Côte d’Azur in the Company of a Chef

The southeast region of France is a land of contrasts. Its vast range of landscapes and rich culture cannot be summed up in one word, which is why it needs three: Provence-Alpes- Côte d’Azur. And what can be said about the exquisite cuisine? By last count in 2020, the region boasted a staggering 86 Michelin-starred restaurants. Additionally, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is the 4th wine producing region in France.

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Provence is wine,” Chef Kelly began. “No food experience is complete without wine and nowhere is that truer than in the South of France. If we’ve traveled together, you know that my favorite rosé is from the Bandol region. I remember when we began taking guests on Gourmet Explorer Tours, a few of them were apprehensive about it. I remember one guest in particular referring to it as ‘candy wine,’ which made me laugh, but when they tasted it, they instantly changed their minds. Bandol rosé has a beautiful minerality to it and you can really taste the terroir where the grapes are grown.”

Marina in Bandol
Photo by Francois Caron on Pexels.com

The coastal waters in this region have been occupied since prehistoric times, but it was the arrival of the Romans in the 1st century B.C.E. that made a long-lasting impact on Provence’s wine-producing heritage. They recognized the potential of the soil of the land they called Provincia Romana and planted it with grape vines. Coastal vineyards enveloped by a warm climate created a powerful mixture that endures to this day.

“When thinking about what makes a great meal, we can talk about wines, recipes and ingredients to no end. However, a detail that often gets overlooked is the setting. So much of the ambiance of the restaurant or the venue enhances the food. In particular, our Gourmet Explorer Tour to the Michelin two-star restaurant La Chèvre d’Or offers this unforgettable trifecta,” shared Chef Kelly. “You enjoy multi-course tasting menus, paired wines in a private dining room atop Èze with a view that is transfixing.”

Every detail of the landscape in Èze embodies its history. Alluring pedestrian-only streets lead the way to the ruins of the 12th-century castle crowning the hamlet. This jewel of a village is perched above the Mediterranean on a 1,400-foot peak where you can see the changing blues of the sea, from indigo to turquoise to the azure that gave the coast its name.

View of Eze
Photo by Zo Zo on Pexels.com

A mere half-an-hour to the east is one of the Chef’s best-loved destinations and arguably the crown of the Côte d’Azur – even though it is technically not a part of France. With a population of about 5,000 and a territory that covers less than a square mile, Monaco packs a lot of flavors into a tiny land.

“Hearing someone mention Monaco, we collectively get a mental image of the Casino, the Grand Prix and Grace Kelly, after all this is the playground of Europe’s elite. But the culinary tradition of this principality is founded on simple Mediterranean ingredients that honor the land it’s grown in. There is a true seasonal orientation in the dishes you’ll enjoy here. Throughout the year, the menus change to highlight the harvest. For instance, in the spring you will find delicious chef-creations that feature artichokes and fava beans, while in the fall the flavors are bolder with tomatoes, zucchinis and squashes,” said Chef Kelly.

We asked Chef Kelly what her recommendation for the best restaurant in Monte Carlo would be and she answered Louis XV before we finished the question.

“Chef Alain Ducasse was just 33 when the Louis XV became the first hotel restaurant to receive three Michelin stars. Dining at Louis XV at Place du Casino inside the luxurious Hotel de Paris, under the overwhelmingly beautiful art on the walls and ceiling is an experience that should be on every foodie’s travel list. I have recommended this restaurant to so many of our guests that have an overnight scheduled in Monte Carlo and all have shared that it was one of the best meals of their lives.”

Chef Kelly paused her description of the venerated restaurant for a moment and leaned in almost as if she was sharing a secret.

“When I’m in Monaco, one of my favorite things to do is actually not as glamorous as dining at a Michelin-star restaurant, but it’s equally as enriching. I love to wake up in the morning and head right over to the Condamine Market for a cup of coffee and indulge in Monégasque street food.”

She went on to describe all of the must-try foods, among them the Monaco socca made with chickpea flour and oftentimes enhanced with herbs. Another was the Pissaladière, a savory breakfast tart topped with caramelized onions and black olives.

“As a Chef, to see, smell and taste the seasonal produce, the gorgeous Provencal flowers, the herbs, and the rest, is incredibly inspirational. In my view, that’s the place to be.”

Yachts in Monte Carlo
Photo by Ty on Pexels.com

Exploring Monte Carlo

Pair your culinary experience with the sights and sounds of glimmering Monte Carlo:

Monte Carlo Casino. Established in the mid-19th century by Prince Charles III, this elegant casino was built in an attempt to fund the small principality of Monte Carlo. The casino’s facade is neoclassical with an array of angels along the rooftop, and the interior is no less ornate. For those of you that prefer not to gamble with your money, you can visit the world-famous casino from 9am to 1pm when games are not operating.

Monte Carlo Opera House. The equally elaborate opera house is connected to the casino and adjacent to the noted Hôtel de Paris on Place du Casino. Renovated in 1988, the interiors are strikingly modern. Place du Casino is an immaculate street lined with carefully tended flowerbeds, impeccably manicured lawns, impressive sculptures and magnificent fountains.

Palace of the Prince. This palace of Monaco was the target of many attacks over the centuries, and much effort went into its fortification. The Grimaldi family had to act with diplomatic agility in order to maintain the tiny kingdom. In the 17th century, a royal title was conferred upon Prince Honoré II, and he began transforming his castle into a palace. One of the main attractions at the palace is the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which takes place daily at precisely 11:55am.

Oceanographic Museum. This impressive museum of marine sciences is one of the greatest achievements of Monaco’s visionary leader, Prince Albert I. The institute welcomes scientists from all over the world. The main floor features a complete range of oceanic fauna and giant skeletons of marine mammals. Famous marine biologist Jacques Cousteau served as the museum director for many years.

For more about Chef Kelly, visit this blog or view her Culinary Arts Kitchen classes, here.

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