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Ten great days out on the French Riviera

 

French Riviera - hilltop village of Eze

Hilltop village of Eze

French Riviera – Côte d’Azur – to do list

*Have a day out in Monaco during the week of the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s often said that Monaco is the star attraction of the French Riviera without being part of France. The tiny principality has been a symbol of wealth and glamour ever since its Prince Rainier married Hollywood star Grace Kelly in its cathedral in 1956. Visitors can gamble in the casino made famous by James Bond or watch the luxury yachts sitting quietly at anchor in the stunning harbour. But you don’t have to be a high roller to enjoy it. Its superb gardens and terraces, with dazzling views, are free and the locals give a warm welcome. And see my video clip below about grand prix day.

*Have a walk along the Promenade des Anglais, Nice, followed by a drink in the sumptuous Hotel Negresco, where doormen still dress in the manner of the staff in 18th-century mansions. In 2003 it was listed by the government of France as a National Historic Building. The main thoroughfare of Nice, the capital of the Côte d’Azur,  is named after the English after the wealthy 19th century visitors, who made it one of the first European resorts for travellers from the UK, stumped up cash.

*Take a train ride to Italy. It is inexpensive and total value for money. For a few euros you can ride from Nice to Ventimiglia, just over the border. The sights along the way are fantastic and include Monaco and Villefranche-sur-Mer.

*Visit the perched village of Eze, a medieval village perched like an eagles nest on a narrow rocky peak overlooking the Mediterranean sea. The ancient fortified village is still crowned with the ruins of its 12th-century fortified castle sitting on a narrow rocky peak. The castle grounds house the well-known Jardin Exotique

*Enjoy a scenic walk between the Côte d’Azur villages of Villefranche-sur-Mer and next-door neighbour Beaulieu-sur-Mer. This walk of around three quarters of an hour starts in Villefranche’s historic harbour, a favourite with cruise ships. It also takes you past Villa Nellcôte, the exotic location famous as the place where the Rolling Stones recorded their Exile On Main St album.

*Visit the Manet museum in Nice and Vieux Nice – the old town. The museum, on a hill in the Cimiez neighbourhood, houses the collection the artist and his heirs left to the city. The old town is an atmospheric honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Great place to eat out and party at night.

* Cannes is famous for its prestigious film festival which this year is from May 15 to 26. It has museums, churches and art galleries to see but the main attraction seems to be sitting in a cafe along the shore and watching people go by. If you don’t want to spend you can enjoy the seaside from one of its many piers and jetties.

* Inland slightly from the coast, the small town of Grasse is noted for being the centre of production for many of the world’s best perfumes. Visitors can visit the perfumeries that are strewn around the village or head out into the hills and enjoy walking through the unspoilt countryside.

*Hire a car and drive with care the French Riviera coastal roads between Cannes and Monaco. Enjoyable, with a feast of sights for the eyes, but to be avoided in peak holiday periods.

*Antibes, halfway between Nice and Cannes, sits atop the ruins of the fourth century BC Greek city of Antipolis. It has beaches and a port, an enjoyable old town, fortifications, good hiking, and a great Picasso collection.  It also has a traditional daily market.

Verona and Lake Garda – a great two centre holiday in Italy

Verona, Italy

Verona, Italy

THEY are only a half hour journey apart but, for a memorable holiday full of contrasts, Verona and Lake Garda go together like Romeo and Juliet.

Of course, that”s what a lot of the tourist trail in the ancient Italian city of Verona is all about. The story of the two young lovers had been going the rounds for a long time before Shakespeare came along.

But he spun it in to a classic in which the pair belonged to rival families, one supporting the Pope and the other Emperor Frederick I.He set the scenes of the ball , the balcony , the secret marriage , the farewells , the suicide of Romeo and then of Juliet all in Verona in around 1302.

Shakespeare wrote this in 1597 without ever visiting the area. Verona later obliged by finding the buildings where these events might have taken place and tourists have been flocking for decades to see the balcony, Romeo”s house, Juliet”s tomb, etc.

But perhaps even more impressive than all this is the very real Roman amphitheatre, commonly known as The Arena, which dominates the city. The third largest in the Roman world after the Coliseum in Rome , it is 500 ft. long by 420 ft. wide and 100 ft. high. It could accomodate nearly 25.000 spectators.

Its origin is believed to date from the end of the first century and musical performances are still given in the theatre as it has perfect acoustics.

Verona was always an important city because of its strategic postion and in the Middle Ages was regarded as the key to northern Italy. So it abounds in architecture and fortifications which reflect the various stages of its history.

An example is its main art museum housed in what was once a castle – Castelvecchio – which was the most important military construction of the Scaliger dynasty which ruled the city in the Middle Ages.

The abbey of San Zeno is said to be the greatest example of Romanesque architecture in northern Italy, and is composed of three stages: the actual building during the ninth century, its renewal between 1120-1138 and an enlargement which followed in the same century.

After filling your head with history you can relax alongside the scenic paradise of Lake Garda which used to be a big favourite of wartime PM Winston Churchill, who liked to capture its beauty in his paintings.

Another part of the magic of Garda is dining out beside the lake at night. It is regarded as one of Europe”s most a href=”http://www.deutschgluecksspiel.de/” charming lakes – over online casinos/a 30 miles long and ranging from 1 – 10 miles wide throughout its length, and  over 350 yards in depth in certain areas.

Ferries cruise between the villages that dot it and you can cruise the ferries all day at reasonable prices taking in spots like upmarket Riva, at the north of the lake, and the beautiful village of Limone, named after its plantations.

You can take a ride in a cable car up Monte Baldo for a stunning view of the lake at the resort of Malcesine which offers an incredible panorama at a height of 1850 m.

The most famous town on the Lake is Sirmione which is home to the “Rocca Scaligiera” castle which is one of the main attractions of the Lake. Built by the Scaligieri who were warlords of Verona and Lake Garda, and who during their time prior to the Venetian conquest of the mainland ruled most of modern-day Veneto.

The economy of Lake Garda embraces wine production, fine cheeses and small artisan workshops as well as tourism. In the winter everything closes down. Best times to visit are during the spring and autumn months.

In the summer months, the climate of Lake Garda can be very hot and humid, and often these months the high pressure of southern air clashing with the colder mountain air can create thunderstorms on a regular basis.

Also, the roads around the Lake can be a bit overrun with motoring tourists rather like the Lake District in England. A good time to use the ferries.