June 08, 2015 · EUROPE
French riviera town of menton

The towns of the French Riviera Cassis, St.Tropez and Menton

French Riviera map. (www.traildino.com)

Fig1. French Riviera map. (www.traildino.com)


I remember daydreaming in the car as we crawled back along the coastal road of the Côte d’Azur locked in a stream of endless cars.  Images of Cassis, St Tropez and Menton, drifted in and out of my mind, evoking memories of Bouillabaisse and golden reflections, outrageous yachts and la Dolce Vita, and a seaside resort of faded glory.


I liked Cassis. I found it to be a compact sleepy fishing town that tumbled down a steep hill and ended up like a funnel surrounding its small harbour, its waterfront shops spilling out onto a promenade where small fishing boats were moored. There were a lot of tourists, but during the day most took the boat tour to the nearby Calanque fjords (a series of steep walled inlets), to swim in the crystal clear waters, or to gaze at the scenery and ogle at the glitterati on their designer yachts. For the adventurous, there was rock climbing on the pinnacles that surround some beaches(see Fig3).

As night fell most day visitors left Cassis, leaving the water front a delightful place, where one could chill out in a cafe or open air restaurant, and absorb the atmosphere.

Calanque-en-vau. Swimmers and rock climber.

Fig3.Calanque-en-vau. Swimmers and rock climber.

Cassis Waterfront

Fig2. Cassis Waterfront

As the lights turned on and daylight faded, nature started her painting of Cassis, the images of the narrow dwellings and waterfront shops reflected in the glassy waters of the harbour.

St Tropez.

I must admit I could not come to terms with St Tropez. Outrageous, and bizarre, are some terms that come to mind.
We were strolling along the promenade where artists exhibit their pastiche paintings, when one calls to his colleague. “Regarde, Regarde qui te passe”, nodding his head in the direction of the couple walking past arm in arm both immaculately dressed, except, that the woman wore a mini skirt with no back panel and no underwear.It was obvious that they wanted to draw attention. We all followed for a while until I came up to the line of über yachts moored side by side along the quay, a livered sailor standing post at each gangplank. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

St. Tropez yachts. (dreamstime stock photo)

Fig4. St. Tropez yachts. (dreamstime stock photo)

Each boat was spotlessly clean and so highly polished that I could clearly see my reflection in its stern. They looked shinier and cleaner than my bathroom mirror. Do these Yachts ever go the sea? I wondered. They might get salt water spray on their sides! Then I noticed, the guests from the boats were dressed in white, and sporting near identical uniforms, except, of course, for their jewelry. And where did all these seafarers go? They went to the outdoor restaurants and coffee shops that encircled the waterfront opposite the yachts, to sip coffee and savor the panorama of exquisite super expensive private yachts moored in a line on the waterfront. Now, there is no need to be envious, or feel hard done by, for in the local newspaper there are advertisements for hiring your own crewed yacht including  meals and drinks, from €20,000 to €60,000 per day.
Don’t get me wrong. St Tropez is an experience and not to be missed. It’s just,-different.

St. Tropez observations.

♦ In the side streets away from the quay, St Tropez feels like a normal fashionable French seaside resort with an old world charm. Here, there are reasonably priced restaurants with fabulous food. St. Tropez also has an interesting shoreline that can be explored on foot.


Menton panorama

Fig5. Menton panorama

Menton is a seaside resort located at the eastern-most edge of the French Riviera. It is more Italian, than French and has overtones from an earlier British presence. There is even a prominent statue of Queen Victoria on the sea front, and a number of streets are named after famous English personalities. The mystique of the French Riviera started here when the fashionable English came for health reason, and to escape the formidable English winters. All that is now gone, but it still has a feeling of a quiet reserved English seaside resort, far removed from the bustle and the excitement of the other fashionable and more expensive resorts such as St Tropez, Cannes or Monaco just a short distance up the Côte d’Azur. It is also warmer and sunnier during winter, due to the mountains which trap the warm Mediterranean air.
If one stands on the eastern breakwater overlooking the bay, Menton presents an image of a picturesque old world town with a charming collage of multi storied buildings huddled together and painted in the pastels of autumn, rising row upon row up the hill where a cemetery of its distinguished residents is located. To the left is the cathedral of St Michel and the Chapel de Pénitents Blancs, and in front, a beach of grey pebbles and cafes framed by a palm lined promenade. In the narrow streets behind the seafront facade, the cars, and the spoken word, and the cuisine of the cafes and restaurants, soon make it evident that this is predominantly, an Italian town.

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