Beau­ti­ful hid­den gem

There’s more to Nice than sun lounges and um­brel­las

Life & Style Weekend - - TRAVEL - Ann Rickard

IT’S not of­ten you feel smug watch­ing a travel pre­sen­ter on tele­vi­sion. En­vi­ous is more the emo­tion.

But there was the de­light­ful Luke Nguyen in Nice for his series Luke Nguyen’s France, wan­der­ing around the jewel of the French Riviera, gush­ing about its charms as ev­ery­one who vis­its Nice is in­clined to do.

When he vis­ited a tiny, hid­den restau­rant of hum­ble ap­pear­ance yet ex­alted ac­claim, my smug­ness kicked in. I’d been to that lit­tle restau­rant. Dis­cov­ered it a few good years be­fore the tele­vi­sion pro­gram.

It was a tiny hole-in-the-wall, a place you could eas­ily walk right by, even giv­ing a lit­tle sneer at the unas­sum­ing cur­tain of beads at the door, the only in­di­ca­tion that it was in fact a door, and no in­di­ca­tion of the gas­tro­nomic glory inside.

“We’ve been there,” I pointed to the telly and shouted to the hus­band who strug­gled to re­mem­ber it. He does not have the same zest for a food mem­ory as I do.

We’d been told about La Merenda in Nice, owned and op­er­ated by chef Do­minique Le Stanc. We had trawled the nar­row back streets of the Old Town in search of this place, be­cause it had no tele­phone. You had to first find it, then go in, make a reser­va­tion on the spot, go away and fi­nally come back at a mu­tu­ally agreed time.

We fi­nally found it on the rue Raoul Bo­sio, lead­ing down to the Prom­e­nade des Anglais.

It was minis­cule, seat­ing just 20 peo­ple. You had to pull out a ta­ble from the wall be­fore you could squeeze into its seats. Once bot­toms were in place you were so close to other din­ers you brushed el­bows, touched knees, mur­mured em­bar­rassed apolo­gies. A small black­board menu was plonked on the ta­ble with just a few choices – tripe a la nicoise, a daube, stuffed zuc­chini flow­ers – all of them fea­tur­ing food bought at the mar­ket that morn­ing. We went back to La Merenda twice more dur­ing that Nice visit.

And to Nice it­self? Many more times.

On our first visit we strolled the sweep­ing love­li­ness of the Prom­e­nade des Anglais, the gor­geous art deco ar­chi­tec­ture on one side, the blaz­ing blue Med on the other. We walked the prom­e­nade with other tourists, with roller-blad­ing youths and heav­ily made-up ladies and their lap dogs. We looked down to the beach, to the sun lounges, aware it would cost a great deal to sit on them be­neath their jaunty striped um­brel­las.

In­stead we walked all the way around to the large har­bour with its im­pres­sive force of mega yachts, the smell of gar­lic and mus­sels waft­ing from ev­ery restau­rant door.

On an­other Nice visit we spent most of our time in the Old Town, ris­ing early from our el­e­gant apart­ment on the Boule­varde Gam­betta to walk in the cool to the flower mar­ket on the Cours Sa­leya.

PHOTO: MARIAMARCONE

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