We went into Monte Carlo and up to La Turbie by train …

The Hanbury Botanical Gardens remain a highlight of the Italian Riviera 100 years on 

My Dearest Mother

 I think I left off at the beginning of the trip to San Remo. We went to the cap and all packed into two big cars, they are like a touring car but wider and have an extra seat in the tonneau. One holds 8 and the other 10. We were six VADs, one little Sister from the Cap (she was Australian but in the QAs) exactly like the bird and not much bigger, a Frenchwoman and two daughters and son who was an aviator who had been invited by one of the officers at the cap and the rest of the 18 were officers. It was a gorgeous day, hazing sun and so forth. We left the cap just before 10 after going through Menton passed the frontier with many formalities and paper showing by both French and Italians. Then we stopped at the Villa Hanbury, between the frontier and Ventimiglia to look at the gardens which are quite wonderful. Old Sir Thomas Hanbury the brewer had the property and was buried there when he died, Lady Hanbury allows visitors on Mondays and Wednesdays. The garden is full of everything imaginable from tropical to wild plants. There were grapefruits that were as big as a child’s head growing on the trees and maidenhair fern growing on rocks in a wet grotto.

Then we went on and just by a Bersaglieri barracks on the cliff, just at the entrance to Ventimiglia, we burst a tyre. So we got out and photographed the Bersaglieri [Specialist Italian Marksmen], who were a handsome, athletic looking group of men, and then we walked down into the town, which is a dirty smelly little hole. Then the cars caught us up again and we went through Bordighera, which is pretty and clean-looking, and halted for lunch by the seashore just beyond the town. We had a very lively lunch in the blazing sun: I took a group [shot] on the rocks which ought to be quite amusing. Then after lunch we went on: the roads is marvellous the way it winds round the mountains half way up the slope. Between Ospedaletti and San Remo we saw Corsica quite plainly looking almost like a fairy place in the clouds.

When we got into the main street of San Remo we burst another tyre but as we were on the spot it didn’t matter much. We explored San Remo thoroughly: we bought post cards and posted them: I got some Kodak films which was very bon as one can’t get them in France. The old town is simply priceless: it is fairly smelly and very dingy, nothing but people and mules can go about in it as the streets are narrow and half of them are tunnels under houses and awfully steep. We had tea and then started back. Our car had engine trouble and climbed awfully badly however we got home safely.

The next day we went by special tram to Sospel. It is up in the mountains behind Menton. The train started from the cap about 9:30. 8 of us VADs went and the rest (about 30) were officers. The tram climbed up and up squeaking hideously all the time. When we got half way there at the highest point some of us disembarked and climbed up to Castillon, which is perched on an eminence while the tram goes through a tunnel below. It is a dear little village with a castle which is ruined by an earthquake. We could see snow-capped mountains further towards the inland quite distinctly: I took some photos which I hope may come out successfully.

Please excuse this awful scribble but I am continuing this letter in the train between Rouen and Paris and it is swaying dreadfully.

We explored the ruins and drank in the beauty of our surroundings: the lovely mountains so purple with their sides terraced with such infinite patience and covered with olive trees, and the little mountain streams trickling down their stony beds, and the blue hepaticas just coming along with the hyacinths and primroses and everything so warm and balmy: it seemed impossible that we were within a day’s journey of Paris which was cold with sleet and drizzle when I passed through it going South. We lunched at Castillon in a funny little café which called itself a hotel. We had hors d’oeuvres, omelette, stewed hare and fried potatoes, cheese and oranges. We were assisted by the two cats of the establishment, one black and one chintz [?] which circled round us or yowled incessantly except when they were fed with sardine remnants or hare bones. Even when we threw bones out of the open window they leapt after them, bolted them with unholy haste, returning singing like Hintze, who I fear was a Hun!

After lunch we set out to walk down the road to Sospel which is right at the foot of the mountains in a little hollow, 7 kilometres away. (Not quite 5 miles) We loitered down gently and arrived to find a dear little place on a stream with two quaint stone bridges across it, one with a house in the middle and then the same funny old town all huddled together. We had tea of sorts there and then came back in the tram. Wednesday we went into Monte Carlo and up to La Turbie by train. All these places are swamped with these damned gum chewing Yanks but one generally loses them out in the country. The Roman monument to the Emperor Octavius has been half pulled down by some vandal hands (probably Empire period) and used to build houses but there is a big piece left quite spoilt by having pink stucco houses squeezed up against it. We left La Turbie and went down a valley to the monastery of La Ghet where Notre Dame is supposed to work miracles. If people think she has worked a miracle for them they have to paint or get painted a picture illustrating the event. The consequence is that the walls of the monastery are covered with the most unique looking pictures of people falling down precipices and lying under trams and carts.  I never saw sucj a priceless collection: they made me choke with laughter. We walked back up to La Turbie and then on to Eze where we had lunch. Eze is a dear little village among the mountains with a ruined castle towering above the cottages. Then we climbed down a mule track to the lower Corniche road and did some real Alpine climbing to get down. We walked along till we caught a tram and got into Monte Carlo and had tea at the Hotel de Paris which is a very good place and then trammed home.

Thursday morning I went into Menton to shop for two girls who were leaving at midday and then I and the three men went as far as Nice with them and we got there and saw them off. Then they stood me a thumping lunch at Maxims and we strolled on the front and listened to the band. I saw some VADs from Cannes whom I knew, and two men from Rouen, and then we caught the express tram home.

Friday morning I went into Menton and in the afternoon I and another girl, and two of the men, went into Monte Carlo. We walked round and up and down the terraces, and saw many people strangely but doubtless fashionably clothed and then we went into the Café de Paris for tea where they have a the dansant and we saw all sorts on knuts dancing: lots of French theatrical people, chiefly bad hats I should think, and also Nungesser the famous French aviator. It was one of the most amusing places I have struck for a long time.

Next morning I nipped down to Menton for a final shop: the flowers were so lovely that I longed to send you some but the posts are so irregular here in France that they would have probably been as dead as mutton when they arrived so it wouldn’t have been much good.

I left Roquebrune about 12 with 3 others and all went well till we got about halfway between Cannes & Toulon. Then the engine drew up and after some time people began to walk about on the line and pick flowers, and so one of the others went to investigate and said that several people were lying on their backs gazing up into the engine’s internals and large chunks of iron were lying about. After some time we saw two black and grimy ruffians (the driver and the stoker) wandering along the line collecting large bars and things which had fallen off the engine and they proceeded back to the engine with a large bundle of spoil, but it wouldn’t go along, and a goods train, which came up behind, had to push us till a new engine (wired for) arrived from Toulon. This made us two hours late into Marseilles and over two hours late at Paris. I took my luggage over to the Gare St Lazare and then went to Colonel Robinson’s for lunch and got back here about 7:30.

 Since then I have been very busy as Dr Stouffs has gone up to Belgium on leave and I am in charge. I must dry up now: this is a very long screed: I hope not too full of drivel. I took some ripping photos while I was down there: they are jolly good some of them.

Best love to you all your loving Dorothy.

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Mrs T

Beyond the day job, and the garden, I love to delve into local and family history. While pursuing one project other snippets frequently distract me, resulting in the eclectic mix of tales from the past found here.

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