My film-themed trip around the French Riviera had only begun the day before with a trip around Nice, but I was already living the life of a movie star as I tried to follow the path laid out by Cary Grant almost 60 years before as I drove from the village of Eze to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.
You may remember I mentioned I’d hired a car – a 1963 Porsche 365 Roadster to be precise – for the day from Rent A Classic Car…
…now I was was taking the scenic route to a small town full of film heritage via a view of Monaco and a stopping place favoured by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954 for his thriller, To Catch a Thief.
The first stop was the village of La Turbie, famous for the impressive Trophée d’Auguste monument and seen in countless films including Ronin (1998), A Romantic Englishwomen (1975), 11.6 (2012) and To Catch a Thief. The narrow streets of La Turbie can be seen in the latter film as John Robey (Cary Grant) and Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) head to a secluded parking spot overlooking Monaco (see trailer below).
Today, the location has been cleared of some of the bushes and trees, and it’s not so easy to park in the same place, although by pushing the car into place and avoiding a bench I managed to get into roughly the same position as they did back in the 1950s. In the photo below you can see my tour guides recreating Grant and Kelly…almost.
The next destination was the area of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, located between Eze and Menton.
Before venturing into the streets of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin I stopped for some lunch at Fraise et Chocolat at 1 rue Raymond Poincaré, a small café selling sandwiches, quiche, cakes and other refreshments. I opted for the not-very-French Club Sandwich, which was delicious and very affordable.
Like Eze before it, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin rises up above the Mediterranean, offering stunning views of the sea, villas and roads below. The streets themselves were quite in February, allowing me to take my time as I headed towards the one-time homes of some famous residents.
Film director, screenwriter and novelist, Romain Gary, lived on Roquebrune-Cap-Martin’s Street la Fontaine (see below) from 1950 until 1957. Amongst his many achievements, Gary wrote the screenplay for 1962’s The Longest Day and co-wrote the script for 1971’s Kill!.
Another famous resident of the town was French fashion designer, Coco Chanel, whose private residence, Le Pausa (above), was built in 1928 and which she lived in from 1929 until 1953. Chanel took great interest in the building of her home, which isn’t easily accessible by members of the public.
As well as making clothes for Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson, Chanel met French actress Romy Schneider in 1962 and she became her dresser for many years.
While making my way back to the car I spotted something Coco would have been very familiar with, a cat walk. This one wasn’t in a Paris fashion house but on a wall in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and seemed apt when I was on the trail of Cary Grant’s cat burglar.
My penultimate stop was at the infamous Le Pirate restaurant at 46 Avenue Winston Churchill, a favourite destination near the seafront with names such as Kirk Douglas, Ingrid Bergman and Brigitte Bardot.
The restaurant became renowned for its vibrant image, inspired by its long-term owner, Robert Viale, and today it’s still a hotspot for locals and visitors looking to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy good food.
Before leaving Roquebrune-Cap-Martin I took a trip to Hotel Le Roquebrune at 100 Avenue Jean Jaures, an unassuming building owned by Mrs Marinovitch. The hotel was owned by Mrs Marinovitch’s parents for many years and they played host to a number of celebrities over the years, including Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, David Niven, Frank Sinatra and Sean Connery.
Mrs Marinovitch told me many stories about her guests, including one about Cary Grant’s fascination with her mother’s chocolate soufflé. While shooting To Catch a Thief in 1954, Cary Grant and Hitchcock were eating at La Roquebrune and Grant admitted he’d never eaten soufflé before. The next day, after filming a love scene with Grace Kelly, Grant insisted on phoning Mrs Marinovitch’s mother to find out at what point he had to put the egg whites in the soufflé mix. All afternoon he called to ask more information on the recipe.
She also explained how she once found herself singing at the restaurant’s piano with a young Sean Connery without knowing it was the original 007 until it was too late!
My next stop in the Porsche was to be Menton, just a few miles along the coast and home to more film locations and a celebration of the life of writer, director, artist and designer, Jean Cocteau…
The Côte d ‘Azur, within three hours of over 30 European destinations, offers a wide range of themed stays all year round. With France’s second airport, Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport, the French Riviera is within reach of over 33 countries, 103 destinations and served by 56 airlines. The 2013 schedule is available at www.nice.aeroport.fr. Visit the Côte d’Azur Tourist Board website for more information on the region.
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is located approximately 23 kilometres from the town of Nice. Visit the local tourist office at www.roquebrune-cap-martin.com.
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Top image: © CRT Côte d’Azur – Photographe: Georges Veran