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All Around The Mediterranean:
The Southern Atlantic Route
The Atlantic Islands
The Spanish Ports
Naples And Sicily
( Originally Published 1926 )
From Marseilles to Mentone extends a strip of warm littoral, crowded with maritime pine and dotted with date palms, that is the winier playground of half Europe. The picturesque ranges of the Esterel break up its water from: into coves and valleys subtropical in climate,' each a delightful nook and having every luxury of that most refined of all nations, France. Farther back in the hinterland lie the snowy peaks of the Maritime Alps, where are winter resorts for skiing and skating and tobogganing, as frequented as those of Switzerland. The Riviera was for three winters my home. To a Californian or a Floridan, its winter climate is a sham and a snare. I haye seen ice an inch and a half thick in the streets of Nice at Christmas, and snow on all the coast in February. One endures, for these things are short-lived. The date palms get through, somehow, and the flower beds are covered for the time with blankets by the thrifty French. But such things as lemons and Bougainvillaea simply cannot exist. It is in Beaulieu alone that they even attempt to grow them. You must go four hundred miles south to Algiers to find them luxuriating in the hot winter sun.
Nevertheless the Riviera is fascinating. It began with a Greek past of which hardly traces remain; continued with a Roman occupation that has left us many monuments; added to it-self a medieval period that still preserves whole towns about as they were; and comes down to the present with villas and hotels that are the last word in human comfort and elegance. The medieval period, I should say, is the most interesting. It is storied with legends of the saints, and all alive with significant history. And it is so near. Those stone castles and walled towns are so exactly as our forefathers of the thirteenth century left them! People live to-day where they lived, tread the same pavements, and walk the same sentry-goes along the battlements. For three winters I had a villa near the old walled town of Vence, not six miles from Nice, and came to know the Riviera well. The cruising steamers usually stop at Monte Carlo, and give a day or so to it and Nice and Cannes.
You have time to take a bus ride to, we will say, Grasse, passing through a number of these walled towns, Cagnes, St. Pol, Vence. Another popular one is from Monte Carlo to Nice, passing La Turbie with its vast monument to Augustus Caesar commemorating the Pax Romana in Gaul, and Eze, desolate on in hill, the town that never recovered from its sacking by Khair ed Din of Algiers. And then there is Marseilles, a port that you can hardly escape, if taking some regular steamer.
To most tourists Marseilles is just a big French city, where you take the steamer to somewhere, but otherwise devoid of interest. They know that it once was Greek, and that the Cannebiere is named from cannabis, hemp, the rope-walk of the Greek sailors. And there the information stops. But to me Marseilles is Massilia, that emporium of the Phocean Greeks, that was the mother city of all that long chain of colonies extending from Danaium (Denia) in Spain, to Nike (Nice). Rhodae lies just across the Gulf of Lyons, and beyond it is Saguntum. In imagination one reproduces the Old Port of Marseilles, a busy harbor of Greek triremes.
The Cannebiere was probably the first thing named, for, down to the times of steam, sailors could and did lay up their own ropes as part of a sailor's accomplishments. Then came the temples and the altar fires brought direct from Greece, the handful of earth from the mother-land, the priest. Having a marvelous natural harbor in the Old Port, Massilia grew apace, took away the trade of Carthage, established new Greek cities wherever was found a natural harbor along the coast. Nike was one such, named after the victory over the Ligurian savages who contested with them the Rock. Adventurous Massilian captains, such as Pythias and Eupimenes, passed through the Pillars of Hercules and squared their yards northward to Britain and the Baltic. Tradition has it that Lisbon itself was founded by that great wanderer, Ulysses—at any rate the Massilian Greeks called it Ulyssipolis. To Britain they wept for tin, that indispensable ingredient of brass armor. If the trade winds were favorable, they set the yards for the south and explored all West Africa as far down as Rio del Oro, discovering all of it two thousand years before Portuguese sailors were ever heard of.
Then came disaster at home. The mainland of Phocea was captured by the Persian king. "Well," said the Massilians, much as did that Indian who was lost in the forest, "it's not me that's lost, it's camp!" In a word, they were without a country save Massilia itself. As it had a flourishing brood of colonies, it became the home land of the Phocean Greeks and remained so until the times of Pompey. Say, four hundred years. Quite a lot can happen in that time—our own country, with all it has done, is hardly half that age—so it is not difficult to conceive the Greek Riviera building cities that vied with Athens itself in glory and beauty. That Denia could build its own Temple of Ephesus is but one witness. And the Greeks did not cling to their ships, as did the Phoenicians. Up the valley of the Rhone far and wide they went, for Massilian coins are found all over that part of France.
Later the Romans overtook them as they did everything else Greek the foundations of Greek thought were already laid in Gallia. Caesar did not find the Gauls quite so barbarian as he imagined; in fact so deep were the foun, dations laid that France, having the same ad. vantages of Roman government as the rest of the world, nevertheless leads it easily to-day in all things of grace and beauty. And that is the significance of Marseilles to the world.
You will find nothing; material of Greece in Marseilles now. There are the vast basins, with all the ships of the world moored to the quays; there is the church of Notre Dame de la Guarde perched on the rocky eminences above the Old Port and a guide to sailors; there is the palace of Longchamps with its museums and zoological gardens; there is the fine boulevard of the Prado and a tram ride to take along the Corniche Road by the sea. These are modern sights; most interesting; of all is the Cannebiere itself, the one modern forum in all the world.
No other city has one. It is a wide thorough-fare, lined throughout with luscious cafes, and here the whole 800,000 Marseillais gather at the aperitif to discuss eyerything under the sun, art, gossip, politics, religion, scandal. Thought clashes on thought. If anything new is to be started in France, the Cannebiere starts it.
I will not enlarge on the long medieval history of Marseilles, its sturdy independence of thought down the centuries, its obliteration under Rome and its rise again with the Crusades. All that is to be dug up if you would amuse yourself while waiting for a steamer. We must hurry along the Riviera. The first town that we explored when in search of a villa was TouIon, that cute little toy town with streets and squares wholly of palms, and the ancient Old Port so crooked and narrow that no wheeled wagon can venture there. For all that, it is ablaze with lights and smart as Paris, in fact has one of the smartest tea rooms in all South France. Naval officers and their wives and daughters predominate, for it is the Newport of France, navally speaking. They bring to Toulon its cosmopolitan air and its branches of the best Parisian shops. But alas ! not a semblance of a villa or an appartement to be had. Naval officers come and go; all are taken, far in advance. Further on lies Les Hyeres, a famous old English wintering place. Things are here on a stately scale and nothing to be had under 20,000 francs la saison. We passed up St. Raphael for the same reason, and hurried on to Nice.
Here I get in touch with you again, for you are not looking for any villa but are ashore for a day or so and want to see everything. I might crave your patience to end up this villa digression by the statement that plenty of them are to be had, from 3,000 to ):o,000 francs "la saison" (November to May) anywhere around Nice, at Villefranche, Cagnes, Vence, Golf Juan near Antibes, all handy by tram and bus to the city itself. Call on the local real estate agent. You pay one-half down, and sign a duplicate list of every last thing in the villa. Otherwise nothing alarming; the information might come handy some day, you having most fatuously fallen in love with the Riviera I
The steamer parties: usually land at Monte Carlo and proceed at once to the famous Casino. Your passport is required, examining which, the factotum issues you a card that permits you to go in and play. The halls of the Casino are magnificent, but the people around the gaming tables not at all what you might expect those flashy counts and jeweled ladies who are somebody's mistress, who scintillate in Monte Carla novels. On the contrary, they are for the most part those same frowsy individuals who, all over the world, play chess and cards to excess, wormy and moth-eaten freaks, obsessed with "systems" for beating the tables. Each has a record pad of all the previous falls of the roulette marble in his palm. They watch the roulette with strained eyes; some play two tables at once, crossing and recrossing to place their tokens on numbers, rouge oi noire, pair ou impair, all the various mutations of chance. Impossible to beat the tables in the long run, even with chances thirty-six to thirty-five on the fall of the ball! However, we might as well decide to lose a hundred francs for the fun of the thing, so we go to a desk, hand in a bill, and are served fiye twenty-franc tokens. How the croupiers know whose money is whose, I can-not imagine, but presently, if lucky, you find showers of bright token being shot your way. Once ahead, keep twenty francs constantly on your birthday number. You may come away from there with seven hundred francs, if the ball is kind. A fascinating game ! Better go away before it is too late!
I have much romantic history to show you, once the Casino is out of your system. Over across the harbor lies the grim Rock of Monaco, the property of the Princes of Grimaldi for twelve centuries. The present Grimaldi, the Count of Monte Carlo and Prince of Monaco, lives there. Up a ramp you drive, to enter the old walled fortification. You are shown about, see the prince's palace, the cathedral, the anthropological and oceanographic museums, the gardens of St. Martin. It is all very modern, and, if you like natural history, the collections of relics of prehistoric man will be very interesting.
But under it all runs a very deep human story, this Monaco, that directly affects you and me. For the Rock, from the times of its early Greek temple of Heracles Monoikos, was one of the great bulwarks guarding our infant civilization against Phoenician and Saracen. Eze, Nice, Antipolis (Antibes), Telonion (Toulon) ran the chain to Massilia, all of them bold promontories that could be fortified, and having tiny harbors under their elbows. They protected the Greek settlements from the Phoenicians during those dim days when Rome was not; all of them received the attentions of corsair and Turk through the Middle Ages. With-out them our civilization might have been Semitic instead of Aryan l Monaco repelled the combined fleets of Genoese and Algerians again and again; the Rock of Nice nearly succumbed once to Khair ed Din, the Turks, and the Genoese, in one vast armada, but survived through the tenacity of her captain, Montfort.
Eze seemed impregnable, perched on its mountain top 1,400 feet above the sea, and it guarded both Nice and Monaco. But Khaired Din took it, after numerous unsuccessful sieges and storming parties. He used the poisonous scheme of sending one of its own citizens there to beg for refuge. This miscreant, whether under threat of torture or lure of gold, opened the main gate at dead of night, and a select body of Khair ed Din's men entered. Behind them all the corsairs of the fleet. The town resisted desperately, fought a pitched battle for three days. By the end of that time the bodies of its men, women, and children were piled knee deep in the streets, and the town was burnt and sacked with Khair ed Din's well-known thoroughness. To this day it remains an empty mass of ruins.
Monaco was never out of the Grimaldi family's hands but two years in all the medieval centuries. That was after the disastrous battle of Crecy, when Francisco Grimaldi's crossbow-men were set upon by their French allies. The Spinoza of Genoa took advantage of his absence to seize the Rock. For two years Francisco was without a castle. But, if you look down the cliffs from those gardens of St. Mar-tin, you can call up out of the past a story that redounds to the credit of that ancestor of the present adventurous prince. For, on the night of Christmas, 1348, a monk came up the ramp over which you haye just driven. He passed the guards with a blessing, and went to this cliff rim. The Count Spinoza and his family and all his retainers except the watch, were at Christmas mass in the cathedral. The monk took out a rope from under his cassock and let it down over the cliff. Up it from boats below came armed men of the Grimaldi. They over-powered the guards in silence. Then the monk went to the cathedral, and, at the stroke of twelve, threw off his cassock, disclosing the shining armor underneath.
"I am Francisco Grimaldi I" his voice clanged upon the astonished Spinoza while yet the bell was ringing over their heads. One glance at the armed men behind him sufficed. The Rock was returned to the Grimaldi—to the tune of an enormous ransom.
You will pass Eze on the Grand Corniche drive to Nice; see also above you the monumental ruins of La Turbie, built by the amazing Romans, who put enough mortar and brick to build a town into whatever they did, however abject as a work of art the edifice might be; past Villefranche with its curious little harbor and villas clinging to the hillsides; and then we come in sight of the Rock of Nice. That is it, that bold cliff rising beyond the Old Port—a mere basin for fishermen and small shipping. Its significance you already know; around it the car sweeps and you are rolling down the mountain.
Promenade des Anglais, and there is the Jetty Casino and the fine public gardens and the great hotels. What you are to do in or with Nice, I am sure I cannot say. It is a pleasure place, pure and simple. A good place to come into for the concerts and opera, which are very good and cheap, and then get away from for rest and peace. You might turn the car up the Avenue de la Gare to the Boulevard Victor Hugo, and then drive east to see the Hermitage and the Cimiez, with its Roman ruins. But the Romans were a rather fatiguing people, with a tedious way of building their towns inland—which no true seaman like a Greek could abide for one moment l Why not drive the car straight on, and go in for the Medieval Riviera, with a dig at Cannes? You pass the whole long rade of Nice in review—and an incomparable bay it is, too—see the gay crowds out on the Promenade and at the cafe tables in front of the Ruhl and the Negresco and such great caravanserais. And then we are rolling out the road to Cagnes. You turn inland from the sea somewhere near it, and see, scattered pyramid-wise all over a steep hill, a funny little medieval town crowned by a castle. It is Cagnes, and the castle belongs to the Grimaldi. The battlements and walls are still there, but not in the perfection of St. Pol further on. We do not get out, for these medieval towns are all alike, a huddle of houses within thick stone walls and graced with a church and a castle.
Better save our time for St. Pol. We reach it three miles farther on. Across a valley on its own hill it rises, bare gray walls, crenelated with arched ports, springing direct out of the steep slopes. It is as impregnable to-day, to men without cannon, as ever. You cross to it where the portcullis once rose above the moat. The car is left outside, and you walk in on the dirt fill. Once through the gate, there are the same narrow and steep cobbled streets as in the time of the mailed knights. The shops are medieval, two marble benches flanking the door, on which to set wares. The door is two inches thick, studded thick with nails, and has an iron grill about four inches square to look through. In those old times, when the shop-man heard a row in the street, he snatched off his wares, closed to the doors, bolted fast, and then watched the fight through the grill.
Every door not a shop has a coat of arms carved on the lintel. St. Pol was most aristocratic in the thirteenth century and was crowded with knights. Its church is Romanesque. with huge low groined arches, solid and substantial, like the knights who worshiped there. It has the usual tall square stone belfry, and its altar service is very old, of beaten silver. The sacristan must show them to you, and also the relics of various authentic saints, of whom I remember only St. George. Out to the walls, you may have the pleasure of treading those same narrow sentry-goes that the crossbowmen trod five hundred years ago. The embrasures are so spaced as to give each man just elbow room and protection from side darts. You look down high walls and steep hillsides, now ter-raced with vineyards in every direction. A beautiful countryside is this, all roses and girofle and olive orchards. In the days of Khair ed Din and his like, it lived in perpetual terror of Saracen raids. The walled towns of St. Pol, and Cagnes, and Vence, and Les Tourettes were the refuges of the peasantry. They crowded into them, and watched the pillage and destruction from these very battlements. When the corsairs were sufficiently divided into small raiding parties, the knights sallied forth and slew them in detail.
A few miles further on we reach the very flanks of the mountains, the baous as they are called by the peasantry, an old Ligurian word that has survived even the Romans. Under the steep cliffs of the Baou Blanc is Vence, an old stone egg of a town, with but two of its defense towers yet standing. The inhabitants have pierced the walls with numerous gates, and have quarried into them to make room for shops. But the principal gates still have the stone grooves of the old sliding doors, and there are one or two of the original medieval shops still in use. The cathedral dates from the tenth century and has very fine Merovingian carvings in its choir stalls. It was always a religious town, having temples to Cybele and Bacchus here in Roman times, when it was called Vintium from the abundant grape culture carried on hereabouts. Quite a few relics and inscriptions of those old Roman times are still here. The Roman Road, from Rome to Arles, runs through the town, and you can see the old chariot-ruts in the stone where the original Cretaceous rock crops to the surface.
Up on the flanks of the Baou Blanc are the immense ruins of the Templar castle, destroyed during the crusade of Philip Augustus, Icing of France, against the Order in 1307. There is yet another castle, that of St. Laurent, up on the very top of the Baou Blanc. Here, more than once, the Vencois fled for refuge, and watched, far below, their town being burnt and sacked by the Saracens. But its walls were indestructible, and each time they returned and rebuilt, when the combined castles of the region drove out the raiders. A constant watch was kept out over the Mediterranean from St. Laurent for the first sight of the corsair galleys. Signal fires on Baou Blanc, St. Jeanette, Baou Noir, and Gourdon above Grasse, warned the peasantry of danger.
A romantic country, this, and one of magnificent slopes and valleys. It is one vast region of rose terraces, all supplying the factories of Grasse with their perfume. Around Vence are hundreds of modern villas, a big colony of English, Americans, South Africans, and Australians, with their own church and library. Fifteen hundred feet above the sea, it has a bracing, if cold, climate in winter, about like October at home. For three winters I lived here, finally exhausting all its wonderful walks, of which you can take a different one every day.
Along the Corniche hurries the car towards Grasse. You pass through the medieval town of Les Tourettes and the grand scenery of the Gorge du Loup. Thence to Grasse, where you will want to inspect the perfume factories and see how your "Eau de Cologne" is made. Much history has happened here too, but we have no time for it. Down the valley the car flees to Cannes. Every one wants to see that pleasure town founded by Lord Brougham in 1834. It was then a mere fishing village, but protected by the Isles Lerins from all unfavorable gales, and he built the first villa here and proceeded to enjoy the climate. All fashionable London followed, in its yachts. Royalty added its sanction, and the place became famous. You will proceed to sample the Promenade de la Croisette, and finally tear the ladies away from Robber's Row, that facade and court of smart shops that fronts the Promenade. But not without heat and dust, as Milton has it, for therein will be displayed all the priceless garments of the most exclusive Parisian coutouriers, and ladies adore clothes with an imperishable enthusiasm, even if they cannot buy. At that, you will lose monev, not to say time!
Back to Nice, by the long slope up past the really magnificent gardens and villas, palaces rather, of Cannes.
We regain the Grand Corniche. A bit out of Cannes is the pottery town of Vallauris. Here is truly ravishing peasant pottery, simple blues and greens and soft yellows, but quaintly beautiful in form. My artist better half discovered it long ago and brought back whole sets to America. But I see that the peasant ware of Vallauris has since become known to Vanity Fair, and is now extensively advertised to those who would be smart and exclusive—which consists in having tea sets that no one else can have for love or money. The peasant potters of Vallauris do not know this, however; you can buy the original ware there, neglecting the violent and too-much Parisian creations established by various "art" potteries that have invaded the place.
On to Antibes. We have no time to stop, but can get a glimpse of the old tower of St. Honorat on the cape, the fortifications built by Vauban, the enormous villa section that is growing fast because Antibes is a favorite of the English and not too far from the distractions of Nice. Down the busy road we fly, past Cagnes on its hill once more, and are entering the long crescent of the Promenade des Anglais. A short run along the Lower Corniche takes you direct back to Monte Carlo and the ship. Half an hour is plenty of time to allow for it.
I do not know whether the cruise steamers attempt such an extensive tour as this, but it is all within the compass of one day. The car and chauffeur used to be had for 100 francs the day, now about 250—due to the fall of the franc and the rise in gasoline, but in dollars it is about the same. If they are going to set you down in Monte Carlo, with a trip to Nice only eight miles away, you might cut loose and try this trip. It would show you the heart of the Riviera, its three big pleasure resorts, and, above all, its storied countryside with the old walled towns. It is only a glimpse that you have had, but a good glimpse, one with some grasp on the meaning of things. One could spend a whole season anywhere on the Riviera, a season of mild intoxication, of wandering footloose and free. Its legends alone are a study, and the medieval story a fascination. There are many good books for your more intricate guidance, the best of which, I am sure, is Sir Frederick Treve's genial volume, "The Riviera of the Corniche Road."
There is still another alternative for those having a "free" day ashore at Villefranche or Monte Carlo, yet who may decide against the car drive that I have outlined above. And that is to put in the day in exploring Nice or Cannes, or both. I may have spoken slightingly of Nice, as one who has lived near it but not in it for several winter seasons. But there are sights for the stranger, and, if devoting our day to Nice alone, I would begin by visiting the Hermitage and then the Cimiez. The trams from Monte Carlo to Nice run very frequently, so there is no trouble in getting there. The Nice terminal is the Place Messena. You would visit the Public Gardens and the smart shops around them, first. Then walk up the Avenue de la Gare (now called Avenue Mareschal Foch) to the Bouleyard Victor Hugo and turn to your right. It heads direct for the Hermit-age and the Cimiez and has changed its name to the Boulevard Dubouchage. Arrived at the foot-of the green hill, immense hotels tower above you and you take a sentier or footpath and have a most enjoyable climb through luxuriant semitropical tree growth up to the gardens of the Hermitage, most famous and magnificent of hostelries. From there good roads take on to a rond-point (always walking left) where are fine views out over Nice below and to the snow-capped French Alps to the north. You keep on, through the handsome villa section of the Cimiez, and eventually arrive at the ruins of the Roman amphitheater. It is all that is left of that flourishing town of the Empire save a temple of Diana now enclosed in a private garden. From the ruins you can get a tram back to town.
To see something of Greek Nike you have but to climb the Chateau hill at the east end of the Promenade des Anglais. Steps lead up and up it, giving fine views of the Mediterranean littoral and all Nice below. There is not one stone left of the original Greek acropolis that was built here after the victory over the Ligurians, nor hardly any ruins of the medieval castle that defended Nice against Khair ed Din and was destroyed by the Duke of Berwick. But there are interesting fragments of those early times, and we can reconstruct in the imagination and realize something of the significance of this hill. It is to-day a fine park, with a great artificial waterfall tumbling down over the rocks, and the whole park has many delightful walks. It was presented to Nice by one patriotic Italian citizen.
During the rest of the afternoon a walk along the gay Promenade is the thing. The afternoon concerts at the jetty Casino are well worth the relaxation. The entrance charge is fifty centimes. They giye light "spectacles" on the stage, and the orchestra plays classic music, alternating with a jazz band adjoining on the west side of the Casino. A good floor. The charge is one franc per person if taking a dancing table. On the east side are the gaming rooms, a small Monte Carlo. There is an extra charge for entering; you can play or not as you choose.
I really do not see how you can do Nice and Cannes both in one day unless you drop the Cimiez entirely. Take a train to Cannes as the quickest way. The sights there are the Promenade de la Croisette with its smart shops —a ladies' heaven—the port, with its yachts of all nationalities, and the truly fine roads to the east out of town with their magnificent villas set in enormous gardens.