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VOL. 37 | NO. 28 | Friday, July 12, 2013

A tale of two Rivieras, this one more upscale

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MARSEILLE, FRANCE – I never expected those other Rivieras to look anything like those here in the States. (See last week’s column or risk being lost while reading this one. Hint: I’m on vacation.)

I’d like to use a Portofino or St.-Paul-de-Vence dateline. But, after writing last week’s column on each writing opportunity in those locales, I was too exhausted.

Day 5. Portofino is a fishing village in the Genoa province on Italy’s northwest coast. Its 16-room Hotel Splendido Mare serves as our headquarters for a couple of days.

Its small harbor takes on an air of mystery as a boat the size of Delaware docks overnight. Google “Superyacht Baton Rouge” and be as amazed as I was!

Day 6. Not far from Portofino is an area called Cinque Terres (five lands). In Monterosso al Mare we wander, eat and take a boat to another terre or two. Summer has arrived with temps in the 80s as thousands enjoy the Italian Riviera, which bears a distinct resemblance to the Redneck Riviera of Florida and Alabama, except that there’s almost no sand. And very few people from Georgia.

In Riomaggiore, we hike what seems the village’s perimeter. It’s a multi-mile maze of up-again, down-again trails and stairs, skirting residences, vineyards, kumquat groves and more. Views of the sea are stunning. The gelato is refreshing.

A change of venue on Day 7 takes us along the Mediterranean coast to Provence in the South of France, where a walled medieval town has adapted to tourism. Saint-Paul-de-Vence is home to several fine restaurants and hotels, one of which is the Hotel Le Saint Paul, our tour’s final base.

Days 8-10 merge in a mental muddle, and note-taking fails in the face of fatigue.

We visit Vence, a short jaunt away, where we experience the Chapel of the Rosary, designed by Matisse. The nun who runs the chapel speaks perfect English, but my ears must work overtime to understand her. To say the artwork is exquisite is an understatement.

We visit Chateau Grimaldi, in neighboring Antibes, where Picasso painted for several weeks in 1946. Among the museum’s masterpieces is “Joie de Vivre.” In 1946, Picasso was 64, in the third year of a relationship with 24 year-old Francoise Gilot. If his work here is any indication, he was indeed experiencing the joy of life!

Picasso donated several works to Antibes, which changed the name of the place to Le Musee Picasso – his first official museum. Also here are fabulous photos of the master at work, dressed as my mom dressed me in Southern summers – shorts, no shirt. Seriously!

We explore Nice, a hub of the French Riviera. Looks a bit like Myrtle Beach, but in South Carolina the bikini tops must be worn, right? We skirt a shoreline across from a strip of casinos. We roam the shops, cafes and flower markets of Old Town.

We visit Musee National Marc Chagall, from which I emerge a fan of this artist about whom I knew nothing before. A trip to Musee Matisse de Nice (love that internal rhyme) is aborted, as it’s undergoing maintenance and has all the good stuff in storage.

As the official tour ends, Susan and I board a train, where, for the first time in days, I write. Next week: At long last, we’ll always have Paris.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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