Sadly our stay at La Colombe d’Or could not last forever, and for our last remaining two days on the French Riviera, we packed up our things and moved a 20 minute ride or so towards the coast to the unique little old town of Cagnes-sur-Mer. As the name suggests, it’s a town which is well appointed alongside the sea, and also handily close to Nice airport. Split more or less into three parts, it has a coastal town, and upper main town, and an ancient little old town atop a hill (le Haut-de-Cagnes). We had no interest in the first two parts of the triptych, these having been very much ravished by the overdevelopment which in my opinion has cast a horrible shadow over the French Riviera. But the old town, which could never be easily redeveloped such is the character of its ancient steep streets crammed into ramparts hanging on precariously to the edge of a rising highland, was certainly worth further exploration. And luckily it was also where our hotel was situated.
The cemetery of Cagnes-sur-Mer
We entered Le Haut via a beautiful cemetery, also clustered steeply up hill in rising tiers of decorative stones, crosses and angels. We knew that there was something familiar about it, and were excited to discover that this was the very same graveyard used for scenes of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Having then explored the site, and had our fill reenacting said scenes from this, one of our favourite films, we headed steeply up hill to the old town.
Le Haut-de-Cagnes is a uniquely medieval other-worldly kind of place whose streets appeared even narrower and steeper than those we had enjoyed in Vence and St-Paul. Somewhat shedding the Riviera vivacity of pastel colours, the houses here were altogether more sombre, with stones and beiges dominating with an innately historical result. At times it felt like we were in the world of King Arthur, not least when we got to centre of town, whose huge square castle can be seen for miles around. However lighter relief could also be found in the main Place Grimaldi, which offered beautiful views Northwards to the stunning mountain range which dominates the region.
Rosy views as the sun went down
However all in all, this historical richness was somewhat spoilt by the inevitable creep of modernity and development, not in the old town itself, but by the views looking south, west and east. For the French Riviera is nowadays far from the wild paradise which tempted the likes of Auguste Renoir to move south to the Riviera, and in fact to the town of Cagnes where he later lived. Today, it is a sprawling metropolis of busy roads, hotels, and villas crammed one upon another. This did not feel like a coast of luxury, but rather one of the busiest tourist destinations I have experienced outside of London. Sadly, the golden years of the world’s greatest artists discovering a ripe Riviera seem to be long past. But at least we have their paintings, to look upon that lost paradise once more.
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