Climbing The Col d’Eze, Hiking Down Ancient Footpaths

Rob Annis

Located just outside of Nice, the Col d’Eze is a misnomer; there is very little easy about this climb.

Even some professional riders have trouble with the climb, the showcase peak of the famous early season Paris-Nice race and a favorite training ground for professional riders living in the area. The 500-meter mountain averages about a 7 percent grade at its beginning, levels out a bit for couple of kilometers, then shifts upward to an 8 or 9 percent grade at the 5.5 kilometer mark. The next two kilometers alternate between grades of 4 and 7 percent, before evening out at the end. It’s 10 kilometers of torture.

When I tackled the Col d/Eze, it was the first ride with my new Sports Tours International teammates for the week, and it immediately reminded me of a fact that I was reluctant to acknowledge: I’m not remotely fit enough for this trip a the moment.

Serious cyclists tend to watch their figures closer than the most OCD supermodel. After dropping more than 40 pounds two years ago to begin my amateur racing campaign, I’ve been pretty good about monitoring my calories … until this year. I’ve found myself racing less and drinking more beer, an equation that spells disaster for any rider. Every pound I’ve gained means yet another pound I’m carrying up with me on the bike. I’m carrying the equivalent of twins – or twin kegs, at least – around my waist.

I’m from Indiana. We have hills there. Steep, occasionally. Long, rarely. I’ve climbed mountains on either American coast before, but nothing like this one. I’ve never been afraid when the road turns upward, but as I stared at the nine-percent grade stretching out into the unknown and tried clicking to a gear I didn’t have left, I felt my stomach knot up slightly.As the road continued upward, I felt as if I were propelled backwards as several riders scampered past. Back home, I’m known as a pretty decent hill climber; I’m not used to getting dropped. The only thing I could do is mentally shove the pain in my legs aside and keep churning my way to the top.

As we regrouped at the top, we began making a bit of small talk, getting to know the other riders we’d be spending much of the next week riding next to. A big Brit named Keith reminisced about an early trip he had taken in the area, warning us of even more difficult roads ahead.

“This is nothing compared to Ventoux,” he said, causing many of the assembled sphincters to instantly pucker. “Imagine the steepest part of the climb and multiply it by four, and that’s Ventoux. You’re in for two hours or more of pain on that one.”

Rather than dwell on Keith’s warning, we pedaled on. The trip up the mountain was pure work, so we were all looking forward to a fun, quick descent as our reward. But a navigation error led us down a steep, narrow pathway that corkscrewed down several meters before coming to an abrupt end well short of road. (The European cycling maps on Garmin’s Edge GPS units are rumored to be somewhat unreliable, we would learn afterward.)

Luckily we came across a village resident out for a stroll, who directed us to a crumpled old Roman footpath that would lead us down to where we needed to go. So the group, now swelled to more than a dozen, began to nimbly hike down, the smooth cleats of our cycling shoes making the descent nearly as treacherous as anything we’ve faced on the bike.

As I traverse the path, I don’t think of the history behind it — the ancient residents who built it, the long-dead family members who used it — instead my only concern is not slipping and cracking my head open.

Luckily, I managed to escape the path with my life. Within moments of hitting the road, we’re at the Monaco border, looking down upon the buildings and yachts glistening in their Mediterranean splendor. The rich and famous can have their casinos and mansions; I’ll take the wind and open road any time.

A quick coffee in Monaco, and we’re on the road yet again. A fast, mostly descending route through some tunnels and along the Mediterranean Sea, and we’re back in Nice. Despite my struggles up the Col d’Eze and our hike-a-bike misadventure, I was already looking forward to the next day’s ride.

The Tour De France Takes Over Nice

By Rob Annis

Nice, the resort oasis in the south of France, may be best known for the intense, steel-blue of the Mediterranean Sea, but for a few days this July, yellow was the color of note.

We arrived in Nice less than 24 hours before nearly 200 of the world’s best bike riders took over 25 kilometers of the city’s streets. The Tour de France is more than a sporting event for the French people; it’s a nearly month-long national holiday and point of immense national pride in France.

Just how popular is the race? Last year, nearly 20 percent of the French people lined the roads to catch a glimpse of the peleton screaming past. Although it’s been nearly 30 years since the last French champion, five-time winner Bernard Hinault — a fact that gnaws at the collective French psyche like bad red wine — it doesn’t diminish their love of the event.

Leading up to the race, Nice was awash in yellow — the jersey color signifying the Tour’s leader — as seemingly every other person wore a hat, T-shirt, or other article of clothing dug from the back of their closet matching the distinctive hue. Tour talk dominated conversation, both among the French and the thousands of cyclotourists who swarmed into the city to catch the action.Sitting in an outdoor café near the Promenade du Paillon the night before the race, fans good-naturedly joked about the team time trial happening the next day. A couple of Britons near us predicted a victory for Team Sky and its leader, Chris Froome, while a table of Aussies rooted for their countryman Cadel Evans and his BMC squad. (They were both wrong. Australia’s Orica-Green Edge would eventually win the stage.) I can only imagine our French waiter was waiting for the next stage more suited to the strengths of Team Europcar’s co-leaders, Thomas Voekler and Pierre Rolland.

Blocks away from our hotel, the Mercure Promenade, thousands of fans crowded an expo sponsored by Tour organizers. The giveaways from the various sponsors were a massive hit with the fans; every other person wore a hat adorned with the logo of LCL Bank, sponsor of the yellow jersey. Nearby, a DJ spun tracks atop a specially modified Skoda hatchback, attracting numerous bikini-clad ladies from the rocky beach below. The cycling kit of AG2R la Mondiale is often ridiculed for its garish baby-blue and brown hues, but fans still lined up six deep to grab a scarf with that same color scheme. We managed to grab several of each as cheap souvenirs for our jealous friends back home.

In the days before the event, the streets were nearly overrun by amateur cyclists of all shapes, sizes and abilities, who took to the streets test themselves on the same roads the pros would later conquer. Bike riders are commonplace in Nice – the city boasts an impressive bike share program called VeloBleu. After a quick phone call, my wife was able to rent one of the heavy, steel-framed behemoths for an hour for a mere Euro. We tooled around the city streets, amazed at how courteous and patient the drivers were. (It shouldn’t be too surprising, given how seemingly important bicycles are in day-to-day French life.)

I’m hoping the rest of the country is equally as bicycle friendly as Nice. For the next week, I’ll be riding some of the Tour de France courses with more than a dozen riders with Sports Tours International, a British outfitter specializing in adventure travel. Included on the route are two of the giants of Tour lore, Mount Ventoux and the Tourmalet, both of which top out around 2,000 meters. For a cyclist who spends most of his time training in the relatively flat state of Indiana, it should be a heck of a ride.

8 Delicious Street Foods From Around The World That You Can Make At Home


There is a certain beauty to street food: it’s simple and with one bite you have a true taste of the local culture. Some people even pick their destination based on how much street food they can get. But exotic street food doesn’t have to be restricted to the alleyways you found it in. With a little creativity and daring in the kitchen, you can turn your own dinner table into the best foreign street food stand around. Just make sure you get a stray cat or dog to sit next to it for the sake of ambience.

Bánh xèo
Bahn Xeo has always been a personal favorite of mine. The savory rice crepe, traditionally filled with shrimp and bean sprouts, is a common staple on Vietnamese menus, and despite its complex taste you can actually make your own in about half an hour. What’s key in this recipe is the mint and nuoc chom Vietnamese dipping sauce. Try this recipe from Closet Cooking.

Parisian Crepes
For a food lover, the ultimate question when roaming the streets of Paris is often: sweet or savory? It’s difficult to choose between a good crepe filled with cheese or one with gooey Nutella… or one with sugar and lemon… or one with gruyere and mushrooms. You get the picture. Look no further than the Parisian pastry master and food blogger David Leibovitz for this basic buckwheat crepe recipe, perfect for the savory versions.

Fish Tacos
Feet in the warm sand, a cold cerveza in your hand and a couple of fish tacos from the dilapidated stand at the edge of the beach. Life doesn’t get better than that. But for those times when you can’t hop on a plane to Baja, a super easy solution to making fish tacos is to coat pieces of fish in cornmeal. When you pan fry in a little bit of vegetable oil, the fish gets a nice crunchy flavor. The top with all the good seasonings: cilantro, red cabbage, pineapple, guacamole… whatever you have on hand. Foodista has this good basic recipe, which includes a spicy jalapeno mayonnaise.

Satay
A good satay, like the kind you’ll find in Malaysia or Thailand, complete with the perfect dipping sauce, is all about the marinade, which means taking the time to let the meat marinate. Of course having a barbecue will do wonders, but you can also make them with the use of a grill pan on your stovetop. Satay skewers are the perfect thing for an appetizer or dinner parties where you have to serve a lot of people. Start with this Malaysian recipe from Just As Delish.

Elote
I have a friend that brought this Mexican grilled corn to numerous dinner parties last summer, and it was always a hit. The trick is in its simplicity – it really is just grilled corn with a few additions – making it just what a street food should be. Warm and messy, it’s the kind of dish where you’ll definitely want some napkins. Try this easy recipe from Food Blogga.

Bolani
A common street food in Afghanistan, bolani is somewhere in between a calzone, a handpie and a quesadilla. In other words: fried, doughy goodness. The key in good bolani is in the filling. Go with a potato or pumpkin base and make sure to employ plenty of leeks and cilantro. If you are short on time, you can use tortillas instead of making your own dough, like Humaira at Afghan Cooking does, but if you’re up to it, it’s worth it to make your own. Conflict Kitchen from Pennsylvania has a solid one, although you may need to cut it in half depending on how many people you are serving.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee
I got used saying ca-phe sua dua (phonetic spelling of course) when I spent time in Vietnam a few years ago; there was no getting through a hot day in Saigon without one. You can of course get really complex with your coffee brewing and invest in a Phin, the filter that Vietnamese coffee is brewed in, or you can just use a good cold brew (let a French press stand over night) or some strong stovetop espresso, then just add sweetened condensed milk and ice cubes.

Socca
A sunny afternoon in Nice, France calls for a batch of socca. The gluten-free crepe made from chickpea flour is good on its own, or you can get creative with what you serve with it. Goat cheese and olives anyone? Drizzle with olive oil, serve with a good rose and it’s almost like you are on the Cote D’Azur. Try this recipe from The Kitchn.

[Photo Credits: MyDays, Charles Haynes, Serge Melki, abrowncoat, iPyo, sarihuella, Anna Brones, toehk, Tran’s World Productions]

Magical Moments Of 2012: A Personal Review

As the end of each year approaches, I try to take stock of the preceding 12 months, to absorb and assess the adventures, inner and outer. Reviewing this year, I’ve been filled with gratitude and wonder to realize that this has been one of the most enriching, exhilarating years I’ve had in a long time, especially the past six months, when I managed to squeeze six special trips into an overcrowded schedule. I hope you’ll indulge me in sharing some of my most magical travel moments, and meanings, from 2012.

Festive in France

The Cote d’Azur has been one of my favorite places in the world since I first landed there in the mid-1970s. This year I was lucky to be able to savor the region for two weeks in June, visiting four places I’d never been before – Marseille, Montpelier, Sainte-Maxime, and Cagnes sur Mer – and revisiting two I’d fallen deeply in love with decades ago: Nice and St Paul de Vence.

I’ve already written about Nice and St Paul for Gadling. Among other riches of the trip, I had the best bouillabaisse of my life at the harbor-front Miramar restaurant in Marseille and was enchanted by the ambiance of student-spangled Montpelier, where a perfect cobbled square with a perfect café under a perfect canopying tree seemed to magically appear around every corner (and where the streets flowed with wine and song on the marvelous night of the Fete de la Musique). One of the most memorable highlights was spending one precious night at the Hotel Negresco two weeks before that legendary institution celebrated its 100th birthday. What an extraordinary hotel! Part priceless art collection, part history museum, part culinary temple, the Negresco – still owned by the feisty and fabulous 89-year-old Madame Augier – is emblematic of the intelligence, elegance, and artfulness that define the Cote d’Azur for me.My favorite moment of the entire trip was another birthday celebration. A very dear friend who lives part of each year in France treated me to a heavenly lunch at a renowned but well off the beaten path terrace restaurant called La Verdoyante, in the village of Gassin, about two and a half miles from the sea. I will never forget this feast. On a blue-sky day, the sun-mottled, out-of-time terrace exuded something of the atmosphere of Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette: festive people savoring a relaxing repast, with a view of rolling green vineyards and hills and a soupcon of the Mediterranean glinting in the distance. We had an amazingly flavorful succession of dishes, all artfully presented, including locally made foie gras, a delectably flaky poisson du jour served with fennel, figs and pancetta, and chevre cheese from a farm over the hill. The culinary fireworks ended with a special surprise – a scrumptious, sparkler-topped raspberry macaroon cake.

Birthday gifts don’t get any better than this: a sun-bowed, vineyard-wrapped celebration of food and friendship, a reminder of the life-riches that surround us, deepening and expanding every year.

Hawaiian Hideaway

A few days after returning from France, barely enough time to do some laundry, I repacked and rambled with my wife to Maui and Molokai on a trip I had won – won! — in a random drawing at a travel fair. On Maui we stayed at the Hotel Wailea and the Napili Kai Beach Resort and on Molokai at the Hotel Molokai. We loved aimlessly exploring both islands, stopping at beaches we found at the end of meandering paths, eating at food trucks, picnicking in parks — but especially savored the quiet of Molokai, where time truly seemed to slow down.

We wandered around the main town of Kaunakakai, poking our heads into shops, asking questions of the shopkeepers, who seemed much more interested in talking story than moving inventory. Our most memorable meal on Molokai was the mahimahi plate lunch at Mana’e Goods and Grindz, a combination country store and counter restaurant on the highway toward Halawa Valley (where you could also pick up spark plugs, videos, and sweet onion salad dressing, if needed). We loved it so much we drove back the next day for seconds.

The synthesizing moment of the trip for me was one afternoon on Maui when I sat on our patio at the Napili Kai simply absorbing the breeze that rippled the sea and rustled the palm fronds: Time slowed and slowed, the trade winds blew, the moist air swaddled my skin; suddenly a rainbow appeared, arcing from the sea into the clouds, and for a suspended moment it seemed to me that nature was offering its own snapshot of my soul. Hawaii re-taught me the value of recalibrating pace, the riches that reveal themselves when you open your head- and heart-space.

California Dreaming

In August I ventured across San Francisco Bay – a good 40 minutes by car from my home – for the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference. My journey took flight the day before the official conference began, when I led a worldly, wide-eyed group of writers on a day-long walking workshop in North Beach, my favorite city neighborhood, where old-San-Francisco Italy meets new-San-Francisco China and Vietnam. We rendered homage at City Lights bookstore, Molinari’s aromatic delicatessen, and sweet Stella’s Pastry, then talked about writing and life over paninis and lattes at Caffe Greco.

The conversations and connections that took seed that day blossomed over the ensuing four-day conference. What mysteries make sparks fly, turn piazza dialogues into life-changing detours and dreams? Whatever was in the air at this year’s conference, it begat five days of exploration and exhilaration – of the word and the world — with soul-mates old and new. The defining Book Passage moment for me came at the end of the conference, and I have already described it here, but there were many other moments of magic as well, perhaps none so potent as midnight on Saturday, when a hardy band of writers and revelers gathered around five ukulele yogis, whose plangent plucks transported me to Hawaii, France and beyond – and then back to that midnight moment in a bookstore in northern California, which suddenly seemed to contain all the world.

This five-day close-to-home odyssey reminded me once again that both travel and travel writing are vital arts, stewards of the global heart, that even in your own backyard, you can wander far-flung paths of the imagination and the soul, and that the best travels and travel writings realize a redemptive goal: to piece the inner and the outer journey, the interlocking whole.

Beached in Bali

My ten-day sojourn on Bali presented a batik of bountiful moments. I have written about two of them here, questing for indolence and discovering unexpected gamelan gifts in Ubud, but I have not yet written about the two delightful dinners on two beautiful beaches that bookended my stay.

On my first night on the island, when everything still seemed a bit surreal, I met a wandering writer friend who serendipitously happened to be on Bali at the same time. We sat at a table literally on the beach at Jimbaran Bay, our toes squiggling into the sand, swigged Bintang beers, and feasted on marvelously messy platters of grilled shrimp. We talked about books and blogs and world-weaving paths under the stars, by the susurrous sea, as music lilted down the beach on a smoke-scented breeze. Ten days later, we met again for a final dinner on a beach in Seminyak. This time the music was a pop playlist (highlighted by Adele serenading us with “Someone Like You”), the food was delicious grilled fish and beef rendang, the beach spread invitingly to the rose-tinted waves, and the oceanic sky gradually turned from bluish-red to cobalt-purple to depthless, star-splashed black.

As the hours passed, I felt like a character in a story, simultaneously in time and out of it, willing the world to slow down and in the same breath abandoning myself to the ineluctable flow. All the Balinese bounties of the week seemed to converge, and the spirit of the island – the joy and compassion and reverence for the everyday that emanated from virtually everyone I’d met – merged with a shared awe at serendipity’s mystery and wonder. Maybe it was the spell of the Bintang, but my sense of the preciousness of life – and of the opportunity that travel bestows to lose oneself to special places and people, and to grow ever bigger therein — seemed to expand and expand and expand, until it filled the phosphorescent night.

Continuities in Connecticut

For Thanksgiving, as I have every year since my dad passed away in 2008, I went to Connecticut to spend the holiday with my mom. You have to be a New Englander to appreciate the bleak beauty of Connecticut in November. The tree branches are bony and bare, the air thin, brittle, laced with winter. Yet these annual journeys are a special kind of pilgrimage for me. My parents finished building the house where I grew up, in Middlebury, just before I was born. I lived there for the first 21 years of my life, before setting off for Paris and Athens and points beyond, and they lived there for more than 50 years. My mom thrives in an assisted living facility in a neighboring town now, but as we do every year, we drove to Middlebury to see “our house” and reveled again in its spare, simple, classic Connecticut-clapboard style and in the expansive woods and fields and memories around.

For Thanksgiving dinner, my childhood best friend invited us to his home, coincidentally five minutes from my mom’s new home. It was glorious to re-immerse ourselves for a night in the footloose past – somehow symbolized for me by the image of the two of us driving in his convertible on a sultry summer night for soft ice cream, me staring at the stars as the wind whipped by and wishing that the ride could last forever. The woods were limitless then and so were the summer nights; it’s only later that we realize there were houses on the other side of the trees, and jobs and mortgages on the other side of the ride.

But still, these Thanksgiving journeys are a gift to cherish, an opportunity to honor, connect, and reflect. Like Brigadoon, Middlebury springs to life for me once a year: the rolling hills and uncut forests, white Colonial houses with black shutters, lush lawns and gardens and sheltering trees, the high-steepled Congregational Church and round town green – and the landscape of love that nurtured, and nurtures still, me and my youthful dreams.

Easter Island, Among the Moai

I returned two weeks ago from my final trip of the year – the realization of one of my oldest travel dreams: to visit Easter Island. For years this almost inconceivably remote place – the most isolated inhabited island in the world — seemed inaccessible, but I was finally fortuitously able to make the pilgrimage this year.

I spent a week wandering the island on foot, tracing old trails, talking with the guardians of sacred sites, watching traditional dances, exploring caves and coves and cliffs. I observed as a local elder instructed a half dozen Rapa Nui (the indigenous people’s name for the island and for themselves) teenagers in the stories of the island, the traditions and the taboos, the legends and the landscapes that had special mana. I learned the different theories about the moai and wondered at the great toppled figures that seemed to be everywhere. Many people have developed definitive explanations for what happened on Easter Island – which means, of course, that no one has the definitive answer. On the flight back from the island to Santiago, Chile, I serendipitously sat next to a Dutch scientist who has been studying the island for two decades and who told me that he and a colleague are going to publish a book next year that will refute the currently advanced theories. And so it goes.

What I have taken away most deeply from Rapa Nui is this: On the second full day of my stay on the island, I decided to get up before dawn to commune with the moai at Ahu Tongariki, a spectacular seaside platform where 15 statues have been restored to standing position. I was dropped at the site well before dawn, when the night was still so inky that I couldn’t see the ground in front of me, much less the moai in the distance. I stumbled slowly towards the platform, looking vainly into the dark, and then in an instant I sensed the presence of the moai so palpably that the hairs on my arms stood on end. I stumbled forward some more and suddenly the head of the tallest statue leaped into looming silhouette before the stars. The power of that statue was almost magnetic: It pulled me towards it, but not in a frightening way, more like a benevolent force.

As I got closer, the heads of the statues appeared more clearly, silhouetted presences hulking into the sky. I could feel the sheer immensity of the figures, and the power that they must have emanated over the villagers who lived under their gaze day and night. I tried to imagine waking up every dawn to their stony presence, and retiring to sleep as they loomed into the sky. Their role as a force in everyday life became clear to my core. Their mana was undeniable.

As time passed and dawn’s rays illumined them in a buttery light, their hold on me softened. Dozens of photographers arrived, setting up their tripods, seeking the perfect perspective. The site was no longer mine alone. But it didn’t matter. I’d already found the perfect perspective – and it looms within me still, a hulking silhouette of pure Rapa Nui mana in my mind.

At the end of these reflections, the theme that resonates with me is this: Anything is possible. Each one of these magical moments forms a piece of a picture-puzzle that shows the potential of life, wherever we are literally and metaphorically, to be transformed, re-inspired, completed – for the mind to stretch, and the soul to soar, and the heart to expand.

I relearned this year just how full of marvel our mundane world is. And I learned again that life follows a mysterious and serendipitous map, that confluences and convergences abound all around, and that we can choose to open ourselves to them – to leap through the door, set foot on the road — or not. I learned again that passion is the best signpost, honor the best staff, and kindness the compass that illumines the path. And that however we wander this human race, the love we give returns to us, boundless with each embrace.

[Photo Credits – Book Passage: Spud Hilton; All others: Don George]

Postcard From France: Now And Then In Nice

June 27, Cours Saleya, Nice, France:

It’s my last day in Nice, this vibrant capital of pleasure and art and ease on the Cote d’Azur, and I’m sitting in the Cours Saleya, site of the fruit and flower market where I was 11 days ago, at the start of this glorious re-immersion in the riches of the Riviera. There’s a cold glass of vin rosé du Provence on my table, the sand-colored awning of La Storia restaurant on my left, the mustard-colored house where Matisse lived in front of me, and an archway framing palm fronds and the incomparably blue Mediterranean on my right.

This is the same centuries-old square where I sat and wrote 20 years before, on my second visit to the Cote d’Azur, and I am thinking about how things change and how they stay the same.

Back then I wrote:

I’m having a café crème and a croissant at a Cours Saleya cafe that looks right onto stalls selling a colorful collage of flowers, fruits and vegetables. As I sip and scribble in my journal, elegant older women with well-coiffed dogs smell melons and prod glistening red and yellow peppers. A trio of breezy, baguette-bearing beauties in floppy T-shirts and espadrilles buys peaches and peonies; housewives in sun hats and long-sleeved dresses stuff garlic and grapes and guavas into woven baskets. ‘Bonjour!’ and ‘Merci!’ peal through the morning air, past the graceful shutters and grillwork balconies on the salmon- and peach- and wheat-colored apartments that overlook the stony square.

I could have penned those same words today.

%Gallery-161308%Last night, I strolled for an hour along the broad, seafront Promenade des Anglais. The air was moist and warm, the palm trees rustled in a light breeze, and the whole city seemed to be out in easeful embrace of the balming night. Kids rattled by on skateboards; teenagers smoked and joked and simulated the French version of cool; American parents pushed strollers and exclaimed at the softness of the air; young couples kissed in passionate oblivion, and silver-haired couples strolled hand-in-hand, lost – or rather found – in their own reveries. And the moonlight flickered on the scraping sea, proffering a little piece of destiny, a midnight lesson for them and for me – the moonlight flickering on the ceaseless sea.

I wrote that too 20 years before.

From the Promenade des Anglais I wandered here last night, and the scene was amazingly vibrant: the square crammed with tiny tables showered with lamplight from the surrounding cafes, and resonant with excited conversation and leisurely laughter – the music of people with no morning duties or deadlines, of people wrapped, rapt, in the endless enjoyment of the moment.

The night oozed sensuality – the wine and the lamplight, the caressing air and the laughing, lilting patrons in T-shirts and sandals, shorts and short dresses. Later, when I returned to my room in the storied Hotel Negresco, about to celebrate its own buoyant 100th birthday, I reread what I had written about the residents of the Riviera on my first visit in 1976:

If they were blessed enough to grow up here, they have it in their bones, but if they have come here from elsewhere, they have knowingly abandoned whatever they have abandoned because they want what this region cultivates: a reasoned abandonment to sensual pleasures.

This spirit has stayed the same: The essential sensuality of Nice grows lush in the sunlight that illumines things to their core and the soft air that swaddles the skin like a benediction. It has plucked my heart and soul again as it did 36 years before.

What makes this place so seductive for me? The sunlight and the air and the colors certainly, the Mediterranean palette of beach and sea, the ochre, mustard, wheat, and terracotta walls; the bobbing boats and Belle Epoque facades; the fresh-grilled fish and succulent gumes farcis; the bubbly-beaded glasses of vin rosé; the stony plazas, stylish shops and splendored musées; the labyrinth of winding cobbled alleys, by night a magical medieval moonlit maze; the centuries-old cathedrals and just-opened galleries; the swish of the salt-tinged breeze; the terracotta roof tiles and green hillsides sloping to the sea; the legacy of art and history …

I sip and slip back in time. Oh to have been here in the 1920s with Gerald and Sara Murphy on Cap d’Antibes, partying on La Garoupe beach with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Hemingway, dos Passos, Cocteau, and Man Ray. Or to have sipped and supped with Picasso and Matisse, Chagall, Braque and Léger …

On my first two visits here, I was filled with a sense of soaring potential: The possibility of a life of sensual celebration and artful appreciation stretched before me like the glinting sea.

I know that feeling – and yet, and yet … Somehow today I don’t feel transported in quite the same way … Perhaps I have become too old, or la vie est devenue trop compliquée? “Life has become too complicated,” is what I meant to say. (Do I dare to eat one of those peaches? What would Monsieur Prufrock say?)

Now I have become the age I innocently imagined back then. I am the map, know the route I tread. Am I straining too hard for epiphany?

Sigh. Scribble. Take another sip of rosé.

Around me people lick gelatos, smile for photos, exclaim over hot slices of socca. Beauties in bikinis bike breezily by. Elegant older women with well-coiffed dogs smell melons and prod glistening red and yellow peppers, and housewives in sun hats and long-sleeved dresses gather garlic and grapes and bushels of lavender and thyme.

I think of the surprise feast I savored on a country terrace three nights before, the almost deserted beach on St Tropez where I impetuously plunged into the crystalline sea, the kindly gallery owner who closed his shop for an hour to sip coffee and talk art with me. I think of the stories still to write, the places still to be seen. And something stirs inside me; a fragile tendril greens.

It’s evident all around me, if I just open my eyes, my heart, my mind. The gift of Nice is this sense of celebration that infuses every day, celebration of sun and cypress, plane tree and plage, lavender and olive and pungent fromage; celebration of art, celebration of sea, celebration of cobble and tile and tranquillity.

It’s a lesson to cherish on this lamentably last day.

And a souvenir I’ll nurture as I move away.