The new Riviera. France's C^ote Varoise has everything but crowds
Island of Bendor, France
WHEN it's snowing and blowing outside, people start dreaming of places that are sunny and warm. A place of eternal spring is the ``new'' French Riviera, the C^ote Varoise. That's the Mediterranean coast between Marseille to the south and the D'epartement des Alpes Maritimes -- the ``old'' French Riviera -- to the north.Skip to next paragraph
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Everything that attracted people to the old French Riviera (Menton, Monte Carlo, Beaulieu, Nice, Antibes, Juan les Pins, Cannes) is also found on the C^ote Varoise -- warm, sunny climate all year, blue skies, blue sea, white beaches, cliffs, rolling hills, palms, flowering shrubs, picturesque villages, easygoing people. But the old French Riviera attracted too many people: To accommodate mass tourism more roads, more shops, more casinos, more pensions (guest houses), more condominiums, many
more and much bigger hotels were built; it got very crowded.
Fortunately, the new C^ote Varoise is built to the human scale. While Nice has 275 hotels and pensions, the largest resort in the ``new'' south, St. Raphael, has only 51. Loew's Monte Carlo has 680 rooms, the biggest hotel in the D'epartement du Var has only 230, and most hotels on the C^ote Varoise are small -- 20 to 55 rooms. You can easily imagine the difference in atmosphere and in life style that comes with the difference in scale. The small resorts form a surviving corner of la douce France `ou il
fait bon vivre (gentle France where the living is easy).
You can get up early in the morning, when it's misty and quiet, and watch the fishermen bring in the catch; you can take walks in the lovely green countryside; you can amble from stall to stall in a small market square that looks like a stage set for 19th-century opera; you can sit in a sidewalk caf'e, surrounded by animated games of belote (the French national card game), watch some earnest players of p'etanque -- a French version of bowls, played outside, in which you try to hit the cochonnet (jack); or you can just watch the world go by.
There's history and art here -- but not of the kind that wears you out sightseeing. You can go for the day to Marseille, France's second city and the oldest in Western Europe (settled 800 BC). Fr'ejus has Roman ruins. For people who love ships, there is Toulon, the famous home port of the French Mediterranean fleet. There's large St. Raphael (near the ``old'' Riviera), where French and American troops landed on Aug. 15, 1944. Hy`eres was a port in the Middle Ages; tucked into the ramparts of its f eudal castle is a more recent ch^ateau, the Castel St. Claire, where paying guests live a feudal life enriched with park and swimming pool. There's a museum in St. Tropez, and there are art galleries and workshops of artists and craftsmen (glass, ceramics, weaving) that you can visit.
For the sedentary there are concerts, bridge clubs, and libraries. Sporty types go in for golf, tennis, squash, Ping-Pong, horseback riding, martial arts, auto racing on the nearby Circuit Ricard. And, of course, there is swimming, sailing, windsurfing, water skiing, and the C^ote Varoise is well known for its underwater activities.