My article written for FRANCE ON YOUR OWN newsletter:
When thinking of the French Riviera, Nice in particular, the senses become engaged: the sight of the azure Mediterranean Sea, the sound of the waves softly lapping the shoreline, the feel of the pebbles underfoot as you walk on the beach, the smell of the salty sea mist in the air, and mostly, the taste of local specialties, such as salade niçoise and socca (a pancake made from chickpea flour and served warm with black pepper). With a Mediterranean climate and average of 300 days of sunshine, the area is indeed attractive and booming.
When thinking of the Dordogne region, Sarlat in particular, the senses become equally engaged: the sight of medieval architecture and castles, the sound of market vendors selling their wares, the feel of cobblestones underfoot as you walk through the historical center, the smell of countryside air, and mostly, the taste of local specialties such as foie gras (duck liver that originated in ancient Egypt around 2500 BC and now is emblematic of French gastronomy) and black truffles (an edible fungus that averages 500-1000€ per kg). With the variety of four distinct climatic seasons, the area is a kaleidoscope of landscape colors.
Both places are famous for their cultural activities that attract tourists from far and wide, especially the outdoor markets promoting local produce and regional specialties: Cours Saleya in Old Nice and Place de la Mairie in the historical center of Sarlat. Tourism is vital to both: Nice has a population of approximately 340,000 and attracts an average of 5,000,000 visitors a year, while Sarlat’s population is around 10,000 with an average of 1,500,000 visitors per year. Due to its smaller size, the town of Sarlat has a more drastic decline in visitors than the city of Nice during the winter months, not to mention overall colder temperatures, yet both host cultural events to attract tourists during the low season.
Trivia & Tidbits:
- the meaning of Nice (Nikaia in Greek) is the Goddess of victory; it became part of France in 1860
- the original name of the Promenade des Anglais was “La Strada del Littorale” and it was originally made of marble
- Albert 1st park is named after a Belgian king and is the oldest garden in Nice
- the Carnaval has been a tradition for 700 years
- the name “Côte d’Azur” was coined by the writer and poet, Stephen Liegeard, in 1888
- the destruction of the castle on Castle Hill was ordered in 1706 by Louis XIV, but this resulted in the city’s growth
- Nice’s traditional flower is the carnation; Nice’s specialty olive is the “caillette”, and tapenade is called the “caviar of Nice”
- candied fruit was a favorite delicacy of Queen Victoria
- Cours Saleya market was named after the sun “soleil” and has been Nice’s main market since the Middle Ages
- Architecturally: Italian colors are ochre and yellow; French colors are beige and white – as seen in Place Massena
- Sarlat-la-Canéda (or simply Sarlat) is located in the Dordogne département of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in southwestern France
- Inhabited since Gallo-Roman times, Sarlat became prosperous at the end of the 8th century
- The town suffered from the Norman invasions and then from the Hundred Years War, owing to its position as a frontier region between the kings of France and England
- Sarlat, one of the most popular of the Dordogne villages, developed around a large Benedictine abbey of Carolingian origin
- Most of the town has been preserved and is representative of 14th century France with authentic restoration work
- Sarlat’s weekly market has been in existence since the Middle Ages
- Known for its regional specialties of foie gras, duck confit, walnuts, & truffles
- Sarlat’s emblem is the salamander, due to its S shape and also because it once was featured on the coat of arms of the French monarchy
- Host to an annual film festival since 1991
For traveling, you can’t beat the accessibility of the Nice airport and the city’s extensive bus system (except when there is a strike, bien sûr!). By contrast, the Dordogne’s rural setting and its smaller airports significantly increases overall travel time, resulting in difficulty in getting to and from international destinations, except perhaps to the U.K.
As for ambiance, while living in Nice, I woke up to the cacophony of cars, buses, and pedestrians, inherent with city living and its hustle and bustle of activity. Compare that setting to Sarlat, where morning birdsong and the sound of an occasional car passing by is the norm – a matter of urban vs. rural setting, each with its pros/cons & sounds: Chacun à son gout (to each his own)!