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Travel stories > Cannes


The mistral blew us away from Marseilles, which we left on the afternoon of the 25th by the two o'clock train for Cannes. The route lay through rocky defiles, with numerous tunnels, for we were cutting through the promontories on the sea coast, of which we occasionally caught magnificent glimpses.

Of Toulon, the great naval arsenal of France, we saw but little as we passed quickly through its suburbs. Here it was that Napoleon, then a young lieutenant-colonel of artillery, first made his mark in the capture of the place by storm from the English in 1793.

The little islands off Hyeres look like gems in the clear dark sea. They were known in ancient times as the Stockades, signifying “the arranged” islands, a name indicative of their position in a line from east to west. The town of Hyeres seems tempting enough as a place of quiet residence.

At Frejus we were greatly pleased at the beautiful ruins of the ancient Roman amphitheatre, quite close to the station: the railway being on a viaduct here enabled us to get a good view, looking downwards. This amphitheatre, though not nearly so large as the coliseum at Rome, is far more perfect. This was the port where, in 1799, Napoleon landed on his return from Egypt; and from whence, fifteen years later, he embarked when banished to Elba. Frejus was the ancient Forum Julii established by Augustus Caesar as a naval station.

At Les Arcs we again approached the coast. The country as we drew nearer Cannes is very interesting and romantic—great rocky glens and chasms, with here and there glimpses of the beautiful Mediterranean.  Many of the little towns en route are finely and picturesquely situated on the hill-side, overlooking great ravines. Their churches perched on the highest pinnacle, the wonder being how their congregations get to them! But probably many of them are only convents.

We reached Cannes in the last glow of the setting and by six o'clock we were at the Hotel Windsor, an secured a bedroom on the fourth floor, from the windows of which we had a splendid view of the sea. The “Windsor” is beautifully situated on the hillside, some ten minutes' walk from the shore.  At Cannes there is a small bay or cove, appropriately called Gulfe de la Napoul; and it is indeed worthy of its name, being a miniature Bay of Naples,—but without its Vesuvius. Immediately opposite are the Isles de Lerins, St. Honorat and St. Marguerite. On the latter is Fort Montuy, where the “man with the iron mask” was confined from 1686 to 1698. St. Honorat has its name from a monastery founded in the fifth century by St. Honoratius, Bishop of Arles.

Cannes stretches along the sea-shore from north to south, and is protected from the mistral and other cold winds by the fine Esterel mountain range. There is one long main street running parallel to the beach, which contains many good shops and cafes. Some of the houses are built in a line facing the sea, and divided from it by gardens and promenades; others are clustered on the slope of the hill, which is surmounted by a picturesque old castle. At the north end, high up at the back of Cannes, is the charming little village of Le Cainet: a new boulevard is now opened connecting the two. There are many exceedingly pretty and luxuriously appointed villas nestled amidst the trees and gardens, looking refreshingly cool with their green jalousie verandahs..

We determined, first of all, to visit the English cemetery. We set off in a northerly direction. It was a warm walk up the hill, but we were soon at the gates of the cemetery, and, passing through, were both astonished and gratified at the natural beauty of the position, and the cultivated loveliness, of this truly peaceful resting-place of those of our dear country who had come to this little paradise on earth. Then we crossed over rivulet and ravine, up to the forest-clad hill overlooking the cemetery, and who can describe the truly magnificent and extensive views before us? There lay the lovely valley beneath, the grand semicircle of Esterel hills and the snow-capped Alps outlining the azure sky; and behind us the broad, blue sea, rippling its white-crested wavelets upon the warm, sandy shores, while further away to the left, the little town of Cannes lay peacefully reposing on the mountain slopes towards the sea.

This delightful excursion occupied us until nearly one o'clock, and we had only just time to catch the train leaving for Antibes. The journey to Antibes, accomplished in a short half-hour, was very interesting, different views and aspects of the snow-clad Maritime Alps giving us from time to time ever-varying features of sublime beauty, and moving our heartfelt admiration.

Antibes, the ancient Antipolis, a colony of the Massilians, was once a Roman arsenal; there still remain two towers to mark this period. The present fortifications were erected about the time of the first Francis, and of Henry of Navarre, and afterwards greatly improved by Vauban under Louis le Grand. Their erection had the salutary effect of draining the marshy ground, and rendering the air healthy. On reaching our destination, we strolled along the road leading to the ramparts, and from these heights enjoyed a most glorious sea view. The snowy Alps rising majestically on the opposite shore, and a fine old Genoese fort, with wedge-shaped bastions, stretching out into the sea and agreeably breaking the distance.

Antibes is almost surrounded by the sea, and, from the beauty of its position and the natural purity of its air, cannot fail to make a lasting impression on any lover of fine scenery.

Catching our train back, we arrived at our hotel in time to make up for our meagre lunch and rectify the danger of neglecting the inner man, as travellers are sometimes prone to do when so deeply interested in the objects around them. Later, in the cool of the evening, we had a deliciously pleasant walk through the town towards the beautiful gardens of Hesperides, and along the beach.

On the road from Cannes towards Frejus is the villa of the late Lord Brougham, whose eccentricities were as remarkable as his almost universal talents. At the time of the formation of the second French Republic in 1848, when the cry of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity!” was in every one's mouth, Lord Brougham somewhat astonished the world by enrolling himself as a citizen of the Republic, resting his qualification upon the fact of his being a land-owner—proprietaire —at Cannes.

Our excursion on the morrow was to have been to Grasse, but unfortunately we had to go on to Nice early in the day. At Grasse flowers are largely cultivated, especially roses, jessamine, heliotrope, and orange and lemon blossoms, from which are manufactured most of our delicious scents and essences—this being one of the principal places where the culture of the lemon is most successful. Whilst returning from the expedition to the cemetery, we had passed whole terraces of orange and lemon trees covered with white blossom, their exquisite fragrance filling the evening air.

That day's excursion will ever be remembered, both for our visit to the charming little English cemetery and the trip to Antibes. We were indeed sorry to leave beautiful Cannes, containing so much of the loveliness and grandeur of Nature. We found the Hotel Windsor very quiet, comfortable, and moderate in charge, and hope some day to renew our agreeable impressions of it. On the 27th we left by train for Nice, arriving there towards evening.

 

 
 
       
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