Nice and the Côte d’Azur

My favorite travel tip that I rarely advertise is to tell people I’m leaving a day prior to my actual departure.

pasta with pistou

And tell them I’m coming back a day after I actually return. That way, I avoid all those last-minute crises as well as returning home and being slammed by a few weeks of backed-up panicky messages on my machine.

côte d'azur beach

I think everyone’s figured it out by now and after getting in late last night, today is my day to put out the fires that erupted while I was gone, so to speak. But first, while it’s all fresh, here’s some of the high points of my trip to Nice and the Côte d’Azur:

zucchini blossoms

“Sun-drenched” is a cliché that’s often applied to the food of the region, and at the cours Saleya market in Vieux Nice, as well as others, you can see that it applies decidely well.


The sun is blazing hot and plenty of French sunscreen and a hat is recommended if you plan to visit, especially during the summer.

strawberries and sour cherries

With huge bunches of fragrant basil, soft, just-picked organic strawberries, sour cherries, and sunny zucchini blossoms begging to be stuffed with cheese and fried, it was hard not to stock up and cook at home, which I happily did every single day.

fig nougat

At the market, if you see someone offering slabs of fig and honey nougat and you don’t bring home a hunk, you’re an idiot. Ok, not really. But you can’t say I didn’t tell you. (But I didn’t say anything about bringing home any hunks, of which there’s plenty of on the beaches. I’ll leave that to your own discretion.)

If you want to go out and eat, the quirky La Merenda (4, rue Raoul Bosio) takes no reservations or credit cards, and has no telephone, but has a cult-following, and I really had a nice meal at Oliviera, where local products and the best regional olive oils from small producers are poured liberally.

In the heat, ice cream is a necessity and the folks lined up at Fenocchio can attest to. (Look for an inside visit on the site shortly.) And close to the train station is Arlequin (9, ave Malausséna), which makes true Italian gelato, with flavors ranging from an extraordinary hazelnut to spicy-dark chocolate and chile

tetons

One quirky find was pain tetons, or “breast” bread—although the actual translation is a bit more risqué. I’m sure this loaf wasn’t the result of any oven “malfunction”, and aside from the bakeries, there’s no shortage of breast on the beaches of Nice and the Côte d’Azur either. (Often resting alongside the aforementioned hunks.) Methinks the bakers must get their morning jolies kneading those loaves.

Speaking of high hills, towards the north in St. Jeannet is Le Vignoble de St. Jeannet (800 chemin des Sausses, tél: 06 93 24 96 01), where the red wines are left to bake in the sun. Although not to my taste, the white wines were excellent and unusual, and his Muscat was exquisite. It’s worth a visit, and I brought home several bottles of Provençal olive oil. Ask for directions to his brother’s organic farm just down the street. He packed an enormous sack of fresh basil for me as a gift to bring back to Paris, which it’s surprisingly rare to find in such abundance.

banana chocolate jam

Another regional delight to find was the confiserie of Ariane Magimel. After a visit to the Espace de l’art concret, a compact collection of modern art, I was sitting down for a coffee in the village square in Mouans-Sartoux and noticed a small storefront with a few cauldrons simmering away and gulped down my drink to rush over to this new shop, which was tidy and sparkling-clean.

Tempted by tastes of apricot and fraises des bois jams, I was most excited by the chocolate-banana and Poires-Belle Hélène, chocolate-pear, and managed to find in my suitcases for a few jars of each. Her eyes lit up and told me that I must try it spread on warm crêpes. Not a problem around here!

On the less-delicious front, the adage about not believing everything you read online pertains to the town of Menton, which was highly-recommended by readers over at the Frugal Traveler. A local agreed with me that the town is a snooze and its only consolation is that it’s close to Italy. Hoping to find a decent place to eat along the touristy waterfront (which admittedly isn’t often the best place to eat in most cities), we settled on Côté Sud because the waiters were all certified Italians.

My pizza with pesto, potatoes and fresh green beans was great, but quizzically, my partner’s pizza had canned mushrooms. Who the heck still uses canned mushrooms? Especially if you’re going to go through the trouble of preparing green beans. It is really that hard to chop and sauté mushrooms? The less said about the overwrought tiramisù, the better.

pan bagnat

Near Nice, I stayed in the picturesque village of St. Jeannet, a hilltop home which was a sunny slice of paradise, perfect for anyone wanting some peace & quiet of a small village. Surrounded by apricot and persimmon trees, and plenty of lavender and fresh herbs growing everywhere, the open, well-equipped kitchen could not have made cooking any more enjoyable. The village boasts an excellent food market with the best pan bagnat I found in the region. Trisha Robinson rents the place year-round and I’m already figuring out how often I can make it back down there.

If you’re looking for some culture, the region has much to offer. Many of the great twentieth-century artists set up studios here, often working with local potters to produce ceramics. There’s the outstanding Musée national Ferdnand Léger, which just reopened (I crashed the opening), and several chapels in the area, including one in Vallauris painted by Picasso. It’s a bit hidden; even the police I asked, who were standing one block away, didn’t know where it was. Near Vence, the Matisse chapel, seemed to have hours that didn’t jibe with ours, and many others, it seemed, as I stood amongst the confused, wandering the sidewalk out front.

pan bagnat and rosé

My train back to Paris left via Marseille, and I spent the day wandering the sun-scorched streets. Marseille has sort of a funky reputation and indeed isn’t very touristy. Most of the trendy restaurants are clustered on the rue Sainte, just off the Vieux Port. Maison Empereur has been offering unusual and excellent cooking supplies since 1827 and is worth a visit, and although the jury is still out on navettes, the dry biscuits still turned at today at Four des Navettes, the oldest bakery in Marseille, the wood-fired pizzas are great and so are the almondy macaroons, which made a fine dessert to my last Provençal dinner, onboard the high-speed TGV train back to Paris.

en route to marseille

With the obligatory glass of chilled rosé, bien sûr.

More reading on Niçoise cooking:

Two excellent books on the local fare are Flavors of the Riviera by Coleman Andrews, and Cuisine Niçoise by Jacques Médecin, who was the former mayor of Nice until he ‘disappeared’ on a business trip to Japan, only to surface in South America, having absconded with a sizable amount of local funds. After being sentenced to two years in jail, he’s a local legend—and hero to some (the French wink and admire anyone who can “beat the system”, even if they’ve stolen a considerable amount of public funds) and his book is one of the bibles of Niçoise cuisine. It’s a good reference, although I don’t advise supporting criminal behavior, by French or American icons, the recipes are authoritative and authentic.

Made in Marseille is a comprehensive look at the cuisine of Marseille with recipes for regional specialties, local dining tips, and restaurant suggestions.

More links:

The Best Socca in Nice

Taste of Provence

Panisses

Nice

Categories:

Dining & Travel, Europe, France

26 comments

  • damn, now i’m craving stuffed zuchini blossoms…

  • JEALOUS!!! I hope you can keep your holiday sparkle for a least a couple of weeks! Thanks for sharing all your lovely adventures!

  • hello. My message will be really off the topic but before i go on, i really want to say that i enjoy reading your blog. your pictures and stories are quite amazing.
    i’m from the Philippines and I was wondering if Chez Panisse has any internship programs. Do they accept interns? Will they accept me?

    I messaged you using Flickr mail regarding this too. so sorry for being such a pest and to bother you too much with these questions. thanks.

  • Hi David,

    In defense of Menton (which is sleepy, as you say), I had one of my favorite meals in the past year at Mirazur restaurant there. I think you would’ve liked it as I’m pretty sure you’re an Alain Passard fan.

    It’s been great reading about your relaxing and delish holiday in Nice, so thanks for sharing, as always.

  • Wonderful pictures!

    It was Colman Andrew’s book I used for the panisses I made this week. I love his thoughtful prose – his chapter on authenticity is particularly good.

  • Oooh, this made me pine for my summer vacation, your photos captured the light and the feel of south of France so completely, that I am now unable to go back to work and am only thinking of sunny beaches and pan-bagnat and the like! Thank you for sharing, I hope your return isn’t too stressful…

  • I am so glad you had a little time to visit Marseille. I hope you ate well – there is a lot of good food in this city. The fact that it is non-touristy is a definite plus. Maison Empereur is great. (And incidentally, it is the only kitchenware store I know that also sells guns. You don’t see that at Williams Sonoma.)

  • What an amazing little trip. If I wasn’t jealous before… I certainly am now. I think your plan of telling no one and fudging the return date from a trip it totally inspired.

  • What a great post David. I visited Nice last October and also enjoyed a meal at Oliviera. The owner was charming and enthusiastic and offered us several samples of his beautiful organic estate olive oils. Directly across from the restaurant there is a quirky shop where I found a beautiful marble mortar and pestle. I bartered with the owners as it had a small chip on the rim and we arrived at a final price of 15 Euros. I lugged the prize back to Vancouver along with the cassoles that I purchased in Languedoc.
    We managed to get into the Vence chapel and then strolled down the street to the Hotel Regina where Matisse lived his final years. The Chapel at Cimiez is magical and visiting the Matisse Museum was magnificent. We stayed at an organic orange, olive and fig farm on the west side of Nice and had a marvelous time exploring the region.
    Next time we go to the area I am considering renting a house, perhaps Georgeanne Brennan’s house outside of Manosque.

  • that photo of the pasta bowl is out of control! it looks so fresh and delicious. and, i sometimes tell people i’m going out of town for a weekend even when i’m not, just so no one bothers me for a few days… which is probably a slightly more antisocial version of your vacation strategy. :-)

  • Oh! Those squash blossoms look gorgeous. And all that sun, which we’re still waiting for here on the West Coast of Canada. Sounds as if you had a wonderful holiday — good luck with the rentrée.

  • These are my favorite set of pictures among all of your wonderful pictured entries!

    I especially love the arranged zucchini blossoms–flames of spring!

  • Mari: I’m trying to make it last.
    But it sure ain’t easy ; )

    Paula: Marseille is really interesting and I enjoyed the Arab quarter a lot, as well.
    Would like to come back and spend some more time, but when we were there, there was a congres and the hotels were full.

    Sharon: Glad you like the pics. Thanks for the compliments!

    lene: I haven’t been at Chez Panisse in a number of years but I suspect if you write them a well-written letter with your intentions, that’s the best chance of getting a positive response. You might want to read Richard Olney’s first Simple French Food, since much of the philosophy of the restaurant is built around that philosophy.

    Linda: Yes, the owner of Oliviera is wonderful and was so generous with samples. (And the food was delicious, too.) Don’t know anything about Georgeann’s home, but Trisha’s was fabulous and I can’t wait to go back.

    (I found an old mortar at the Nice flea market but it was 120€, which I should’ve lugged home, but didn’t.)

  • Gawd!The fig and honey nougat looks positively orgasmic…What wouldnt I give for a taste! Any place in California I can get some?

  • Is that last photo for real, with the foil-sealed glass of rose??? It looks like a yoghurt container!

  • Thanks for all of the tips, David! Advice like this is always better than any guidebook. I can’t wait to make it down there myself.

  • You can get a fig and honey loaf at Whole Foods in the cheese section in Santa Fe, probably CA too. The Spanish Table had something similar too once upon a time.

  • Susan: It sure it a foil-topped glass of rosé! They sell them in supermarkets, and on trains–which makes the long trips much more enjoyable, let me tell you.

    I’ve always wanted to buy one at the supermarket and show it on the blog, but was afraid I’d run into someone I knew at the checkout. Thankfully, I finally got the chance since on the train, you have an excuse.

    (And it wasn’t bad…although the portion was bit meager.)

  • Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Great photos in this post! Makes me want to go there. It is definitely on my list.

  • I was just in Marseille last week – at the end of a very chilly stretch in Provence. The markets are amazing. Each day we headed out in a new direction to visit a different market. I have to ask, what’s with the cafe creme? I did not have one good coffee while in France. That has never happened before. What a disappointment.

  • Hi Eileen: It’s very difficult to get a decent cup of coffee in France. Few places put any effort into producing a good-tasting cup. Mostly it’s due to low-grade robusta beans (I don’t believe it when they say pur arabica), and faulty technique: they rarely tamp down the beans or flush clean their machines.

    They also use sterilized milk, which is horrible stuff. So I avoid milk-based coffee drinks as much as possible. I say, stick with bread, cheese and wine!

    Kalyn: if you go, let me know and I’ll meet you! xo

  • Nicois cooking is one of the best in France !!!!
    I’ve just discovered your blog thanks to Barbara ( winos and foodies ). I love to see my region through your eyes

  • David, you didn’t dine at my favorite restaurant in Marseille, did you? Le Canard Boiteux? It must be the only restaurant in Marseille that doesn’t serve bouillabaisse and is a nice change of pace if you’re in the city for awhile.

  • First and foremost – I absolutely adore your blog. Second, suddenly I am absolutely ravenous. Gorgeous pictures. Definitely putting Nice on my list of places to visit next year.

  • Ah the best secrets of the Riviera!
    Do rememver the Chocolaterie de Monaco found just behind the terminal stop of Monaco´s pleasant bus 2 (direction Monaco-ville, les musées) a haven for the connoisseur chocophile AND tea-lover with wonderfully spiced old Russian tea mixtures to bring home as well. The chocolatier of the royal Grimaldis and how.
    English spoken.-
    Also when on the Riviera do not miss Ventimiglia on the Italian side, go into any of the food shops and ask for the chocolate called CUNNESI (konneesee)
    wrapped in red voluptiousness, dark dark chocolates filled with dark dark ganache flavoured with rhum, all individually wrapped from the littleknown town of Cuneo (kunneeo) or go there yourself with the tiny train at Ventimiglia station going to Torino through the fantastic Roya Valley with innumerable tunnels, get off at Cuneo and you will find the CUNNESI in any patisserie, most exuberantly at the main square very elegant patisserie. You are sure to get them very fresh.
    The rhum fillling is best but there are more to chose from.

  • Oh you bring back so many memories of my childhood! This post was so wonderful to read! I grew up in Ussel and Albi and the things you talk about almost put tears to my eyes from thinking back. The fresh bread my grandfather used to get us and the nougat that my aunt would stock up (cause we ate it so fast :P ) but the best of it all was all the fresh preserves and confiture that my grandmother would make every year. You have just convinced me to take a trip out there this year! i have already looked at tickets before posting this!
    Thank you again for this marvelous post!
    Alexandre