We’ve had a busy week doing various bits and pieces in between having our first family visitors to stay and showing them around. But before we cover anything of this week it’s probably worth finishing off our account of Easter by mentioning what we did on Easter Sunday afternoon and Monday (Easter Monday but not Good Friday is a holiday here).
After finally leaving church on a rather grey Easter afternoon, we took a look at the weather and decided to risk walking round the Cap d’Antibes. Once upon a time it was a rocky pine-covered promontory sticking out between the Bay of Cannes and the Bay of Nice.
It is now the home of some of the most exclusive, secluded and monumental villas in the world. In a country that claims to be in favour of equality (you are reminded everywhere about the national motto Liberté, égalité, fraternité) there is something bizarre and almost irritating about the barbed wire, high walls, tightly locked gates and endless security cameras that surround most of these properties. But then quite a lot of the villa owners didn’t get where they have got to without making quite a few enemies en route. Nevertheless, the spirit of egalité has not quite been entirely pushed into the sea because there is a coast path at times no more than a metre or two wide which weaves its way around rocky inlets and jagged headlands. And with the snow still on the Alps there are some very fine views available for everybody: a sort of authentic egalité.
Monday was very different because we drove about 20 kilometres inland from Taradeau to the tiny and almost entirely overlooked village of Entrecasteaux. One of the many fascinating things about where we live is the fact that we are in an unmarked but very real border zone between two cultures. To the south is the Riviera, the Côte D’Azur, call it what you want, that sprawling, gleaming and noisy belt which faces the sea, full of people who have aspirations to a fast car and a big yacht and preferably both. To the north of us is what one might call Deep France, full of quiet little villages and market towns, tiny vineyards and endless woods where the settlements are marked by elderly cars, families who have been interrelated for a millennium and men who sit in cafes all day because there isn’t anything else to do.
Entrecasteaux is a deep France village and one of very considerable charm, with some delightful winding streets where you could film a drama of the nineteenth century simply by covering up a few posters, unscrewing a few aerials and spreading mud over the tarmac. It is dominated by the distinctly bizarre château (too high and too thin), which towers over an ornamental garden designed by the creator of the great ones at Versailles. We were able to go round the château, which holds a series of themed rooms filled with appropriate bric-a-brac: there is a Napoleon room, a Greek room, and some rather curious oriental ones. The big historical element here is that this was the home of Admiral Entrecasteaux, who at the end of the eighteenth century led a great expedition in the Pacific to try and find an earlier vanished French expedition. It’s a fascinating story and a reminder that naval history is not entirely a matter of Nelson, Drake or Cook.
Although one might assume that Entrecasteaux is entirely French, there is one extraordinarily bizarre British – frankly English – intrusion. Rather surprisingly, the spacious grounds across the river from the château have a cricket pitch with their own team, the Entrecasteaux cricket club. The website gives their history, including what was clearly the high point, a visit of the MCC in 2005. We would love to know what the locals make of it.