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EXCURSION TO NICE AND PEGLIONE.

March 18.

ABOUT three miles on this side of Nice is the little village of Potervium, a place which no one can mistake, if they look out for an imitation soldier with flowing hair, who is represented jovially drinking wine under the wall of a little public-house. Here a path strikes off to the right and then taking a turn to the left, through some olive gardens, leads to the top of the hill which forms the hack-ground of lovely Villafranca, which looks strangely eastern as it stands on the edge of the sea, hacked by stony declivities, its brown roofs interspersed with domes of churches and convents, while here and there a dark mass of cypress rises against the blue water. In the narrow streets, heaps of oranges, dates, figs, and plums, are piled up for sale on either side of the broad sunny pavement. Below is the quay, where the deep blue sea washes up among yellow rocks under the gaily-painted houses, while a number of boats ply to and fro to carry visitors to the large men-of-war which lie at anchor in the harbour.

The town was built from 1295 to 1303, by Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily and count of Provence, and owes its name to the privileges which it obtained from its foundation. Its climate is said to be one of the mildest and most equable on the whole Riviera. A charming excursion may be made from hence to the Presqu'ile of St. Hospice, on whose eastern point is a ruined fort, built by Victor Amadeus I, and destroyed in 1706 by Marshal Berwick. Near this is the ruined chapel of St. Hospice, a pious anchorite of the sixth century, who prophesied the victories of the Lombards, ("Venient in Galliam Longobardi et vastabunt civitates septem"). In the Presqu'ile was situated the famous Moorish fortress of Fraxinet, which gave the Saracens their great hold upon this coast.

A lovely road through the olive woods and fields, starred with pink anemones, leads from Villafranca to Nice, where we found the Hotel Paradis both comfortable and reasonable. The number of people, and the noise and bustle of the place, seemed quite astonishing after so many months of quiet Mentone, while the town itself reminded us of Paris, by its fine quays along the river Paillon, its boulevards and handsome stone houses; but certainly at Paris, there is no view of distant mountains, across ever-varying waves of sapphire sea, and no tall palm tree, to be streaked with gold by the rays of the setting sun. Here is realized the description given by Delille in his Jardins:—

"Oh Nice, heureux séjour, montagnes renommées,
De lavende, de thyme, de citron parfumées,
Que de fois sous tes plants d'oliviers toujours verts,
Dont la pâleur s'unit au sombre, azur des mers,
J'égarai mes regards sur ce théâtre immense."

The town contains about 30,000 inhabitants. The shops are good but excessively dear. The native manufacture of carved olive wood especially, is five times as expensive as work of the same kind at Sorrento. Pensions at Nice are reasonable, costing about eight francs a day. The best are the Pension Eivoir, 21, Chemin des Anglais; the Pension d'ltalie, Rue de France; and the Pension Visconti, in a delightful situation on the Cimies, the cost of which, including everything, is ten francs a-day. The hire of a donkey is three francs for the whole day.

There are few antiquities in Nice. The castle, which looks down upon the eastern extremity of the town, was blown up by the Duke of Berwick in 1706. The "Croix de Marbre," standing under a picturesque little canopy, opposite to the English church, commemorates the so-called conference in 1538, between Pope Paul III, Charles V., and Francis I. Massena was born, the son of a small woollen-draper, in a narrow street near Sta. Reparata; Garibaldi was born in a house near the Boulevard de l'Imperatrice, where his brother was murdered. The Nizzard dialect is interesting, as being almost the same as the ancient Romane language in which the Troubadours wrote and sung. The inhabitants of Nice are not rich, the incomes of the richest not exceeding one thousand or twelve hundred pounds a-year.

The day after our arrival at Nice, we started early to ascend the hills which form the western background of the town. The roads are quite different to those of Mentone, no longer narrow mountain paths, or often mere staircases cut in the arid rock, but broad cart tracks winding through avenues of olives into fields on the high grounds, which are now carpeted by bright green flax or young corn; while beyond, the glorious snowy ranges are revealed in their full extent, resting upon the nearer purple hills. On a high point is the Pin de Bellet, marking the summit of a hill, covered with the vineyards producing the famous wine of that name, which is of great excellence, though the fact, that at least a thousand times as much is sold every year as the vineyard could possibly produce, shows how much it is adulterated. In a hollow, buried amongst the olives, is the hamlet of St. Romain. Its lovely painted campanile, with its old houses and the Doric portico of the church, broken by the olive trees, whose delicate branches cast flickering shadows across its pillars, is one of the most picturesque objects in the district. Beyond is a natural terrace, which looks down upon the great bed of the Var, closed in by snowy mountains, while along its opposite bank lie the "Seven Villages," each full of characteristic beauty. The highest of these, nestling under strange perpendicular rocks, is St. Jannet, whose women have all the reputation of being witches; while above on the mountain is a huge old nut-tree, where the witches are believed to hold their Sabbat. We came down from the mountains upon Les Scires, where a carriage was waiting for us, and whence we had a lovely drive home by the sheltered lanes of St. Augustin, bordered with narcissus and anemones.

The next day we set off at ten in a carriage to Levens, by a road which passes first along the left bank of the Paillon, and afterwards follows the course of a smaller stream. On the left, on an olive-clad hill rises the Franciscan Convent of Cimies. Beyond and below, is the finer Benedictine Convent of St. Pons, founded in 775 by St. Siagre, who is said to have been a son of Carloman and nephew of Charlemagne the Great. The original building was destroyed by the Saracens in 890, but the convent was rebuilt in 999 by Fredonius, bishop of Nice. During the revolution it was suppressed and turned into a military hospital, but was restored again in 1835 by Monseigneur Galvano, as a convent of lay-monks. Before its gates grew a large elm tree, (cut down in 1760) beneath which the inhabitants of Nice assembled in 1388, to place themselves under the rule of Amadeus VII., Duke of Savoy, surnamed the Red. The act of this donation was dated, "Sub ulmo Sancti Pontii et ante monasterium." In 1835, bishop Galvano marked the site of the elm by a marble slab, bearing an inscription which still commemorates the event. Beyond the convent, and near the remains of an ancient temple, is a tiny chapel which overhangs the road on a precipitous rock. Here it is said St. Pons was beheaded, a saint who is reported to have been a Roman senator, who embraced Christianity in the time of the Emperor Philip, whom he converted to his own faith; but, in the persecution which followed, he was obliged to fly from Rome and take refuge at Cimies, where he was arrested, and put to death, by order of the Emperor Claudius. According to Cardinal Baronius, this happened on May 11th, 261. The head of St. Pons is declared by the natives to have jumped from the top of the rock into the Paillon, whence two lighted torches arose out of the water to meet it; between these it sailed in triumph down the river to the Mediterranean, and thence to Marseilles, where it landed on a rock, upon which another chapel was built to its honour.

A short distance hence the Chateau St. André, still inhabited by the count of that name, almost blocks up the valley, crowning a hill whose sides are picturesquely clothed with old ilex trees. Beyond is the Grotto St. André, where the torrent passes under the road, through a natural tunnel in the tufa rock. Here the highway enters a fine gorge, which is like some of the passages in the Val Moutiers, the perpendicular rocks fringed with pines, standing out against the sky, while the torrent struggles and tosses below. A ruined wall on the rock, which looks like a hermitage, marks the spot where the French, during their occupation of Nice, successfully defended this gorge against the Piedmontese. who tried to make a descent through it upon the town. Beyond this point the road to Levens is uninteresting. On the left is the turn which leads to the Grotto of Falicon, called by the natives the "Grotta di Ratapignata," on account of the number of bats which inhabit it. Beyond this, Mont Chauve is seen above the lower hills. On the right, cresting a hill, are conspicuous the ruined walls of the large village of Chateauneuf, now entirely deserted and abandoned to ghosts and owls, but striking, and well worthy of a visit.

Levens itself is an ugly village on a barren hill; its streets were crowded with filthy children, all ill with the hooping cough, of which they gave us the full benefit while we were drawing. At its summit is a large church, with an inscription recording the feelings of the people "devoto e recognoscente," for the very small favour of two Piedmontese princes having once passed through their town. On our return we stopped to see Tourette, a village, with a highly painted church, surrounded by mountains, and an old castle now turned into a dwelling house, with a curious reef of pointed rocks, stretching from it down the valley.

The following afternoon I had a delightful walk through the shady olive groves, which overhang the Paillon to Cimies, the Civitas Cimeliensis of the Romans, but more remarkable now for its convent and lovely views, than for the obscure but vaunted remains of a Nymphaeum, and a temple believed to be that of Diana, in the garden of Count Garin, or the ruins of an amphitheatre which still preserves its oval form and ancient steps, and which is called by the natives, "II tino delle fade," or "the fairy's bath." Prom the garden of the Maison Garin a subterranean passage is said to extend under the Paillon to the little chapel of St. Roch, near Mont Vinaigrier. In this passage the natives say that the devil sits at a table, with a golden horn upon it, whilst a golden goat and a golden kid stand by his side; for one half-hour in the day the devil sleeps, and if, during that half-hour, any one had the courage to go down, they might carry off the golden goat and the golden kid in safety, and would be enriched for life. Local gossip asserts that this feat was nearly accomplished thirty years ago, when some men went down, and seeing the devil sitting asleep, caught up the golden kid and ran as hard as they could; but they had come too late in the half-hour, for before they reached the end of the passage, the devil awoke and pursued them; they dropped the golden kid and fled for their lives, but before they could escape, the devil had touched them, and they all died dreadful deaths a few weeks afterwards. The garden is said to be haunted, and mysterious voices have been heard in it by those who pass on the road at night, which are accounted for by supernatural agency; but they may be explained by the existence of an extraordinary echo, through which a person walking on the upper road to Cimies, when he arrives at this villa, may distinctly hear every word spoken by a person walking on the lower road which leads to the same place.

The Franciscan convent of Cimies stands in a piazza, which is filled with fine old cork trees, beneath whose shadow stands a curious cross, on which the Crucified One is represented with wings, as a cherubim. The interior of the church is handsomely painted in fresco, and contains a good specimen of the work of Ludovico Brea, born in 1651, the best artist ever produced by Nice. Cimies possesses a milder climate than Nice, and has some good lodging-houses and pensions, which are much resorted to by those who prefer a quiet country residence to the gaiety and the dust of the town. Below, about half-a-mile from Nice, is the picturesque convent of St. Barthelemy, with an altar piece said to have been brought from Rhodes.

The next morning we had a specimen of what Nice dust could be; in a minute after leaving the door, one was covered from head to foot, as if dipped in a flour tub, one's hair was steeped in the thick white powder, and one's lips were plastered with dust. To see the way was impossible; the whole air was a thick mass of prickly white particles; one could only trust to the wall for guidance. Under these circumstances we were certainly glad to drive away in a sweeping white tornado to Drap, on the way to Peglione.

We left the Turin road close to a stone bridge over the Paillon, and thence began to ascend towards the mountains by a winding mule path. This road was formerly infested by a notorious gang of bandits, and near this is the Fontaine de Giallier, where, in the time of the first empire, the carriage of the Marchioness of Bute, travelling to Turin, was stopped by a number of these men, who carried off all her valuables and diamonds. For a long time before this attempts had been made in vain to capture the brigands, but that day the gendarmes were more successful. Lady Bute had with her some opium which she was accustomed to take in order to assist her in sleeping by the way; the robbers thought that they had discovered a bottle of liqueur, and some of them drank of it. In a little while they grew drowsy and lay down among the corn near the wayside to rest a little; there sleep overcame them, and there they were found some hours after, by the gendarmes who were in search of them.

Almost all the band were discovered, and it was learnt with astonishment, that many men belonging to the noble families of Nice had formed a part of it and lived upon their plunder, even inviting the authorities of the town to dinner, who never had the least suspicion of the connexion of their hosts with the famous bandits. The robbers had the wit to take care that their dinners were always given the day after some remarkable robbery, the further to evade suspicion, and had it not been for Lady Bute's laudanum, they would probably never have been found out. Three of them were condemned to death. Many of Lady Bute's diamonds were never discovered. One of the band alone, a man named Belloni, escaped to France. Many years after, his son and daughter-in-law returned to Nice in good circumstances, and the lady appeared at a ball wearing a magnificent diamond ornament. "Ah, c'est des diamants de Gaillier," was the universal remark.

It is curious that a grandson of this same Belloni, living at the picturesque old Ray Mill, near Nice, as a miller, rendered that place also notorious by an atrocious crime. He was celebrated as a marksman. One day when some French soldiers were passing by, one of them stooped down to wash the hem of his trowsers in the brook. The miller had been boasting of his skill to his friends; "I will shoot that man through the heart for forty sous," said he to his neighbour. The friend said "Done," thinking it was a joke, and the miller instantly shot the man through the heart.

But to return to Peglione, which soon appears most strikingly situated on the top of a conical rock, rising high above the forests of olives, against the wild extraordinary peaks of the surrounding mountains. The town itself is exceedingly picturesque, and has a broad terrazone, with old tumble-down houses on one side, and a little chapel painted with quaint frescoes on the other. The view of Peglione from the side towards Peglia (one hour distant), is the most striking scene in all this neighbourhood. The village itself occupies the foreground, on the top of a gigantic precipice, around the foot of which winds the river, while beyond billow upon billow of purple hills fall hack to join the distant snow mountains. The road hence to Turbia is wild, desolate, and rugged, and we were heartily glad when we reached the village and found a carriage from Mentone awaiting us, with bread, oranges, and a bottle of Vino d'Asti, which had been left for us to atone for the absence of our friends who had promised to meet us at Peglione. They had been obliged to return to Peglia after the ascent of Mont Agel, by one of the ladies, who had been represented as a first rate walker, falling flat down on her back upon the rocks, and declaring that she could not possibly go a step further.