A century ago the French Riviera was the domain of Europe's kings and queens and nobility, famed for its mild winter climate as well as the residence of many of the world's best known artists, painters, sculptors and composers.
Since World War ll thanks to the Cannes Film Festival and the publicity achieved by nearby Monaco, the Cote d'Azur, which means blue coast, has not only retained but increased its reputation as the playground of the rich and famous.
Hotels like Royal Riviera at Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and La Reserve at adjacent Beaulieu sur Mer richly carry on the traditions of elegance at the Riviera. As do restaurants like Restaurant de Bacon at Cap D'Antibes famous along the entire coast for its fish dishes and bouillabaisse.
The list of outstanding restaurants is long. There is Chateau Eza located in the l,000 year old village of Eze, 1300 feet above the Mediterranean sea and with panoramic views of the whole Cote d'Azur. The restaurant was formerly the summer residence of Sweden's royalty.
Perhaps no chef in Provence has earned greater fame than Roger Verege with his "cuisine du Soleil", or cuisine of the sun as featured at his Le Moulin de Mougins in Mougins.
Nice is the center of the French Riviera and a city that, while basking the in the glory of its past and traditions, is thoroughly modern and never forgets its place in history and the role that tourism has played in its fame and fortune.
Settled by the Greeks in 600 B.C., later part of the Roman Empire, it was part of the Dukes of Savoy principality for hundreds of years before becoming part of France. Its history and architecture is a blend of both France and Italy. Much of the older city reflects the Italian influence and indeed Nice was the birthplace of Garibaldi, the man who finally made Italy a unified country one hundred and fifty years ago.
There is a statue of the man in the center square of Old Nice which is now the center for outdoor flower and produce markets, a picturesque display which must not be missed by the visitor. Sit in the street patio of Le Safari to enjoy a cocktail or pizza and enjoy the atmosphere of the city and the markets.
As famous as its political past is Nice's place as the preferred workplace of some of Europe's best artists. It is a city filled with museums including the Henri Matisse museum where he lived and where some of his works are exhibited. The same for Museum Picasso in the old town of Antibes which was his residence when he created some of the works on display. .
Our trip to the French Riviera started with a direct flight from Los Angeles to Paris on Air France and a second one-hour flight from Paris to Nice which will be remembered for spectacular views of snow capped Alps. This was our eighth trip to Europe and Air France made it our best--hassle free, on time and with truly outstanding service and cuisine.
As for the Cote D'Azur, one of our hosts described it as "the last stop before paradise." Our good fortune was to arrive in October. The busy hurly burly summer season was over and we had perfect weather, days in the low 70's and nights pleasantly cool, sunshine and clear skies and no crowds.
In a true French setting just 20 minutes from Nice we stayed at the classic Royal Riviera Hotel at Cap Ferrat. Once the residence of European royalty, the Royal Riviera has just 72 rooms. Situated next to the Sea it was the ideal place to experience the region in an old world classic atmosphere. The hotel is thoroughly modern with a formal French garden and views of the ever changing sea. St. Jean Cap Ferrat is out of the bustle of Nice, but close enough to quickly join the activities and street scenes of the City either by car or train. And it is only a 15 minute train ride to Monaco and Monte Carlo.
Just minutes away at Beaulieu sur Mer a sister hotel La Reserve de Beaulieu is located. Both are under the same ownership and management and guests of either hotel may enjoy the amenities of both including signing privileges.
If you are planning on visiting the French Riviera there are some things to keep in mind and remember. First because of the exchange rate between the dollar and French Franc prices appear high but this is true for all of France not just the Cote d'Azur. Second the area is no longer a year round resort. Many of the best hotels close at the end of October and do not reopen till March or April. This is also true of many of the must-go-to restaurants. As examples Chateau Eza is closed from November to April and Restaurant de Bacon in Antibes closes from November l to January 31.
Royal Riviera is open from March l to October 31 and its neighbor, La Reserve de Beaulieu opens April l5 and closes October 31.
The City of Nice offers all kinds of accommodations and restaurants, at every price level right down to Mac Donald's.. Cab fares are high so it might be well to consider renting a car. And if you wish to explore the wine country of Provence, and we most certainly recommend that you do, a car is necessary.
The vineyards start west of St. Tropez on the main route to Marseille, the Cotes de Provence appellation. A good starting point is Les Arcs which is where we started our tour of the vineyards
For both natives and visitors the Cote d' d'Azur offers all the things that make life worth living--good food and wine, a leisurely, casual life-style, a most favorable climate in a region of remarkable beauty and surrounded by the art and culture of many generations.
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