Secret French Riviera Book Review

We especially wanted to see this Secret French Riviera guide in the always-excellent 'Secret' guidebook series from the French publishers Jonglez, as we've made several visits to the French Riviera, and love it.

Where Do People Play with Square Boules?

Some of those visits have been long ones, involving research for guidebooks, and we've travelled up and down the Cote d'Azur. We love the towns and cities covered by this unusual guidebook, including Nice, Monaco, Menton, Cannes, Antibes, Saint-Tropez... and several more. In fact if we were told we could never travel again and had to choose one place in the world to live in for the rest of our lives, the French Riviera would certainly be in the running.

But what of the unknown and off-the-beaten track French Riviera? We know from their other 'Secret' guides we've reviewed that these Jonglez titles do manage to unearth places you've never heard of, and things to do that you'll find in no other guides.

A quick glance at the back cover shows that Secret French Riviera is going to be no exception. It promises to reveal:

  • A place where they play pétanque with square boules
  • A cannon that fires cherry stones
  • A gas mask for horses
  • A chance to spend the night sleeping in a tree

All this and we haven't opened the book yet.

At the front of the guide is a map of the area covered, and then chapter-by-chapter the secrets are revealed, running from Menton in the east as far as Hyères in the west. Each chapter then begins with a map showing where the secret places can be found – not just along the coast but inland too.

Secret Nice

So what about Nice, maybe our favourite city along the whole coast? Author Jean-Pierre Cassely begins with a tale of a cannonball embedded in a wall in the Old Town, fired from a 16th-century Ottoman ship, and moves on to reveal the city's concealed air-conditioning that isn't really concealed at all, tells a true story about a false door, and explains where to find the Abbey of Saint-Pons, a church that really can be described by that old cliché, a hidden gem.

Pétanque with Square Boules

So where do they play pétanque with square boules, that's what I want to know, having enjoyed a few games myself in this area. The answer is in Cagnes-sur-Mer, where the streets were too steep to play regular pétanque so they invented their own version of the game. It's basically the same as regular pétanque except the boules are made out of square pieces of pine wood, painted a different colour for each team. They play both uphill and downhill, and if you're there on August 25th each year they have the world championships.


A Stone with a Hole

There's a full index at the back of the book listing things under topics like History, Museums and Architecture, though the longest section is, not surprisingly, Curiosities. Among these you'll find an axe sharpener, a pyramid, a prison cell on the street, a donkey's ring, an elephant's beach and various statues and stones, including a stone with a hole for which there is no known explanation. You'll find it near the village of Saint-Martin-du-Var.

Buying Secret French Riviera

Like all of the guides by Jonglez, the answer is an unqualified 'Yes'. They've carved out a special niche for themselves and have been able to find authors adept at uncovering those secret places and hidden curiosities. Secret French Riviera is a remarkable and wonderfully enjoyable book. We highly recommend it to help make your visit to the French Riviera even more amazing. Secret French Riviera was first published several years ago, but most of the features it covers – unlike in regular guidebooks - are timeless. 

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