Wednesday 11 September 2002

Monte Carlo to St Tropez

The French Riviera is fabulous.

The boats in St Tropez moor with sterns to the quayside, the short and enormous gulf between polished transom and stone harbour bridged by roped gangplanks. Three decks of mahogany and white leather splendour on yacht after yacht tower above gawping tourists hoping for a glimpse of celebrity or wealth. Sun-drenched sun-loungers with plumped monogrammed cushions stretch out on top decks to invite recumbent bikini-clad beauties carrying gin and tonics. White-shirted crew stand with arms crossed behind their backs awaiting the return of their charges.

A hotel bar holds a balconied view of the entire harbour and the milling crowds below. Patrons drink Veuve-Clicquot and watch their friends carry designer shopping bags from the cool calm of the boutique-packed back streets to the pampered luxury of their yachts.

In Monaco, every third car is a Ferarri, Bentley or convertible Aston Martin, slowing cruising the small streets and bright, grassy square. The chips in the casino are brilliantly coloured and oil-slick smooth - no sharp edges here to stop their steady rain from clouds of punters across the taut green felt of the roulette table. The grey suited croupiers display their practised ennui to the tourists, whose tiny 10 Euro minimum bets must represent little mathematical challenge nor financial incentive to obsequiousness.

The Lady Moura yawns out from the shore, for mile upon gleaming mile of white and gold, a shining bright star at the centre of Monte Carlo marina's glossy solar-system. Larger than all other yachts, as vast as a cathedral, as quiet as a cloud, a shrine to wealth and status that all passers-by are drawn to stare at and silently revere.

The French Riviera is fabulous and I will only return when I can add to the spectacle rather than be awed by it.

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