Part Five: The French Riviera. An Ageless Sexy

Let’s face it.  No matter how frugal, green-minded, or liberal you are ( I assume everyone reading this blog is one of those things), you and I have always wanted, day dreamed, considered or pretended to be an incredibly sexy person.  I am going to go out on a limb and perhaps suggest that all of you are probably very sexy people and don’t even know it.  I tend to find the people who do not think they are sexy, the sexiest.  Sexy can be a lot of different things to different people.  For this post, I am focusing on an ageless sexy.  A James Bond, scarf around the neck, yacht cruising, martini sexy.  The kind of sexy splayed on movie screens and then perfected in our imaginations.  At least that is where I thought sexy had to live, until we traveled through the French Riviera.  Hello Jay-Z music video, hello Miami Vice (in a cool, celebrated retro way), hello fame.  Welcome to the Cote D’Azur.

Of all the places we planned to visit in France, I was especially excited about the South.  I love the beach, any kind of beach for that matter, from lake to ocean to bay…I am game.  Before we arrived in Nice, I spent weeks dreaming of how this part of the trip would go:

Beach? Check.

Amazing seafood? Check.

Careless attitude including drinking on the streets and driving above the speed limit? Check.

All of this seemed possible from the start.  As we made the turn onto Promenade de Anglais (Nice’s Vegas strip) it was clear that the Mediterranean coast was an undeniable force. Cliffs upon cliffs with houses and mansions toppled onto one another.  The sea laid out below, spotted with yachts.  Helicopter landings dotting the coast, and the unraveling of fashion studios, boutiques, cocktail lounges, and hotels surrounded by perfectly bronzed European vacationers whose lifestyles were indicated simply by the way they walked.  This was it.  I had arrived to the mecca of luxury and nothing was going to stop me from finally showing off the glamour that so often gets shuffled off in my normal coffee-carrying, reusable bag wearing, in-by-10-pm self.


We arrived in Nice around 5pm.  We checked into our hotel and quickly realized we got duped.  This hotel, which I had personally booked from the states, looked amazing from its pictures and reviews.  Little did I know that three of the hotel’s rooms had yet to be renovated as the ones in the website’s photos had shown.  Since our stay was short, we got stuck in one of these rooms.  Blue carpeting? Yes.  Yellow wallpaper? You betcha.  Pastel pink, fluorescent lit bathroom sans shower head.  Definitely.  Flowers on the bedspread? Yes! Hearing our neighbors do everything. Oh yeah!  But, we did not care.  In one of the most beautiful places in the world and having lucked out with amazing hotels and apartments everywhere else…we were bound to get one shitty hotel during our road trip.  So what?  We had a blanket of blue skies and sea to engage us.  We just needed a place to sleep.  Having dropped our bags, we rushed outside in our swimsuits to catch the rest of the day’s sun.  I should point out that we stayed in Beaulieu Sur Mer, a small town 10 minutes outside of Nice.  It was suggested to stay there in order to beat the peak season crowds in Nice.  I recommend doing the same if you plan to travel during the summer.  In fact, Nice is extremely crowded and frankly sort of annoying.  Old Nice is worth the stop, but stay away from the center of town.  Unless you are into the Disney on crack meets Vegas meets Times Square on the beach sort of thing.  Or you are 18 and don’t give a shit.  Then, stay in Nice.

Center of town.

Promenade Des Anglais.

Where was I? Oh yes.  The first night.  Yes, dropped our bags and headed out to the coast.  Luckily, we were only a five-minute walk to the sea.  Starving, we stopped into a bakery.  Sick of ham or cheese, we scooped up a chicken kabob sandwich , four Heinekens, a bottle of water, and darted down the hill to the water.  We stationed ourselves on the pebbled coastline, ate, drank, dipped, I went topless (yes ladies, free yourself… it is Europe after all) and swooned over the salted water and equally salty air.  We made it to the South!

Later that evening, after a shower and a rest, we headed out for dinner.  We drove up and down the coast and finally arrived at an Italian influenced restaurant near the hotel.  The Italian presence is felt in the South of France considering the borders of Italy and France are so close.  Many Italians vacation in the Cote D’Azur in the summer.  We dined over seafood pasta, tagliatelle in red sauce and escargot; a marriage of French and Italian cuisine.

We went to bed immediately following dinner, sun-kissed, sleepy, and eager for the next day of adventures.  That morning we awoke.  Sea like skies outside our window greeting us with the morning sun.  I woke first and headed to the restroom to prepare for the days events.  Little did I know, the day would not turn out quite as I expected.  Matt and I would not spend the morning on the beach or drive to a recommended lunch spot for pan bagnat.  We would not explore the cliffside and drive to the highest point in Nice nor visit the museum of contemporary art and admire Warhols or Lichtensteins.  We would not do anything all that day besides lay in bed, in and out of sleep, tag team the bathroom, and reluctantly head out to search for a pharmacy that was obviously closed since it was Sunday and this was France and nothing is open regularly here. Nothing.  Nevermind it was 95 degrees and our accommodations were anything but luxurious.  We were sick.  Really sick.  Thank you chicken kabob sandwhich that had been sitting out since god knows when at said bakery before said beach experience.  Thank you.  The only relief? Watching 21 Jump Street on the IPad.

By 6pm we were over the worst of it and braved the outside world.  We figured best to see the center of town and try to eat something light.  Suddenly becoming hungry for the first time all day, we craved sushi.  Luckily, we found Sushi Spot; a walk in sushi establishment selling fresh and delicious nigiri, sashimi, bowls and snacks for carry out and delivery only.  It was a relief.  A relief from being sick, a relief from the guilt of a wasted day, the relief of French food even.  We grabbed our dinner and headed for the promenade where we parked it on the strip.  The night sea behind us, crowds strewn in front of us, we ate quietly, together, laughing at ourselves sitting on a sidewalk, in France, eating sushi.  It was my favorite memory of Nice and very, very sexy…in a Matt&Jenna kind of way.

The next day we affirmed our need for one more day in the South since we lost our time in Nice.  We booked a room in Cannes by eliminating one night in Paris (where we would return for the end of our trip).  But Paris kinda sucks, remember?  Before heading west to Cannes, we traveled further East.  The best part about the Riviera is that each city is only 15-45 minutes away from each other.  It is possible to see each place during your stay from St. Tropez to to the Italian border.  We decided it was best to drive through Monaco and visit Menton for the afternoon. Monaco because of its lavish history, Menton because of its Italian influence and native limoncello.

Although we did not stop in Monaco, I can tell you it seems to be a distinguished and pristine place.  It is quiet, still, and very, very easy on the eyes.  Menton was similar in stature but more quaint and familiar in certain ways.  Either way, this is where we will stay in the South the next time we come.  Away from the crowds and plucked from the everyday holiday attractions, Menton and Monaco were one of  a kind.  Menton, the last city before reaching Italy, is unique in that it captures the French-Italian relationship subtly.  The center of town is marked by its chocolatiers, olive oil purveyors, soap shops, and limoncello experts.

Perfumerie inside one of the limoncello shops.

Pan bagnat translates to sopped bread in Enlish as the bread is dripping in an olive oil soaked tuna with radishes and sliced egg…see why we wanted one?

After lunch and window shopping and a quick jaunt on the sugary sand beaches of Menton, we headed back west towards Cannes.  It was at this point that the South headed…well, south.  I don’t know if we were overstimulated, exhausted or absorbed by the seduction of the riveria, but Cannes was a bit dissapointing…and frankly, just like Nice.  By the time we got to our hotel in Cannes, we were over  it.  My inner sexy had vanished. The gleaming sun was now too hot.  The ooh la-la had washed away as fast as the sand on our feet.   James Bond became Toby McGuire.  We were not cut out for this.  We did make it to the beach.  We did find our pan bagnat.  But after a mediocre dinner, we knew it was time to head out of the sun and into the rural hills of Burgundy.  As we made our way past the sea and back on to the expressway the following day, to-go coffee nestled in cup holder and hoping to be in Burgundy before 10pm, I drove for the first time in this whole trip while Matt slept soundly by my side.  Driving exceedingly fast, back through Provence, up through Lyon, I bumped Outkast and shamelessly sang my heart out to Adele.  From time to time I watched Matt’s head flop down and left or down and right, his mouth gaping open.  Ageless sexy, my friends.  And I would not have it any other way.

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