Great Drives: The Col de Braus

Recently I took advantage of a beautiful fall day and drove to the col de braus in the eastern backcountry, a spot that has been on my to-drive list for some time.

My route began on the D2204 just outside La Trinite, the industrial suburb north of Nice.

Admittedly, there is not much to see in La Trinite, but patience has its rewards. 

As I cruised into the hills, past the clutter of Cantaron, grunge gave way to green countryside.

Here the road meanders comfortably back and forth, the occasional straightaway appearing at just the right time beneath perfectly aligned rows of plane trees.

In twenty minutes I felt properly tucked away in the backcountry as I dropped down into L’Escarene, a pretty town built in the eleventh century at the confluence of the Redebraus and Paillon streams. The ancient bridge over the Paillon took me northeast toward Touet-de-L’Escarene, roughly 3 kilometers away. 

The road narrowed into a single lane as it cut through the center of Touet-de-L’Escarene, and as I crept along, I could almost touch the crumbling facades of the old houses that line the street.

Up to this point the climb had been mostly gradual, an easy lark on a weekend morning, but now, outside Touet-de-L’Escarene, the mountains rose up steep, jagged and breathtakingly beautiful.

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Soon I entered a series of switchbacks cut into the mountainside above a deep ravine. The sheer drop-off at the edge of the pavement was, at times, vertigo-inducing. The final set of “lacets”, eight hell-raising twists up a steep slope, made a fitting finale for a great drive. Continue reading

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To Catch A Thief: Take 15

Le Stuff’s Definitive Location Guide to Alfred Hitchcock’s Classic Film

Series Post #17

La Croisette and the cemetery in Cagnes-sur-mer

La Croisette

When we last saw John Robie (Cary Grant) he was struggling for his life in the middle of the night on the grounds of a beautiful villa located next to the Plage Passable in St Jean Cap Ferrat.

In the following scene Frances (Grace Kelly) and her mother (Jessie Royce Landis) walk down a busy street. A crowd has gathered around a newsstand and there is a palpable excitement concerning the latest headline.

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“LE CHAT EST MORT!” (THE CAT IS DEAD!)

The cat, it seems, is indeed dead, but it’s not John Robie, it’s Monsieur Foussard.

This quick scene takes place in Cannes on the wide walkway that runs along the shore between La Croisette and the beach. Continue reading

In Search of David Dodge

In Search of David Dodge

In August of 2010 I received an email from Jean Buchanan, a writer from England who had been commissioned to dramatize the novel “To Catch A Thief” for BBC Radio and to make an accompanying BBC Radio Arts feature about the writing of the book. American author David Dodge penned the thriller in 1950 while living in a rented villa (Villa Noel Fleuri) in the south of France with his wife and young daughter, Kendal. The idea for the story came to him after the luxurious villa next door was robbed by a daring “cat burglar” during a cocktail party. As guests dined on the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, the thief climbed in at the back of the house and snatched items from the guest bedrooms. Dodge would later remark that after hearing about the brazen robbery, “To Catch A Thief practically wrote itself!”

Jean had stumbled upon my blog during her research for the BBC projects and asked if I could help locate Villa Noel Fleuri. I agreed to assist in any way possible and the search began, aided in no small part by another of Jean’s recruits, Randal S. Brandt in Berkeley, California. Randal is the creator of A David Dodge Companion, an outstanding website devoted to the works of David Dodge .

Several months prior to hearing from Jean I had actually been in touch with Dodge’s daughter (at that time she was still alive and living in Mexico) in an attempt to find the villa used as John Robie’s house in Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation of the book. I asked her about the villa she lived in with her father and her only memory was of a long, winding driveway with lots of trees leading up to the house. She thought it had been somewhere near Juan les Pins.  Continue reading

Mr. Dodge, Mr Hitchcock, and the French Riviera

If you’re a To Catch A Thief fan you simply cannot miss Jean Buchanan’s fabulous new book, Mr Dodge, Mr Hitchcock, and the French Riviera: The story behind To Catch a Thief.

This is the definitive narrative on the complete story, from American author David Dodge’s inspiration for his novel (a daring burglary that took place next door to the villa he was renting in the south of France), to the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film.

Trust me…settle in, pour yourself a nice glass of claret, and get ready for a wonderful tale full of glamorous movie stars, daring thieves, and just the right amount of mystery.

You won’t regret it!
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An Evening in St Tropez…

A few years ago I had dinner with two female friends in St Tropez.

The restaurant was very stylish, one of those where you sit outside along a charming, pedestrian-only street, sip wine, watch the ultra-chic stroll by, and pretend you belong there.

It was a wonderful evening except for the fact that my friends kept rambling on about how incredibly handsome our waiter was.  I’m not usually the jealous type, but an entire meal spent talking about an attractive waiter is a bit much don’t you think?

Something else bothered me.

He was apparently so good-looking that they were rendered completely oblivious to his abysmal English.  I’m not just lashing out here.  My Italian was better than his English and I don’t speak Italian.  For the girls, though, the carnage discharged from his mouth that night sounded as smooth and silky as just-served foie gras.

“Oh my god, did you see his eyes?”

“An endless sea of blue!”

“I know!  I know!  And it’s so obvious he works out!”

“And his English is sooooo good!”

“I know!  I know!”

During the first course, thankfully, Mr. Marvelous remained pleasantly absent, resting comfortably, I assumed, in a secret mirrored room reserved exclusively for irritating handsome people.

Then, at just the right moment, he swept in on a cloud of pulchritude to collect our plates. Continue reading

Bon Manger

When dining out context plays such an important role that it’s sometimes difficult to focus solely on the meal. This is why I’m ambivalent when it comes to eating at 3 starred restaurants.

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It’s very difficult to focus on the food when there’s a complex dog and pony show going on around you.

I have rarely left a 3 starred establishment talking about the food, rather, I tend say things like “Did you count how many people were serving us?” or “My water glass never got below half-full!”

Dine at a 3 starred restaurant and you will no doubt walk away dazzled, but given the choice I’ll spend my hard-earned Euros at a good old mom and pop establishment anytime. Continue reading

To Catch A Thief: Take 14

Le Stuff’s Definitive Location Guide to Alfred Hitchcock’s Classic Film

Series Post #16

The Picnic Site Revisited

When I started Le Stuff in June of 2009 I had no idea I would come across so many people who shared my quirky fascination with To Catch A Thief

I have been fortunate over the years to gain insight into the film and its locations from numerous devoted readers.

One person, though, stands out above the rest.

The latest research by Luca has been languishing in my email inbox for too long now and, as usual, he has truly done his due diligence.

All of the photos in this post (except for the screenshots) were taken by Luca.

More to follow….

The approach to the picnic site looking west.

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Again, approaching from the west. Luca stood on the roof of the garage that now sits next to the picnic site in order to take this photo. The shot approximately matches Hitchcock’s camera position (though at a different height). Continue reading

La Source Parfumee

PnKJOvLa Source Parfumee is a hidden gem.

Stretched out along the edge of a cliff high above the Gorges du Loup and just down the road from the village of Gourdon, it is a quiet, quirky place. A lush garden seemingly untended and running wild. Thyme, jasmine, lavender, orange trees, genista, and alpine flowers dot the hillside.

No one was there when I visited.

Take a chunk of cheese, a baguette, a bottle of wine, and stay a while…

La Source Parfumee provides the flowers, flavors , and scents for many of the soaps, lotions, and perfumes sold in Gourdon. From Gourdon take a right on the D3 heading east. The garden is a few minutes drive down the road on the right. There is a sign on the left hand side and a small gravel patch for parking. Entrance is free.

The Sunbeam Alpine Roadster, Sex, and Celluloid

To Catch A Thief is a sexy film, though not in the way we view sexuality today.

It is oblique, subtle, suggestive.

There is an allusion to sex that leaves the viewer wanting more.

Grace Kelly, icy cool and devastatingly beautiful, gliding across the room in a perfectly fitted evening gown. Cary Grant, confident, swaggering, and always ready with a clever line.

Even the car driven by Kelly exudes an elegant sexuality.

The powder blue Sunbeam Alpine Roadster is seductive, sophisticated, unattainable…until now.

I recently received an email from Tom Holland, a California man who is parting ways with the ultimate To Catch A Thief souvenir. His Sunbeam Alpine Roadster, an exact replica of the car driven in the movie, is for sale.

It is completely restored and in mint condition. The exterior and interior colors perfectly match the car featured in the film (as do the front and back license plates). The Roadster even has its own agent in Los Angeles and was recently showcased in an InStyle Magazine article featuring Drew Barrymore. Continue reading

Bière à la pression

I love that the United States is smack in the middle of a craft beer revolution.

I’m a firm believer in supporting small businesses, especially ones that get people drunk. The proliferation throughout the country of these independent entrepreneurs can only add fire to a still sluggish economy and I support their efforts wholeheartedly.

There is something, however, that I like a little more than the current American brew-ha-ha.

I like being able to walk into any bar in France and ordering une pression (a draught beer).

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That’s it.

The server will not ask what type of draught you prefer and he/she will not launch into a wild-eyed, protracted monologue about the latest honey brown pale ale porter blah blah blah they just tapped. At times you might be asked if you would prefer a small or large pression but clearly this is an inside joke flitted about occasionally by native French citizens who enjoy teasing non-natives.

Small?

Funny little server.

As a reward for your basic request you will be issued a tall glass of cold, golden, perfectly respectable beer.

Now, readers may take issue with Continue reading

To Catch A Thief: Take 13

Le Stuff’s Definitive Location Guide to Alfred Hitchcock’s Classic Film

Series Post #15

Plage de Passable, St Jean Cap Ferrat

One afternoon several years ago I made what turned out to be a fortuitous decision.  I had just paid my tab at a snazzy little joint overlooking Villefranche.  The houses scattered along the steep hillside below the restaurant were bathed in an ethereal, only-in-the-south-of-France, sunlight.  A breeze rose up from the Mediterranean and I heard yet another person remark with absolute certainty that the outline of Corsica can be seen from the coast of France on a clear day.

This is nonsense.

Maybe, just maybe if you are a young Clark Kent, but even then I doubt it.

Normally after a two hour lunch (wine included) I would have made a bee-line to my apartment, careening into the little parking lot on Place Francis Paulet in a semi-conscious state, drool imminent.  Not caring the slightest if I closed the car door or even had pants on, I would hobble zombie-like to La Placette, stumble inside, and head straight to bed for an afternoon nap.

But not on this day.  I bravely pushed aside my self-induced somnolence and decided to pay a visit Continue reading

To Catch A Thief: Take 12

Le Stuff’s Definitive Location Guide to Alfred Hitchcock’s Classic Film

Series Post #14

Room 623: The Carlton in Cannes

There’s a wonderful scene in To Catch A Thief in which Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly’s character) is escorted to her hotel room by John Robie (played by Cary Grant).  She opens the door, turns, gives him a long, cool kiss, and then without saying a word, steps inside and closes the door.  Robie is left grinning and bemused.

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The room, of course, is at The Carlton in Cannes, number 623.  The interior is featured later when Francie invites Robie in for a drink, more kissing, a fireworks display in the Golfe de la Napoule, and several clever innuendoes that somehow managed to slip past the censors.

For several years I was certain that Brigitte Auber had told me Continue reading

To Catch A Thief: Take 11

Le Stuff’s Definitive Location Guide to Alfred Hitchcock’s Classic Film

Series Post #13

“Have you ever seen any place in the world more beautiful?”
Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly’s character) in To Catch A Thief

TCAT Picnic Scene

It would have been impossible for Grace Kelly to predict what the future held for her as she gazed out over the sun-drenched Cote D’Azur, arms stretched wide, and delivered her line.

She was sitting next to Cary Grant in a light blue Alpine Sports Roadster with cameras, crew, and surely, the ever-present Alfred Hitchcock mere steps away. Below them, down the steep, barren slope, past the expensive villas dotting the hillside, the principality of Monaco lay spread out against the blue Mediterranean.

Kelly would soon marry Monaco’s Prince Ranier and help turn the tiny principality into a wildly popular international tourist destination.  She would Continue reading

Reflections of a Zen Master

This post was originally written in 2011.

Let me start out by saying I realize I have not returned to the States, wiser and more contemplative, from a three year stint living in a remote Tibetan temple.

I have, however, just returned from an extended trip to France, and as usual, feel somewhat reflective.  Listed below are five things that struck me as I stepped off the plane in Philadelphia after my transatlantic flight.

1) Television news media is crap, and I apologize for the insult to all self-respecting crap. I don’t care if you’re right-wing, left-wing, or chicken-wing, if you’re spending any time at all watching CNN, FOX, MSNBC, etc., then you are wasting valuable time.  It is shocking what passes for news these days.

2) We eat way too much bad food.
One thing you have to give the French is their unwavering devotion to good food.  We in the States, unfortunately, don’t share the same passion, though things do seem to be improving a bit.  It’s no wonder Continue reading

L’Armoise, Champagne, and The New York Times

I received a handful of Emails on Sunday, each with a link to a New York Times article entitled “A French Riviera Gastrocrawl” by Alexander Lobrano.

In the piece Mr. Lobrano reviews four noteworthy restaurants along the Cote D’Azur (two in Nice, one in Cagnes sur Mer, and one in Antibes).

L’Armoise, his choice in old Antibes, has been at the top of my “to-do” list for some time, thanks in no small part to a beautiful blond Norwegian friend, Maren, a wonderful singer who lives in a stunning house in the old town.  She has been raving about L’Armoise and Chef Laurent Parrinello for years and insists that I make it my first stop during my next visit to Antibes.

So I had to smile when I read the last line of Mr. Lobrano’s article:

“Over dessert, we ended up falling into conversation with a beautiful blond Norwegian singer and drinking Champagne well into the night — a classic Riviera coda to the storied coastline’s terrific new cooking.”

The beautiful blond Norwegian singer, it seems, does indeed have good taste in restaurants.

The New York Times agrees.

L’Armoise
2, rue de la Tourraque, Vieil-Antibes
(33-4) 92-94-96-13
Prix-fixe menus 40, 45 and 70 euros
Closed Monday.

Maren’s 5 bedroom home, Casa Mare, is located on a charming, pedestrian-only street in old Antibes.  Available for weekly rentals year-round.  For more information click here

Bertani’s Staircase: Mystery Solved

robie on restaurant verandaThe only To Catch A Thief location that has given me fits is the staircase leading down to Bertani’s restaurant.  I had reached the frustrating conclusion that it was destroyed forever when the port was renovated in the 1970’s.

Well, not so fast.

Grant and Hitchcok below “Bertani’s Steps” in Monaco.

Enter Luca, a devoted Le Stuff reader from Turin, Italy.

Luca and I had exchanged a few Emails regarding TCAT’s picnic site (which he correctly located) when he told me that he had also found Bertani’s steps.

I was skeptical.

I soon learned, though, never to underestimate a man on a mission.

Luca had indeed located the steps and the process by which he discovered them is a veritable lesson in tenacity.

How did he do it?

First, he Continue reading

Locations in the New Citroen Car Commercial

Many thanks to everyone who commented and Emailed their suggestions regarding the locations used in the new Citroen DS5 commercial.

The correct locations are:

0:01 – The D3 leading up to the village of Gourdon (Gourdon can be seen in the background).
0:04 – The D2 driving east toward the village of Greolieres.  This section of road is extremely popular and has been featured in numerous car commercials, movies (Ronin – beginning at 0:31 to 0:59 and Goldeneye – beginning at 2:14 (Greolieres in the background) to 3:16. to name just two), and on countless car review sites.
0:20 – On the Promenade des Anglais in Nice near the old town.
The Hotel Suisse and Hotel La Perouse can be seen in the background.

 

Need more proof that the best driving roads are in the south of France?

French car-manufacturer Citroen recently held a contest so that five lucky folks could preview the new DS5 while spending a luxurious weekend enjoying the sights and sounds of the French Riviera.

Their new video highlights a few spectacular locations featured on Le Stuff’s Mini Cooper Tour.

Think you know the south of France?

Correctly identify (just leave a comment) the locations in the video at 0:01, 0:04, and 0:20, and I’ll be impressed.

I’ll post the correct answers in a few days.

Une Etoile!

Never let it be said that Le Stuff fails to steer serious foodies to the proper table.

A favorite restaurant, about which I previously posted here and here, has received a Michelin Star.  

L’Hostellerie du Chateau, located in the small, absurdly picturesque village of Le Bar sur Loup, has hit the big time.

It is long overdue.

For those not familiar with the Michelin Star, let me give you a quick heads-up.

It’s a big deal, a really big deal, especially in France where top chefs can attain rock-star status.

So félicitations L’Hostellerie du Chateau!

I always knew you had it in you.

ROAD TRIPS 101: THE BASICS

A top-notch European road-trip requires less effort than you might think.

A sense of adventure and an open mind certainly help, as does a willingness to try new foods, wines, sights, and smells.  It should not, contrary to what most folks believe, require a tremendous amount of money.

With a little advance planning you too can be tooling around Europe, your next adventure just around the corner.

Airline Tickets:
The first rule of thumb is to try to be as flexible as possible when it comes to your travel dates.  Off-season travel will always be cheaper than in high season.

When booking flights I always start with Kayak.

Why?

Because Kayak displays sample pricing for the entire month, not just a single day.  This allows the savvy traveler to pinpoint the cheapest days of travel for any given month.  Don’t think that’s helpful?  Just try finding the cheapest travel days in the month on your own.  My guess is it will take you, oh…. about 30 to 31 separate searches.

Packing:
This is as easy as it gets but most people just can’t seem to pack lightly.

What does “packing lightly” mean exactly?

Well, I checked with corporate headquarters on this one and according to the Le Stuff International Guidelines For Light Packing Continue reading