Do you remember the Rum Baba? It used to be a standard on the Dessert Trolleys which whizzed round the dining rooms of hotels in my youth. I suppose they are banned now (dessert trolleys, I mean) as being a danger to life and limb. But I can reveal that they are alive and well and are to savoured in Menton! A delightful family run restaurant, where Gran’mère was still to be found at the cash-desk, counting the euros, and the Patron was in charge of the cuisine. A less familiar adjunct was a small Yorkshire terrier which snuffled round clearing up the crumbs, an EU initiative there, I suppose..
Anyway, one of the many pleasures of being in the South of France in late October, early November was the aforementioned delicacy and the warm sunlight, the gentle breeze and the lack of seething masses of other tourists. Menton does not lend itself to mass tourism. It is rather sedate, an Eastbourne sort of a place, and will be the centre for our expeditions to the Villas and Gardens of the Cȏte d’Azur for the foreseeable future. A tour organised by Travel Editions will take you there in April 2016 (4-11th) and (18th-25th)and again in October 2016 (24th-31st)
From our hotel we sallied forth to visit several villas including the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. This pink, bright pink, mansion is the creation of the very rich, very spoilt Beatrice De Rothschild who filled it with 18th century French furniture, Sèvres porcelain, Gobelins tapestries, Spanish ironwork and every extravagance she could get her hands on. Equally lavish are the gardens which run to a Japanese garden, a cactus garden, a Florentine garden, a stone garden, you name it, added to which are the fountains which play to the sound of the Radetzky march (amongst others). Only California could compete with such a place.
Across the bay is the Villa Kerylos. A very different kettle of fish, the recreation of a Greek villa no less, complete with atrium, tessellated floors, kraters and ancient-Greek style furniture copied from illustrations on Greek vases. Garden small but with magnificent views along the coast to Bordighera.
On the matter of gardens the Cȏte d’Azur is difficult to beat at this time of year when our gardens are long past their best. At Serre de la Madonne, Lawrence Johnston’s “other garden” there is much to see, and admire from the terraces below the house. The most famous garden in the area is, of course, the Villa Hanbury, just over the border in Italy. Perched on a rocky promontory, this garden clings to the precipitous site with the ochre villa close to the sea. The gardens were created by the Hanbury brothers (one of whom was a keen botanist) late in the 19th century. Queen Victoria came here to draw, as well she might, for the views and the gardens are spectacular, complete with an ancient Roman road and Brugmansias, the size of trees.