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[The text in red was not included in the excerpted article, used several years later, after Allen’s death, as Chapter VII in the Mediterranean, Its Storied Cities and Venerable Ruins, on this site.]
From Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, VOL XXXV, No. 3; March, 1893; New York: Frank Leslie’s Publishing House; pp. 273-288.273
“OH, Land of Roses, what bulbul shall sing of thee?” In plain prose, how describe the garden of Europe? The Riviera! Who knows, save one who has been there, the vague sense of delight which the name recalls to the poor winter exile, banished by frost and cold from the fogs and bronchitis of our inhospitable northern island? What visions of gray olives, shimmering silvery in the breeze on terraced mountain slopes! What cataracts of Marshal Kiels, falling in rich profusion over gray limestone walls! What aloes and cactuses on what sun-smitten rocks! What picnics in December beneath what cloudless blue skies! Even now, as I sit here and write these lines on a mellow English June morning, with the white clematis and the tall irises looking lovingly in at my study window, I pause for a moment to give a sigh of regret for that beloved Antibes which I quitted six weeks ago. For to those who know and appreciate it best, the Riviera is something more than mere scenery and sunshine. It is life, it is health, it is strength, it is rejuvenescence. The return to it in autumn is as the renewal of youth. Its very faults are dear to us, for they are the defects of its virtues. We can put up with its dust when we remember that dust means sun and dry air; we can forgive its staring white roads when we reflect to ourselves that they depend upon almost unfailing fine weather and bright, clear skies, when Northern Europe is wrapped in fog and cold and wretchedness.
And what is this Riviera that we feeble folk who “winter in the south” know and adore so well? Has everybody been there, or may one venture even now to paint it in words once more for the twentieth time? Well, after all, how narrow is our conception of “everybody”. I suppose one out of every thousand inhabitants of the harsher clime , at a moderate estimate, has visited that smiling coast that spreads its entrancing bays between Marseilles and Genoa; my description is, therefore, primarily for the nine hundred and ninety-nine who have not been there. And even the thousandth himself, if he knows his Cannes and his Mentone well, will not grudge me a reminiscence of those delicious gulfs and those charming headlands that must be indelibly photographed on his memory.
The name Riviera is now practically English. But in origin it is Genoese. To those seafaring folk, in the days of the Doges, the coasts to east and 274 west of their own princely city were known, naturally enough, as the Riviera di Levante and the Riviera di Ponente respectively, the shores of the rising and the setting sun. But on English lips the qualifying clause “di Ponente” has gradually in usage dropped out altogether, and we speak nowadays of this favored winter resort, by a somewhat illogical clipping, simply as “the Riviera.” In our modern and specially British sense, then, the Riviera means the long and fertile strip of coast between the arid mountains and the Ligurian Sea, beginning at St. Raphael and ending at Genoa. Hyères, it is true, is commonly reckoned of late among Riviera towns, but by courtesy only. It lies, strictly speaking, outside the charmed circle. One may say that the Riviera, properly so called, has its origin where the Estérel abuts upon the Gulf of Fréjus, and extends as far as the outliers of the Alps skirt the Italian shore of the Mediterranean.
Now, the Riviera is just the point where the greatest central mountain system of all Europe topples over most directly into the warmest sea. And its best-known resorts, Nice, Monte Carlo, Mentone, occupy the precise place where the very axis of the ridge abuts at last on the shallow and basking Mediterranean. They are therefore as favorably situated with regard to the mountain wall as Pallanza or Riva, with the further advantage of a more southern position and of a neighboring extent of sunny sea to warm them. The Maritime Alps cut off all northerly winds; while the hot air of the desert, tempered by passing over a wide expanse of Mediterranean waves, arrives on the coast as a delicious breeze, no longer dry and relaxing, but at once genial and refreshing. Add to these varied advantages the dryness of climate due to an essentially continental position (for the Mediterranean is after all a mere inland salt lake), and it is no wonder we all swear by the Riviera as the fairest and most pleasant of winter resorts. My own opinion, after trying the greater part of the places within six or seven days’ journey of London, remains always unshaken, that Antibes, for climate, may fairly claim to rank as the best spot in Europe or round the shores of the Mediterranean.
Not that I am by any means a bigoted Antipolitan. I have tried every other nook and cranny along that delightful coast, from Carqueyranne to Cornigliano, and I will allow that every one of them has for certain purposes its own special advantages. All, all are charming. Indeed, the Riviera is to my mind one long feast of delights. From the moment the railway strikes the sea near Fréjus the traveler feels he can only do justice to the scenery on either side by looking both ways at once, and so “contracting a squint,” like the sausage seller in Aristophanes. Those glorious peaks of the Estérel alone would encourage the most prosaic to “drop into poetry,” as readily as Mr. Silas Wegg himself in the mansion of the Boffins. How am I to describe them, those rearing masses of rock, huge tors of red porphyry, rising sheer into the air with their roseate crags from a deep green base of Mediterranean pinewood? When the sun strikes their sides, they glow like fire. There they lie in their beauty, like a huge rock pushed out into the sea, the advance-guard of the Alps, unbroken save by the one highroad that runs boldly through their unpeopled midst, and by the timider railway that, fearing to tunnel their solid porphyry depths, winds cautiously round their base by the craggy seashore, and so gives us as we pass endless lovely glimpses into sapphire bays with red cliffs and rocky lighthouse-crowned islets. On the whole, I consider the Estére;, as scenery alone, the loveliest “bit” on the whole Riviera; though wanting in human additions, as nature it is the best, the most varied in outline, the most vivid in coloring.
Turning the corner by Agay, you come suddenly, all unawares, on the blue Bay of Cannes, or, rather, on the Golfe de la Napoule, whose very name betrays unintentionally the intense newness and unexpectedness of all this populous coast, this “little England beyond France” that has grown up apace round Lord Brougham’s villa on the shore by the mouth of the Siagne. For when the bay beside the Estérel received its present name, La Napoule, not Cannes, was still the principal village on its bank. Nowadays, people drive over on a spare afternoon from the crowded fashionable town to the slumbrous hamlet; but in olden days La Napoule was a busy local market when Cannes was nothing more than a pretty hamlet of Provençal fishermen.
The Golfe de la Napoule ends at the Croisette of Cannes, a long, low promontory carried out into the sea by a submarine bank, whose farthest points re-emerge as the two Iles Lérins, Ste. Marguerite and St. Honorat. Their names are famous in history. A little steamer plies from Cannes to “the Islands,” as everybody calls them locally; and the trip in calm weather, if the Alps are pleased to shine out, is a pleasant and instructive one. Ste. Marguerite lies somewhat the nearer of the two, a pretty little islet, covered with a thick growth of maritime pines, and celebrated as the prison of that mysterious being, the Man with the Iron Mask, who has given rise to so much foolish and fruitless speculation. Near the landing place stands the fort, perched on a 275 high cliff and looking across to the Croisette. Uninteresting in itself, this old fortification is much visited by wonder-loving tourists for the sake of its famous prisoner, whose memory still haunts the narrow terrace corridor, where he paced up and down for seventeen years of unrelieved captivity.
St. Honorat stands further out to sea than its sister island, and, though lower and flatter, is in some ways more picturesque, in virtue of its massive mediæval monastery and its historical associations. In the early Middle Ages, when communications were still largely carried on by water, the Convent of the Iles Lérins enjoyed much reputation as a favorite stopping place — one might almost say hotel — for pilgrims to or from Rome; and most of the early British Christians in their continental wanderings found shelter at one time or another under its hospitable roof. St. Augustine stopped here on his way to Canterbury; St. Patrick took the convent on his road from Ireland; Salvian wrote within its walls his dismal jeremiad; Vincent de Lérins composed in it his “Pilgrim’s Guide.” The sombre vaults of the ancient cloister still bear witness by their astonishingly thick and solid masonry to their double use as a monastery and as a place of refuge from the “Saracens,” the Barbary corsairs of the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries. Indeed, Paynim fleets plundered the place more than once, and massacred the unfortunate monks in cold blood.
Of Cannes itself, marvelous product of this gadabout and commercial age, how shall the truthful chronicler speak with becoming respect and becoming dignity? For Cannes has its faults. Truly a wonderful place is that cosmopolitan winter resort. Rococo châteaux, glorious gardens of palm trees, imitation Moorish villas, wooden chalets from the scene painter’s ideal Switzerland, Elizabethan mansions stuck in Italian grounds, lovely groves of mimosa, eucalyptus and judas trees, all mingle together in so strange and incongruous a picture that one knows not when to laugh, when to weep, when to admire, when to cry “Out on it!” Imagine a conglomeration of two or three white-faced Parisian streets, interspersed with little bits of England, of Brussels, of Algiers, of Constantinople, of Pekin, of Bern, of Nuremberg, of Venice, the Brighton Pavilion and the Italian Exhibition, jumbled side by side on a green Provençal hillside before a beautiful bay, and you get modern Cannes; a Babel set in Paradise; a sort of boulevardier Bond Street, with a view across blue waves to the serrated peaks of the ever-lovely Estérel. Nay; try as it will, Cannes cannot help being beautiful. Nature has done so much for it that art itself, the debased French art of the Empire and the Republic, can never for one moment succeed in making it ugly; though I am bound to admit it has striven as hard as it knew for that laudable object. But Cannes is Cannes still, in spite of grand dukes and landscape gardeners and architects. And the Old Town, at least, is yet wholly unspoilt by the speculative builder. Almost every Riviera watering place has such an Old World nucleus or kernel of its own, the quaint fisher village of ancient days, round which the meretricious modern villas have clustered, one by one, in irregular succession. At Cannes the Old Town is even more conspicuous than elsewhere; for it clambers up the steep sides of a little seaward hillock, crowned by the tower of an eleventh-century church, and is as picturesque, as gray, as dirty as most other haunts of the hardy Provençal fisherman. Strange, too, to see how the two streams of life flow on ever side by side, yet ever unmingled. The Cannes of the fishermen is to this day as unvaried as if the new cosmopolitan winter resort had never grown up, with all its Anglo-Russian airs and graces, and its German-American frivolities, round that unpromising centre.
The Rue d’Antibes is the principal shopping street of the newer and richer Cannes. If we follow it out into the country by its straight French boulevard it leads us at last to the funny old border city from which it still takes its unpretending name. Antibes itself belongs to that very first crop of civilized Provençal towns which owe their origin to the sturdy old Phocæan colonists. It is a Greek city by descent, the Antipolis which faced and defended the harbor of Nicæa; and for picturesqueuess and beauty it has not its equal on the whole picturesque and beautiful Riviera. Everybody who has traveled by the “Paris, Lyon, Méditerranée” knows well the exquisite view of the mole and harbor as seen in passing from the railway. But that charming glimpse, quaint and varied as it is, gives by no means a full idea of the ancient Pbocæan city. The town stands still surrounded by its bristling fortifications, the work of Vauban, pierced by narrow gates in their thickness, and topped with noble ramparts. The Fort Carré that crowns the seaward promontory, the rocky islets, and the two stone breakwaters of the port (a small-scale Genoa), all add to the striking effect of the situation and prospect. Within, the place is as quaint and curious as without: a labyrinth of narrow streets, poor in memorials of Antipolis, but rich in Roman remains, including that famous and pathetic inscription to the boy Septentrio, QVI ANTIPOLI IN THEATRO BIDVO SALTAVIT ET PLACVIT.276 The last three words, borrowed from this provincial tombstone, have become proverbial of the short-lived glory of the actor’s art.
The general aspect of Antibes town, however, is at present mediæval, or even seventeenth century. A flavor as of Louis Quatorze pervades the whole city, with its obtrusive military air of a border fortress; for, of course, while the Var still formed the frontier between France and Italy, Antibes ranked necessarily as a strategic post of immense importance; and at the present day, in our new recrudescence of military barbarism, great barracks surround the fortifications with fresh whitewashed walls, and the “Hun! Deusse!” of the noisy French drill sergeant resounds all day long from the exercise ground by the railway station. Antibes itself is therefore by no means a place to stop at; it is the Cap d’Antibes close by that attracts now every year an increasing influx of peaceful and cultivated visitors. The walks and drives are charming; the pine woods, carpeted with wild anemones, are a dream of delight; and the view from the Lighthouse Hill behind the town is one of the loveliest and most varied on the whole round Mediterranean.
But I must not linger here over the beauties of the Cap d’Antibes, but must be pushing onwards toward Monaco and Monte Carlo.
It is a wonderful spot, this little Principality of
278 Monaco, hemmed in between the high mountains and the assailing sea, and long hermetically cut off from all its more powerful and commercial neighbors. Between the palm-lined boulevards of Nice and the grand amphitheatre of mountains that shuts in Mentone as with a perfect semicircle of rearing peaks, one rugged buttress, the last long subsiding spur of the great Alpine axis, runs boldly out to seaward, and ends in the bluff rocky headland of the Téte de Chien that overhangs Monte Carlo. Till very lately no road ever succeeded in turning the foot of that precipitous promontory: the famous Corniche route runs along a ledge high up its beetling side, past the massive Roman ruin of Turbia, and looks down from a height of 1,500 feet upon the palace of Monaco. This mountain bulwark of the Turbia long formed the real boundary line between ancient Gaul and Liguria; and on its very summit, where the narrow Roman road wound along the steep pass now widened into the magnificent highway of the Corniche, Augustus built a solid square monument to mark the limit between the Province and the Italian soil, as well as to overawe the mountaineers of this turbulent region. A round mediæval tower, at present likewise in ruins, crowns the Roman work. Here the Alps end abruptly. The rock of Monaco at the base is their last ineffectual seaward protest.
And what a rock it is, that quaint ridge of land, crowned by the strange capital of that miniature principality! Figure to yourself a huge whale petrified, as he basks there on the shoals, his back rising some 200 feet from the water’s edge, his head to the sea, and his tail just touching the mainland, and you have a rough mental picture of the rock of Monaco. It is, in fact, an isolated hillock, jutting into the Mediterranean at the foot of the Maritime Alps (a final reminder, as it were, of their dying dignity), and united to the Undercliff only by a narrow isthmus at the foot of the crag which bears the mediæval bastions of the prince’s palace. As you look down on it from the heights of the Corniche, I have no hesitation in saying it forms the most picturesque town site in all Europe. On every side, save seaward, huge mountains gird it round; while toward the smiling blue Mediterranean itself the great rock runs outward, bathed by tiny white breakers in every part, except where the low isthmus links it to the shore; and with a good field glass you can see down in a bird’s-eye view into every street and courtyard of the clean little capital. The red-tiled houses, the white palace with its orderly gardens and quadrangles, the round lunettes of the old wall, the steep cobbled mule path which mounts the rock from the modern railway station, all lie spread out before one like a pictorial map painted in the bright blue of Mediterranean seas, the dazzling gray of Mediterranean sunshine, and the brilliant russet of Mediterranean roofs.
There can be no question at all that Monte Carlo even now, with all its gewgaw additions, is very beautiful: no Haussmann could spoil so much loveliness of position; and even the new town itself, which grows apace each time I revisit it, has a picturesqueness of hardy arch, bold rock, well-perched villa, which redeems it to a great extent from any rash charge of common vulgarity. All looks like a scene in a theatre [at performance time?] , not like a prosaic bit of this work-a-day world of ours. Around us is the blue Mediterranean, broken into a hundred petty sapphire bays. Back of us rise tier after tier of Maritime Alps, their huge summits clouded in a fleecy mist. To the left stands the white rock of Monaco; the right, the green Italian shore, fading away into the purple mountains that guard the Gulf of Genoa. Lovely by nature, the immediate neighborhood of the Casino has been made in some ways still more lovely by art. From the water’s edge terraces of tropical vegetation succeed one another in gradual steps toward the grand façade of the gambling house; clusters of palms and aloes, their base girt by exotic flowers, are thrust cunningly into the foreground of every point in the view, so that you see the bay and the mountains through the artistic vistas thus deftly arranged in the very spots where a painter’s fancy would have set them. You look across to Monaco past a clump of drooping date branches; you catch a glimpse of Bordighera through a framework of spreading dracænas and quaintly symmetrical fan palms.
Once more under way, and this time on foot. For the road from Monte Carlo to Mentone is almost as lovely in its way as that from Nice to Monte Carlo. It runs at first among the ever-increasing villas and hotels of the capital of Chance, and past that sumptuous church, built from the gains of the table, which native wit has not inaptly christened “Nôtre Dame de la Roulette.” There is one point of view of Monaco and its bay, on the slopes of the Cap Martin from Roquebrune, so beautiful that though I have seen it, I suppose, a hundred times or more, I can never come upon it to this day without giving vent to an involuntary cry of surprise and admiration.
Roquebrune itself, which was an Italian Roccabruna when I first knew it, has a quaint situation of its own, and a quaint story connected with it. Brown as its own rocks, the tumbled little village stands oddly jumbled in and out among huge 279 masses of pudding stone, which must have fallen at some time or other in headlong confusion from the scarred face of the neighboring hillside. From the Corniche road it is still quite easy to recognize the bare patch on the mountain slope whence the landslip detached itself, and to trace its path down the hill to its existing position. But local legend goes a little farther than that: it asks us to believe that the rock fell as we see it, with the houses on top; in other words, that the village was built before the catastrophe took place, and that it glided down piecemeal into the tossed-about form it at present presents to us. Be this as it may, and the story makes some demand on the hearer’s credulity, it is certain that the houses now occupy most picturesque positions: here perched by twos and threes on broken masses of conglomerate, there wedged in between two great walls of beetling cliff, and yonder again hanging for dear life to some slender foothold on the precipitous hillside.
We reach the summit of the pass. The Bay of Monaco is separated from the Bay of Mentone by the long, low headland of Cap Martin, covered with olive groves and scrubby maritime pines. As one turns the corner from Roquebrune by the col round the cliff, there bursts suddenly upon view one of the loveliest prospects to be seen from the Corniche. At our feet, embowered among green lemons and orange trees, Mentone half hides itself behind its villas and its gardens. In the middle distance the old church, with its tall Italian campanile, stands out against the blue peaks of that magnificent amphitheatre. Beyond, again, a narrow gorge marks the site of the Pont St. Louis and the Italian frontier. Farther eastward the red rocks merge half indistinctly into the point of La Mortola, with Mr. Hanbury’s famous garden; then come the cliffs and fortifications of Ventimiglia, gleaming white in the sun; and last of all the purple hills that hem in San Remo. It is an appropriate approach to a most lovely spot; for Mentone ranks high for beauty, even among her bevy of fair sisters on the Ligurian seaboard.
Yes, Mentone is beautiful, most undeniably beautiful; and for walks and drives perhaps it may bear away the palm from all rivals on that enchanted and enchanting Riviera. Five separate valleys, each carved out by its own torrent, with dry winter bed, converge upon the sea within the town precincts. Four principal rocky ridges divide these valleys with their chainlike backbone, besides numberless minor spurs branching laterally inland. Each valley is threaded by a well-made carriage road, and each dividing 280 ridge is climbed by a bridle path and footway. The consequence is that the walks and drives at Mentone are never exhausted, and excursions among the hills might occupy the industrious pedestrian for many successive winters. What hills they are, too, those great bare needles and pinnacles of rock worn into jagged peaks and points by the ceaseless rain of ages, and looking down from their inaccessible tops with glittering scorn upon the green lemon groves beneath them.
The next town on the line, Bordighera, is better known to the world at large as a Rivieran winter resort, though of a milder and quieter type, I do not say than Nice or Cannes, but than Mentone or San Remo. Bordighera, indeed, has just reached that pleasant intermediate stage in the evolution of a Rivieran watering place when all positive needs of the northern stranger are amply supplied, while crowds and fashionable amusements have not yet begun to invade its primitive simplicity. The walks and drives on every side arc charming; the hotels are comfortable, and the prices are still by no means prohibitive.
San Remo comes next in order of the cosmopolitan winter resorts: San Remo, thickly strewn with spectacled Germans, like leaves in Vallombrosa, since the Emperor Frederick chose the place for his last despairing rally. The Teuton finds himself more at home, indeed, across the friendly Italian border than in hostile France; and the St. Gotthard gives him easy access by a pleasant route to these nearer Ligurian towns, so that the Fatherland has now almost annexed San Remo, as England has annexed Cannes, and America Nice and Cimiez. Built in the evil days of the Middle Ages, when every house was a fortress and every breeze bore a Saracen, San Remo presents to-day a picturesque labyrinth of streets, lanes, vaults 281 and alleys, only to be surpassed in the quaint neighboring village of Taggia. This is the heart of the earthquake region, too; and to protect themselves against that frequent and unwelcome visitor, whose mark may be seen on half the walls in the outskirts, the inhabitants of San Remo have strengthened their houses by a system of arches thrown at varying heights across the tangled paths, which recalls Algiers or Tunis. From certain points of view, and especially from the east side, San Remo thus resembles a huge pyramid of solid masonry, or a monstrous pagoda hewn out by giant hands from a block of white freestone. As Dickens well worded it, one seems to pass through the town by going perpetually from cellar to cellar. A romantic railway skirts the coast from San Remo to Alassio and Savona. It forms one long succession of tunnels, interspersed with frequent breathing spaces beside lovely bays, “the peacock’s neck in hue,” as the Laureate sings of them. One town after another sweeps gradually into view round the corner of a promontory, a white mass of houses crowning some steep point of rock, of which Alassio alone has as yet any pretensions to be considered a home for northern visitors. At Savona an Italian cross country line (give to such a wide berth, O ye wise ones!) runs inland to Turin, through a beautiful mountain district thick with flowers in the springtime, and forms the shortest route home from the Ligurian resorts via the Mont Cenis 282 route home from the Ligurian resorts via the Mont Cenis Tunnel. But he that is well advised will take rather the direct line straight on to Genoa, and thence to the Italian lakes, which break the suddenness of the change from a basking Rivieran April to the wintry depths of May in England or Scotland. A week at Lugano or Locarno lets one down gently. Thence to Lucerne and Paris is an easy transition.
FROM NICE TO MONTE CARLO
ONE of the most important points for those who think of staying at Nice to consider is the quarter in which they should take up their abode. We cannot advise anyone who goes there for any purpose but pleasure to select any one of the hotels on the Promenade des Anglais, which are moreover, like those on the Quai Masséna and Quai St. Jean Baptiste, extremely dear. The most robust invalids will be safer in the C’arabacel quarter, which is well sheltered and has a warm exposure, if they do not think it better to retreat quite into the country to Cimiez or St. Barthélémy, or some such sunny corner. For villas, Cimiez is usually recommended, but. we rather think that a better choice may be made among those which lie on the western slope of the hills running from the Observatory to the promontory of Mont Boron. There has never yet been a hotel in this latter region, but we believe that one is to be erected in time for this season on the Mont Boron, just behind Sardou’s unfinished theatre, facing the new boulevard which runs across the slope from the Potteries to the old Villefranche road. The climate of Nice is sharper than that of most of the Riviera stations, and is enlivened by a wind which comes straight down from the Maritime Alps, and is supposed to possess some such revivifying qualities as are found in the boasted atmosphere of Davos Platz or the Engadine. Those who would like to enjoy this wind should certainly choose the Mont Boron to live upon; others who prefer a more sheltered locality will do better at Cimiez or Carabacel. The walks and drives are specially desirable in the neighborhood of Nice, which has an unwonted extent of open country behind it. The Vallon des Fleurs, the Val Obscur and Falicon are known to every casual excursionist, but they in no way exhaust the capabilities of the district. There is the pleasant Valley of the Magnan, from which one may ascend to St. Romain and the Bellet country. At St. Romain we have seen immense red anemones growing in profusion, of which the natives invited us to pick our fill, though anemones are universally recognized as articles of commerce, and the Niçois holds it his duty to make all he possibly can out of every visitor — small blame to him, honest man! considering the nuisance they must be to him. But the Bellet people are more primitive, and the only drawback among them is that so few can speak French intelligibly. Look not, however, too constantly on the wine of Bellet, either when it is red or when it is white. The latter generally is most appreciated at first, but we think the former proves the better when one is accustomed to it. Both are rather heady. Then there is the Val de Barla and the Val de la Mantega, St. Philippe and St. Pierre, the Paillon Valley itself, and the little towns in and around it — Drap and Trinité, Peille, Peillon and Lagnet. There is no end to the pleasant expeditions in the neighborhood of Nice. The town itself is as full of attractions. You can ramble about in the Old Town if you have an antiquarian turn; knock about the port if you are of a nautical disposition, and confer with the boatmen as to when the Namouna is expected or what has become of the Lancaster Witch; you can walk or ride on the Promenade des Anglais, listen to the band in the Public Garden, spend all your money in the shops of the Quai St. Jean Baptiste or the Avenue de la Gare, make yourself ill on cakes, pains de foie gras, etc., at Rumpelmayer’s, play at petits chevaux in the Casino, hear a good opera well performed at the Opera House, and generally indulge in mild dissipation. If not mildly inclined, you can also, especially in Carnival time, kick up your heels to any extent that you think proper. There are plenty of gambling clubs at Nice, where you can lose your money and get cheated into the bargain; the latter privilege cannot be enjoyed at Monte Carlo. The Carnival is perhaps not in its palmy days, but the shows are as elaborate and the balls and redoutes as uproarious as ever. Speaking of the Carnival, it is as well to warn visitors, especially ladies, not to venture into the streets on the confetti days unless provided with masks and other defensive armor, as people in everyday dress, going about their ordinary business, are apt to be roughly handled by the mob of maskers.
Going from Nice eastward we come to one of the most lovely pieces of coast in Europe: the first glimpse of the Bay of Villefranche as one comes round the Mont Boron is at least the most beautiful on the Riviera, with the possible exception of the little Bay of Porto Fino on the farther side of Genoa; nor do we know of anything to surpass it elsewhere, unless it be the glorious prospect of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and the Sea of Marmora, which is enjoyed from the cemetery of Scutari, the most perfect spot we have ever 283 seen. We have not much fear of contradiction about Villefranche, from the traveler of unprejudiced mind who comes upon it suddenly on a fine morning as he turns the corner of the Monaco road — or, still better, of the route forestière higher up — and looks down on the deep-blue bay with its steep, rocky sides, the pleasant peninsula of the Cap Ferrat —l like a sea monster with a broken back, profane people will say — the barrier of rocks behind Beaulieu, which look so strangely like a cardboard stage background, the great bare hills behind, and the air of calm and peace which extends over all.
Between Nice and Mentone the pleasant land overflows with places of harborage for the foreign visitor. On the Bay of Villefranche are few villas, unless on the eastern side, and of these the few above the highroad are smothered in dust all day long. One or two below the road are delightful, their greatest drawback being that at Villefranche, which lies close in the angle of the Mont Boron and the Mont Vinaigrier, the sun sets about an hour earlier than at Nice. The Cap Ferrat promontory, between Villefranche and Beaulieu, is covered with villas, many of which are to be had at very reasonable rates, especially in the beginning of the year, if they have not been let earlier. A fair proportion of these villas are well built, many have nice gardens, and most of them are prettily situated, though rarely facing absolutely south, and command beautiful views. The country round is perfect, but the nearest marketplace is some distance away, and there may be some trouble in the management of the commissariat department. Beaulieu even suffers to some extent in this particular, as its shops have not progressed in proportion to the rapid rise of prices consequent upon the arrival of the herd of British snobs who flocked to Beaulieu on hearing that Lord Salisbury was going to build a villa there. It is, however, the most comfortable place on the coast for some miles, and boasts of three hotels and a first-rate restaurant, the well-known Réserve, where the visitors from Nice and Monte Carlo come in crowds to lunch. The visitor who has not yet been there is hereby admonished to go and do likewise; it is best to lunch early, say about half-past twelve o’clock, before the rush comes.
We do not believe there is any invention of gastronomical art which is beyond the resources of the Réserve of Beaulieu, but the man of moderate needs can also procure simple and refreshing viands which will not seriously exhaust his pocket. A bouillabaisse and a poulet Beaulieu can ruin no one; and with a bottle of decent wine, this will suffice for the experienced traveler who is prepared to rough it. It used to be the fashion to go and eat bouillabaisse at the little fishing village of St. Jean, across the bay, on the Cap Ferrat, but the old restaurant there has been quite eclipsed by its new neighbor. Beaulieu also boasts of an immense number of little villas; and as it lies in a pretty and pleasant country, a perfect paradise of flowers, and is securely sheltered from the mistral by the hills behind, it does certainly present one of the most entirely desirable places to live in which the Riviera affords. Only the wind, which cannot come in from the north, works its way round somehow by the sea, and Beaulieu is sometimes exposed to a very unpleasant cold wind from the sea, which feels like & sort of echo of the mistral. One who had lived there many years told us that he found the climate disagreed with him very much, because it was too exciting; we believe he suffered from some nervous complaint.
There are many little resting places on this well-known strip of coast which often escape the casual passer-by. Eza is one — not the queer little village perched upon the top of the cliffs, crowned with the ruins of the Saracen pirates’ fort, but the little cluster of villas which has sprung up round the railway station in a beautiful, quiet bay — we beg its pardon, it is not called the Bay but the Sea of Eza — which, to those who do not seek gayety, would make a pleasant enough place to stay at. Similarly at Roquebrune, between Monte Carlo and Mentone, a few villas have found root by the side of the sea, but are content to call themselves by the name of the picturesque old village on the hill above. Roquebrune, it should be mentioned, in days long gone by stood on the very top of the hill above, from which one day it began gradually to slide down into the sea, till the village priest prayed to its patron saint, who stopped it where it now stands about halfway down. This story must be true, because there is a picture representing the scene in the parish church. At La Turbie, west of Monaco, there is a great hotel by the sea, which is to be opened at last this season, we are told; but the only habitable houses are 1,500 feet higher, near the village, which was once a posting station of some importance on the great old Corniche road. The road by the sea is quite a modern invention. A friend who had not seen the coast for thirty years told us that the only way to get at Monaco from Nice in his day was either by a small steamer which ran between them, or by driving to La Turbie and riding down from there on mules. In those days there was a small town on the Monaco peninsula, but where La Condamine and Monte Carlo now stand nothing but rocks and rough grass, on which a few goats were generally to be 284 seen. There is not even yet a direct carriage road from Monte Carlo to La Turbie, but we are threatened with a funicular railway. The Principality of Monaco is an extremely interesting locality for many reasons. The frontier is not extensive, but it is possible to walk three miles straight on without entering the territories of the adjacent French Republic — for a person who knows the country, that is. The population exceeds that of two other European nations, the Principality of Liechtenstein and the Republic of San Marino. The form of government is an absolute monarchy, the present sovereign being His Highness Albert Prince of Monaco, Duke of Valentinois, Mazarin and Mayenne, Prince of Château-Porcien, Marquis des Baux, of Chilly and of Guiscard, Count of Gurlades and of Long-jumeau, of Ferrette, Belfort, Thaun and Rosemont, etc.
“The Turk, that two and fifty kingdoms hath,”
has hardly a more magnificent array of titles. His highness is at the head of an army numbering almost eighty men, officers included, and a corps of gendarmerie more than forty strong; these calculations do not include his special guard of honor. A Monegasque staff officer is probably the most magnificently attired warrior in Europe. The rank and file of the army, though less splendid, are also worthy of admiration; having but light duties, they can give their minds wholly and entirely to the cultivation of the mustache, in which department they fear no competition.285
The Prince of Monaco treats upon equal terms with foreign potentates, and sends envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary to Paris and to the Vatican. It is comforting to live under the protection of such a monarch, and his dominions are certainly among the most beautiful that any earthly sovereign can reign over. The peninsula of Monaco itself — perhaps we should say the capital — is the most striking; but Monte Carlo has quite as pretty accessories, if it was not disfigured by the Casino, which is probably the most hideous building in existence. It is a pleasant spot from every point of view; to those who are, unfortunately, careless of the beauties of the scenery, it may still appeal as being essentially a place of creature comforts. A dinner at the Hotel de Paris — a good dinner, that is — is a thing to think fondly of in after days; and the Paris by no means stands alone in this respect. Do not the French give to their innkeepers the title of restaurateurs, as to those who bring comfort to the unfortunate? and are the vicissitudes of fortune anywhere more remarkable than at Monte Carlo?
It is thus that the blessed memory lingers in our mind of a certain dish of gray mullet at the Hotel Monte Carlo, at a time when the prospect before us was black indeed, and the payment of a necessary hotel bill at Mentone seemed to hang in the balance. But why dwell on these harrowing details? Fortune, who had perhaps been having a good dinner herself somewhere, became again propitious, and we crossed the Italian frontier next day with a light heart and a more or less heavy pocket.
Perhaps we shall be expected to say something about the Casino. Nobody need play who wishes to enjoy all the privileges thereof. The exchanging of your visiting card at the door for an official (gratuitous) card of admission makes you absolutely free of the place, the reading rooms, the music rooms, and all. You can hear an excellent concert performed by a first-rate orchestra; if you go to the theatre at night you must pay for your place, but otherwise everything is open to you free, and you need never play, or go near the playrooms, unless you like. You cannot even hear the sound of the play going on unless you deliberately show your card once more to the special official who stands at the door of the rooms, and enter of your own accord. For our own part, we consider it more moral to play, especially if you consider the gambling house as an abuse which ought to be removed. For the players, at least, are doing their best to win from the proprietors some of the money which enables them to keep it up, while those who only enjoy the other entertainments, which the success of the bank has enabled the latter to provide, appear to 287 the bank has enabled the latter to provide, appear to rejoice with them over the spoils of the victims. Not that we believe much in those victims; of course there will always be a few lunatics who ought not to be at large, and who would, no doubt, have made equal fools of themselves in some other way if they had not come to Monte Carlo, like the young lady who recently committed suicide after having played the game of a hopeless maniac at the tables, apparently in a frantic search after excitement, for of winning, or even of not losing, she could have had no rational idea.
This last is the only case of suicide consequent upon losses at Monte Carlo which we have personally known to stand examination. In the vivid imaginations of various Societies for the Abolition of State-protected Vice, suicides occur every day, often in the rooms themselves, in the presence — if the stories were true — of dozens of English people of both sexes, most of whom, while privately staking a five-franc piece or two, would be perfectly charmed by the opportunity to write an account of such a disaster to an English paper, and draw a fitting moral therefrom. It is very painful to decide that all the supposed disasters are deliberate fabrications, but we fear it is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion. A year or two ago a communication was sent to the English papers announcing that fourteen suicides had taken place at Monte Carlo during the Carnival week. The British Consul was absent at the time on leave — perhaps this was known to the authors of the legend — and consequently unable to inquire at once into the question; but on his return he could soon declare authoritatively that the whole story was a perfectly groundless invention. Some years earlier, in the winter of 1883-84, there was a grand chance, as it seemed, for the enemies of the Casino. A young American of considerable property committed suicide at New York almost immediately after his arrival from Europe. The cause of his act could hardly be in doubt, as it was proved that the unfortunate man had come straight home from Monaco by the most direct route. Doubtless he had lost all his money in that den of iniquity, and one of those strange, pathetic impulses which come over men at the last had brought him back to die in his native country. It seemed almost a shame to overthrow such a pretty story, but, unfortunately, it was proved that the gentleman in question had won heavily at Monte Carlo, and, like a wise man, had secured his winnings and started home with them at once. On his way home he fell into the hands of some of the sharpers who ply their trade on the Atlantic liners, and was not only stripped of his winnings and all his ready money, but also had to give I O U’s for large sums, practically exhausting his whole capital; so that on his arrival, after making arrangements for the payment of these liabilities, he shot himself in a fit of desperation. It is interesting to note that at Monte Carlo he could only have played with the actual cash he had with him, promissory notes not being permitted — a very valuable safeguard.
A special correspondent of the European edition of the New York Herald, writing from Nice, December 15th, 1892, says: “The Herald holds it a duty, and would be the first to publish any actual suicide or other gross scandal which occurred at Monte Carlo. It is therefore but just that its readers should be cautioned against the exaggerated accounts which have been circulated lately, in some instances solely for the purpose of chantage, and which have been copied in good faith by the Telegraph and other leading London papers. During the past ten days no fewer than six suicides have been reported in the local press, as having taken place on the Littoral, and although not one of these suicides has occurred within miles of the Principality of Monaco, they were all attributed to losses at Monte Carlo. It now transpires that four of these suicides were owing to losses incurred in the Panama affair, and the other two were either Israelites or Mohammedans, belonging to a class which would find it difficult to obtain access to the principality, much less to the gambling rooms, and who had evidently found their way into a department of France where mendicity is forbidden.”
We should hardly advise the ordinary traveler, whether he play or not, to establish himself at Monte Carlo. It is very pretty, no doubt, but it is extremely dear, the inhabitants holding that people who come there do so with the intention of spending money; if they didn’t, they would go elsewhere. Besides, the regular Monte Carlists are not amusing people to talk to, though their ways are sometimes funny enough. It is tedious to hear of nothing from morning to night but the reason why your neighbor won or lost the last time he played, especially as the wretched man knows all the time that he proses that you cannot possibly want to hear him, for no man upon earth ever believed in his neighbor’s system. We have known a few unfortunate people who believed in their own, and Heaven knows what has become of them by this time. Mentone is a better place to stay at. People will tell you that Mentone is depressing because there are so many invalids about; but this drawback we regard as mythical. There is a flourishing population of healthy visitors, chiefly German, who spend all their days at Monte 288 Carlo — for the trains suit very well, and there are only five miles to go.
The little town of St. Raphael, which is probably au offshoot of the very ancient city of Fréjus, a mile or two to the west, was first brought into notice by M. Alphonse Karr, and is now perhaps chiefly popular as a bathing station in summer, when many French visitors of such dignity as a republic allows honor it with their presence. In winter it is not gay. The situation is pretty, so is the view, commanding the whole line of coast, which here turns sharply to the south, as far as St. Tropez. There is a plage, which is a considerable distinction on this coast, where real seabeaches are uncommon. The coast is strewn with splendid red porphyry rocks with green veins, in the sea and out of it. The town lies on the verge of the great Estérel forest. But we would hardly recommend our traveling friends to stop there. St. Raphael is not dull, it is melancholy.
We have not left ourselves space to say more about Mentone than that it is very snugly sheltered by the hills, which here approach very near to the shore; but there are bolt holes, in the shape of two narrow valleys, which lead to a most delightful country behind. It is usually warm, and is one of the safest stations for people with weak chests; probably San Remo and Costebelle alone compete with it in this respect. We should advise visitors to select a house or hotel on the east bay, familiarly known to the inhabitants as the baie des Anglais or the baie du Docteur Bennett. We have no time to cross the frontier; but we may just mention that San Remo is warm and sheltered, its surroundings are pretty and its climate mild, as is also its atmosphere, natural, moral and social. It is very pleasant for a short stay, but perhaps rather enervating if one remains there long; at any rate, it is vastly preferable to the dreary, flat, stale and unprofitable plain in which the newer part of Bordighera is situated. The old town is delightful, but nobody could live there. There is, however, a cheap little hotel — we think it is called the Hotel Windsor — on the slope of the Capo S. Ampeglio, which we have always regarded in our mind’s eye as the one place in which life in Bordighera would be supportable. The Hinterland of Bordighera and San Remo yields to no other part of the coast in interest and beauty.
* This article was excerpted and became a chapter in a collection on the Mediterannean, a book I have. Unfortunately, in that collection, although the authors were credited on the title page, none of the chapters mentioned who wrote what. Grant Allen’s chapter from this book is here, on this site.
Dr. Peter Morton, knew exactly which chapter Grant Allen wrote. Since Allen had already died when the book came out, he doubts that he knew anything about its re-appearance later in that book.
A lucky google search led to the discovery of the article “in the flesh”, in the magazine cited above. The scanning of the pages was terrible with all the inner margins of the text missed. However, between the chapter in the book I have, the rest of the article was salvaged. It is worth putting on a line in a readable form. It is also interesting to see what the book decided to leave out from the article in its excerpt.
Fortunately, the editors in the later book made no significant changes to the words in the part they used, which was kind of them, despite their not crediting the authors individual contributions.
Grant Allen was an incredibly prolific writer, just ask Peter Morton, who knows all there is to know about the man. Both the professor and his favorite author are interesting people. Dr. Morton, who teaches at Flinders University in Australia, has written the Grant Allen Home Page, which is pretty fascinating and wondrously thorough. The link takes you off site in a new window.
For another article by this author, on this site, see Fontainebleau, by Grant Allen.