Cote d´azur mon amour
If you have never been to the Cote d´Azur, it´s easy to wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, there are so many countries with Mediterranean shores, what can be so special about the South of France?
On the other hand, if you ever reach the port of Villefranche, you will need no explanations whatsoever. It will all just be there, and there will be no need to put it into words. Villefranche is a charming little village on the slopes of a hill, with meandering alleyways down into the blue seas, medieval archways, charming hotels (like the Villefranche sur Mer), and traditional little creperies that serve crepes and galettes (a galette is the real name for a salty crepe). My favorite creperie can be found just a few steps up the first stairway to the right from the tender port. Their cheese and basil galette is to die for, and they serve delicious French wine for a couple of Euro a bottle.
But then again, a little Medieval gallery, a little sandy beach, the pink houses covered in bright-coloured flowers, is this what made both artists and celebrities from all times and from all over the world establish themselves here, from Johnny Depp or Angelina to Max Ernst and Paul Éluard?
As always, there is an elusive quality that can never be put into words. I can´t really put my finger on the moment when I said to myself for the first time “I love the South of France”; maybe it was one time when I was on a bus to Cannes or Nice, as I saw the houses by the side of the road, with their flower gardens and their pastel-coloured walls, or maybe it was something in the air, the first time I looked down from the top of St. Paul de Vence, or one day at a waterfront restaurant in Cannes, drinking French wine and talking movies, or talking French wine and drinking French water, I can´t recall.
Personally, I prefer the little villages on the French Riviera. In a way, I prefer the places I have never been, but I know they are there; those little unassuming villages that are not even on the maps handed out to tourists. But the places that are on the map are gorgeous, don´t get me wrong.
One of my favorite spots in the area is the town of GRASSE with its perfume factories. This is the place described in Das Parfum by Patrick Süskind, a wonderful tiny novel that was recently made into a decent movie, starring Dustin Hoffman as a past-his-prime parfumier. GRASSE is the home of the perfume factories that manufacture every single designer fragance. But, if you come to neighboring EZE, I recommend visiting the perfume factory of GALIMARD. Founded in the 1700’s, the factory preserves its picturesque copper tanks, although the ones they really use now are stainless steel. Last time I was there I bought a good half litre of their PEACH Cologne, my personal favorite, as well as their intense Eau de Parfum “PELE MELE”. I specially recommend taking a tour of GALIMARD, where you can see the flowers in their glass boxes, smell the fresh lavender or see the secluded room where the “nez” mixes essential oils like an ancient alchemist, trying to bottle beauty for a living. The school where you can train to become a “nez” (nose in French) is also in Grasse, and it is said that there are only about 40 “nez” in the world.
Another very popular spot in the area is Monaco. A beautiful port populated by expensive yatchsm, Monaco´s highlights include the magnificent prince´s palace, and, if you are into that kind of thing, a peek into the houses of princesses Stephanie and Caroline. Incidentally, to prove that Argentineans are absolutely everywhere in the world, there is a nice Argentinean snack bar across the street from the palace. This was the last place I thought I would hear Spanish with the familiar Argentinean accent, but then again, Monaco is a land of expatriates, of people from all over the world who have chosen this place because there are good jobs here in tourism, or because they just wanna live surrounded by obscenely rich people like themselves, and enjoy the tax exemptions available there at the same time. A little bit further down the panoramic Corniche roads by the side of the Med, you will find Monte Carlo and its famous Casino, where you can try your luck, side by side with the high rollers of the world, or have a drink amongst jet-setters and top models.
If you are into Formula 1 and car races, you can´t miss catching a glimpse of the famous Monte Carlo circuit, or buying one of the numerous car racing souvenirs available at Monte Carlo´s expensive gift shops. After all, Monte Carlo is one of the most expensive towns in the world, and Monaco is one of the countries with the highest per-capita income; that is what a small country with a few rich people will boil down to.
Other famous spots in the region include Nice, with its long strip of sandy beaches, and the mountain-top village of Eze.
If you are a film fan you can´t miss a walk down the Cannes Film Festival´s red carpet at the entrance of the Palais des Festivals, even if you don´t visit Cannes in mid May, when the Festival takes place; lucky for you, the red carpet is there all year long.
As I said before, I love the South of France, and all of the places I mentioned above are less than half an hour away from Villefranche, but there is one place I haven´t been yet that I must see next time I´m there: Max Ernst´s house This amazing surrealist painter from Germany lived in the region for some years, and he sculpted the walls of his house making it into a work of art. Unfortunately, though, the house is privately owned, but there is a museum with some of his work in the town of Seillans. And, if you don´t have the two hours it might take to get to Seillans, you can go see the, reportedly, magnificent church designed by MATISSE in St. Paul de Vence. The South of France breathes art, didn´t I tell you?
A video of me outside GALIMARD parfums in EZE and in St Paul de Vence (2006)