The good thing about having a compost in the garden is that you have surprise plants sprouting every now and then depending on what you have thrown in there, and of course, the season. Rule of thumb here is to recognize the plant on time and to transplant it somewhere else as there is usually little or no light in the compost bin. I had potatoes and tomatoes like this and transplantation worked all the time. But when I had emptied the compost soil into a raised bed last summer, things went a bit differently. I was thinking what to plant, only to find in just a few weeks (I am no fast thinker) the entire surface covered by tomatoes. Well, it was nice having different tomato varieties all summer since I didn’t really know what to plant there, except that one big nice cœur de bœuf (beefsteak tomato) that I was longing to enjoy was stolen by some animal friends that I have yet to identify. Hope they enjoyed it, anyway.
Around late summer, in the garden bed, I noticed another plant that I couldn’t recognize, but from leaves I could tell that it wasn’t weed, so I let it go. Then it kept growing and growing until it went out of the raised bed and traveled for about 7 meters towards other parts of the garden. Only when it blossomed into beautiful yellow flowers I started to pay attention (no, I do not pay attention when plants grow for 7 meters) since it was looking identical to the crispy zucchini flowers that I had a few years ago at La Merenda! I did a bit of research and realized that it’s kind of a squash. Okay, I know it’s called potimarron in French yet folks on the Internet seem a bit indecisive about its English name but I guess it’s a Red kuri squash, also known as Hokkaido Pumpkin. Here is a picture of one of these beauties!
Once it was mid-November, its plant was almost dead (as seen in the picture above) and it was the time for our squashes to be collected. We did so!
Okay, I will stop now as it’s pretty ridiculous to behave like a new parent with a winter squash and to show you a million pictures of it. What I am going to tell about today is actually a very simple and delicious recipe. It is called Velouté de potimarron aux 5 baies (roughly Red Kuri Squash soup with 5 peppers) and velouté here simply means vegetable soup thickened with cream or butter. Here are the ingredients you need for this recipe.
At this point I should thank to my dear Marta Dubas who accepted to be the assistant in crime.
And the translation of the ingredients for 4 people from that page is below.
1 Red Kuri Squash (about 2-3 kilograms)
4 table spoons of thick crème fraîche
5 pepper mix (Jamaica pimenta; white, black and green pepper; and pink berry)
100 grams of grated parmesan
That pepper mix is available in grocery stores in France but I added the types of peppers inside if you somehow can’t find it in your city. This mixture’s taste is very authentic and contributes a lot to the character of the soup, so even if you can’t find the exact one you should experiment with other types of pepper.
Let’s start! Recipe says wash but do not peel yet I peeled a bit since there could be holes or bumps on it that you can’t easily clean. After you cut it into two and remove the seeds. This part is a bit messy.
At this step, consider keeping the seeds for the next season. For this, you should remove the pulp around the seeds and then wash them using a colander or a splatter screen as I prefer. This part is even messier.
Then you need to chop the squash into smaller pieces. Here, shape doesn’t matter as it’s only to cook them uniformly and in shorter amount of time.
Put chopped squash into a medium size casserole or sauce pan and cover with water, then sprinkle with salt and cook for 15 minutes on medium heat. This part is a bit vague in the recipe as the texture we should expect is not described. So I did the usual fork test and the result was just fine. You probably should adjust the cooking to your taste as for example I prefer more raw than cooked. And for that, you know, you can just taste it every now and then!
Once ready, without draining the water, mix it with a mixer. Again, same rules apply, do it until it is all uniform or leave some chunks of it. You may want to leave it a bit chunkier at this step since you will mix again right now. Add cream and pepper mixture and mix again. I have never seen a chunky velouté in France, and it may even be an offense against some tradition but hey, just don’t tell anybody if you do so.
Finally, before serving hot, sprinkle with parmesan and parsley, and voila!
One of the greatest advantages of living in the Southern France is to be surrounded by many different types of wines that are certified of origin. In French, it’s called AOC and it stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée which indicates the authenticity of any product that bears these initials – which can be anything from potatoes to cheese. When applied to products that involves complex production methods such as wine, it usually defines the grape varieties that can be used and details of the production, and so on. The wine with the most number of grape varieties allowed is AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape, for example, and you can make this wine with an amazing 13 different grapes as long as you grow all of them in the region!
You may also see that some particular wine is marked as an AOP, L’appellation d’origine protégée, which is the EU designation of the same kind of certification. In English, it is Protected Designation of Origin. So any AOC product is also an AOP product.
Revenons à nos moutons.. Living in Nice alone puts many AOC wines of Rhone Valley and DOC (Italian equivalent of AOC, stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wines of Piedmont of Italy at your reach, let alone other rather small wines (petit vin, not to be confused with vin de table!) spread over the region. Speaking of rather small vineyards, Bellet is today’s pick and this so-late post is going to be about a trip I made to Bellet with a friend. Well, Bellet is IN Nice. So it wasn’t really a trip, but since it’s spread around a hill like a bracelet the path was quite fun to follow with my scooter. Bellet is one of the smallest AOC wines in France with the size of its vineyards which makes less than 50 hectares, and there are only about 10 producers. AOC was given back in 1941. Noticed something with the date? Yes, it was wartime. The French were still paying attention to their culture and heritage during the war. That’s the spirit, well done France. Even though I have been living in Nice since 2011, I heard about this AOC quite late, actually. So I’d say it’s not as known as the other AOC wines of the region in the hope of making it up for my arrogance. Did it work? No? Fine. When I looked up wine estates to visit, the vineyard Domaine de la Source seemed nice and their availability on a Sunday was charming in French measures, so we decided to go there even though it was a bit pricey. Normally, a wine tasting should cost less than or at least around 10 Euros and it’s usually free if you buy a few bottles, but there in this property we were charged 12 Euros per person even though we returned home with a few bottles. But since it was my first tasting experiment, and given that the lady was kind enough to let us have a round of marmalades to taste too, I’d call the price okay.
First, let me tell you the best part of a wine tasting for me. It’s the occasion to compare different wines at the same time. Yeah, I know it sounds obvious. But how many of us open two bottles at once, for example, just to be able to compare the taste at the same time knowing that we’d then have to rush the following days to finish it before it oxidizes and dies? The second best part is to have somebody who actually is a winemaker or somebody who knows a lot about it, to answer all your questions. For the first few wine tastings, this talking part will be much more important than the tasting itself, actually. I can tell from my own limited tasting experiences that a palate is something mostly arrogant at the beginning, and it has to be trained. This training involves your other senses as well, to get to know different aspects of a wine’s color, smell, and taste, and this training comes mostly from this chit-chat part of the tasting. So, what I suggest is to attend these tasting events every now and then (or yesterday if you never had before) and start opening that second bottle at home. For a very affordable price you may get an air pump so they last for longer. See below for the alternative places for wine tasting around Nice and feel free to share your experiences in the comments!
Before I tell you about this recipe from Nice, France, I will start with where I got the idea from as I can’t leave out mentioning this wonderful restaurant.
When I had my friends from Russia visiting me this past summer, one day they came home with the news that they found a restaurant called La Merenda (4 Rue Raoul Bosio) and they added that the chef, Dominique Le Stanc, had once have Michelin stars but then he decided to quit and open this small (even for France, it is less than 30 square meters) restaurant instead. In this restaurant, they don’t have a phone, and no credit card payment is possible. Oh, if you have those meal vouchers called chèque déjeuner (colloquially, as this is actually the company behind one among many), or un titre restaurant in general, they are not accepted either. So you need to pass by to book a table, which my friends did, and bring enough cash to pay, which I didn’t (hey, they didn’t tell me that it was necessary, okay).
Once you step in you feel like you should slow down soonish otherwise you would pass the tables in a second and crash into the kitchen which is just a few meters ahead. But it enables you to peek into the kitchen every now and then wherever you sit, and limited number of tables makes you have more time with the staff to ask questions and get advice. We were sitting right next to the kitchen (read it as two hand-spans were separating us) and I felt like I am in the backstage and it was simply amazing. We started with a single appetizer beignets de fleurs de courgette and it was simply delicious. For those who haven’t heard of it before, it’s zucchini flower fritters and is a very common appetizer around here in the south. Next, I wanted to go for a queue de bœuf à l’orange et polenta as I could still remember the taste of that coda alla vaccinara I had in Rome years ago but unfortunately they didn’t have it anymore. So instead I had a daube de boeuf à la provençale et panisse (panisse is made of chickpeas and very similar to socca if you had it) and it was quite satisfying. By the way, they don’t serve wine in glasses so you if you want some more company for your papilles then you have to go for a bottle. We ordered a white from Château les Crostes as my friends wanted to have something light and from the region, and it was a good match for the zucchini flowers but I just lost its taste after I started to have my main dish as the stew was too dominating and this poor white couldn’t keep up with it, and it was not supposed to. Finally, after a quick discussion that took us a bit less than three seconds, we all agreed on having a dessert. And mine was, drums.., tourte de blettes. And since then I wanted to make one at home as it was not only very good, but also quite particular with its ingredients like chard and raisins, and a subtle anise taste. So, here we go!
First, the recipe. I always try to find several and then favor the ones that speak the same language with the food, seem to be more local than others, and finally, tell me the story of the food rather than just listing the ingredients and asking me to stir or chop things. And in this sense, the award goes to the recipe from lemanger.fr as it’s impressively well done that I just dropped other alternatives when I found it. There the writer tells you not only how it should be done, but also how it should not be done, criticizing some ingredients that are often added even though they are not present in the traditional recipe. Really, it’s not just a recipe, she touches on the history and traditions of the region, and the seasonal reasons behind la cuisine niçoise and its prominent ingredients, comparing this particular specialty with other sweet-savory ones of the region. If you’re a French learner and interested in French cuisine, I suggest you to print the article, grab a pen and start studying it. It is a great real world example, so I’m sure you’ll be more motivated to study it than a made up Monsieur et Madame Dupont conversation.
Alors on commence !
Note that the amounts given on that external page are for a big oven tray and it’s stated so that you should half them for a medium size baking tin. Below you will see two lists of ingredients as there is the pastry and the filling. And yes, we will prepare the dough ourselves and this is yet another reason that I loved this recipe so much. I feel a bit upset when I’m asked by recipe writers to buy sweet pastry base or anything that we can easily do at home. Let me tell you, as yet another motivation, following this recipe I made one of the best and the smoothest doughs I got in a while. But if you really are in a hurry, and that you really want to get one of those ready-made pastries from the supermarket, then you may need some tips if you’re doing it in France and if you don’t speak French, since otherwise you may spend the same amount of time puzzled in a supermarket with kneading the dough yourself at home.
You typically have three types on the shelf. La pâte brisée contains only flour, butter, and water and it is a kind of one-size-fits-all pastry that you can use for both savory and sweet recipes. La pâte feuilletée, on the other hand, is the one that has layers like a millefeuille and it’s prepared with the same ingredients, but folded several times while spreading la matière grasse (basically fat, could be some oil or butter) between the layers so they separate from each other while being cooked to give its particular texture. Finally, the last one is called la pâte sablée and although it’s similar to la pâte brisée, once cooked its texture resembles that of a biscuit, crusty and breaking up easily while cutting and eating. For this particular recipe, even though it’s not stated explicitly, I’d say from the ingredients and the way it’s prepared that the base pastry is the first one, and the top is the second one, except that she doesn’t ask us to spread any butter or something between layers. Find the list of ingredients below, and a picture of the ones I had from Le Cours Saleya on a Saturday morning,
250 grams of flour
1 big egg
½ of yeast
A pinch of salt
50 grams of white or brown sugar
½ glass of water
50 grams of olive oil
Zest of a lemon
And for the filling,
1 big bunch of chards
1 or 2 pears
75 grams of white or brown sugar
30 grams of grated parmesan
2 tsp of olive oil
1 big egg
Pine nuts à volonté – as much as you want
Raisins à volonté
5 centiliters of pastis
And to sprinkle the tart with,
Icing sugar à volonté
Let’s start with the dough. Grab a mixing bowl and put the flour inside, then make a well in the middle and pour the eggs that you’ve beaten in that well. Hope you’ve made your volcano-looking well big enough as you’re now going to add the oil, sugar, water, and lemon zest. Now mix them until you have something you can work with your hands, then knead it until you have a beautifully smooth yellowish dough like below.
Note that the dough should not be too wet or too dry, which can be tested by pressing onto it with your finger tip. If it’s a bit sticky, but not leaving pieces to your fingertip, and still not too dry to loose its elasticity then it’s perfect. Add flour or olive oil (little by little, the less is more with both) to get desired texture and then cover it with a fabric, and let it rest on the side.
Now the chard is next. Note that I have the blettes niçoises ones, there is also a bigger type called blettes lyonnaises, you can see the pictures of it on that other blog post. Give them a good rinse and then remove the stems. An easy way to do this is also mentioned on that site where I got this recipe from. In this method, you fold the leaf in half and then tear out the stem. You can see a picture of a woman (who turns out to be the mom of the blogger, always trust a mom) doing it on the other site. She advises to roll them before chopping, but I noticed it only now while revising it to write my blog post, unfortunately. So it wasn’t on purpose. Sorry. Be warned not to never ever dilute a tradition of les niçois on purpose (I kid you not, they have an association to protect their pan bagnat, see La Commune Libre du Pan Bagnat). Once you’re done with chopping the chards, put them in a bowl and sprinkle them with salt and stir a bit so you have salt all over it. Then let them rest for 2 hours, stirring from time to time – which leaves you more than enough time to take care of other ingredients.
Grab the pears, peel and then dice them. Now put them in a big casserole with just a bit of water and have them cook at a very low temperature for about 45 minutes to one hour.
Now the original part comes.. Heat up the pastis in a small casserole until it starts to steam (but not much, for two reasons, first I want it to retain the alcohol since it gives this tart its particular taste and that I don’t actually want to cook the raisins later on but just soak) and then pour it onto raisins in a small cup. Raisins will be your little carriages of this southern specialty once they soak it up and expand. Now you’re going to brown the pine nuts, grab that small casserole that you’ve just used and that’s still warm and put it on medium heat with the pine nuts, and you’re done with the filling once they’re ready!
It’s time to mix them all up. Grab the bowl with the chards, add up the compote of pears, then the raisins and pastis altogether, pine nuts, one beaten egg, sugar, grated parmesan, and finally the olive oil. Set the temperature of your oven to 180 degrees (in Celsius, which should be about 350 in Fahrenheit) and butter your baking pan while the oven is warming up. Now it’s time to play with the dough, which I always find relaxing. Split your dough into two. Spread one half on a work surface matching the size of your baking pan, well a bit bigger than that, then put it into the baking pan as the base. Now put the filling on top and occupy yourself with the other half of the dough. The trick here is to spread it while folding it once in a while, this will make it have crusty layers, and then put it on top covering the filling. You may want to pinch the sides where the base and top pastries meet. Here comes another trick from the recipe owner to have it cooked well. Using scissors (drop that fork, recipe owner has clear instructions not to use a fork), put holes here and there on top of your tart as if it was pecked by a bird.
Finally, put it in the oven and cook for 35 to 45 minutes or until the pastry starts to tan. Then let it cool down as it is served cold, and sprinkle it with icing sugar. Bon appétit !
Since I started to live in Nice I always wanted to see the mountain villages and the landscapes of the hinterland or arrière-pays as they call it in French. If you have some time to spare wandering around in Southern France than just passing your time on those beautiful beaches that smell suntan lotion during the day and grass during the night then you should definitely set out for these mountain villages. They not only often have amazing views (especially when it is a village perché – a hilltop village) they also have a particular local life that is quite different than that of the coastline. Rural texture of these places are certainly not to be mixed with the coast, which is often shaped by the demand of tourists and residents that are brought to the region in high volumes by the current image of theFrench Riviera that often means nothing more than sunshine and glamour. By getting a bit farther than the most popular you may even get to meet people who do not necessarily speak today’s French but a dialect that may sound something else entirely. For example, Julian Hale writes in his wonderful book, The French Riviera: A Cultural History, that when he attended a wedding in Gassin he heard one woman asking another if she saw her daughter: aspai ma picciota?. Same sentence would be as-tu vu ma fille? in French. If you are into learning about the region this book is highly suggest, great book, lots of information.
When I heard somewhere that there is actually a steam locomotive, train à vapeur, that is running on Sundays between the towns Puget-Théniers and Annot I thought this would be a nice opportunity to go a bit to North! Apparently this train runs from May to October and further information can be found here. Unfortunately, halfway to Puget-Théniers at around 10 in the morning, grey clouds started to cover the sky and made me a bit scared since I was on my Vespa and according to the train timetable I was supposed to take it back from Annot at 15h40 which would then mean that I’m not arriving back in Nice before 17h00. Since I couldn’t predict the weather (and since weather reports are not to be trusted in Southern France) I decided to take my time around, visit some towns and go back whenever I felt safe or tired. At that point I was passing by Route de la Vésubie and it seemed so beautiful compared to the one I was on. Following the river La Vésubie all the way to Saint-Martin-Vésubie it seemed like a much better option. If you have the license for a motorbike you should really think about riding one around here. I gave a break at Lantosque when I, or my stomach, saw a boulangerie. If you do the same in Lantosque, go for the tartes and the tartes only. I don’t want to be mean but I had way better les croissants before and I had expected to have better ones around here.. well.. in France. Désolé ma chérie !
After the break I kept going until Saint-Martin-Vésubie but it was already noon when I arrived. Since it wasn’t an intended destination I had not done any research and so I just started to walk around. Every corner was covered by posters telling about few photography exhibitions but I wanted to discover the town before shutting myself inside some building. Let me tell you at this point that I had not expected to find Saint-Martin-Vésubie quite like a well-preserved rural town and it was exactly not like one. It’s quite a popular destination for day trips around here and apparently it’s been already rushed by residents from outside as well. But this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have the qualities of a small town given its peaceful nature and people.
See the first picture? Apparently there is one four communal there too! I just love the idea of common or communal ovens in France. This tradition has its roots in the medieval era but today their use is not obligatory (it was back then!) and but rather for mere fun of the visitors. If you have one around, I highly suggest going there and meeting le fournier ou la fournière who basically takes care of the oven. There you can learn how to bake your own bread too, when I went to the one in Biot that is called Four Communal Émile Cheval (Update September ’16: it is currently under construction and closed, sad smiley goes here) baker was kind enough to give us some tips from preparing the dough to cooking it in an old stone oven. In this particular one they hold workshops as well, and they can be about baking in general or some specific local product. People you meet is fun too, as there found people from different backgrounds and countries who have all an interest in baking in common. For example, there they have a world map on the wall with pins on the countries where they had visitors from, and there were numerous of them! But sadly the one in Saint-Martin-Vésubie was closed so I couldn’t visit that one.
I think the discovery of the day was a dairy products shop called Ferme de la Prairia. It is a bit pricey but I was so taken with the cheeses they have (you’ll be too I guess, see pictures below) and I wanted to try them all. I bought some reblochon and tomme, and also a saucisson de brebis, ewe sausage, but this last one was kind of a mistake. Okay, maybe I know nothing about this particular type of sausage but given my attraction to meat products I had really expected to like it, but I didn’t that much. When she was picking one for me, she asked if I wanted one un peu mou ou bien seché, meaning a bit soft or well dried, and apparently the correct answer was un peu mou as the one I bought was so dry that I could hardly cut it. And the taste was not my favourite. But reblochon was quite nice, and tomme was amazing and so rich in taste. Here are some pictures from the shop,
On my way back, despite the deterring grey clouds, I decided to take a smaller mountain road at a fork in Lantosque and come back to Nice passing by Lucéram to discover the surroundings a bit more. I certainly enjoyed the road but it was a bit dangerous, I must say. Mountain roads have a weird type of humidity especially if they are in shade and thanks to that they are usually more slippery than the city roads. This is probably due to large number of living organisms compared to a city environment so it’s simply a trade-off. Given the winding trails on this road you better honk at every turn as you often don’t see if somebody is coming from the other side, take the middle of the road as the sides are usually covered by a carpet of small stones (the most dangerous!) about half a meter before flying off the cliff and not drive as if you have a born to death tattoo on your chest. So regarding my route, I first took M73, then followed D73 and arrived in Lucéram in about half an hour, and although it is a beautiful village médiéval I had to keep going without a pause due to nasty weather, and it took me another hour to get to Nice. It was beautiful, quite scenic and taking a break from city was just great.
One quite sad thing for me was to hear from my Norvegien college that I was actually pretty close to Le Col de Turini, a very scenic and known path up in the mountains that I have always wanted to see. It’s where M70, M2566, and D2566 meet and is a must-see, look up its pictures. Tour de France passed by there few times, Rallye Monte-Carlo passes there almost every year, and it is often present in top-I-don’t-know-how-many-scenic-driving-routes-in-Southern-France lists. But given its 1600-meter altitude I would probably feel too cold, anyway. If you’re around just remember to take D70 from La Bollène-Vésubie to get there. Despite missing that beauty the road I took was not bad either, huh?
Is there anyone who’s from Olbia? No one? Good. Because, honestly, I was a bit disappointed by this town. It’s probably not the prettiest thing to see as the first thing on this beautiful island. And speaking of this beautiful island, one pitfall that you should avoid: Sardinia is not exactly Southern Italy. And to some people, not even Italy.
They have the highest income compared to its Southern Italian counterparts, and do actually export electricity to Corsica and mainland Italy, for example. What I saw in Sardinia was quite different compared to Naples, for example. Let me first tell you that Naples is one of my favorite cities, I really do like it despite its image in many people’s minds. It has a particular identity that lives up to its name and that identity is in line with Southern Italy in general. But Sardinia is different. It’s not only about how safe you feel without keeping an eye on the “red streets” on the map or punctual public transportation, it’s something else that I can’t put right away. Perhaps you should see it for yourself.
After we arrived in Olbia first thing to do was to find the train station to get on a train to Cagliari. Since we got lazy and missed the first train we decided to walk around and have the breakfast that we missed in the morning and ended up in Cafe Principe Umberto (Via Principe Umberto 7) to find out that panini is not necessarily toasted. It was quite delicious, though. Same applies to coffee too. On top of that, I call €1.30 for a cappuccino is fair price. After this short break we kept discovering the town and honestly we were regretting missing train, as we were not so impressed by the city. So we decided to go to a nearby beach to spare some time before the train and stopped by the tourist information office to ask how. Apparently, considering the amount of time we had, taking the bus number 4 for the Pittulongu beach was a best option. I think the first moment that I really started to enjoy Olbia was when I set foot on the sandy beach there. Prices for two chairs and an umbrella are around €20 and we found it a bit pricey since we had just an hour and there is no way to rent them per hour. Instead we set out our towels on a public part and enjoyed the sea. One remark is the depth of the sea there (and actually in the south around Cagliari as well) is not much, safe for munchkins but a bit frustrating for adults as you need to get far from the coast to be able to float in the water instead of, well, walking.
On our way back we gave another break at the Le Café des Artistes (Corso Umberto 171) and quite enjoyed talking to people working there, fresh orange juice and pastries were quite yummy too.
Then comes the very pleasant train ride to Cagliari passing by beautiful Sardinian landscapes all the way to the south. Don’t try to count the sheep where you pass by, Sardinians are told to have more sheep than people!
And our arrival in Cagliari. First thing I noticed was how vibrant it was. In some cities you feel the presence of a youth that gives the city one of its largest colors and Cagliari is one of them. I like that vibrant does also mean crowd in the positive sense of the word. In Cagliari there are a lot of people on the street at any time of the day, but it’s never frustrating.
For dinner, we preferred to seek advice in the guide book we brought, rather than walking around until we are miserably tired and hungry and settle for whatever we had in front of us. That was the plan for the next day.. Mana’ Mana’ (Via Savoia, 15) was actually the option I was looking for. Local food and friendly (well, as much as they’re available for a chit chat on their food) staff. Don’t expect to find a table on the square in front of the restaurant without a reservation. They have chessboards and ashtrays for those who prefer to queue for it. We saw two guys in the queue upon our arrival, and they got their table while we were munching on our main dish after the appetizer.
As the appetizer, we chose to share a delicatessen plate that is called, as far as I remember, Shepherd’s Plate, with Parma ham, salami, ricotta, pecorino sardo, mascarpone, and olives. It was delicious and quite generous even for two. Even though the waiter was apparently a bit offended when I asked if the pecorino was romano or sardo (as pecorino romano is produced mostly in Sardinia, contrary to what its name suggests), he was kind enough to take his time to assure me that it is of course sardo. In order to check vermentino wine off my to-do list we took Costamolino from Argiolas. It’s a light wine with a very fresh taste. My choice for the main dish was another treat from the list, culurgiones; and risotto with duck confit for Shiri. Culurgiones is a typical dish from Sardinia and can be imagined as big raviolis with boiled potato, garlic, mint, and of course, pecorino filling. It wasn’t something very special but quite tasty. Final treat was the dessert if we had any space left for it.. With the fatigue and all this food, we couldn’t do nothing but calling it a day.
Day 2, Cagliari, Poetto Beach
We started the day late and.. hungry. Since I don’t like skipping breakfast, I needed a bit of a sweet-talk so that we go to a place that also has breakfast, and following the guide was again a safe choice: Coccodi Il Dolce e il Salato (Via Margherita 9). It’s a buffet style cafe and they have a lot of different salads, pastries, cakes, desserts to choose from and just the way they look make you crave for each one of them and go for the biggest plate – which does not even cost 10 Euros. I quite liked their savory stuff but their coffee and desserts are extra good, and are well worth a try.
Finding our way into a public beach was a bit tricky on Poetto Beach as there are two very long buildings next to each other that belong to two private clubs and we happened to get off from the bus right in the middle of them. So you may want to check where to get off before you take the bus. And also, buses to Poetto depart from Piazza Giacomo Matteotti and tickets are a bit more expensive when you buy them from the driver instead of the ticket machines or newspaper kiosks. Regarding the beach, it’s a sandy one and is shallow just like others I’ve seen in Sardinia, but nothing special.
The plan for the rest of the day was to have a walk passing by the Anfiteatro Romano di Cagliari and then Giardini Pubblici but both were closed at the time we arrived there. Honestly, apart from the historical value, I wasn’t so impressed by the amphitheatre for some reason even though it’s a pretty big one that was built in the 2nd century AD to host around 10,000 people. Probably because we had to see it from afar and right after sundown. I’m sure it worths another look! On our way back, we passed by Chiesa di San Michele and that one is very impressive. It was built as a church in late 17th century but today it’s used as a military hospital.
Final stop of the day contains a warning.. I don’t want to give out any names as I know my stomach is touchy so it might be just me but please be careful with the restaurants on Via Sardinia. I had a fairly annoying stomach cramp after having some food (especially after the dessert seadas or sebadas, depending on the local dialect, even though it was so tasty!) in one of the restaurants there, on top of that we payed almost 11 Euros as table and service charges. There sure are exceptions but please just think twice and weigh your alternatives if you know other places to eat. In our case, we arrived at the place at 11pm, tired, and starving so we were not able to use our brains. Lessons learned.
Day 3, Cagliari, Chia Beach
Finally an early start to the day. We headed right away to the ticket shop of ARTS, a state-owned bus company, that is located inside, well, a fast-food chain restaurant at Piazza Matteotti. People at the desk speak English and are very helpful. Tickets to Chia cost 9 Euros for two. Having skipped the breakfast to rush to the ticket office and having about half an hour before the departure we decided to go for a coffee. I’m glad we did. Caffè Svizzero (Largo Carlo Felice, 6) is a hidden gem with its astonishing interior. I didn’t even see a signboard outside! Their pastries and coffee are worth trying too.
Another tip for public transportation in Sardinia. Getting on a bus is easy. Well, it’s still true that everybody tells you a different platform for the departure but if you’re there a fair amount of time before the departure you can always ask the drivers to be sure. Hard thing is to get off from the bus at the right spot – which we failed. On the bus were several foreigners like us and a dozen locals, and at some point we passed by a beautiful beach and then the bus stopped soon after that. There was a moment of silence among the foreigners, and everybody was checking each other if they’re getting off. And nobody did except just one man. And that made us think that it can’t be the beautiful Chia as half of the bus, including the travellers, would have gotten off, right? No. Lessons learned, do not count on following the crowd to find your way. Stops are not written anywhere in the bus and are not announced. It was our stop Chia Baia already, and it was too late for all of us to get off. We tried to talk to the driver and some locals with not much luck and they dropped us off at the next town Domus de Maria, which was a bit far to walk back. It took us an hour and a half to try and fail hitchhiking, to find the bus station and the time table, and to catch the bus to head back to Chia again. Luckily, our used tickets worked again at the ticket machine so we didn’t have to pay again, it was our small reward for coping with and surviving Sardinian public transportation.
A bit to the right after getting off the bus is a grocery store where you can find local products. Note that prices are per 100 grammi for most of the fine foods and they are a bit pricey but everything we tasted were well worth it. Since they sell small loafs of bread too we decided to prepare sandwiches with some prosciutto, pecorino cheese, and cherry tomatoes. I was quite happy with the result.
And finally the beach, Chia. Having spent more than twenty years by few beautiful Mediterranean coasts I was surprised to see how much I was struck by the beauty of not only the beach but also the ambiance. Everything from La torre di Chia (tower of Chia) on the left to the little path that leads you to the shore passing by the flamingos; from that little wooden store on the beach where there are local kids selling cold beverages and ice cream to enjoy under the thatched palm fronds, to the truly transparent water, I was just amazing. The kids even almost scolded us for worrying about being short of 3 cents for an ice cream and said it’s totally okay, and it was hilarious. Since it was so enjoyable to be there, we decided to take the last bus even it took us some time to get over the fear of public transportation. Bref. It. is. a. must. see.
Upon our arrival to Cagliari we felt like having a dessert and sat in this restaurant called Principi di Dan (Via Napoli, 77) that had few tables on that lively Piazza San Sepolcro. When we asked for suggestions for a dessert wine the waitress said it’s best to have Cannonau for what they have and made us very happy with the choice since it was already on my list of things to try and that it was very good. Historically, Sardinia had a Spanish influence that dates back to early 18th century and it’s still noticeable especially in architecture. For example, I had intuitively asked myself why these towers by the coast look so Spanish and they turned out to be built by the Spanish! One pillar of this influence is the food, and for example, Cannonau is actually the local name for its Spanish ancestor Grenache. And what we had was, as far as I know, the Cannonau di Sardegna liquoroso dolce, a fortified sweet version of this wine. Similarly, what an Italian friend had told me to try was the wine Carignano, and it turned out to have a Spanish ancestor too, Cariñena, but we just couldn’t find an occasion to try it. I’d be happy to read in the comments if you have anything to add to this search for wine! Regarding the desserts, we had a chocolate cake and and a cheese cake and they quite tasty but not spectacular. One note from this night is that we actually made the order after midnight and not only the restaurant was open but there were a lot of people outside.
Day 4, Cagliari, Archeological site of Nora
We started our Saturday at the brunch place on Via Margherita that we went on Thursday, as it was a very pleasant and safe choice for starving people. Since it was my second time I filled my plate a lot wiser than the first time and avoided tarts that looked a bit dry (this can be a bit annoying, their products are really good but tarts in the salad bar don’t seem to be well preserved so they may be dried) and took more fried vegetables than meat. I think it was the most well balanced and healthy breakfast I had had in days. One remark from my girlfriend is that she says she had the best macchiato in Italy so far in that place. My panna cotta was very very good as well, perhaps not the best I had so far but quite high in the ranking.
After the breakfast we went to the ticket office of ARST again and took our tickets for Nora to see the archeological site. A public transportation chaos was sneaking around waiting for us again. Different people told us to go to different platforms at the station and we had to try to communicate with a local woman on the bus to know where to get off, no announcements whatsoever. But she was so helpful and nice that we managed to communicate with our broken Italian. At this point, I’d highly suggest studying a bit of Italian (on Duolingo, may be?) before going to Sardinia. Even though it sounds really touristic, it apparently is not, and it’s hard to find somebody who speaks English. Learning the numbers up to 20, a basic terminology of food, and few words on directions would save you hours and make your trip much better.
Maybe it was our high expectations after our guide book that marked L’antica città di Nora (antic city of Nora) as a must-see or the unexpected 45 minutes walk to the archeological site in cloudy (and then a bit rainy) weather but unfortunately we were not so impressed by it even though the historical value of it is just amazing. Size of this former Roman village becomes clearer when you compare its population of five thousand to Nora’s seven thousand today. There are two guided tours on the peninsula (and it is forbidden to go without a guide), for the antic city and the other for the tower called Torre del Coltellazzo di Nora. I’d still suggest you to see the place but you should be ready for the long walk to the coast after getting off the bus and walking around with the crowd on the site.
Our stop for the dinner was this typical Sardinian restaurant called Ristorante Ammentos di Dedoni Andrea (Via Sassari, 120), and we had to wait a bit for a table, and I’m glad we did. Inside is full of local kitchen tools and goods, and provides a very beautiful background to the food and conversation. Their menu is based on sets of options, basically, and you first decide if you want to go for an antipasto (appetizer) or primo piatte, then a seconde piatte (main course), dolce (dessert), vino della casa (homemade wine), muscato (a digestive drink) among many others, or just all. We had Macaronis de Busa con pomodoro e salsiccia (homemade pasta with tomato and sausages), ravioli di ricotta, and capra in umido (stewed goat) and they all were so good. Especially the fresh (so. fresh.) vegetables they brought with the stew made it just perfect. Dessert plate that comes with the menu is just a collection of small pastries, don’t be disappointed by it. They are tasty and it’s a very good idea to accompany them with muscato. It’s just that the owner could be a bit more friendly when I asked about the missing patate arrosto (roasted potatoes). Instead, she just pointed the quarter of a medium-size potato on my plate with her finger (I’m not joking) and asked with her eyes what do I want more as an overly demanding customer. But at least she must have found my nodding a bit sarcastic that she appeared after a couple minutes with a plate of roasted potatoes.
Day 5, Cagliari old town
Sunday was so lazy. We woke up so late and left our place in the afternoon so aimed for lunch skipping the breakfast. While walking around we found this nice looking restaurant called Corso Dodici (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 12) and decided to sit there. I happily appreciated this occasion to finally try the local beer, Ichnusa, which was quite good. A Sardinian friend later told us that it was bought by a big beverage company and it felt a bit sad because I know that sometimes acquisitions happen just to kill a rival. Our menu was simple, some meatballs and pasta, but never insignificant. Their portions are quite copious and food was very tasty.
After the lunch we wanted to go to Villasimius but bought our bus tickets without checking the timetable carefully. At this point it’s important to understand what giornaliero, feriale, and festivo means in Italian as public transportation schedule is often different on different days. Giornaliero means daily, so it’s everyday. Feriale is from Monday to Saturday, so except Sunday. And festivo means Sundays and bank holidays. So, for example, if you overlook the little star across 23.30 bus telling you that it’s a festivo and aim for it to come back from Villasimius to Cagliari you’ll have missed the last bus by 2 hours if it’s not Sunday or a bank holiday. Watch out! Luckily our situation was not that miserable and it’s just that it was going to be too late to arrive in Villasimius. The woman at the ticket desk was kind enough to refund our tickets so we could invest it in some other tickets to Poetto beach and put a lazy end to our lazy afternoon on the beach. After getting back to the center we met my girlfriend’s Sardinian friend and had delicious horse steaks for dinner. After the lunch he took us first to a small ice cream shop called Gelateria Vaniglia e Pistacchio (Via Napoli, 30) it was such a treat. I don’t remember the Italian name but there is especially one that is worth trying, its name was something that had the word grandma in it, might be grandma’s recipe. Then following our guide we ended up in a cafe at Piazza Mario Aramu and had a joyous chat about the island’s culture and history over few glasses of liquore di mirto, a local liquor made with myrtus, and since he’s a professional tour guide and a local at the same time we learned so much about the island. It was then time to call it a day.
Day 6, Cagliari
We met the friend again at noon as he had offered us a little trip around the city and that we had happily accepted before he finished his sentence. We started with a small breakfast at the Poetto beach and then went up to the historical part of the town. I guess it’s a must to walk around in this part and I felt very lucky that had this ride as we had almost overlooked the very town that we are staying. Unfortunately neither of us had much time since he had his customers waiting and we had our train back to Olbia so we had to settle for a quick tour. Just before dropping us off at the train station he took us to a small panini place called La bottega del panino (which actually means a small shop of sandwiches, at Viale la Playa, 38) where I had this hilarious conversation with the owner. Right after our friend told him that we’re foreigners he turned to me and asked “Do you speak English?”, and I said, “Well, yes I do” only to hear his reply to his own question: “Me, no! Hahahaha”. It was nice of him to make it clear that we needed to tell what we want in Italian if we didn’t want to leave his shop starving. With the help of our friend we could enjoy their delicious paninis later in the train. They’re located pretty close to the train station and it’s a very nice option to have something to munch on later on the train.
Contrary to our delicious sandwiches, train ride was a bit unpleasant this time as it was too hot and it was an old train car that was taking us back to Olbia. Fortunately, kind of a street festival was waiting for us upon our late arrival and the main street Corso Umberto I was full of people selling almost everything from local products to souvenirs, clothes to hand-made jewelry. Since we arrived quite late we decided to trust once more to our guidebook to find a place to eat.. and we were totally disappointed. I usually avoid giving out names if some place is bad but this one was a bit worse than that. Il Vecchio Porto (Corso Umberto I, 10/12) was a disaster. I was even more disappointed because it was suggested by a very known guide and we even thought about warning them about the current situation. I truly do hope that I’m wrong, but served pasta was pretty bad, let alone being fresh and pasta base of tiramisu was ready-made and tasted weird. I’m glad they couldn’t have intervened in the process of winemaking so it was fine. And waiters and waitresses are so sympathetic but they were all so young and so a bit unprofessional (we had to ask for grated parmesan three times with no luck, then went and grabbed ourselves) which made me question the place once more as I don’t think a restaurant should have high turnover of waiters and waitresses for the continuity of the business, let alone the situation looked like it was designated for their financial benefit as there is usually a lower minimum wage for minors, I do hope that I’m just being vicious about this place by this remark but it just seemed so wrong.
On our way back, we stopped by the cheese shop that was part of the festival and happily spent some money on pecorino and parmesan cheese. I really wanted to get some pane carasau, a typical Sardinian shepherd’s bread, too but I wanted to keep that last space in my backpack for a bottle of mirto. I just remembered a funny dialog between me and that tourist guide friend of my girlfriend. Since that bread is really dry and seems very tough, I asked the guy if it lasts forever and the reply was “nooo not forever, just a couple of months“.
Day 7, Olbia, Cala Gonone, Cala Luna
We were finally early to start the day so we could stick to the plan of going to Cala Gonone and Cala Luna. Since the prices of rental cars we checked the day before were a bit out of reach for our budget we decided to rent a scooter instead which costs 60 Euros per 24 hours and we rented it from a small local business (which I try to positively discriminate wherever I go) called Palarent (Via Regina Elena, 119/A). The scooter was a bit old and the engine oil pressure warning was on the whole time but it went okay all the way to Cala Gonone and back, which makes almost 250 kilometers. They were resourceful and helpful when we wanted to leave the motorbike at the airport instead of the city center the next morning. Provided that you ask for a newer scooter I suggest them without hesitation.
Speaking of driving and the roads of Sardinia, it’s quite pleasant. Of course there are bad or nasty drivers but don’t expect anything like Southern Italy (Sorry Southern Italy). The most annoying thing I noticed in the traffic is that tailgating seems to be a bit common. And it’s a bit more annoying and scary to motorbikes than to cars I guess. But the quality of the roads, for example, were unexpectedly good for me. For Cala Gonone, we just followed the road SS 125 because it seemed to have a sea view but it doesn’t really. So if you have some more time to spare perhaps you should take one closer to the sea. But with a motorbike it was so enjoyable anyway, especially when I saw the goats that I had been waiting for some time to see.
Arrival to Cala Gonone could be more beautiful than the town itself. Well, I don’t want to be mean as we didn’t spend so much time but all the way to the city you go towards big mountains wondering when you’re going to see the sea again but then a tunnel takes you back to the blue and the tip of the tunnel is actually a very nice viewpoint. Then comes the beautiful road winding down to the sea. Beware of goats and other animals crossing the road at this point, and don’t forget that there are more sheep, and just the sheep, than people so it probably happens often. Since our destination was actually Cala Luna we went to the port right away to take a boat and caught one that was leaving in a minute! It’s was really nice timing as we had arrived quite late, around 3 in the afternoon. If you’re planning a daytrip you better wake up early. Boat trip to Cala Luna is nice, Cala Luna is spectacular, but you should also visit Grotta del Bue Marino which is basically a stop of the boat trip and requires another ticket. It’s a cave that goes into the land for tens of kilometers and actually the guide said that the research is ongoing and they’re looking for a connection between two tunnels inside, and if it they find it’ll become the biggest of its kind on Earth. The only annoying thing about it is that it’s forbidden to take pictures inside. They tell the rules outside and it really hurts once you go inside and all that (very nicely illuminated) beauty surrounds you. According to the guide there used to be seals inside the cave but they were shooed away by, well, us. After that we arrived to Cala Luna. I can’t say enough: go there. It’s a beach located at where a valley meets the sea and the nature and the sea are just amazing. I wouldn’t know which one to pick, Chia (see Day 3) or Cala Luna but I guess their surroundings are a bit different to compare. We went to the only restaurant, well perhaps rather a cafeteria, passing by the bulls that were having a late lunch and got take away sandwiches to eat them at a small kiosk on our way back where they sell drinks. And yes, it was Ichnusa who accompanied the panino. It was a bit sad that we actually had just one hour to spend there and that we had to get back first to Cala Gonone, and to set out for Olbia hoping to arrive before the sundown. We took the highway SS 131 dcn (wait, it’s not a toll highway, there are no toll highways in Sardinia, but just a divided one with many lanes) on our way back to Olbia, and I was the slowest driver on the road because I was driving only 10 to 15 kilometers above the speed limit. Following the disappointment of our guidebook we decided to find the dinner place ourselves and just picked one on our way back to the hotel. They were nice people with quite good ingredients but basic mistakes like too much black pepper (yes, really) just killed the entire thing, so I don’t think it is worth mentioning here.
Day 8, Back to France
The last day we could do nothing but a swift goodbye to the island, flying back to our homes in Nice and Marseille right after a quick breakfast. I shall return. At least to try fiore sardo which I couldn’t this time..
When I heard a very good friend was going to Southern Italy to learn Italian for a month I was quite excited to meet her somewhere in Italy. Even though I failed to go all the way to the south we managed to meet in Genoa for a weekend.
I arrived in Genoa on a Saturday morning after a carsharing trip and it was a very pleasant experience and also a good opportunity to practice French. Provided that you read people’s references you should definitely consider doing it to practice the local language, meet people and, of course, to save money. We met at the place we had rented since she had arrived a day earlier and set out to see Genoa right away as we actually had less than two days. I had again made a list of things I wanted to try but for the first one, which was supposed to be pretty close to where we stay, we failed miserably to find it and just ran in circles for half an hour. It’s called Gran Ristoro (Via di Sottoripa, 27/R) and after some comments I read it seems to be very good. On one of the streets that we’re passing by again and again there was a girl handing out flyers and she decided to offer help after she saw us passing by with a map I don’t know how many times. She didn’t know that particular one but instead she suggested us to go to a very small Focaccia place not far from Piazza Banchi and we finally found something we’re looking for! Focaccia e Dintorni (Via Di Canneto Il Curto, 56/R)is a very small shop that it’s almost always packed inside and it’s almost always packed because what they sell is so good. We tried the focaccia with onion, and olives, farinata (a specialty of Genova, basically a pancake of chickpea flour, a similar Niçois version is called socca), pizza with prosciutto and they were all very fresh and tasty. Along with these they have many other stuff or these with different ingredients. Prices are fair and the staff is so friendly. I’d call it a must-go! Note that they don’t have tables inside to sit but since the sea is pretty close we just took them to the sea side and munched on them with the sea view before us.
After this lovely snack pause we thought about going to the Lighthouse of Genoa to see the view from the top and we actually set out for it but it was a bit far and the part after the train station is not pretty so instead we decided to take one of those city tour buses to get quick idea of the town. Ticket costs 10 Euros, and the ride takes about 45 minutes passing by the prominent attractions and streets. After the tour we realized that we liked Piazza De Ferrari the most so we returned there to spend some time on the square finishing our take away food. Caffè degli Specchi (Salita Pollaiuoli, 43r) was our next stop to have some wine and maybe an appetizer too and started with some nebbiolo wine and kept looking at the menu for the appetizer. My friend had a bruschetta with sundried tomatoes and parmesan, and it was a wise choice. And I, on the other hand, partly by mistake, ordered a tartare di carne even though I still ask myself how could I not notice what it is with that name. As you may already know, tartare is a dish prepared by raw meat, and by raw I mean raw, check out the pictures on the internet. While putting the plate before me the waitress was checking out if my facial expressions showed more of a drama or joy and while I was trying to look noble like one who’s been long waiting for his tartare I had a dead pan one, with mixed feelings, perhaps. I admit that having people from nearby tables openly pointing at my dish and murmuring was not the most encouraging. Since I started to live in France in 2011 this is the dish that I’ve been playing hide and seek with, even though we’ve became good friends with his cousin carpaccio, and now it is the time. After a bit of a hesitation, I had a bite and it was surprisingly good! Also, I was pretty impressed by the harmony of the meat and the parmesan and arugula that accompanied it. Later I was to learn that tartare is often served with these. On the other hand, I had mixed feelings for the nebbiolo wine. First, it’s a very high tannin wine so it’s quite dry and even bitter. For those whom red wines give headaches this might be your enemy. Apart from that, I liked the taste. Especially with tartare, as it’d be too dominant for something that I’m used to, perhaps.
Next stop was one of the prominent tourist attractions in Genoa, Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. Honestly, I was way more impressed by the exterior than the interior. Because of the war, I guess, and other reasons that it was architecturally modified, it’s too eclectic that you can see romanesque, baroque, and gothic styles inside. So the details are quite good, but the whole view was a bit distracting for me. Then we set out for a walk in the old town again. As a reminder for night time especially, be careful in the southern bank of Via Garibaldi at night. I read few horror stories that took place in those narrow streets that make up a maze without a map in Porto Antico part of the town and we indeed felt a bit unsafe at night time. Map is your friend as taking out your phone might attract too much attention. We finally went (read it as managed to find the way back to) Cattedrale di San Lorenzo and sat in a beer place called Scurreria Beer and Bagel (Via di Scurreria 22r) to celebrate our survival and it was a relief. In this place you can taste many different types of beers from all over the world and their burgers. Staff is very friendly and they speak English. Average price for a pint is 6-7 and behind the bar you’ll see a big blackboard telling you the types and origins of the beers they have. Even though going for a random one each time (after getting overly excited by all those beers written on the blackboard) is fun, which I did, you may end up getting tipsy so quickly as I felt like mixing up drinks at the end even though they were all beer. So be wise: grape or grain but never the twain and ask for advice at the bar, which I did as well, and be ready for even more interesting beers to add up to your already rising alcohol level. I hope you like root beers cause I think the barmen is very much into them and one of the first suggestions you get will be a root beer or one with a strong ginger aroma, for example. After being beaten up by the beers my nose and eyes started to signal the presence of some burgers which I hadn’t noticed so far. I asked the waiter secretly pointing out the burgers at next table and he said it’s their specialty called pesto burger, which made me order one. Even though my tongue was a bit numb at the time, I still remember the freshness of the pesto sauce and the overall taste of the burger. Note that they don’t ask how you’d prefer your burger patty to be cooked; mine was a bit like medium well so feel free to ask for less cooking as the meat they use is very tasty. After all those drinks and burgers at midnight we just wanted to call it a day as the next day we wanted to catch a train to Santa Margherita Ligure.
Day 2, Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino
Even though we were already out at 9.30 in the morning we could take a train not before 11 because of the metro and train schedules and arrived a bit in the afternoon to Santa Margherita Ligure. But since we had about half an hour to spare in Genoa before taking the train we decided to walk around a bit hoping to find a place to have breakfast, and we actually discovered a big cathedral called Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato with an impressive interior with sculptures and mural paintings. After our short visit we had to rush back to the train station and hope that we can grab breakfast on the way. It wasn’t so special but if you are in a rush like we were then getting some snacks from the focacceria called HB Gourmet (Via Balbi 149) and having it with a coffee in their next door café HB Cafe’ is a nice option.
Train ride took about an hour to get to Santa Margherita Ligure. Right from the moment you leave the train station you’re surrounded by an amazing view. When we started walking down the road Via Roma toward the sea side we were even more impressed by all those colors, the beach, and the people around us. Since we had no more than few hours to get back to Genoa we rushed to the bus stop to get to Portofino after a short break with an ice cream. We were a bit sad not to be walking that indescribably beautiful road that leads to Portofino and to see it from inside of a bus overly packed with tourists it was the quickest option for us to get there. Then the arrival to Portofino that I hadn’t had any idea before as I had no time to check about it before arrival. It’s very touristy, no sign of daily life and full of restaurants and souvenir shops, and few shops of luxury brands. But still it might be the most beautiful coastal town in terms of the nature, how well it was preserved and the views. Note that all these places seem a bit (or more than that) artificial, not as much as Monaco, though, but the transformation this place went through doesn’t seem too destructive compared to other less inhabited coastal towns. At least it still seems very green and the sea water still has its lovely shades of blue despite to all those tour boats and yachts, and seems very clean too. Again due to our schedule we discussed for a while if we should have a walk toward the tip of the peninsula as it was a bit uphill but then we decided to have a quick tour around it. Even though we couldn’t since our way was crossed with private property and we didn’t have time to take the ones that looked like a hiking route we were still quite pleased with the view and to have a short walk in the green. Be sure to spare the time to have a walk around this peninsula. Or for the better, you should even consider getting off the train at Camogli (where we saw a lot of people getting off) and have a much longer walk around the peninsula all the way to Portofino but it’ll probably take the whole day and you’ll have to start quite early. After what I’ve seen in a short time, I don’t think you’d regret, though.
On our way back we had to say goodbye at Santa Margherita Ligure as my friend was going to south and I was returning back to Genoa to catch my carsharing back to Nice.
It was all a bit sad to rush around trying to see as much as we can in such a short time but I guess we’re both very glad that we did it.
Since I started to live in Southern France, I developed a particular taste for high altitude places like mountain villages, and of course, their viewpoints. When a family friend came to visit Nice, I could think of nowhere but Le Col d’Èze to amaze her with the beauty of this place and its landscapes. Before arriving there, as an appetizer, I didn’t forget to stop by another viewpoint on Avenue de la Condamine (exactly here). The view you have got from here overlooks Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and even part of Mont Boron on the right, and Cap Estel on the left.
We arrived to Le Col d’Èze by my scooter, a.k.a. Sophia, but access with public transportation is also possible with the bus number 82 (take the one in the direction Place de la Justice, get off at the stop Col d`Eze, see timetable) but it still requires you to walk for almost half an hour to reach to the point I mean, which is right in front of Fort de la Revère – almost 700 meters of altitude. I never walked this path, but if you have time and courage, I don’t think you’d regret by the view of Èze from this point.
While wandering around the fort that is as old as Nice’s French background, and trying to figure out its weird structure, we realized that we forgot to bring water. So we had to settle for yummy blueberries that she had bought from Cours Saleya! For early birds, this place is a must to get to know local products and ingredients and to see how much intermixed the French and Italian cultures really are. It’s called Le marché aux fruits et légumes, which basically means fruit and vegetable market, and it runs from Monday to Sunday, between 06h00 and 13h00. Since you can also find different type of breads here, having a breakfast on the beach with what you get here is the perfect start for the day.
After heading towards back to Nice, I wanted to take a different route than the one we came through and took the one called Avenue du Cap-d’Ail, because I just love driving on that one. Due to the fact that we were desperately thirsty, we had to stop by La Turbie for some drinks. After we spotted the closest café and asked for the menu, we were chaleureusement accueilli, warmly welcomed, by the typical French café hospitality:
“Il n’y a pas de service continu à La Turbie.”
Which means that you can’t order any food between the lunch and dinner in La Turbie.. Even though we had to calm down the lady by telling her that we’re after some drinks and some drinks only this short pause helped us to discover one of the prettiest old towns I’ve seen in France so far. I guess it was a mistake to only pass through La Turbie before.
Finally, my idea to pay a visit to Le Trophée d’Auguste since we happened to be next to it already was adopted right away but we could arrive at the entrance only a quarter-hour before it closes. I guess you already know that I didn’t even dare to ask questions to the lady at the entrance who was keeping an eye on her watch.. Next time!
We thought La Ciotat would be a peaceful place to spend the weekend and it was exactly what we were looking for. Even though its proximity to the second biggest city in France, Marseille, didn’t let us be the only ones who thought about it, it still wasn’t that crowded with weekend holidaymakers.
Upon my arrival to the train station, first thing I saw was a panel on the wall telling me that one of the first movies ever shot in history is actually one of that Louis Lumière and that it was realized in this very train station, in 1895. Yes, that’s also the one that they say the audience was horrified when they saw the train coming towards them in the theater. Further information regarding this short, actually very short, film named L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat is available on Wikipedia with the same name: L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat. It’s also available on YouTube on different accounts. Another historical feature of La Ciotat is that it has one of the oldest theaters in the world that was built in 1889 according to the flyers they hand out at the entrance. What is more interesting is that actually you can still go see a movie there. We happened to be there during the local cinema festival but sadly couldn’t find something interesting at that time to see. Program is available here.
Since we arrived quite late, around 20h00 (France uses 24-hour notation, and this is how they put it, i.e. using the ‘h’ as a separator, you better get used to it), we started right off to look for a place to calm the growling stomachs and were actually quite lucky to find a Crêperie Bretonne! Well, I have never been to Brittany but the delicious savory crepes were approved by my girlfriend. This place is called Le Phare Breton (meaning Breton lighthouse) their contact information can be found here. They use the traditional buckwheat flour, or la farine de blé noir de Bretagne, and it’s highly suggested to have a bottle of Kerisac brut cider to accompany your crepes.
Next day was a Saturday and our options were the boat trip and the hiking, both heading to the west, but we just couldn’t find what is best to do as the weather seemed a bit grumpy and the weather report said it would be even grumpier the next day. Then listening to the sailors seemed like something wise to do and we decided to talk to the officials of the boat tour and voila! It was going to be fine, perhaps just cloudy. If you happen to go to La Ciotat, this boat trip is a must. The boat ride takes about two hours and a half and it can be a bit shaky depending on the sea (for example I felt dizzy until next day) but it seems like the only way to grasp how the coastline extends to the west and all those landscapes and cliffs with surprisingly weird shapes. Here is one that is called Tête de Chien, dog’s head.
There are also few others that look like different things but with less clear resemblance. The crew suggests that with enough pastis you will get to see them easily. Note that there is a trade-off between seeing rock shapes and enjoying the trip. Too much pastis, you’ll see that dog even blinking at you but spend the rest of the time in the restroom of the shaky boat; not enough pastis, people will think that you’re silly as you don’t see what is before your eyes.
After the boat trip we ended up in the same crêperie that we were at the day before, this time for a smoothie and a crêpe sucrée that we had to give up during our first visit in exchange for a crêpe au chocolat. What a first world problem.
Having gotten our blood sugar up, we had a walk in the old part of the town, which was calm and beautiful. Yet out of all we’ve seen I guess la Place Sadi Carnot is my favorite. It’s a small square right behind the church at the port but with the tables of those restaurants spread on it, and the eccentric fountain in the middle I might call it welcoming.
On this square there is also a very good Italian restaurant called Comme en Italie and it lives up to its name. Inside is arranged in a way that a narrow street in a small Italian town would look like, with the laundry hung to dry and small windows, and all that. And the pasta. Oh the pasta. I ordered tagliatelle alla boscaiola and even when I was munching a very good tiramisu after it I was still thinking about the pasta. You will feel the freshness and the quality of their ingredients at first bite. With the pasta we had a wine called Orvieto Classico from a brand Bigi and it was very good too. I always like Toscana wines and apparently this one is from next door, Umbria. Last but not least, staff is very friendly and helpful. No wonder they have this certificate at the entrance that reads Ospitalità Italiana.
I should probably tell you about that another restaurant on the same square, which is called L’épicerie, that seems so promising as well. But, sadly we didn’t have another hungry moment to stop by there. I will certainly try it next time.
Next was Sunday and already the last full day we had. The hiking plan that we traded off for a boat trip the first day was still on the table but we were too lazy and too late for that. So we just started to wander around and actually ended up discovering a very beautiful park called Parc du Mugel! After having spent a fair amount of my life by the sea with long summer days full of coastal activities, I guess I’m starting to fancy the green a bit more than the blue. At the end of the day, we realized that we spent almost 5 hours in the park without noticing it. There is also a point de vue where you have a panoramic view but the little trail that leads to the view is no less beautiful than the view.
After the park we had an early dinner at a french restaurant called Chez Fifi (9 rue Gueymard) with a salade de chèvre chaud with very tasty goat cheeze as an appetizer, and a quite good confit de canard afterwards. Final treat was the tarte tatin but it had pear as well and was indeed tasty. The waiter shared quite a few suggestions for the dishes and the wine, and was very welcoming. He was notably quite an old school gentlemen as well with the way he talked and served the food. If you speak French at a conversational level I’m sure you’ll enjoy his company. You’ll know what I mean when you stop by this place. After such a meal it was the time to call it a day after a short walk by the sea.
Monday was Le lundi de Pentecôte and I had taken it off. Since 2005 it is not necessarily a day off in France, see Journée de solidarité envers les personnes âgées. We spent it by mostly idling around as we apparently had a silent deal to forget about the hiking until next time and instead found out this delicious burger place called MAKE (10 Quai général de Gaulle). They have a particular burger that is prepared with Black Angus meat and it was a very nice treat for a short and lazy day as we were about to leave soonish.
On my way back to Nice, I just noticed how beautiful the mountain views between Calanque d’Anthéor and all the way to Théoule-sur-Mer really are. If you’re taking the train, claiming a seat by the window on the left just for this short part of the road is a very pleasant option.