Carioca Outpost: The French Riviera
The Côte d’Azur conjures up endless iconic images: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald as the glorious, fragile beacons of the jazz age; Brigitte Bardot popularising the monokini as much as the Nouvelle Vague on the beaches of St. Tropez; Henri Matisse immortalising the unique light of the Mediterranean on canvas; the glittering red carpet of the Festival de Cannes making and breaking film careers; the deafening roar of the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo; Princess Grace of Monaco and her otherworldly beauty: a fairytale come to life in a castle by the sea.
The region is overwhelmed by the memory of these cultural highlights. It’s also overwhelmed by an abundance of rocky outcrops hushed by the gentle waves of the Mediterranean, clouds of soft white jasmine that give dusk an irresistible perfume of longing, and medieval streets pervaded by the smell of yeast dough rising before the sun is up. Despite the glimmering lights, the fireworks, and the mirror of the sea, the night sky is velvet blackness. Shooting stars stream across the Baie des Anges at certain times of year, as do awe-inspiring jagged shots of lightning when the heat of summer finally breaks into autumn.
The people of this region have a cosmopolitan seaside dynamic that contrasts sharply with our own. In Rio, we are invigorated by our ocean: the beaches are populated by surfers, frescobol players, and exuberant conversations, while millionaires share the sand with those who live in favelas. The Riviera, contrarily, is liberally dotted with private beaches, where languid toned women relax with chilled rosé or champagne by their bright striped sun loungers. The coast is for relaxation, with locals baking in the heat before executing a leisurely breast stroke. It’s highly likely any indiscreet chattering will be coming from those with groups of small children or (feel free to execute a Gallic shrug/eye-roll) anglophone tourists.
Rio is raw energy and youthful eyes fixed on the future, the Côte is carefully polished sophistication. Every tragedy and every love story that unfolded here seems to hang in the air. Nonetheless, we’ve entered into a love story of our own with the region. Where else do you feel you are stepping into a Fitzgerald novel, the golden age of French cinema, and a medieval village all at once?
It’s difficult to choose just five recommendations for an area with so many best-in-class establishments. These are the gems that we stumbled across by accident, but find ourselves returning to, again and again.
The hotel: Cap Estel. Down a beautiful winding driveway, right on the water, this secluded hotel has a private beach, a saltwater infinity pool, and a world-class restaurant and spa. Choose from a portfolio of luxury suites, or take up residence away from the main hotel in the garden villa. From its manicured botanical surroundings to the choice of literature, this property is the epitome of good taste. A flawless experience.
The adventure: Chateauneuf-Villevieille. Following a mass exodus in the 1700s, this medieval defensive enclave, high in the hills, feels like the enchanted setting of a Perrault tale. With no official tourist infrastructure or advertisement, you’ll rarely find visitors and there are no guided tours; just wander the streets as its inhabitants did for hundreds of years. Nearby Tourette-Levens makes an ideal starting point. A medieval castle that’s still inhabited, it hosts tiny squares, gardens, and a breathtaking panorama. The hike will take you through ancient pathways and abandoned fields of crops.
The restaurant: JAN. The Port neighbourhood of Nice has taken off in the last couple of years as the hangout spot for the cool insider crowd. This restaurant is nestled away on a quiet street with cool grey interiors and a modern romantic flourish. Its Michelin star is justified by both the food and service: masterfully subtle and exceptionally well-executed.
The beach: Èze bord-de-mer. There’s a tiny train station, and basically nothing else – bar the celebrity residences. Take lunch and some rosé at the private beach and restaurant Anjuna Beach (if it’s good enough for Hugh Grant and George Clooney…), then stroll back to the public beach space. It’s never crowded and often almost deserted: perfect to claim some space for a game of frescobol without disgruntling a crowd of serious sun-bathers. If you’re craving even more activity, take the Chemin de Nietzsche cliffside trail to the towering medieval citadel and gardens above.
The culture hit: Palais Princier concerts, Monte Carlo. Each summer a series of exclusive concerts takes place in the Cour d’Honneur of the Monegasque palace. If your stay overlaps with a performance, grab the best tickets ASAP. The principality’s philharmonic orchestra will keep you entertained through the balmy Mediterranean dusk, before a leisurely stroll down to try your luck at the most famous casino in the world.