clearly worth it.


With their worldwide fame as the earth's most glamorous beaches, the real thing often comes as a shock to first-timers: much of the Côte d'Azur is lined with rock and pebble, and the beaches are narrow swaths backed by city streets or roaring highways.

Only St-Tropez, Cannes, and isolated bits around Fréjus and Antibes have sandy waterfronts, hence their legendary popularity. Many beaches are privately operated, renting parasols and mattresses to anyone who pays; if you're a guest at one of the local hotels, you'll get a discount. Fees for private beaches average EUR 6-EUR 10 for a dressing room and mattress, between EUR 2 and EUR 4 for a parasol, and between EUR 4 and EUR 5 for a cabana to call your own. Private beaches alternate with open stretches of public frontage.


The best plages (beaches) are scattered along a 5-km (3-mi) stretch reached by the Route des Plages (Beach Road); the most fashionable are Moorea and Club 55; the most daring is the mostly topless Tahiti. Those beaches close to town—Plage des Greniers and the Bouillabaisse —are accessible on foot, but many prefer the 10-km (6-mi) sandy crescent at Les Salins and the long, sandy stretch of the Plage de Pampelonne, 4 km (3 mi) from town. Bicycles are an ideal way to get to the beach, and Espace 83 is a popular place for rentals. Holiday Bikes offers a wide variety of bikes for hire.


You may be put off by the heavily built-up waterfront bristling with parking-garage-style apartments and hotels, and its position directly on the waterfront highway, but Ste-Maxime is an affordable family resort with fine sandy beaches. It even has a sliver of car-free Vieille Ville and a stand of majestic plane trees sheltering central place Victor-Hugo. The main beach, north of town, is the wide and sandy La Nartelle.


Most of the beaches along La Croisette are owned by hotels and/or restaurants, though this doesn't necessarily mean the hotels or restaurants front the beach. It does mean they own a patch of beachfront bearing their name, where they rent out chaise longues, mats, and umbrellas to the public and hotel guests (who also have to pay). Public beaches are between the color-coordinated private beach umbrellas and offer simple open showers and basic toilets. Sailboats can be rented at either port or with some of the beachfront hotels.


Antibes and Juan together claim 25 km (15½ mi) of coastline and 48 beaches (including Cap d'Antibes). In Antibes you can choose between small sandy inlets—such as La Gravette, below the port; the central place de Ponteil; and Plage de la Salis, toward the Cap—rocky escarpments around the Vieille Ville; or the vast stretch of sand above the Fort Carré.


If Antibes is the elderly, historic parent, then Juan-les-Pins is the jazzy younger-sister resort town that, with Antibes, bracelets the wrist of the Cap d'Antibes. The scene along Juan's waterfront is something to behold, with thousands of international sunseekers flowing up and down the promenade or lying flank to flank on its endless stretch of sand. The Plage de Juan-les-Pins is made up of sand, not pebbles, and ranks among the Riviera's best (rent a beach chair from the nearby hotel concessions, the best of which is Les Belles Rives).


Nice's beaches extend all along the Baie des Anges, backed full-length by the Promenade des Anglais. Public stretches alternate with posh private beaches that have restaurants—and bar service, mattresses and parasols, waterskiing, parasailing, windsurfing, and jet-skiing. One of the handiest private beaches is the Beau Rivage, set across from the Opera. The sun can also be yours for the basking at Ruhl, across from the casino.



Eastern Riviera

Monaco, toy kingdom: Yes, Virginia, you can afford to visit Monte Carlo—that is, if you avoid its casinos and head instead for its magnificent tropical gardens.

Picasso & Company: Because artists have long loved the Côte d'Azur, it is blessed with superb art museums, including the Fondation Maeght in St-Paul and the Musée Picasso in Antibes.

Èze, island in the sky: The most perfectly perched of the coast's villages perchés, Èze has some of the most breathtaking views this isde of a NASA space capsule.

Nice, Queen of the Riviera: With its bonbon-colored palaces, blue Baie des Anges, time-stained Old Town, and Musée Matisse, this is one of France's most colorful cities.

Sunkissed Cap d'Antibes: Bordering well-hidden mansions and zillion-dollar hotels, the Sentier Tirepoil is a spectacular footpath along the sea.

Western Riviera

St-Tropez à go-go: Brave the world's most outlandish fishing port in high summer and soak up the scene. Just don't forget the fake-tan lotion.

Les Gorges du Verdon: Peer down into its vertiginous green depths and you'll understand why this is one of the most dramatic natural sites in France.

Picture-perfect Moustiers-Ste-Marie: Best known for its faïence, this town is also worth visiting for the sight of houses clinging to the cliffs—often with entrances on different levels.

A gothic château extravaganza: In Mandelieu-La Napoule, discover the most bizarrely extravagant house of the coast—the Château de la Napoule, festooned with tapestries, peacocks, and art students.

Beguiling Cotignac: With almost no boutiques but a lively weekly market, this is a place to experience Provençal life in the slow lane.

And one more reason - the most beautiful women in the world come here...


The French Riviera, also known as the Riviera, is synonymous with the sea, golden beaches and, above all, a lot of luxury. But this place coastal France has much more to offer, as its cultural and artistic inexhaustible. In fact, for legendary artists like Picasso, Renoir and Matisse, this beautiful environment was a great source of inspiration for his life and his most famous works.

In the course of seventy miles of coast between Menton and Cannes, the French Riviera stretches, located in neighboring France. This region contains picturesque cities, which include Cannes, Cagnes Sur Mer, Nice and Menton. The Riviera has become a much sought after tourist destination since it started to mass tourism in the last decade of the fifties. Previously, it was an inhospitable coast, but since the nineteenth century began to be visited in winter by aristocrats from cold regions abroad. At present, the luxury is felt in its extensive waterfront, in their palms, their expensive hotels and large yachts.

However, the French Riviera also has beautiful natural landscapes, divided between its beaches, mountains and valleys. But what is striking in a special way is the cultural richness that this coastal location offers. Contemporary artists such as Picasso, Renoir, Matisse and Léger, have left this place in his artistic legacy, so that each of these famous people here have their own museum. This is the case of a museum reporting in Cagnes Sur Mer, the National Picasso Museum in Vallauris, Henri Matisse Museum in Nice and the Jean Cocteau Museum in Menton. It should know that art lovers can buy the card Musées Côte d’Azur, which allows a free and unlimited access to endless queues of permanent collections and temporary exhibitions of 65 museums and monuments.

As a natural destination, the Riviera shows seventy kilometers of golden beach, with a mild climate that allows you to enjoy a warm atmosphere throughout the year. The coast has a promenade that goes practically from Cannes to Menton and the beautiful palm trees that come in its entirety. Beaches, public and private, are paradise and one of the main reasons for visiting the Riviera. Highlights of the Midi, Cannes and Nice are obliged to visit the beaches of pebbles, in the Paseo de Anglais. In the city of Nice is the park of Mercantour, where marmots and chamois can be seen between the waterfalls and streams and mountain peaks of over three thousand meters.

Moreover, the Riviera is famous for its fine dining and recipes savory dishes of the restaurants reach very high scores on the culinary guides from different countries. Recommended dishes include fish stew with garlic, fish soup or lamb. They are also the delicious niçoise salad, made with onions, anchovies, rice and tomatoes, and pissaladière, a Provencal tart made of tuna, capers and anchovies.

Cannes and Nice

Two highly sought destinations within the region of the Riviera are Cannes and Nice. The city of Cannes is world famous for its international film festival, but has many other attractions: its beaches, its trendy clubs and its hospitable people. The major points of interest are the rue Meynadier, cosmopolitan atmosphere of a street, Le Palais des Festivals and the Croisette. One can also visit the Church of Du Bon Voyage, of the eighteenth century, Alexander III and St. Georges. They are also recommended to visit the flower market and fruits, park and garden Roseraie Alexandre III. On the other hand, from Cannes can be reached by boat, three islands that are fascinating: Lérins, a quiet island, Santa Margarita, historic place where he was imprisoned the legendary man of the Iron Mask and the beach of San Honorato, a impressive Gothic monastery.

Another of the major cities of the Costa Azul is Nice. It’s cultural and leisure activities is endless. Places full of charm are the palace of the prefecture, the Opera, in the nineteenth century, Mediterranée casino, the castle in the hills of Mount Boron and Modern outdoor theater. In the hills above Nice Cimiez district, this is preserved from Roman times as a place of residence for the powerful. Characters known as Matisse, among others, lived in this rich neighborhood. Currently, its economy has declined and is inhabited by less affluent and commercial premises. There are museums dedicated to Matisse and Chagall, the Roman ruins and some springs of the second century.

With the Alps playing bodyguard against inland winds and the sultry Mediterranean warming the breezes, the Côte d'Azur, or French Riviera, is pampered by a nearly tropical climate. This is where the dreamland of azure waters and indigo sky begins, where balustraded white villas edge the blue horizon, evening air is perfumed with jasmine and mimosa, and parasol pines silhouette against sunsets of ripe apricot and gold. As emblematic as the sheet-music cover for a Jazz Age tune, the Côte d'Azur seems to epitomize happiness, a state of being the world pursues with a vengeance.

But the Jazz Age dream confronts modern reality: on the hills that undulate along the blue water, every cliff, cranny, gully, and plain bristles with cubes of hot-pink cement and iron balconies, each skewed to catch a glimpse of the sea and the sun. Like a rosy rash, these crawl and spread, outnumbering the trees and blocking each other's views. Their owners and renters, who arrive on every vacation and at every holiday—Easter, Christmas, Carnival, All Saints' Day—choke the tiered highways with bumper-to-bumper cars, and on a hot day in high summer the traffic to the beach—slow-flowing at any time—coagulates and blisters in the sun.

There has always been a rush to the Côte d'Azur (or Azure Coast), starting with the ancient Greeks, who were drawn eastward from Marseille to market their goods to the natives. From the 18th-century English aristocrats who claimed it as one vast spa to the 19th-century Russian nobles who transformed Nice into a tropical St. Petersburg to the 20th-century American tycoons who cast themselves as romantic sheiks, the beckoning coast became a blank slate for their whims.

Like the modern vacationers who followed, they all left their mark—villas, shrines—temples all to the sensual pleasures of the sun and sultry sea breezes. Artists, too, made the Côte d'Azur their own, as museum goers who have studied the sunny legacy of Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, and Chagall will attest. Today's admirers can take this all in, along with the Riviera's textbook points of interest: animated St-Tropez; the Belle Epoque aura of Cannes; the towns made famous by Picasso—Antibes, Vallauris, Mougins; the urban charms of Nice; and several spots where the per-capita population of billionaires must be among the highest on the planet: Cap d'Antibes, Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Monaco.

Veterans know that the beauty of the Côte d'Azur coastline is only skin deep, a thin veneer of coddled glamour that hugs the water and hides a much more ascetic region up in the hills. These low-lying mountains and deep gorges are known as the arrière-pays (backcountry) for good cause: they are as aloof and isolated as the waterfront resorts are in the swim.

Medieval stone villages cap rocky hills and play out scenes of Provençal life—the game of boules, the slowly savored pastis (the anise-and-licorice-flavored spirit mixed slowly with water), the farmers' market—as if the ocean were a hundred miles away. Some of them have become virtual Provençal theme parks, catering to busloads of tourists day-tripping from the coast. But just behind them, dozens of hill towns stand virtually untouched, and you can lose yourself in a cobblestone maze.

You could drive from St-Tropez to the border of Italy in three hours and take in the entire Riviera, so small is this renowned stretch of Mediterranean coast. Along the way you'll undoubtedly encounter the downside: jammed beaches, insolent waiters serving frozen seafood, traffic gridlock. But once you dabble your feet off the docks in a picturesque port full of brightly painted boats, or drink a Lillet in a hilltop village high above the coast, or tip your face up to the sun from a boardwalk park bench and doze off to the rhythm of the waves, you will very likely be seduced to linger.

By Walter and Cherie Glaser

 I think this is a fascinating story about the French Riviera. Walter and Cherie Glaser have written my absolute favorite travelogue.)

The French Riviera -- the very name conjures up visions of movie starlets stepping out of sports Mercedes, of shapely young women tanning topless on the beach, of elegant couples in dinner suits and evening gowns sitting at the Black Jack tables of small, stylish casinos, of multi-million-dollar megayachts tied up at glamorous marinas, and of holidaying crowds wandering along the Promenade des Anglais, the famous waterfront street of Nice. And all these images would be correct, for the Riviera can be all things to all people -- a dream destination where anything can happen (remember the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?) and any wish come true.

But unfortunately many people visit the Riviera without knowing where to go and what to see, often missing out on some of the best and most fascinating aspects of this many-faceted jewel. Perhaps, then, you may wish to come with us and explore the more interesting and sometimes out of the way places that draw us back to the Riviera year after year.

A word of advice here. Avoid July and August when planning your trip. Not only is the weather a little too hot for comfort, but the whole of Europe seems to descend on the Riviera in those months, pushing down the standard of service, and sending prices rocketing. Insiders visit the Riviera in May and June or September and October. At that time the wall to wall crowds are still ... or already ... absent, the weather is balmy, and you don't need to queue up for restaurants. You can enjoy what is to many Europe's finest watering hole, without having crowds from France and what seems to be every tourist from Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Britain, Scandinavia, Asia, America, Australia and more lately Eastern Europe breathing right down your neck.

As long as you don't linger too long in Nice, it's a good place to start. After all it's the major airport for the Riviera and international airlines are now starting to fly in also. There is no shortage of good hotels, and which you choose will depend on your budget as much as on your taste.

Stroll slowly along the Promenade des Anglais. This must be the world's best place for people-watching. If you are from the America or the Asia/Pacific region, and are used to golden-sand beaches that stretch for miles, you will be amazed how stony and comparatively uninviting the beach at Nice is. The backpackers and masochists seem to be happy enough to ignore this and spread towels out over the large pebbles. The hedonists and those prepared to spend the cash, luxuriate in the deck chairs provided on the wooden platforms that offer "pay as you tan" comfort.

Should the little white tourist train come past, hail it and take the trip. Yes, it's touristy and perhaps a little kitch, but it does point out the interesting spots in Nice, and its the sort of thing that's fun once and madness twice!

On a day when you are wearing your Sunday best, stop as you reach the red-domed Hotel Negresco, (Promenade des Anglais) and look inside. This is arguably the most stylish and most elegant hotel on the Riviera. Look at the Chantecler Restaurant, perhaps making a mental note to dine there for a most romantic ... but not inexpensive ...dinner. There is also a less expensive restaurant, based on the theme of a fairground carousel that most would also greatly enjoy.

Even if your budget does not allow you to stay or dine at this splendid hotel, look inside. The chandelier was ordered by the Tsar of Russia for his St. Petersburg Palace, but he was murdered before it was completed. That chandelier, made by the famous Baccarat Company was bought by the Negresco for The Salon Royale, to hang under the glass dome which was designed by Gustave Eiffel of Tower fame.

And if you are a male, and have your pocket camera handy, you may just want to photograph the mens' toilet downstairs. No! I'm not drunk or kidding when I suggest this. You may have seen some unusual washrooms in your life, but I promise you one that is quite remarkable here. The theme is Napoleonic, with half-helmets used as reflectors for the wall lights, and officers campaign trunks that open to reveal washbasins. I don't quite know the significance of the battlescene mural that rises above the urinals, but the whole effect is nothing if not brilliantly dramatic. Naturally, the other public rooms of the Negresco are less controversial, but they are equally original and truly splendid.

The Avenue Jean Medecin in Nice is another "must do" place, although I've never really found it all that exciting. It does, however, have some lovely shops and some excellent outdoor restaurants where dining is a lot of fun.

Shopping in Nice is fairly simple. One option is to start at the Place Massena and go down the main shopping street. Most people make their first stop the Galeries Lafayette, the biggest department store in town. They often have a 10% discount for tourists, but you must ask for this. Also remember that, if you spend more than 2,000 francs, you are entitled to shop and get your VAT ... value added tax ... refunded when you leave. Ask the English-speaking enquiry girl for details.

Don't miss the new Marks and Spencer store further along the street. Here M and S fans will find exactly the same range as in London at only a very marginally higher price. And I have a special tip for wine buffs. If you want to present any of your French friends with American, Australian, Chilean, South African or New Zealand wine, and show them how good these can be, you will not only find them in the food department of M and S, but at a price that is probably no dearer than these wines are in their countries of origin. And as for M and S clothing, many consider this the best value for money merchandise of its kind anywhere. And the street is full of temptations with names like Bally and many others well represented.

An historic and poignant touch is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral at 17 Blvd. du Tzarewitch just off Gambetta Blvd. The son of Tsar Nicholas had tuberculosis and was sent to Nice by the last Tsar in the hope that the young man would recover. When he died, instead the Russian Orthodox Chapel and Church were built here in the shape of the colourful onion-domed churches of Moscow fame. The other splendid attraction in Nice I would recommend is the Chagall Museum in Rue du Docteur Menard. This has some splendid works by this brilliant artist and is well worth a visit.

Culture vultures will also not want to miss the Musee Matisse, 164 Avenue des Arenes-de-Cimiez, which features some of that artist's outstanding works. Alongside is the Musee Archeologique, with some brilliant exhibits of what life was like in the small ... population 20,000 ... Roman town of Cimiez, the predecessor of Nice, 2,000 years ago.

If you have stayed in Nice to this point, you have not needed a car. But to explore the rest of the Riviera, a self-drive car is virtually essential. And here's another tip. If you are coming from another country, you may get a very much better deal if you pre-book your vehicle with your local Hertz office or another large rental agency. Hertz is well represented on the Riviera and you won't need a large expensive car, especially with gasoline being two to three times the price you may pay in North America.

Those for whom budgets are not all that tight have a real treat in store for them. They will be the lucky ones who can enjoy what are some of the finest hotels in Europe. These ... with the exception of the aforementioned Negresco ... are out of Nice, but relatively close on what is, in my opinion, Europe's best road system. Here are some hotels that are the stuff dreams are made of. With the elegance demanded by the aristocracy for which they were built, the sheer class with which they have been maintained, a standard of impeccable service that has to be experienced to be believed and a cuisine which is a pacesetter for the world, the hotels of the Riviera I will tell you about here are a hard act to follow. Why stay there? Because they are possibly the world's best in their class. Sure, they're not for everybody. But they are built for those who can afford the very best and, as one retired American executive said to me, "There are no pockets in shrouds. And we're having the holiday of a lifetime here. My grandchildren don't know it, but they're paying for our holiday. When we die they'll just get that much less."

The hotels which fall into this class are the Hotel de Paris, Monaco; The Hotels Royal Riviera and La Reserve in Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, The Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat at Cap Ferrat, The Hotel Saint Martin (Route de Coursegoules Vence) at Vence and The Hotel Byblos (Route de Coursegoules Vence) at Saint Tropez. Added to these must come two fascinating hotels that are part of the ramparts of 13th Century hill villages, the Hostellerie Chevre d'Or at Eze Village, and the Hotel Saint Paul in the artists' village of Saint Paul de Vence. All of these are at the top of their class, but more about this later.

Right now we'll start at the point closest to the Italian border, La Turbie and Peillon, just past Monaco and some thirty minutes from Nice by high-speed freeway on the high Corniche. There are three roads that take you to the Italian border from Nice. The low Corniche is the coast road that follows the sea, the middle Corniche is just atop the cliffs that rise vertically just inside the shore line and the high Corniche is further inland, and a breathtaking work of engineering of the sort for which both the French and the Swiss are justifiably famous. But few know that the original Grand Corniche was the Roman Via Aurelia, along which Roman Legions marched from Rome to the Rhone Valley and on to their outposts in Britain and Germany. In 1806 Napoleon built the first proper road that followed this path, but with breathtaking engineering and viaducts, the modern autoroute you travel on to Italy makes the journey incredibly easy.

Most people don't use the exit to La Turbie, but it is worth the effort, for in this charming village you will find one of Rome's grandest monuments, La Trophee des Alpes. This huge Roman monument was built by Emperor Augustus five years B.C. -- a 150 foot high monument on 120 foot square base that commemorates the subjugation of the 44 Ligurian tribes that had, till then, been a thorn in the side of the Romans, disrupting traffic between Rome and Gaul. The monument was, in fact, erected on the spot that marks the border between Rome and that province. It is one of the most imposing Roman monuments in existence, and well worth the visit.

Within a two hour hike across wooded mountains lie two medival villages. Peillon and Peillie are as yet almost totally unspoilt by tourism, their inhabitants making a livelihood from the cultivation of age-old olive groves that cover the hillsides. By car the trip from La Turbie is quite a roundabout one, but do take it! These villages have to be seen to be believed and are absolutely charming.

Back in the car, carefully wind your way down the zigzag road that leads to the lower village. Yes! You are right. That is the one that, according to locals, Grace Kelly (oops -- Princess Grace of Monaco) was killed on. But while care must still be taken, the road has been very substantially improved and is not the hazard it used to be.

If you want to stay in the make-believe world of Monte Carlo, then the best place to choose is doubtlessly the Hotel de Paris right alongside the Casino. Once you've seen this hotel, it will come as no surprise to you when I tell you that it belongs to a company owned by the Grimaldis, the family of Prince Rainier. There's only one standard here, and that's perfection. The suites are almost solidly booked the year round, and when you look down from the windows at Monte Carlo's lovely, horseshoe-shaped harbour-marina, one can see the guests' mega-yachts, some with their own helicopters on top, at their moorings. I suppose one gets some indication of the clientele from the fact that, when we were there just recently, seven Rolls Royces were parked outside the front entrance.

And if you have come to France for a special celebration, a great place to have this is in the almost unbelievably splendid dining room: Restaurant Louis XV. Those who have always fantasised about being invited to dine at a Royal Palace don't need to use their imagination after dining here. This room is at least as elegant. And the cuisine is of a standard to match. There are only twenty chefs in the whole of France who have been awarded three Michelin stars, and Alain Ducasse is one of them. In a country where the dinner table conversation is as passionate when people talk about cuisine as when they talk about politics or sex, Ducasse is considered a national hero -- a Matisse of the kitchen whose palette of flavors can paint culinary canvasses of perfect taste and balance.

There is not a whole lot to do in Monaco, but it is a marvelous base for exploring the area. Before this, however, don't forget to wander around the marina and drool over some of the magnificent boats you will see there. Take your time exploring the Oceanographic Museum, considered by experts the best of its kind in the world. Play a round of golf at the Monte Carlo Golf Club. The concierge will arrange it. Visit the two large Casinos -- perhaps you too can become "The Person who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo."

Before you leave, ask the Concierge at your hotel what special events are on in town. The tax-exiles who make up most of the population here pride themselves on being culture vultures, and so Monte Carlo has an extraordinary number of world standard concerts, operas, performers and so on. And that's not all. When we were there recently, the Italian Army had sent a special regiment from Genoa that was quite remarkable. This regiment's history dates back to the time when both Genoa and the whole coast to Nice belonged to Savoy. So, for ceremonial occasions, this regiment dresses in absolutely authentic uniforms that date back to the times of the Prince of Savoy. And here they were in Monaco, marching through the side streets and, complete with a stirring band, precision marching in the square in front of the Monaco Palace. Marvelous!!! There is also the famous cactus garden, but we'll pass this up for another for which we will head as soon as we leave Monaco.

And to do this we head out, taking the new tunnel and following the signs up to Eze Village. In the 13th century, Saracen pirates had a rather clear run of the Mediterranean and some of them decided to stay, building a whole lot of fortified villages which the French now call "Village Perche" because these are built in such a way that they look as if they are glued on to the side, or on the top of, cliffs or mountain tops in the most precarious, but most easily defensible position.

By and large these villages were taken over by locals when the Saracens went home to North Africa, but after a while the locals found they were a bit hard to get to, so one after another they were abandoned. It was not until the 1920's, when technology allowed water to be pumped to these villages and roads to be built that they were re-settled. Today they are picture-post-card pretty, many full of delightful galleries of painters, sculptors and artisans who, along with smart boutiques, have made these villages 'res chic. The upper village of Eze is one of these.

Stop in the car-park, wander up the steep walking track into this beautifully restored village, and drool over the superb handicrafts and other knicknackery on sale in the Eze shops. Go right up to the top and visit the cactus garden which, to my mind, is even lovelier ... especially if you are an Indian Fakir ... than the one at Monte Carlo. When you have done all this, stroll back down to the Hostellerie Chevre d'Or, one of the two rustic hotels that I find so charming on this coast.

Go into the Chevre d'Or and have a drink on the terrace. This is undoubtedly one of the loveliest views in the world long as you don't suffer from vertigo... To sit next to one of the two pools, look vertically down at the coast and cars that look like ants running along the coastal road, is one of life's great pleasures. It was here at Eze that Nietzsche wrote Thus spoke Zarathustra , and the late Walt Disney arrived for a two day holiday and liked it so much that he stayed two weeks. If your budget allows, linger here a day or two. If not, dine in the splendid dining room. And if you've spent too much money on your holiday already, then ask at the desk for their other less grand restaurants which are under the direction of the same top-notch chef and management.

Once down on the coast road at Lower Eze, drive towards Nice until you come to the pretty coastal village of Beaulieu-Sur-Mer. This is where you will find two of the other luxury hotels that, to my mind, make up the coast's most stylish establishments, the Royal Riviera and La Reserve. When Gordon Bennett, the eccentric owner of the New York Herald who sent Stanley to look for Livingstone, built La Reserve in the 1870's, he was so enamored with it that word spread fast about what he considered the finest hotel on the Cote d' Azur. Much of the current excellence of this hotel, and the adjacent Royal Riviera which is of equally high standard, is due to the personal supervision of Mr. Gilbert Irondelle, the former Resident Manager of Hong Kong's prestigious Mandarin Hotel. Irondelle's philosophy is simple -- settle for nothing less than the very best. And it shows. Whether you stay at the smaller La Reserve ... around 40 rooms ... or at the slightly larger Royal Riviera of around 70 rooms, you will be treated as if you were an aristocratic house guest. Both hotels face the Mediterranean, and both are as romantic as they are luxurious.

At Beaulieu-Sur-Mer you will also find one of the most attractive small marinas on the Cote d'Azur. Wander among the boats and dream about the destinations marked on their sterns. Lunch at one of the many restaurants that line the harbourside. For years we were regulars at the African Queen but more recently this restaurant has been most disappointing and we have switched to Le Madrepore next door which we find excellent.

If you like a small, intimate and quite elegant Casino, the one at Beaulieu is back in business, beautifully restored after being closed for several years following a succession of armed hold-ups that quite put the fashionable clientele off their Roulette. Take your passport and wear your best outfit. You won't get in without the former, and if you look the slightest bit disreputable your chances of entry also drop to zero.

Another "must do" at Beaulieu is to visit the Villa Kerylos. This amazing re-production of a 5th B.C. Athenian's home is authentic right down to the furnishings and the garden. It was built in 1908 by archeologist Theodore Reinach who, through his training, knew exactly how to decorate the villa in the style of 2,500 years ago. Only the modern wiring, plumbing, window glass and concealed piano were allowed to impinge on the original style.

Within walking distance of Beaulieu is Cap Ferrat, and no other piece of earth is more densely populated with famous people. Eiffel of Tower fame retired to Beaulieu. Charlie Chaplin came to Cap Ferrat each year for his holidays, as did the late Duke Connaught. Famous author Somerset Maugham lived and wrote his books here until his death in 1965. King Leopold II of the Belgians retired here as did David Niven and several of the Rothschilds. One branch of this family, banker Baron Ephrussi who had married Beatrice de Rothschild built an Italianate villa that features a Tiopoto ceiling, paintings by Doucher and a covered Andalusian patio which was used in many movies (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was filmed in this area, as were several James Bond movies). The Ephrussis left their villa to the French State in their will and it has now become one of the coast's best museums.

Almost at the tip of the Cap Ferrat Peninsula is another superb hotel -- the Grand Hotel Cap Ferrat. This is another one on my list of luxury gems. It would be hard to imagine a more stylish setting than this hotel set in huge grounds and with its own four-seater cable railway that takes guests down to the swimming pool and bistro by the sea! The Grand Hotel Cap Ferrat is a definite inclusion in the Riviera's best and those who come to the area should at least dine at its elegant restaurant.

There is lots more exploring to do before you leave the Riviera. In Part 2 we will explore Venice, and the artists' village of St. Paul, the third biggest tourist attraction in France after Paris and Mont St. Michel. Take the unbelievable drive along the Gorges du Loup, Gourdon and Tourette Sur Loup. Visit the picturesque village of Mougins where superchef Roger Verge rules supreme, and visit the Escoffier Museum at Villeneuve-Loubet. Take the coast road past France's biggest apartment block to stop at Antibes, Cannes and stop at the charming little bay of La Garoupe at Cap d'Antibes, where few foreigners are found, then go on to picture-postcard St. Tropez.

All these are great places you should also see, but that's another story!


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