Villefranche sur Mer

Villefranche sur Mer
it all starts with a beach

Friday, May 30, 2014

Today I bid adieu to the Vielle Ville

Aloha to the old town - 40 Rue Poilu, in the heart of this historic city. I've been here for two weeks, walking its winding streets with stairs and archways (and an occasional fountain), going to the boucherie, frommagerie, boulangerie, patisserie, cafés...or to the train, the beach, the Saturday Market.
Adieu to new friends, Pierre, Bert, Donna, Jean-Charles, Pierre B, Brigitte, Donna, Marie, Thierry, Luca & Federica, Odele, Angela, to my helper at la Poste, my new friend at le petit Casino market.
Adieu to La Grignotiere, Le Mekong, Les Garcons, La Trinquette, Cosmos - duck breast in figs, salmon grilléé, tarte tatin, poulét curry, flan de les legumes,  panna cotta, vins rosé et rouge.
Adieu to St. Michel, St. Pierre - homage to gypsies of Saintes Marie's de la Mer by Jean Cocteau, who entreats: "Come yourselves into the structure of the building as living stones."

It's been my joy to be 'home' in the Vielle Ville, 
here in the heart of beautiful Villefranche Sur Mer.

Je Pense que c'est la plus belle côte du monde!

I  come to this easy conclusion after yesterday's trip to Menton (in a bus crowded to the gills due to holiday in France and transportation strike just across in Italy), and today's hike up to the panoramic lookout between Villefranche and Nice. Breathtakingly beautiful!
After traveling down the coast through Cap Ferrat, Beaulieu, Eze, Cap d'Ail, Monaco, past bays and beaches, old villages, cafés, towns with clear Italian influences - a symphony of colors, people enjoying themselves - I arrive in Menton, a smaller version of Nice, with a long beachfront promenade, unfiltered and ever-present sunshine. In the Jean Cocteau Museum and sister chapel, I discover I can get in free with my press pass! And take photos (forbidden others) ENJOY!

The light and lifestyle of this coast lured friends Picasso, Matisse, Cocteau, and others, who often collaborated to celebrate the human spirit.
I land for lunch in a charming square, complete with classical guitar player who brings tears with his rendition of Malegueña. The Flamenco dancer passes the hat. I enjoy mussels and frites, un petit café.
I shoot a few photos, hiking up the old town to the churches (all closed for holiday) then back along the seaside. I find a water fountain just when I need it. How can the French make delicious tap water (without a hint of chlorine) when we can't? hmmmm...
The train takes me home. It's starts from Menton with three people, and by the time I get off in Villefranche, it's 7 pm and standing room only!

Yesterday I meet a Scandinavian girl with her mother, waiting for the bus, who tells me about Mt. Boron, so I decide to go this morning and take a bus to the top corniche. "Just turn left after two stop signs; it's only dix minutes," he tells me. Everyone here uses the term "dix minutes" (ten minutes) to suggest it's a quick walk. Usually it's twenty; this time it's an hour. Uphill. But eucalyptus and jasmine walk with me, and it is enough to breathe the air. Did I mention the killer views of Nice? The fort was built on this hill to proffer strategic views of both Nice and Villefranche, so the French could be on the lookout for Italian armies. Near the parking lot (yes, most arrive by car), I watch a handful of old men playing boules. They tell me, when I ask directions to the fort, "pas loin, madame, dix minutes."
At last, the fort. And now the panoramic views of Villefranche and the coast to the East.

I finally make my way down towards town - two hours, a few dead-end roads, some helpful workers, a welcome water fountain. Tired and hungry, I stop for salmon grilléé et panna cotta at Les Garçons, on rue Poilu. The salmon melts in my mouth. The rice is jasmine. The olives are the best ever! I realize the food is better because they use less sugar and salt. Lemon gelatos taste like lemon. Berries on the panna cotta, like berries, not sugar. Everything creates taste explosions in the mouth. The food also grows here, in this sunny paradise. How could it not be delicious?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

La Citadelle

Dropped into the Citadelle yesterday. The annual flower show is over, but two free museums and lovely gardens welcomed me. The main show was Volti, a sculpter and French treasure.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Changes in altitude

Je pense que six mois somewhere new can be a life changer. Today I wake under a light duvet after six hours of solid. I rearrange the kitchen while plunging cafe. Back to bed with a smartphone that works! to check email, arrange my French classes (yep, back to school). Last night I discover a button on the tv remote that changes language. I watch 3 episodes of Friends while fixing and enjoying diner. Did I mention that EVERYTHING here tastes better?!! The chicken is phenomenal. Eggs are lovely. Veggies - superb. Butter is better. Olive oil - holy.
            Grateful not to have broken anything from my fall yesterday, I wonder if I should try the new prescription or stick with ibuprofen. Either way, I'll stay close to home today instead of another big trip. Catch up my blog. 
            I head up the hill to the Market, where I am enchanted by the sights, smells, people cueing up for...vegetables! First I get maps and info from Crystel at the Tourism Office. (France does this very well!) At Odele Cohen's Italian silk fashion booth, I run into Hazel and Lynn (Britts I met at La Trinquette)...on their way to Monte Carlo on the bus. They help me pick out a lovely taupe blouse - something more French (Italian) than my t-shirt wardrobe. The square in the morning buzzes with activity. I buy veggies at the Market, enjoy a café at the bar chez Betty, watch rush hour in Villefranche. Downhill towards Rue Poilu, I visit le boucher, le Casino (NOT a casino but a little corner market, perfect for crème fraiche and toilet paper), la patisserie (oui oui).
             On the way home, a couple stops me for directions. "Parlez vous English?" they ask. I chuckle inside then direct them to the bus stop, suggesting they stop at the market on the way.
I make a little salade in my little studio with chicken, blue cheese, olives...c'est bon!!
            I'm learning to nap. Back from a visit to la poste - to change the language (on my new little tele) to English - so I can dial, store numbers, answer, etc. - I curl up...and fall into a deep sleep for two hours. Wake delighted. This is not a habit I've practiced nor perfected, like my father did. It always feels strange when I attempt a nap. Usually I cannot sleep, but often twenty minutes in silence does the trick. Today I sleep!
            In the late afternoon I meet a lovely man sur la plage. He buys me a café, and we speak French for two hours, walking along the seaside. He's convinced I can be fluent in two months. I must admit I'm getting better. The comprehension is good, speaking - still more difficult. I wake with French childhood songs in my head. I speak French on my tele. He's from Nice, born in Italy. He orders a Marguerite, like the original pizza from Napoli (just down the coast), and we sit quietly at Port Santé, watching les poissons, les bateaux, le soleil gradation.
           Sweet days trail each other as I change my eating and exercise patterns, shopping and sleeping habits, language, friends...
and wonder who and where I will be at the end of this journey.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Villa Kerylos, Beaulieu Sur Mer, France

Over a hundred years ago, Theodore Reinach bought the point at Beaulieu sur Mer, hired the best architect, and built a copy of an ancient and luxurious Greek his summer home. Today summer homes of the rich and famous dot the coastline throughout the area, and the Greek Palace has become a national heritage site.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Part 2 Cannes -
I'ILE ST. HONORAT - a beautiful island off the coast of Cannes, France. Home for 16 centuries to the monks of Lérins Abbey, respecting the rule of St. Benedict based on prayer and work.

Almost as an afterthought at about 3pm I take the Ferry to St. Honorat. It's mentioned in a guidebook, and after walking through the crowds of Cannes, interviewing folks for my column, I'm ready for a break. I get it! Taking a 15 minute ferry ($13 senior rate), I peek back at Cannes (less busy already), then the white caps of the Alpes appear.
It takes my breath away!
The island is stunning!! Vineyards sprawl through the interior, and churches, fortresses, abbeys, forests, turquoise water, and magnificent views hug the coastline. I circumnavigate for two hours en silence - broken only by the sounds de la mer, les arbes, oiseaux - then sit in silence at the church. They have personal retreats here for $44 per night (max 7), including 3 meals. It's a no brainer; I'll be back.
After exploring the island and before heading back, I sit in a eucalyptus grove, looking at the channel, the alpes in the distance, white with snow, and taste the St Honorat 2010 (best red so far - cherries, earth, silence) & St. Sauveur 2010 (Hallelujah, there IS a god!)  These Benedictine monks know how to make wine!! (I wonder if they serve wine with the meals here during retreat). Forget the yachts and celebrity, I want to move here ... forever!

Catch the last boat back to Cannes at 6 pm, then limp  (walked 8-10 miles today) to the train, since the taxis all want longer fares (or celebrities), like to St. Tropez or Cap Ferrat. The train's 10 minutes late, but a sweet woman from Beaulieu sur Mer helps me switch platforms (I'm still a bit lost reading signs)...or I would have had to wait even longer. Home by 8, fatiguèd. Long day! Met some sweet people, made some great discoveries, and fell in love with another island :-)

Photos here: I'île St. Honorat

Friday, May 23, 2014


I walk to la Gare where a gent tries to buy my ticket in the machine (all instructions in French), to no avail. Won't take paper euro. Won't take credit card. I have no coins, so it's a free train. I arrive 50 minutes later in Cannes, steering my way thru the presse mess. Then walk along the boulevard (Croisette) for a coffee, chocolate croissant (we've got nothing on the French when it comes to either of these!) I shoot a selfie in front of the red carpet for the 67th Cannes Film Festival, where Nicole Kidman's Grace of Monaco premiere's to really negative press - the family hates it. The French hate it. The British press ignores the film altogether and writes instead about Nicole's bad botox job.

Eager to get on with interviews for my column, I pick a totally French woman...and meet Sally...from Palm Beach, FL. We walk to the back street, where she searches for consignment shops (she has one in PS). Before long, I head back to the crowded Croisette and the tourisme office for maps, info, etc., then continue interviewing people. I visit two markets, ending at Marche Forville, looking for Taverne Lucullus, now a fish n chips shop. I collapse at La Farigoulette for a rosé & salade niçoise. Mais oui :-)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Up at the Villa

Words can't describe the Villa Jardins, Ephrussi de Rothschild, so I'll let the photos do the talking:
The palace (filled with art collections) and gardens were built during the Belle  Ėpoque by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, and I decide I want to come back as a baroness.

Instead at five, I take the 81 back to Villefranche, stop in a little shop for a local red wine, brie, ripe cherries, then take the downhill walk back to my little hotel. I'm a bit sunburnt, but what a first day! before long, the moon is rising over the bay on my sweet little paradise. Goodnight moon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I arrive in Villefranche sur Mer

I arrive May 13th, following 37 hours of transit from Ashland, through Seattle to London, where Pete, Demi and her folks Peter and Stella meet me for hugs and a wonderful countryside English pub lunch. Before long I'm back on a plane for the quick hour and a half flight to southern France, landing in Nice just after midnight. A young French cabbie whisks me off to Villefranche sur Mer then mounts three flights of stairs with my suitcase and backpack. They have emailed me the code for the side door (reception closed after ten), where I find an envelope with a key to la chambre. I'm on the top floor, overlooking the bay...and the full moon, hanging over the castle. Despite 37 hours without sleep, I'm too excited, so I unpack, putz, check wifi...
Eventually I fall off and sleep six solid hours, waking at 9am to sunshine streaming in my window. It's inviting, exciting, the kind I really need sunscreen for, but I'm already rushing into the day, grabbing a café and a map. 
I walk along the sea, past the Citadelle towards the beach, stopping for a quick 20-minute 'train'  - an open-air tourist trolley that shows off the various points around town, landing me back at the centre, where I stroll past the little famous church, designed (and painted) by Jean Cocteau. I pass the Welcome Hotel ($500 pn) then the shops and cafés on my way to the curve of beach. The sun is heaven!
The concierge has told me to take a bus (the 81) to the Rothschild Gardens since it's over four kilometres, but soon I'm at the far end of the beach, so I keep walking. And walking. The views seduce completely. 

Check out some photos of Villefranche sur Mer here