A couple of hours later, Mont St. Victoire rose in the distance as we approached the city of Aix-en Provence for a mid-day lunch stop.
|Mont St. Victoire|
The mountain was a favourite subject for hometown artist Paul Cézanne. A statue of Cézanne now stands across from a roundabout and La Rotonde Fountain.
|Statue of Paul Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence|
|Place de la Rotonde|
Extending from Place de la Rotonde is the Cours Mirabeau, a grand promenade shaded by plane trees. Shops, cafés and several more fountains stretch the length of the avenue. A Provençal market takes place here on Thursdays.
A few blocks from the Cours Mirabeau on rue du 4 Septembre is the Fountain of the Four Dolphins.
|Fountain of the Four Dolphins|
Most of the restaurants didn't begin serving lunch until midi (noon) so we improvised with a toasted baguette and a glass of chilled rosé. Then we boarded the motor coach and carried on with our journey through the arid hills of the Côte d'Azur.
By mid-afternoon we arrived in Monaco, the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican. Monte Carlo is the most well-known and glamourous quartier, or district.
I was looking forward to our stay at the four-star Fairmont Monte Carlo because of its prime location overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and also its proximity to Place du Casino.
|Fairmont Monte Carlo and the Casino Complex|
The Fairmont is a large property with 602 guest rooms. Our garden view room was lovely and spacious, although it was a surprisingly long walk from the nearest bank of elevators.
|Fairmont Monte Carlo Room|
There was a good view from our balcony of the Monte Carlo Opera House, which is part of the casino complex.
|View of the Monte Carlo Opera from our Balcony|
|Entrance to the Opera House|
The building was designed in the belle époque style by Charles Garnier, who also designed the Opera House in Paris.
|Paris Opera House|
We set out to explore the neighbourhood and before we'd even left the hotel premises came across these flashy examples of Monte Carlo fashion.
|Monte Carlo Fashions|
A convenient walkway from the 7th Level of the Fairmont takes you directly to the back of the casino complex. With the July heat in the south of France, every step saved is appreciated!
|Walkway from the Fairmont to the Casino Complex|
Place du Casino was filled with tourists eager to see the famous Monte Carlo Casino, popularized by the fictional exploits of international spy James Bond in Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye.
|The Monte Carlo Casino|
Adjacent to the casino, the terrace of the Café de Paris looks out onto the square. The brasserie is a popular place for people watching.
|Café de Paris|
|Terrace of the Café de Paris|
We decided to walk down to Port Hercule to get a closer look at some of the luxury yachts docked in the deep waters of the harbour.
|Port Hercule in La Condamine|
The Lady Moura is a super yacht owned by a Saudi Arabian businessman.
|The Lady Moura|
We also saw the little red bateau bus (boat bus) as it was departing for the cruise terminal on the other side of the harbour.
Then we returned to the Fairmont to prepare for a very special evening and an experience from my Bucket List: a fabulous gourmet dinner at one of the best restaurants in the world, Le Louis XV - Alain Ducasse, the 3 Michelin star restaurant of the Hotel de Paris.
|Le Louis XV - Alain Ducasse|
The Hotel de Paris is also located on Place du Casino. Le Louis XV celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2012 and I made the reservation months in advance of our arrival in Monte Carlo.
|Entrance to the Hotel de Paris|
|Lobby of the Hotel de Paris|
The sumptuous dining room was a confection of cream and gold, with an enormous white floral display at its centre and chandeliers hanging from an elaborate frescoed ceiling. Large mirrors reflected the warm glow.
|Ornamental Ceiling of Le Louis XV|
The maitre'd escorted us to our table near a large clock. Time stands still at Le Louis XV, as the hands on all the clocks stop on the numeral 'XII'. Small stools for our bags were positioned next to our chairs and a little silver bird perched on the white linen tablecloth.
Then began a finely choreographed dance of the wait staff as they greeted the diners and began the meal service. Among those joining us that evening were a group of 20-ish young people, and what appeared to be a mother, grandmother, and a young child developing his palate at a very early age. (No obvious signs of any wealthy tycoons or starlets with an entourage - perhaps they dine much later than 8:00 p.m.) The staff was attentive and very friendly, but I wasn't decked out in expensive jewellery or designer labels so I couldn't help feeling a little like the proverbial 'fish out of water' in such elegant surroundings.
We made our selections from the menu and soon a multi-tiered bread cart arrived with an interesting assortment of breads, rolls, and creamy slabs of butter. We shared a half bottle of their most inexpensive red wine (145 euros). The prices were a big adjustment after the generous servings of complimentary dinner wine served on the river cruise.
I began my once-in-a-lifetime gastronomic adventure with Provence Garden Vegetables (65 euros) served warm with black truffles, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This was my first experience with truffles and I liked the distinctive earthy flavour. The tender Beef (90 euros per person) was prepared for two and cooked over a wood-fire with mushrooms, potatoes and onions. This simple dish with its roots in the local traditional cuisine was sliced in front of us on a portable carving station. And for dessert I chose their signature Rum Baba (28 euros) with a generous serving of the rum of my choice and a pot of whipped cream. While we waited for dessert to arrive our waiter brought us an assortment of superb chocolates, and later as we left the restaurant the maitre 'd presented us each with a gift bag containing more sweets.
|The Hotel de Paris|
By now it was dark and Place du Casino had filled with luxury cars. The Italian car makers were well represented (Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati) as were the British (Bentley and Rolls Royce) and also a German Porsche. They were all there, parked in front of the casino and the Hotel de Paris. We skirted past these automotive icons and went into the beautiful Monte Carlo Casino.
|The Monte Carlo Casino|
I'm not much of a gambler but I thought I'd try my hand at European Roulette. I wanted to hear the croupier call out faites vos jeux (place your bets) and wait for the thunk of the metallic ball as it dropped, then rolled round and round the roulette wheel. The table was electronic though, and somehow didn't quite offer the experience I was looking for so I passed. (Perhaps the more traditional game tables are in the Salon Europe or the Salons Privés, but it would have cost 10 or 20 euros admission to find out.) And, alas, no James Bond look-alikes waiting to buy me a martini 'shaken, not stirred'.
|Fairmont Monte Carlo Pool|
We returned to the Fairmont but first made a stop on the rooftop. The poolside bar was doing a brisk business but we decided to call it a night. I wanted to be well rested for another experience from my Bucket List scheduled for the next morning: a tour of Monaco by Ferrari.
"X" is for Aix-en-Provence
"Y" is for Yacht