Sunday, October 16, 2016

Provence Dreaming - Nice

 Feasts of Provence by Robert Carrier published by Rizzoli, c. 1988 ---    The inspiration for this trip

      I started dreaming about returning to Provence some years ago but the trip never happened. Australia and Calabria happened, but Provence got pushed back. I wanted to revisit a few places I had enjoyed, like Nyons and the Gorges du Verdon and St. Paul de Vence, and I also wanted to explore new regions in the ancient Roman "provinces."  I assembled various books and articles on Provence from my collection, and one wintry night last December I started browsing through Robert Carrier's Feasts of Provence.  I read the following paragraph in his introduction: "All around the little village there were hills of pine and scrub and wild herbs, and then further on other villages-- Entrecasteaux with it's lovely old chateau; Le Thoronet with its austere abbey,  Flayosc, Villecroze and Tourtour.  Nearby lay Cotignac, one of the prettiest villages in the Var, with its charming open square and fountain. To me this is one of the loveliest areas in all France." When I finished reading,  I knew where I wanted to go.

Provence and its regions

                  I found a fanciful map of Provence in Erica Brown's Provence Gastronomique

             And based on Robert Carrier's recommendations and my memories, I planned my trip...

This time I would forget Paris and begin in Nice. We would drive to Cotignanc and surrounding towns, continue through the Gorges du Verdon and up to Nyons, a town I had visited twice before and bookmarked to revisit for a longer stay. I would make sure to see the Pont du Gard and spend the night in nearby Arles with its amphitheater and Van Gogh foundation, before heading back to St Paul de Vence for a return visit. Then we could swing down to Menton on the Italian border to catch the striking Cocteau museum. Finally, we would  end the trip in Nice where we had begun. Now I needed to make reservations.

Leaving Dublin after a hearty breakfast with Irish brown bread

Oddly enough, our trip to Provence began in Dublin. It turned out to be complicated and expensive to fly to Nice from San Francisco so we took Aer Lingus to Dublin. We stayed overnight at the Albany House B and B, took in some sights, had a superb dinner and continued on to Nice the following day.

The Long Room, Trinity College Library---Dublin
Of course my first order of business in Dublin was to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Ever since Library School I had hoped to see the ancient Celtic illuminated manuscript of the four gospels written in Latin and illuminated on vellum.  I pre-booked tickets so I wouldn't be disappointed. Luckily Trinity College was a short walk from our B and B, and on the way we got to pass St Stephen's Green, a huge park packed with Dubliners frolicking about on this unseasonably beautiful day,

Sweet pea puree with raw scallops and vegetables

Pictured above is one of a number of stunning courses we ate at Bang Restaurant in Dublin, possibly the best meal of the trip. Don't miss it if you go to Dublin. Extra plusses for the moderate tab and the short walk from our hotel. We almost got locked in the park strolling home! I can't wait to return (and I still need to see James Joyce's house)

We landed in Nice on another lovely day and took the short cab ride to the Hotel Swisse overlooking the Baie des Anges. We were thrilled with the view from our third floor room. This hotel was a winner!

Early morning view from our balcony after a light rain, then down to a great French breakfast

We plunged right into Vieux Nice, which started only a few blocks from our hotel. We got wonderfully lost wandering the scenic streets, and on our first afternoon we somehow missed the Cours Saleya, with the huge daily market.

The next morning we made sure to check our map and head straight for the famous market which rambles all along the Cours Saleya, conveniently near our hotel.

On our way to the market I spotted two agnes b shops, one for men and the other for women. Because the store in San Francisco closed years ago, I was thrilled to discover my favorite designer so close to our hotel. I admire her so much I wrote a blog about her, My Agnes b. blog

                           Farther down Cours Saleya we found  Alzieri, the famous olive oil shop

Place Rosetti
I'm smiling on the fountain at Place Rosetti in the center of Vieux Nice, probably because I had just enjoyed a gelato at Fenocchio's, best glacier in Nice.

Place Rosetti
Every time we wandered in Old Nice we seemed to wind up at this bustling Place filled with happy locals and tourists eating, drinking and relaxing. There were Irish flags hanging out of some windows, due to the influx of Northern Irish football fans. Somehow I had planned the trip to France during the infamous European Cup Soccer matches, all held in various cities throughout FRANCE.

Great museums flourish in Nice and our first destination was the Musée National Marc Chagall, a pleasant bus ride up through the smart residential Cimiez district. The museum houses the largest selection of Chagall paintings anywhere. The collection is stunning and I have included only a fraction of insets that struck me.

Adam exposing his rib in a yoga pose (half lotus)

After our serious viewing, we crossed the lawn to the adorable café for a cool drink. Then we took the bus back down to town

The  Musée Matisse is farther up the Boulevard de Chimiez. The grounds are a bit shabby and the collection itself is not as impressive as the Chagall museum. In fact we were glad that we went to Musée Chagall first. This was an anticlimax. Still, we enjoyed seeing some impressive works like the odalisque above and the dancers below.

One  of many Matisse drawings in the museum

Our captain

One morning after delicious croissants and café au laits, we took the 11 a.m. coastal cruise with Trans Cote d'Azur from Nice's colorful Port. We spent a pleasant hour on the Mediterranean viewing the elite villages from Villefranche sur mer to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and marveled at the picturesque hills dotted with villas of the royal, super-rich and famous.

Villefranche sur mer

I never tired of the pastel and ochre buildings, and the particular hustle and bustle of the ports along the riviera. But after four stimulating days and nights in and around Nice, it was time to get out our Michelin map #245, rent a car and move on.