The Literal Meaning is “Coast of Azure” by John Rayburn
Many call it the French Riviera but whatever is used the Cote d’Azur has stunning scenic landscapes and there are indications along the coast of Provence this is where Europe had its earliest known human habitation.
The Grotte du Vallonet was discovered by a 13-year old girl in 1958 and subsequent excavations in the cave found stone tools that archeologists and geologists estimate to date back as much as a million years ago. In addition, there are many opinions you may find the best Roman ruins in France. One such was just a few miles west of where we were staying in a delightful inn just outside Avignon. That refers to an aqueduct called Pont du Gard. It was built by the Romans in the first Century A.D. to bring water to the area and is an amazing architectural structure. It has three tiers upheld by the huge lower level and somehow the builders figured out how to do it without using any mortar. The stones fit together perfectly and are held together by iron clamps. Some of those stones weigh up to six tons and it wouldn’t be an easy job even by today’s more technically advanced standards.
We were about 50 miles from Aix-en-Provence, our next planned destination and had nothing particular in mind for the trip. That’s why we were absolutely entranced as we drew closer to our goal. We encountered vast fields of lavender and the vivid violet colors were magnificently beautiful. We had heard about the lavender plants but didn’t have much information and that’s why we were startled when they came into view. They have been growing naturally in the area for a couple of thousand years and are not just ornamental. They are used in oils, honey and an exotic mixture with olive oil, the latter from around three and a half million olive trees in the area. They were first planted by the Greeks when they settled in around there in 600 B.C.
The lavender prompted one writer to ask, somewhat facetiously, “Where would the postcard business be without it?” The beauty transcends such an observation and what citizens thereabouts consider their “blue treasure” has been immortalized in paintings by such masters as Cézanne, Gauguin and van Gogh.
Other plants providing a different color are poppies but they are denigrated as weeds. Farmers dig them up and use herbicides on them although some admit viewers sometimes look at them and see wildflowers instead of weeds. We saw a smaller section of them and the vivid red/orange hues were enough to put us on the side of wildflowers.
Overall, Provence is a geographical region that stretches from the left bank of the lower Rhône River in the west all the way east to the border with Italy. With its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea towards the south there’s a setting of such allure it’s easy to understand why it has become the most glamorous of playgrounds.
Our next stop along the way was Cannes, a bit less than a hundred miles away. It’s the site of the renowned annual Film Festival and some pronounce it “Con,” or “Cans.” We were told it’s neither. That “cans,” for example, are what you find in a six-pack and if you want to say it right leave off the “s” and make it plain “Can.” With our limited linguistic abilities, the next city, in another 26 miles, was Nice, and even we knew that should be like our “niece” or “Neese.” This is the capital of the Maritime Alps and is the fifth largest city in the whole country. We enjoyed some wandering around picturesque sections but our relatively limited time element sent us on toward our next chief stop.
There is occasional confusion as to whether the place should be referred to as Monaco or Monte Carlo. As you know, they’re both famous but it comes down to the fact that Monaco is a country in spite of its small size of less than one square mile, which means it’s actually smaller than Central Park in New York City. That puts it in a tiny category with the Vatican and the Republic of San Marino, an enclave surrounded by Italy. It’s smaller than either of them and is a full member of the United Nations.
As for Monte Carlo, it’s just a neighborhood and is not the country’s capital as some assume. That official honor goes to another neighborhood, which is known as either Le Rocher or Monaco-Ville. That’s just in case you wanted to know. Feel free to take your choice. Monte Carlo has the famed casino and luxury hotels. It was founded in 1866 and is named after Prince Charles III, who was reigning at the time.
Although I dropped a few francs (euros weren’t adopted yet) at the Casino, we found the most intriguing aspects were in the old town with narrow cobblestoned streets and alleyways dating to the so-called middle ages. There are marvelous lawns and flowerbeds in gardens that slope up towards shops and they’re so carefully tended it looks as though it was done with manicure scissors.
We needed sustenance and went all out to try the sensational cuisine at the La Montgolfière Restaurant. The small but quaint café has seats for only about 20 diners at a time and is located in the old section just a block away from the Prince’s Palace. We were told he eats there sometimes too, just didn’t happen to do so while we were there. We made up for his absence by trying a specialty of little cubes of foie gras and thin slices of smoked halibut. Wow, talk about ambrosia! By the way, ambrosia was said to be sometimes the food or drink of the Greek gods of mythology and whoever ate some was supposed to have immortality. I don’t suppose that means us.