Friday, July 20, 2012

Côte d'Azur

The south of France is compact with many beautiful places in a small area, so we decided to fly to Nice and then rent a car to explore the area with the main goal of getting to Provence and the Valensole Plateau. July is the height of lavender season and it's the perfect time of year to visit, but our first stops took us to Nice and Monaco.
One thing I observed time and time again along the coast was so much diversity. The beaches were packed from morning onwards and people who typically would feel self conscious in a swimsuit were right along side everyone else, including little old grandmas would be standing topless having a conversation. It was refreshing to see people so comfortable with their bodies.
Shortly after arriving we went to Monaco - also known as the second smallest and most densely populated country in the world. They also have one of the longest life expectancies and 0% unemployment.
It's just a short 20-30 minute drive from Nice, so it's easy to access. Since it's a tax haven with no income tax and with the highest capita of millionaires and billionaires there's quite a bit of money being splashed around. The jewelry stores were dripping with some of the biggest gems I've seen outside of a museum and the cars were from the pages of magazines. 
The big Monte Carlo casino featured in the James Bond movies had many cars parked outside the casino with Monégasque license plates although the locals aren't permitted to gamble there, (no one really appeared to check where people were from). 
Cameras weren't allowed, however besides the grandiose exterior and the main hallway, it seemed to me like any other casino in a big gambling city. We had a laugh watching a little girl pay for her ice cream with a 200€ note nearby. 
In Nice, we had to try the quintessential socca, which is a thin pancake made savory with chickpea flour. I read that Chez Pipo has the best socca in the city, so that's where we went. They are great as a light dinner with a glass of wine. Yotam Ottolenghi has a recipe for socca (also in his Plenty cookbook). Chickpeas are underrated. 
There are so many quaint litle streets to get lost in around the old town. It was nice to see another facet to France. Did you notice the statue of liberty hiding in the street lamp above? 
Other foods we sampled were salted carmel potato chips, goat cheese tarts, and of course Pierre Hermé macarons from Galleries Lafayette. I think I may have surprised the women working, because I was requesting each one by name, even though they weren't labeled. That might be an indicator that I have a macaron problem. 
Another sweet treat I was looking forward to trying was the ice cream at Fenocchio, which boasts some really unique flavors, like thyme, beer, avocado, and jasmin. I either ordered the wrong kinds or it just fell short. Stefan's ultra dark chocolate was the best of the mix. The savory flavors are too sweet. 
Next stops... Cannes + Saint Tropez. 

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