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.