I have just come home from a trip that can best be described as “magical”. Upon planning my trip to the Côte d’Azur I assumed that most of my days would be filled with lounging on pebble beaches or hopefully a new friend’s yacht. When I arrived in Cannes I instantly felt that horrible instinctive feeling; “I’ve GOT to get OUT of here!”. This feeling often rumbles at the sight of too many tourists, over crowded beaches, and worst of all, over priced and mediocre food. We arrived at The Carlton in Cannes with no reservation and asked for a nights stay at their swanky seaside accommodations. They kindly obliged and threw in a free breakfast, which turned out to be the best part of our short stay. The hotel was recently sold to a Saudi Gentleman who will be re-doing the entire hotel starting in the spring (the hotel will be closed for 1 year of renovations). Alas, I will not bore you with the details of this hotel as I would not necessarily recommend you visit Cannes unless you find yourself showing a film at festival.
It was a windy September afternoon that we departed Cannes and headed for the nearby town of Juan Les Pins. We nestled into a small bed and breakfast- Hotel Alexandra. The staff was cheerful and the rooms were charming. Climbing the home’s old stairs to our tiny room I had the feeling of being in a Wes Anderson film, the orange hues and treasured antiques. We dumped our things and spent a lovely afternoon hopping around the town’s beach clubs and tiny shops. Much more our style. The following day we had the satisfactory 5 euro breakfast and headed to the port town of Antibes. We spent the afternoon wandering the old castle that houses The Musee Picasso. Unfortunately there is only one floor of Picasso’s works though there are some pieces of interest; walls of painted plates and plenty of sketches. Directly across from the Musee is a large daily market selling local honey, fresh oysters, pizzas, soaps, and produce. I could spend all day in the markets of Côte d’Azur. You can easily prepare your weeks meals or shop for all your souvenirs at these fabulous markets. We settled in for our evening wine at L’Enoteca, the owner will kindly help you choose the perfect red to follow your first two bottles of rose. Hop across the street and grab a Crepe at one of the towns many Crêperies to fuel your belly for proper consumption of mass amounts of wine…after all you are in France! We awoke the next day to cloudy skies and sweet rain. It was again not a day for pebble beaches, we decided it was time to head for the country.
My travel partner Loni had been to Vence before and swore that we would have a lovely and much needed relaxing time. As we departed the coast and took the short drive into the hillside country town the clouds began to part and I instantly felt as though I were in another land. Only 30 minutes from the shore the medieval town of Vence sits among the hills just north between Nice and Antibes. The town of Vence is not far from St. Paul-de-Vence where you can roam the ancient stone walled city filled with tiny galleries and wine shops. We recommend that you not stay in St. Paul, but rather choose the lovely town of Vence. Upon arrival you will instantly feel a little lighter from the weight of tourists and over priced goods near the shore. Vence is filled with winding stone streets not accessible by car, housing bakeries, restaurants, galleries, small boutiques, and markets. The town is famous for it’s spring waters that flow freely in the fountains sprinkled throughout the town. We carried large bottles with us everywhere and drank this water daily. It became quiet an addiction to the point that we would even leave the hotel late at night to fill up from one of these fountains. It tastes like Evian, but poured from the mouth of God and best of all FREE! If you’ve ever been to Europe then you have an understanding of how water can add a great deal of expense to your travels, it often costs more than wine. The locals of Vence were quiet friendly and we noticed that many of the town’s people were transplants from other parts of Europe. They had come and never left. I wanted instantly to do the same.
I was famished for French country cuisine and the town satiated me daily. We chose to lunch on the daily market that takes place from 8am-11am in the heart of town. You can grab fresh fruits, vegetables, locally made cheeses, rotisserie chickens, pastries (OH! The pastries!) and affordable wines. These are truly whole foods and perfect fare for any picnic. One day we took a picnic and a drive to the nearby town of Grasse (perfume capital of the world). We found a garden at the top of the town Jardin de le Princess Pauline. We sat overlooking the Côte d’Azur on a grassy hill surrounded by fountains and well kept flower beds. We were mostly alone with the exception of a few locals passing through with their Chiens. This was heaven. We cleaned our hands and faces of the mess from our chicken and cheese in one of the nearby fountains and scurried our way down the mountain to make a 4pm perfume making class at Galimard. We spent the afternoon in a large workshop crafting our very own custom perfume with the help of laboratory assistants and specialists. Should go without saying, this is a girl’s dream world! With my belly full of local fresh foods and my hands stenched from spills of fragrance I left Grasse with my name on a bottle of my first and hopefully not last perfume creation “Kayla“.
We ended up extending our stay in Vence by several nights as we were so charmed by the quiet town. We even found a great home to rent next summer while chatting up a nice local shop owner at one of the town’s cafes, but more on that another time. Luckily we had a great rate at a très charmant 9 room hotel Auberge des Seigneurs. For around 70 euros a night you can stay in this medieval home overlooking the cliffs of Vence. The rooms are filled with original works of art mostly inspired by Vence. The family that runs the hotel was kind enough to accommodate us for multiple nights and put up with our late night antics (there is a curfew of midnight). The hotel is home to one of the best restaurants in town Le Lion d’Or where you can dine on the chicken roasted over a 500 year old fire. It was easily one of the best chickens I’ve ever consumed. Should you not wish to stay in a medieval castle we recommend that you stay directly across the street at more stylish choice Le Saint Paul. This Mr. and Mrs. Smith Boutique Hotel will not disappoint with it’s french decor and artful decorations.
I found the most pleasure in roaming the streets of Vence late at night when most restaurants were closing down and the stone wall homes gleamed with reflections of yellow warmth from shuttered windows. Should you have the pleasure of visiting Vence I highly recommend that you take the time to wander during both day and night, meeting the town’s locals and sampling the delicious foods and local wines.
The best restaurants in Vence are spitting distance from one another. Luckily most of the restaurants will serve up decent country cuisine. We highly recommend the following 3 restaurants for your pleasure of french country cuisine while in Vence:
Le Pigeonnier– enjoy hearty stews and warm comfort foods at this tiny Vence eatery.
La Cassolette– the dinner is more formal french cuisine with unique Mediterranean flavors. Don’t leave without having the Crème brûlée.
La Litote– More traditional french country cuisine in a romantic street side setting.
Even rainy days are beautiful in this seaside country town, but it was another rainy day that found us departing Vence and headed for St. Tropez.. I’ll save that story for another post. 😉