French Riviera Loungin'
Trip Start Aug 11, 2009
14Trip End Oct 08, 2009
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There isn’t really a lot to talk about concerning our week on the French Riviera because we continued our Italian slow down with more sun, pool and beach time. We spent the first four days in Villefranche-Sur-Mer, another steep sea village, but right between Monaco and Nice and with a small bay-large yacht port (and a nearby cruise ship port to boot.) The three-plus hour drive was mostly easy highways until the end when we faced the twisty and not-for-the-faint Grand Corniche (for more on the three Cornishes: http://www.frenchrivieratraveller.com/Nice_to_Monaco/Corniches.html ) This road was originally built by Napolean and has some really spectacular views (it’s also supposedly where Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco died in her car accident and was filmed for To Catch A Thief.) When we changed down to the Middle Corniche I was pleased to be able to relax a little on an easier road, but it still required a lot of attention.
We spent all four Villefranche days at a small hotel called Hotel La Fiancee du Pirate http://www.hotel-fiancee-du-pirate.cote.azur.fr/page_en_1.html that stands at the top of the town and has great views over the harbor. The hotel has only 15 rooms and the proprieters, Laurence and Eric, make the place feel more like a bed and breakfast.
The next evening we ventured down into the village and again it was a white-knuckle ride on steeply inclined roads way too skinny for two lanes. The prerequisite scooters weaving through traffic and unhelpful road signage added to the fun, but we managed to get down to the water front parking lot and wander up the car-free walkways looking for restaurants. There a row of restaurants right across from the yacht port dock and I’m sure they provide great meals, but they all come off a bit stuffy. Old money stuffy. La Mere Germain is supposed to be the best of them and it appeared to be filled with a lot of Mr. and Mrs. Howells. I’m pretty sure they’d have considered Marisa and I to be Mary Anne and Gilligan as we did not arrive by yacht via the restaurant's little water taxi as others did.
Walking up from the pier we discovered a few establishments of interest before settling on a newer restaurant named Les Garcons, or The Boys. It had a nice courtyard and the menu was mostly traditional French and Italian. History moment: until about 150 years ago Nice and the surrounding area were often ruled by Italians. Their food influence is clear throughout the French Riviera. Marisa had the shrimp risotto and I had the duck with a soy, ginger and sesame sauce along with some perfectly understated jasmine rice. I also had a foie gras mousse. All were excellent and Marisa twice crossed her food Maginot Line to have some duck and foie gras for the first time.
We spent the following day in Nice, the east edge of which was literally just down the street from the hotel. I was last in Nice nineteen years ago and it has really grown since then. I was a bit stunned and disappointed at how much more busy and commercial it had become. We parked and spent the day wandering through the old town, some new town and then up the famous Promenade des Anglais where we stopped for an afternoon drink on the beach. We had an assortment of tasty snacks along the way including some delicious coconut ice cream, various pastry and meat Chinese items and some Vietnamese nems (fried rolls). Old Nice is packed with shops and galleries and has some fantastic ones that we spent time wandering through (including one of the best spice stores we'd ever seen).
We started the evening at a great little wine bar in the heart of old Nice (http://www.resto-winenotes.com/) trying out some nearby Provencal reds along with a great plate of various local cheeses and some fresh baguette.
We spent our last day sunning by the pool again and snacking on items from a local market. I drove down to the center of Villefranche again to bring back food from a Vietnamese restaurant that we’d seen on our previous trip down.
The next stop was three days at the beach resort village of Juan-Les-Pins, part of Antibes. It’s another small town with a bay full of yachts. We booked a hotel online at the last minute and got a great price on a room with a huge terrace at the Helios Hotel ( http://www.hotelhelios.fr/ ). The terrace was literally a room of its own with loungers, a big table and chairs to relax in. Additionally, we got to be entertained by the Rear Window style voyeurism available in a nearby apartment complex. Marisa also made friends with a terrace visiting dove she dubbed Sterling. One thing we’ve gotten used to is the preponderance of doves making their cooing sounds. We don’t have them back home, so there is some novelty in them even if they aren’t a whole lot different from pigeons. The hotel was two blocks from the beach and they had some prime property staked out there, so we spent our time either on the terrace or at the beach.
One of the joys of France is food shopping at the various markets: the boulangerie and patisserie for bread, sweet and savory pastries and sweets of all sorts; the charcuterie for meats; fruit and veggie stands with local produce; and the myriad of delicatessens with a dizzying array of choices. We found one small deli, Cesari Traiteur (12 Bis Av Marechal Joffre) that we kept going back to since one item after another in the tiny, but efficient space looked enticing if not recognizable. Mostly, though, we came for the potatoes. Like many delis in France, this one had a rotisserie chicken contraption out front slowly turning the poultry over heat. At the bottom they normally place whole baby potatoes where they are basted in the poultry juices pouring down from above. At this particular deli the diced potatoes wallowed in the warm, herbed poultry grease and the results were mouth wateringly ridiculous. We were addicted at first bite. We’ve had them since at other delis, but none of them were as decadent as this. Pure potato crack.
Juan les Pins is a great little beach town and has a surprisingly active late night scene with clubs opening at midnight and a bevy of open air bars lining the two small main streets that lead to a casino. Unfortunately, I was fighting off a travel cold, so we really didn’t take full advantage outside of strolling the drag, eating dinner and having a drink or two at the bars between window browsing. (We did visit the local Tiki bar, Pam Pam, that has live Brazilian music and dancers to enjoy while you suck down your over priced theme drinks. Worth the visit.)
One afternoon while sitting outside at a café we did happen upon what appeared to be our future selves. A sunglassed, smartly dressed older gentleman was at a table smoking his pipe, reading his book and drinking a Coke.
The atmosphere in Juan Les Pins was very relaxed and we could have stood for a few more days of beach lounging, but the non-stop tan fest had to be halted so that we could travel north to Provence. By this time we were tired of the Mediterranean food fare and tourist crowds and really looking forward to the wines, foods and terrain of Provence.
Where I stayed
Hotel Fiancee du Pirate