7th May 2012
DAY 9: MAY 7, 2012
We are staying at the Hotel Saint Michel in Villefranche-Sur-Mer. It’s a family-run affair and this morning Madame prepared breakfast for us. We talked about last night’s election. She had not voted, having rather given up on both candidates, and in particular the way both seemed to be appealing to the lowest common denominator in French public opinion. She didn’t think it was in French interests to embrace parochialism and give up on international obligations and the European ideal: she was firmly in the swim together or sink separately camp.
Fortified by her generous world view and her coffee, we headed off for Nice. The last time we were there was in 1984 when we had a much smaller Honda which some kind soul had broken into in St Paul de Vences. So we had spent our entire time at the regional Honda repair shop having our back window replaced. Today’s visit was an altogether more agreeable affair.
It is a rather lovely city with grand and elegant architecture; and the weather, a balmy 20C, was just right. We started with a couple of delightful art galleries in the north of town, one devoted to Chagall, the other Matisse, or Shazzer and Mazzer as they are known to the Niçoise sophisticati. What a pair of stunners they are. Matisse’s works – from paintings to graphics and stained glass - are displayed in a beautiful villa of pink and green pastel shades in a very anglophile part of the city, with a statue of Queen Victoria nearby and many place-name references to the Prince de Galles (no doubt Edward VII). Chagall’s are further down the hill in a purpose-built gallery which brings out his vibrant and highly-coloured mix of the sacred and the profane to striking effect. We spent a happy hour in each of them.
We then snaked our way up, down and through Vieux Nice, a tangle of narrow streets, winding steps, green shuttered buildings and hidden chapels. Every so often an unexpected panorama sprung into view: some terracotta roof tops, or a glimpse of the bay between the trees. At one point we happened on a thronging flea market, where Jannie spotted some pieces of Lea Stein jewellery amongst the tins of treacle and the nutcrackers. We ended up strolling along the Promenade des Anglais, trying to imagine what it must have been like when the well-heeled English really did vacation here: classy and stylish, with bonnets and bustles, presumably. We did our best, sitting on the front with two chocolate liegiois ice creams.
On our way back, we stopped off at the harbour village of Villefranche-Sur-Mer which is about a mile perpendicularly downwards from where our hotel is situated. It is a very handsome place, with startlingly blue water and an unexpected chapel decorated rather beautifully across its walls and ceilings with coloured chalk illustrations by Jean Cocteau (the author of that bane of every French language student: Les Enfants Terribles). On this evidence he should have kept to drawing.
The journey back to our hotel was a bit of a hairpin nightmare, with some of the bends so tight and narrow, the CRV needed a couple of three point turns to get round them, causing much mirth and Gallic honking from the Citroens revving at our bumper. Pride was dented but the wing mirrors are thankfully intact.
As I type this, the view from our balcony across the green hills and orchards, with the harbour in the distance, is just brilliant. We are being serenaded by several thousand croaking toads. Meanwhile, Jannie is cutting out pieces of tourist brochures for the scrapbook, with her tongue sticking out in pre-school concentration. An oeuvre in the making, clearly.
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