My Journey from MN Nice to Nicoise
My love affair with La Belle France has spanned many decades, and like most grands amours, it continues to grow and evolve. My first coup de coeur was an infatuation with the language, and of course, the Eiffel Tower. I was young and seduced by the beautiful, exotic words that colored my French-Canadian grandfather’s vocabulary. “Where is my chapeau?”, he would always ask. My French grandmother, Genevieve Beaumont Parent, had a rustic elegance, wearing dresses daily while tending her potager. I cherished their French-English dictionary, using it to create greeting cards and stories. I wouldn’t take my first official French class until high school, but the seeds were planted.
I traveled to France for the first time as a university student, spending a summer studying in Paris and La Rochelle. I realized that while Paris had its iconic charm, there was much more to discover in this diverse country. I fully committed to this relationship by becoming a French teacher, and was soon leading student groups to France. While we always spent some time in Paris, our local tour company, Language & Friendship, sought authentic experiences in the various regions. France revealed even more of her secrets, and I was head-over-heels! The students did a week-long family stay, and so did I. A lifelong friendship was forged, cruising the Brittany coast with Jeanne and her family that first night. We kept in touch via letters, a few expensive phone calls, and visits every few years. I now had an up-close view of real French life, and shared big and small moments. France became personal.
There were more friendships to come. Fanny had passed her Bac, but repeated her senior year in the US to improve her English. She had traveled the world, and was a bit bored in the sleepy little town where I taught, so I brought her to the theatre and museums. When she returned year after year for visits, another lifelong friendship was born. She invited me to come Christmas shopping in Paris - avec plaisir! We planned that our family would attend her wedding - I was to be her photographer - but she had no idea I would show up for her bachelorette weekend! I will never forget her tears seeing me at her doorstep.
With two of my best friends in France, I was fully invested, and the pull to come back grew even stronger. We explored, ate, and shopped together, and I missed it all terribly when back at home. I opened a boutique to share my love for French products. There is such a refined quality to things made in France. Fanny has a knack for finding the best of the best, and she helped me fill the shop with treasures each month. Zoning issues eventually closed my store, but my love for the chasse au trésor remained deeply rooted.
Discovering Regional Specialties
As a French teacher, I had my students choose a region to research and then present the traditions, landscapes and flavors that made it unique. Although I quit teaching, this fascination with regional specialties lingered. I have always suffered an insatiable curiosity to see what lies beyond the next bend and to uncover the local secrets. Perhaps this is the key to a long, vital relationship - constant growth and discovery.
Tourist to traveler
My family traveled to France as often as we could, and when I was at home, I was researching and planning our next adventure. We spent a month in Sablet in Provence, immersing ourselves in the small village life, and taking day trips to neighboring towns. We had our local boulangerie, our favorite markets, and our propriétaire even hosted a birthday celebration for our daughter. This sense of belonging made it impossible for me to be “tourist” any more. I was a traveler - someone that makes a connection with each place; who seeks to understand and share. I would take a cherished memory, but also leave a footprint, and a trail of breadcrumbs so that I could return!
My relationship with France had moved to a much deeper level, and there was no going back. While still awestruck by the iconic monuments, it was the authentic moments that I treasured the most - a conversation with the pâtissière about the taste of fresh peaches in season; sampling the local cheese at the market, and finding a small jewel of a gîte. I sought more of these moments of convivialité. What better way to capture the essence of the culture than asking artisans and petits producteurs to share their traditions and savoir-faire? Maybe others would find this as fascinating as I did?
This concept developed into “French Detours”, dedicated to helping others experience the authentic local flavor of each region. While the country is relatively small, it is so diverse. How would I find what was truly special, especially while in the US? Fortunately I am a research-geek, with plenty of resources! I would be inspired by a show on TV5 Monde, or by a magazine article (I have religiously read France magazine cover-to-cover for years!) and begin my quest. Pandora’s box would open up a plethora of hidden gems. You can stay in a wine barrel? Allez, let’s go! There is a shoe capital of France where you can customize your own pair? J’en veux! And then there were recommendations from my French friends, which had now expanded to many families in various regions. They would send me tips, or put me in touch with people they knew. The residents of an area always know the best places and are happy to share with those who have an appreciation.
As with any journey, one step leads to the next. My relationship with France continues to change. Like any long-term partner, I accept her faults (dog poo on the sidewalk … a shop unexpectedly closed with an apologetic note on the door) and love her all the same. Before arriving in France, I spend weeks and even months planning my travel. (The 2 years of quarantine gave me ample time to research.) I delight in finding a home base in which to stay, and carefully planning out excursions, restaurants and artisans visits. Once I arrive (bliss!) I am know that there will be great discoveries that lead to unexpected detours. And of course, getting there is half the fun! I love the expansive vue du ciel you get from the airplane, and long train rides provide an anonymous window to daily life across an ever-changing landscape. For an up-close and personal perspective, I rent a car to really explore an area. It seems I make new friends wherever I go. I gather up all of the brochures, magazines and advice that I can, knowing that while I enjoy all I can in one area, there will be something left to experience the next time. Fortunately, what makes my heart sing is also helpful to others who crave this type of travel. Mon petit bonheur is to share all of my finds, as I do in my self-guided itineraries.
From Minnesota nice to "Nicoise"
There is something cozy and familiar about returning to the same place time and again. And so it is time to have a home base to call my own. While impossible to choose a “favorite” location, Nice proved to be a practical one for several reasons - the airport and train station in close proximity, lots of anglophones for my husband, city, villages, sea and mountains all within an hour, and then of course there is the sublime Promenade des Anglais. My husband and I are delighted to plant roots here, in between our never-ending exploration of each corner of France. (Look forward to an expansive itinerary of Nice and the surrounding area, coming soon!)
Until next time, I will leave you with some photos of Nice to inspire your next trip! A bientôt!
(Did you know you can rent our apartment? )