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The name is music. There’s magic in the air. The smells, tastes and
sounds are welcoming. The views are spectacular. What more can one ask
for? It is golden and passionate. One can easily be seduced by its
charm. Even the accent is different. Few can resist its
treasures. Tell anyone you’re going to France and they say
“great.” Tell them you’re going to Provence and their eyes light up.
It’s magical, filled with lavender and characterized by a special color
only found on the azure coast.
believe that the distance from Menton on the Italian border to
Marseilles is only a little over 100 miles as the crow flies? It may be
longer if you are not a crow, but there is so much packed into this
southeastern corner of France that boggles the mind. In Provence, the
senses are inundated with everything that leads to relaxation and
To the west of Marseilles is a
section of France filled with gypsies, wild horses, marshes, fortress
towns and great cities that provide rich history, great writers and
artists, food, and recreation that satisfy even the hard to please
Follow the coastal road from the
beaches of Menton to Villefranche, past Monaco and the hill city of Eze
with its perfume centers. Walk the old seaports and watch the boats go
by in Villefranche harbor. Visit the refurbished church museum
decorated by Jean Cocteau in the old town. Look down at the sea from
the upper corniche for a bird’s eye view.
to the end of Cap Ferrat to the Greek-style Villa Kerylos at Beaulieu.
Stop at the beautiful pink villa of Ehprussi de Rothschild with its
waterfall and sculptured gardens.
Climb up to the top of 14th
century Eze, where you can look out on the Mediterranean with its
special color. Stop at the Roman alpine trophy of La Turbie that
celebrates Augustus’s victories over local tribes, dating back to 14-13
B.C.. Look up at the plush Villas at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, where Coco
Chanel and Greta Garbo once frolicked. The poet W.B Yeates and
architect Le Corbusier died here.
Nice’s old town, Promenade des Anglais and Cours Saleya where the
gourmands feast nightly. See the Russian orthodox St-Nicholas Church,
Chagall, Matisse Museum, or famous Hotel Negresco with its pink-tiled
dome. Enjoy an afternoon at the Museum d’Art Contemporaine with its
marble towers and glass walkways. Or, visit the Musee des Beaux Arts
with works by Dufy, Monet, Renoir and Sisley. Enjoy the wonderful Mardi
Gras Festival with flowered floats and costumed natives in early March.
Climb to Cimiez, a haven facing the sea. Here, you’ll see the great
monastery and the nearby Roman ruins.
into the hills to St-Paul de Vence, an old frontier post. Eat lunch at
the Colombe d’Or beneath a Léger mural, Braque dove or Matisse or
Picasso masterpiece. Sit on the terrace where Yves Montand and Simone
Signoret were married. Add your name to the list of celebrity
visitors like Burt Lancaster, Catherine Deneuve, Sophia Loren, Picasso,
Modigliani and Colette. Take time to visit the famous Maeght
Foundation, just beyond the city walls, with its fine collection of
Giacomettis, Miros, Kandinskys, Braques and Chagalls.
along the Grande Rue or ramparts looking down on the valley of cypress
trees all the way to the sea. Eat lunch at the café, and watch the
locals play boules in the sun. It was here that Marc Chagall chose to
live. There’s no wonder why.
Descend via Vence
and stop at the Chapelle du Rosaire, decorated by Matisse, who lived
almost directly across the road. He considered this his great
masterpiece. It’s awesome both inside and out.
you come back to the sea, stop at Cagnes-sur-Mer to visit the old
quarter, steep streets and passageways. You are just over twenty-five
miles from Menton, and we’ve only begun our journey through the azure
Another great name came through here in
early March of 1815, and it wasn’t for any festival. After his escape
from Elba, Napoleon landed at Golfe-Juan and stopped at Cannes
overnight. Near the highway to Cannes, you can see the marker showing
the beginning of the Route Napoleon, where the Napoleon set out for
Paris via Digne and Sisteron and Gap to the north. People fell in
behind him. When he returned to Grenoble, it was a triumphant
return. Waterloo was only about three months away.
the hills above Cannes is Vallauris, made famous by Picasso, who used
the kilns for his pottery. The museum is worth seeing as is the statue
of the man with the sheep in the square.
the harbor to the old town of Antibes with its luxurious yachts and
narrow pedestrian streets. Spend your morning at the markets and your
afternoons at the old Grimaldi Palace, housing great Picasso works, or
the Musée d’Archéologie, featuring objects salvaged from the sea. This
was once a Greek trading post called Antipolis, dating back to the 4th
century B.C.. Now, it is a mecca for fun seekers, boat owners and
tourists looking for a true taste of France’s southern coast. Walk
along the ramparts where the sea meets the land, and continue to the
shoreline near Cap d’Antibes. Just beyond is the film festival capital
of France: Cannes. Cannes awaits with its pleasure yachts, restaurants,
classy hotels and crowded beaches.
A walk along the famous
boulevard de la Croisette, lined with palm trees and gardens, past the
great Carlton Hotel and luxury boutiques is a memory worth treasuring.
It is glitzy but fun. It’s even more fun during the spring film
festival, but getting accommodations can be a problem.
from Cannes to St-Raphaël can be the most visual part of the voyage.
Here, the coast turns rugged and red. It follows the sea with mountains
looming above. There are tiny communities and towns along the way.
Getting around is slow, but you wouldn’t want it any other way. Every
so often there are areas to park and take in the splendor of the water
crashing on the rocks.
Before taking this
stretch of the road, you may want to go north to the hill city of
Grasse. It is mountainous, but you are always in sight of the sea as
you drive through fields of mimosa and lavender that make Grasse such a
famous center for perfume. It was once a center for tanning and scented
I usually stop at the old-style resort of
St.-Raphaël with its Art Nouveau architecture, palm lined promenades
and Roman ruins. You may prefer Fréjus just next door. This is a
modern town with ruins of a Roman forum, founded by Julius Caesar in 49
B.C., and fragments of an aqueduct, amphitheatre and old rampart.
continue west, you have a number of choices. You can follow the coast
to St-Tropez, Hyères, Toulon, Cassis and Marseilles, or you can drive
inland via Aix-en-Provence to Arles and north to Avignon. I’d suggest
you go one way and return the other. I’ll discuss the important places
for both these routes next time in Part II.
Important Contact Information:
(+ 33) (0)4 93 76 08 90
Musée Chagall (+ 33) (0)4 93 81 75 75
(+ 33) (0)4 93 13 66
(+ 33) (0)4 93 92 90 53
(+ 33) (0)4 93 39 24 53