During the Eid holiday, I spent a week at the Mediterranean resorts of San Remo and Monte Carlo. Our party of five traveled from Dhahran to Nice on British Airways flights via London. The Nice sector of travel was included in the return Dhahran/London fare. At certain times of the year BA often includes free flights to certain European destinations. Contact the local offices of the airline for special offers.
We hired an Opel minivan at Nice airport, booked on the internet with Avis, which comfortably seated the five of us plus our luggage and all the extra purchases we made throughout the week. The cost was Euros 110 each, which included the hire, petrol and parking charges at the hotel in Monte Carlo.
Photo by Britney B.
Our first destination was San Remo, approximately 45 minutes drive from Nice airport and the capital of the Italian Riviera of Flowers. The town is a mixture of old and new; the old town dates back to medieval times and is characterized by perched houses, steep streets, covered alleys, and little squares. The modern town, which grew from a fishing village, is now an elegant seaside resort with a world famous casino.
We spent four nights at the Royal, which is a 5 star luxury hotel on the sea front. This historic hotel is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World group and is located within a quiet and spacious sub-tropical garden overlooking the bay of San Remo. It is only a few minutes walk to the town with its casino, shops, boutiques and restaurants.
Our rooms were large, comfortable and superbly furnished, and had wonderful views over the surrounding hills. The bathrooms are large and luxurious. Every evening in the lounge, an excellent pianist and singer perform. He has a vast repertoire that includes all the well-known Italian love songs. A double room at the Royal Hotel cost Euros 146 per night, which was a special rate of four nights for the price of three, and again booked on the internet. This rate also included a very good buffet breakfast. Rooms with sea views cost more.
Photo by Britney B.
San Remo is a good base for touring the Italian Riviera. One of the trips we made was to Portofino. In summer this idyllic spot is overwhelmed with tourists so the beginning of February was a good time to visit. You need a whole day for this excursion as the journey time by car from San Remo is about 2 hours, but it’s well worth the trip as Portofino is one of the most beautiful and photogenic fishing ports in the Mediterranean. We ate a splendid lunch at the Delphino restaurant on the harbor front before exploring the village.
Photo by Britney B.
Another memorable day was spent at two pretty medieval villages in the Ligurian hills behind the Italian Riviera, Dolceacqua and Apricale. By chance at Dolceacqua we chose the day of their annual olive oil festival for our visit. There was a market selling all types of olive oil, entertainment from two wandering minstrels and an art show in the castle. You can find more information about this very interesting village by visiting their web site, www.dolceacqua.it.
Photo by Britney B.
In the second village, Apricale, there was a Picasso exhibit at the castle; interesting if you are a fan of his work but a bit beyond me I must admit. These villages, a half-hour drive from San Remo, were fascinating with their perfectly preserved medieval architecture. Luckily we had our walking shoes on and spent hours traipsing along cobbled streets and alleyways, looking in art shops, exploring castles and viewing the Picasso exhibition. Incidentally, should you ever find yourself in Apricale, I can recommend La Capanna restaurant for magnificent views and wonderful food. We ate Sunday lunch there; no menu, just a choice of main course, but the food kept coming and coming – all kinds of savory pastries and different types of pasta before the main course and dessert.
After four nights on the Italian Riviera, it was time to head for Monte Carlo. I must admit this was a huge disappointment after San Remo and the Italian part of our trip. We had reserved rooms at the Hotel de Paris, the most luxurious hotel in Monte Carlo, situated just across the main square from the famous Casino. Again we had booked through the internet, though this time our special rate was Euros 250 per night for a double room (with no view and no breakfast). Incidentally, continental breakfast at the Hotel de Paris was 50 Euros, and American breakfast 55 Euros. Needless to say, we ate breakfast outside the hotel. A round of five drinks at the American Bar in the hotel cost 69 Euros and two of them were soft drinks!
I can only describe Monte Carlo as a huge up-market concrete jungle (an extremely expensive one at that). During our time there we ate at the world famous Louis XV restaurant at the Hotel de Paris (terribly expensive but we had to experience it and were glad we did), and visited the old part of Monaco where the royal palace is situated. We also bought an evening package for 90 Euros each which included dinner at the Café de Paris, a cabaret show at the Casino and 15 Euros worth of chips to spend at the Casino after the show. This was fun, though none of us recouped our holiday expenses! The cabaret show was excellent but the Casino, a spectacular building and worth the price of admission just to see the decor, was almost empty of gamblers. Maybe we picked the wrong night.
The most memorable of our excursions from Monaco was to Saint Paul de Vence, a picturesque walled medieval village in the hills above the French Riviera, well known for its artist colony and famous hotel/restaurant, La Colombe d’Or. Picasso, Matisse, Braque and Miró were regular patrons of the restaurant and traded art for food. Today patrons enjoy splendid Provencal cuisine surrounded by their original paintings. French film stars Yves Montand and Simone Signoret were married here, and just by coincidence as we left the restaurant after one of the most delicious meals of our holiday, a film was being made outside in the village featuring the American star, Billy Zane (of Titanic fame). We couldn’t find out what the film was about, but Billy Zane was dressed in a type of lederhosen outfit with a feather in his cap. So, if in the future you watch a film where Billy Zane is dressed like Robin Hood, that is the one we saw being made at St. Paul de Vence.
Saint Paul de Vence has an exceptional web site detailing its history, art galleries and artists, shops, etc. at: www.saintpaulweb.net.
Alas, all too soon it was time to say goodbye to the Riviera. The Italian side definitely gets my vote and hopefully one day I’ll return to spend more time exploring this interesting region.