Monday, April 4, 2017
Our garden tour, courtesy of Côte d’Azur tourism, begins Sunday evening in Nice…with dinner at a popular restaurant on the Promenade Anglais, not far from the renowned Hotel Negresco. The charming Belle Epoque Hotel Villa Rivoli, our home for the night, is a delightful place to wake up – don’t you love a French window?! We appreciate the many thoughtful touches of the warm and welcoming owner, Barbara, such as these cute egg warmers knitted by her mother. On the piano in the salon is a note inviting guests to play, and last night as those of us on the tour got to know each other, Barbara assumed that with our name of Music and Markets there must be music in our duo – she soon had me playing a tune or two.
We have time, on the way to our first garden of the tour, to stop by the exquisite Russian Orthodox cathedral, recently restored to its original beauty. In the mid 1800s royalty and nobility from Russia as well as from England began the influx of tourism to the Riviera so along the coast, from France to Italy, are several iconic onion domes of their houses of worship.
Not far from the Nice airport is Phoenix Park, a massive garden surrounding a huge greenhouse, one of the largest in the world, where exotic orchids bloom and flamingos linger. Spring flowers are blooming outside, and a resident kangaroo has a joey big enough to spend time out of the pouch – can you see him?
Up in the steep hills above Nice a potter has created a garden where her unique designs intertwine with succulents and blooms….even the driveway beneath our feet is patterned with pottery, and walls terracing the planting and lining the poolside are dotted with everything from marbles to balls to towering rods of ceramic. The Jardin des Fleurs de Poterie incorporates her sculptures with over 800 varieties of plants, both rare and wild.
Down the hill we wind, and walk the colorful lanes of Vieux Nice before stopping for lunch at La Favola, overlooking the daily market stalls. Our delicious meal begins with help-yourself platters of appetizers, heavy with nearby Italian influence. A triple chocolate mousse is the eye-popping finale!The exotic gardens topping the gorgeous perched village of Eze are next, and up the steep cobbled lanes we climb, enjoying the ever-more-stunning views until we’re right on top. Eze was one of the places we visited on our first trip to the south of France, decades ago, and we’re reminded of its beauty every day by the evocative water color in our bedroom in Virginia – that buttery yellow church is as eye-catching as we remember!The Exotic Garden is tucked into the ruins of an ancient fortress commanding one of the most beautiful panoramas of the Côte d’Azur.We splurge on an aperitif on the terrace of the Chevre d’Or (golden goat) hotel – the views are worth it!
Menton, last town in France before the Italian border, will be our home for a couple of nights, and as the sun sets we walk along the shore to dinner in the colorful old town. Steep vaulted lanes and zigzag stairs head up to the church, but we stay by the port (that curve at the other end of the bay is home to tomorrow’s first garden, in Italy), where a flower-themed dinner awaits us at Le Petit Port. Check out the goblet of tulips gracing the entry table – what a fun idea!
Petals and blooms adorn each course, from the swordfish carpaccio to the lavender-poached pears for dessert.
Kirk and I take time to wander through the old town, up those steep lanes to the moonlit church, before heading back to the hotel – a wonderful first day of the garden tour!