Assumption to Heaven…Called the “Côte d’Azur”
People generally assume that because I’m spending the summer in Nice, that I am vacationing…but “au contraire!” We (the entire team) are working just as hard and long in what is perceived as a “resort town” as we might be if we were in Paris or anywhere. The truth is that this town can make it feel that way, since almost everyone around us IS on vacation and that adds to the atmosphere…especially at this particular moment—the height of the holiday season. It’s mid-August, at the very core of the season and August 15th, “Assomption” (Assumption), is a holiday celebrated by Catholics commemorating the assumption of Jesus’ mother Mary into Heaven. That day, according to the Catholic faith, the Virgin Mary has been bodily “taken up into Heaven” at the end of her earthly life. It’s the deadest day of the year in Paris and the busiest day of the year in Nice!
It was a perfect moment for a girlfriend from San Francisco who has been visiting Paris to hop down on the TGV to come to Nice and spend the weekend with me—giving me an opportunity to feel like a tourist and a vacationer for a few days. We packed a lot into our two days, including quality beach time on the Baie des Anges in Nice and time in Old Town marketing along the Cours Saleya before lunching at Le Safari.
Saturday night we had been invited to dine in a very unusual setting at Le Potager de Saquier, an organic farm on the hillsides of Nice up above an area of the OIN (Operation of National Interest) in the Var Valley, a future “eco valley.” Generations have been practicing organic farming here, with Le Potager de Saquier making its mark since 1996. Great and young creative chefs have come to depend on owner, Pierre Magnani’s, expertise to supply them with seasonal fruits and vegetables of quality and freshness with the taste of yesteryear. By occasionally holding open dinner parties on the farm, Pierre and his family and team enable people like us to discover the diversity through his “sensory, gustatory and olfactory” visits and dinners.
Our Uber driver took us northbound via the industrial area along the Var River to the entry of the farm, where Pierre packed us into his 9-seater van and drove us down a narrow path past beautiful villas to his jungle of a farm. There were no permanent walls or roofs of which we could discern (except for the “outhouse”)…just a lot of live plants and vines, netting and whatever else could act as natural barriers against the elements. It was a warm, dry evening, perfect for such an event.
As we entered the multi-purpose kitchen/dining room down a small path past a large open grill, a tomato salad was being prepared from their basket of many-colored tomatoes, with fresh basil, along with the rest of the meal in a fully open kitchen. A purple onion the size of a melon sat on the front desk where we forked over the meager price for dinner—40€. An “apéritif” was served as we settled in. They set the tables, that were scattered, not only in the main dining room, but among the vines and trees and herbs past the big “room.” At the back area beyond all that, down narrow pathways between banana trees and jungles of herbs, was a pen of chickens where the family pet dog seemed fascinated by their antics. Several beds dotted another large open space where guests or a honeymooning couple could stay under the stars.
Pierre took us on a tour of the farm allowing us a chance to smell and taste all the different varieties of mint and other herbs he grows. We walked among the hanging gourds and tomato plants and discovered some of the organically grown produce of which he is so proud. Pierre is “Mr. Personality” exuding his enthusiasm for his craft as he hops from one to another expounding on their virtues.
Well-known local pianist, Steve Villa-Massone, played for us from the outset and throughout the evening. Massone is one of Nice’s best known street performers. In his early 30’s, the composer/pianist takes his signature red piano to the big squares in Nice, Paris and elsewhere, where he offers up free concerts to the public. We were the lucky ones to have him entertaining us while we reveled in a simple, but delicious meal starting with “amuse bouches” of fresh melon and mint, and fried zucchini rounds. This was followed by a meal of tomato salad, grilled chicken, eggplant parmesan, green beans, wine, fresh mint tea and brewed coffee…delicious and well worth every penny of the cost of the evening.
It wasn’t the usual Niçois evening, as one might guess, but it was a perfect way to show my visiting friend what living in Nice can be like, even if away from the seaside. She hadn’t seen the Côte d’Azur before, so the next morning we boarded the 100 bus at the Old Port, stopping at Villefranche-sur-Mer for lunch. We took the opportunity to visit the Saint-Pierre chapel decorated by artist, Jean Cocteau, with his beautiful illustrated stories.
Cocteau stayed at the Hôtel Welcome from 1924 to 1935, on the quay at Villefranche-sur-Mer. When he began working on the restoration of the chapel, Germaine, owner of the restaurant on the quay, Chez Germaine, provided the meals for all the craftsmen and donated a large sum of money so that work could be finished. When she passed away in 1959, Jean Cocteau wrote, “Villefranche has died.”
Well, Villefranche-sur-Mer certainly has not died, contrary to Cocteau’s sentiments. We strolled through the narrow steep streets to the end of rue Poilu at the Place Conseil fountain, where I showed Gail the building we’re developing as a Fractional Ownership Property (it has a large terrace overlooking Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat). Just at this little Place is where Rue Obscure starts—a 130-meter long covered street dating from 1260, located along the first city wall and registered as a historical monument in October 1932. On it is a plaque of artistry by Cocteau. He certainly made is mark on the village for his 11 years as a resident.
We lunched on the quay at one of the seaside establishments, then trekked back up the hill to the 100 bus stop to continue our journey along the coast. It rode through all the seaside towns, the Principality of Monaco, and all the way to Menton, with my commentary pointing out this and that along the way. If you should do this trip, when the bus arrives at Menton, be sure to exit the bus at the “Casino” stop and not the end of the line, the “Gare Routière,” which veers up into the town away from the water, taking you away from the main areas you might want to visit.
Menton has no shortage of beaches, most of which are pebbly, but there are a few sandy beaches as you get closer to the Italian border. The beaches west of the port don’t have the same beautiful views as those just after and east of the port, which are nestled in the curve of the Old Town known as the Plage des Sablettes. It’s made of a fine gravel and stretches about 350 meters. It is one of the shallowest beaches on the Côte d’Azur offering a beautiful view of the Italian mountains and the colorful Mentonnaise houses. The promenade was completely redesigned in 2019 and is now pedestrianized with shops, restaurants and bars. It was the busiest beach with the most young children on which I have ever been. The water was warm, like bathwater, and certainly not as clean as the western side of Menton. For families it was perfect. For us, not so perfect..we stayed a very brief amount of time under the circumstances.
The train ride back from Menton was fast and easy in the cool car of the TER SUD train back to Nice and the busy streets of the Carré d’Or for the evening. I had missed the aqua-colored and often milky water of the Baie des Anges, and learned a lot…I still believe that to make the most of living on the Côte d’Azur, the real place to be is Nice, leaving all the other enclaves for occasional visits. It’s all here and it’s all accessible…as long as Nice is your hub.
As weekends go, like Mary, Mother of Jesus, I had died and gone to heaven…and that heaven is called the “Côte d’Azur.”
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian with her visiting friend, Gail Keikoan
P.S. For those interested in learning more about La Belle Terrasse…stay tuned. Soon we’ll have complete information about it, but for now, if you want to be on a special mailing list to save your share (13 4-week shares) of this one-bedroom luxury apartment in Villefranche-sur-Mer, email us.