BK media systems
Bennet's Book 1870
Winter and Spring
The Riviera, Mentone, Italy, Corsica, Sicily, Algeria, Spain and Biarritz,
By J. Henry Bennet, MD.
... Such is Mentone, physically and materially. I was so pleased with my first residence there, that I should have at once decided on returning the following winter, had it not been for the love of change, which impelled me to search for a still better climate. This desire for change is quite a feature in the invalid population met with in the south of Europe. It is in some respects beneficial in its operation, by giving the mind fresh objects of interest to take the thoughts from self, and from many sacrifices which health exiles from home, and their companions, have to make. The difference between the smiling sunshine of a Mentone winter, a mere long English September, and our eight month‘ dismal season is very great, and yet there are few of the cheerful Mentonian exiles who would not gladly return to our cloud-obscured island.
Part II.The Search for a Better Climate.
Although pleased with my first winter at Mentone, I was anxious, the following autumn (1860), to find a still better climate, and, like most invalids, thought I might as well see the world, and thus combine pleasure and profit. I therefore determined this time to turn my steps towards Italy, and to critically examine the Eastern Riviera, Pisa, Rome, Naples, and the more southern coast of Italy. Guided by a personal knowledge of the country, by the information acquired during the preceeding winter, I felt sanguine as to finding in Italy an "Eldorado" combining all the advantages of which I was in search.
After descending the eastern Riviera and advancing to Naples, I had only one wish, that of returning as quickly as possible to pure, healthy Mentone. I therefore embarked on a Genoa steamer as soon as the barometer showed me that it was prudent so to do - through its friendly aid escaping a violent storm - and reached Mentone safely in a few days.
Having failed to discover any more sheltered spot than the Mentone amphitheatre, in the eastern Riviera, I determined, on leaving Genoa, to minutely examine the western Riviera, along which there are many populous towns and villages. Each successive station - Savona, Finale, Oneglia, San Remo, Ventimiglia - was examined and abandoned as inferior, until I once more found myself in the well-remembered site of my previous winter’s experience. The conviction which this journey produced, that the Mentone amphitheatre affords superior protection to any to be found between it and Pisa, on either Riviera, is at once explained by reference to the panoramic map of Italy at the commencement of this work.
On no part of the coast do the mountains in the immediate vicinity rise in a chain to the same height - namely from 3500 to 4000 feet. Nowhere also is there such a background of mountain-land extends fifty miles to the north into Savoy, and is limited only in that direction by the Tenda, a chain which raises from 7000 to 9000 feet. These higher mountains extend towards the shore in a south-easterly direction, and reach it at Finale, more than halfway between Nice and Genoa. Thus, between Genoa and Finale the mountains which skirt the shore are neither very deep nor very high, but between Finale and Nice the depth and height of the back mountain-land constantly increase. Consequently, the amount of protection offered from the north increases in the same ratio, until at Mentone the greatest amount of shelter and undoubtedly the warmest climate of the entire Riviera is reached.
The various towns which skirt the coast are generally placed at the mouth of the rivers of course empty themselves from valleys which break the mountain-line. These valleys being nearly always directed north and south, or thereabouts, most of the towns are placed in the coldest situations on the coast, at the entrance of breaks in the moutain-chain, down which the cold wind blows. A glance on the vegetation shows this: Orange-trees retreat, and Olives and Pines take their place. Here and there, as the road winds along the coast, sheltered nooks and romantic little bays are seen at one’s feet, where the Orange and the Lemon, the Cactus and the Carouba-tree, seem to thrive luxuriantly, finding the same warmth and shelter as at Mentone. But in these exceptional corners there is generally no population - scarcely a house; the traveller can only admire and pass on. Again, in the Riviera towns the inhabitants are thoroughly Italian; they still live on maccaroni, olive-oil, soup, and bread, rarely indulging in meat, and ignore entirely the multitudinous wants and requirements of our „difficult-to-please" countrymen. These towns will have to be raised to a much higher civilization level before they can be adopted as winter residences by invalids. I am persuaded, however, that in the course of time their day will come.
An excemption may even now be made in favour of San Remo, which participates, although in a minor degree, in the special protection met with at Mentone. San Remo is a town of some importance, about fifteen miles east of Mentone. It has 11,000 inhabitants, and many houses on the outskirts of the town that might be made agreeable to strangers. Moreover, it is in Italy throughly Italian, and the Italian language is spoken, although not with great purity. The example of Mentone has awakened the proprietors of San Remo to the great money value of the northern invalids. Several new and comfortable hotels have been built, and a number of villas have also been erected for strangers. If the inhabitants will prepare for strangers, as the Mentonians have done, I do not doubt but that San Remo will share in its prosperity, and become also a favorite winter sanatorium. Although much less picturesque than Mentone, and fifteen miles further from Nice, a great drawback, San Remo deserves the patronage of winter emigrants. The climate is about the same as that of the western bay of Mentone, and no doubt all who do well at the one would do well at the other. I had hoped that it would be less expensive, but I do not find, on inquiry, that there is much difference. Competition, however, is wholesome, and those who meet with no accommodation to their taste at Nice and Mentone, or who wish to be actually in Italy, may safely pass on, and try San Remo.
Bordighera, a few miles further on, and about eleven from Mentone, is a source of interest to all travellers, as the scene of the adventures of Dr. Antonio. The promontory, on the summit of which it stands, juts out into the sea, so as to form a very conspicuous and picturesque object all along the western coast, as far as Monaco and even Antibes. It is decidedly less so, however, on a near approach. The little town is merely one of the small cramped-up Italian towns, of which there are a score along the coast, all very much alike. The suburbs present nothing very interesting, with the exception of the far-famed Palm groves. In these groves, which surround the town on all sides, thousands of Palms are growing with truly oriental vigour and luxuriance, and give a very eastern character to the landscape. They are off all sizes, from a few feet to above a hundred, and of all ages, from a few years to a thousand years old. The spot on which they are situated was the garden of a monastery of Dominicans, in very bygone days, more than a thousand years ago. It was these monks who introduced and planted the Palm-tree in the district. Many of those existing were actually planted in this, the olden time, by the monks, of whom not a trace, not a vestige remains, with the exception of their favourite tree.
There is a good modern hotel at the entrance to Bordighera, the Hotel d’Angleterre, which is very well spoken of by all who have resided in it. I may add that the Bordighera Palm groves are a famous pic-nic resort of the Mentonians. Many of us have very pleasant associations of that kind connected with their stately shade.
My dream is on an island-place
Those who pass the winter at Cannes, Nice, and Mentone, have, generally speaking, only the wide expanse of the Mediterranean before them. Occasionally, however, when the sea is calm, and the air is peculiarly clear, a bold mountain land, formed by a series of irregular peaks, is distinctly seen rising bodily out of the sea, on the far south-eastern horizon. I shall never forget the impression this sight first produced on me. I had been some weeks at Mentone, and had sat day after day for hours looking at the open sea, which I supposed to be a liquid desert for many hundred miles, as far as the sandy coast of Africa. One morning, rising a little after the glorious Mediterranean sun had emerged from the eastern sea, I opened the window and looked out. To my amazement I beheld before me a range of mountain summits, like the Alps seen from the plains of Lombardy. This was Corsica. The irregular peaks were the summits of the Monte Rotondo, and the Monte d’Oro, mountains from six to nine thousand feet high. I have often seen them since, but seldom with the same vivid distinctness.
The period of day when the Corsian mountains are most frequently and most vividly seen is just before sunrise. Sometimes, however, but rarely, they remain apparent throughout the day. Masses of white clouds anchored on the higher mountains are often observed. That they are resting on the Corsian mountains is evident from their complete immobility. The distance from shore to shore being about ninety miles, and at last one hundred and thirty to some of the higher peaks, that of Monte d’Oro, for instance - the first or lower two or three thousand feet of Corsica cannot be seen at all, owing to the sphericity of the globe. When thus visible from Mentone, the view becomes much more complete, much grander, if the higher levels are reached. From the top of the Berceau the entire range of the Corsian mountains can be seen. These occasional glimpses of a far-distant land impart to Corsica a kind of mysterious charm. On inquiry as to the means of reaching Corsica, I could gain but little information at Mentone. None of the inhabitants had ever been there, and they seem to look upon it as a very inaccessible place, in a state bordering on barbarism.
[BK Bennet then goes on to describe in detail the towns and interior of Corsica, which I myself have seen in many years but never set foot on the island.]