In one of my earlier posts I mentioned how the French landscape can change quite quickly and offers ever changing scenery and adventures. This was only confirmed by the lavish Cote d’Azur, or French Riviera in English.
The Cote d’Azur stretches along the Mediterranean Sea from the French-Italian border to roughly the town of Toulon. Its perfect combination of mountainous terrain towering over stunning, azure coastline produces marvellous views and the weather here is warm to hot during summer.
For this reason, it didn’t take long before the Cote d’Azur became a major tourist hotspot and hotels and resorts fill this region accordingly. It hosts a large amount of British tourists, who come down from the grey north to enjoy it’s sunny coastlines but the French also enjoy coming here for their summer holidays. Due to its proximity to Italy, it is also common to run into Italian tourists that frequent the area.
The Mediterranean Sea is the stuff of legend. It is the cradle of advanced western civilisation, playing host to both the ancient Greek and Roman societies. It was here that so many hundreds or even thousands of years ago that explorers looked out over it’s horizons and pondered what may lie beyond. To see it is inspiring.
But it’s also visually stunning. The mountains converge onto the Mediterranean Sea in this region and create rocky cliffs that pierce the sea with numerous capes and points. Vegetation is dense atop these cliffs and capes and it produces a beautiful combination of greens of the trees, yellows of the rocks and blues of both the sea and the sky. This combination results in a large number of bays that act as safe havens and small to mid sized towns are scattered throughout the coastline.
The largest of these is the centerpiece of the Cote d’Azur, Nice. Nice has an urban population of around one million and is the fifth largest city in France. It situates itself on the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) and sprawls it’s residential areas up into the mountains behind.
Nice provides a stark contrast to what is experienced in the more northern towns of France, particularly Paris. It’s old village is still dense, but the town in general is more sparsely planned and there is space aplenty along the waterfront. There are colours here, more even than what was seen in Lille, and much more greenery in the form of trees along the streets. It’s various hills provide steep roads that must twist and turn and exploring the city without a map can be a risk. It’s here that Google Maps was required for the first time as the winding, narrow alleys seemingly went in circles with no escape to the desired road below the hills.
It utilises the natural land well, providing lookouts at well situated capes and parks along the coastline. These areas are the perfect place to relax and spend the day looking out over the Mediterranean coastline as it reflects the clear blue skies above.
Its marina houses a large array of extravagant boats that glisten from the reflection of the water below. These are the toys of the rich and famous, and are on display for all to see and admire.
Nice can stun and amaze for days before one begins to become immune to its visually stunning appeal. But amid all of its natural beauty and riches, it manages to be trumped by another neighbouring town. One that is even more envied by the rich and famous. The playground of the world’s most luxurious.
This port, a mere fifteen minute train ride to the east of Nice outdoes all that Nice and it’s other rivals have to offer. This principality is more densely populated, with larger residential buildings stacking the land. The hills rise more steeply here and converge directly into the sea, again providing magnificent capes and outlooks along the coast.
The boats are just as luxurious here, as is the life. Everything about Monaco screams expensive. Luxury cars roam its winding roads and casinos fill the district of Monte Carlo. The most famous of these, the Monte Carlo Casino is, quite surprisingly, accessible to the general public. But only a small portion. Inside, phones and cameras must be surrendered and so the marvel of the interior unfortunately can not be shared in picture but it is quite a sight to see. The section open to the public is quite small and the remainder of the casino is open only for private rooms – those presumably with much more money to flash around. There are a few roulette wheels and a few blackjack tables in the first room that contains a bar where the drink prices were far too expensive to be bothering with.
In the next room were the poker machines. Seemingly normal, but here it is a fully immersed experienced. The chairs vibrate when an exciting play develops, speakers in the headrest blast sounds directly into your ears and the screens present a more three dimensional visual. The gameplay remains the same – the machines still take your money willingly and you walk out poorer than you came in. Nothing changes here.
It’s great to walk the famous Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit and relive all of the sights that have been seen on television before. It was particularly lucky at this time of the year as the Grand Prix was in a matter of weeks and so preparations were being made. This had a downside, however, as it meant that a lot of the marina area was off limits or obscured.
The best way to go to and from Monaco is to take the train. This railway traverses itself directly along the coastline, offering some of the best views of the bays and cliffs between Nice and Monaco. It runs at a slow pace due to the climbs and turns but this actually turns out to be preferable as you enjoy the view.
Go further west of Nice and you will encounter similarly lavish towns such as Cagnes-sur-Mer, Antibes or the famous Cannes. While these towns don’t offer quite the same marvels as Nice or Monaco, they are still luxurious in their own right. In fact, these towns present better beaches than Nice or Monaco. In Nice, the beaches are not of sand, but of stone.
What the Cote d’Azur gains in natural riches it sadly lacks in personality. There is an air of superficiality here and the people aren’t as generous. I couldn’t find a Couchsurfer here and it appears to not really be the kind of thing the Cote d’Azur accommodates. When attempting to hitchhike out of the region, hours passed without even a look from the drivers. Eventually a man on the street came and informed me that the people here would not help. He added with a disappointed tone that they will barely even give a bonjour on the street.
This actually means that despite the marvellous scenery, the Cote d’Azur doesn’t fit well for backpackers, unless they manage to find the right people. This place is tailored for the wealthy and is best enjoyed in a resort or hotel for a fortnight.
Never-the-less, it’s worth a visit, at least for a few days.