Riviera Noir 2008 -- French Opulence
by Debe Dene

Bon Jour! If we got paid a nickel for every time we were greeted with the most common phrase to say hello in France, the entire trip would be paid for and then some! Fleace Weaver founder of Bella Italia and BlackGirlTravel.com has done it once again! Riviera Noir 2008, the first annual French Rivera tour was an experience to remember! A total of 22 beautiful ladies noir and Loren (a very debonair gentleman) completed the ensemble for this magnificent tour of the South of France. Planes, trains and automobiles, we arrived in Nice and then rounded out the 9 day tour in neighboring Monte Carlo and Cannes, a few even more adventurous souls extended their tour to Paris and London...talk about a travel savvy group!

The group consisted of many hues of beautiful black women and one lucky man from diverse backgrounds with careers as colorful as the cities visited in the south of France. Atlanta, Indiana, Tennessee and of course California marked some of the cities that several of the participants resided.

The international tour was complete with private motor coach transportation between destinations and evenings out on the town. Not one but two French and English-speaking tour guides shared their knowledge of the cities on the day tours as well as nightly mixers and parties.

Fleace has made it her mission to create unique travel experiences to international regions while at the same time incorporating a sense of sisterhood. With several tours under her belt Fleace has accomplished this successfully. You will come back from a tour with a new outlook on the world we live in.

To invoke this sense of sisterhood and as a way to get to know our travel buddies a series of special tour mixers were organized by Fleace leading up to the departure date. Some of the venues emulated the French experience such as the Wine Bistro a popular French restaurant in Studio City, California, which gave us an opportunity to sample the French cuisine and brush up on the language. Coupled with the local mixers which all took place in Los Angeles, Fleace distributed weekly travel tips and check lists providing pointers and suggestions from a to z to make sure your travel experience was top notch.

Bon Voyage! The send off party at the Sheraton Gateway in Los Angeles was an event in itself! Ladies from tours past as well as Riviera Noir 2008 were featured on a popular webstream show to share what they've experienced on previous tours and what they look forward to in the Riviera.

On the morning of the flight out of LAX and with some of us barely on 2 hours of sleep or no sleep at all, we managed to get through the airport and all check points with ease. Whether you were dressed to impress or casual chic the travel time flew by thanks to a bevy of options on board with feature movies, music or reading. The layover (this is where it pays to pack a light carryon) gave the group just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat as well as connect with the other travelers joining us from different cities and off we went to board our final flight to our first destination. With plenty of rest on both flights we were ready for anything!

Are you ready to share in the experience that is the south of France! Get ready to fall in love or should I say tomber amoureux with the Riviera!

We were off and running the moment we landed in Nice with a 3 hour city tour en-route to the first Hotel. The private motor coach cruised along side the Promenade des Anglais filled with locals out jogging, strolling or lounging along the waterfront. If you got tired of lounging by the water and you think lady luck is on your side, stop by one of the many casinos near the waterfront. Don't forget your passport! That's your ticket to enter the casino.

A quick stop was made to the famous Cathedrale Orthodoxe Russe de Nice. Slightly jet lagged but running off of momentum from the colorful postcard like buildings and food vendors in the local farmers market, we found enough energy to get a taste of the old town promenade known for lots of shopping, restaurants and let's not forget le bonbons, yes this is not the time to watch the waist line. The French Gelato (that's ice cream for us American folk) and chocolate is to die for!

The group posed for pictures and picked up some trinkets along the way and this was all before the arrival to our first hotel destination! With the amount of energy that the group exudes one quickly forgot that we just endured a total of a 15 ½ hour flight! At times our lone gentleman garnered a lot of attention as on lookers wondered how he arranged to be in the company of all these beautiful women!

Upon arrival to our first hotel in Nice we quickly freshened up and immediately got together for our first group orientation. After we were formerly introduced to our first tour guide as well as the remainder of the group that lived outside of California we proceeded to have our first authentic French meal and let's not forget the wine.

Later that afternoon we enjoyed more hors d'oeuvres and wine (are you seeing the theme here) atop the rooftop of the hotel in Nice with views for miles of the historical buildings and rich culture.

Nice, France's 5th largest city is full of history and picturesque dwellings. Hop on the Tram (mini train) and venture into town to experience the plethora of restaurants and shops to meet your every desire. Interestingly, due to an early Italian influence (before the French revolution) there were a lot of pizza restaurants to appease your taste buds should you miss home.

Day two in Nice and we are all still gleaming from the adventures on the town from the night before. After some free time, ringing up more on the charge cards and dining little did we know that things were really going to set off! Club Le Guest here we come! Are the French ready for us...hmmm.

The shadows hours were upon us and although the night air was cool we dressed like it was 90 degrees outside...hot, hot, hot! With a complimentary drink courtesy of Riviera Noir and Fleace's handy video cam to capture some candid moments we took over the dance floor. The party was off to a right start, no over indulging here just enough to put your mind at ease plus there's no harm in flirting (clearing my throat - Aaaa-Hem) making new friends.

After breakfast the following morning packed and ready to go, the private motor coach escorted us to our next destination...the playground to billionaire residents - Monte Carlo!

Not by any means was this your average tour hence on the way to our main destination a few visits were made to popular points of interest along the vast country side. Jammed packed into another fun-filled excursion was a visit to the small town of Eze. Here we toured the Fragonard a well known perfume factory and even made purchases of some of the sensuous scents they developed. We also paid homage to the great Josephine Baker by visiting her burial site. As the motor coach made its way up and around the sprawling hillside we took in spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea lined with yachts, ocean liners and extravagant homes perched atop the hillsides to such famous Americans as Elton John.

A million photos later we were en route to Monte Carlo. The surprises did not end there. The marvelous location of the Fairmont Hotel was host to the Grand Prix, which took place just outside the doorsteps of this extravagant hotel where we viewed first hand the famous car race from the front door or rooftop pool. This however did not take away from the beauty of the Fairmont Monte Carlo a five star hotel with ultra modern décor and shops, nesting on the coast of the blue Mediterranean Sea bordered by beaches and situated within a stones throw of the famous Casino of Monte-Carlo. One lucky lady hit the jackpot, well with the Euro being so high it felt like it!

We were free to explore the famous city for several hours before retiring in preparation of the evening's events that were to follow. Party over here! You can not visit Monte Carlo without taking in the thriving nightlife which is just getting warmed up at midnight. Party destination numéro deux of choice was Discotheque Jimmy'z which caters to such celebrities as Jennifer Lopez and spitfire Naomi Campbell (who was in attendance that night). We were escorted to our private nook and began to take in the ambience while the beat of the music moved us throughout the night. The French gentlemen were chivalrous and the drinks were flowing, once again the first two were compliments of Riviera Noir thankfully so because one drink in this establishment starts at $25 euro ($40 US dollars). Several ladies met some handsome French men and danced the night away and capped the night or should I say following morning with breakfast!

If you did not pull an all nighter, no need to worry, breakfast at the Fairmont was on the house! Included as part of our stay, was a lavish daily continental breakfast buffet that was equal to a feast only reserved for the well to do. The night time entertainment in the hotel lobby featured a musician of many persona's as he performed the latest salsa, reggae and pop hits and he was good looking to boot!

Several brave souls that were up all night somehow found the energy to embark on a walking tour to the residence (Palace) of Prince Albert. In Monte Carlo this is no small feat as it seems like the entire principality is carved out of a mountainside, makes for great views but the elevation...whew! Now we know why the French stay so slim. We were thrilled to witness the Changing of The Guards on this outing. At one point moments after the ceremony a luxury vehicle with dark tinted windows emerged from the palace shrouded with guards. Could that have been the Prince leaving for his daily appearances, the bonuses on this tour were endless!

The last night in Monaco was capped off with fine dining and of course some gambling at the famous Le Casino de Monte Carlo which is not your average casino (no jeans allowed) from the luxury vehicles that lined the front of the casino and the women and men dressed in their finest evening attire. Upon entering you are greeted with sprawling marble pillars and grand entry way that took you back to the time of the wealthy aristocrats that once gambled there.

Are you still with me! 3 more days to go and we've probably done more in the first 6 days than most people do in two weeks of vacationing!

Lights, Camera, Action! Cannes a city well known for the Cannes Film Festival was our next destination and you guessed it, we got there just in time for the kick off to the 13th annual Cannes Film Festival! The quaint city was all a buzz with paparazzi and celebrities for the two week festival. Steps away from fine dining and designer stores we had the opportunity to walk barefoot on the sandy beaches with temperatures hovering in the mid 70's it felt more like the mid 80's with the warmth of the sun cascading down. If you were daring there was the option to go topless, we left that up to the locals.

Let me not get ahead of myself...Wine anyone -- Oui! Oui! En route to Cannes with our second tour guide we had the pleasure of visiting La Petite Cave de Saint-Paul and sampled some of the best wines that the south of France had to offer. The shopping in this village that seemed to be tucked away in the hills was outstanding! Unique items were purchased that you will be sure to not see in the USA. Prior to the wine tasting event we also made a quick stop to the famous Matisse Chapel where the resident nun educated us on the early beginnings of the chapel and its founder...wouldn't want to show up at the chapel with alcohol on our breaths (smile).

After a late afternoon check-in to our hotel in Cannes some of the group preferred to get a well deserved nap before embarking on more festivities that evening. Several ladies braved the choppy waters and ventured off to Saint-Tropez the following day. Meanwhile that night back at the hotel others opted to partying in the rooms where we played cards, listened to music, danced as well as reminisce about some of our adventures to date.

Farewell Mon Ami. Aaaah, all good things must come to an end. What an adventure it was! Naturally by this time a little bit of the wind was taken out of our sail but we pushed on! We had dinners to attend, parties to crash (I mean that we were invited to - wink). The group met up for our last dinner at an Italian restaurant where the food was so good they took pictures of their meals! We then proceeded back to the hotel to change for a night out on the town. We had a few hiccups in the final party destination our last evening out but managed to pull off a night under the stars. Not the ones in the sky, but of the celebrity type. Yes, the Film Festival was in full swing and all the red carpet alums were now cutting loose and letting their hair down in the ritzy hotels and massive tent events that lined the beach front! Needless to say we went out with a bang!

With sky miles racked up and suitcases weighing a tad bit more then when we originally departed we made our way home safely to share with friends and family our experiences in the Riviera. Until next time...Au Revoir!

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The statements made in this article reflect the personal opinions of the author. They are not made in any official capacity, and do not represent the opinions of Blackweekly.com.

About Debe Dene

Debe Dene is a budding writer, entrepreneur, creative soul... Author of her first self-published book entitled Now Hair This! The Destruction of Black Hair, she is well on her way to accomplishing all her dreams.

As a child her mother always thought she would either become a journalist or lawyer in the way Debe rushed home to report the latest neighborhood shenanigans in explicit detail, never missing a beat and adding visuals for extra effect. What started as childhood antics has now grown into a style of story telling that captures the moment of any event.

One of my favorite lines taken from a movie says "if you look at change as something you can count on...it will always be a comfort." Knowing this allows me to move forward no matter how difficult things may seem, because the only constant in life is change. To learn more about Debe Dene visit www.DebeDene.com

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