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Writing About the Sights and Tastes of the Riviera

The view from Ruhl Plage in Nice, France

THE RIVIERA IN THREE DAYS (BY CAR)

If and when you come to Nice, be sure to allow enough time to get to know the city as well as the environs. My niece, her husband and their daughter spent a weekend in the city, then rented a car to see more of the area. With the car, one can devote each day to an excursion, then land at home either before or after dinner to relax. It works very well. (I’ve done it myself on many occasions with my daughter and friends.)

I gave them a suggested itinerary that I believe is really worth following, if you only have three days with a rental car and want to get a taste of this part of the region. The region is the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur (PACA), which includes its capital city, Marseille, France’s second most populous commune. It’s made up of six “départements” (counties) from the former provinces of Provence:

1. Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)
2. Hautes-Alpes (05)
3. Alpes-Maritimes (06)
4. Bouches-du-Rhône (13)
5. Var (83)
6. Vaucluse (84)

This makes PACA the seventh most populous region in France with a population of more than five million and home to three of the country’s largest metropolitan areas: Aix-Marseille, Nice and the Alps. It covers an area of 31,400 km2, stretching from the Rhône in the west to the Italian border in the east. So, there is quite a lot of territory to cover if you want to see it all. In three days, that would be impossible.

The way to tackle a first-time three-day adventure is by confining it to the coast, with a bit of inland excursions to the hilltop villages, which is what they did! It worked out perfectly for them and here it is for you to follow, too:

Day 1: Head east toward Menton, the last town in France before the Italian border, on the coastal road—the Basse Corniche. Along the way, stop in any or as many enclaves on route, always hugging the coastline to see the fabulous views! Favorite points of interest are: Villefranche-sur-Mer, Beaulieu, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Eze Village, Monaco (its own Principality, an independent and sovereign country), Roquebrune Village, Cap Martin and at the end…Menton. Enjoy it all and do as much as you can, then take the Autoroute A8 home—the speedy route. I think this is the most beautiful and elegant coastline in the world!

Menton, France

Menton

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Day 2: See the hilltowns of which there are many! One way is to head northwest of Nice to Saint-Paul de Vence and then visit Tourettes-sur-Loup, Bar-sur-Loup and Gourdon. If you have time, other towns nearby are Valbonne, Mougins and Biot! There are also beautiful hilltowns northeast of Nice, should you go in that direction: Peillon, La Turbie and Gorbio. These are just a few. It’s endless! The towns are ancient and the views are breathtaking. They loved every minute.

Saint-Paul de Vence

Saint-Paul de Vence

Peillon

Peillon

Day 3: Ride along the seacoast every inch of the way going west to Cagnes-su-Mer, Villeneuve-Loubet, Antibes, Cap d’Antibes and all the way to Cannes. You have to zig and zag to stay along the water, but it’s worth it. You can go all the way to Théoule-sur-Mer to see the red rocks if you’re so inclined. The trick is hugging the water’s edge. This is the land of recreational boaters and it’s stunning every inch of the way. Stop in any one of these classy towns for lunch on the water or take a dip in the sea. You will not be disappointed and neither were they.

Antibes

Antibes

Cannes

Cannes

Enjoy! And let me know how it goes!

LEARNING FRENCH THE GOURMET WAY

I’ve cherished the long-standing and delightful relationship that I’ve had with the folks at the Institut de Français for many years, even though I never attended the famous Riviera language school. It all started almost 20 years ago when Frédéric Latty, the Assistant Director and Pedagogical Advisor, invited me to visit the school and see what it was all about. I was impressed then, and am impressed now, not only with the quality of their teaching and the beautiful atmosphere of the school. It’s perched high about Villefranche-sur-Mer with breathtaking views of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It’s also impressive with the impeccable treatment of their students, down to the gourmet meals they serve up daily!

View from the Institut de Français

View from the Institut de Français

Frédéric invited me to come test out their new chef. How could I refuse? A visit with him, a visit to the Villa and a gourmet lunch? I would never say no!

Frédéric and I decided that we know more of the same people than anyone else, because so many of our clients and friends have attended the illustrious Institut. He’s been the face all the students know, although the new Directrice Générale, Déborah de Martino, is quietly running the show while Frédéric runs the instructional side and marketing.

Frédéric, Adrian Leeds, and Déborah

Frédéric, Adrian, and Déborah

I arrived early (by tram to bus then on foot) and had a chance to hang-out in the beautiful garden while Frédéric finished what he was doing. Then he, Déborah and I were served a gourmet meal on the veranda of the main student dining room by the chef’s wife, Sarah. Chef Anthony Vialla was the chef at Chez Germaine, Villefranche-sur-Mer’s most famous dining establishment, before settling into the kitchen at the Institut de Français. He respected my very strict diet (The Whole 30) and prepared a perfectly delicious, delightful and beautiful meal…all for me. I was honored and very pleased.

Chef Anthony Vialla and wife, -Sarah, at the Institut de Français

Chef Anthony Vialla and wife, -Sarah, at the Institut de Français

Salad served at the Institut de Français

Salad served at the Institut de Français

Before leaving, Frédéric introduced me to their student body in the dining room. One of the women came up after to me to tell me that she had been sitting at a table next to mine last week at Le Comptoir du Marché in Nice! What a coincidence!

Student dining room at the Institut de Français

Student dining room at the Institut de Français

If you want the best immersive language program that exists, to leave a few weeks later speaking French, Institut de Français is the way to go. Visit their website to contact them, and be sure to tell Frédéric I sent you!

10TH MEET THE AUTHORS

This was my seventh Meet the Authors as the Emcee of the event, with Ella Dyer as organizer and host. Since 2014, this annual event now celebrating a 10th anniversary, presents both local and international writers who have a connection to France and the Côte d’Azur. Ella is an author in her own right, of Nice in Nice. As a major proponent of Nice, she is fond of saying, “A lifetime in Nice is never enough!”

Ella Dyer and Simone at the Meet the Authors event in Nice

Ella Dyer and Simone at the Meet the Authors event in Nice

By 2:45 p.m. it was SRO upstairs at Oscar to hear six very interesting authors, half of which were Niçois; the other half having come to Nice specifically for the event. The authors were Mike Colquhoun, Pamela Moffatt, Julie Scolnik, Joe Siart, Véronique Jeannot-Spineu and Cecilia Woloch.

the lineup of authors at Meet the Authors in Nice

The lineup of authors

Ella opened the event with short commemoration to the 10-year anniversary and then dedicated it to author George Kundahl, who had spoken either in 2018, but had passed away since. I then introduced each author, and after hearing each one speak about their books, realized how different each was, as different as their writings, I’m sure.

Cecilia Woloch was the last to present. She came to Paris in 1994 just a couple months after we had moved there and was connected with us by a mutual friend from Los Angeles. Poetry was never something I was interested in…until I heard her read her own poetry at a little English language bookstore in the 6th arrondissement (that no longer exists). It changed my viewpoint of poetry completely and for once I really “got it.” We have been close friends ever since. She has a way of reading her work like no other and read three of her poems, closing the show with a bang. She brought me to tears.

Adrian Leeds introducing Cecilia Woloch

Adrian introducing Cecilia

You can read all about it on our website. We recorded the event, so be sure to watch it on our YouTube channel as well as pass it on to your friends.

DINING OUT IN NICE

Two weeks in Nice was one great meal after another, many of which were in the seaside restaurants that pop up during the warmer months directly on the “galets” (pebbles). Which is best is a contest in itself because you don’t go for the food—you go for the atmosphere—but if the food is good, you find yourself returning. One way to know how the locals view the food and the atmosphere is by discovering which have available tables and which have not!

Le Galet is one of my favorites, elegant and delicious. It’s always well booked, so reserve in advance. La Plage Amour is very good and one of the least expensive of them all (not sure why), but I have one complaint: the beautiful flowering shrubbery lining the dining area block the view of the sea! I don’t know why they don’t realize this fatal error. Ruhl Plage is one I like for its lounge area on the left of the dining area where you can hang out on comfy couches and chairs under large parasols, have a bite to eat and drink, while staring at the blue-blue sea. The dining area is nice and the food is quite good, but the menu is a bit boring, I find. I go to the lounge area often with my laptop to write and order up fresh fruit—not as often available as you might think. Castel Plage is particularly beautiful with an Art Deco structure under the parasols, adorned by an art collection of painters and sculptors including Ben, Arman, Patrick Moya, Sacha Sosno and Ali Abdelhafidh. At the far eastern corner of the Baie des Anges, the views of all of Nice and the bay are what dreams are made of. Don’t visit Nice without dining at least at one of them!

La Plage Amour

La Plage Amour

One evening we waited 1.5 hours for a table at La Cucina because the reviews of this restaurant are over the top. One Google review said, “After visiting this AMAZING restaurant 3 times in the last week I think I can officially say this is one of the best restaurants in the world!”

The menu at La Cucina

La Cucina tomato salad with burata

La Cucina tomato salad with burata

Really? It’s just down the street from me, but I’d never thought to attempt getting a table until my family suggested it. It’s a tiny restaurant with only a few tables and they don’t take reservations. The menu is of no particular interest…the same-old, same-old fare without descriptions. It wasn’t passing the “so what” test for me at this stage. Then, we placed our order while watching all of the other waiting diners who were hoping we’d finish quickly so they could snatch up our tables. Service was very slow. We were there for three hours. The whole time I’m thinking they should work on turning their tables faster to improve their business and make us diners happier.

I have to admit that the presentations were beautiful, the portions copious and the quality of everything was top notch. It was ultimately a pleasure. But, was it worth the wait? Not sure I’d devote three meals in Nice for this with as many wonderful meals there are to be had in the city.

For more serious cuisine, I’m still a big fan of Armand Crespo’s restaurants. In two weeks, I dined five times in three (out of eight) of them: Peixes, Le Comptoir du Marché and Bistrot d’Antoine. Over the past thirty years, Armand has built up a portfolio of establishments, where this Portuguese man, who is more native Nicean than most, has reinvented the recipe for good food. “He appeals without trying to impress,” according to a 2021 article in Nice-Matin.

Armand Crespo, from the article in Nice Matin

Armand Crespo

I concur and would put any of his establishments up against any other bistrot in all of France for inventiveness, taste, presentation and affordability! On top of that, the decor of each of his restaurants is warm, inviting, and creative. He bakes his own breads. One of them, a “roll” served at every table at Peixes, is “to die for.”

A dish at Bistrot d'Antoine in Nice

A dish at Bistrot d’Antoine

Tataki de thon at Peixes

Tataki de thon at Peixes

The special roll at Peixes in Nice

The special roll at Peixes

His restaurants include (opened in this order): Bistrot d’Antoine (27, rue de la Préfecture); Comptoir du Marché (8, rue du Marché; Le Bar des Oiseaux (5, rue Saint-Vincent), Peixes (4, rue de l’Opéra), La Cave du Cours (24, rue Barillerie), Bar de la Dégustation (7, rue de la Préfecture), Type 55 (1, rue de la Préfecture) and Peixes 2 (5, rue Bonaparte), the only one not in Old Town. Armand can fill his restaurants, so be sure to reserve in advance…and it might not hurt to say “‘Adrienne Leeds’ sent me” (they know me as “Adrienne”).

Bistrot d'Antoine in Nice

Soupe de poission at La Comptoir du Marché

Soupe de poission at La Comptoir du Marché

Enjoy!

By the time you read this, I’ll be back in Paris putting up with the gray and rain. I was supposed to sign the Acte de Vente this morning on my new apartment in Nice, but a bit of administrative questions got in the way, so it might take another week or two before I can call the penthouse my own. C’est la vie.

This coming Thursday, believe it or not, I am filming an episode with Arte, Europe’s public service channel dedicated to culture, with me cooking a Louisiana dinner for friends, who are also from New Orleans, in my Paris apartment! They are doing a “reportage” about the relationship between France and Louisiana…and it should be lots of fun and hopefully interesting to all. Since I hardly ever cook anymore, it will be a challenge, but we’re up for it. I’ll keep you posted on that, so stay tuned.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds dressed all in blue with blue earringsAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

The article on Rosa Jackson losing her atelier in NiceP.S. Good news for author and chef Rosa Jackson. Her Niçois building has been reopened and she is able to work in her kitchen again (Les Petits Farcis). Only a small portion of the neighboring building is affected by the structural problems. You are now welcomed back into her culinary atelier! See the recent article.

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