Continuing the (unusual) pattern this trip of not venturing very far from Villefranche, we spent the next two days enjoying the area’s charms.More normally, we would be heading off to Monaco, a big favourite; perhaps to Roquebrune or Menton or tiny Peillon sitting even more impossibly on its crag than Eze. Nice too has some wonderful museums – Musee Matisse, Marc Chagall National Museum, the Musee des Beaux Arts…further afield in Antibes, the superb Picasso Museum and the interesting modern sculpture museum in beautiful St Paul de Vence, the Foundation Maeght.But we have visited these several times and their riches were not what had drawn us back this October. The sea, the coast, the harbours overlooked by pastel coloured buildings – that special light and colour of the Azure Coast was what we craved. Memories too seemed very precious and important to re-connect with. The pandemic had certainly slowed down our (more accurately, my) normal holiday mode.
It’s only a 30 min easy walk from Villefranche into very smart Beaulieu (which translates accurately as ‘lovey place’) It looks very different, with incredibly beautiful Belle Epoch architecture. But first, we stopped off at Cafe Lou Bantry where we had got to know, a little, the girl serving (on her feet day and night but always cheery and chatty).
Good Cafes au Lait followed and the simple joy of sitting by the sea on a warm, sunny morning. With a bit of effort we finally got to our feet for the walk above the beach, then up steps which give good views back to town. A brief sojourn across Cap Ferrat on a quiet street, before hitting the busier road which led into Beaulieu.Past the Grand Riviera Hotel, a pink palace with palm fringed gardens and a top hatted Maitre’D at the revolving doors. A very elegant looking place.
Beautiful palm lined gardens fringe this small town’s beach and out on a small headland is the exquisite Villa Kerylos, an Ancient Greek – inspired architectural gem which is well worth a visit.
Up through the pretty gardens, then to the main shopping street lined with designer clothes shops, beautiful delis, bakeries and cafes. But my favourite shop of all is gorgeous Patisserie Mesiano, a chocolatier with a superb range of hand-made chocolates, artisan desserts and cakes…the displays are eye-popping and for a chocoholic like me, dream time.
Chris bought me a selection of 6 different chocs as a treat (after I took forever to choose) and though I’d promised myself I would choose a different dessert this time, my eye came back to the usual little Mango Mousse which I can never resist. A thing of beauty! A slice of Opera cake tempted me too and then we were done, everything packaged in two pretty boxes. Of course, in the fridge back in our room, I still had several of the Petit Fours from yesterday’s lunch so there was no danger of one of my ‘sugar crises’ with all that on hand!
Over to the boulangerie where we picked up a sourdough loaf then along to a very posh and eye-wateringly expensive deli for a browse. Like Groundhog Day, this is all I ever do in this shop. There was a small market going on too and we had a look around it before heading back to the marina with its lovely views over the cliffs and mountains which overlook the coast.
We thought about swimming here at Beaulieu but decided to head over to Villefranche again as the beach is bigger.
I’m always a bit wary of town beaches but the water looks clean, so after finding a spot on the sand to ourselves, we got changed. The beach was quiet and felt safe so we left the rucksack on a towel in a bit of shade and braved the water. It was quite hot by now (and I was slightly worried about my chocs and cakes) but it was lovely to plunge into the cold water and cool down.For being in a town, it’s still quite a pretty place to swim with the pastel coloured houses in the background and the beach not busy. There is another quieter, nice beach accessible following a clamber over some stone steps at La Darse harbour, very close to the hotel.
We soon dried off in the heat and after an hour of dotting in and out of the water, we made our way round to the hotel and got showered and changed.
After tea and a drink on the balcony, it was time to polish off an early dinner of cold meat, foie gras, cheese, bread and pickles before a saunter back into town for ice cream. The clothes and shoe shops are open till 8pm and are always worth a look, even for a bit of a non-shopper like me. But what I really wanted to have a quick look at again, was the inside of the Chapelle St Pierre, with its very unusual interior, decorated by Jean Cocteau in his distinctive Surrealist style. Stunning.
Our final day and after a leisurely breakfast on the balcony and a stop for coffee once more at the quayside, the aim was to make for Beaulieu but turn right and walk round the Cap Ferrat peninsula on the lovely ‘Sentier Littoral’ or coastal path.
The path passes the elegant pink villa once owned by the actor David Niven, a really gorgeous house with its own little swimming area beside the rocks.
We made an error and missed the path going down to Paloma beach and instead headed inland before finally finding the correct way again. After half an hour’s walking, we were at the furthest point of the peninsula. Just the sea all around and an info board about the cetaceans in the area. Great views along the coast towards Eze sur Mer and , further, Monaco.
There were quite a few people around – ‘oldies’ mostly like ourselves enjoying the glorious weather. Now we headed back , the path narrowing as it wound its way beside the rocks and across Paloma beach (quite a dark wee beach, very shaded. Good during the height of summer.)On the other side, lay a sunnier shore with little areas of sand.
A short cut through a lane, took us to outskirts of the beautiful village of St Jean, a very smart, quiet resort (in October) which I’ve always fancied staying in sometime.
We checked out Hotel de Charme Brise Marine with its lovely gardens and balconies, having long admired its location with a beautiful outlook over the sea and coast. Not too pricey (there are quiveringly expensive palaces all over this area way beyond our budget)…so this place is a definite for next time. Then down into St Jean itself with its little line of shops, pastel coloured church and smart walkway round the huge marina with its mega yachts and cruisers.
The restaurants overlooking the harbour were going like a fair and suddenly, we were hungry! An unplanned lunch awaited…
‘Le St Jean’ was busy and had a good looking menu plus, I always like a good location and this overlooked the marina.
We managed to get two seats perched a bit precariously at a high table, but without a reservation, this was as good as it got. Chicken Caesar Salad for me and Chris had Octopus Salad, both really good. Ice cream sundaes to finish – excellent meal all round and quite reasonable price wise. It doesn’t fare that well in TripAdvisor reviews but we wouldn’t hesitate to go back.
We headed out of St Jean via the coastal path (Sentier Littoral) then decided to head over the top of the peninsula via the beautiful Villa Rothschild. We’d visited it and its gorgeous gardens before but just passed the gates this time before finding – finally – the route back along the other side of Cap Ferrat to Villefranche. Lovely villas line this side too – we look over to them from our balcony – and there were one or two small beaches at the bottom of steep steps. Some villas had their own little stone jetties – it all looked exquisite and ultra exclusive.
But soon we were back at the steps above Villefranche’s beach and strolling by its sands on the walkway.
Stopped for a mocktail (for me) and some rose wine for Chris at the Welcome Hotel terrace again, enjoying our last afternoon in the Cote D’Azur.
Drinks on the balcony which we just wanted to enjoy as the sun went down, then our usual cold things for dinner. I also had quite a lot of sweet treats left – bliss – the diet would start tomorrow! Gradually, the sun went down…
The moon came up again, casting the yachts and little boats berthed offshore in silhouette. The lights of the villas above Villefranche sparkled like bright stars all around the bay as another soft, autumn night descended over the South of France.
The end of ‘ A Week to Remember’ in this lovely, lovely part of Europe, much busier and built up – yes – than in the days of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr when they stepped off their ship and drove up through Villefranche sur Mer in a smart little sports car. We didn’t quite match that style or glamour by a long way but our own affair with this wonderful area continues.