Back to France again. While we generally prefer to explore new places rather than to return to previous destinations, the Boon Companion and I make an exception for the Côte d’Azur, which we visit regularly for a blink of off-season sunshine. This time we avoided some late snow in Scotland, to bask under clear blue skies in temperatures of 15ºC, which had been unheard-of at home for about six months. And we also managed to avoid being affected by that ancient French Easter tradition, the Strike Of The Air Traffic Controllers.
This time we visited Cagnes-sur-Mer, which lies on the long curve of the Baie des Anges between Nice and Antibes. More specifically, we tucked ourselves away in the mediaeval hill town of Haut-de-Cagnes, which protrudes improbably out of the modern bustle of Cagnes-sur-Mer.
Haut-de-Cagnes is a maze of narrow streets, mostly impassable by car, dotted with friendly restaurants in which (if you arrive early in the evening) the chef may bring the fish of the day to your table so you can cast an eye over it and have a sniff. (The Boon Companion, who is resolutely non-piscivorous, bore this uninvited encounter with a defunct dorade and saint-pierre stoically, and then ordered the pasta.)
A free bus service runs between the Château Grimaldi, at the summit of the village, and the low ground of surrounding Cagnes-sur-Mer. Even with its short wheel-base, the little bus passes round some of the tighter corners in the mediaeval streets with centimetres to spare. From the bus station, a stroll through slightly dilapidated parkland alongside the canalized Cagne River takes you to the coast and one of the French Riviera’s trademark beach promenades.
After a few days in Cagnes, we translocated to one of our favourite hotels in the world, the Royal Riviera, which sits at the neck of Cap Ferrat. It’s quiet and friendly and efficient, and within easy walking distance of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, all of which offer a great choice of places to dine, as well as places to sit and watch the world go by.
We wandered up the quiet coastal path to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat most days. It has now been fully restored after the flood damage of a few years ago, and it also afforded a glimpse of a pair of improbable shore birds, scuttering around on the Plage des Fourmis. Black-winged stilts have to be among the most improbable-looking of European birds.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat featured prominently in ITV’s quintessentially early-70s TV series The Persuaders! Several episodes were set on the French Riviera, which seemed an impossibly exotic location at the time, and during filming Roger Moore and Tony Curtis stayed at La Voile d’Or, a hotel which still overlooks the little harbour of Saint-Jean.
Having fixated on The Persuaders! during my formative years, I confess I still can’t look at the Saint-Jean marina without John Barry’s classic theme music thundering into my head:
Saint-Jean has also sprouted some more public statuary since we were there last, though I’m not sure why Prince Charles seems to be peering out of a block of concrete overlooking the waterfront.
On our last morning we were up at dawn to catch the early flight home. I’m not much given to mornings, generally, but even I had to confess that it was a beautiful sunrise.