Nice, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’azur.. a little trip in early March

Nice is one of my favourite places; if not my absolute favourite. A beautiful city sitting serenely in the French Riviera, on the South East coast of France, Nice has everything one could ask for: art galleries, a dazzling Mediterranean seafront set at the foot of the Alps, great wine, diverse and delicious restaurants, charismatic and rustic streets, live music, postcard-perfect views around every corner, a bustling port and bloat-inducing boulangeries a plenty.

Whenever I tell people I’m going to Nice, I’m usually met with the unbearably hilarious, “Oh, that sounds nice. Nice, nice, gettit?” Yep, I get it. I got it the first time 🙂 But it really is very, very nice indeed.

No surprise then that the city is nicknamed Nice la Belle, literally translating as ‘Nice the Beautiful.’

Flights to Nice are remarkably cheap, especially off season. For less than £60 (return), I flew with Easyjet from Liverpool airport (which honestly, is the most hassle-free airport I’ve experienced in the UK. Manchester airport, take note.) Within the space of two hours, I was bleary-eyed (traumatic 3am start) yet delighted to catch a glimpse of that familiar sparkling coastline and the glowing, sun-baked orange rooftops of this vibrant old city from the plane window.

After dropping off my bag at the Airbnb (wholly recommend this sweet little flat in the bustling old town and it’s kind, chirpy owner), I was straight up the steps to Nice’s Castle Hill viewing platform, nestled in between the port and the old town. This perspective of Nice is one of the most famous .. you’ve probably seen it on countless postcards/artworks and for good reason.

Looking down, you’re presented with a glistening sea that transforms from a deep indigo to a bright azure blue as it laps and fizzes over the pebbles on the beachfront. The Promenade des Anglais (literally translating as ‘Walkway of the English’ as a result of our frequent visitation over the centuries) and its row of iconic Palm trees sits in front of the numerous orange-roofed and pastel walled buildings of Vieux (old) Nice and if you look even further back behind the city you’ll seen the mountains of the Alps.

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View from Castle Hill (Cyber-shot DSC-RX100)

Arriving at the top of Castle Hill, there is a sprawling grassy area (Parc de Chateau) filled with reclining workers on their lunch breaks, excitable and multi-accented tourists, frantic and playful canines and a children’s play area with a terrifyingly tall climbing frame assembled out of plastic coated wire, within which a small French boy shrieked merrily as he dangled upside-down. I’m not moaning, by the way, I love the fact that, unlike in England, ‘elf and safety haven’t torn down a structure whose building material deviates from thick cotton wool and stops at 1.5m high…

Apparently, there’s an artificial waterfall at the top of Castle Hill. Seemingly I missed this, but hey, the sea and city view is so spectacular, I’m not so fussed about seeing the so-called ‘Cascade Dijon.’ Anyhow, I had a diabolically large portion of mustard on my baguette later that evening that drew a gasp of horror from my boyfriend, so I’m classing that as my own cascade of Dijon. And it probably tasted better than the waterfall anyway..

Over the opposite side of the park lies Nice port, which can be seen via another perfectly positioned viewing platform. Stand here and watch yachts drift in and out of the harbour, or gaze upon the slow and seemingly laborious movements of the Corsica ferry which appears to loiter perpetually like a giant milky wedge on the horizon.

The shot below was a result of ducking, diving and weaving around a dangerously flailing and out-of-control selfie stick owned by two sweet, yet frighteningly excitable Korean girls, who insisted on taking nine hundred and seventy seven photographs, from every angle, whilst demonstrating every expression capable of humankind. Some, I’ve never before witnessed. I truly hope they got the shot they were looking for without unintentionally bruising, battering or even killing, any unsuspecting yacht enthusiasts.

Nice port. A view from Castle Hill (iPhone 6)

Another positive. It’s March and it’s warm enough to be in a t-shirt (18c). Well, that’s if you’re English and in comparison to the abysmal, grey, perpetually chilly exterior of Greater Manchester, this is practically The Sahara and I will convince myself it warrants a singular layer of clothing. It’s an interesting contrast, actually.. the locals were predominantly shielded with scarves and dramatic puffer coats, whilst others (assuming those from cooler climes), sauntered without jackets, thankful for the seemingly generous and uncharacteristic warmth.

After a tiring day (the simultaneous consumption of baguette and mobilisation is something I always find more taxing than I should), I bedded down in the Airbnb. A surprisingly comfy sofa bed (buckling underneath the brick of carbohydrate that weighed heavy inside my belly) ensured a good rest. Several hours later, I awoke to something which had recently become unfamiliar to me.

Sunshine.

I threw open the window (writhed my way to the edge of the bed and reached lethargically to open the catch) and lay on the memory foam mattress listening to the morning bustle, whilst a stream of vitamin D perfused my weary winter bones.

View from the apartment window

Now onto the cultural stuff..

Nice is a great place for museums (Matisse, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, amongst many others), but I only had time for one: Musée Marc Chagall.

Marc Chagall was a French-Russian artist who has been described as one of the greatest figurative painters. Amongst other works, the museum showcases twelve large paintings illustrating the first two books of the Old Testament, Genesis and Exodus. What strikes me most is Chagall’s use of colour. It’s incredible. I’m genuinely lured in by every single painting and could stare at them for hours (until I’m ready to inhale my next baguette, of course).

It’s unsurprising that Pablo Picasso was quoted as saying “When Matisse dies… Chagall will be the only painter who understands what colour really is.”

I’m no art critic, but I find his paintings magical and exquisite. The character in the faces, the shapes, the COLOURS, the textures. They tell a story and they really do elicit emotion in the viewer.

Marc Chagall, Le Cantique des Cantiques IV, 1958.

Before I continuing spouting my love for Marc Chagall, let me draw your attention to the picture below – the gathering of twenty or so (mostly attentive) school children listening to their art teacher ooze with enthusiasm in her silky French prose over this painting. This teacher appeared in her mid-60s and exuded an air of cool. I was transfixed by her pastel yellow prom skirt, bright, swirling patterned leggings, chunky Timberland boots and white wooly jumper. I never remember any of my art teachers even being on the same spectrum of cool.

Cool French Art Teacher discussing The Creation of Man, 1958

Despite my love for Nice, the population really does adore its dogs and especially adores letting them empty their bowels onto the streets without scooping up the mess.

Don’t get me wrong, hurdling over small, scattered logs of dried turd certainly helps to sculpt my upper thighs, but I could probably do without it. Hey, at least it’s sunny and these (mostly) small nuggets of faecal matter are usually dried to a crisp and cause minimal shoe smearing. But really, if the almost-perfect Nice could do one thing, it’s to impose a little more restriction around the pampered, petit poodles whom simply ‘shit and shimmy away.’

Anyhow. Just outside of Nice lies a little village named Eze. Around a 20 minute bus ride away and for only €1.50, you’ll arrive in this gorgeous settlement. Eze was founded in 600 BC and at its summit (523m) it hosts a maze of medieval streets, wells, courtyards and spectacular views over the Mediterranean.

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A medieval street, Eze

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Yellow, sun-drenched walls of medieval Eze

For the non-infirm, there’s one heck of a walk down from the top of Eze to the bottom. Or vice versa, if you’re utterly insane. Judging by the beetroot-hued, panting faces of the ridiculous (or simply, the physically superior) people that I witnessed whilst strolling down the path, I made a wise decision choosing the descent option. This trail is named ‘The Path of Nietzsche’ and is named after the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche whom spent 18 years of his life here. Apparently some of his literary works were inspired during his time here. Can’t for a second see why..

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The Path of Nietzsche and its sea view

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The Path of Nietzsche and red foliage

Once reaching the foot of Eze, myself and my boyfriend walked back in the direction of Nice, where we bypassed the gorgeous little beach of Beaulieu-sur-mer (great place to swim in the summer months) before stopping for a nosey around Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. This tranquil little place, located on a peninsula between Beaulieu-sur-mer and Villefranche-sur-mer is a favourite among the super rich and aristocracy. It’s easy to see why they flock here, as it truly is ridiculously beautiful, and the real estate is simply unreal. ‘La Fleur du Cap’ is a luscious, soft pink coloured dreamboat of a mansion situated right on the sea front, and honestly, if I could snap my fingers and get my filthy mitts on any property in the world, this would probably be it. It used to be owned by revered actor David Niven, although I fear he may have been too preoccupied jetsetting to fully appreciate its majesty. 

La Fleur du Cap, once belonging to actor David Niven


The walk back to Nice felt somewhat more pleasant than my commuting back home. Yachts replaced cars, mountains replaced high-rise flat blocks, and the sea gave me a water fix usually reserved for the Manchester ship canal but I consoled myself with the fact that Nice and its surroundings aren’t entirely perfect. There’s the dog turd, I thought, and the parking is extremely dodgy. If you see a vehicle which doesn’t look like its been crushed by a falling tree, it’s practically a miracle.

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Yachts, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Back to Nice.

Nice’s new town was laid out in the 18th and 19th centuries and is awash with palm trees, spacious squares and stucco villas. There’s just about every high street shop you could wish for and a trendy array of bars and restaurants. There are some spectacular art deco palaces that line the promenade de Anglais; especially the impressive Hotel Negresco.

The new town is great, but for me, it’s not a patch on Vieux Nice. Vieux Nice, until relatively recently was cut off from surrounding neighbourhoods by the river Paillon but then 1921 came along and the river was swiftly covered over thus unifying the entirety of Nice.

Vieux Nice feels like a mishmash of a place. Whilst there are tourists a plenty and most certainly a faint whiff of gentrification, it’s clear that an authentic Nice still inhabits this part of town. High above the streets, spindling washing lines tangle around the tops of buildings and faded blue shutters protect rustic apartments from the blazing sunshine.

One of the things I notice when shuffling around the old town is, in particular, the older generation. Elderly ladies gather around coffee shops and around boulangeries, gossiping in Niçoise and the spirit of the city feels strong around these parts. Some of these older ladies are seriously chic! Red lipstick and gloriously patterned dresses a plenty. I always find myself providing a relentless commentary on the sartorial displays of these Niçoise elders, much to the disinterest of others!

Aside the rouge lipped, glamorous older ladies, there are other beautiful sights nestled within the walls of Vieux Nice. The Cathédrale de Sainte Réparate, built as early as 1650, is simply stunning and the Cours Saleya is home to the flower market, which like the paintings of Marc Chagall, is an explosion of colour to send your senses into a spin.

Quite simply, I instruct everyone to go to the Old Town and experience its vibrance, its history and eat in its large array of delightful restaurants.

I feel an air of despondency leaving this magical city, but I can source a positive in that, being away for months at a time makes me appreciate it more and more when I return.


(All pictures are my own).

 

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