- Côte d'Azur,
- Cap d'Antibes,
- St-Paul de Vence
Nice and the entire southern coast provide so many different experiences. Hiking in the hills, exploring the villages perched on the cliffs, nightlife in the bigger cities. I especially like to stay in a rented villa in the country and drive the hairpin curved roads through the hills. I never know what i'll find.
See + Do
Nice is chock-full of high-energy eating, drinking, and culture, all of which reflects the city's Italian heritage and proximity to Italy. Nice is the fifth largest city in France and is far more than a resort. It has genuine local color, embodied in its street food and the vibrant old town of Vieux Nice. The more literal local color extends to the city's hues: The typical French beiges and grays are mixed with ocher, yellow, and terra-cotta buildings, especially toward the port. It's all loud, very Southern and hectic, more Naples than Paris. Wander through Vieux Nice and duck into the shadowy, whispering Cathédral Ste. Réparate on the Place Rossetti. You can wander for hours among the arcades of the pink-hued Place Masséna, or take a tram ride starting therea 1-euro bargain that takes you past the Old Port and allows several drop-offs in Vieux Nice. And then there's the Musée Matisse. The local entry in the Côte d'Azur art wars is housed in an impressive villa and contains pieces from all aspects of the artist's career. For a panoramic view of the town and the blue, blue sea, climb the Parc du Château, between Vieux Nice and the Old Port; its cliffs are dotted with pines and an artificial waterfall that looks over the city.
Restaurant de Bacon, France
Antibes 06160, France
Tel: 33 4 93 61 50 02
Look at the address—this is nothing to do with pork. It's a delightful casually epicurean tribute to fish that's been run by the Sordello family for nearly 60 years. In that time, the siblings who are now in charge, and the chef of 30 years, Serge Philippin, have learned to ace the sourcing of seafood, so this is where you'll get something that's harder and harder to find: the best of the catch. The soupe de poisson avec rouille, the bouillabaisse and the bourride are all magnificent of course, but an even better option is to order whatever they have today—loup, daurade royale, chapon, sar, corb, marbre, denti, pageot, mostelle. Merely reciting the piscine names brings the glittering Mediterranean in the Baie des Anges to mind; just imagine eating them in situ. The white tent-roofed dining room is gorgeous, as is the clientele—this is the Côte d'Azur. The terrace is divine.
Open Tuesdays 7:30 to 10 p.m. and Wednesdays through Sundays 12 to 2 p.m. and 7:30 to 10 p.m., March through October.
Hi-Food Cantine Bio, France
Nice 06000, France
Tel: 33 4 97 07 26 26
Nice's funkiest restaurant was styled by Philippe Starck acolyte Matali Crasset with a menu that changes monthly "designed" by chef Bernard Leduc. These recipes are prepared by Nice's frigoverres, or glass pots for the refrigerated display cabinet from which diners select. Each frigoverre costs a mere six euros, service included. The big question; is it any good? The largely gay clubbing crowd, who love the DJ, doesn't necessarily care, but the intentions—and vitamin content—are good. Dishes include: from the "Raw" menu, orange salad with prunes; or from the "Cereal" menu, ricotta cheese cake with blackberries and strawberries; or from the "Vegetarian" section, udon noodles with sautéed mushrooms and red pesto sauce; or from the "Cuisine" menu (microwaved in-house), chick-pea kebab. All this takes place in a land of pale wood and lime green, pink and turquoise leather. The experience is truly strange, but what a bargain.
Open daily 24 hours for guests; 7 to 1 a.m. daily for non-guests.
Le Mas de Pierre, France
St-Paul-de-Vence 06570, France
Tel: 39 4 93 59 00 10, Fax: 39 4 93 59 00 59
Beau Rivage, France
Nice 06300, France
Tel: 33 4 92 47 82 82
See + Do
Les Arènes, perhaps the world's best-preserved Roman amphitheatre, and the Maison Carrée, ditto in temples (33-4-66-21-82-56; www.arenes-nimes.com), are reason enough to visit this attractive but somewhat staid town. Time your visit to see an event in the 1st-century amphitheater—it's in regular use as a concert venue, theater, and bullfighting ring. By way of contrast, the Carré d'Art, a modern art complex, opened in 1993 in a Norman Foster building (66 Ave. Jean Jaurés; 33-4-66-64-56-16; www.carredart.org). About 14 miles northeast of Nîmes, you can visit the impressive Pont du Gard, the highest aqueduct the Romans built anywhere, which supplied the city with water (www.pontdugard.fr).
See + Do
Wine pilgrims have been heading here ever since Avignon-based Pope John XXII, an early oenophile, encouraged the locals to produce a wine that would compete with Burgundy and Bordeaux. The result was a dark-colored red wine of great concentration and power, now known around the world. The town itself is a somewhat businesslike medieval ring topped by a ruined Papal palace, with a long, steep climb past dozens of stores selling old and young versions of the local star product. Near the top is Le Verger des Papes, an excellent restaurant and wine store that offers tastings and a sweeping view of the Rhône valley. Don't bother driving around outside of town to check out prestigious wine properties in the area: Most can be visited only with an appointment, if at all. Instead, go to one of the local wine stores. They offer an astonishing variety of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, both red and white. Vinadéa is the best of these, a warm mini-emporium that sells 200 different wines, with tastings for collectors and amateurs alike. They also speak English and are open every day, a huge relief in this neck of the woods. The town bustles, even in low season, with tourists on a mission. You don't catch many camcorder-wielding crowds disgorging from tour buses: Your fellow visitors are likely to be red-toothed couples staggering under the weight of newly bought liquid treasure.
See + Do
This is Vincent's town, as you can see when you look at the live copy of his Café du Soir standing in the Place du Forum or visit l'Espace van Gogh, the cultural center they've made of the institution where he received treatment. But Arles is equally renowned for its Roman remains—the largest set outside Italy.
Jacquou le Croquant, France
Aix-en-Provence 13100, France
Tel: 33 4 42 27 37 19
Southwestern French cuisine is the raison d'être of this refreshingly casual, energetic restaurant. The entire staff seems to be of college age, including the chefs, who cook out of a semipublic kitchen, and the casual, friendly wait staff, some of whom still have braces on their teeth. The interior decor is negligible; go for the sun-filled narrow garden at the back, where you'll share the space with in-the-know locals. Duck and goose are everywhere on the menu, including the Starlette salad, a rich mix of marinated sautéed rabbit livers, duck rillettes, and foie gras atop some token greens. The house specialty is a tourtou of duck, a stuffed warm crêpe that is creamy, warm, satisfying, and pleasantly unlike the regime of olive oil and shellfish that reigns everywhere else in Aix. Wines are cheap, local, and cheerful. Jacquou may not be straight out of a Peter Mayle book, but it's a refreshing jolt of youth and energy in this sometimes sleepy-feeling region.
Opens daily at noon for lunch and 7 pm for dinner, April through September, and Tuesdays through Saturdays, October through March.
Le Passage, France
Aix-en-Provence 13100, France
Tel: 33 4 42 37 09 00
In a former candy factory is a mini village (there's also a cooking school, a wine shop, and an épicerie) offering Aix some overdue modern cuisine. Reine Sammut, one of the top female chefs in France, started the restaurant. She moved on in 2005, but her former chef de cuisine, Franck Dumont, is at the helm of this fashionably playful kitchen. Enjoy "gravlax" of beef with hand-cut fries and wasabi mayonnaise, or dorade à la plancha—medium-edgy dishes that match the branché Tribeca loft decor of exposed aluminum pipes, tall red banquettes, and white chairs against dark slate walls and floors. Some say it's an overpriced pose with patchy service, but all of Aix seems to be coming anyway.
Villa Gallici, France
Aix-en-Provence 13100, France
Tel: 33 4 42 23 29 23
Perched in a private park on a hillside above Aix-en-Provence, Villa Gallici is a vertical paradise of hidden terraces and sweeping views, a hideaway spot that features high service and discreet luxury amid rose gardens and cypress trees. The gated complex feels somewhat cut off from downtown Aix's bustle—the only downside. But the Gallici feels like a destination on its own: an old Provençal villa flanked by rows of apartments, a terraced restaurant, and a decadent swimming pool surrounded by bougainvillea. Interiors are densely packed with textiles and antique furnishings, but a modern feeling somehow emerges from the combination of traditional elements; the overall impression is one of luxury and airiness. The duplex suites are pricey but reward guests with peerless views of the city below, as well as baronial bathrooms with double sinks, claw-foot bathtubs, and separate showers. Fresh bouquets of roses and a heavy dose of floral aromatherapy permeate the rooms. Service is flawless, instant, and without a trace of condescension or stiffness. The overall effect is that rarest of things, a hotel "experience," an almost perfectly crafted environment.