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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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From Socca to Foie Gras

My article written for FRANCE ON YOUR OWN newsletter:  

When thinking of the French Riviera, Nice in particular, the senses become engaged: the sight of the azure Mediterranean Sea, the sound of the waves softly lapping the shoreline, the feel of the pebbles underfoot as you walk on the beach, the smell of the salty sea mist in the air, and mostly, the taste of local specialties, such as salade niçoise and socca (a pancake made from chickpea flour and served warm with black pepper). With a Mediterranean climate and average of 300 days of sunshine, the area is indeed attractive and booming.

When thinking of the Dordogne region, Sarlat in particular, the senses become equally engaged: the sight of medieval architecture and castles, the sound of market vendors selling their wares, the feel of cobblestones underfoot as you walk through the historical center, the smell of countryside air, and mostly, the taste of local specialties such as foie gras (duck liver that originated in ancient Egypt around 2500 BC and now is emblematic of French gastronomy) and black truffles (an edible fungus that averages 500-1000€ per kg). With the variety of four distinct climatic seasons, the area is a kaleidoscope of landscape colors.

Both places are famous for their cultural activities that attract tourists from far and wide, especially the outdoor markets promoting local produce and regional specialties: Cours Saleya in Old Nice and Place de la Mairie in the historical center of Sarlat.  Tourism is vital to both: Nice has a population of approximately 340,000 and attracts an average of 5,000,000 visitors a year, while Sarlat’s population is around 10,000 with an average of 1,500,000 visitors per year.  Due to its smaller size, the town of Sarlat has a more drastic decline in visitors than the city of Nice during the winter months, not to mention overall colder temperatures, yet both host cultural events to attract tourists during the low season.

Nice WikipediaTrivia & Tidbits:

Nice

  • the meaning of Nice (Nikaia in Greek) is the Goddess of victory; it became part of France in 1860
  • the original name of the Promenade des Anglais was “La Strada del Littorale” and it was originally made of marble
  • Albert 1st park is named after a Belgian king and is the oldest garden in Nice
  • the Carnaval has been a tradition for 700 years
  • the name “Côte d’Azur” was coined by the writer and poet, Stephen Liegeard, in 1888
  • the destruction of the castle on Castle Hill was ordered in 1706 by Louis XIV, but this resulted in the city’s growth
  • Nice’s traditional flower is the carnation; Nice’s specialty olive is the “caillette”, and tapenade is called the “caviar of Nice”
  • candied fruit was a favorite delicacy of Queen Victoria
  • Cours Saleya market was named after the sun “soleil” and has been Nice’s main market since the Middle Ages
  • Architecturally: Italian colors are ochre and yellow; French colors are beige and white – as seen in Place Massena

Sarlat Market. Copyright Kim Defforge. All rights reserved.Sarlat

  • Sarlat-la-Canéda (or simply Sarlat) is located in the Dordogne département of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in southwestern France
  • Inhabited since Gallo-Roman times, Sarlat became prosperous at the end of the 8th century
  • The town suffered from the Norman invasions and then from the Hundred Years War, owing to its position as a frontier region between the kings of France and England
  • Sarlat, one of the most popular of the Dordogne villages, developed around a large Benedictine abbey of Carolingian origin
  • Most of the town has been preserved and is representative of 14th century France with authentic restoration work
  • Sarlat’s weekly market has been in existence since the Middle Ages
  • Known for its regional specialties of foie gras, duck confit, walnuts, & truffles
  • Sarlat’s emblem is the salamander, due to its S shape and also because it once was featured on the coat of arms of the French monarchy
  • Host to an annual film festival since 1991

For traveling, you can’t beat the accessibility of the Nice airport and the city’s extensive bus system (except when there is a strike, bien sûr!).  By contrast, the Dordogne’s rural setting and its smaller airports significantly increases overall travel time, resulting in difficulty in getting to and from international destinations, except perhaps to the U.K.

As for ambiance, while living in Nice, I woke up to the cacophony of cars, buses, and pedestrians, inherent with city living and its hustle and bustle of activity.  Compare that setting to Sarlat, where morning birdsong and the sound of an occasional car passing by is the norm – a matter of urban vs. rural setting, each with its pros/cons & sounds:  Chacun à son gout (to each his own)!

After living nine years on the French Riviera, Kim now resides in the Dordogne.
Owner of Manoir Fontaine de l’Amour with its fully-equipped, holiday rental apartment,
she is ready to welcome you to the medieval town of Sarlat.
Visit her 24/7 in France blog  at https://twentyfourseveninfrance.com/

Brand Spanking New: The Gare de Nice Gets a Makeover

The Gare de Nice
The Gare de Nice. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

If you’ve travelled to or from Nice on the train, you may remember the train station there as a rather dismal and somewhat confusing place. People crowding together to get through to the platforms, bumping elbows and closely guarding pockets and purses. Always a “traffic jam” by the entrance to the platform as a horde of travelers tried to navigate through the crowd to stamp their tickets, as required, in the little yellow machines.

The ticket office stood off to one side, awkwardly designed so as to require queuing up in a long line to wait for an agent.

Outside and below this office, a lone and uninviting restaurant with few other options nearby.

In fact, I think many would agree that the whole area in and surrounding the Gare de Nice was one to simply get away from as quickly as possible.

Now, dear past and future visitors to Nice, all that has wonderfully changed! This once disheveled building and its environs has had a major facelift.

Gare de Nice
The main hall with a beautifully restored ceiling. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

The building itself has been lovingly restored. The ornate grillwork over the main entrance has been polished up, and the lovely set of arched doors now enter into a spacious, open and light-filled room. The large square ceiling has been painted like a chapel and the platform doors to the trains are now opened up, giving travellers the freedom to come and go. No more crowds squeezing through a limited area.

The train schedules are projected onto the side of one wall giving it all a clean updated feel, and there are other bright new schedule signs throughout.

And those little yellow machines to stamp the tickets now sit rather sheepishly by the platform doors, still pretty but humbled.

To the left of the main waiting room is a new Relay store for your magazines newspapers and candy; to the right, a shiny new sandwich shop where you can stock up before boarding your train to Paris or Avignon.

Gare de Nice
The new deli inside the station. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

The far end of the station is now the ticket office, complete with a ‘take-a-number’ machine and bright décor – purple and yellow chairs for waiting and tables where you can plug in a laptop.

All these changes are refreshing and welcome! But there’s more. The exterior of the station has also had a makeover. The huge open plaza in front is now home to a modern tourist office and a Paul boulangerie/patisserie.

These changes to the station have had a larger impact on the entire area near the Gare, with people relaxing at restaurants across the street. From super sketchy to stylish, it is a remarkable transformation!

The overhaul of the Nice Gare is not complete; the work goes on. But already the new look and feel of this busy station on the Côte d’Azur will make landing in this charming city a treat.

Gare de Nice
The exterior of the Gare de Nice. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

CREDIT/SOURCE: By Mary Kay Seales – FRANCE TODAY

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

 

cimiez-roman-remains-nice

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.

 

cimiez-monastery

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

 

palais-lascaris-nice

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

 

French Riviera / Cote d’Azur

Sun and sea, nature, villages perched, beauty, diversity, art, activity, traditions, & yachts:  some words that come to mind, from living here for over 8 years, but what stands out the most is (Mediterranean) BLUE!  The one thing I would change would be to have sandy beaches in Nice, rather than pebbly ones.

Overview of Nice and all that this area has to offer – watch new Tourist Office video HERE

 

 

Ten things you definitely didn’t know about Nice

Ten things you definitely didn't know about Nice

Photo: Lee Carson/Flickr

Published: 06 Apr 2016 by Le Local

1. It should really be in Italy   
Nice has only been part of France since 1860, when Italy reluctantly gave her up to repay France for helping defend itself from the Austrians. The Mayor’s office likes to say that ‘Nice chose France’, but the truth is that the famous ‘vote’ was rigged: there were no ‘non’ ballots printed! This mixed heritage gives Nice its fabulous melange of French and Italian, as seen in its architecture, colours, cuisine and lifestyle.
2. The original Nike Town 
During the Greek Empire in 500BC, the hill above the Old Town was named Nike, which is Greek for ‘victory’, making Nice the original Nike-Town. During its multi-century Italian period it was called Nizza, and since becoming French just 150 years ago, it is called Nice. The people of Nice are Niçoise, like the famous salad, and have their own dialect called Nissart.
3. A tourist hub for 400,000 years
Yes, it’s true. An archaeological dig (which is now a museum) on the hill above the Nice Port found that Nice’s earliest tourists arrived almost 400,000 years ago, and were transient cave-dwellers that came to Nice once a year to hunt woolly mammoths. And tourists have hardly stopped flocking (though the mammoths are a lot harder to find).
Riviera view: Photo: Michel Riallant/Flickr
4. The Heroine Laundry Lady of Nice   
In 1506, this town of only 3,000 inhabitants was attacked by a flotilla of 20,000 Franco-Turks. After weeks under siege the town was still hanging on, and the attackers once again tried to scale the walls. With very few soldiers left to mount a defense, washer-woman Catherine Segurane climbed up on the walls herself and tried to beat back the attackers with her laundry bat. Incredibly, her blow killed a warrior, whereupon she impulsively grabbed his flag, lifted her skirt, and made a gesture like she was wiping her behind with it.
The attacking soldiers were humiliated; and the next day, weary and demoralized, the army gave up and Nice was saved. Segurane is considered emblematic of the Nice spirit, and there are small monuments to her throughout the old town including a cannonball from the siege suspended on the corner of rue Droit and rue de la Loge.
5. Secret passageways for Jews
In the Middle Ages, the town’s Jewish community was forced by law to reside on one gated street called Street of the Jews, where they were locked in each night. In response, the non-Jewish townspeople, having lived harmoniously with their Jewish neighbours up to that point, tunneled a network of passageways under the buildings with secret doors back out to the village.
You can still see the Street of the Jews (Carriera de la Juderia, between rue Rossetti and rue de la Loge), but it is now called rue Benoît Bunico, named after the Italian statesman who pushed through the legislation, 200 years later, giving equal rights to Jewish citizens.
6. Famous Brits on the “English” promenade
The Promenade des Anglais takes its name from these uppercrust English (Anglais) tourists, who would promenade along the sea with their parasols… a strange sight to the working-class Niçoise.  Among the celebrated Brits were Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, and dancer Isadora Duncan, whose dramatic decapitation took place in front of the Hotel Negresco, when her long scarf caught in one of the wheels of her convertible.
Sitting down in Nice. Photo: samtup40/Flickr
7. Lunch with a bang!
In 1860, Sir Thomas Coventry and his easily-distracted wife were living in Nice.  Having become increasing frustrated by his wife’s lack of punctuality in presenting the noonday meal, he approached the Mayor’s office to propose a daily noon cannon shot, like back in his home village in Scotland, and offered to foot the bill.
Some years later, Sir Coventry returned to Scotland and took his little cannon with him, but by that time the locals were so used to their midday alarm that they petitioned the city to carry on the tradition, and it continues today.
8. Elton John calls it home (and he’s not alone)
Modern celebrities include part-time resident Elton John, whose yellow hilltop villa above the Port can be seen from the top of the Chateau. Other notable Riviera Rock Stars include Tina Turner, Keith Richards and Bono… see photos of their digs here.

Story continues below…

Photo: AFP
9. The Monster’s Lair
After the war Nice, like the rest of Europe, was in bad shape. The Old Town was so run-down and poverty stricken that it was referred to as the “Babazouk” or The Monster’s Lair. Even in the 60’s most families in the Old Town didn’t have refrigeration and still bought ice chipped off the ice man’s cart. Laundry was still washed by hand in communal tubs and garbage was dropped from the windows into the rat-infested streets below.
10. The Great Nice Sewer Heist
In the 70s, a man named Spaggiare dug through sewage tunnels for months before robbing the Societe Generale Bank on avenue Jean Medecin of the equivalent of 29 million euros in cash and jewels.
The spectacular heist saw the bankers finally get into their vault, only to find the words: “Without hate, without arms, without violence”. Spaggiare made a “clean” getaway, too (well, as clean as possible considering the sewage”.
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