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La Napoule-Plage

West of Cannes, you'll find La Napoule, where a remarkable structure rises high above the sea. A large reddish-purple chateau looms above the blue waters of the bay. This was once a medieval castle owned by the Villenueves that fell into ruins over time. Only two towers and a gateway survive of this castle. The rest has been rebuilt by Henry Clewes, who purchased the property during the first World War. This son of a banker, who is now buried in the chateau grounds, may have been one of the greatest sculptors ever produced by America.

The Henry Clewes Foundation, within the chateau Napoule, is open to the public most afternoons, and the gardens alone make it worthy of a visit. The castle is filled with sculptures and paintings by Clewes, which are remarkable and almost grotesque but made of some of the rarest and loveliest materials from all over the world. Clewes was also very wealthy, and could afford the best.

The main gateway is adorned with gnomes, owls, monkeys, pelicans, and scorpions carved primarily of marble by Clewes, and all visible from the main road. If you don't actually have a chance to go inside La Napoule, at least drive by to see these.

Down the coast from La Napoule, you'll find small bathing resorts all along the Esterel coast. La Napoule doesn't have a lot of places to stay, but the small resorts located nearby do, and it's not far to walk or ride a bike.

What to do

This part of the Cote d'Azur is ideal for hiking and biking. The unique terrain offers both rugged mountains and dry desert, fields of lavender and tall cactus dotting the landscape. This is one of the best areas in which to try bicycle touring.

The rocky coast is filled with history. Long ago, only one road connected Cannes with the Rhone valley, and the wooded hills, filled with ravines and rocks, were well known to harbor brigands and highwaymen who terrorized travelers. The bandit Gaspard de Bresse, who was broken on the wheel in 1781, used to haunt the hills, and the Esterel nearby was a haven for convicts who had escaped from the prison hulks at Toulon.

But later, these same hills sheltered French freedom fighters during World War II, and the beaches nearby served as one of the D-day landing points for about 20,000 American soldiers. Wandering through the public areas here can bring back memories of those who died to preserve the freedoms of France and the rest of the world, and of times further back.

As one of the wilder parts of France, the area around La Napoule is ideal for visiting to get an idea of what Europe was once like.