Provence and the Côte d'Azur


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I won't be able to go this year, so I'm visiting it virtually. I dare anyone who looks at these videos not to want to go. I'll say about it what one of my favorite professors used to say about Italy: it's a feast for the eyes, the mouth, and the soul.

First, just take a look at the countryside. It's absolutely stupendous... a kaleidoscope of vibrant color, texture and beautiful smells.

Wild absolutely must rent a car as one of the vacation gurus insists. That's the only way to see some of this, especially some of the "wilder" parts. The BBC did this one, and their travelogues are always good.

I particularly like this video by the New York Times because of the visuals, but also because it's explained through the voices of the actual French inhabitants (with English subtitles). It also shows local restaurants and gathering places.

Rick Steves has done a few videos on it, and as is the case with his videos on Italy, they're not for people familiar with the areas (and he's a bit of a dork), but the visuals are very good, and he gives you the basics.

This is Provence: Legendary Light, Wind, and Wine. It's actually a good basic guide to what to see in Pont du Gard, Cotes de Rhone wine region, Nimes, Arles, Avignon, and Aix en Provence. You should take the opportunity to go the bull fights while there...not at all like the bloody affair in Spain. The young men take their lives in their hands, but only to pull a ribbon off the bull's head. These bulls live out their lives in some pasture somewhere.

This is his video on the Cote d'Azure or the French Riviera: Nice, Villefranche, Cap d'Antibes, Cannes,and Monaco. It's one area where you don't need a car.

As you look at the beautiful Promenades des Anglais, you can imagine why the recent terrorist attack was such a psychic shock. He does a nice job of showing the Russian influx, the wonderful art, especially Matisse, and the Italian roots. You really have to go to the Matisse and Chagall museums.
I was lucky enough to go to a corporate dinner at the Villa Rothschild; it's an absolute must both for the villa itself and for the spectacular grounds. Eze may be touristy, but you absolutely have to go, and tiny Monaco is fun too, the aquarium, the changing of the guard, the cathedral with the tomb of Princess Grace, and, of course, the casino.


St. Paul de Vence:

Baux de Provence: the stone village
This is what we're trying to do with my home village, which is equally, or perhaps even more unchanged.

You need the nitty gritty, too. There are downsides to everywhere, including here. As this video says, you need a car, if you go in July and August, when it's at its most beautiful, it's very crowded, and it's expensive. In addition, some of the problems of Marseilles have spilled over, so be attentive to your belongings and to your car.

Before you go, do yourself a favor: read some of the Peter Mayle books like "A Year in Provence", "Tourjours Provence", etc.
The food of Provence:

The great chef Pierre Franey did a nice series on the cooking of France, all of which are available on youtube. This is the Provence video. On the menu: sauteed sardines, an all truffle meal, and duck Provencal. The old woman could be transported to La Spezia, ancient stove and all and no one would be the wiser. I just love her.

This is an older English BBC series called "Floyd on France". The Provence one is quite good: a nice fish soup, roasted chicken with lots of garlic, ratatouille (Never ever cook all the vegetables together!).

One thing I like about these older videos is that you see the old farmers, market people etc. No blow dried yuppies all over the place.

The Anthony Bourdain segment on the food of Marseilles is really good, but it's not full screen on youtube. For that you have to pay or watch it on netflix. It's still good, though. An added bonus is that Eric Ripert, iconic Michelin three star chef of Le Bernardin, and all around great guy, is along for the ride. How he can like Bourdain so much is beyond me. Beware the Pieds et Pacquet...sheep's foot and intestines. :) I bet it's good, though; these kinds of dishes usually are...The other menu items have a more universal appeal. Everybody should go to the market and get the kind of lunch our travelers enjoy at 16:00. The meal at 32:00 is very nice, although Bourdain prefers the old, frugal recipes made from the odd bits and the less unattractive fish. Bourdain is terrible at boules (bocci), by the way. :)

The link to Marseilles street food from Nat Geo is below. Fish and "shipe", fried chick pea, is delicious, as is Pisaladiere. Bourdain does Marseilles much better, though. This guy looked like he was having a lot more fun in Italy.

This is a great Provencal sandwich: Pan Bagnat or "wet bread".

I usually make it with flaked tuna:

Pisaladiere...Americans have to develop a taste for anchovies, and sardines for that matter. I love them both, especially sardines. I probably eat them twice a week for lunch. So good for you, too. (That's sauteed onions on the pizza like bread.)

Socca: We make the exact same thing, from chickpea flour, on the other side of the border, but we call it farinata.


Ratatouille...the mush that's served here as ratatouille should be banned!

Cod Provencal...all the Mediterranean countries have a great way with cod.

Roasted Chicken Provencal...I prefer it to the version with a lot of tomato.


I would recommend that everyone buy some good quality "Herbes de Provence". It has to still be green. I prefer the imported kind without lavender, but that's not essential. It has to have, imo, savory, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, basil, parsley, fennel if possible, and also I like lemon peel and bay leef if I have a choice. If I'm cooking pork I'll add the fennel separately if it's not included. If the kind you buy doesn't have garlic and pepper and of course salt, season with them separately. It can jazz up the simplest dish. All you need to do is make a paste with some olive oil and apply to any meat before grilling or roasting, for example.

I really like this you tube chef, and he demonstrates an easy chicken breast recipe using it here:
This is a simple whole roast chicken using herbes de provence.
Looks delicious and very Mediterranean too. The bread with salad and tuna is sold everywhere locally (as popular as pastizzi) I visited little further north of Provance last year, was there for 3 weeks but it was more a mountain kind of thing. Visited the Ardeche highlands and hiked in Vercors Massif (stunning views) I had to eat frog legs then...they were delicious :)

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