In praise of charm

One of the things I love about the French is that almost all of them are naturally charming and I’ve found the men to be incorrigible flirts, whatever their age. Let me explain further.

Last week I was waiting for yet another delivery. Typically the driver will call to check whether I’m home. If not, he  – it’s always a he – knows he can leave it at the security office at the entrance to the Domaine. On this occasion, I’d just missed his call and when I rang him back, he’d already dropped the box off with Security. I told him it wasn’t a problem and I’d pop down to collect it later. He then complimented me on my voice, I thanked him and was about to hang up when he asked whether we could have coffee together sometime.

Assuming he was joking, I laughed and said maybe, next time. We continued chatting and he then asked how old I was, to which I replied that you should never ask a lady her age but that I was probably a not dissimilar age to his mother. He was genuinely shocked but then enquired whether I was interested in a younger man. I laughed and said I’d put him on the list!

The list comprises a number of my cycling friends and acquaintances, many of them much younger, who’ve been impressed enough with my cooking to demand my hand in marriage. Easy to say when you know I’m already happily married, hence the list. Should anything ever happen to my beloved………………

Clearly, it’s not just M Macron who has a thing for older women. I should add that this is not a first for me. I’ve been chatted up by many a younger man, often while I’m out on my bike with my beloved riding a mere 500 metres ahead of me. One of my younger clubmates offered to come round and do any odd jobs that needed doing while my beloved was away on business. A girlfriend advised me he wasn’t really offering his services as a handyman which was a real shame as I so need one.

However, the situation was probably best summed up my beloved when a French colleague told him that he would never leave his wife home alone surrounded by Frenchmen for an extended period. Quick as a flash my beloved replied:

My wife likes men who are tall, blonde, with rippling muscles and who weigh more than her. I really don’t think I have anything to worry about, do you?

So true!

Trip to Rivarolo Canavese

When my beloved told me we were visiting the home town of one of his new clients, Rivarolo Canavese, I thought it sounded like a full-bodied red wine. But no, it’s a wonderfully historic town just 30 minutes north-east of Turin.

We drove there on a glorious Friday morning when all along the motorway the trees were just starting to show off their new lime-green finery and pale-blossoms. The crops in the farmers’ fields were showing early emerald shoots, lambs were gambolling and cows were lazily chewing the grassy green cud. This was all set against a backdrop of mountains still dusted with snow. Spring had most definitely sprung.

A bit of research revealed Riverolo’s ancient name of “Riparolium” means “place on the bank of the stream.” You can clearly see the “stream” in the map of the town below. In December 1862, shortly after the Unification of Italy, it was renamed Rivarolo Canavese to distinguish it from other similarly named towns in neighbouring Lombardy and Liguria.

Riparolium is first mentionned in an old document dating back to 1000 AD. From 1200 it belonged to the families of the Counts of Valperga and San Martino. The town’s  original early medieval core was enlarged in 13th century with a comb-like urban layout and walls. In 1358 the Counts of Savoy granted partial autonomy to the town in respect of the management of its ovens and mills. Mid-18th century the town’s medieval fabric was remodelled in a Baroque style. In 1863 Rivarolo achieved city status thanks to its socio-economic growth  and the construction of a rail link to Turin.

Nowadays Rivarolo sits at the centre of an efficient road and rail network linking it with Turin, its airport and the rest of the Canavese region. The town’s former activities in textiles and leather production have downsized but become more upscale with the presence of numerous artisan businesses.

The city’s main axis is a wide road (Corso Indipendenza) featuring a number of interesting 19th century buildings, such as Casa Pistono, Casa Maspes, Villa Recrosio and Villa Vallero which houses exhibitions, cultural events and educational activities and is surrounded by a public park. On week days there’s a small food market, largely fruit and vegetables, which morphs into a footwear and textiles one on Saturday mornings.

Given its interesting history, there’s plenty to see, particularly in its Old Town which spreads around the arcaded via Ivrea and features a number of former palaces: Palazzo Palma di Borgofranco, Palazzo Farina, Palazzo Toesca and Palazzo Lomellini, now the Town Hall. There’s also some really beautiful old shop fronts, many of which are still used for their original purpose.

Along this same street, there are also three churches the most spectacular of which is the octagonal, brick-built Baroque church of San Michele Arcangelo which dates back to 11th century, with 18th century additions.  Practically, opposite one another you’ll find the Church of the Confraternity of Jesus which has an elegant painted façade with a large wooden door and the Church of San Rocco and San Carlo which was built by the community after it had been devastated by the plague in 1630.

The town also has its own castle which I spied in the distance. Malgra Castle was built by the Counts of San Martino in 1333. It was renovated, at the end of 19th century by the architect Alfredo D’Andrade. In the inner courtyard there is a crenellated tower and a small portico with 14th century frescoes. Owned by the municipality since 1982, you can only visit it on Sunday afternoons from May to October.

After pounding the cobbled pavements in the town, I checked out its splendid coffee and cake shops, all in the interests of research you understand. Later when my beloved had finished work for the day we were able to sample the town’s offering of our favourite pre-dinner tipple, an Aperol Spritz, before a delicious dinner with his client.

Thursday doors #15

Here’s another from one of my favourite cities, it’s the entrance to the Basilica of Saint Mary of Coro, a Baroque Roman Catholic Church completed in 1774, located in San Sebastian’s Old Town.

My two photos show the main entrance door which is located between the two towers and looks like an altarpiece with its tortured figure of Saint Sebastian and papal symbols signifying its status as a basilica, crowned by the city’s shield.

In truth, this is more about the entrance and facade than just the door.



Some of my favourite things to do in Nice

We’ve already established that France is the most visited country on earth and, while many of those visitors head for Paris, Nice as the city with the fifth largest population in France is often on the agenda of those all-important visitors. Of course, Nice has been a tourist hotspot for hundreds of years but has managed to maintain its charm and unique vibe to become a year round destination, largely thanks to its mild climate – never too cold in winter and never too hot in summer.

Stroll along the Promenade des Anglais

The Promenade des Anglais during Paris-Nice 2016

My earlier post on the history of Nice established that it began life as a winter resort for English aristocratic families in 18th century who raised funds in 1822 for the Promenade des Anglais which stretches for 8km (5 miles) along the city’s gorgeous seafront. So it’s an ideal spot to soak up the sun, people watch, walk, bike or skate along, enjoying its many attractions which includes lots of bars and restaurants, and arguably offers the best views in the entire city.

Wander round Place Massena and Promenade du Paillon

Place Massena provides a bridge between the new and old towns. It’s Nice’s largest square and the site for street performances, Carnival de Nice, jazz festivals and so on. It also beautifully showcases Nice’s rich history and heritage. If you’re visiting Place Massena at night, watch out for the lights in the statues representing the 7 continents as they change colour.

From Place Massena head into the Promenade du Paillon, a 12-hectacre urban park which connects the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art to the sea. This wonderful green space is organised into five continents, with samples of flowers and trees from each one. One of its major attractions is the giant water mirror, a large lake equipped with water jets, which kids love!

Go up Castle Hill

Castle Hill towers above the Old Town and is the site of the ruins of Chateau de Nice. It’s one of the best places to visit because of the panoramic views of Promenade des Anglais, Bais des Anges, Port de Nice, indeed the entire city. Climbing the stairs takes 10-15 minutes or you can take the lift. If you’re there at noon, be prepared for the cannon booming on the dot of midday – it’s so loud, it will make you jump!

Explore the Vieille Ville (Old Town)

A great place to wander around, soaking up its medieval vibe. You can clearly see and feel the Italian influence as this area was part of the Kingdom of Savoy before returning to France in 1860. The narrow streets are colourful and labyrinthine, packed with interesting shops, plenty of bars and restaurants and well-known spots like Place Rossetti, Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate and the Cours Saleya Markets.

Visit Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate

The oldest and most ornate cathedral in Nice is Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate, which contains many artefacts of Saint Reparata, a 15-year-old martyr. Over the centuries the cathedral has gone through many changes with Baroque and Latin styles incorporated in its construction. Inside, there are 10 small chapels dedicated to other saints.

Shop at Cours Saleya Markets

No place in Vieille Ville is as vibrant and as integral to its identity as the Cours Saleya Markets which operate daily in various guises. There’s been a flower market here since 1897. Hemmed in by fine buildings and teaming with visitors, the Cours hosts markets every day. Tuesday to Sunday mornings you’ll find a flower, fruit and vegetable market while Monday showcases its antiques market. During the summer months, you’ll also find various gift stalls to browse in the evenings.

But this isn’t Nice’s only market. Aside from its fish one on the other side of the Old Town and the permanent antiques one (Marché des Puces) opposite the port, there’s also a bustling food market held on Tuesday to Sunday mornings in the Place de la Libération, near the old Gare du Sud.

Tour the Cathédrale Orthodoxe Saint-Nicolas de Nice

The largest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe can be found in Nice. Saint Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, relatively recently transferred back to the Russian State, was originally built for Tsar Aleksandr II and the Russian community residing in Nice. The tsar fell in love with Nice’s beautiful climate and later died here. I was fortunate to attend a christening here some years ago – a fascinating experience.

This is a very small selection of the places I enjoy visiting in Nice. There are more parks, more churches, much more of the Old Town and Castle Hill to see and don’t get me started on our magnificent museums. Better still, come and see for yourself!

A moment of madness

A few weeks ago this image popped up in my inbox, and I was about to hit the delete button, when I noticed that this year there would be a 20km event. Before giving it further thought, I signed up. I’m now committed.

Then I thought, I just need a plan to carry me from the sofa to the start line – and across the finish too! It’s time to get off the sofa and move. Thanks to my beloved’s hip-replacement I haven’t worked out much in months and, if I’m honest, I’ve got a little more around the waistline than I’d like.

My plan

I’ve got plenty of time to get in shape and this is how I’m going about it. I’ve started with run-walk workouts which begin with a brisk walking warm-up, then alternate minutes of running with minutes of walking, finishing with a walking cool-down. In my first workouts in week one, I ran at a comfortable effort (just a bit quicker than my fastest walking speed) for one minute and then followed it with two minutes of brisk walking. I repeated this a total of 10 times. Obviously, as I build towards my goal, so does my running time.

Once a week, I undertake a longer workout which is vital to getting my body used to spending time on my feet, utilising fat  – I’ve plenty of that – as an energy source and simulating the half-marathon distance. I’m not planning on going the distance until the day of the race. My plan builds to running two 16km (10 mile) long runs to prepare me for the 20km (12.5 mile) distance on race day.

Why not go the whole way in training? Because when you push to run longer too quickly, your risk for injury skyrockets. I’ve read than 16km (10 miles) is plenty to prepare you well for a half-marathon race.

Tune In

It’s crucial that I listen to my body during this process. If I’m struggling to finish a workout or have aches or pains, it means my body isn’t recovering properly. If that’s the case, I can easily repeat the week I’m currently on, or keep the distance the same as the plan, but do more walking and less running. Of course, I’m planning to run all the way on race day but, like my husband’s niece who completed last year’s marathon, I may just use run-walk intervals to cover the distance. I used to run 10km (6 1/4 miles) comfortably within an hour, so I’m aiming for a time of around 2:30 – just don’t hold me to it.


I have to remember to have fun and keep smiling. I’ve got this! 

However, if any of you have any helpful words of wisdom, please pass them on. Any assistance will be most gratefully received.

My potted history of Nice

It occurred to me that before writing about my favourite places in Nice I should share with you my potted version of its long, interesting history. So here goes.


Superbly set on nothing less than the Bay of Angels, Nice has a gleam and sparkle like no other city in France. No one can resist its lively old town squeezed between promontory and sea, its markets blazing with colour, the glittering tiled domes and creamy patisserie of 19th century hotels and villas, the immaculate exotic gardens, and the famous voluptuous curve of the beach and palm fringed Promenade des Anglais. It’s the one town on the Cote d’Azur that doesn’t seem to need tourists, the one that stays open throughout the winter. You could come here for the food alone, a seductive melange of the best of France and Italy; you haven’t really had ravioli until you tuck into a plate in Nice, where it was invented.

The capital of the department of Alpes-Maritimes and France’s fifth-largest city, Nice is also the most visited French city after Paris. The English have been coming for well over 200 years, back when “Nizza la Bella” still belonged to Savoy, and Russian Tsarinas and Grand Dukes fleeing winter’s blasts weren’t far behind. The presence of so many rich, idle foreigners who stayed for months at a time formed a large part of the city’s character: corruption, reactionary politics and organised crime are part of the famous salade niçois, along with a high density of apricot poodles sporting the same hairstyles as their owners. But Nice also has a football team, a university, many museums, the brilliant light so-beloved of Matisse and a genuine identity as a city: rough, affable and informal.

Its History 

Nice has long been a property hot spot. People have been taking advantage of its prime real estate for many, many years. 400,000 BC, hunters who tracked mammoth and frequented the caves of Terra Amata (now the site of Boulevard Carnot, to the east of the Port) learned how to make fire to BBQ their prey and founded the world’s first take-away – McMammoth’s. Indeed, the first human remains dating from c 1,000,000 BC were found up the road in Menton leading one to conclude that the Cote d’Azur was indeed the Garden of Eden, as only a French woman would have the figure and chutzpah to wear a fig leaf. And, contrary to popular belief, she didn’t want the apple to tempt Adam; she needed it to make a tarte tatin.

Around 1,000 BC, the Ligurians were the first to settle here permanently, constructing their settlement at the mouth of the Paillon River and on the hill overlooking the valley. Greeks from Marseille, (the Massaliotes) founded a commercial colony near the seaside settlement and named it Nikaia, literally “giver of victory”. The beginnings of the new town were established on the slopes of the Colline du Chateau, overlooking and between the present old town and port. At this time, Nice was a small stronghold, with a few hundred inhabitants, mainly merchants, under the authority of magistrates nominated by Marseilles.

Beset by Ligurian pirates, the Nikaians (foolishly) asked the Romans for aid. The Romans duly came, and stayed. But they preferred to set up camp on the hilltop because it was closer to the Via Julia Augusta, which linked Nice to Vintimille. They named this town Cemenelum (modern Cimiez) and made it the capital of the province of Alpes Maritimes. By 3rd century AD, Cemenelum had 20,000 inhabitants and three thermal baths. The city was a military enclave intended to supervise and control this accident-prone and wild country. But the disorganisation of the empire, the barbarian invasions and the absence of fortifications led to a preference for the steep hills of Greek Nikaia. By 6th century AD, Cemenelum had collapsed along with the rest of the Roman Empire and became a mere neighbourhood of what was later to become the city of Nice.

While almost no traces of the Massaliotes remain, the Romans left many reminders. Not just the afore-mentioned Via Julia Augusta, but also the Trophée d’Auguste. It’s a magnificent construction with four well-preserved columns, which offers a great panorama at La Turbie and symbolises the submission of the Alpine peoples to Roman rule in 14 BC. Emperor Auguste can also be credited with setting up the region’s first real administrative organisation. Finally, the most manifest remains of the Roman presence in Nice are the well-preserved Roman amphitheatres and baths around the site of Cimiez’s Archeological Museum.

Meanwhile, Greek Nikaia struggled on, shaken by the family rivalries of its successive nobility, exhausted by the multiple invasions of the Goths, Francs, Saxons and Saracens which ravaged Nice and pillaged the coast for 150 or so years. It was only in 972 AD that Guillaume, the Compte de Provence, managed to rout them. The commercial activity of the lower town intensified around the cathedral on the Colline du Chateau and in 1176 the first town charter was drawn up.

The creation of the port of Villefranche [sur Mer] made the coast safer and encouraged maritime exchanges. Nice became much sought after by the Italian States, notably Genoa and Pisa. By the 1340s, with a population of 13,000, Nice was the third city in Provence after Marseille and Arles. The city’s coat of arms had an eagle’s head on it, looking to the left, to France.

On the death of Queen Jeanne of Provence, rivalries worsened, the Black Death and civil wars soon cut it down in size, and in 1388 the city’s leaders voted to hitch their wagon to a brighter star than Louis d’Anjou and pledged allegiance to Armadeus III, Count of Savoy. The eagle was redrawn to look right towards Italy.

In 1543, the Turkish fleet, aided by the French troops of King Francois I, tried in vain to reconquer the city. Local washerwoman turned symbolic figure Catherine Ségurane used a particularly unusual form of defence. Legend has it that she lashed out with a carpet beater to send them running while showing them her very ample, bare derrière!

The Savoys fortified Nice and it grew rich trading with Italy and 17th century saw the expansion of Nice outside its medieval walls, and in 1696 and 1705 came the first of several French interludes that punctuated Savoy rule; interludes which Louis XIV took advantage of to blow up the city’s fortifications. In 1713, the town again retreated to the protection of the King of Savoy, who had also become King of Sardinia.

Apollo Fountain in Place Massena behind which lies the Old Town

The 17th century also witnessed the flourishing of baroque art in Nice. Façades were painted in warm reds and yellows, ochre and burnt sienna; doorways and window sills were given contrasting colours and the woodwork was painted in cold blues and greens. The restoration of the façades over the last few decades has returned Nice to her former baroque glory. Other striking examples of this artistic tradition are the churches of the old town, such as Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate.

Interior of Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate

Between the French Revolution and the Empire (1792-1814), the Alpes-Maritimes region was created and annexed to France. By the same token, Nice was also returned to the French, but this time with the assent of the people.

With the fall of Napoleon, Nice again came under the sway of Sardinia, but her language and culture distanced her further and further from Italy. On the 24th March 1860, Napoleon III and Victor-Emmanuel II, King of Sardinia, agreed that Nice would be handed over to France once and for all, a decision that met with universal approval from its inhabitants. A remarkable economic boom ensued; roads were built, the railway arrived, and the population underwent explosive growth.

At the same time, winter tourism, which had started to develop in the mid-1700s with the arrival of the British aristocracy, gathered ground. Even though it took at least two weeks to reach Nice from Calais, by 1787 there were enough Brits wintering here to support a casino, an English theatre, an estate agent and a newspaper. In 1830, when a frost killed all the orange trees, the English community raised funds to give the unemployed jobs: building a seafront promenade along the Baie des Anges known to this day as the Promenade des Anglais.

Promenade des Anglais during Paris-Nice bike race

The latter part of the 19th century and the run up to the First World War was Nice’s heyday, to which the prolific and luxurious belle époque residences attest. It really was the playground of the rich and famous.

The early 20th century was deeply marked by the First World War and the Rural Exodus. Although southern France saw no action in WWI, soldiers were conscripted from the region and many lives were lost. In the 1920s the region once more became a mecca for artists and writers (including Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley and Thomas Mann). The luxurious Train Bleu made its first run from Calais, via Paris, to the Côte d’Azur in 1922.

Le Train Bleu restaurant at Gare de Lyon, Paris, decorated with scenes from south of France

Nice was included in the ‘free’ Vichy France zone during the first part of WWII, and became a safe haven from war-torn occupied France. Vichy France was invaded by Nazi Germany in November 1942, and Nice was occupied by the Italians. Allied forces landed on the Côte d’Azur in August 1944, and the region was liberated. It didn’t take Nice long to bounce back, and the bohemian jet set soon returned. The resort is now an all year round holiday spot and tourism is a vital and fundamental part of the local economy, a fact borne out by the airport (the second largest in France), and the vast array of hotels, holiday homes and yachts.

Friday Photo Challenge – Easter

To those of you who celebrate Easter – enjoy! To those of you that don’t, well you’re going to have to find another excuse to eat copious amounts of chocolate. Good luck with that!

Weather permitting, my beloved and I will be out and about on our bikes hoping to offset the ravages of all that chocolate. I just have to find where these two have hidden all the eggs.

Thursday doors #14

Rather than exhaust my stock of newly photographed doors, I thought I’d dip into my photo archive for a few. This also has the advantage of testing the grey matter to remember when and where it was taken. One of these days I will get around to sorting out all my photos, until then…………………………

This one was taken during the Tour du Haut Var a couple of years ago while I was wandering around the Old Town of Draguignan, in the neighbouring Var. The Old Town has a number of handsome, historical buildings but, sadly, I’ve not been able to identify this one.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).