It was unseasonably warm in Cannes and I was overdressed. Wriggling out of my bulky gray sweater, I wished I were sporting more chic attire. I flagged the waiter yet again, unsure whether he was oblivious, overworked or contemptuous. Ordering another bottle of the local rosé, I kicked off my sandals and dug my toes into the fine, expensive sand.
“Forget Paris,” we decided.
The weather’s much too glorious to schlepp our many bags to the train station for the
five-hour northward crawl to The City of Lights. My bags and back were straining,
but how to travel light??
I found too many wonderful treasures for my shop in Napa Valley,
Visiting Cannes, on France’s southern coast, is always surreal. The corniche is a full-on catwalk; the extreme wealth of Europe, Russia and the Middle East on gaudy display. Hermes bags and Cartier watches flash in the warm Mediterranean sun, while tired-looking North Africans pedal ice-cream and hashish along the main drag,
which snakes along a densely settled coastline.
Northern California seems so very far away from that crazy chic beach club, its tables nestled into the sand, while a sailcloth awning flaps in the afternoon breeze,
shading aristocratic skin from harsh rays.
The restaurant’s business card summed it up:
“C Beach, Cannes. The Beach to Be.”
The men sitting nearby were impeccable. Finely tailored and exquisitely groomed, their scent of Vertiver mingled with the sea air. They ate steak tartare and whole roasted fish, drank good Bordeaux, and smoked. A lot. The women were young and lovely in that insouciant French way. They ate meat and drank wine, all the while dangling a cigarette between their long, thin French fingers.
Who can ever fault the French for their appreciation of life as art?
Turning my attention to the bowl in front of me, I realized the vibrant gazpacho was the finest I’d eaten. And while I can’t drink during the day anymore, it’s easy to make an exception with a bottle (or two) of the local rosé.
Higher acid and lower alcohol means an exceptional pairing
to a hearty lunch.
Rosé is also a fine introduction to a light afternoon rest; listening to Hayden, doors and windows open to the sea.
I dreamed about the early morning antiques market in Cannes,
where I scored a few treasures.
My first find of the day was an exquisite set of sterling silver handled butter knives. I simply love the clean, deco lines on the handles. They are in very fine condition and will compliment any dining table. Set of six ($185)
This is one of the great finds of the trip. A butcher’s set of knives and a hand carved case with a leather strap. The chestnut wood has an extremely fine patina and the knives themselves are in brilliant condition. The butcher even carved his initials “R.G.” into the case. To use in your own kitchen. This is an incredible set. Paris, 19th century. ($685)
This mezzaluna has an deep, dark patina on both the hard wood handles and the carbon steel blades. It’s unusual in that it boasts three blades; the better to chop your herbs and spices. In fine condition, it will surely please any chef.
From the late 1800s ($265)
I tried not betray my excitement to the dealer when I uncovered this amazing piece! A tastevin made for sampling wine, this detailed, artful piece is made from sterling silver and has intertwined serpents, which create the handle. Measuring 6.25" in length, 3"diameter and 1.25" deep, this is an amazing piece for the wine connoisseur and sterling afficionado. Early 1900s. ($585)
Walking the piers of southern France’s harbors, I must look like such a tourist. Mouth agape, I gawk at each mooring, tethered to the most luxurious boats registered in harbors far away: Nice, Marseilles, Monte Carlo, London, Panama, Naples, Rio, Seychelles, Abu Dhabi.
And what of the people who travel within the glistening mahogany walls of such fine vessels?
My travel mate and I escaped the bespoke madness of Cannes and instead settled into the rhythm of the neighboring coastal town of Antibes, with plans to gorge on local seafood and scour the antiques markets for more treasures.
Now off-season, the crowds having gone back to school, back to work, we easily reserved a room in a small hotel overlooking the harbor. It was sweet and slightly shabby in the way all seasonal, waterfront hotels are. We soaked in the outdoor sauna, watching the sun drop into the Mediterranean. We forgot time, emerging weak-kneed and ravenous.
Around the bend, overlooking the harbor and the lights of Nice, we found Restaurant Bacon.
The dining room’s gigantic doors were rolled back, the entire space open to balmy Mediterranean breezes and blinking harbor lights clear to Monte Carlo. The large round tables were set with silver, crystal and candles and placed far apart from one another; elegant and old-school European. The soft lighting and muted pastels made me feel as though I were ensconced inside an elegant clam, its pinkish flesh and pearly casings
to take in the salty evening air.
The owner, a hot Frenchman named Sordello, pulled our chairs, and in purring English explained the restaurant had been in his family for three generations. He expertly worked the room with his wife, a tall blond who was almost friendly. We requested a 1993 Raveneau Chablis be decanted and took Sordello’s recommendation for the tartare of sea bream. Fresh and silken to the tongue, the fish was served simply with only a crunch of sea salt and a brightening squeeze of citrus.
It lingered in my thoughts for days.
We finished with a delicate mille feuille; it’s ethereal puff pastry layered with cream was true artisanship. Herbal teas were snipped and brewed to order and enjoyed with glasses of Elixir du Mont-Ventoux, an herbal digestif distilled in nearby Châteauneuf du Pape. The next day, I tracked down a couple of bottles of this delight!
As the Sordellos bid us bon nuit, the valet left our tiny Fiat rental idling by the door,
lost amid the sea
of flashy Maseratis and gleaming Mercedes.
Old-town Antibes has an early morning antiques market, which runs along an ancient stonewall that separates city from ocean. Many dealers make the trek from Paris to show their wares. I was excited to check it out, but arrived too early. Of all the antiques markets I visit on various continents, the French start the latest. It’s a quality-of-life-thing with them.
I love that.
Taking the French cue, we stepped into a tiny cafe near the docks. Elbow to elbow with the local fishermen, we ordered lattés with a couple of France’s stellar croissants, ripped and dipped into the steaming bowls of coffee.
Fortified, we hit the market.
I’m a sucker for bone handled utensils and this set of dinner knives is quite lovely. With carbon steel blades, these would compliment any set of silverware on any table. The bone handles have a rich patina that only comes with age.
A fine set of six ($485).
This rare, early bread slicing board is made from hard wood with an attached carbon steel slicing knife. The piece’s patina is exceptional. It’s a work of art hanging on a wall, or a functional piece situated on a countertop or dining table with a big loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese.
Measures 2.5" deep, 14.75" wide and 18.25" in length.
In very fine condition. Paris, France, 1800s. ($1225)
This knife sharpening steel is a work of art! The handle is made from horn and produced in an unusual manner: the horn was heated and then gently twisted to create the delightful design. With a steel loop, it can be hung from your apron or with your pots and pans. This sharpening steel will keep your knives in tip-top shape for generations to come.
From the late 1800s. ($425)
A lovely friend from Napa Valley was working the wine harvest in the nearby Rhone Valley and needed a break. She agreed to meet us for supper and caught a late-afternoon train to Cannes.
I could only imagine that her winery gig was all too much: watching the hot French winemakers tending the Syrah; the communal lunches of duck confit eaten side-by-side young, strapping Australian interns, hungry for more than a winemaking experience.
We could only imagine how hard it was on her!
We met for pre-dinner drinks at the very posh Carlton Hotel, its large patio overlooking the French Riviera. Built in 1911, the Carlton’s distinctive domes were designed to resemble the obviously enormous, jutting breasts of Caroline Otero, the most famous
French courtesan during the early 1900s.
Each year, this estimable property hosts the madness of The Cannes Film Festival, but now in the quieter season, we had the waiter’s full attention. As the sun set over the yachts in the harbor, I eyed a deeply tanned older gent, warming a large cognac glass in his gigantic, lined hands and playing cards with an attractive, younger man.
Were they living in the hotel?
On one of the massive yachts?
Or perhaps locals living in one of the homes in the hills far above us?
We paid our outrageous bar tab (!!) and headed up the street. Armed with our concierge’s promise of the best seafood in Cannes, we snagged a table at the simple Chez Astoux et Brun, well regarded as a temple to all that lives in the Mediterranean. We ordered an old vine Sancerre and a plateau of seafood: whole shrimp still in their long, pink jackets; cold Belon oysters, small, flat and distinctively crunchy; and periwinkles, buried in their dark hiding places, only to be prodded out and gobbled up, tasting of the sea’s depths.
The waiters were unhurried, allowing us plenty of time to gossip, eat with our hands, and order more wine. Our waiter, a short, older man with the experienced manner of someone who’s been in the service industry all his life, dug around a ginormous fish tank, wrestling a red and white spiny lobster onto a large, silver tray for our inspection.
“Split and grilled. S’il vous plait, Monsieur.”
The next morning came too soon. We stumbled downstairs for espresso and croissant from the corner café. I paged through Paris Match and longed for a cigarette.
But only in theory.
It was actually California’s fine green herb that I truly missed.
We wandered through the market in the small seaside city of Nice, the coastline never out of sight. Our last day in southern France yielded a few gems.
Produced from wild boar tusk, sterling silver and carbon steel, this is a very unusual carving set. I’ve never seen anything like this! Very handsome, weighty and in fine condition, this pair would be at home on either a rustic or fine dining table. The detailing on the handles is exquisite.
This harvest tool was used in the vineyards of southern France in the late 1800s. The hard wood handle and the carbon steel blade both boast exceptional patinas. In wonderful condition, this can be used in your garden, to carve a block of cheese on your counter or merely hung and admired. ($445)
I’ll admit to a weakness for French soaps, particularly when they’re made from moisturizing, natural oils and botanicals. These are made in Marseille and threaded onto a rope.
They are wonderful kept near the kitchen sink
or hanging from a hook in the bath.
Set of eight to keep it clean. ($72)
It was time to return home; back to life, back to reality. Our bags were full and
the shipping company made wealthier.
I yearned for a heaping plate of plain, spicy arugula; less bread, less wine, more water.
Always good to travel. Always good to get home.
But the warmth and richness of life in southern France stays with me.
If any of the treasures in this newsletter move you,
or would make a wonderful gift for someone you know, write to me.
May I be of assistance?
Contact me directly at email@example.com
and I would be very pleased to discuss details.
Please know each items is unique and one-of-a-kind,
so when they’re gone, they are gone.
I will do my best to fulfill your wishes.
Until next time.