The Sistine Chapel of the Southern Alps: exploring Notre Dame des Fontaines and medieval La Brigue in the upper Roya valley

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The hinterlands of the French Riviera are absolutely outstanding both in terms of natural beauty and architectural splendour and give an extra depth to a visit to this beautiful part of the world. Each valley has its own particular character, none more so than the Roya river valley that stretches in the extreme eastern part of the Maritime Alps, between France and Italy. A summer visit is an ideal way to escape the summer heat and there are some absolute gems, such as La Brigue, a medieval village tucked away just off the main road, and Notre Dame des Fontaines, also known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Southern Alps” thanks to its beautiful 15th century frescoes, which I will be covering in this article although there is much more to see.

This excursion that can easily be done in a day from the coastline in Nice or Monaco or else on the way up to Turin and Piemonte in Italy and will enable you to discover some spectacular mountain scenery without having to take any difficult mountain roads, whilst enjoy some great food and drink and simply enjoy the culture shock compared to the busy resorts of the coastline.

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Summer on the French Riviera – the Monaco international fireworks competition, a practical guide

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Every summer all across the French Riviera coastline, the night sky is lit up by hundreds of spectacular colours and festive bangs to celebrate the balmy weather and the holiday season. The Principality of Monaco is no exception, since pretty much every evening around midnight, a short fireworks display is launched during the Sporting Club summer festival after each concert for the benefit of the viewing public who have paid for the privilege.

But in terms of fireworks, the centrepiece remains the Monaco International Fireworks Competition (officially the “Concours international de feux d’artifice pyromélodiques de Monaco”) which blocks off the whole town for 20 minutes of magic set to synchronised (the organisers hope!) music, highlighting the talents of fireworks artists from all around the world – obviously everything is free!

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The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco: the Principality’s legendary temple of the sea!

 

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For over a hundred years, the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco has been one of the jewels in the crown for tourists in the Principality thanks to its famous aquarium and an international reputation. However, there is much more to this venerable institution than just a spectacular shark tank and some exotic stuffed animals – walking around the impressive marble walls of this beautiful building, you are treated to a journey through time and space and can really sense the passion of the man whose brainchild this museum is, Prince Albert I of Monaco. This in-depth article will obviously guide you through the main attractions of the museum but first it’s important to understand the historical context and the contribution that the museum is still making to the conservation of the oceans around the world.    Continue reading

Enjoying a hassle-free Monaco F1 Grand Prix experience: a full practical guide for first-time visitors

(C) K. Hin

The Monaco Grand Prix is probably the biggest and most prestigious regular event on the French Riviera calendar, ahead of the Cannes Film Festival and the Carnival of Nice. Each year, it brings a magical atmosphere to the Principality, really kick-starting the summer season with plenty of private parties on the yachts in the harbour, a very cosmopolitan atmosphere and huge amounts of visitors (and therefore VAT income for the Monegasque government!). Of course, the Grand Prix completely changes the face of the Principality for 3 months, as the roads are full of temporary grandstands, crash barriers, tyres and blockades which are prepared two months in advance and take a month to dismantle afterwards, so there are huge logistics behind the event, the statistics provided by the Automobile Club of Monaco are impressive (see the “presentation” tab). Since the turn of the millennium, there has also been a Historic Grand Prix, which runs every even-numbered year two weeks before the main race, rather interesting to remind spectators of the race’s heritage as the first Monaco Grand Prix was run in 1929, though the first official race in the Formula 1 calendar was in 1950. And in 2015, the first electric Grand Prix, run by FIA under the name “EPrix” took place took two weeks before the F1 event and now also runs every two years.

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The Greek Villa Kerylos in Beaulieu sur Mer and a walk along the Cap Ferrat coastline

The lovely town of Beaulieu sur Mer is often overlooked, despite being exactly half way down the coast between Nice and Monaco, which is a shame as it has all the different elements that embody the charm of the French Riviera: beautiful and refined Belle Epoque architecture, spectacular mountains, pleasant beaches and luxuriant vegetation thanks to a very mild microclimate similar to that of Menton.

But the main draw for visitors is the splendid Greek Villa Kerylos, a villa built in the early 20th century in a strategic location by the sea, that is now a historical monument… One may wonder why there is a Greek villa on the French Riviera – the answer is particularly interesting, giving a real insight into what the Belle Epoque was like and this is what I will be explaining in this blog article, which also provides practical information and will take you on a nice walk afterwards along the coast of Cap Ferrat.

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Facade of the Villa Kerylos

This itinerary can easily be explored in half a day and combined with some of the visits described in other articles covering half-day excursions in the area, such as the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Cap Ferrat (you can buy a combined ticket for both monuments), the village of Villefranche sur Mer or the Nietzsche trail from Eze sur Mer to Eze Village.

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Villefranche sur Mer and its beautiful harbour in a one hour walking tour: so much more than just a cruise stop!

Villefranche lagoon (C) K. Hin

First impressions often count and for many cruise passengers visiting the French Riviera, the first glimpse of the region is of the beautiful fishing village of Villefranche sur Mer with its stunning ochre colours reflecting in the large bay, whilst others may wake up to a great view of the green peninsula of Cap Ferrat and its luxury villas with the rocky slopes of the Maritime Alps looming in the background.

Then after breakfast, they either take the shuttles to the cruise terminal and jump on a guided coach tour to “do” the French Riviera in a day with Eze, Monaco, Nice and perhaps Cannes (the mere thought of such a superficial visit makes me cringe), whilst the more independent minded walk straight to the train station and head off to Monaco or Nice. Of course, there’s nothing wrong at all with the second option, or even the first if you’re very limited for time and have deep pockets – however, Villefranche does have dollops of charm and is well worth an hour or two of your day to soak in the medieval atmosphere of the old town, explore the free museums in the imposing 16th century Citadel (castle), check out the surreal atmosphere of Jean Cocteau’s chapel on the harbour and especially enjoy the stunning views over the Cap Ferrat… All these added together make for a perfect French Riviera experience, so read on and follow my 1 hour whistle-stop walking tour to optimise your visit!

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Visiting Monaco on a tight budget: yes, it is possible!

Monaco: gorgeous, but not as expensive as you may think. Follow the advice below for a rip-off free experience!

Monaco: gorgeous, but not as expensive as you may think. Follow the advice below for a rip-off free experience!

No, Monaco is not as expensive as you may think… Some of you may be contemplating a trip to Monaco in the near future but have this impression of the Principality as a place where you cannot get by with under 1.000€ per day. Naturally, if you do have the desire to spend that amount, you can easily find hundreds of exotic ways of getting rid of large sums of money in a couple of minutes!

The good news is that Monaco is also a place where normal people, not just multi-millionaires, live and work, and that there are therefore plenty of ways for the common of mortals to have a wonderful sample of what the country can offer on a very reasonable budget. Follow the advice below and you’ll find that, contrary to popular belief, Monaco is much cheaper than most major cities in Europe on several different levels.

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Restaurant review – Attimi, Nice, a taste of Italian slow food in the heart of the French Riviera

Attimi facade (C) K. Hin

Yesterday I took advantage of a beautiful sunny spring day to visit Nice and wanted to try somewhere a bit different for lunch, so a friend of mine brought me to Attimi, one of his favourites… Now I understand why!

The area in which Attimi (which means “Moments” in Italian) is located is extremely central but very touristy, which generally means that the quality of the location is inverse proportional to the quality of the food: just off Place Massena on the southern side of the Promenade du Paillon, at the entrance of Old Nice and a short stroll away from the Promenade des Anglais. In general, when I see a large colourful terrace in the heart of Nice packed with tourists, I do the opposite of the aforementioned tourists and escape.

Place Massena, the heart of Nice

Place Massena, the heart of Nice

However, a quick chat with Fabio, the friendly owner from Alassio, just down the coast in Liguria, Italy, quickly removed these doubts though: his concept is to bring quality Italian “slow food” to Nice. As its name indicates, this concept, that originated in Piemonte, Italy (also ironically the kingdom that dominated Nice for several centuries) is the antithesis of fast food, involving authentic recipes, local ingredients and mainly taking one’s time both to prepare and enjoy the meal to the full. Continue reading

10 little-known facts about the history of Monaco and the arrival of Hereditary Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella

The facade of the Prince's Palace to celebrate the birth of the Royal twins (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

The facade of the Prince’s Palace lit up in red to celebrate the birth of the Royal twins (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

Those of you visiting Monaco this week will have noticed, in addition to the usual beautiful Christmas decorations on Casino Square and the ubiquitous Christmas market on the harbour, a certain air of joy in the air and spontaneous celebrations throughout the Principality.

This is all because of a historic event that has taken place for the first time since 1958, with the birth on Wednesday 10 December of the first children of TSH Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene:

  • HSH Gabriella Thérèse Marie, Countess of Carladès (born at 5.04pm).
  • HSH Jacques Honoré Rainier, Hereditary Prince and Marquess of Baux (born at 5.06pm).

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Essential Nice: exploring the capital of the French Riviera

The city of Nice, lying directly on the Mediterranean Sea

Most visitors to the French Riviera will pass through Nice at one point or another, given its central location, the fact that it is by far the largest city of the region and its role as the main transportation hub of the region. But Nice is far more than just a transit zone, it’s honestly a very beautiful city which is well worth spending at least a day visiting. Here are some tips about what to see and do…

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