Villefranche Sur Mer: Without
Please note that the following is as of the end of 2019.
In this second of 2 TRAVEL postings that focuses on the Cote d’ Azur between Villefranche sur Mer and Monaco, I am providing my continuing thoughts regarding my favorite part of the world in the summer months. The first posting addressed within Villefranche sur Mer, which is just East of Nice. This second posting addresses four villages, aka communes, that reside in the shadows between Villefranche and Monaco, including Beaulieu sur Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferret, Eze, and Cap-d’Ail.
Beaulieu sur Mer
Travelling East from Villefranche is Beaulieu sur Mer. Lacking the historical 18th -19th j centuries’ characteristics of Villefranche, the village has a square, with a calm and charm of yesteryear, (entering the 20th century). Arguably what the village is most known for is its casino along the waterfront. The quiet spirit of this village is well suited for the older folk that are predominate. The village has 2 beaches with one just around the corner from that of Villefranche and is Rivera-elegant as to its offerings. The other beach is on the Eastern side of the village just beyond the village’s significant marina and most used by the mariners.
Side Note: The movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels centered around Beaulieu sur Mer (referred to as Beamont sur Mer in the movie). It is one of my favorite movies for which a female-lead version, The Hustle, came out in 2019 with the same plot, but not worth viewing, IMHO.
Where Beaulieu-center touches the sea, there is the Villa Kerylos on a rocky promontory. I have not toured this architectural facility, but it is of the belle époque architecture stemming from Paris at the turn of the 19th century. Save it for a rainy day.
Side Note: The phrase “belle époque”, which loosely translates to “pretty time”, appears in another posting on this blog. The first reader to properly identify the posting prior to December 31, 2020, will be sent a bottle of fine wine (U.S. only).
One of my favorite casual restaurants across the globe is La Pignatelle on the side road below the train station there. It offers traditional French cuisine in a very relaxed, unpretentious environment. (reserve garden seating). The owner, Cristolple, has turned the operation over to his son Julien, and like his father, is a very gracious host. If nothing else, be sure to request the Gratin Dauphinoise as a side to your plat. You will be amazed as to what we call escalloped potatoes. It consists only of heavy cream (perhaps some nutmeg) and a particular potato that is grown in northern France that we cannot get in the U.S. I will have a future RECIPE posting soon as to how achieve (I rationalize) the same texture and taste, BUT with the addition of Gruyere cheese – shame on me. Let Julian choose the wine, preferably Rose, if not familiar with any particular wine on the menu. As I mentioned in the previous Villefranche posting, adding ice (glacons) is perfectly acceptable in hot weather.
This peninsula jets out into the Mediterranean from the western entrance to Beulieu. Arguably, the most noticeable part of this peninsula is that of villa & jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild. The estate is most extraordinary as to both the Chateau and the attached exotic gardens. This chateau and its attached jardin is used for the most amazing weddings, social events, etc. for the Rivera crowd. It overlooks the water toward Villefranche to the West, as well as the ongoing seashore and mountains to the East. Even if you are one with a “concrete-thumb” as I am, you will enjoy a walk through the exotic gardens.
EZE: The Highs and Lows
Eze has two locations: mountain-top and seashore (Eze-Bord-de-Mer). For those that have demonstrated their ability to handle the hillside of Villefranche, there is the Nietsche Footpath up the steep mountain between the two locations – really don’t recommend that. The beach that is directly off the train station is not spectacular enough for me to go there in lieu of the beaches of Villefranche and Cap d’Ail (described next). However, the mountain-top village may be of great interest given both its charm and the view of that part of the sea shore from its height. I have only been there once so as to visit the famous perfume house, Fragonard. This location provides a tour of the facility, including the laboratory, as well as an extensive shop. There is also another impressive Fragonard facility in Grasse, just North of Cannes.
Side Note: For readers of psychological horror fiction, the book Perfume: A Study of a Murderer, takes place in Grasse. The story is quite intense, quite horrifying. The 2006 movie of that book starring Dustin Hoffman follows the story quite closely, as I remember it, about the making of perfume by capturing the scent of young women via horrific means consistent with the perfume-making process.
Pronounced “Cap Die”, this village is the last stop on the train before reaching Monaco. Given my priorities of maximizing beach/swimming time, I have never been to the village proper. As discussed next, I have only taken the train or the bus to the most Western stop to seek out Plage Mala. The train stop for that village is even more convenient than the bus to enjoy and experience this wonderful beach.
Plage Mala is the ‘jewel’ of the French Rivera beaches that I accidently discovered some 14 years ago while traveling by train to Monaco. Fortunately, I was looking out the right-side window and got a glimpse of this beach tucked into the mountainside as the train emerged between two tunnels through the mountains. I immediately decided to find my way there and got off the train at Cap d’Ail and subsequently find my way there -which is not directly achievable by car. Getting off the train, I headed towards the sea and found a challenging footpath along the seawall.
NOTE: This footpath is prohibited during very stormy weather.
In the following years, I found the two steep footpaths (the most direct one has 124 steps) that cut between the amazing estates that lead directly to the beach. About half of the beach is exclusive for the two beach-excellent restaurants there where one can rent chairs and umbrellas. I have gone there every year, at least once per trip, and have never had a problem in finding space on the public portion. Showers as well as WC’s are available to all.
Both restaurants have exceptional beach food, but at a price that is only justified by the amazing beauty and exclusivity of this captive Mediterranean inlet. The “red” theme restaurant, Eden Plage, is just a bit less expensive than the “white” one, La Reserve de la Mala. On the weekends, one can expect to see sizeable boats that anchor there for the day, and the passengers shuttled in for lunch. As with Villefranche’s beach, the water is clear with expanses of deep blue with interstitial green and brown patches. Unlike any other beach that I am aware on the Rivera, the beauty and the feeling of life’s exuberance when swimming there is actually enhanced by the occasional blustery weather with the rolling wave tops sparkling from the sun.
Plage Duoangliers is a convenience for the marina set east of the village, but no more handsome than the beach of Nice. If one is not suited, or willing, to walk down and up significant paths to get to Plage Mala (or to pay for a sea taxi to the beach from the Cap d’Ail’s harbor), then Plage Duoangliers will suffice. As much as I greatly enjoy wind surfing, I have not gone to that beach where I understand it is available. I really need to do so in that sailing (boat or board) in the Mediterranean is definitely a notch in the belt for those like me that are so inclined.
Keep in mind that a map of the beaches of Cap d’Ail can be quite misleading. Of the beaches that may be shown on the map, only the two mentioned above are of any significance where one would go to for enjoyment without the stress as to how to enter and exit the water. That is, as photographic as the others are, you have to basically climb over huge rocks … and then figure out how to get back on the footpath. This is a task only meant for sea lions on the rocky coast of the Pacific. Oh! BTW, all the beaches that I know of in France permit topless bathing,
I don’t suggest renting a car to travel the11 miles between Villefranche and Monaco. There are both train and bus services along the sea front with only bus on the high route if you wish to visit Eze on top. So! on a round trip for a single trip to Monaco, I suggest taking the mountain route outgoing and then returning by train or bus. I suggest this approach, versus the opposite, in that the sea coast route has better schedules, both bus and rail, and more likely not a problem as to crowds when returning. A point to note, if you don’t speak French, is that the train schedules have notations as to the days that they run. Again, as I mention in the previous posting Villefranche sur Mer – Within, hold on to the bus ticket and the train ticket that has to be placed in service via a device at the departing station.
In closing, I would appreciate any thoughts you may have on your past or future visits there for my providing in the future for the benefits of other readers.