There are a number of festival and events that occur each year on the French Riviera. If you are planning a short holiday or shore excursion to this region you may want to plan your visit around one or two of them. Please note that for some, hotel accommodation is often booked a couple of years in advance – notably for the Cannes Film Festival, Menton Lemon Festival and Nice Mardi Gras Carnival – so don’t wait until the last minute to book your hotel or holiday rental villa.

The Calendar is accurate to the best of our knowledge and research but may not contain every event or festival happening around the French Riviera this year. Please contact the editor should you wish to have your festival mentioned or know of one that should be on this list.


January

New Year’s Concert - Nice
Held on New Year’s Eve at Nice’s Acropolis, this concert is a great way to celebrate the arrival of a new year.


February

Nice Carnival - Nice
from 13th February to 1st March
Every year, Nice comes alive with street processions, flower parades, concerts and fireworks. Each year has a special theme, prompting the creation of huge papier mâché figures.

Carnival Run - Nice
15th February
Europe’s most festive race takes place on Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Participants choose from 5km or 10km. Children’s race, disguise contest, concert, Carnival obstacles and activities, giant dance and more.

International Games Festival – Cannes
from 27th February to March 1st
Held at the Palais des Festivals de Cannes, this festival will welcome over 270 exhibitors as well as 300 authors and illustrators, showcasing everything from board games to the latest simulation game. Participate in tournaments, discover the game of the year, or meet the person behind your favourite video game.

Napoleon at Golfe-Juan
from 28th February to 1st March
Re-enactment to celebrate the bicentenary of Napoleon’s landing in Golfe-Juan

Fête du Mimosa – Mandelieu-La Napoule
18th to 25th February
Floats, troops of dancers, musicians and street performers take to the streets of Mandelieu-La Napoule with a spectacular Pyro-Aquatique on the edge of the Siagne river in the evening of 20th February.

82nd Annual Lemon Festival – Menton
from 14th February to 4th March
Menton’s Lemon Festival that attracts over 160,000 visitors every year to its Jardins Biovès and surrounding streets.  Designs up to 10 metres tall, incredible decorations, floats requiring over 145 tonnes of oranges and lemons.

Grand Mimosa Procession – Bormes-les-Mimosa
from 21st to 22nd February
77th Corso Fleuri that dates back to the 17th century and is one of the town’s most popular events. The parade sees a number of beautifully decorated caravans file through the city, ending in the traditional “bataille de fleur”.


March

Foire de Nice
from 7th to 15th March
One of the most popular events of the French Riviera with more 140 000 visitors and 1200 exhibitors.

Violet Festival – Tourrettes-sur-Loup
21st and 22nd March
Village streets are full of activity from 9.30 am, with a Floral Procession in the early afternoon and the day ending with the Flower Battle, which everyone can take part in.

17th Annual Printemps des Poètes - Nice
7th to 22nd March
For two weeks, Nice celebrates poetry in its many forms through events held in theatres, schools and cafés.

73rd Annual ‘Race in the Sun’ Paris to Nice Cycling Race
from 8th to 15th March
Covers 1,300km in 8 legs. Col de Vence, La Turbie and Col d’Èze are part of the itinerary of the now essential last leg of this Course au Soleil (Race in the Sun).

Gourd FestivalNice
Nice’s gourd festival is held in the Cimiez gardens. The event traditionally symbolises the end of winter. As well as gourd-painting events, gourd-based dishes are also served.

Fête des Jardins – Sophia-Antipolis
28th & 29th March
Chance to view an enormous variety of plants, trees and shrubs organised by the Société des Gens de Jardins Méditerranéens.


April

Antibes Yacht Show – cancelled until 2016
(24th & 25th April)
The City Hall of Antibes has asked ASAP, the association for leisure boating professionals in Antibes, to organise a replacement event for yachting professionals.

Orange Festival – Bar-sur-Loup
Monday 6th April
Orange blossom festival celebrated throughout the village.

Printemps des Musées
16th May
Every year museums throughout the French Riviera waive their entry fees for just one day, giving everyone the opportunity to discover for themselves the region’s rich cultural and artistic heritage.

Nice Half Marathon - Nice
from 25th to 26th April
Held end-April along the Promenade des Anglais. Some 4,000 runners compete in this annual sporting event.


May

Riverdance “20th Anniversary” – Palais Nikaia - Nice
2nd May
Seen by more than 23 millions spectators in 350 cities around the world – they have chosen France for their 20th anniversary tour.  They will be in Nice the 2nd of May. To buy your tickets click here.

Fête des Roses et des Plantes - St Jean-Cap Ferrat
2nd & 3rd May
Surrounded by beautiful gardens, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is hosting the 6th ‘Fête des Roses et des Plantes’. Some twenty international exhibitors – rose growers, nursery growers and professionals from the gardening world are expected in the villa’s gardens to share their passion.

Crossover Festival – Nice
from 5th to 9th May
Crossover didn’t get its name by chance: the festival highlights artistic fusions, with invited groups at the “crossroads” of trends and generations.

51st Croisière Bleu, Régate – Antibes (Port Vauban)
from 13th to 17th May
The  Croisière Bleu was the first sailboat cruising race in Mediterranean.  A lot of Regatta men are looking forward to this fantastic event that will bring opponents for the race to Calvi in Corsica.

International Rose Exhibition, Grasse
from 8th to 10th May
The exhibition is considered to be the leading annual European show of the cut rose. More than 50,000 roses are displayed in bouquets of 60 to 300 flowers. The rose, whether cut or a bush, is in the spotlight for the whole duration of the exhibition.

68th Cannes Film Festival - Cannes
from 13th to 24th May
12 days of the world’s most prestigious film festival and much sought-after Palme d’Or.

La Fête de Mai – Nice
Every Sunday in May, held in the Arènes de Jardins de Cimiez. Nice celebrates is history through a series of free events, refreshments featuring locally produced food and children’s entertainment.

Open de Nice Côte d’Azur
from 17th to 23rd May
The most important tennis tournament held on the French Riviera and part of the ATP World Tour.  For more information about Nice Open 2015 schedule and tickets.

Latin Sails – St Tropez
29th to 31st May
Sailboats, regatta and exhibitions.


June

Voiles d’Antibes
from 3rd to 7th June
Marking the opening of the Mediterranean regatta circuit, the first stage of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge or Trophée Panerai. It’s a stunning regatta drawing some of the world’s rarest vintage and classic yachts.

Promenades des Anglais Exhibition
12th June to 4th October
Nice presents a new international exhibition in all the city’s museums. The theme is Promenade des Anglais, echoing the City’s initiative to submit its candidature to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to the city’s municipal institutions, three of the national museums which are situated in and around Nice will participate in the event.

Giraglia Rolex Cup – St. Tropez
12th to 20th June
One of the most renowned offshore races in the Mediterranean. The fleet gathers in the harbour of Saint-Tropez for three days of inshore competition before embarking on a 241-nautical mile offshore race to Monte-Carlo via the Giraglia, a rocky outcrop off the northern tip of Corsica.

Fête de la Music – Nationwide
21st June
Since 1982 the Fête de la Musique has been held throughout the whole of France – and the world – and reunites amateur and professional musicians with an appreciative audience.

International Young Soloists Festival – Antibes
from 24th to 28th June
Offering a stage, a symphonic orchestra to young musicians that have won great international prizes and sponsored by great artists… such is the vocation of this internationally renowned festival.

11th Annual Ironman France Championship – Nice
28th June
Nice will be hosting the legendary Ironman triathlon attracting athletes and spectators alike. The participants swim in the Mediterranean, bike through the challenging course in the Alps and run along Promenade des Anglais.

Nice en roller
The Promenade des Anglais is taken over once a year by rollerbladers. As well as fun and games for all the family, there are also demonstrations and the staging of the French national cup race. The course is laid out over 2.5km and is open to all.


July

Les Nuits Guitares – Beaulieu-sur-Mer
from 2nd to 4th July
A not-to-be-missed event for guitar lovers held in the jardin de l’Olivaie in Beaulieu-sur-Mer.

Festival of Pyrotechnic Art – Cannes.
For seven nights throughout July and August, different countries take on the challenge to produce the most spectacular firework display. Each display is a minimum of 25 minutes. Can be seen from various vantage points.

Ma Ville Est Tango – Menton
July
For 4 days Menton lives to the beat of Tango with a series of concerts, entertainment, exhibitions, cinema, dance classes, balls and street entertainment.

Festival of St Pierre and The Sea – Cagnes-sur-Mer
4th to 5th July
Events, sea trips, nocturnes piétonnes, sardinade at Cros-de-Cagnes.

Les Nuits du Sud Festival – Vence
from 9th to 25th July
A key music event on the French Riviera combining diversity, discovery and good music with affordable prices. Open to all musics of the world.

Nice Jazz Festival
from 7th to 12th July
Parc de Cimiez. Staged since the 1940s, this long-standing festival attracts jazz aficionados from all over the world.

Bastille Day – National Holiday in France
14th July
This is a national holiday in France and many businesses, schools and banks may close and public transport services will be reduced. A great day to take it easy on the beach perhaps and end the evening admiring the magnificent firework display in Cannes and elsewhere throughout the Côte d’Azur.

Jazz-à-Juan
from 10th to 19th July
55th Annual Jazz at Juan-les-Pins Europe’s oldest jazz festival.  Stunning setting overlooking the bay and always brings top acts. In 2015 it starts with the great Carlos Santana.

Les Nuits Musicales du Suquet – Cannes
from 18th to 23rd July
In front of Notre-Dame d’Espérance church, in the lovely setting of Old Cannes, a programme of chamber music associating the talent of young musicians and famous artists from France and abroad.

Festival of Chamber Music – St Paul de Vence
from 22nd to 31st July
Saint-Paul de Vence welcomes you to its very first chamber music festival on Place de la Courtine, at the foot of the village ramparts.

Les Plages Electroniques – Cannes
10th, 17th, 30th July & 6th and 14th August.
Go to the beaches and the Terrasses du Palais des Festivals in Cannes for seats to an electronic music festival that takes over the beach.

La Castellada – Nice
held from the start of July in the Parc du Château, this event runs through to end of September. Actors in costume recount the story of Nice’s past in a three-hour guided tour.

Musicalia – held on the promenade des Anglais, this series of concerts features a range of music from all over the world. The programme also offers dance performances and short film screenings.


August

Jazz at Domergue – Cannes
from 2nd to 5th August
Over five consecutive days, during the course of its program the festival reveals the Russian cultural identity through its various forms of artistic expression.

35th Annual Boules Carrée World Championships – Cagnes-sur-Mer
16th & 17th August
Original championship held in the Montée de la Bourgade, a lane running up to the Château du Haut-de-Cagnes.

Festival de Ramatuelle – St Tropez
Created in 1985 as a tribute to the French actor Gérard Philipe. The festival, held during the first half of August, allows for a cultural holiday in a place where historic monuments are included with many other things to see and do.

Les Concerts du Cloitre – Nice
from 15th July to 14th August
Series of classical concerts held at the Opéra de Nice and the Clôitre du Monastère de Cimiez during the summer.

Les Grimaldines – Gulf of St Tropez
from 15th July to 14th August
World music festival, which has become an essential event in the Gulf of Saint Tropez and beyond bringing thousands of spectators to the village’s alleys and the medieval castle’s steps, yearning to discover new horizons in songs and music. Every Tuesday from mid-July to mid-August, this event takes you from one continent to another, offering an exceptional cultural world tour in five concerts

Menton Music Festival – Menton
from 31st July through to 13th August
At the Parvis Saint-Michel Archange and other venues, Menton puts on the oldest classical music festival in Europe. Started in 1949 and continues to be one of the most important in Europe.

Jasmine FestivalGrasse
from 31st July to 2nd August
Traditional festival which marks the beginning of the jasmine harvest, so important to this town of perfumes.


September

Summer Music Nights throughout the Alpes-Maritimes

Catherine Segurane ceremony
held in the Sainte Réparate Cathedral. Nice’s patron saint is commemorated with a special mass and wreath-laying ceremony at the Catherine Segurane memorial.

Voiles de Saint-Tropez
from 27th Sept to 5th October
The famous “Voiles de Saint Tropez” – modern and more traditional sail boats have united here for more than fifteen years, putting on an astounding show for nautical sports amateurs. Even non-experts can appreciate the beauty of boats on land or on the water.

Trophée Pasqui
From Nice to Villefrance-sur-Mer. Details to follow.

12th Annual Lou Festin dou Pouort (Fête du Port) – Nice
September – details to follow.

10th Annual International Festival of Gastronomy - Mougins
18th, 19th & 20th September
Also known as ‘Les Etoiles de Mougins’ this is a great weekend for anyone who loves good food and wine in a fabulous setting


October

Festival Internationale de Musique Militaire
Biennial military tattoo that takes place over the course of a weekend. This popular festival of military music also includes a grand parade.

Fête Patronale de la Ville de Nice Sainte Réparate
Colourful traditional Niçois festival that takes place in the streets of Vieux Nice.

Extreme Sailing Series – International Regatta
Hosted and supported since 2011 by the City of Nice. Key landmark in the sporting calendar of Nice.

European Masters Games - Nice
1st to 11th October
Nice has been chosen to organise and host the European Masters Games from 1 to 11 October 2015. Every edition, this big multi-sport competition brings together over 10,000 seasoned and senior athletes from around the world.


November

Salon du Chocolat – Cannes
World’s largest event dedicated to chocolate with dozens of fine chocolate artisans from the Alpes-Maritimes, France and even from around the world.

Nice-Cannes Marathon
8th November
The Marathon of Alpes-Maritimes, also known as the Nice-Cannes Marathon, is another high-profile sporting event held regularly on the French Riviera. The run between Nice and Canes, first organized in 2008, regularly reaches the full capacity of participants.

Festival Manca – Nice and around the region
International festival featuring a broad repertoire of contemporary music performed by world renowned musicians.

Challenge de Lutte Henri Deglane
International wrestling contest, with some of the world’s Olympic champions competing for this prestigious prize.


December

International Rowing Regatta - Nice
Held in the Baie des Anges, this regatta brings together the world’s best rowers to compete in pairs, eights and fours events.

Christmas Day Swim – Nice
Every year, swimmers take to the rather chilly waters of the Mediterranean from Nice’s Ruhl Plage.

Christmas Village – Nice
Traditional festive market held at the Place Masséna. Forty wooden chalets are set up in the square, selling typical Provençal gifts. There is also an ice-skating rink and children’s entertainment.

Roquebrune, a small Medieval perched village between Menton and Monaco, appears almost chiselled out from the rocks that make up the Grande Corniche. Sadly, with so many beguiling villages and places that play Pied Piper to visitors to the Côte d’Azur, Roquebrune and its Millennium Olive Tree are often left off people’s sight-seeing list.

DSC_4592 copy
Perched on the hilltop is the exclusive Hotel Vista Palace on the Route de la Grande Corniche

In many ways this is shame as it truly deserves to be seen – not just because of it Olivier Millénaire (1,000 year-old olive tree) but because it remains untouched from the heady tourism you find elsewhere. It also has some pretty good views down to the coastline showing just how steep the landscape is along the Riviera.

A Bit of History
Like elsewhere along the Côte d’Azur, this area had been occupied in times long past – as proven by the discovery of one of the oldest prehistoric sites in Europe: the Grotte du Vallonet. Here 75 stone tools, made from lime-stone and flint, and the bones of 25 different species of mammals were uncovered and found to date between 1 and 1.05 million years. The grotte served as a shelter to ante-Neanderthals who, while not knowing how to make fire, were capable of producing sharp-edged flake of stone.

Roman tomb of LumoneThe origin of its name, Roquebrune, comes from the Latin words rocam brunam, meaning ‘brown rock’. Indeed the Romans left behind some traces of their passage too – near to the town hall – with the tomb of Lumone. Built a century before JC, it once served as a Roman relay station between the junctions of two ancient roads: Via Julia Augusta and Via Aurélienne. The entire station was destroyed in 641 by one of the Lombard’s armies under the rule of Rotaric.

After the departure of the Romans and up to 984, Roquebrune’s territory was subsequently occupied by a series of tribes such as Goths, Lombards and Sarracens. Thereafter the Counts of Vintimiglia ruled over the destiny of the land, which provoked a dispute between the Genoese and the Counts of Provence. In 1355, Roquebrune (as did Menton) entered into the possession of the Grimaldis and would remain a distinct state for five centuries. Then everything seems to go a bit awry with Roquebrune wanting to be French (in 1793) then back to Monegasque (in 1814) to becoming a free town (in 1848) before finally settling to be part of France again (in 1860).

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DSC_4599The 1,000 year old Olive Tree
After all that history and war, let’s now enjoy something totally different and a bit more peaceful: an olive tree.

Known as the Olivier Millénaire – the 1,000 year old olive tree – it is thought to be nearer to 2,000 years old according to Roquebrune’s tourist office, who write: ‘The roots, like those of the Mathusalem de Provence, extend 20 meters in diameter. Olive trees were probably introduced to France by the Phœnicians 3,000 years ago, but this tree was more likely planted by the Romans in the year 400.’

You’ll find this ancient olive tree along the chemin de Menton with signs throughout the village helping to indicate the way.

DSC_4596I took the above photo in 2005 and shows my husband (just over 6ft) standing within its gnarled roots as they and the tree loom well above him.

DSC_4610It is said that the tree was once the property of the Vial brothers. Hearing that they wanted to cut it down, the French statesman and historian, Gabriel Hanoteaux (1853-1944), intervened and in 1925 bought the 30m² strip of land upon which the tree grew. While still belonging to Hanoteaux’s descendants the tree is now cared for by the municipality – and marked by a wooden plaque.

During the terrible plague of 1467 (which ravaged the Mediterranean including Monaco, Nice and Ventimiglia) the villagers of Roquebrune organized a novena – nine days of prayers. On August 5, the ninth and last day of the novena, the epidemic stopped.  Since then, every year there has been a procession on August 5th that goes from St. Margaret’s Church, through the village, past the olive tree, to the Chapel of Our Lady of Pause. 150 members of Roquebrunoise families depict the Stations of the Cross as a mark of their gratitude for this miracle with the main roles passed down the generations.

DSC_4582Exploring Roquebrune
DSC_4625Dominated by the 10th-century Château-Fort, Roquebrune is an interesting labyrinth of narrow streets, steps carved in stone, vaulted passages, little squares and fountains. The Tourist office has a number of guide maps that will make your visit easier. However, like all perched villages along the French Riviera you’ll find yourself walking up – and down – so be prepared for this. In return you’ll get some outstanding views.

Built by Conrad 1st, Count of Vintimiglia, to keep out the Saracens, it apparently has the oldest donjon in France. The Château-Fort passed through a number of hands, before it was sold in 1808 as a Bien National to five inhabitants of Roquebrune. Several years later (1911) it was sold to a rich Englishman, Sir William Ingram (1847-1924). Upon his death he bequeathed the Château-Fort to the town of Roquefort. From inside the castle (admission charge) you’ll have the best views in Roquebrune stretching across the village rooftops and coastline.DSC_6603DSC_6601DSC_6598 copyDSC_6591DSC_4615

DSC_4584Place Deux Frères is very charming with its cobbled stones, pretty houses, boutique luxury hotel and olive tree surrounded by circular seating. A beautiful bronze statue, La France Triomphante, sculpted by Hungarian artist Anna Chromyand stands in the centre of the square.

Walking around the narrow streets is a delight as you’ll come across craft shops and small cafés but you’ll not find it too touristic. We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch which somehow managed to accommodate a table and a couple of chairs outside. As I sat there a couple of hang-gliders (one of the local sports) whizzed past overhead – which made a super photo shoot but also shows you how tight the streets are. DSC_4632DSC_4629A little earlier I made mention of Eglise Sainte-Marguerite. We actually stumbled across it as we made our way up the twisty steps of ‘rue Eglise’. We should have known by the street’s name that there was a church along there but it was still a surprise when we discovered it. Dating back to the 12th century it was substantially rebuilt in 1573 with further enhancements during the 17th century and again in 1750. It was redecorated in the 19th century hence the colourful baroque style façade. It is beautifully decorated inside with paintings by a local artist, Marc-Antoine Otto, dating to the 17th century – and a copy of  Michelangelo’s Last Judgement. There is a frescoed ceiling above the altar. Visits are permitted in the afternoons during week days.

Beaulieu-sur-Mer is located in the east of the peninsula of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, between Eze and Villefranche-sur-Mer. Sheltered from northerly winds by the imposing rocky belt of hills of Cap Ferrat and Mont Leuze, it is one of the warmest places on the Riviera although I didn’t know that the first time I saw it.

In truth, I drove through this small seaside harbour in winter – on my way to discover Monaco for the first time. A cold mist swirled and the town was extremely quiet so I sped on past the port – glimpsing sight of enormous white blobs as I did so and wondering what they were. Later I found out they were yachts over-wintering in the port, wrapped in heavy duty white plastic that is then shrink-wrapped.

And return I did a few months later and found Beaulieu-sur-Mer to be a very pretty upmarket town.

The main thoroughfare (Boulevard Maréchal Joffre) is quite modern with broad pavements studded with large palm trees that stand like guardians. There is an amazing variety of shops offering a range of local specialities along with exclusive boutiques selling perfumes and luxury goods. Interspersed amongst them you’ll find a small Casino supermarket, bakeries, banks and of course glorious restaurants and charming cafés. There are still a few Belle-Epoque villas to be found down manicured side-streets but for others new modern apartments have taken their place.

A Bit of History
Trying to tie together the ancient history of Beaulieu-sur-Mer only becomes clearer when one understands that it once formed part of Villefranche-sur-Mer and is better seen as an area rather than a defined spot on the map. Excavation work carried out during the last century (on show at the Menton’s regional pre-historic museum) uncovered flints, arrow heads and other neolithic artefacts thus showing this was once a prehistoric site. The curve of Beaulieu-sur-Mer’s bay must have proved a safe haven as it became the antique Greek port of Anao before taken by the Romans who enlarged it.

Razed to the ground in the 3rd century peace lasted long enough for a small monastery to be built in the 4th century until the Lombards (a Germanic tribe who ruled Italy from 568 to 774) invaded the area and destroyed everything. The inhabitants fled to the hills and hid along St-Michel Plateau (Grande Corniche). And there they stayed until the end of the 13th century when they came back down to settle in and around Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Villefranche’s development takes on more importance with the arrival of the train in 1864 and the construction of the Basse Corniche between 1872 and 1876.  In turn this brings about the building of a couple of hotels and a few villas that would be rented out during the winter season to a select and prosperous clientèle. Beaulieu becomes an independent commune in September 1892.

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Harbour at Beauleau-sur-Mer

A park planted with more than 100 century-old olive trees allows the visitor to find beauty and tranquillity at a only few paces from the sea and the long promenade that hugs the length of the seafront. The harbour is set in a natural bay and has two separate ports: Baie des Fourmis, located on the western side of Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Petite Afrique, located on the eastern side.

Both beaches are sandy and offer large public areas though, like many of the beaches on the Côte d’Azur, they also have private areas set aside for hotels-restaurants. The beaches are centrally accessible and each one tucks around a sheltered cove. During the summer months there is an offshore diving platform plus a lifeguard on duty.

Pelagia noctiluca

I should mention that, come the warmer weather and due to a combination of water temperature,; tide and winds, the Mediterranean can be plagued by jellyfish – I’ve seen them as early as April. More often than not they will be pelagia noctiluca – notable by their violet colour which makes them easy to spot and known as the mauve stinger (their sting is very painful). They tend to swarm and come close to shore – so if you notice no-one in the sea and it’s a lovely day for a dip it may well be because of them.

Beaulieu-sur-Mer has two types of weekly markets: the fruits and vegetables that takes place every morning at Place Marinoni and the Provençal market, known for its incomparable fragrance, held on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Flea markets are held the first and third Sundays of the month on the terraces of the marina.

You’ll find some excellent restaurants down by the port – adjacent to which is the Casino de Beaulieu, built in 1903 in the Art Nouveau style. Following renovation work to the tune of over 8.5 million euros, it reopened in March 2014 after a closure of three years. The renovations are impressive and return the casino to its former glory and unique luxury with thirteen huge crystal chandeliers, a monumental marble staircase and purple and gold carpets. With the addition of a gambling room for smokers, players will have the choice between ten tables of roulette games, blackjack, stud poker and punto plus sixty-five gaming machines. Gourmet cuisine is assured by three dining areas under the leadership of Jean-Michel Chapuis. Byline: you will notice quite a few casinos when you are out and about in France. They are not casinos but actually supermarkets. And good ones too.

DSC_2080 copyA Walk in the Past
While Beaulieu-sur-Mer may have been given a modern face-lift, under the covers there are still some remarkable buildings worthy of attention. Most of you will have heard of Villa Kérylos and indeed, is one of the main reasons why visitors come here. However, there are a few other buildings worthy of notice.

La Rotonde at Beaulieu-sur-MerLa Rotonde, located across from the beach is a beautiful building, now used for various exhibitions but which was originally built as part of a larger building: Hotel Bristol.

The hotel was the dream child of Sir Blundell Maple (1845-1903), a London furniture maker and business magnet.

(Byline: John Blundell Maple’s skills and vision were crucial and by the 1880s Maples was the largest furniture store on the planet. Maples manufactured their own luxury furniture in a complex eventually so vast that by the 1880s it occupied an area where once stood 200 houses. They were timber importers, and exporters of furniture and fittings to all parts of the world. They used steam power and electricity, had a fleet of horse-drawn vans, depository and showrooms, and employed a vast workforce. Maples’ market was the middle class and upwards – anyone anywhere who had money. They furnished palaces all over the world, including Tsar Nicholas’s Winter Palace, the Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna, all the great hotels, and town and country homes. Prestigious British embassies were all furnished by Maples, even if it meant carrying the grand piano up the Khyber Pass on pack-horses.)

The hotel’s design and construction were handed to J.B. Viale and Danish architect, Hans-Georg Tersling (a power-house of a man as he was involved in many other constructions around the Riviera – notably the Grand Hôtel de Cap, Hôtel Métropole in Monaco, villa Cyrnos on the Cap to name just three although many more could be added to the list). Building work began at the end of February 1897 and finished by the end of December 1898 when it was of course furnished by Maples. Inaugurated on 5th January 1899 its English Neo-Gothic style was a sensation. The Rotonde proved a special hit and became an independent pavilion just for serving tea. In March 1911 fire destroyed the hotel’s roof but, due to the solidity of construction work, other parts of the hotel were left intact. Roofing was quickly repaired but now, instead of five floors, the hotel opened for business shortly afterwards with only four floors.

The Rotonde was used as a hospital during World War II as a commemorative plaque outside shows. In 1954 the hotel was bought by Saglia – a property promoter – and turned into luxury, high-class apartments. The gardens and tennis courts were sold to Beaulieu commune yet the Rotonde was inexplicably left abandoned and at one point nearly demolished. However, Beaulieu-sur-Mer’s commune stepped in at the very last minute and in 1982 invested in renovation works to transform this glorious building into a congress centre. Since October 2011 it has been used as an arts and festival centre especially for Beaulieu-sur-Mer’s two major festivals: “Les Nuits Guitares” (Guitar Nights) and “Les Violons de la Légende” (Legendary Violins).

DSC_6704 copyA little further down from La Rotonde you’ll find the Roman Chapel “Sancta Maria de Olico”, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Dating back to 9th century it was built on a paleo-christian site. Steps away from the chapel on the opposite side of the road is the luxury hotel “La Réserve”.

La Reserve at Beaulieu-sur-Mer

The story goes that, in 1880, a Niçois by the name of Pierre Lautier, built a restaurant by the sea at Beaulieu-sur-Mer with the intention of serving the best fish dishes imaginable. He hits on the clever idea of having large basins dug out from under its terrace where local fishermen can offload their catch of live fish and crustaceans straight into. The fishermen called the basins “la réserve” – a place for stocking supplies – and Lautier so likes the name that he takes it for his restaurant.

Word quickly spreads of La Réserve’s culinary delights but reaching it is not so easy. Unless you had your own steam-yacht like Gordon Bennett (the American press magnate) who would anchor off the bay in Lysistrata, one of the most modern steam yachts of the time (the ship included a Turkish bath and a resident cow for fresh milk). The railway station was a long way from the restaurant and local transport was very poor – which is why the Garaccio brothers (sail makers and ship chandlers and noted for having contributed to the development of winter touring in Nice) set up a steamboat service between the port of Nice and La Réserve. Very soon the cream of European and American society come here to eat and La Réserve quickly gained a reputation as a gastronomic centre for fresh fish.

Gordon Bennett was so impressed by the quality of the dishes that in 1891 he installed a telephone in the restaurant at his own expense so that he and other clients could conveniently make reservations. It was the first telephone in the area and the number – 04 93 01 00 01 – is still used today by La Réserve. In 1892 Gordon Bennett rented a pretty villa in Petite Afrique called Belvédère which he bought in 1903 changing the name to Villa Namouna.

(Byline: He called in Aaron Messiah, a well-known and well-respected architect, to oversee renovation work (notably the addition of owls). Messiah also finishes work on the Anglican Church in Beaulieu which may have been financed by Bennett. Messiah was also involved in some of the building of villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat as well as Les Cèdres on Cap Ferrat for Leopold II, King of Belgians, to name just a few of his works.)

In 1905 Lautier decided to build ten luxurious bedrooms thereby turning his restaurant into a hotel – and it too became an instant success.  Surviving two world wars Lautier then sold La Réserve to Jacques Laroche. Keeping only the great veranda gallery that housed the restaurant since its conception in 1880, Laroche had everything else pulled down and in its place built a huge Florentine-style villa that is the luxury La Réserve we see today.

It is said that Auguste Maïcon (French aviation pioneer with a notoriety for flying his plane under the bridge in Nice that once spanned the Var river) often offered a hydroplane service to La Réserve’s rich clientèle for which a pontoon was built at Baie des Fourmis. Not everyone managed the transfer from the hydroplane to the pontoon with notably Baroness de Vaughan, mistress of Belgian King, Leopold II and his two sons accidentally falling into the sea.

As luck would have it, I was allowed to view inside the entrance of La Reserve and already that was enough to tell me here was luxury at its finest – with touches of the past here and there with a little Gordon Bennett memorabilia tastefully on show.

Palais-des-Anglais, Beaulieu-sur-MerAnother building worthy of note is the Palais des Anglais built in 1885. Built facing the railway station it would be the first hotel to open in Beaulieu-sur-Mer. Designed originally with a flat roof, the building was later given an extra floor and then re-roofed with grey slates  and dormer windows. Flagship for tourist hotels elsewhere the Palais des Anglais would be one of the first hotels to have porcelain sinks in its bathrooms. The lift – then hydraulic – caused much anguish amongst the locals who thought it was powered by water diverted from their area. Between the two world wars, Queen Victoria’s third son, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and honorary citizen of Beaulieu, made it a habit to stay at the Palais des Anglais to escape English winters. In 1939 it was sold and turned into apartments.

I should also mention Gustave Eiffel who habitually stayed here during the winter months after travelling down from Paris in his yacht-steamer, the Aïda. He would later have a villa built on the seafront where he installed a meteorological station. It is through his work that Beaulieu-sur-Mer was shown to have the most exceptional weather of the region. The villa sold in 2008 for an estimated 100 million euros and is now an hotel and private residence.

Lastly, because Beaulieu-sur-Mer is such a unique harbour, it goes without saying that there is a wide choice of water sports available. The Yacht Club offers catamaran, kayaking, and windsurfing, while Riviera Sports offers high energy water activities: towed inner tube riding, jet skiing, off-shore, para-sailing, water-skiing, wake-boarding. The Deux Freres Diving Club offers first time diving, explorations, night dives, day trips, renewals and international training. For more relaxing activities, you can board the Mai Mai II fishing boat (tuna, white marlin, etc.) or walk aboard a luxury yacht. The Papetee II offers the practice of sport fishing in two different forms: night fishing for swordfish or deep water fishing.

So, if you have time on your schedule while you are visiting the Côte d’Azur, do try and take half a day to visit this charming seaside resort. With Villa Kérylos a hop and a skip from the harbour and Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild only 800 metres away – you could still have time for a stroll around Villefranche-sur-Mer before heading off on another magical excursion – unless of course you are enticed, like so many others, to stay a little longer…

In 1687 a mysterious prisoner arrived at Fort Royal wearing an iron mask. Upon the orders of Louis XIV, no one was to remove this prisoner’s mask – under any pretext. Imprisoned there for eleven years, in 1698 he was transferred to the Bastille where he died five years later in 1703.

As a child, I thought Alexandre Dumas’ story about The Man in the Iron Mask rather exciting but just a story. But the story took a different turn when I learnt that his cell existed on Ile Sainte-Marguerite – and that you could visit it. Did that mean he really existed?

Fort Royale, Ile Sainte-Marguerite

Royal Prisons
Unlike today, during France’s Ancient Regime, there existed different types of prisons. These depended upon the judiciary authorities: ecclesiastics, seigniories or royal and were simply “places of security where the accused were held until their court judgement.”

Royal prisons came under the jurisdiction of the king who, due to his sovereign state and absolute power – regardless that there was any court proceeding on the horizon or not – could imprison anyone he esteemed dangerous to the security of his kingdom (ie. rebellious nobles, double-crossing ministers, political thinkers and protestants). Known as “la letter de Cachet” there was no disputing the order duly signed and sealed by the king’s hand.

By the end of the 17th century Fort Royal gained a new function, that of being a State prison and thereby joining the ranks of other royal prisons: the Bastille, Pignerolo in the Piémont, Belle-Ile-en-Mer or the fort at Vincennes.

Cell of Man in the Iron Mask
Image reprinted from ‘Le Fort royal de Sainte-Marguerite by Frédérique Citéra-Bullot, 2007 copyright Ville de Cannes.

Visit to the Man in the Iron Mask’s Cell
Up until the 19th century the vaulted corridor leading to the cells opened directly onto the courtyard but this has since been bricked up. The Man in the Iron Mask’s cell is the fifth one down a corridor of six cells.

Two heavy, dark wood and iron studded doors give access to the cell although both are left open to allow visitors to walk easily into the room. The first door leads out into the corridor and lies flat against the wall. Parted by a wall at least 3ft deep, the other door leads into the cell.

The room is bare, apart from a single iron bed located to the left as you walk in, and bigger than I expected – 30m² in all. The walls are white-washed with traces of damp on the outer wall containing the window.  The floor is a mixture of dull coloured, small square tiles – the sort you’d find in old Provençal farm houses.

The first thing that struck me as I walked into his cell was that it had a fire-place cut into the wall. I’m not sure why this discovery surprised me so much but it did. Granted it was a small fireplace but to me it showed an element of kindness extended towards prisoners. Next to the fireplace was the window protected by three iron grills with small square openings. Also cut into the wall, and to the right of the window, was a dry latrine.

Above the single bed were faint markings remaining from original decorative drawings but apart from that the room is stark and left quite a desolate impression on me. I imagined myself in such a miserable room, a metal mask wrapped about my face, left in solitude without any hope of escape. Despair spiralled…

So I was most relieved when I came across historical records showing that all the cells were pre-furnished with a bed, a bedside table, curtains, a clothes chest, rugs and a dining table with two chairs. Moreover, depending upon their financial situation, prisoners could add furniture or other items if they felt so inclined.

It also appears that he wore fine linens and was treated with the utmost respect – denoting surely someone of nobility (or access to funds). More importantly I also discovered that his mask was made of black velvet cloth with a steel lock. But iron makes for a better story …

The two doors, one closing upon the other, were not a deterrent for him – but a deterrent to anyone who might eavesdrop on his conversations – which makes the mystery of the Masked Man even more intriguing.

Under Pain of Death…
This prisoner, made famous by Voltaire and subsequently by Alexandre Dumas, spent a total of 40 years in prison. First imprisoned in Pignerol, then Exilles (Piémont, Italy), the Man in the Iron Mask was then moved to Ile Sainte-Marguerite in 1687 where he came under the specific guard of Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, a retired musketeer.  Dauvergne de Saint-Mars had been made officer in charge of the main tower in 1665. Twenty-two years later he was appointed governor of the islands of Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat – just one year prior to the arrival of his masked prisoner.

A month prior to the arrival of this prisoner, Dauvergne de Saint-Mars received strict instructions on how to communicate and provide for his masked prisoner’s needs. Failure to do so was under pain of death. No-one, apart from him and two guards, ever spoke to the masked man and no one ever saw his face. Further research indicated that the prisoner left his cell to attend mass held in the corridor.

The identity of the prisoner remains a wonderful mystery and started by Voltaire. In his book Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1751):

“Quelques mois après la mort de ce ministre [Mazarin], il arriva un évènement, […] et ce qui est non moins étrange, c’est que tous les historiens l’ont ignoré. On envoya dans le plus grand secret au château de l’île Sainte-Marguerite […] un prisonnier inconnu, d’une taille au-dessous de l’ordinaire, jeune et de la figure la plus belle et la plus noble.”

Translation:

A few months after the death of this minister (Mazarin), there occurred an event, (…) and this is not less remarkable, it is that every historian totally ignored it. There was sent in the greatest possible secret to the chateau on Ile Sainte-Marguerite (…) an unknown prisoner, of above normal stature, young and with features of rare nobility and beauty.

Voltaire thought he was a brother of Louis XIV, or the illegitimate son of Mazarin and Anne of Austria or of Louis XIV and Mademoiselle de la Vallière, or that ‘he’ might even be a ‘she’. Others speculated that he was the illegitimate son of Queen Marie-Thérèse and a black lover, while others hypothesised he may have been Count Mattioli, an Italian diplomat who may have swindled the Sun King, or Eustache Dauger.

I don’t think we’ll ever uncover the truth behind the mystery of the masked man which no doubt will continue to consume writers – and film-makers alike – for years to come!

As a byline, Fort Royal kept its royal status until the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) when it reverted back to being a prison under military authority.  It so remained until the beginning of the 20th century when it closed and instead became classified as a historic monument on 27th July 1927. The Museum of the Sea opened a few years later and in 1996 Fort Royal was bought by the town of Cannes.

The Museum of the Sea (Musée le la Mer)
Museum of the seaJust in case you’re wondering, the Museum of the Sea is really Fort Royal but under a different name. Your admission fee allows you to visit the old prison cells, the fort’s ramparts and barracks and the archaeological findings on display in the heart of the old Roman reservoirs and restored chambers.

The museum exhibits a variety of boat wrecks found off the shores of the Islands of Lérins. Visitors can also see a selection of artefacts including Roman and Saracen ceramics, model reconstruction of the Roman water reservoir system, a collection of painted designs dating back to antiquity, and a room housing aquariums presented by the permanent centre of initiatives for the environment, which display the underwater flora and fauna of the Mediterranean. Depending upon the time of year, a number of different exhibitions take place on the immense terrace from where there are incredible panoramic views stretching across the bay of Cannes as far as the Alpes du Sud at Cap d’Antibes across to the Estérel.

Finally – a Bit of History about Fort Royal
It is to the Lérins Monastery that we owe the initial idea of a fort. Over the years, the royal imposition of having a laïque Abbot governing their abbey had gradually become unbearable to the monks. Not only was any revenue quickly snatched up by the then governing Abbot and injected into his treasury but never once did any one of them visit the monastery – thereby fuelling further ill-feeling.

And so it came about that in 1568, the monks offer the king, Charles IX, a proposition: that of building a citadelle on the Ile Sainte-Marguerite at their own expense, with housing for fifty to sixty people. In exchange the monks ask for the abandonment of the royal degree nominating laïque Abbots to their monastery and permission to charge of a small tax from ships weighing anchor off the islands. The king refuses.

A year later the Lérins Monastery sell Ile Sainte-Marguerite to the inhabitants of Cannes who want to cultivate the island’s land. However, with no security, water, and a pest epidemic between 1579 and 1580, the land falls to waste and the island is abandoned.

In 1612 the monks approach prince of Joinville, Claude de Lorraine, with a new transaction – one which he accepts. The ‘acte de cession de l’île” notes that the prince will hold the title to the entire island but is obliged to pay tithes on the wine and corn the monks produce for their religious services once the island is inhabited again.  It was also written that the prince would reimburse the inhabitants of Cannes who had bought the island all those years past.

Six years later, in 1618, Claude de Lorraine gives Ile Sainte-Marguerite to his brother Charles, the Duke of Guise and governor of Provence yet a couple of months later, in June 1618, Charles gives Ile Sainte-Marguerite to Jean de Bellon who buys it from him for 4,500 livres (Byline: the livre was the currency of France from 781 to 1794). Subsequently it is de Bellon who reimburses the inhabitants of Cannes and pays the tithes to the monks while Charles hangs on to dealing out justice on the island, hiring officers to deal with petty crimes and retaining the right to build a fort on the island.

Then in 1621 Charles suddenly foregoes everything and hands over all his rights to Jean de Bellon once and for all. Construction work on the fort begins in 1624 upon the remains of ancient Roman water tanks, and would continue until 1627.

We are now in the midst of the 30 Year War which erupted between Protestants and Catholics in Prague in 1618 and then engulfed Europe. By 1635 it had turned into the Franco-Spanish War. Louis XIII (1610-1643) and his advisor, Cardinal-Duke of Richelieu (1585-1642), sees the dangers of an undefended coastal region – especially in the south – but by then it is too late.

In 1635, Ile Sainte-Marguerite is captured by the Spanish with 3,000 men. They remain on the island for two years during which time they both enlarge the fort and its fortifications and add 28 canons.

Two years later, on 28th March 1637 the French army, with 1,800 men, weigh anchor off the western side of Ile Sainte-Marguerite. It is not an easy battle but French victory is finally assured and the Spanish capitulate on 12th May, 1637.

Following this victory, Richelieu is said to have hastily seen to the rebuilding of Fort Royal which continued until 1641. However, it is to Vauban (1633-1707), French military engineer and Marshal of France who would remodel, rebuild and restrengthen Fort Royal and turn it into the fort we see today.

In all, Vauban visited Ile Sainte-Marguerite three times to oversee his project: 1682, 1693 and 1700. His assistant, Niquet, a military engineer from Narbonne who Vauban placed in charge of realizing his projects soon despaired at the cost of building and fortification works and wrote to Vauban to say he believed the fort should be razed to the ground rather than spending such ludicrous amounts of money on something so totally useless.

But Vauban was a visionary and held firm and it is thanks to him that today Fort Royal is still standing and remains such an integral part of French history.

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Practical Information

Admission fee: Adults €6 but free 1st Sunday in each month. Discount rate for those under 25 years old.

(Byline: if you are staying in the region for a few days you might be interested in obtaining a Carte Musée or French Riviera Museum Pass. The Pass gives you free access to over 60 of the Riviera’s museums, monuments and gardens including the Musée-Chapelle Bellini, Musée de la Castre, La Malmaison and Musée de la Mer. There is a three-day pass and a seven-day one. The card is available at participating museums, monuments and gardens and tourist offices as well as FNAC department stores.)

Opening Times

October through to March
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (10h30-13h15/14h15-16h45)

April through to June
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (10h00-13h00/14h00-18h00)

July – August
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (10h00-19h00)
Wednesday (10h00-21h00)

September
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (10h00-13h00/14h00-18h00)

Closing day : New Year’s Day, All Saints’ Day (November 1), Armistice Day (November 11), Christmas Day, Labour Day (May 1)

After seeing the Ile Sainte-Marguerite and Ile Saint-Honorat from the skies during my first flight into Nice airport, it had been one of my long-time goals to visit them. Seven years later (don’t ask) I finally did and I can only say that if you have a few hours free, are happy to walk a fair bit and are intrigued by the Man in the Iron Mask – then you’ll love this excursion.

Scruffy and Freddy on watch on the Island.
Scruffy and Freddy watching each other’s back – just in case of pirates…

There are mornings on the Côte d’Azur when the beauty of the region is heart-wrenching, with its crystal clear skies and a stillness in the air that is almost palpable. It was on such a morning that my good friend Jill and I set off from Cannes with our dogs – Scruffy and Freddy – on one of the daily ferries that make the journey to the Iles de Lérins and more specifically, Ile St Marguerite.

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DSC_4236Ile St Marguerite lies some 700 metres offshore from Cannes and covers a total of 500 acres. It is by far the most popular of the Lérins archipelago with beaches tucked away in craggy inlets and walking trails through scented Aleppo, Umbrella, Maritime pine and Eucalyptus trees. St. Honorat (which we did not visit) is smaller, wilder and unspoilt and home to about 30 Cisterian monks who live and work in the monastery. The archipelago is made up of two other islands – which are really islets and uninhabited – called la Tradelière and Saint-Féréol and a rock that is simply referred to as ‘the island’ and located to the extreme south of Saint-Honorat.

A Bit of History
A text from Strabo (64/63 BC – AD 24), a Greek geographer and historian, writes of a sanctuary built on the island during the Ligurian occupation where sacrifices were offered to a mysterious diety named Lero.  Under Augustus, Liguria was designated a region of Italy and the islands, on the maritime route between Rome and Spain, were seized by the Romans and used as a trading port of call for their fleets.

During the 4th century, a major earthquake, followed by a powerful tidal-surge, ravaged the coastal region causing the islands to flood and subsequently sink several metres down into the sea. Perhaps it was following this catastrophe that the Romans left, but whatever the cause, they lost their grip on the islands which remained deserted until 375 when Honorat, a hermit from Cape Roux, came and settled there.

On a clear day he must have been must have been able to see the islands for they were only 5 miles away. One can imagine his discussion with his sister Marguerite and his dismay and frustration at the growing number of disciples, drawn by his legendary wisdom and holiness, who came to visit him in his cave.  Together they found a solution and travelled to the islands where Honorat founded a monastery while Marguerite founded a convent on the neighbouring island.

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DSC_3991Our Journey Commences
Ferries run every day, including Sundays and public holidays and are located at the Port de Cannes, Quai Laubeuf where you’ll find a large open-air car park (payable). From there it’s a quick walk over to the Gare Maritime des Illes to purchase boarding tickets. Departure from Cannes is every 30 minutes with the first ferry leaving at 7:30am (except on Sunday when they depart at 9:00am) and then throughout the day with the last departure at 4:30pm. Note that the last departure from Ile St Marguerite is 5:00pm. (Byline: that there is no ferry between the two islands so if you also want to visit Ile Saint-Honorat, you’ll have to return to Cannes and take a ferry for that specific destination.)

After purchasing our tickets (€13.50 return ticket) we boarded our ferry. Since our trip was early in the season queues were relatively short but you may want to allow yourself more time in high season as there will be longer queues at the ticket office. Jill and I were so captivated by everything that the 15 minutes journey passed quickly so neither of us had time to feel sea-sick. About half way through our journey, Ile St Marguerite loomed into sight as did Fort Royal – impressively built on the rock edge. Our skipper kindly motored close to the fort giving everyone the opportunity to take photographs. It was of course then that we noticed the scaffolding on Fort Royal but thought no more of it until later.

DSC_4016DSC_4026With the photo shoot over and everyone happy, our craft chugged along and around Fort Royal towards the debarkation zone. A number of yachts rested in the harbour, waves gently slapping their hulls as we motored past. The views from the harbour are spectacular and just shows how close the islands are to the mainland. Jill and I had brought along a packed lunch and enough water to last us but you’ll find 2 restaurants (La Guérite and L’Escale) plus a couple of snack bars at the ferry landing. (Byline: Although the ferries run a year-round service, do double-check if you plan on going across in winter as these restaurants or snack bars may be closed for their winter break.)

DSC_4042Once off the ferry Jill and I decided to head towards Fort Royal, it being the island’s main attraction, but also because it then left us plenty of time for our picnic and to explore the rest of the island before making the return sea journey back to Cannes.DSC_4057

DSC_4063A stone archway leads you into the main fort where a small kiosque awaits you where you’ll need to buy a ticket (€6) to gain entry. Set aside at least a good hour to explore Fort Royal as you’ll be memorised by the views across the bay but also because you’ll want to look at some of the cells (notably that of the Man in the Iron Mask) as well as spending time in the Museum of the Sea.

DSC_4067DSC_4091 DSC_4080DSC_4081Sadly the scaffolding Jill and I had noticed on Fort Royal was due to ongoing reconstruction work which meant that parts were off-limits to the public (notably the cells) so we contented ourselves to walk around the ramparts and old barracks (now used for school field trips and ecological studies) instead. In hindsight I should have double-checked but to be honest, it never dawned on me to do so as I just presumed Fort Royal would be accessible. A good lesson learnt so do check Cannes Tourist Office website prior to making any plans to visit it.

Walking round Fort Royal we came across a heady mix of huge agaves, cacti and yucca trees while wild thyme, lavender, lentisk and Giant Fennel grew almost anywhere there was stony ground and scrub-land.

DSC_4105DSC_4092We both liked the sense of ruggedness although I’m not sure what we would have felt about the island had the weather been overcast and a little dreary. But that day the weather was perfect and, with the sun shining, it was quite magical. And I think that’s what I really liked about Ile St Marguerite – it wasn’t staged or moulded into some money-making tourist attraction – it was as it was – natural and a reminder of times long past.

DSC_4097By now the gentle warmth of the early morning sun had turned hot on our backs so we decided to head down to the beach and round Fort Royal and then up to Allée des Eucalyptus in the hope of some sea breezes and a little dappled shade. The dogs were more than happy with our decision with Jill’s dog, Scruffy, deciding that a splash in the sea was exactly what she needed. Freddy, ever the gentleman, looked on encouragingly and not wishing to spoil Scruffy’s ‘moment’ – refrained from getting his paws wet.

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Scruffy thinking about going in for a dip Scruffy thinking about going in for a dip

While there is no denying we were impressed by Fort Royal and the views from the ramparts, this trail, lined with Calabrian and Maritime pine trees and hidden rocky coves was a delight with partings in the trees that gave us some superb vistas. Cars are banned along here which means that you can walk at ease and savour the tranquillity of this island. By now we had walked about two hours so decided this would be a good time to find a spot near one of the coves and have our picnic.

DSC_4177DSC_4142There are a few picnic areas dotted around the island but they are simple and made up of a low wooden table and a couple of benches that blend easily in amongst the pine trees and shrub-land.

Map of Ile St MargueriteNow is perhaps a good time to show you a map of the island and the various trails you can take. After visiting Fort Royal and walking down to the beach, we made our way up to Allée des Eucalyptus before cutting across to Chemin du Vengeur where we stopped for our picnic.  Afterwards we walked on to Pointe du Vengeur and then turned into Allée du Four à boulet, before taking the trail along Allée de Ceinture which hugs the waterfront.

This is a long, long walk but extremely pleasant – and as elsewhere and due to the time of year – we hardly saw a soul. The sandy trails change slightly in width so in some parts there is little or no shade from the trees. Having said that there are a number of fountains dotted around the island (see map) that will help refresh you.

DSC_4183DSC_4187What was special, and unexpected, where the glimpses through the trees towards Ile St Honorat and the gorgeous white sailing boats nestled in the peace of its waters. This body of water is called canal du Friuli and separates Ile St Honorat from its larger sister.

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In many ways the sound of boats and happy laughter brought us back to civilisation as we soon found ourselves back at the jetty – now buzzing with people – with some disembarking and others, like us, preparing to board a ferry for the return journey to Cannes.

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This article is dedicated to the memory of Scruffy, a wonderful rescue dog full of character and charm who sadly died this year (2015).

Six months after visiting the island with Jill, I did return – this time with family and no dogs – and finally visited the prison cell of the Man in the Iron Mask – but that is another story.

Visiting Renoir’s studio was an extraordinary, quite evocative moment and similar to how I felt when visiting Matisse’s studio in Villa Le Rêve in Vence.  Like a time-capsule, everything has remained as it was all those years ago leaving one to feel that Renoir has just momentarily stepped away – perhaps into his smaller studio for a few things – before returning to his main studio.

Located on the first floor there is a stone fireplace and chimney that dominates one wall; in the middle of the room stands his large easel with his wicker wheelchair in front of it and painting materials to either side.  His smaller studio has views over the bay, the gardens and the mountains in the background and is furnished with a smaller wooden wheelchair.

I am in awe of Renoir with his indomitable character and passion for painting. Overcoming pain with hands that had become progressively deformed by rheumatoid arthritis and fingers permanently curled he still found an inner strength to paint – with paintbrushes slipped into his hands by an assistant (and not strapped to his fingers as most people believe).

On the day I visited with friends, the house was busy with visitors. A small wooden staircase leads you down into his studio but everyone kindly gives way, whispering about what they saw or where to go next. I felt honoured to bear witness to Renoir’s life and I was not alone in having a few emotional tears bubbling up.

Renoir GardenIt helped to go outside and walk among the olive and citrus groves so beautifully maintained. The light outside was intense and in fact, we came across a few people who had set up their own easel to paint and I thought how very special that must be for them. (Byline: did you know there is a Renoir grant established in 1986 by Claude and Evangelina Renoir the goal of which is to encourage young professional artists (under 40) in their work?)

The next time I wanted to visit the museum it was closed for renovation so this article is written with the emotions felt from that first visit and subsequent research I did later.

The story of Les Collettes
Born in Limoges in 1841 to a working-class family, Auguste Renoir received his early training as a painter while drawing and painting on fine china in a porcelain factory, and received critical acclaim at the age of 33 when 6 of his paintings were hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874.

In 1881 Renoir travelled to Italy and was particularly impressed by the art of Raphael.

From 1882 onwards Renoir travelled down to “le Midi” often staying with his good friend, Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence. Finding himself enchanted by the exceptional Mediterranean light and countryside he returned several times over the coming years to explore and paint with Cézanne, visiting places such as Le Lavandou and l’Estaque, a small fishing village west of Marseille. (Byline: interestingly both Cézanne and Renoir suffered from and appeared to exploit the blur induced by their myopia in their work which may have offered a “short-cut” to abstracting the general forms and colours of the scene being painted and thus helped to produce the Impressionist style they sought to achieve.)

In 1900, and with his rheumatoid arthritis becoming ever more painful, his doctor advises him to try a change of climate. Having seen and felt the benefits that being in the south did to his ailing body on previous short visits, he decides to spend some time near Grasse with Aline his wife and younger son Jean. From there it would have been relatively easy for Renoir to explore Menton, Le Cannet and …  Cagnes-sur-Mer.

It is said that upon visiting Cagnes-sur-Mer Renoir exclaimed:

“Il y a là, la plus belle lumière du monde!”
(There exists there the most beautiful light in the world)

And thus it is here, in 1903, that Renoir rented the “maison de la Poste” (now the mairie) for four years. By now his reputation is universally established and he decides to settle permanently in the South of France. Perhaps it is then that his friend, the painter Ferdinand Deconchy, tells him about a large plot of land called Domaine des Collettes located east of Haut-de-Cagnes that is up for sale. One can imagine the pair of them going off together to take a look and walk round the estate with Deconchy pointing out the century old olive trees and views down to Cap d’Antibes and Renoir rejoicing in just how perfect the light was. You can almost sense their excitement as they come across a small Provençal farmhouse tucked in amongst the olive trees and Renoir imagining living and painting there.

But Madame Renoir had other ideas and, after Renoir bought the 11 hectare estate in 1907, she insisted on having a very large villa built (to accommodate family, friends and staff) thereby snuffing any thoughts Renoir had of being in the old farmhouse. He turns to the architect Jules Febvre to design and oversee the villa’s building which is finished by the autumn of 1908. Aline is delighted and one hopes Renoir is too, and they move into their new home with their three sons, Pierre, Jean (future film maker) and Claude. It is a convivial place and visited by many of Renoir’s artistic friends – a young Henri Matisse was a frequent visitor.

Renoir's Wheel Chair In 1912, four years after having settled in Les Collettes, Renoir suffered a stroke which left him bound to a wheelchair. Yet despite this setback he continued to work every day, spending winter at Les Collettes and summer returning to Essoyes, Aline’s home town – a quiet Champagne village in the Aube department – where he spent his days painting in the studio he had built for him at the bottom of the family’s garden.

With hands so crippled by rheumatism that it caused his thumbs to turn inward towards the palms, and his fingers to bend towards the wrists it remains a testament to Renoir’s great courage that he even contemplated the art of sculpting – yet in 1913 he does just that and more. At the suggestion of his friend Vollard, he takes up sculpture with a pupil of Maillol called Richard Guino and has a studio built in the garden of Les Collettes where they both work. Under Renoir’s direction, Guino works the clay for him and creates the little Venus and then the famous Venus Victrix, which is still on display in the garden. In fact Renoir went on to create an ensemble of pieces considered at the zenith of modern sculpture.

Along with Guino, Renoir had other assistants as well as his youngest son Claude, to assist him, arrange his palette and place the brush in his permanently clenched hand. He depended much on others to move him around in his wheelchair. His assistants would scroll large canvasses across a custom-made easel, so that the seated painter could reach different areas with his limited arm movements.

When the young Henri Matisse asked the suffering old man why he kept painting, Renoir is said to have replied, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”

Renoir’s last few years were saddened by the death of Aline in June 1915, his sons being wounded in the First World War and the inexorable progress of his illness and its constant pain. But he remained busy for when he was not painting in his main studio he was with Guino and producing sculptures. Their collaboration lasted until 1918.

One would like to think that Renoir’s last year was a little happier and that perhaps he even experienced a sense of triumph. The state had purchased his portrait Madame Georges Charpentier (1877), and he travelled to Paris in August 1919 to see it hanging in the Louvre.

Renoir returned to Les Collettes and continued painting throughout September until the end of November when he started to feel unwell. Having just finished painting a bouquet of anemones he now began a small still life – two apples – but was unable to finish it. I am presuming it was Claude who called out Renoir’s two physicians who arrived from Nice and remained by his bedside until he died, a little after two o’clock in the morning of Wednesday, 3rd December, 1919. He was 78 years old.

He is buried next to his beloved Aline in Essoyes.

As time passed parts of Domaine Les Collettes were sold off so that, by 1959, only 2½ hectares remained. In 1960, the house and the remaining estate were bought by the town of Cagnes-sur-Mer and turned into a municipal museum featuring the family’s furniture, fourteen original paintings and thirty sculptures by the master, including a version of Les Grandes Baigneuses.

In July 2013, after 18 months of extensive renovation work, the Renoir Museum and the whole Collettes estate reopened their doors. For the first time the museum also gave public access to the kitchen and hallway overlooking the gardens, added a set of 17 plaster sculptures donated by Renoir and Guion families, as well as 2 additional original canvasses. The museum is now also accessible to persons with reduced mobility.

Although up a steep hill, Les Collettes is walkable from Place du Général-du-Gaulle in central Cagnes-Ville. To avoid the climb there is a free but limited parking area further up from the house which I would suggest using although it quickly gets crowded so timing is of the essence!

Practical Information

Admission fee: Adults €6 but free 1st Sunday in each month. Discount rate for those under 25 years old.

Musée Renoir
19 chemin des Collettes
06800 Cagnes-sur-Mer
Tel. : +33 (0)4 93 20 61 07
Website

Open Wednesdays to Mondays
June to September 10am-1pm & 2-6pm (gardens open 10am-6pm)
October to March 10am-noon & 2-5pm
April, May 10am-noon & 2-6pm

Closed Tuesday and December 25th, January 1st and May 1st

How to get there

By car: From the A8 motorway take the exits 47/48 and follow signs to Centre-Ville, then signs to the Musée Renoir. Alternatively you can park in one of the free parkings in Cagnes-sur-Mer or at the railway station and make your way by bus (Ligne 49) that stops at the “Musée Renoir” bus stop located a short 5 minute walk from the museum.

By bus: From Nice or Cannes or Antibes, take the bus 200 and stop at Square Bourdet. It’s then a 10-minute steep climb via Allée des Bugadières to Av. Auguste-Renoir.

Cagnes-sur-Mer Tourist Office
6, Boulevard Maréchal Juin
Tel.: +33 (0)4 93 20 61 64
Website

Whether you’re planning a short stay or stopping over on a cruise liner for a few hours, there are a number of ways of getting around Nice and still have time for a meal and some great shopping.

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Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Tours
DSC_0833
These are a great way to discover Nice as you’ll see this lovely city from a totally different perspective! You need to count about 1½ hours if you want to do the bus tour without any ‘hop-on or hop-off’s’ along the way. I much enjoyed the tour as it takes you from the Promenade des Anglais, over to the Port, around Place Garibaldi, up to Cimiez and the Monastery, over to the SNCF station, down past the Russian Church and then back along the Promenade.

100_0605If you do want to sit upstairs (and let’s face it – who doesn’t?) you will be passing tall trees with low outstretched branches and there was more than one occasion when I had to duck! Remember too that open top means you are at the mercy of the weather so do bring some water with you and protection against the sun.

There are 14 itinerary stops where you can hop-on and hop-off as many times are you like depending on how much time you have allocated to your sight-seeing. Included with the tour is a recorded commentary and personal earphones.

The 14 stops are:

  • Promenade – Etats-Unis
  • Port – Quai Lunel
  • Place Ile de Beauté
  • Croisière – Bleu Rivage
  • Place Garibaldi
  • Acropolis – Barla
  • Cimiez – Monastère
  • Musée Chagall
  • Raimbaldi – Lepante
  • Gare SNCF
  • Eglise Russe
  • Promenade – Magnan
  • Congrès
  • Masséna – Verdun

DSC_2130The open-top bus also gives you an exceptional vantage point – one you simply wouldn’t have if you did the same tour on foot. The tour is also a good way to decide if and where you’d like to do more in-depth sight-seeing at a later time. You can purchase your tickets directly from the bus driver or, for those of you staying longer than a few hours, I suggest purchasing either a 24, 48 or 72 hour “French Riviera Pass” pass which allows you ample opportunities to explore Nice at your own pace and are on sale at the Tourist Office of Nice or from their website. The first bus leaves from the Promenade des Anglais at 10h00 and there after with a 30 minute frequency in summer and 60 minutes in winter. You can learn more about these hop-on, hop-off tours here although there are a number of other sites where you can book your tickets so do check the internet.

Nice Tourist Trains
DSC_7648This is another super way to explore Nice and gives you a bit of shade as you travel around. You’ll discover the Promenade des Anglais, the Flower Market, Massena Square, the Old Town, Castle Hill, then down to Albert 1re Gardens and along the Quai des Etats-Unis. The tour lasts approximately 45 minutes with a 10 minute stop at the Castle. There is a bit of an overlap with the Hop-on, Hop-off tours but not much as the little trains keep to the vicinity of the Old Town. There is individual commentary in French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian and Japanese. You can find out more about these trains, pricing and time-table here.

Walking
DSC_0036Nice is certainly easily walkable but it depends from where. With renovations done in the last couple of years, it is now possible to walk from Nice airport, around the whole of the Baie des Anges and to the Port (a distance of 9kms). While I have not done this in one go, I have walked the full length of the promenade starting from Jardin Ferber close to the airport up to Quai des Etats-Unis – about 7 kms – while researching the last remaining Belle-Epoque villas for my article about Nice. I started very early, walked slowly and stopped numerous times along the way to take photographs. But it is ‘doable’ although demands a fair bit of leg-work.

Alternatively, walking around Old Nice is easier and indeed, Old Nice is only walkable as cars are banned. The streets are a bit narrow but you are treading in history and as you walk you will discover some marvellous architectural gems. This area is particular charming and indeed is the major tourist draw. But you’ll find some wonderful little boutiques, a fabulous food and flower market, gorgeous restaurants and bistros.

Cycling
DSC_0056Nice and especially the Promenade des Anglais and Quai des Etats-Unis is excellent for cycling and roller-blading as there are dedicated cycle lanes. You can hire bikes at Holiday Bikes near the seafront, and bikes and blades from Roller Station on Quai des Etats-Unis.

Velo bleuIf you don’t want to do that you can hire a Vélo Bleu public bicycle. There are 175 stations spread across the region (a bike station every 300 metres) providing 1,750 bikes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Basically you use your bank card, call the voice server from a bike station and take a Vélo Bleu from one of the terminals. When finished, simply return the bike to any of the stations in one of the three communes: Nice, Saint-Laurent-du-Var or Cagnes-sur-Mer. (Click here to read how to rent one of these bikes.)

A different and rather unconventional way of getting around Nice is to hire a Segway. Although banned in public in Britain they are not in Nice. The Tourism and Congress Board of Nice provides visitors with these devices as do Segway Mobilboard.

Cyclotours
DSC_0828These are electric tricycles that are driven by young drivers called “Cyclonautes”. There is a choice of three tours around Nice from 1 hour to 3 hours that take you to various historical sites. Click here to find out more.

Buses and Trams
DSC_1893Since my first article about Nice when the new tram system was just being implemented, it has since become a great asset to the city. The new tram system, linking the north and east of the city via the centre along Avenue Jean-Médecin and Place Masséna, is an elegant delight, peppered along its course with art-works. The price per journey per person is €1.50 and includes one change. It’s operative not only on the full city network of buses and trams but also on buses throughout the Alpes-Maritimes.

And finally – Cars
While some people feel that driving around Nice is a bit of a nightmare, especially during the summer season, I would say it’s no different to any other holiday seaside resort. In its favour, Nice has a number of large underground (paid for) parkings which I’ve always found good and there’s also a large open air parking at the Port. Street parking is hit and miss unless you arrive fairly early or after six in the evening when people start leaving the beach to go back to their hotel or return home to prepare supper.

The alternative to driving your own car or hiring one for the duration of your stay is Auto Bleue; an electric vehicle hire service based on car sharing. The service is offered by the Nice Côte d’Azur Metropolitan Council, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through a network of 63 stations and 182 cars. You can register via the internet, letter or through an agency. To learn more click here.

Opera buffs – and they increase exponentially each year – will travel far and wide to indulge their passion.

Perhaps opera buffs should try coming to the South of France, which offers them a richly variegated choice of Opera House, from modern, to rich 19th c. Belle Epoque and immensely varied productions, performances, and stars. They can indulge their passion, without totally maxing out their holiday budget for the year, because opera is heavily subsidised in France, on the whole ticket prices can be reasonable, compared to the UK, and are not a king’s ransom as in London, at Covent Garden, or at Bayreuth, and all over the winter spring season, there will be a choice of reasonable hotels to choose from. Winter cum Spring is not a bad time to visit this region, no crowds, and reasonably mild weather on the coast.

One of the incredibly great pluses now to planning a holiday is that one can do everything via the Internet, planes, trains, opera tickets, hotels, you name it, you are no long dependent on an expensive travel organisation or agency, with their very possibly circumscribed itinerary – you can do it all for yourself!

A good hotel website to use is www.venere.com which allows some leeway for cancellations, and also does not immediately charge, it offers good choices, and descriptions.

Just think, there are opera houses at Montpellier, Marseille, Toulon, Nice, and Monte Carlo, the jewel in the crown. Do the names excite you? They should.

Liceu Opera House – Barcelona

If one extended just beyond the French borders, one could start an exciting Opera Tour by flying in to Barcelona, Spain, starting at the Liceu Opera House, which fronts directly on Las Ramblas – it tends to go in for quite original and innovative productions – and then fly out of Genova, Italy’s major and rather ugly seaport, but which has a technically sophisticated opera house just five minutes walk from the old sea harbour, and some notable productions.

The Liceu, Barcelona, was destroyed by fire three times, just like La Fenice, Venice, and like La Fenice, rose again from its ashes, with the auditorium recreated as almost exact replicas of their originals – catastrophic fires did tend to be a fate for some opera houses, something to do with ancient lighting systems.

Or one could fly into Paris, then take the fast train south – the TGV that gets one from Paris to Marseille in 3 hours. And of course one can fly direct into Nice or Marseille, and also into the very delightful small airport of Toulon-Hyeres from Paris.

One could quite easily do a tour from Marseille via train along the coast, trains are comfortable and fast, timetables, prices, can all be looked up and booked via www.sncf.fr or rent a car, and take ones time, enabling a variety of side trips, off the main track.

Montpellier Opera House

Montpellier to the west of Marseille boasts a very modern opera house with an imposing façade, its 2000 seat opera house, the Salle Berlioz in its monumental Corum. It also has the Comedie, 19th century house right opposite. The former magnificent pink marble theater was designed by Strasbourg architect Claude Vasconi, the mastermind of Les Halles Forum in Paris.

It’s February production of Mozart’s L’énlevement du Serail, looks to be sold out, but tickets at around €25/55 are available for its concert performance of Le Roy D’Ys.

Incidentally one way of checking out/buying tickets for all sorts of performances is via the French www.FNAC.com agency, one might pay an extra fee, but it could be timesaving, and useful.

The train journey between Marseille and Montpellier does involve at least one change, possibly two, something to be taken into consideration in any tour plan. One other useful note about Montpellier, if driving there, do get a really good map of the city centre, with all its one way systems marked up, otherwise, you might wind up in tears, trying desperately to find your way through its labyrinth! Montpellier is a very modern city, academic, and university campus, hosting most of France’s pharmaceutical companies and research institutions, who very likely are the Opera’s main supporters.

Marseile Opera House

Then one comes to Marseille Opera House, Municipal at one level, and Grand at every other level, its imposing colonnaded front gazes down over Marseille and its harbour. It too suffered from fire and its interior was totally destroyed to be rebuilt in 1924.

Marseille, like Monte Carlo, has the big bucks to pay for major performers, and so one will find its programme includes a recital by Nathalie Dessay (singing Michel Legrand) in December and for example in July, Berlioz’s “Les Troyens” featuring opera mega star Roberto Alagna, as Enee, and Beatrice Uria-Monzon, as Didon. Tickets in February (Strauss’s Elektra) range from around 25 to 77 euros, for the Alagna performances 25 to 90 euros.

Marseille, France’s second city is also now the European Capital of Culture, and has burst into a plethora of Art Exhibitions, displays, street festivals as never before. It all started off in January with every bell that has ever been, rung to the rafters city wide to announce this wonderful year, as a ”a great clamour”.

To find out all about the entertainments, street art, activities, Exhibitions, one just dips into the dedicated website www.mp2013.fr and voila.

Toulon Opera House

From Marseille it is just a hop up the coast to Toulon – less than an hour by train – France’s Naval seaport and home to the naval dockyards. It is a mainly blue collar working town, but is home to a delightful, and my favourite, opera house. Built 150 years ago, around 1860, its Belle Epoque interior is for me a total delight, its walls decorated with superb murals, featuring buxom, apple cheeked, one would think Italian, ladies festooned with flowers, and offering garlands and baskets of fruits Perhaps an echo of the past when Italians from Piedmont flooded into France for work.

Just off the main drag it sits at the beginning of the pedestrianized old quarter of Toulon, just about 5 minutes from the harbour, surrounded by sentinel tall palm trees on either side, and restaurants. If one is lucky sometimes a drinks bar is opened on a top terrace that overlooks the harbour, over the ships, and ferries that ply to Corsica, so one sees the blue Mediterranean, quite an enchanting sight, otherwise the drinks bar on the first floor delights with its buxom lady murals.Toulon likely does not have the budget for major stars, but they do try to innovate. A couple of years ago, I attended a performance of Kurt Weill’s rarely performed ”Street Scenes” sung in English, a co-production. And this February they are together with the Opera-Theatre of Metz, putting on a production of Stephen Sondheim’s superbly melancholy musical ”Follies”” in English.

From Toulon one can catch a train for Nice, the trip takes slightly over two hours.

Nice Opera House

The Opéra de Nice was designed in stone and steel by Niçoise architect Francois Aune, a student of Gustave Eiffel, the famous pioneer of steel structure, with the guidance of Charles Garnier who designed the Paris Opera house, now called the Palais Garnier, and opened in 1885, with a performance of Aida.

Conventional and charming, it sits in the middle of the old quarter of Nice, whose ochre and russet buildings echo the architecture of Italy, not surprisingly as Nice was for a long time part of the Kingdom of Savoy.

Seating 1,093, the Opéra de Nice today hosts quality programs of opera, concerts and the ballet company has been expanding its repertoire to meet the demands of dance lovers. L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice, with its 98 musicians, is considered one of the best orchestras in the province. Upcoming is Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Tickets range from €12 to €78.

Monte Carlo Opera House

From Nice it is literally just a skip, 20 minutes by train to the real opera jewel of the region, the Monte Carlo Opera. Designed by Charles Garnier, in 1879 it tends to be known as the Salle Garnier to distinguish it from Garnier’s later Paris design and is his triumph, his version of a really truly luxurious theater for the rich.

As one patron told me who has had an abonnement for the past 24 years, it is an exquisite jewel of a traditional Opera House in miniature – great, tall, red velvet curtains against the tall windows towards the sea (which close for the performance), cherubs and gold and gold cherubs everywhere – it was all totally renovated, totally true to the original style in 2005 – comfortable seats except for the strapontins. Monaco attracts the most renowned singers for its annual Season, beginning in November; and the standard of performance is very high. Often known as the Casino building, one walks thru’ the lobby for the opera, gaming is on the upper floor.

However sometimes when opera sets are large, and perhaps a production attracting larger audiences, performances are staged in the rather ugly Forum, which is the multi-purpose concrete monstrosity between the sea and the avenue Princesse Grace, which holds goodness knows how many thousands more than the real Opera House. Architecturally, this building (inside and out) can only have been designed by an architect who had chronic indigestion. The only way to avoid that as a member of the audience, is to totally ignore the environment and concentrate on the stage.

This season both Cecilia Bartoli, and Bryn Terfel will be giving concerts. And tickets are around €90.

Do audiences dress up? Perhaps Marseille and certainly Monte Carlo they might do, but on the whole audiences tend to be not too dressy.

And whilst touring one does not need to miss the Live cinema performances in HD direct from the Met, Lincoln Centre, New York, as these incredible opera performances will be playing at cinemas in all these towns, one just has to check venues out at www.metopera.org/hdlive, & www.cielecran.com, but tickets for these one off shows, tend to sell out fast.

One can scoop up lots of art culture along the way, it is well worth taking a side trip to St. Tropez, say by bus from Toulon, or via ferry across the golf of St. Tropez, from St. Raphael to visit it’s small Annonciade Museum right on the port, which has a small, superb and choice permanent collection, featuring many artists from around 1900 onwards, Fauvists, Nabilists who painted in this region- Bonnard, Maillol, Derain, Seurat and Signac, it is featuring a temporary exhibition to March devoted to Paul Signac, whose family still lives in the region.

Then there are the Museum of Aseatic Arts, and the Naval Museum in Toulon, the Chagall and Matisse Museums in Nice, the recently opened Bonnard Museum in Cagnes, and also a new Museum devoted to Cocteau in Menton.

Opera di Genova www.carlofelicegenova.it

Opéra Municipal de Marseille www.opera.marseille.fr

Opéra de Monte Carlo www.opera.mc

Opéra Nationale de Montpellier www.opera-montpellier.com

Opéra de Nice www.opera-nice.org

Toulon Theatre Municipal www.operadetoulon.fr


Anita Rieu-Sicart is the Editor of VAR VILLAGE VOICE monthly magazine circulating to English speaking residents, mainly expatriates, living in the Var region of the South of France. VAR VILLAGE VOICE carries a regular monthly column devoted to Opera, written by Robert Turnbull. www.varvillagevoice.com

If you have time and want to explore towns away from the Mediterranean coastline, may I suggest an excursion to the Verrerie de Biot? Here you’ll see master glass makers at work, watch as they turn, blow and cut the molten liquid into shapes. Biot Picture 17DSCN4081The glass tradition in the South of France is very ancient with master glass-makers settling there due to the many large pine forests that provided a never-ending supply of wood for their furnaces. Further afield, sand, lime and sodium carbonate were brought in on the back of mules and soon cruets for olive oil, demijohns for wine, oil lamps for lighting, and bottles for perfumes from Grasse provided enough work for them and locals alike.

But Biot‘s renown really began in 1956 with the creation of La Verrerie de Biot and bubbled glass. DSC_1749 Eloi Monod, a chemical engineer from l’Ecole de Sèvres, came to live in Biot in 1941 to work at La Poterie Provençale, owned by René Augé-Laribé. Here he met Lucette, the owner’s daughter who became his wife a few years later. Eloi had the idea to swap the clay for glass to produce glassware inspired by the local pottery’s ancestral forms and reintroduce the art of blown glass first discovered in Spain and Italy. In 1956, in collaboration with René and a young apprentice, he established la Verrerie de Biot.

DSC_1755DSC_1726Monod and Augé-Laribé mastered bubble glass by adding chemicals to a glass batch, which reacted to produce random air bubbles during the melting process, and imprisoning them between two layers of glass to transform a defect (a bubble) into a feature of quality: bubbled glass. Special tools allow the master glass-blower to manipulate the bubbles into certain designs.

So successful and popular was Monod in his endeavours that he served as mayor of Biot from 1965-1971.

In 1974 Monod sold the Verrerie de Biot to the Lechaczynski family who continue to remain faithful to his three golden rules: authenticity, originality and diversity. 15 master glass-blowers work by hand, blowing and working the glass in public to produce glasses, cups, jugs, plates, vases, dishes, chandeliers or candle holders coloured in green, Persian blue, golden yellow, lime, white, and desert rose.

DSC_1728What do all these objects have in common? Well, apart from the fact that they’re made from bubbled glass, each item is a creation of the master glass-blower and totally unique and without equivalent in the world.

DSC_1743DSC_1745In 2000 Jean and Danièle Lechaczynski passed on the running of the business to their children who continue with the successful management of this family enterprise and as Anne Lechaczynski says “they are manufacturing the traditional products with the style of the day but also adding an innovation and a permanent modernism“.

Master Glass Blowers
Glass does not exist without its master glass-blower. Each creation requires special attention, creativity and concentration. Apprentice glass-blowers are called “gamins” and aged between 16 and 18 years old when they are hired at La Verrerie de Biot. They then undergo training passing through 7 successive stages or grades becoming master glass-blowers at the end of 8 to 10 years.

Biot Picture 10The ultimate aim is for each “gamin” to become a master glass-blower. If the latter has the ability and desire to create, to express his artistic talent through glass, everything is done to help him until he is ready to ‘fend’ for himself.DSC_1759Biot Picture 28DSC_1765In all there are about 12 other verreries in Biot that create competing designs. Many glass artists from all over France and other European countries now train in Biot and set up their workshops there.

Glass-blowing instruction Courses
La Verrerie de Biot also offers a course on glass-blowing. A master glass-maker will take you through a basic training course covering the tools and techniques of glass-blowing. At the end of your course you should be capable of making a piece of your very own – with a little help from your teacher.

The instruction courses total 5 sessions each lasting 1½ hours, run from Monday to Friday and cost €385.

Address:
La Verrerie de Biot
Chemin des Combes – 06410 BIOT – FRANCE
Phone : +(33) (0)4 93 65 03 00
Fax : +(33) (0)4 93 65 00 56

Website

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Note from the editor: Since first researching for this article a few years ago, I have since found out that La Verrerie de Biot now charges for parking. Barriers have been installed and you only get 10 minutes free parking. After that the costs are from €2 euros upwards. However, this cost is refunded if you buy glass from the Verrerie de Biot. While it is possible to see glass blowing in under 10 minutes you will not have time to go into the art exhibition or even browse the showrooms if you so wished.

Villa Kérylos, located just 10 kms from Nice and Monaco, was built on one of the prized locations of the French Riviera: Beaulieu-sur-Mer. Sheltered by the hills of Cap Ferrat and Cape Roux, Beaulieu-sur-Mer is said to have one of the French Riveria’s mildest climates.

This very charming resort occupies the emplacement of a prehistoric site and the antique Greek Port of Anao. It was later enlarged by the Romans who built residences of marble and mosaic. The town and its suburbs were razed during the third century; during the fourth century a small monastery was built of which the first abbey was St. Hospice.

View towards Villa Kérylos, Beaulieu-sur-MerAt the turn of the century the charming winter resort of Beaulieu welcomed the world’s celebrities who returned frequently, building elegant large residences. The best known are Léopold II of Belgium, William II, First Prince of Wales, the queens of Italy and Portugal, the Marquis of Salisbury, the inventor Marinoni, the founder of the “New York Herald” Gordon Bennett, Count Tolstoy and the French engineer, Gustave Eiffel.Inside Villa Kerylos, Beaulieu-sur-Mer

DSC_9566Villa Kérylos
Theodore Reinach (1860-1928) was the youngest of three very talented brothers born into a family of bankers, originally from Frankfurt.

It was his great love of all things Greek that gave rise to the building of the Grecian villa at Beaulieu-sur-Mer erected on the “Baie des Fourmis”, not far from Rothschild’s famous Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. Madame Reinach was in fact a cousin of Baron Maurice Ephrussi.DSC_9560

DSC_9559

DSC_9552DSC_9555Theodore Reinach entrusted his project to an Italian archtect from Nice, Emmanuel Pontremoli (1865-1956). This architect and archaeologist, winner of the “Grand prix de Rome” and an elected member of the “Académie des Beaux Arts”, shared Reinach’s passion for ancient Greece. He fell in love with the idea and spent 6 years, from 1902 to 1908, creating the Villa Kérylos. The Greek word “Kerylos” means Halcyon or kingfisher which in Greek mythology was thought to be a bird of good omen.

DSC_9536The villa is an extremely luxurious re-creation of an ancient Grecian dwelling, complete with wall decorations and furniture. It has Doric and Corinthian columns of Carrara marble, intricate mosaics, colorful frescoes, a fountain in a peristyle, and exquisite fabrics. Based on the design of noble houses built in the 2nd century B.C. on the Island of Delos, the Villa Kérylos invites visitors to step right back into Ancient Greece.

DSC_9579DSC_9581Everything inside, from the arrangement of rooms to the stylistic details of the décor, was designed to recreate the atmosphere of a luxurious Grecian villa. From the garden around the villa there are fine views of the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula, dotted with magnificent mansions. The garden contains a pleasing mixture of typically Greek plants : olive trees and vines, pomegranate and carob trees, acanthus and myrtle, oleanders and irises, pine and cypress trees, palm trees and papyrus all help create a Grecian look and feel in the lovely Mediterranean sunshine.DSC_9571

DSC_9571Villa Kérylos was classified as an historical monument in 1967. It is only 800 metres from another well-known villa, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, so it is possible to visit both villas in one day although count at least 3 hours to visit Rothschild’s due to its exceptional gardens.