We start our prologue in Nice, our point of entry into France via the overnight sleeper train from Rome. Our Tour de France is about to begin but before we set off en route, we have a date with the Mediterranean.
At Nice Gare train station, we unload our luggage then proceeded to the bureau de change to convert our lire into francs. A taxi waits at the ramp.
“Au Negresco, s’il vous plait.”
The taxi driver, a man in his fifties, is a proud niçois. With one hand on the wheel and the other gesturing out of control, he tells me that the pebbly beaches of Nice are much safer for swimming than the sandy ones at Cannes. He knew someone who went for a swim there et pouf! he was stung. Il était tombe malade pour une semaigne! I find his accent meridional charming so I ask him about the weather. Apparently they have been predicting la pluie everyday for the last week and not a raindrop fell. Pas une goutte, eh!
Along the Promenade des Anglais, the Hôtel Negresco comes into view. My heart skips a beat. With its pink and green cupola and 24 carat gold leaf balcony railings, the fabled hotel-palais is to be our home for one night.
The taxi driver pulls up under the glass cover bearing the hotel’s name where we are met by a charming young voiturier dressed in a caped blue coat, long black boots and a top hat with a large red feathered plume shooting out of it.
“Bonjour Madame. May I take your bags?”
He has the most beautiful blue eyes, bleu comme la Mediterranée, and his accent has a mild provençal flavour. He leads us to the reception desk where we are welcomed by another costumed official. Mr G and I look around the plush foyer and identify it from a scene in a French movie, Les Compères.
We are escorted towards the lifts. A large metal door with an ornate gold key serving as a handle slowly opens as soon as the lift reaches the ground floor. Inside, there is deep scarlet upholstery, a darkened mirror and key access to the top level. We reach the third floor and pass a hallway richly decorated in 18ème siècle style furnishings.
We are shown to room 318 and given a guided tour. His and hers Nina Ricci fragrances are pointed out as cadeaux pour monsieur et madame then we are left to explore our surrounds.
The bedroom is a stunning pièce, with antique period furniture, two beds joined together with animal skin covers topped with overhanging decorative blue curtains. There is a mirrored wooden wardrobe, an antique chest of drawers, crimson fauteuils and a writing desk equipped with all the essentials, including wax to seal a special letter.
The bathroom has two sections, a toilet and bidet separated by a frosted glass sliding door with a bathtub, sink and mirror on the other side. All bathroom accessories are made of metallic sea-blue and the fittings are in gold. The bathtub is unusual in shape and reminds me of a curvy sports car. The sink is like a large sea shell shape and all soaps, shampoos and bath gels bear the Nina Ricci brand.
The small balcony reveals a sweeping view of Baie des Anges and the Riviera. The Mediterranean sea is peaceful with a distinct blue. Below, palm trees line up the Promenade des Anglais, and colourful flags gently sway in the morning. I feel so alive.
We decide to ignore all our sightseeing plans and laze in the sun. A hectic driving schedule around the country with less lavish accommodation awaits us the next day. After all, what else would you do on the Côte d’Azur?
Neptune Plage is the hotel’s private beach. A very handsome plagiste (aren’t they always?) shows us to our beach lounges, adjusts our blue and white parasol and lays our towels. The pebbly beach is covered by a walkway for easy access to the water without stepping on pebbles. No comfort is spared at the Negresco.
The early morning haze lifts to a perfect summer day with invigorating sunshine after the cramped sleeper train. Mr G falls asleep, almost comatose. I’m too excited to relax. I have often dreamt of being on the Riviera, fantasised about beautiful places, imagined glamorous lifestyles and wished to share it one day with the man I love. On this Saturday morning in Nice, I feel I have it all.
We take our first swim in the azure waters. The Med feels warmer, saltier and somewhat cleaner than the Pacific Ocean. I feel a sense of renewal, a mystical moment of being somewhat reborn in the Mediterranean. I am returning home, body and soul.
We order a light lunch. Avocado and fresh crab salads are delivered on a tray, fanned out artistically in the shape of a crab. We toast our glasses of Perrier to being, finalement, along the Mediterranean and about to embark on our own Tour de France.
As time passes at the right pace, the sun moves westward. A few locals begin to arrive. An attractive demoiselle worships in the sun, topless with headphones on, smiling to herself. An chic, elderly madame and her black dog sit behind us. She places a mat for the dog under her beach chair. The dog pants from the heat and eventually sleeps in the shade.
I could easily stay on the beach savouring the Mediterranean scene until the sun goes down. But Monaco is calling.
… continues tomorrow.
37, Promenade des Anglais
‘Le Tour de France Gourmantic’ series is the story of a young couple from Australia who took to the French roads on a whirlwind Tour of France back when the internet wasn’t at everyone’s fingertips, phones were still attached to sockets, GPS was an unfamiliar acronym, digital cameras were a pipe dream and the Euro hadn’t replaced French Francs. With just one fold-out map of France and boundless enthusiasm, they took their Renault 19 and went on a cultural and culinary discovery.
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