Beaulieu Sur Mer

What we like most about Beaulieu Sur Mer – aside from it having the best swimming hole in heaven – is not a souvenir shop in sight. No cruise ships, no bull ships; it’s pretty much still how it was when a French archeologist (Villa Kerylos), the Rolling Stones, and a Queen first laid eyes upon her beauty. Not Freddie Mercury’s Queen, the Queen. Quite right, the one with the crown.

“They dined at the new Beach Casino at Monte Carlo… much later they swam in Beaulieu in a roofless cavern of white moonlight formed by a circlet of pale boulders about a cup of phosphorescent water, facing Monaco and the blur of Menton.”
 Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald


“Drove to Beaulieu. Alas, my last charming drive in this paradise of nature, which I grieve to leave, as I get more attached to her every year.”
Noted in her journal on May 1, 1899, Queen Victoria

 And attached we have become, returning year after year for a month at a time as our queen locale. While not steeped in French culture and history, nor the most remarkable architecture, Beaulieu Sur Mer’s Mediterranean setting is to live for. Add to this the best beaches for swimming and a cove full of mega yachts, and you might just find yourself rolling the dice at the Casino in hopes of winning the lottery to stay. But even on a modest budget, one can find a BnB (sans view), bunker down and rub elbows with the yachties. 

Beaulieu Sur Mer really is…

All About the Beaches

St. Jean Cap Ferrat Beach

La petite Afrique’ and La Baie des Fourmis, are the two main beaches in town, with an even better one found after an exquisite walk along the bayside path to St. Jean. Walk a bit further and you are at Paloma Beach, named after Picasso’s daughter, Paloma Picasso. We are not sure why La Petite Afrique’ is named as such. It’s not after the movie nor the historic restaurant on the nearby harbor, The African Queen. That boat is kept in the Florida Keys. If they say so, the first banana tree was planted there. We suppose that is good enough, and while the beach sits at the top of Lonely Planet’s list of best beaches on the Med, it’s not the highest on ours. It does sit right below the limestone cliffs, but it’s more crowded and the other beaches share the same azure allure.

The other main beach in Beaulieu lies just below a palmed lined path and the Casino, with a view of the grand hotel, Cirque, and the villas of Cap Ferrat. There is not a banana tree there, though there is a great tree that looks similar in nature to a Banyan, like the giant one found in Lahaina, Maui.Plage de Formis (Formis is French for ant) is named after the sea “salad” that piles up on this beach. Whoever named it imagined that there were ants swarming on top of the water. There are no ants here but with a mask or goggles on, you can see the fish swimming between the weaving grass beneath, which gets unrooted during storms and piles up on the beach until removed. Read on to find the true menace in paradise. We suppose there is always something to drive the tourists out of the water, and in this case, it’s not sharks.

 At both beaches, the scenery is stunning, the water crystal clear, and generally very calm. On Plage de Formis, you will also find Anao Plage, with the Plus Bling designation, an area where the sand is a bit finer and more manicured for the posh at heart. Okay, we made that designation up, but If you’re into padded beach chairs, umbrellas, and Beyonce, put a ring on it. You’ve landed. The entire beach is open to the public, so don’t worry about walking on their finer sand, but if you want a stiff French cocktail, this is the place.

Next to Formis the eloquent path to the small harbor village of St Jean begins, where you can make your way all the way around Cap Ferrat. Don’t be surprised to see well-heeled walkers, or hear Russian spoken as the first language, nor to see Russian bodyguards proceeding and trailing some well-to-dos. It’s all part of the elegance and hardly noticed, as all eyes will be on the view, spectacular! After passing one of the few seaside villas, it’s pink, you will know you’ve reached St Jean when you see the beach and the harbor. Sparing you the superlatives, here lies your idyllic picture postcard.

Come for the Beach, Stay for Aperol

 

Yet, Beaulieu is not all about beaches. We just said it was and Okay, it is, but the small town is quite congenial, charming, the food divine, and life here does not revolve around the tourist dollar. Being close to a frequently redrawn border, Beaulieu is a fusion of French and Italian cultures, with a bit of Russian and Brits thrown into the mix for good measure. Generally, the working population is very friendly, though one might judge the well-heeled to be guarded. In fact, a few are well-guarded. Body guarded. But never mind them.

Though the harbor is packed with restaurants, the true Beaulieu-ians center their life around Place Marinoni, where by day locals shop the market and by night drink Aperol. That’s before their dinner and then a digestif after, and then well, we’re not sure as we can never outlast the French in their evening-long revelries. It’s something to work toward

If you do hear English spoken, it will probably come with a British accent. Stiff lip, chop chop, off you go. There are very few Americans in Beaulieu Sur Mer. You’d more often find them on the Anglo Promenade, wearing the NY Yankees caps. If you come to a fork in the road, take it, said Yogi Berra.

Andy of Mayberry Safe

The town seems even Barney Fife safe. While Nice is rife with crime and pickpockets, Beaulieu Sur Mer is where Gendarmes come to die of boredom. A few bums hang out near the train station, seemingly too inebriated to be of much trouble. Then they hop on the next train and move on. If you feel threatened, perhaps there are some moonlighting Russian bodyguards for hire.

Dog Friendliness

It seems that nearly everyone in this town owns a dog, perhaps feeling naked without one. The shoreline hugging path just heralded is like a dog show. There is also a nice park next to the Casino where dogs and owners mingle amongst the palms and manicured landscaping. Toby, for the most part, can’t be bothered, but the lawn beneath the banyan is his favorite chill spot.

During the off and shoulder seasons, many people take their dogs onto the beach. Sand works just as well for dogs as cats. We got a couple of dirty looks, what in Hawaii is called Stink Eye, but mostly from old bitties who had no better business being on a beach. We pick up after our dog. Look over there, a pack of them, ha! Of course, during the heat of summer, and especially during a canicule – heat wave – we don’t take Toby to the beach.

Most restaurants allowed Toby to dine outside with us and probably would have let us inside if we had asked. We never asked because who wants to dine inside when the weather is so nice?

For pet food and grooming (we must groom Toby ourselves, but it’s there if needed), there is a great pet shop on Ave du Marèchal Foch. Easy to remember, right? Pardon his French, but If Toby even smells a groomer, he also swears in dog speak. The store’s name is Christine Anima Riviera. They don’t speak much English, so just do your best at impersonating a German Pointer.

Crowning History

The first records of settlement date back to ancient Greek times, when the village was known as Anao. The inhabitants fled the town in the 6th century when it came under attack by the Lombards, and it was not until 1295 that Charles II Duke of Anjou and Count of Provence managed to entice the population to return to the coast from the mountains. Beaulieu then became a note-worthy port until the 18th Century when much of its trade was lost to Nice.

In the 1880s, Beaulieu became a destination resort for European crowned heads and aristocrats. The most notorious was Leopold II, King of the Belgians, who bought up an enormous chunk of land in the wooded hills overlooking the bay of Villefranche – now known as the celebrated Villa Leopolda estate,.

In 1896, Beaulieu also became the winter home of Gustave Eiffel, who left his mark on the village. He designed both the seafront Casino – recently restored to its former glory – and the angel-adorned stucco wedding-cake Rotonde, now used for private receptions. When he wasn’t organizing fencing or horseback-riding matches, the famed architectural engineer – who was also a meteorologist – conducted experiments on the climate in his villa, proving that Beaulieu’s winter temperatures were consistently seven degrees higher than in Paris.

The first American to settle here was James Gordon Bennett Jr, publisher of the New York Herald, who settled in Beaulieu-sur-Mer in his Villa Namouna and lived there until his death in 1918. He may have been the last American to settle here.

 

Toby runs up stairs at Anao Plage, Beaulieu Sur Mer

Let there be Sun

One can never predict the temperature here, if there will be a heat wave or not.  It is indeed next to Nice, the destination for the bike race, “Race to the Sun.” That tells you something. Over the course of a few months in the area, we’ve seen a few thunderstorms threaten, but it’s mostly for show as the clouds storm over like a teddy bear, throwing down a few sprinkles that rarely reach the ground.

Though summer is the season here, in July can get too hot, and the beaches more crowded. So while the beach and swimming are ideal, it’s plenty toasty on land. Otherwise, Spring is nice aside from the water being on the chilly side, and in Winter, you will have some cold spells but it will always be… seven degrees higher than Paris, if not 20. September is the ideal month for swimming, and just about everything. 

Ringing Belle- epoque

If you like eloquent buildings built during an opulent era, you’re in luck. And the Casino and neighboring hotel are Art Nouveau. There’s nothing like looking up at one in your beat-up surf shirt and Birdwell shorts while eating a five-dollar sandwich.

The Villa Kerylos is a structure on a low rocky promontory by the sea. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century by archeologist Théodore Reinach in the style of an ancient Greek villa at the time of Pericles. The villa was bequeathed to the Institut de France in 1928. It is currently classified as a monument historique.

Degustations

Though no wine is grown here, there is a great wine shop on the main drag, Le Cave de Beaulieu (31 Bd du Général Leclerc). The owner and his wife give great recommendations for your stated taste and budget: each for us was a hit. The wines purchased were so good we can’t remember them. Asked for something like a Cav, where they usually show you the door, but not these folks. They delivered, for under 30 bucks. Of course, you can spend thousands if you’re one of the rich Russians, and nobody will confiscate your bottle.

Of course, the predominant wine consumed in this region is Rosé from neighboring Provence vineyards. It’s a great choice to be paired with summer heat. We always find it strange that Vince from V is for Vino sticks his nose in a glass of Rosé, as if expecting to smell a rose. Yet, it is one of our favorite wine shows. We also really like to watch YouTube videos by Sommelier extaordinaire, Andre Mack. Here’s an episode he created on Rosé’s for under $20.

Le Cave de Beaulieu
Le Cave de Beaulieu

 

Where Eating is Sport

Delightfully Poisson‘d

A good many seaside restaurants line the harbor and offer up both sea fare and Italian cuisine.. The flaky white, prized fish to order is the golden-scaled Dorade Royale (Sea Bream), the price of the fish being determined by its origin, depending on whether it is wild caught or farmed in France, Spain, or perhaps Greece (the place, not the song, movie nor substance). At a good restaurant, they will bring the fish out to you like a fine wine and make sure that you agree to eat it before cooking. Like most people tasting wine, you may have no idea what to look for, so you smell the air and nod your head before the cats come running.

Good Lookin’ Doin the Cookin’

You can get seafood for your own cuisine at a Poisonerrie (if you get food poisoning, the perpetrators will just point to the warning sign) Or, you can buy it from the local supermarket, Super U, Les Halles (indoor market). If not filleted, you can ask for them to fillet it for you, unless you like that kind of thing. There is usually no service charge.

We mostly shopped for food in the markets here and in Nice. We certainly did not have the budget for eating at Le Cirque, one of the finest restaurants in the Med. Instead, we wore a groove to Super U. In other words, we cooked at “home.”

The Best Boulangerie

Few mornings in Beaulieu Sur Mer have passed without a visit to our favorite Boulangerie. Do you know the difference between a boulangerie and a patisserie? We didn’t, but now we do. There are quite a few of both in town, and it was good to explore them all! Breakfast, lunch (on a budget? Live large on these scrumptious sandwiches!), and dessert came from Boulange de Beaulieu at 30 Blvd Marinoni. Surprisingly, Google gives it 4 stars, which is why you are here to get the real low-down. The only thing imaginable to have dropped a star would be the lady that serves here. In Toby’s opinion, she lives up to the rude reputation of the French (which we otherwise have rarely witnessed). However, the lack of warmth and a smile turned upside down is widely trumped by the bakery’s fare. Miam miam! You can always judge a bakery by their croissants.

Cut the Borscht, Please

You will see Russian delis and other stores dedicated to the Russian populace. The smoked fish is a delicacy, and don’t forget the vodka!

Markets

There is usually a market every morning in the central square, Place Marinoni, named after Hippolyte Marinoni, brief mayor who donated generously to the town’s construction and this square. It’s small compared to other villages, but to us, just the right size. You may find two basic fruit and vegetable stands, and it is safe to say that each does not like the other. It is a bit like the Hatfield-McCoys. During the season, the food markets can stay feuding until Aperol drinking takes over and the hugging and bisous kick in.

Saturdays bring a much larger market, filling the square. All the usual market fare can be found here. There is also Le Halles de Beaulieu, which frankly, we’re not a fan of indoor markets. We are not sure why, but they seem overpriced, not of genuine, authentic quality as food from vendors in outdoor markets. Generally speaking, of course. We could be wrong. Happens.

Boss Shopping

Though there are no ticky-tacky souvenir shops, nor Gucci chains, there are a handful of boutiques, furniture, and antique stores. There is even a shop for camera collectors, hey hey What you won’t find here are shopping malls. This is due partly to there being no tour buses or any cruise ships. Refreshingly, the town escaped all that. Easily the most remarkable shop is the Frezal Fleuriste on Bd du Général Leclerc, for the window display alone.

For clothing, our go to store to for Boss is… We did not find anyone wearing a NY Giant’s jersey, but ironically, our fave clothing store to help Master fit in with the locals is Manhattan Concept Store, 47 Bd Marinoni. When it’s not Lacoste, it’s Boss for the Master. We didn’t see many Nikes worn here either. Instead, we saw a lot of what both Master and the Missus wear: Hokas, which we had purchased in the USA at REI. We had no idea it was a French brand. With all the walking our doggone dogs do, it’s our go-to shoe. 

But if you want a real market experience, head to Nice, the city of Love, and giant markets. You have to go there at least once to experience it. In our opinion, there are few better, aside from one rich in that regions produce in Saumur (Loire Valley), as well as the very scenic one in Sarlat.

Youn Kyoung Cho figurine

Art

At Androt et Fils, 31 Boulevard Maréchal Leclerc, you will find an unusual collection of art and antiques. There are some amazing antique “chests,” Vicente Redondo pastels that look like photographs, and porcelain figurines of all sizes. 

The ones that stand out are Doggy Johns by Julien Marinetti and Aloha Girls by Youn Kyoung Cho. From year to year, we’ve seen these dogs on every corner and girls multiply like guppies! Does anyone actually buy these? They do leave a lasting impression. One can only imagine being greeted by one of the giant figurines as you walk into their hillside villa. If following a wine tasting and

glass of Grand Crus, it may be love at first sight. Just make sure you don’t bowl one over or you’ll be shattered, or so say the Rolling Stones, who lived near here and made an album (Exile on Main Street) at Villa Nellcote. They also were involved in the rock-hard art of avoiding British taxes.

Where We Stayed

We have stayed at a couple of Bnb’s for a month at a time as the town warranted a return visit and a great base for swimming. The Bnb’s are not cheap, but you can find one not overly priced, either unless you must have a view. The thing to not fall for is a view perched above a well-trafficked street. Don’t book anything until you get the address, and check to make sure it comes with parking. For more tips on BnB-type rentals and why to not check the Our pet will destroy your place box, check out this post on Booking a Bnb with Your Dog.

Househunters Beaulieu (dream on)

If we could afford it and France would give us a golden visa, we’d move here faster than we can eat a pastry. Alas, we will have to be satisfied with eating the pastry. A villa the same size of a home in North Carolina would run upwards of 5 million, and we don’t have a big house. It’s not on the ocean, either.

Immobilier Agencies in Beaulieu post in both French and Russian, knowing full well that only the latter can afford to walk through their doors and purchase a key to one. Yet, money can’t always buy you love. In 2008, with an offer of £392 million, one of Putin’s buddies failed to acquire the Villa Leopolda. He’d have to show off with a few mega yachts instead down in Monaco.

However, if you set your sights low enough… that is, the view of a parking lot rather than the ocean, there are some blocky modern apartment buildings where a studio apartment can be obtained for 3-400k, Three rooms with a view will run you more like 1.5m, and the proper villas start around 4m. Evidently, not a problem for the New Russians with old money.

We did meet the other two Americans in town at the dog park. They had sold their NY apartment and bought one here, getting a one -year, Long Stay Visa. For whatever reason, they were heading back to the States as their year was up and wanted to continue their child’s education in… Charlotte. This reinforces the idea to maybe rent for a year before you take the plunge. However, there are very few opportunities to rent here annually, as most places are VRBO or AirBnB. This is prime real estate. You have to go inland for annual leases.

Getting Around

(R) This is not the American way of thinking. (L) The perfect Beaulieu beach car.

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This is where staying in Beaulieu can be a bit of a pain for car travelers. Although very conveniently located for train travel – it takes you to Monaco and Italy or to the other way to Cannes – by car you are a bit f’d (froggy dogged). You have to either wind your way up through Eze to head east (or just to Eze) or go through Nice to go anywhere west. On the other hand, there are a ton of places you can just hop on a train and go in a direction toward Italy (as long as they are running, heh), such as Monaco and Menton. However, there is much to see to the west and north of Nice, such as Vence, St Paul de Vence, and Grasse. While you can get there by bus, the rail run west along the coast toward Antibes. By train, yes you Cannes.

Due to parking challenges in Nice, it’s advisable to either take the train or more conveniently, the $1 bus #15. This will take you right to Old Town. There are also some smaller buses that will take you up to Eze and to the other big grocery store in the area, Carrefour.

Most everywhere you park is marked Payee… French for pony up street parking. Again, we always make sure that we find a place to stay that includes a garage. Parking is not too expensive if paid by the week, but who likes to payee?And the machines are like some relationships; complicated. Fortunately, if you hit enough buttons, English will pop up. We like to park our car wherever we’re staying, as you can walk anywhere in town, to the beaches, and beyond.

On the Train to Monaco
On the train to Monaco during tennis tourney and rail strikes for pension.
Villa Kerylos

Recreation

 

Hiking

The paved path that hugs the shoreline between Beaulieu and St. Jean is not really hiking, but it’s a great walk. The real sentir, or hiking path, begins after St. Jean at Paloma Beach on Cap Ferrat. It’s an easy enough walk to get there, walk down the stairs to where the real trekking begins. The trail goes all the way around Cap Ferrat to Villefranche. There is another great trail along the water’s edge in Cap d’Ail that takes you all the way to Monaco. That’s where nature ends.

Swimming

The water here is clear and blue, but one thing to watch out for when swimming are Medusa’s, the fiery jellyfish. Much worse than getting stung by an ant, its wild hairs latching onto whatever crosses its path, leaving welts and itching in its wake. It’s good to wear goggles and have your partner swim in front of you on the lookout. Every once in a while, you will hear someone cry out from their zap. It’s the price to pay for paradise. Pee on it. Here is a link to a map that shows the current state of Medusa.

Generally, the more onshore the wind, the more Medusa, so we often walk along the beautiful path to St Jean, where it is commonly tucked away and winds blow the peanut butter and jellies offshore. There is also a gorgeous marina there and a one-fish two-fish town, with nice views and ice cream to soothe your pain if you do get zapped.

Tennis

The Beaulieu Tennis Club has clay courts, which are kept well-clayed. Here, we were fortunate in timing to see the Junior Worlds. There was a much larger tournament playing out in Monaco, but tickets were pricey and sold out; whereas for free you could watch the future stars of tomorrow courtside and if a big enough camera and pretend to be a pro, walk right on clay and shoot away.

Paloma Beach, named after Picasso's daughter.
Sailboat in Villefranche Bay
Sailboat in Villefranche Bay
World Junior Tennis Championships in Beaulieu Sur Mer
In summary, this place sucks. Don't go here.

You can further Toby’s travels and enjoy more stories, travel information, and photographs through purchasing a print, bag, mug, and much more through our galleries within Fine Art America. May we suggest using the filters to target your interests via “Collections” (top left menu). Enjoy!