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Parc Phoenix, Nice, Cote d'Azur

Azuralive: In Parc Phoenix, Nice, Cote d'Azur, France

Rising from the city jumble:

Parc Phoenix, Nice, Cote d'Azur, France

Had you asked me earlier if there's any reason to visit the western side of Nice, I would have said:

"No. Go there to reach and leave the Nice airport and leave. The western tip of town is industrial and ugly."

Last weekend, I visited Parc Phoenix, at the western edge of Nice's Promenade des Anglais, just before the city drops into a confusing jumble of highway on and off ramps.

Azuralive: Greenhouse in Parc Phoenix, Nice, Cote d'Azur, FranceIt's seventeen acres of park-setting, a huge glass-house (the "Diamant Vert", 7000 square meters and 25 meters high) with an assortment of tropical plants stretching their tentacles inside the greenhouse's warm and moist atmosphere. In the glasshouse, you'll walk among a forest of ferns, by water turtles, by iguanas, around rare orchids planted by a wooden gazebo.

Outside, in the park, you'll stroll by bird cages filled with exotic birds, while speakers set low to the ground pump animal sounds from tropical lands. 

A great experience to take you away on your next visit. Especially recommended for kids.

Azuralive: Pelicans In Parc Phoenix, Nice, Cote d'Azur, France

Next door, you'll find the The Museum of Asiatic Arts in a building designed by Kenzo Tange...

Brought to you by the publishers of the 26 Gorgeous Hikes series. Click below to see our latest hiking guide: 26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur.

      
                         
     What:         Parc Phoenix, 06200 Nice,
                       Cote d'Azur, France

     Where:       405 Promenade des Anglais, Nice
                      
     Details:       Phone: +33 4 92 29 77 00
                        Email: parcphoenix@ville-nice.fr
                        Open: Apr-Sep: 9:30a-7:30p Mon-Sun,
                                  Oct-Mar: 9:30a-6:30p Mon-Sun
                       http://www.nice.fr/mairie_nice_919.html

Cocoa on the Côte d'Azur

Cocoa on the Côte d'Azur:

"Chocolate... is above all helpful to people who must do a great deal of mental work, to those who labor in the pulpit or the courtroom, and especially to travelers." - Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Chocolate ranks as an essential food group here in France. According to the International Cocoa Organization (tasty name), France consumes 6.7 kg (14 lbs) of chocolate per person per year. In the US, for example, it's 4.5 kg (10 lbs) per person/year.

French chocolate wears many disguises. It's in truffes around New Year's. During the Spring, it melts in  the shape of hens, chicks, rabbits, sardine fish wrapped in blue aluminum and lined up in cans and even plain eggs. It wears red, pink, blue bows. On Easter morning, some children here on the Côte d'Azur will be foraging through bushes of rosemary and pots of geraniums looking for the chocolat.

"People who habitually drink chocolate enjoy unvarying health..." - Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Given the criticality of chocolate, we feel it's essential for visitors to know where to find it on the Côte d'Azur. So we went through the arduous task of hunting for great chocolates on the French Riviera. We found many expert chocolatiers sprinkled around the region. Here's a small selection for your enjoyment.

"If any Man has drunk a little too deeply from the cup of physical pleasure; if he has spent too much time at his desk that should have been spent asleep; if he fine spirits have temporarily become dulled; if he finds the air too damp, the minutes too slow, and the atmosphere too heavy to withstand... let him be given a good pint of amber-flavored chocolate" - Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

In Nice:

Azuralive: Maison Auer, Nice, Cote d'Azur Maison Auer, has been melting and shaping chocolates as well as candied fruit since 1820. The treats are made the old-fashion way, and the store claims that some of the best old cauldrons are still used. "Princess" almonds and hazelnuts are especially delectable: roasted nut, caramel coating, chocolate
second coating and a sprinkle of cocoa powder that wakes up the palate.

What:  Maison Auer, 7 rue St-François-de-Paule, near the opera house (tel. 04-93-85-77-98)
Where: In front of the Opera House, 7 rue Saint-François de Paule, one of the old streets that lead you to Cours Saleya. 
Web:   http://www.maison-auer.com/

In Nice and Pont du Loup:

Azuralive: Confiserie Florian, Pont du Loup, Cote d'Azur

Confiserie Florian concocts perfumes for the palate: fruit sweets and chocolates from family traditions
dating back almost sixty years. Candied petals of violets, roses, verveine, mimosa, but also jams, chocolates, sirups, candied fruit, and free factory tours.
Where: In Nice: 14 quai Papacino, in the Old Nice. Phone: 04-93-55-43-50,
is near the Old Port.
Web:   http://www.confiserieflorian.com

Antibes:

Patissier Cottard creates an edible "Fort Carré", a chocolate ganache version of the town's fort.
Where: 49 rue République; Antibes; Phone: 04.93.34.09.92.
Web:    http://www.patisseriecottard.com/

Cannes:

Schies makes chocolates of all sorts (honey infused, pralined, flowered) in their chocolate lab just above the store. A dream for kids of all ages.
Where: 125 rue d'Antibes, Cannes - 06400, Phone: 04.93.39.01.03.

Saint-Raphael:

Tiny cubic store Calderon makes creative macarons, bite-sized cakes that are works of art for the eyes and the palate, and chocolate creations too. There's usually a line-up of gourmets in the little shop.
Where: 89, place Sadi Carnot, Saint-Raphael, Phone: 04 94 83 63 08.

Azuralive: Confiserie Le Provençal, Fréjus, Cote d'Azur

Fréjus:

Le Provençal's specialty may be the Cloister of Frejus Paves (hard candies) but their candied fruit and chocolates are just as tasty.
Where: 44 rue Jean-Jaurès, Fréjus

Roquebrune-sur-Argens:

Bite into the emblematic rock that stands behind the village of Roquebrune-sur-Argens (not to be confused with Roquebrune, the perched village east of Nice).
Confiserie Courreau, master Chocolatier Gérard Courreau.
Where: 2, Montee Saint Michel; Roquebrune-sur-Argens; Phone: 04 94 45 31 56

To enjoy these delights without guilt, consider a hike or two on the Côte d'Azur!  Click below to see our latest hiking guide: 26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur.


Hiking the Estérel: Col de l'Esquillon

   

Hiking the Esterel Mountains: Col de l'Esquillon

Our plans changed yesterday, as Mediterranean plans often do. We were going to hike in the Maures Mountains, around La Gaillarde just above the seaside resort towns of Saint-Aygulf and Les Issambres on this western edge of the Cote d'Azur. The weather was cool and sunny. The Mistral wind had finally tired down. T'was perfect for a drive along the coast and a hike up to views of the Med.

So we headed east, to the "other side" of the Côte d'Azur into the department of the Alpes Maritimes. We skirted up above Pierre Cardin's Palais Bulles bubble-like house, walked above the coast of Théoule, with the bay of La Napoule and Cannes and the islands of Lérins in the distance. After a turn left into a pined area, we trekked up inland.

Azuralive: Notre Dame d'Afrique, Esterel, France We soon discovered the metallic sculpture by Evangeliste of Notre-Dame de l'Afrique that towers over the sea and looks to Algeria. The original bronze sculpture of Notre-Dame d'Afrique stands in the St Eugene basilica across the sea in Alger, Algeria. It overlooks Alger and its bay, much like the replica here in the Esterel overlooks the bay of Théoule-sur-Mer and Cannes. The Esterel replica was intended as a bridge of understanding and friendship between the two countries.

We headed back into the reconciliating hills of the Esterel to the Col de Théoule. We took a sharp turn left back to the Col de l'Esquillon.

While the area never feels crowded, this eastern side of the Esterel sees more humans trekking its rocky soil that the Esterel spots further west such as the Baisse de la Grosse Vache.

We're close to Cannes here, and the coast sports many restaurants with many stars to their names. Four stars means très gourmet and out of our price range, but even a simple café crème on the terrace of the highly praised Etoile des Mers restaurant would make a nice reward... next time. 

If you're interested in discovering the French Riviera through gentle hikes, take a look at out latest hiking guide: 26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur. It sure beats the usual tourist tracks.

      
                         
     What:         Col de L'Esquillon Hike

     Where:       The Esterel mountains, Cote d'Azur, France

     How Long:  The full hike is 5 km long and takes about 2 hours.

     Note:           As for most Esterel hikes, 'Esquillon is not recommended during hot summer days. When fire risks run high in the summer, parts of the Esterel may close. Check with the Tourism Office before heading out.
      
                         
     Getting there:         By car -- N98 coastal road from Agay (west) or from Cannes (east). Turn away from the sea into Boulevard de l'Esterel. It's smaller than its name implies, so keep an eye out. It's about 4.4 kilometers west of Théoule-sur-Mer, in front of the Hotel Tour de l'Esquillon. Turns up sharpely. Park before the private gated properties at the end of the road (not in front of property or you may get angry faces and possibly more).
There is a bus stop close by. If anyone catches the bus stop and line number, drop me a line.

     Hiking Directions:      

   Begin at the Col de l'Esquillon on the path that runs parallel to the sea. This path used to link Théoule to Saint-Raphael. Must have made a gorgeous long hike.
You'll hike on a few cement steps and on a rocky path.

The path veers left into a pine forest and leads you to the statue of N.D.d'Afrique.

Behind the statue, continue on the fire path DFCI des Saoumes that heads left or south.

Take the path that heads down and indicates the "Col de Théoule."

Hike down the winding path to the Col de Théoule,

At the Col de Théoule, make a sharp left to the path marked "Col de l'Esquillon" that leads you to your starting point.

Spring Springs on the Cote d'Azur

AzurAlive: Offsprings Springing It's mid-March. Spring has sprung on the Côte d'Azur.

Turtles dig themselves out of their hibernating spots (they bury themselves about 30 cm in dirt from mid-November to mid-March - for turtle information, see our post on the Tortoise Village of Gonfaron).

While the Mistral wind still howls today in the Var section of the French Riviera, it's a tad warmer.

A few tourists, thrilled to escape the freezing slush of winter, stroll the beach-side promenade wearing shorts.

Footwear shops have packed up the bottines mini-boots and placed sandals in their shiny glass vitrines.

Chocolatiers and patisseriers show off chocolate eggs and chocolate hens with red and green bows.

For P.E., kids in elementary school hoist their little "optimist" sailboats' single white sails. They scribble the dark blue sea with their sails like chalk on the blackboard.

We talk about les Grandes Vacances...

Spring is a great time to hike the Cote d'Azur. A few ideas for local favorite spring hikes:

  • Trek around on the Iles d'Hyères or Golden Islands for a splash of flower color.
  • Walk around some of our favorite hiking spots by St.Tropez: poppies will soon pop up and drip red dots by the beaches.
  • Ramble in the Estérel Mountains for yellows and pinks and whites against the canvas of the evergreen cork oak trees.

For a handy selection of scenic hikes to the Western Cote d'Azur, with color photos (100+) and maps, check out our latest hiking guide to the Western French Riviera: 26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur:


Hiking the Estérel: l'Aigre

AzurAlive: Hike to l'Aigre, Esterel Mountains

One of my favorite places on the Côte d'Azur for hiking is the Estérel Mountain range. Only a few miles away from the Mediterranean Sea, between the towns of Saint Raphael and Cannes, the Estérel brandishes its red volcanic rocks close to the coast. Inland, it displays rounded hills, man-made lakes, covers of cork oak trees and short spiky maquis shrub that smell like a crumpled mixture of tea leaves and lavender.

Last Monday, my hiking group walked up to l'Aigre on the Northern side of the Estérel Mountain range. The view from the Aigre crest line stretched all the way to the sea in the distance and the entire Esterel mountains.

Hiking to l'Aigre:

Note: If you're completely unfamiliar with the Estérel, we recommend you start with an easier hike. See below hiking guide our recommended hikes with plenty of photos, comments and detailed maps. The l'Aigle hike isn't difficult, but its directions are not obvious for the new Esterel trekker.

Click on the below button to read our latest hiking guide to the Cote d'Azur. It includes our favorite 5 hikes in the Estérel Mountains.

The hike begins at the Col du Testanier, off of the N7 road (also called Route de Cannes) east of Saint-Raphael. Unfortunately, there's no convenient way of getting there other than driving or biking. When driving, watch out for road bikes as the road turns like a cork screw. You can park at the Cold du Testanier, where the N7 and the Route du Malpey intersect.

Right at the intersection of the N7 and the Route du Malpey, a narrow foot trail heads up into a forest of Eucalyptus trees. Trek up the path and let the tree vapors tickle your sinuses. After going up, you'll be heading back down and to your right, to re-join the Route du Malpey. Watch out, this is a car road.

AzurAlive: Maison Forestiere du Malpey, Esterel Mountains

Pass the forester's house, Maison Forestiere du Malpey. Continue briefly on the Route d'Italie. The take the H74 footpath named "l'Aigle" on the GR49. You'll be walking on the Aigre crest line, with a view of the Mont Vinaigre to the North East. You'll recognize the Mont Vinaigre as it's the highest mountain of the Esterel. It also sports an antenna and adjacent watch tower.

Continue down the GR49 and turn right at the next sharp intersection. You'll soon pass the Maison Forstiere des Cantonniers. Leave the forester's house to your left and head down the road a while (car road). You'll reach a footpath to your left from which you can see the cars below at the Col du Testanier. Take this shaded footpath all the way to your starting point.

AzurAlive: Walks in the Esterel Mountains

      
                         
          What:         L'Aigre hike

          Where:       The Esterel mountains

          How Long:  The full hike is 6.2 km long and takes about 2 hours. This hike is not recommended when very hot - a section of it on the Aigre crest line takes place without any foliage cover.

Location of the l'Aigre, Esterel, on Wikimapia. Move around, zoom in, zoom out as you please:


Porquerolles' Bio-Diversified Cauldron

Azuralive.com: Plage de la Courtade, Porquerolles If you've read our hiking guide to the Côte d'Azur, you already know about Porquerolles' many footpaths over rocks and pine needles, the island's forts and its delicious beaches. To read the new guidebook on Côte d'Azur hikes, click below.

In addition to great hikes, the island of Porquerolles fosters smart ideas.

Fig trees in the Conservatoire Botanique de Porquerolles, before Marie-Claude's cauldron

On the Ferme de l'Oustaou de Diou farm, Marie-Claude Cano simmers local fruit into thick syrupy paste in her giant cauldron. In the old-fashioned cauldron bubble in turn summer figs, may blackberries, grapefruit, mandarins and many more plump fruit.

What's special about Marie-Claude's jams? They're simmered in small quantities, with great care. More unique, Marie-Claude harvests the fruit of the island's Conservatoire Botanique de Porquerolles. Many of these fruit are ancient varieties grown here to help preserve regional biodiversity.

Marie-Claude Cano, Saveurs des Vergers, Porquerolles

"We tend to many of the orchards on Porquerolles' Botanical Conservatory," explains Marie-Claude Cano.
"We also take care of the conservatory's olive trees. In return, we're allowed to harvest some of the fruit trees."

Marie-Claude spreads a little homemade fig jam over a slice of crusty bread. She concocted the fig chutney from the island's figs simmered with onions, vinegar, raisins and tangy spices. She tops the jam-dripping bread with a piece of goat cheese.

"Goutez-moi ça," she says with a smile, handing me the bread slice. It oozes with a tangy sweet and sour taste cooled by the creamy cheese.

On Porquerolles, Marie-Claude also picks olives from the Conservatory's 30 varieties of olive trees. From these insular olives, the mill at La Farlède extracts a thick oil. With this many varieties of olives crushed in the press' millstones, the olive oil must be the only of its kind on the globe. I'm told only about 300 liters are sold.

Got my little 20cl of olive nectar. Too bad the internet won't let you taste it (yet)...

Saveurs des Vergers Olive Oil, azuralive.com

      
                         
          Who:          Saveurs des Vergers, by Marie-Claude Cano, Ferme de l'Oustaou de Diou, Porquerolles. Phone: 04 98 04 60 78
          Where:       Marie-Claude travels to some of the local food festivals. You can also find her goodies at at Cathy Legumes and Pisani Traiteur on Porquerolles