The Million Dollar View
LA FLEUR DU CAP
An author friend visiting last week had a hankering to take a day trip to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat—a place where he and his family spent a lot of vacation time, but hadn’t been to in decades. I’ve visited the peninsula several times, but hadn’t ever spent any time at the port area. It was “du gâteau” to get there from Nice—we caught the #15 bus at the Promenade des Arts, just off Place Garibaldi, that dropped us at the Port-de-Saint-Jean in 45 minutes. It couldn’t have been easier.
Restaurants line the port, overlooking an array of boats, from dinghies to sailboats, to cabin cruisers to luxury yachts. I know zilch about boats, but my friend is an experienced sailor and boatman. He could enlighten me on the characteristics of every vessel moored there. The beautiful Riviera port with all of its attributes contributed to his nostalgia as he rediscovered the little hotel in which his family once stayed and spots where he had recreated scenes that appeared in his novels.
The municipality of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is occupied by about 500 villas, most of them very luxurious, drowned under flowers, palm trees, Aleppo pines and olive trees. The trees were not native to the peninsula, but imported by the wealthy residents who built the villas and landscaped them—it was once just covered in wild grass. It’s amazing when you consider it, that the peninsula is, in effect, man made.
Among the famous villas, there is the Ephrussi-Rothschild villa donated to the Institut de France in 1934. Another, but a hidden highlight for tourists, is David Niven’s home, “La Fleur du Cap.” Originally, the mansion was named “Lo Scoglietto” (The Little Rock) and was built in 1880 by the son of an arms dealer. Niven and his second wife, Hjördis Genberg, Sweden’s first supermodel, were more comfortable in this house than his others. He boasted that he’d turn down movie roles just to spend his summers there.
I could see why. After lunch at the port, we strolled along the water’s edge and down the winding lanes in the blaring sun and heat to arrive there, what is now known as “Place David Niven.” Even though the house has had a host of illustrious occupants—the Duchess of Marlborough and Leopold III (King of the Belgians)—Niven’s name is what stuck. Charlie Chaplin also stayed there, but only for a week. The house is in perfect condition now, as it was refurbished recently at a cost of 10 million euros. It showed. (You can learn more about it here.)
When Ella Dyer asked if I would accompany her to a very formal party at a big fabulous villa in Villefranche-sur-Mer, I immediately said “Yes!” And then I asked, “How formal?” She sent me a photo of the formal brocade dress she was wearing and I panicked. “WTF am I going to wear?,” I asked her.
In Paris I packed for the beach and not much more than that. Year after year of schlepping too much clothing and accessories that ended up never getting worn, I opted out of bringing down to Nice anything such as formal wear. You can understand my thinking, right? Where was I going special…especially under the current Covid-19 situation?
But, I’d said yes, and now I had less than 24 hours to pull it all together. Then, I remembered how white silk pajamas became the perfect costume for Diner en Blanc and how after the event, I went back to sleeping in them! They were the hit of the annual pop-up dinner—no one had thought to come dressed so informally…formally. I called it the “Michelle Obama Look” since she wore striped silk orange and white pajamas in Paris during her book tour a couple years ago…very chic indeed.
I could do the same, but this time around with black silk pajamas instead (needed to buy), silver sandals and matching purse (needed to buy), big flashy jewelry (needed to buy), topped off with a black beret (already with me). The point was to spend as little as possible, have useful things that wouldn’t get cast aside never to be worn again, plus make a strong statement outside of the ordinary. Fortunately for me, the annual summer sales have been in full bloom and my apartment in Nice is surrounded by the best shopping the city has to offer. Even so, this became one of those projects you wish you hadn’t started but got yourself too deep into to let go of. Once I was on the mission, I was on the mission. Black silk pajamas, here I come!
In the course of a few hours, I scored silver sandals and handbag at half price at San Marina. I scoured all the lingerie shops in the Carré d’Or and along avenue Jean Médecin, in the Nicetoile Shopping Center, too, and ultimately scored black silk pajama pants and a black silk kimono at Galeries Lafayette at a big bargain. (You’re right. I should have gone there first.)
Next was jewelry. A boutique on the ground level that is part of my own building named Tendance 24, has the ugliest dresses on mannequins out front you’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of boutique you might say to yourself you’d never be caught dead in. But I knew it would be the perfect place to find big, oversized and flashy jewelry for little money to make a statement out of the pajamas…and it was. And I knew as I handed over my credit card that I’d likely never wear any of it again. Oh well. C’est la vie en France!
WINING AND DINING IN BELLET
With everything bought, I was ready for the big event, but that didn’t stop me from setting the day aside for an outing to explore the Niçois wine region of Bellet with Robert Levitt of Via Nissa. He has been bugging me for a while now, with tremendous enthusiasm, about the wines of Bellet and to take a day trip to the various “vignerons” (winemakers).
You’ve probably never heard of it. It’s tiny, located on terraces which overlook the left bank of the Var River between 200 and 400 meters, to the west of the city of Nice with only 52 hectares of vineyards. Robert took three of us girls up into the hills to our first stop—the Domaine de Vinceline, run by Vincent and Celine (get the name? Vinceline?). The two are living and working their land of vineyards (4000 square meters of Rolle, 1500 square meters of Grenache and 2500 square meters of Folle Noire in the A.O.P. Bellet) and 50 Cailletier olive trees to produce both wine and olive oil.
Living in a caravan with their two daughters next to their production facility, they prepared for us a beautiful luncheon of fresh grown-in-the-region salads and vegetables and “Petits Farcis” of zucchini, tomatoes and onions, served on a picnic table under a large parasol. If you’ve never had Petits Farcis, then plan a trip to Nice just for a taste! These are stuffed vegetables — generally made with vegetables from the Mediterranean basin—such as tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, cabbage, pumpkins, fennel, artichokes, potatoes, onions, etc., hollowed out and filled with a stuffing made up of minced meat, topped with breadcrumbs and herbs, then baked. I order them wherever I find them. These were the best I’d ever eaten.
Over lunch we tasted their organic white, their red wine (they don’t produce a rosé) and an orange liqueur. Delicious wines, delicious foods and a beautiful experience among the vineyards of Bellet—all this just minutes from central Nice, but so, so “France Profonde.” Just down the road we later stopped at Domaine de La Source for a tasting there, too.
The family was busy with a birthday party and friends, so we only stayed long enough for a taste, then went on our merry way to the next and very impressive Bellet winery: the Château de Crémat.
With seven hectares spread over the hills of Crémat, Saint-Sauveur and Saquier, all their wines come exclusively from organic grapes. They were busy setting up for a wedding, so we didn’t have a chance to enter, tour or taste, but Robert pointed out something very interesting. According to legend, Coco Chanel adopted her own iconic logo from the Château’s emblem that sits proudly over the main door. The story goes that Coco was a buddy of Irène Bretz who owned it in the 1920s and the two C’s linked and mirrored, fit Coco even better than Crémat and “borrowed” it, but with her permission.
POOL PARTY WITH A MILLION DOLLAR VIEW
On that designer note, and after a few glasses of Bellet wine, we headed down the hill to home in Nice where I put on my pajamas for the evening. For a top, I wore a black lacy bathing suit, just in case I’d end up in the pool—all I had to do was take off the silk pants and “voila!” I was ready for a dip.
The party didn’t turn out like we expected…but much better! Ella’s friends, a French couple she met while attending an opera in Nice many years ago, have a drop-dead stunning villa with a pool and a million dollar view of Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. (Funny that I ended up back in the same spot as I’d been just two days earlier.) A few of their friends were there for an “apéritif,” but were instructed to get to know one another quickly, drink up, soak up the view and hop in the cars to go to our real party destination…another amazing villa just a short drive up the road.
Little did we know what we were in for. I joked with the hostess that it was a “progressive dinner.” At Progressive Dinner House #2, there was a moderate party of friends and relatives of the owner, a woman who sings at the Nice Opera. The party was celebrating the birthday of her mother who was there, and if for some other reason, we never learned it. The house itself was on so many levels, it had a lift, but it didn’t look lived in…either that or their tastes were extremely minimalist. It had a pool on the lowest level and again, that million dollar view. At one point, as the sun set, you couldn’t distinguish the water from the horizon line as it blended in a rainbow of colors. It’s the view everyone on the Riviera wants and covets.
Was I dressed correctly? I wasn’t so sure. I definitely looked weird compared to rest of the women. Clearly I needn’t have gone to so much trouble or expense. Ella ended up wearing her “Marilyn Monroe” style white cotton party dress with white gloves, partly for costume and partly for safety from Covid-19. She and I were diametrically opposed, with her in white looking awfully feminine and me in black looking awfully masculine. The other women were classically dressed in their short cocktail dresses and stiletto heels adorned in diamonds and very real jewelry—not the bargain-basement Mardi-Gras-beads-look I was wearing. The beret must have really thrown them off, to the point that no one seemed to get that I was having fun with it all as a kind of joke rather than just looking like a big fish out of water. No one commented about any of it. I realized how American it must have been for me to have taken the situation so lightly and with such humor.
Oh well. C’est la vie. It was what it was and I was who I am. It was too late, so I just enjoyed the scene that was not ordinary at all. The hostess, the opera singer, had a pianist accompaniment as she graced us with several amazing arias, reaching notes I was sure would break a few glasses. Her magnificent voice filled the room and the landscape. Next door was a woman watering her gigantic cacti and other shrubs and plants that lined the neighbor’s yard and pool, competing with her voice. I wanted desperately to lean over the balcony and “shush” her, but that would have been even more rude. Couldn’t she hear that a diva was singing her heart out just next door and that she was disturbing the opera?
It wasn’t enough that Madame l’Hôtesse sang. She then brought up one of her protégées, a young girl of about 10 or 11 years old, who graced us with Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose, so beautifully she arrested us all in awe with her young talent. No one took a breath throughout both performances. It was magical, this operatic spectacle overlooking the million dollar view, among a world we don’t get to be a part of often, special enough to have warranted the shopping spree. I had to pinch myself.
Dinner wasn’t served until 10 p.m. We got to speak with many of the guests, who were from everywhere around the world and had mixed heritages. Few were purely French, or purely anything, and they all spoke a variety of languages. This is when an American can feel so adolescent on the world scene—with our command of one language, even if it’s the most important language, and our experience and knowledge of just what lies between the west coast and the east coast, even if of the most powerful nation in the world. We child-like Americans have nothing over these internationally cultured lot who seize the best the world has to offer.
We Ubered home at 1 a.m. I could have slept in what I was wearing, but didn’t — for the sake of proper decorum—only to awaken to a day of sunshine and an afternoon at the beach…but of course
A la prochaine,
Adrian Leeds Group
(with Ella Dyer in Villefranche-sur-Mer)
P.S. You may have noticed that the last few weeks of Nouvellettres® have arrived in your inbox in a most untimely and haphazard manner. We apologize for this and blame technology on such a glitch. One reason is our antiquated website that can no longer support our needs. We’ve been working on a new website for almost five years, having tried two different development teams before finding the one that is really making the new site sing. The new website will arrive soon, but for now, you may notice that our Nouvellettres® look a bit different than in the past and are coming to your inbox with ease. I’d also like to point out that until September, because I’m in Nice, you’ll only be receiving Parler Nice, not Parler Paris. This is your chance to get to know the Riviera. If you wish to be on both lists, and are not, let us know! Email [email protected]
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