Tag Archive: Cannes


Almost to the top.

Mucking about with Vespa and a general slow start to our day meant we headed out for a hike up Mont Vinaigre in the afternoon. It wasn’t as crystal clear a day as one would hope. There were blue skies, but a haze across the alps, obscuring views to the east and north. Nonetheless, we had a brisk walk up the mountain and a little rest at the top before heading back down, all before sunset.

Though logical, it is still stunning to experience just how cold the air feels in the shadow of the mountain versus the warmth of things on the sunny side. I’ve mentioned before that the name of this village, ‘Les Adrets de l’Esterel,’ means ‘the sunny side of the Esterel,’ and it would feel entirely different to live on the shaded side.

This may also be why I feel like the (technical) back of Verity’s house is the ‘front,’ because the back is the sunny side, the side with the views, the side facing south and west, to the sunset, and even the setting of the moon, which is always clearly visible outside the living room window if I get up by eight am.

Shelley & Iain at the top of Mont Vinaigre

So, we walked. We helped a couple re-connect with their tiny terrier that had fallen behind, and had begun to follow the wrong couple back down the path, when his owners were heading up the mountain. I thought dogs were supposed to be able to smell the difference of these things.

We watched a family with boisterous young children assemble for photos at the top, and then we did the same. We walked back in the sunset, making plans to go to dinner in Cannes.

Back at the house, we all dressed for dinner. For this whole trip, I tried to pack few clothes (having come on the Vespa with my smallest suitcase,) and it has been rather a leap of either wearing jeans and jumpers, and staying in the house, writing, or having guests, going out, and wearing a dress or skirt. So after a shower, I put on my nicest black dress. Shelley lay down for a nap, Dani went on the computer, Iain jumped into the shower. The house was quiet.

Poor little chap probably didn't make it.

I rarely scream, but I did when Felix frolicked into the hallway, mumbling, his mouth full, and deposited a mouse at my feet. A live mouse – which dashed around the hall before scrambling beneath the dresser!

What felt like pandemonium was in fact just me, in my nicest dress, crawling around on my hands and knees moving furniture while Felix desperately hunted for the poor panicked mouse, which had taken up quite a good refuge in the gnarled trunk of Verity’s carved wooden hat stand.

the Old Clock Tower in Cannes.

We finally chased the exhausted creature into the kitchen, where I caught it by its tail and took it outside. It had a few good bite marks in its pelt and I really doubted it would survive the night. I shut Felix inside, but he made a swift exit through the bathroom window.

When we left for dinner, the mouse was gone. But Felix continued to hunt for the mouse under the hat stand into the next day. I thought cats were supposed to be able to smell these things?

We proceeded to have a lovely dinner in Cannes, complete with lobster salad. My guests left the next day, and the house was my own again.

I have taken to shutting the doors and only allowing Felix inside once I’m sure his mouth is empty.

On the ferry.

On Tuesday, we took a ferry to St Honorat, the smaller of the two îles de Lérins only fifteen minutes across the sea from Cannes. ‘The two islands, separated only by a narrow strait, were once the most powerful religious centres in the south of France,’ according to my DK Eyewitness Guide.

The fort on the larger island, Ile St Marguerite, is famous for imprisoning the 17th century Man in the Iron Mask, who spent 11 years there before being transferred to the Bastille, where he died in 1703. It is unbearably sad to think of this anonymous man being chained in the dark, only metres from the joy of such a stunning, sunny, lively paradise.

St Honorat is the home of a working monastery, where 25 Cistercian monks spend their time praying – we read a description of their day, and it’s mostly praying, and precious little eating – and making products including wine, lotions, and honey & beeswax products from their apiaries.

The wine was ridiculously expensive (and I later heard from Raymond that it’s not that great,) but I did buy some rose lotion.

Atop a ruined chapel.

St Honorat holds the remains or reconstructions of various chapels, including St Cyprien, Trinity, and St Sauveur, but the crowning piece is the Fortified Monastery, a substantial ruin ‘built in 1073 by Abbot Aldebert, to protect the monks from Saracen pirates’ (DK guide). My Rough Guide to Provence states that St Honorat has belonged to monks ‘almost continually since Honoratus, a former Roman noble seeking peace and isolation, founded a monastery here in 410 AD,’ but other sources explain that it did pass through a number of secular hands for awhile before returning to its monastic ways.

Though it must be fairly obnoxious to have the island full of visitors at all times of year (it’s the off season and our ferry was still full,) the monastery must also make a useful income from selling their products, an income they otherwise might not earn.

One clever catch for tourists is that though there are ferries to and from both islands, for a rather steep fee of €13 return, there is no boat connecting the two across their very narrow channel. We only planned to go to St Honorat, so it didn’t bother us.

I would recommend spending a whole day on one or the other; we packed a lunch of pizzas from Isabel. There is one restaurant on the island, open all year. I didn’t look at the prices, but talk about a captive audience!

Within the remains of the fortified monastery.

The ferry doesn’t even tie up, but a salty, seaworthy-looking man grabs you by the arm and helps you on and off; for children, he bodily lifted them up and onto the dock. The captain was outrageously attractive and Italian-looking, with a long black ponytail, sunglasses, and well-fitting jeans. We saw both men sipping espresso from little china cups on the ride back. C’est la vie!

We walked east or clockwise around the island upon debarking at the tiny dock. We took photos of the sea and the chapels, the ruins and the rocks. The sun bore down on the south side of the island, and Dani and I became inexplicably separated from mom & Robin.

A monk in a robe and sandals with thick socks walked past. I saw a sign asking visitors to please respect the silence of the monastery. I wasn’t sure if there was something about monks taking vows of silence, and we wondered if that was part of the monk’s conventions.

We found mom & Robin clambering around the Fortified Monastery, a gorgeous tower with white stones soaking up the warmth of the afternoon sun. We lounged in the sun, eating our pizzas and reading from the guidebook.

After lunch, we saw a fashion shoot taking place outside of the  monastery gates, and debated the height of the model based on her precarious wedge heels.

Views from the fortifications.

Entrance to the church, where one should respect the silence.

A couple of tourists walked through the monastery compound laughing and shouting, and we all cringed, thinking of the extremely obvious signs asking for silence – particularly right where we were, looking at the church, near the cloisters. It was embarrassing and rude: I can understand why tourists get a bad reputation. I’m not sure whether the two girls were speaking Italian or French, but we all shied away from them.

The shop opened after lunch, and our curiosity about whether it would be staffed by a silent monk was immediately answered when we entered to a loud, chatty woman on the phone. She was very nice, helpful, and definitely not a monk with a vow of silence. We looked at the wine, most of which cost over €100 a bottle, and bought a few postcards and the lotion. Then we continued our leisurely circumnavigation of the island.

We stopped at a picnic table in the sun, and I read a little history of the island that my mom had bought in the shop. Dani fell asleep as I read about the monks rising at 4am for hours and hours of prayer, both individual and collective.

The functioning Abbey.

There were photos of monks at wood-cutting machines, picking lavender, and holding a meeting in a circle on the rocky seashore. We wondered how many there were, and when I got home I found in my other guidebook the mention that 25 monks live there, which strikes me as quite small indeed. I suppose, tourists aside, this is a paradisiacal place to live. I wonder if the ‘challenge’ of the tourists provides an extra spiritual dimension – thou shalt not loathe the plebs. Something like that.

We finished our circumnavigation of the island in more than enough time to take the second-to-last ferry back to Cannes, where we walked around the old town. The small, pedestrian streets are full of restaurants, though at five o’clock, it was still too early for dinner.

We walked up the steps to the old Cannes castle, which was built by the Lérins monks in the 11th and 12th centuries (DK guide), and enjoyed views across Cannes as it lit up for the night.

Mistral

Parfumerie Fragonard. Delicious scents!

Everything changed on Friday: the weather, and my daily rhythm.

On Friday, I cleaned the house & waited for my husband and his parents to arrive for a long-weekend visit. And on Friday, it poured poured poured with rain; buckets of rain. The first real rain we’ve had since I arrived. Oh dear! Not that one can really worry about the weather, but this wasn’t what my guests were expecting.

On waking Saturday morning, I threw open the shutters, eager to show off the views I’d been writing about. A thick, heavy fog sat in the valley. There were no views. C’est la vie. Tant pis. 

I’m pretty sure that the petites croissants, pain au raisin, pain au chocolate, and pain au aumône which we ate for breakfast made up for it.

The weather did clear, and we had a gorgeous weekend, full of touring.

We went to Grasse, to the Fragonard parfumerie, and to Cannes, where I shared the most expensive lobster I’ve ever eaten.

We brought home beautiful, sculptural, delicious desserts from Cannes. The chocolaterie from which we bought them had an entire bust made of chocolate, which made me think of the Venus and my play – though she is in wax, not chocolate.

Art - and dessert!

We had coffee in the sunshine in Monaco. We wandered around the port and ogled the super-yachts. We ate lunch by the port. I had the most expensive scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten – because we were in Monaco, probably. Because they were with truffles, definitely. They were delicious. We took photos in front of the famous Casino, not interested in paying for the privilege of just going inside.

We drove to Èze, a perched village on a rugged cliff overlooking the Mediterranean sea, with winding, narrow passages (all footpaths,) cobblestones, and peeks out to spectacular views, which are monopolised by the houses and one hotel, The Golden Goat. This place is probably hell in the summer with tourists, but there were only a few other people around when we went at sunset (4-5pm) on a Sunday.

We drove all the way along the coast at sunset from Èze through Nice & Cannes to Theoule and San Raphael to Frejus and up the Roman Road back to Les Adrets.

We went inland to the little perched villages (probably much more liveable and much less touristy) of Tourettes and Fayence. We cooked pork chops on Verity’s grill and enjoyed a lovely lunch at the house. The cats got their share of cuddles (though not pork chops).

Pretending to be a movie star in Monaco.

Dani & I tested the Vespa with two people, and it was as I’d thought – she’s just fine, as she was before, as long as it’s within her limits. Which is mostly 20mph, especially if there is any kind of incline. There are a lot of inclines here. We did get up to almost 40 going downhill on the Roman Road towards Mont Viniagre – woo-hoo, pedal to the metal (or throttle fully open, as it were)!

Since my guests left on Monday evening, the Mistral – that famous wind – has been howling, banging the shutters (until I latch them) and huffing up and down the chimney. It’s bright and sunny outside and the wind isn’t very cold, but it is strong. Yesterday I lit a log fire and curled up for the day, with the very happy cats, to read. I think ‘autumn’ is definitely over and ‘winter’ is here.

I feel like I’m battening down the hatches in the mornings, fighting the shutters open and latching them securely, and in the evenings, doing the same but struggling to close the shutters without slamming them. The wind is working its fingers into everything and it’s like a rip-tide outside. The sunlight is flickering like the end of an old film because the trees are being forced to dance and bend every which way.

I’m hunkered down in my little house on the mountain side whilst a (sunny) gale howls outside. I’m very grateful to be in this cozy home, with an overstocked fridge. I am going to have to survive without bread (shock, horror) until tomorrow because the boulangerie is closed on Wednesdays. I think I’ll make it.

Unreal Monaco.

Mont Vinaigre

My hiking companions.

My hiking companions.

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Yesterday, Mercredi/Wednesday, I was invited on a walk up the highest point on the Esterel. Worn by erosion, Mont Vinaigre is 618 m or 2,027 ft. But as the Michelin Guide states, ‘In this mountain mass, the deep ravines and broken skyline dispel any impression of this being mere hills.’

So Gabrielle, Jean, Francoise, little Thomas and his grandmother and I, met up yesterday in glorious sunshine – unusually warm for this time of year, I was told – and went for un marche. 

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Thomas, 5, and the 'manti religieuse'

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We started off at about 3 in the afternoon. The sun was deliciously warm, and a faint haze hung in the air. We discovered a ‘manti religieuse,’ leading me to say, ‘Elle mange…la tete…de la beau, apres…’ (she eats…the head…of her beau, after…) and my companions filled in the rest.

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des champignons sauvages: wild mushrooms

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I spotted a coulemelle or l’epiote mushroom: apparently good to eat. We turned from the paved road to a jagged but well-trod basalt-shingle path, through pine wood and cheine bouchon – cork oaks. It takes seven years for them to regrow their stripped bark, and trunk after trunk of these wild, gnarly trees are blackened in their nakedness up to about 6 feet tall, whereupon the rest of the tree is perfectly brown and fully-barked.

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Cannes & Cap d'Antibes

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I heard the tinny clangle of bells – goats, somewhere, in the hills.

We saw tracks of les sangliers – wild boar. Just before my arrival in Les Adrets, the sangliers had completely overturned Verity’s gardens. I thought the rains she’d told me about had caused landslides and flooding, but it had all been the boars. The prints of their cloven hooves are still dried into the mud in the back of the house.

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Les Alpes (the really faint snow-covered ones in the background, not the green ones in the foreground)

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As we ascended, the air became clearer and cooler. We reached the top for a spectacular panorama: The Cap d’Antibes, Cannes and La Napoule bay, Frejus, St-Raphael, all hugging a glittering Mediterranean Sea; Les Adrets de l’Esterel and Les Adrets du Lac; Grasse.

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Atop Mont Vinaigre

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We could see the Alps.

And beyond the Alps, which we couldn’t see, Italy: my next destination after this adventure.

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