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Southern Comfort - visit the Côte d'Azur

Southern Comfort - visit the Côte d'Azur

If you long for a break in the sun, the good news is that you can now fly down to Nice and the Côte d’Azur direct from Limoges Airport.


Lapped by the warm waters of the Mediterranean, the glamorous stretch of coastline between Provence and the Franco-Italian border continues to cast its spell over visitors, for whom le Côte d’Azur IS ‘the South of France’, or simply ‘The Riviera’... Either way, it’s a seductive image, particularly now that getting there need no longer involve a long drive. Direct flights from Limoges to Nice operate twice weekly, so we decided to look at some of the attractions, both in the city and nearby, for weekend getaways or relaxing 5-day breaks.

The Riviera’s largest resort, and France’s fifth largest city, was famously adopted by the British aristocracy, who among other things created the palm lined Promenade des Anglais (home of the illustrious Hotel Le Negresco) overlooking the manicured beaches of the Baie des Anges.

The cultural mix becomes even more interesting when you learn that until 1860 Nice was actually wholly Italian, which explains the wealth of beautifully proportioned Italianate architecture and a vibrant, Mediterranean atmosphere. Nice also boasts a host of major art galleries (including the Musée Matisse), a Russian Orthodox cathedral (financed by Tsar Nicholas I in memory of his son, who died here) and a bustling, hugely atmospheric ancient quarter tucked away between Boulevard Jean Jaurès and the hilltop Parc du Château.


Vallauris-franceVieux Nice is an intricate and bustling network of narrow streets lined with boutiques beneath tall, ochre-tinted facades dating from the 18th century. Adding to the intrigue are venerable structures like the Baroque Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate (1650-80) on Place Rosetti, the nearby Eglise Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur (1650) and the huge early-17th century Palais des Ducs de Savoie, which for many years has accommodated the Préfecture des Alpes-Maritimes.



While valuing its priceless heritage, the city is also a dynamic, forward-thinking community, and is currently busy expanding its modern tramway system, whose next phase will connect the airport to the heart of the city. The route will serve a showpiece family attraction – the Parc-Phoenix (named after the city’s emblematic Phoenix Canariensis palms) covering seven hectares, and presenting around 2,500 Mediterranean and other plant species in a collection of themed areas. Keeping them company are wallabies, turtles, cranes, peacocks and owls, plus an aquarium and a whole lot more, including ‘le Diamant Vert’, one of Europe’s largest greenhouses, with both tropical and sub-tropical zones. Best of all, it offers incredible value, with an adult ticket price of just 2€ (under-12s get in free).


Gently coasting

Saorge_franceIf you have a little more time and hire a car you’ll find that not only do you expand your choice of places to stay, but you’ll also be able to discover a little more of what has long made this small corner of France so compelling. Just east of Nice, for example, lie Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, coastal hideaways favoured by the rich and reclusive, while just a little further (and considerably higher) lies the perched village of Èze whose renowned restaurant terraces offer the Côte d’Azur’s most sensational views. Continue on and a few minutes later you’ll join the famous Route de la Moyenne Corniche, for a run down into the Principality of Monaco.

Even if it’s your first visit you’ll find that Monte Carlo looks and feels exactly as you expected – particularly if you’re a Formula One fan, in which case you’ll have the pleasure of following the route of the world’s most famous Grand Prix circuit. Explore it on foot, though, and you can get up close to the surreal weirdness of unbridled wealth rubbing shoulders with more kitsche elements – and you never know who you might see emerging from the Hotel de Paris, the Hermitage or the Casino. Round off your visit with a peer at the luxury yachts moored in the port and a gentle stroll through the Jardins de la Petite Afrique, off Casino Square.

Not far beyond Monaco you’ll come to Menton, pretty much the last stop before the Franco-Italian border. Find a parking space on the Quai Napoléon III and you’ll be rewarded with the classic view of the old town’s pastel facades rising romantically behind the little port like an Impressionist painting.


The call to head off and explore it all is hypnotic, and when you do you won’t be disappointed, for the spirit of the Mediterranean still haunts the narrow streets, and there’s a refreshing sense of calm detachment from the bustle of the glamorous, more conventionally elegant town at your feet. It’s all worth seeing, particularly during the carnival atmosphere of the world-famous Fête du Citron (and whose dazzling displays will require an estimated 145 tonnes of locally grown fruit). There’s also a summer Tango Festival, and the town’s temperate climate has produced no fewer than eight legendary Jardins d’Exceptions, which will charm you throughout the seasons.

Old as the hills

The Riviera’s long-standing appeal has not merely been confined to the illustrious coastal towns. Snaking its way northwards from Menton via the Col de Castillon is an amazing road which, between 1912 and 1931, coexisted with a tramway (whose viaducts are plainly visible). This brought visitors to the fairytale village of Sospel. Cross an 11th century fortified bridge over the River Bévéra and you’ll enter the medieval quarter, whose atmospheric, time-warp streets have a distinctly Alpine feel.

Beyond Sospel the road winds towards the Roya Valley to Saorge (officially one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France), which rises through multiple layers, while clinging to a sheer rock face. This seemingly unlikely, but once important, defensive siting conceals an interconnecting network of narrow steps and cave-like walkways cut into the rock beneath the medieval houses. The sole note of sophistication is the Baroque Eglise St Sauveur, whose frescoed jewel-box interior features a mighty Genoese organ, said to have been transported here via teams of pack mules. North of Sospel lies the Parc National du Mercantour, with some of the very finest grand-touring countryside you’ll find anywhere in France.


So far we’ve seen a little of what lies to the east of Nice, but you’ll find travelling in the opposite direction similarly rewarding. Close to Cagnes-sur-Mer, for example, was the final home of Renoir, whose arthritis symptoms were eased by the mild climate. La Maison les Collettes (including his studio) is preserved just as he left it in 1919, and contains ten of his paintings, while outside amid the idyllic setting of an olive grove is his famous ‘Venus Vectrix’ bronze. The art theme continues in nearby Antibes, part of whose 12th century Château Grimaldi provided a studio for Pablo Picasso during the 1940s. The 150 or so works he left formed the basis of Antibes’ Musée Picasso.

He didn’t move far, however – just a few km to the Poterie Madoura in Vallauris,where he worked for ten years. Not surprisingly, the town now has numerous shops selling ceramics and pottery, and is home to the Musée National Picasso. Just beside it, in a former chapel, is perhaps his most striking legacy – ‘La Guerre et La Paix’. Wandering among the vivid imagery of this series of giant curving wall panels feels akin to being lost in some dreamlike tube station. The artist also donated the ‘Man with a Sheep’ bronze which adorns the town’s main square.


By now we’re almost in Cannes, beyond which lie such enticing places as Mandelieu-la-Napoule, Fréjus, Sainte-Maxime and Saint-Tropez. We’ll leave you to explore them and the many more places we haven’t even touched upon at your own pace; after all, you can return whenever the mood takes you.


Find out more...

Ticket Desk & Airport Sales Agency

81 Avenue de l’Aéroport
87100 Limoges.

Nice  - go green and get around on one of the city’s blue bikes.  - all the fun of the carnival 14 Feb - 4 March

Monaco  - truly, madly Monte-Carlo.

Menton  - how can you resist?

Sospel  - the ancient town and its surrounding valleys.

Saorge  - all about this genuinely remarkable village.

Antibes  - Picasso, the Jazz Festival, and much more.

Vallauris - the town and its Picasso legacy.


Words & Photos: ROGER MOSS

© Living Magazine - all rights reserved. Originally published in Living Magazine February 2014