Monday, May 22, 2006

Day 19: Bordighera

A beautiful morning in Bordighera...we stand out on our balcony and watch the early risers out on the lungomare. Another pleasant morning eating breakfast outside and enjoying the especially delicious breakfast rolls that the hotel serves.

Today will be my first visit to France (other than changing planes in Paris). We have to make the slow drive through the very lively centers of Bordighera, Vallecrosia and Ventimiglia before reaching the French border at Menton. There are no border formalities within the EU so we just drive straight through the old inspection stations and we are in France.

Menton is a large attractive city with a long beachfront....I get a little mixed up with the unfamiliar French directional signs and we end up on the truck route that skirts the center, so we miss most of the downtown area. We take the road that goes around Cap Martin...beautiful views, pretty towns and clear water. We decide to avoid Monaco and head up into the hills and take the fast route to Nice. At first glance, the big difference between Italy and France (at least on the French Riviera) is that there is a tremendous amount of new construction in France; buildings seem to be sprouting up everywhere. The towns also seem more scrubbed than in Italy and the roads are wider and better maintained.

We get off the highway and follow the signs to Nice center....we are looking for Vieux Nice but we are navigating without a map and without any guide books. It is sort of strange to see all the signs in a foreign language--boulanger, tabac, plat du jour, etc. As we approach the center of Nice, the congestion picks up significantly and as we pull into the old city, it is gridlocked. We follow the signs to parking garages but the first two are "complet". At one point, we are afraid that we have entered a pedestrian street but we escape through two narrow alleys that deposit us on the waterfront boulevard.

The waterfront boulevard has wonderful views of the Mediterranean that calm us a bit as we negotiate our way through bumper to bumper traffic. We break free of the traffic jam and park in a lot at the port...a ten minute walk on the broad, beautiful seaside promenade to the old city. We enter Vieux Nice through a large piazza that is filled with a large flea market and throngs of people. Flea markets are not my favorite destination and it sort of got me and Nice off on the wrong foot. After we stop at a cafe and have cappuccinos, we make our way through the market and through the narrow streets of the old city.

Unfortunately for me, the narrow streets are crammed with shop after shop after shop, interspersed with restaurants and bars and food stores. Crowds of tourists are making their way from door to door buying all types of merchandise. We stop and buy a baguette (which turns out to be mediocre) and then some good cookies at an artisan bakery. After about a half hour of these wanderings, I feel the need to escape and we walk over to the seafront promenade to sit on a bench and decide our next step. Diana tells me that I am being irrational and that we should walk around some more.

Pictures of Vieux Nice

We walk back into town and while strolling, we stumble on one of the well reviewed restaurants that I had read about in my "research". La Merenda is owned by a chef who used to run the kitchen at the fancy hotel in Nice--the Negresco--and wanted to be able to "do his own thing". So he opened a tiny bistro, crammed with 14 small tables--no chairs, only stools--where he could cook what he wanted to do - local French cooking in his own style based on what is available in the daily market. The place has no phone--reservations have to be made in person--and takes no credit cards, but he has made a name for himself and La Merenda is almost always crowded.

However, when we walk in today, we are seated immediately (in the last two remaining seats). It feels sort of like of eating in a phone booth...the couple at the next table are inches away from us and it is hard not to begin talking with them. It turns out that they are Dutch and have been coming to La Merenda for years. They give us some advice on ordering and we end up having a very pleasant lunchtime conversation with them. The food is very good (even though it was French)--I have an onion tart and tripe and Diana has fried zucchini blossoms that are spectacular and a very rich and tasty beef stew. The house white is very refreshing as is the lemon tart.

La Merenda (check out the virtual visit--our table was on the right of the door. The pictures make it look a lot bigger than it really is.)

On our walk out of town, we stop to sit in the sun on the steps of the town hall in a pretty square and Nice begins to look better. I am sure that when we return to the area and have more time to explore, I will have different impression.

Driving out of Nice, I follow the signs for the "corniche" road. Ever since I saw "To Catch a Thief", I also wanted to drive the same road that Cary Grant and Grace Kelly sped along. Corniche road with Cary and Grace . It is a good climb and when we are at last speeding along the road--actually pretty wide and well maintained--we find that the views of the coast line (when they appear) are obscured by the low hanging clouds. So we drive back down through the pretty village of Eze, with its ruined castle and attractive main street, down to sea level. We drive right through the middle of Monaco, which--as if it wasn't crowded enough with high rise buildings and hotels (Miami on the Cote D'Azure)--is finishing preparations for the Monaco Grand Prix. Grandstands and chainlink fences line the main route through town causing traffic backups. We struggle through the downtown, past the very grand casino (where there is plenty of activity at 3 in the afternoon) and past the beach and port, which is filled with luxury yachts. Monaco feels like it has come from an entirely different planet and we are happy to be on our way.


On the return trip through Menton, we do drive along the waterfront--very nice beaches, parks and promenades....with restaurants and bars overlooking the water. Menton is much bigger than I had imagined, definitely a city and not a small town or village, and also very modern and well scrubbed. When we cross back into Italy, we feel that we are re-entering familiar territory--certainly more chaotic and grittier but somehow more appealing.

Back in Bordighera, Diana reads on the balcony and I take the computer to the tables outside the hotel where the hotel wireless internet connection reaches--and do some work. I then walk to town to scout dinner possibilities. A lot of Bordighera restaurants are closed on Mondays, but there is one on the main street of the "centro" that is both open and appealing. We have a very successful dinner at Creuza De Ma (which means "small road to the sea" in Genovese dialect) ...there are only two other tables occupied but the waiter is friendly, the room very attractive and comfortable and the food good. Diana has a somewhat odd caprese salad (no basil, but good cheese) and a veal roast (a little dry but a good sauce), excellent roast potatoes and perfectly ripe pineapple. I have a terrific bowl of large, tasty mussels in a basil scented sauce, delicious grilled sausage (the sausage is coiled, secured by toothpicks and grilled) and a mixed salad. The wine is a local red from Dolceacqua (Rossese) which is a bit strange...very light in color and, while dry, has an almost candy sweet undertone.

It is a short drive back to our beachfront "home" and we sit on the balcony watching the sea before going to bed.

Tomorrow, we plan to explore San Remo on market day.


paolo said...

Nice or Nizza had and has close ties with Piedmont/Italy. Nice became French only in 1860. A lot of Torinesi and Cuneesi own houses there. Nice is French without regret, I'm sure, but a lot of Italians feel at home there.

Garibaldi [who was from Nizza]used to say to the Count Cavour, whose foreign policy led* to the cession of Nice and Savoy to France:
"Mi ha reso straniero in Patria"

{You made myself a stranger in my own homeland}

* To be fair to Cavour: his policy led to the unification of Italy
proclami 1860

3:43 PM  

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