The wider view

posted 17 February 2005

The view from our balcony that I posted on January 20 is only the central portion—what you can see from the breakfast table, well back from the window.

View northIf you stand at the window or on the balcony and turn slightly to your right, to look northwest, here's what you see. The ridge is Mont Alban, the northward continuation of Mont Boron, and the massive structure on top is the local "Château Vauban." Vauban was Louis XIV's military architect, and France is littered with magnificent examples of his skill. What puzzles us is why, given that Villefranche (as part of the agglomeration of Nice) only joined France in the mid-19th century, Vauban should have been building things here. Could the border have been that close and the chateau built to keep an eye on Villefranche? Maybe, as David points out that the obvious place for forts around here is on the points of land, where they could control the sea lanes, not on hilltops at the backs of the bays. Anyway, the place is open for tours, and we plan to visit soon. I'm sure all will be revealed.

The buildings on the hillside are residential areas of Villefranche. The single tall palm tree is on the grounds of one of half a dozen private estates that border the bay. It might have been planted expressly to accent our view, especially in the late evening, when the chateau is lit from below and the waxing crescent moon hangs low over Mont Alban.

View southIf you turn slightly to your left, to face southwest, you see Cap Ferrat, documentably the most expensive real estate in France and probably Monaco, too. You know there's real money (read power) involved when extremely expensive land isn't used efficiently—consider, e.g., Manhattan and what it would take to have a wooded estate there. The list of people who used to have places on Cap Ferrat ranges from royalty to movie stars to rock stars to the legendarily rich to Jacques-Yves Cousteau, but no one ever says who has a place there now, I suspect because their privacy is zealously guarded.

The picture is rather dim because from here the sun is always either behind it or too low to shine on it. Some of the trees silhouettedon the top of the nearer heights are on the grounds of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, which is just out of sight around the curve of the hill. The tall structure is a tower crane, of which several are currently working over there. Word around the lab is that many of the villas are being bought up by Russian mafiosi, who tear them down to build more modern (and, we are assured, much less tasteful) houses. It's pruning season in this part of the world, and the crews, both private and municipal, are currently working the cape. Every morning, somewhere in our view, one or two thin columns of white smoke mark the spots where the pruning crews have started the day by burning the previous afternoon's trimmings. Burning is only permitted in the winter, when the risk of wildfire is relatively low.

Kitchen viewFinally, here's the view from the little kitchen window, which looks east, up the hill. The first two tiers of balconies are part of our résidence (it's all one building, but wings zigzag out at odd angles to ensure everyone a view), then comes the Basse Corniche (out of sight behind the buildings), then the pink apartment house with the flat roof just below the ridge, then private houses up on the hill. The leafy branch making a break for it across the view is bougainvillea. Beyond the ridge is the town of Beaulieu, but once we climb up to the corniche, the road curves around the shoulder of the hill rather than going over it, so our 10-minute walk to the shops is level all the way— very unusual around here!

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