Four French lessons I learned in February

thumb image

March 6, 2011. Here are four French lessons that I learned in February on the Riviera and in Alsace.

1. Carnival in Nice
Nice’s Carnival, the 3-week period of parades leading up to Mardi Gras (March 8), is not the bacchanalian event that I expected when I was recently on the Riviera. Not that I thought it would be party city, but I did expect hints of spring break in Cancun here and there. Instead, I learned that the day and night parades are happy feasts for the eyes through rather subdued. Fun for whole family, I’d say. Here’s a spot-on report about it by a writer who has more than a few spring breaks under her belt.


Mechanical dragon and his dragonmaster, one of the intermezzo highlights during the Carnival Flower Parade. Photo GLK.

2. Nice: A bar with a view
The pink dome of the Hotel Negresco is a landmark in Nice, but you can be turned away at the entrance when you want to go to the bar and you look like, well, me.

The lesson learned isn’t, however, that I’ll forever snub the Negresco (though that’s a thought) or that I should upgrade my wardrobe (though that’s worth considering) but that one needn’t wallow in rejection but instead enjoy a seat on the balcony of 7th-floor bar at the Clarion Grand Hotel Aston, which has a grand view over the city.

View from the Grand Hotel Aston, Nice, before sunset. Photos (montage) GLK.
 3. Menton
Menton’s Lemon Festival
, which coincides with Carnival in Nice, celebrates the historical prowess at growing lemons and oranges in this the last town on the French Riviera before the Italian border. The Lemon Festival ends on March 9 this year. It rained during the parade on the day I was there, but it’s a pleasantly upbeat event, rain or shine, also enjoyable as a family event or for teetotalers (perhaps just a little sip of limoncello).
I learned that the 120-140 tons of lemons and oranges used to decorate the floats and installations during the festival were imported from Spain, which sounds a bit like celebrating Burgundy wines with barrels of Rioja. But I don’t knock them for it, they were just for decoration. You can but the local variety for 3 euros a kilo. Here’s another thing I learned: Visiting the Old Town on a sunny morning is a treat. As is a classy and inventive meal with a view from up in the hills at Mauro Colagreco’s Mirazur.
View over the Old Town of Menton on a bright February morning. Photo GLK.


4. Colmar and Kaysersberg, Alsace
Colmar, I learned, is not the ideal February destination. It’s cold, the museum dedicated to the works of Bartholdi, creator of the Statue of Liberty, is closed, as is the Dominicans’ Church, home to the Madonna of the Rose Bower, so are some restaurants and a few hotels, the Unterlinden Museum is freezing, and the Christmas decorations still standing by the covered market look terribly sad.

In March and beyond, however, one can:
– take an excellent guided tour of the Unterlinden Museum and its masterpiece The Altarpiece of Issenheim without the crowds (keep your coat on).
– see a plaster cast of the Statue of Liberty’s ear in the Bartholdi Museum,
– have a fine dinner and the Jacuzzi bathtub at the old-fashion and romantic (in a 30th anniversary kind of way) Hotel Le Maréchal,
– take a bus to visit nearby a village such as Kaysersberg, again without the crowds, visit winemakers, eat kougelhopf (regional brioche), and enjoy a gastronomic meal at Olivier Nasti’s Le Chambard, then spend the night there.

Olivier Nasti in the kitchen at Le Chambard. Photo GLK.


  1. J’ai beaucoup aimé cet article empreint de gentil sarcasme! Je note pour Colmar en février!
    Et il est vrai qu’il est assez difficile de trouver “a true Spring Break feel” en France. Il faut se déplacer chez nos voisins espagnols pour ça.
    Mais si je me trompe, je suis preneuse!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here