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Riviera Beauties – from Towns to Gardens

Riviera Beauties – from Towns to Gardens

Wednesday, April 6, 2017
The Riviera, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Menton’s cheery yellow market is the first stop of the day. With the colorful town rising behind, the mountains beyond, flowering lemon trees (Menton is proud of its lemons and has a fabulous festival celebrating them every February – a terrific winter trip!) and fresh produce show off in a beautiful setting.
Our tour continues with picturesque squares, perfectly shabby shutters, and steep vaulted passageways. We’ve been told that “Riviera” signifies mountains meeting the sea, and Menton’s built right into this abrupt rise from the water.Outside of town near a hilltop village, the Val Rameh gardens offer a round-the-world botany tour clustered around a lovely home. From jasmine draped bridges to bamboo forests and even a unique specimen of the Toromiro tree of Easter Island, it’s a fascinating wander.
The one garden and villa we’ve visited before, when we hosted a private tour of Provence and the Riviera in 2010, is the fabulous Villa Ephrussi-Rothschild. We’re invited for lunch and a quick tour of the interior before entering the gardens, fragrant with wisteria and in full spring bloom.My favorites of the 7 gardens are the Florentine, with azalea draped architectural beauties, and the Spanish, golden arches beside an Alhambra-like rectangle of water.
With views across the bay to Villefranche-sur-Mer, I can well understand the choice of this perfect peninsula for the majestic home and gardens.
As on our previous visit, I could spend hours by these musical dancing fountainswhat a delight!

Gardens of the Riviera – from Hillside to Sea

Gardens of the Riviera – from Hillside to Sea

Tuesday, April 5, 2017
The Riviera, France and Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Today’s garden day begins on that point of land we saw across Menton’s bay last evening. On a magnificent site perched above the sea on the Italian border, Hanbury Gardens were created in 1867 when Sir Thomas Hanbury bought this site, intending to acclimatize plants from around the world.
The entrance is at the top of the property, where we can instantly see the lush terraces tumbling to the sea – amazingly beautiful!
Could there be a better time of year to be here, with lush fragrant wisteria twining through the terraces and lacing pergolas  as we descend? I think not! Slowly we amble down, passing colorful plantings, all the way to the stately home above the sea, where the terrace takes full advantage of the view. Now for the climb back up to street level – it was a loooong way down! Did anyone count the hundreds of stairs??
We’re invited to Villa Ormond in San Remo for lunch, and are met by town officials and a gaggle of reporters eager to interview attendees. After lunch the passionate head gardener shows off the many rare specimens in this park now open to the public.
Then we’re heading west, back along the coast to France, where La Serre de la Madone awaits us. Created between 1919 and 1939 by the renowned British landscape gardener Lawrence Johnstone, the rocky terraces of old farms must have been an intriguing challenge for the man who previously designed the glorious gardens of Hidcote Manor in the rolling countryside of the south of England. Each terrace here is different – a pond on one, geometric plantings on another, a pergola overlooking another, and by the wisteria draped house, a pond with throaty bullfrogs making themselves known. Truly lovely – the kind of place for spending peaceful hours – perhaps we’ll return and do so one day!
Eye-popping Menton welcomes us for dinner again, where the chef of Breijade Meridionale has prepared another floral-themed feast. Kirk becomes our wine steward for the evening, and these unusual hanging skewers….are soon aflame!

Gardens of the Riviera – Nice

Gardens of the Riviera – Nice

Monday, April 4, 2017
Nice, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Our garden tour, courtesy of Côte d’Azur tourism, begins Sunday evening in Nice…with dinner at a popular restaurant on the Promenade Anglais, not far from the renowned Hotel Negresco. The charming Belle Epoque Hotel Villa Rivoli, our home for the night, is a delightful place to wake up – don’t you love a French window?! We appreciate the many thoughtful touches of the warm and welcoming owner, Barbara, such as these cute egg warmers knitted by her mother. On the piano in the salon is a note inviting guests to play, and last night as those of us on the tour got to know each other,  Barbara assumed that with our name of Music and Markets there must be music in our duo – she soon had me playing a tune or two.
We have time, on the way to our first garden of the tour, to stop by the exquisite Russian Orthodox cathedral, recently restored to its original beauty. In the mid 1800s royalty and nobility from Russia as well as from England began the influx of tourism to the Riviera so along the coast, from France to Italy, are several iconic onion domes of their houses of worship.
Not far from the Nice airport is Phoenix Park, a massive garden surrounding a huge greenhouse, one of the largest in the world, where exotic orchids bloom and flamingos linger. Spring flowers are blooming outside, and a resident kangaroo has a joey big enough to spend time out of the pouch – can you see him?
Up in the steep hills above Nice a potter has created a garden where her unique designs intertwine with succulents and blooms….even the driveway beneath our feet is patterned with pottery, and walls terracing the planting and lining the poolside are dotted with everything from marbles to balls to towering rods of ceramic. The Jardin des Fleurs de Poterie incorporates her sculptures with over 800 varieties of plants, both rare and wild.
Down the hill we wind, and walk the colorful lanes of Vieux Nice before stopping for lunch at La Favola, overlooking the daily market stalls. Our delicious meal begins with help-yourself platters of appetizers, heavy with nearby Italian influence. A triple chocolate mousse is the eye-popping finale!The exotic gardens topping the gorgeous perched village of Eze are next, and up the steep cobbled lanes we climb, enjoying the ever-more-stunning views until we’re right on top. Eze was one of the places we visited on our first trip to the south of France, decades ago, and we’re reminded of its beauty every day by the evocative water color in our bedroom in Virginia – that buttery yellow church is as eye-catching as we remember!The Exotic Garden is tucked into the ruins of an ancient fortress commanding one of the most beautiful panoramas of the Côte d’Azur.We splurge on an aperitif on the terrace of the Chevre d’Or (golden goat) hotel – the views are worth it!
Menton, last town in France before the Italian border, will be our home for a couple of nights, and as the sun sets we walk along the shore to dinner in the colorful old town. Steep vaulted lanes and zigzag stairs head up to the church, but we stay by the port (that curve at the other end of the bay is home to tomorrow’s first garden, in Italy), where a flower-themed dinner awaits us at Le Petit Port. Check out the goblet of tulips gracing the entry table – what a fun idea!
Petals and blooms adorn each course, from the swordfish carpaccio to the lavender-poached pears for dessert.
Kirk and I take time to wander through the old town, up those steep lanes to the moonlit church, before heading back to the hotel – a wonderful first day of the garden tour!