Côte d’Azur means The Blue Coast, and indeed the Mediterranean Sea is a bright azure blue color here in the Riviera.
Nice is a bustling seaside resort. To the west is Cannes and St. Tropez. To the east, about an hour away, is Monte Carlo in the country of Monaco. Think Princess Grace and James Bond and you’ll get the idea!
Nice is situated on a large U-shaped cove, with the city curving around the sea and towering hills behind. The main drag, Promenade de Anglais, is a palm lined boulevard with the grand hotels on one side and a rocky beach against the calm sea on the other. Between is the Promenade, where people stroll day and night. Our top floor balcony gave a good view of all the action.
Back in July of this year there was a terrorist attack right here on the Promenade. We saw several memorials to the victims – impromptu collections of candles and gifts laid on the sidewalk.
We’ve been wandering around Nice these last few days, and there’s plenty to see. We found high-end shops like Louis Vuitton and Chanel, ticky tacky souvenir stores, and everything in between. Along with hundreds of swell restaurants to chose from. But mostly we’ve enjoyed seeing the architecture, statues, and parks. We’re a couple of real tourists!
Our last day in France was spent in Vieux Nice, which is the old historic district with its winding alleys, cafes, and boutiques.
Tim loves baroque churches and I like modern art. We found both within a few blocks; St. Reparate Cathedral and the Museum of Modern Art. It was a study of opposites – maximum decoration versus minimalism.
Tonight we will try to stuff everything back in our suitcases for departure tomorrow. It will be a tight squeeze!
The big city of Aix was today’s grand venue. Melissa arranged a special treat for us – a tour of a chocolate factory! Puyricard is a super-duper chocolate maker, supplying creamy and lucious confections all made by hand. We were outfitted in sanitary suits for the two-hour tour, and got to sample chocolates from each work station. The factory has only 15 employees, and they are very picky about quality. We saw many perfectly good chocolates tossed in the trash for some tiny imperfection. I’d guess we won’t find Puyricard products at home because the shelf life is only a few days. No preservatives!
Shopping in Aix was next – a modern city with plenty of high-end stores. Tim is on a constant quest for Absinthe, which is a liqueur that used to be banned in the US because it’s slightly, well, hallucinogenic. Absinthe can be credited for assisting the great artists of the 1890’s, like Van Gogh.
Lunch was enjoyed at an outdoor cafe in the historic district. We sat in a tiny alleyway squeezed between ornate gothic buildings and watched the locals go about their daily business.
We toured the surrounding countryside, winding through knobs and wooded hills that could have been in Kentucky or Tennesee. Except there are castle ruins in the distance. And groves of olive trees.
The big difference is in the small towns. They are colorful and charming, and about 1500 years older than anything back home. Well-settled you might call it.
The Provence region is in the southeast corner of France, sandwiched between the Alps the Mediterranean Sea. People have inhabited this area since Neolithic times. (Those famous cave paintings of the colorful horses are here.) Conquering Romans left their mark with aqueducts that are still standing more than a thousand years later. Crusaders also passed through leaving their legacy of monasteries and churches. Provence was an independent state until Louis XI wrested control from Good King Rene in 1486 and incorporated the region into greater France.
In the 1780’s, after the British finished punking on Americans they harassed Napoleon next. Provence welcomed the Brits because they hated Bonaparte and a counter-revolutionary movement took form here. Admiral Horatio Nelson blockaded the harbors and when Napoleon escaped from his prison in Elba, he detoured around the hostile cities of Provence. Even today the region maintains its fierce independent mind-set. They are the Texans of France.
Provence is mostly rural. There are farms and vineyards threaded throughout the rocky hillsides. And of course the famous lavender fields. L’Occitane is a world renown beauty product maker, distilling only locally grown lavender and herbs. We took a tour of the factory and tried hard to understand the presentation given in French. Then we went on a spree in their store which was much easier. Shopping is the universal language.
This is also the home of the design style and architecture we know as French Provincial.
The charming city of Manosque is nearby, and we strolled the shops along picturesque alleys and visited the farmer’s market brimming with sumptuous looking produce.
I bought a couple of postcards and struggled to come up with the right change in euro coins. “Encore,” the shopkeeper said helpfully, meaning I was a bit shy on the amount. I pulled out an American quarter and he pocketed it with a grin.