The closest thing to an Australian Christmas for me is the gorgeous Côte d’Azur. From Antibes in the hills above Cannes, to the rich, blue waters that stretch from St Tropez to Nice and Monte Carlo. I love Santa in a red suit bringing bags of warm weather. The display in front of the Grand Monaco Casino is a mix of massive green and white trees decorated with red shiny baubles. It’s the white trees decorated with fake snow glistening in the warm sunshine.
The stunning little places stretching along the Côte d’Azur are Cagnes Sur Mer, Cap-Ferrat, Eze, Beausoleil and Menton. If you get the chance to holiday in this area, hire a car and find these places and explore. In the winter, St Tropez is quiet and the boutiques have wonderful sales. As hip and as happening as St Tropez is in the summer months, the Government and lobby groups of the area take the protection of the beach very seriously recently imposing protection orders on several areas including the very beautiful and popular Pampelonne. I’m told that the celebs and those who ‘need’ to arrive by helicopter are not allowed to land anywhere near the beach, and must land in the designated helicopter pads in the hotels and villas with the aim of decreasing oil and noise pollution – and of course general irritation to residents. It makes sense, but of course landing your helecopter for the world and it’s camera to snap at is part and parcel of celeb world these days. During the low season there are about 5,000 residents of St Tropez whereas in the high season this increases to an insane amount arriving into Nice airport, and various ports along the Riviera.
Now to Nice. At this time of year Nice buzzes with locals enjoying the over-sized Christmas lights and endless days of sunshine. You will even see visitors braving the water. The temperature over the last two weeks has been a steady 15 degrees centigrade, crisp, piercing blue skies and warm sunshine. On average the Côte d’Azur benefits from about 300 days of sunshine per year (information from Wikipedia). And I have new friends both French and ex-pats assuring me of this.
In the Old Town of Nice you’ll find quite a few Irish bars, including our new find for this trip, The Snug – 22 Rue Droite, and 5 Rue Rossetti, 06300. The food is fresh and made to order, and it’s really delicious. We ate tapas size duck salad with a sharing platter of antipasti. They have fish and chip Friday and roast on a Sunday, but their main menu will change weekly. ‘Like’ them on Facebook to keep up with their events and news.
We walk towards Nice Port along the Promenade – beautiful yachts and ships on our rights, stunning brightly coloured apartments on our left. I’m surrounded by postcard beauty, little windows decorated with pretty wood shutters, and lace balconies. Out comes my camera – snap, snap, snap. Who lives there? From the highest point these gorgeous apartment blocks look like coloured candy.
Nice boasts a fabulous antiques area (probably like London’s Notting Hill or Portobello Road), located between the Port and the Old Town. Look for Place Garibaldi. Furniture, ornaments, clothing, and Louis Vuitton luggage…yes, original 1970’s LV luggage complete with tag. A cool 280Euros. I consider a credit card transaction, then think better of it – okay, a stern look from Mr CF makes up my mind!
I see why artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin made the South of France their home for health reasons. I’m going to use that excuse for my much needed move. Their stories are as famous as their artwork, which you can see in the fortified hill top village of St Paul de Vence. We peak in the window of La Colombe d’Or hotel and restaurant which is the best place for spotting a masterpiece from the likes of Picasso or Matisse. Can you imagine dining with a Picasso in the same room as you?
Leaving the seaside behind us we head to the hills and mountains where we see row upon row of olive trees. The provence is a successful olive growing area, and by all accounts produces a very high quality olive oil. We indulge in locally grown green and black olives, tapenade and the oil of the area drizzled over crusty bread. Our friends produce olive oil in the hills above La Trinite towards Monaco. Around 6B.C. olive trees were planted by the Romans to produce fruit, and to line trails leading through the hills. Some of these trees are still producing a healthy crop each year. The olive trees on our friend’s land date to being planted approximately 350 years ago. To get an accurate date, you can ask the French Agricultural Government Department to take a root sample.
One of the hill-top villages we visit is Peillon. The hills and mountains are a rambler’s delight. Hair-pin after hair-pin leads us up and up and up to an amazing stone-washed village with hard wood heavy front doors leading to goodness knows what style of little house with AMAZING panoramic views. This village has a gorgeous little chapel with a working bell tower, a restaurant/hotel called Auberge de la Madone (check the winter opening times), and its own Facebook page which I have just joined. Peillon may be small but they are making sure they get a world wide presence.
Our holiday continues with more days of sunshine and more mini adventures.