Sunday, August 21, 2011

Meet the parents

South of France is an enjoyable place to be...
At home when surrounded by art!

C'est pas mal ici, non ?
Arriving in Saint Paul
A narrow street in Vence
Mosaic by Chagall in Vence's cathedral

Une jolie fontaine a Saint Paul
La chapelle Matisse a Vence
View over Vence

My favorite place in the Nice area

My favorite place in the Nice area and my favorite person (not just in the Nice area)
My favorite...–oh, you probably get the picture by now :-)
From Q: It's sunny here in Aarhus today so the climate invites some friendly memories from my sorely missed four weeks in Nice last month. It's also Sunday, a day on which the family typically gets together for a copious and joyful meal. For these two reasons, it's perfect timing to pay a tribute to my parents who visited us in Nice while I was there.

My parents, Mireille and Jacques, were very helpful in helping us get an apartment in Nice. They also served as our references for the lease, as we could not come to visit the apartment ahead of time nor meet the owner. They were both psyched when we announced we'd be settling down in Nice, since they plan to spend most of their soon-to-come retirement in the cute village of Vinça where we have an old family house. This area is about 5 hours away by car, but still in super-scenic and magical South of France, as you can see on this post from last summer. It's just Spain instead of Italy on the other side of the border...

My sister is already in Montpellier, raising her daughter Mila with her S.O. Mathieu. My other sister Sigo almost made it down there as well but she is still in the midst of her studies, so life fluctuates a lot for her. It looks like she will definitely make it further South than Brussels, Belgium though!

My parents stopped by for two days on their way from Strasbourg to Vinça, right before Bastille day. So Chrysa was at work in the day time, and joining us for dinners in the evening. I spent the days with my parents, walking around historical towns, visiting museums, and going to the beach.

There were mainly two themes during my parents' visit. My dad grew up in Nice from ca. 1947 until 1960, so we went back in time... We found where he was living, we even went inside the building and it was fun to hear my dad comment on what had changed, what had not... Isn't there's just something always fascinating about hearing some insights about one own's parents lives "before you were born, son". Always makes me feel like we're getting to mysterious land.

We also went to swim in Beaulieu-sur-mer, where my dad did his first swim in the late 1940s. For sure the town had grown since, and he was not so sure about which beach has had been to any longer... But already back then apparently the most quiet time to go to the beach was 6am! That's when my grand father would take my dad for a swim. We also visited the beaches in Villefranche and Saint Jean, that Chrysa and I both like a lot (and prefer over Nice's beaches).

The second theme of this visit was contemporary art. My dad's first hobby has always been art. Painting and making collages (see here for one of his recent exhibits). The Côte d'Azur is famous for having attracted the most talented artists over the years, such as Matisse, Picasso, Cocteau, Renoir, etc. The vibrancy of the art community down there reminds me of that in Taos/Santa Fe in New Mexico.

We walked around the very cute village of Vence, which has a mosaic by Marc Chagall in its cathedral, and of course a few art galleries. We visited a chapel designed by Matisse on the outskirts of Vence. Matisse considered this chapel to be his most accomplished piece of work, and it is truly a wonder.

Most of the art galleries were in super scenic and now (mid-July) super touristy Saint-Paul de Vence, where Chrysa had already been in June. We spent quite a fair amount of time talking with various artists and gallery owners, which got me to suspect my dad's trying to get that kind of business started... stay tuned...

Fine dining in Beaulieu
My parents' visit ended up with a dinner on the harbor in Beaulieu with our friend Christiane, who was the best friend of my now-deceased grand mother. After dinner we enjoyed great Bastille day fireworks that were shot from the jetty. My parents left early the next day for Vinça, which they will leave again at the end of August.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wine tasting in the heart of Provence

C caressing grapes
B and B backyard
The first time that Chrysa visited France,
Q&C visited a winery in Alsace. About halfway through the wine tasting, C declared "We have to live in France" and this was the beginning of a long relationship with French wines.

Now that we have an address in France, we thought it was high time to visit our local vineyards and plans for a romantic weekend getaway were made. C had heard of the famous Chateauneuf-du-pape (which translates to new castle of the pope) wine region and was quite happy to realize that Nice is just a 3 hour drive from there. C did a bit of research online to find some "vignerons independent" or independent winemakers that had won awards for their wines to visit, and Q found a very scenic bed and breakfast place to stay for the weekend. We left after work on Friday and three hours later we were in the heart of Provence, enjoying some wine.

apricot cake + lavender
When we arrived at our very scenic bed and breakfast we enjoyed a lovely French dinner accompanied by some red wine from the owner's vineyards. We eagerly accepted their invitation to a wine tasting at their cave the next day, together with John, an American who was treating himself to a trip to France. At the Chateau du Mourre du Tendre they only age their wine in stainless steel tanks and not in wood so that the taste of the grapes really comes through (although this is uncommon in Chateauneuf).

After our morning (!) wine-tasting, we visited a quaint French town nearby, Gigondas, where we had a lovely lunch under the cool shade of the trees. After walking around the town and exploring their herb garden with a fantastic view of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region, we came back closer to town for our second tasting of the day.

C + wine
At Vignobles Mousset-Barrot we really enjoyed the fruity reds that they made and picked up even more wines for our cellar! We ended the day with a driving tour around the little mountain with breathtaking views of the countryside. When we came back to our B&B, we were invited over for a glass of champagne by our hosts and their family which turned into a lively discussion with more bottles of liquors, one made by some nearby monks in an abbey. A plan was hatched.

Q in the sunshine
On Sunday we had to leave our newly found slice of paradise and return to our other slice of paradise on the French Riviera. We decided that on the way back we would stop at the Frigolet abbey to buy some liquor and then stop at another vigneron for a wine tasting in the Coteaux d'Aix en Provence appellation. So we arrived at the abbey just before the end of mass and waited for the shop to open afterwards. The abbey is really very peaceful especially with the monks singing and C felt just a little bit guilty for driving all the way up the mountain to buy alcohol on a Sunday. But hey, we're still supporting the monks, right? [note from Q: Q did not feel guilty]

View with lavender
We then moved on further into the mountains and came across a perfect picnic spot next to a windmill [note from Q: missing the Danish winds, perhaps...]. After lunch, we visited our last vigneron independant, the Chateau Petit Sonnailler, which is located well into the hills and mountains of countryside, very far from the hustle and bustle of life. It also happens to be a B&B (next time! :-). Here, we enjoyed all of their wines, but we have to say that their Rosé was the best of the trip.
the happy couple
vines + mountains
vines in lines

a first glimpse of the Abbey
windblown trees
lookout! here comes Don Quixote!
With the car now riding low in the back (!), we returned to the Cote d'Azur, very pleased with our weekend getaway to the French countryside in Provence.