Last year, we watched MasterChef: The Professionals, for the first time in several years. With a number of Birmingham based chefs featured it was more enjoyable than previous series. In the final few episodes the thing that really drew is in was the episode where the contestants took a trip to France and we caught our first glimpse of Mirazur. After a quick bit of googling we realised it was easy to get to and a well-priced meal so we ended up booking a bank holiday trip.
We drove down to Stanstead airport on the Thursday evening ready for our 7.30am flight to Nice with easy jet. The journey takes less than 2 hours although we did get caught out by not reading the cabin baggage allowance for the airline and discovering at boarding that only 1 bag was allowed. I typically take a cabin suitcase and then a backpack with all of the handy essentials like water, headphones, snacks etc so it was a bit of a panic to squash that all in my already full case at the gate.
Arriving at Nice airport we collected our car from Budget and set off. We were staying in Ventimiglia (prices in Italy are lower both for food and accommodation than France) which is just over the border in Italy. As we were checking in at 3pm and had an early flight we headed to the local food market that we had seen featured on MasterChef. Whenever we go on holiday, we end up visiting places like this, looking at the fresh produce and this was no different. We each had a fresh mozzarella and ragu arancini as we wandered between the stalls. We eyed up some amazing vegetables ( and I got a few odd looks for taking photos of them) and returned later that day to pick up some fresh Burrata, charcuterie, tomatoes and Gavi to have as a snack that afternoon. Our apartment was small but well suited for our needs with a balcony which had a wonderful view out over the Mediterranean where we could see Monaco along the coast.
There is another large market each Friday which was suggested to us so we walked down the seafront to look at the stalls, to be honest although there was a lot of stuff for sale it was mostly low budget clothing, €1 stalls etc and food items designed for tourist gifts. There was a lot of hustle and bustle as counterfeit handbags or shoes were thrust in front of passers-by. Needless to say, we bought nothing and didn’t feel too impressed so we found a bar in the sunshine instead. Cider was non-existent in this part of the country it seemed but double servings of tonic water were fine for me, Jordan had a Sardinian beer called Ichnusa for €7, we balked a little when we found it in a supermarket close by for less than €2. All beers are around a third of the price in supermarkets so I would suggest beers at the apartment and wine when dining out.
We returned to the apartment, via the market and spent a few hours sat on the balcony enjoying the weather and the view along the coast to Monaco (over the next few days I became a pro at napping on the balcony)
Later that evening, we took a walk through the Old Town for a drink on our way to dinner, I had a Mojito and Jordan had an Aperol Spritz which is quickly becoming a favourite of his, we sat outside and both drinks were €5 each which included a free bar snack which you could go up and choose from the counter. We had booked in advance knowing that on our first night we would want to be sure of a good dinner. We arrived at Il Giardino del Gusto and tried out the translate feature on my phone after realising we didn’t know as much Italian as we had first thought… Dinner was ideal, I had been wary of having a tasting menu after our food blow out in Aus/Asia a few months earlier but at 5 courses it was a manageable size, well prepared and a comforting, laid back kind of venue.
The following day, taking the advice of friends we headed to Dolceaqua for some lunch. It’s a small little town, but very picturesque (Monet has painted a picture of the bridge) – it didn’t take us long to walk around and see the sights. We found a small restaurant down a side street (that had good reviews on trip advisor) and sat down for lunch. We couldn’t say no to a glass of prosecco with fried thyme bread for €4 as a snack to start with and the warm, fragrant bread became a holiday favourite. I ordered a variation on one of my favourite dishes- spaghetti vongole. This version came with artichokes and crispy bacon whilst Jordan has corzetti with olives, tomatoes and red mullet. My dish was incredible, with plenty of clams too, we didn’t know what corzetti was but it turns out it’s a type of pasta, served as flat discs and normally with something stamped on it. It was very well priced and packed full of local people inside, being from the UK and sun shy we opted to sit outside.
After some good food and sunshine we decided to jump back in the car and take a detour to SanRemo for an ice cream. Its worth taking a walk down the long promenade If the weather is favourable, again the pace is a little slower here so it’s good for a casual afternoon of wandering but don’t expect to be very busy when visiting. We found a nice little wine shop and picked up a bottle of Pigato to take back to the apartment and headed home for some down time in the sun.
The highlight of the trip (and main reason for visiting) was undoubtedly dinner at Mirazur (currently the 4th best restaurant in the world in the San Pellegrino awards) This is covered in a post on its own as it was such a memorable evening in a beautiful setting.
The following morning, after a much needed espresso and a Madeline from Mirazur we decided to venture back into France for the day. Starting in Nice (after driving through at least 20 tunnels!) We initially struggled to find breakfast food after setting off a bit later than anticipated and eventually settled for a bistro that looked reasonably busy. It took a while to get served, only to then discover that crepes were not available so we defaulted to some familiar options and ordered a croquet monsieur and moules mariniere. Jordan had pretty much finished eating his sandwich by the time my bowl of mussels, chips and bread arrived. Whilst the volume on offer was vast- it ended being rather disappointing, the alcohol in the sauce had not been burnt off at all leaving a sharp, astringent taste behind. It didn’t carry much flavour and was very watery. The mussels, chips and bread were fine but it doesn’t really work without something to bind it together.
Nice itself is worth a visit, there are several sculptures dotted around the city with lots of public areas and parkland for picnicking. Time was limited so we didn’t stop in one place for very long and I am sure there are some places we missed whilst we were there. There were a couple of events taking place at the time but it didn’t feel over crowded in any way which was a pleasant change.
Heading off we decided to make a stop in Monaco, other than the grand prix and boats I didn’t know much about so figured it might be worth a look.
When we arrived, after battling through a series of confusing traffic patterns we spotted the boats immediately and walked along the front to see where they had all come from. Built into the hillside, there was what looked like an animal centre or small zoo, at only €5 each to enter we decided to go in after seeing signs for hippo. The park is small and a little sad. A lone hippo wanders around a relatively small enclosure, there are some ringtail lemurs, wallabies, capybara and meerkats but none of them really had much space. I hope that we had arrived before all of the enclosures had been cleaned out because otherwise, I would question the level of care provided. The rest of the area contains parrots, farm animals and a strange abundance of tortoises. For €5 It was ok, but it didn’t take us more than half an hour to walk around it and I did leave slightly heavy of heart.
Preparations were being made for the upcoming vintage grand prix and it was a Sunday but the whole place seemed very quiet (with the exception of all the supercars) and to be honest, lacking in soul. There just didn’t seem like there was much on offer and the atmosphere was completely flat. We didn’t stay long, our overpriced ice creams consumed we headed back over the border to the more appealing Italian location to finish off the cheese and meat from the market and the bottle of wine we picked up the day before. Just sitting on the balcony, with a simple lunch like this was the perfect way to switch off and relax properly.
For our final night, following a suggestion from our host we went to a local pizzeria for dinner (ristorante pizzeria porta nizza) we sat watching each pizza being made by hand and thrust into the oven. Tempting as that was I had seen a tagliatelle dish for €18 that included half a lobster and had to order it straight away. Whilst it’s fiddly to pick the meat and crack the claws it was 100% worth the effort. It was a large dish and I felt sleepy pretty quickly after eating it all but it felt authentic and was full of flavour. We took a little walk around old town for the rest of the evening before heading home for an early flight the next morning.
Considering we first intended to have a ‘French holiday’ and just stay in Italy we ended up spending more time on that side of the border. After a busy holiday earlier in the year, something quieter was a nice change.
We flew from Stanstead Airport to Nice (return) with EasyJet for £97.50 per person
Due to the early flight we stayed overnight in Accord Hotel which included parking for the duration of the stay for £99
Our apartment in Ventimillia was Casa Calandre , booked via Booking.com for 214 euros