I didn’t disappear. I just went to France.
I know, I know. It’s been a long time coming. Since about October, W and I have been excitedly awaiting our trip to the Cote D’Azur and Paris. The culmination of every birthday and holiday since last October. We skipped a big vacation last year to finally upgrade our backyard and get our garden started. This. This was the trip I’d been waiting for since our amazing experience in Italy and the Amalfi Coast. It did not disappoint.
If Italy was the trip that broadened my horizons when it came to food, this was the vacation that validated my love of simple, local, and extremely fresh ingredients, and that although presumably biased, the Michelin star actually means something, from the level of food preparation to the flourish of presentation. Our first visit to a Michelin starred restaurant was Melisse in Santa Monica, CA in October, and after that experience, we committed to making an attempt at visiting a Michelin star in France.
We succeeded in finding our Michelin Star in Chateau Eza, at the very top of Eze Village, but found that a meal at the proverbial hole in the wall across the South of France or Paris was just as rewarding a meal as a 1 or 2 star meal in California or France.
As for our first week in Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, we couldn’t have been more blessed with amazing weather, or a more perfect location. On our windy drive along the French Riviera from Nice in our rented Mercedes A Class (an upgrade from a Golf – yeah, right) we were frantically passed by two classic rallye prepped Porsche 911s. We were already disappointed that we were a bit too early for the Grand Prix of Monaco, but more on that later. Beaulieu was holding the French Riviera’s annual “Tour Auto” rally which changes location every year, so W was able to see his fill of Renault Alpines and within 3 hours in the South of France, we had already seen 4 Ferraris (topping Italy’s ONE) in the wild.
The villa we rented was named Villa Margarita, owned by an amazing couple who originally met in Aix-en-Provence while they were at university. Suzy’s an American who has a wonderful Chicago accent when she speaks English, married to Jean-Pierre who happened to get stuck in Paris because of the unpronouncable Iceland volcano’s ash cloud, which began our direct communication the week before we left. Luckily, I was worried for nothing, but it was a bit too close for comfort.
So, as we met Jean-Pierre at Villa Margarita, we were absolutely overwhelmed with the view. Perched over Beaulieu, with a direct view of Cap Ferrat to the east and Eze Village to the west and up the sheer limestone cliffs, the house sits on Suzy and Jean-Pierre’s property with direct access to Suzy’s overwhelming terraced garden. I think W has something to aspire to.
Once we were settled, we started to explore Beaulieu and visited the cars that were still left at the Tour Auto Rally. We were too late to get to the market in the square, but we found the Supermarche and walked around the port. Famished, we decided to eat at a small hotel and Italian restaurant at the base of the 169 stairs up to our villa. W chose to have a Four Seasons pizza and I ordered my first iteration of Taglietelle Carbonara with a fresh, raw egg yolk sitting atop it’s own egg shell. This was an incredibly fresh egg, with a brown spotted shell and a bright orange yolk. Even the chickens are happier in the South of France.
The next day, we drove about 10 minutes to the village of Eze which sits dizzyingly high above the Mediterranean. Thanks to my lovely friend Sarah and the wonderful Samantha Brown who also showed us Le Sirenuse on her show, Passport to Europe, I had a bit of an idea of where I wanted to lunch, but W seemed skeptical as we headed to the top. He was unaware that I had done my research and knew I wanted to go to Michelin Starred Chateau Eza, where Sarah had taken her Mum on their recent vacation to the French Riviera. Lunch did not disappoint. At a reasonable 39 EU, the 3 course lunch was perfect. Starting with an asparagus soup with a goat cheese crouton, moving on to a filet of local Corsican fish with a fennel salad and mache and pureed celeriac, and finishing with a tiramisu with the most amazing pistachio macaron, W and I relished in the view, the ambience, and the food. So much so, that we’ve bought about 40 macarons to gift to some of our lucky family members.
That evening, Suzy and Jean-Pierre invited us over for a drink and amuse bouches. Seeing Jean-Pierre’s framed racing photos on the wall in the kitchen, W and JP bonded quickly. By virtue of her job of hosting visitors in their villa, you can tell Suzy loves entertaining, and her home is to die for. They bought the house 18 years ago, and built the villa in 2005. I wish I’d taken a picture of her outdoor dining room when we were in it. With all of the accoutremont of whar one imagines of an outdoor dining room on the south of France (moorish arches, wrought iron chandelier, rustic solid wood table, etc.) and an overwhelming uninterrupted view of the Mediterranean from the Cap to Eze Village, it just felt so French! The balcony on the other side of the villa has an even better view of Cap Ferrat. This evening apertif was probably the moment I decided that we were honestly living in paradise for the week.
Later that night, we made our own version of Spaghetti Carbonara with our floor-to-ceiling windows open and a view of the full moon reflecting off of the water.
On Monday, we walked the Cap Ferrat and ate at Bar de la Mer. Eating next to the multi-million dollar yachts was a bit of an experience, but the restaurant was super casual boardwalk food. I decided on my first Croque Monsieur and W ordered a bruschetta dish. After such a warm walk, a beer and a croque monsieur with a plate of pommes frites was incredibly refreshing. We stopped at the market on the way back to the house, and watched a Frenchman parallel park a daily driven classic Ferrari 275 GT. At this point, we’d lost count at how many Ferraris we’d seen.
Tuesday morning, Suzy met us in her garden and took us on a tour. I think I’ll cover that walk in a separate post, because at last count, Suzy thought she had 35 or 36 lemon trees on the property. It’s just an amazing collection of flowers, fruit trees, and she’s very proud of her new raised vegetable beds.
Wednesday, we drove to Monaco and toured the Prince’s personal car collection. W was in heaven, and I think this tour was the highlight of his entire trip.
Monaco was a very car-oriented destination for us. Jean-Pierre had told us that they were busily setting up the stands for the Monaco Grand Prix. It was a bit surreal walking the streets that will be dominated by racing in the next couple of weeks. I couldn’t imagine how the city must just absolutely shut down for the event – major streets are closed to become a racetrack.
The next day, we drove to Menton, a relaxing beach city close to the border of Italy. So close, that I’m pretty sure we saw an equal distribution of French and Italians. We walked the narrow streets, eventually climbing the 8 flights to the church in the square, visited the Jean Cocteau museum, and decided to finish up our day in Monte Carlo strolling the streets of shops of the likes of Cartier and Hermes.
Cafe de Paris is a must see. Adjacent to the Monte Carlo casino, the prices are sticker-shockworthy, but the food is worth it for the people-watching and the quality of the classic French dish, Boef au daube over fresh pasta. This version includes nicoise olives and pearl onions, and I’ll make my best attempt at recreating it when the weather turns a bit colder in October.
Nice was next on our list, and with abundant parking, about 4 different Michelin starred restaurants in a 2 square mile area, I thought for sure we’d have great luck finding a place to eat. I was wrong. The Negresco Hotel was closed until July 4th. We couldn’t find Keisuke Matsushima although we’re sure we were at the correct address, and so we gave up, and ate at a brasserie and once again ate our pizza/carbonara meal. I couldn’t even tell you the name of the restaurant, but though the crust was good on the pizza and the carbonara was once again fresh with that orange eggg yolk, it was only a small notch above our first meal in Beaulieu. We toured the Massena Museum in Nice, and although the content was interesting, it was free, and the house in which the antiquities are stored is beyond beautiful. Walking through the petite mansione with the original herringbone wood floors and inlaid marble and wrought iron balustrade is not an experience I will soon forget.
On Friday, we stayed in town and walked to the Villa Kerylos, a recreation of a classic Greek Villa perched over the sea. The couple who commisioned the building of that villa over 100 years ago kept Italian tile artisans busy for years. The entire 4 level villa is tiled with intricate mosaic tile on nearly every surface available. It was a stunning villa, though a little too tight in keeping with tradition, but made for an amazing tour with expansive views.
During our stay in Beaulieu, we had looked out over the Royal Riviera for the entire week. It’s a beautiful hotel, but given our accomodations at Villa Margarita and the price for a one bedroom suite at the RR, I’d pick Villa Margarita and our 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and state of the art kitchen every single time. However, we were hungry, and the prix fixe menu looked attractive, although the main dining room was only open for dinner. So we took our chances on the casual poolside restaurant and were dining beside about 8 very French gentleman who were wine tasting at the table next to us. At least 10 bottles of wine and 4 bottles of Dom Perignon came out during their lunch. I’d never seen alcohol flow quite like that, so although our lunch wasn’t worthy of the exorbitant prices, the people watching was certainly worth it. That night, we again cooked our own meal as a final goodbye to Beaulieu because the next day was our flight to Paris.
What I’ll remember from our trip is the food, whether we cooked it ourselves, or were eating at a well regarded restaurant. Delicious, extremely flavourful ingredients, that always tasted fresh from the farm or Mediterranean Sea.
Pictured clockwise from top left: Taglietelle Carbonara, Four Season Pizza (#1), Chateau Eza Asparagus Soup, Roasted Maigret, Eze Villa Market, Beaulieu-sur-mer Market, Duck breast, Empty The Pantry Chicken, Veal Chop at Royal Riviera, Filet at Royal Riviera, Canned Haricots Vert we found in the pantry (and left uncooked), Spices at Eze Village, Tiramisu from Chateau Eza (center),
I just adored the French Riviera, and upon leaving, I realized that I could easily return year after year to explore more of the area.
Perhaps Provence on our next trip?