It was 16 years ago when I was on one of those ’10 countries in 7 days bus tours’ that I first visited the French Riviera. I remember spending all of 2 or so hours in Monaco, in awe of the view from the quick stop the bus made so we could take some snaps and then continue on our way. We also spent 2 days in Nice, with one day pretty much being wasted lazing around on the beach catching up on sleep. I never thought I would ever get back, but 16 years later and the chance presented itself in a way I could never have imagined.
Fast forward 16 years and Mr R’s brother got a research position in Monaco’s prestigious Hydrography Institute. He was to be based in Monaco for 2 years, and he invited us to come and stay should we ever be in the area. He didn’t need to ask twice! lol. So off we went to Nice. After 11 hours to Dubai than a further 7 to Nice we arrived in his apartment in Cap d’Ail and got to see a most magnificent view! Yep, the long trip was worth it!
Our base for 7 days was in Cap d’Ail, the French town bordering closest to Monaco. Mr A’s apartment was a 300 metre stroll to the “border”, so we were pretty much in Monaco anyway. His apartment also had a bus stop in front where the 100 bus would stop. This amazing bus service will take you all along the Cote d’Azur, from Nice port, through Monaco, all the way to Menton on the Italian border. All for the princely sum of 1.5 Euro! Cap d’Ail was a fantastic base to explore from – we had the beach in front of us that seemingly locals only visited, and it is relatively cheaper to stay here then in many of the French Riviera’s more famous locations.
One thing I discovered through my brother in law, and is well worth the trek, is the chance to explore the Mala Beach coastal path. This path starts at the Plage Marquet (the closest French beach west of Monaco) and winds along the coast for 3.5km to the magnificent Plage Mala. Along the way you will pass beautiful rocky outcrops, hidden coves and beautifully decorated ornate villas from the Belle Epoque era. Also along the way are small plaques which tell you about the marine life and vegetation that can be found in the area, and on the walls of some of the villas there are info plaques on who built it or lived there. Sadly these are all in French, and my French is pretty rubbish, but it was easy enough to get the gist of the info. (especially with google translate lol).
Anyway after slogging along the path for an hour in the baking heat (be warned the path is quite exposed to the sun so bring plenty of water) you’ll end up at the magical Mala beach. I’m sure this beach would be quite busy in summer, but in mid September it was relatively quiet with local families and oldies enjoying the weekday. The cove is magnificent, with high cliffs nearby jutting out of the sea. The water was crystal clear too. From here I could have either asked a local for directions to the cap d’Ail train station (which apparently is 10 minutes from Plage Mala) but instead of catching the train the one stop back to Monaco I took the same path back so I could get to Plage Marquet where I had left husband to watch after Little Miss A, who was happily using the time to splash at the beach. (hubby was happy to watch her too instead of taking a hike with me!!!) Overall a 7km walk, a good day of exercise and an enjoyable way to explore a bit of the coastline.
I thoroughly recommend a stop in cap d’Ail if you have time on the French Riviera. While there is obviously not as much to see here (in terms of monuments or historical buildings – its not a Nice or Eze) you will still enjoy it if you like the belle epoque era, if you like the seaside, or if you would prefer a quieter experience without the hordes of tourists. Cap d’Ail is definitely a ‘local feel’ of the French Riviera.