Make your way to Nice and the French Riviera and winter like the British used to do.
As the cold descends, now is the time to take a leaf out of an old book and head to the South of France, just like they started doing generations ago. The popularity of Nice and its surroundings has not dampened over the many decades – indeed centuries – and today the rich Victorian tradition of decadent holidaying to escape the cold and blissful relaxation continues to flourish.
The Riviera first became popular even earlier, as far back as the late 18th century, when the upper classes began coming to the area as a winter health resort. The arrival of the train the following century only cemented its popularity, with royal and aristocratic visitors growing in number. Today, the attraction is clear and still remains – the lure of mild winter weather, stretches of beaches and some fine accommodation and dining. Among the more varied group of tourists who now flock, familiar faces can still be spotted, with a new breed of royalty from stage and screen adding to the blue-blooded variety.
The annual winter journey was most notably buoyed by Queen Victoria herself, who first discovered its charms in Menton – charms that had her hooked and soon to return. Later, in the final years of her life, she preferred Nice where she stayed at the Grand and for her last 3 visits at the Excelsior Regina Palace in Cimiez, where a marble statue commemorates her. This belle epoque beauty was built to provide luxurious shelter for the royal court, and although now an apartment building it still retains much of its magnificent detail, and if you are lucky there is sometimes the chance to rent an apartment for longer stays.
When the British first arrived they were good at bringing little parts of Britain along with them, from classic English food to croquet – not to mention the iconic Promenade des Anglais, built at the suggestion of a group of English visitors and funded by English lawyer and clergyman Lewis Way. With wellness at the heart of a stay back then, why not indulge in a modern take at the spa at Boscolo Exedra (a good place to stay too if you like a lively bar scene, and a location near the old town), or Spa 27 at the Westminster.
From the bustle of Nice be sure to visit some of the smaller towns and villages that exude a quieter charm. Saint-Raphaël and neighbouring Fréjus are two perfect spots that provide views of the dramatic Esterel mountains and equally spectacular blue sea. With sandy beaches, marinas, pretty streets and seafront food markets the area is a delightful haven. Stay at the La Villa Mauresque, originally built in the 1880s as a private residence for a Pacha, and now operating as a luxury hotel. For big bucks glamour you cannot go wrong with the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, a magnificent destination in itself with a pool club and a selection of restaurants and bars to fill an indulgent stay. Suites come with sea views (there is a funicular to take you down to the beach itself) while others boast their own private pool for more secluded relaxation.
Fit for a queen and for those wanting to see and be seen for over 150 years, this year join in the tradition and soak in the Mediterranean blue waters, the mild air and stunning views of Nice and the Riviera. Without the need to travel by train and boat to get there (though Victoria did have use of the royal yacht to cross the channel), you’ll be there in just a few hours in the comfort of a private jet, transported from dull grey winter days to some seaside warmth, colour and glamour.
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