A Feast For the Eyes

Rivieras offer food for thought for these adventurous and hungry travelers

As a retired chemist for Kodak, you’d think John “Jack” Abbott would be a prolific photographer. And surely, there are thousands of vacation photos from his 36 Grand Circle trips—but they were mostly shot by his wife, Barbara, who keeps scrapbooks of all of them in their upstate New York home. The last of these, which Barbara is working on now and shared with Harriet’s Corner, captured breathtaking vistas of France and Italy on The Rivieras: France, Italy & the Isles.

St. Paul de Vence is one of the oldest towns on the French Riviera, and its narrow streets are encased by medieval walls.

Although they’d already been to Italy and France—mostly on Grand Circle trips—they relished the opportunity offered by the new Rivieras itinerary to discover regions they hadn’t seen too much of before or visited only briefly. “What’s not to like about Italy and France? The countryside in Tuscany is new no matter how many times you see it,” says Barbara.

Tuscany, which Barbara calls Tuscany “Chianti country”—what better wine to pair with local cuisine?

The Abbotts said one of the main passions is food—and there is plenty of culinary adventure to be had on the Rivieras. “We’re such foodies,” says Barbara. “We indulge liberally in the local cuisines when we travel.”

Jack says he doesn’t understand travelers who don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. “I think a lot of Americans don’t enjoy what’s there [when they travel] and keep looking for things that are like home,” he said. “We had seconds and thirds of a wonderful octopus salad in Portugal, and double escargot in France because of leftovers.

Jack was the only Riverias cruise traveler to try tripe in Antibes, along with a local pate; and both of the Abbotts savored regional salads and gelato in Florence. They both praised their Program Director, Guiseppe Mellina, too for helping them try new foods. “He was great—he took us to local markets, which is one of our favorite activities, and bought samples for us all to try all kinds of new and different things.”

Jack Abbott met this vendor selling pate and sausage at a public market in Antibes

It would come as little surprise to their friends or three sons and seven grandchildren that one of their favorite interactions was their Home-Hosted meal. “We had lunch with a charming young couple on their patio on the island of Elba. One of the main reasons we regularly choose Grand Circle over other companies is the person-to-person experience, whether it be a Home-Hosted meal, or perhaps a visit to a school supported by Grand Circle Foundation.”

A hearty spaghetti luncheon with this local couple, above, awaited the Abbotts during their Home-Hosted Lunch on Elba.

But the Abbotts aren’t only about eating—Barbara enjoys cooking, too, and brought back fond memories (and a recipe) for socca, a street food made with garbanzo bean flour, oil, and water that’s shaped into a pancake and looks like a thin-crust pizza. “We got it from a vendor and it was piping hot, oh my god was it good,” she says. “I can’t figure out whether it was the socca itself or the ambiance of the place, but it was really nice,” added Jack.

Socca vendor at public market in Antibes.

Connecting with local people like the socca seller is a bit easier for Barbara on certain trips because she’s fluent in French, and worked in France at one point as an English-as-a-second-language teacher. Their well-stamped passports belie the fact that the Abbotts have been making up for lost time after Jack discovered a passion for travel—at age 40. “I went to London on business, and was hooked. I took her on my second trip over there, then she was hooked!”

As they are now in their 80s, they have many fond memories of traveling to both cosmopolitan cities and Third-World countries, but have a new travel philosophy. “I don’t want to go someplace where you have to climb up a cliff. Though the opportunity can be there, you don’t have to do it. But we went through that stage before we had visited so many places," says Barbara. “You have to pick and choose what you do. I’m really partial to the boat trips,” says Jack.

The Abbotts did venture off independently to Bologna and Ravenna after the Rivieras cruise, and say Grand Circle was quite helpful with their explorations. “Our guide got the tickets for us on the fast train and gave detailed instructions, and Grand Circle got the hotel for us. It was very nicely located," says Jack. And, of course, Bologna is the gastronomic capital of Italy, so it held special appeal.

Neptune Square in Bologna.

So after 40 years of traveling the world, and 59 years of marriage, will the Abbotts spend their diamond anniversary on another vacation? “We’ll probably just go out to dinner,” Jack joked.

To watch fellow travelers like the Abbotts in our Grand Circle Cruise Line videos describing—in their own words—what made their experiences on The Rivieras: France, Italy & the Isles so memorable, click here.