Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Provence Santons

Musee des Santons-Enchanted France

Musée des Santons- Enchanted France
Li Calendo is the month long Christmas festival in Provence.    It starts on the Feast of Saint Barbe, December 4 and lasts to Epiphany, January 6.  One of the beloved traditions of Christmas in Provence is the setting of nativity scenes filled with the usual nativity characters along with santons.  These exquisite hand-crafted little clay figurines represent characters of the local village life-- the shepherd, the baker, the peddler, the farmer, the postman, etc.. 

 It is believed that the first clay santons were created in Marseille by sculptor Jean Louis Lagnel in 1797 during the French Revolution when churches were closed depriving the population of religious symbols like nativity scenes.  Lagnel, molded using local clay from Aubagne, little figurines representing various village characters which people took home to set up their own creches alongside the nativity figures.  Santons became a cherished Provencal Christmas tradition ever since and Santons making a family craft passed on from one generation to the next.  To learn more about Santons, visit le Musee des Santons in Les Baux de Provence.  Bon Nouvè ! Joyeux Noel!

Musee des Santons- Enchanted France

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#Provence #NoelProvence #France #Santons

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Nice City Break

Nice, the capital of the French Riviera is a town  of great beauty and a convenient base from which to explore the wonders of the Riviera and beyond.  Earlier this past November,  I spent 48 hours in Nice and I would like to share here some memorable highlights. Not having at my disposal a car, I used the local transportation- tramway, buses and train.

 Friday afternoon-Arrival in Nice

 I arrived in Nice airport after a flight from Los Angeles with a connection in Paris.  Nice airport is small but modern and a short taxi ride (15  minutes) from the center of Nice. I stayed at Hotel Suisse, a small boutique hotel overlooking the Baie des Anges. The view from my hotel room was quite special as it overlooked the beautiful sweeping curve of the bay.  As  an added plus, the hotel was located   only five minutes walk from the picturesque Old Town where you can find many shops, art galleries, restaurants, cafes and the famous open-air market on Cours Saleya.  It was early November and the weather  could not have been better-- warm and sunny with temperatures in the upper 70's and  on this late Friday afternoon I went for a  leisurely stroll  along the sublime Promenade des Anglais.

Saturday- Monaco, Eze and Matisse

On Saturday  morning I joined a small minibus tour of Monaco and Eze .  Our first stop was at the perched village of Eze and our chauffeur/guide  scheduled our arrival just before the tour coaches' invasion.  It was before 10 AM and it was a treat to be able to explore the deserted hilly lanes of the popular village.  A walk to the top of the village led me to the Jardin Exotique (Botanical Garden ) where in the midst of a beautiful  collection of cacti and other mediterranean plant specimen you are rewarded with  stupendous views of the Bay of Villefranche.

The tour continued  on along the Middle Corniche (coastal road) to Monaco.  The tiny Principality's main landmark is the Prince's Palace and at 11:55 AM  I got to assist alongside an already packed and expectant crowd the Palace's Changing of the Guard.  Besides the Palace you can visit the cathedral where Prince Rainier and Grace of Monaco are buried and for those on a longer visit of the principality, don't miss the pride of Monaco-its Oceanographic Museum (Sea Aquarium).  The famous oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau was its director  for more than 30 years.

After the old town, we visited Monaco's marina and Port Hercules in the Condamine district which were crowded with  multimillion dollar yachts and large cruise ships.  And of course we made the obligatory photo op in front of Monte Carlo's famed Belle Epoque Casino.

Since the tour ended back in Nice in the early afternoon, I decided to travel on my own with  bus number 15 to Cimiez hill, the residential neighborhood in the north of Nice to visit the Matisse Museum.  Henri Matisse lived in Nice from 1917 until his death in 1954. The museum is housed in a 17th century Genoese villa  and features the artist's personal collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and even his color palette.  While in Cimiez, I had wished to visit the Chagall museum located down the hill from the Matisse museum but it was closed for renovation until December 2015.

Sunday -Market Cours Saleya and Villa Ephrusi de Rothschild

Early Sunday morning I took a stroll in the open-air market on Cours Saleya  where vendors of flowers, vegetables, fruits, cheese, freshly caught fish, and other tantalizing local specialities like pissaladiere and pain bagna crowd to create a feast for the senses.

I then traveled with bus number 81 along the coast to St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat to visit the gorgeous Villa Ephrusi de Rothschild. Located on top of a promontory on the peninsula of Cap- Ferrat, the villa was the early 20th century  creation of Baroness Beatrice Ephrusi de Rothschild.  A women of great means, she bought the land in 1906 after falling in love with the site while on the visit of the Riviera.  Starting in 1907, she endeavored to build a winter retreat in the  style of an Italian Renaissance palazzio; it took five  years to complete. As an avid collector she filled her pink Italian villa with exquisite and priceless
works of art- 18th century furniture and paintings, Aubusson and Savonnerie carpets, Gobelin tapestries and Sevres and Messein porcelains.  

No less spectacular than the villa, are the surrounding landscaped gardens created at the same time as the villa was built. There are nine gardens each with a  different theme-  the Spanish garden, Florentine garden, Japanese garden, exotic garden, Provencal garden, stone garden, rose garden and facing the villa is the magnificent French garden designed by Beatrice herself and shaped like the deck of a ship and adorned with ponds and a waterfall.

On returning to Nice in the evening, I watched a glorious sunset over the Mediterranean Sea.  This short but fully activity packed break in Nice left me wanting to come back soon to explore more of the treasures of the Riviera.

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#Nice #FrenchRiviera #Monaco