I never expected to fall as deeply in love with the South of France as I did. This is going to be one of my favorite entries to write and reread.
Leaving Barcelona, we crossed back into France, stopping in Cannes in the afternoon. Truth be told, Cannes was pretty dull. There was the film festival building, and of course plenty of beaches and yachts, but not much else. It took only an hour more to get to Nice, where we had just enough time to spruce up before heading out to dinner on foot. By the time we were 100 feet away from our cute little hotel, I knew I loved Nice. The narrow streets were clean and lined with all manner of shops and cafés. Their main square was ringed with big pink-and-white buildings, paved in smooth cobblestones, and lit up with charming streetlamps. They also had a series of poles topped with these odd-but-cool multi-colored people-shaped lights.
In addition to being very pedestrian-friendly, Nice is also quite small, so it only took 10-15 minutes to walk to dinner. We selected Le Gustave 5, situated on la Promenade des Anglais, a street that runs right along the Mediterranean. It’s kind of like (if you’ve been to eastern Florida) the A1A of the French Riviera.
They kindly prepared me an off-menu linguine primavera, with tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, and bell pepper.
Dessert was a feather-light strawberry cream terrine.
I went to bed fairly early that night, so that I could get up the next morning and run. I rose at 7, walked down to the shore, and ran 10 miles along this picturesque coast, stretching for miles in either direction and cupping a gorgeous blue scoop of the Mediterranean sea.
It was amazing! Well, except for the moment at mile 6 when I tripped and skidded across some gravel. I’ve never fallen while running, but I guess if it had to happen, the south of France is the place to do it! My companions were pretty shocked when I walked into breakfast filthy and bloodied across my right arm and knee. It really wasn’t that bad though, and it was totally worth it anyway.
After cleaning up, Kim and I walked along the beaches, finally picked one, and while she lay in the sun (which burned me even underwater, ouch) I spent at least an hour and a half bobbing around and catching waves in the warm, salty sea.
It was so blissfully idyllic, I can’t even describe it. I could have stayed in that water and on that beach forever (provided I had some miraculously powerful sunscreen, that is). Kim and I both felt it was our favorite and most relaxing afternoon of the trip.
On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped at a snack stand that we’d smelled that morning as it was opening. We shared a fresh, fat pretzel and a melt-in-your-mouth chausson aux pommes (apple turnover).
That night, our group had dinner reservations at an out-of-the-way but very special place. We boarded the bus for a drive up le Grand Corniche, the highest road on the French Riviera that hugs the very tops of the cliffs along the shore. Perfect little red-roofed houses littered the hills…
…and the views of the winding coast left me speechless. That drive was the most beautiful 45 minutes of the whole 35 days. Hands. Down.
We dined at La Bergerie, a completely-off-the-beaten-path bed-and-breakfast villa nestled into the mountains. This place was so inexpressibly wonderful. I never would have found it on my own, and am so lucky to have had the opportunity to eat there. Luckier still is the fact that until the last 10-15 minutes, we were the only group in the whole place.
We were led out to the patio as they prepared our table, and greeted with pain de tomate (tomato bread; like foccaccia topped with zesty pizza sauce!) and a welcome kir royale (strawberry-infused). The porch overlooked the lavish landscape of lovely homes and exquisite shores below.
I can’t recall what my cohorts had as their appetizer, but I do remember that they were quite envious of my smooth vegetable soup. I loved this, especially with their crusty table bread.
My main course was a vegetable picnic of roasted red peppers, snow peas, carrots, a baked potato “fan” (at top) and a roasted potato tartlet (bottom left), plus rice. Numerous bottles of wine accompanied our dinner, and a shot of potent grappa followed it.
Kim and I ordered two different desserts—a slice of ice cream cake with fudge sauce and a bowl of fresh strawberries with rich vanilla bean ice cream—and then split them both.
After dinner, we did not go straight back to our hotel. No, sir. Instead, we detoured east into the tiny principality of Monaco to visit MONTE CARLO! I was excited for it, but I had no idea I’d love it that much. Wow! The ocean glittered around scores of yachts, buildings along the sea glowed like glitzy nightlights, and the whole thing just screamed “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” This picture sucks, but I hope you can at least get the idea.
We walked around a bit, trying to soak it all in, then visited the Grand Casino (the one in James Bond!). The inside was incredibly ornate (no cameras allowed, though!). Greg played some blackjack, and Kim and I “helped” him (i.e. stood next to him sipping wine and feeling glamorous) win 100 Euros. It was all so ritzy and luxe, we felt like royalty! Or movie stars! Or just plain millionaires! It was SO GREAT, I can’t gush enough!
I went to bed that night euphoric and in love with everything I’d seen and done in and around Nice. The next morning, I was dismayed to leave, yet so full of life from having been there. I can’t describe the feeling I had on the bus as we drove away from the crystalline water and enchanting hillside homes. Even as a tear fell from my eye, no thought ran through my head except “I am so happy to be here.” I just can’t explain. It was so right.
But lest you think this is a climax, know that 2/3 of the journey is yet to come! Next, we arrive in illustrious Italy and get artsy in Florence.