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Rest And Relaxation In Roquebrune

September 4, 2013

My first time on the French Riviera was as a wide-eyed 20-year-old doing the big geographical: a rite of passage for Australian kids. My budget allowed for a fish burger in Nice. I ate it at twilight, marvelling at the first pebbly beach I’d ever seen, and it remains my best burger ever.

My second visit was a long time coming. Twenty-two years of adult life and the tyranny of distance getting in the way. And then, quite suddenly, all the hard slog paying off and delivering me trackside for the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix. It was right up there on the bucket list, and I watched a fair slice of the action through a veil of grateful and disbelieving tears.

The view from Roquebrune toward Monaco.

The view from Roquebrune toward Monaco.

My third visit brought me to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin a couple of weeks ago. Specifically, to an apartment on the outskirts of the old village: a quaint hamlet scraped into the rock centuries ago.

Roquebrune has many of the trappings you’d expect from this part of the world. Surly, perfunctory waiters. Thin, tanned people hiding behind designer sunglasses. Ruins. Stray cats. Dog shit.

But like all hidden places, it also holds surprises. One of these is Casarella, a Sicilian restaurant. Its robust, simple dishes celebrate the fruits of the Mediterranean and the soil around it. If you go, try to reserve the tiny roof terrace. The view of bejewelled Monaco rivals the sweeping vista from the rather snooty and more expensive Les Deux Freres up the road. And you’ll have the terrace to yourselves; there’s only room for one table.

Like Casarella, Roquebrune’s old village is modest and beguiling, as are its charms and treasures. The gnarled old olive tree that’s said to be 1000 years old. The village bell that chimes the hour, then again two minutes later, originally for the benefit of workers in the long-gone olive groves.

You can climb the hill to find Le Corbusier’s grave. Nearby is Coco Chanel’s house, La Pausa, where Winston Churchill also stayed.

It’s sleepy, too, even at the height of the season. Our daily routine gently suggested itself. Late breakfasts at Fraise et Chocolate, afternoons by the pool, evenings at Casarella. It rained one day, so we replaced all that with indoor sloth and introspection.

I quite like this privileged and sparkling piece of coastline with its millionaires and models and tiny, overcrowded beaches (actually the beaches are silly: I would never come to this part of the world without the promise of a pool). The old-school glamour that Coco Chanel would have known and helped create may have faded, but it’s still a great spot in which to rent at apartment, fill the fridge with booze and cheese, and practice the dying art of doing nothing.

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