We Took The High Road – La Grande Corniche

Three roads link Nice to Monaco.  They are called “Les Trois Corniches” which translates to the three cliffs or cliff roads.  The word comes from the word “cornice,” the decorative frieze that runs on top of buildings.   They are some of the world’s great drives.  When the rain and cruise ship passengers chased us out of Villefranche, we decided to drive the Grand Corniche.  What better time to take a drive on dangerous, cliff side road than in the rain?

The Low Corniche running out to the peninsula to St. Jean-Cap-Ferat from Villefranche-Sur-Mer

The peninsula with the Low Corniche from above

The Low Corniche (La Base Corniche or Corniche Inferieure) runs along the water, 50 meters above the Mediterranean.  It runs through Villefranche, past the entrance to the Cape Ferrat (known as the peninsula of billionaires), into Beaulieu-sur-Mer (chic Belle Epoque resort town), into Eze-Sur-Mer (from which you can hike up the Nieztsche path to the medieval hill town of Eze) and Cap d’Ail before arriving in the Principality of Monaco.

View from the Moyenne Corniche

The Middle Corniche (La Moyenne Corniche) is higher, culminating at 472 meters above sea level.   It offers impressive views of the sea and the towns above.  We took it out of Eze, going over the viaduct.  The Viaduct of Eze is known as the Bridge of the Devil.

The Viaduct of Eze on the Moyenne Corniche

Built in the early 20th century, the Moyenne Corniche is the newest of the three roads.  Even then tourists were causing congestion on the Low Corniche.

The Moyenne and Low Corniches from the Grande Corniche

We took the Grande Corniche out and drove the Middle Corniche back.   It wasn’t easy to stop for pictures though as we had to cross a lane of traffic to pull off and then get back out.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but luckily it rained (so there wasn’t too much traffic).  It would be difficult, if not impossible, to stop like that on a busy day.

The Tete de Chien outcrop from Eze

From Eze, you can see the Tete de Chien promontory which dominates Monte-Carlo.  Princess Grace of Monaco (Grace Kelly), was killed when her car went off a cliff on the Moyenne Corniche near there in 1983.

The High Corniche (La Grande Corniche) is the highest of the three with a height of 500 meters above the sea.  It has staggering views and a historical pedigree.  It is the site of the Via Aurelia, the road used by the Romans to conquer the territory to their west (aka France).  La Grand Corniche was built by Napoleon alongside of the old Roman road.

Several movies have been filmed on the Grande Corniche.    Alfred Hitchcock filmed parts of “To Catch a Thief” starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly here.  In some scenes, you can see Eze in the background.  The James Bond film Goldeneye starts with a car chase on the Grande Corniche.  Pierce Brosnan as James Bond chases Russian female fighter pilot Xenia Onatopp‘s Ferrari, in his Aston Martin DB5.  It is also a popular spot to film car commercials (but so is Detroit).

Yep. That’s it way up there on top.

From the Grand Corniche, you can see some seriously expensive homes.  I’m pretty sure that this is Villa La Leopolda.  Built by King Leopold of Belgium (allegedly for his mistress), owned by the Agnelli family (of Fiat fame and money), Bill Gates and then by the Safra family, it was put up for sale by Edmund Safra’s widow, Lily.  Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich, pulled out of a deal to pay $500 million dollars for it after legal troubles with the French government, losing his $36 million deposit.  Oops.

The medieval hill town of Eze and the viaduct on the Moyenne Corniche from the Grande Corniche

The Grande Corniche is so high and steep that it doesn’t go through many towns (only the hilltop village of Roquebrune).  There are hairpin turns and low guard rails (if there are guard rails).   It wasn’t a relaxing road to drive, but it was pretty freaking cool.

Cycling it…even cooler.

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Geneva Auto Show

Many US cities have auto shows (Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Cleveland, Columbus, Portland, Minnesota’s Minneapolis/Twin Cities, Orange County (OC), New York, Miami, South Florida, St. Louis, Richmond, Los Angeles (LA), Seattle, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Silicon Valley).  Click here for a 2012 auto show schedule and here for a list of Motor Trend shows.  He has even been to the Detroit show several times.  I’ve never been, so I was excited to see what it was all about.  The Geneva Motor Show is held at Palexpo every March.

Last Friday, we had date night.  I picked him up after work, but didn’t tell him where we were headed.  Tickets to the Geneva Auto Show (officially known as the 82nd International Motor Show and Accessories) are half price after 4:00 p.m., so it was cheaper to go to the car show than to go to a movie!  Although we know people who spent days there, a few hours was enough time for us to hit the highlights.  He was pretty excited when he realized where we were headed and we had a really good time.

“You got cars, they got rims.” There were countless booths filled with rims.

The show isn’t just cars, there is also a hall full of accessories booths.  From rims, to tools to garage doors, to car washes, it has just about everything auto-related you can imagine.  Walking through that hall, he said it reminded him of a trade show.

These doors are made to be opened by your driver.

Since this is Geneva, there were luxury cars galore.

Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?

I loved the matte paint job.

BMW 6 Series Grand Coupe

Despite the hype about the new Bentley SUV, the only thing we liked about the car was its sweet rims. We predict you will see these on Cribs soon.

You can see their appointment to the queen in the top right corner. He liked the Aston Martins better.

The name is Bond, James Bond. Yeah, baby.

Car enthusiasts were jazzed about the new concept cars (also known as prototypes), cars made to showcase new styling or technology .  Many of them were electric.  While these are not yet on the market, they provide a glimpse into what what we’ll see in the future.

BMW i8 Concept Car

The American Car companies were there and they offered great value for the money, running much less than comparable European models.

Chinese automakers were also there.  I’ve seen several SsangYong‘s around Geneva.

Some booths offered entertainment like foosball or a simulated driving game.

He was expecting to see more models, but apparently they only hire models in evening gowns and cocktail dresses for the press days and special events. The cars were the real eye candy.  The sports cars were some of the biggest attractions; they just looked sweet.

Kids loved this car.

Many of the exhibitors restored or modified cars.  I have never seen as many flip-up doors.  It was like a giant episode of Pimp My Ride.

Some of the modifications were more useful.

You can buy cars at the auto show.  Each of us decided on the three we wanted.  His top three: Aston Martin (any of them), the Jeep Cherokee and the Tesla Sedan.

Being small, I love a small car.  I wanted a Mini and any Lotus.  Although I am sure this phrase has never been written, for my third, the Maybach edged out the Smart Car.  The champagne in the back helped sell me.

Sorry Smart, you lost by a nose. If it is any consolation, I am more likely to buy you in real life since I can’t afford a Maybach.