It’s hard to imagine what Nice and Monaco were like a hundred years ago, but if you look closely you can still find a few beautiful villas amongst the towering concrete apartment blocks that are threatening to swallow them. There are a few along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, as well as the larger Negresco Hotel and Massena Palace. Feeling a bit underdressed for the 4 star Negresco, I decide to visit the Massena Palace instead. The grand house, which was built in 1901 for Prince Victor Massena, has been wonderfully restored and as well as being a fine example of interior design, it is also a museum of local history. I particularly love the huge portraits of Queen Victoria (a regular visitor to Nice) and Napolean in the salon, the fine mosaic floor in the hall and an unusual black and gold clock on one of the mantelpieces.
In Monaco, where during the 60s and 70s Prince Rainier attempted to increase the population and wealth of his tiny municipality by building upwards, it’s even harder to find the old villas and, for some reason, the millionaires who own them seem to feel the need to modernise them in the most unusual ways. Personally, I prefer the old town up on the Rock, with its views across the port to the Casino of Monte Carlo. Quite by accident, I stumble into the changing of the guard at the fairy tale palace of the Prince. It’s a long and pompous procession of young uniformed guards, hoisting their weapons and marching to the beat of a small band. They don’t quite manage to drown out the bells of the palace though, which are ringing out an annoying little ditty that is possibly the national anthem. The only thing missing is a cannon fire. At least the Asian tour groups seem to love it.
Monaco feels very relaxing. I am drawn into a Starbucks café, frequented by yummy mummies, a couple of laptop-tapping suits and an English journalist, chatting to a young woman who may, or may not, be famous. The chai latte is an extortionate €5.15 but it’s worth it for the most luxurious toilets I’ve yet to find on this tour. Just down the road I pass a car showroom displaying Porches and Ferraris and the port is filled with luxury yachts and speedboats. Tickets for the 2014 Grand Prix are on sale from €70 to €550. In Monaco there is no divide between rich and poor, only between rich and super rich.
Nice is another matter. After the morning train left the city there was an announcement from the conductor that known pickpockets had boarded the train and passengers should be careful. The young man, who had just sat down opposite me, nervously checked for his keys and wallet then decided to place them in his bag instead. It’s not surprising that Nice is attracting such undesirable elements. Former Mayor Jacques Medecin had some very unsavoury friends, including Albert Spaggiari , who used the plans of the sewer system to rob the Societe General bank of 46 million Francs. The Mayor was also siphoning off city funds into his own bank account, fleeing to Uruguay when his crime was discovered. However, it’s hard to imagine any crime in Monaco, apart from the fashion crime that I am committing in my sensible trainers, fleece and waterproof.