St. Jean Cap Ferrat was located on the other side of the peninsula, just another French Riviera town listed on the map when my husband and I decided to make Villefranche Sur Mer our base during a visit of the area two years ago. We were happy to chance upon Villefranche while doing research for our trip and upon reading the description “quaint fishing village” we knew it would be the ideal spot to spend a couple of weeks. The fact that it was also a busy port town and that this would mean heavy tourist traffic during the day was not lost on us–we enjoyed gazing at the turquoise water from the cobblestone promenade and getting lost in the tiny village streets. But more importantly, this place led us to the discovery of what would become our paradise.
St. Jean Cap Ferrat is just a short train or bus ride from Nice, the largest city on the French Riviera. The tiny resort town has one main road passing through Centre Ville, the main local and tourist stop for the market, the bakery, the butcher shop, wine store and various other specialty shops. Cap Ferrat is a harbor town, smaller and even more quaint than Villefranche but only at first glance. It’s difficult to see the prosperity behind the tall gates and hedges; walking on the rocky path around the peninsula and seeing the countless yachts moored a short distance away are what give the town away as one of the most desirable spots to vacation/live in the world. My husband and I were lucky to find a family-run boutique hotel in the neighborhood, so for two weeks we enjoyed magnificent views from our “home”, swam on Paloma Beach, sipped rosé at almost every meal–as close as we could get to feeling like locals in such a beautiful place (and without breaking the bank).
If a nightlife is what you’re after, St. Jean Cap Ferrat would not be the place to add to your must-visit list. The dress code is strictly casual and it is quiet in the evenings. The shops close at around 7 pm, late enough to accommodate the last of the beach visitors or the occasional local who may have forgotten to pick up an item or two during the day. By dusk, La Civette and Cadillac (situated across the street from each other) would each be tending to a growing crowd for beer, wine, glacé or even an early dinner. By 9 pm, the restaurants lining the marina will be bustling with locals and with the occupants and crew of the visiting yachts. Apart from this Cap Ferrat is very relaxed, our kind of place.
Apart from a couple of rainy days the rest of our stay was perfect for spending lazy days at the beach. Cap Ferrat boasts three beautiful beaches but we also returned to Villefranche a few times. It’s a four-mile walk between the two towns each way but with beautiful vistas at every step it would be a stretch to call the excursions an effort. In fact, walking to and from Villefranche and also to Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, another neighboring town, served to burn the calories from the countless carafes of rosé we drank (both at lunch and dinner) and the baskets of buttered baguettes and croissants we devoured each morning. My husband and I were actually pleased to discover that we didn’t gain a pound on this trip because of all the walking we did.
If long walks are not your cup of tea you can take advantage of public transportation. In this part of France it is convenient to visit the other notable stops on the French Riviera. By boat, bus and train we managed to get a taste for Monaco, Cannes, Antibes and St. Tropez in 2010. Barring any problems, trains and buses are frequent and very reasonably priced. On this year’s trip we returned to Monaco a couple of times but ventured to other smaller towns to get a better feel for the area. We also crossed the border to Italy to experience market day in Ventimiglia and spent a few days on the Italian Riviera.
Each day was as beautiful and fun as the previous one (even the rainy days) but we were always happy to return to St. Jean Cap Ferrat. During our short stay we managed to create a tradition of having one last drink, or in my case a scoop of nougat ice cream, at La Civette. After just a couple of days the servers recognized us and greeted us with a warm smile. Maybe it had a little to do with the fact that some days we had breakfast, lunch and dinner there? They had THE BEST chicken sandwich I’ve ever had. Whatever the case, it was the perfect place for a nightcap before stumbling up the hill to our hotel room.
It’s hard to imagine anything topping lazy beach days and scenic day trips but being a food-minded traveler what we ate each day also influenced my overall impression of the French Riviera. Grilled sardines and fresh salads were typical lunches for me and my husband. For dinner, we took advantage of the availability of fresh seafood and ordered grilled whole fish. Steaks and paella made an appearance on our table, too, but one thing that made a lasting impression on me was the treat that quickly became a favorite as soon as I discovered it at the local bakery.
Despite the indulgent feasting each day, including the huge breakfasts served at our hotel, I was always ready for a snack by mid-morning. The bakery was the best place to stop–baguettes, pizzas, pan bagnats and tray upon tray of pastries tempted as we walked past on the way to La Civette or Villefranche.
The apple pastry above caught my eye on my first visit and nothing else appealed after the first taste. It was dotted with chocolate chips–an unusual combination, I thought initially but it worked. Glazed apples and sweet chocolate bits on a flaky pastry made my taste buds dance and I couldn’t get enough. I knew I would be sharing highlights of this trip with you when I returned and there was no question in my mind what recipe I would share when I finally did.
I never got the recipe for the apple-chocolate pastry at the Cap Ferrat bakery so I improvised when I got home. I used my favorite pastry crust recipe and combined it with a French Apple tart filling. I filled the tart with pre-cooked Granny Smith apples and a light custard. The only thing left to do was to dot the tart with chocolate chips to recreate the pastry I enjoyed so much at Cap Ferrat. Soaked in lemon juice to maintain their color, the apples retained a slight tartness that complemented the subtle sweetness of the custard and chocolate. Again, I would have thought this an odd combination if I hadn’t sampled it during my trip but gosh, does this work.
I brought the tart to the office to save myself from burying my face in it and I’m not the least bit surprised that it was as popular with my coworkers as it was with me. It has been almost three months since my last visit to St. Jean Cap Ferrat but a slice of this tart instantly transported me back to the azure waters of the French Riviera.
* This is the first part of a new travel series. We covered five countries on our trip so I will highlight each one as part of this series. Hope you enjoy!
- ***For the crust***
- 1-1¼ cups all-purpose flour (I use 140-145 grams instead of the maximum 175)
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
- 1 tablespoon plus two teaspoons sugar
- ⅛ teaspoons salt
- 3 tablespoons ice water
- ***For the filling***
- 3 Granny smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
- 2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
- Scant ¼ cup sugar
- Roughly ¼ cup chocolate chips (you can add more if you like)
- ***For the custard***
- 2 eggs
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- To prepare the crust: To prepare the crust, place the flour, 7 tablespoons butter, sugar and salt in the food processor and process just until mixture has the texture of coarse crumbs, 10-12 seconds. Add the ice water and pulse about 6-8 times. Don’t let the mixture form a ball; stop when it just begins to hold together. Transfer the pastry to waxed paper and flatten the dough into a disk. Add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time if the dough seems too sticky. Wrap in the waxed paper and refrigerate for at least an hour.
- When the crust has chilled, roll it out thinly into a 10-11 inch disk on a lightly-floured surface. Place it on a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom. Carefully press the pastry into the pan and up the side. Tuck the overhang inside the pan leaving, pressingly slightly to create a sturdy shell. This will also compensate for any shrinkage to the dough during baking. Prick the bottom and sides of the shell with a fork and chill for another 20 minutes before baking.
- Preheat your oven to 375°F. Cover the pastry with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or rice/beans. Bake the shell until it just starts to brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool while you prepare the filling.
- To prepare the apples: Toss the sliced apples in a bowl with the lemon juice to prevent discoloration. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the apples and the sugar. Sauté the apples, shaking the pan occasionally, until they're slightly brown, about 15 minutes.
- To prepare the custard: While the apples cook, beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until thick and pale. Add the melted butter and vanilla and continue to mix on high speed until the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
- Assembly: Arrange the apples along the bottom of the partially-baked tart shell then pour the custard mixture over the apples. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the apples and bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
- Cool before serving.