France was our last stop on our unbelievable summer vacation before heading back to the West Coast of North America. The French leg started with a bit of a panic when we learned that there was an Italian train strike on the day we were to travel, so we started extra early to make sure we were able to get on a train in Corniglia and could hopefully make our two connections to Nice. Thanks to our wonderful host Simona warning us, it all went without a hitch. We made it to Nice early in the afternoon, ready to explore this beautiful town.
As with so much of what we do, our time in Nice was centered around food. The night we arrived we started our very scientific research project: who has the best gelato in Nice. Our favorites were the chocolate sorbet at Fenocchio, the stracciatella at Roberto’s, and the mint chip at Glacier Rossetti. All of the gelato was delicious, but our favorite of the whole two months was still easily Alberto’s in Corniglia.
We spent much of our first full day on a food tour with Nadia of Nice Food and Wine Tours. We heard a little about where the celebrities who make Nice their playground go, and we tasted some amazing chocolates, olives and wines. We walked the charming public market where we tried a couple of tasty treats that we’re adding to the list of foods we want to learn to make when we get home: socca, a chickpea-based crepe that is fluffy like an omelette, and pissaladière, a caramelized onion tart that usually has a sardine on top but Chez Theresa makes it without. We also had a delightful lunch in one of the many beautiful plazas in Vieux Nice (Old Town) along with the delightful folks we shared the tour with, two sisters and their daughters and a young woman travelling on her own from the US.
Our best meal was one we had on our tiny balcony of our Airbnb. We had a small view of the Mediterranean Sea as we dined above the tourists making their way through our little pedestrian street. We found sauce and fresh ravioli at Maison Barale, the ravioli made in the special Niçoise way with small dumplings not fully separated making them look like a chocolate bar. Add a tasty salad, and (once we went out for more gelato) it was exactly what we wanted.
We spent a couple of days exploring. One day we went to The Matisse and Chagall Museums. The Chagall definitely left us wanting to learn more about his work. Another day we climbed to the top of Castle Hill overlooking the city where there archaeologists are in the process of learning more about the fort that was there.
Nice was wonderful, but it was time to head off to the climax of the trip — Paris. Paris was everything we hoped it would be, and as with so many cities like it, the full two months of our vacation wouldn’t have been enough to fully experience everything it has to offer, much less the measly five days we had. Our time was kicked off with a surprise. After settling in to our Airbnb, we set off to explore some of the sights. Our way was blocked by what we quickly figured out was the final leg of the 2019 Tour de France. After dinner, we thought we’d check it out, assuming there would be too many people to see anything interesting. However, we found a little spot on a curve where we were able to get close enough to the route to see. About five minutes later, the peloton rode by very very quickly. It was fun!
The biggest chunk of our time in Paris was spent in the many incredible museums. The Louvre was of course incredible. We planned ahead enough to get 9:00 am tickets; we hightailed it to the Mona Lisa before the crowds became unmanageable. We spent time in the Islamic Art collection before finding our other must-see pieces — Liberty Leading the People, Winged Victory, and The Venus de Milo. Then we just wandered through the many galleries, getting distracted by whatever caught our eye, appreciating the many ways people experience the art, and being generally overwhelmed by the splendor of the building and its contents.
We also loved l’Orangerie with its stunning permanent installation of Monet’s Water Lilies, as well as the Orsay and its late 19th to early 20th century art, including of course the Impressionists. Rodin is one of our favorites, and of course Parisians love their own. Tom also took a spur-of-the-moment trip to a museum set up in Eugene Delacroix’s studio.
We also of course went to a few of the countless incredible cultural sites around Paris. Sainte Chapelle’s stained glass windows are incredible. We mourned the loss of post-fire Notre Dame. While Melissa took a shopping day, Tom saw the eerie Conciergerie where enemies of the revolution were condemned to the guillotine, and he also saw two Holocaust memorials — one specifically remembering the deportations from France and the Shoah Memorial. He also ducked into the Opera house to check out the Chagall ceiling we read about in Nice. Our favorite view of the city came from the top of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre.
Speaking of Montmartre, we took an enjoyable food tour of the neighborhood with Secret Food Tours. We once again had great luck with tour partners, including a couple from Seattle, the woman from Mumbai (more on them later)! We went to the shop of a master chocolatier who was named Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), the highest honor available to a number of crafts and a title one holds for life. We had amazing macrons, tasty crepes, and again finished with a fabulous lunch with wine tasting along with our fabulous tour partners.
One amusing side note: we heard an amusing story about the origin of the baguette (a little bit of research calls into question the story’s accuracy, but it’s an amusing story). According to our tour guide, when they were building the Paris Metro, many people from around the country converged to help. They brought their lunches with them, which invariably included bread which of course needed a knife to slice. The workers also found knives useful to help settle scores with coworkers with whom they might not see eye-to-eye. The resulting carnage inspired bakeries to bake bread that didn’t need a knife to enjoy, hence the very tear-able (but opposite of terrible) baguette.
As we settled in to lunch, our guide happened to mention that they were piloting a wine tour the next day and wondered . . . “YES PLEASE!” we and the couple from Seattle answered before the end of the question. The next day we went on another walking tour of Montmartre, this time hearing about the history of wine in the neighborhood. There is still a small vineyard on the shady side of the hill producing a truly terrible wine. We drank wine and ate cheese at a variety of outlets. It was delicious, and all we had to do was answer some reflection questions about the tour itself and be interviewed for a marketing video.
Part of the motivation behind the wine theme of our vacation is our anniversary, which we try to celebrate in a different wine region each year. We’ve been to Southern Oregon, Walla Walla, Willamette Valley, and La Rioja. We missed our sixth when we moved to Bangalore, and we thought it would be fun to make a blow-out of it for our move back home. Our plan put us in Paris for our anniversary for the romance of it all, knowing it isn’t actually a wine region, but has lots and lots of good wine. Melissa found a cute little restaurant in the Latin Quarter that had a number of tasty vegetarian dishes, and we just had a lovely night of it.
For sure, one of the many reasons we know we will be back to France is to visit some of the many wine regions available. Paris is just such a lovely city, and France is a wonderful country with, despite its reputation, fabulously warm and friendly people. It was the perfect way to end a truly once-in-a-lifetime vacation.