A little blink of sunshine on the Côte d’Azur was much enhanced by the knowledge that, in our absence, Scotland was enduring overcast skies and single-digit temperatures. I was reminded of Iris Murdoch‘s line (nodding to La Rochefoucauld):
Some clever writer (probably a Frenchman) has said: It is not enough to succeed; others must fail.
Iris Murdoch The Black Prince (1973)
So we gloated quietly as we checked the Scottish weather on the free wifi, while sampling the French Way of Lunch—outdoors, slowly, with wine.
We had a few days at Cap Ferrat, where the weather was shirt-sleeves mild for Scottish folk—although the locals were all still rushing around in their stylish quilted gilets, and the ubiquitous little dogs all had cozy coats on, for fear they would die of hypothermia on the way to the boulangerie.
Cap Ferrat’s nice—it’s set a little back from the main drag of big hotels along the coast, but if you like that big-resort thing you can catch a bus from the neck of the peninsula that’ll take you west to Nice, or east to Monaco. You can walk easily into the villages of Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer. (The latter does involve a short, noisy march on narrow pavements beside the main coastal road, but it provides beautiful views down into the bay.)
Or you can stay on the peninsula and wander along the coastal path, which gets you to the marina at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. (Last time we were there, a chunk of the path had fallen into the sea, but that section has now been replaced by an aluminium walkway. It’s not clear if they’re ever going to manage to rebuild the missing section.)
Fortified by a glass of Provençale rosé and a bowl of salade Niçoise from one of the restaurants on the harbour, you can then follow some more coastal paths—either around the tip of Cap Ferrat itself, or around the little subsidiary peninsula of the Pointe de Sainte-Hospice. (If you are some sort of insane overachiever, I suppose you might do both in one go, but that wouldn’t really be entering into the lackadaisical spirit of things.)
Another option is to take a walk up to the slightly bonkers Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, where you can tour the Rothschild’s baroque villa, admire the views to either side of the peninsula, gawp at the themed gardens, and thrill to the dancing musical fountains—performances every 20 minutes, and though I sneer to maintain appearances, I am secretly captivated. Then you can finish it off with a very nice Provençale rosé and a bowl of salade Niçoise in the garden restaurant. By which time it’s undoubtedly time for a snooze.
Then we moved to Mougins, which is one of those tiny hilltop villages that are a Provençale specialty. Mougins is a jewel among them, with a view of the Alps and the sea, a fine crop of restaurants, some nifty public art, and at least two little museums that are worth a visit. The Musée d’Art Classique is a lovely assembly of Egyptian, Greek and Roman works, juxtaposed with modern pieces by artists as varied as Marc Chagall and Damien Hirst. The Musée de la Photographie André Villers combines portraits of artists and writers with displays of photojournalism and some very eccentric sculpture built out of old cameras.
And the hill of old Mougins is embedded in forest—it was nice to be surrounded by birdsong on the hotel terrace, and to see red squirrels clattering around the branches.
In fact, the whole thing was a bit of an idyll, marred only by France’s single negative contribution to gastronomy—the Michelin star system.
You would think (would you not?) that the correlation between how much you pay for a meal and the quality of the experience (taste, presentation, ambience, service) would look a bit like this:A process of diminishing returns sets in, so that there is some plateau of dining pleasure beyond which additional cost is simply an informal tax on the gullible.
Not only is the Michelin award often interpreted as a licence to double the prices, you’re moderately likely to find yourself spending this large amount of money in order to eat novelty items off eccentric tableware, using vaguely inappropriate cutlery, while indulging in a battle of wills with passive-aggressive waiting staff.
Or you can take the price of your Michelin-starred apéritifs, carry it down the road to somewhere with a chalkboard menu and chequered table cloths, and buy yourself a proper meal from some nice people who actually care about your enjoyment.
I know which one I prefer.