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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Antibes - 2012

We have habitually avoided South of France in the traditional vacation months of July and August; this is our usual haunt every September, after most Europeans have returned to the drudgery of their jobs. The weather is still great, in spite of the shorter hours of daylight as autumn approaches; reservations at the best restaurants are easier to come by, and traffic isn’t snarled to a crawl along the Corniche Inférieure.

We were coaxed into this visit in July by good friends. They are our age and their lives have taken a similar trajectory to Judith’s and mine. Joël and I both had private businesses with partners, sold them shortly after the millennium, and retired. We all enjoy food and wine, fine hotels, reading, politics and polite, civil conversation. We’re curious about each other’s perspective and although we don’t agree about everything, we can talk about anything without anyone getting all tied up in knots.

In the past, we have kept ourselves east of here, in Beaulieu–sur-Mer; actually annually for more than a decade. Our Septembers slowly morphed into lazy times of sun, food and wine – we hardly moved from the sun beds of our hotel. The sloth would be quite content with our lifestyle.

Nice and to its east, the Alps encroach the seashore, tightly packing activity against the steep cliffs of the range. By Antibes, the reach of the mountains has surrendered; the beach civilization comfortably stretches much further inland. Perhaps this explains the more laid back, less formal feel of the area – everyone has room to spread.

The week passed very quickly. We weren’t total sloths; getting out and seeing more, meals away from the hotel. Our decades on the Côte d’Azur had gotten us into a bit of a rut, without us really knowing. Thus this sojourn to Cap d’Antibes has reinvigorated our future pilgrimages here.

You can read on through my daily entries if you care:

Sunday, July 8, 2012
We woke up in London to gray cloud and 55˚F. Masood whisked us to Heathrow’s Terminal Five, skillfully skirting the temporary closure of the M4. Our British Airways flight was good; we were transported to a different and distant planet in just two hours: blue sky, brilliant sun, azure sea; and 80˚F. This “planet” is more commonly known among us as the South of France.
A nice young taxi driver got us to the Hôtel Imperial Garoupe in Cap d’Antibes by two; our room wasn’t ready so we were invited to have lunch at the hotel’s beach restaurant. We were pleasantly surprised to see Joël and Annie there; we joined them for lunch. It was at our friend’s prompting that we decided to try this new place in Antibes and meet up with them for the week.

The property is small and charming; our original room on the ground floor wasn’t ideal so we moved to the first floor; lighter and definitely more comfortable for us. It was then down to the pool for a late afternoon of catching up with our friends from Luxemburg. My thoughts about the hotel are mixed; we are so jaded and spoiled by the opulence of La Reserve de Beaulieu.

We spent the late afternoon at the pool; it is not very good for swimming. Still, the area is tranquil and not crowded at all. Drinks and dinner were with our friends at the hotel’s restaurant, Le Pavillon; the food inventive. Sleep came quickly.

Monday, July 9, 2012
Up to a beautiful day, breakfast was in the courtyard – pleasant. We were down to the pool early; Europcar dropped off our rental; a jet black Audi TT Coupe. Lunch was at the seaside restaurant; more reading and relaxation until six by the pool.

Dinner was with Annie and Joël again. We first stopped for an aperitif at the Eden Roc Hotel’s marvelous terrace; afterward taking a little time to walk down to the pool and through the majestic gardens. Tonight’s feast was at Les Pêcheurs at the Relais & Chateaux’s Cap d’Antibes Beach Hotel. Our table was outside on the terrace; the meal was wonderful as was the magnum of 2008 Clos de Blanc Vougeot Monopole. We got back to the hotel around midnight.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012
We were up early to another hot and beautiful day, and got out for a walk along the Sentier de Tirepoil; a five kilometer trail on the Cap’s rugged seashore. This walk is much more rustic than Beaulieu; parts are just rock and dirt; narrow passages, small bridges and steep steps jutting over the sea. Still it was a beautiful moonscape of weathered rock; we were out about 45 minutes.

We rewarded ourselves with a sensible breakfast and it was then down to the pool. The day was only interrupted by lunch at the seaside.

This evening we drove with Annie and Joël to Vence and the expansive Le St. Martin Hotel and Restaurant. Drinks were on the terrace with wonderful views to the Mediterranean; our meal exquisite.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
After breakfast we drove the short distance to Cannes. The city was busy and lively; after some walking we had lunch on the Carlton’s terrace facing the sea and the bustling Boulevard de la Croisette. We arrived back to the hotel about four; quickly donning our suits and heading to the pool. The weather is hot; 86˚F today.
We enjoy our friend’s company so it was a pleasure to have another dinner together. Le Figuier de St. Esprit is a wonderful restaurant, along the ramparts in old Antibes. There is an ancient olive tree growing in its middle; the tables surrounding it. Conversation and laughter leavened the fantastic food.

Again we were to bed well past midnight.

Thursday, July 12, 2012
Hot again. After breakfast we took a trip into old Antibes; visiting the Eglise de l’Immaculée
Conception, the busy farmers’ market, Marché Provençal; the façade of the Picasso Museum (visited in a “past century” by us), the narrow shop lined alleyways and finally, the winding ramparts.
We joined Annie and Joël for lunch; then read for the balance of the day at poolside under the shelter of our parasols.  The pool itself is a disappointment; too shallow and short for serious swimming – in this respect I miss La Reserve’s wonderful salt water piscine.

Dinner was at the hotel; the place was empty. The food is creative and delicious, but the service is immature in relation to the meal. Even so, it is a mystery why this place is so forsaken.

Friday, July 13, 2012
We were down to the pool early. I thought it would be nice to try lunch on the terrace at Hotel du Cap Eden Roc; unfortunately our hotel couldn’t make the booking. Undeterred, I decided to drive over myself to plead our case to their concierge. This effort was rewarded with a 1:00 reservation.

Arriving at Eden Roc, the wind was too strong for the terrace, so we ate in the very airy grille; watching the panorama of gale driven whitecaps behind the safety of glass. Lunch was good; the same cannot be said of our fellow guests. We remembered why we don’t stay here; it is an earthly paradise but inhabited by a roving band of barbarous philistines, celebrating their plunder of the world’s economies. We all commented that some of the regalia worn by the female companions of the male warriors were downright frightening. I think I saw an anthropologist or two hidden in the bushes on our way out; perhaps here studying the different customs and interactions of these primitive, sun worshiping hedonistic peoples.
After returning to Hôtel Imperial Garoupe, the balance of the blustery but sunny afternoon was spent reading by the pool and inventing ad-hoc tools of rock and twig to keep the parasols in their bases so as not to fly off and kill someone – the wind very strong.

Annie, Joël and we had aperitifs and dinner at Bacon, a one-star Michelin jewel jutting out on the Pointe Bacon, with breathtaking views of the old ramparts of Antibes. This stalwart has been family owned by the Sordello’s for perhaps thirty years. Judith and I were both sure upon arriving that we tried to have a meal here perhaps in 1985; 27 years ago! Our circumstances were certainly much different then; we were staying at a nondescript hotel in Nice, took a train to Antibes, then a taxi to this restaurant; only to learn it was closed for lunch that day. At any rate, our Capon, a local fish, was fantastic; served in a traditional provincial style.
Unfortunately it was too windy for the fireworks display off the point of Antibes to proceed. The celebration of La Fête Nationale, or Bastille Day; officially on the 14th, was thus a muted affair. We would have had the best viewing spot available for the show right from our table. C’est la vie.

Saturday, July 14, 2012
We were up, had breakfast and then took a one hour walk along the sea. Poolside by eleven, the sky started to become cloudy as we went to lunch at the hotel’s restaurant on Baie de la Groupe. After that, we were back at our sun chairs reading until about five; when the day turned a bit chilly and windy; we retreated to our room. Overall, the day wasn’t as pleasant; the pool was crowded with guests who were too loud for our taste.

Dinner with our friends was at the hotel’s restaurant, Le Pavillon; the food was excellent, service slow.

Sunday, July 15, 2012
Thankfully the weather report turned out to be wrong; we had a nice final day, hindered with a bit of wind. After breakfast we were down to the pool until noon; cleaned up, packed and said our goodbye to Annie and Joël. We had a quick taxi to the airport and an easy check in.

The flight was good and even arrived ten minutes early. Masood had us back to Kinnerton Street before six; another adventure at its end. We are already looking forward to September.