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.
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.
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).
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.