THE FRENCH AND ITALIAN RIVIERAS
We arrive at the Nice airport and drive along the celebrated Promenade des Anglais as we head for our waterfront hotel in the neighboring village of Beaulieu-sur-Mer. Every room looks out onto the spectacular Mediterranean vista with Beaulieu's picturesque harbor crowded with the yachts of the très riches. We head back into Nice for a guided walking tour before dinner back at our hotel on the waterfront.
After breakfast we take a tour of the Rothschild estate on the elegant peninsula of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. The Villa Ile-de-France was built by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild in the early 1900s as the perfect "dream villa" of the Riviera, complete with a collection of masterpiece paintings, antiques dating to Marie-Antoinette, mosaic flooring and marble columns, tapestries from the 16th century, and acres of magnificent gardens. We then take a scenic coastal drive to neighboring Monaco, where we have lunch in the quaint Le Rocher neighborhood behind the palace, followed by an "insider's" guided walking tour led by a native Monagascan. Tonight we enjoy dinner on the waterfront in the medieval village of Villefranche.
This morning we drive into the mountains to visit the magical medieval village of Eze, perched at the top of a hill with a breathtaking panoramic vista of the surrounding mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. We can wander its narrow car-free streets, inspecting any of the hundreds of adorable boutiques cleverly nestled among ancient archways and alleys of the original medieval village. At the top of the mountain is a fascinating “Jardin Exotique,” well worth a visit to take advantage of the spectacular views. After lunch on the patio of a charming restaurant we take a tour of the famous Fragonard perfumery, where we are free to purchase all the Fragonard we can carry. Our destination is the beautiful hilltop village of Saint Paul de Vence, our base for the next five days. Our lovely hotel is nestled in a maze of colorful gardens and looks out over the hills and the nearby village. We can take a swim in the pool, stroll the beautiful grounds and have a drink on a terrace overlooking the mountains. For dinner we drive to the charming village of Vence and are treated to a special Provençal feast in a tiny restaurant that was once a castle, complete with open hearth and mouth-watering regional specialties.
In the morning we explore Saint-Paul-de-Vence, one of the most celebrated “villages perchés,” nestled high on the side of a steep mountain, originally built to avoid attack from the Saracens. In the 1920s this picturesque medieval village was discovered by artists Bonnard, Modigliani and other Impressionists, and since then has been a favorite of visiting artists and art lovers. The narrow, twisting streets, free from cars, are crammed with beautiful shops selling all types of art, crafts, and interesting treasures. We can try our luck at the ancient Provence game of “boules” (bocci), popular in this part of France. In the afternoon we have the option of visiting one of the world's most renowned modern art museums, the Fondation Maeght, just outside the village. We have time for a swim and an aperitif before dinner.
Today's excursion is to the lively city of Cannes. We see the famous cafés along the famous ocean boulevard, La Croisette, and we wander the tiny medieval streets of the oldest neighborhood, Le Suquet. After our visit we head to the tiny village of Mougins, incredibly picturesque and crammed with art galleries. Mougins is also known for its large number of gastronomic restaurants, and we will have a lunch to remember in this wonderful setting. On our way back to Saint Paul de Vence we stop in Cagnes-sur-Mer to see the Renoir Museum.
Today we visit the ancient town of Antibes. Within the Château Grimaldi is the Musée Picasso, containing many of the pieces Picasso painted while living here. We have time to explore the colorful local market before lunch. Next we take a tour of the Biot glassworks factory to see how the famous Biot bubble glass is made, using the ancient hand blown method. Tonight is a special dinner at the famous Colombe d'Or restaurant. A number of French Impressionist painters left their works here as payment when they stayed in the inn years ago, so this is a truly unique dining experience.
On our last day on the Côte d’Azur we visit the nearby ancient Roman town of Vence. Our guided walking tour takes us through a picturesque neighborhood with an intriguing history. We also see the old church, Chapelle du Saint-Marie du Rosaire, whose walls were decorated by Henri Matisse. We end our day with a splendid farewell dinner at a charming restaurant with superb local dishes.
Today we say au revoir to France as we drive along the mountainous seacoast past Monaco and Menton and onto the Italian Riviera. Passing Genoa, we enter the Riviera di Levante to arrive at our destination of Santa Margherita. On our way we will stop to pick up some local goodies for a gourmet picnic back at the hotel. You will fall in love with this beautiful little seaside resort with its promenade along the harbor, its manicured parks filled with exquisitely designed flower gardens, and its many appealing sidewalk cafés overlooking the water. We check into our hotel where every room has a beautiful sea view. Since you will not want to leave, dinner tonight is at the hotel.
A boat ride along the mountainous coast takes us to Portofino, known for its colorful medieval houses and spectacular scenic vistas. After lunch in Portofino, we take another boat ride to Fruttuoso and Camogli, two historic fishing villages surrounded by high cliffs. We return to Santa Margherita for another wonderful dinner.
Today we have free time in Santa Margherita before lunch. We continue south along the Ligurian coast and check into our hotel overlooking the sea in the lovely Mediterranean harbor of Lerici, gateway to the enchanting villages of the Cinque Terre. We take a walk through the village to the picturesque castle and relax at our hotel. After a fresh seafood dinner, you will fall asleep to the sound of the waves outside your window.
Today we spend the day visiting the five stunningly beautiful villages known as Cinque Terre. Plan to bring an extra memory card for this photogenic experience. Each of these tiny villages- Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso- is unique and indescribably beautiful in a primitive, unspoiled way. We have the option of either taking a boat or hiking from village to village. We return to Lerici by boat for a relaxing dinner and evening stroll.
The morning we enjoy an entertaining gourmet cooking class, followed by a spectacular feast. In the afternoon we can walk off some calories on an oceanside hike, exploring the streets of Lerici, or relaxing at our lovely hotel.
After breakfast we drive to the Genoa airport for the return flight.