Boutique La Madone

pastsi2.jpgpastis1.jpg8 Rue de la Boucherie  Nice, France 06300

www.madone.fr

It was one of those discoveries that could make your afternoon, especially if you are a man, a pastis lover and a fan of all things French and edible, which makes my husband totally qualified. In fact, he was the one who noticed bottles of “Pastis de Nice”, neatly stacked on shelves of a store which we were passing. Half an hour later, after a warm welcome and a pastis degustation, we had been converted, each of us craving to try different things.

Boutique de La Madone is a relatively new addition to the numerous stores and boutiques of Old Nice. It offers a selection of products made by monasteries and abbeys, both French and European, using the know-how of monks and nuns.  It sells alcoholic beverages, herbal teas, jams, honey, terrines, and lots of other delicious things.

 

For those unfamiliar with pastis, it is an anise-flavoured apéritif common in the South of France. Its popularity, after the ban of absinth, is attributed to a penchant for anise drinks and the Mediterranean tradition of anise liquors. Unlike absinth, it does not cause hallucinations, but, like absinth, it stokes creativity. At least in my household, when my husband volunteers to make supper with a glass of absinth in his hand.

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Villefranche-sur-Mer

Villefranche-sur-Mer is considered a suburb of Nice. It takes only 10 minutes by bus to get here from Place Garibaldi. And yet, this small medieval village stands on its own and exudes no less charm than bigger towns on the Cote d’Azur. It has a lot to offer – sandy public beaches, good restaurants along the marina, and a picturesque Old Town with its 14th century buildings.

Villefranche-sur-Mer is universally considered to have one of the most beautiful bays in the world which would make any walk around the place incredibly attractive. Its 16th century Chapelle Saint-Pierre was decorated by Jean Cocteau no less. And, finally, its Citadel, built in 1575, is a home to the Town Hall, three museums (all free), an open-air theatre and a convention centre. Not bad for a suburb.

I particularly enjoyed visiting Le Musée Volti, one of the museums at the Citadel. Housed in the base of the Citadel blockhouses, it features voluptuous female sculptures, made of bronze, copper and terracotta, by the sculptor Antoniucci Volti. The cave-like setting for the sculptures is truly stunning. Perhaps “stunning” is a good word to characterize Villefrance-sur-Mer on the whole.

Èze

20160112_115539.jpgThe French Riviera boasts a great number of fairy-tale villages, but there is no doubt that Èze is its crowning jewel. Perched high above the Mediterranean Sea, it is known for its incomparable views of the Cote d’Azur. The tiny medieval village, whose oldest building, the Chapelle de la Sainte Croix, goes back to 1306, had a turbulent history. It was under the Romans, the Moors, the French and the Turks before becoming part of France in 1860.

Today Èze is a vibrant tourist spot with art galleries, restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops, and a botanical garden. The latter occupies the highest point of the village, and it is worth paying an entrance fee just to enjoy the magnificent views. However, it is also known for its cacti and succulents, well-designed resting places and beautiful sculptures by Jean-Philippe Richard. It is the sculptures that are my favourite part of the garden. These earth goddesses, which are the result of the artist’s quest for exploring the mysteries of femininity, have their own identity (Margot, Anais, Rose, Mélissandre, Chloé, Charlotte, Marina, etc.) and personality, defined by a poem next to each sculpture. Speak of contemplative spaces…

A true gem of the village is the five-star hotel “Château de la Chèvre d’Or” with its two-star Michelin restaurant “La Chevre d’Or”. Part of the luxury Relais & Chateaux chain, the property literally hangs on the cliff edge offering breath-taking views from just about everywhere. It has a beautiful garden with statues, fountains and waterfalls, as well as a life-size chess board.  It enjoys rave reviews from its visitors despite its high prices. But who said luxury is cheap?

If you feel like giving yourself a treat, visit Parfumerie Fragonard, a perfume factory at the foot of the village. It offers free guided tours which provide a glimpse into the process of making perfume. Each tour ends in a shop with an abundance of different perfumes, soaps, and cosmetics. It is worth knowing that each year the House of Fragonard picks a flower of the year, e.g. a rose, an iris, a peony, etc., and a special section of the store’s merchandise is devoted to honoring this flower. Needless to say, shopping for a gift here is more than fun, and it is very easy to convince yourself that you deserve one as well.

Finally, if you feel adventurous, you might be tempted to take Nietzshe’s Path, leading from Èze to the sea. Apparently, Nietzshe took it every day when he stayed in the neighbourhood in 1880s while writing “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. We took it once, starting at Eze village and ending at a bus stop on the highway leading to Nice. It took us 45 minutes, with all the stops, picture taking and the oohing and aahing. The views were truly magnificent. A word of warning – comfortable shoes are a must, since the path could be challenging at times. There were Japanese girls wearing heels behind us at the beginning of the hike, and we quickly lost track of them. For all I know, they are still there.

It takes about 20 minutes by bus to get from Nice to Èze Village (don’t confuse it with Èze sur Mer which is located on the seashore). If time is an issue, have a picnic with a view in the botanical garden, stroll around the enchanted medieval alleys of the village and grab a quick tour of the Fragonard Perfume Factory. It will be a good start of your relationship with the place, since I guarantee you will be back.

 

Musée Masséna

20150910_17453665 Rue de France, 06000 Nice, France

Nothing reflects the nature and history of a city better than historical houses, private residences of its citizens. It is the personal that speaks to us – furnishing, decorations, art, architectural details. Walking through the strikingly beautiful Villa Massena, a private residence of André Masséna, prince of Essling, one gets a glimpse of the life of the Nice aristocracy of the Belle Époque.

The 19th century villa, surrounded by a beautiful garden, is open to the public from the Promenade des Anglais and rue de France. It is located next to yet another Nice landmark – Hotel Negresco. Today it is an art and history museum. The first two floors introduce the history of Nice from 1792 to 1939 with a particular focus on its artistic life and the Carnival. Exhibits include paintings, old photographs of Nice, Carnival posters, sculptures (among them one of Napoleon along with his death mask), private possessions of Nice’s distinguished residents, as well as furniture and decorations of the time. The third floor houses a library with thousands of documents related to the city’s history.

The Massena Museum belongs to the category which I call “easy”. You can spend there as little or as much time as you wish, and you will still leave with an appreciation of the city’s past which will give you a better appreciation of its present. The museum shop is a gem. Even though it is quite small, you can always find some artfully tasteful gifts to take home. And, of course, relaxing in the museum’s garden after the visit is a special treat. You can use the garden for free even if you are not visiting the museum, a special stipulation of the Massena estate when the villa became the property of the City of Nice at the beginning of the 20th century. A very thoughtful approach indeed.

 

Rue Paradis: paradise indeed

20160122_121750Rue Paradis in Nice is a tiny version of Avenue Montagne in Paris. Strategically located in the main shopping area of the city, it neatly ties together other higher-end shopping streets – rue Alphonse Karr and rue Longchamp on one side and avenue de Verdun on the other. The street houses well-known French and international brands, such as Chanel, Max Mara, Sonia Rykiel and the Kooples. The brand Faconable, so quintessentially French, seems to scream “French Riviera”, with its abundance of striped boatneck t-shirts and sky-blue sweaters. The prices scream “French Riviera” too.

If you are on the market for some investment pieces, make sure you buy French. Otherwise, what’s the point? Check out Gerard Darel on avenue de Verdun, ba@sh on rue Longchamp, Sandro and Lacoste on rue Alphonse Karr. If you’re on a budget, a stroll in the area can offer useful suggestions of the trends whose cheaper versions you can buy in the neighbouring avenue Jean Medecin or rue Massena. After all, it’s all about having fun with clothing, something that the French are known for.

Ombrelles Bestagno: let it rain, let it rain, let it rain

20140904_16360917, rue de la Prefecture Nice, France 06300

It does not often rain in Nice, but, when it does, the rain is biblical. It seems like the sky opens, and there is no escape. You get soaked through within minutes. Needless to say, having no umbrella is not an option. If you are looking for an umbrella which says “quality”, “reliability”, “France”, “style” and “fun”, look no further than “Ombrelles Bestagno” in Old Nice. Founded in 1850, the shop sells umbrellas, parasols and walking sticks. All the items are made in France.

Having been a resident of The Netherlands for years, I take my umbrellas very seriously. When you need one almost every day, you don’t want it to fall apart with the first blow of the wind. And it should look good, of course. Maison Bestagno felt like I found myself in the umbrella paradise. The variety of umbrellas was overwhelming – from traditional black to all sorts of designs (well-known impressionist paintings, French prints, you name it), big and small, those that fold and could be deposited even in a small ladies’ purse and those with big handles to be paraded in public. The opportunities were endless. The biggest selling point, however, was the warantee which came with each umbrella. If something happened to it, you could get it fixed in the store. And guess what? After the fierce Dutch winds damaged our umbrella, we took it back to Nice on our next visit. Maison Bestagno got it fixed – no questions asked.

The Port of Nice

20160117_113456It is common knowledge that any port on the Cote d’Azur – from Nice to Monaco or from Antibes to Cannes – is breathtakingly beautiful, and the Port of Nice is no exception. If you are on the Promenade des Anglais, continue your stroll in the direction of Old Nice. The Port of Nice will emerge once you turn the corner near Le Chateau.  Luxurious yachts and simple fishing boats, cruise ships, restaurants and cafes, tourists and locals, people on bikes and rollerblades – this is a lovely walk in a lovely place.

The Port of Nice is a hub of the French Riviera, being the main Mediterranean harbor. During the season, one can catch a boat to Saint-Tropez or Cannes, a much better proposition than travelling by bus or by train. Here you can also get on a ferry to Corsica or Sardinia. Those with a car can take it on board instead of going through the hassle of renting it on-site. The port carries with it a sense of adventure, and what can be better when you are on vacation?

Galerie des Dominicains

20170125_0718529 Rue Saint-François de Paule, 06300 Nice, France

If you are wandering around Old Nice, don’t miss the Dominican Gallery, located next to the Dominican Church. Having the best address in town – in front of the Nice Opera – it is an art gallery run by Dominican monks.  This is a very cool concept which reflects the cultural values of the French society. The French – from monks to politicians to people on the street – support art. Run by Frere Didier, the gallery exhibits both local and international artists. Entry is free, and you might even be lucky to attend an opening and to chat with the exhibiting artist.

We discovered the gallery on the way home from a restaurant. It was close to midnight. Through the window, we could see an artist hanging his works before the opening. Half an hour later, we were sharing wine and discussing his work and its symbolism. The artist turned out be from Nice which made the discussion even more interesting. After all, it was an opportunity to meet a local.  The next day we attended the opening, and several weeks later we bought the artist’s work. Perhaps this is the best illustration of what the Dominican Gallery is all about. It gives you a chance to meet people, to discuss art and to make new friends. And, if you are lucky, to become an owner of that special painting, sculpture or photograph which spoke to your heart.

Cagnes-sur-Mer

20170215_090400Cagnes-sur-Mer is a suburb of Nice. It takes about half an hour by a city bus to get here. It is a small and pleasant coastal town with an attractive marina and a fairy-tale old town. Its main attractions are the Renoir Museum and Château Musée Grimaldi.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir spent the last twelve years of his life here. He died in 1919. Today his house is a museum. It is a lovely place to visit on a sunny afternoon when you can linger in the shade of the olive and citrus trees while admiring the views which inspired the great artist.  Château Musée Grimaldi is a 14th century castle, a former residence of Monaco’s royal family. Today it houses an art and ethnography museum whose small but exquisite art collection includes the works of Jean Cocteau and Kees van Dongen. Perched on a high hill, the castle is part of the town’s medieval centre and offers stunning views of the area.

All the sights are within walking distance. Start with the Grimaldi Museum, grab a cup of coffee or a snack in a little restaurant offering spectacular views next to the museum, descend through the magical old town to the Renoir Museum and finish the trip by strolling in the harbor. It will make for a very pleasant day indeed.