The South of France: Nice
The last week of August brought not only an exciting trip to the South of France but also our first chance to see family and familiar faces since moving to London! We met up with Rico’s parents for this adventure; we stayed with them in their home base of Nice for the first week and then they stayed an additional week after we flew back to the UK. After a long six months living away from home, what better way to cure the homesickness than with sun, sand, picturesque towns and family?
We arrived in Nice before Rico’s parents, so after an easy bus ride from the airport to the Old Town, we met up with our host and dropped our bags off. The apartment needed to be cleaned which gave us a good excuse to get out and explore a bit. We sat down at Mister Crepes for some Nutella crepes while anxiously looking around at any sign of Mom and Dad. Our anxiety did not help when, precisely at noon and completely unexpected by us, a ceremonial cannon was shot at nearby Castle Hill (the story around this tradition is a bit dubious, but have a look and decide for yourself). Finally we received a phone call from them and swiftly made our way to the meeting point. It was unreal to see family and to receive hugs that we had been craving for months!
For the next week we would spend most mornings and early afternoons out on the road visiting the many picturesque hill and seaside towns dotting the French Riviera (blog posts detailing those parts of our trip to follow), but each day we would come back to Nice to enjoy dinner and the charm of the Old Town. One of the best parts of staying in Nice was the long expanse of beach available to us just a five-minute walk from our apartment—we spent many an evening watching the sun set and taking a dip in the vividly azure waters. The beach is made up of a collection of large, fist-size stones which are very hot to the touch and extremely difficult to walk on.
Compounding these problems is the relatively steep slant from the edge of the beach into the water and the strong waves that shift them with every break. We had the whole beach laughing the first night when Rico and his Dad were struggling mightily to help Rico’s Mom get herself out of the water and back on solid ground! This, in part, led to our decision the next day to buy a collection of flotation devices like rafts and tubes. We surely didn’t need help maneuvering the ground the day we went parasailing! The views from above were incredible, but we’ll let the pictures do the talking.
The Old Town itself offers quite a bit to see and do which makes Nice that much more of a perfect home base. One eveing after sitting by the water for a while and with sunset approaching, we took the short walk to and up Castle Hill which offers panoramic views of the sea, beach and city. There are a handful of beautiful churches to pop into, which if not anything else at least offer a cool respite from the sun and heat: Eglise de l'Annonciation dite de Sainte-Rita (stunningly ornate), Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate (a bit more simple but still spectacular) and Eglise Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur (another jaw-dropper). Place Massena and its Fontaine du Soleil are worth a look, especially with the square’s funky black-and-white tiled stone work and surrounding postcard-perfect pastel-colored buildings. Place Garibaldi is another attractive square with impressive buildings and architecture, though don’t be fooled, as on closer inspection some of the architectural elements are painted on the plain walls of the buildings! Clever.
Nice’s food scene is excellent, with many varieties of restaurants peppered among the peeling, faded buildings of the Old Town. The city’s proximity to Italy means that, in addition to French haute cuisine (which we could do without) and Mediterranean-influenced Provencal fare, the food of Northern Italy is also widely available (and very good). Some of our favorite meals included Tagliatelle Bolgnese and four cheese gnocchi at La Griglia; Penne Alfredo and Caesar Salad at Le Hall; pizza at Rossopomodoro; gnocchi in a tomato and basil sauce at Taca d’Oli; and gnocchi with pesto at Le Demode. Also noteworthy is the gelato we got on many occasions at Fenocchio—over the course of the week we tried a variety of flavors from caramel, chocolate chip and coffee to lemon meringue, M&M and nougat—and they were all delicious! And here’s a tip: When the main location at Place Rossetti is packed, take the three-minute walk to their other location on rue de la Poissonnerie! Macarons from LAC are also a must. And if you see a vendor walking on the beach alone offering cheap watermelon, take it! Short of jumping into the Med (which was done plenty), there’s no better way to cool off on a hot summer day.
Though we really enjoyed our time in Nice, our trip would not have been complete without the day trips we took across the whole of the Riviera. Stay tuned for parts two and three and your brace yourself for charming little villages and impossibly cute seaside towns!