Sun Cure in the Côte d’Azur.
 

All beach towns are alike; each non-beach town is non-beachy in its own way.  That’s our overall impression anyway after spending a week in the Côte d’Azur.  It is also an unabashed homage to a great Russian writer whose fellow countrymen-aristocrats and their European peers used to prance around this part of France in search of a “sun cure.”  We, ourselves, were not in need of any kind of cure, really; isn’t living in Paris a cure-all?  We simply had a week off in-between classes and we wanted to go to a warm destination where we could pass lazy days on the beach. 

DAYS   
Day 1
 
Day 2
 
Day 3
 
Day 4
 
Day 5
 
Day 6
 
 
Day 8
 
 
 
 Menton:  In search of a quaint coastal town.
 

7 July 2008.  The well-thumbed, torn-out section of Fodor’s France 2008 (a much appreciated hand-me-down from Neil & Jenn) on the French Riviera was a testament to our unending search for the perfect beach town along this coast of very nice beach towns.  We had put aside our initial preference for sandy beaches.  The current quest, on our last beach-going day, was to find a quaint beach of a sleepy town, far away from the glitz and glamour of this part of France known for just that.

With that in mind, the following unvisited towns went out the door:  St-Tropez, Fréjus, St-Raphaël, and Mandelieu-La Napoule to the west of our base, Cannes.  To the east, off the list of potential destinations were Beaulieu and Cap Ferrat.  Thus, from our only source of information, we got to choose between Villefranche-sur-Mer and Menton.  We were sold on Menton based on Fodor’s description:  “Menton, the most Mediterranean of the French resort towns, … the least pretentious … all the more alluring for its modesty.”  Actually, Nez had thought that we should hit Golfe-Juan, right outside of Cannes, and its straightforward stretch of beach beside the coastal road we had ridden our scooter down a few nights before.  Riot had envisioned leaving the beach altogether for a hill town like Èze.  As a compromise, we took the train almost as far as Italy, to Menton.

In the rush to catch the train at the station in Cannes, we inadvertently bought tickets from Menton to Cannes instead of the other way around.  And we didn’t really want, or care, to buy the correct ones, thinking that we would just do some sort of explaining in our pidgin French if anyone ever asked.  No one did.  The train ride was long and we passed by many of the destinations we had visited in the last few days.  When we finally arrived in Menton, we encountered a small town but not quite the quaint village Riot had imagined.  (He was thinking of something more along the line of the towns of Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.)  Although it was already four in the afternoon, the midsize streets were as deserted as if the town’s occupants were still taking their siesta.  Judging by the oppressive (but dry) heat, they might very well be and we should too; sleeping on the beach did not count as a siesta.

 




| |   
Having sat out Nice’s beach
Nez could not stay out of the water once we got to Menton.
 
 

So, on we went in the southerly direction until we reached the ocean.  Menton, as it turned out, looked like a miniature version of Nice.  It had the same curvy waterfront, the same seaside boulevard, the same soulless apartment buildings and occasional grand-looking hotels, and the same thin stretch of pebbly beach.  But a beach was a beach to Nez and she eagerly and expertly changed into her bathing suit right then and there.  Riot, finding that the occasional sea breeze was cool to the touch, quickly applied the requisite amount of sun block and tried to fall asleep before he started feeling what amounted to baking, or what people euphemistically called sunbathing.  Nez went into the cool water, waived for a picture, and let the breaking waves toss her around.  Today at the beach was a family affair, and in this part of France, being but a pebble’s throw from the Italian border, there seemed to be more people speaking Italian than French at the beach, and few if any speaking English but us.

To our left, in their regal plastic beach chairs sat a family patriarch and matriarch.  On the towels ringing them were their daughters and further beyond, running about or splashing in the water, was the third generation of underdressed granddaughters.  (Interestingly, we don’t recall seeing husbands or little boys.)  The grandfather did not sleep but did not do much besides flashing a jovial smile at his surrounding, even when an unexpectedly large wave snuck up from behind his chair.  The grandmother was more in tune with her surroundings, rendering brief directives and giving the occasional scoldings from her central location.  The littlest of the girl, adorable and mischievous at the same time, looking around four, was ill at ease with her only piece of bathing attire, a green bottom that her mother had just put on her on the advice of the grandmother.  This child couldn’t decide what she wanted more:  appealing to her mom to take it off or to intercede on her behalf to get another stone that her sister had diligently collected in a bucket.  Riot imagined the little Nez to have looked and acted in pretty much the same way.  He had seen the photographic evidence and heard many collaborating stories from her dad.  Naturally, Nez disagreed, at least with respect to the girl’s apparent bratty behavior.



















|   Napping and reading go hand in hand even on a pebbly beach; Riot’s excuse was that he had finished his book in Antibes and Nez, in watching theirspendings, hadn’t allowed him to buy another.

 

 
 

From our right came a pair of sisters, perhaps cousins, in their twenties and tasteful bikinis and a digital camera for a session of posing by the waves worthy of magazine spreads.  The waves did not cooperate and a dry photo shoot quickly turned into a wet dip in the ocean.  But they were determined, laughing and striking all the while as the oncoming water tossed and threw them here and there.  Mission accomplished, they returned the delicate camera to their waiting mother and went in for another try.  When one emerged later from the sea, struggling to maintain her balance on the slippery shifting pebbles, one side of her bikini top had been washed off its intended location.  This new development evoked another round of laughter from the other as she pointed out the obvious.  Neither were particularly embarrassed by the turn of event and they chatted their way ashore.

When Riot eventually awoke from his slumber golden from the sun that never appeared to move, Nez pointed out that he had finally gotten a tan.  The crowd on the beach had thinned out considerably by then (around seven) but the inviting cool air made us linger.  Nez once more read to Riot from Dreams From My Father, and instead of the start-and-stop whirling of the train engine at the Nice Ville station, today it was the whizzing noise of the retreating waves through the loose pebbles that served as the backdrop.  Obama’s reflection on Black Nationalism and attempts at community organizing in Chicago somehow did not seem out of place in this more subdued beach town.  In time too we would pack up and go like those who had been around us, the three generations of beachgoers and the snapshot-happy girls.  It was just another day at the beach and today it was Menton.






















|   Pastel walls and winding lanes:
A gateway to Menton’s Old Town or
possibly a path to somebody's living room.

 
 

We followed the gentle curve of the seaside drive, aptly named the Promenade du Soleil.  Up ahead, an arrowed street sign read “Italie” but there were no takers; the seldom cars and occasional pedestrians seemed more intent on wandering aimlessly with no particular destination in mind.  That, too, pretty much described our stroll and the soft, inviting breeze nudged us on ever slightly.  We passed street stalls selling knick-knacks.  We came upon and climbed a fort-like structure seemingly dedicated to Jean Cocteau.  (Actually, it was the Musée Jean-Cocteau.)  But with the sun again beating down on the rampart, we descended and made a turn into the old town.  

Just as Menton’s beachfront could be Nice on a smaller scale, the twists and turns of its shady alleyways also called to mind Old Nice.  After a short walk where we half expected to walk into someone’s living room we emerged suddenly into a booming square full of restaurants.  We could eat something but first we went in search of the eternally refreshing and seductive gelato, which we found and happily consumed from Les Délices -- Glace Maison Italienne on the pedestrian-only street.  While dessert came easily, dinner proved to be more elusive in spite of the multitude of dining choices.  After we decided to forgo la vraie bouillabaisse at a seemingly popular and authentic location on reasons of crowd and cost, we faced the unenviable dilemma of finding “nothing” to eat among rows of restaurants offering Italian, seafood, and typical “French” fares.  Dinner, we decided, would await us instead in Cannes after a long train ride.

 















  A TER (Le Transport Express Régional) train for the
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region,
which took us back and forth from Cannes
and never once checked our tickets,
whether we had one or not.

 
 

The choices were severely limited by the time we got back to Cannes but if one did not mind another round of kebabs there was still luck to satisfy one’s tummy.  We didn’t.  While waiting for our food at Snack Kebab we observed the hunting ritual of a pack of what was known in the vernacular as “cougars.”  The cats tonight, a group of Americans with an assortment of fake tans and with whom time had been rather unkind; the willing prey, a dashing young French fellow with flowing hair exuding the elusive hope sought by his eager suitors.  One might be inclined to offer up a smirk at such a sight and declare, “It’s Cannes.”  We withheld our already-formed judgment and instead walked to the beach to enjoy our dinner.  With our feet thrown on top of the embankment, we feasted on our meals on a pair of sidewalk chairs that should have been harder to secure but weren’t.  The cooler breeze of the evening had brought out a stream of people onto La Croisette, in a hurry to get nowhere as the clock steadily headed toward midnight.  Looking at the crowd, there was no jet set to be seen among the natural couplings of youth, families on post-dinner strolls, tourists directing and being directed in front of the omnipresent digital cameras, or groups of friends lingering about.  Of this we would rather declare, “It’s Cannes.”

 
DAYS   
Day 1
 
Day 2
 
Day 3
 
Day 4
 
Day 5
 
Day 6
 
 
Day 8
 
 
Dine Cote dAzur
 
Sleep Cote dAzur
 
A Matter of Numbers
 
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