Scrummy half: a tasty tour before the rugby in France’s foodie Nice

Win or lose, rugby supporters travelling to the southern city are in for a treat as writer Sally Ann Voak finds out

La baie des Anges, Nice; Maison Auer, Queen Victoria’s favourite sweet shop; pissaladière made with onions and anchovies
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Earlier this year, I joined a group of tourists from the US and Canada to devour tour guide Nadia Farmer’s local knowledge of food in Nice – along with her stuffed veggies, mineral water, wine, local orange blossom bread, chilled limoncello and freshly baked meringue tarts.

“If you want to shop for more snacks en route, look for the Cuisine Nissarde label depicting a girl and her basket of vegetables,” Ms Farmer advised us.

“This means the store has at least three specialities that are based on authentic old recipes and tested by a panel of local connoisseurs.”

Read more: Rugby World Cup in Nice is boost for South African foodie tour guide

First stop - wine in the Old Town

As we entered the Old Town away from the heat of the beach, we began to relax.

Les Grandes Caves Caprioglio on Rue de la Préfecture was our first stop.

Established in 1910 and still run by the fourth generation of the same family, it really is huge.

You can try robust country wines from Var, 40 different organic wines, bottles from Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône and a full range of delicious Provençal rosés.

I spotted Churchill’s favourite champagne and their cellar also holds a bottle of Romanée-Conti for €20,000.

Read more: Rosé wine guide - a tour through France’s pink wine producing regions

Anchovies, olives and cheese

We left with a selection of chilled wines to be enjoyed around the oak barrels outside the shop.

Ms Farmer also whipped out a freshly baked baguette and a rustic feast of farm cheeses and charcuterie, which we had picked up from Susanne, the cheesemonger at Cours Saleya open-air market.

As we nibbled our bread and olives, we learned that anchovies, the most important ingredient in a salade niçoise, became a diet staple in the city during the 17th century.

“Necessity, rather than taste, made fishermen haul in this little fish, which swims near the shore,” Ms Farmer told us.

“Venturing further out into the Mediterranean for larger fish was highly dangerous. Pirates were even more threatening than brigands from the nearby mountains.”

People learned how to prepare anchovies in different ways, with pasta or vegetables. Some 300 years later, they are still a popular choice in local restaurants.

Queen Victoria’s favourite sweet shop

Just along the street from the wine emporium, we stepped into Maison Auer, Queen Victoria’s favourite confiserie. Its sumptuous interior is virtually unchanged since 1820.

“She would order sweet treats for guests and often pop in on the way to the opera house opposite to select chocolates, marrons glacés or candied fruits,” Ms Farmer told us.

“More recent customers have included the late Jean-Paul Belmondo, who used the shop as a backdrop in the 1984 comedy Happy Easter.

Read more: The places in France where British Royals have lived and holidayed

Midday cannon reminder to eat

Just before noon, we waited for the midday cannon to fire from the top of Castle Hill.

“The daily shot is a reminder that we should all rest and eat, even those enjoying the sunshine on the beach” explained Ms Farmer.

“Legend has it that a Scottish lord had the cannon installed at his own expense in 1861 to remind his wandering wife that it was lunchtime,” although this fanciful story has since been debunked.

Read more: Nice changes traditional cannon to honour visiting Scottish rugby team

Art, music and splendid churches

Art and music are also important parts of Nice’s heritage.

Among famous painters to have lived here are Henri Matisse, while Niccolò Paganini played his violin at 23 Rue de la Préfecture and Hector Berlioz composed music on Castle Hill.

These days, Elton John has a villa here, which Ms Farmer points out.

With its baroque churches, the great bell of Sainte Réparate cathedral ringing out, a chapel or convent on almost every street and regular festivals and services, the Old Town also preserves its religious faith quite splendidly.

Patron saint of impossible causes

Our tour included a visit to Ms Farmer’s favourite holy site in the city, the Église Sainte Rita.

“Rita was a 15th century Augustinian nun from Umbria, who was canonised in 1900.

“Italians still come from all over the world to visit this church and I love her because she is the patron saint of impossible causes!

“Never give up – a good motto for all of us.”

Especially, I suspect, for the rugby fans among us.

Stade de Nice plays host to four Rugby World Cup matches:

September 16: Wales v. Portugal

September 17: England v. Japan

September 20: Italy v Uruguay

September 24: Scotland v. Tonga

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