Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Lunch with Leger. Or why Nice is nice.

I’m getting used to this grand tour style of travel – gallivanting from one part of the world to the next in search of enlightenment, that in our case comes dressed as more pink wine, more art, more food, more architectural and geographical appreciation and more pink wine.

Today was our last day in Nice. Already. It’s been a beautiful, relaxing, ideal couple of days, an ideal post-script to a brilliant, curious week spent exploring Provence.

On our last day in Provence we drove to the breath-taking Pont du Gard, built a casual 2000 years ago, for a moment of historical awe before heading on to lunch in the delightful Seguret. It was then on to Mt Ventoux. Driving up Mt Ventoux was both spectacular and spectacularly carsick inducing.

Pont du Gard
I don’t remember much of the drive (I may have fallen into a delicious post-lunch nap on the backseat...) but I woke to find us half way up the mountain and winding our way perilously along narrow roads that clung to the mountainside less like a petulant toddler than a flimsy piece of material overwrought with static. It was sickeningly spectacular. Winding, winding, winding, literally up through the clouds, passing desperate huddles of cyclists to the very top, where it was covered in snow and whipping with a gale force wind.

And then winding, winding, winding all the way back down. Vertigo and nausea aren’t the greatest of companions but thankfully my lunch stayed put. And even through the rising bile of grey I could appreciate how truly stunning the area was.

Lovely Boy leaning into the wind at the top of Mt Ventoux
And then, just to round out a day of momentous manmade and natural wonders (and I include Max’s dessert in that…) on the way home we stopped at Fountaine-de-Vaucluse to marvel at the source of the Sorgue river. Water pounds heavily from this small spring that is so deep no-one yet has been able to measure its depth. For all the thumping water and tourist tat that lines the walk, it felt surprisingly spiritual.

It was a pretty lovely end to the week in Provence.

Though it’s been pretty nice in Nice too I have to confess.

We've had a cruisy couple of days – exploring the old town, eating great food, sticking tentative toes in the still-too-cold Mediterranean and wishing forlornly for a heatwave that would mean pulling out my swimmers at last, but otherwise enjoying the warmth and sunshine and charm of Nice.

The menfolk testing the water
Our first day really set the bar, and that was before we’d even got into Nice itself. Half an hour out of Nice, on the approach, is a set of small towns called Vence and St-Paul-de-Vence, which possess an incredible art history that I was keen to drag the family through before we got to the gelato and the sun soaking.

Thankfully the first history lesson came dressed as lunch.


Colombe d’Or in St-Paul-de-Vence is a rather posh hotel with a rather lovely terraced garden where you can sit and have lunch with the ghosts of Picasso, Matisse, Braque, et al. The hotel used not to be so posh – just with an advantageous location and a rather nice view. For a number of years the likes of Picasso and his pals would come to Colombe d’Or to eat and stay and in exchange for board and lodging they would pay with a work of art – a casual sketch, a small sculpture – so that today, the walls of Colombe d’Or drip with minor works by major 20th century artists. The terrace comes with its own Leger, which is, frankly, just so fucking cool. And the food wasn’t bad either.

And after lunch, it was on to Vence, to visit the Chapelle du Rosaire, which was designed and decorated by Matisse during the last years of his life as a thank you present to the Dominican nuns who had cared for him while he underwent treatment for cancer.

It’s a modest, modern building and the stained glass windows and wall paintings are pure Matisse in their bold lines and striking colour. There’s a distinct lack of heavy-handed, sombre visual religiosity that brings a lightness to the encounter, both intellectually and visually. It’s a calm, contemplative space and sitting there, it’s impossible not to think about Matisse reflecting on his own mortality as he went about realising his vision. It was a brief, poignant visit and then it was on to Nice.

There hasn’t been a whole lot of culture since getting here and holing up in our little apartment in the old town, though we made a short visit to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art on Sunday that was pretty disappointing. The installation by Arne Quinze on the forecourt was the only good thing about it. I don’t think they’ve changed the permanent collection much at all since I was last here in 1999, which probably explains why it felt so tired. But on the upside it meant we’d ticked the culture box for Nice (token gestures absolutely count) and could get on with the gelato.

Arne Quinze
Today it was all about the flea market. Taking over Cours Saleya a block back from the beach, I could have completely wiped myself out financially given half a chance. As it stands I’ve already taken quite a hit to the pocket and I’m putting the consequent dizziness down to the thrill of the find and not the financial wound to my holiday savings, given we still have a week to go and I've been reduced to counting coins…

Oh well. If I’m going to be broke and creatively budgeting for the next week (read: putting things on my Australian credit card…) damned if I’m not going to look fabulous while I do it. Enter my latest, greatest jewelled love: a blue and pink 1940s necklace replete with diamante detail and a significant, literal weight. 

[Add this to the extraordinarily stunning necklace Mum and Max bought me as an early birthday present – a 1920s find in this little store in the back streets of St-Remy - well I’m taking glorious excess to the next level. And not even I thought that was possible.]

I did force LB to look away while I handed over my wad of euros as I’m acutely aware of the extent to which my issue with accessorised extravagance appears unhinged. At least cleaning out my wallet meant I wasn’t able to buy any one of the other million baubles and bits that caught my eye. And look, it could have been worse. Max bought a 10kg tap. At least I can wear mine.

Tonight we're packing because tomorrow we’re off to Mantua in northern Italy for another three-day stint, our penultimate destination before Venice on Friday. Not sure what Mantua will hold, beyond the small matter of a trip to Modena for lunch at Osteria Francescana (see: issue with extravagance, otherwise known as "Fuck It", or, "When In Europe"…)

It’s been more than nice, Nice. Merci buckets.

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