Top Ten: Côte d’Azur

by Matt on September 17, 2010

Last week I spent a few days in Cote d’Azur in the south of France with Adam and David. Our days were filled with food, cooking, rosé, markets, a fragrance factory in Grasse, winding mountain roads and a few practical jokes thrown in for good measure. It was a splendid time that I enjoyed immensely. Tomorrow I head back to Paris and Champagne for a few days, more on that later.

That part of the world is exactly how everyone describes it – drenched in sunlight, verdant, rough around the edges the way only a Mediterranean town can be, with the faint hint of herbs and aromatics floating through the air wherever you go. It’s unlike any place I’ve visited. And the food–sardines, fish, cheese, bread, butter, with plenty of Italian touches thrown in for good measure–is perhaps my favorite way of eating. The regional specialties like socca, a chickpea crepe, and panisses, chickpea flour fritters, help me understand why travelers and food lovers from all over the world come here, some never leaving.

I’ve put together my top ten moments in Côte d’Azur for you but please don’t think I’m a drunk though, deal?

10. A very long lunch at Mirazur

Mirazur is located in Menton, where France meets Italy. We spent about 5 hours there, first touring the organic garden before sitting down to a very lovely lunch. Organic fruits and vegetables from their own terraced garden were featured throughout the 10-course lunch, with views of the Mediterranean below us.  It was quite a delicious meal from award-winning chef Mauro Colagreco although to me it felt a bit precious and forced at times. But what do I know, I don’t write about restaurants. You can read a very thorough review from David here.

9.  Saint Jeannet

Picture this: a medieval village perched in the mountains. Then picture this: me out of breath, cursing and sweating up a storm and pausing long enough to admire the view as we lugged ourselves up an almost vertical incline.  And here I thought this was supposed to be a relaxing break from Paris, not a workout. Still,  sore legs included, it was a beautiful visit and extremely relaxing. Sort of. See #8.

8. Driving

If I put something so white-knuckle inducing in my top 10 moments then I’m sure to forget how absolutely nutty it was in the beginning and only remember the wonderful moments, right? Go with it. But in the end I actually did enjoy driving throughout France and neighboring Italy. About the only thing that made foreign signs and symbols comforting were the French drivers who take a very relaxed attitude to my driving mishaps, moments that included driving down the wrong side of the road, stalling 921 times on steep inclines, my efforts on the roundabouts that clamored for a Benny Hill sidetrack, and practically running over cyclists and scooter drivers.  To the people of France, merci for going easy on me.

Don't worry, I ate that random potato chip trying to escape

7. Rosé, rosé, rosé.

Do you really need me to elaborate on this one?

6. The Markets

It’s easy to claim shopaholic status when you are buying for your business. In our case it means props for photography and France certainly showed no shortage in that department. Bowls, whisks, linens, bakeware and ceramics were everywhere, not to mention things too large to every carry home.  In fact, I cried myself to sleep two nights in a row over a gorgeously dilapidated antique wooden cheese cabinet for 7 euros. Yea, I said seven. I’m hyperventilating now, let’s not mention this again.

(As a sidenote, while taking a break from shopping at a fantastic flea market in Paris we did manage to sit next to this pop superstar which caused me to freak out just a tiny bit because I love her and we all know how I feel about Australians!)

5. Socca

I’ll admit that I had never tried this regional dish that caused me to marvel in its simplicity. Chickpea flour plus water makes a batter, the batter is then poured into a cast iron skillet, baked for a few minutes then the top is raked halfway through. Once cooked, the socca is cut into strips, liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper, and eaten faster than you can say “perfect snack.” It’s the chickpea cousin to the tortilla of my dreams, and if I had my way I would have eaten twelve times as much and also tried it scooped into fresh guacamole. Screw hyperbole when I say it was quite possibly the best thing I had the entire trip.  Or maybe that was #4.

4. Panisses

I should just cut and paste the entry above: I’ll admit that I had never….you catch my drift. Again, water, oil, and chickpea flour is mixed into a thick batter over heat like polenta, allowed to set in saucers or molds until it becomes a solid disk with a vague hue the color of orthopedic contraptions. The disks are cut into strips (think steak fries) and then fried in olive oil. Salt liberally and eat immediately.  Crunchy, salty, with a soft interior texture like the perfect French fry.

3. Aioli

With the help of an experienced instructor I whisked 2 eggs yolks, garlic, olive oil and a dash of warm water into an emulsion worthy of the gods. We then dipped roasted potatoes, radishes, carrots and baby artichokes into the aioli and made quite a wonderful meal out of it. Simple and delicious, with nothing more than a few ingredients. I could eat like that every day, I’m sure the view certainly had something to do with it as well.

2. Rosé, rosé, rosé. Again.

Cheap, abundant, and in every corner market. Was I drinking the best rosé in the world? Probably not. Was it good enough? Absolutely.

1. My Travel Buddies

I’d reference the Three Stooges here but I know we’re not that clever nor entertaining. But there was something magical and entirely comical about the three of us getting lost on a daily basis. But being with Adam and David made me wake up everyday and thank my lucky stars that I am alive and so fortunate to have such a good friend as well as the most loving partner on the planet. Life is good, folks. It really is.




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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

The Italian Dish September 17, 2010 at 6:43 am

Thanks for sharing. Loved your photos, as always.

In Sicily, they make a snack called panelle which sounds just like the socca you had. It’s the best street food.

The Urban Grocer September 17, 2010 at 6:49 am

This is brilliant. The photographs, the captured moments, and your highlights, to me, perfectly sum up what time in the South of France is all about. And while I can certainly get down with rose, pastis is another French apero I’m totally over the moon about. Loves it.

Laura September 17, 2010 at 7:00 am

That is a lovely post. Lovely pictures and the bowl the aioli was made in. Nice. Rose gets a bad rap in the US but that is changing. It is such a fun wine as long as it is not the Boones Farmy like stuff. Did I just date myself? oops.

Rose in France is now on my “to do” list.

Pascale September 17, 2010 at 7:08 am

Hello Matt,
I love your post. I spend a good bit of time every year in this area and really enjoyed your thoughts and pics!
Enjoy the rest of your trip.
Pascale from extra-relish.com

Ti September 17, 2010 at 7:28 am

I love the photo of you driving (and reacting) to oncoming traffic. Love the pictorial. So lovely.

Mercè September 17, 2010 at 7:49 am

Matt, I loved your photos as always.
But let me tell you a couple of details on this post… the sauce “aLLioli” has a Catalan origin. As its name says is made of “all”=garlic + “oli”=oil. And if you want, you can add a pinch of salt. And the traditional method of making it, it’s just using a mortar and pestle. (Here is a recipe in Catalan).

Scott at Real Epicurean September 17, 2010 at 8:26 am

Lucky lucky you! My life is hardly so exciting.

Lucy Lean September 17, 2010 at 9:30 am

Let’s have a Provençal lazy lunch up here on my deck before it gets too cold – you bring the aioli I’ll provide the rosé, lavender and steep road to test your newly acquired French driving skills xxx

Tristan @ Enjoy Life With Breakfast September 17, 2010 at 9:35 am

Looks like a lovely trip, Matt.

Uncle Beefy September 17, 2010 at 10:18 am

Okay, I think it’s safe to say at this point that this is your preeminent attempt to induce raging jealousy in me, Matt. [insert applause here] Mission accomplished! France, food, and Kylie?! Why do I even bother? Sigh. I hope you enjoyed yourself. Yeah… a whole lot. ;)

Andreas September 17, 2010 at 10:30 am

Obviously, it was a funny trip and that Kylie thingy… make us all jealous :-)

chika September 17, 2010 at 10:55 am

Hello Matt,

I’ve made a proper visit to the south of France only once and that was many years ago, but I still dream of how everything was bright and beautiful.. and how I fell for socca! It’s great to re-live the dream through your fantastic photos and fun words, so thank you. And did I hear that you are heading to Champagne? For a winery tour possibly? If so, that would be my dream trip and I can’t wait to read about it here… safe travels!

Amy September 17, 2010 at 11:13 am

Wow, that all sounds and looks pretty amazing! Thanks for sharing it with us. I really want to see France someday, and I’m going to make a note of this for future reference.

Elizabeth September 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Wow, beautiful. Good food, good friends, AND good Rosé? What more could anyone ask for? Thanks for letting us take a peek at a day in your life on an amazing travel!

Fran September 17, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Thanks for sharing your trip in photos and words. The Twitter updates you guys sent out gave us a little insight, but this Top 10 gives me “inside look” I was hoping for and the smiles on your faces shows us what a great time you were having. Thanks for sharing!

Florentina September 17, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Your photographs are amazing, they really have a way of taking you places. Thanks for sharing Matt.

Sally - My Custard Pie September 17, 2010 at 10:20 pm

I loved this post – so many beautiful experiences packed into a small space. I WANT that aioli NOW!

Cooking in Mexico September 18, 2010 at 8:30 am

I had already read Davids’ detailed account of your dinner at Mirazur, and knew you would give us your account.

You are so right — life is good. And writing such as this, allowing us into your visit in France and Italy, add to life’s enjoyment.

Kathleen

Nicole Franzen September 18, 2010 at 4:04 pm

amazing photos as always! Super jealous !

Serene September 19, 2010 at 2:40 pm

What an excellent, beautiful, joy-inducing post. 7 Euros?!?!? It is to weep!

Danielle September 19, 2010 at 6:47 pm

That’s where we plan to retire eventually, so thanks for the preview ;) You cracked me up with #8 – I haven’t mustered the courage to take on French roads yet!

naomi September 20, 2010 at 7:25 am

I love this post. The photograph are beautiful and the chick pea flour sounds interesting and amazing.

matt September 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm

so incredibly jealous. Kylie is awesome. jealous of it all though, not just the Kylie bit. I have just recently discovered Socca myself, and am absolutely hooked. I wish I could make it as well as those pictured in your post though.

I say we all move to France, lap the cheap good wine, the cheap food props, and put on our best French accents.

ERIC September 21, 2010 at 10:41 am

Nice pictures. All have excellent resolution. I’m sure, you’ve a good taste. Should live a life like yours.

frank September 21, 2010 at 9:52 pm

you sir, are a talented photgrapher

MrJackhonky September 22, 2010 at 1:01 am

Thank you for this post! After reading David’s The Sweet Life in Paris, I pretty much had no real desire to visit Paris (damn you David! I shake my fist at you!). But your description of the South of France is incredibly inspirational and makes me want to visit all the more!

As circumstances have changed, I now have the time now to travel, just not the money. Ah the dilemma. But at least I can come back here and read and live vicariously through you!

Also. Hilarious run in w/ Kylie! Love the video of Adam and her!

Kate @ Savour Fare September 22, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Your post has got me sniffing, I can almost but not quite catch that elusive scent of the Riviera — lavender and pepper and thyme and olives and something else. Did you visit the market in Antibes? It’s completely fantastic, and Antibes is actually my favorite town on the Cote D’Azur. Medieval Walls, twisting streets, fantastic markets, and Juan Les Pins has real sand beaches. Menton I stayed in for three weeks ten years ago, and that was just too long. The market in Ventimiglia (right across the Italian border) is also TDF and I visited before the Euro and bought a bottle of 150th anniversary Grand Marnier for $20.

OK, I’m rambling. I really miss the Cote D’Azur (haven’t been in said 10 years) and your post totally takes me back. I might have to make socca soon.

Ann September 24, 2010 at 10:03 am

It’s on my list of places to go and your post and photo’s are fabulous. I am a chard and cab drinker but on a hot summer day I love a French Rose (try Bandol), plus it looks so pretty in a glass LOL!. You three looked like you had a blast – love your sense of humor, you three are my kind of traveling companions…! I love your blog.

Mairi September 27, 2010 at 12:46 am

Oh it all looks positively heavenly,,,now live in beautiful New Zealand but very much looking forward to Paris in the spring – nothing quite like the continent. Beautiful photos.

Dirk @ lestuffblog.com September 29, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Ah, you’ve been in my neck of the woods! Numbers 8 and 9 and 5 are on my top ten list also. Well, now that I think about it, I agree with all ten.
Great post as usual!

Knife Sharpening September 29, 2010 at 11:59 pm

One word: BRILLIANT! Two words: THANK YOU!

Leah October 27, 2010 at 7:53 pm

I love this post! I just saw it now…I’m envious of your trip. I miss France.

~Leah
(http://simplesplendidthings.wordpress.com/)

Alissa November 3, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Such a great post! :)

Brenda February 15, 2011 at 1:48 am

My husband and I were in Côte d’Azur this past spring and in Paris this past fall. All I can say is that I’ve never had such nostalgia for a place or a country as I do of France.

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