The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.
I've always loved going to markets wherever I've been in the world and find it's a great way to get under the skin of a place. Whether it's a genuine farmers' market selling locally produced food or a tourist-trap night market selling tat, there's always something interesting going on. I remember going to Christmas markets in Prague in the early 1980s, but these weren't the Christmas Markets of today, with chalet stalls selling mulled wine, cookies and tasteful decorations. These were functional affairs, markets at Christmas time rather than actual Christmas Markets, where you went to buy your live carp for Christmas Eve dinner, hauled out of an enormous tank of thrashing fish. Urgh how I hated those fish! I remember street markets in Sofia a decade later in the early 1990s where sellers would hawk a handful of onions on a trestle table, or a pile of radishes, hopefully trying to make a few Lev in times of absurdly rife inflation. Just thinking of Paddington and Glebe markets, favourite hangouts during my student years in Sydney, brings back great memories of bargain hunting for unusual clothing. I could go on and on (oh the markets in Vietnam...) but I digress, I set out to write about my local market, now!
France is justly famous for its markets, they really are still a part of every day life and always have been. They are not recently invented fashionable "farmers' markets" selling superfoods in designer eco packaging but genuine places where ordinary folk get their daily food. Not everything is locally produced by any means, much comes from the wholesale markets on the edge of big cities, having been shipped in from around the world. You can usually tell these stalls as the fruit or veg is uniformly perfect and polished and the prices may be a bit cheaper than on the local stalls. But mixed in with these generic sellers are plenty of local producers selling their wares direct, offering the best in quality and the lowest carbon footprint. And that's what makes markets in France so interesting. Regional variations in cuisine are so great that a market in Normandy will focus on entirely different produce than one in Provence, or one in Alsace. Don't go to a market in the south expecting a selection of Camemberts, nor hope to find a range of olive oils in Lorraine!
In my area there's at least one street market in a nearby town every day of the week, and in places like Antibes, Cannes and Nice they are daily fixtures. Roquefort les Pins market is on a Wednesday. It's small and functional, nothing to write home blog about. My favourite local has to be Valbonne, every Friday morning. Not only does it take place in an absurdly pretty medieval village, typically Provençal, with pollarded plane trees, shuttered windows, narrow cobbled alleys and a colourful central square, but it's so full of beautiful stuff! The stalls ramble throughout the village, not just in one place but really, all over. Ambling around you can find everything from shoes, scarves and children's clothing to hand-painted ceramics, olive-wood bowls, kitchen ware, Provençal fabrics, artists' paintings, lavender cosmetics/soaps and lovely flowers. And this is even before I've started on the food. There's a wonderful selection of olives, tapenades, saucissons, goat's cheeses, olive oils, honeys and spices and several fruit and veg stands. You can find fresh pasta, chicken roasting on a spit and the most delicious bread at a tiny stand by a hole-in-the-wall, straight out of the oven. The smell is heavenly. There is surprisingly little junk, with only one stall selling iPhone covers and other such tat made in China. Just out of the main central part of the village, in front of the church, there is a section devoted to very local farmers/small holders. Now, Valbonne is not exactly a cheap place, and the market prices can often reflect this, but there's at least one genuinely good value stall I head for every time. The reason they sell at such a good price is that they only sell whatever fruit really is in season that day. Take a look at what was in season the last time I went: strawberries and asparagus, perfect early summer fare.
Valbonne market can get very crowded and in high season is absolutely packed. My advice is to get there early - it starts around 7 am - and enjoy the best produce without the crowds. Take your time to chat to the sellers, and even if your French is limited, a friendly "bonjour", "merci" and "au revoir" will always be appreciated and will almost certainly get you better service and possibly better produce too. (See more on this here). You can always ask to sample a bit of what you're interested in, or ask for advice. Did you know that it's normal to ask for a certain product, such as a cheese/melon/avocado, to be ripe for a certain day? (For example, you want a fresh goats' cheese for a dinner you're having in 3 days' time, so tell the seller and s/he will pick you out the perfect one for that day). Even if you're just looking and photographing, still make eye contact and smile - it makes a huge difference! By the time everyone else arrives as the morning wears on you'll be ready to sit down and watch the world go by over a coffee in the Place des Arcades. You'll still be right in the thick of it, but at one of the coveted tables on the terrace rather than squabbling and pushing with the masses.
All photos were taken in late March. Come back again in summer for a different selection of fruit, vegetables and herbs. Do you like going to markets? Do you have a favourite one? I'd love to hear from you.
Do you like markets? Do you have a favourite?
Think of the French Riviera - even the name is romantic - and you think Love, with a capital L (and a French accent). It's the seaside playground of the country of amour, how can it not be romantic? So in the name of lurrve I thought I'd put together a little list of some of the things to do and places to go to enjoy romance here in this gorgeous part of France.
Explore ancient hill villages
Whether you prefer to wander the tiny twisting alleys of a deserted hill village or browse the art galleries of one of the more populated places, the hill villages of the Alpes-Maritimes are made for romance. Clinging perilously to cliff tops and fortified to keep attackers at bay, these medieval villages are labyrinths of narrow lanes perfect for exploring and getting lost in. Just when you feel completely disorientated in the dark alleys, catching glimpses into tiny courtyards through low doors you stumble across a dazzling vista - a view over the Mediterranean sea or the southern Alps that takes your breath away. These villages perchés are almost all car-free, silent and magnificently located. My favourites? Gourdon (for it's location/views), St Paul de Vence (for its galleries and beautiful renovations), Châteauneuf de Grasse (for its hidden-ness) and Saorge (for its authentic state and lack of any tourist trappings). Read about the 13 best here.
Create your own perfume
What could be more romantic than creating a scent for you or that special person in your life, in the world capital of perfume, the city of Grasse? Guided by experts, you can find your own personal fragrance, a scent that is exclusively yours that distinguishes you from the crowds. You create your very own signature brand using smells and scents that remind you of fond memories, that seduce you and your lover. This magical experience can be had at three of the most well-known perfumiers in Grasse, Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard.
Visit the flower market in Nice
Take a stroll through the famous flower market in Cours Saleya in the heart of old Nice. Shaded by pretty stripy awnings the stalls explode around you in a riot of colour and pefume, for the flower market offers up fruit, vegetables, spices, olives, oils and soaps as well as cut flowers and plants. With the brightly painted buildings surrounding the square and the scent of hundreds of different blooms filling the air it really is an assault on the senses in the very best way. The market is open every day except Monday and mornings are best as most stalls pack up at lunchtime to make way for restaurants.
Watch the sun go down over the Bay of Angels
There are any number of romantic places to watch the sunset on the Côte d'Azur, but one of my favourites has to be from the Castle Hill in Nice, looking out over the sweeping Baie des Anges. From here you can see the whole of Nice, with the old town just below, the hills of Cimiez to the right, across to the airport and beyond. Other good spots can be found on any of the beaches along the coast and of course from hill top lookouts such as Gourdon and St Paul de Vence.
Sip cocktails on a roof terrace restaurant
So your budget doesn't run to staying in one of the luxury hotels on the seafront in Nice or Cannes (and why would you want to when you can stay at Lou Messugo!) but an apéritif on a roof top bar is a must for lovers. Enjoy the uninterrupted view of the beach and horizon from high above, away from the crowds and city noise.
Laze the day away on a luxury beach bed
...a double bed! Luxuriate in your own private nest right on the beach, indulging in waiter service for snacks and drinks. While this doesn't come cheap, it's an intimate, romantic and unusual way to spend the day on the beach. Available for hire in Nice. Other options include regular sunbeds with parasols and lunch included, or just the sun-lounger; on most beaches along the Côte d'Azur. Prices vary from beach to beach, with Cannes and Juan les Pins the dearest. The season for sunbeds runs from approximately late April to early October, but throughout the year the beach is always a romantic place to stroll, play and spend time with your chéri(e). FInd out more about private beaches here.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg, it's far far from definitive. There are so many more romantic things to do on the Côte d'Azur, I could never write about them all. But I'd love to hear from you. Have you been to the French Riviera with your love? What tips would you give? Where is the most romantic place you've been?
Want more romance? Find out how romantic France celebrates Valentine's Day
Photo credits: thanks to The French Riviera Blog by Kevin Hin for the photo of the Galimard perfume and to Liz at Explore.Dream.Discover for the photos of the sunset over the Bay of Angels, the roof terrace, the beach bed, the prawn cocktail and the couple on the beach.
It's mid November but until yesterday it's been sunny and warm enough to eat outside at lunchtime in short sleeves. Roses and plumbago are still in bloom in the garden and seeing as most of the trees around here are evergreen there are very few bare ones. We were even swimming in the sea until 2 weeks ago. It's hard to feel like winter is on its way and I'm just fine with that! But there is one clear sign however and that is the annual ski sale in the village hall.
The bourse aux skis, (ski exchange), organised by Roquefort's ski club every year enables skiers to sell old gear and re-equip at absurdly good prices. With fast-growing children this makes the whole ski experience just that little bit more affordable as each year we sell off their too small kit, including clothing, replacing it with the next size up. We set the price we want and the club takes 15% of any sales we make. What I love about this is that perfectly good equipment gets used and reused over and over again, avoiding landfill. It means we don't have to store bulky items for years between the two kids nor have the hassle of trying to sell on the internet. This year we re-equipped both boys for 135€ (combined total, in itself very reasonable) and sold off last year's stuff for 105€ meaning we got skis, boots, helmets, poles and snow boots for 30€. Now that really is a bargain!
But why do we have a ski club and a ski sale? Aren't we in the south of France, famous for its beaches and Mediterranean climate? Yes we are, but as an added bonus Roquefort les Pins is only 50 minutes from the nearest ski resort, Gréolières les Neiges, and within 2 hours of plenty more! This means we go skiing for the day or sometimes only half a day depending what else we have on throughout the season. Having our own gear means we don't have to bother with hiring each time leaving us more time on the slopes and with prices like these how can we go wrong? It doesn't even matter if the season isn't great and we don't go often, kitting out two children for 30€ can't be beaten!
To find out more about skiing on the Côte d'Azur take a look at the post I wrote about it here Skiing with a sea view... We really are in a special part of the world! The Bourse has inspired me; it's time to forgo rosé for vin chaud, pull out the Ugg boots, light a fire and bring on winter - let's hit those slopes! From the look of this photo taken this weekend and posted on the Facebook page of the nearby resort we don't have long to wait.