Thursday, October 1, 2015

Our Lifestyle Adventures: 4 Great Towns Beyond the Beaches of the French Riviera

From top right clockwise. Antibes, St. Paul de Vence, Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Eze
These are the same four towns recommended by Rick Steves, as an alternative to the big cities of Cannes, Nice and Monaco. In fact on the road approaching Monaco, our driver pointed to the hill road where Princess Grace met the accident that claimed her life. I have published my post about Cannes and the next two will be about Nice and Monaco.  And these four are all in the vicinity of the road from Nice to Monaco. Steves calls them “The French Riviera: Beyond the Beaches.”
And luckily, from all the tours offered at Le Club Mougins, there was one that intrigued us. Given our desire to have a week of relaxation, the conflict of also wanting to see as much of the French Riviera as possible was solved by a tour that offered a long day’s drive along the coastline by ourselves in a new Benz. Honeymoons are made of stuff like this and I was happy Bill signed us up! So here are our impressions of Rick Steves' select four.
Picasso Museum in Antibes
Our driver took is first to an early morning Provencal market in Antibes. That was quite an experience! There were rows and rows of cheese, flowers, cured meats and herbs. I even found rabbit meat sold there. And at the end of all the sniffing and touching was a unique oven baking a popular French snack. After this high-value experience, we also had time for some photo-ops of the town’s early Greek, Roman and Etruscan roots and the treasured Picasso collection at its much adored Picasso museum!
Winding cobble-stoned alley of St. Paul de Vence
St. Paul de Vence
Then we were driven to the cozy town squeezed atop a hill with winding cobble-stoned alleys that have made it a local artists’ shopping mall. Just forty-five minutes from the beach, the views from the hill are panoramic and the views of the hill are romantic. St.Paul is home to about 3,500 but has been long a haven for famous people like French actor Yves Montand and artist Marc Chagall. Rolling stone bassist Bill Wyman, American writer James Baldwin, and British actor Donald Pleasance all died there.
Aerial View of Villefranche-sur-Mer
Between Nice and Monaco is a town that Rick Steves describes like this “Narrow cobbled streets tumble into a mellow waterfront, a scenic walkway below the castle leads to the hidden port, and fancy yachts bob in the harbor below.” We had only a great aerial view of the town from the high road we were driving on to go to Eze and Monaco. Our driver said it is the town with the longest harbor of the Meditteranean Sea. How I wished we had the time to go down there and frolic with its 6,000 town folks.
Village of Eze from a road side
The Village of Eze
Eze is the smallest town with a population of almost 3,000 of these four. It is considered an “eagle’s nest” overlooking a high cliff of 1,401 feet above sea level on the Meditteranean. The light yellow church, Notre Dame de l’Assomption built in 1764, can be seen from afar. This medieval town, also with Greek and Roman roots, seems to be “floating high above the sea.”  A mix of perfumeries, boutiques, cobbled alleys, and views (that we couldn’t seem to capture with our lens) make a unique experience.
Notre Dame de l'Assomption
The French Riviera is usually considered to extend from the Italian border (Italian Riviera) in the east to Saint-Tropez, Hy√®res, Toulon, or Cassis in the west. The Meditteranean coastline has a total population of over two million from 163 nationalities. As a tourist center, it benefits from 300 days of sunshine per year, 71 miles of beaches, 18 golf courses and 3,000 restaurants! And these four small towns give the Cote d'Azur a boost towards the arts' scene and off-the-beaten-path mystique