La Côte d'Azur - A trip into the blue
April 30th, 2007

When a final date for a little trip is pinned down, normally one would try to dig out ideas and addresses for the fun days to come, find the most memorable restaurants and quite positively buy one of the well informed city guides to help lead the way through unknown territory. At least that’s the theory. Or, you could be buried under too many different projects, be scrambling for time and maybe – just maybe – be a tad disorganized, eventually you’ll end up skipping the “prep-part” at all. That’s how it went for us, before we hopped on the plane to France. And voilà, it worked out surprisingly well.

Nice

The first morning in Nice greeted us with airy blue skies and flip-flop weather and we couldn’t wait to get down to the beach front, not shy asking the hotel’s receptionist for a small city map and a few recommendations. The air and its scent, the sea and its unbelievable intense blue, the short stroll into the city center along the coast side was filled with pure pleasure and excitement. Countless joggers, skillful skaters or poodles (poodle city I say) assemble a colorful picture, people watching as a delightful pastime is clearly one of my favs, especially between Plage Beau Rivage and Plage Castel.

Plage Beau Rivage

Finally reaching the lively and picturesque old town made us fall in love with it immediately, many narrow alleys invite you to discover small patisseries, charming food shops or to simply get lost in the maze of streets and walk ways. A great starting point is Cours Saleya, with one of the most gorgeous flower and food markets, its tempting smells of fresh lavender and strawberries will magically lead you the right way. We spontaneously decided to have a breakfast picnic at the beach and got ourselves some Cannelé Bordelais, Fougassette au Roquefort, different cheeses, Picholine Olives and two baskets of the most fragrant strawberries I’ve consumed in a very long time. The still uncrowded beach in the morning hours no doubt became our perfect breakfast spot in Nice.

Strawberries

The following days were packed with countless discoveries in and around the city, before we felt is was time for a little road-trip. We rented a car to drive up (Monaco/Monte Carlo) and down (Cannes) the coast, making sure to leave the main roads and rather consider the many small mountain villages along our way. We probably could have guessed it, popular attractions like Monte Carlo and Cannes were certainly nice for a quick stop and perhaps some shopping (expensive!), but it were the unexpected finds that impressed us the most.

Cannes

Leaving Grasse, a town famous for its exotic perfumes, nestled amongst a wonderful countryside located within mountains of green and fields of flowers, we realized a growing appetite for a little something. Spotting, from the angle of my eye, a tiny Boulagerie sign next to the road, I made Oliver do a bold U-turn. I had no idea where we actually were, but my growling stomach didn’t care much. I rushed in and out the shop to get some baguette and pain au chocolat, to find the car turned off, parked and no sight of Oliver. A quiet back road led me to an enchanted flower garden with turtles – and Oliver talking to an old lady and taking pictures. Hey, twist my arm, I too got my camera and we strolled through the tiny village.

Le Clos Saint Pierre

For whatever reason we couldn’t just turn around and head back to our car to continue our way. And I’m glad we didn’t. Around the next street corner a little restaurant with a cozy patio awaited us, but no guests in sight. Hm. No risk no fun, we walked over and asked for a table, should all the empty tables and chairs have told us something? Risky business if you ask me, even more so since we haven’t actually looked at the menu before. Opening the menu was sort of a let down, they only offered two set menus, which sounded great, but I usually prefer to chose each course individually. Nevertheless we decided to stay, probably the best choice we have made during our few days off. Within 15 minutes the whole patio was packed with guests, most of them French speaking and greeting the three charming waiters with the obligatory three pecks on the cheek (left-right-left). We immediately began to feel more comfortable.

Le Clos Saint Pierre

Long story short, we were served a fantastic meal, each course prepared au point, the freshest fish and most fragrant vegetables, including a carefully selected cheese plate and a dessert I am dying to take a shot at myself in the next weeks. A total hit, we couldn’t have wished for anything more. Oftentimes when making advance reservations with a highly recommended restaurant you unwillingly set the bar quite high and not so often, those preset expectations will actually be met – happened to us many times.

Le Clos Saint PierreSo we left well invigorated and completely happy to continue our trip. (Back home I went online to find out more about this hidden gem called Le Clos Saint Pierre in the village Le Rouret (Place de l’Eglise) and I couldn’t help but start laughing out loud when I found out, that the restaurant actually owns a Michelin star. In hindsight it all made sense, we both thought the food was to die for…)

Other culinary highlights included La Merenda (4 rue Raoul Bosio, Nice), a small restaurant run by Dominique Le Stanc, who gave up his former kitchen fame (working at the Negresco/Le Chantecler) to serve plain Southern cuisine and Nicoise specialties. A recommendation we received in a quaint little shop for porcelain and kitchen appliances (la porcelaine blanche, 32, rue de l’Hôtel-des-Postes, Nice), where I found the most lovely dotted gratin form and had asked the bountiful owner for her favorite restaurants. A tactic that invariably pays off, as locals who are enthusiastic about their city’s food usually know the right places to go.

Being right at the coast, I finally laid my resentments to rest and ate my first oyster, yay, uh, well, sort of. At Café de Turin (Place Garibaldi, Nice) we indulged ourselves in some super fresh seafood, watching a French family on the neighboring table eating sea urchins, cracking crabs’ legs and coping with tiniest sea snails – which seemed like surgery 101 – with the needle-like tools necessary to get to the tiny bit of snail. Even the little boy (6, maybe 7 years old) looked like an old pro handling all the different seafood specialties.

Cafe de Turin

Back to my first oyster: Café de Turin offers a wide variety of different ones and Oliver had ordered six of the finest – only the best for a first timer, ne c’est pas? My eyes got wider and wider as they arrived and all my good intentions to gobble one of these slimy somethings down began to slip away. My first thought: They are HUGE! No way it’ll fit in my mouth! But Oliver didn’t let me get away with such a cheap trick, took a knife and not without giving me the looks (being forced to commit a grade A culinary sacrilege), cut about a third off the oyster and passed me the shell: “THERE YOU GO!” Shoot, I couldn’t back out anymore, that was it! I ate it. Honestly, it was no big deal, but I do think it’s an acquired taste and I will have to – at some point – give them another chance, just to get behind their secret…

Funny side story: Making the effort to speak a little French usually helps to break the ice (Parlez-vous anglais?), but I immediately got punished for once asking the question in English: The waiter screwed up his nose, turned to his colleague and – not knowing, that I understand enough French to be dangerous – told him something a long the lines of: “Well I guess I could, but I do not want to!” Thank you, my dear! Yet, the seafood was so good, I’d be willing to put up with their rather slow and arrogant service again. Besides, we are quite used to mediocre service in Germany, anyway ;)

NIce

What else worth mentioning? I could tell you for example that one of my favorite T-Shirts which I used as a sleeping shirt miraculously vanished in the hotel and I have a strong feeling that the room maid and I share the same taste. Or that the little espresso break we enjoyed next to the amazing ice shop Glacier Fenocchio (with countless extraordinary flavors like thyme or lavender, Place Rossetti, Nice) got so unpleasantly interrupted by a seagull shitting on my watch – yes I was wearing it – right in the middle of the clock-face. Bulls eye. Or about the dolled up Gucci gal sitting next to me on the flight home who was constantly biting her fingernails – so loud, even my iPod earplugs didn’t help. But none of these little incidents could possibly take away from what has been a fantastic time… La Côte d’Azur – bien sûr, avec plaisir!

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2007

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