Sunday, May 8, 2016

Pictured at right: a quiet side street in Saint-Tropez.

A quiet street, anytime of year except during the winter months, is hard to find in this beautiful but very popular and select Côte d'Azur village.  I had only been to St.-Trop, as it is sometimes referred to, once before, and only for a few days, and I've wanted to return ever since.  There is no doubt that the village is too crowded in high season, and that the people gawking at the world's 1% on the yachts docked along the quai Suffren is a strange pastime (yet it's almost impossible not to take a few glances yourself).  But to dwell on the wealth here is to state the obvious and miss the point at the same time.

The quotation that opens In the Spirit of St. Tropez (Henry-Jean Servat, Assouline, 2003) is stated to be from a travel guide published in the 19th century: "The long-lost little port of St. Tropez, perched at the end of its bay, and separated from our lines of communication by a range of mountains, is doomed to inevitable ruination.  It is more or less certain that the village will be forgotten about." I was intrigued by this, so I looked in my files to see if I had any references, and I found an article by my friend Lorraine Alexander, who wrote for Gourmet for many years.  In 'Gourmet Holidays: The Saint-Tropez Peninsula,' she begins her piece with a similar-sounding quotation by a maritime historian named Charles Lenthéric from 1880.  More browsing on the Internet revealed a lengthier quote:  "Saint-Tropez is at present the sole survivor of the three ports which existed in Greek and Roman times.  Its decay is very real, and becomes more marked every day...Commerce and civilization, and all the developments of modern life, tend, however, more and more to concentrate themselves within a district served by railways, and hence the port of Saint-Tropez, out of the way at the further end of its gulf, and cut off by a chain of mountains from the great lines of communications, seems destined to irretrievable ruin."  Lenthéric would surely be surprised at what happened to this little village after Roger Vadim filmed 'And God Created Woman' there in the mid-1950s.  The movie's star, Brigitte Bardot, wrote in her Foreword to the Assouline book that St. Tropez before the film was peaceful and quiet.  Silkworms were raised there, vineyards thrived, sheep grazed, farmers raised poultry, and fishermen fished.  Bardot says the film "thrust us onto the international stage, taking us all aback, for neither St. Tropez nor I were ready for it."  (Somehow, I never saw the film until I came back from this trip -- it's easy to see how Bardot became a star but less obvious to me how the movie inspired the jet-set to descend as the film is in black-and-white, so there are no breathtaking coastal scenes in color like in 'To Catch a Thief,' for example; but I suppose even in black-and-white the appealing qualities of the village were not lost on viewers.)  St.-Tropez may no longer be a fishing village, but it still retains a few features -- not least a building code that prevents the construction of high-rise buildings -- that emphasize its former, more modest past.

Years before the film, specifically in 1887, writer Guy de Maupassant came to Saint-Tropez via his boat, the Bel-Ami (in those days, nearly everyone arrived by boat).  It was his writings about the village -- filled with the very same attributes validated by Bardot -- that inspired painter Paul Signac to visit.  Signac was arguably the first person who put Saint Tropez on the map, at least among his artist friends -- he arrived in 1892 and bought a house, named La Hune (a nautical word referring to the top mast), and invited Matisse, Derain, and Marquet to visit. He reportedly wrote in a letter that he found "all I need to work my whole life's happiness that I have just discovered."  A bit later, in 1925, the writer Colette visited with her third husband, Maurice Goudeket.  Colette was smitten and she bought a villa, La Treille Muscate (The Muscat Vine), on the route des Salins, where she lived until 1938.  Goudeket wrote that Colette's renown made Saint-Tropez uninhabitable for her: "A visit to Colette formed part of every holiday programme.  Even the morning bathe had henceforth its spectators, many of whom came by sea."  St. Tropez was one of the landing beaches in Operation Dragoon in  1944 (there are monuments in the Citadelle and around the area) and the harbor area was reduced to rubble.  Later, in the years after Bardot and company, Franҫoise Sagan wrote Bonjour Tristesse and her coterie from the literary St.-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood in Paris descended on Saint-Tropez.      

Signac and Colette especially might be stunned by how much the village they knew has changed; they might have agreed with Bardot, who announced years ago that "Saint-Tropez is finished."  But the truth is, Saint-Tropez isn't over and never was.  It still attracts a bevy of socialites and movie stars and tycoons, as well as ordinary visitors (like me) who appreciate the pretty stone buildings and cobblestone streets in the heart of the village that look the same as they did thirty years ago.  The footprint of the village hasn't changed: novelist and travel writer Herb Gold noted in an article for Travel + Leisure (which is included in my Provence, Côte d'Azur, and Monaco book) that "a visitor can learn it in a single day's strolling." 

How to get to Saint-Tropez is a topic that demands your full attention: there is no train station in Saint-Tropez; the closest station is in Saint Raphaël, 38 kilometers away.  From the station, you can take a Varlib bus.  If you drive, it's best to time it so that you'll be on the Route National 98 - the single lane road that is the only road in and out of Saint-Tropez -- early in the morning or late at night or you will be stuck in a traffic jam of epic proportion.  Other options are a private plane or a helicopter, but the very best way to arrive in Saint-Tropez is by boat.  I don't say this to sound privileged, or even to emphasize the historical founding of the village: the patron saint of Saint-Tropez is Torpès, who was a Roman official under Nero who converted to Christianity and would not publicly renounce his faith.  For this, he was beheaded, in Pisa, and his body was laid in a boat (with a cock and a dog) and shoved off from the coast of Italy and miraculously landed on the shore of what became known as Saint-Tropez.  An annual fête honoring this legend is held every year from May 16th to 18th and is known as the Bravade (bravado or defiance in Provenҫal).  My suggestion is based rather on the fact that a boat is the most hassle-free option, and that, like approaching Venice, it's the most beautiful way to arrive.  Some sailings are provided by Les Bateaux de Saint-Raphaël, Bateaux Verts Sainte-Maxime; Trans Cote d'Azur Nice; and Trans Cote d'Azur Cannes.  A taxi boat service is also provided by Taxi Boat Saint Tropez. And to rent a yacht for a day (or to buy one), Mercurio is a reputable name -- founded in 1963 by Antoine Mercurio, the company specializes in day charters and sales as well as brokerage and maintenance.  Its fleet of six charter boats accommodate from 10 to 20 people on board; sleep from 2 to 4 people; and range from $2,000 to $4,300. 
Another aspect of Saint-Tropez that visitors need to consider in advance is where to stay, and like how to get there, it's all about the geography.  Based on some queries I've received recently, I realized that at least some people think that the village of Saint-Tropez is located directly on the beach.  Look at a map and you'll see that Saint-Tropez is located almost at the end of the Golfe de Saint-Tropez (the town of Sainte-Maxime, which is on the beach, is at the other end of the Golfe), and it's also at the top of a peninsula, which juts out into the Mediterranean.  The famous beaches of the Plage de Pampelonne are all located on the eastern side of this peninsula, which is mostly rural and covered with vineyards that stretch almost to the sea.  These are also officially part of the commune of Ramatuelle -- the only beaches that are part of Saint-Tropez are the Plage de Graniers, the Plage des Canabiers, and the Plage des Salins, around the cape just before the Plage de Pampelonne).  Once you leave your lodging in the village of Saint-Tropez and head to one of the Pampelonne beaches, you should expect to be gone for most of the day - it's not like you can walk back in ten minutes if you've forgotten something.  This is why it's wise to really give accommodations quite a bit of thought.  I think a perfect visit would include staying both in the village and near one of the beaches, for the full experience. 

To clarify about the beaches: the Plage de Pampelonne is a gorgeous, four kilometer stretch of sand  that stretches from the Cap du Pinet to the Pointe de la Bonne Terrasse, and there are more than a dozen individually named beach clubs here, including Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, Pirata, Kon Tiki, Le Club 55, Key West, Nikki, Aqua, and La Plage des Jumeaux and Gigaro (these last two are actually family-friendly beaches).  I have only spent time at Club 55 and I loved it -- and I love the story I've read about its origins, which I assume is true: the father of the current owner, Patrice de Colmont, bought a plot of land and built a modest, wooden house without running water or electricity near the beach in 1953, when there was really nothing there.  On the few occasions when people wandered by, Bernard and Genevieve invited them to share a meal or a drink.  In 1955, when Vadim was filming a scene for 'And God Created Woman' on the beach nearby, he thought the Colmont family house was actually a restaurant because he saw a handful of people eating lunch there outside one day.  So Vadim asked if the husband and wife team would be willing to cook meals for the cast and crew for a few days. They agreed (though they had to take dishes to the baker's oven in the village to cook and they had to carry back gallons of drinking water from the fountain on the place des Lices), and a full fledged business -- appropriately named 55 -- was born.  Patrice and his sister Véronique now run the Club, which has an appealing vibe that is hard to achieve: casual, chic, laid back, and elegant at the same time, and in my experience, the staff treats everyone the same whether you are a somebody or not.  I also love the thatched straw paillotes (like a flat-topped palapa except made of straw and not palm fronds, providing welcome shade) though you must reserve for one of these.  But you can visit all the beaches here by taking the Sentier des Douaniers, a fantastic hike along the entire coast that begins at the mariner's cemetery below the Citadelle and ends at Gigaro -- see more below. 

Here are a few accommodations that I recommend:

*B. Lodge Hotel (23/25 rue de l'Aïoli / place Forbin).  Finding affordable lodgings in St.-Tropez is quite difficult, but B. Lodge is a relatively good value considering the stylish guestrooms, buffet breakfast included in the price, and great location: close enough to just about anything you'd want to do and quiet even late at night -- it's mere steps away from the Citadelle and its surrounding park.  I stayed in a larger-than-expected double room with dark wood floors and crisp white bed linens and a balcony facing the Citadelle and I loved it.  The breakfast offerings are more substantial than the usual Continental fare and may be taken indoors or outside on the front terrace.  The Barock Café (technically located at 21 rue de la Citadelle) is connected to the hotel so it's nice to know you don't have far to go after a nightcap.  The staff is quite friendly and helpful, and the hotel owners are also the proprietors of Key West Beach at the plage de Pampelonne and shuttle service to the beach may be easily arranged with the front desk staff. 

*B&B (12 rue Saint Jean).  This chambre d’hôtes de charme is one of the least expensive lodgings in town.  Current rates are 100-140 euros in the low season; 120-160 euros in mid-season; and 140-180 euros in high season.  I think it's an exceptional value, but as there are only two rooms -- the Clock Tower room and L'Orientale, which can accommodate three people -- you must reserve many months ahead.  I tried to make a reservation in February for a trip in early June and it was fully booked for the entire month, so don't delay!  The rooms are basic but cute (and note that breakfast is not included in the price, unusual for a B&B) and the location is right in the coeur de Saint Tropez.

*La Ferme Ladouceur (Quartier La Rouillère, Ramatuelle).  Ladouceur is mostly known as a farmhouse restaurant, open only for dinner; but there are seven guest rooms and like the B&B above they are a good value (about 122-135 euros, and breakfast is included).  Surrounded by vineyards that the Ladouceur family has cultivated since 1910, the bastide (the word for country house in Provenҫal) itself dates from the late 1800s.  The rooms are simple but with quality furnishings and charm.  A stay here is a quiet sojourn.
*Hotel Byblos (20 avenue Paul-Signac).  What set the Byblos apart when it opened in 1967, and what still does, is that it feels like a separate village. The architecture is what immediately defines this: all the parts of the hotel are contained in what looks like a village of individual, brightly colored houses, and there are outdoor seating areas and a swimming pool but it's all pat of the same complex.  Honestly, when you're standing in the middle of it, you could easily not know there is another, larger village outside of it.  The original vision was, in fact, for it to be an hameau (hamlet), and it has succeeded brilliantly and has never lost its cachet.  Byblos was created by Lebanese businessman Jean-Prosper Gay-Para, who believed the ancient Phoenician town of Byblos (a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lebanon) was a suitable contemporary tribute to Brigitte Bardot and other noteworthy personalities.  Shortly after the hotel opened Gay-Para sold it to French businessman Sylvain Floirat, and today his great grandson Antoine Chevanne manages the hotel and is the CEO of Groupe Floirat.  Rivea is the on-site Alain Ducasse restaurant and Les Caves du Roy is the legendary nightclub.  In 2009, Byblos received its 5th star; in 2012 it was honored with the French hotel distinction of Palace; and in May of 2017 the hotel will celebrate its 50th anniversary.       

Other noteworthy accommodations (listed alphabetically) include:  Benkiraï (on the chemin du Pinet), Châteaude la Messardière (on the route de Tahiti), Hôtel des Lices, Hôtel La Mistralée, Hôtel La Ponche, Hôtel Les Capucines, Hôtel Sezz, (on the route des Salins), Hôtel Sube, La Bastide d’Antoine (in Gassin), La Bastide de Saint Tropez (outside of the town center), La Ferme d’Augustin (in Ramatuelle), La Figuière (in Ramatuelle),  La Réserve (in Ramatuelle), La Villa Belrose (in Gassin), Le Yaca, Pan Deï Palais, Pastis Hotel, Résidence la Pinède (on plage de la Bouillabaisse),  and Villa Marie (in Ramatuelle).

And here is a handful of other addresses and sites I recommend:

*Atelier Rondini (16 rue Georges-Clemenceau).  The original Rondini sandal dates from 1927 and is a strappy, gladiator-style version with a leather piece between the big toe and second toe.  It's a family business, and all the sandals -- for men, women, and children -- are handmade in the back of the plain-looking shop.  Happily for me, a range of other styles are now available (I cannot bear anything between my toes), and also happily, the staff keeps your size and purchase information on file and maintains a brisk mail order business -- Rondini sandals, after all, are only available here. Closed Sunday and Monday.

*Le Brigantin II, for one-hour, guided tour excursions on the water.  I didn't take this promenade en mer but a friend did and she loved it, and Seth Sherwood referenced it in his '36 Hours: St.-Tropez' piece in The New York Times in 2011.  The Brigantin holds 76 passengers and commentary is in English and French.  The trip includes the beaches of Pampleonne, the villas of the rich and famous, and "all the gossip of St.-Tropez."  10 euros per person, half price for kids, and sailings are daily in the summer months.  The Brigantin is also available for private charters.

*Cimetière Marin, at the water's edge below the Citadelle.  If you walk on the rue Cavaillon from the  La Ponche quartier the water will be on your left and you'll have a nice walk to the cemetery.  Not that this is as legendary as the Montparnasse or Père-Lachaise cemeteries in Paris, but Roger Vadim, the parents of Brigitte Bardot, and the painters André Dunoyer de Segonzac and Henri Manguin (whose works are in the Annonciade museum) are buried here.     

*K. Jacques (25 rue du General-Allard).  Founded in 1933, K. Jacques also specializes in sandals, including a Rondini-like, gladiator style version.  But K. Jacques styles are more numerous, in flat and wedge versions and in a wider range of colors and materials.  They're also quite a bit more expensive and are sold in boutiques and department stores around the world.

*Kiwi Saint-Tropez (34 rue du Général-Allard).  The Kiwi brand was founded in St.-Tropez in 1985 and offers colorful bathing suits, swim trunks, tote bags, beach tunics, towels, and casual warm weather apparel for men, women, and kids.  Some of the men's swim trunks and tote and cosmetic bags feature scenes of Saint-Tropez, kitschy but in a good way.       

*Le Café (place des Lices).  There's really nothing distinctive about this café; its name is as ordinary as it is. But that's not to say it isn't a very pleasant place to sit for a spell, over something cool or hot to drink, or over a meal that will be prepared with care.  There is usually a game of pétanque (the
Provenҫal word for boules) going on nearby and the terrasse is a great perch for people-watching.

*Le Dit Vin (7 rue de la Citadelle).  I believe the name of this small tapas bar/restaurant translates as Wine Says.  I didn't eat here, but my friend Denise and I stopped in for a drink at the crowded bar at about 1:00 a.m. because it was clear something fun was going on.  Shortly after we were seated, we learned from the charismatic bartender that just about everyone there worked in the local hospitality business.  Not a word of English could be heard, and a little while later everyone broke out into song - a woman next to me said it was 'La java de Broadway' by Michel Sardou.  It was big fun, and we were sorry we'd made a plan to get up early for a hike around the Citadelle, but I will positively be back.
*L'Espadrille Tropezienne (15 rue des Commerҫants).  Nothing but espadrilles are for sale in this shop, in a wide range of colors and styles.  I bought a pair along with some bijoux de chaussures, bejeweled clips that you fasten on to the top of the shoe, so you can wear the espadrilles with or without them.  The staff will help you select the right size; there is a right way to put these espadrilles on -- toes first, then pull up the back around your heels -- and the fit is meant to be quite snug.  They are also to be stored in their burlap sac with the backs turned inward.

*Les Senteurs Tropéziennes (12 rue de la Ponche). This small shop smells lovely because it offers a range of room sprays, soaps, candles, and scents, all with a whiff of Saint Tropez -- the room sprays, for example, have names like A Spring Weekend in Saint Tropez, A Christmas in Saint Tropez, A Meeting at place des Lices, and A Summer Scent at the Citadelle, etc.  Any of these make a great gift or a souvenir.  I'm especially fond of the scented stones, which you can put in a drawer or linen closet or your suitcase.  Also found here is the Bracelet Tropezien -- the one I bought for my daughter features a red cord with a sterling silver cut-out shape of the St. Tropez peninsula.

*Maison des Papillons (9 rue Étienne-Berny).  I have a soft spot in my heart for butterflies (papillons) because when my daughter was first learning to talk, I taught her the word papillon without ever mentioning the word butterfly, and that's the word she used whenever she saw one.  I also think butterflies are beautiful winged creatures, but I'm not sure I would have been interested in going to a museum devoted to them, and in fact butterflies are only part of what's interesting about this Maison.  About 25,000 species of butterflies have been collected here, in the family home of photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue and his wife, Madeleine Messager, a St.-Tropez local.  Their son, Dany, is the butterfly collector, and this classic Tropezian home with a pretty courtyard dating from the 19th century is now owned by the village.  I've read that Dany, who is quite elderly, will stop by the Maison and talk about his collection in great detail with visitors if he is in town.  I don't know if this is true, but it might be worth inquiring about with the tourist office staff.  Visiting the museum is a rare opportunity to see an old home in the village, and if you're not sure you recognize the name Lartigue, you'll surely recognize some of his photographs -- a number taken on the Côte d'Azur -- which are also displayed in the house.  Visiting hours are limited to April to September, Monday through Saturday, from 2:30 to 6:00 p.m.    

*Marinette (30, rue Georges Clemenceau; also at no. 4 and no. 21).  Marinette is a classy and stylish family of stores that specialize in tabletop items, linens, and household décor.  At Marinette Beach I found a great beach towel -- white with a few turquoise stripes and a checkerboard pattern along the fringed edge -- that has a secret zippered pouch for valuables - brilliant!.    

*Musée L'Annonciade (place Grammont).  The L'Annonciade is a superb small museum with a collection of works by Paul Signac, Matisse, Derain, Albert Marquet, Seurat, Braque, Kees Van Dongen, Dufy, Bonnard, Vuillard, Francis Picabia, and Aristide Maillol, among others.  The museum faces the port and the building was once the Chapel of Our Lady of the Annunication.  It began modestly as the Muséon Tropelen in 1922, founded by local painters Henri Person and André Turin.  In August 1939 the museum was closed for the duration of the Second World War and all the works were evacuated and hidden. Finally, in 1955, the museum reopened under the name of L'Annonciade with over 50 artworks donated by Georges Grammont, a businessman and collector of modern art, who funded the architectural renovation.  Many of the works here are a tribute to Saint Tropez; among my favorites are Signac's 'L'orage,' 'Vue de Saint-Tropez, coucher de soleil au bois de pins,' and 'Saint-Tropez, les pins parasols aux Canoubiers'; 'Place des Lices' by Charles Camoin; 'Saint-Tropez, le port' by Marguet; and 'Saint-Tropez vu de la Citadelle' by André Dunoyer de Segonzac.

*Nikki D'Oggi Atelier (41 rue Georges-Clemenceau).  This small boutique offers an appealing collection of women's clothing, jewelry, and accessories, and the service is very friendly. 

*Outdoor market, place des Lices.  Sadly, I have not been in St.-Tropez on either a Tuesday or a Saturday, the days that are market day.  But since I am a big fan of outdoor markets in France I'm recommending that you don't miss this one if you are here on one of the designated days. 

*Rosé wine, served everywhere.  I didn't record every label I enjoyed, but a few are Domaine Les Bouis, Château Barbeyrolles, Domaine de la Madrague, Domanine de la Bastide Blanche, and La Ferme des Lices. 

*Café-Patisserie Sénéquier (quai Jean-Jaurès).  With its distinctive fire-engine red awning, folding chairs and triangular-shaped tables, Sénéquier, located just across from where the yachts are docked, is the most famous cafe/restaurant in St.-Tropez.  It dates back to 1887, when it was opened as a bakery by Marie and Martin Sénéquier -- you can get to the bakery, which is technically located at 4 place aux Herbes and is famous for its really yummy soft nougat, directly from the café, which opened in 1930.  Sénéquier was badly damaged during the 1944 bombing of the port area but was renovated and back in business by 1948 (all the buildings along the port were rebuilt after the Second World War).  When my husband and I decided to have a drink at Sénéquier we strolled right in on the terrace; I later learned that only tourists do this and the locals know that the only way to enter Sénéquier is by a little pathway behind the terrace.  Oy.  The scene here may be a bit trop (too much), but there's no denying that a table on the terrace is the absolute best place to see and be seen, if that's your thing.    

*Sentier des Douaniers (mentioned above) is one of the best hikes I've ever taken in my life.  I didn't walk it to the very end -- I stopped at Cap Camarat -- but it is beautiful and wonderful and good exercise and is positively my favorite thing to do here. It's also the only way to see the peninsula's coastline without a boat or a car, and it doesn't cost anything.  The footpath was originally created by a statesman under Napoleon, Joseph Fouché, for the purpose of looking out for smugglers.  The yellow-marked path begins at the round Tour du Portalet where the old port ends, below the Citadelle and above the Cimetière Marin.  There is a restaurant at the Plage des Graniers if you want to stop for some sustenance early on.  There is another restaurant, Les Salins, at the Plage des Salins -- you'll see the blue umbrellas from a distance -- and it specializes in pizza and Neapolitan cuisine.    Plan the walk as the major event of your day as it is an hours-long pursuit, from about three to six hours depending on how far you want to go.  And if you're too tired to make it all the way back, just take a taxi from one of the beach clubs.

*A tarte Tropézienne, available at many cafes and restaurants on the St.-Tropez peninsula but best at either Micka (36 rue Georges-Clemenceau) or Sénéquier (quai Jean-Jaurès).  This pastry doesn't look like much: two round slices of brioche-like bread with a scented pastry cream in the middle (vanilla or orange-flower water are most traditional).  But like many other very simple treats, it's delicious.  The story behind it is a source of controversy: the original tart was created in 1955 by a baker named Alexandre Micka, who came to St.-Tropez as a member of the Polish military during the war.  But somehow the recipe came to be legally owned by someone named Albert Dufrêne, who owns a chain of bakeries called La Tarte Tropézienne (there is one in St.-Tropez on the place des Lices).  Like quality cannoli, a tarte Tropézienne must be eaten very fresh, and if you can get one shortly after the filling has been sandwiched between the layers it is superb.  I have tried a few versions in New York and they were all mediocre, so if you, too, have wondered what all the fuss is about, do try one on location, so to speak! 

Lastly, don't forget about the nearby hilltop villages of Ramatuelle and Gassin, both of which were built for the local populations to escape from pirates who cruised the Mediterranean coast (note that ideally it's best to have a car to make these visits).  Ramatuelle's name may derive from Rahmatu'llah, Arabic for "God's gift" or "divine providence," a reference to when the village was occupied by Saracens (the entire peninsula was controlled by the Saracens between 884 and 979); one of two original Saracen doors is still a part of the fortified wall.  The village is charming, and the views over the rooftops and of the Pampelonne beach beyond are gorgeous, and 2016 is the 31st year of Ramatuelle's summer jazz festival.  Gassin, only five miles from St.-Tropez, is a designated Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, and you have to park your car at a point below the village and walk up to it. The views are equally as lovely as from Ramatuelle, but one of Gassin's unique features is its narrow, stone streets -- one, l'Androuno, is reported to be the narrowest street in the world.  Gassin's annual festival is the Feast of Saint-Laurent (Gassin's patron saint), celebrated on the 10th of August.  In both villages, what's immediately noticeable is the quiet pace of life, which is why they are such a contrast to Saint-Tropez itself. 
Colette wrote with disdain about what Saint-Tropez was becoming in her book Prisons et Paradis.  But she also added that "I know the other St.-Tropez, which still exists -- and will always exist for  those who wake up at dawn."  My friend Amy and I didn't wake up exactly at dawn, but we left the lobby of the Hotel B. Lodge at 7:00 a.m. and went for a walk along the pathway around the Citadelle.  At that hour, we saw only a few other people, and the views all around were really lovely and we felt we knew a little of what Colette meant.  We were also looking for peacocks -- the day before we met a really friendly and helpful staff member at Nikki D'Oggi (see above), who is British but moved to St.-Tropez many years ago, told us that she walks everyday around the Citadelle and she is convinced one of the peacocks actually knows who she is.  She said there used to be quite a number of peacocks but that now there seemed to be only two, and she was concerned (so were we).  We were disappointed that we didn't encounter either of the two plumed birds and we circled back to the B. Lodge for breakfast on the terrace.  As we were sitting there enjoying our coffee, Amy suddenly noticed that a peacock was headed our way, walking down from the Citadelle straight to the hotel.  We couldn't believe it, and the peacock strutted around like he or she did this everyday, turning onto the rue Paul Signac, jumping up on a wall, and disappearing from our view.  What a wonderful parting memory, reaffirming for me that, as Colette noted, there truly is a natural, serene, and beautiful part of St.-Tropez that still exists. 

To read:
Artists and Their Museums on the Riviera by Barbara Freed (Abrams, 1998)
Bella Vista by Colette
Bonjour Tristesse by Franҫoise Sagan (Dutton, 1955)
Côte d'Azur: Inventing the French Riviera by Mary Blume (Thames & Hudson, 1992)
The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Ted Jones (I. B. Tauris, 2004)
The Garden of Eden, Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, 1986)
In the Spirit of St. Tropez by Henry-Jean Servat, foreword by Brigitte Bardot (Assouline, 2003)
Making Paradise: Art, Modernity, and the Myth of the French Riviera by Kenneth Silver (MIT Press, 2001) -- a fabulous photo by Jacques Henri Lartigue graces the cover of this wonderful book!
The South of France: An Anthology by Laura Raison (Cadogan, 1985)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

'En nom de quoi?'
(In the name of what?)
Since the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper-Kacher store attacks in Paris, I have taken a stance of waiting quite a while before writing any posts because I need the time to process these horrific events and I want to read what others who are far more knowledgeable than me have to say about them.  The problem with this stance is that I have waited too long, as the attacks just keep coming, and I have missed the opportunity to acknowledge them.  But I do feel that as a travel writer I have a duty to say something, no matter when, and since it seems certain there will be more attacks, my posts will remain relevant. 
After I've read just about everything I can find, I like to identify the articles and opinions I feel are the best summations.  Here are a few that stood out over the past months:
*The best handwritten sign I saw in a photograph taken in Paris in November featured the words at the top of this post.  
*John Cassidy, who writes a great column for The New Yorker that you can subscribe to at no charge, recommended this article (also from The New Yorker) entitled 'Journey to Jihad' by Ben Taub.

*'How to Beat Islamic State' by Maajid Nawaz (The Wall Street Journal, 11 December, 2015) is a really interesting piece.  Nawaz is the founding chairman of a counterextremism organization in London called Quilliam, and the author of Radical: My Journey Out of Islamic Extremism (Lyons Press, 2013).  After it appeared, there was some online chatter that somewhat discredited Nawaz, but I feel at its core the piece is spot on. 

*'Faith and Its Consequences' by Nicola Clark (The New York Times, 21 February, 2016) explores the current state of a uniquely French tradition called laïcité (pronounced lie-EE-see-tay), the legal separation of religious and civic life that dates from the French Revolution.

*Also from The New York Times, the 'Friday File' for 19 November, 2015 by Mary Jo Murphy, which was devoted to an article that appeared on the front page of the paper on Christmas Day, 1914.  'Paris's Gaiety Gone: Even Restaurants Not Allowed to Keep Open Longer Than Usual' ended with a reference to a patriotic revue showing at the Bataclan.  This reminded me, again, that the first time I heard of the famous Paris club was in an art history class, and the name of it was written as Bat-a-clan.  I remembered the club as being part of a painting's title, perhaps by Toulouse-Lautrec or Degas or Seurat, but I can find no mention of it -- yet -- in any of the books on my shelves.  Emphasis on the word 'yet.' 

I wrote the paragraph below after September 11th and included it in several of my books as well as in my post after Charlie Hebdo.  Though it isn't new, it seems worth repeating again:

If terrorist attacks are always within the realm of possibility, then so are the mundane activities of our daily existence, such as walking out the front door and picking up the morning newspaper, standing on a ladder and cleaning the leaves out of the gutter, or carrying clothes a few blocks away to the dry cleaner – each of which carries the risk of falling down and hitting our head on the sidewalk or the stone steps or the fire hydrant, not to mention drunk driving accidents, street crimes, hate crimes, heart attacks, rape, or murder.  If we never leave our homes, we are effectively living in fear; if we travel with fear, we are victims of that fear, real or imagined, even if not a single incident occurs while we’re away. 

Travel on, dear readers. 


Friday, September 18, 2015

The weather has been SO BEAUTIFUL of late that I feel I must take a quick minute to note that there are still six days of Summer left!  And this seems like a good moment to highlight a company that (unintentionally) celebrates Summer all year round, Les Toiles du Soleil.  Les Toiles was founded more than 150 years ago in Saint Laurent de Cerdans, a small town in the far south of Mediterranean France near the Spanish border.  This part of France is now known as the Languedoc-Roussillon, but it is sometimes referred to as "Northern Catalonia" as the Treaty of the Pyrenees, signed in 1659, granted France this part of Catalan territory on its side of the mountain range.  Catalan is still spoken and understood here, and the city of Perpignan is the largest Catalan city after Barcelona. 

The photos above were taken a few years ago in one of only two boutiques in the U.S., in New York City at 261 West 19th Street / (212) 229.4730 (the other store is in East Hampton at 78 Park Place / (631) 907.2872).  

I first learned of Les Toiles in an issue of Martha Stewart Living some years ago, and since that time I stop in to the store a few times a year (Les Toiles also has an active online business).  In addition to the bright and sunny bolts of 'Linge Catalan' available there are pillows, espadrilles, aprons, iPad covers, table linens, makeup bags, Ottomans, notebooks (I have a ton of these), and fantastic tote bags in two sizes.  These bags are unique not only because of the sturdy fabrics and color combinations but because there is a thin piece of wood at the bottom of each bag which is brilliant - the bags hold their shape and items fit better inside because the bottom is flat.

The bags also have great Wanderlust names, like Rue du Bac Gris, Acapulco, Plein Soleil, Ceret Cerise, etc.  I bought one because it was named Collioure Rouge, Collioure being one of my most favorite places on the planet (in case you don't know it, Collioure is a pretty coastal village in Languedoc-Roussillon known for its anchovies (Maison Roque has been dealing in anchovies since 1870) and for the artists who spent time here (notably Matisse, Andre Derain, and Raoul Dufy).  So I was particularly happy to see that in the recent 25th anniversary edition of one of favorite magazines, Maisons Coté Sud, the noted milestone for the year 2000 was this very same Collioure Rouge fabric from Les Toiles du Soleil.  I've been toting around my bag all summer long and I will continue carrying it through Wednesday.....

Enjoy these final days of Summer!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Finalement, I am returning to the Cote d'Azur.  It seems so beside the point to apologize for such a delay so I won't.  We're all too busy, and for me there are simply entire stretches of days and weeks when I cannot turn to this blog.  'Nuff said!

The photo to the right was taken just outside the entrance to the village of St. Paul-de-Vence, and the sculpture, 'Venus,' is a work by Theo Tobiasse and was a gift to the village by the artist.  Tobiasse was born in Israel to Lithuanian parents, and in the 1930s they moved to Paris, where they hid in a tiny apartment from 1942 to 1944, never going outside until Liberation.  In 1976, Tobiasse moved to Saint Paul-de-Vence where he created a large body of work in drawings, pastels, paintings, pottery, stained glass, and sculpture (click on those mediums for access to the very good website devoted to the artist; on this site, I learned that he used to write personal messages in Yiddish that he glued onto his canvases and then painted over them, so that one couldn't read the messages without destroying the paintings).   He also began splitting his time between Saint Paul and New York before his passing in 2012.  

I took the photo of 'Venus' not only because I like it -- to me it seems to represent an exuberance about life and about the village of Saint Paul and the south of France in general -- but also because it reminded me of a similar sculpture I saw (and took a picture of) years ago in Venice.  But unlike the one in Venice, which was only on display temporarily, this one is, happily, a permanent fixture. 

Saint Paul-de-Vence is not necessarily any more charming or beautiful than any number of villages on the Côte d'Azur or in Provence, but it has three attributes that separate it from others: Marc Chagall's tombstone (pictured below, even though the inscription can't be read); the Fondation Maeght; and the inn/restaurant La Colombe d'Or.

During my visit last spring, I was seeking out Chagall's tomb because I had not seen it before, nor had I visited the cemetery, which is on the plateau du Puy, the highest point of the village and which was the original core of the village between the year 1,000 and the beginning of the 12th century.  Aimé and Marguerite Maeght are also buried here, next to their son Bernard, who died at eleven years old from leukemia.  Even if these notables weren't buried here, the cemetery is worth the climb as it's in a lovely spot with good views.

It had been some years since I last visited la Fondation Maeght, and it remains one of my most favorite places on earth and is one of the most exceptional foundations in the world.  Dedicated to modern and contemporary art, it was founded in 1964 by Marguerite (Devaye) and Aimé Maeght -- the name is pronounced Mahg, and the family is from Hazebrouck, near Lille, in northern France.  The couple married in 1928, and by 1936 Aimé was running his own gallery in Cannes where he sold paintings, decorative items, furniture, etc.  Throughout the war years, Bonnard and Matisse, who lived nearby, gave Maeght paintings to sell, and the Maeghts helped the two artists with supplies of food (Aimé, who had a background in printing and lithography, also prepared fake papers for members of the Resistance.  He caught the attention of the Gestapo, but thanks to a tip to Marguerite from the French police he was saved).  "Friendships and alliances evolved," notes Jan Birksted in Modernism and the Mediterranean: The Maeght Foundation (Ashgate, 2004), and after World War II it was Bonnard who suggested the Maeghts should open a gallery in Paris.  Matisse promised some of his most recent works, and Miró and Georges Braque joined the gallery.  In 1948 Louis-Gabriel Clayeux was named director of the Maeght Gallery, and he brought with him some new artists, namely Leger, Calder, Giacometti, Raoul Ubac, and Jean René Bazaine.       
The Maeghts had bought a property in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1950, and in 1953, when Bernard died, Aimé was left "without a taste for anything.  For the first time in my life, I began to let myself slide.  I must say, the painters were once again those who suggested what course I should take.  Georges Braque urged me to an undertaking that would help me overcome my grief, a place devoted to modern art...And Fernand Leger said to me, "If you do it, I'll bring my daubings.  I'll even paint the rocks."  (This is quoted from an article in London's Financial Times by Jackie Wullschlager, the paper's chief visual arts critic and the author of Chagall: A Biography, Knopf, 2008.)  The Maeghts visited the Barnes Foundation, Phillips Collection, and the Guggenheim in the States for inspiration, and they also visited Miró's studio on the island of Mallorca that was designed for him by Catalan architect Josep Lluis Sert.  Aimé really admired the studio, and he asked Sert to design the foundation's buildings, on the hilltop location above St.-Paul-de-Vence, a place where art and nature so perfectly blend together.  It was utter serendipity that a ruined chapel, dedicated to Saint Bernard, was discovered in the woods surrounding the site.  The chapel was restored, and Ubac and Braque designed the stained-glass windows.

It would be hard to believe, if you didn't already know, that the Maeghts, "shell-shocked with misery" (again to quote Jackie Wullschlager) could create such a beautiful and peaceful place.  There are pine trees all around and a view of the Mediterranean looking out past Miró's 'Pitchfork' on the edge of his Labyrinth.  The inauguration of the Fondation itself, presided over by André Malraux, took place on 28 July, 1964, and among the guests were Ella Fitzgerald and Yves Montand, who both performed. (And I love the story later, in the summer of 1966, when Duke Ellington met Miró -- jazz impressario Norman Granz was producing a music festival at nearby Juan-les-Pins and he had the idea of arranging for Ellington and his trio to play in the garden at Fondation Maeght, where Miró just happened to be working!  A Google search turns up a number of interesting references to Ellington's 'Blues for Joan Miró'.)

In 2014 the Fondation celebrated its 50th anniversary, with special exhibits on site as well as at locations around France.  It seems fitting that one of the exhibits was devoted to the art and architecture of Sert, and I caught it on its final day.  Interestingly, I didn't realize that Sert had worked on two house-studios for both Braque and Chagall but neither was completed.  Happily however, Sert's plans for the Miró Foundation in Barcelona, the School of Fine Arts in Besancon, and the house-studio for artist Zao Wou-Ki on Ibiza were all realized.

Opening on the 27th of June at the Maeght is 'On the Way,' devoted to the works of Gérard Garouste. According to the Maeght website, a quote from Rabbi Nachman of Bratsla -- "Never ask directions from someone who knows the way, you risk not getting lost" -- sums up everything about Garouste's process, as he chooses figuration and the study of myths just as he uses the adventures of Don Quijote or of Tintin to better explore human identity today.

The Fondation Maeght is open every day of the year, without exception, from 10 to 6 October to June and from 10 to 7 July to September.  In Paris, the Galerie Maeght, 42 rue du Bac, is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 to 7 and Monday 10 to 6.  There is a great selection of beautiful prints, cards, books, etc., and a print I bought and had framed is by Braque (pictured below) with the words, "Avec l'age, l'art et la vie ne fout qu'un," which roughly translates to with age, art and life become one.   All the Maeght publications (more than 12,000) and lithographs are printed at ARTE studios, south of Paris, which Adrien Maeght (Aimé and Marguerite's son) opened in 1964.  Adrien's children -- Isabelle, Florence, Jules, and Franҫoise -- are (mostly) still involved in the family business (Franҫoise reportedly resigned from the board of directors over differing opinions on managing the foundation). In November 2014, Jules Maeght opened the Jules Maeght Gallery in San Francsico, 149 Gough Street.

Enjoying a meal or drinks -- or better, a stay -- at La Colombe d'Or is positively the thing to do before or after a visit to La Fondation Maeght.  Or even if you (inexplicably) have no interest in going to the Maeght, stopping in at La Colombe d'Or to have a look around is not to be missed, as this inn is far more than a place to stay or a place to eat: it's more of a museum, of both 20th century art and the history of a Provenҫal village.

The very brief history of this truly noteworthy place is that Paul Roux, a Provenҫal farmer, opened the restaurant and small inn in 1920, after returning from World War I.  His hostelry appealed to artists in the area -- including Léger, Braque, Picasso, Miró, Chagall, and Alexander Calder -- and he began exchanging room and board for artworks.  Paul's son, Francis, began to oversee the running of the hotel with his wife, Yvonne, in 1953, and Paul's grandson, Franҫois, took over in 2000 with his wife, Danièle.  (For a very good history, I refer you to 'The Artful Lodgers' by James McAuley, The New York Times Magazine, 10 May, 2015)

'Remarkable' is just one word that comes to mind when you walk through the public rooms of the inn and take note of what's hanging on the walls.  There are no plaques or signs of any kind identifying the works, so in this regard the place feels much more like a private home than a museum, which is of course what makes it unique (it reminds me most of the Hotel Restaurant Les Templiers in Collioure).  While I do wish there was some kind of published brochure, I suppose that would be beside the point, and anyway there is the spectacular La Colombe d'Or, the book that launched a publishing house -- Assouline, in 1993.   As James McAuley explains in his piece for the Times, Martine and Prosper Assouline spent a long time trying to convince Franҫois Roux to agree to the book's publication, and it was at La Colombe where Martine once discovered her son, Alexandre, who is now fully grown, serving a bottle of Champagne.  The bartender had stepped away, and as the job needed to be done, Alexandre filled in.  Martine and Prosper made Alexandre return his generous tip but they all now have this wonderful memory.  

For my visit last year, I tried to make a reservation to stay for a night, but the auberge was fully booked (there are fewer than 30 rooms) so I had to make do with a lunch reservation.  It was the second time I'd eaten there, but this time I requested a table in front of the hotel's namesake Léger mural, and when my friends Amy and Denise and I arrived, our waiter made a point of noting that our table was, indeed, facing the mural.

The restaurant's menu is fairly extensive, but I recommend choosing the classic Provenҫal dishes -- these are what the kitchen turns out best.  The food is not as memorable as the setting, and diners who are looking for more of a culinary high will be far more satisfied at Le Tilleul or at Les Bacchanales in nearby Vence, under the direction of Michelin-starred chef Christophe Dufau.

The wait staff at La Colombe are jollier, however, and it is them who I have chosen to share photos of here, rather than the same photos that everyone else takes.  They really made our meal, and deserve to be acknowledged!  

 To again quote from James McAuley, the Fondation Maeght "would not likely exist in its current form without its smaller, older sister," and La Colombe d'Or "remains the classic maison paysanne of French folklore, the mountain hut, the mythic escape -- in this case, to the looking glass between life and art, as if the two were never distinct."  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

 Statue of Alfred Dreyfus holding his broken sword in the entry courtyard of the 
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme, 71 rue du Temple, 3rd arrondissement, Paris

It’s true that I’ve been away from my blog for quite some time because I’ve been working on a special issue of Dream of Italy devoted to Lago di Como and Expo Milano; but the other reason is that I have been thinking about the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hypercacher store in Paris (which just reopened two days ago) and I have wanted to write something but didn’t know exactly what.  So I continued to think, and at one point I thought that perhaps, over two months after the horrific attack, I didn’t need to post any thoughts.  But then I concluded that it didn’t feel right at all to say nothing, and the passage of time is not a reason to ignore it.  As a writer I feel compelled to acknowledge the attacks, but I also feel compelled as a traveler to say something. 

I can’t express my sorrow for all the victims and their families better or more deeply than others who wrote and posted in the days and weeks immediately following the tragedy, nor do I have some moving remarks expressing my support for the staff of Charlie Hebdo (and by the way, since it seems at least some people do not know, Hebdo is short for the word hebdomadaire, meaning weekly).  But what I can do is remind travelers about some facts of terrorism, and share some thoughts worth pondering by writers far wiser and more eloquent than me.  

I referenced an enlightening article in Condé Nast Traveler, “Terrorism: Weighing the True Risks” (July 1996) in my book on Venice, the Veneto, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.  For this piece, reporters prepared a ‘Targets of Terror’ timeline from 1972 through April 1996.  Some of the attacks featured on the timeline included the following: Palestinian terrorists kidnap and murder eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games (September 5, 1972); two IRA bombs explode in London’s Hyde Park and Regent’s Park (July 20, 1982); Palestinian gunmen hijack the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean (October 7, 1985); explosion at the World Trade Center in New York (February 26, 1993); Palestinian terrorists bomb La Belle nightclub in West Berlin (April 5, 1986); Arab terrorists throw a bomb from a passing car into a crowd at the Paris department store Tati (September 17, 1986); Shining Path guerrillas detonate a car bomb in front of a Lima, Peru hotel (May 24, 1995); and Algerian Armed Islamic Group bombs the St.-Michel Metro station in Paris (July 25, 1995).  As is clear from these highlighted examples, terrorist attacks happen not only on airplanes but on cruise ships, in department stores, in parks, in nightclubs, and on public transportation – in short, anywhere, to anyone, for reasons as random as wearing purple socks (yet another attack was one on April 18, 1996, when Islamic Group terrorists killed eighteen and wounded another fifteen Greek tourists in Cairo, mistaking them for Israelis).   If terrorist attacks are always within the realm of possibility, then so are the mundane activities of our daily existence, such as walking out the front door and picking up the morning newspaper, standing on a ladder and cleaning the leaves out of the gutter, or carrying clothes a few blocks away to the dry cleaner – each of which carries the risk of falling down and hitting our head on the sidewalk or the stone steps or the fire hydrant, not to mention drunk driving accidents, street crimes, hate crimes, heart attacks, rape, or murder.  If we never leave our homes, we are effectively living in fear; if we travel with fear, we are victims of that fear, real or imagined, even if not a single incident occurs while we’re away. 

One of my favorite writers, Francine Prose, wrote an essay in the travel section of The New York Times on September 8, 2002, and in it she reminded us that “Travel alters and expands our perspective.  By showing us that life really is different in other places, it provides a reality check against which we can measure the misperceptions and even prejudices we may have developed at home.”  She concluded that “The events of September 11 have – or should have – turned us not just into patriotic Americans, but into citizens of the world.  And we owe it to ourselves, and to our fellow citizens, to go out and see for ourselves this fragile, damaged and brave new world that, like it or not, we’ve come to inhabit.”  Like a Condé Nast Traveler reader who, after September 11th, wrote a letter to the editor to say she believed that “Every American who travels abroad is a bridge for peace,” I believe we are all, in a small way, promoting international understanding by reading about other places and traveling to them. 

I remember how surprised I was when, just after September 11th, a friend said she wasn’t making any travel plans “until all this blows over.”  It seemed so obvious to me that the world had changed, that we were in this situation for the foreseeable future, and that nothing was going to blow over (and my husband and I left for northern Spain two weeks later).  Certainly there have been more incidents, enough for a new timeline, and I believe that Charlie Hebdo was not the last. 

On days when the newspaper headlines make the world seem like a particularly nasty place, I recall that my friend Lindsay M. sent me the following lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest on the morning of September 11, 2001, a year after the World Trade Center attack:

How beautious mankind is!
O brave new world
That has such people in’it!


Friday, November 14, 2014

Photos of the monastery garden and the Franciscan Church, up the hill from Nice in Cimiez.  The church's exterior is beautiful and inside there are three works by painter Ludovico Brea (1450-1523), who was born in Nice and whose paintings may also be found in various towns along the coast from Nice to Genoa. 

In my first year of college, I took a British Literature course, and part of this course delved into the works of the poets who lived in the Lake District of England and who were also part of the Romantic movement (Wordsworth and Coleridge are the two best known).  On one particularly gray and blustery day, the professor asked us if we thought the Romantic poets would have preferred an overcast day or a sunny day.  I was among the majority in choosing a sunny day, but the professor said that it would have been far more in keeping with the poets' personalities and devotion to the subject to prefer an overcast day.  When I thought about it this seemed to make sense:  a gray day gives you the opportunity to pine for a sunny day, and you can probably even describe the pleasures of that sunny day much better than if the sun were high in the sky.

I recall this as an introduction to my report on Nice and the Côte d'Azur.  Here in the New York City area, the colder side of Fall has officialy arrived, quite a contrast to the hot and brilliantly sunny time I spent in southern France in June.  So even though this is five months later, it seems apropos to take a look back.  Besides, the city of Nice (France's 5th largest city) enjoys a unique microclimate, and it is not uncommon to sit at an outdoor cafe in the winter months wearing a T-shirt or light sweater.  So if you are planning an off-season visit, you have a very good chance for lots of sunshine and mild temperatures.   

The day I left Paris it was a bit chilly and overcast, but I was meeting my friends Amy and Denise at the Gare de Lyon's Big Ben Bar in Le Train Bleu, where it always feels sunny due to the fanciful frescoes depicting southern France and Italian destinations (Paris train stations are named for the destinations they serve, and the Gare de Lyon trains head south).  Readers of my Paris book know that Le Train Bleu is one of my favorite restaurants, and I have long wanted to rendez-vous there and walk downstairs to the tracks and board a train.  Finally, a dream satisfied!

After a change in Marseille, we were in Nice about six hours later.  Lou Souleou, a small B&B at No. 26 rue des Ponchettes, was our home for four days.  For those of you who know Nice, the rue des Ponchettes runs parallel to the Quai des Etats Unis (the eastern continuation of the Promenade des Anglais) and is a short distance from the steps that lead up to the Tour Bellanda.  So yes, you can hear the street noise when you are sitting outside on the terrace that the Zen and Swazi rooms share (we had these two rooms plus the Nimis single upstairs, which faced the rue des Ponchettes) but when you close the glass doors and turn on the ceiling fans or a/c the street sounds are quite muffled.  Maxime and his staff at Lou Souleou are extremely helpful, kind, resourceful, and patient (I had a few unusual requests!).  Rates are approximately 50 to 130 euros and the breakfast is especially nice with good coffee, fresh baguettes and other breads, a selection of great jams, yogurt, cereals, fruit, and specials like crepes or muffins.  Lou Souleou is also just across from Castel Plage, one of the beach clubs on the shore, right at the point where the road curves around toward the port of Nice.  Rates for a full day are 18 euros and 15 for a half-day, which is quite reasonable as you have your own sun chair, an umbrella, a table, towel, and access to the bathroom facilities.  There is also a restaurant, making it really easy to stay all day long. If you haven't been to Nice yet, you might not think a chair on the beach is anything special; but much of the coastline on the Côte d'Azur is rocky, so a chair is actually valuable if not essential.  Not that I haven't enjoyed arranging those rocks just so, to accommodate me and my towel -- I spent two weeks in Nice on spring break the year I lived in Paris, and I was at the rocky beach every day -- and believe it or not I was fairly comfortable.  The rocks are approximately five inches in diameter and are flat, not sharp, which is why it's possible to achieve a level of comfort.  I am looking at one of these rocks as I type this because years ago I brought a rock home as a souvenir and a friend painted a pretty scene on one side of it.

Many visitors don't round the corner past Castel Plage, which I think is a shame because the road winds past a beautiful war memorial (pictured below) and on to the Place Île de Beauté (also pictured below), appropriately named as it faces the the boats departing for Corsica, often referred to as the Île de Beauté

 Lou Souleou is a few minutes' walk from the Cours Saleya, a large pedestrian area that is parallel to the Quai des Etats Unis and bordered by rue Saint-Francois-de-Paule at one end and rue Louis Gassin at the other.  Most of the pretty buildings that are on the Cours date from the early 18th century, and it was only in the 1980s (when it was repaved over an underground parking garage) that it became a pedestrian zone.  It is still home to one of the best outdoor marchés in France.  On several visits several years apart, my husband and I were regulars at the stall of Thérésa, who made socca, a thin sort of crepe (but crisp, not soft) made of chickpea flour, salt, water, and olive oil (cumin also appears in some recipes I've seen).  Actually, Theresa didn't really have a stall - it was more like a large steel drum with a flat griddle on top -- and she was set up at the edge of the market proper.  She would scrape pieces into a paper cone and we would devour the hot pieces of yumminess as we walked around the market.  Then we would go back for more, though we always had to wait on line as she had many devotees.  Readers of my book on Provence, the Côte d'Azur, and Monaco (2001) may recall the piece I included about socca written by Cara De Silva ('The Chickpea's Shining Moment').  She, too, is a big fan of socca, especially Thérésa's.  De Silva bought a postcard in Nice that featured a photograph taken about a century ago of a socca seller standing in almost exactly the same spot where Thérésa had set up shop.  I thought about this in June when I looked for Thérésa and didn't see her in her usual spot.  Happily, there is now an actual market stall selling Thérésa's socca.  I could be wrong, but I don't believe Thérésa herself is still at the stall, or at least, she wasn't on the days I visited in June.  I have tried to find out if she is still around, but an Internet search didn't turn up any clues.  No matter, I suppose: the socca is still delicious, and still popular with both tourists and locals.  As a restaurateur told Cara De Silva, "People from Nice eat socca all the time."

Other culinary highlights for traditional Niçoise specialties are Restaurant Acchiardo (38 rue Droite, Vieux Nice,; no website, closed Saturday and Sunday) and La Merenda (4 rue Raoul Bosio, also closed Saturday and Sunday).  Reservations at both restaurants are hard to secure, though confirming a table at Acchiardo is infinitely easier than at La Merenda, which does not have a telephone and has a "reservation sur place" policy.  There are also seats for only about 30 people.  If you want to eat at La Merenda (which means "a delicious morsel" in Nicois dialect), you must walk to the restaurant and reserve in person.  There will be a line of other people there doing the same thing.  I recommend going early on in your visit to Nice because there is a good chance your first choice will be fully booked, and you'll have to reserve for another day.  The chef at La Merenda is Dominique Le Stanc, who trained with a handful of noteworthy chefs and later earned 2 Michelin stars at the Chantecler restaurant in Nice's Hotel Negresco.  Le Stanc bought the restaurant from Jean Giusti, who'd had quite a successful run with it for a number of years, and he has stated that working in gastronomic establishments requires "more a gift for logistics than for cooking.  Here, in my tiny authentic restaurant, I can once again devote myself to what I care most about, the essence of cuisine: simple dishes made from fresh produce bought daily at the local markets."  La Voglia (at No. 2 rue Saint Francois de Paule, just steps from the Cours Saleya) is a reliably good and popular Italian restaurant with antipasti, pizza, and pasta dishes and a lively atmosphere.

Among the great treasures of the Côte d'Azur are its small museums, and in the hills above Nice are both the Musée National Marc Chagall and the Musée Matisse.  I'm happy to say that the Chagall museum is still the special gem it has been since it opened, and I do still love the Matisse Museum even though the collection isn't that strong -- other museums around the world have many more works than this one.  But the building itself is beautiful and the location is lovely, and there is also the red-and-ivory-striped chair!  Even those with a cursory knowledge of Matisse's paintings will recognize this chair.  It used to be located on one of the upper floors of the museum, very casually situated in a corner, but now it has a special place of honor near the museum exit, which it so deserves!

To my mind, a visit to Nice is not complete with a stop at Maison Auer (7 rue St.-Francois-de-Paule), a family business founded in 1820 and specializing in bursting-with-flavor pâte de fruits (the translation is something like 'fruit jellies' but these are nothing like the those awful jelly rings) and fruits confits (crystallized fruit).  Also found in Auer's beautiful boutique are confitures, olives, chocolates and chocolate covered nuts, etc., and everything is packaged perfectly for gifts.  I particularly love the crystallized grapefruit and orange peels.  Alziari, another family business at no. 14 rue St.-Francois de-Paule, is also an old favorite of mine -- founded in 1868, Alziari offers its own (good quality) olive oil, olive products, wines, spirits, vinegar, etc.  I didn't stop in on this visit -- Alziari oil is found in several New York stores, so it's less unique to me now -- but over the years I have bought many items here.   A store that that was new to me on this visit was Alexia Cenac (29 rue Benoit Bunico; no website). Great for home decor, gifts, and jewelry.

One of the images of Nice I carry around in my head is that of its colorful buildings.  I love how the colors of buildings in France changes from north to south -- when you are in the far north the colors of most buildings is slate and dark brown; when you are in Paris and the center of the country a lot of buildings are limestone or gray; when you reach Lyon the palette is pastel; and by the time you reach Nice you are surrounded by an explosion of bright, intense colors.

One episode did put a damper on this visit, and I share it here so that it doesn't happen to you: if you take a bus within Nice, do not ever forget to stamp your ticket in the validation machine.  This little machine is located in the vicinity of the driver's seat, usually a few steps away, further down the center aisle of the bus.  Stamping tickets for public transportation is a common custom in France and elsewhere in Europe.  Though I am well aware of this, I am also aware that plenty of (local) riders do not even bother to purchase a ticket, preferring to take their chances that there won't be a random check.  Spot checks are not unheard of, but neither are they common.  So, when my friends and I boarded the bus to go to the Chagall museum, we were chatting and not entirely paying close attention and we paid for our tickets at the front of the bus and walked to the back, where there was some standing room.  At the next few stops, a number of locals boarded at the back of the bus and stood next to us.  Just before we reached the museum, two officials (who I would describe as being the equivalent of traffic cops) boarded the bus and were checking tickets, and all the people standing beside us quickly hopped off the bus.  I assumed the officials were checking to make sure everyone had bought a ticket, but it turns out they were checking to see if everyone had stamped their tickets.  A group of us were forced off the bus, and it was quickly clear that everyone in our group of about a dozen people were foreigners. Still, I believed that all we had to do was explain that we were visitors, all would be forgiven, and we would be on our way.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  One official asked us for our passports, and yet again I (stupidly) believed that the passports would prove our case, and all would be well. With passports in hand, the officials then told us we owed 35 euros each for the crime of not stamping our bus tickets.  Much arguing and pleading ensued, to no avail.  In retrospect, I believe when we were asked for our passports we should have turned and walked away because I don't think the officials had the authority to arrest us.  The bottom line is that this is a scam aimed at tourists, and we saw it played out in other parts of the city.  Though the law may be somewhat valid, it truly is absurd that it's enforced, and only on tourists, and the behavior of the officers is despicable, and the bus drivers should remind tourists to stamp their tickets.  Most of all, the government officials of Nice should be ashamed that this is allowed to continue.       

Lastly, some great changes are afoot in Nice: a pedestrian zone is being created to include an avenue from the National Theater and the Nice Acropolis Convention Center all the way to the sea, with strips of lawn and stone and all lined with water mirrors.  Additionally, Nice Stadium is being constructed and will have 35,000 seats and will be multipurpose: besides football and rugby, it will be home to seminars, concerts, large-scale events, and the National Sports Museum, and will be one of the world's very first Eco-Stadiums.  And city officials are considering reopening the Ponchettes roof terraces between Vieux Nice and the Mediterranean.  'Ponchettes' refers to the row of buildings between the Cours Saleya and the sea (the Lou Souleou B&B is located here), and the Terrasses des Ponchettes used to be a famous strolling area in the 19th century.  Two of the buildings in the Ponchettes are 19th century vaulted halls, which have been used as art galleries for contemporary art.  City officials now want the roof terrace to once again be used by the public, and this would allow unrestricted balcony views of the Baie des Anges.  A splendid idea, I say!

Up next: St.-Paul-de-Vence, St. Tropez, and Marseilles!



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Finalement, I'm back!  Sorry for the absence but I've been really working hard on two special issues of Dream of Italy that are devoted to cooking classes in Italy (that's a photo, above, from the August issue).  If you are an Italophile and don't already know about DOI, you should!

More about this below, but I first want to note that I was remiss, in my last post about Paris, in not mentioning XL Airways, the airline I chose for my trip.  XL is nearly 20 years old but is not that well known in North America -- in reading about the airline I learned it's been sold and acquired five times, most recently in 2012, when it was sold to X-Air Aviation, a subsidiary of Swiss-US investment group BeachSide Capital LLC.  Whatever its history, I had good experiences on both flights from New York to Paris and back.  I appreciated that I received an e-mail message and a telephone call two days before my departure, informing me that the flight time had changed.  (I also really appreciated being bumped up to the airline's Galaxy Class on the flight from New York to Paris, but even if this had not happened I would still be a fan of the airline.)  HQ for XL is Charles de Gaulle Airport, and it currently offers seasonal flights on Airbus 300 planes to Paris from the U.S. cities of New York, Miami, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.  Flights are also available from four other French airports -- Lyon, Bordeaux, Nantes, and Toulouse -- to other destinations, and there are flights from Paris also to Guadeloupe, Martinique, Cancun, and the Dominican Republic.  When I was comparing prices in the spring, XL fares kept turning up as the most affordable -- the airline's slogan is 'l'avion plus malin' (the smarter aircraft, or sharp fares, smart you) -- and I just noticed the airline is offering some fares from $944 for some December dates and from $832.50 for dates in May 2015.  I highly recommend giving XL a try, and the in-flight meals were a cut above most others, believe it or not!

Now, back to Dream of Italy:  I'm enthusiastically endorsing the newsletter not because I've been writing for quite a number of issues over the years (though I am proud of my contributions, especially interviews with Faith Willinger and Frances Mayes and special reports on the Amalfi Coast and Florence) but because each issue is packed with useful information and subscribers have access to the entire DOI community.  The newsletter is by subscription only -- it's not found on newsstands --and it's published 10 times a year.   Currently a digital subscription is being offered for $62 and a print subscription is $72.  Travel expert Peter Greenberg says, "As I've traveled the world I've come to know -- and depend -- on local knowledge. It makes the difference between being a tourist blindly following a brochure and a streetwise traveler who benefits from great experiences. Dream of Italy and editor Kathy McCabe are great resources -- this is a must-carry item for me whenever I want cutting edge information about one of my favorite countries - Italy!"

Kathy McCabe was in Italy recently, and she posted the following note and photo on the Dream of Italy blog on the 4th of October:

Pizza School in Naples Italy

Even *I* learn something from the pages of Dream of Italy! Though many of the story ideas and articles are conceived and written by me, I also hire the best travel experts to help uncover more Italian gems.  

I first read about master pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia and his Naples pizza school when guest editor Barrie Kerper handed in the first draft of the her list of best cooking schools in Italy. I had a trip to Napoli coming up and bingo, last week I had a once-in-a-lifetime lesson with Enzo (with the red scarf below) and his team!

As Kathy also noted, subscribers will receive immediate access to these special issues -- with the classes and schools listed alphabetically by region -- as well as 115 terrific back issues.  And, we're working on expanding these issues into an electronic book with even more culinary details...stay tuned!

And coming soon: my post-Paris, Côte d'Azur report, and the Canadian Rockies, and Milano and Lago di Como (these last two destinations I am also covering for Dream of Italy).