CÔTE D’AZUR DREAMING

Encinitas, California

Dear Reader,

     Nice (pronounced “Nee-se”) is an intoxicating, sun-drenched city along southern France’s Côte d’Azur. I adore this place. Henri Matisse, my favorite 20th century artist, was equally taken with this place. He spent most of his life in this region – wonderfully inspired by a place with gorgeous light and charming culture that in many ways I find a lack for words to describe its immense attraction. Nice is no secret, it is a wildly popular place coming in second to the most visited city in France after Paris. The airport is easily accessible and planes fly frequently to London and Paris. Summer is certainly busy, but not obnoxiously so. I was also fortunate to visit Nice again in late October in which the water was chilly, however still swimmable, and it was quieter and less crowded.
When you walk along the streets of Nice, the buildings are splashed with happy pastel colours of yellows, blues, and pinks. The style is vividly French with Mediterranean and Italian influences. Flower boxes sprout on balconies, soft white curtains blow in the sea breeze, and two smiling nuns walk by with baguettes in their satchels. A large Farmer’s Market opens up on various days during the week in Place Charles Félix, a square in Nice’s Vieille Ville or “Old Town”. Quiches with all sorts of delicious cheeses and vegetables baked inside are lined up in rows, and fresh bread is piled so high in large crates that is drastically reduced around 14:00 that signals the French do not consider a day without bread to be a day lived at all. In addition, Biologique, or “organic” grocers are as necessary here as they are accessible and well-stocked; you can find all the delights of French organic “terroir” products to your hearts content.
What I love about Nice is it is not as stuffy and pretentious as Monaco or other exclusive places along the French Riviera. For regular people, Nice is as comfortable as it can be affordable and friendly. Surprisingly, the uninterrupted, miles-long beach of Nice’s coast is better than the smaller, crowded beaches of Monaco for example. The Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) is open to the sea and not protected by coves, making the water cleaner, jelly-fish free, and satisfactory for a long swim. Nice is a fun and jovial place. Families frequent the area, and in late October of this year, Nice opened up their long-awaited Promenade du Paillon (a long, grand park that stretches a few blocks north of the coastline) in which it appeared every resident of Nice came out to celebrate, gossip about, and enjoy. It was neat to see, and was a beautiful new addition to the already amiable city.
Highly refreshing in comparison with other parts of Europe, is the new, streamlined, and reliable transportation system called “Lignes d’Azur.” You can ride up and down the coast, visiting other towns and sites of interest for a cheap fare. Matthew and I made a special trip to the local town of Vence located up in the hills about a 45 minute bus ride from Nice that cost us a mere three euros. As you can imagine, the bus ride was scenic as well. There we visited a very special Chapel I have dreamed of visiting for some time, and I share that experience with you in photos below, as well as the rest of our sojourn along one of the most romantic and captivating coastlines in the world.
LANGUAGE. Français (French).
Photo. Swimming is healing; Rose floating in the salty, cold sea in late October.

Photo. Walking on Castel Plage’s pebbled beach.

Photo. Matthew soaked after diving in to rescue his flip-flop from getting lost at sea.
Photo. Taking a walk along the Promenade d’Anglais.
Photo. A little girl dipping her feet in the water.
Photo. My husband and I, loving everything about Nice and a great break from his rigorous Law schooling.
Photo. My man and the perfect beach breakfast picnic – French sheep cheeses in various depths of flavour, freshly-baked organic walnut bread, miel (honey) bread, and apple sauce (bought at La Vie Claire, the bio grocer).

Photo. Evening light from above shines down on distant fishermen.

Photo. This “le chou” (French for “cabbage”) was quite massive at Nice’s Vieille Ville Farmer’s Market.

Photo. Cinderella pumpkins for sale, along with “Chayottes” which (after the skin is peeled away) tastes like a cross between an apple and a cucumber. On the right is a Romanesco Cauliflower (I love its intrinsic design) that cooks up just like a regular cauliflower. I like it steamed, salted, and oiled.

Photo. All sorts of sea salts in enticing flavours for sale at the Farmer’s Market.

Photo. A woman pays for a basket of selected scented olive oil soaps.
Photo. Books for sale at a book fair in Nice’s Old Town held this past summer.
Photo. A border collie rests under the chilled cheeses for sale at the Farmer’s Market.
Photo. Love La Vie Claire – 18 Rue La Martine 06000 Nice. One of the best biologique stores in the city, found a little bit of everything I wanted for a weekend visit and picnic food for days at the beach.
Photo. Inside La Vie Claire, bought and tried a delicious beer called Biere Blonde pur Malt Jade. However, in all my online searching could not find the actual producer. Mainly, it is sold in select biologique and wine stores in France, but who exactly makes it is unclear. In any event, it is fun to try the local French brews when visiting a local grocery.
Photo. Thirst-quenching Rosée de la Reine. A specially-sourced, excellent French water brand known for its quality in purity down to the non-leaching plastic of its container. In my mind, the French version of Spain’s Solan de Cabras.
Photo.  Not conveniently listed online, Aubepine (Diététique Produits Naturels) – 19 Rue de Lépante 06000 Nice – is a little shop in Nice’s main city good for specialty snacks, water, and natural sunscreen when you forgot to pack it from home. Also small, but had a little dining area and a few groceries was Argane Bio – 35 Avenue Maréchal Foch 06000 Nice. Finally, a bit away from where we stayed each time, but in the event you are staying in the more easterly part of Nice, Biocoop Azur – 59 Boulevard Delfino 06300 Nice. I believe Biocoop is more the medium-size of La Vie Claire, versus the smaller Aubepine and Argane.

Photo. Delicate pink roses lit up along Nice’s Port Lympia.

Photo. The late afternoon sun reflecting off the deep azure blue.
Photo. When I saw this scene framed in my camera lens, it looked like the cover of a Condé Nast Travel. The gorgeous turquoise of the sea, the bright blue of the bikes and matching the railing that disappears into the distance, the sunny hotels and residences built up along the sea, and finally, the colourful dots of people on towels soaking up Vitamin D. Here is beautiful, sunny Nice – picture perfect.

Photo. Residences in a six-story building built up along Quai Lunel and looking out to ships and yachts coming and going from Port Lympia.

Photo. Sailing school on their way into Port Lympia after a day of practice on the water.

Photo. A warm street with locals chatting and as is the way of the French, many shops closed at peculiar hours and waiting to open for dinner around 18:00 or 19:00.

Photo. Hangout Restaurant – 5 Carriera dou Moulin 06300 Nice. I enjoyed a delicious roasted duck breast with brussels sprouts, and Matthew, a grilled sea bass. The chef was Japanese, meticulous and precise in his flavours, he even kindly came to our table to say hello.

Photo. Matthew knew I had always wanted to see Henri Mattise’s Chapelle du Rosaire (which Matisse considered his “crowning achievement”), so he arranged that we made it onto the Lignes d’Azur Bus 400 from Nice and up into the hills so we could experience it in person. Here, a view of the surrounding homes in Vence, this bridge we would cross and walk further up a hill to the Chapelle. Also worth visiting was the town just before Vence accessible on the bus route that is one of the Riviera’s oldest medieval towns, Saint-Paul-de-Vence. 

Photo. Henri Mattise, one of the most famous artists of the 20th century, funded in entirety this special place of devotion in Vence for the Dominican Sisters, and painstakingly designed in every detail as his final masterpiece in the last years of his life – a true labour of love – La Chapelle du Rosaire.

Photo. Tile work over the exterior entry to the Chapelle and Museum. Matisse painted these simple black strokes on the tiles that were then subsequently fired and permanently arranged on the exterior.

Photo. Here is a moment my husband captured of Sister Marie-Pierre and I that I will never forget. Sister Marie-Pierre came and sat down behind us to ask us if we had any questions. We were instantly fond of her, and after answering our curiosities, I asked Sister if we could pray together. We whispered the “Hail Mary” together in unison in our respective English and French. I will never forget Soeur Marie-Pierre, she held in her heart the love of Christ so pure that so whole-heartedly embodies the way a woman in her line of vocation can give so freely to everyone she meets.

Photo. Mattise, down to every detail that encompassed the Chapelle’s makeup, went to lengths to design the priests robes to wear in delivering mass and administering sacraments. Here is such a robe in its bright colours – very much in the style of his late in life abstract cut-outs that came about because of his illness and confinement to bed that made painting increasingly difficult and painful for the brilliant artist who turned to scissors and colored paper as a reinvention and alternative. On the wall opposite the priest’s robes are some of the original drawings that served as the framework to his eventually stripped down and austere drawings that would end up being painted onto tiles, fired, and arranged on the walls in the Chapelle.

Photo. Matisse’s more detailed sketch of Veronica wiping the face of Christ in a scene from the Stations of the Cross. Matisse, however, as I mentioned above would end up completely stripping the sketches of almost any shade, and form, and painting his final version of the Stations of the Cross with raw, difficult delineation and definition. As Sister Marie-Pierre and I agreed, the agony and the power, within ragged, painful lines is what emerges from the Stations’ tiles. Follow the link in this caption to see a proper photo of the Stations of the Cross within the Chapelle.

Photo. A final snapshot from the Chapelle du Rosaire’s adjacent museum housing a selection of the priest’s conspicuous robes, original preliminary drawings, and architectural models for the final construction and design of the devotional space. Indeed, this space was every bit the miracle Matisse thought and dreamed it into being.

What is your favorite thing to do in the French Riviera? Share with me in a comment below.

With Joy, 
Emily Rose

© by Emily Rose Reeder, est. 2012. All Rights Reserved

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