- LA MAISON
- LA VIE
URBAN GARDENING ON THE ROOFTOPS OF MONACO
A few kilometers from the port of Nice, Monaco is our destination of the day. It may be one of the smallest countries in the world, but it’s also home to some of the biggest legends in the cycling world - Peter Sagan, Primož Roglič, Cadel Evans and Geraint Thomas have all made Monaco their home.
On the menu today is Monaco via the Col d’Eze - a road made famous by the Paris-Nice race, however Rani, a cyclist and mountaineer, takes the road less travelled on the most improbable gravel paths.
Rani is a researcher working at the University and leading the Master’s degree on land revitalisation, so she’s always in search of innovative solutions, like Jessica Sbaraglia’s Terre de Monaco - a start-up urban agriculture business responsible for the organic vegetable gardens sprouting up all over the rooftops of Monaco.
The goal is to reach Menton by lunchtime, going off the beaten track along car-free backcountry roads. The first stop is Gorbio, a stunning medieval village perched on the side of a hill, with olive trees rising up all around the village. On this sunny day this vantage point offers panoramic views out across the Mediterranean, as the Turbie fountain helps quench the thirst from climbing the Col d’Eze. With the bidon filled it’s time to jump back onto the saddle and continue the journey.
Ten kilometers further, as if balanced on the very edge of the cliff, sits the Maybourne Riviera luxury hotel, with its white modernist architecture providing a striking contrast against the deep blue sea. The right to disfigure such a beautiful landscape could one day be forgiven, but for now the building remains nothing more than a curiosity before descending on the drops at full speed to Menton and eventually to Monaco thirty minutes later.
Bordered by France and the Mediterranean, Monaco is the world’s most densely populated country and to increase its living space the only way is up, literally, as Monaco’s towers increase in height. The tiny sovereign state of Monaco is widely recognised for being one of the most expensive and wealthiest places on earth, with one in three of its 40,000 inhabitants being a millionaire. Rani met Jessica, urban gardener extraordinaire, at the foot of the Odeon Tower - a 170m skyscraper, on top of which sits the world’s most expensive apartment - a symbol of Monaco’s exorbitant real estate market. Monaco may seem a less than ideal place for farming, yet Jessica knows the only way is up with her 450 m2 urban garden on the rooftop, with its fruits, vegetables, edible flowers, herbs, chickens and beehives. This is a garden unlike any other and it arouses the curiosity of Rani the researcher.
For Jessica, founder of Terre de Monaco, nothing is impossible. She wanted to create urban gardens in Monaco and with the help of local businesses and a crowd-funding campaign, the first organic gardens started to spring to life on the rooftops of buildings and luxury hotels in 2016. Sprinting ahead to 2021, five spaces are being exploited with an area of 1600m2 now under cultivation, producing 4000 kilograms of fruit and vegetables. The model is simple, the produce is sold to the inhabitants of the buildings or to chefs from Michelin star restaurants at the large hotels with rooftop urban gardens - whatever is in the garden, they can cook next!
What is really incredible is the utopia of revitalizing these small urban spaces using the values of organic gardening and permaculture - no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used and this form of urban agriculture is an innovative framework for developing sustainable lifestyles.
Jessica’s ambitions aren’t just confined to urban agriculture, she’s also inspiring school children in Monaco - almost 3000 children a year enjoy a fabulous field of awareness and awakening in these tiny cultivated spaces. The urban roof garden at the Monaco hospital also provides patients with a way to help boost their mental health, with many choosing to spend their time working there. The young entrepreneur also leads seminars, does consulting with top Michelin chefs and is looking to take her vision of sustainable urban agriculture abroad, including a new project at the huge Outlet Center in Belgium which has 10,000m2 of roof space that can be cultivated.
“There are three of us running the business today,” said Jessica, who went on to say “this is the first time in 5 years that I’ve taken a week's vacation, it takes a huge amount of dedication and self-sacrifice to achieve the results you see here today.”
For Rani, this innovative economic model for sustainable urban agriculture is something very unique to include in a University course. She plans to invite Jessica for conferences at the University to speak about her experiences and inspire the students.
Back to Nice, another beautiful autumn day on the Côte d'Azur is drawing to a close. The bike rolls at speed on the Basse Corniche road where the ocean swell throws its spray towards the mesmerizing sunset.
It was more than just a ride today. It was a chance to dream, to rethink our reality, and to consider how to transform the way we live in a place and consume. A sunset state of mind, which resonates with the words of Théodore Monod:
"Utopia is not the unrealizable but the unrealized."
THE RESILIENCE OF THE HINTERLAND
In October 2020, Storm Alex hit the valleys in the hinterland around Nice and the whole landscape was permanently altered. Chris returns one year later.
THE MONTS D'AZUR
A 1300m climb to explore the wild animal reserve of the Monts d’Azur and ride the thrilling descent down the other side, through tunnels cut in the rock.
COL DE VENCE
An unforgiving climb, renowned for it's desert-like landscape, beautiful views of the Mediterrean Sea and the absence of an escape from the blazing sun.
ROSE DE MAI
Heading for the foothills of Grasse, and its Rose de Mai. Flowers in full bloom and early season climbs combine to produce a beautiful spring ride.
PARIS - NICE
Paris- Nice didn't end as it should this year but the roads not ridden are still there. A local classic that says spring has arrived.