Days 29-33: Nice & Monaco

We left Sori in the early afternoon and travelled along the Ligurian coast to San Remo, a stopover city only 25 km from the french border. We finally made it to San Remo where we enjoyed a chilled evening with a pizza and a pint – just what we needed after a long day of travelling and even more delays. The pizza was wood fired to perfection, and topped with chunks of mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, grilled artichokes and black olives. Artichokes on pizza are just incredible; their sharp and tangy flavour contrasts well with the creaminess of cheese and the smokiness of the dough. I seriously recommend trying it!

After treating ourselves to a delicious breakfast of cappuccinos and crème pâtissière fruit tarts, we boarded the train to our final destination, Nice. Having visited the South of France in 2015 and more importantly tasted the incredible food, we couldn’t resist returning for a final few days to round off our trip. We made the mistake of travelling over the main lunch period and struggled to find anywhere open to eat on arrival, so ended up at the only café we could really find. A little old man emerged round from the bar to give us a very limited menu of literally just ‘burger and chips’ and ‘panini and chips’ etc. We both went for the burger – we knew it wouldn’t be the best burger we’d ever had but it was cheap and it’s not as if we had much choice. He shuffled off into the kitchen and after waiting about 20 minutes, we wondered what was taking him so long. To our surprise he soon shuffled back out and presented us with a beautifully presented burger and homemade fries in a little silver basket. We could have not been more wrong, it was absolutely phenomenal! The burger was clearly hand pressed and cooked medium so still moist, then drenched in melted cheese and served with salad and sour cream in a seeded bun. The sour cream seemed a bit random at first but the slight acidity and freshness worked well with the richness and fattiness of the beef. The chips were perfect too – crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy in the middle. This lunch was so unexpectedly good that it was hard not to laugh when he brought the food out!

For dinner we returned to one of our favourite restaurants ‘Chat Noir Chat Blanc’, a tiny place hidden away in the backstreets of the old town, known as ‘Vieille Ville’. The old town really is the heart of Nice, and is home to the most amazing little restaurants. Having not been for over a year, I was a bit worried this little place may have expanded and lost its charm, but it was just how I remembered it. The restaurant is run by two lovely guys – one chef and one server, and has only a handful of tables lined along the narrow street. The menu is always small and written on a chalkboard, with just a few choices of each course, but is incredibly well-crafted and highly indulgent. The food is exciting hybrid of traditional Niçoise cuisine and modern gastronomy, and focuses on the finest local and seasonal ingredients. To start we shared a roasted tomato soup, topped with fried burrata mozzarella. Burrata is a rich but delicious form of mozzarella with an oozy cream centre. The soup was wonderful – thick, sweet and well-seasoned, perfectly balanced by the rich creamy burrata. For mains I had an incredible veal dish, with gorgeous dauphinoise potatoes and a chanterelle sauce. Bekki had the grilled swordfish steak with ratatouille. The wine pairing was perfect, quite dry and just the right acidity to cut through the rich potatoes, but not too overpowering for the more delicate swordfish. For dessert we had to have their tarte au chocolat, which was ridiculously good and even better than we remembered. The pastry was super thin, golden and crumbly, and filled high with a velvety dark chocolate ganache. The ganache was perfectly balanced, not to bitter and not too sweet. After all the wonderful food, a bottle of wine and excellent service the bill came around €75, so not cheap but 100% worth it. This place really is a hidden gem in Nice – you have to go if you’re in the Côte d’Azur! (Apologies for the poor picture quality, there was a severe lack of natural light!)

On our second day we headed to Monaco for a lazy day of people watching from the Café de Paris, but not before our breakfast of freshly baked pain au chocolat and pissaladière  from the bakery across the street. Pissaladière is the south of France’s take on a pizza, topped with caramelised onion, garlic, olives and anchovy – a tasty combination of sweet and savoury flavours. 

Monaco is a principality and sovereign state on the coast of the french Riviera. While Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, it is also the most densely populated for many reasons. Monaco is stunningly beautiful and perfectly maintained, almost to the point of appearing like a film set. With its yacht lined Port Hercule and the glitzy casinos, hotels and bars in Monte Carlo, Monaco is the epitome of luxury lifestyle. Residents also don’t have to pay income tax (unless they were originally a french citizen), making the country somewhat of a ‘tax haven’ and a playground for the rich and famous. Monaco also has extremely low unemployment, the highest police presence, life expectancy and the lowest poverty rates in the world, so naturally the property prices are astronomical. It has to be said that Monaco does not look quite as picturesque as usual at the moment even in Monte Carlo, because the whole state is undergoing a major restoration and improvement scheme. Similar works are also being carried out in Nice, spoiling the view of the port. So if you’re planning a trip there it’s probably best to wait until they’re finished, unless you want a load of cranes and scaffolding photobombing you! 

That being said the view from the outdoor terrace of the Café de Paris overlooking the Casino de Monte-Carlo was not too shabby! The Café de Paris is undeniably expensive at €8 for the cheapest glass of Provence wine, and much more for spirits, cocktails and food, but is a perfect place to relax and watch the supercars parade around the square. It’s quite normal for people to stay and savour one glass, unless you go in peak summertime when the tables are in such high demand. The ice creams from Morelli’s gelato  that are sold there are incredible, and again pricey at around €20, but they’re absolutely huge, big enough for us to share one for lunch. Our sundae was pile high with four flavours of gelato: chocolate, banana, hazelnut and vanilla, then finished with sliced fresh banana, chopped hazelnuts, nutella, whipped cream and wafers – so worth it! We soon got caught in a long and heavy thunderstorm, taking refuge under the canopies of the seafront Starbucks. After braving the rain to buy the umbrellas that we forgot to bring, we headed back to Nice. 

With the sudden rain and all the walking and travelling we’d done, we found ourselves craving some comfort food in the form of a creamy bowl of pasta. We went to a small Italian style restaurant, which was not very traditional, but still served up some great stone baked pizzas and tasty bowls of fresh pasta with variety of sauces choices. We both had the “carbonara” (emphasis on the quotation marks), which would usually offend me as it contains cream, but having been there before I knew what I was going to get; a big steaming bowl of fresh tagilatelle in a rich, cheesy cream sauce with pancetta, and topped with an egg yolk for me to stir in at the table. Stirring in the egg at the last second prevents it from scrambling and also gives a richer flavour. As self-confessed mojito lovers, we knew exactly where to go for a great after dinner mojito with a view of the port for only €5, to the end of our second night in Nice.

We spent the following morning on small pebble beach with a stunning view of the Ligurian Sea. The Promenade des Anglais is the primary beach in Nice and the one you would see on a postcard, but it’s largely overcrowded and full of overpriced beach bars and loungers. However just over the other side of the port and past the yacht club, there’s a series of tiny pebble beaches hidden between the arches in the cliff side. They’re much quieter than the main promenade and feel very secluded, with usually just a few locals on each one. After some afternoon shopping, we passed through the old town on the way back to pick up a dinner to have at our Airbnb. We passed by an amazing selection of deli stands and rotisseries, picking up a whole rotisserie chicken, dauphinoise, ratatouille and a bottle of Provence wine on the way. It was such a delicious combination and something I am excited to recreate in the UK.

We decided celebrate our final night of the tour in style, so there could only really be one place – The Casino de Monte-Carlo, Monaco. By the time we got to the train station and discovered that the Monaco train was half an hour delayed, it was either go for an hour and come back or get the first train back in the morning at 5:45 AM. Maybe it was the wine talking, but we soon concluded that there was only one option – we were definitely going to be on that 5:45 train to Nice. Our only other option home was helicopter which believe it or not is recommended over a taxi, however we’d already decided we’d only be getting one if we won over £200.

The Casino de Monte-Carlo is even more stunning on the inside, but unfortunately you’re not allowed to take pictures. The bar was actually cheap compared to the Café de Paris just outside, which was a nice surprise. Drinking Provence wine is great value too because it’s usually quite strong compared with other whites and rosé wines. After losing a bit of money on the slot machines we watched the more seasoned gamblers splash their cash on the roulette tables, or put more accurately, lose a ridiculous amount of cash on the roulette tables. In the space of about 5 minutes we saw someone lose over €5,000! At around half 1 we moved on and tried our luck in the Monte-Carlo bay and the Café de Paris casino. The helicopter dream seemed so close, but after a couple of hours on the roulette machines I had to quit while I was ahead with a nice €100 profit, which we used in part to splash out on two gorgeous glasses of red wine in the 24 hr Fairmont hotel terrace bar. These were unsurprisingly the most expensive glasses of wine we had on the whole trip at €13 each, but came with panoramic views of the illuminated bay, and the tasty bar snacks! We finally made it home to Nice at half 6 and staggered back to our Airbnb feeling tired, slightly delirious and covered in blisters. Overall it was a wonderful final night to round off our tour.

Thanks to our little casino win, we treated ourselves to a final lunch at Café de Turin, a well known seafood restaurant in Place Garibaldi. I’ve eaten a lot of seafood, but I have to say that the seafood here is literally unreal. I’ve never tasted mussels like the ones they serve. They’re incredibly fresh, steamed in white wine, garlic, celery and parsley – it’s such a simple combination but a perfect sauce to accompany the salty mussels and to dip some crispy french fries into. If you’re going to Nice, definitely put this one on your list too! It wasn’t expensive either, I still have €20 sitting in my room left over! We just had time to squeeze in one last mojito before setting off back to Leicester. 

It’s difficult to sum up my experience in Italy because it was truly phenomenal in so many ways. Not only did we taste the most incredible food and wine, we also got to meet some of our Italian family which is something I will never forget and made the trip personally so special. I owe my sister Bekki a massive thank you for being the most wonderful travelling buddy, and for being almost as crazy about food as I am! And also for getting me into red wine, you saved me there! As much as writing these travel blogs has stressed me out to the point of tears at times, I have loved writing them and the responses I have received from friends, family and even complete strangers have made it so worthwhile, so thank you so much!  

Please continue to support my blog as I start posting my own recipes, the first of which will be coming very soon to accompany my recent Instagram post! 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s