My wife and I are now back in the Greater Daglan Area, having spent more than a week on the French Riviera — our first visit to that wonderful spot. Before the memories fade with my tan, here are five things we discovered:
1. Nice is big. So is Villefranche-sur-Mer. We were staying with six good friends from Toronto at a villa we rented in Villefranche-sur-Mer, just east of Nice. Aside from the beauty of the area, what struck us most was simply how big the city of Nice is — it’s an actual city, as opposed to a strip of hotels along a beach. Even neighbouring Villefranche-sur-Mer is large, climbing well up into the hills from its lovely harbour. Here’s a view down to our villa from our street, looking out towards the harbour and the Mediterranean beyond:
2. The Riviera has some terrific restaurants. Enjoying several of the area’s excellent restaurants — including two that have earned a Michelin star — was a highlight of our trip. For lunch last Tuesday (September 13), we ate at Keisuke Matsushima in the heart of Nice (22, rue de France). Although named for its Japanese chef, this one-star restaurant features modern French cuisine — at an astoundingly low price at lunch. Then the following day, we headed further east to Menton, nearly at the Italian border. There we at at Mirazur, a beautifully modern restaurant with a stunning view over the sea. Although our lunch was marred by rocky service (probably the most inept I’ve ever experienced in a Michelin-starred restaurant), the multi-course meal was outstanding. Chef Mauro Colagreco is obviously brilliant, and just needs to pay a bit more attention to the young crew manning the tables.
3. It sure is close to Italy. To reach the restaurant Mirazur in Menton, four of us went by train from Villefranche-sur-Mer, and four drove. Once lunch was over, we all headed east into Italy, to Ventimiglia. The four of us who had travelled by train took a taxi, while the other four drove there. We didn’t spend much time there, but I always feel that any time in Italy is quality time — especially if it’s spent wandering through a salumeria, the Italian version of a deli.
4. Seafood is king. No surprise here, but the seafood we enjoyed was excellent, whether it was served in a dockside restaurant or a Michelin-starred establishment, or whether we bought it in a market and served it at our place (fresh grilled sardines, deliciously briny oysters). Here’s a visual sampling — starting with a shrimp dish that my wife Jan enjoyed in Villefranche-sur-Mer:
And at the same restaurant in Villefranche-sur-Mer, I had this lobster:
I figured it would be just plain wrong to visit the Riviera and not try the bouillabaisse, the traditional seafood soup that’s believed to have originated in Marseille. So at L’Oursin Bleu in Villefranche-sur-Mer, I had an extravagant version that featured the soup in a bowl with the shellfish and other ingredients, while the (already cooked) pieces of fish and lobster were arranged in front of the bowl. It was a great presentation, but in all honesty I prefer my wife’s version — the broth she makes is clearer, which I think allows the various fish and seafood flavours to stand out more. Still, this version was excellent:
5. Beautiful sea, rocky shore. At this time of year, we found the Mediterranean Sea at Nice to be refreshing — certainly not warm, but not cold either. The only problem is getting into and out of the water, because the beach is so rocky. Eventually, Jan went across the Promenade des Anglais into a side street, and bought water shoes for both of us. Here I am emerging triumphant:
The bottom line is that we’re sure we’ll be back on the Riviera one of these days. Meanwhile, there’s lots to enjoy here in the Dordogne — as you’ll see over the next few days.