Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Provence II

After a fantastic four days in Nice, we rented a car at the airport and headed West on the Auto Route toward Entrecasteaux and Cotignac ("one of the prettiest villages in the Var"). How exciting it was passing signs for St. Tropez and Cannes, but we continued nonstop to the little villages in the Var. I had not heard of the Var until I read Robert Carrier's description in Feasts of Provence. There I leaned that France is divided into provinces like Normandy, Brittany or Provence, and further divided into Departments within those provinces. We reached Cotignac at around 1:00, in time to see the perfectly Provencal square lined with cafés full of the happy clatter of locals enjoying Sunday lunch. This was the Provence I had been dreaming about

Cotignac main square as it looked when we arrived on a Sunday during lunch


                  Here I am in front of the fountain at one end of the main square in Cotignac

Cotignac again from one side of the "place"


Then on to Entrecasteaux and the Bastide where we were staying. From the tiny website the place looked rather rustic, but when we finally found it (between the chapel and the cemetery)  we were greeted by a stylish French couple in a lovely country residence. The breakfasts were served en plein air and included fresh croissants and pain au chocolats with home made fruit preserves, yoghurt, fresh cherries etc. Our view included the sweet little chapel across the field. Take a look Bastide de Notre Dame.

Our Bastide de Notre Dame which overlooked the tiny chapel


While planning the trip, I consulted many guidebooks. Lonely Planet is always helpful, but I also checked Rick Steve's Provence  and Insight Guides for Nice and the French Riviera and the charming Pedaling Through Provence by Sarah Leah Chase. However, the guides I liked best were the Michelin GreenGuides. They describe  every village, town and market of interest, plus they provide city plans and detailed maps for well organized walking and driving tours and nature hikes. They're a wealth of information and they're in English. Even Rick Steve's appears to have copied some of the detailed maps. Unfortunately, my trip overlapped the French Riviera and the Provence GreenGuides, so I packed the French Riviera and copied pages from Provence.



We had booked two nights in Entrecasteaux, so on our first full day we ventured out to see surrounding villages like Tourtour and Aups. They were all delightful.

Tourtour mid-morning
The next stop on our circular driving tour was Sillans-la-Cascade. As we walked through the tiny village we saw a small sign for the "cascade."  We kept walking, met up with another couple also headed for the same place and soon found ourselves at a stream. As we continued we heard water splashing and passed fishermen who assured us we were on the right path. After a bit we discovered a striking waterfall, much more dramatic than we had imagined. The other couple had reached it before us and offered to take a photo. We were all surprised to find such a lovely spot.


Cascade de Sillans
After more scenic driving to more picturesque villages, we headed back to Cotignac for dinner at one of the cafes on the square. I had the huge duck breast and Dean had steak frites. A Green salad accompanied every meal throughout the trip.



Onward to the Gorges du Verdon, or the French Grand Canyon, with a dizzying rocky descent and a rushing blue-green stream far below. Driving here was harrowing due to the maniacs speeding around hairpin turns. At the end we came to the charming town of Moustiers-Ste-Marie, seemingly cut from the rocky hillside and full of Faience pottery,



In the friendly calm of the village, we enjoyed our picnic lunch consisting of a baguette I snagged at a boulangerie along the route and sheep cheese, or Brebis, that we purchased from an old Shepard at a lookout along the Gorges.

I got the last baguette at a tiny boulangerie on our way to the Gorges

 Late in the afternoon, we reached our destination of Nyons. The town was as picturesque as I remembered and we unpacked for four fun-filled days. We loved our room at Une Autre Maison which  I had chosen for its location near the old town and its leafy surroundings.


I'm having fun exploring the pool and grounds at Une Autre Maison. The weather was perfect

The petit dejeuner was fantastic, with a basket-full of fresh breads, pain au chocolat, croissants and homemade preserves

Breakfast was served in the courtyard and we had already started when I took this photo

                      After breakfast we walked to the huge, bustling Tuesday Nyons market.

This area is just one part of the spacious Nyons market



The medieval castle of Grignan had just closed for the mid day break, so we circled the ancient exterior.

washing my hands after lunch




Onward to the Pont du Gard—a massive Roman aqueduct, now a world heritage sight near Avignon. This had been on my bucket list for some time and on this trip we made it. It was impressive and totally worth the effort, even though it was hot and dry touring the site.

Dean sporting his walking stick at the Pont du Gard on a hot day




The Pont was close to Nimes and Avignon, but I chose Arles for our next night, partly for it's Roman forum and partly for the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh  lived in Arles and painted "Starry Night" during his stay. There are reminders all over town.

A crooked menu at Café La Nuit Van Gogh

Ancient Arles at sunset
video

  Click to see football mania on television screens around the main Square in Arles during the European Championship, which took place all over France in June during our trip. Who knew?

St. Paul de Vence from our terrace
From Arles it was a short drive along the Mediterranean to the  ancient perched village of St.-Paul de Vence. I insisted on staying at the Hotel Colombe D'Or, famed playground for artists and film stars and other celebrities in the 50s ad 60s. There is original art throughout the hotel, donated by artists like Calder, Matisse or Picasso, in exchange for their meals.

Pool at Colombe D'or with Calder Mobile


Yves Montand, famous French film star, jumping into the Colombe D'or pool in the late 1950s


Montand playing cards with Simone Signoret in the outside dining room c.1951. It still looks just. like this



                   More art pops up at the entrance to the terrace dining area at The ColombeD'or

Jeune Fille s'évedant 1968 by Joan Miro at Foundation Maeght

Along the vertiginous mountain road, just downhill from St-Paul de Vence, we came to The Foundation Maeght . This fabulous museum houses one of Europe's largest collections of 20th century art. The museum itself is a masterpiece which integrates a Giacometti courtyard, Miró sculptures across  terraced gardens, colored-glass windows by Braque and mosaics by Chagall and Tal-Coat. The works are exhibited on a rotating basis. In fact, the last time we were here the Miró above was sitting outside on the lawn.

A fountain with spraying green men adorns the beautiful grounds at Foundation Maeght

After only one dreamy night in our terraced suite at the Colombe D'or, we bid farewell to St-Paul de Vence, vowing to return. We had one more whole day left in France and we decided to drive along the Riviera to Menton on the italian border, to see the Musée Jean Cocteau. Check out my next Provence blog for details.






Sunday, November 13, 2016

Avocados in Kauai

Basket of avocados at the Tuesday afternoon farmers' market in Hanalei

      Avocados are certainly having their moment. America's new favorite fruit, always beloved in guacamole, is now a trendy toast topper. Popping up in restaurants, blogs and all over the web,  Avocado Toast is the current foodie obsession. To complicate matters for toast lovers, the price of Mexican avocados is soaring just as the California season has ended. Mexican growers are withholding fruit as they negotiate higher payment from packers, so the wholesale price is now two to four times higher than usual. Feeling the price pinch myself,  I was delighted to see baskets and bins of gorgeous avocados at farmers' markets in Kauai last week.




Markets featured two varieties in November when I vacationed there, but they grow as many as 30  described here

Bananas, papayas. dragon fruit and avocados in Hanalei's Tuesday afternoon market
I hit five different farmers' markets in my eight days on the island, and picked up avocados at each one. Due to tropical weather, they ripened faster than at home, and it was hard to keep up.


My favorite snack in Kauai was a piece of whole grain toast with garlicky hummus from the Kilauea Bakery, topped with sliced cucumber and avocado from the market.

Avocado Toast from Frog Hollow Farm in the Ferry Building, San Francisco
                                       So beautiful, so simple it doesn't really need a recipe


Check out the $12 price of Frog Hollow Farm's avocado toast in San Francisco's Ferry Building. In New York the toasts can go for $16 or more! Luckily, they're so easy to assemble at home.

And while we're on the subject, don't forget to try my previously published recipe for Avocado Facial Scrub in the blog Vitamin Pills in the Compost.





Sunday, October 16, 2016

Provence Dreaming - Nice

 Feasts of Provence by Robert Carrier published by Rizzoli, c. 1988 ---    The inspiration for this trip

      I started dreaming about returning to Provence some years ago but the trip never happened. Australia and Calabria happened, but Provence got pushed back. I wanted to revisit a few places I had enjoyed, like Nyons and the Gorges du Verdon and St. Paul de Vence, and I also wanted to explore new regions in the ancient Roman "provinces."  I assembled various books and articles on Provence from my collection, and one wintry night last December I started browsing through Robert Carrier's Feasts of Provence.  I read the following paragraph in his introduction: "All around the little village there were hills of pine and scrub and wild herbs, and then further on other villages-- Entrecasteaux with it's lovely old chateau; Le Thoronet with its austere abbey,  Flayosc, Villecroze and Tourtour.  Nearby lay Cotignac, one of the prettiest villages in the Var, with its charming open square and fountain. To me this is one of the loveliest areas in all France." When I finished reading,  I knew where I wanted to go.



Provence and its regions

                  I found a fanciful map of Provence in Erica Brown's Provence Gastronomique


             And based on Robert Carrier's recommendations and my memories, I planned my trip...

This time I would forget Paris and begin in Nice. We would drive to Cotignanc and surrounding towns, continue through the Gorges du Verdon and up to Nyons, a town I had visited twice before and bookmarked to revisit for a longer stay. I would make sure to see the Pont du Gard and spend the night in nearby Arles with its amphitheater and Van Gogh foundation, before heading back to St Paul de Vence for a return visit. Then we could swing down to Menton on the Italian border to catch the striking Cocteau museum. Finally, we would  end the trip in Nice where we had begun. Now I needed to make reservations.


Leaving Dublin after a hearty breakfast with Irish brown bread

Oddly enough, our trip to Provence began in Dublin. It turned out to be complicated and expensive to fly to Nice from San Francisco so we took Aer Lingus to Dublin. We stayed overnight at the Albany House B and B, took in some sights, had a superb dinner and continued on to Nice the following day.

The Long Room, Trinity College Library---Dublin
Of course my first order of business in Dublin was to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Ever since Library School I had hoped to see the ancient Celtic illuminated manuscript of the four gospels written in Latin and illuminated on vellum.  I pre-booked tickets so I wouldn't be disappointed. Luckily Trinity College was a short walk from our B and B, and on the way we got to pass St Stephen's Green, a huge park packed with Dubliners frolicking about on this unseasonably beautiful day,


Sweet pea puree with raw scallops and vegetables

Pictured above is one of a number of stunning courses we ate at Bang Restaurant in Dublin, possibly the best meal of the trip. Don't miss it if you go to Dublin. Extra plusses for the moderate tab and the short walk from our hotel. We almost got locked in the park strolling home! I can't wait to return (and I still need to see James Joyce's house)


We landed in Nice on another lovely day and took the short cab ride to the Hotel Swisse overlooking the Baie des Anges. We were thrilled with the view from our third floor room. This hotel was a winner!

Early morning view from our balcony after a light rain, then down to a great French breakfast


We plunged right into Vieux Nice, which started only a few blocks from our hotel. We got wonderfully lost wandering the scenic streets, and on our first afternoon we somehow missed the Cours Saleya, with the huge daily market.


The next morning we made sure to check our map and head straight for the famous market which rambles all along the Cours Saleya, conveniently near our hotel.



On our way to the market I spotted two agnes b shops, one for men and the other for women. Because the store in San Francisco closed years ago, I was thrilled to discover my favorite designer so close to our hotel. I admire her so much I wrote a blog about her, My Agnes b. blog



                           Farther down Cours Saleya we found  Alzieri, the famous olive oil shop

Place Rosetti
I'm smiling on the fountain at Place Rosetti in the center of Vieux Nice, probably because I had just enjoyed a gelato at Fenocchio's, best glacier in Nice.


Place Rosetti
Every time we wandered in Old Nice we seemed to wind up at this bustling Place filled with happy locals and tourists eating, drinking and relaxing. There were Irish flags hanging out of some windows, due to the influx of Northern Irish football fans. Somehow I had planned the trip to France during the infamous European Cup Soccer matches, all held in various cities throughout FRANCE.

Great museums flourish in Nice and our first destination was the Musée National Marc Chagall, a pleasant bus ride up through the smart residential Cimiez district. The museum houses the largest selection of Chagall paintings anywhere. The collection is stunning and I have included only a fraction of insets that struck me.




Adam exposing his rib in a yoga pose (half lotus)






After our serious viewing, we crossed the lawn to the adorable café for a cool drink. Then we took the bus back down to town


The  Musée Matisse is farther up the Boulevard de Chimiez. The grounds are a bit shabby and the collection itself is not as impressive as the Chagall museum. In fact we were glad that we went to Musée Chagall first. This was an anticlimax. Still, we enjoyed seeing some impressive works like the odalisque above and the dancers below.


One  of many Matisse drawings in the museum


Our captain

One morning after delicious croissants and café au laits, we took the 11 a.m. coastal cruise with Trans Cote d'Azur from Nice's colorful Port. We spent a pleasant hour on the Mediterranean viewing the elite villages from Villefranche sur mer to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and marveled at the picturesque hills dotted with villas of the royal, super-rich and famous.

Villefranche sur mer

I never tired of the pastel and ochre buildings, and the particular hustle and bustle of the ports along the riviera. But after four stimulating days and nights in and around Nice, it was time to get out our Michelin map #245, rent a car and move on.