Friday, September 6, 2013

A dance around Cocteau's villa

The Villa Santo Sospir is one of those extraordinary finds one stumbles on in life if you are lucky.  Once the summer house of wealthy socialite  (and patron of the arts) Francine Weisweiller, Cocteau arrived at his friend's St Jean Cap Ferrat villa in 1950 and was immediately enchanted.

Over the course of a decade Cocteau proceeded to decorate (or tattoo as he described it) the walls, the ceilings, lampshades, the cupboards ... in fact anything he could lay his paintbrush and pens on.

As breath-taking as the view is from the house (perched delicately on the St Jean peninsula), the house itself is the real treasure. The walls are covered in the beautiful free-hand art of Cocteau. The interiors are a jumble of old furniture, bric-à-brac, photos and the odd sketch by Picasso. A glass cocktail cabinet stands open with rows of bottles. The old iron-wrought beds are made-up with starched worn linen. Leopard-print carpet designed by Cocteau lines the staircase to the lower floor. 

Everything is as if it were yesterday, with Cocteau and his friends enjoying summers on the terrace and a dip in the sea below. It's a dance back in time and a rare dance at that. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

French Riviera beaches

Beach life the egalitarian way on the Côte d'Azur

The topic 'beaches' seems to be a popular subject for readers of this blog. So since it is August, what better time for an update.

The Côte d'Azur is fortunate to have a stretch of coastline that meanders from wild rocky coves to golden sand. Having just returned from a holiday in Italy where almost the entire Ligurian coastline is organised in regimented beach huts and sun-beds, there is something appealing and free about coming back to the French Riviera. Maybe it is a hang-over from France's ethos of égalité, but there certainly seems to be more of an attitude that the beaches are for everyone, not just for those who will pay.

Two sides: Private and public at St Jean Cap Ferrat

Of course, if you want private beaches then the Côte d'Azur has plenty. From the hip Hi Beach in Nice (for the young and chic) to Paloma at St Jean Cap Ferrat (for the ... well, young and chic), to Bâoli in Cannes and Pampelonne in St Tropez, plage privée is a staple of life here. Private beaches start from around €20 (Nice's Plage Opera is one of the least expensive) and then rise steeply depending on the chic -metre. Count on around €30-40 per day for the sunbeds etc and then add food on top.

Beach beds in a row, St Jean Cap Ferrat

Private beaches have advantages. The private beaches along the Nice coastline tend to be sandy (having trucked in tonnes of sand just before the season). The rest of us have to develop hardened feet to cope with the stony public beaches of Nice, Beaulieu, St Jean et al. The private beaches have restaurants and bars on tap.  We bring picnics. In all honesty, we look upon the private beach dwellers as a bit sissy. What's a few stones?, we say as we hop over the blazing pebbles. If we really want moules marinière we can gatecrash their restaurants.
Sunset Plage Passable, St Jean Cap Ferrat

Plage Passable at St Jean Cap Ferrat is one of my favourite beaches. As the beautiful people lie back on sun-beds on one side of this small cove, the locals monpolise the other side. Stones are just part of the pleasure. We splash around in the sea, dive from the concrete pier, probably make too much noise, laugh too loudly, and bring our own food. They look over at us with envy - or at least I think that is what that look is.

So Vive Egalité! And remember, jellyfish sting everyone.

The pick of the best public beaches on the Côte d'Azur

St Tropez - it requires a short walk, but Plage des Graniers is a pretty cove surrounded by pine trees.

Cannes - Plage de L'Abreuvoir. Sandy and relaxed

Antibes - Plage de la Gravette. Town beach, easy to get to and wide so plenty of space

Nice - The best Nice city beaches are grouped near the Port and Hotel Negresco centre of town. Stoney but good for a dip after a hot day.

Villefranche - entirely public and more fine gravel than stone

Beaulieu - La Petite Afrique. low-key family beach

St Jean Cap Ferrat - Plage Pasable or the public beach next to the entrance to the SJCP Port

Eze - stony but generally not too crowded

Roquebrune Cap Matin - rocky, difficult to get to (you need to walk some distance) and where Corbusier built his beach 'cabanon' (beach house). Perfect.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2013 COTE d'AZUR

A good year ahead on the French Riviera

There are many reasons to feel happy about living on the Côte d'Azur. However, sometimes I feel those of us who live here all-year round simply take it for granted. So, in the spirit of starting the year with positive thoughts, here are a few of my favourite things about Nice and the French Riviera generally.

  • Blue skies. We have around 300 days of sunshine a year
  • Sitting outside in mid-winter at a beach-side restaurant having moules and frites and drinking rosé
  • Every day seeing the Mediterranean sea from my terrace.
  • Coco beach in Nice - for afficionados only because of the rocks but the best place to sunbathe in the city
  • Driving along the Grande Corniche in an open-top car - the route of Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief
  • A walk along the beaches and coastline of St Jean Cap Ferrat
  • Knowing my local boulangerie bakes the best bread in the world in a wood-fired oven every day
  • Driving to Italy for the market at San Remo and having lunch
  • A swim at Villefranche in September when the crowds and jellyfish have gone
  • Going to the Cannes Film Festival and not being a tourist
  • Catching the tram to the market at Liberation in Nice - the best market in town
  • Going to the opera/ballet/classical concert in Monaco as if it were an everyday event
  • Enjoying not going to supermarkets for shopping - every day
  • Being able to wear summer clothes for around 9 months of the year (and also never feeling over-dressed. A girl can never have enough sparkle here)
  • The warmth (and wildness) of people who live here 

I could add many more things about living here but a list has to stop sometime. 
Happy NEW YEAR from the Côte d'Azur.