“For whatever we lose / (like a you or a me) / It’s always ourselves / We find in the sea.”
After spending last week huddling inside and avoiding the torrential downpour, Friday emerged as a bright and (quite nearly) warm godsend. No longer under the siege of storms or school work, I walked home from the morning’s rowing practice scheming ways to make the most of the afternoon. A few hours, texts, and changed plans later, I was basking in the sun at a secluded locals-only beach, while my friend snapped candid photos of our fellow beachcombers. When I invited him, Bobby jumped at the chance to come to Cap Ferrat. We set off to start the weekend early, and to get some much-needed headspace from Menton. I decided there on the beach that we had come to the right place.
But this tranquility wasn’t arrived at easily, of course. I’ve begun to realize that the most reliable aspect of the SNCF system is its unreliability. I’m sure you’ve all experienced it: trains or routes suddenly cancelled, or the inevitable 10 to 15-minute delay. Despite its irritability, I can’t help but love the collective sigh of the platform when it’s announced that everyone’s schedules have just been screwed, along with the agitated shuffling of feet and the occasional complete defector leaving the station outright. It’s very human, and it’s heartening to know that no matter who you are, you’d agree that late trains are a nuisance.
Bobby and I boarded the 13:23 TER towards Grasse, which turned into the 13:45 as we sat patiently at Menton Ville Gare. Cap Ferrat is accessible by the Beaulieu-Sur-Mer stop between Nice and Monaco. Close by all measures, but distant enough in kilometers and ambiance to constitute a proper escape. I won’t bother waxing about how objectively stunning the train ride is on a sunny day; I’m certain that you’re all aware. Nonetheless, I’ll urge you to take advantage of it on one of the 315 days of sunshine we have.
Beaulieu-Sur-Mer is a little station – blink and you’ll miss it. Exit the station and turn downhill to your left, eventually reaching the seafront boardwalk. The town itself is littered with posh cafes and real estate offices boasting villas, vineyards, and other absurdities. The famed Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is one of Cap Ferrat’s main attractions; the estate’s nine gardens are regarded as some of France’s finest. Also in Cap Ferrat is Villa Kérylos, an architectural homage to Greek culture. Both are open to the public most weekdays.
It goes without saying that the seafront is picturesque. Palms line the shore, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a cracked tile in the sidewalk. Bobby and I eyed the dozen aging men parked on benches along the path, finding company in newspapers, cigarettes, or raspy gossip. Married couples strolled with their pups. We were all celebrating the rainy spell, hesitantly keeping our scarves within reach while turning our faces towards the sun.
We continued down the path towards what Bobby pointed out was Charlie Chaplin’s house. It’s extravagant in size, grand in style, and unapologetically pink. Sightings like this are half the fun off Cap Ferrat – a quick web search of each villa’s name reveals the owner, the estimated value, and whether or not it has helipad.
The Le Chemin des Douaniers path circles the entirety of Cap Ferrat. The whole route is around 9 kilometers, which makes for a long afternoon, but is nothing short of incredible. Having been on the walk before, my friend just smiled and waited as I paused every hundred meters to gasp at the next panoramic view of Villefranche, the next bare cliff diving into the sea, the next group of friends picnicking serenely on the rocks. We mused at the thought of taking our friends and a few bottles on a late afternoon playdate, letting our ideas spin into the grandiose, eventually arriving at “why doesn’t the BDE just rent a villa?” The farther we ventured into the Cap, the farther we got from reality.
Perhaps that’s why the world’s one percent chooses Cap Ferrat as its escape. It’s outlandishly beautiful setting and literal geography separates it from normal existence, and for just a few hundred million, you can call a piece of this heaven yours. Further, I was continually struck throughout the afternoon by just how quiet the place is. Unlike the eerie silence of October in Menton, the Cap’s quiet is contemplative and private. Cap Ferrat isn’t trying to be beautiful; it’s an effortless sort of place. It’s doesn’t have to say anything at all – one look, and you know.
Curled up on Plage de Passable, I departed the realm of lecture notes and scribbled some thoughts on the afternoon into my notebook. The sun was starting to disappear behind the trees. Bobby joined me on the sand, claiming to have just taken “the most amazing photo ever,” his hands flitting around his film camera. We’d left Menton looking for peace of mind, for a remedy to the headache accompanying Mentonese November. And sure enough, it was found at the seaside: just a train ticket and a whole world away.
Terra Incognita Quaerere, HK