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Day 1 South of France: St Paul de Vence and Nice - 14 May

After an early night and a solid 7 hours’ sleep, Peter were up at the crack of dawn. Not wanting to wake the household up, we were dressed and out the door by 7, heading towards the village of Saint-Paul de Vence. A crisp and cool morning, the short walk from Villa St Maxime took us no longer than 5 minutes.

Saint-Paul de Vence:
 Built on a rocky outcrop and surrounded by its ramparts, Saint-Paul de Vence is one of the most beautiful villages in Provence. Walking around the narrow and picturesque streets and lane ways of the village, we relished the quietness and calm that pervades every city of the world at the start of a new day. No one was up and about save the village cats and the fruit and vegetable deliveries for the local restaurants and cafes. We walked from the Porte Royale to the Porte Sud and discovered some magnificent stone facades from the 16th and 17th centuries. From the ramparts, we soaked in the exquisite views over the surrounding hills and beyond to the Cote d’Azur and the sea. We loved this medieval village and felt blessed to be staying a stone’s throw away from it at the Villa St Maxime for 6 nights.

By 8:45, our bellies called for attention. Returning to Villa St Maxime for a well earned breakfast, we were off again by 10 am, braving the peak hour traffic for Nice.

To be honest, Nice had me feeling lukewarm at the start. Maybe it was the aggressive drivers on the road, or the confusing road system, or the mad race for scarce parking spots in parking stations - and it wasn’t peak season yet. Maybe it was just the general congestion of the city. Nevertheless, I withheld my judgment and gave it the benefit of the doubt.

The impressive Promenade des Anglais, Nice’s main road that skirts the beach, stretches across 15 private beaches and 20 public beaches. We thought this a logical place to start. We were greatly entertained by the trendy scene that unfolded. Joggers merged with rollerbladers and a distinctly fashionable and over-tanned brigade, who paraded up and down the promenade like peacocks. Pampered canine breeds like poodles, whippets and Italian greyhounds matched their owners’ sense of fashion with their pink leather collars with silver studs. What I found interesting was the concept of the privatization of the beaches, where one could pay 15 - 19 Euros per person to sit in one of the enclosed spaces and have access to an umbrella, deckchair, bar and a restaurant. Should there ever come a time in Australia where people would have to pay to enjoy the beach, there would be a national revolt! back home, the beach is part of the natural coastline, is considered public property, and is there for everyone to share. 

Tired of the crowds and traffic, Peter and I decided to explore ‘Old Nice’, which was more interesting. Walking along Cours Saleya, there was an antiques market in progress, which we enjoyed browsing through. Exploring the character filled streets and lane ways of ‘Old Nice’, we discovered plazas, churches, boutiques and historic buildings aplenty. Staying away from the restaurants around the Cours Saleya, which were tourist traps, we made our way to where the locals preferred to eat at the other end of ‘Old Nice’: areas like Rue Marche, Rue Droite, and Rue Francis Gallo. Settling on L’Epicure on Rue Marche, Peter and I ravenously devoured a wood fired pizza and a salad. (L’Ecurie Restaurant, www.restaurantnicois-lecurie.com)

Straight after lunch and with the aid of our trusty map, we clumsily found our way to the steep steps that would take us to Colline du Chateau, home to  some ancient Roman ruins, a waterfall, a Catholic/Israelite/Protestant Cemetery, and the most magnificent vista over Nice and the whole French Riviera. 

After taking in a birds eye view of Nice, we descended via an elevator to ground level, collected our car from the parking station (9 Euros for about 4 hours), and made our way to another fascinating part of the city, called Cimiez. With Musee Matisee, Musee et site Archeologie and Monastere de Cimiez within walking distance from each other, this area is extensive and a destination in itself. 

Dining in Saint-Paul de Vence at Le Tilleul:
Exhausted from a day’s sightseeing, we didn’t want to travel too far for dinner, so it was looking like a walk to Saint-Paul de Vence for a bite to eat the second night in a row. Thankfully, Peter had thought ahead and booked dinner with the proprietor of a restaurant called Le Tilleul at Saint-Paul de Vence earlier that morning during our walk.

If last night’s dinner at Le Vieux Moulin was exceptional, Le Tilleul was a symphony. Located at a major corner and close to the main archway into Saint-Paul de Vence and within view of its fortified walls and the hills beyond, Le Tilleul is recognized for its 200 year old  ‘Tilleul’ or Linden tree out the front, where tables are arranged so that patrons can dine underneath its magnificent canopy. 

Our meal at Tilleul would have to rate as one of our most memorable dining experiences this year. Starting with an amuse bouche of creamed broccoli, I ordered a salad of scampi, artichoke that came with an assortment of fresh greens and juice of roasted chicken. It was heavenly. Peter had a flavorsome pea soup. We both picked for our mains the fillets of sole fish with basil and lemon, accompanied by vegetables of the day. Sharing a cheese platter of 4 locals cheeses, we ended our meal with a dessert of mascarpone and mixed berries. Seriously, we could have done dinner all over again at Le Tilleul, with one course as incredible as the last. The bill arrived at 154 Euros, which we were happy to pay - it was worth every mouthful. We have paid far more in Sydney for a far more mediocre result.

Le Tilleul, Place du Tilleul, Saint-Paul de Vence.

Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 14th May, 2012 | Trackbacks
Categories: France

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