One of the nice things about having visitors is not just that you are prompted to go out and do things but you can actually end up feel quite good about yourself rather than self-indulgent. Visitors give you an excuse for doing fun things. Last week a long-standing (or is it long-suffering ?) friend came to visit us so we took the opportunity of running a few day trips. Given that we’ve both been very busy for some time we felt a few days off wasn’t a bad idea anyway. Actually during the course of the week the weather didn’t really behave and it was rather cloudy for much of the time.
For the first couple of nights we were based up at Courmettes. The first afternoon we decided to go and visit nearby St Paul de Vence. Though it’s nearby we’d never visited it and in fact we’d been slightly warned off it on the grounds that it was always ‘full of tourists’. Maybe we were lucky to avoid any coach parties, but we didn’t actually find it too crowded. Like most Provencal hilltop villages it’s full of winding narrow cobbled streets, ancient many-floored houses and charming little squares that are certainly not square in shape. There are no shortage of such villages in Provence but St Paul de Vence deserves its place in the guidebooks.
The second day we took our friend down to the coast and along through Nice’s traffic-clogged Promenade des Anglais, which seems to suffer from permanent roadworks, and then along the coast to Monaco. We did the usual business of walking the length and breadth of the entire country (it’s not hard) and managed to find ourselves at the palace in time for the changing of the guard. You might say it’s not very spectacular but then given that there are only 116 soldiers in the principality’s armed forces, seeing a tenth of its military might on ceremonial duty was, we suppose, impressive.
A trivial fact from the Wikipedia article on Monaco is that 30 percent of the population are millionaires. However after a while millionaires, fast cars, glamorous people and jewellery stores lose their attraction, and we drove on eastwards, winding our way through the bizarrely irregular boundary of Monaco along the coast road towards Italy.
We stopped finally at Menton which is the last town before the border and, at least architecturally, appears to belong more to Italy than France. Menton is interesting because it was well-known amongst the Victorians as somewhere to flee to if you really couldn’t face a British winter and the London fogs. All sorts of people spent time here including the legendary 19th-century Baptist preacher C. H. Spurgeon, who for 20 years spent much of the winter here because he found it good for his health. Given that he managed to write 140 books during his 57 years he can’t have spent too much time sitting on the beach staring into space. Eventually he died here in January 1892. We think we’re going to go back when the sun is shining.
From Menton we drove into Italy on the motorway and then back to Courmettes. Courtesy of meandering around the border of Monaco we realised that we had crossed national boundaries six times. Our friend was impressed. More next week…