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The Riviera’s Gardens and Parks: Best Botanical Sites on the Mediterranean Coast

Source/Credit: Justin Postlethwaite for FRANCE TODAY

Menton has a rich variety of flora. Photo: Fotolia

The French Riviera is a garden-lover’s paradise, a sun-soaked horticultural heaven lined on its southern edge by the twinkling Mediterranean. From Antibes to Cagnes-sur-Mer, Gourdon to Grasse and Nice to Beaulieu there are some 80 gardens and parks open to the public, with enough diversity in styles and floral content to satisfy the most exacting nature-lover.

Many gardens are inextricably linked to their location’s heritage – and put them on the map in some cases – or showcase certain species, such as mimosas in Mandelieu and sun-sapping succulents in Èze’s vertiginous, cliff-top botanical garden. Others, such as the jaw-droppingly beautiful Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild go one step further and present an array of garden styles in one dazzling location. Wander around this Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat marvel, and one minute you’ll be immersed in Provençal lavender fields, the next achieving Zen-like calm in the Japanese garden. There are nine unique gardens here, each of them authentic in form, all immaculately planned and tended. Especially enchanting is the rose garden at the upper tip of the grounds – a feast for all the senses provided by 100 varieties of scented blooms. And the views out onto the yacht-dotted bay are simply stunning.

Plenty of the Côte d’Azur’s gardens provide the chance to explore adjoining historic private houses. Ephrussi is an obvious one, while other unmissables include Renoir’s former home and studio in Cagnes-sur-Mer – the painter fell under the spell of the olive trees of the Domaine des Collettes and moved there in 1907 – and the garden of Château de la Napoule, an often unheralded gem that clings to the shore in Mandelieu. Bought in 1918 by the American Henry Clews, its garden alternates English and French styles, with a soupçon of Venetian, Roman and even Moorish influence thrown in for good measure.

Villa Ephrussi’s stunning garden. Photo: Camille Moirenc/ CRT Cote d’Azur

Villages in Bloom

Other places, meanwhile, can lead you nicely up the garden path to a fully rounded village visit, such as in Gourdon, perched 500m above the Gorges du Loup a few miles from Grasse. It was André Le Nôtre, Louis XIV’s gardener, who prepared the imposing château’s initial jardin designs, before the lord of the castle, wealthy Grasse lawyer Louis Le Lombard, oversaw further aesthetic flourishes. Spot box and ancient limes plus Judas trees adorning the main terrace, set off beautifully by pools, before strolling around the medicinal garden and Italian terrace to complete the noblesse experience. (Eagle-eyed film fans may recognise the perched village from afar – early in Hitchcock’s 1955 classic To Catch a Thief, the police are seen heading towards it before Cary Grant’s John Robie gives them the slip.)

Val Rahmeh
Val Rahmeh. Photo: Daderot

In and around Menton, the characterful coastal town reputed for its flowered-up outlook (there are bloom-bedecked edifices everywhere, plus an annual lemon homage that sees the streets come alive with all manner of citrus-centric wonders), there is an array of great private gardens to see, including Val Rahmeh. This tiered, exotic botanical beauty was created by Lord Percy Radcliffe, former Governor of Malta in 1905, and now under the care of the French Museum of Natural History. It features 700 species of plants and trees, including kiwi and banana trees, Japanese and South American varieties – and you might also spy the rare sacred tree of Easter Island, Sophora Toromiro…

Serre de la Madone. Photo: Justin Postlethwaite

Perhaps more mesmerising, however, is the Serre de la Madone, a ‘greenhouse garden’ created around an extended farmhouse in the Gorbio Valley by Paris-born American plantsman Lawrence Johnston. He boasted serious form – he also designed the garden at Hidcote Manor in England, where he lived as a naturalised Briton with his mother – before spending the 30 years until 1954 acclimatising exotic plants to the Riviera climate. The shaded, maze-like trail around the garden follows the contour of the landscape and is organized in themed terraces punctuated with statues and fountains. On a sweltering Riviera day, the cool trickles punctuate the still silence to tranquil effect.

Serre de la Madone
Serre de la Madone. Photo: Daderot

Finally, while it’s not strictly just a home but also a place of calling (monks have been here since 1645), the Gardens of the Monastery of Cimiez in Nice are a treat for a spiritual saunter. Restored to their former monastic glory in the 1920s by Auguste-Louis Giuglaris and sited near the ever-popular Matisse Museum, there’s a wide path dividing a broad esplanade, bordered by a bower of rambling roses.

The Jardin Exotique d'Èze
The Jardin Exotique d’Èze was recently awarded with TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence. Photo: Justin Postlethwaite

The Art of Gardening

Some of the region’s many prestigious museums offer a handy excuse to enjoy a lovely garden experience, like a bonus cultural aside. The garden at Fernand Léger Museum in Biot was designed and laid out by Henri Fish, in close collaboration with the architect André Svetchine. Set in an expansive, rolling meadow, it’s sprinkled with cypress trees and framed by olive trees, providing ample viewpoints from which to admire the multi-coloured mosaics adorning the building’s façades.

Art, garden and building (the latter being the work of Spanish architect Josep Lluís Sert) have been combined equally harmoniously at Fondation Maeght, set high on Colline des Gardettes in the celebrated artist magnet of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Ponder the contemporary sculptures dotted around the green hideaway by the likes of Barbara Hepworth and Fabrice Hybert, as well as a remarkable garden-labyrinth with ceramics and sculptures by Joan Miró.

Jardin du monastère de Cimiez
Jardin du monastère de Cimiez. Photo: Édouard Hue

Finally, for a museum garden with specifications given by the very artist whose name is above the door, head back to the elegant suburb of Cimiez in Nice. It was Fish again who heeded Marc Chagall’s creative input to fashion a fine outdoor space. Visitors on 7 July, the artist’s birthday, are guaranteed flowering agapanthuses, while picnic fans can take their place any day on the lawn and admire the pool that reflects one of artist’s vibrant mosaics.

It’s not just private gardens that will appeal to plant lovers on the Côte d’Azur. Local authorities take immense pride in their public spaces and treat their parks as havens for residents and visitors alike. In Nice, for example, the 12-hectare breathing space Promenade du Paillon, conceived by Michel Péna and inaugurated in 2013, has brought both beauty and function to the former site of the aesthetically challenging bus station. Among the 128 jet fountains and adeptly created beds, locals can enjoy a picnic or snooze at lunchtime or, as the name implies, promenade with friends and family away from the bustle of nearby Vieux Nice or Place Masséna.

Villa Ephrussi
Villa Ephrussi. Photo: Justin Postlethwaite

Elsewhere, in Menton, a gentle stroll around town with tour guide and plant expert Christophe Canlers reveals some wonderful sights, notably the splendid banana trees framing the entrance to the mairie (do pop in to see the Cocteau Salle des Mariages). They perfectly complement the palm trees – so prominent and joy-giving all over the region – in the square in front. “Everything grows in Menton” says Christophe joyfully as he gleefully points out an aloe vera plant here or cactus plants there. There’s also a ‘killer plant’ that destroys all around it – be afraid!

There are countless other Riviera strolls in public places that offer horticultural rewards with a unique ambience. Hugging the lapping shore of Théoule-sur-Mer (on the westernmost side of the Côte d’Azur, where the Corniche d’Or begins), Promenade Pradayrol is a botanic discovery walk that snakes for 750 metres. As well as the 39 species on show, it also happens to be the only way to get to the Plage d’Aiguille, a stunning secluded beach with a brilliant little restaurant nestling nearby.

Théoule-sur-Mer
The winding path of Promenade Pradayrol in Théoule-sur-Mer. Photo: Justin Postlethwaite

A Fest of the Best 

The good news for visitors to the region in 2017 is that the inaugural Côte d’Azur Gardens Festival begins – and it also invites a cross-border sojourn to Italy. Taking place throughout April, Jardival is being led by the Alpes-Maritimes department and aims to create “high-profile initiatives designed to improve tourist facilities, boost innovation and protect the environment in an illustration of the deep, long-standing ties that exist between France and Italy”.

Villa Rothschild in Cannes, Menton’s Villa Maria Serena, Grasse’s Jardin des Plantes, as well as San Remo’s Villa Ormond and the very grandly titled Province of Imperia’s Villa Grock, have all undergone renovation and improvements in time for the festival.

Among the highlights will be ten pop-up gardens 20m2 in size (with a prestigious ‘best in show’ prize on offer) and five photo-ready locations – Antibes, Cannes, Grasse, Menton and Nice – getting involved with flower arranging workshops, gardening technique advice, tasting sessions, culinary events, professional stands and plant markets. In Nice, the Promenade de Paillon will be transformed by the addition of a new 1,400m2 garden.

It’s about time the region’s magnificent gardening heritage was celebrated in such public fashion. If you love flowers and plants, and you’re keen for a hit of spring sunshine, there’s nowhere like it.

Chateau de la Napoule
Chateau de la Napoule. Photo: Fotolia

PLANNING YOUR GARDEN VISITS

We’ve only mentioned a small selection of the wonderful gardens and parks available to visitors on the Riviera – for a map, plus details of flower and fruit festivals, visit www.cotedazur-tourisme.com/a-voir/parcs-et-jardins-06_1737.html. Here you’ll also find details of the Jardival events and contacts. For short-break planning, head to www.cotedazur-sejours.com.

château de La Napoule
Château de La Napoule. Photo: Justin Postlethwaite

CONTACTS

Menton Tourist Office: www.tourisme-menton.fr

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat Tourist Officce: www.saintjeancapferrattourisme.fr

Nice Convention and Visitors Bureau: en.nicetourisme.com

Èze Tourist Office: www.eze-tourisme.com/en

Théoule-sur-Mer Tourist Office: www.theoule-sur-mer.org

Biot Tourist Office: www.visit-biot.com

Saint-Paul de Vence Tourist Office: www.saint-pauldevence.com

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild:  www.villa-ephrussi.com/en/home

Château de la Napoule: www.chateau-lanapoule.com/en

Jardin Serre de la Madone: www.serredelamadone.com

From France Today magazine

Cimiez monastery
Cimiez monastery. Photo: CRT Cote d’Azur
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What to see in Nice

 

Nice is glamorous. Let’s be honest, it’s what you picture when you imagine Nice; sauntering along Promenade des Anglais, ogling yachts you (probably) can’t afford (yet), and enjoying a drink outside whilst soaking up the Mediterranean sun.

With all that effort, everyone needs a break now and then, and a break is what these two sites can offer you. If you’re into the hidden, off the beaten track visits then here are places to see in Nice that will showcase the authentic history of this sunny city.

Cimiez

 

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Now an upper-class residential area, this small hill-top neighbourhood in the north-east of the city was a favourite destination of Queen Victoria, who regularly stayed at the Regina Palace Hotel, Even further back, the Romans established an arena, amphitheatre, baths and basilica. This was the settlement of Cemenelum, the capital of the Roman province Alpes Maritimae, and was itself a rival to the nearby city of Nice.

 

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There’s also a beautiful Franciscan monastery, used since the 16th century, and definitely worth a moment of quiet contemplation, away from the bustle of the city below. When I visited, there were a few office workers taking advantage of the monastery’s quiet gardens for a moment of calm, and more like me, sauntering along before enjoying a cold drink in the shade around the park’s refreshment kiosk. Whilst you’re up there, to add even more culture into the mix, you can visit the Matisse Museum, devoted to the French painter who lived and worked in Nice from 1917 to 1954.

A lovely oasis of calm although, I would certainly recommend the bus up and down – the hill is particularly steep, and not much fun on a hot day…

Palais Lascaris

 

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The Palais Lascaris is a seventeenth century gemstone, cunningly tucked away on rue Droite, and if you didn’t know it was there, it would be easily missed. It’s currently home to a collection of musical instruments. But even if you have no interest in this aspect at all, the décor and architecture of the former aristocratic home are worth the entry fee.

If you are interested, however, then the collection of over 500 musical instruments is one of the finest you’ll encounter, including both the historic and the famously-connected.

The rooms the exhibits are displayed in are restored to their original glory, and give a real insight as to how the nobles of Nice lived in the Old Town’s glory days, before the wealthier families were moved out of what was then a going down-hill area, and into the New Town and countryside beyond.  Talk about grandeur!

Credit/Source:  Posted by The Good Life France

 

Beau Rivage in Nice

The Promenade des Anglais was hosting an expo with various stands featuring boating, artisanal products, and one selling handbags made out of sailboat cloth.  Although the summer temperature was high, locals and tourists alike strolled and browsed the stands under the heat of the midday sun.

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What else to do on an extremely hot summer day in Nice but eat, drink, and be merry!  Heading for a seaside restaurant that provided shade and a nice sea view and breeze, we chose Beau Rivage, known for its iconically Nice blue chair artistic entrance.

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The rosé wine was refreshing and the lunch was delicious –  a leisurely good time with friends, and yes, were very merry!

 

Six reasons why France is top tourist destination

 The Local looks at just how did France manage to attract over 84 million tourists last year – far more than any other country – and hear’s from one tourism industry chief in the country who believes the figures do not tell the full story.

Some 84.7 million visitors from across the world flocked to France in 2013, far more than any other country in the world, and plans are underway to up the number to above 100 million mark.

But what makes France such an attractive destination for holiday makers year after year? The Local looks at six reasons to explain the country’s tourism appeal.

But do the figures tell the real story of France’s table topping tourism industry? One professional says the ynumbers are misleading and France needs to do to match the success of the United States and Spain.

Six reasons:

1. The City of Light (incorrect with “s”)

It almost goes without saying, but the French capital is a huge draw for foreign visitors – over 30 million of them a year in fact, more than any other city in the world. What makes it so popular? Where to start. There’s the city’s romantic image, the stunning architecture, the Louvre museum, the iconic Eiffel Tower as well as the simple pleasure of sitting at a café terrace and watching the world go by. European and US visitors have flocked here from all the world for many years, and they keep coming back and in recent years the appeal of Paris has gripped the far east, with mor and more Chinese nationals coming to get a glimpse of the Champs Elysées and its array of boutiques.

And don’t forget Disneyland, which is a destination in itself for foreign visitors. With around 15 million visitors each year, the theme park, just to the east of the French capital is Europe’s top tourist destinaton.

2. A variety of sun, sea and mountains

Many French people shun international destinations for their summer holidays and instead choose to travel within their own country. Why? Well, as they’ll be keen to tell you, it’s because France has everything, from sandy beaches, to snow covered mountains and vast expanses of countryside.

Simon Dawson, from UK tour operator French Cycling Holidays, agrees. “Different regions have completely different appearances,” he says. “There’s the rolling countryside, great cities like Paris, Lyon, Marseille.”

Basically France offers something for everyone. While the Germans may come for the beaches, the Brits for the countryside the Americans come for the chateaux and the culture.

“The weather is a big factor too. “France tends to have really good weather in the summer, it’s hot, but not baking hot like in Spain or Italy for example,” says Dawson.

3. Strategic location

Part of France’s appeal, however, could just be a sheer coincidence of geography. For example, for UK holidaymakers looking to escape their homelands unreliable summers, France is just a short hop across the Channel, a journey some 12.6 million made in 2013. Travellers from another of France’s neighbours, Germany, made up 13 million visitors to France last year, more than any other country. However, not all these visitors are coming to see France itself.

“Because of France’s position many tourists are forced to pass through the country on their way to other destinations,” explains Didier Arino, president of tourism industry specialists Protourisme. “Between 15 and 20 million of the visitors who come to France are just passing through on their way to Italy or Spain.”

4. Escape to the countryside

Around 80 percent of France is countryside – and most of it stunning and tranquil. Besides Paris, this is the part of France most tourists want to see, says Dawson. “The most popular areas for our customers are the Loire Valley, Provence, the famous beautiful regions of France,” he says.

The countryside is particularly popular with those from the UK, who have a romantacised vision of rural life in France, according to Protourisme’s Arino.

“The British are in love with rural France. They idealise the countryside,” he says. The Brits enjoythe contrast of the peaceful “France profonde” compared to the hussle and bussle of the towns and cities many of them live in.

5. Food and wine

France is, of course, inseparable from its famed gastronomical traditions and the chance to dine on French specialities, even the clichéd snails or steak tartare is no doubt a major part of what attracts visitors to the country. France knows this and is keen to protect its status as the world’s food capital, as evidenced by its recent “homemade” food label scheme designed to discourage chefs from using frozen or ready-prepared ingredients.

No proper French meal is complete without a few glasses of ‘vin’ and the country’s vast array of home-produced wines is another draw for tourists. Each year, around 24 million foreign tourists visit Bordeaux, Burgundy and France’s other wine regions.

6. Art , history and culture

France is extremely proud of its long and often tumultuous history, from the French revolution to Napoleon and the two world wars, and historical sites are often on the itinerary for visitors. There’s the famous battle sites of the Somme and the D-Day landings, as well as the stunning chateaux, churches and cathedrals that decorate the landscape.

In fact, France has some 39 sites on Unesco’s World Heritage list, putting it fourth in the global rankings. Museums and art galleries are also a major pull for tourists. The Louvre alone, home to the Mona Lisa among around 35,000 other artifacts and artworks, attracts 9.7 million visitors a year, more than any other museum in the world.

The Lonely Planet’s destination editor Kate Morgan sums it all up like this: “As a destination for travellers, France virtually has it all. France entices people of all ages with some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, world-class art and architecture, sensational food, stunning beaches, glitzy ski resorts, beautiful countryside and a staggering amount of history.”

But do the stats tell the real picture?

Despite being the world’s most visited country, France is hoping to boost its tourism numbers still further. Earlier this year, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius unveiled a plan to increase foreign visitor numbers to more than 100 million a year.

Protourisme’s Arino, however is not getting carried away with the figures. For him France needs to focus on persuading the tourists to spend more. While France has the highest number of visitors a year, it is only third in the world when it comes to revenue generated from tourism, he says

“These figures don’t give the whole picture,” he says. “For me France is the third tourist destination in the world, behind the United States and Spain, where the tourism industry in both countries generates more money than in France.

“The only figure that matters is the commercial revenue, not the amount of visitors.

Arino points to the situation of tourists sleeping in their cars as they pass through France on the way to Spain, who are no use to the country economically.

For France to squeeze more money out of visitors Arino says it needs to improve the variety and prices of the accommodation it offers, encourage people to stay longer by giving them a warmer welcome, and make France more competitive in terms of value for money.

Foreign Minister Fabius would agree and has come up with a list of tasks to help improve the welcome for visitors to France.

Source/credit/photos: Written by Sam Ball published in The Local

Fashion & Food – Sarao Restaurant

While waiting on the Promenade des Anglais for a friend to have a quick lunch at Sarao, I pondered about how the French Riviera has a stereotypical image: chic and fashionable people strolling along the seafront, others drinking champagne on yachts, and sunbathers frolicking in the sand (or rocks). I people watched, as one does while waiting but not exactly as the fashion police (RIP Joan Rivers), and noticed a variety of fashion statements.

September is a great time to visit Nice, both temperature-wise and noise pollution level-wise. Even so, trying to chat was difficult with the reduced level of traffic whizzing by the restaurant terrace. The apero & tapas menu was only for the evening, but I did try the “aperol spritz” – a refreshing mixture of Prosecco and Perrier – reported by the server to be very popular in Italy. Buon Appetito!

What’s your fashion style?

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September Events in France

In Nice:france cartoon

Jeux de la Francophonie (Nice): 7-15 September, the 7th edition of this cultural and athletic youth event will take place with sporting, traditional and creative competitions between participants representing French-speaking nations from around the globe. www.nicetourisme.com

Nationwide events in France September 2014:

France Gourmet Week known as “Tous Au Restaurant”22-28 September 2014. All over France for a whole week restaurants will put offer a buy one meal, get one free menu. Search on the website for participating restaurants:www.tousaurestaurant.com

Fete de la Gastronomie 26-28 September, every corner of France will come alive with events to celebrate its UNESCO-listed ‘world intangible heritage’ status. From grand-scale concerts to local sing-a-longs, Michelin-star set menus to small village banquets, the country will be in lively spirits to celebrate one of its most popular claims to fame. www.economie.gouv.fr/fete-gastronomie

Journées Européennes du Patrimoine – European Heritage Days: 20 and 21 September across the whole country, hundreds of historical buildings, famous monuments, Government sites and places of interest – some of which are normally closed to the public, open their doors and welcome in visitors. It is an amazing opportunity to explore and find out more about some truly fantastic buildings in France. Discover the heritage of France, more about Journées Européennes du Patrimoine. www.journeesdupatrimoine.culture.fr/

 

AMUSEZ-VOUS BIEN!

Information Source: TheGoodLifeFrance

Sun, Sea, & Green

SUN:

“In an open-topped tour bus, a collector’s car, by Segway, by tram, on foot by boat or by bicycle, there are so many ways to discover Nice and its attractions! Are you having trouble choosing between a classical tour or a chance to get off the beaten tracks, an instructive treasure hunt to discover the history of Nice, a photographic trail accompanied by a professional photographer, a guided tour through some of the city’s most attractive districts with the Heritage Centre, a culinary tour featuring the theme of Niçois cuisine or a custom tour designed especially for you, supervised by a guide?

SEA:

Just imagine… 7 km of beaches bordering the famous Promenade des Anglais! 15 private beaches and 20 public ones in the very heart of the town! Beach restaurants where you can enjoy fish-based dishes, salads or other summertime cuisine with the sound of the waves in the background. Disabled access beaches, children’s games, organised features and entertainment and nautical activities, crystal clear water at just the right temperature …and an amazing view out to sea!   A number of private beaches organize music evenings where you can dance through the night under the stars, with your feet in the water!

GREEN:

As the “green city” of the Mediterranean, Nice is home to more than 100 gardens and some 20 parks with a surface area exceeding 10,000 m2 including the 7-hectare Parc Phoenix, a holder of the “Jardin remarquable” (Remarkable Garden) label. Genuine oases of greenery in the heart of the city, these parks and gardens have been designed to bring man into contact with nature, which can be discovered and admired at any time of year. Already ahead of target in terms of the national ECOPHYTO 2018 Plan, Nice is continuing its efforts to promote sustainable development and has opted for “zero pesticides” to protect biodiversity and the health of its citizens and visitors. Waterfalls, water fun areas and varied tree and shrub varieties await… Enjoy a lungful of fresh air… You’re in Nice!”

See major SUMMER EVENTS HEREKD paperback cover

Source: Nice Convention and Visitors Bureau

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