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The Magic of the Côte d’Azur

13th July 2012

With some 300 days of sun a year, a stunning coastline and landscape, the Côte d’Azur has long been one of Europe’s most desirable destinations. It’s unique, world-famous and tantalisingly close to the UK at just over two hours’ flying time to Nice with

On a clear day, and most are here, you’ll be dazzled by the intense light. The deep, sometimes startling, blue of sky and water is what gives the region its famous name – la Côte d’Azur (the Azur Coast), and it has bewitched generations of artists and writers, royalty, and refugees from some of Europe’s tumultuous revolutions. Drive up the winding roads behind Nice or Cannes and you’ll catch a glimpse of elegant villas with fabulous gardens behind towering walls and high hedges. Armies of staff and security guards ensure the comfort and privacy of their owners.

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Today celebrities are like yesterday’s aristocracy and royalty but the attraction is much the same – a fabulous climate, spectacular views, sophisticated attractions, and rich heritage of arts and crafts. Yet, behind the celebrity razzmatazz, there’s a wonderfully laidback buzz to the Riviera, perhaps owing to the historic Italian influence. The region has become a haunt and second home to celebrities from Keith Richards to Elton John and countless others. Offshore, imposing private launches and yachts, bristling with antennae and satellite dishes, protect the privacy of oligarchs and princes and their entourages. Occasionally some of them share their party spirit with those on the shore with dazzling firework displays, lighting up the night sky.

To the west, super-chic St. Tropez (Saint Trop to the locals) was made famous in the 1960s by the likes of film director Roger Vadim and ultra-glamorous filmstar Brigitte Bardot (who still lives there). A magnet to the beautiful people, it attracts stars such as Madonna, Pamela Anderson, Eva Longoria and Sean Penn. The roads teem with Ferraris and prices can be sky high but splash out and you never know who you might share a terrace café with. Small wonder helicopters buzz the super-yachts and beaches as the paparazzi crane their necks to spot celebrities...

For a different atmosphere, drive up to the enchanting hillside town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence where Marc Chagall lived and painted for the last four decades of his life. There you’ll find the legendary Colombe d’Or restaurant and hotel, a favourite of Michael Winner’s and a smart international set, with its wonderful garden terrace and dining-rooms hung with paintings. Many are by famous artists including Chagall, Miró, Braque and Picasso and some were donated in lieu of payment for meals or accommodation in the days before they became famous.

La Colombe d’Or was founded in the 1920s as a simple inn by Paul Roux, himself a keen painter. Encouraged by friends such as Matisse, he pursued this passion and Roux’s flower compositions grace the menu to this day. Paul’s son Francis is also an art  lover and he and his wife Yvonne went on to commission several pieces including a Fernand Léger mural. Francis’s son François and his wife Danielle continue the tradition.

A meal at La Colombe d’Or is a real treat. The food is simple and traditional. The hors d’oeuvres include a massive and colourful basket of crudités (raw salad vegetables and hard-boiled egg), accompanied by a wonderful array of dipping sauces. The daurade (sea bream), loup de mer (sea bass) and carré d’agneau (deliciously pink roast lamb) are all delicious.

Another delightful and popular tourist village is Mougins where Picasso spent his final years. There you’ll find a picturesque village square, some very good restaurants and the fascinating Musée d’Art Classique, established by British hedgefund manager Christian Levett to exhibit an extraordinary collection of works spanning some 5,000 years. Chris Levett’s remarkable involvement in Mougins also extends to the purchase and relaunch of no fewer than three of the village’s most iconic restaurants:

La Place de Mougins, Le Feu Follet, and L’Amandier, the latter founded by Roger Vergé in the 1970s.

Le Cannet is a lovely, quiet little town off the main tourist track. Pierre Bonnard retired here and the town recently opened a  gallery in his honour. In the old part of the town small shops and studios house the businesses and showcases of artists, sculptors, jewellers and even a violin-maker.

Valmauris, where Picasso also spent some time, is today a pottery fan’s paradise – a perfect place to pick up some gifts. Then there’s Valbonne with its plane trees and vibrant Friday market, teeming with British ex-pats stocking up on essentials and desirables such as spices, home-made soaps, linen shirts, leather bags and shoes.

Wherever you go, wander around enchantingly pretty streets and breathe in the heady perfume of oleanders.

Or just celebrity- or oligarch-spot from the comfort of an elegant café overlooking the sea. Bliss!

Posted in Where2 Magazine

July 13, 2012 at 15:54

Tagged with Cote d’Azur, Cheap Flight to Nice, Things to do in Nice