Playground of the wealthy and well-known, the Riviera conjures images of fast cars, magnificent boats, long sunny days, glistening waters and jealousy-inducing houses whose balconies lie perfectly-angled for optimum tanning and gaze-factor over jaw-droppingly beautiful views.
My long-awaited holiday on the Riviera began with skies menaced by grey clouds, boats tinkling in the harbour and a fishy lunch fresh from its watery surroundings. When the weather isn’t aggressive and stormy, fishing boats trug back and forth, making their merry way out to sea from the estuary, bringing back hauls of seafood treasures. We spent out days gorging on plump mallowy scallops, light-and-flaky lemon sole, crab plucked from the sea by a fisherman whose name we knew, a mere two hundred metres from where we had rested our bottoms. All quaffed down with fine local nectars hailing from vineyards dribbling down hillsides to the water’s edge.
Mazaratis and Bentleys growled past houses oozing luxury, their facades undergoing a revamp with floor to ceiling glass. Views swept over bottle-green battenburg-esque hills, multicolored houses tumbled into town which swarmed with activity all the way out to the sparkling cobalt waters of the ocean.
Under a long-forgotten sun, our skin deepened to a healthier shade than the grey palour induced by another protracted English winter. Squeals of delight emerged upon discovering patchy straplines from a day’s trekking along undulating coastal paths. Flowers also celebrated the sunshine, with a party of vibrant colours and fragrant scent, filling our eyes, nostrils and souls with glee.
With no schedule our own flights of fancy, dictated our days. One such whim drew us to Sharpham vineyard and cheese dairy, a lovely little cluster of farm buildings perusing the river dart. Crisp, oak-smoked sloshes of wine were poured for us alongside morsels of creamy cheeses from the cows we could smell. Later we devoured succulent, meaty monkfish curry and bottles of cider in the Old Market Square under sunny skies whilst the town’s yearly music festival tickled our ears with jazz.
But where pray tell, I hear you cry – was this delightful place? Some medieval village in the heart of Provence? The chic, elegant Nice? Not this time. Twas the other Riviera, as charming, gastronomically-minded, picturesque and affluent as our French Friends’ and the perfect antidote to a staycation. Impossible to choose which one I love more: Antibes or Dartmouth? Cote d’Azur or River Dart? Bonjour or hello? Super yachts or HMS Britannia Royal Navy? French or English Riviera?
I don’t think I have to decide, I’ll simply continue to wallow in the best both cultures have to offer.