The French Riviera
Nice Part Two:
On day two we told ourselves to “take a hike”. A few miles East of Nice is a peninsula that sticks a few miles into the Mediterranean called Cap Ferrat. There is a popular walking path there that follows the shore of the peninsula. I figured out that if we took the train to a town called Beaulieu-sur-Mer, it would only be a mile or so from the train station for us to reach the nearest access point to the path.
At the Nice train station there was another version of Totor with his suitcase. Since there are so many nearby places in the area to take side trips to, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised that the train station was mobbed when we got there. There were long lines at the various ticket machines in the halls. In addition to the long lines was the long wait times as people who didn’t speak French struggled with the self-ticketing machines. When the two guys ahead of us finally got their tickets sorted, they turned around to give everyone behind them in line apologetic looks.
The ticket machines do have a button to push for other languages, but when we finally got our turn at the machine, it wouldn’t switch to English. We bought our tickets in French as best we could. It took us so long waiting in line and then to get our own tickets (for a 3-ish mile train ride) that we ended up having to take a later train than planned.
We walked directly from the Beaulieu-sur-Mer train station toward the starting point I’d decided on. Even though we weren’t there to see the town, it did look quite charming. I found out later that it was the filming location for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Steve Martin and Michael Caine.
It wasn’t very far before we arrived at Beaulieu-sur-Mer’s lovely waterfront park/walkway. We needed to walk about 1/2 mile to get to Cap Ferrat, (which is the hilly land you can see in the distance in the picture below).
The start of the walking trail was about a mile further into the peninsula from the road along the sea. The narrow roads into the Cap Ferrat area were definitely not built with pedestrians in mind. I’d found reference on-line to a small pathway that went more or less down the middle, which would help us get us closer to the trail’s starting point without having to dodge traffic.
We found it just where it was supposed to be and immediately started walking ….uphill. All along this pathway were back gates for nearby villas that were nestled into the hilly terrain like Easter eggs. Sadly the gates were mostly solid and didn’t afford any opportunities for gawking.
My information said that this pathway would eventually dead-end. At that point we needed to turn left and go down the stairs to the street. I’d pictured it to be a short set of stairs, but was surprised to see that we were much higher up that I’d thought.
There were several twists and turns and lots of steps between the picture above and the picture below… but finally we arrived at the last section before the road. At the road, we were still only maybe halfway between the top of the “hill” and the sea below.
At that point, the road was leading us toward the entrance to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. It was built in the early 1900s by Baroness de Rothschild of the famous banking family. (Her husband’s last name was Ephrussi). The French Ministry of Culture has classified the gardens at the villa as one of the country’s Remarkable Gardens of France. I’d planned to tour this villa, time permitting, but unfortunately we didn’t think time was going to permit -thanks to the train station delay.
We did walk up the driveway to peep at it from the parking area. This building was at the bottom of the driveway, but I don’t know if it was officially part of the property. Just to the right of it was the entrance gate to the villa.
This is what we could see of the villa at the entrance to the ticket office.
This is the view (or as close as I could come to it) that someone standing on the porches above would have seen.
The place where I’d planned to pick up the trail was called Passable Beach. After walking back down the villa’s driveway, we walked further along the road and passed through a small neighborhood. At last, we saw a sign indicating a turnoff for the beach and could see bits of blue up ahead.
The beach wasn’t very big. It had a small restaurant and sun chairs available for rent.
We could see what we assumed was the first part of the trail leading away from Passable Beach. We had to walk behind the building you see in the picture and then down some steps on the other side that brought us to the cliffside trail we’d spend the rest of the afternoon walking along.
We walked the trail counter-clockwise, starting on the West side of the Cap.
It was a dramatic, rocky, terrain.
The path was constantly changing as we went. So much so that Mike commented that he was barely seeing the scenery because he was so busy watching where he stepped!
The path wasn’t like the picture the whole way, but like the famous Shakespeare line: The path of true love never did run smooth, neither did this path!
I’d gotten out ahead of Mike at one point, so he took a picture of me taking a picture.
This picture below shows some villas perched up above the trail. They were hard to see most of the way because the rocks and foliage hid them pretty well. Occasionally, we could see rustic steps -locked behind gates- leading up the hill and assumed it was a private access to the shore for a villa. If we looked close on the sea-side across from the gates, we could often spot a cleverly camouflaged way down to the water. Usually it was just big rocks arranged in a stair step pattern. The obvious cement “dock” in the picture below was not the norm.
Cap Ferrat is nicknamed the “Peninsula of Billionaires”. There are about 500 villas located there. As you can imagine, they are priced in the millions. Most of them are not huge sprawling mansions; they’re more modest and simple in style. I guess it is all about “location, location, location” !!
The trail hugged the side of the hill in places and got a bit too close to the cliff’s edge at others.
I learned years ago that it is a good idea to stop and look back now and then to see what’s in the rear-view mirror. The next two pictures are looking back the way we’d come.
It was hard to guess what the purpose was for this fencing/gate along the trail.
As we approached the tip of the peninsula, the trail became a bit more maintained (which you can see in the picture below). There is a lighthouse at the point.
Once we rounded the point, the terrain flattened out quite a bit and the path widened.
We followed the path for a few more miles to the outskirts of the town of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. As we got close, we could see how high some of Cap Ferrat is above the sea..
St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a quiet and picturesque town, was the first sign of civilization since we joined the trail.
We decided to have a well-earned rest and have a late lunch along the waterfront.
I’d read that there was a waterfront promenade linking St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu-sur-Mer. It took a bit of trial and error to find it -which we did after walking through a parking lot on the other side of a small marina located just beyond the restaurant we’d had lunch at.
Mike said this was my statue!
At first the path was unpaved, but it wasn’t far before we joined a paved sidewalk. At one point we came to a wider area that I think might have been part of the driveway to this villa because just past it we were back on a normal sidewalk again.
Before we knew it, we were back at Beaulieu-sur-Mer’s waterfront. When we had walked through town that morning, I’d noticed an interesting building that was located across the road from the waterfront promenade. They had the red carpet out for us! This was a restaurant/event place. I loved the architecture. It was a good “landmark” for us because we needed to turn left here to return to the train station.
A lovely florist’s shop on the way to the station:
The train back to Nice ran about every half hour, so we didn’t have long to wait. We ended up walking a total of 6.73 miles at Cap Ferrat. Later that evening, we added another mile to the day’s total by walking down to the waterfront and back.
Yesterday’s mob scene at the train station convinced us to get a much earlier start than planned today for our trip to Monaco. Our strategy paid off -we walked right up to a ticket machine and it even worked for us in English! The station wasn’t crowded at all. I was feeling pretty smug about our successful “beat the crowd” strategy until we got up to the train platform and it was FULL of people. Evidently quite a few other people had the same idea. 😆
The train ride to Monaco takes about twenty minutes -and that’s only because there are several stops on the route. Nice and Monaco are only about eight miles apart by road. The Monaco train station was the first indication that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. It was very modern looking and squeaky clean.
Monaco is the 2nd smallest independent state in the world, with barely one square mile of territory. It is currently ruled by Prince Albert II (Grimaldi). In history, the usual cast of characters occupied the area of Monaco at one time or another: Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and even Genoese (Italy) at some point. The territory was first taken over by a member of the Grimaldi family in 1297. The years since then haven’t always been smooth sailing. Monaco wasn’t fully considered an independent state for centuries. There were about 100 years from the mid-1500s when the Grimaldis aligned themselves with Spain, rather than France. There was also a period of about 20 years at the end of the 1700s where the family was displaced by the French Revolution. Monaco was restored to the Grimaldis in 1815, but it wasn’t until 1861 when Monaco’s status as an independent state was settled for good.
Leaving the train station, we’d walked along a long corridor before suddenly finding ourselves out on the street. Later, when I thought about it, I wondered how we’d missed the front of the train station. As it turns out, the entire station and rail lines are hidden from sight in a cave carved out of the rock.
This interesting sculpture was just outside of the station (in the background). It is meant to represent the legend of Saint Devote. Saint Devote was martyred around the year of 303 A.D. and her legend is one of Monaco’s oldest traditions. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devota
Nearby is the Saint Devote Chapel, which was first recorded in history at this site around the year 1070. The chapel you see in this picture dates from the late 1800s.
Looking up, I saw this structure that looked like part of a castle turret -but I can’t find any information on what it was.
We consulted the nearby (and handy) city map to figure out which way to go first. The Monte Carlo casino is to one end of the harbor and the old town is on the other side of the harbor, high up on a hill. On this map, the red line is the route that the Monaco Grand Prix takes.
We decided to go to the casino first. On the way, we crossed the street to see if there were views of the harbor -which is called Port Hercule. Near where we crossed was a sculpture of William Grover-Williams, the winner of the first Monaco Grand Prix in 1929. Next to the sculpture there was a picture of him from the race. The sculpture looked exactly like the picture.
The harbor was surprisingly inaccessible…but maybe it makes sense to have a secure and private place for the expensive yachts docking there.
We stopped for a moment to watch a yacht departing. Mike could read the name on it: LionHeart. I looked it up on line. It is owned by a British businessman. It only costs $150,000,000 if your want one like it. It is about the same length as a football field and has a crew of 30. (It is the one more or less in the middle of the photo.)
We were both interested to see the Monte Carlo casino since we’ve seen it in several movies that were filmed there. Both of us had pictured it as facing the water, but it doesn’t. We arrived at the back of it first (which does face the water) and then walked along the side toward the front.
The casino building also includes the Opera of Monte-Carlo and the offices for the Monte-Carlo Ballet.
The front of the casino faces a large plaza with a park at the other end. It was a quiet Sunday morning with little traffic.
It was a surprise to me to learn that citizens of Monte Carlo can’t work or gamble in the casino. In the mornings, tourists are allowed to visit the atrium area and boutique inside…but even though the casino isn’t open in the mornings, there is still a bit of a dress code. I think our outfits would have passed inspection, but I doubted our shoes would (too close to running shoes), so we didn’t try.
Across the road, to the side of the casino, was the main facade of Hotel Paris de Monte Carlo. There were a few cars parked in front- a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, a Bentley, and a Lotus are the ones Mike remembers seeing.
After leaving the area of the casino, we walked back the way we’d come so that we could follow the road around the harbor, heading to the old part of Monte Carlo.
We kept an eye open for a way to get down to dock level for the walk to the other side of the harbor…but failed. We did briefly get close, but it turned out to be a closed off parking lot area. We passed the entrance to the Princess Grace Theater. Originally it was named the Theater of Beaux Arts (a fancy way to say fine arts in French), it was built in the 1930s. In the late 1970s Princess Grace personally supervised the renovation of the theater. When it was reopened in 1981, it was renamed the Princess Grace Theater.
When we reached the other side of the harbor, there was another Grand Prix sculpture.
This one was Juan Manuel Fangio a very famous Formula 1 racer from the 1950s. He won his first Monaco Grand Prix in 1950. Both of the sculptures we saw were placed along the Grand Prix route. Our walk between the Casino and Fangio’s sculpture was along part of the official Grand Prix route.
Across from the sculpture we saw a set of stairs going up the hill. Time to climb!
Toward the top, it flattened out a bit and it was very park-like. I liked the lamp posts.
We reached a spot where a walkway going up from a different direction connected to the path through a gate in the wall.
Nearby was a statue in honor of Prince Rainier III. This year would have been his 100th birthday.
We continued up the ramp and around a bend where we walked through what was obviously an old gate to the city.
We arrived at a very large plaza. This statue was gifted to Prince Albert I in 1914 in celebration of his 25th year of rule. While digging into where the statue came from, I learned that Grace Kelly wasn’t the first American to become Princess of Monaco. Prince Albert I’s second marriage was to an American.
An eagle’s eye view of the port.
We were surprised that the palace wasn’t blocked off by security fences. Even so, there was definitely a security presence with guards placed around the square. As you can imagine, the palace has been updated once or twice in the last 800 years. I liked seeing the remaining part of the old castle to the right side of the palace.
The square basically stretches across the entire flat area at the top. There are displays of cannons at the walls on both sides.
The old town of Monte Carlo was adjacent to the castle square. We wandered through it in whichever direction caught our eye. It was a mix of little shops and restaurants.
At one point, we popped out on the Mediterranean side of the old town and found the Cathedral of our Lady Immaculate. Originally St. Nicholas Cathedral, finished in 1321, stood here. In the late 1800s a decision was made to demolish the existing cathedral and build a new one, which was finished in 1911. It is here where the members of the Grimaldi family are buried, including Princess Grace. It was Sunday and services were being held -so we did not go in.
The courthouse is next door to the Cathedral.
At that point, we were done wandering so we followed the road in front of the the courthouse until we walked under this gate and found ourselves back at the plaza in front of the palace.
We visited the official gift shop. Inside was this replica of the palace, done with matchsticks.
We retraced our steps down the hill the same way we’d gone up. The way in/out passes the statue of François la Malizia, (Frances the Cunning), who was the founder of the Grimaldi dynasty. In 1297 François, disguised as a monk, managed to capture what was then a Genoese fortress .
At the bottom of the hill, we made fast work of getting back to the train station to catch the next train back to Nice.
Monte-Carlo struck me as exceedingly tidy and upscale. It isn’t surprising to find out that a large percentage of people living in Monaco are millionaires. It was fun to visit.
Our Last evening in Nice –
We took one last walk to the waterfront that evening for dinner. I only managed to take a few pictures along the way.
It took us a few stops to read menus before we picked a place to eat. It was a nice location across the street from the beach. While we’d been in France, France was hosting the World Rugby Cup. The matches are being hosted in nine different cities in France. Scotland played Tonga in Nice on our last evening. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed watching a parade of men in kilts passing by while we were dining! The championship game won’t be held until October 28th.
After dinner, it was back to the hotel to finish packing our suitcases. The next morning, we took a taxi to the Nice airport and flew to Paris.
We spent our last night in France at the same airport hotel we’d stayed in on our first night in France.
Out of nostalgia, we went back to the hotel bar and had a beer and French fries snack like we did the first night we arrived in France.
Very early the next morning, we boarded our flight back to the USA. We enjoyed our time in France, but it was time to go home.
Each place we visited on this trip had its own unique charm. If we had to pick one of them to revisit, it would probably be Nice/the French Riviera. There are so many small villages and towns that are part of the Riviera that we wish we’d had the time to explore. The French (and Italian) Riviera could keep us busy for days on end.