It’s party time on the Riviera, isn’t it?
Yes, mother nature is still sporting her winter blanket in Western Europe. It’s been ridiculously wet, windy and cold through May, but that hasn’t stopped the big sunglasses, the big hair and the big money swarming the Riviera for the two headline events of the year. The Great and the Good are in town for The Cannes Film Festival, which winds up this weekend, and of course half an hour down the road in Monaco, its all about the vroom vroom, with the Formula One Grand Prix ripping up the streets.
Do you need to have money to burn to enjoy Monaco? You certainly do, if you want to spend any longer than five minutes in the Monte Carlo Casino, but beyond the roulette tables, the notion of having to remortgage the house to enjoy Monaco is a big fat misnomer. Two of the top sights are actually free, namely the Grimaldi Palace and Monaco Cathedral, where Grace Kelly is buried. And of course with Monaco being such an ostentious flesh-pot, there’s no price tag on people watching, which is always amusing.
The Ocean Museum in Monaco is a must-see?
Dramatically built into a cliff and underground, the Ocean Museum has been a Monaco landmark for over a century. This colossal aquarium features ninety different tanks. The prize draw is the lagoon, where massive ocean predators will float by, and a huge coral reef seperates the big buggars from Nemo and his tropical friends. And the latest addition is on the roof top terrace, which offers the best panorama of Monaco, and is home to the new turtle and tortoise sanctuary, which is a big hit.
What is Menton famous for?
Lemons and Catherine Mansfield. Not often you’d hear those words in the same sentence. Just ten minutes from Monaco, I love Menton. I think it’s the best place to stay on the Riviera. It’s a very colourful, relaxing and affordable place. Fantastic baroque architecture, sandy beaches, pastel coloured houses, the riviera’s best gardens and France’s best lemons. And yes the Kiwi connection is worth a stop. You can see Villa Isola Bella, where Mansfield lived as she battled TB.
What about Villefranche?
It’s like a miniature version of Menton, with a chocolate box harbour and 14th century old town. Well worth a day trip.
Tell us about the private mountain railway. Is Entreveux the best mountain stop?
Yes, chugging up the mountains from Nice, the alpine railway , high into the heavens is a spectacular excursion. The French Riviera has some super cute mountain villages. The pick of the draw is Entreveux, a medieval stone village, with draw bridges and moats. It’s seems lost in time. The village has been fiercely fought over by France and the Northern Italians for centuries. I made the stupid mistake of wearing a top, emblazoned with Italy, in big bold letters, to Entreveux, which went down like a cup of cold of sick with the locals. But Entreveux and the mountain railway from Nice makes for a great day trip.
What about Nice? Is it just a gateway or worth a stop?
It’s a great hub, great beaches and eateries, but a lot busier and congested than many of the other Riviera hotspots. If you are a market-buff, the flower, fruit, fish and flea markets are superb. And a really good museum to check out is Massena, which takes you on a journey on the history of the French Riviera and the rise and rise of tourism.
Best way of getting around? Best time to go?
The French Riviera train system will be your best friend. You can hop-skotch your way all along the Rivera. It’s cheap as chips, high frequency and picturesque. September and October are the optimum months when the crowds are thinner, but the weather is till warm.
Mike’s travel notes, as discussed on Newstalk ZB with Jack Tame.