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By John Salvi
July 2006

Théoule Sur Mer! What is it? Where is it? Have you ever heard of it? To the second question it will be no great surprise if you say no, but it would indicate a huge black hole in your knowledge of the Côte d’Azur which you should hasten to fill. As to the first question, Théoule is the hidden and most precious jewel in the crown of the above mentioned Côte d’Azur. It is a tiny village of 1307 inhabitants, situated just 9 kilometres from the glaring and empty skyscraper metropolis of Cannes. It is the first village that you come to when arriving in the Department of the Alpes Maritimes from the Var. It is 13 kilometres of divine coastline, with creeks, bays, sandy beaches and no less than four ports. It is seafood restaurants with magnificent sea views, backed by the unspoiled and protected Massif de L’Esterel – a paradise of splendiferous views, rare flora and fauna and no less than 400 kilometres of hiking paths and trails for the energetic and the seeker after peace and beauty.

It is French, very French, as far as it’s excellent, fresh seafood is concerned (try the fish at Pierre or the fresh cod – morue – at L’ Arguille). It is also French in that it has not become a little corner of British or other European expatriates. However it is very un-French in its quite remarkable willingness to help and assist the visitor. The Office de Tourisme is open every day of the year, including Easter Sunday and Christmas Day! Have you ever heard of anything more UN-French than that? It is run by a lady with boundless energy by the name of Dominique Baldini. The name is misleading as this lovely lady had an English mother and a French father and talks perfect English with a charming regional accent. Dominique is also the benevolent President of the Festival Committee, the organisation that thinks-up, organises and executes Théoule’s annual festivities, such as the “Kermesse aux Poissons”. This particular festival, which makes one’s mouth water just to think of it, starts with a giant fish soup on the beach for all-comers and with a colossal “Aioli” (fish with garlic mayonnaise). Then many of the seafood restaurants have eight course meals (yes eight!) of fish, complete with wine. Gourmets and gourmands go from one restaurant to another until they have done them all! The next Kermesse will be 28th February 2007. Book now!
Whilst in Théoule make sure that you order a sea bass, but a WILD one. There are two farms for these fish just off-shore and the municipality is working to have them closed down. The farms bring sea-lice and endanger the wild fish. Also the sea bass enjoy eating the sardines! Unfortunately the municipality does not control these fish-farms. They come under the aegis of the maritime authorities.

There are no skyscrapers in Théoule, but masses of seagulls! Four story buildings are the maximum allowed and building permits stipulate that all constructions blend in with the beauty of the town – no monstrosities! In spite of this injunction, Pierre Cardin has built the strangest multi-million bubble house with the most magnificent views over the sea that could be imagined. This should be visited, firstly for those great views, and then for the impression that it gives of having been built by a millionaire demented megalomaniac who suffers from nightmares of being trapped in a bubble!

The famous Islands of Lerins are just two kilometres offshore. This is where there is a monastery with monks who make wine from a dilapidated vineyard, in a run-down cellar. The wine carries the appellation Vin de Pays and the Chardonnay is sold at the stupendous, exotic and ridiculous price of 35 Euros per bottle! Go there for the beauty, for the calm and for the monastery, but not for the wine!

As everywhere along the coast of the Côte d’Azur, there are a plethora of hotels of all shapes and sizes, prices and gastronomic diversities. My personal recommendation is the Miramar Beach Hotel. A 56-room hotel RIGHT ON THE BEACH. Comfortable rooms, good food, large balconies with chaises-longues and sea views. The restaurant, and a less formal and charming "brasserie", are right on the edge of the sea, looking over it. There is a private beach, swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi, hammam and an exotic fitness centre with thallasotherapy, all free for residents. Computers are available for those that need them and great comfort and attentive service is the word. Wonderful and extensive gardens on the edge of the sea with secluded corners, deck chairs and great views.

Above all Théoule is small and friendly and wants to stay that way. They pride themselves in looking after the individual visitor and catering to his or her specific whims and tastes, and NOT treating them as just one more tourist to be put through the mill. Beauty and charm, allied to friendliness and personal attention – a very real treat on the Côte d’Azur in this day and age. Go there as quickly as you can, prove me right and don’t forget to contact Dominique Baldini before you go and as soon as you get there! Bonne vacance!

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