CAP d’Ail is the last French town the motorist rushes through before he crosses the border to Monte Carlo. So obscured by its glamorous neighbour is Cap d’Ail (Ail derives from the Italian for ‘bee’) most guidebooks don’t even mention it. Those that do, comment only on its beach. True, a French newspaper voted Plage Mala ‘the prettiest beach on the Riviera’ but that’s not all the little village ‘between the sea and the mountains’ has to offer.
An old-style resort town, Cap d’Ail has hardly changed since the beginning of the last century. The most popular restaurant, Edmonds, is still in its 1930s’ decor and across the street from it, there’s a little shop crowded with buckets and spades, post cards and beachwear.
There are tiny pockets of parks where children play, as well as grand landscaped gardens surrounding villas . . . once the winter homes of celebrities ranging from Apollinaire and Colette to Greta Garbo and Winston Churchill.
Two of the villas and several of the gardens may be visited.Sun-lovers will appreciate the beaches; in addition to Plage Mala there are three others.Committed walkers have their choice of four relatively undemanding but stunningly panoramic paths to follow: two along the shoreline and two up in the hills. Each walk is signposted so you can identify the flora growing along the way. For a small charge, a knowledgeable guide will accompany you.Information and bookings at the Cap d’Ail Tourist Office, 87 bis. Av du 3 Septembre.
There are two exceptional restaurants in Cap d’Ail, both on Plage Mala. La Pinede, once a fisherman’s hut on the shore, is now a relaxed but sophisticated setting in which to sample Mediterranean fish specialties. www.restaurantlapinede.com
La Reserve, with its flower-banked wooden deck overlooking the sea, is beautiful in the daytime but memorable on a warm night when the water reaches almost to the deck and torches light the high tide mark. www.capresort.com/reserve/
There are hotels and pensions in Cap d’Ail, and the tourist bureau has the list. I like Hotel de Monaco: http://www.hoteldemonaco.com. Small bedrooms, no lift, but welcoming and affordable for the Cap d’Azur.
Plus. . .
If you find yourself missing the bright lights, there’s always Monaco, a mere mile away and minutes from Cap d’Ail by frequent local bus.
Dip into Monaco’s 700-year-old history with a visit to the palace; dip into your bank account for an evening at the casino. Wander in the upmarket shopping malls or pick up your designer gear from one of the super elegant boutiques. On the other hand, just relax over a coffee on the terrace of the Cafe de Paris and watch the Rolls roll by.
Getting to Cap d’Ail: The nearest airport is Nice . The train and the bus from Nice both stop in Cap d’Ail. Or you could treat yourself to a taxi, around€100.