Adventures and Mis-Adventures on the Côte d’Azur
Note: I apologize in advance for this unusually long missive…but I do hope you find it all interesting! And thanks to my daughter, Erica Simone, for all the great photos…
All the plans were laid out for three great days alone with my daughter, visiting the Italian lake country and having quality time together. It’s a habit we’ve formed over the years, to take a short excursion, to remove all the distractions and “bond,” mother and daughter — just us “girls.” If we don’t have this time alone, we end up like “passing ships in the night” — even if we’re living in the same apartment, we could spend days where we’ve barely seen one another.
The weather report of thunderstorms in the Italian lake region (typical of the time of year there) those exact three days made our enthusiasm for the planned trip more than wane…let’s call it downright dread. So, we cancelled our reservations at the B&B reserved near Lago d’Orta but kept the rental car reservations to shift gears toward another direction. Rather than go too far afield, we canvassed the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region for special worth-a-visit enclaves we never before discovered — trips that we could do in a day. With the help of knowledgeable friends who were quick to offer up suggestions, there was plenty from which to choose.
The idea made so much sense: spend the day visiting places we had never been before, coming home just before dinner with time to relax, have dinner in or out, catch up on email and yes, even contribute to this “Nouvellettre®.” Each day was designed to go in a different direction, beginning with picking up the rental car on Monday morning. We would park it in a nearby lot overnight, which isn’t cheap (about €25), but a lot less expensive than the B&B.
Erica arrived in Nice Saturday early evening. Her train from Marseille was three hours late, sadly due to a suicide on the tracks. (Not to make light of the tragedy, but it might be useful for you to know that when a train is delayed more than 30 minutes, SNCF will give you a partial refund of the price of your ticket. See en.oui.sncf/en/help-en/delay-train for more information.) That night, however, I woke up with swollen glands, a sore throat and too weak to move very far. This was not a good start for our three days together.
I dragged myself out of bed and set out early Sunday morning to go to the 24-hour pharmacy on rue Masséna, only to discover it was not open 24 hours at all. Shut tight, there was a sign on the door listing other pharmacies in the area that were open, but they were few and far between, not to mention not so close by. So I headed back home empty-handed. This is one thing that France does very poorly, in my experience. With a pharmacy on nearly every corner and the French propensity for taking drugs (!), one would think that on a Sunday, finding an open pharmacy would be “du gâteau” (piece of cake), but not so. They take their time off very seriously. Advice: Don’t set out to find a pharmacy after normal hours without checking. First, visit allo-pharmacie-garde.fr/ for the one nearest you.
Erica, being the Good Samaritan, walked to one about 15 minutes away and promptly came home with a big bag of goodies, almost all of which were homeopathic designed to boost my immune system. This is something difficult to do in the States as the U.S. pharmacies don’t offer up homeopathic remedies — you must go to a specialty shop to find them. But here, the pharmacists recommend them above other types of chemical medication. About a hundred pills later and an afternoon soaking up the rays on the beach Sunday afternoon did wonders to boost both my energy and my spirits.
“Let’s wait till Monday morning to see how I feel,” I proclaimed, ever hopeful our plans would not be thwarted by whatever ailment was attacking me.
Monday morning, I wasn’t feeling so hot. A call to AutoEurope (a rental car company that normally offers the most competitive rates in Europe), explained that if I were to cancel the rental prior to the pick-up time, there would be a fee, and if we delayed the pick-up by one day, it would end up costing 30 percent more. Ugh. So, I sucked it up, downed another hundred pills or so and we set out on our journey with the idea of taking it easy and only doing as much as I could.
Even though the rental car companies have offices literally steps from my apartment, the much lower rate to pick it up at the airport instead was too tempting to pass up. This was our opportunity, too, to test out the new East-West Tramway Line 2. For now, it runs only from “Jean Médecin,” just a short walk from my apartment, to Terminal 2, all for only €1.50 a ride (or €1 when you buy a card of 10 rides), and it zips along to the airport entrance in about 25 minutes. It could not have been nicer or easier. The new Tramway is destined to change Nice, as this new access from the airport to the Old Port makes living near those two points so much more accessible to everything. Mark my words that real estate near the airport and around the Old Port will likely increase in value very quickly.
At Alamo Rental we chose a Nissan four-door “Juke.” When asked if we wanted to add emergency service insurance, I responded with “No, it’s a Nissan. Nothing will go wrong with a Nissan.” That sentiment comes from my experience with the last car I’d ever owned while living in California — a Nissan Maxima, that I had named “Blanche” (she was white, naturally), and that never gave me one moment of displeasure. I was confident this one wouldn’t either.
Our first stop was Tourrettes-sur-Loup. About five kilometers west of Vence, up a stunning winding road, it’s an artisans’ village (once known as Tourrettes-les-Vence) of medieval and Romanesque buildings with a very small permanent population (about 2,400 residents), but a whole lot of tourists for the reasons we discovered. Seriously, one of the most beautiful villages I’ve ever seen, it is adorned by violet flowers, even hand-painted on some of its cobblestones. Called “Le Village Violet” because the delicate purple flower has been grown there for well over a century and is honored every March with a special festival.
As you wander down the narrow cobblestoned streets and vaulted passageways, adorned by flowers in baskets and pots, you can’t help but enter the artisan shops at which we bought some beautiful handmade scented soaps and inexpensive, but creative jewelry. Little bistros are dotted in between, so it’s easy to land in one that suits you. We chose an outdoor terrace at “Place de l’Hôtel de Ville,” a small square that is considered the “center” of this quaint medieval village. An artisanal ice cream maker sold flavors you won’t see at Häagen-Dazs®, such as Violet, Jasmine and Rose. We tried all three and one was better than the next. Be sure to put Tourrettes-sur-Loup on your “must-see” list next time you’re in the region.
From there, we trekked the very narrow and very winding road up to Gourdon. If roads like this make you nervous, then you might not want to test your courage, but they thrill me, even in my less-than-healthy state. Gourdon was beautiful, as one might expect, but more “touristy” than Tourrettes-sur-Loup and less interesting, except for the exceptional views. Truth is that the drive alone to Gourdon and back to Nice was well worth the effort, as it’s as breathtaking as it gets. Fortunately, Erica was doing all the photo-taking while I was concentrating on the precarious path.
Home to rest for the evening, we set out again the next morning (after drugging-up on herbal remedies) toward Italy this time, with our eyes set on Dolceacqua. (We couldn’t wait to have lunch in a real Italian restaurant!) To get there, we took the A8 Autoroute through a dozen or so tunnels to Ventimiglia (FYI, there are 111 tunnels between Nice and Genoa; I counted once!), the first town on the other side of the border from France, where one could get dizzy circling and maneuvering the streets until heading north to the Ligurian village. The minute you cross the border, you need no signs to know you’re in Italy. Everything changes. Suddenly the roads aren’t as pristine or as well marked, the homes not as well taken care of, and the anarchistic personality of Italy shines through.
It didn’t take long to land in Dolceacqua, but just as we were circling a parking lot, which had no spots to spare, the Nissan Juke just died. And I mean died. There was no restarting it, no matter what we did or tried, right there in the lot, blocking a half-dozen cars from exiting or entering. Ugh! Hot, not feeling well, in Italy, with a broken-down car, just at lunchtime with nothing in our bellies, was less than a perfect moment. This is where one can really appreciate the Italians because within a few moments, several people came to the rescue: a woman who had parked in a kind of “non-space,” but was exiting, the owner of a nearby restaurant, a motorcyclist, and even a policeman (who seemed nonchalant about the whole affair). While they manually moved the car into the “non-space” so as to unblock the other cars, Erica got on the phone to…the emergency service.
“We’ll be there in about 45 minutes,” they promised.
Osteria 4 Gatti was the restaurant next door, and the back door to their terrace was at the parking lot entrance. We snuck in under a sprawling tree that covered the entire terrace, took a table, and were greeted by the very gentleman who had moved the car for us, with a hand-written blackboard of the day’s specials. We wanted it all, but ordered up a pesto pasta, a rabbit dish with olives, a dish of red mullet fish, a glass of wine and the best, thickest espresso ever put to the lips — what I call the “nectar of the Gods.” It suddenly didn’t matter that the car was dead because we had now had the opportunity to eat a fine Italian meal in what was a “real” Italian osteria. Upstairs in the kitchen, were two women standing over a gas-burning stove cooking it all up, and quite honestly, I couldn’t have been happier.
When we asked for the check, we also called the emergency service again to see what was taking so long for them to arrive. “What? You haven’t even left yet? You say you didn’t have our location? We gave it all to you two hours ago! Okay, we’ll wait another 45 minutes.”
Ugh, but that gave us enough time to visit the medieval village of Dolceacqua, the entry of which is over the ancient bridge and into the tunnel-like narrow streets that wind up to the Doria Castle. Its name comes from the Roman town that once existed there called Dulcius. Archaeological finds from the Iron Age attest to its history as well as many remnants from the 4th-century B.C. to the 4th-century of Roman times. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and even though we were in a bit of distress, the problem seemed unimportant to what loomed over our heads in stone.
Exhausted from the climb up to the top, back to the car we went to meet the repairman. On the way, we stopped to cool our feet in a fountain at a small Piazza just opposite the old town. Just to test it out, we tried to start the car. You guessed it. It started without a problem. Go figure? But, realizing it might be a risk to leave without the repairman to check it out fully, we waited in the cool air-conditioned car, now idling happily, while he arrived a bit later.
He opened the hood, looked at every inch of it, and found nothing out of the ordinary except for a coolant tank a bit on the low side. He filled it up and assured us he’d be tailing us all the way back to Nice to ensure our safety. How sweet is that? But, I just assumed the young and not-so-bad-looking guy liked Erica’s pretty figure in her leopard-print shorts! (I also noticed on route back to the car that the old guys hanging out at the café, lined up in a row along the sidewalk, certainly didn’t miss having a gander, either! It must have made their day!)
Without a hitch, the car made it back to Nice and parked in the lot under the Ruhl Casino. Our adventure wasn’t what we expected, but one that will be forever memorable. At least we arrived home unscathed.
Today, we’ll take it out for our last spin…but we’re not really sure to where. And btw, thanks to homeopathic remedies I am almost fully recovered.
Stay tuned for more. Saturday we fly to Ibiza for a week of fun in the sun on the sand and surf. You will not be hearing from me again until we return a week later…it’s the one time a year I take a full week off from telling tales!
In Memory of our Parler Paris, Parler Nice friend:
While I was touring the hilltop towns of the Côte d’Azur, I got word of the loss of a dear and old friend to the insidious disease of cancer — a big bear of a guy name John Aiken. John was one of the first participants of our Living and Investing in France conferences when we started them back in 2004. As an OB-GYN living in Los Angeles, he had delivered over 10,000 babies, as he told us with a very big smile.
Soon after, he moved here with a then partner, rented a big enough apartment to accommodate his grand piano, which he played beautifully with deep affection and commitment for his entourage of friends at concerts he’d organize in his home. In that apartment in 2006, I filmed my very first House Hunters International episode. Years later, he purchased an apartment in a suburb of Paris that had stunning views of the city, in which we filmed another episode of the HGTV show.
In the meantime, he married a sweetheart of a man at a traditional/untraditional wedding, both wearing white silk suits. Being a real “balabusta” (Yiddish for a good homemaker), he cooked up mountains of goodies for the people he loved and spread his good energy everywhere he went. I can hear his giggle in my mind as I write this, a kind of a high-pitched sound that was infectious and clearly unforgettable, as I think about the last time I saw him. A mutual friend and I went to visit him to see how the treatments were going and how he was feeling. He couldn’t wait to show us his and Carlos’ (his husband’s) new white leather reclining couch — each person could control their own sides, to sit up or lay back, while watching their big-screen TV. On the couch was placed a big red heart pillow and on it was written, “Je t’aime.” That was John — forever loving.
Well John, I’ll forever miss you. I’ll miss that adorable laugh and big smile, that amazing talent you had for maneuvering the French administrative web without frustration, your delicious concoctions, and your absolute zest for life…that you had until you took your last breath. If anyone had a place in heaven, it was you. And I hope to see you there on the other side.
For those who would like: a memorial service will be held at the Crematorium of Père Lachaise on Tuesday 13th August at 3:30 p.m. in the Salle de la Coupole followed by a light snack in the Salle Landowski.
Please confirm your presence by sending a text message ASAP to Carlos Vazquez, +33 (0) 6 13 38 34 70.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(with Erica in Gourdon)
P.S. If you missed last night’s new House Hunters International Episode, “The Good Life in Paris,” you can watch it here (for a limited time only)!
P.P.S. There will be no Parler Paris, Parler Nice, and no French Property Insider between August 12 and 15. I’ll be on the sands of the Spanish island of Ibiza.! I Hope you don’t mind this brief break.