Well, two days but whose counting? We sailed to Genoa on Wednesday to avoid some bad weather on Thursday and Friday arriving here in sunshine and a gentle breeze just ahead of the clouds. And just as well we did.
Thursday was mildly moist and windy but Thursday night and this morning, Friday, we have had a full Gale blowing, with wind speeds reaching 40 knots at times over night. The wind is now down to a mere 25 to 30 knots but we have driving rain. Went out to check the moorings a couple of times in the night and have the waterproofs on standby just in case. We have not had weather this bad and are very glad to be in here nicely secured to a jetty and partly sheltered by a large superyacht.
When we booked in to the marina the harbour master gave us some tourist maps and said we should definitely visit the old town of Finalborgo, so we did. And what a contrast to Final Marina and Final Pia!
Finalborgo is an old walled town, almost completely intact. There are two castles above the town, Castel San Giovanni (18th Century) and above that Castel Gavone (12th Century). We climbed to San Giovani but found it closed and decided not to scale the summit to see if Gavone was open. The views were good though.
Finalborgo itself is a lovely old town, founded at the end of the 12th century by the Del Carretto family and fortified in the mid 15th. Narrow streets, delightful old buildings and, again, the painted-on carved stone facades.
It is a mecca for mountain bikers and rock climbers with some incongruously bright and shiny, upmarket mountain biking shops in the old town.
Immediately inside the Porta Reale (the picture at the top of the page) is the Church of San Biagio over looking a Piazza of the same name. It was rebuilt in 1650, retaining an earlier octagonal tower and was typically unimpressive; we figured we’d have a quick look inside expecting another large, dark and vast, impressively vaulted interior but found nothing of the sort. It was one of the most ornate, bright and wonderfully decorated churches we have seen. We must have spent over a half hour wandering around and around admiring the artwork. More painted stone carvings, gilt highlights, marble carved to look like lace and 500 year old paintings! Really cool, almost awesome, and there is no clue it is there!
I chose Finale Ligure as a stop over as it was half way between San Remo and Genoa and, as it turned out, it was significantly cheaper than Genoa. So, although we had initially planned to stay just one night, on cost grounds we decide to stay until the 14th when we’d move to Genoa to meet our next guest, Chanon Summerton, an ex-colleague. We also planned to visit Lake Como for a couple of days and could do that from Finale as easily as from Genoa. and, of course, have a look around Finale Ligure.
That was the plan, but the weather had different ideas. The forecast for our planned leg to Genoa on the 14th turned nasty, 20 to 30 knot winds and rain for both Thursday and Friday and on into Saturday. Lake Como wasn’t much better and so we scrubbed the Como visit and decided to make for Genoa on Wednesday 12th as the weather was forecast to be far more clement, no rain till the evening, and little wind!
So we had three days in Finale Ligure to kill. This is sometimes quite useful as it allows us to catch up on chores, but this time we also decided to get out our winter clothes; I’ve been wearing shorts and T shirts since leaving Valencia but now the weather has turned decidedly chilly at times. Have also dragged out our waterproofs as well, just in case.
Finale Ligure is an amalgamation of three villages, Final Marina, Final Pia and Final Borgo and apparently a town has been here since the 10th century. The first two suburbs are on the coast and form a pleasant seaside town slowly closing down for the winter. Final Borgo, a kilometre inland and is a completely different place; it is an old walled town and deserves its own post.
Final Marina and Pia are have a wide promenade along the seafront. The streets leading back from the seafront are narrow and many of the buildings are painted to look like they have carved stone facades. There is a 20th century castle , the Castello Vuillermin, now used as a youth hostel, over looking the town (not the Castello San Donato pictured above) and it was taken over by a Scout Jamboree when we got there.
Apart from the picturesque walk to and from the Porto de San Donato, the actual name of Finale Ligure’s marina, there is not much more to it. The real gem was Finalborgo.
We didn’t know anything about San Remo other than that it was 25 nautical miles east of Nice, or Villefranche, which is an easy afternoon sail for us and as it turned out it was going to be a place from which to visit Monaco.
It was a Roman settlement which became the walled town of La Pigna, walled to protect against Scaracen raids and according to Wikipedia the old village is almost perfectly preserved. Hard to imagine but worth a look. Apparently Alfred Nobel lived here before he died and every year San Remo sends flowers to Stockholm to decorate the Nobel Prize awards ceremony.
The ‘old town’ is built on the sides of a hill over looking the port with a cathedral perched on top, so far, so standard. The walk through town towards the hill was fairly typical and uninspiring but the map showed us lots of little tiny streets leading up to the cathedral, which looked interesting.
We arrived at a Plazza Cassini from where the map showed one of these roads, Via Santo Stefano, leading from it. But instead of a street there was simply an arch with what looked like any alley leading to a doorway into the buildings above it. On closer inspection this alley was the street, and quite a wide one too, completely under the base of the buildings and leading, via steps, up hill, and into a maze of tiny narrow stepped alleyways virtually leading through the foundations of the town.
The alleyways were rather dark where they ran through the underside of the buildings and, in places, it was rather run down and dilapidated but it was very intriguing, I’d never seen anything like it before. The lanes all ran up or down hill, I think we only found one actually running on the level, and we clambered on up to the church and park above the town.
The Cathedral of Nostre Signora della Costa is perched above the town but other than its imposing position it was a very plain building. It was located at the top of a very steep driveway, useless as such because of the small flight of steps at the bottom would prevent any access by wheeled vehicles other than 4×4’s, not generally owned when it was built in the 14th century! Unfortunately it was all locked up but there were impressive views over San Remo.
We also found a numbered sign board, with English translation, explaining the history of the cathedral and as we returned down through the alleyways we found more. From these the Wiki reference to the ‘perfectly preserve old village’ and the reason for the run down appearance of the place became clear. This was the original town of San Remo, La Pigna, some of the buildings dated from the 11th and 12th centuries and had every right to look a bit tired!
We found ourselves in the Piazza del Capitolo, which was more of a courtyard than a Piazza, and which another sign board told us housed the first Town Council, or Capitolo, in the 12th Century. The sign indicated that No 12 was the building concerned and it must have been a small Council! This apparently was moved in the 15th century by the Genoese to a bigger building facing a slightly larger courtyard, sorry piazza, the Piazza dei Dolori. This building bore a replica plaque from the original building from 1642 asking people not to defecate in the street outside; apparently the local population of La Pigna weren’t too fond of the Genoese ruling classes!
From there we walked on down hill through progressively wider streets until we got to the Casino at the end of Via G Matteotti; 800 years of architectural history in about as many metres! Via G Matteotti, a wide pedestrianised shopping street and there were the usual big fashion names behind modern shop fronts, cheek by jowel with older local businesses with their dark wooden carved shop windows; even the hardware stores looked the part!
San Remo, and La Pigna particularly, was a very pleasant surprise and well worth the exertions climbing up and down the hill to see.
We got to Cannes but then found that we couldn’t get a berth in Nice or Monaco, in fact there wasn’t a berth for us in any marina on the French Riviera to the east of Cannes. In fact the only place we could find was San Remo, Italy, luckily also on our list of places to visit. So we had to re assess our plans to visit Nice and Monaco. Nice we did by train from Cannes and Monaco we plan to visit by train from San Remo.
So instead of going from Cannes to Nice, we went from Cannes to the Rade de Villefranche, just round the corner. In leaving Cannes we sailed passed the Ile de Marguerite, most famous for its fortress prison, the Fort Royal, in which the so-called Man in the Iron Mask was held in the 17th century, not the Chateau D’If in Marseille.
Arriving in the Rade de Villefranche we anchored opposite the marina we couldn’t get into. This was a very pleasant anchorage, sheltered and quiet and very picturesque. We were anchored in 6 metres of water and it was so clear you could see the sea bed with worrying clarity …. It looked far shallower! If we hadn’t been wanting to move along we’d have stayed another day just to chill!
Another worryingly clear sight was naked Germans. This isn’t an isolated sighting either, in almost every anchorage we have been to, we have observed that the crew of any yacht wearing a German ensign has a remarkably consistent lack of clothing; ‘naked German yachtsman’ is a phrase you could classify as a ‘tortology’, like saying ‘fatally dead’. But they do seem to have towels, but no deck chairs …
Mind you even in marinas we have seen some disturbing sights. In Toulon there was the guy on the boat across the jetty from us who didn’t appear to own any clothes other than his underpants …… and then, on Sunday, his underpants and a t shirt – he did have guests after all. It was only on the Sunday evening when he left his boat we realised he actually owned trousers. Or the guy in Cannes on the next yacht who I christened ‘Captain Underpants’ ….. always seemed to be wandering around his boat in the morning in the same pair of baggy grey ‘Y’ fronts. Honestly, it wouldn’t be so bad if they were ‘the beautiful people’, surely there are standards, this is the Cote d’Azur for goodness sake! But no, unfortunately these people are not Boat Bunnies, and obviously their boats don’t have the luxury of mirrors.
They say that if you have it flaunt it, well surely the unspoken flipside is if you haven’t, don’t.
We couldn’t get a berth in Nice and so stayed an extra day in Cannes and visited Nice by train.
The old town of Nice is over looked by what used to be a fortress before it was completely dismantled following the Spanish Wars of Succession, guessing they back the wrong side. Now it is a public garden with great views over the entire city. There is a lift to get to the top of the rock which is built in the old water well of the castle.
In one of the main streets through the old town was a large bric-a-brac market but once away from the main streets the old town is a maze of dark narrow streets and alleyways, not a right-angled junction anywhere; that combined with not being able to see the sky makes it very easy to lose your bearings and get lost. It is a lively place with plenty of shops and restaurants and it has loads of shabby character.
Leaving the old town we took a walk along the Promenade Anglais and passed the memorials for the victims of last year’s terrorist attack. A sombre moment. Almost everywhere we have been in France there have been armed soldiers patrolling the streets; it is strange to see but somewhat reassuring. I am not sure they could stop anything happening, but the response would be immediate.
There isn’t really much to say about Cannes. Another town famous for being famous, although much bigger than St Tropez and much busier, with a large number of big hotels, exhibition centres and plenty of very big super yachts. In St Tropez the original character remained, here it has been well and truly absorbed.
The old town is very small and compact and is set on a hill over looking the marina, the top of the hill being occupied by the church and the remains of the castle. The steep streets lead down to the port and are full of souvenir and craft shops and numerous restaurants.
Cannes proper then stretches out to the east of the old town along the sea front behind the Boulevard de la Croisette; here there are all the big name boutiques crammed between the hotels. One street back and the shops are far more down market and realistic in price, further into town and it is a busy, lively place.
Cannes lives up to the image I had of it and I am glad we visited, although I think 2 days is more than enough to see the place.
Tomorrow we are off again but as yet we don’t know where to. Nice is fully booked and can’t give us a mooring, Villefranche sur Mer has yet to answer and Beaulieu is closed till Monday morning, and we still don’t know if we can get into Monaco dharlings.
Still in no rush I decided to take two days to cover the 20 odd miles between Frejus and Cannes, 10 miles each day with an over night stop in the Rade d’Agay.
The weather was ideal for sailing on both days, lots of up wind work from Frejus to Agay and a following wind from Agay to Cannes – 20 knots of wind is great for running down wind but make mooring in a crowded marina fraught!
The coast here is all red rock, very Martian, apart from all the water and the breathable atmosphere! We passed the Ile d’Or approaching Agay, it is so called because apparently in certain light conditions the red rocks look golden.
Rade d’Agay has a very small fishing harbour in it but buoys have been laid in three areas of the bay and we decided to hook up to one of these for the night; unfortunately the southerly winds from earlier had set up a decent swell which was quite uncomfortable over night when the wind moved round and held us ‘beam on’ across it. Still we only had 10 miles to do the following day so we could sleep in!
By the following morning the swell had almost died away and we had a relatively restful morning. We left the buoy just before 1, and actually sailed off the buoy without needing the engines, although they were on, jut in case. As we left Agay and there was stiffening breeze behind us, reaching 20 knots as we got towards Cannes and we made the trip in just over 2 hours, making 6 knots at times.
We decided to visit Frejus because it was an old town with a cathedral and allegedly some Roman ruins. I say allegedly because although there were stretches of Roman walls and a support for an aqueduct, the ‘ruin’ of what appeared to be an amphitheatre was simply a wall of a scrubby little garden; rather disappointing. The Place Agricola, which is where this was had a car park ‘P’ symbol on the map. What I didn’t realise until we got there was that Place Agricola WAS the car park. Anyway, we had a nice wander around the streets which were colourful and quiet, apart from the road sweepers clearing up after the market! We had coffee and a light lunch in the town square and then headed back to the marina.
We left Grimaud at lunch time on Tuesday and found the Golfe de St Tropez rammed full of sailing boats of all shapes and sizes. Although the wind was only about 5 or 6 knots and exactly from the direction we wanted to go in there was no way on this earth I was going to motor, so we spent about three hours tacking back and forth along the north side of the Golfe of St Tropez trying to stay out of the way of those in the parade of sail or in the marshalling areas for the races. Valeria’ took some amazing photos and they say more than I ever could.