Summer vacation started off in the South of France with a group of close friends; home base being the town of Thoules once again, but also with day trips to St Tropez, Cannes, St Jean Cap Ferrat and Monaco. And once again, the days were filled with some of my favorite things in the world: French baguettes, French butter and bresse roasted chicken. We revisited many of our favorite spots of the year prior.
A new addition to the trip was spent taking the boat out to Lérins Islands off of Cannes for relaxing, swimming and enjoying lunch on the water. The crystal clear, warm blue waters surrounding the Lérins Islands are definitely a sight to be seen.
Also a first, we spent one night in a small town called Cagnes-sur-Mer, a medieval town 11 kilometers outside of Nice. We stayed at the Chateau Le Cagnard, which was once a knight’s castle. The chateau restaurant holds one Michelin star and overlooks the ocean as well as the small town below. This meal took the number one spot of fine dining of this trip. Service was phenomenal as well as the execution of each dish. The population of this town is very low and as we walked through the dimly lit, cobble stone streets at night alone, it felt as if we were back in those medieval times. Next time I visit the South of France, I will make it a point to spend more time here in Cagnes-sur-Mer.
Last year I had said that St Jean Cap Ferrat, France was the most beautiful place in the world that I have ever seen; I now have to retract that statement. The number one spot goes to my parents’ motherland, Italy, specifically the town of Portofino. We decided to rent a car and drive from Nice into Italy through Genoa, stopping for lunch in Santa Margherita before entering Portofino. I don’t know if this is me being bias, as my love for rustic Italian food runs deep, but as we had an incredible lunch overlooking the ocean, we realized the local cuisine here had much more soul and flavor with a significantly lower price tag.
Our first impression driving through Santa Margherita was how unbelievably beautiful and quaint this town was, but we really had no idea what was awaiting us in Portofino. After we drove 7 minutes through very narrow mountain roads, we had arrived. Although Portofino is an extremely small town, I don’t think you could ever get bored with the amount of beauty here.
By booking ahead of time, we lucked out with a small, modern apartment that’s windows overlooked Piazza Martiri Dell'Olivetta. This piazza is the most famous view of the town. It faces the port that is filled with boats, terracotta Italian homes, restaurants, mountains and warm street lights. As I opened the shutters of the apartment, it was like taking a glimpse back in time to a small fishing port in Italy - minus the docked super yachts nearby!
Almost immediately after we dropped our bags, we hiked up the mountain towards the lighthouse to Al Faro to catch the sunset with a celebratory bottle of Italian sparkling. Al Faro sits at the peak of the mountain overlooking the ocean with what seems to be a never ending sunset to your right. On the left, is a bird’s eye view of Portofino, which looks like a beautiful oil painting,…. a truly unbelievable view.
After many fancy meals in France, we were in the mood for some good old-fashioned Italian comfort food. Da Nicola Ristorante Pizzeria was doors down from the apartment directly in front of the port. After a day of traveling and hiking, we definitely ordered with our eyes, but I’m glad we did. The food here was incredible. We ordered a few different pastas and pizzas, but the standouts were the most simple: trofie pasta with pesto and then a margarita pizza. Pesto was on every menu in Portofino because of the extremely flavorful basil that grows locally. We ended up having pesto at least once a day, and each time we did, we missed the original one here at Nicola.
Each morning I got up early and walked through the town, popping in and out of the farmers markets and gathering ingredients for breakfast. The quality of food here is some of the best I’ve ever had in the world. Portofino is the definition of less is more and quality over quantity.
Hotel Belmond Hotel Splendido is an elegant, classic Italian luxury hotel sitting on the mountain to the left of Portofino. Although it’s one of the only extremely expensive places in this town, I highly recommend at least one cocktail on their terrace. The setting of Hotel Splendido reminded me of the Italian version of The Great Gatsby. This was the perfect place to have a pre-dinner negroni.
One of the mornings, my cousins from Piedmont came down to meet us. After days of too much eating and drinking wine in France, we decided to go paddle boarding in Paraggi Bay. Even if you’re not the outdoorsy type, this is a must do in Portofino. I could not think of a more beautiful setting to be floating around in. The constant thought that went through my head was “I can’t believe how beautiful and peaceful this place is.”
*Also highly recommended for dinner, Le Gritta in Portofino.