hidden europe 27

Monkey business: in search of the elixir of youth

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The old monkey cages near Ponte San Luigi on Italy's Ligurian coast (photo © hidden europe).


Serge Voronoff was a Russian doctor with a smart idea - or so he judged. At his estate on the Riviera coast, he offered the elixir of youth to elderly gentlemen. Voronoff's endeavours, one might say, really took some balls.

The Ponte San Luigi is a modest structure, bridging a small but very wild gorge that happens to mark the border between France and Italy. Walking up the road from the port at Garavan (on the French side), one has little sense that one might be approaching an international frontier. The avenue Aristide Briand looks quintessentially suburban as it climbs slowly up the hill, curving gently and crossing the Nice to Genoa railway line. An old man with an armful of baguettes waits at the level crossing gates while a slow train rumbles past. This is the road that the impoverished English playwright Alan Sillitoe often used while living in Menton. He walked to Italy to buy bread where it was cheaper. Nowadays, the French drive over the border in search of cheap alcohol.

The only thing that seems distinguished about this nondescript road is its name. Aristide Briand served as prime minister of France on no less than six separate occasions and he also netted a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in mediating the Locarno Treaties in 1925.

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