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[In this excerpt, the text in red has changed and was not found in the earlier article by Allen, in Frank Leslie’s Monthly Magazine, on this site. You will also find phrases, a few sentences, along with the rest of the article on this page, that are not present here in this chapter.]
From The Mediterranean, Its Storied Cities and Venerable Ruins, by T. G. Bonney, E A. R. Ball, H. D. Traill, Grant Allen, Arthur Griffiths, and Robert Brown, New York: James Pott & Company, 1902; pp. 145-159.
In the days of the Doges — Origin of the name — The blue bay of Cannes — Ste. Marguerite and St. Honorat — Historical associations — The Rue L’Antibes — The rock of Monaco — “Notre Dame de la Roulette” — From Monte Carlo to Mentone — San Remo — A romantic railway.
“OH, Land of Roses what bulbul shall sing of thee?” In plain prose, how describe the garden of Europe? The Riviera! Who know, save he who has been there, the vague sense of delight which the very name recalls to the poor winter exile, banished by frost and cold from the fogs and bronchitis of more northern climes? What visions of gray olives, shimmering silvery in the breeze on terraced mountain slopes! What cataracts of Marshal Niels, falling in rich profusion over gray limestone walls! What aloes and cactuses on what sun-smitten rocks! But 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 146 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 for the twentieth time? Well, after all, how narrow is our conception of “everybody!” I suppose one out of every thousand 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 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 English 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 147 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 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. 148 From the moment the railway strikes the sea near Fréjus the traveller feels he can only do justice to the scenery on either side by looking both ways at once, and so “contracting a squint,” like a 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 form 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 high-road 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 sea-shore, 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 Estérel, 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 149 bank. Nowadays, people drive over on a spare afternoon from the crowded fashionable town to the slumbrous little hamlet; but in older days La Napoule was a busy local market when Cannes was nothing more than a petty 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 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 farther 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; 150 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 her 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 somber vaults of the ancient cloister still bear witness by their astonishingly thick and solid masonry to their double use as monastery and as 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 monks in cold blood.
Of Cannes itself, marvelous product of this gad-about 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 châlets 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 and of Venice, 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 151 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 center.
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 152 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 Phocæan 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. 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 153 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 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 amphitheater 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 Tête 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 fifteen hundred 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 154 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 two hundred 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 above 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 towards 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.155
There can be no question at all that Monte Carlo even now, with all its gew-gaw 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 theater, 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; to 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 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 156 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, not far 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 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 157 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 the view one of the loveliest prospects to be beheld 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 amphitheater. 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 sea-board.
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 chine-like backbone, besides numberless minor spurs branching laterally inland. Each valley is threaded by a well-made carriage-road, and each dividing 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 158 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. Boredighera, 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 are 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 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 free-stone. 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.
The rest of this article continued from this point, can be found here on this site: The Riviera, by Grant Allen in Frank Leslie’s Monthly Magazine, March 1893
* This article is a shortened version of a longer one, which Allen wrote for Frank Leslie’s Monthly Magazine. Only a few words and a couple of sentences are missing or changed from that first article. For the earlier, complete article, en toto, on this site, see the article, The Riviera by Grant Allen. The changed words or punctuation, is noted in red print in the text.
Many thanks are due to kind Dr. Peter Morton, a professor at Flinders University in Australia, who happened to know which chapter in this book was written by his favorite author, Grant Allen, since the publishers inconsiderately omitted that small detail in their collection. See more on Grant Allen at his site, The Grant Allen Home Page.
For another article by this incredibly prolific author, on this site, see Fontainebleau, by Grant Allen.