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CULINARY DISCOVERIES IN NICE AND ÈZE

I cannot imagine a more glorious reception than the one we had in Monte Carlo. Everyone on board Riviera awoke to a beautiful spring morning, and I opened my drapes to a blue sky that took my breath away. Soon we were all happily preparing for the day’s adventures in another magical port of call.

Several guests joined me for a Culinary Discovery Tour to two of my favorite destinations, Nice and Èze. We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, using my trusty map as a guide to review the various influences on the cuisine of Nice. We discussed the ancient spice trade that brought flavors from lands as distant as Asia and Africa, and we also looked at culinary trends from the regions of Savoy and northern France that migrated into Provence, all influencing the cuisine of Nice in subtle yet distinctive ways.

Traveling to the market in Nice, we discovered the usual eye-popping rainbow of colors, made even more spectacular by the fresh flowers available this time of year. Lilacs were in bloom and paired with white roses in elegant bouquets, and my personal favorite, peonies, were overflowing in all shades of pink, including a tangerine color I had never seen before.

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After stopping to smell the flowers, we were on to the produce, where we found an abundance of asparagus, peas, fava beans and artichokes. We also shopped for olive oils before making a requisite stop at my favorite chocolate shop, Maison Auer, to see the last of their exquisite Easter eggs.

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We then savored a bite of peppery socca, the Nice specialty made with chickpea flour and olive oil, fried like a pancake and served in paper cones with lots of salt and pepper. We were disappointed to learn that our favorite socca vendor had retired, but happy to discover that her replacement was making a creamy socca that was equally delicious.

After a refreshing snack, we headed to Èze, a medieval town perched at the top of a mountain overlooking the Côte d’Azur. This is our third year offering a Culinary Discovery Tour to Èze in which we visit the grand Château Eza. Today the chef of Château Eza prepared seasonal favorites: a salad of baby lettuces atop a mousse of garden greens, a cream of asparagus soup, and an entrée of sea bass with braised fennel and artichoke purée. The dessert was a mille-feuille of chocolate mousse with a hint of citrus. As always, it was an impeccable meal served with local wines and enhanced by unparalleled views. Everyone always loves coming here, and I love sharing this unforgettable experience with our foodie guests.

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We returned to port with time to spare, so we all headed in different directions to explore Monte Carlo. I stopped by the gardens of Princess Margaret, where I called my mom and relived a few memories from our 2008 trip on Insignia to celebrate her 80th birthday. Oceania Cruises has been such an important part of so many people’s lives and travel memories, and my family is no exception. As I strolled through the gardens, I saw many familiar flowers of spring and one that I had never seen, the black petunia, majestic and sensuous! I love discovering new things when I travel!

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What an amazing day of culinary discoveries in Nice and Èze, topped off by a lovely jaunt through Monte Carlo! Next we head to the Pitti winery and the market in Livorno for a day of pizza, focaccia and biscotti in the Tuscan countryside. It doesn’t get any better than this!

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CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR SEASON IN MEDITERRANEAN

6a0120a92e343a970b01901cb0f763970b-250wiAs I sit sipping an Earl Grey tea beneath the centuries-old canopy trees overlooking the waterfront in Rhodes, I can definitely feel that spring is in the air. It is a sunny Saturday in the Mediterranean, and families as well as tourists are out for a seaside walk along the promenade of fishing boats, sailing vessels and, of course, the elegant and majestic Riviera. I just ordered a cheese pie, which I am reluctantly sharing with a few starlings. We chefs are always handing out food!

As I enjoy my lunch, I’ve been thinking about the recent launch of a wonderful new season of Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Europe. As you may remember, Oceania Cruises first unveiled Culinary Discovery Tours™ last year with the christening of Riviera, and we are thrilled with the success of these full-day excursions to the world’s most exciting open markets, restaurants and culinary destinations. I’m delighted to have the chance to share our experiences on this season’s tours.

As Riviera crossed the Atlantic at the end of April to begin the European season, she stopped first in Funchal and then Tangier, where we offer exciting culinary tours in both cities. Madeira, one of my favorite ports, is an enchanting island home to some of the most exotic fruits anywhere, and the local market in Funchal is always an adventure.

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When we arrived, we took a short bus ride to a local fishing harbor where the fishermen were drying their bacala (a dry salted cod), for which the Portuguese are famous. After an hour in the market buying all kinds of passion fruit hybrids and local spices like piri piri, we took a stroll through the old city past brightly colored doors painted by local artists. We had a lovely tasting of local Madeira wines at Blandy’s and then sat for a delicious lunch at a local tavern where we sampled island fish and meat specialties and more local wines.

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Then we were on to Tangier for a day in this city of exotic scents, eager merchants and charming locals. We strolled through the market, bought preserved lemons and herbs for our Moroccan cooking class and dropped some serious cash on a few tagines for the culinary center.

The highlight of our tour was lunch at Detroit, a restaurant that was officially not opening until the following week for the annual visit by the Rolling Stones but treated us to a special preview. We sat above the medina with a beautiful view of the sea while feasting on a meal of couscous and chicken tagine. Dessert was a flaky and delicately seasoned pastilla and a generously sweetened Moroccan tea – our lovely host impressed us all with his pouring skills.

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Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, Riviera continued on to Europe and the site of one of my favorite tours from last year, Marseille. I favored this tour mostly because of the delicious meal prepared for us by Gui Gedda, the undisputed godfather of Provence cuisine – not to mention the magnificent Bandol wines we tasted!

This year I kicked off the tour with a shopping stop in the charming fishing village of Sanary-sur-Mer. The merchants were so proud of their spring produce, as well they should be: bright green zucchini, blood oranges and early fresh peas, the ultimate taste of spring.

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Here we met a pastry vendor who, upon hearing my English (and very bad French), asked if I had heard of Jacques Torres. Of course, I told her. She informed me she had studied with the famous chocolatier in New York City. We tasted her chocolate (we had to) and it was soft and flavorful. It just goes to show that the world of food really is very small!

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After our morning admiring the colorful fishing boats and picture-perfect produce, we were off to the Domaine de Souviou for our lunch with Chef Gui and a wine tasting that we so loved last year.

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Riviera then sailed for Monte Carlo, the point of origin for one of our most popular Culinary Discovery Tours™: a visit to the market in Nice followed by lunch at the famed Chateau Eza. The picturesque market in Nice was brimming with beautiful flowers and produce, and we were all especially impressed with the early white asparagus. Those sweet white vegetables and zucchini blossoms were only a few of the items we had to purchase at the market. And there is always time for socca and a hug from Theresa, the “socca lady.”

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Then we were off to Eza and an unforgettable meal. I always think of Jacques Pépin on this tour because he remembers meals not only by the food but by the company as well. I am touched by the friendships that form around the table here at Chateau Eza. Our guests can relax, visit with one another, share stories of their families at home and enjoy what dining is meant to be, the perfect confluence of food and friendship. The food was exquisite, as always, and served with the ultimate flair!

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Well, I have finished my cheese pie – and the starlings are full – so I will wrap up this blog and return to Riviera. Be sure to check the blog again this week, when I’ll share more stories of our latest Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Italy.

Following are some of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ mentioned in the blog and the sailings on which they are offered – in case you wish to join us!

Tangier – Market Visit, Tangine Shopping & Moroccan Lunch:

Marseille – Exquisite Flavors of Europe:

Monte Carlo – Local Market Visit & Lunch at Chateau Eza:

 

 

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AN UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE IN MONTE CARLO

PB080041Regatta recently called on the glittering city of Monte Carlo in the tiny principality of Monaco. When I think of Monte Carlo, I think of James Bond and movie stars in tuxedos and gowns. Monaco is where the rich and famous convene to play high-stakes poker, or race fast cars, or simply lounge on lavish yachts. Monaco certainly lives up to its reputation as a playground for the wealthy, but what really impressed me was how charming it was and how much there is to do for people like me. (Unfortunately, my role as Blogger-at-Large has not yet catapulted me into international fame.)

Granted, when Regatta docked in the famed Monte Carlo harbor, the million-dollar yachts were hard to miss, and the view was spectacular. There are several cafés on the docks near these impressive vessels, and if you linger there a while, you may spot a celebrity or two.

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Also living up to its hype is the opulent Monte Carlo Grand Casino – there is a reason all those films were made here. Decorated with marble, onyx, frescoes and sculptures, this casino was clearly built for high rollers.

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For those who don’t fare so well at the tables, they can find a peaceful retreat in the stunning garden that leads up the hill to the casino.

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Oceanic MuseumWhile Monte Carlo was certainly everything I’d ever imagined, I soon realized there was far more to Monaco than glitz and glamour. Perched atop the sheer cliff face at a height of 279 feet is the Oceanographic Museum, which was founded in 1901 by Monaco’s Prince Albert I, and where Jacques Cousteau served as director for many years. The building itself took 11 years to build using over 100,000 tons of stone. There are several live exhibits as well as impressive skeletons of marine mammals.

PB080164 St Nich CathedralNear the Oceanographic Museum is St. Nicholas Cathedral, which contains the tombs of the Monaco royal family, including Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. It remains a pilgrimage site for fans of actress Grace Kelly, who became the princess of Monaco after her fairytale marriage to Rainier in 1956.

PB080053 St CharlesAlthough much smaller than the cathedral, the Church of St. Charles makes up for in beauty what it lacks in size. Its bell tower reaches a height of 108 feet above sea level and is purported to be the highest bell tower in the area.

 

PB080154 Armory PalaceThe Palace of the Prince is an impressive compound with wonderful views of Monaco and the surrounding seas. While much of the palace grounds are open to the public, the royal family does maintain a private residence here, as evidenced by the sentries standing guard. If you can get to the palace by 11:55 am, you can watch the changing of the guard, a popular attraction.

Monte Carlo is a wonderful place to just wander the streets and get a sense of the city’s personality. Beneath the resort façade is a culture of centuries-old traditions and deep spirituality. During my meanderings, I stumbled upon Sainte-Dévote Chapel, an adorable little church tucked into the cliff face overlooking the harbor. I soon learned that the church is quite literally adored, as it is one of the most venerated religious sites in Monaco. Dating from before 1070, the church is dedicated to Saint Dévote, the patron saint of Monaco. By tradition, the bride of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco leaves her bouquet here after the wedding ceremony.

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Venez-decouvrir-villa-paloma-monaco-L-1I was so charmed by the architecture, the city streets and the stunning views of the Mediterranean that the waning daylight took me by surprise. As I began to head back to the ship, I realized I had not visited the new modern art museum or the Jardin Exotique, a beautiful garden with one of the most extensive cactus collections in Europe. It quickly became clear that I would need to visit Monte Carlo again on another Oceania Cruises voyage! Until then, I would treasure the memory of my day here, which came to a perfect ending as I watched the moon rise over the sparkling lights of the city.

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