I’ve started making a list of places I want to settle down after I’m old, and it only keeps growing. Making a list is a good idea. That way, when I’m old and toothless, I can do eenie-meenie-miney-mo and just pick one. Hopefully, I must have made bags full of money by then.
So, Nice…this small French wonder, has made its way to my old-and-toothless list. It is a packet full of hypnotic surprises that pop out from every nook and corner to make your jaw drop to the ground and explode your mind. Located in the south-east coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea, with prefect balmy weather, inviting promenade, old-world opulence and vibrant street life, Nice is a place you just can’t miss when you are in France. Thirty minutes bus drive from the airport to the hotel offers you the preview of Nice’s ochre-hued buildings to the left and transparent aquamarine waters to the right.
We had only two days in Nice. And in those two days we not only strolled its old streets packed with nostalgia, but also waddled over to the beautiful sleepy mountain village called Eze, drove to the fancy Monaco and Monte Carlo and then took a train to Cannes.
Reaching there: Reaching hotel from the Côte d’Azur Airport is super easy. Take Bus 99 that drops you at Gare de Nice-Ville Train Station. We stayed at Hotel Ibis Nice Centre Gare which is a mere 5 minutes walk from the station. There are host of luxury and budget hotels as well as BNBs within earshot of the station as well.
DAY 1: When you have a schedule that’s full-to-the-brim, you waste no time napping. You toss the luggage into your room and take to the streets. That’s exactly what we did.
Talk to the locals and you’ll know how this city blessed with two winning factors – the sea and the Mediterranean climate – became a holiday magnet to the European aristocrats who were tired of those chilly winters back home. Take a look around and you’ll imagine yourself in the seventeenth century when the horse-drawn carriages tapped their way by the sea.
The half day hop-on-hop-off bus tour lets you enjoy all the benefits of a guided tour, including hassle-free transport and on-board audio commentary, and still explore the sights at your own pace. This open-top bus offers unrestricted views of the enchanting surroundings. So gorgeous are the views that you’ll be in a dilemma whether to angle your camera for a perfect shot or to let your naked eyes drink in the beauty. You’ll be grinning all by yourself when sun makes you wince, the wind flirts with your hair, you stand in style to see the ocean, lose your balance and fall back on your seat, cheeks red having made a fool of yourself.
Get off the bus to explore attractions such as the Promenade des Anglais, Mont Boron, Matisse Museum, Chagall Museum, Cimiez and old Nice or remain seated as the bus takes your around.
This eye-catching building below houses host of IT companies.
You will pass by the tall buildings painted in charming pastels shadowing the narrow streets.
Am I wrong if I dream of living here? The photograph paints such a peaceful picture, does it not…
What should I gawk at? The architecture or the bluest of the blue skies…
Cutesy houses share the neighborhood with such illustrious hotels.
You’ll also see senior citizens fresh as daisies, walking their dogs and stopping by for a chatter as the furballs keep tugging at the leash.
The Promenade des Anglais: can be best experienced around 4 in the evening. This is the time when the sun decides to be merciful and the place looks utterly glorious.
This 4 kms long stretch flanked by white-washed sands and the famous blue-and-white beach chairs, also has a dedicated lane for cyclists, skaters and the electric segway. If you fancy joining them, rent one from the stations closeby.
With the sea lapping up at the promenade, settle back and relax as the sun is about to drown itself into those glistening blue waters. Some pictures are made by camera, few like these are made by the heart. They are the ones that never get erased. They just pop as soon as you close your eyes, regardless of the corner of the world you are in.
Vieux Nice: Immerse yourself in the local culture with a walk through Old Nice. The Old Town of Nice or Vieux Nice as the locals call it, is something you do not want to miss. It would be unfair to term it as site-seeing, because it’s really the beating heart of the city. It’s a gorgeous little town of winding alleyways, cobblestoned streets, petite butterscotch coloured houses, pretty little delis with chequered table-cloths and homely stores.
Cours Saleya: All this has hardly changed since the seventeenth century. But the centerpiece remains the Cours Saleya, a massive market square that’s permanently thronging in spring and summer. The mornings in Cours Saleya turn the place into a fragrant and colourful market teeming with fruits and flowers. Flea market is put up on Sundays. With the streets all lined up with souvenirs, paintings and loads of other stuff, you will get a lot of shopping out of the way as well.
Place Massena: Every city, no matter how big and modern, has a spot that its inhabitants hold dear to their heart. Place Massena is this enchanting square with a vibe so postcard perfect, you’ll have to peel yourself out of here. It is one of those sites which concentrate the most stunning Neoclassical structures in the city and is bordered by buildings with impressive red facades and white-framed windows. Those men sitting atop the tall poles, they keep rotating and changing colors. Chill in the air, festooned with lights, the mist-blowing Fontaine du Soleil and buskers serenading at the road-side, this place looks spectacular and achingly romantic when night falls.
After a long day of excursion, when your tummy yells food, head to one of the many sit-out eateries in the old town.
Nice’s cuisine is a real surf-and-turf kind of deal, with an assortment of glistening fish, lobsters and lurid crabs on the display – all fresh from sea to the table. Not just the sea food, but there’s also incredible meat varieties that sit on the menu. If hunger pangs haven’t taken a good bite of you yet, grab a seat at one of cafes and dig into their buttery croissants, luscious pancakes and a frothy Macchiato.
But, if the tummy starts to rumble, get your hands, mouth and clothes dirty with an order of mussels with rice. They arrive like a mountain-on-a-plate, as if to mock your appetite and look gorgeous at the same time. But once you start, you won’t stop, except to wipe your smeared mouth. The server attaches a bucket at the side of the table for leftover shells. I love the sound of their clanking when each one of those hits the bottom. It’s fun and great way to kill time.
DAY 2: After a really early breakfast of fresh baked goodies and coffee, you will be picked up in a private AC vehicle for a half day tour to the mountain village of Eze and from there to the the world’s second smallest country that is Monaco. Fascinating eh!
EZE: While driving to Eze, your driver, who doubles up as your guide, will pull over at a vantage point from where you will have the spectacular view of Nice down below; also a vital spot for a selfie.
Isn’t this mesmerizing!
Drive further and you’ll find yourself going up a winding path, gawking at an imposing cliff on which the village of Eze is perched. The vehicles are parked just before the climb and you’re left with around 40 minutes to explore on your own.
Be seduced by the marvels of Eze – occasional archways, shady squares, tiny caves and ancient fountains which seem to be lifted straight out of a movie set and placed here. The rocky path that leads you up, is lined on both sides with restored stone houses and boxed colourful widows.
Flowered plants sit pretty on the window sil, giving the cobblestoned lane a charming look.
Wonder if all the mountain villages are this pretty…
Numerous small boutiques that sell arts and crafts suck you in like magnets. The handcrafted aromatic soaps that look like coloured pebbles are a winner. Lay your hands on as many as you can.
On the top is an exotic botanic garden, where an impressive collection of cactus, plants and rare vegetation surrounds the remains of an ancient chateau. Reach the vantage point for the sweeping views of the Riviera.
While on the way back, drop in for a private tour of the Parfumerie Fragonard – L’usine Laboratoire Èze. It’s actually at the entrance of the village.
Ever heard of a Nose? Not the one that pokes out of our face. This is a rather fascinating one without which, rather whom, the perfume industry will be like a fish out of water. A Nose is the industry jargon for an expert who’s spent years mastering the art of distinguishing fragrances in the snap of a finger.
We were given an activity where we had to put our olfactory system to test – identify the fragrances on testers. I got 9 correct out of 10 . Our guide declared that theirs could retire now that they had one in the making… me 🙂 . Guess I have an alternative career already.
You’ll be showed around and offered insights on the life cycle of soaps and perfumes. The lurid colors and aromas are hypnotic. Do not be surprised if you walk away with a bag full of them. I came home with Belle Di Nuit. It’s my very priced possession from France which I leave no chance to show off.
Prince’s Palace of Monaco is a short drive away. Pace up to make in time for The Ceremony Of The Guards which takes place at 11:55 am everyday. Even if you do make in time, it’s a monstrous task to find a spot for the view, craning your neck and all.
Take a walk around the market, window-shop or just let your eyes devour the gorgeous hillscape of Monaco.
Circumambulate the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix Circuit, the much revered race track for the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco. Feel the adrenaline rush as you speed through the start line, cover the entire race track and then reach for the finish line, just like a pro.
Casino de Monte-Carlo does make a luxurious backdrop for an Insta-worthy selfie, doesn’t it.
It’s a short forty minutes train ride from Nice to Cannes. And if you happen to be there in the second week of May, you have a cherry on the cake. It’s that time of the year when the French Riviera is stuffed with glamour and glitz, when the stars descend the earth and sashay the red carpet in their resplendent best. It’s the Cannes Film Festival, which I’ve been following very closely for more than a decade, to see which celebrity’s worn what – an extravagant display of exquisite couture.
Take a walk alongside the promenade for some celeb spotting. You’ll see them up and close striking their perfectly rehearsed poses for the shutterbugs.
And sometimes the photographers love to be clicked too…
Waddle around and the Riviera will reward you with such breathtaking views you’ll remember for a long long time.
When your feet protest, make a dash to the station and board the next train to Nice; to be back in the arms of warmth, comfort and realness that no amount of showbiz will offer. It’s nice to be home.