Postcard from the Côte d’Azur

It looks the way it should. Blue skies, palm trees, beautiful hotels called Le Carlton, Le Martinez, Le Négresco

Don’t look at the seamy side. There’s more of it than you’d expect, but just ignore the car washes and nail bars and DIY stores. Look at the sea and the yachts and the sparkly lights.l

The evening we arrived, we stopped for a drink on the Croisette in Cannes. It’s off-season, so a lot places are closed for the winter, but we enjoyed a stroll along the beach promenade and watched the sun go down and the lights of cruise ships come on. (We spent the equivalent of a bottle of champers on two glasses of almost flat Deutz. I guess you pay for the view. Some things never change.)

We had a couple of days, so we went to Grasse, perfume capital of the world.

Well, Grasse is ugly, but the perfume industry seems to be thriving, the visits are for free, and the business of showing tourists through the aroma extraction processes right into the gift shop is well-oiled, interesting and educational. My boys learnt something new today, and I have a gorgeous new perfume from Fragonard called “Héliotrope Gingembre” with the most adorable packaging. Their marketing team is genius!

On our way to Grasse, we’d stopped for a bite to eat the the Café des Sports in Tourrettes-sur-Loup. The “loup” in its name is not a wolf, but in fact the river that flows deep in the gorges below the little town. I took my boys for a quick look-see and spotted a window box with cooking herbs and a sign that read “Help yourself “.

A friend of mine has the pleasure of living there, perched on a rocky spur above a breathtaking drop. Ever the explorer, I noticed there is a one-star Michelin restaurant down one crooked lane, but it was closed, so we had the plat du jour at a totally typical French bistrot: assorted platter of nems, samosas, and shrimp wonton with Cantonese rice! The place seems to be run by two Asian couples, which is kind of funny when you consider how remote and tiny the town is. There are pictures of the French foreign legion on the walls, and the waiters look every bit like ‘Allo ‘Allo extras.

We skipped the glass blowers of Biot, since I have been there before, and decided to go to the fortified village of Saint Paul de Vence instead. The town is practically one big art gallery and we had a lovely time looking at contemporary art while climbing through tiny cobbled streets and enjoying the panoramic view from the ramparts. Lunch at the Café de la Place was nothing to write home about, but the square is so very lovely and the atmosphere exceedingly French 😉 Three elderly gents started playing boules on the sand next to the terrace and it couldn’t have been more quaint.
Friday night we ordered pizza for the kids and went to a lovely restaurant in Nice’s old town center. Kind of rustic baroque boudoir with Provençal cuisine. Nice by night is bustling and cheerful and always worth at least a dry sherry.

On our last day, we took a trip by boat to one of the Islands off Cannes. L’Île Saint Honorat is the private property of an order of monks who have the good idea of making wine, honey, preserves, and selling them to tourists who visit the island for an absolute fortune. A fortune, I tell you! A bottle of white starts at 39€. The red was 95€, and I don’t even know if it was any good. The place is magnificent, though, well-kept and peaceful. We climbed the stairs of the square fort at one end of the island and went to visit the monks’ church, which is very plain. How surprised was I to find a sign at the entrance of the cloister, written in Irish! I was unable to find someone who could explain why it was put there, but as an Irishwoman in exile, any friends of Saint Patrick are friends of mine.

We had a picnic with our friends and watched as our children braved the chill and jumped off the rocks into the clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean. We took the last boat home at 5 and were tired from the sun and wind, although we barely did anything all day except lounge around on a beach towel, shading our eyes.

The following day, I had a long drive home. The Hubby’s flight for his business trip only left towards the end of the day. The men went off to watch Nantes get their canary yellow jerseys whooped by the local team in the fancy stadium in Nice. A 1-4 loss. Ouch!

Unfortunately for us, we experienced another local speciality during the week: our friends’ house was broken into and although it could have been much, much worse and nobody got injured, the Hubby was robbed of his computer and various devices, and I am minus a couple of items of jewelry. I had already been sitting in the car on our way to wherever when I realized that I had forgotten my wedding ring. I got out again, unlocked the house again, and got my ring and my mother’s necklace before locking up again. Some things are simply irreplaceable and they would have been gone, too. They went through EVERYTHING, opening kitchen cabinets and shifting mattresses. What a drag. And that’s how we met the local gendarmes, discovered that fingerprint powder is the stuff of the devil and that holding a large machine gun does not stop you from getting the giggles. But that’s another story.


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