The Cote D'Azur, which is the stretch of land between St. Tropez and Italy, is not to be confused with Cote D'Or, the incredible Belgian chocolate. Although, if truth be told, they are both equally satisfying. Our home base in the south of France has been Nice. Nice is nice. From there we have ventured to Antibes, Monaco, Villefranche sur Mer, Cap Ferrat, Beaulieu sur mer and Eze le Village. Nice is France's 5th largest city and a convient hub because trains actually stop here. Frequently. I was surprised to learn that the Cote used to be part of Italy up until 150 years ago. Either way, the area seems to be (to me, anyway) french: The buildings and window shutters are brightly coloured; the baguettes are crispy on the outside and flaky in the middle; we are served croissants for breakfast. This tickles with France!
Playing Nice in Nice
For being France's fifth largest city, Nice is surprisingly cute. The old town is picturesque with narrow alley-ways, colourful buildings and France's "Best Bakery" (voted in 1972). There is a wide Promenade all the way along the water called "Promenade des Anglais," literally translated 'English Promenade'. It was apparently made to make the English tourists feel more comfortable back in the day. I am happy to report that it is still effective today.
The beach is sandless. It is comprised of large, smooth, round(ish) stones. I think that it is really neat. The water (the Mediterranean (sp?)) is so clear and blue that it makes me feel as though I am on vacation (backpacking is travelling, not vacationing). The waves crash in, huge and white. When there isn't a child yelling and throwing rocks (like there is now) you can actually hear the rocks rushing down the slant as the wave retreats. A relaxing sound cd should be made from this sound...there probably already is one (minus the squealing French kid).
Antibes; about ten minutes down the coast, is where all the big boats hang out. There is, ironically, even more here than in Monaco. Some high-rollers even have their own personal cruise ships. The ships are colossal; complete with their own crew, all with matching uniforms. The view from Antibes is incredible. Because it is mostly in deep water off the coast, there is a different shade of blue. Even cooler than the water colour, though, were the jellyfish swimming in it. There were real, live jellyfish floating around in the harbour! As Antibes is less touristy, and much smaller, it was a nice contrast to a busy morning-market in Nice.
No-Rollers in a High-Rollin' Monaco
Monaco, a separate country from France, makes a statement right from the get-go: the train station has marble floors, walls and ceilings. It has underground paths that lead you anywhere in the city. Monaco is ruled by a prince. We witnessed the changing of his decked-to-the-nines guards over lunch. The streets are cute and narrow and adorned with a light-up Monaco flags. The city, umm...I mean country, is as glitzy as one can imagine. From Palace Hill the prince (and tourists) have a great view of the entire "principality" from Monte Carlo to the fancy, new port in town, Fontvieille. The manicured park had water fountains and flavourful flower gardens. Thanfully, according to strict posted rules, "Childrens play would be tolerated so long that it does not disturb guests."
All the cars are top end, the apartment buildings immaculate and the stores designer.
Rather than paying cover to enter the casino, we went the less obvious route: to the aquarium! It was in an impressive, white building, constructed as a monument in 1910, hanging on a cliff over the ocean. It had tons of tanks of bright Meditteranean fish, all described in English. The aquarium was actually directed by Jacques Cousteau himself for 17 years! The large tank in the middle was two floors tall! There was a tank of baby Nemo's, luminescent jellyfish, sharks, rays and even a sea turtle (cool, Dude!). It was the next best thing to scuba diving.
Walking the (coast) Line in Villefranche and Cap Ferrat
Villefranche is the cutest little French village on the sea. Unfortunately, cruise liners also think so. Three massive cruise ships crammed into Villefranche's tiny harbour and taxied all their occupants into the little city to trample its quiet secludedness. Still, the city has been my favourite along the coast.
From the village we walked out on the Cap Ferrat peninsula. The path was literally a cliff offering dramatic views (and ocean spray) of the waves. Villefranche could be seen in the backdrop (behind the cruise ships) as colourful dots against the bright blue sea. At the tip of the peninsula the tall lighthouse was all that separated us from the open water! We continued along the path past more incredible views, sailboats, yachts, beaches, cactai and swimmers (it is still really warm down here). We walked for about 6 hours in total, but it didn't feel like a lot. We saw scuba-divers, snorkellers, skin-divers, and fisherpeople. Everytime I turned around there seemed like there was another sun-drenched cliff and another aqua-blue tidal wave to cozy up to it. There were stone steps were you could descend down and be level with the ocean. When the big waves came in you were no longer level with the ocean. They would crash their way onto the platform and soak everyting; unexpected tourists included. We, however, enjoyed our lunch just out of the waves' angry reach.
I can't believe people get to see the Mediterranean everyday and live off the sea for their entire life! I definitely wouldn't mind hopping on one of those yachts until January...well if it were heading to Greece, that is!