WE WENT TO NICE. . .
A Roamer turns 70!
I’ve been looking forward to my 70th birthday for a long time. The original plan was for a visit from bestie Beth (we were born four days apart and always planned to celebrate this big one together) and daughter Amelia. But reality intervened, and both had to postpone their trips. What to do? In our case, we decided on a trip to Nice!
“Consolation” stroll along the beautiful beach in Nice
We love trains–the beautiful stations, the happy (for the most part) crowds, the sounds, the rhythm of the train’s movement–all of it. And of course we love train picnics. With cute mini-bottles of bubbly and sandwiches from Paul, we were on our way.
We arrived in Nice and I immediately experienced a “coup de coeur”–the city is gorgeous! We walked about a mile from the station to our hotel, dropped our bags, and headed for a welcome glass of wine on the beach. This was our first view of the Cote d’Azur, and even with gray skies caused by the Saharan dust storms, we can see why the French Riviera is so lauded. The water is a beautiful light turquoise I’d never seen before.
After our (overpriced, not great–but the view!!!) wine stop and a stroll along the beach, we decided to explore Vieux Nice, the historic quarter. On a narrow pedestrian street we happened upon a gorgeous church and stopped in for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.
Beautiful old Nicoise church
The only dinner reservation we made for this trip was at Antoine’s Bistro, a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant. I wasn’t aware of “Bib Gourmand,” but it’s a designation for restaurants offering great food at modest prices. In the upstairs dining room, which felt like a private home, we had a lovely dinner with a bottle of wine, two “plats” or main courses, and two desserts for about 80 euros. After that, we strolled a bit more before heading back to the hotel.
Nice at night
The next morning I headed out for an early morning stroll while Phil slept in a bit due to bad allergies. The city was quiet, and I had coffee outside, watching the book market vendors set up. One strange and interesting sight on this stroll was “Cesar’s Thumb,” a sculpture at the Hotel de Ville, or town hall. Why? I have no idea, but apparently the sculptor, Cesar, made several copies of this giant sculpture of his own thumb.
Cesar’s thumb. No, not Caesar!
Our plan for the day was a walking food tour booked through Viator. Our wonderful tour guide, Marian Pansiot, instructed us to meet at the Fontaine du Soleil, by the statue of the large naked man. “You can’t miss him,” she said–and she wasn’t wrong!
“Large naked man”
The tour was an absolute delight! We were a group of twelve that included Americans, Italians, French–and one person from Dallas, where we raised our family! Our first stop was Maison Auer, a gorgeous confisserie built in 1820 to service elite visitors during la Belle Epoche and now run by the fifth generation of the founding family. There we tasted candied fruits and chocolates. I returned later to pay 40 euros for a small bag of dark chocolate-covered almonds–worth every penny!
A kid in a candy store. . .
We proceeded to the Marche des Fleurs, an historic flower and produce market, to taste cheeses, candies, olive oil, and other delicacies. And yes, there was a lovely wine tasting, with enough goodies to qualify as lunch. We ended our tour with a taste of wood fired socca, the traditional chickpea flatbread of Nice. It was served with chickpea beer, which I quite liked but Phil ddn’t.
Marian preparing our snacks
This tour was a delight. We even made friends with an Italian couple who promised to show us around when we visit Genoa. We had the rest of the afternoon free, so we decided to visit a couple of art galleries and museums. The Musee des Beaux Arts was disappointing, primarily featuring a special exhibition of native son Gustave-Adolphe Mossa’s very weird and disturbing art. We consoled ourselves with the most expensive (21 euros each!) martinis we’ve ever had, at the famous Hotel Negresco.
Delicious, but worth 21 euros? I think not.
Exausted from walking about eight miles, we headed back to Vieux Nice to enjoy another wonderful dinner. Where? I can’t remember. But it was Italian, delicious, and only slightly marred by the group of 12 boisterous young men (one in a kilt, and one wearing bunny ears) who arrived as we were eating.
The next morning we were picked up by our guide for a ten-hour tour of the Riveria. With seven guests in a cramped van, we headed out for our first stop, a small village called Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, which has a lovely Sunday market.
Beautiful street in the village
The guide gave us free time at each stop, so we used this first stop to buy spices and fragrant soaps! Later in the day we toured the Fragonard factory in Eze and bought perfume.
One of the highlights of this tour was Saint-Paul-de-Vence, an ancient village high in the hills. And when I say high, I mean a steep drive followed by a steep climb! It was well worth the effort, though. Once the home of Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, Marc Chagall, and James Baldwin, today it’s a beautiful art community of about 1000 people.
Fountain in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
It was here that I had perhaps the best lunch of my life, at a restaurant called le Tilleul. I ordered the Filet de loup à la plancha, tombée d’épinards frais des “Légumes de Saint Paul” & soja, pomme de terre vapeur, sauce homardine. The fish was perfectly cooked, with crispy skin. The vegetables looked and tasted as if each individual bite had been cooked with love. With a simple glass of rose, I was in heaven.
A gorgeous and delectable lunch
Honestly, this tour was way too long. The tour guide, who never seemed to hear our questions, was more interested in new buildings and business that were being constructed than in the ancient castles and ruins we passed. But it was interesting.
Obligatory photo in front of the Cannes Film Festival red carpet
A good view of Saint-Paul-de-Vence
la Cote d’Azure
Monte Carlo Casino. We did not see James Bond.
We were not crazy about Monaco and Monte Carlo–too much ostentatious wealth for our tastes. But we did see Jacques Coustea’s original submarine (our guide told us it was the inspiration for the Beatles’ song, but I looked that up and he was wrong.), the palace, and the site of Grace Kelly’s tragic accident.
After finally (!) finishing that death march of a tour, we opted for dinner close to our hotel. At le Grand Balcon, we had a lovely dinner in an intimate setting. And I had the most beautiful dessert! The pastry chef’s interpretation of a tart au citron (lemon meringue tart), it featured a life-like lemon made of white chocolate. Inside was a delicious lemon cream, and inside that was house-made lemon curd. On the side was a scoop of lemon sorbet topped with meringue tuiles. Magnificent!
I’m still thinking about this dessert.
The next morning we enjoyed a birthday petit dejeuner at Jeannot, a boulangerie we visited each morning of our visit (by the second day, they knew us and remembered our order!).
Then we strolled out to the antiques market, which was fascinating! We didn’t buy anything, but we thoroughly enjoyed looking at everything (Swords! Muskets! Miniature cars! for phil. Linens! china! silver! for me. Art! for both of us).
Le Marche des Fleurs, which on Monday becomes an antiques market
By the time we finished shopping the market, it was time to leave. We headed to the station, stopping en route to pick up our train picnic.
The beautiful Nice train station
And then it was over. What a wonderful trip, and what memories we made! Adieu, Nice, nous vous aimons, and we will be back!