French Trilogy: Côte d’Azur
As promised, I’m devoting this post to my Côte d’Azur adventures. In July of 2008, my dad had to hold serious business negotiations with his partners on a huge yacht and kindly invited his family—us—to join them in cruising along the Azure Coast. We arrived at the airport of Nice and boarded the yacht in anticipation of a fabulous dolce vita experience.
Our first stop was Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo is the name of the hill located in the heart of Monaco, which in turn is a constitutional monarchy that has been ruled by the royal family of Grimaldi since 1297. It received its sovereign status from France in 1861. In fact, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world (after Vatican City) but also is the most densely populated one. Oh, and it’s also very beautiful.
The moment I remember the most was approaching Monaco’s harbor. Because it is famous for its long marina with dozens of state-of-the-art yachts, the process of mooring is one of the most popular tourist attractions there. It felt weird leaving the yacht all dressed up and being photographed by the crowd of gawkers who probably thought we were some kind of famous European jetsetters.
The most popular sightseeing venue in Monaco is the Monte Carlo Casino complex that also includes the Grand Theater of Monte Carlo, opera and ballet house. It is located next to the famous Hôtel de Paris established in 1864, which since then has welcomed many members of the wealthy European aristocracy and other international elites. The complex is situated at the oldest pebbled square of the country featuring a beautiful fountain in the center that is surrounded by all kinds of luxurious sports cars including Ferraris, Maseratis and Bugattis. It’s also worth mentioning that the square sits on top of the Monte Carlo hill, which opens a breathtaking view to the marina and the whole Monaco. The Café de Paris that is also located on that square offers the most ridiculously expensive microscopic shots of espresso I’ve ever had (about $14 per cup).
Monaco is also renowned for its expensive shopping. Prada, Gucci, Dior and Chanel among other prestigious brands feature their biggest boutiques in the famous “Golden Circle” that stands in the heart of the city. Once we witnessed how the whole Dior boutique was shut down for other customers because it was serving the Saudi Arabian princesses. Perhaps not the best example of customer service, but I’ve heard that during such events, the store makes twice as much as it normally would in a month.
Monaco also offers some great night life entertainment. The most popular bars/clubs are Zebra Square that is more like a pre-party venue, Karément that is more popular among younger audiences, and Jimmy’z Bar where regular jetsetters developed a notorious habit of dancing on the tables. I don’t even want to mention how pricey these places are. I think a couple of cocktails at Jimmy’z would be worth my whole night out in Boston. Well, the experience was definitely unforgettable.
After tasting the dolce vita in Monaco, we decided to explore Cannes, Antibes and Cap Ferrat. They all feature scenic promenades, picturesque sunsets and exquisite restaurants. Cannes is most famous for hosting the Cannes Film Festival that gathers the cinematography elite from all over the world every May. Another beautiful venue to see is the seafront Carlton Hotel, which became a legendary historical landmark thanks to the annual festival, welcoming such renowned celebrities as Sean Connery, Alain Delon, Sofia Loren and Grace Kelly, among others.
Our final destination was Saint-Tropez. A long time ago it was just a small fishermen village until the moment the iconic Brigitte Bardot “discovered” the place and turned it into a liberal playground for jetsetters, models and millionaires after the World War II. As Monaco, Saint-Tropez features a gorgeous marina with modern snow-white yachts—some of which reach up to 170-200 feet in length, amazing restaurants/lounges, and several exclusive beaches and night clubs. If you decide to visit Saint-Tropez, stop by Nikki Beach. It’s a relatively affordable place with real soft beds instead of regular sun beds and a lot of champagne being splashed around by the guests as a “fun” type of entertainment (just for your interest, one bottle of Chrystal champagne can cost up to $500).
Other legendary places in Saint-Tropez include Hotel Byblos and its famous night club Les Caves du Roy, also famous for table dancing, restaurant/club Papagayo with the best fruit and seafood salad I’ve ever had, and the famous VIP Room beloved by hip-hop stars such as Sean “Diddy” Combs and Jay-Z, and thus especially popular among hip-hop lovers.
Living la dolce vita was quite an experience. I can assure you that this idle lifestyle is definitely not my cup of tea, but sometimes it’s what we all crave. And at the end of the day, the most memorable moments of that trip were not partying with other jetsetters or consuming oysters and polishing them off with French champagne, but rather some “me” time during which I realized how lucky I was to be able to experience all those things. My favorite moment was lying under the sun at the bow of the gliding yacht, listening to Café del Mar and feeling a warm sea breeze enveloping my body. So I think I’m going to let other living la dolce vita.