Monday, August 29, 2011

Everyday is market day on Cours Saleya. Summer 2011 Travelogue (5)

Cours Saleya, Nice (between 1890 and 1905)

It's been a week since I returned from my most excellent adventure in Nice. Déjà. (Already.)

I miss you, Nice, mon amie. I miss your blue skies, the Mediterranean, your colorful walls, your olive trees and giant palm trees. I can't wait to see you again. Do you want to know how much I miss you? Look at what I brought home a few days ago.

My little piece of Provence...

That's right, it's an olive tree. OK, a baby olive tree. It will not survive in Seattle if I don't bring it inside in the winter, but I thought I would give it a try. Every time I look at it, I will be reminded of you, Nice, and of my walk through that beautiful olive grove, on Cimiez hill. Nostalgique, moi? Un peu.

Today I would like to tell the story of a favorite place of mine: le Cours Saleya. That street, as the French say, is "in-con-tour-na-ble" (not to be missed.)

I did not spend a single day in Nice without walking along le Cours Saleya at least once. It was different every time. The light, the people, the colors, kept changing on me. Still, it felt oddly familiar by the end of my first weekend there.

Le Cours Saleya neighborhood has always been the heart of Nice. Ideally located, it sits by the Old Town, and a few steps away from the Mediterranean. It was built near the old ramparts (they protected the city and were dismantled in 1706.) The old walls were replaced by two rows of contiguous houses. Known as "les Ponchettes," (*) they were originally small warehouses where fishermen stored their gear. Their roofs were flat, and as early as the 18th century, they started acting as terraces where locals and visitors used to stroll, admiring the Mediterranean nearby and those glorious Nice sunsets.

Le Cours Saleya developed next to them, replacing the former gardens of the old Ducal palace (today's préfecture, seat of the region's government.) On the following picture, you can see the two rows of "Ponchettes", and the Cours Saleya market stalls behind them. 

Elegant boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops soon opened on Cours Saleya, attracting more visitors. By 1839 the  Visconti bookstore, complete with a terrace, became the intellectual center of Nice, the place to see and to be seen. 

In 1861, the Saleya fruit and vegetable market, soon followed by the flower market, were born. Producers and wholesalers struck deals all week long. From there, flowers were shipped expeditiously all over Europe. The market kept growing. So did its reputation, and the crowds.

In 1873, the modern version of the famous Nice Carnival took place cours Saleya every winter.

Cours Saleya: the Fish Market (1900, Rose Calvino)

Today, Cours Saleya survives and continues to entertain and enthrall visitors. Is it the faded buildings with stunning façades glowing in the sunset? The sounds, the colors, the sheer energy of the place? The vendors calling out? The smell of spices, fresh herbs, and flowers? Hard to tell. All of the above.

The old terraces on top of "les Ponchettes" (*) are now closed. The Carnival has been moved to a different neighborhood. In 1980, Cours Saleya became a "pedestrian-only" area when a parking lot was built underground. A smart move. 

Deals are still being made, though wholesalers have left. Merchants and visitors engage in friendly banter. The selection is varied and oh, so tempting. Flowers and herbs, fragrant hand-milled soaps and fresh produce in the mornings, except Mondays, when antiques (more of a flea market, really) take over. Jewelry and crafts at night, when restaurants and cafés sprawl out in the street, greeting diners. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Nowhere is it more true than at the Cours Saleya's market.

Cours Saleya market: Greeting shoppers during the day...
Cours Saleya: Welcoming diners at night
Antiques and bric-à-brac

Marseilles hand-milled soap bars

Zucchini flowers are used to make flower fritters, a local delicacy

These small courgettes are perfect to prepare "les petits farcis" 
(stuffed vegetables)

Fruit and vegetable are the market's true stars, or are they? 

Meet Thereza, the market's self-proclaimed "Queen." She has been featured in many guidebooks and television shows for years. You might say she is a local celebrity. 

The colorful Thereza claims she makes the best socca in Nice, you see. Socca used to be a snack for peasants and workers. It is the poor man's food if you will. Thereza charges 3 Euros for a generous serving of this very thin and soft pancake, served slightly crispy on the edges. Ingredients? Chickpea flour and olive oil. It is quite tasty, even if you are not hungry.

Thereza has been doing this for a long time. She is, as the French say, a "maîtresse femme." In other words, you don't mess with Thereza! Her husband cooks la socca in a small shop located two blocks away from my studio in the heart of the Old Town. As soon as it comes out of the oven, he loads the big pan on his scooter, and rushes to le Cours Saleya where the formidable Thereza (and impatient customers) are waiting. Within seconds, a line forms and she wastes no time slicing and serving la socca. It takes less than 5 minutes for the big dish to be empty.  

People are waiting but nobody cuts the line: Thereza would not approve!

Whether Thereza (and her husband) do, actually, make the best socca, remains to be seen. Does it matter? One thing is for certain: Thereza delivers one of the best shows in town.

There is so much more I could write about Nice, and so many photos I could post. Instead, I will let my good friend Rick Steves wrap up this most excellent adventure. After all, he has proved a faithful travel companion during this trip. Merci pour les tuyaux, Rick (thanks for the travel tips, Rick.)

One last thing: While watching this short video, pay special attention to Cours Saleya (2:20) and meet the great Thereza, Queen of the Market! (2:50) A bientôt.
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  1. Fascinating Veronique and fabulous photos as always!
    I'm intrigued by the market which has stalls by day and dining by evening. What a very clever idea!
    Where does the food come from? Restaurants at the side of the road? I assume that these cafes take over market space in the evening?

  2. Bonjour Véronique, je suis pressé d'y aller maintenant, après avoir lu tout ceci, mmm, les olives, les tomates, le socca, tout à l'air somptueux... voilà, tu as bien réussi à me tenter de faire un saut là bas (mais bon, on a besoin de peu d'incitation pour partir vers le sud de la (belle) France, n'est-ce pas ?

    Bon courage à ton petit olivier, pour survivre le climat séattleien... et pour vous donner des olives aussi jolies que ceux du marché de Nice :-)

    J'adore les olives farcies avec de l'ail, des amandes, de l'anchois même...

  3. Thank you so much for this post! Such a market is the dream of any person. I wish we had such a place in Toronto. Thank you for the photos, which have brightened my day.

  4. Merci beaucoup for another interesting post. Your photos are beautiful. Including the Rick Steves' video as a finale was great. Welcome home to the PNB.

  5. -- Craig -- Bonjour to you and thank you for stopping by. Hope all is well and Boris is getting ready for fall. The food served outside at night is prepared in the restaurants and cafes lining up Le Cours Saleya. Terraces just spread out at night once the merchants are gone. It's all very clever and well organized.
    -- Owen -- Moi aussi, j'adore les olives. Petit olivier deviendra-t-il grand? Mystere... En attendant, je le surveille de pres.
    -- Olga -- You are welcome, friend. It sounds as if you could use a stroll on Cours Saleya these days. It is truly a fun, energetic place.

  6. J'aime votre histoire de Nice. Grandes photos, aussi.
    Mais Provence en Washington? Je pense que non. Ou, mais, peut-être. Aujourd'hui, presque quelque chose est possible, je devinent.
    A la prochaine.

  7. --Cherie -- Merci, chère étudiante et fidèle lectrice du blog. Je suis impatiente de te revoir au Studio de Français.
    -- Rob=bear -- Merci de votre visite. Pour la Provence à Washington, rien n'est certain mais je ferai de mon mieux. A bientôt j'espère.

  8. Dearest Véronique,

    Oh, my... we both have a lot more in common than we thought at first.
    When I saw your olive tree I thought right away, how come she took a picture of MY olive tree? Ha-ha, we too cling to the Mediterranean culture. Food, lavender, flowers, pâtisserie etc. etc. This was good for my soul to be fed with those lovely images and video.
    About our kitchen, it is 20 years old, only the Miele Cooktop and the Italian Ilve sinks are new. Indeed, Miele is the best and the joy to work with it makes chores a pleasure! We did select the lot to build on for having the sun from the east, for a sunny petit dejeuner! It picks you right up and is such a happy way to start any day. Sunshine is lovely.
    Take care and thanks for this lovely post (as well as the previous one!).
    Love to you,


  9. La socca est une spécialité niçoise, elle existe aussi en Provence, sous le nom de "cade"; mais c'est la même :)
    Ton petit olivier est bien joli dans son pot; beau souvenir!

  10. stopped by yesterday...but was pressed for time-IRENE CLEAN-UP-wanted to say SIMPLY LOVELY...the colors, the sights, the sounds, the smells-the feel of being there-what a talent you have to be able to transport us-as ALWAYS a huge thank you!!-g

  11. -- Mariette -- I am so glad we both have baby olive trees. Let us see which climate will be the kindest to them (I am betting on Georgia!) I need to post a picture of our new French Bistro set (imported from France of course). I placed it on our covered porch so we can enjoy it throughout the fall. It has been wonderful sitting out there and enjoying my coffee this summer. We definitely have a LOT in common. Take care.
    -- Filo -- Le petit olivier ne vient pas de France hélas. Les Douanes américaines me l'auraient confisqué. Il est né ici, quelque part en Californie, et il passera l'hiver dans la maison sinon... Merci de ta visite!
    -- g-- Mon amie, how are you doing out there? Did Irene damage your house? Hopefully not. What a weekend this has been on the East Coast. I hope you are all doing well. Send some news when you get a chance. V.

  12. V-oh my gosh-how sweet you are...the shore house was in one of the counties that required total evacuation...wildwood crest(cape may county) never knew it was one of those "barrier" islands everything not in the cement was put inside the house and THANKFULLY only slight wind/water damage the beach did not make out as well erosion and the like. the home in philadelphia suffered some water damage not much but the area around the house is a mess debris/branches stuff like that-and the backyard is swamp like -THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR THE MOST KIND THOUGHTS!! now- i eagerly await photos of the authentic french bistro - olive tree - bistro chair -NOW THAT IS LIVING!! i sure hope our fall is long and warm so you enjoy as much time as possible in your little bit of heaven. i hope jr is making a smooth transition back into academia--as well as yourself...when are you officially back in the language studio. OH ----LA RENTREE- it has always been both friend and foe! once again HEARTFELT thanks-ton amie -g

  13. -- g -- Saw your message while i was "watching" Junior at soccer practice tonight. So glad you are ok and only suffered minor damage at the house. Good luck with the clean up. I can only imagine that is not too much fun. Pictures of "Mediterranean-inspired deck" to follow in future post. A bientot!

  14. Now, I am inspired to get an olive tree. We have "sweet olive" trees in our yard but they are not fruit-producing. I think that an olive would survive on my veranda during our mild winters. Hummmmm...

    Your coverage of Nice is every bit as fine as Rick's and how perfect that you have some fabulous photos of Thereza... I started drooling with the shot of olives and slobbered right through the (huge) figs and socca!

    I know that I am going to love Nice and will be visiting some blog friends when I go.

    I cannot wait for your next installment...


  15. One word always comes to mind when I'm reading your Europe posts and that is "quaint." Everything seems so lovely and picturesque and peaceful. :)

  16. -- Genie -- Maybe I should just say: "Bon Appetit" when you take off ?! ;-) Thanks for stopping by.
    -- Jennifer Fabulous -- Well, my dear, Old Europe aims to please, always. Of course, it is "quaint." (as long as you don't call me "quaint", I am ok ;-)

  17. CHÈRE VÉRO!!!!

    J'étais LÀ!!!! Il y a 9 ans, j'habitais NICE et je m'en souviens bien. SALEYA, oh bien sûr; j'y fréquenté le jeudi avant d'aller à l'école. J'habitais rue crois!!!! Et la dame qui prépare le SOCCA...oh merci pour ce billet.

    ET à toi aussi...BONNE RENTRÉE! Anita

  18. -- Andressa -- Thank you for your visit! Stop by anytime.
    -- Anita -- You lived in Nice, lucky dog! Bonne chance a l'ecole la semaine prochaine.

  19. Veronique - You have taken me back once again. This is a lovely post - yes Nice is magical. Thank you for recapturing the magic.
    x Suzi

  20. I enjoyed this journey... love the market, its got so many wonderful things. Love the lavenders and the varieties of fruits on display. Wish I could taste one of Tereza's delicacies.

  21. Thanks for this - I have just moved near to Nice and am loving exploring the city - loved reading your posts to get nme even more inspired!! Greetings from the Riviera....

  22. Hopefully I will be visiting Cours Saleya in a few weeks, can't wait!

  23. -- Dash, I am so excited for you! If you are looking for a place to stay in the Old Town, you may want to look at I have found it to be an excellent resource as you go through property owners directly. Try to hit Cours Saleya every morning (an easy thing to do from the Old Town) as the flower market does not happen on Mondays. V.

  24. Hello,
    What a great article on a topic that's so near and dear to our hearts. Thanks for sharing the closet-love!


Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle