Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vacation on the Cote d'Azur

MCM and I have just returned from a short vacation on the French Riviera. It was a much-needed, much-appreciated little break, as you can see from the photo above. (Taken by MCM as I was putting my hair in a ponytail - I don't usually go to the beach and stand around posing like that).

We took the train from Paris (I love trains!) and stayed in the twin town of Juan-les-Pins/Antibes. I wasn't really sure what to expect - I drove through Antibes once in 1996, but had never stayed there before and wasn't sure about its jet set reputation. It's actually a place of contrasts: the waterfront has huge, modern, luxury yachts, but there's also a charming old town with lovely stonework:

On the other hand, parts of A/JLP are seriously tacky, even run-down, and the entire place seems devoid of any kind of intelligent urban planning. As a result, our cute little studio apartment, 500m (1/4 mile) from the water as the seagull flies, was a 15 minute walk to the beach over a rather grotty railroad crossing. 'This isn't very romantic,' MCM remarked, as I was gingerly stepping along in heels on our way out for an anniversary dinner. Oh well.

Another, striking contrast is between the densely settled areas and the natural beauties of the area. It was stunning to swim in the Mediterranean - clear, cool and calm - with the views of both urban and untouched coastline and the Maritime Alpes in the background.

Beaches are a bit controversial in the South of France (which, according to MCM, is not to be confused with the North of France, an entirely different country). In theory, there is no such thing as a private beach in France: beaches belong to The State and no hotel, restaurant or individual can claim otherwise. Somehow, the centralised message never got to PACA (Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur). Explain that, Eugen Weber! Anyway, most of the 'public' beaches on the map we received from the tourist office turned out to be covered in loungers which you have to rent, usually for 10-20 euro per day. We caved in on one day when we arrived after walking for a few hours and found that all the available 'free' beach was taken. We rented 2 loungers from a municipally-run beach-lounger-cartel, at 5 euro each for a half day, thus soothing our champagne socialist consciences a little bit.

Here's a shot of the tiny, crowded beach, as taken from the loungers:

I'll have to write another entire post on beaches. Actually, I could probably dash off a master's thesis on the topic: I would title it Top-less? A Bourdieusian deconstruction of the myth of the French woman on the beach and a hermeneutics of le monokini.

We found the once we got away from the beaches, we felt like we had the place to ourselves. Compare the beach scene with this gorgeous coastal walk, just five minutes away from the crowds and the craziness:

We took one day out to explore nearby Nice. Like Barcelona, Nice is brash and fun, with beaches, some great architecture, seafood, its own regional language and a young population. Like Barcelona, it also lacks for cleanliness, smells of dog pee on hot stone, and occasionally feels a bit dangerous. Anyway, we had a good day - went to the Chagall Museum, ate too much at lunch, walked for hours around the city and beach, and got this shot of the Vieux Port:

All in all, a very nice little vacation.


  1. What lovely pictures of JLP / A! And I'm not entirely sure I believe you about that bikini pose...

    I had a lovely stay in Nice years ago, in the month of May. It was beautifully uncrowded, yet quite warm enough to enjoy the beach and all. It truly is a different world after a gray, chilly winter in Paris. No wonder those beaches get so crowded.

  2. Okay Flartus, I'll admit it: I really do pose like that. (I also have someone walk in front of me carrying a little wind machine as I prance around Paris, that for that runway model look. ;-P )

    I'd agree that May is definitely the time to go - it will be warm but not too crowded.


Please leave me a comment! (As I am writing this blog anonymously, please address me as Accidental Parisian, even if you know my name in real life).