Nice On The French Riviera As A Home Base
Nice was the next stop on our 3 week tour of France. Having arrived safely after our mountain journey to Nice, we got settled into our hotel in a little quiet room at the back with no balcony for my “Juliette” picture. There was a lovely roof top terrace but alas we would not be relaxing there for any mid day break! It would be a busy few days as we explored from Nice on the French Riviera. The hotel was again well located. We would discover around our block the patisserie, a grocery store, the pharmacy and the laundry – and a chocolate shop a mere 3 blocks away.
The night we arrived found us tired from our long and sometimes stressful drive but we decided that a walk would help to work out the sitting kinks. A “short” walk is always a relative discussion for David and I – but at least the walk on the first night was mostly on flat, level ground. We strolled along the pedestrian walkway Promenade des Anglais, noting how many people (mostly tourists) were still around. But we saw lots of signs of the waning tourist season in September as stores held closing sales. We wound our way to the beach and enjoyed a nice – if not secluded – moonlight walk along the beach.
At the far west end of the beach there is a castle on the hill, all lit up, including a cascading waterfall. It was much more impressive at night all lit up, especially that first night with a near full moon hanging over the castle.
We arrived back at the hotel only to find yet another traditional French bed. We had to look up the word for “hard” and I would then always remember “dur”. The only consolation at this hotel was the very large bathtub that we would indulge in one day after a long hard night of sleepless tossing.
In the morning we headed down to the beach for breakfast by the sea before we spent our first full day exploring Nice on the French Riviera. The orange juice was fresh squeezed and they had pain au chocolat to keep the chocolate addiction at bay.
It was a great view and a very relaxing start to the day. We saw the “cabin boys” setting up the lounge chairs and umbrellas for the beach zones. Most beaches in Nice are private beaches where you can pay to lounge in comfort – rather than lie on the pebble beach. But we would go local for the day.
After we ate we stepped onto the beach and lost our clothes. Of course being in the south of France, I could lose more than David – with only sunburn to worry about. We walked along the water line – with David snapping the standard “toe in the water” Linda pic. The beach in Nice was pretty much all small pebbles with a pretty sharp drop off when you walked out. We would not find real sand beaches until we hit Antibe on a day trip.
We planned to spend our afternoon doing laundry and were pleased to discover the café right across the street. We put our laundry in the wash and went for lunch. We ate slowly and ordered a café, just journaling and sorting photos on the computer. We had many many hundreds of pictures already, the challenge to choose the best.
En route to the tourist office we saw evidence of both the “petit train” and the “hop on hop off” bus. We hoped to catch the bus – but the last run of the day scuttled past as we watched. We inquired about the trains to Monaco and Cannes – haltingly in French – until we were helped in English. We would ultimately decide to drive to allow ourselves the necessary time to meander from Nice on the French Riviera.
We headed towards the chateau on the hill but I was not up to climbing the hill with no dinner in me. I would feel like a climbing billy goat for sure before I left France. Instead we headed towards the old port to find seafood. The range and size of boats was amazing, with massive yachts demonstrating clearly the life of the rich and famous.
My sailor sweetie would amass quite a collection of boat pics – countered only by his collection of car pics. Of course we also found the “plongee bateaux” (scuba boats) of every description – there were ones arranged with military precision, one operation fully equipped out of a van with a ratty boat and one with a large blow up palm tree adorning the roof. We would find the plongee shops and boats in the various seaports we would visit but scuba diving was not really on our agenda this trip.
We searched the port side restaurants for one with the right offering at the right price. We would be continually drawn into the restaurants offering “moules et frites”. We found seafood and atmosphere and a relaxing interlude.
One night on returning the car to the parking garage, we learned that the garage loaned out bicycles so we decided to take two for an evening ride. The first few blocks quickly convinced us we were taking our lives in our hands trying to ride in the traffic anarchy of Nice. We managed to make it back to our hotel in one piece, took our pic to create the illusion of a real biking adventure and then later managed to ride back to the garage.
While an interesting idea, I think I will leave bikes for lazy rides on the side of a canal in a quieter part of France.
Exploring Along the Mediterranean To Villefranche and Monaco
With our first mostly lazy day in Nice behind us, we would now head out to explore after having breakfast at the little café around the corner. We travelled by “toute le corniche” from Nice on the French Riviera – the “basse” were at the bottom or “sur mer”, the more direct routes were “moyenne” and the high cliff hugging routes were “grande” or “sur cot”. We would tend to use the low beach roads or high scenic ones – except at the end of the day when we just wanted to get home.
Our first stop from Nice on the French Riviera was a long meandering visit thru Cap Ferrat Villefranche. We caught our first view of Villefranche from the “grande corniche”, with its harbour full of private yachts and a small cruise boat.
As we drove along, we could see the beautiful houses built into the hills.
While we did go past the Rothschild Villa and gardens, we decided not to visit on this trip. The Rothschild Villa was built by Baroness de Rothschild and is surrounded by nine gardens, each on a different design and theme (e.g. Japanese, English Rose garden, etc.) created under the direction of landscape architect Achille Duchêne. It would have been a great relaxing stop but we opted to head to the local “plage” (beach) instead.
Heading towards the harbour we were drawn down to the vibrant blues of the Mediterranean waters. It was easy to see why Nice on the French Riviera and the region was called the Cote D’Azur!
We sat for a while and had a cappuccino, watching the water, the swimmers and the sunbathers. We finally shed our clothes (and my top), put on our goggles and headed out in the water. We swam along the rocky cliff looking for fish and found a fair number. David was looking for octopus along the walls but found none. Wandering along the rocks we met a plongeur (diver) who had been spear fishing. He had a large cache of small sea urchins he had caught – which he was eating by cracking them open and sucking the eggs. I was not tempted to share. He had also caught a morey eel, a small octopus and a small squid. David was more interested in his cool gear.
We headed out to look for a lunch spot by the water. The owner of the restaurant was hilarious. He insisted we must have the local salad and not some other food we would eat in NY. While more expensive than the omelet, the salad was huge, fresh and healthy – and he was right. He was after all “only there for our pleasure”.
Aiming for Èze from Nice on the French Riviera, we followed the roads up the grand corniche. It was another winding road hugging the cliff. We stopped at a park on the top and wandered a bit checking out the view and getting more pics of Villefranche far far below.
We had a view of Villefranche from a multitude of altitudes and it would be hard when reviewing pics to distinguish lower altitude shots from the great zoom pics my camera could provide. But we would have lots of pics to choose from as we took in the view from Nice on the French Riviera .
From the high viewpoint, we could see the colourful houses nestled into the valleys in the towns and villages.
We could see Èze off in the distance but ultimately decided not to stop as we noted how late it had become. Èze is famous for its beauty and charm with a stunning view of the sea from its hill top. We had wanted to visit the Jardin botanique d’Èze known for its collection of cacti and succulents, the view from the Èze Chateau and the bell turret at the Chapelle de la Sainte Croix whose design shows the roots back to when this town was owned by the Republic of Genoa. But we would never make Monaco at the rate we were moving. Èze would go onto the “next time” list.
We hit traffic as soon as we approached Monaco (the country and constitutional monarchy) and Monte Carlo (the area on the hill overlooking the main harbour that houses the casino and the luxury hotels). We went in on the moyenne route and out on the basse, moving at a walking pace that allowed David to stroll and take pics while I sat in traffic. There was much packed into this little country that barely covers one square mile!
It was a crazy town and we finally abandoned thoughts of parking and settled for our slow meandering drive through as the day got later and later. Looking over the harbour we could see boats of all sizes, from smaller fishing boats to large luxury yachts. Our quick view of Monaco certainly reinforced the view of it being for the rich and famous.
We would spend more time exploring Monaco when we returned on another trip by cruise ship! Meandered along the low road, we made good time back to Nice on the French Riviera .
Cagne Sur Haute, Antibe and Cannes In The Drizzle
The next morning dawned rainy so we were in no hurry to rush out. The hard beds (lit tres dur) had left us both aching so we opted to start the day with a hot bubble bath.
Our trip down the coast towards Cannes from Nice on the French Riviera would not be the same experience in the drizzle and rain as it would have been in the warm sun. We saw “nude” beaches – nude of bathers that is – although the board surfers were not deterred at all and were enjoying the crashing waves. Our first stop was at Cagne Sur Haute. We found the free parking at the bottom of the hill beside a cemetery and began our long trek up the hill and stairs – this uphill pattern was something we would repeat over and over.
While I may have begun the trip with what my chiropractor called FBS (flabby butt syndrome), I would get lots of therapy walking up and down the large climbs. At least this morning I felt somewhat fortified for the climb. Before we left Nice, I had succumbed to street advertising and headed to “Queenies” for an English breakfast – desperately needing some protein and a break from just continental breakfast.
Neither the castle nor the church at the top were open so we walked around the outside and enjoyed the little cobbled streets and the great views. The castle was hung with international flags, the Canadian flag wrapped around itself and not flapping in the French wind.
From the top of the hill, we could see all the way to the coast – including a view of the Nice airport and Nice on the French Riviera. The view to the north showed the valley leading up to mountains and the twisty roads winding through. We would discover these roads for ourselves the next day.
I had been looking forward to the beaches in Antibes but it wasn’t the same in the rain. We drove along the water and stopped outside the naval facility to take pics of yet more yachts. We saw divers getting their boat ready and would later spot them out on the water. A little drizzle would not deter them.
We settled under an awning to watch the tourists shopping and negotiating the narrow streets. The traffic chaos was much less funny when leaving the town, we found ourselves being routed in a circle and back on the road outside the very same café.
Finally leaving Antibes, we continued in the rain along the water to Cannes. It felt like a déjà vu of our arrival in Monaco – it was late, we were tired, the traffic was crawling – so we mostly did a drive by.
We did finally find a parking spot so we stopped for some more tourist snap shots. David had me climb into the flower beds and pose artistically and at one point he made me giggle so hard we lost any hope of getting posed pictures in the flower beds.
On the way home we kept our eyes on the lookout for a place to stop for dinner. We were drawn to the “moule festival” where David proceeded to excel at getting his money’s worth on the “volante” or “all you can eat” meal deal. He had them with mustard and shrimps, with a cream sauce and “marinara” which is a white wine sauce (not the tomato sauce I was expecting). I sampled and enjoyed enough to nibble off his plate. I had not yet developed my taste for seafood that David would later regret!
Packed and ready for our next adventure on our 3 week tour of France, we headed out of Nice on the French Riviera, having filled our days but still having missed: the flower market, tea at the Negresco Hotel (a perfect example of Belle Epoch architecture), walking up to the castle, a visit to the Russian Orthodox Church … and yet again, the “hop on hop off” bus!!
Have you enjoyed Nice on the French Riviera? Did you use Nice as your base to explore? What is still on your list to do on the French Riviera?