From Socca to Foie Gras

My article written for FRANCE ON YOUR OWN newsletter:  

When thinking of the French Riviera, Nice in particular, the senses become engaged: the sight of the azure Mediterranean Sea, the sound of the waves softly lapping the shoreline, the feel of the pebbles underfoot as you walk on the beach, the smell of the salty sea mist in the air, and mostly, the taste of local specialties, such as salade niçoise and socca (a pancake made from chickpea flour and served warm with black pepper). With a Mediterranean climate and average of 300 days of sunshine, the area is indeed attractive and booming.

When thinking of the Dordogne region, Sarlat in particular, the senses become equally engaged: the sight of medieval architecture and castles, the sound of market vendors selling their wares, the feel of cobblestones underfoot as you walk through the historical center, the smell of countryside air, and mostly, the taste of local specialties such as foie gras (duck liver that originated in ancient Egypt around 2500 BC and now is emblematic of French gastronomy) and black truffles (an edible fungus that averages 500-1000€ per kg). With the variety of four distinct climatic seasons, the area is a kaleidoscope of landscape colors.

Both places are famous for their cultural activities that attract tourists from far and wide, especially the outdoor markets promoting local produce and regional specialties: Cours Saleya in Old Nice and Place de la Mairie in the historical center of Sarlat.  Tourism is vital to both: Nice has a population of approximately 340,000 and attracts an average of 5,000,000 visitors a year, while Sarlat’s population is around 10,000 with an average of 1,500,000 visitors per year.  Due to its smaller size, the town of Sarlat has a more drastic decline in visitors than the city of Nice during the winter months, not to mention overall colder temperatures, yet both host cultural events to attract tourists during the low season.

Nice WikipediaTrivia & Tidbits:

Nice

  • the meaning of Nice (Nikaia in Greek) is the Goddess of victory; it became part of France in 1860
  • the original name of the Promenade des Anglais was “La Strada del Littorale” and it was originally made of marble
  • Albert 1st park is named after a Belgian king and is the oldest garden in Nice
  • the Carnaval has been a tradition for 700 years
  • the name “Côte d’Azur” was coined by the writer and poet, Stephen Liegeard, in 1888
  • the destruction of the castle on Castle Hill was ordered in 1706 by Louis XIV, but this resulted in the city’s growth
  • Nice’s traditional flower is the carnation; Nice’s specialty olive is the “caillette”, and tapenade is called the “caviar of Nice”
  • candied fruit was a favorite delicacy of Queen Victoria
  • Cours Saleya market was named after the sun “soleil” and has been Nice’s main market since the Middle Ages
  • Architecturally: Italian colors are ochre and yellow; French colors are beige and white – as seen in Place Massena

Sarlat Market. Copyright Kim Defforge. All rights reserved.Sarlat

  • Sarlat-la-Canéda (or simply Sarlat) is located in the Dordogne département of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in southwestern France
  • Inhabited since Gallo-Roman times, Sarlat became prosperous at the end of the 8th century
  • The town suffered from the Norman invasions and then from the Hundred Years War, owing to its position as a frontier region between the kings of France and England
  • Sarlat, one of the most popular of the Dordogne villages, developed around a large Benedictine abbey of Carolingian origin
  • Most of the town has been preserved and is representative of 14th century France with authentic restoration work
  • Sarlat’s weekly market has been in existence since the Middle Ages
  • Known for its regional specialties of foie gras, duck confit, walnuts, & truffles
  • Sarlat’s emblem is the salamander, due to its S shape and also because it once was featured on the coat of arms of the French monarchy
  • Host to an annual film festival since 1991

For traveling, you can’t beat the accessibility of the Nice airport and the city’s extensive bus system (except when there is a strike, bien sûr!).  By contrast, the Dordogne’s rural setting and its smaller airports significantly increases overall travel time, resulting in difficulty in getting to and from international destinations, except perhaps to the U.K.

As for ambiance, while living in Nice, I woke up to the cacophony of cars, buses, and pedestrians, inherent with city living and its hustle and bustle of activity.  Compare that setting to Sarlat, where morning birdsong and the sound of an occasional car passing by is the norm – a matter of urban vs. rural setting, each with its pros/cons & sounds:  Chacun à son gout (to each his own)!

After living nine years on the French Riviera, Kim now resides in the Dordogne.
Owner of Manoir Fontaine de l’Amour with its fully-equipped, holiday rental apartment,
she is ready to welcome you to the medieval town of Sarlat.
Visit her 24/7 in France blog  at https://twentyfourseveninfrance.com/
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Brand Spanking New: The Gare de Nice Gets a Makeover

The Gare de Nice
The Gare de Nice. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

If you’ve travelled to or from Nice on the train, you may remember the train station there as a rather dismal and somewhat confusing place. People crowding together to get through to the platforms, bumping elbows and closely guarding pockets and purses. Always a “traffic jam” by the entrance to the platform as a horde of travelers tried to navigate through the crowd to stamp their tickets, as required, in the little yellow machines.

The ticket office stood off to one side, awkwardly designed so as to require queuing up in a long line to wait for an agent.

Outside and below this office, a lone and uninviting restaurant with few other options nearby.

In fact, I think many would agree that the whole area in and surrounding the Gare de Nice was one to simply get away from as quickly as possible.

Now, dear past and future visitors to Nice, all that has wonderfully changed! This once disheveled building and its environs has had a major facelift.

Gare de Nice
The main hall with a beautifully restored ceiling. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

The building itself has been lovingly restored. The ornate grillwork over the main entrance has been polished up, and the lovely set of arched doors now enter into a spacious, open and light-filled room. The large square ceiling has been painted like a chapel and the platform doors to the trains are now opened up, giving travellers the freedom to come and go. No more crowds squeezing through a limited area.

The train schedules are projected onto the side of one wall giving it all a clean updated feel, and there are other bright new schedule signs throughout.

And those little yellow machines to stamp the tickets now sit rather sheepishly by the platform doors, still pretty but humbled.

To the left of the main waiting room is a new Relay store for your magazines newspapers and candy; to the right, a shiny new sandwich shop where you can stock up before boarding your train to Paris or Avignon.

Gare de Nice
The new deli inside the station. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

The far end of the station is now the ticket office, complete with a ‘take-a-number’ machine and bright décor – purple and yellow chairs for waiting and tables where you can plug in a laptop.

All these changes are refreshing and welcome! But there’s more. The exterior of the station has also had a makeover. The huge open plaza in front is now home to a modern tourist office and a Paul boulangerie/patisserie.

These changes to the station have had a larger impact on the entire area near the Gare, with people relaxing at restaurants across the street. From super sketchy to stylish, it is a remarkable transformation!

The overhaul of the Nice Gare is not complete; the work goes on. But already the new look and feel of this busy station on the Côte d’Azur will make landing in this charming city a treat.

Gare de Nice
The exterior of the Gare de Nice. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

CREDIT/SOURCE: By Mary Kay Seales – FRANCE TODAY

French Riviera / Cote d’Azur

Sun and sea, nature, villages perched, beauty, diversity, art, activity, traditions, & yachts:  some words that come to mind, from living here for over 8 years, but what stands out the most is (Mediterranean) BLUE!  The one thing I would change would be to have sandy beaches in Nice, rather than pebbly ones.

Overview of Nice and all that this area has to offer – watch new Tourist Office video HERE

 

 

Markets in Provence

Market-in-Provence-Photo-by-Sylvia-DavisVisiting open-air markets in Provence is one of life’s great little pleasures. Market day has been a way of life for Provençals for generations. The market serves as much as a social function bringing together the community each week …

Source: Markets in Provence

Christmas on the Côte d’Azur

REBLOGGED from blog at http://www.loumessugo.com

Christmas on the Côte d’Azur is full of fun, often full of good weather and probably a great deal more festive than you might think.

Christmas on Côte dAzur

Christmas Markets

Most towns in the area will have some form of Christmas market, perhaps with a theme, usually only for a day or two and nearly always in the month of December, not before (though there are some exceptions).  Here are some of my favourites

Aix-en-Provence:  the earliest market in the area.  It runs from 19 November – 27 December in the Cours Mirabeau consisting of regular chalet-style stalls selling everything and anything (gift based). There is also a separate market for the traditional 13 desserts of Provence on the 18-24 December in Place François Villon – Les Allées Provençales.

Christmas market Aix en Provence

Le Rouret:  another November market, this time just for one day on Sunday 29 November.  Le Rouret Christmas market is billed as “pure tradition” in the sense of past times/olden days and differs from many others in that it focuses on traditional artisanal crafts with displays of past trades and people dressed up in period costumes.  You won’t see much plastic tat here but you will find a lot of lovely produce and live farm animals for children to pet.  I’ve written about it in detail here.  My advice is to go early, it gets very crowded and parking can be a problem.

Christmas market Le Rouret

Valbonne:  one of my favourites, Valbonne Christmas market isn’t a “chalet” market, rather the streets of the old village are filled with market stalls just like every Friday morning but more of them, more christmassy and longer lasting.   To get into the Christmas spirit there’s nothing like a wander around this market followed by a drink in the square and a mosey around the seasonal show by the church, town hall and river.  Over the last couple of years this has been an incredible display of fire and lights.  This year’s programme is not out yet, but it’s sure to be good.  The market stays open in the evenings while the shows take place.  This year the festivities are from 20-24 December.

Valbonne Christmas market vin chaud

Nice:  the Christmas market is a classic affair of wooden chalets selling Christmas trinkets, jewellery, food, crafts, clothing and other gifts.  It is normally held in Place Massena where you’ll also find the Big Wheel, a children’s area of trampolines and bouncy castles, usually a merry-go-round shaped like a Christmas tree, oyster and champagne bars, vin chaud and a skating rink. (However this year due to the current security issues it will be within the gated section of the Jardin Albert 1er and I’m not sure about the children’s area, best to check online before going and I’ll update when I know).  The views from the giant ferris wheel are lovely and the atmosphere is always very festive here.  The theme this year is “traditions and folklore” and it runs from 5 December – 4 January.

Nice Christmas market

Monaco:  the Christmas market on the port usually has a food theme with plenty of chalets serving delicious seasonal and festive food from around the world.  There’s also a big wheel here along with a small fair for children and the wonderful skating rink.  The market is open from 4 December – 3 January.

Christmas market Monaco

Roquefort les Pins:  my town of Roquefort has its own festive celebration showcasing Christmas around the world at its annual “Noëls du Monde”.   A quarter of the population of the town is foreign and to honour this countryfolk from places as diverse as Poland, Peru, Holland, Haiti, Australia, Italy, Sweden, UK, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Africa and more come together to share their Christmas traditions with food, crafts and other specialities.  This year it takes place on 12 December.

Noels du Monde

Decorations & Illuminations

Lucéram:  one of the highlights of Christmas on the Riviera has got to be visiting the lovely perched village of Lucéram to see the display of hundreds of Nativity scenes (creches/cribs).  It’s so very different from regular town Christmas decorations, unique and wonderfully festive.  This year the village is decorated from 1 December – 6 January.

Lucéram Christmas village

Nice:  Nice’s Christmas illuminations are always pretty good centering on Place Massena and the water mirror/fountains in the Promenade du Paillon, the streets around Massena, Ave Jean Medecin, Place Garibaldi, the Promenade des Anglais and around Cours Saleya.  There’s always a giant Santa opposite Lenval (the children’s hospital) on the Prom for the poor kids in hospital over the festive season to look out at and several large postboxes dotted around town to send Christmas wish lists to Father Christmas.

Christmas lights in Nice Promenade du Paillon

Shows, pantomimes and carols

The Nutcracker (Casse Noisette) by l’Opéra National de Russie at l’Acropolis Nice, 10 Dec, 8pm

The Nutcracker by The Royal Ballet live cinema screening at CIV cinema 16 Dec, 8.15pm (to find out more about live CINEMA screening and to be in with a chance of winning tiickets click here). Primary school children FREE.

Troïka sur Glace, ice skating show with a Russian theme, Monaco Port, 20 Dec, 5.30pm.  FREE.

Valbonne Christmas fireworks and light show – I’m just guessing here and will update as soon as the information becomes available but usually there’s a great spectacle on the lawn between the Mairie and church every evening that the market is on.

Valbonne Christmas fire spectacle

Sleeping Beauty panto in English 1st performance 15 Dec Chateauneuf-Grasse then many more shows through December.

Carol Concert by Riviera International Singers, Antibes Cathedral  4 Dec,  7.30pm in aid of the Antibes Lifeboat, and  at Valbonne church 10 Dec 8pm + 12 Dec 6pm (Valbonne church has heated pews, this is a luxury I’d never come across before living on the Côte d’Azur!)

Big Blaze Chorus Winter Concert, Holy Trinity Church Cannes 3 Dec, 7pm

Christmas Concert by Sweet Seven, Valbonne church 6 Dec, 5pm.

carol concert in Valbonne

 Skating

Skating at outdoor pop-up rinks has become an integral part of Christmas fun in many places around the world and the Côte d’Azur is no exception.  My family love the rink at Monaco (the pool on the port is transformed into a rink for 3 months every winter). Skating to the backdrop of sailing boats and super yachts under a bright blue sky in mid-winter is an unbeatable experience!  (It’s also rarely crowded, you aren’t limited in time and you don’t have to book.)

Christmas skating rink Monaco

Patinoire à ciel ouvert Monaco Port, open every day from 4 Dec – 28 Feb except 20 Dec.

If you want to have a mountain experience, hopefully surrounded by some snow, the pop-up rink in Auronis rather lovely.  Open every day from December to the end of March (weather permitting).

Nice Place Massena, 5 Dec – 4 Jan every day from 11am – 8pm (sessions of 90 mins).

Christmas skating in Nice

 Santons

If you’re after something typically local to Provence and traditional at Christmas then do take a look at Santons.  These are clay figurines that come in many different shapes and sizes from standard Nativity scenes to more original characters from village life.  They are used to decorate houses at Christmas time and are available at most Christmas markets and at special fairs “Foire aux Santons” in a number of places.  They are highly collectable and make great gifts too.

santons of Provence foire aux santons

Here are the dates and locations of some Foires aux Santons on the Côte d’Azur and nearby.  The biggest and best is further afield in Marseille.

Mouans-Sartoux 13 Nov – 24 Dec, Mediathèque La Strada

Aix-en-Provence 29 Nov – 30 Dec, Espace Cézanne, Allées Provençales

Valbonne 13 Nov – 24 Dec, Salle paroissiale (church hall) next to St Blaise

For a very thorough programme of festivities in the Alpes-Maritimes check & pay attention to the dates as some information hasn’t been updated for 2015!

Christmas market stall

 

Annual Events Calendar

There’s always a lot of activity on the French Riviera, not to mention Old Town, the Promenade des Anglais, and the Promenade du Paillon park areas of Nice – come join the fun!

SOME ANNUAL EVENTS ON THE FRENCH RIVIERA:

annual events

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credit: Riviera Reporter

Work on Nice’s second tramway to gather pace in 2015 – The Riviera Times Online

Construction of Nice’s second tramway will pick up speed in 2015 as the preparatory work for underground stations has now been completed….

Work on Nice’s second tramway to gather pace in 2015 – The Riviera Times Online.

View conceptual video of tramway HERE