Souvenirs of Summer 2014

fleurs.2It’s officially over. It makes me sad, even though summer 2014 was not a normal Provence summer. Thanks to climate change, we had thunderstorms and cool, cloudy days. Too much wind and rain. The latter had a plus. July and August days are usually hot and sunny with almost no rain. This year we saved both money and time on watering all our flowers and trees. Still, I would have preferred a real summer.

Gone are those long summer nights when we could dine on the balcony by daylight up until 10 p.m. Soon many restaurants will close or drastically shorten geraniumstheir opening times. I am still swimming, but that too will come to an end before long. Tomatoes — those tasty gems I buy from farmers at the markets, will soon disappear and we will left with those tasteless Dutch hothouse tomatoes at supermarkets. Fall and winter are for cosying up with the cats by the fireplace — not as exciting as summer, but not so bad.

In spite of the less-than-perfect weather, we enjoyed some fun times and outings during summer 2014. The following photos are souvenirs of those good times.

Again I tried for the perfect lavender shot. Now that I have had photo lessons from friend and fab photographer George, there’s hope for improvement next year.lavender.blog2

We joined fellow Americans for a Fourth of July party sponsored by Democrats Abroad in Avignon.4th.1

Then we joined the French for a Bastille Day fete in neighboring Vacheres. The July 14th sardinade (grilled sardines) is an annual event with plenty of wine, music and song – in addition to those petite fish.vachere.2

On the cultural side, we joined a group from our town for a bus excursion to an outdoor piano concert in La Roque d’Antheron, also an annual event — preceded by a picnic in the park.piano.1

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And, we went to Avignon for a day at the Festival d’Avignon which features almost 1,000 theatrical performances. The festivities in the streets are more than jolly.fb.1

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And north to Sisteron for an outdoor concert under the Citadele.fb.5

I longed for the mountains, so we drove to a winter ski town that draws hikers and mountain bikers in summer. We rode a chair lift to the heights for an easy trek. Alas, riding a chair lift in summer minus snow and skis is not easy. Getting off I did not  jump aside fast enough and was whacked in the back with the chair and knocked to the ground. Painful. We canceled the hike, but enjoyed beautiful scenery on the way home.mts.2

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Another community meal – paella in our town, Reillanne. We love these events, good food and socializing.sisteron.paella.lac 021

Again this summer we tried our luck at a Vide Grenier (Empty Attic). It’s a flea market, but our hopes of making money on our no-longer-used possessions were dashed. We could not even give things away. There were still treasures in the box labeled “Gratuit” (Free) after the last customers had gone home.

vg.2Cannes on the Riviera was our destination for an event sponsored by the American Club of the Riviera – mind-boggling fireworks shot from boats in the harbor. We spent the night in Cannes and enjoyed a visit to the off shore island, Sainte Marquerite, the following day. Gorgeous.  On the way home, a quick dip in the Med at Theoule-sur-Merisle.1

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Friends Mollie and David put summer to bed with a fabulous garden party.

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Summertime is also for enjoying our pool and yard and flowers — and the SPPS (State Park Picnic Shelter). See previous post “Pergola — Or State Park Picnic Shelter?”  Aug. 22, 2013.  It’s looking better,  thanks to the decorative elements painstakingly installed by Bob, and Ben’s suggestion that we we lighten the posts and beams.  That made a huge difference.  Thank you, Ben.  You saved it– and our marriage.pool.2

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Don’t miss the next post featuring our summer renters. We meet fun and interesting people who rent the guest apartment at Les Rosiers for vacation. And then… a post on Incredible Iceland.  If you are not a Tales and Travel follower, sign up now at top right so you don’t miss future tales. 

Please comment below.  Share your thoughts.

Summer may be over, but grilling is not. One of my favorites which is always a hit with guests is grilled lamb. See column at top right for recipe.

 

 

 

Fabulous French Dining : A post for foodies

I recently had the good fortune to accompany other American journalists on a press trip to the Midi-Pyrénées region (southwestern France). Art and gastronomy were the focus of the voyage, and the gastronomy was extraordinaire with four and five course meals for both lunch and dinner on most days.blog.11
We savored cuisine at restaurants whose chefs are famous, restaurants with Michelin stars, as well as a few restaurants that were ordinary at best. We visited colorful markets and tasted the area’s wine. Following are highlights of our culinary experiences.
The week-long journey got off to a smashing start with dinner at Michel Sarran in Toulouse, France’s fourth largest city and the capital of the Midi-Pyrénées. The ambience in this two-Michelin star establishment named after its renowned chef is classy, elegant, modern. The food definitely wins stars for appearance and presentation. Each course (we had four) was a painstaking work of art with numerous bites of exotic creations, such as sea urchin mousse and hay ice cream.blog.lede

Petite marmite basque, sauce Ttoro in unique bowl
Petite marmite basque, sauce Ttoro in unique bowl

As in most fancy French restaurants, the food descriptions are daunting. First course: La volaille de Monsieur Duplantier en crème onctueuse aux écrevisses, suprême poché au citron confit et raz el hanout, peau croustillante. Basically tiny pieces of chicken in a crayfish sauce with a delicious citrus flavor surrounded by delicate tidbits of other edibles. The main course was the overall favorite: Pigeon du Mont Royal (pigeon filet). The succulent bird was served with a tiny nest-like creation: Suprêmes frits en kadaïf et jus à l’encre – (a middle eastern cheese pastry with octopus ink), plus other petit delicacies.

Markets offered a profusion of berries.
Markets offered a profusion of berries.

For dessert, a wild strawberry melange with a lemon basil sauce, lime crumble and the hay ice cream (lait glacé au foin).
All very, very good. But we wondered if all that labor intensive preparation of so many different tiny bites wasn’t a bit much. Was the chef trying too hard to win a third Michelin star? I would have preferred fewer items served in slightly larger portions. http://www.michel-sarran.com

Lunch the following day at the outdoor terrace of Emile, a Toulouse favorite in the bustling Place Saint George, was a winner. Chef Christophe Fazan is known for both creative cuisine and local favorites.

Hams and sausages are popular in southwestern France.
Hams and sausages are popular in southwestern France.

Foie Gras, the controversial fattened liver from force-fed geese and ducks, is a regional specialty. Several of my traveling companions ordered this served with mango chutney as their first course, while I chose ravioles de foie gras, crème aux cèpes. This was my all time favorite dish of the entire trip – ravioli filled with foie gras smothered in a cepe( bolet/porcini) sauce. Each bite was bursting with flavor. Elaine, our affable tour leader, went for Cassoulet, the signature Toulouse dish, a stew of meats, sausages and beans. Former French president Jacques Chirac is said to have especially enjoyed Emile’s Cassoulet. http://www.restaurant-emile.comblog.10
While Michel Sarran’s food was good, most of us preferred that of Christian Constant, another renowned French chef. His restaurant, Le Bibent, features glamorous baroque/art nouveau décor and great food.blog.22 My first course, a tartare of several kinds of fish and oysters with a hint of ginger served in oyster shells, was excellent, and better than my main course, a confit of lamb. Confit or preserved meat is yet another regional favorite with duck confit the most popular.
An incredible dessert followed: a gigantic mille feuille. This pasty whose name blog.1translates as “a thousand leaves” is layers of thin, flaky pastry with custard in between. Constant’s version is enormous, yet light and yummy.
I was tempted to buy Constant’s cookbook in English. But, my shelves are already overloaded with cookbooks and my suitcase was already too heavy. http://www.maisonconstant.com/bibent/
We were ready for a simple and light lunch the following day. Le Capucin, supposedly a gourmet fast-food eatery established by yet another famous chef, Michel Bras who has several restaurants which together have earned three blog.13Michelin stars, was the place. Sandwich type ingredients, albeit with some creative concoctions, fill edible cones which you eat like ice cream cones while sitting on high stools. A clever idea, but short on taste. A basic ham and cheese on rye would have been better. http://www.capucinbras.fr
We sampled more of Michel Bras’ cuisine and met the star chef at Café Bras, his newest restaurant in the new and stunning Soulages Museum, dedicated to the works of contemporary artist Pierrre Soulages, in the town of Rodez. Mixed reviews on the food here, although all were in awe of the first

Michel Bras
Michel Bras

course, a light and creamy type of cheese soufflé. We requested – and were given – the recipe. The main courses were standard fare — a choice of veal, fish or beef — none of which excited the palate. But, ah…the dessert. As a chocolate lover, this got my vote as best dessert of the trip: le petit pot de crème praliné/chocolat croquant sésame. (a decadent chocolate praline cream). http://www.cafebras.fr
Most of us were not overly impressed with yet another star diner just outside of Rodez at Chez Isabelle (one Michelin star), but by this time perhaps we had

Isabelle won high marks for originality with this "eggplant burger," but it was bland.
Isabelle won high marks for originality with this “eggplant burger,” but it was bland.

reached the saturation point with gourmet cuisine. I ordered Pressé de joues de boeuf et de foie gras au vin rouge, gratin de macaronis. (cheeks of beef with foie gras, red wine sauce and macaroni). Disappointing, and even without a star I can do a better job on macaroni. Chef Isabelle Auguy is one of the growing number of female chefs who have earned the coveted Michelin star. http://www.restaurantisabellesuguy.fr
There were a few other disappointments. The main course at a hotel meal sounded and looked exquisite: scallops (one of my favorites) atop a mound of risotto. Alas, the scallops were overcooked and the risotto was mushy. I am not

Scallops and risotto -- appearance isn't everything.
Scallops and risotto — appearance isn’t everything.

shy about trying unknown foods – all part of the taste experience. For lunch in the town of Conques, I bravely ordered the first course:  gateau aux oreilles et pieds de cochon, vinaigrette à la moutarde (cake of pig ears and feet). The French let no part of an animal go to waste, but in this case, they should have. The cake was tasteless.
Not so the boudin noir (blood sausage) served with apples, onions and potatoes and rich in flavor at Le Clos Sainte Cécile, a lovely restaurant in the town of Albi where we sat in the garden under plane trees.
Dinner at the Hervé Busset restaurant won hands down as the favorite meal of this epicurean voyage. This was the trip finale with both an overnight and dinner at the one star chef’s hotel and eatery in a renovated ancient mill in a wooded setting on the banks of the Dourdou River just outside of our favorite town, Conques.

Black and White, lucky pet geese at Herve Buset.  Their livers won't end up on someone's dinner plate.
Black and White, lucky pet geese at Herve Buset. Their livers won’t end up on someone’s dinner plate.

Busset has a passion for nature reflected in his cuisine. Wild edible plants are used in the preparation of his food which is innovative, unusual, delicious. http://www.moulindecambelong.com
After a week of extravagant eating, I was ready for a Big Mac, but the zipper on my jeans told me it was time for starvation.

Comments welcome and appreciated. Today’s Taste features a recipe for Chilled Avocado Soup topped with Crab.  My guests loved it!.  See “Today’s Taste” at the top of this post. While  you are up there, sign up to become a Tales and Travel follower.

Aligot, a puree of mashed potatoes and the local cheese, Laguiole.
Aligot, a puree of mashed potatoes and the local cheese, Laguiole.

Villa Augustine: Fine French dining, turn-of-the-century elegance

“Everywhere you look; it’s a feast for the eyes.  It’s a magical place.”villa.12

We were sitting around the fireplace in a stylish salon of exquisite furnishings enjoying an apero when a friend made that comment.  It was our first time at the Villa Augustine shortly after it opened in April 2012.villa9a

The turn-of-the- century mansion in the Vaucluse city of Apt, the capital of the Luberon, was originally owned by a wealthy family, proprietors of ochre mines.  Their fortune plunged in the 1930s. villa.3 The splendid home was abandoned for many years and in a dreadful state. Along came two Parisians, Guy and Christophe, to rescue the magnificent structure.   Restoration took three years.  Tracking down the furnishings and objets d’art took even longer. villa.11 Guy and Christophe, both fans of  20th century arts décoratifs, combed France and neighboring countries to find original Art Nouveau pieces to enhance the interior in keeping with the period. Signed objects by Majorelle, Ruhlmann, Leuleu, Royere and others are among the treasures.

Today Villa Augustine is a sanctuary of calm and beauty in the midst of busy Apt just above the river Calavon.  There are five chambres d’hote (B&B) rooms and gorgeous gardens planted with Italian inspiration.  A more than 200-year-old cedar of Lebanon, classified as one of the most beautiful trees in the Luberon, is the pièce de resistance amidst flowers, cypress and olive villa.7trees.  An inviting pool on a terrace above the villa is a delightful surprise offering stunning views of Apt and the Luberon hills.  Not to forget – food, which is Guy’s realm.  The ex-banker has always been passionate about cooking.  Here he has the opportunity to indulge in his favorite pastime and prepare gourmet cuisine several evenings per week.  His cuisine, he says, is influenced by his Spanish origins and Algeria, where he was born.  And, the flavors of Provence, of course. There is a set menu, and reservations are a must as he can serve no more than 20 diners, but up to 40 for special events.  During warm weather months, the spacious terrace in front of the villa is often a venue for the latter – concerts, fashion shows, art and photo exhibits.villa.8

During our first visit we had a complete tour and admired each unique bedroom with adjoining baths, many delightfully retro.  A mirror from a buffet is the headboard for the double bed in one room.  One bedroom is done in the style of the ‘50s, and another reflects the ‘40s.villa.10

Dinner – either outdoors under trellises on the terrace where huge pots of plants in bloom create an upscale  ambience of greenery, or indoors in the dining room with its precious décor, is special.villa.1  So is the food.  Our first dinner in 2011 featured Noix de Saint-Jacques a l’artichaut et l’andouillette, jus de
crustaces, (scallops à l’ artichoke and sausage with the juice of crustaceans).

Last week we savored an excellent meal – a belated birthday treat for step-daughter Kellie and her friend Luka visiting from New York City.  It began with  a “mise en bouche”  (pre-starter), a healthy gamba with a puree of mango villa.14and a mini glass filled with chantilly (whipped cream) of chevre (goat cheese).  The entrée, carpaccio of tuna with a spinach sauce, was very flavorful – my favorite.villa.15  Cod with ratatouille creatively stuffed in mini peppers accompanied the perfectly cooked fish surrounded by a coulis of tomato and juice of palourde (tomato sauce made with the juice of the clam perched on top of the cod).  villa.16Dessert:  roasted figs in fig liqueur with vanilla ice cream.  Wine:  a bottle each of an excellent Burgundy white and a Burgundy red suggested by Christophe.  A fitting birthday meal in a magical place!villa.18

Guy and Christophe, who  had the distinction of being the first gay couple married in Apt after the recent change in French law which now legalizes gay marriage, are overjoyed with the success of their endeavor.

Guy, left, and Christophe
Guy, left, and Christophe

“We are very happy with the speed in which we have succeeded to develop a faithful clientele,” says Guy.  The chambre d’hote has been fully booked since April this year, he added.  “Normally this would take four or five years.”villa.4

Rooms range in price from 100 to 150 euros per night.  Three course dinners with two mise-en-bouches  at 40 euros per person. Villa Augustine is open from mid March through the end of October. More information at www.lavillaaugustine.comvilla.13

Have you dined at Villa Augustine?  Share your view.  I love to hear from readers.  See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Followers also welcome.  Don’t miss future posts.  Click on Email Subscription at top right.

A recipe to try:  Linguine with Shrimp, Tomatoes and Feta Sabraw.  Scroll down recipe column at right.

Our Vacation Renters

From Germany, Belgium, France, England, the U.S., Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Argentina — even Romania and the Ukraine —  they’ve come. To spend a week, two weeks, or sometimes longer in the guest studio apartment  (known as a “gite” in French) on the first floor of our home, Les Rosiers,  that we rent to tourists in summer.

Les Rosiers pool.
Les Rosiers pool.

It’s been fun and fascinating to meet and talk to our tenants.  And, an experience.

Our first guests several years ago were a German couple, he a baker, who came for a week’s get away from their three young children.  It was the end of February, but the Provence sun shone.  They bundled up in blankets and lounged by the pool, which was all closed up, soaking up the rays.

We’ve found that Belgians and French, all from the north, especially like lounging by the pool in the summer.  No doubt they already know the region, so they are content to chill out, relax, and hang out.  Not so for most of our other guests who often set out for day-long excursions to sights – near and not-so-near.

Anne and Jean Luc from Brussels enjoy the sun.,
Anne and Jean Luc from Brussels enjoy the sun.,

“We have really enjoyed our relaxing stay in your lovely gite, we loved this area of the Luberon and having this comfortable, quiet little home to come back to at the end of a day’s sightseeing just made the holiday.” – Pauline and John, N. Ireland, July 2010.

Last summer was the season of cyclists, starting with a couple from North Carolina who had top quality rental bikes delivered from a bike shop in Isle sur la Sorge – about an hour away.  They rode every day.  Then came  a couple from Brugge, also dedicated riders.  They brought their own bikes, and after a day’s outing, were happy to come back and cool off in the pool.  Francis, a physical therapist, loved to practice his English, which was excellent.

Bethan from Wales in the Luberon.
Bethan from Wales in the Luberon.

Aled, a Welshman, who came with his wife, Bethan, took the pedal prize. They come to Provence every year, and every year he pedals up Mount Ventoux.  Last summer was his fifth ascent. He also intrigued us with his photography.

Aled and his super camera. www.aledrhyshughes.co.uk
Aled and his super camera. http://www.aledrhyshughes.co.uk

Aled is a professional who shoots with an Ebony (google it), an incredible large format camera.  After their arrival, we heard them speaking and were intrigued.  It was not English.  They are among the 562,000 of a population of about three million who speak Welsh.

Close behind Aled for pedal prowess  was Jakob from Prague.  He did Ventoux for the third time. But, more amazing than his skill, was the family bicycle entourage.  Jakob, wife Katarina, daughter Laura, 6, and baby Lukas, 1 ½, arrived with five bicycles (two for Jakob), plus a baby trailer, a baby bed and a baby carriage.

Super cyclists: Katarina, Lukas, Laura and Jakob from Prague.
Super cyclists: Katarina, Lukas, Laura and Jakob from Prague.

And, they pedaled – often all day, the entire family.  After Laura got tired, her bike could be attached to Jakob’s.  Katarina towed Lukas in the baby trailer.  As the terrain here is anything but Holland flat — lots of long and often steep climbs — their stamina and fitness were mind-boggling.

We’re looking forward to our most dedicated guests in June – Klaus and Eva from Graz, Austria.  This will be their fourth summer with us, and they stay for a month.  Klaus comes first, his car loaded down with plenty of food supplies and Austrian beer.  He always brings us generous gifts of delicacies one can’t find here.roses

Klaus is a gourmet cook and often shares his creations with us.  The first summer he gave me a list of supplies needed in the apartment kitchen, including a knife sharpener, kitchen timer, vegetable peeler.   Other guests have also made special kitchen requests.  The Brits wanted a tea kettle (we boil water in a regular pan).  One French couple wanted espresso coffee cups, yet another requested bowls for their morning coffee.    All items now in place.

Our apartment has two double beds.  German couples always occupy both beds.  Not so with French, Belgians and most other nationalities who prefer togetherness and cuddle together in one bed.

“Thank you for sharing your bit of paradise with us….  Your apartment is wonderfully equipped, definitely a home away from home.  This was my seventh trip to Provence, but it was by far the most relaxing and satisfying.”  Lynne, Columbia, MO, April, 2011. sign

We’ve been surprised to find how many of our guests comment on the peace and quiet of our surroundings.  Many must live in or near big cities.  They love the tranquility of Les Rosiers.  But, last summer that quiet was scathed one dreadful night.  The house across the street is also sometimes rented to vacationers. Last August there was an entire wedding party and a wedding celebration  with loud, blasting rock music that went on until 5 a.m. I finally called the police, and the noise stopped soon after.

Our tenants at the time, Jean Luc and Anne from Brussels, were most understanding.  We felt dreadful – mainly because that was not the only disaster to mar their stay.   They were without television the first week – a problem that required a repairman who, because it was a holiday week, could not come immediately.    Then the gas ran out in the kitchen, but we did remedy that in a timely fashion.

Nasty algae can wreck havoc with a pool.
Nasty algae can wreck havoc with a pool.

We went off to the states in September, leaving our dear and trusty German friends Klaus and Marianne to house sit and mind Les Rosiers where a German couple, Detlef and Susanne from Hamburg, were staying.   They became friends, and all was well until the pool turned green. It’s happened before – algae attack.  Klaus, with the help of our friend Alan, got things back in order and our guests, again fortunately, were more than tolerant.

Detlef and Susanne from Hamburg.
Detlef and Susanne from Hamburg.

“The whole set up here is warm, welcoming and comfortable…Loved the bright garden and rural setting.  ..So much to see and do in this area of Provence, and Les Rosiers is an ideal base.” — Janeen and Jon, Australia, May, 2012.

The pool is a Les Rosiers highlight.  But never has anyone enjoyed it as much as a German family with two young children who visited several years ago.  They were in the water every minute they were not out visiting sights.  Playing “fussball”  — water soccer.  Every time someone scored, the father, louder than the kids,  yelled “Tor.”   Children, we’ve found, seem to need to scream with delight  when they are in the pool.  We’re happy to see them have fun, but life is more peaceful with adults.

We love to invite our tenants for an apero, an evening drink and snacks, and a chance to get to know them.  We’ve had stimulating and educational conversations with Belgians on the divisive politics in their country, a first-hand account of life behind the Iron Curtain from East Germans, and a lesson in political history from N. Irelanders.  We also like to hear about their adventures in the area, the places they have visited, what they especially like.  Our guests  enjoy the lovely view of the Luberon hills from our balcony.

View of Luberon hills from our balcony.
View of Luberon hills from our balcony.

As one guest wrote in our guestbook: “Leben wie Gott in Frankreich (live like God in France)..We experienced this here. We’ve found Eden with God as our neighbor.”

For more about Les Rosiers, see www.les-rosiers.compool.blog

 Comments on blog post and recipes are welcome. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Subscribers also welcome.  Don’t miss future posts.  Click on Email Subscription at top right.

Bake a delicious cake.   See recipe in column at right for Lemon Ginger Pound Cake. 

Aled and Bethan, photo by Aled
Aled and Bethan, photo by Aled

 

NICE: Enchantment on the Riviera

I wrote the following for the newspaper Stars and Stripes three years ago after a visit to Nice.  I’ve been back several times, most recently after Christmas.  This time we lounged on the beach, enjoyed delicious food, and soaked up that seductive ambience of the Cote d’Azur.  Nice — it’s my kind of town..niceb11

After many, many years in Germany, my husband and I and our two cats (we now have three) left Deutschland behind and moved to the hinterlands of Provence in southern France. We’ve been here five years (now eight), and it’s lovely. We don’t regret the move. But I’ve found a corner of this part of the world I like even more: Nice.

Our quiet life in the countryside has its pluses, but I miss the vibrancy and excitement of a city.  Nice offers that, as well as the sea and beaches, museums, markets, intriguing old town, excellent restaurants, lush parks and outstanding architecture, all wrapped in an enchanting ambience.niceb4

France’s fifth largest city is the capital of the glamorous French Riviera.  There’s plenty of elegance along the Promenade des Anglais, its seaside boulevard lined with palms and turn-of-the-century hotels and grand apartments.  There are traces of North Africa in the tangle of dark alleys of Vieux Nice, (old Nice). The outdoor markets and restaurants, as well as the numerous street stands, capture the flair of neighboring Italy. It’s an irresistible mélange.niceb15

Nice’s roots go back thousands of years to prehistoric times. By the 4th century it was settled by Greeks, followed by Romans, then Saracens. Nice was part of the House of Savoy (Italy) from 1388 until 1860 when citizens voted to join the Second French Empire.

The English discovered its charms in the 18th century, followed by those from other countries, especially Russians.  The Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, commissioned by Czar Nicholas II and inaugurated in 1912, is the largest Russian religious edifice outside Russia, and a top tourist attraction.

By the 19th century Nice had become a favorite winter haunt for the British.  It was an Englishman, Reverend Lewis Way, who is responsible for widening a former water front footpath in 1820 at his expense which was dubbed “Chemin des Anglais” (road of the English). In 1931 it took its final form, two roads with a palm-planted center strip, and became known as the Promenade des Anglais.niceb16

On one side of the famous avenue are Belle Époque buildings. On the opposite side are miles of beaches.  Thanks to Nice’s microclimate, even in winter you can sit at a beach café and soak in the rays.  You may even see brave souls who spread their towels in the sand and sunbathe in bathing suits.  In summer, of course, the beaches are crowded with both tourists and locals.niceb13

During our winter visit, after a stroll along the beach we climbed the steps to Castle Hill where a citadel once stood.  It’s now a maze of greenery, perfect for getting some exercise and enjoying superb views of Nice, its beaches and harbor, with the backdrop of hills and the distant Alps.

We took the easy way down, riding an Art Deco lift which deposited us on the edge of Vieux Nice. I love taking pictures at the flower market on the Cours Saleya in the heart of the old town.  I also love wandering in the labyrinth alleys in this part of the city, checking out funky boutiques, admiring Baroque churches, taking more pictures. One place that has become a favorite is Oliviera, a shop with 17 different kinds of olive oil where owner Nadim Berouti is happy to offer tastings.  The shop also has a mini-restaurant.

“When I understood that every morning I would see again this light, I could not believe how happy I was,” artist Henri Matisse wrote about Nice.  The light of the Riviera has inspired numerous artists, not just Matisse who lived in the city from 1917 until his death in 1954. A Nice museum devoted to his works is a must.Nice beach

We rode a bus up the hill to the Cimiez district where the museum is located in a 17th century Genoese villa.  Works from every period of the artist’s life are on display, including early paintings, the famous gouache cut-outs, studies (drawings etc.) for his renowned chapel in Vence, even personal effects such as Venetian furniture and Oriental wall hangings.niceb2

It was a long hike back to the center, but worth the trek to admire great pillared houses and rows of cypress trees along the route.

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in the heart of the city is another gem with a collection of 400 works including sculptures and canvases by New Realists, Pop artists including Andy Warhol,  whimsical creations by one of my favorites, Niki de Sainte-Phalle, and more.  The avant-garde building with glassed-in ramps around an atrium is a sensation, as are the great views from its roof terrace.niceb19

We ran out of time and postponed a visit to Nice’s Chagall museum for another trip when we rode the Nice hop-on, hop-off tourist bus to the museum where I was in awe.  The 17 huge, colorful paintings depicting Biblical scenes are amazing.  Also to marvel are mosaics, stained glass windows and tapestries.

The bus stops at other tourist highlights, including the Russian church.  It’s a great way to take in the city, its neighborhoods and seaside panoramas, as well as travel to the sights. Head sets offer fascinating commentary in numerous languages.

When we get too old for life in the country, maybe we can move to Nice.nice.b1

TIPS FOR TOURING NICE:

Le Grand Tour, Nice’s hop-on, hop off tourist bus with 14 stops www.nicelegrandtour.com

Nice’s flower market on the Cours Saleya takes place everyday from 6 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. except Monday when it is replaced with an antiques market.niceb9

Oliviera for olive oil and small meals. 8 bis, rue du Collet in Vieux Nice, www.oliviera.com

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Promenade des Arts, open daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. except Mondays and some holidays.  Entrance is free. www.mamac-nice.org

Matisse Museum, 164 avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, open daily except Tuesday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.  Entrance is free. www.musee-matisse-nice.org

Marc Chagall National Museum, avenue du docteur Ménard, open daily except Tuesday and some holidays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May to October. From November to April from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: 7,50 euros.  http://www.musee-chagall.frniceb18

Excellent centrally located accommodations at the 4-star Hotel Le Grimaldi, 15, rue Grimaldi.  Rates vary with season, from 99 euros for a double in low season. www.le-grimaldi.comniceb3

Favorite restaurant: La Zucca Magica (the magic pumpkin), a vegetarian restaurant run by Italians.  The decor is pumpkins, gourds and squash — hanging from the ceiling, on the tables and window sills, depicted in paintings and photos on the walls.  It’s dimly lit with flickering candles, cozy and inviting.  There is no menu.  You take a seat, order some wine, and food starts arriving — five different dishes, one after another. www.lazuccamagica.com

More information on Nice at www.nicetourisme.com

 Gingered Butternut Squash Soup with Spicy Pecan Cream was a winner at my recent dinner party.  Recipe listed in column on right. Comments on blog post and recipes are welcome. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Subscribers also welcome.  Don’t miss future posts.  Click on Email Subscription at top right