Beautiful Place On Sea



For the Monaco Grand Prix I normally stay in a tatty little hotel in the area they call La Condamine which, for a television viewer, is where you end up if you turn go straight on at the last corner of the race track, rather than turning right along the main straight. I had exactly the same room (Number 10) for 10 years.

I was a beginner in real terms because several of those who also stay there for the Grand Prix were F1 drivers from the 1960s. It was a family-run place, convenient and friendly. When I departed last year I paid the bill and, as usual, booked the room for the following year. But after that I moved house and so I did not receive a fax from them asking me to confirm the room. I did not even think about it.

They did not hear anything and (rather to my annoyance) sold the room to someone else. This I discovered a few days before the Grand Prix when I rang them to tell them when I would be arriving.

What annoyed me was that it was not as if they could not sell the room at a moment's notice. They did not bother to give me the benefit of the doubt and so I shall not bother to give them my money in the future. I am sure they will have no problem to find people willing to pay them the seven-night minimum for a noisy, shoebox with no air conditioning for whatever ludicrous price it used to be...

Getting a room in the Monaco area in the week before the race is not a task to be undertaken lightly. Fortunately if you know the right people you can get away with it and so I ended up in a pleasant enough little hotel in Beaulieu-sur-Mer (which in rough translation means "Beautiful Place-on-Sea") where the rooms were bigger, the air-conditioning did not work and the price was more sensible, mainly because there was only a four-night minimum. I shall return next year.

I have always like Beaulieu and often I have gone there on one of the days before the Monaco GP (with the seven night minimum I often had time to kill) to enjoy the market, to admire the Belle Epoque villas, to have lunch at a restaurant down on the beach or in the port.

I long ago decided that, if I ever get to be very rich, I will buy myself a place in Beaulieu. The town, which is a couple of bays down the coastline from Monaco (10 minutes on the train) has been a favorite spot for the rich and famous for centuries. It was most popular with the English and the Russians and the locals built hotels and a casino to accommodate the visitors, who often wintered there rather than facing the less pleasant climates of more northern places. Monaco, Nice and Cannes all served the same purpose. Beaulieu was small and more discreet than its nearby cousins and because it is the warmest place in France thanks to the huge corniche that towers over the harbor, creating a microclimate which make it almost tropical, it always attracted some of the wealthiest of the wealthy. One corner of the town is known as Petite Afrique (Little Africa) and this is why American millionaire James Gordon Bennett Jr. built his villa there in the 1880s.

Gordon Bennett was a flamboyant benefactor of early international automobile racing, having inherited a huge newspaper empire based on the New York Herald, which his father James Sr., a Scottish-born immigrant, had established in 1835. James Jr. took over the firm in 1872 at the age of 31 and his goal was to spread the family empire across the world. Initially he funded the activities of roving reporters including Henry Stanley, who had been sent to Africa by the newspaper in 1869 to find Dr. David Livingstone. Having succeeded in this task, Stanley was given more funding by Gordon Bennett in 1874 to cross Africa from Zanzibar to the mouth of the Congo River.

Despite having assisted in the opening up of Africa, Gordon Bennett was ejected from New York Society for having urinated in a fireplace while visiting his fiancee and so he settled in Paris and in 1887 he established the Paris Herald.

To promote the new paper Gordon Bennett sponsored a series of transport-related competitions, including bicycle, motorboat, yacht and balloon races. In 1899 he announced an International Cup for automobile racing and a solid silver trophy, weighing 17kg, was designed. The Gordon Bennett Cup was held between 1900 and 1905 and played an important role in the international development of the sport. The gathering of the Gordon Bennett teams in Bad Homberg in Germany in 1904 resulted in the formation of an international automobile federation, which is known today as the FIA.

The Gordon Bennett Cup lasted for only six events because the French, at the time the strongest nation in the automobile industry, could not accept that it could only be represented by just three cars (as the rules were based on national teams) and so organized its own competition in 1906. This was the first Grand Prix de l'Automobile de France at Le Mans, which is now accepted as having been the real start of Grand Prix racing.

After his death the Gordon Bennett Family sold its newspapers and the New York Herald was ultimately merged with the Tribune to form the Herald Tribune. The Paris Herald lives on as the International Herald Tribune.

But Gordon Bennett was not Beaulieu-sur-Mer's only famous motor racing name for the town was also the summer home of Ettore Bugatti, the man who merged automobiles and art and built some of the finest Grand Prix cars of the 1920s. In the 1930s his Type 57 sportscars, which became known as the "Tanks" because of their unusual lines twice won the Le Mans 24 Hours. His villa, as one would expect, was exquisite.

Running through the middle of town is the Boulevard Marinoni which, I used to think must has some link to the Grand Prix driver Attilio Marinoni. I doubt there was but I do know that Beaulieu was the home of one of Bugatti's most famous drivers: William Grover-Williams, better known as "Williams", the man who won the very first Monaco Grand Prix. He and his wife Yvonne used to race one another along the twisting coastal roads and on several occasions Yvonne was stopped for speeding.

"What about him," she would say to the policemen. "Why don't you stop him? You always stop me!"

"He is Williams," they replied. "We don't stop Williams."

Beaulieu is elegantly faded now and the Grand Prix drivers prefer to live in apartments in Monaco where there are tax advantages to be enjoyed. The last GP driver to live on the bay was the elegant Carlos Reutemann, who lived in a villa just across the water in St Jean St Cap Ferrat. He lived there not because there were any of the tax advantages but simply because it was a beautiful place.

I'm with Carlos. Monaco has lost my custom. I'll settle for Beautiful Place-on-Sea in future.

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