Sunny, sweet success! After carefully planning a Côte d’Azur getaway in 2010 and being thwarted by an angry Eyjafjallajökull, I finally managed to reach Nice on a fresh attempt nearly a year and a half later. And oh là là, was it ever worth the wait.
I’d been to the French Riviera before — Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, Villefranche, Monte Carlo — but not to Nice and never for long enough to really dig in, explore, and feel at home. So this was my glorious two-week opportunity and I intended to make the most of it from a home base in the charming, tangled streets of the colorful Old Town (known locally as Vieille Ville or Vieux Nice).
Nice is nice. Really nice. Really.
Old Nice was just as lovely as all the pictures and write-ups lead you to believe, only more so. The painterly churches and architecture of all kinds, featuring shuttered windows and trompe-l’oeil surprises are more than mere eye candy — it’s guilt-free dessert for the soul! Which is pretty handy given all the ice cream, gelato, and tempting local treats on hand around every corner. And as corners go, one street was sweeter or more brilliant than the next. But after 12 days I whittled down my favorite flavors to a short stretch near the top of the Old Town where a seemingly single building melted effortlessly from lemon yellow into burnt orange, then a rusty red, and finally a pale peach with celadon shutters, door, and matching mailbox. Truly a Technicolor work of art, Vieux Nice.
When I wasn’t snacking on socca, salted caramel crêpes, Niçoise salads, Fenocchio ice cream, or the most amazing variety of vegetables and other delights seasoned to perfection à la Provençale, I was trekking up to the top of Castle Hill (Colline du Château), tucking into the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMAC), shopping for local art and other items you can only find in Nice, or soaking up the sun and people-watching à la plage. And beyond that, I was taking the most enchanting day trips to nearby towns, both inland and along the coast.
Day tripping along the Côte d’Azur is easy.
I chose not to rent a car and relied instead on public transportation for all of my day trips. Connecting via tram, train, and/or bus from Nice made exploring the region an easy, affordable pleasure. The public buses in particular are cheap and clean and offer extensive routes. From Nice’s main bus depot (the Gare Routière) I whisked away to Vence, St. Paul de Vence, Grasse, Villefranche, Èze, Antibes, Menton, and even nearby Monaco. For farther flung destinations like Entrevaux or Cassis I took the train.
It’s hard to pinpoint the highlight from such an exceptional collection of day trips; I’d recommend each enthusiastically and without hesitation. But my top three would have to be Grasse, Èze, and Cassis, if pressed. The perfumed shops and Fragonard museum in Grasse blew my mind. I’m not much into perfume, but I found myself snapping up scented soaps and other goodies by the bagful at Fragonard. The exotic garden at Èze overlooking the sea was unspeakably beautiful and moving. You must go. I beseech you. There’s no way to understand how amazing the village and the garden are without visiting yourself. And finally, the coup de grâce: a stroll through Cassis and a three-hour boat tour of the Calanques — a picturesque limestone range of coastal nooks, crannies, and dramatic, soaring cliffs that stretches from Cassis to Marseille, dotted with cheerful pine trees. I can’t wait to go back and wander around on foot. À bientôt Calanques de Cassis, j’espère!
- For some daily Nice inspiration, check out the Nice Daily Photo blog