Not so much on our doorstep, but in our front hall.
As we all know so well, Monaco is a wonderful place. However, we all feel the need to escape from time to time, in fact very often, even though I live in Beausoleil. We are all doubly-blessed by the close proximity of the border with Italy.
It needn’t be Rome or Florence, or goodness forbid, Venice. All of them overwhelmed by tourists and people just like us, a toxic mix of mainly overweight visitors, garnished with the smell of overflowing drains and sewers. The great cities of Italy are not for the faint-hearted, although Milan is for me an exception, particularly the towering, magnificent, breathtaking Duomo.
For an escapee from our Francophone heaven, San Remo fits the bill and I love Bordighera. Even grubby but rapidly gentrifying Ventimiglia has its attractions. However, all of these destinations need a car and driver, or a train ride. Perfectly fine but time-consuming.
Two years ago I found the answer, a little slice of Italy in the centre of Beausoleil. OK, I know that most Monaco residents venture no further than the central market, Picard, or, in extremis, La Vie Chère. But brace yourself, take the escalator up one more level to blvd. de la Republique, hang a left past Bernard’s late-night emporium and descend, gently, checking that the Indian Star restaurant is on the right and you will arrive immediately at Hotel Azur.
Chances are after 10am that any lingering hotel guests have shunted off, leaving the splendid coffee shop entirely empty. Choose a table, pull up a chair, tune into or out of the incessant Italian radio news and give your order to the always attentive waiter who after two visits treats you like a friend.
If you have a dog or two with you, the greeting will be even warmer, Italian-style. I firmly believe that if I were to come with a camel there’d be the same enthusiastic and very Italian welcome, from the heart, and a stroke and a kiss for the dromedary.
It should not be necessary to say that the coffee is exceptional. I usually choose a noisette, or, if I’m feeling flush, a grand crème. And if you’re feeling homesick there is always a copy of Monaco Matin to while away the time. It was here a couple of years ago I noticed that the French-language daily ran the same story twice, although, to be fair, three weeks apart. It’s always a temptation to do that in the height of summer.
A few days ago, when the sad news broke of Archbishop Barsi’s serious heart attack, the paper managed to run a photo of a different cleric, the incumbent Archbishop. Obviously, over the Christmas weekend someone very junior had been left in charge of the newsroom.
Which reminds me, I had better check the wires, as we used to say in Fleet Street, because I’ve been left in control this weekend while everyone else swans off to their little place in the country, meaning a villa in Saint Tropez or a luxury loft above Lausanne.
In this modern age, of course, I can check the wires from anywhere. From the loo, where I usually scan the morning headlines, from my bedroom, from here, or Timbuctoo.
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