Archive for the ‘Riviera’ Category

Since the villa is now almost completely renovated we have decided as a family to take a trip down to the Riviera to enjoy a summer break for a few weeks. So Mama, Papa, Aunt Mimi, Sir Oliver, Millie and Henri and I take the overnight train and then drive to Cap d’Antibes in two cars that we have rented.

The Villa, Cap d'Antibes

When we arrive the lorry with masses of furnishings has also arrived from Paris and there is also Lorenzo who has been persuaded to come and join us from Italy and keep me company. We have a wonderful day emptying the lorry and placing all the furniture. I am thrilled to be able to hang all the paintings that I bought from Montparnasse. They cause a bit of a debate of course but I prevail. We have employed several local people as cook, housekeeper and gardener but they do not arrive until tomorrow. It is lucky Lorenzo is here because he had the good sense to bring with him in his car boxes of Italian delicacies and he cooks us the most amazing supper. He is such a resounding success that even Papa says “well my boy I suggest you get to London and open a restaurant.”

We take a few days to sort ourselves out, and Lorenzo and the cook argue in the kitchen each night. Papa and I discuss the landscaping of the garden and grounds and the building of a swimming pool with the gardener who will arrange and organise everything for us.

Interestingly, the older generation are not good at simply relaxing and doing nothing. Despite excellent food, brilliant sunshine, amazing surroundings, the gramophone, Mah Jong and charades, they miss the hustle and bustle of big city life and start complaining. I on the other hand have got Lorenzo, so I am perfectly content with doing very little. I have enough of a distraction. Millie and I also spend a lot of time teaching Lorenzo new dance steps and generally improving our own dancing technique. However, to ease the discontent, during the day, we start taking a few trips and take leisurely visits to Juan Le Pins and Antibes. But since most places are closed there are more outbursts.

One day we head for the sandy Plage Garoupe shaded by umbrella pines. We meet the American family of Gerald and Sara Murphy. Millie reminds me that Yvette, Henri’s sister, had told us that the Murphy’s had been here last summer with Cole Porter.

‘We are staying at the Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc’ Gerald tells us.

‘The hotel is usually closed from May to September but we persuaded the owner Antoine Sella to keep the place open with a skeleton staff this summer.’

He is thrilled when we tell him that we have bought and renovated the villa near to the hotel and suggests we join them for dinner, which we graciously accept.

We spend a pleasant afternoon swimming and lounging around and the Murphy’s extol the virtues of sunbathing. Lorenzo, Millie, Henri and I are appreciative but Mama and aunt Mimi huddle under a vast umbrella afraid of the sun. Gerald and Sir Oliver have a lot in common as they are both artists and converse for ages.

We have a delightful dinner at the Hotel du Cap. I had forgotten what a beautiful place and setting it is. This is where we came to sign the contracts for the villa back in February.  However, as the pleasantness of the dinner recedes, the grumbling gets too much and we are forced to leave early. Lorenzo comes with us. On our way back to Paris we take a detour to the luxurious surroundings of Aix-Le-Bains, or as all us Brits say ‘Aches and Pains’.

Poster for Aix-le-Bains

We arrive and check into the Splendid-Royal on the Rue Georges, just up above the main centre of the town next to the Excelsior. The more salubrious first-class hotels occupy commanding ledges that give sweeping views and a fresh mountain breeze that comes down from the pine covered peaks above. The Splendid-Royal is a model of architectural perfection and gets Aix’s smart summer crowd. It has a richly carpeted lobby, lined with heavy, blue marble columns, showcases from the best Paris shops and double-sized elevators, originally built to accommodate handicapped guests.

Splendide-Royal Hotel

Aunt Mimi tells Lorenzo ‘this hotel has become a favorite with Americans, because they find the usual match-box French elevators claustrophobic.’  I share a room with Lorenzo which is vast with big windows and a balcony, roomy enough for a cozy breakfast in the morning that opens onto a white alabaster terrace with a fabulous view. We congregate for lunch in the splendid dining room with impeccable service on metropolitan standards, which is full and lively and rather like being in a fashionable Parisian café.

View of Aix-le-Bains towards Lake Bourget

‘Ah this is much better’ says aunt Mimi glancing around nodding to people she thinks she knows.

‘I have no idea why you like that dreary spot on the Riviera at this time of the year’ says Mama. ‘This is where we should be. It is a perfect mix of elegance, good weather and correct company.’

‘Well’ says Millie with a sly smile ‘looks like you and Lorenzo will be spending the summer down there all alone next year.’


One of three Aixes in France, Aix-le-Bains of Savoy in the lower ranges of the French Alps is delightful and picturesque and I love being here. Perched on the banks of the beautiful Lac Bourget, which is eleven miles long and therefore the longest lake in France, it has become most fashionable mountain resort in Europe full of rugged crags hovering over deep wooded valleys.

View of mountains, Aix-le-Bains

In the afternoon we take a short stroll down into the town through some quaint streets that wind down the hill with some scenic views and the alpine rooflines behind us. Since Lorenzo has never been here before Mama and Aunt Mimi have taken it upon themselves to introduce him to Aix and I tag along. We reach the thermal establishment which is a veritable palace appropriately designed with a classic Roman façade but fitted with every modern up-to-date device to aid the natural powers of the waters.

Thermal establishment, Aix-le-Bains

Mama steps into guide mode as we wander around and says, as if we haven’t noticed…. ‘the Romans founded this health resort because of the spa and the natural powers of the waters in 122B.C. More recently, the King of Sardinia laid the foundations for another thermal spa in 1776. This new structure was created in 1857.’

She continues Over a million gallons of water pour from Aix’s spring every day, hitting the surface at nearly 115 degrees. It provides the foundation for all treatments which vary according to the condition being treated from gout, nervous disorders, rheumatism, faulty blood circulation or arthritis.’

‘Of course all the ‘cure towns’ including Evian and Vichy have been made so luxurious, expensive and fashionable that many think ‘How can I be chic though sick?’ offers Aunt Mimi.

‘So you have to have the right kind of ‘chic’ malady?’ asks Lorenzo.

‘Of course. Overeating, overdrinking, insufficient use of the legs and too much wear and tear of the grey matter are chic’ replies Aunt Mimi with a laugh.

‘You see Lorenzo’ I say ‘ all the hotels are filled during the season with more or less perfect cases of overindulgence.’

In the centre of the town, just below the thermal establishment and opposite the town hall or Hotel de Ville, stands the arch of Campanus commemorating that illustrious Roman general’s soujourn here.

Place de Ville, Aix-le-Bains

Clustered around the sources, the park and the fountains are other hotels including the Villa Victoria. We walk further and wander around the delightful gardens and terraces associated with the entertainment centres of the Casino and the Villa des Fleurs. The Casino also called Le Grand Cercle was built in 1824 and is a large comfortable, rambling building with a multitude of rooms inside.

The Villa de Fleurs is an equally sumptuous building. Both host excellent restaurants, a theatre, ballrooms and salons. We sit and take tea on the terrace at the Casino listening to a concert which is given daily and browse the programme of events for both venues.

Villa des Fleurs, Aix-le-Bains

Mama continues her lecture ‘Not only is it a cure town but Aix offers the most amazing array of entertainment since there are always many notable quests staying here. Of course Aix has many royal connections. Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor as was Victor Emmanuel II, Napoleon III, Wilhelmina, George of Greece and Leopold of Belgium. There will be fetes, galas and many dancing opportunities for you boys all with the right kind of girls.’

That night we have cocktails at the hotel and then make out way to the Casino for dinner. I am hugely delighted to see that Sielle and Mills, who we caught at L’Ours cabaret in Paris a few weeks ago, are the cabaret and they are once again magnificent. As the older generation drift off, we dance the night away in wonderful surroundings. Our earlier polishing of our dance routines in the villa, pays dividends and we are highly sought after as dancing partners for  a succession of charming ladies. It is very early in the morning and almost breakfast time when we walk up the hill to our hotel and we notice other people walking down the hill.

Henri says  ‘You see one half of Aix-les-Bains goes to bed about the time that the other half ventures to be parboiled and massaged.’

The next night we have dinner in the Villa des Fleurs and spend a great evening dancing in their ballroom. But in Aix-Le-Bains the dance craze doesn’t let up. Besides the casino and the villa there are always dances every night at each of the hotels and at La Polonaire and the Castel Bisolet.

Interior of Villa des Fleurs, Aix-le-Bains, during a gala night

We have a busy and pleasurable stay taking in the air, walks, boat rides on the lake, frolicking on the landscaped sandy beach and enjoying all the evening entertainment, not to mention a steady flow of impromptu invites to private cocktail parties and soirees. Obviously we do not make the regular early morning trek of mountain climbers with their knapsacks, spiked canes and long alpenstocks but do partake of some light tennis in the afternoon and watch boule. But, all too soon, it is time to leave and return to London via Paris.


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Le Train Bleu, Hotel de Paris, The Carlton, the International Sporting Club and the Café de Paris.

Wednesday 27th December

We have Christmas at home but we then escape the dreary winter for a visit to the Riviera. Most of the family go south each year but I have not always been allowed to join the migration for a variety of reasons so I am thrilled to be able to go again this year. Mama executes our transfer with military precision given that the entire extended family relocate. We get the train from London to Dover and then the ferry to Calais.

Mama is very chatty on the train and takes the opportunity to interrogate me about the status of my affairs of the heart.

“So how are you getting on with Eva?”

“She is very pretty and fun and dances well too… but…”

“hmm I think I understand the but bit…. She is decorative but not too bright is she?”

“Even so she has many admirers” I say.

“That is because she is quite a catch Fynes and comes from a very well connected and wealthy family. Just so you know I have other suitable introductions to make when we reach the Riviera”

Mama pauses as I roll my eyes in despair.

“Less of that look young man” she says reprovingly “And, I gather Cecile has proven popular?”

“Yes, Cecile is more appropriate Mama.”

“And, I am told you have been seeing that Dolly Tree woman? What of that?”

“Oh she is a friend Mama and she is close to Monty remember” I say rather too defensively.

“And I know about Jessica Brown too.”

I blush furiously “Mama….”

“I know everything Fynes. do remember. Nothing escapes my attention. You might like to know that Miss Brown has been seen under the wing of Lord Northesk. There are whispers of an engagement.”

My heart sinks. I rather enjoyed my lunches and afternoon rendezvous with Jessica.

At Calais we are terribly excited because we are catching the new Calais-Mediterranee Express called Le Train Bleu that only started service on the 8th December. It is called the Blue train because the cars are painted a beautiful blue but they also have a very attractive decorative gold trim! We leave at 1pm and pick up Mimi, Millie and Henri at the Gare du Nord in Paris and then speed off toward the Riviera.

During cocktails in the dining car, Aunt Mimi tells us all about her romantic encounters in London, and how she has several eligible suitors who will all be visiting her on the Riviera.

“Do excuse me this winter” she says “I am going to be a little busy.”

We have a jolly 5-course dinner in the dining car before retiring to our respective sleeping compartments. In the morning we reach Marseilles and then stop at St Raphael, Juan les Pins, Antibes, Cannes and Nice before arriving in Monaco.

Thursday 28th December

It was blissful to leave a cold and grey London one morning and arrive to the sight of mimosa and orange trees and the blue waters of the Mediterranean glittering in the sun the next.

We transfer to the large and ornate Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and immediately feel relaxed and suitably refreshed. The smart footmen in plush breeches and silk stockings and buckled shoes make life here effortless.I take a stroll onto the Place du Casino, an amazing area at the back of the casino and framed by the hotel, the Café de Paris and gardens to one side. Even more lush gardens extend beyond the place near the Palais des Beaux Arts.

Monte Carlo - Place du Casino

Monte Carlo - Place du Casino

This is the most perfect place in the world. From the Casino terrace on the sea front the panorama surpasses all expectations. To the southwest is the Bay with its white yachts and the white walls of the castle of Monaco gleaming in the sun. To the Northeast the wide sweep of the wooded slopes and the white shores of the coastline into Italy. Landward are the mountain peaks rising into the blue of a cloudless sky.

“The beauty is so perfect it is almost painful” says Millie who has crept up behind me and admires the view and ambiance with me.

“Aunt Mimi has already darted off” she says “this one is a rich French industrialist.”

Monte Carlo - terrace and promenade to the sea

Monte Carlo - terrace and promenade to the sea

As we take a leisurely and relaxed lunch in the restaurant terrace that extends onto the Place du Casino of the Hotel de Paris I am reminded by Papa of the weekly schedule and established order of gala nights. Monday is spent at the Ambassadeurs Restaurant at the Hotel Metropole which is daintily decorated like its London counterpart. Tuesday is reserved for the famous Casino balls that take place in the beautiful and sumptuous Salle de Musique. Wednesdays and Saturdays are for the Café de Paris which are perhaps the most successful of all. The Park Palace is the select place for Thursday night and Friday is devoted to the Carlton.

Monte Carlo - Casino gardens

Monte Carlo - Casino gardens

We are immediately thrown into a frantic round of socialising and attend the gala night at the Park Palace which has a fine ballroom and perfect flooring frequented by the cream Riviera Society. It is renowned for dance lovers and suits me perfectly. I am however, feeling a little lost without any of my chums. Monty and Dolly for example are only coming down later in January and meeting me in Cannes. Eva is busy. Aubrey is busy. And Cécile will arrive in a few weeks too. However, I do make my mark with my dancing and after several twirls with Millie I am in great demand and not short of attention.

I notice a very smart man about my age smiling. I am sure at me. If I were to be bold I would say he looks like a very suave gigolo since he is tall, dark and extremely well presented. In fact he looks like an even more sophisticated version of Monty!

To my surprise Millie knows him and we are introduced.

“Fynes, this is Lorenzo Del Drago. He is Italian as you might have guessed and his father is a Count. He has been admiring your dancing and the effect you are having on the ladies!”

“Good to meet you Fynes. Your dancing is amazing.” He says in perfect English. Millie leaves us. It turns out he is the same age and in exactly the same position as me: he is here with his family; at a loose end; and being introduced to suitable ladies by his mother. We talk for ages, interspersed with more dancing.

Friday 29th December

I arrive for breakfast and I am reproached by Mama for being late. To my delight Lorenzo and some of his family are also taking breakfast at a nearby table. To my further delight Mama knows the family.

“I have been allowed to rent an automobile” says Lorenzo. “Would you care to come with me and see the sights?”

We set off and within 30 minutes emerge into the lovely, deserted countryside beyond Monaco. We make frequent stops, park the car and explore. First we visit the charming La Turbie with amazing views, then Eze which is a cluster of ancient buildings with equally dramatic views. Dropping down to the coast we take a leisurely lunch at the exclusive Reserve restaurant in the very English Beaulieu. This is one of the warmest resorts and home to the wonderful Belle Epoque Rotunda. We then visit Villefranche and its beautiful natural harbour.

Lorenzo is charming, intelligent and fun and I warm to him immensely.

That night we have a delightful dinner at Ciro’s regarded as the smartest restaurant in Monte Carlo on the Galerie Charles III with Lorenzo and his family. We then visit the Carlton to see a big event for dance lovers. I laugh to myself when Aunt Mimi reminds me that this is regarded as one of the premier temples of ‘Terpsichore’ on the Riviera. I can’t help but thinking what Eva would make of that word.

George Henry and Maud Rosy had attracted such large crowds at the Cafe de Paris during November with their exhibition dancing that they wereappointed ‘directeurs artistiques’ for the Carlton for the coming Season. They presented a superb entertainment that started with a troupe of English dancing girls called the Oswald’s who give dance after dance with a quick change of costumes. They were backed by a lively dance band called “The Five Its”

“They have been called ‘endiablee’” says Mimi.

“What on earth does that mean?” I ask.

“Oh simply wild or full of life” she replies “a little like you my darling.”

The last act is the clever and beautiful Caryatis who appeared ‘sans voile’ just as mother Eve appeared to Adam. She is called ‘La Thäis de la Danse’and is a statue of grace, charm and beauty.

Papa suggests that the men go to the International Sporting Club, so we leave the ladies for a while. We circumnavigate the elevators, lifts and tunnels to arrive in the club which is the most prestigious gambling salon in the Riviera. Lorenzo’s father Count Luis is a member like Papa of course and it takes little to get us membership. There are no windows visible and you have the sensation of being in some subterranean cavern but you are in fact on the first floor of a building not far from the actual Casino. Papa explains that third class gamblers play the public rooms in the Casino. Second class gamblers inhabit the salles privees of the Casino. But first class gamblers reside where we are.

We watch our fathers play each room dedicated to Chemin de Fer, Trente-et-Quarante and Roulette. They win and they lose but finally both come out heads up. I am not sure I understand it all and I am relieved when we return to the Carlton for more dancing. Lorenzo and I are in great demand as dancing partners.

“How do I learn to dance as well as you?” he asks as we smoke outside on the terrace.

“Well I guess I can show you” I say eagerly.

Saturday 30th December.

We spend the day exploring again but this time end up in a wonderful area just beyond Beaulieu called the Cap-Ferrat peninsula. The little fishing village of St Jean is exquisite. We snoop around and get glimpses of some amazing villas such as Beatrice de Rothschild’s Villa Ile-de-France and King Leopold 11 of Belgium’s Villa des Cedres before having lunch in the rather wonderful Grand-Hotel de Cap Ferrat.

“Ah I forgot to mention. We have a villa near Cannes” Lorenzo says with delight “I have a feeling you might come and visit.”

We spend a late afternoon on a deserted beach.

“I don’t understand why these places are not popular” says Lorenzo “look lovely beaches, wide open space. The sea, the sky, the air. It is wonderful.”

Lorenzo has come prepared and we take a nap on rugs in the sunshine.I wake up to find him snuggled up against me and looking in my eyes.

That night we are part of a large party that includes my family and Lorenzo’s family. We go to to the Café de Paris. Here cosmopolitan Riviera society is at its best during the Saturday gala nights and it is the place to be seen.At the bar and terrace we take an aperitif before dinner. Aunt Mimi joins us with one of her suitors who comes from London and is a business associate of Papa.

The cabaret here is exceptional and holds the record attraction of three couples of exhibition dancers. I finally get to see Dina Harris and Ted Trevor. I am not sure that Eva is right to describe them as the best dancing act in London but they are exquisitely smart and select and their dancing perfect and beautifully rhythmical

Once again I see the marvellous Lily Fontaine and Billy Revel whose act is still amazing. Their apache dance is so realistic and clever that it is a poem in itself.Their imitation dances are too funny for words as they take off English French American and Italian dancers to perfection. Billy Revel is so eccentric he draws roars of laughter and Fontaine is so sweet and charming and a perfect foil for his antics. They are given encore after encore.The entertainment ends with the Spanish dancers Maris de Villars and Escudero who have been successful in Paris but simply do not shine as much as their predecessors.

Sunday 31st December

It is New Years Eve. I spend the day with Lorenzo near the hotel – exploring the wonderful gardens and terraces, playing tennis at the exclusive tennis club and clay pigeon shooting. We spend the evening in at a special party at the Café de Paris. We continue dancing into the small hours as the rest of our family drift off to bed. We literally carry each other back to the hotel.

I wake up in his room. “Blimey” I say thinking of Monty’s word of wisdom.

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