Monthly Archives: October 2014

Aix en Provence

tour-horloge

We love Aix en Provence, and coming back is like returning to our French home. We lived here several years ago with our sons, and we return regularly to visit our favourite city, our friends and neighbours, and to check out places for clients.

Whenever we return, the first thing we do is go to the Place de Mairie to touch the golden stones of the arch under the beautiful horloge clock tower, which we used to pass through every morning on our way to French classes at the Universite.

7-marketday

 

We love the markets, and the sunny squares filled with outdoor cafes, and the tree lined main boulevard Cours Mirabeau, where you can sit back and enjoy the sunshine while watching all the activity of daily life in France. There is a market every day in Aix en Provence.

101

 

On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday there is a large market with crafts, collectibles and food at the Place Verdun and Place Precheurs in front of the Palais Justice, and a flower market at the Place Hotel de Ville. A daily farmer’s market with food and fresh produce is held in the Place Richelme between the post office and the old grain market.

There is also a clothing and textile market on the Cours Mirabeau on Tuesday and Thursday, and at the Palais Justice on Saturday. On Sundays, there is a brocante/antique market on the Cours Mirabeau.

1aix-rotunde
Aix has a wonderful climate and is usually bathed in sunshine illuminating and warming the honey coloured stone buildings. The elegance of Aix-en-Provence can be seen everywhere in its lively streets and squares, historic architecture, and ancient fountains.

 

 

4cours-mirabeau-sm

The Cours Mirabeau is the beautiful tree lined avenue leading from the grand La Rotunde fountain to the statue of Roi Rene, and it is flanked with wide promenades, noble 17 & 18th century  buildings, and lively cafes.  The old town of Aix is filled with beautiful architecture, shops, markets, museums, and fountains. Aix has the third-largest collection of Baroque architecture in France, after Paris and Versailles. Everywhere, throughout the town, you will find fountains that gave this city its original Roman name of Aquae Sextiae.

 

086On this visit to Aix en Provence, we are staying at a spacious & stylish one bedroom apartment in the centre of town. The apartment features tasteful furnishings and decor, and a south facing balcony overlooking a private garden below and over the tile rooftops. The apartment is quiet and tranquil, even though it is situated in the centre of town.

089

The Cours Mirabeau and all the shops, cafes and restaurants in the historic centre are just a short stroll from the apartment. Access to/from the autoroute is easy, and there is a convenient public parking garage just across the street. Our apartment hostess is very friendly and helpful, and the apartment is equipped with all amenities, good quality linens & towels, and thoughtful touches such as lovely Provencal soaps.

Aix is filled with restaurants, and although they change often, we are always delighted to return to some of our favourites, and to discover some new ones. Mitch restaurant has been a favourite of ours for several years, and we returned with anticipation on our first night in Aix. Once again, we enjoyed an excellent meal and service at Mitch restaurant, which is located on the Rue des Tanneurs in the old town. A highlight was the pan seared halibut served with a lobster emulsion and cepes mushrooms – excellente! 

IMG_20141026_142517Not far from town, is the hilltop village of Ventabren, which features the tiny Michelin starred restaurant La Table de Ventabren restaurant with a sunny south-facing terrace. This was our choice for Sunday lunch with friends and former neighbours. The setting on a warm and sunny October afternoon was stunning and the meal was superb. Highlights were the scallops with cod mousselline, and the duck plate, which were both beautifully presented and delicious.  The only downside was that lunch took 3 hours – although it was a very pleasant 3 hours with good friends, good food and good wine!

IMG_20141027_200925In the old town, just a few steps from the Place Mairie and the beautiful horloge, is the Place des Cardeurs and the restaurant Bistrot des Philosophes.  We had a fabulous meal and great service. Our favourite dishes were the starter plate with buratta cheese with pesto, beefsteak tomatoes, duck pancetta, and parmesan crisp. The duck main course was delicious served with a fig sauce, potatoes dauphinoise with cepes mushrooms, and a vegetable tian.

IMG_20141028_204534 Another favourite and very popular restaurant In Aix en Provence is the Poivre d’Ane on the Place Forum des Cardeurs. We chose the discovery menu with selections made by the chef. We sampled a foie gras and lobster terrine starter, a fabulous scallop with cepes mushroom sauce starter, partridge with prune sauce, and an incredible tiramisu with pistachio mascarpone, and raspberries – exceptional and highly recommended.

The weather was outstanding throughout our stay – beautiful, warm and sunny every day – a real treat at the end of November. As always, we left Aix en Provence with sadness, but look forward to returning soon.

 

 

 

 

Hill towns of the French Riviera

contact_03The hill towns of the French Riviera are a delight to explore, especially during in the off season, when even the most popular hill towns such as Eze are quiet. Eze village is a dramatic Medieval village precariously perched on a rocky outcrop towering above the Riviera coast like an eagle’s nest.  The ancient fortified village is still crowned with the ruins of its 12th-century castle, and the castle grounds host the well-known tropical Jardin Exotique.  The charming village is a maze of steep cobblestone streets and arched passageways, and the panoramic views from over 1500 feet above sea level are breathtaking.

gourdonvillageGourdon is another stunning hilltop village near Grasse (40km NW of Nice). From Grasse you can travel the D3 road which winds back and forth through the Gorges du Loup and up a steep ascent to the beautiful village of Gourdon – an unspoiled gem with a spectacular setting clinging to the steep hillside and overlooking the Loup canyon on one side and the countryside and villages to the distant Riviera on the other side. On a clear day you can see from Nice to the Italian border.

027
The village is filled with picturesque cobblestone streets and quaint stone houses, shops, and a handful of restaurants. On such a beautiful day, we chose La Taverna, which has a panoramic view from the large south-facing terrace. We enjoyed a lovely salade chevre chaud (my favourite salad). This version served the chevre cheese bubbling hot on the side of a green salad with tomatoes and croutons. The salad was delicious, and the setting and the view from the terrace were extraordinary.

Other hill towns that we have visited in the past and recommended are Tourettes sur Loup, Biot, and Mougins.

tourrettes-sur-loup-1

Tourettes sur Loup is an especially picturesque village with a Medieval core of clustered warm stone houses, most of which are now artist ateliers (workshops), where you can watch the artisans at work and purchase lovely olive wood products, handmade jewellery, and artwork.

Biot, near Antibes, is known for its colourful handblown glassworks filled with tiny air bubbles. You can visit the Verrerie de Biot to see a demonstration of glass blowing and purchase some of the beautiful pieces, which can be shipped home.

Mougins is a charming medieval village just north of Cannes that has become known as a gastronomic centre. Mougins has a charming pedestrian only centre courtyard with a fountain, lots of flowers, and shady trees, where you can find several Michelin starred gastronomic restaurants.

056We continued our journey NW into the Var region of Provence and stopped at Lorgues, another lovely village to revisit one of our favourite villas: Villa Lorgues.

063This pretty south-facing villa opens onto a sunny terrace surrounding the pool. This 3 bedroom villa now has a studio suite on the ground level, as a 4th bedroom to accommodate and additional 2 guests. Villa

 

Lorgues is ideally situated within easy walking distance of the pretty village of Lorgues, which has a weekly market, and several shops, cafes & restaurants. The villa is very well appointed and features air conditioning. Lorgues is ideally located just 1 hour from Nice and Aix en Provence and the Mediterranean coast.

 

 

 

 

 

Excursion to Menton

074 One of our favourite villages on the Cote d’Azur is Menton: a beautiful seaside village on the Franco-Italian border. We visited Menton several years ago and have always wanted to return. Today we drove the scenic coastal road (D6098) from Villefranche sur Mer towards Menton (24km) passing through Beaulieu sur Mer, Eze Bord de la Mer, Beausoleil and Monte Carlo.

061

 

The old town, le Vieux Menton, is filled with colourful and beautifully restored Medieval style buildings, and pedestrian only cobblestone streets winding up from the market square to the Eglise St. Michel and the Chapel Penitents Blancs at the top of the hill.

051

 

From here you can gaze over the mosaic squares to beautiful views of the harbour, the gardens, beaches, and across the sea to the villages on the Italian coast. Around the market square the streets are filled with shops, and terrace cafes.

 

018

 

 

Down by the sea front are lovely gardens, seaside walking paths, and beautiful beaches. You can walk along the ramparts that still protect the harbour, and which offer stunning views of the colourful village and the coast.

 

Menton boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year, and is famous for its lemon festival in February. We were delighted to return to sunny Menton and hope to come back again soon. On our return to Villefranche, we took the upper road (D6007) and enjoyed the extraordinary views of Cap d’Ail, St. Jean Cap Ferrat, and the setting sun. Don’t miss the stunning Medieval hillside village of Eze – definitely worth a visit. See more in post “Hill towns of the French Riviera”.

 

New apartment next to beach in Villefranche sur Mer

0630

We just listed another beautifully renovated 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment next to the beach in Villefranche sur Mer.

0630gThis apartment is situated above the quay with breathtaking views of the sea and just steps from the beach, and the shops and restaurants in the village.

The apartment has just been renovated and features beautiful picture windows with views of the sea from every room. The well designed kitchen is great for cooks and is equipped with all new appliances, cooking equipment, and tableware. 0630bThe furnishings and decor are a clever mix of modern and antique with original art. The highlight of this apartment is the private terrace overlooking the beach and the sea with a dining table & BBQ – a fabulous place to call home for a holiday or an extended stay!

New apartments in Villefranche sur Mer

During our stay in Villefranche sur Mer, we inspected two exciting new apartments and revisted apartments already in our rental portfolio. We are thrilled to introduce a new 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment in the old town of Villefranche.0629c

This gorgeous apartment has just completed renovations and is furnished and decorated with style. With two sets of double French doors opening onto a balcony, this apartment features stunning views out to the sea. The living-dining and kitchen are open plan and the views can be enjoyed from every room.

0629f

 

The kitchen is a gourmet cook’s dream with lots of counter space and all equipment for preparing great meals with fresh market ingredients.

 

 

The 2 bedrooms and bathrooms are beautifully decorated with lots of attention to detail, including important touches such as make-up mirrors, good bedside reading lamps and lots of storage. This apartment would make a great home for a long stay in the lovely village of Villefranche sur Mer…maybe while studying French at the Institut de Francais (post coming soon).

An excursion to Nice

We took the train to Nice for an excursion – just a 15 minute ride from Villefranche. From the train station we walked south to the Place Massena – the jewel of Nice.IMG_20141022_112122

Built in the 1840’s, the north side of the square has elegant arcaded buildings that are painted with the famous Pompeian red and to the east there is a splendid view of the Tuscan-like hills. The square was renovated in 2007, along with the installation of the tramway, and a 7m white marble statue of Apollo now dominates the famous fountain.

placemassena

 

 

Overlooking the plaza are seven statues devised by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa and titled “Conversation in Nice” representing the seven continents.

 

579

 

In addition, there are beautiful gardens and a fun water vapour park – ideal for cooling off on a hot day (it was 24c on October 22).

 

594

 

In Vieux Nice, we wandered through the colourful Cours Saleya marketplace and had lunch in the marketplace.

 

 

IMG_20141022_132357

 

After lunch, we strolled along the famous seaside Promenade des Anglais enjoying the sun and the incredibly blue sea of the Baie des Anges.

Staying in Villefranche sur Mer

IMG_20141022_090539We arrived in Nice at sunset and  were met by our friendly English speaking driver Frederic, who whisked us to Villefranche sur Mer where our apartment manager was waiting to greet us. As we entered the apartment, we were thrilled to hear the waves lapping against the quayside just outside the large picture window that dominates our little seaside apartment. After our apartment orientation, we walked along the quayside past the beautifully lit restaurants on the quay and through the cobblestone streets of the village.

IMG_20141022_172318

 

With a recommendation from our apartment manager, we found a perfect place for a late dinner. Cave Nature is a quaint restaurant and wine bar set in a small square in the old town. They serve a delicious assortment of “tartines” (flat bread or open face sandwiches), such as crab with avocado & tomato, or duck with figs and lettuce, and offer an impressive selection of wines by the glass.

007

 

 

It was a great start to our trip, but the real “wow” moment was the next morning when we saw the breathtaking views from our window.

 

 

IMG_20141022_174637The sun was shining on the ochre coloured buildings, and the incredible azur sea was sparkling just outside our window. Early morning swimmers were enjoying the warm water, colourful boats were bobbing in the harbour, sunbathers heading to the beach, and we were delighted by the incredible views while we enjoyed our morning coffee!

IMG_20141022_172159

 

The old town of Villefranche is charming, and has a twice weekly market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The buildings are painted in warm Provencal colours that are lit by the sun, and the streets are winding cobblestones with lots of stairs leading up the hillside to the newer parts of town.  The 16th century Citadel is an imposing and well preserved fortress that defended the village and now houses 4 museums. Also worth a visit are several churches and and art galleries.

IMG_20141022_172218

 

 

We tried out several restaurants during our stay, and recommend: La Belle Etoile for dinner in the old town- great food and service; La Mere Germaine – expensive, but fabulous location on the quay and excellent food and service (especially the calamari, sole & scallops paupiettes, & moules marinieres), and the Cave Nature (described above) – great for lunch or a light dinner.

 

IMG_20141022_174215 IMG_20141023_205751