April 29, 2006

(April 29, 2006) If you are in Nice and want a short day-trip to some beautiful scenery and some charming villages take the A8 east and exit at #59 in the direction of Sospel as we did one fine May day. Our first stop, after some great scenery, was Castillon, a perched village that has been taken over by artists and their ateliers. Since it is only an hour or so from Nice we only wanted coffee, but the chef at the cute little restaurant on the Place Lucien Rousset, not only supplied us with cappucini but also a large and a very tasty tarte au pommes as a consolation for having run out of the six croissants he buys daily at the village’s bakery.

We vowed to go back to try the food which seemed honest, fresh and certainly all house-made. The Bastide des Arts (04 93 04 29 87) has limited hours—winters only on Saturday and Sunday (sur commande! in the evenings), but spring and fall he is there every day but Monday and then in the summer every day. Probably best to call for specifics.

Our route took us up through Sospel, with a stop just before to check out l’Auberge Provençale (04 93 04 00 31) which looked well worth a try another time. Then we entered Italy near Olivetta, and now our stomachs were ready for lunch. With nothing in any of the books, we just kept looking finally turning off the road for Airole.airole1.jpgWe were absolutely amazed. It is a beautifully preserved and restored old town with all sorts of winding, cobble-stoned streets. It also has two restaurants, Ristorante U Carugiu, (0184 200 500) which is closed on Tuesday, and Ristorante u veciu defisiu which is closed on Wednesdays. Since it was Tuesday, we ate in the latter. In the beginning, Varian was the only woman there. Most of the other tables had some number of men, dressed in work clothes, casual attire and even one suit-and-tie (the mayor?). All were local and known by the waiter whom we assumed is the husband of the young female chef.Gary started with melon and prosciutto while Varian had the 7-item antipasto, which had roasted peppers with an anchovy cream sauce, a cream and pea filled crepe, a pie of carrots and onions, stuffed artichokes, etc. All were very tasty. Then Gary took the trout with sage, and Varian the rabbit. The trout was broiled with butter and sage — and delicious. The rabbit was – well rabbit — which made it more than acceptable for a light lunch. We finished with plates of fresh Italian cheese—Taleggio, Mozzarella and Gorgonzola Dolce.

For wines, we started with a tasty and spirited (14-degree) Roccese di Airole 2004 (shared) and with Gary’s fish, a 1/2 bottle of Vermintino Gajaudo from Isolabona. Both went down well. The whole meal came to 75 €, no cards accepted.

As we left, the nice young waiter (owner?) gave us two brochures, one on the local wine, the Roccese, and the other on A Trincea, apparently a company that is working hard to restore the villages, industry and old way of life in the area (

From Airole, more beautiful scenery and a profusion of wild poppies during a 20-minute, drive down the valley to Ventimiglia, passing through Trucco which looked as though it had some nice local restaurants. Next time!

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