Hotel Le Saint Paul
After a four hour flight delay because of thunderstorms in New York, we finally landed in Nice. After grabbing our bags, we then found ourselves in line for nearly an hour waiting to pick up our car rental. By the time we drove out of the Nice Airport and onto the road we realized we would miss our lunch reservation at La Colombe D’Or. Ok, so La Colombe D’Or is hyped but I really wanted to sit outside, have a bite to eat and look at the Calder mobile by the swimming pool. Instead of lunch, we drove straight to see the “Matisse Chapel” (officially called the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence). When we visited the chapel twenty years ago, we were the only people there. This time around it was packed with a tour group and a young priest was describing the famous stained glass windows in French. (We don’t really speak French.)
We got back in the car (admiring the great view of the sea from that elevation) and drove towards St. Paul-de-Vence. We stopped at the first café on the square, ordered a couple of croquet-monsieurs and a couple of beers and watched some old guys play boule. From there we headed over to catch the Maeght Foundation’s “Noir c’est Noir’ exhibition. The building and the sculpture garden, to me at least, looked the same as it did 20 years ago. Finally, we walked back into town (no cars in this walled city) to find our hotel. For some reason the staff was surprised that we showed up on foot (with no luggage or vehicle to boot). (Perhaps contrary to how other Americans arrived?) We assured them however that we did indeed have many bags in our vehicle. They showed us to a lovely room overlooking the valley. We went back down to retrieve the car and were instructed to drive it up a narrow side street. Trying to maneuver between a rampart and a house, Lynn busted one of the side mirrors on the rental and began to panic. I didn’t want to pull an “Ireland” on him (i.e., taking over the driving on day #1), so I just kept patting his knee.
We managed to park the car and the staff ran out to help us with the luggage. Around 6 p.m. there was a knock on the door and a young man in chef’s whites brought us a tray with servings of panna cotta, a small bowl with cookies and a vase filled with roses. (At 6 p.m. what we really wanted was a cocktail not dessert but we ate the scrumptious snack not complaining.)
Before we left New York, we had decided for our 20th we would get new wedding rings. The original plan had been to exchange the rings in the “Matisse Chapel” – thinking the chapel would be as empty as it was 20 years ago. Wrong. At that point in the room, in the south of France overlooking the valley, I thought this would be as good a time as any. It was kind of anticlimactic though I must say. We simply took off our old rings, put on the new ones, gave each other a quick kiss and decided to jump in the shower (separately). After all we had some serious eating to do.
We went down to a beautiful dining room with vaulted ceilings and frescos. The restaurant was quite crowded even though the hotel seemed empty. We were seated near a Japanese couple with their children and (sigh) a loud table of drunken Brits. They had driven up from their villa and were having a grand time. (How they would get back to their villa when we could barely navigate the narrow streets when sober I thought would truly be a challenge for them. But then again, maybe not.)
Dinner that night started out with an amuse bouche of cold soupe de poisson, spoonfuls of salmon meringue, a shot glass of creamy mushrooms and poppy beignets. We gobbled it up. Then came zucchini blossoms filled with fava beans and pesto and a smattering of fresh tomatoes. Then we both had a grilled foie gras on a bed of rhubarb with apricots. It might have been the best foie gras we ever had (and to date still is). The Brits stopped their chattering long enough to moan about this dish, claiming it the best they had ever had, too. We moved on to the lobster lasagna – tri-colored lasagna noodles, red, black and white, filled with lobster meat in a lobster reduction sauce. Then a generous helping of veal loin with fingerling potatoes and shitakes came out next. Lynn and I were nervous. This was our first night in France in quite a while, would all the food on this trip be at this level? (Most of it would, some of it wouldn’t.) Next up an amazing cheese plate of nutty comté, creamy brie and pungent blue with fresh figs. For dessert we had raspberry goat cheese mille-feuilles with the last drops of a Côtes de Provence.
It was truly a spectacular meal; afterwards we went for a walk in town. Except town was empty and pitch black. We returned to our hotel room to find a lit candle waiting for us and the bed covered with rose petals.