Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Cote d'Azur

We're back from vacation!  After two weeks in Nice (and a couple days in Dublin), it's back to the real world. We had a wonderful time, but boy is it nice to be home, back in our own bed and back in a land where we can get pizza delivered to our doorstep. 
When deciding where to go, we were tempted to choose somewhere new and exciting, but honestly, that sounded exhausting. We needed somewhere low maintenance and slower paced where we could eat, drink, sleep in, and get some sunshine. All signs pointed to Nice, smack dab on the beautiful Cote d'Azur.  After enjoying a few days there on our honeymoon, we knew it was the perfect spot.  Now I don't have it in me to recount our daily activities for two weeks (and I doubt anyone wants to read that), so here are the highlights (I'll cover Dublin in a separate post).


The food is my favorite part about France, whether it's a leisurely lunch lingering over a carafe of wine, a nice three course dinner, a picnic on the beach, or cooking back at our apartment (we rented the cutest little apartment in Vieux Nice via HomeAway). We began each day with coffee and a simple breakfast: a baguette spread with butter and jam, pastries, or yogurt and fruit. 

We packed a couple picnic lunches -- my favorite was a spread of nicoise olives marinated with herbes de provence, a crusty baguette, a black olive tapenade, ripe oozy St. Marcellin cheese, duck saucisson sec, fruit, and rose wine. With a kitchen at our disposal, we couldn't resist cooking a few dinners as well. The most memorable was an improvised batch of French Onion Soup (made with French onions!) topped with toasted baguette rounds covered in melted Comte
We went out for the rest of our meals, trying to sample as many of the local specialties as possible. Of the restaurants we visited in Old Nice, these were the standouts. 
  • Acchiardo - Wonderfully executed food, and they have a cool wine bottle chandelier. My cuisse de canard, duck thigh and leg braised with olives and mushrooms and served with homemade pasta was insanely good, and we loved their petits farcis, a Nicoise specialty.
  • Chez Palmyre - A rustic hole in the wall spot, complete with weathered wood tables, red checkered runners, embroidered linen napkins, and brick walls lined with vintage ads and kitchen equipment. My braised veal and potatoes came in a darling orange cocotte and was fall-apart tender. 
  • Bistrot d'Antoine - Great atmosphere with a friendly staff and a cozy, bustling dining area. Chalkboard menus are brought to your table along with a tin of a delicious tuna spread, bread, and olives. We started with a gorgeous tomato salad and a steaming pot of mussels and enjoyed truffle risotto and seared leg of lamb for our main course.
  • Le Merenda.- Tiny dining area where you practically share tables with your neighbors. Favorites were their fried zucchini blossoms, the soupe au pistou (vegetable soup with pistou, the Provencal version of pesto, stirred in) , and the daube de boeuf (Provencal beef stew).
  • Fenocchio - Ok, so this is a gelato stand rather than a restaurant, but it's the best gelato I've ever had. The Caramel Beurre Sale (salted butter caramel) is like a scoop of heaven in a cone.


There are so many fantastic markets to explore in Nice and the surrounding towns. I love to meander through the daily produce market (except Mondays) in Cours Saleyaadmiring stall after stall of produce, local cheeses, heaping bowls of olives, fresh-baked bread, cured meats, flowers, bins of herbs and teas, candied fruits and jams, homemade soaps, and touristy odds and ends. Purchasing items in French was a fun (and a couple times embarrassing) challenge. Then, when all that food made us hungry, we would get in line for a serving of Chez Theresa's socca, a local snack made from chickpea flower baked over a big flame until crispy. 
We also really enjoyed the antique market on Mondays where I snagged an antique coffee pot, some real French linens, and a vintage postcard. Just a short train ride away in Antibes, their covered Provencal market is great too. There we met a friendly guy selling olives who was excited to tell us how much he loves New York and Vegas.


To keep it a relaxing vacation, we set a rule for ourselves: only one "big" activity per day, and that was perfect for us. There's plenty to see and do in and around Nice, and we explored little by little each day. We visited the beach (and even got in the water), watched sailboat races, took a hike to the top of the Chateau de Nice for a picnic overlooking the Mediterranean, and went to see a ballet at the Nice Opera House.
We explored the Matisse Museum, and we spent a day at Plage Beau Rivage, a private beach.  For 15 euros, we got a beach chair all day (a welcome change from laying on the rocky beach) with a front row view of the water. Waiters are available to bring drinks or snacks to your chair, and there's an open air restaurant for lunch or dinner. It was a splurge, but we loved it. Another evening, we got dressed up to visit the famous Hotel Negresco for a drink in their fabulous bar, Le Relais. The service leaves something to be desired, but gosh we felt fancy sipping our (way too expensive) Aperol Spritz and single-malt scotch. I'll let you guess who ordered what.
We took a few day trips as well. A quick (and cheap) train ride took us to Antibes where we went to the Picasso Museum at Grimaldi Castle (Picasso briefly lived and worked there). We enjoyed the sculpture garden overlooking the sea and the featured work of other modern artists, but honestly, we kind of hated the Picasso pieces. Just don't tell our artist landlord! We also loved the covered Provencal Market in Antibes and the super cool Absinthe Bar and Museum. The bar is underground -- rock walls and ceilings are plastered with vintage absinthe ads, and glass cases hold antique absinthe paraphernalia. Vintage hats are available for patrons to don, meant to inspire your artistic bohemian spirit. Each table has a urn with spigots to pour water over a sugar cube, turning your glass of absinthe cloudy as the water and dissolved sugar are mixed in. We tried a glass of white absinthe and a glass of green, and the green was hands down our favorite.
We spent another afternoon in Monte Carlo where, after arriving on the bus, we had lunch at the lovely Cafe de Paris, wandered around the parks and along the harbor, and took a quick peak inside the casino. It was gorgeous, like something out of a Bond movie where you expect to see gentlemen in tuxedos, women in long gowns, and everyone sipping  martinis. 
Another bus along the winding coastline took us to St- Jean-Cap-Ferrat. There's really not a lot to do there, but it's so beautiful. A walking path runs along the coastline with breathtaking views of the sea crashing into craggy rocks below.  After walking a ways, we turned back and got a table at one of the cafes by the port. I sipped a Campari Americano, a bitter but refreshing French aperitif while my husband tried to pick which yacht he wanted to take home with us.
Time Together

Ok, so I know it's kind of cheesy, but this was truly my favorite part of the vacation. Two solid weeks of hanging out  together! I'm saying a lot when I say that I love this man more than I love French food. We only have a few shots of the two of us together (all taken from arms reach), but I love them. What a great vacation with so many fun memories!

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