The Boon Companion and I finally got around to a bit of international travel recently. Airports and aeroplanes proved to be just as ghastly as we remembered them, but it was nice to get away from a very damp Scotland for a blink of October sun in the south of France. The Côte d’Azur has featured before on this blog, back in 2016 and 2018, but I thought I’d wheel it out again because of its post-Covid landmark status, and because I can probably find a few new things to say about it.
Our hotel (seen on the sky-line in the photo below) sits at the narrow neck of Cap Ferrat, roughly in the middle of a triangle formed by the towns of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Beaulieu-Sur-Mer and Villefranche-Sur-Mer. All were within easy walking distance, so we idled away our days getting up late, eating breakfast on the terrace, ambling into some town or other for lunch, and then drifting back for a snooze before dinner.
Right outside the hotel is the beginning of the Promenade Maurice-Rouvier, which weaves its way past some stonking great villas and some rather dilapidated little one-boat harbours.
The jetties are always littered with a (to me) very odd-looking organic detritus, completely unlike the bladderwrack that characterizes the strandline back home in Scotland.
This turns out to be the leaves of Neptune Grass, Posidonia oceanica, which is entirely confined to the Mediterranean. It can form up into large drifts, locally called banquettes, which are reputedly why the inlet to the east of Cap Ferrat is called the Plage des Fourmis (“Beach of Ants”)—the banquettes occasionally gather into well-defined mounds, like ant-hills. (Or so the story goes, though it seems odd that inhabitants of the Mediterranean coast would be unable to tell their anthills from their banquettes.) Posidonia leaves also occasionally roll up into spherical objects commonly known as “Neptune Balls”, which we recently learned are good at gathering up plastic debris. (Scientifically, they’re called aegagropilae, which is a horrendous Greek/Latin mash-up meaning “hair-ball”.)
The three towns all have their own character. Saint-Jean has a busy marina crammed with yachts and yachty people, and is probably my least favourite, despite having been a filming location for that British televisual classic, The Persuaders! (1971).
Beaulieu has a Belle Époque thing going on in its architecture, harking back to its time as a winter watering-hole for the wealthy, during the nineteenth century.
And below is the pretty little Chapel of Sancta Maria de Olivo, which has a name that is neither Italian (Santa Maria dell’Olivo) or French (Sainte-Marie de l’Olivier), but somewhere in between—I suspect it’s the name of Our Lady of the Olive Tree as rendered in Provençal, though it doesn’t quite conform to the vocabulary in my Petit Dictionnaire Provençal-Français.
On our way back from Beaulieu, we ran into a notably elegant trio, who turned out to be on their way to a seriously out-of-season Christmas party taking place on the Plage des Fourmis right next to our hotel. (Note the antlers on the party-goers, and the Christmas tree among the tables, below.)
So our afternoon peace was somewhat marred by a barrage of French techno remixes of 1980s pop classics for the next few hours. Odd.
Meanwhile, on the western side of Cap Ferrat, the long arc of the Plage des Marinières was still cluttered with late-season sunbathers.
We poked around in the narrow mediaeval streets of the old town, where the Provençal language is preserved on some of the street signs, and then we headed for an open-air restaurant that overlooks the chapel of Saint-Pierre des Pecheurs, decorated by Jean Cocteau during the 1950s.
This sits on the Avenue Sadi Carnot, which I like to think is named after Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot, who pretty much invented the science of thermodynamics; but I fear that it actually honours his nephew, Marie François Sadi Carnot, who has the comparatively trivial distinction of having been President of France for a while.
If you’re ever in the vicinity, turn your back on Cocteau’s chapel and looking upwards. You can pick out some rather nice trompe l’œil paintwork on the buildings opposite—some additional shuttered windows on the right, and a fake corner just below the roof-line on the left, which creates an appearance of symmetry where none actually exists.
And we made our usual trip to the gardens of the Villa Ephrussi, where fountains perform choreographed evolutions to classical music every 20 minutes.
This time around, there seemed to be something wrong with their speaker system, but you can get some idea of the effect from this short, silent video shot by the Boon Companion.
The carp in the ponds seem to be used to visitors—simply by breaking their sky-line you can receive a deputation of three or four of them, probably hopeful for food.
We usually round off our visit with a bite of lunch in the Villa’s ornate restaurant, where the service has always been amusingly snooty—but this time, as we waited for the serving staff to even acknowledge our existence, it became evident that the snootiness had overshot into just plain annoying, so we wandered off back into Beaulieu and ate a baguette in the sunshine instead.
And that was that—a brief, but pleasant, return to foreign travel.