BK media systems
Städte der Côte
by BK media systems
The French Riviera - its popular name in anglophone countries.
Here we are in one of the most prestigious tourist resort areas of the world, a coastal strip where the tourist is not a stranger treated like a prisoner but equal partner in french everyday way of life (given you speak a few words of that french language). Come to the Riviera see blue sky which gave this coast its modern name COTE D’AZUR. This name melts like icecream in the warm summer breeze, and the promise still holds, a miracle may just be around the corner when you stroll along the shores between St Tropez and Menton. Watch the glitter of Monte Carlo jetset society, dive and surf the reefs near the Italian Riviera, enjoy the sandy beaches of Cannes, Frejus, and St Tropez, be overwhelmed by spectacular mountain vistas on hiking paths in the Hinterland.
Popular not only in modern times, the Cote d’Azur already attracted cavemen and cavewomen in prehistoric times of the Neanderthaler who preferred the winter season on the Mediteranean to the grey foggy days of northern Europe. At the end of the 19th century many old bones have been dug out from the caves of Mortola to find refuge in the archeological museums of Monaco and Menton. Speaking of bones and 19th century, the cemeteries of the Cote d’Azur are full of international noblery and travellers who stranded on these shores who came to find the light, enlightment and other forms of happyness.
With growing popularity of rail travel in 1884 the hotel organizations on the french Riviera crafted the name Cote d’Azur to differentiate itself from the other regions of the world which call themselves Riviera and also to create that distinct image, proven over a century and persisting in the early years of the 21st century. Mention the name of this Cote, and see the light in the eyes of people in Paris, Bruxelles, Milan, not to mention points further north in Germany, Sweden and Russia. Like many frenchmen, we come from Paris, the night train reaches the coast just in time for the first golden rays on the blue waters of the Mediteranean. We open the curtain and soak up the mild light while the train winds itself around the red rocks of the Esterel Mountains. We already passed the west of the Cote d’Azur, with St Tropez far on the horizon, Frejus and St Raphael where first passengers left our train and now more travellers are getting up and ready for Cannes.
After longing the beaches the train enters a tunnel and we can only imagine the famous Promenade Croisette with its golden beaches. Passing La Californie and more beaches towards Juan-les-Pins and Antibes we reach the eastern part overlooking the Bay of Angels – Baie des Anges - stretching from Cap d’Antibes through coastal towns of Biot, Villeneuve Loubet, and Cagnes sur Mer entering Nice at the airport Nice Cote d’Azur. The train station is not the best spot in town and the beach is half an hour away, its too easy to stay onboard and continue towards Italy. While the western part of the Cote d’Azur is dominated, with the exception of the strange Esterel mountains, by soft hills wrapping around the small Riviera towns, leaving Nice we now find the high Alps diving into the Mediteranean. Passing the port of Nice we enter a first of many tunnels to be surprised by Villefranche, former fishing village with small beach and nice boats in its sheltered bay.
Next stop is Beaulieu-sur-Mer, cozy town and starting point to visit St Jean / Cap Ferrat and the famous Garden of the Villa Rothshild. Another attraction nearby, Eze Village, sits high on the cliff while the train passes at its base and after Cap d’Ail into another tunnel in the rocks beyond Monaco and Monte Carlo. The train station more looks like a subway stop, dark and functional. Outside you may be blazed by the sun and the busy streets, put on your sunscreen and take your time to discover the principality of Monaco, stroll the cool and narrow streets of old town Monaco with the Prince Palace and renowned Oceanography Institute, watch the ballet of expensive cars being parked in front of Monte Carlo Casino / Opera and the Hotel de Paris or just take a dive in the clear waters off the Larvotto beaches. You may like this place it may seem strange, a lot of police and a little Disneyland on the Riviera with skyscrapers full of international tax evaders on every corner.
It’s only ten minutes to France, the train finally is back in the open air and winds through the magnificient bay of Roquebrune, passes Cap Martin and we are tempted to leave it in Menton, last french town just at the italian border. But no passport controls, no customs, not even changing money any more, thanks to the European Union. The french trains end in Ventimiglia, and the ambitious traveller may continue towards San Remo, Genova and the greater Italy. Open eyes may notice that there are more Italians returning into their country than exploring Frenchmen going east, with the exception of Friday morning, when there is popular market in the old and ugly border town of Ventimiglia. It is also ending point for trains from Northern Italy, Switzerland and Germany. Taking the train in Italy is cheap and popular while not relly fast and often an adventure and a good place to meet typical italians.
Coming from Munich, Verone, Milan and Zurich, the trains reach Genova, old cultural and power capital of the Riviera, now redefining itself for the 21st century, steel and warft industries vanished to leave place for information technology. While Varazze may attract surfers when the waves are up, sun-hungry travellers long for Finale Ligure, Diano Marina, Albenga and Alassio. After Imperia we are almost on the Cote d’Azur, well-known San Remo is the last stop before Bordighera where we can see the French Riviera on the horizon. While the Italian Riviera has its nice places, our heart stays with the joie de vivre of France, and what better place to mix the two influences than Menton, or Mentone as it has been called up to 1860 when the Compte de Nice came to France. Menton was always popular with international visitors, as can see on the wonderful cemetary overlooking the old town with vistas onto Italy and Cap Martin, shielded by an amphitheatre of mountains from cold northern winds.
From February through November the beach is a good place for the quiet hours full of sunshine. In the colder hours of summer days or on mild winter days it is a pleasure to walk on the long promenades, starting at the italian border in the bay of Garavan, turning around pitoresque Vielle Ville, pointing towards Cap Martin where it turns into rocky footpath to Monaco. Over time this small town became the base for the jahtours travel adventures, with hiking and biking trips, cultural discovery, romantic gardens full of subtropical miracle plants even small bananas grow here and there are colorful flowers all year round.
Less quiet, we have already mentioned, are the towns of Nice and Cannes, as well as the small state of Monaco. Only a quarter hour by train from Menton, it is more than worth the visit. Most spectacular is the Formula 1 car race in May, but also the fireworks festival in July/August, at the height of the summer tourist season. Best time to visit the coast are the months of May/June and September/October when the weather is fine and the hotels are empty, with exception of Cannes during the film festival and Monte Carlo with its Grand Prix Formula One. Oh, I almost forgot, when cold winds make us shiver in the north, there is most colorful carnival in Nice and famous lemon festival in Menton. Many other festivities, festivals, events try to lure the visitor to the coast, during winter time there is plenty of snow in the near mountains, while at the coast the Mimosa flowers shiny yellow on the red rocks of the Esterel mountains.
Cote d’Azur is a year ful of activities, centuries of history and traditions, breathtaking scenery, relaxing Palm tree atmosphere, shimmer of moonlight on the Mediterranean…
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