Travel – Southern France and Northern Italy – Mixing The Best of Two Worlds This Summer

Part one of our summer holiday officially kicked into gear a week ago when we boarded our flight, collected our little Fiat 500, and sped across the border to the Ligurian alps.

Unlike our Scandinavian compatriots we usually escape quite late, and per usual at Nice airport we’re met by the great European summer holiday handover, a concept that sees Swedes, Norwegians, Finns and Danes ease out of beach loungers, pack up H&M holiday-wear strewn along the coast and board their flights to start the journey north and give their more continental neighbours the chance to kick off their own holidays.

This year, having rented a small medieval townhouse, we’ve decided to make a charming little Ligurian village our home for the coming weeks. With just a few hours drive we can easily enjoy both the lovely French beaches of Cap d’Ail (Plage Mala) and Cap Ferrat (Paloma Beach) as well as the mouthwatering treats of Piemonte and Lake Como – and of course, best of all, return to tranquil evenings on the piazza back at our Italian refuge.

After a settling down for a couple of days we begin our journey to the north-east, a drive long enough to feel like a proper excursion but thankfully short enough to spare us the inevitable claustrophobia from our trusty little Fiat. Our first stop is Barolo and a lovely lunch at Bovio, run by one of the oldest families of restaurateurs in Piedmont. Here, Alessandra and her father Gian continue the family tradition in an informal but elegant environment, featuring delightful views over the vineyards and castles.

A short drive from Bovio, we check-in to Hotel Castello di Sinio, a beautifully restored 12th century castle that offers nine suites and five rooms. The surroundings here are completely unique, featuring views littered with historical residences, fortresses and castles. The hotel also offers one of the best restaurants in the area, aided by the famous Barolo and Barbaresco wine zones just around the corner. Oh, and there’s a swimming pool! 

We decide to prolong our stay for an extra day and head even further North. Here, up on Lake Como and a short walk from the beautiful 17th century Villa Carlotta, lies our favourite local hotel: the unassailable Grand Hotel Tremezzo. A real classic, it features art nouveau interiors, a floating swimming pool, lush grounds with fitness trail, tennis court and spa. All of the rooms have large bow windows or terraces with either lake or garden views.

But enough is enough and the mountainous road trip has given us an appetite for the Mediterranean. So after a few days of reminiscing back in our little village, we decide to head for the French coast. Even if we don’t usually venture as far as Saint-Raphaël, we’ve been keen to try something new this summer and we’ve heard great things about Les Roches Rouges – a tumbledown motel turned into the sort of lively premises that this stretch of the Riviera currently lacks. Here, architects have returned the 50-room hotel to its Côte d’Azur glory, inspired by the straight lines and chalky hue of Eileen Gray’s E-1027 (covered on The Journal) villa in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Another talking point is the seawater pool measuring almost 30 metres in length that includes a lane cut into the coastal rock. The influences here are local and so are the diversions, offering everything from petanque lessons to fishing expeditions.

But old habits die hard, and we can’t help but stop at two of our favourites on the way back to Italy. First off, the lovely
Paloma Beach on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Named after the daughter of Pablo Picasso, this lovely little refuge has offered both pristine waters and delicious food since 1948. Hidden away between the giant villas of the noveau riche, this little paradise has still managed to retain its laid-back family feel. Apart from soaking up the Riviera sun there’s plenty to do, ranging from spearfishing to jumping on a jet ski. Or, you could simply enjoy a divine meal on the beach; the lobster pasta is our favourite – bon appetite!

Further down the coast, and a bit closer to our temporary home, there’s Cap d’Ail and its classic Plage Mala. Getting here is slightly more work as you’ll need to leave your car and walk down a long and winding road until you reach a shady staircase. Don’t worry though, you’ll soon arrive at a breathtaking view and, in our opinion, one of the most beautiful beaches of the Cote d’Azur. Completely transparent water, two beach clubs (Eden and Cap Resort) with great restaurants (the one closest to the steps serves an amazing truffle pizza) and a great view of Beaulieu and Cap Ferrat. There’s even a secret cave!

Arriving back late, there’s room for one last South Tyrolean beer on the piazza. Salute!