Saturday Market in Sarlat

Sarlat’s population is approximately 10,000 but in summer jumps to around 100,000.  It’s late May and today, I saw two tour buses, strategically parked for attending the weekly Saturday morning market: the main street through town becomes an avenue of vendors, as well as throughout the historic center and its side streets – a true medieval maze of sights, smells, and flavors!

Regional specialties are walnuts, foie gras, strawberries, confit de canard, and a cheese made from goat’s milk, called “cabecou.”

cab_cou

walnuts

Walnuts

crown of flowers

Couronne de fleurs

nutcrackers

Nutcrackers

Piella

Paella

food covers

Incense

incens

Incense

baskets cremerie flowers hats

olives

food covers

Food screens & dream catchers

main square

Place de la Liberte (main square)

main street

Rue de la Republique

street tablecloths

confit de canard

Confit de canard

bread cheese

food stand strawberries

13 of the best hill villages near Nice

NOTE:  The “Village House for Sale” on the sidebar is located in village #7 on this list!

 

The Alpes-Maritimes department in south-east France, including the world famous Côte d’Azur, is home to several hundred medieval hill villages, fortified towns and ruined iron age camps, and many are close to Nice.  The “villages perchés” vary from little more than a pile of ruins to perfectly renovated sophisticated small towns, some are now the ancient centre of a modern town, others are gloriously isolated deep in the countryside.  Some are almost at sea level others over 1500m high in the mountains.  What they all have in common though is that they are built in strategic locations, to protect themselves from invasion, often on rocky outcrops or cliff faces; places hard to access and easy to defend. They tend to centre around a church and castle at the top with winding narrow cobbled alleyways, twisting down to the ramparts.  These lanes are sometimes covered, forming tunnels, they often turn into steps and are nearly always far too narrow for cars.  They were built for donkeys, horses and carts but nothing any bigger which makes for an interesting spectacle when a modern day resident has a large piece of furniture delivered!  (Surprisingy they are very nearly all still inhabited).

Peillon village near Nice France at sunset

I don’t suppose I’ll ever get to all the hill villages in the area, especially when you consider there are plenty more in the neighbouring Var department and across the Italian border in Liguria, but I’ve visited plenty and love discovering new ones.  Here’s my choice of the 13 best easily reached from Nice and surrounding towns (in no particular order), with a brief description.

1.  GREOLIERES

Gréolières

Gréolières (not to be confused with Gréolières les Neiges, the ski resort nearby) is a small, easily accessed hill village as it isn’t too steep.  It lies dramatically on the edge of a cliff over looking the Loup river.  The drive to it and just a bit further past towards the ski area is spectacular and one of the main reasons to go.  The village, which has a handful of restaurants, is unpretentious, existing for locals rather than the tourist market    It’s extra pretty in the snow which it regularly gets during the winter.

Gréolières in snow

 

2.  GOURDON

Gourdon

Gourdon is the real jaw dropper of the region.  It is practically carved out of the rock at 760m altitude but surprisingly within its walls it has a castle (where Queen Victoria once stayed) and a garden designed by Le Nôtre (he of Versailles fame no less).  Unfortunately the castle is no longer open to the public but a wander around the tiny village is worth it for the views alone.  Only 20 minutes from Lou Messugo I take all our visiting friends here and pose them in the same spot!  This aspect shows just how precarious its location is, over looking the Gorges du Loup.  It’s a very popular place for paragliding.

Gourdon paragliding Alpes Maritimes

 

3.  CHÂTEAUNEUF-DE-GRASSE

Châteauneuf Grasse Village

The hill village part of Châteauneuf de Grasse is hidden away from the road and easily missed despite being in quite a built up area only 4 kms from the city of Grasse.  It’s a quiet residential place where you won’t find shops or cafés, just sleepy cats lazing in the sun.  Every October it holds a festival dedicated to the humble pumpkin when the place comes alive but for the rest of the year it’s wonderfully tranquil and seemingly empty.  I’ve written in more detail about the Fête de la Courge and Châteauneuf itself previously.

Châteauneuf Grasse

 

4.  LE BAR SUR LOUP

Le Bar sur Loup distant view

Le Bar sur Loup is one of the most picturesque and perfectly formed hill villages with a castle, keep and chapel popping out the top.  You can see them in the photo above.  Despite what many websites say about the village the tourist office is no longer in the keep but has been replaced by an excellent restaurant “le Donjon”.  Le Bar sur Loup is known for its production of bitter oranges and celebrates them with a wonderfully fragrant fair every spring at la fête de l’oranger.  A must if you are in the area at the time.

Bar sur Loup staircase

 

5.  TOURRETTES SUR LOUP

Tourettes sur Loup Alpes Maritimes Côte dAzur PACA

Tourrettes sur Loup is famous for its violet production, grown for the perfume industry in Grasse and for crystallised candy and like many of these hill villages it celebrates its flowers with a festival in the spring. To get to the old part of the village from the central square (unfortunately a carpark) you pass through an archway and enter the quiet alleys, where you’ll come across charming and unusual red houses amongst the stone buildings.  For the best view of the village approach from the road from Grasse (rather than Vence).

Tourettes sur Loup street

 

6.  ST PAUL DE VENCE

St Paul de Vence Côte dAzur France

St Paul de Vence is probably the most well known of the Côte d’Azur hill villages owing to its association with some of the world’s greatest artists.  Over the years names such as Picasso, Chagall, Matisse and many more have either lived here or been inspired by it.  The town is the location for one of the best private modern art collections in the world, the Maeght Foundation, and nowadays is chock-a-block full of art galleries and studios.  It’s an art lovers paradise and it’s exquisitely beautiful.  The lanes are perfectly paved and every building is renovated and maintained to a high standard.  The downside to this is that it gets very crowded.  Take a look here for tips on how to avoid the crowds and more detail about the lovely St Paul de Vence.art galleries in St Paul de Vence

 

7.  HAUT-DE-CAGNES

Haut de Cagnes Côte dAzur France

Hauts-de-Cagnes is slap bang in the middle of the conurbation of Cagnes sur Mer-Nice, is very easily reached by public transport from all over the Côte d’Azur and yet it is relatively unknown. Being in the centre of an urban area it is hard to get a good distant photo of it, with one of the best views being from the motorway!  My shot above was taken on a gloomy day where you can just about make out the mountains behind; when you notice it peeking above the busy streets of Cagnes you realise it’s begging to be explored.  There’s a quirky fact about Haut-de-Cagnes, they play square boules “pétanque carrée” on the steep streets, the balls being square so they don’t roll downhill!

Haut de Cagnes square boules carrées

 

8.  BIOT

Biot village Alpes Maritimes France

Biot is another of the hill villages which finds itself today as the historical and tourist centre of a much bigger but otherwise rather nondescript town.  It’s small but very lively with plenty of restaurants,cafés, boutiques and art galleries.  It holds a weekly market every Tuesday morning. Biot is famous for its hand blown glass which you can see being made in a small workshop on the main street and in the biggerVerrerie de Biot just below the village on the main road to the coast.  It is also well known for its very popular annual medieval festival every April.

arcades in Biot Alpes Maritimes

 

9.  MOUGINS

mougins village near cannes in france

Mougins is located between Cannes and Grasse and rises in a spiral of streets from the plain around. Seen from above it is most unusual.  It has become known as a centre of gastronomy with many fabulous restaurants including some with Michelin stars and an annual food festival.  It is also packed full of art galleries and the home of a small but good classical art museum.  One of the most attractive aspects of Mougins village I think is the trees that grow through the restaurant terraces in the main square.

Mougins near Cannes France

 

10.  CARROS

Carros village perché Alpes Maritimes France

Carros is a surprising stunner of a hill village, one that very few visitors ever see owing to the reputation of its namesake modern town.  Modern Carros, built about 40-50 years ago is a hideous grouping of soulless apartment blocks and industrial buildings but go beyond this, a few kilometres up the hill and you’ll be well rewarded.  The views are some of my favourites of all the hill villages around, stretching up and down the Var river valley to snowy mountain peaks and the Mediterranean at Nice.  The 12th century castle at the top of the village houses a rather unlikely International Centre of Contemporary Art and there are some interesting modern sculptures juxtaposed in the ancient streets.

Carros Village sculptures

 

11.  PEILLON

Peillon village near Nice France at sunset

Peillon, as you can see from the beautiful photo above, sits in splendid isolation surrounded by forested mountains and valleys and yet it is only 12 kms north of Nice.  It is tiny, peaceful, completely pedestrian and entirely empty of tourist tat and other commercial enterprises except for an unlikely secondhand clothes shop!  At the top of the village next to the church you’ll find a panoramic map pointing out the nearby peaks and distant cities.

Peillon Côte dAzur France

 

12.  SAORGE

Saorge hill village Alpes Maritimes France

Saorge is another completely untouched, in places run down, fully authentic hill village oozing charm and character.  Looking out over the gorgeous Roya river its houses are built in about 5 layers up and up the steep mountain side meaning that the little lanes are often tunneled through the buildings.  There are bridges and secret passages everywhere, cool and calm in the summer heat.  I defy anyone not to fall in love with this gem of a perched village.

Saorge village near Nice France

 

13.  EZE

Eze village viewed from Grand Corniche

Eze village is a superstar of hill villages and along with St Paul probably the most visited in the region.  Its proximity to both Nice and Monaco make it popular with cruise ships but this don’t let this put you off, just choose your moment to visit wisely.  Its unique attraction is its botanic garden perilously hanging off the rock.  The views from Eze, particularly from the gardens, peeping through cacti and sculptures, over the warm tiled rooftops and across to St Jean Cap Ferrat are truly splendiferous!  Within the village walls you’ll find souvenir shops, cafés and an achingly beautiful 5 star hotel that mere mortals like me can only gaze upon and dream…

Eze Côte dAzur France view from jardins exotiques

 

For some 13 is unlucky so I’ve included a bonus 14th choice particularly interesting to visit at Christmas…read on…

BONUS:  LUCERAM

Lucéram model of village with Santons

Lucéram is known as the Christmas village for during the month of December it comes alive with a “Circuit des Crèches“.  Literally every tiny alley, every balcony, every doorway and every nook and cranny is decorated for Christmas with ribbons, baubles, tinsel, pine cones and santons, traditional Provencal clay figurines.  The idea is to follow the circuit of Nativity creches (or cribs) around the village spotting the hidden ones and marvelling at the bigger scenes.  The photo above is of a model of the village with santons, located in a room at the entrance to the village.  Read more about this lovely tradition here.

Lucéram Christmas village

 

My advice for visiting hill villages is to explore the back alleys, get away from the main streets and lose yourself in the myriad of twisting dark lanes.  Look out for interesting details and a sudden shaft of light. Breath in the smells of the flowers in bloom or the damp odours of hundreds of years of history.  Move away from the crowds and you’re sure to find yourself alone even in the most popular places.  If you think you can’t visit these places with kids, think again. Above all make sure you visit at least a few of these gorgeous historical places while on the French Riviera, they are such an important and lovely part of its charm.

CREDIT/SOURCE: reblogged from http://www.loumessugo.com/

10 ICONIC THINGS TO DO/SEE IN NICE

1 – Museums

renoir painting

Follow in the footsteps of Chagall, Matisse, Renoir, and Picasso, among many other artists, with a visit to the numerous historical and fine arts museums. Discover how the light of the French Riviera inspired and captivated artists, beautifully reflected in their works of art.

2 –Old Town

2 CV

Marvel at the Apollo fountain in Place Masséna, as a starting point. Enjoy the culturally diverse food stalls & large flower market, as you stroll through the daily morning market in Cours Saleya; a flea market is held instead on Mondays for you to find just the right antique or trinket souvenir. Among the winding, medieval streets of  “Vieux Nice,” you’ll find art studios; a variety of quaint shops, cafés, & restaurants; Palais Lascaris; Sainte Reparate Cathedral, and many charming churches. Oh, and don’t forget to stop for ice cream at Fenocchio in Place Rosetti, if you can choose among the 98 flavors!

3 – Beaches & Seaside Restaurants

private beach

Nice’s beaches are iconically pebbled, with smooth stones of various patterns and shapes. Enjoy the azur, turquoise, and cobalt blues of the Mediterranean while dining al fresco. For up close and personal seaside views, lunch or dine at one of Nice’s private beach restaurants, or at one of the Promenade-lined hotel restaurants for panoramic views.

4 – Bellet Wines

wine

The vineyards of Bellet comprise around 11 domaines, situated in the higher elevations behind Nice, and are classified as AOC (appellation d’origine controlée). Producing red, white, and rosé wines, the Bellet vineyards are iconically rich in both terroir and taste.

5 – Shopping

Cartier

From the luxurious Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Hermès designer stores to Sephora, Zara, Galeries Lafayette, and Nice Etoile shopping mall (just to name a few), there is indeed something fashionable for everyone’s taste and budget. If you would like a souvenir, designed around the iconic blue chairs lining the Promenade, you can see the information HERE

6 – Chậteau Hill

Castle Hill stairs

Take the stairs, elevator, or the tourist train up to Castle Hill for a breathtaking, panoramic view of the city and sea. The city park divides Old Town from the Port of Nice and is a peaceful setting of nature, including a waterfall.

7 – Salade Niçoise

salade nicoise

Nice’s iconically-named salad, delicately flavored with a vinaigrette dressing, is generally made with lettuce, red peppers, tomatoes, onions, hard-boiled egg, “les caillettes” (iconic Nice olives), tuna, and anchovies. You may see other variations of this iconic dish, with added ingredients, such as green beans and potatoes.  Nice and Lyon are two cities that have gastromically-acclaimed cuisine.

8 – Promenades

Walk, jog, bike, rollerblade, or simply stroll along the wide, seaside walkway – the “Promenade des Anglais.” Daydream while sitting on the iconic blue chairs and taking in the beautiful azure color of the sea.

velo bleu labeled

Stroll through the 26-acre park, “Promenade du Paillon,” with meandering paths from the Albert 1st garden to the Nice Theater – lots of green space, playgrounds, and fountains to enjoy.

garden fountains night

9 – Nice Port & Place Garibaldi

port boat labeled

The port is enjoyable, to take in during a portside stroll, with its “100 Antiquaires,” eclectic cafés, and boats and yachts of all sizes.

Nearby Place Garibaldi is known for its lovely frescoes and lively cafés, situated in the main square and along the various side streets leading to the port area.

IMG_0023

10 – Day Trips

flowered street labeled

Traveling either east or west of Nice, from Menton to Mandelieu, you can visit many iconic, charming towns and perched villages, easily accessible by car, train, and bus, on the French Riviera.  Nice is the perfect base from which to take day trips, due to its central location and comprehensive transportation systems. The Principality of Monaco is only 20 kms. (12 miles) from Nice, with easy access via the #100 bus that stops close to the famous Monte Carlo Casino.

BIENVENUE & BON SÉJOUR !

More travel information and insider’s tips in this book – available in ebook & paperback formats on Amazon & Smashwords.

Book Trailer Video

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Château de La Napoule in Mandelieu

American artist, Henry Clews, and his American wife,  Marie,  re-built the medieval fortress/chateau in the 1920’s, as it had mostly been destroyed during the French Revolution (except for an exterior wall and a portion of one of the wings).  Henry was a painter and sculptor, who abhorred the arrogant bourgeoisie (as depicted in the carved wreath of faces photo) and also  made fun of doctors for their sense of superpower and condescension.  He caricatured American critics, not appreciated by Henry, through his animal-sculpted wooden doors.

Henry had tried to follow in his father’s footsteps, by being a banker on Wall Street, but left to become an artist and follow his passion. He had ties with Rodin in Paris, which helped him connect to the Parisian art world.  Both Henry and Marie had been previously married with children; they felt passionate about each other and about art and had one son together.

What’s amazing is that after Henry’s death, Marie stayed at the château through the years of German occupation, having hidden and buried all of Henry’s art work, humbly welcoming Germans to stay at the château as a cover.  Her strength of character and passion for her husband and his works of art helped save the immense collection that is currently on display – a remarkable love story!

Located West of Cannes, this lovely and historical château is well worth a visit.

(hover over image for caption)

Château Hotel Restaurant – Unique & Unbelievable Beauty

I recently discovered a “hidden gem”:  an amazing five-carat luxury hotel restaurant in a medieval village, with magnificent views to match.  If that’s not enough, the building dates from the 13th century and exudes history and art, keeping its heritage evident amidst the upscale decor.

I wanted to know more about this beauty and recently interviewed the General Manager, Frida, a friendly Swedish woman who first came to Nice at age 19 and was “taken with France.”  With a background in the hotel and restaurant business, in both Sweden and Nice, in an events business in the U.K., and having an International Business degree from the U.K., Frida is well equipped to run this luxury hotel and restaurant, “Château Le Cagnard.”  Now fully renovated to a high standard, the reputable hotel re-opened in October, 2012.

24/7:   Obviously history and art have a major influence on the hotel – how has this aspect been preserved during the renovation?

LC:  The hotel has been updated and refreshed to maintain its romance and charm, as well as to enhance the artistic aspects, such as the “Salle des Gardes” – the dining area where knights once dined – with its unique elephant frescoes painted in 1928 by Emile Wéry that I restored.  Instead of room numbers, our 26 suites and rooms are now named after a local artist, to add a touch of personal artistic romance with a trompe l’oeil, not to mention the 200 hand-painted roof panels in the restaurant with the ceiling that opens up to the Mediterranean sky.

24/7:   What in particular attracts your clientele to your hotel in this small, medieval village?

LC:  I think it’s the hotel’s uniqueness, attention to details,  and its charm, with an overall concept of being a great get-away, but yet centrally located to Nice.  We also have a lot of activities at the hotel: language courses, wine and champagne tastings, cooking school (all by request, for the moment) to provide guests with a chance to experience France in one location.  We are open seven days a week, all year round too.

24/7:  What nationalities have you welcomed into your hotel?

LC:  Our clientele, due to our hotel’s long established reputation, are multi-national, coming from Mexico, Canada, Japan, Germany, U.S., and the U.K.  Since there is a large Scandinavian sector who live in the village, they generally frequent the restaurant.

24/7:  How do you decide on special promotions and publicity campaigns?

LC:  I collaborate with the chef, Stéphane, for what would attract foreigners because we are selling a unique experience and feel for our clients, in keeping our high standards of excellence.  Yes, the three-night stay for the price of two, and market shopping with the chef with the meal then served on the terrace, has proved to be popular promotional package and is a perfect gift idea too.

24/7:  Do you distribute guest surveys?

LC:  Yes, we provide a paper format and have a reception area guest book, as well as social media sites for guests to provide comments.

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Frida then gave me a personal tour, showing me a couple rooms and suites – the overall beauty of the antique decor juxtaposing the modern amenities, with each room having a French-style trompe l’oeil wall painting left me virtually speechless (good that this part took place after the interview!)  — self explanatory when you see the below photos.

(All photos provided by Le Cagnard, except for the first four)

Old Nice Parking

Old Nice

With its mediéval, windy roads, Old Town in Nice is not very conducive to driving, so tourists must find nearby public parking. To help ease the parking crunch, the city is currently adding a large seafront, underground car park (about 450 spaces) next to the Promenade des Anglais, near the Opera of Vieux Nice. Construction is to take about a year and a half, with a target completion date of March, 2013.

Public parking – NICE

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