Postcards from the Eze: part deux et Vence.
“Why are you staying in Vence? Saint-Paul de Vence is much nicer.” So said the valet loading the luggage into our black Italian Stallion: Fiat 500L at le Hotel Chevre d’Or in Eze. Of course he would say that. He works at a five star hotel and there is a sister establishment in Saint-Paul de Vence. The hill top villages are very similar, with Saint-Paul being the larger of the two.
If the geniuses at Disney had been asked to, they couldn’t have created a more stone-centric, narrow winding path with temptations galore of art galleries, jewelry, local weaving and design, restaurants, coffee shops. The kicker is, they even include the roller coaster rides—except here I am doing the driving. I told Julie today that our odometer says 2615 kilometers, but I’m guessing our transmission has at least 5000 kilometers on it.
In trying to put driving here into US perspective: think about driving UP Lombard Street in San Francisco, with fifty kilometer per hour traffic hurling head on, DOWN at you, and with traffic entering at every driveway. Hairpin turns are so tight that I have to execute three point turns with traffic coming at me just to navigate the turn. I vowed to avoid alcohol during Lent and after driving in Europe for five days, I have been drinking like a fish, sleeping like a baby. The fab dinners have helped. So, let us start there.
Our first night in Eze featured our dinner gastronomic at le Hotel Eze Restaurant, a TWO Michelin star eatery. Again, to put it into perspective for the US, think: The French Laundry. I thought it was as good or perhaps better in some ways than the Culinary Institute of America near Hyde Park, New York. The portions are perfectly seasoned and sized for the part of the course you are on. It is designed so that you can actually clean each plate and finish the seven (7) course dinner and still live to tell about it. And of course, each course is served with the perfect wine. The Chef signed our menu and I will have a photo of that to share in the near future.
The following night, we toned it down considerably and enjoyed wine on the terrace as the sun set Rose’ on the western horizon, inspiring our wine choice. We ordered up casual food: Chicken Caesar and a Chicken Supreme with local pommes d’terre avec herbs d’ Provence. It felt good knowing Julia Childs has taught me well on my Supremes avec wine cream sauce!
After a day of exploring the Jardin d’ Eze and inventing our own version of the Monte Carlo Gran Prix with Hugues, it was good to relax with some comfort food.
We got up earlyish the next day (yesterday) and after our encounter with the Valet, drove halfway back to Italy to get to the turnaround for the A-8 superhighway that took us past Nice and Cannes to the exit for Vence. That’s where it gets exciting. Again, think Lombard Street in San Fran and you get the idea. We parked at the Marie Antoinette parking lot and packed a few personal items to hike into the pedestrian only village centre to find our Bed and Breakfast: Le 2.
It is conveniently located right behind the town cathedral and as the crow flies, eight feet from the bell tower bell which robustly and enthusiastically rings on the hour, the quarter hour and the half hour! We always know what time it is! We give thanks to God that they terminate the bell ringing at midnight and don’t convene the ringing until 7am. And because we are on a small “square” we are treated to every conversation and bodily function of the tourists and populous. As Clark Griswold famously said: “It’s all part of the experience, Russ.”
Yesterday, we careened our way to the Renoir Museum, scraped into a parking space after missing the turn and walked a quarter mile to the locked gate. They are opened on everyday of the week, except, yesterday. We mis-read the sign twice, walked twice to figure it out, so we got our walking in for the day, or so we thought!
After arriving at our hotel Le 2 in Vence, we embarked on a hike to the Chapelle du Rosaire, designed by Matisse. Again, after being misguided by my nose and by Siri, we turned an eighteen minute walk into a thirty minute walk, and we were rewarded by the self-proclaimed “reason for my being” by Mattisse.
I guess we looked no worse for the wear for all of the exciting driving and the walking, as we tapped on the door of the restaurant recommended by our Le 2 host. The hostess (and later we found out: maitre’d, waitress, bartender and cashier) opened the door: “We open at seven. Would you like to make a reservation?” We answered “Oui, sil vous plais” She asked “What time?” We said: “Seven.” She said: “Perfect! Two for seven o’clock!” We said: “Oui, Merci!” I looked at my watch, it was 6:48. So, well, rules are rules. But it forced me to recall a trip long ago, after a day of hard touring in Florence, we tapped on the door of Il Pandemonio and were greeted by the owner, chef who said: “Please, you must come in and sit down. I will bring you wine.” She brought us bread, cheese, meats, veggies and a bottle of wine. When she found out it was our anniversary she comped our meal, and other restaurant guests bought all of our champagne and Prosecco. So, are we spoiled? Yes! And with good reason.
So, we had twelve minutes to kill and walked to the pharmacie to purchase toothpaste and some eau d’ toilette pour moi. I just like the common-man fragrances here better than anything I have tried from Neimans.
At 7:02 we arrived back at the restaurant, disturbed our hosts’ dinner, had a lovely view of the mountains to the north and west of Vence (think Great Smoky’s and Cashiers NC—expect with drier vegetation). The food was great, we had Le Menu d’ Gastronomic for like 22euros each with a bottle of wine and ate better than we could have for twice the money in Dallas. Julie had the Daube de Beouf; I had the Sardines (those babies are as big as small zucchinis!) and a host of other courses all of which were perfect and tasty.
We arrived back to Le 2 in time to hear the bell toll 10 times. It feels kind of “spoiled” to mention, but our hotel room has no door on the bathroom. But there is a public toilette one floor down for privacy. Anyway, we brushed our teeth and went to bed and fell asleep watching the French Presidential Debates. After the debacle of 2016, we turned it off and waited for more bells to chime us to sleep.
We arose this morning, early, the bells made sure we knew just how early, and the families getting their kids off to school about 7:30 helped inspire us to wake from our slumbers. By 9am we were having our breakfast of coffee and croissant (I’ve given up on gluten free for the most part of this trip, although, some restaurants we have attended have offered GF menus—actually, they are more attentive to it here than most places I have visited in the US.)
On our way out to explore the area, we stopped by a fromagerie and met the proprietor who is from France, but learned to speak English in New Zealand, and having been there recently I can attest to his distinctive dialect. He recommended four cheeses for us and directed us to the charcuterie next door for hard summer sausage. We were determined to have a picnic today!
We then retrieved our Black Stallion from the Marie Antoinette and drove to Saint-Paul de Vence to visit the Fondation Maeght, home to one of the most thorough art collections in France. Today they were featuring the work of a German artist named: Penck. His work spans nature, philosophy and a host of other nuclear and physical emotions and thought processes that are beyond my comprehension, but I am told by Julie it is quite extraordinary.
The art museum itself reminds me of some old campus buildings at SFA in Nacogdoches or maybe even AC in Lufkin. It must have been the pine forest they built the complex in back in the 50’s. It’s a great place to visit and truly worth the visit. I thought the Chagall mosaic and the Chapelle were really interesting. Braque designed the window there.
After visiting the Fondation, we drove into Saint-Paul, and if we thought Vence was narrow and alley-like in a Universal Hogwarts sort of way, Saint-Paul is even more so. It helps to “like that sort of thing,” but I enjoyed it. We found a place on the ancient city battlements to enjoy our cheeses, meats and bread and nibbled our way through lunch. Afterwards, we found a Macedonian art gallery and were impressed by the quality of work we found there. I later got trapped by a sales-femme in the Olive Oil and producs d’ provence shop and purchased enough for her to ship us our load home.
Julie and Siri navigated us out of Saint-Paul, and we made our way to the Renoir Museum. Having seen the movie, it was great to see the places where the master worked during the last years of his life. There are many of his paintings and sculptures there and it is, again, worth the effort to get there. (The parking lot is on the grounds so, when it’s open you don’t have to park on the street!). The pure effort it took for him to create during the last five years of his life makes the work he accomplished even more spectacular. (Just go watch the movie, and you’ll see what I mean.)
I would say that travelling/touring here, is best done this time of year, because everyone we have talked with has insisted the summers are pure hell with tourists.
After leaving the Renoir and Penck exhibits, Julie, full of the spirit of the art found a small gallery on the walk back to Le 2 from Marie Antoinette (the parking lot). We met the artist and have negotiated a price and shipping for a piece of art. We will sleep on it and see what it looks like in the morning light.
The bells of the church are chiming to let me know either we eat now, or brush our teeth and head to bed.
I look forward to seeing what adventures “the morrow brings!”
Note from Julie: Before our trip, we had friends ask, with big eyes, incredulously, “You’re driving?” “Yes,” we said with assurance! After these days in the south of France, I can say that driving here is not for the faint of heart! Mountains, tunnels, TALL bridges, tight passages and hairpin turns are challenging- fortunately, Ross is up to it! Merci mon amore!