Earlier this year, I read the truly fantastic 'Life', the autobiography of Keith Richards. It was a magnificently entertaining read full of rock and roll hijinks and some wonderful sentiment. No-one could fail to find the anecdotes of the early days of the Stones anything but entertaining. However, there was one aspect of the book that hit me on a different level. This was the account of the Stones' time on the Cote d'Azur. At this point, I must confess to some musical ignorance and admit that I had no idea that the classic album Exile On Main Street was recorded at Villa Nelle Cote on St Jean Cap Ferrat.
The book details - this is perhaps the wrong verb as Richards' memory is undermined somewhat by his excessive drug use - the period the Stones spent in France making the album whilst in the company of legendary country-rock icon Gram Parsons. There are descriptions of drug-fuelled jam sessions and jaunts around the area including boat trips to Villefranch sur Mer just along the coast. There were also, as you might expect, some run-ins with the local gendarmerie.
When my girlfriend and I took the bus to St Jean, I was very keen to soak up some of the musical history of the area. Sadly, this was not particularly easy to do. Nelle Cote is now a private residence and is not open to the public. There is not even a plaque to mark the spot. I actually found it a little disappointing that the musical significance is completely ignored and visitors can only stare at Nelle Cote from a distance. The villa is not even mentioned on any of the Cap's signs or maps.
All of this meant that my rock and roll pilgrimage was a rather tame affair. Everything was left to my imagination. I took my Kindle and read the appropriate sections of Life whilst I wandered around the Cap. This at least allowed me to imagine the Stones taking a motor launch to Villefranche after days strung out on cocaine needing a break from recording. It also allowed me to imagine Richards scooting along in a convertible only to be stopped and searched - unjustly he claims - by the local police from the adjacent town of Beausoleil.
St Jean Cap Ferrat might not quite be Graceland or Abbey Road, but it is home to rock and roll history. However, it also one of the most beautiful spots in the world, which probably compensates for the lack of direct historical sights.