Up until I moved to Europe I literally thought this vibrant seaside city was called ‘Nice’ (as in ‘that’s a nice blouse’). For anybody still in that camp, be warned, do not say that out loud, at least not when you are in France! You can use it to describe the capital of the Cote d’Azur i.e. Nice was nice – but stop there 🙂
I had low expectations of Nice, in fact it featured in the itinerary mainly as a base to fly back to London. I didn’t even bother myself trying to find accommodation and delegated that to Joel (who aced it by the way). I anticipated the beach to be rammed, the water to be murky and the city to be gritty. I need to apologise to Nice – you are none of those things. In fact, you are distinctly cosmopolitan, yet retain that beachside charm. You are full of sights which delight the senses and smells which thrill the appetite. The only thing I did not like about you was trying to navigate the maze of streets in order to drop off the rental car, something even a local might struggle with!
With the sand-clad car disposed of we hauled our suitcases up a never-ending amount of stairs to our home for the next 3 nights. You’d be forgiven for not bothering to venture out of the apartment on account of how many steps curled their way upwards to the most delightful of apartments (well done Joel). The old town of Nice rises several floors towards the permanently-blue-sky, and we had a beguiling view of the terracotta stone rooftops stretching across the horizon. This fascinated me to no end, watching the city go about its life…and if we were at the apartment you could find me glued to windows either side taking in the bells ringing from the dozens of churches across the city, or listening to the hustle and bustle of footsteps below.
Of the many cultural treasures to explore in Nice, I’m afraid to say we did not entertain them. Geoff and Marjorie took in a handful of sights, however Joel and I could be found taking in French culture of a different variety. This would be called the beach, or plage. Europeans moan to no end about pebble beaches. In fact sandy beaches are so sought after that they feature on tourist brochures, websites etc. “Large sandy beach”, they will proclaim like it is a celebrity. The sandy beach probably has an inflated opinion of itself, but I love pebbles. Sure, it’s a little tricky to find a comfortable indent, and you’d be advised to wear flip flops to the water’s edge. In my opinion these inconveniences are worth it for the absence of sand blown in your face by the wind, sand in your bag, sand in your swimmers, sand stuck to your hands and legs, sand in your hair…. and the most exquisite colour of the sea due to the lack of sand being dragged around by the tides. Sand is overrated people!
Back to culture. I consider the beach a cultural experience in itself, watching the locals deftly negotiate the pebbles, and observing the groups of wrinkled leather-skinned older women who clearly gather with their friends for a gossip session at the beach every day. Minus any tops of course- the French way. I was wrong about the murky water, it was crystal clear, surprising since we were sitting at the edge of the 5th biggest city in France.
The old town was where we spent most of our time. We went for a foray past the Prom du Paillon and up Avenue Jean Medecin – the newer part of town, a pedestrian walkway filled with every retail store you could ever need. The foray didn’t last long and we were soon back down amongst the windy streets of the old town. I’m sorry I did not get a picture of the most brilliant moment of each and every day, a visit to Fenocchio, a family run ice cream company which has been on the Rossetti square since 1966. It has almost 100 flavours of its mouth watering ice cream to sample. Now, if you were in Nice a month and had two flavours per day, you still wouldn’t get through them all! You can’t miss it, there is always a snaking line and you may need to cry out your order over someone’s head to secure your order! All I can say is prepare your tastebuds for an explosion! As I relive this experience I now recall we DID try to get a photograph of this and it ended in a disastrous smashed lens on the cobblestones. I swear i’m not still bitter JOEL!!
Part of the charm of Nice are the balmy evenings with the tingle of sun on your skin, along with the realisation that you are hungry. Stage two of the day begins as you stroll the alleyways in search of the perfect French feast. Everything looks delicious, every restaurant beckons you in with it’s quintessentially french decor. If the menu is not in English, you know you’ve hit the jackpot… but you’d better hope your French is up to it! In comparison to Paris I have to say the locals in Provence and the Cote d’Azur are more willing to assist the foreigner, and everyone we met was jolly and accommodating with our limited French (non-existent French, that is).
There are many fabulous day-trips you can take from Nice. In fact, you can easily use it as your base to explore the foothills and quant towns surrounding the area. One more urban journey you can make from Nice is to Monaco. It is an independent microstate on France’s Mediterranean coastline known for its glitzy casinos, yacht-lined harbour and prestigious Grand Prix motor race, which runs through Monaco’s streets once a year. Given that the bus was less than one hour’s travel, and only cost one euro, we agreed to give Monaco a try. The bus along the coastline was exquisite, and made up for the fact that the journey into Monaco only solidified the fact that I would never go again!
I know there are plenty of people who rave about Monaco, but it’s just not for me. I am glad I have seen and conquered, however it is world’s apart from how I view life. The casino in Monte Carlo buzzed as glamorous women in even more glamorous cars and dresses emerged like A-listers with their almost-always-older-men on their arm. We took in the promenade and intimidating skyline of ritzy apartments….and quickly decided to return to our more humble Nice, pronto!
If there is one thing the able-bodied should do in Nice, it is to rollerblade down the celebrated Promenade des Anglais at dusk. Known to the locals as simply the ‘Prom’, this 7km sidewalk is in itself one of the main attractions of Nice. We hired in-line skates in Nice and set off, dodging those retiring from the beach for the day. Unless you are ripped you are unlikely to skate the entire promenade, but it is a lovely way to take in life a little further from the centre of nice whilst never straying from the seaside. There was much laughing as we attempted to master the in-line skate technique as locals zipped past us. As the sun set we hung up our skates, still grinning from ear to ear.
And with that, it was time to farewell France and to wish Geoff & Marjorie pleasant journeys as they continued their travel in Eastern Europe… Au revoir!